Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I was truly delighted to be selected to lead on this debate, but I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) who has been asking for a debate on the subject for a long time. It was extremely fortunate that I was selected today. I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will accept that my hon. Friend and I have formed a partnership in order to present the work of the all-party group on drugs. That is how we hope to conduct the debate.
The impact of testing for the illegal use of drugs in the workplace and on the roads is important, as the drugs may affect an individual's ability to work or to drive. The important word is "may". The work undertaken by the all-party group was meant to discover the efficacy of drug testing at the roadside and in the workplace.
I am one of the deputy chairs of the all-party group, which conducted an investigation in order to inform Members and others of the efficacy of such drug testing schemes. We produced a report last summer entitled, "Drug Testing on Trial", which I commend to the Minister. Indeed, I am sure that she has already looked at it. It provides clear recommendations on the subject, and I hope that the Government will take note of it when considering the potential need for new legislation or guidance in this areaI stress the word "potential".
Drug testing is a complex issue. It has a potential impact on the civil liberties of some, while protecting the civil liberties of those who may be affected by drug taking in the workplace or on our roads. Like most things, it is a question of balance. We all know that in some areas of life, drug testing is a common and established practice. It is especially to be found in sportas we see in the media nowand in other professionals such as pilots. Drug testing for alcohol is a well established and successful example of testing for a substance that has an impact on safety. I doubt whether anyone in the House would question it now, although it was deeply controversial when it was introduced.
None of those issues are covered in the all-party group's report; it focuses instead on the illegal use of drugs, the consequent problems and the potential impact of drug testing. It concentrates on drug testing in the workplace and at the roadside, and the effects of those tests. Both subjects are controversial, and it is important that we establish the rights on both sides of the argument.
I shall focus for a moment on the nature of the problem to illustrate why it is important and why the all-party group wanted to ensure that more people knew about its work. The reality of drug use in 2004 presents a very different picture than it did 20 years ago. Work by
The House of Commons Library recently gave us more detail on drug driving and related statistics. It offered supporting evidence of an increasing problem. It cited a study by the Scottish Executive, which found that, of those who completed the survey and who attend nightclubs and go dancing in the evening, 85 per cent. reported driving on at least one occasion in the previous 12 months after taking illegal drugs. Some 45 per cent. had smoked cannabis while driving, 43 per cent. had driven after using ecstasy, and 25 per cent. had driven within hours of using amphetamines. Some 11 per cent. had driven after using cocaine, and 8 per cent. had driven having used LSD. The figures are alarming, and we cannot assume that the picture would be any different for England. We must address that problem.
Despite those findings, only limited research evidence is available in the UK relating to either the extent of current workplace testing or the findings on the effects of such testing on both drug-taking habits and workplace performance. There is a lack of evidence to support the introduction of compulsory drug testing in the workplace, and there is a similar lack of evidence on driving.
Many people involved share the perception that the problem is significant, but most data pertain only to the most extreme cases in which a post mortem has identified illegal drug use as a potential factor. The Transport Research Laboratory and the then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions conducted random testing on road accident fatalities between 1985 and 2000 and found that the presence of illegal drugsnot alcoholhad increased from 3 to 18 per cent. over the period. There is little dissent from the view that we are facing a growing problem.
The use of illegal drugs has increased substantially over the past decade, and that must have an impact on both the working population and the driving public. I do not want to reach a conclusion on the rightness of taking those drugs. Instead, I want to discuss their effect in the workplace or on someone's driving. The scale of the growth is harder to assess accurately, as I am sure that you would understand, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The issue is how to identify and, if possible, reduce any potential inherent risks.
The case for drug testing in the workplace and at the roadside, which has been made by several organisations, is set out in the all-party group's report, and I want to highlight some of its key recommendations. We must recognise the increased use of illegal drugs in society, the evidence for which I have already outlined, but we cannot ignore the concerns of groups such as the British Chambers of Commerce, the Institute of Directors and the Transport Research Laboratory. We must identify any risks linked to the growth in illegal drug use. If an increased risk is identified, with an impact on either
The all-party group's report stated that drug and alcohol testing should be seen purely as a means of reducing risk to the public, employees and employers, and not as part of any effort to reduce the incidence of illegal drug use. It would not be an adequate tool in addressing illegal drug use.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): Does the hon. Lady believe that drug testing in the workplace could be used to protect the £6 billion that industry reckons that it loses from the use of drugs by its employees?
Laura Moffatt : In preparing our report, the all-party group took evidence from members of the British Chambers of Commerce. They were concerned about absenteeism and insecurity in the workplace causing difficulties. If someone who works as a driver is stopped because he has had an accident and illegal drug use is identified, clearly that has an impact on the business involved. There will be a poor opinion of that business, and those giving evidence were very worried about that point.
I have outlined the issues that the all-party group addressed, and we should not ignore them by any means. However, there are arguments against compulsory drug testing in the workplace. I should like to expand, as I am sure other hon. Members will, on the fact that such testing is not a panacea for reducing illegal drug use. It is a useful tool, but it is not the complete answer.
Concerns have been most prominent when companies have already raised the issue and, in some cases, implemented their own policy without help or guidance. However, there is no clarity about the purpose of drug testing. A substantive evidence base for its impact on, say, deterring drug use or reducing absenteeism just does not exist, and that brings the whole issue into question. That is why the all-party group urges caution.
