THURSDAY 20 MARCH 2003
Mr Chris Mullin, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by the Home Office
Examination of Witnesses
MR BOB AINSWORTH, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Anti-Drugs Co-Ordination and Organised Crime, Home Office; MR VIC HOGG, Head of Communities and Law Enforcement (Drugs) Unit, Home Office; MR MARK ETHERTON, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Vienna, Foreign and Commonwealth Office; MR MICHAEL RYDER, Head of Drugs and International Crime Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
(Mr Hogg) My name is Vic Hogg. I am Head of the Communities and Law Enforcement (Drugs) Unit within the Home Office.
(Mr Etherton) I am Mark Etherton, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in Vienna and I lead on relations with the UN Drug Control Programme.
(Mr Ryder) I am Michael Ryder, Head of Drugs and International Crime Department in the Foreign Office.
(Mr Hogg) I shall be leading the UK delegation to Vienna.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is good of you to extend your invitation in that way, Chairman.
(Mr Ainsworth) We did. Vic Hogg went to the meeting held by the Greek presidency, and he can give you more detail. On progress, it was extremely difficult to reach any consensus. There is a great deal of difficulty finding consensus in international bodies on the subject of drugs. The presidency tried to put forward a paper at the end of that meeting which sought to take the agenda on to more of a harm minimisation approach, but could not reach consensus, and there still has been no consensus.
(Mr Hogg) It was a very interesting event, and congratulations go to the Greek presidency for organising an event which involved so many wide-ranging interests. There were representatives there from not only the EU Member States and the accession states, but from leading NGOs, and a number of researchers, academics, etc were there. It was unfortunately a rather packed programme. There were 34 speakers over two days, each with a ten-minute slot, and many of them overran, so there was not really much time for plenary discussion. Given the wide range of views and interests, it was not really surprising that no consensus could be reached at the end of the two days. I understand the Greeks are still trying to reach some conclusions, and are attempting to do that by correspondence, but I have not seen anything come out of that yet.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is a great variety of approaches. There are those who wish to be quite restrictive in terms of their policies. As opposed to the current UK policy on drugs, there are even those who would go down the road of legalisation. As Vic said, there is no consensus in this area. The bulk of the representations that were made were not a big departure from what the Conventions already allow but, as I have said, an attempt to enhance the policies and capacities with regard to harm minimisation. But no consensus could be reached at all; there were people who were totally opposed to movement in that regard.
(Mr Ainsworth) They were reached at UNGASS, and the purpose of the meeting in Vienna is to do a stock-take on progress that has been made since 1998. I think we have to be prepared to support the general proposition that all of those targets ought to be evaluated on an evidential basis. If that is not what the UN are prepared to do, that would be out of line with what we are trying to do in this country.
(Mr Hogg) The mechanism is really via the Commission, which meets annually. This year's Commission does provide an opportunity to review the action that was set out in the political declaration flowing from UNGASS 1998. But I think it is fair to say that the evaluation is not systematic.
(Mr Hogg) Not at the moment. We are awaiting a report from the UNDCP, or UNODC as it now is, which is the operational arm of the UN in the drugs field. That report will be presented to the Commission in April, but I have not had sight of that report.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are presenting evidence on a regular basis in order to enable those targets to be monitored. As Vic said, before we get to Vienna, we expect to receive statements from the Commission on their evaluation of progress that has been made. We will obviously be looking at that, and that will be a basis for the discussions that take place in Vienna.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are not. We have been feeding in the evidence from a UK perspective on a regular basis to this process, and before we go to Vienna, we are expecting to receive back an evaluation. Obviously, that will feed the discussion that will have to take place on whether or not changes of emphasis are needed. That will be one of the main discussions that will have to take place in Vienna.
(Mr Ainsworth) We can give evidence to the Select Committee on the basis of what the broad position of the UK Government will be in Vienna. I do not think we can respond to detail that we have not yet received. We would support the proper evaluation of outcomes with regard to drugs strategies, both within the UK and at an international level. We want evidence-based evaluation, as best we can, with regard to outcomes. We acknowledge that the system is not perfect in the international arena in that regard. We would want to push people in the direction of proper evaluation of what is and is not being achieved, and we encourage a more open debate on the issue of drugs, as I think we have done in the last year or so - with the help of the Select Committee, by the way - with regard to our domestic policy. It is no good us having a reactionary response to this problem. There needs to be open, evidential debate about what we are doing, what we are achieving and how we can be more effective. That will be broadly the input that the United Kingdom will seek to make with regard to Vienna. We are not going to be prepared to support radical changes along the lines of de-criminalisation or legalisation. We are not advocating that in our own country; we are not going to be advocating it in international fora either. That is not to say - and we would have to look at the detail of any proposals that there were - that we ought not to be prepared to inject some straight, open thinking into this area.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not think people should be thinking that there will be any radical departure from the current framework at Vienna. Even if we were minded to propose such a thing, which we are not, as I have tried to say, this organisation operates by consensus. There is a very wide range of views. There is value in keeping people together under a framework, working together to achieve aims which we all agree to. Because it operates by consensus, if anyone thinks there is going to be some radical departure that you can get agreement on at Vienna, that is not on the agenda, and we are not thinking of supporting such a proposal.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have to encourage everybody, as we have tried to do ourselves, to properly evaluate what works and what does not work, and to apply resources and energies into areas of drugs policy that bring benefit. We are going to be saying that in UN fora and in EU fora, as we have been saying it at home. There is the potential for improvement. People think this is an area sometimes where we simply cannot win. I do not accept that. There is the potential for achievement through our own drugs strategy in the United Kingdom. If we get our thinking right, if we get co-operation right at an international level, there is the potential for improvement as well.