The important moral, ethical and legal issues surrounding drug testing require clarification. To put it simply, when is it permissible to test an individual, particularly in the absence of a performance-related concern? What constitutes such a concern? That is the big issue. If no one produces evidence that someone is not performing in the workplace, what evidence is there to justify a drug-testing programme?
The ability to test appropriately is a further issue. Current tests may detect drugs, particularly cannabis, long after they have left the body or had any physical effect on the person who used them. A positive test for cannabis is possible up to 30 days after the last cigarette was taken or the cannabis was ingested in any way, by which time it is most unlikely that the person is under the influence of the drug.
My local police force, Sussex police, has recently done a lot of work on the issue: it was one of the forces that conducted a pilot on roadside drug testing. The findings were most interesting. The police tested three types of kit, one of which was specific to a particular drug and
To take evidence from such drug-testing kits to court would be completely inappropriate, so the police reverted to a system of just ensuring that someone is fit to drive. They went back to what is called field impairment testing, which is taken directly from the American sobriety test, whereby a series of tests are undertaken to ensure that someone is in control and is fit to drive. I am sure that we all agree that that is the right way to go about it and that it is important to understand where the risk is. Sussex police now have 40 trained officers in the traffic department who can undertake that work to ensure that people are fit to drive.
The Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 was introduced last year, yet the legislation has not been implemented. I should like to hear from the Minister whether there are plans to implement it when the ability to test people at the roadside has been broadened. Although the provision enabling people to carry out that work, which was illegal before, is in place, it is not used. It would be most interesting to hear from the Minister whether we intend to move forward with that legislation.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I am interested in what my hon. Friend says about prescription drugs. The report says that there are at least 400 million prescriptions of medicinal drugs each year. If taken according to the instructions, those drugs would render the driver as impaired as alcohol consumed up to the breathalyser level. I am sure that she is not saying this, but the suggestion is that people tested at the roadside who had taken prescription drugs would be found to be as least as serious a hazard as they would be if they had drunk alcohol up to the breathalyser level.
Laura Moffatt : I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which clarifies the point that I wish to make. That is why I support tackling real impairment of drivingnot just however impaired the level of a drug in a person's body suggests they are. Being able to test that and to ensure that somebody is fit to drive is the thrust of the all-party group's response to roadside drug testing.
We must face many issues, including human rights issues. As my hon. Friend rightly said, it is important that we do not target people who take medicines legitimately, go about their daily lives and are perfectly fit to drive. Such people should not face the interference of roadside testing that is invasive or gives false readings. We need clarity on the matter.
My local drug action team has done a lot of work on the issue, particularly on signposting for workplace drug testing. Other hon. Members may raise good examples from their own areas, but I should like to congratulate West Sussex drug and alcohol action team on its online programme for employers, which the Minister is aware of, having done some work with the group. That project is an exceptional example of how to give good advice to employers and stop them from going completely over the top and implementing compulsory workplace drug testing programmes.
The course is easy to understandit must be, because we have had a look at it on the website and registered. It takes the employer through a three-minute video, expands on how best to approach the issue and then discusses sensible identification issues. Why would an employer be interested in an employee who could do their job perfectly well and had not displayed any difficulties? It is important that employers intervene when they believe that someone has a problemafter all, that is just what we want employers to do. There is no reason to take a heavy hand with people who can deal with their own moral issues concerning illegal drugs, if that does not impact on the workplace.
The programme explains both how to interview someone who may have difficulties with absenteeism, problems with workmates or whatever, and how to deal with what is called a critical incident in the workplace if something has happened to alert the employer to a problem. The course then shows how to access proper help and support. I am convinced that the benefits of a good workplace support system far outweigh compulsory drug testing, which is incredibly expensive. It is much better to have someone who can deal with such issues and support employees than to take the heavy-handed approach that some employers are tempted to adopt.
Mrs. Gillan : I am following carefully what the hon. Lady says, and I commend her on her contribution to the debate so far. What is her attitude to job applicants? Does she think it is necessary or desirable for companies to be able to carry out drug tests on applicants for jobs in the construction industry or other industries, or even in the City?
Laura Moffatt : I was going to thank the hon. Lady for that intervention, but I am not sure that I want to thank her, as it is a sticky issue about which we need to think extremely carefully. The approach of the all-party group is to deal with risk. If someone is likely to create a risk in the workplace, there may be instances when testing would be appropriate. However, I am not convinced; I am very much in favour of support and advice to people in the workplace to ensure that they are able to do their job properly. There are also human rights issues to consider.
Paul Flynn : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most serious jobs is work in the legislature, where one is not just in charge of the workplace but in charge of a war, for example? Would it not be a good thing to show our enthusiasm for the Opposition spokesman's suggestion and lead by example and breathalyse Members before they vote in the Division Lobbies?
Laura Moffatt : Yes, it is a good point, which the House is addressing almost daily. I am told that it is a completely different Parliament from what it was even before 1997 in terms of Members' habits. The change of hours may well have assisted us in that respect. Perhaps we should submit it as a reason to remain as we are.
As the interventions show, this is a difficult matter, which we should take seriously. We should also understand that it needs a sensitive approach. I commend the work that West Sussex has done to assist small and medium-sized businesses to take a sensible approach to drug testing; that is the way forward on the issue.