(Mr Ainsworth) It may be an aspirational target, Chairman.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not think we can turn away from efforts to reduce the amount of production of either coca or opium. We are certainly not prepared to do that. We are heavily involved now with the new Afghanistan administration in trying to be effective at reducing, with the hope that eventually we can eliminate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. That is what they want. That is their own policy, and we are trying to support them in that. If you want to say it is unrealistic, it is there, it is an aspiration. We need to reduce as much as we can the production of these substances, and we need to set targets in that regard. We have tried, as you know, with our own domestic policy to get ourselves on to a firmer footing with regard to targets, because there is a balance to be struck between aspirations and realistic targets to actually encourage people and push them in the right direction.
(Mr Ainsworth) Those targets were set some time ago, as you know, but there is an idea going round that in some way the Conventions constrain what we are trying to do with regard to our own drugs strategy. We see no evidence of that. We are certainly not prepared to accept that that is so. What we are doing with regard to our own drugs strategy, according to our analysis, is perfectly legal within the Conventions, and we will be seeking at Vienna to both clarify our own position, and make sure there is a greater understanding of what we are doing and what we are not doing, but also to seek to make absolutely certain that the Conventions do cover the kind of harm minimisation demand reduction strategy that we are pursuing, and do not fetter our ability to do that.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is evidence of increased co-operation, which is leading to substantial amounts of disruption and seizures. There is no evidence of a fall or an increase in street price that is showing through as yet.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes. I think that is one of the things that needs to be clarified. We were, as I think we have said, astonished at what was said in that regard. I do not know what legal basis there was for the comments that were made or what research was put into the announcement that was made. We are following that up. We have written in the terms that you have read. I do not know what legal advice they have taken with regard to our changes of classification on cannabis. We will be pursuing that with them because, unless there is some legal basis for what they are saying, they really ought to be looking at the evidence and pursuing their point of view in a proper fashion.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think UN bodies ought to base their pronouncements on evidence, fact and legal basis, and not on reaction and knee-jerk comment. It certainly seemed to me that that was exactly what they were doing. If they have some evidence that anything we have done is in any way in contravention of international Conventions, they had better let us know. I do not believe they have, and I do not believe there is any justification for the comments that they made.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are talking about the Narcotics Control Board; we are not talking about the Commission here. I think we will find out, because we will have to pursue the issues that they raise. We will have to chase these matters. We will have to ask them for an explanation as to why they came to the conclusions that they did, and we will have to try to encourage them to be a little more sensible on future occasions.
(Mr Etherton) Nearly four years.
(Mr Etherton) It is perhaps not surprising that an organisation set up to police the Conventions takes a restrictive view of what the Conventions should and should not allow. I think it is also the case that the members of the Board, who sit on the Board in their personal capacity, are not averse to waving a finger at Member States when they have the opportunity so to do. It is quite normal every year for at least one Member State to complain in strong terms about the reference to it in the Board's report.
(Mr Etherton) I would not feel in a position to comment on behalf of other governments, but most of the governments who do protest, protest in fairly strong terms, and in fact, yesterday at lunch I happened to meet the Secretary of the INCB, who is a permanent official, and he said, "We had rather a nasty letter from you recently." I said, "Yes, I have seen it." He said, "But we will be sending a nice reply."
(Mr Etherton) There are 13 members. They serve for five years, and half the Board changes every two or three years. Three of them are chosen by the members of ECOSOC, the Economic and Social Council of the UN, on the basis of a list produced by the World Health Organisation, and the other ten are elected by Member States from among proposals from Member States. In the 1961 Convention there is a description of them as - I cannot remember its exact terms - experts of known probity. Some of them are former policemen. The current Nigerian Chair is a professor of pharmacology. There is a professor from one of the London Universities Medical Schools. It is those sort of people.
(Mr Etherton) The trouble with the reports is that they are very long, and people tend to focus on the bits that are controversial. The reference to our policy was one or perhaps two paragraphs in a report of 80 pages, for example. A lot of what they say is purely factual and we would agree with it. It is perhaps on the areas where interpretation of the Conventions is less clear-cut that there is more scope for disagreements of this sort.