The Government should be looking carefully at issues relating to the clarity and the legal framework for workplace and roadside drug testing. Improved research is needed to establish the evidence, which truly is not there at present. It would be enormously helpful if more work were done on both issues and on issuing further guidance to employers and employees. The work that the Home Office has been doing in conjunction with drug action teams around the country is developing nicely because it is about being in the workplace, understanding what employers and employees need and responding to it. I commend the way in which the Home Office has conducted that work. I sincerely hope that there will be clarity on the issue, and I look forward to further contributions to the debate.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I shall confine my remarks to roadside fitness testing. It is important to call it fitness testing because if the job of the police is to deem someone unfit to drive and they are not in a position at the time to know what the reason might be, there need to be specified circumstances under which the testing would take place. There is no doubt that there has been an alarming increase in drug use, so we must assume that there has also been an alarming increase in the number of people who drive under the influence of drugs.
It will come as no surprise to the MinisterI have said it on many occasionsthat I believe that the Government's policy on drugs, which is based on harm reduction, minimisation, and the provision of huge quantities of information about drugs, is wrong in principle, because it acquiesces in drug taking and will lead to an increase rather than a decrease in drug use. I favour prevention and enforcement. When I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee, an investigation into drugs policy was carried out. I ploughed a lone furrow in the debate and suggested about 80 amendments to the final report, all of which fell. That was an indication of how strongly I felt that the policy on drugs was moving in the wrong direction.
Mrs. Gillan : I do not know whether my hon. Friend has seen a document produced by Mary Brett, the head of health education at Dr. Challoner's grammar school in my constituency. On the subject of the "Talk to Frank" campaign, the document states:
I recommend that document to the Minister and my hon. Friend. I would be willing to provide them with copies, because it is a sound criticism of a campaign that Mary Brett believes is putting our children in more danger rather than helping them.
Angela Watkinson : I am tempted to stray on to the subject of the declassification of cannabis, but I suspect that you would rule that to be out of the confines of the debate, Mr. O'Hara. Suffice it to say that I oppose itit is not protecting young people.
We must establish the appropriate circumstances for compulsory roadside fitness testing, because the system is currently voluntary. If a police officer notices that someone is driving erratically, stops them and breathalyses them for alcohol, the breathalyser can show green, amber or red. If the result is green, there is no evidence that the person is under the influence of alcohol. However, if the officer still believes the person to be unfit to drive, he can proceed with roadside fitness testing only if the person agrees. If they do not agree, they are free to drive away unless they have committed an arrestable offence. That is a dangerous situation. We must prescribe in law circumstances in which the police can carry out a test to determine more accurately whether someone needs to be taken to a police station if they believe that that person is unfit to continue driving. The police have no such powers unless an arrestable offence has been committedfor example, on vehicle impact.
The hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) referred to the tests used in the United States and Canada since the 1970s. They sound amusing but have stood the test of time, and are known colloquially as "walk the line". For anybody who is sober and fit, the tests are relatively easy to comply with, although they are not foolproofif asked now, we may not be able to do them all accurately. I found out information about the tests from discussions with the Metropolitan police yesterday. If someone were under the influence of drugs, it would not only be difficult for them to walk heel to toe, turn and walk back heel to toe, but it would be difficult for them to understand the instructions to start with.
Another test is the Romberg test in which somebody is asked to put their head back and count to 30. Apparently, some drugs distort the passage of time in the mind. Some make people think that time is going much faster, others that it is going much slower; the test provides an indication that someone is not behaving normally. Other tests include standing on one leg, and, from a position with either one's left or right arm outstretched according to instructions, putting one's
I was surprised to hear that the 1924 offence of driving while unfit through drink or drugs is still in use, as is the Road Safety Act 1967, which allowed for breath tests. Anyone who is taken to a police station is then tested by a doctor, who is a qualified professional and will test either blood or urine and also determine whether any other medical condition may have led to that person being unfit. Failure may not necessarily be the result of drink or drugs, and it is important that a medical professional can determine the reason. A doctor will say whether the impairment may be due to the presence of drugs. The problem with drug testing is that traces may be found, but they are not measurable. The lack of accurate equipment for testing the level of drugs in the blood or urine is a big problem.
There is a great need for the development of an accurate roadside device. I understand that there is a prototype for testing the sweat from the forehead, and that that has been piloted in custody suites when people have been charged with other offences. A Metropolitan police trial of roadside drug testing took place between January 2001 and 2002. It involved the borough of Redbridge, my borough of Havering and north-east traffic. Some 140 officers were trained, including some magistrates and custody sergeants. The trial had some success. It involved a certificated court, meaning that officers in court could produce a certificate, which adds weight to the evidence. However, the trial was hampered by the fact that testing is still voluntary. That point needs to be looked at; should there be specified circumstances in which testing should be compulsory?