(Mr Ainsworth) I am sure that is true. I hope that the reply indicated that we saw no justification for the comments. I do not know what the reasons were, whether it was headline-grabbing or whether it was just reacting to a lobby. It did not seem to be based on any reference to fact.
(Mr Etherton) If he is the Colombian professor who I think he is, he did not work for the INCB; he worked for the UN Drug Control Programme, and there are many members of the UN Drug Control Programme, many officials, who are utterly dedicated to what they do and recognised to be experts in what they do. Unfortunately, in recent years the programme has not been managed in a way that is conducive to good morale among the staff. We hope that has now changed.
(Mr Etherton) Because there is a new man at the top. His reactions may well have been a product of the time when he was there and when he left rather than a reflection of what things are like normally and what we believe them to be like now.
(Mr Etherton) Yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) At the time that the Conventions were agreed, harm minimisation was not nearly as far up the agenda of many countries as it is now, and therefore it is not formally recognised within the Conventions, but a lot of countries are practising or seeking to practise effective harm minimisation. Our analysis of it is that there is nothing that stops them from doing exactly that. What I was trying to say in response to Mr Prosser was that it is extremely hard to reach a consensus for change in any direction in these international fora. There is a great degree of controversy in this area, as there is in our own country. There are different policies and firmly entrenched views from different countries. If that is so in an international arena, achieving dramatic movement is very difficult. That is what the Greek presidency found. They were not supporting de-criminalisation or legalisation, or at least, most of the representations that they received were not supporting that, and yet they were unable to reach any consensus.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think there is a majority of countries in the Commission at the moment that would take what we might view as a fairly restrictive, conservative attitude towards drug policy. There would be more propensity to move in that direction, in all probability, than to move in the other direction.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think that some of the NGOs operating in this area are deeply disaffected with the UNDCP and they need to try to build a better working relationship with them. As I have tried to say, the Conventions are fairly broadly drawn. There are sometimes allegations made that they are effectively preventing us from doing things that they are not preventing us from doing. None of the harm minimisation proposals within our own drugs strategy - we are firm on this - fall foul of the Conventions at all. There are sometimes suggestions, maybe from people with a different agenda to our own, that we have a problem in that area. I am convinced that we do not, and we will be seeking to clarify that at Vienna and elsewhere.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think we would need to look carefully at any proposals that were made. If there were a proposal specifically ruling in sensible, well-regulated harm minimisation measures, then we would be very interested in examining that.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think it could remove some of the uncertainty that exists in some people's minds. As I have said, we are pretty clear that needle exchange, heroin injection programmes, heroin prescription programmes, the provision of sensible pieces of paraphernalia that help in harm minimisation, such as we are looking at ourselves, are all allowed. There are those who sometimes suggest that they are not, so at the very least a bit more clarity in that area might be helpful.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is a wide divide, and that is what I am trying to say to the Committee. Do not think that there is room for dramatic movement here. If we are going to hold people together, it is going to be difficult to bridge some of the differing views that there are. That comment was made with regard to injection rooms, not what we are proposing, heroin prescription, and I know what you recommended. We are not going to be advocating in an international forum what we are not advocating domestically. We are not advocating injection rooms, although I do not see why language of that sort should be used where another jurisdiction feels that they ought to be properly analysing gains and benefits from such facilities, and doing that in the interests of harm minimisation.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have a reputation as a country of playing a full part in all international fora in whatever area, and I think that we would want to do that with regard to drugs in UN fora and in EU fora. We are not the kind of country that just walks away from involvement in international fora. We can bring something to those discussions. We can make a contribution and we can move the agenda on. I would not like to see us walk away from that, despite the fact that, as I have said, the gap is pretty wide, and there is a variety of views expressed. There is a role that we can play. Our analysis is that none of the Conventions are in any way preventing us from doing what we want to do. If we felt that they were, we would review our position, but at the moment I do not think they are, despite what some people say.
(Mr Ainsworth) I would have thought it is probably more possible to measure the benefits in the harm minimisation areas than it is in many other areas of drugs policy. We are easily able to measure the numbers of drugs-related deaths and measure the impact on the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV.
(Mr Ainsworth) I hope so.
(Mr Ainsworth) If we needed changes to the Conventions in order to be able to pursue our own policies, then we would most certainly be doing that. There are those - and in some regards, Chairman, the Home Affairs Select Committee may be in this camp, with some of the recommendations it has made to us, a lot of which we accepted but one or two which we did not. Let us take the one that is at the edge of some of these issues, injection rooms: we are not proposing to have injection rooms, so why should we be making proposals that allow injection rooms to be specifically brought within the Conventions when that is not what we are proposing to do domestically? It would be wrong for us to be advocating something in an international forum that we were not suggesting we ought to be doing domestically.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is an area that is not clear. As I have indicated, I think, in my response to Mrs Prentice, I do not believe that the Conventions ought to be so structured that, if there is a jurisdiction that wants to attempt sensible, well thought out, controlled, harm minimisation measures, the Conventions ought to be stopping them from doing so. If there are other people who are suggesting that the Conventions be clarified in this way, we would not be looking to block that. We are not interested in supporting proposals that open the way to legalisation of any controlled substance, but sensible, well thought out, controlled harm minimisation projects, pilots, surely ought to be there to inform the debate, and if there are people who want to do that, I do not think we should support the Conventions effectively preventing them from doing so.