I understand that the London borough of Barking and Dagenham used building safer communities funding of less than £1,000 to train officers in fitness impairment training. That is exceedingly good value. Unfortunately, there are only two trainers in the whole of the district covered by the Metropolitan police. It would be a good investment if funding could be found to increase that number. If all 400 traffic officers in the Metropolitan police could benefit from such training, it would cost only £22,000. That represents a drop in the ocean when it comes to police funding. The force needs to increase its training capacity, and that small amount of expenditure would be justified in accident reduction terms alone.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Whether we like it or not, in 2000, 34 per cent. of our citizens aged between 16 and 59 admitted to taking illicit drugs at some point in their lifetimes. Obviously, such a relatively high level of drug taking has led the general public to make pleas to the Government for the introduction of drug testing in the workplace as well as at the roadside. Our all-party group on drugs misuse launched its inquiry because it seemed that the literature contained little evidence, and, in any case, there seemed to be a lot of controversy about drug testing in the workplace and at the roadside.
I shall deal first with the workplace. Drug testing is becoming commonplace in countries such as America, where 40 to 50 per cent. of companies use it in some form, affecting 15 million American citizens. However, it is relatively uncommon in this country, although the demand to introduce it is increasing. On 28 November 2003, the TUC expressed concerns in an article published in Hazards magazine, saying:
Sick leave due to substance abuse now affects 31 per cent. of British companies, according to a survey conducted jointly by DrugScope and Alcohol Concern. There is no consensus or clarity about what the aims of drug testing in the workplace should be. Is it to protect the public and other employees from the worker who is a user of illicit drugs, or is it to deter people from using drugs, and thereby reduce absenteeism and save money?
There is no doubt that drug testing is expensive for a company to introduce, due to the specialist nature of the work. There is no evidence yet that its introduction saves companies money in the long term, nor that it reduces drug abuse, and it does not differentiate between habitual and occasional use. There are fears, too, of a Big Brother attitude that could significantly affect the morale of workers.
Time delays between an employee taking the drug test and the employer receiving the results could also create problems. Urine and oral fluid samples will provide results in about five days. However, urine is the easiest type of sample for a donor to adulterate. Many products are available on the internet that guarantee that a urine donor will pass the drugs test. Results from blood samples are more reliable, but they take longercurrently three to four weeks. Since our report was published, Altrix Healthcare plc has claimed that the collection and analysis of oral mucosal transudate samples is more reliable and more effective.
What other concerns are there about drug testing work forces? Not all drugs that give positive results are illegal. A number of painkillers contain opiates such as codeine, a chemical relative of morphine, which is also a principal constituent of cough mixtures. Amphetamines, too, are constituents of a number of legally prescribed medicines. One of my constituents was dismissed from the Army because he tested positive for amphetamines. He claimed that he had been taking a proprietary medicine before he was tested. That raises the question: should companies keep detailed records of the medications taken by their employees if they conduct random drug screening? Surely, that would impinge on the confidentiality of medical records? Drug tests can tell employers, for example, whether an employee is being treated for a heart condition, depression, epilepsy or diabetes or is pregnant. Is it right to do that?
Drug testing in the workplace raises concerns about individual freedoms. Liberty believes that drug testing at work invades personal privacy, which is protected under article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Dr. Iddon : The rest of my speech will answer that question. The data protection commissioner told the all-party group that inappropriate drug testing could also contravene the Data Protection Act 1998.
A workplace is not expected to tolerate an individual who is clearly too intoxicated to work, and most companies have mechanisms in place to deal with such situations. But should random drug testing in the workplace impinge on an individual's social life when it is clearly not affecting his ability to do the job effectively? All companies, large or small, must have policies in place on substance misuse, whether that substance is alcohol or any other. When policies are worked out and enshrined in the conditions of service to which employees sign up, trade unions should be involved in drawing up such policies. Strict guidelines should be in place to make it clear which drugs should be covered by random drug testing. Paracetamol, for example, is regularly misused, but it would not spring to mind when drug-testing policies were being constructed.
Unless employees are signed up to a properly constructed workplace substance misuse policy, asking them to provide a blood sample may be construed as an assault on their person. Where should such a sample be taken, and under what supervision? It is particularly difficult for small and medium-sized companies to answer such questions. What drug levels are acceptable, and what action should be taken if positive results are obtained, bearing in mind that false positives are not uncommon in the drug-testing business?
Does the Minister agree that we are not doing enough to advise companies on how to handle substance misuse in the workplace and that a new national support service is required to advise them and their employees on safety-critical areas of business? The work force are every company's most valuable asset. An employee might be drug tested and found positive but, because they are so valuable to the company, the worst thing might be to sack them on the spot. Most good companies would recommend counselling rather than dismissal in such circumstances.
Obviously, there is a close connection between drug misuse in the workplace and driving. Many workers drive while conducting their daily business. Drivers today are much more aware of the stigma that is attached to driving under the influence of alcohol, but there is a lot of ignorance about the effect of other substancesincluding many legally prescribed and over-the-counter medicineson the ability to drive. Indeed, many hay fever preparations are well known to cause drowsiness.
On 18 December last year, the Freight Transport Association published guidance on the misuse of alcohol and drugs among drivers. It claimed that one in 45 car drivers tested positive for alcohol after an accident, whereas only one in 250 drivers of large good vehicles did. This week, the charity Brake has published
The most commonly used illegal drug is undoubtedly cannabis, but, as hon. Members have said, testing for it would cause the most problems at the roadside. The problem is that little research has been carried out into the effects of licit or illicit drugs on a person's ability to drive. The Transport Research Laboratory has carried out limited research, but much more will be required before we legislate. The laboratory's research shows that the presence of illicit drugs in those involved in road accidents increased from 3 to 18 per cent. between 1985 and 2000.