(Mr Ainsworth) I do not believe that we are going to a meeting that is going to propose radical change.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are going to be going there in order to try to bolster the position that there ought to be proper evaluation of what is being achieved and what is not being achieved, what will work and what will not work, and anything that leads to improvements in that area we will be open-minded towards. We will have to see the detail of what is proposed.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think you are being a little unfair. They are operating in a difficult field where there are many different views and, as I have said, I think our involvement can be constructive and can lead to improvements, and we will certainly try to see to it that it does.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have only just updated our drugs strategy. We have a pretty settled view of what we think is appropriate in this area. We are not going to be advocating there things that we are not advocating here.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think it is desirable that we be open-minded about this, that we be prepared to properly evaluate propositions that are put forward, and that will be our position.
(Mr Ainsworth) We contribute through the United Nations to the funding of all these organisations, and we have specific programmes that we agree and we run through them.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think you are being a little unfair. They are trying to span a breadth of opinion.
(Mr Ainsworth) We are looking at the appropriate treatment of heroin addiction in this country, and heroin prescription is something that we are pursuing. We believe that proper control of heroin prescription for people where it is appropriate is the route down which to go rather than injection rooms. That, combined with needle exchanges and other measures, can make a very significant difference. The problem that we have had over a long time now is that the drugs treatment field has not been properly funded. It cannot be turned around overnight. It has to be put together and there have to be long-term , consistent increases in funding if we are going to get the quality of people and the numbers of people working in the area. That is where our mind is turning at the moment.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have no plans to provide for injection facilities where people can inject themselves with illegally bought substances. What should be happening where we have problematic addiction is that the correct prescription should be made. People should be properly looked at. If methadone is the right treatment, it should be methadone; if it is heroin, then it should be heroin. We are working through the NTA now to establish guidelines. They will be going public next month in order to try to give the medical profession clearer guidance on how they operate in this area.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have not seen evidence that they are a necessity.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have no intention to introduce injection rooms in the United Kingdom.
(Mr Ainsworth) We do not have any plans to introduce them, so it is a bit of a hypothetical question, is it not? The Home Office and the Department of Health fund the drugs strategy and the treatment programmes through the NTA that go with the drugs strategy.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is not a proposal that we are making.
(Mr Ainsworth) I am responding to the Committee's questions. I am not setting the agenda here; you are. There is, as I think you know, a broad strategy that tries to deal with supply, harm minimisation, reduction, demand side, treatment, education. We are about to embark on an increase in terms of communication that should complement some of the work that is being done on the education front with regard to trying to lead people away from involvement in drugs in the first place. All of these things are important. Unless they operate together, unless there is some consistency of commitment of government funds in this area, nobody should be surprised that we are not being successful in reducing the drugs problem that we have in our country. We have to be able to tackle all sides of this problem.
(Mr Ainsworth) Most young people are not involved in drugs. That is absolutely right. There is evidence that the fact that they are illegal discourages a fairly substantial proportion of the population from going there. Those people who advocate legalisation and the potential benefits of legalisation need to accept, as we said in our response to the Home Affairs Select Committee, that we would be taking a tremendous gamble with prevalence and the public health problems that would go with that prevalence if we were to go down a legalisation route.
(Mr Ainsworth) There are already people who receive heroin on prescription. It is our analysis, as we have said repeatedly, to this Committee and elsewhere, that the way in which those decisions are being taken is too proscriptive and that there is scope for prescription of heroin. It is the most appropriate treatment in more cases than it is currently being used in. That is the purpose of what the NTA is now doing, the evaluation the NTA is now doing, and the guidance the they are about to put into the public domain. We need to build confidence in the medical profession in our support for the proper evaluation of decisions in this area.
(Mr Ainsworth) Nobody is saying to us that heroin is going to take over from methadone as the main treatment for heroin, so we do not envisage huge numbers in that regard. We do believe it is appropriate in more cases than it is currently being administered in.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) The Home Secretary came to this Committee to announce his intention to take the matter before the Drugs Advisory Council. We have done that. We have received their report. The medical evidence is that cannabis should be in the "C" classification and not the "B" classification. So we fully intend to follow through and bring that into legislation.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have received no representations that this is going to be a problem. We have no intentions of going soft on dealing and trafficking. There is no ability to do that even, because it is often the case that the trafficking gangs that are involved themselves in the importation of cannabis are also supplying Class A drugs to the British market. So we have absolutely no intention of letting up on our effort against trafficking. I have heard nobody suggest that the changes in penalties are going to create problems with regard to any other substances in Class C. Of course, we would look at that if there were evidence that it was going to be a problem, but we need to give the police the power to make arrests in aggravated circumstances. We cannot have people blatantly flouting the law, whether it is attempting to establish cannabis cafes, or whether it is smoking in front of a police officer on the streets and not desisting. We have to give the police adequate powers to deal with those circumstances, and we need to do that ahead of reclassification.