In principle, we can all sign up to the roadside testing of drivers for the misuse of substances other than alcohol, especially when there has been a serious accident. Coroners' reports show that drugs are present in 24 per cent. of road traffic accident fatalities, but the plain fact is that there are no really reliable methods of providing instant results in the way that the breathalyser does. As hon. Members have said, the police have therefore resorted to other methods.
Under our current laws, someone who is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs is not legally required to provide a specimenusually, it would be blood or urine. If roadside drug testing is to be introduced, more legislation may therefore be necessary. Incidentally, there have been calls to legislate on the growing number of organisations that carry out drug testing, because some give far more false positives than others.
To summarise, we must protect people from someone, whether an employee or a driver, who is clearly a danger. However, we must also consider whether compulsory drug testing infringes human rights. I hope that the Minister will agree that this has been a useful debate, and that the issues are not as straightforward as the media often portray. I look forward to her response.
I want to make three points. I have made my first point before, and it is pertinent to this debate. We talk about drugs, but I hope that the Home Office, in particular, will begin to specify which drugs we are talking about. I have not had my drug of choice this morning, and I am unsure whether I could walk the line, but after the debate I hope to adjourn to one of the coffee houses of the Palace to partake of it.
Prostitution is the only profession in this country where such evidence has been gathered. There is a high propensity of crack cocaine use among street prostitutesand a much lower one among non-street prostitutesfor the obvious reason that people need to be emboldened to do such awful work. Crack cocaine emboldens people. That is not an excuse or a suggestion; I do not take the liberal view in the argument about drugs in any way. I am, however, attempting to illustrate how crucial it is, in this debate and in others, to talk not simply about drugs, but about specific drugs.
A wealth of evidence from the United States, and especially from Australia and New Zealand, shows the dangers of using amphetamines. Amphetamines are widely used in Australia by truck drivers, who use them to be able to drive further. Evidence is beginning to suggest that amphetamine use among long-distance lorry drivers will increase in Europe, especially with the enlargement of the European Union, because using amphetamines makes people "capable" of driving for longer periods without falling asleep. It has been clearly shown in Australia that amphetamine use carries all sorts of health and public safety risks. People perceive themselves to be capable of driving further, when they are not. I strongly urge the Minister to commission research into this problem, as it will increasingly affect us on our roads. The use of amphetamines is, however, very different from the use of other drugsa point that we can understate if we stick all drugs together.
My second point is about a different drug, alcohol, which is the greatest problem drug on the roads and in the workplace. Last August, New South Wales hosted a summit on alcohol. An interesting fact emerged about the prevalence and culture of alcohol use on building sites. I am not sure, because the evidence does not seem to have been accumulated in this country, how big that problem is in Britain. I suspect that it could be a problem.
Historically, in the agricultural industry, beer was provided routinely in large quantities to assist people to work. In my village, 100 years ago, there were 40 housesall of them farmsand three pubs. I shall not sing the words, but the Minister might recall the word of that well known labour movement song:
That waters the workers' beer."
The Government's policy on drugs must be to ratchet up our onslaught on alcohol, and I see signs that that is beginning to happen. We certainly have an alcohol culture in this place. Random drug testing of Members
Finally, I secured a debate on the progress2work programme in this Chamber last week. I highlighted the problem of people who were classified as drug addicts going back to work. The critical issue is that employers will not take them. The point that I made then, which I make again, is that we require an independent person to validate that people are no longer on drugs. In the context of workplace drug testing, large employers will not willingly take on people with a history of substance abuse, without external validation. Validation can normally be done by a person's GP or, perhaps in some situations, by a workplace GP using traditional confidentiality protocols.
The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) about the need for collective agreements and workplace policies was well made. Only 14 per cent. of workplaces have a drugs policy, and although many of them are watered down and weak, such policies are absolutely essential. There should be consent within the workplace to allow such testing. However, if such policies are externally validated by a GP, people will be prepared to come forward and do something about any existing problems. There is clearly a problem in workplaces; it is not new, as it has existed for a more than a century. Because of the increasing complications in the workplace, the dexterity skills required and interrelationships between workers, drugs policy is increasingly important to public safety. I urge the Minister to continue her work and that of her Department on the issue.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), who has been a distinguished vice-chairman of the all-party group on drugs misuse for many years and served it extremely well. The growing consensus in this debate is welcome. If we are going to impose on the country new rules about drug testing at work, we should start in this building and lead by example. There will be a programme tomorrow night on television showing a case in which a former Minister, in a celebrated occasion that is recorded in his diaries, was not drunk but was over-tired as a newt while addressing the House from the Treasury Bench. That was the late Alan Clark, who describes how he drank before addressing the House.
We must introduce some reality, as my hon. Friend suggested, on the real threat of drugs, and how drivers are impaired on the road. The major cause of drivers' impairment is exhaustion. Next is impairment from medicinal drugs; then alcohol; then illegal drugs. I gained a number of impressions from attending every sitting of the all-party group on drugs misuse and chairing one or two of those sittings. One of those impressions was that the drive towards more workplace testing comes not from those who seek improvements in safety but from commercefrom those who stand to make a great deal of money out of selling the testing kits. In other countries, testing has become a hugely profitable business, because the kits are very expensive.