(Mr Ainsworth) You are not planning to sell them on the illegal market.
(Mr Ainsworth) I honestly do not believe this is a problem. The trafficking that takes place and the dealing that takes place is in cannabis and is not in these other things.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think it is too soon to do properly evaluated research in that regard. We had real worries about the way that our decision was reported in sections of the media, that we could do exactly that. We tried to take measures to insure against it. We were very, very clear in every, single pronouncement that we made about what we were doing and what we were not doing, and the script was very clear: cannabis is harmful, it is illegal, it will remain illegal, and people should not go there. But, as we said at the time, our reasons for reclassification were that we needed to get to a credible message for young people, and the message prior to reclassification was coming through that we were effectively saying that cannabis was close to or in the same league as heroin and cocaine. Young people know that that is not true, and they switch off if they believe that people are saying that. So we needed a differentiated message if we are going to have credibility, and if we are going to be able to impact on what this Committee desires, and that is the prevention and discouragement of people from getting involved in drugs in the first place.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think we have got to look at the drugs strategy overall, and we have to keep it under proper evaluation. Our top priority, above any other by a mile, has to be those 250,000 problematic drug users that we have. It is the Class A drug use in this country. That has to be our top priority. If we can begin to bring that down, that has to be the prize.
(Mr Ainsworth) No, not at all.
(Mr Ainsworth) I thought the Chairman was being unfair. I think you are being even more unfair.
(Mr Ainsworth) We made our point very clearly with regard to the Narcotics Board, and we will be following that through, because I do not believe that international bodies should behave in that way and make pronouncements without any basis of fact or legality. We will be following that up and trying to find out whether or not they have taken legal advice on what they said about the reclassification of cannabis, and if they have not, they ought to seek to justify what they did and not go there again. We have heard from Mark Etherton that they seem to do that once a year. I was unaware of that; it was their pronouncements on our policy that alerted me.
(Mr Ainsworth) Unless the policies that are being pursued are really impacting on prevalence, and then that is a concern for everybody, is it not? If there are problems that spill out of that jurisdiction in terms of trafficking because prevalence rates are being affected, then we are entitled to say that that is not somewhere anybody ought to go.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think there is a good argument that that may well be the case.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is really good progress being made on cannabis medicine. The evaluation done by the company who are involved in this, G W Pharmaceuticals, was extremely positive. They are about to take their report to the NTA.
(Mr Hogg) They are going to apply for a licence to the NTA this month.
(Mr Ainsworth) We could be in a situation where we are able to move on this and be able to make cannabis-derived medicines available even by the end of the year.
(Mr Ainsworth) Strangely not, because the derivatives do not fall under the same Conventions.
(Mr Ainsworth) The specific derivatives that are there in the cannabis-based medicines are not covered by the same controls, so we do not believe we will have that problem.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes, I did, and no, we do not.
(Mr Ainsworth) In your report you suggested a differentiated penalty system for supply, and that is one of the recommendations that we did not pick up, because our response was that the courts have the discretion to deal with cases within the sentencing framework that is provided, and I think it is really down to the courts to apply their discretion when they catch people. We have no intentions of being any more lenient on what is the production of an illegal substance. It is illegal, it is going to remain illegal, and we do not want to encourage people, even in small amounts, to be producing illegal substances.
(Mr Ainsworth) As I say, it is a matter for the courts. The courts have the discretion to deal with individual cases that appear in front of them, and I do not think there is any evidence that the courts deal with serious international traffickers and pass down the same sentences as they would to the kind of people we are talking about here.
(Mr Ainsworth) Some of the new cultivars of cannabis have managed to considerably increase the THC content. That is true.
(Mr Ainsworth) Cannabis is harmful. The Government has never tried to say that it is not harmful. People are putting their health at risk, sometimes putting their safety at risk if they indulge in cannabis. Obviously, the stronger strains cause potentially greater harm. There are all kinds of reports coming out about the potential difficulties for long-term cannabis use. It is not anything that we ought to be encouraging.
(Mr Ainsworth) Our view has not changed since we made the response. We do not believe legalisation is appropriate. We think some of the arguments made for it are ill-considered, and sometimes the argument that rages in the press is, frankly, a distraction from what we ought to be involved in, and that is trying to be as effective as we can, trying to get to better evidence-based policy in this area. Legalisation will carry its own problems. Those problems will self-evidently be some increase in prevalence and in usage, with public health problems, and we can all argue about the degree of increase but there is clear, well- documented evidence that illegality itself discourages many people from getting involved in illegal substances. Many of the harm minimisation measures that we want to take can not only be taken within a prohibitive framework, but in some cases we can use the criminal justice system in order to intervene with problematic drug users. We have managed to introduce decent clubbing guidance aimed at harm minimisation, aimed at keeping people alive, aimed at Ecstasy users. Ecstasy is a Class A drug, it remains a Class A drug, and it is a very dangerous drug. We know that we are never going to stop people from using it completely. We are not in the foreseeable future going to have a club scene in this country which is Ecstasy-free, but we were able to put in some guidance that will inform club owners and staff, and keep people alive who would otherwise suffer harm and even death by the provision of water, ventilation, and decent training for staff to recognise that people are in distress. So the fact that Ecstasy is illegal is not a problem in putting in effective harm minimisation policies in that area. In other areas we can actually use the criminal justice system. We are proposing to extend the testing regime at charge, and extend it considerably, first into all of the high-crime areas. We have identified the 30 highest crime basic police command unit areas. We are going to test people with a view to getting them into treatment, using the criminal justice system at every level to try to help problematic drug users with the problem that they have. That is the criminal justice system potentially working for drug users and making a positive contribution to reduction.
(Mr Ainsworth) There would have to be a fairly broad consensus that there was a need for change. That consensus does not exist. What we really do need to do though is to work with these international bodies to clarify our own position, to best understand other people's positions, and to improve co-operation. There is a lot of co-operation that needs improvement on the supply side, quite obviously. There is also improvement that can be made on the demand side in terms of exchanging information, best practice, knowledge, exchange of knowledge. These organisations are of great value in that way.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is nothing to stop the treaties from being renegotiated.
(Mr Ainsworth) Why should we pursue a change in the treaties when they are not preventing us from operating the drugs strategy that we have decided is best for our own country? If it is inhibiting other people, and there is a good case to be made, then we will examine that.
(Mr Ainsworth) There is, I think, a need for clarification. There are a lot of different messages coming out as to what the Conventions do and do not allow. We should be encouraging that clarity.
(Mr Ainsworth) I would have thought it was self-evident. We are talking about a United Nations body here. We are talking about people who are members who have specific problems with regard to cultivation within their own country, transit countries as well, and end users like ourselves. What else would anybody suggest? It is evident that we have to take on board the needs and the policies of places like Colombia, Afghanistan, Jamaica, which is a transit country, and Turkey.
(Mr Ainsworth) If you have looked at all at the problem that cocaine presents to Jamaica, you would be staggeringly aware of the need to be mindful of the transit countries. We have a level of criminality that is effectively supported by cocaine trafficking in Jamaica, most of which is not targeted on their country, but on the United States or ourselves. It is not produced in that country. It is a massive problem for us, so of course we have to be mindful of transit countries. No-one should think, even if they do not have a high prevalence rate themselves, that they do not have a substantial problem.
(Mr Ainsworth) The PSA targets that we have in the drugs strategy itself are not enough for us to be able to properly evaluate trends in this area, whether or not we are being successful and what the size of the problem is, so we want to try to develop an index, and we have been doing a lot of work on our thoughts on that. We have been gathering data on a whole range of indicators, and we are hoping that we can combine those to provide a single index that will show whether or not problematic drug use is being successfully managed. We are on target to be able to do that by July. We want to try to at least take some of the controversy out of the measuring of the size of the problematic drug use in this country, even if we cannot take the controversy out of the methods that ought to be used to tackle it.
(Mr Ainsworth) We continue to monitor the drugs strategy, through that and through other measures, to try to evaluate what has been successful and what has not been successful. The reason that we are rolling out some of the criminal justice interventions in the 30 PCUs is to try to establish a decent data set coming back. One of the most annoying things in this area is that there is so little data available to us in anything like recent time that can effectively monitor what is working and what is not working. Most of the data that we get is two years or a year out of date at the minimum, so it becomes historically interesting but it does not help us to make changes to policy; it does not inform us. There is a lot of work being done on the updated strategy, and we need good, timely data in order to see whether or not we are spending our money in the right area.
(Mr Ainsworth) The data is chaotic because the drugs field grew up in a piecemeal way over a very long period of time. The main growth that took place on the treatment side was in response to HIV concerns back in the 1980s. The drugs strategy is designed to try to bring back together and to get some commonality on data reporting and to get timely data. Without that, we have no decent tools as we go forward.
(Mr Ainsworth) This is central to the work we have been doing since December on the updated drugs strategy. We have had to strengthen the team in the Home Office; we have had to bring people in in order to make sure that we have a team that is sufficiently capable of monitoring what we are doing and what we are achieving in this area.
(Mr Ainsworth) If you are asking where good, timely data is on the list of priorities that I have, it is not low; it is at the very top of the priorities I have been given. There are people at very high levels of government that are interested in making sure that this is there and available and regular, so that we can see what we are doing and what we are not doing.