Amphetamines were mentioned. For a long time, amphetamines were used to train jet pilots, because they have the beneficial effect of increasing the concentration of those who are piloting planes or driving cars. However, they also have a bad effect: while increasing concentration on the task in hand, they increase concentration on everything elseall the peripheral matters and distractionsso they are detrimental to safety.
As we know, alcohol has an effect of impairment similar to that of cannabis. However, studies carried out in Germany and Canada on whether there is a link between the use of those drugs and the likelihood of being involved in an accident show that there is not. The figures with which the all-party group was presented showed that there would be an increase from 3 to 18 per cent. in the number of people involved in road traffic accidents who had been taking drugs. However, in every case, that precisely mirrored the increase in the use of those drugs in society. There should have been a greater increase in accidents among drug takers than is shown in the figures, and there was not.
Everyone would agree that people should be discouraged from driving while impaired by the influence of illegal drugs. However, the odd fact is that cannabis makes people more fearful. They become defensive and tend to drive in a way that is less aggressive. Two of the reports showed that, as a result, those who were taking cannabis were less likely to be involved in an accident. We will not extrapolate from that that people should use cannabis or any other drug under those circumstances.
The only way to test for drugsthe point has been made clearly this morningis on the basis of impairment. However, that can give rise to other problemsI have personal experience of that. I remember being accused by a policeman of staggering when I got out of a car. I was examined, and had to explain that that is the way in which I normally walk. Many others would find it difficult, even in the best of circumstances, to perform the impairment tests.
I am reminded of a story told by my father, who fought in the first world war. He told me that on the Somme they could not get strawberry jam, but could get alcohol and cigarettes in unlimited quantities. My father died of lung cancer at the age of 43, and another member of his family, who also served on the Somme, was an alcoholic for life. Governments have often used drugs in that waydrugs were used deliberately on both sides in the great war. The great war would probably have stopped at Christmas on the first anniversary if huge quantities of alcohol had not been used.
We must consider realistically the position that we are in. We work in this workplace, in which prodigious quantities of drugs that impair our judgments and our reactions can be used. We must examine the science, consider the matter realistically and, if any changes in the law are likely to occur, we must start by imposing any required restrictions in this building.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) on securing the debate and on her presentation. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) on their contributions to the debate. All those contributions have been a credit to the House in that they addressed a difficult issue in a sober and sensible way. I also congratulate the all-party group on drugs misuse on the work that it has done. I commend it not only for producing statistics and evidence, but for freely admitting that there are more questions than answers in this area. I suspect that that will be the conclusion of this debate.
Let me deal, first, with perhaps the simpler side of the equation, which is traffic. There is no disagreement that those whose driving is impaired by intoxicants should face an appropriate penalty and should be discouraged. At the moment, we use the provisions of the Road Traffic Act 1988 relating to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and there is clearly an argument for making the same or equivalent rules for any intoxicant that causes impairment. The difficulty is that we have a relatively simple machinery and test for alcohol in the breathalyser, but we do not yet have an equivalent test for drugs.
I find it difficult to conceive of a time when we will have an equally simple test because it is not possible to have easily assessed quantitative limits for every drug in the British formulary. As the hon. Member for Newport, West explained, the level of impairment caused by different drugs varies hugely. He did not even refer to hallucinogens. I hope that he will agree that they are not a good idea when driving. One of the statistics that alarmed me was that there was evidence of people driving after taking LSD. It beggars belief that anyone should do that.
There is a lot of debate about the degree to which stimulants impair driving. We have to go back a step. As I think the hon. Member for Upminster was arguing, the basis for a prosecution must start with the suspicion that someone is driving while under the influence of an intoxicant followed by the evidence of impairment. First, a proper test for impairment is needed. A test to identify the intoxicant is the second stage: it is merely the corroborative test. If a person is driving erratically, which suggests the impairment of his faculties, that can be proved when he tests positive for a particular drug in the consequent testing.
An important point has been made about legal drugs and the possibly larger contribution that they make to the impairment of driving. This is a matter of education. It alarms me that we do so little to inform people that when it says in the fine print on a packet of pills, "Do not drive and do not operate machinery", it is not an optional instruction that does not apply to them. That advice applies to them; people who take Night Nurse are not fit to drive.
I should like now to move on to the more difficult issue of the workplace, which relates to several groups of people for whom social attitudes would be different. We have already heard about the pilot, the train driver or the heavy goods vehicle driver. Most people want to be clear that people who have the safety of others in their hands are not intoxicated at the time that they ply their trade. We then come to other groups such as law enforcement officers. We discussed that in the debates on the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Should it be absolutely prohibited for law enforcement officers to have illegal substances in their bodies? There is an argument for that: if they enforce the law, they should abide by the law in their private lives. Similarly, it has been suggested that Members of Parliament who make the law should adopt that approach.
However, there are grey areas. Do the public have a legitimate expectation that people working in the public sector should not have intoxicants in their bodies? If so, why should not a private employer have that legitimate expectation? How does one test that? One must return to the question of impairment: is the person's performance at work impaired? If it is, that is a legitimate concern.