(Mr Ainsworth) I am not as good as Colonel Tim Collins at the prose so you wind up with pretty boring titles from me, do you not? You ended up with the updated drugs strategy, which did not excite people either. The Crack Plan arose out of the conference that we held last year. What we felt there was an absolute need to do was to raise the levels of awareness of the specific problems that crack was causing. Cocaine and crack are the two substances that are increasing in use in this country at the moment and they bring their own problems. Most of the treatment facilities that are established the length and breadth of the country are well designed to deal with opium abuse, with heroin addicts, and we needed to try to make certain that people were picking up the specific issues of crack cocaine as well. We needed to raise the profile of crack cocaine and to make absolutely certain that they were picking that up. The Crack Plan identifies 37 areas where there is an absolute need to see that the capacity is there. It gives them the infrastructure in order to make sure that as we grow the treatment sector, and there are considerable amounts of money now in the updated drugs strategy, we are not only doing what we did yesterday, we are not only providing more treatment for opium addicts, we are providing treatment appropriate and effective for crack cocaine.
(Mr Ainsworth) We need to build in a proper data set in this regard and then monitor as well. Yes, of course we want to see us bearing down on crack cocaine. We want to see people working effectively at a local level at tackling crack cocaine. It can be tackled. We have seen effective policing in the Lambeth area that shut crack cocaine houses systematically. If that is not properly plugged into the commissioning of treatment, if there is not a decent DAT there that is able to pick up those issues, what do we do, we just push it up the road and across the boundary and create problems for other people. We have got to have people working together across boundaries so that policing action is being picked up on the other side of the equation and we are getting people into treatment and dealing with them appropriately. Both of those are problematic. Let us not beat about the bush, we are not as good as we ought to be at dealing across the boundaries, borough boundaries in the Metropolitan area as well as outside the Metropolitan area, and in making certain that the policing activity is properly plugged into the treatment provision and the commissioning. It is the DATs' job to do that and making sure that the DATs are all strong enough in order to be able to do that has got to be a high priority.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think we are seeing substantial movements on strength of DATs but that is not consistent across the board and, worryingly, there are still some weak DATs in some areas that have a fairly high drug prevalence, a fairly high drug problem. We have got to go out and sort that and strengthen it where it needs to be strengthened. By the way, we are also seeing some substantial falls in treatment waiting times. There is still not total consistency there and you are always going to be able to pick up the horror story of someone having to wait for a totally inexcusable length of time in order to access treatment but treatment times are falling quite substantially now across the piece.
(Mr Ainsworth) If you would like I will provide the Committee with details at a regional level of movements that we have had in treatment times. I think that might be helpful to give you a picture across the piece broken down by region as well.
(Mr Ainsworth) The new heroin prescription guidelines should become public by mid to late April. We have had to do some pre-consultation and we have had to make some changes. The NTA are almost there. We will see that heroin guidance available next month. That is essential because, as I think you saw when you took evidence in this area, there is a dire need to improve the engagement of the medical profession in drug treatment and we need to build confidence in that regard. We have got some very good people prepared to engage, doing some good work, but it is not nearly as widespread as it should be. There are people who are frightened to become involved in this. There are GPs who do not want to go near dealing with problematic drug use. We need far greater buy-in. That is what the NTA are systematically doing and that is what we hope the new guidance will do with regard to diamorphine. Unless people can see that there is a good legal framework there they are going to be worried about getting involved.
(Mr Ainsworth) We will monitor the use of heroin prescription. Obviously we expect to see some increase. We will have to check through the NTA what people are doing and why and keep it under review.
(Mr Ainsworth) Not in my head. If the Committee would find it useful I could maybe try to provide figures for pharmacies as well as GPs.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have tried to make sure that in our evaluation of that review the potential difficulties that could arise are part of it.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
Bridget Prentice: Thank you.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is something that needs to be taken into account in the evaluation that they are doing, there is no doubt about that. Obviously the lobby has an interest in making us aware of this and making sure that it is properly evaluated but the evaluation needs to be fact based and not lobby based, does it not?
(Mr Ainsworth) We have flagged them up as potential issues that need to be taken into account.
(Mr Ainsworth) Substantially, Chairman, yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) As you know, we consulted on the proposed guidelines on this before Christmas and we had a lot of concerns raised with us that potentially we would damage what we were trying to achieve, and that was growth in the treatment field and effective harm minimisation for sections of the population like the homeless where there is a very high drug prevalence rate now. We took the decisions that we did to look to Section 8(d) because there was a real need to give effective powers to crack down on crack houses. We still need to make sure that we have got effective measures in place to do exactly that. The consultation and the reason that our response to the consultation has taken longer than maybe might have been expected in the first place was that we were looking to see whether or not there were alternatives that would not do the damage that people felt we would be doing if we went down this road but would give us an effective tool against crack houses. I think that we have found that. We flagged it up in the Antisocial Behaviour White Paper and we intend to legislate in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill some very strong measures to enable us to close down the premises that are used for the dealing and use of Class A drugs and to be able to do that almost instantaneously. Now, having found that, an effective measure, a really effective measure that targets the premises that are being used, we are now in a position where we can effectively say with regard to our proposals to extend 8(d) that certainly while we evaluate whether or not we have provided ourselves with the tools that we need we do not need to enact that extension of 8(d). I have no intention of withdrawing it while we do that evaluation. We can leave it there, we can look at the measures we are introducing through the Antisocial Behaviour Bill and if we have provided a solution to the problem and we are able to close crack houses then we do not need to move forward on 8(d) and we do not need to potentially undermine the confidence of people who are working in harm minimisation and drug treatment.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have come to a firm conclusion about that. I am sorry if I am not being clear. We intend to introduce those new measures through the Antisocial Behaviour Bill.
(Mr Ainsworth) And park the 8(d) until such time as we can do a proper evaluation. Obviously if the new measures are working - we need time to evaluate whether or not they are working - we can then decide permanently to abandon plans to extend 8(d). I do not think we can do that before we see whether or not we are being effective with the proposals in the Antisocial Behaviour Bill.
Chairman: Thank you, that is helpful.
(Mr Ainsworth) I think that is a bit of an exaggeration. The main difference is that we are dealing with people in different circumstances. The aim of the treatment provided out in the community is to get reduction and abstinence where we can and dealing with people in the prison environment gives you a different circumstance to go at. The biggest gap and the biggest problem identified in the updated drugs strategy is the need to properly join up what is going on in prison with what is going on outside in the community because there is absolutely no point in detoxing somebody, or half detoxing somebody, and then handing them out into the community and failing to hand them out into the community, effectively handing them back to the dealers for serious personal harm. That is what we are looking to develop, an effective methodology for through care where we monitor people going into prison, what is being done with them while they are in prison, being able to pick them up properly at the end of that and, where appropriate, handing them back to community services where they need that and other after care services like housing advice, employment advice and everything else that we badly need to do if we are going to stop this revolving door that affects so many problematic drug users in the prison service.
(Mr Ainsworth) Our aim is not the constant maintenance of people on Class A drugs, our aim is reduction and abstinence wherever possible and that is as true in prison as it is true out in the community but we are dealing with a different circumstance though, are we not? We do not put people on methadone in order to keep them on methadone for the rest of their lives.
(Mr Ainsworth) Absolutely.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes, I think it does. If you are suggesting that there is no proper evaluation within the prison service, it is not perfect and it needs improvement, both in the quantity of facilities that are available because we are not yet picking up the numbers of people who are in our prisons with a problematic drug problem, we need to grow the amount of service that is available, and proper evaluation should be being done of the needs of prisoners.
(Mr Ainsworth) Too many is the truth. Detox, both out in the community and in prison, has a role to play and many people want it. They want it out in the community as well. Dependent upon their personal circumstances it can be the right and appropriate way to approach them. If you have got a life and a job to go back to then detox is hugely useful. If you do not pick up the other issues, the problems that people have in their personal lives, then simply to offer them detox and nothing else means what?
(Mr Ainsworth) At the end of the detox problem they are back into problematic drug use and back into the crime that that causes. You have got to be a lot more sophisticated in your evaluation of people.
(Mr Ainsworth) Yes.
(Mr Ainsworth) No. It was identified in the updated drugs strategy as the biggest single gap in the strategy, I think. It is a top priority at the moment to develop an effective through care system where we properly monitor people as they are going through the prison system. There are some pilots that have been done. I went to look at one that was carried out in Solihull some time ago where the police in Solihull had set up a system where they were monitoring people with a drug problem, following them into prison, working with the prison service, monitoring them, watching them come back out again, providing them with advice, providing them with ongoing drug treatment where it was needed, and it had a lot of potential. We are trying to work up a national scheme, in the first instance for the 30 high crime BCU areas. That gives us a number of areas where we have got, sadly, the prevalence to develop the systems that may well be effective but with a view to rolling that out nationwide as quickly as we possibly can.
(Mr Ainsworth) There are some improvements that are being made. Random drug testing is showing up decreasing figures for drug abuse. No, you are absolutely right, we are only dealing with a proportion of the people who are in our prisons who have a drug problem, so we need to improve the quantity, the quality, and we need to join it up with what is going on outside, that is the priority.
(Mr Ainsworth) We have a target of providing 5,700 rehabilitation places in prisons by the end of 2004. That still is not enough, we are still going to have more to do then.
(Mr Ainsworth) I will write to the Committee to try to give you details of how they are dealt with differently from other prisoners.
Mr Prosser: Thank you very much.
(Mr Ainsworth) No.
(Mr Ainsworth) I have not seen the specific article but I have seen other articles that point up that exact problem and it is a very real problem.
(Mr Ainsworth) It is not unusual. There are many problematic drug users who are extremely articulate and well able to put their case. They often have a role to play in educating other people about the needs of drug addicts and what works and what does not work.
(Mr Hogg) Absolutely. Particularly the IMCB.
Chairman: We will watch with very great interest. I believe we are due to meet again on Tuesday of next week, we look forward to that, Mr Ainsworth. Thank you very much indeed.