Random testing is not necessarily the way of dealing with that concern. There are real question marks over the process of testing and about what constitutes a significant finding. We have already touched on that issue. The retained metabolites of several drugs may remain in a person's body for a long periodlong after they could have any conceivable pharmacological effect. Is that of any concern to their employer, or to anybody else, in terms of that person's behaviour? Do we have quick and effective testing? The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East talked about testing oral mucosa. That is a relatively new test, which seems to be quick and effective. It is a useful addition to the armoury, but I share his concerns about the laboratories that are processing a lot of the material. We need to look into them.
The human rights issues need to be properly addressed. Is an employee's recreational use of illegal drugs over a weekend any concern of an employer on a Monday morning? If a person reports for work in an intoxicated state, it may be their employer's concern, but what if they report for work when they are not intoxicated but are still suffering from the after-effects of intoxication? Everyone knows people who come in on a Monday morning with a weekend hangover. Sometimes, disciplinary action will be taken, but what contractual relationship is required? What is a fair contract? Is it right to have a contract that requires random testing, or testing when there is a suspicion of impairment? If that is the case, is there a proper
I am not giving answers to many of these questions. The Minister will probably agree that there will need to be a lot more consideration of, and work on, this issue before we reach a satisfactory conclusion. We need to derive sensible guidelines and protocols to give advice on what is an appropriate contractual relationship. The Government need to be directly involved so that we end up with something that is satisfactory to employees, employers and society at large and that protects them.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I echo the opening words of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt) on securing today's debate. It is obvious from all the contributions that this is unfinished business that needs to be considered carefully by the Government. I hope that the Minister will at least give us the satisfaction of laying out clear policies and views on workplace drug testing.
Such clarity has never been more apposite than at the moment. The issue of drug testing in the workplace has been thrust on to the front pages again, with recent stories about Rio Ferdinand and Greg Rusedski. The subject is very much in the public mind. Furthermore, at least three areas that have been highlighted in the press recently will focus the minds of people throughout the country on drugs, drug use and drug testing.
The first of those matters is the reclassification of cannabis from class B to class C, which will, I think, happen on 29 January. The accompanying publicity so far shows that the cannabis laws are in a shambles. That is the view. Certainly they are leading to massive confusion. Lawyers, drugs charities and teachers have been warning the Government about the great misunderstanding. I hope that the Minister will take today's opportunity to explain what she will do about the problems that the policy is already raising and that have been identified in the papers.
The second aspect of the issue that has been focusing people's minds was a report, which I saw in many papers but which was also mentioned on Sky television at 9.15 this morning, about the plunging price of drugs on the street. Alarmingly enough, I was standing with a colleague in the Corridor while the item was shown on television, and he said, "That is one of the real problems; unless we solve that, we are in real trouble." The Sky reporter said that her team had had no difficulty in obtaining class A drugs at a very low price. It is obvious from the reports that are now coming in that prices across the boardwhether of marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine or any other drugshave fallen under the present Government.
The third matter is the new research. Research moves on apace on a daily basis, but an article by Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail has come to many people's attention. It shows that there has been research to link
The work that the all-party group has done is a great starter for 10 but, as all the hon. Members who contributed have said, it leaves questions unanswered that the Minister must address. The report is concise, short and sweet. However, the main thrust is against the proliferation of testing for drugs. Obviously, there are places where it is necessary to ensure that a person is working at maximum awareness. However, even then the efficacy of testing for drugs rather than testing the ability of the person can be questioned.
Essentially, the group appears to have concluded that the emphasis on testing for the presence of drugs is almost misplaced. If there is a reason for testing people, it is usually to establish that they will perform their assigned task competently. Rather than testing for drugs or other substances, it might be better to test competence directly and test for substances only if competence is compromised.
I should be interested to know the Minister's view on supporting performance testing in the workplaceor random performance testing, indeed. That does not invade people's privacy and there are tests, such as those used by NASA and for testing pilots' hand-eye co-ordination and response time, that might receive her favour. The group concluded that the simple detection of a substance is no indication that a person is incompetent at the task they are performing.
Testing for drugs follows the pattern of police officers testing for alcohol in drivers. The presence of alcohol in the blood and therefore in the breath of drivers provides a reasonable correlation with driving competency, but the report suggests that the correlation is not necessarily present with many of the drugs that might be tested for. Cannabis, as other contributors to the debate have pointed out, remains detectable for up to 30 days, while driving competency is often compromised for much shorter periods of time.
The group was not convinced that expensive drug-testing programmes provided good value for money. Health and safety legislation means that employers have requirements to ensure the safety of employees and others within the workplace, but they thought it was questionable whether simply detecting the presence of substances forwarded the agenda.
The questions raised by the report about drug testing give the Minister an admirable platform from which to reply. I do not know whether she has read the report or has a copy of it. The Government perspective at point 4 is cursory, and I hope that she will expand on the Government's reaction to the report. [Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) for providing the Minister with a copy of the report; I was slightly worried that she did not have one.
Drug and alcohol abuse cost British industry approximately £6 billion a year. Members have turned out some alarming statistics. I have a few questions for the Minister. What have the Government achieved on a drugs-in-the-workplace strategy? How does she think that it has helped British industry? What does she think will be the impact of declassification of cannabis on workplace drugs policies and should employers take a more permissive attitude to cannabis use by employees? What investigations has the Minister carried out into the reliability of drugs tests currently available? Other Members have raised that issue. What analysis has the Minister carried out and what conclusions has she drawn from the drug treatment and testing orders? Does she have anything that could contribute to our views on drug testing in the workplace?
In more than half the states in America, state laws provide guidelines for when either job applicants or employees can be tested and the procedures that must be followed. Has the Minister considered doing the same, or is she making any progress in discussions with unions or employers on that subject?
There is no doubt that drug testing has become more of a hot issue as drug abuse has become more widespread. More businesses now realise that drug-abusing employees cost them money; they want to reduce those costs and they certainly want to minimise risks. Testing for drugs use comes from many angles: it is used as a screening device; as a defensive tool; and perhaps even as a legal requirement. I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the debate on the need to keep our workplaces safe and efficient and to protect us all from the dangers of drugs, both at home and in the workplace.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint) : In the short time available, I will address myself particularly to the Member who secured this debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), and the work that she has carried out with other colleagues on the all-party group on drugs misuse. It is a vitally important topic. I was pleased, not long after I became Minister, to be invited to a discussion on drugs organised by the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation that was also attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-
I am pleased that, in the form of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley, the all-party group has finally managed to secure a debate on this important subject. It is a complex issue, and many Members highlighted the fact that it covers various types of drugsboth illegal and prescription drugsand alcohol. We also heard about the need to find a form of testing in the workplace or at the roadside that will give us security and safety. We need to know what are we testing for and we need to be sure of the results. That is a huge issue, and evidence from around the world, particularly from America, shows that not all testing is conclusive.
As my hon. Friends pointed out, there is a definite need for stricter drug testing guidelines in the workplace and at the roadside. If we are to have such testing, we must be confident about its use and about how it will be acted upon. We shall need guidelines on exactly which drugs should be covered, and on what level of drugs found in the body is acceptable. As has been said, in some contextssport has been mentioned; prison is anothertesting is reasonably well regulated. However, I have to add a cautionary note. There is little evidence, and little professional consensus, to assist employers in deciding whether, how and in what circumstances they should test for drugs. Until now, legislation on drug testing has been piecemeal, and not properly analysed. However, as I shall explain later, we hope that will change as a result of the findings of an independent inquiry led by DrugScope.
Most important, no analysis has been made of the wider social implications of what happens to employees who fail drug tests. As several hon. Members said, what is the point of a drug test if someone has a problem? Irrespective of whether that person is using an illegal drug or alcohol, what should the employer do in such circumstances? Certainly, the Government want to give such people the opportunity to seek advice and to get treatment. They are otherwise law-abiding people and, as has been pointed out, many of them will do their jobs well. Even if a drug test shows positive for certain types of drug, that drug may not affect the person's work.
In some circumstances, when drug testing happens on a company's premises, the appropriate mechanisms are not always in placefor instance, there may not be a credible human resource package for helping employees with drug or alcohol problems. I believe that companies should test when there is genuine needa safety or critical needor when lives or security are the issue, such as on the underground, on planes or on building sites. Given the complexities of drug testing, however, unless the job involves a safety-critical role, drug testing on its own is not the answer to drug and alcohol abuse.
We believe strongly that employers should consider whether drug testing is justified, auditable, proportionate, accountable and necessary. That makes up the simple acronym "JAPAN", which we urge companies to use when considering whether to start drug testing.
In addition to the findings of the all-party parliamentary report, an independent inquiry into drugs at work facilitated by DrugScope will be published in April 2004. That will help everyone to focus on the problem and to think more deeply about the ways forward. We hope that the report will give a fuller picture of the prevalence of drug testing in the workplace, and that it will include recommendations to the Government, employers and other relevant bodies on ways forward in the drug-testing arena.
Drug testing aside, drugs misuse is a growing problem in society and, by default, it affects companies directly and indirectly. The use of drugs in the workplace can be the direct cause of low performance and low productivity, and it can affect safety. However, it can have indirect effects as a result of employees living with someone or having a friend who has a substance misuse problem. As I said in discussions with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation, an employee may be supporting someone who is going through treatment, which could increase the workplace pressures on that employee. It is therefore important that a policy supports employees, whether they have the problem or have to deal with a problem in the family.
We should remember that 17 million days are lost to alcohol misuse every year. The Government's alcohol strategy is to be published and launched shortly, and it will inform not only my work as a drugs Minister but work across the Government on tackling the issue. People do not necessarily use just one drug, but a number of drugs, one of which may be alcohol. Companies must therefore provide for employees to be informed about how to seek treatment for drug and alcohol misuse.
The Government's commitment is outlined in our national workplace initiative, which is to be implemented in partnership with the business sector, trade unions, drug action teams and others to raise awareness of the dangers of drug misuse and to reduce its harmful effects on employees and work performance. The steering group includes representatives from business, the CBI, chambers of commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Health and Safety Executive and the TUC. The initiative was set up in 2001, and, to date, 188 DAT-nominated trainers from 113 drug action teams throughout the country have been trained to help employers write effective, robust drugs policies and to raise awareness of drug misuse.
I was asked whether the Government were doing enough on the issue. We need to do more, but I am pleased to say that, over the next year, we plan to market the national workplace initiative to more businesses and, in particular, to safety-critical industries.
I should stress that a workplace drugs policy has many benefits and can help employers meet their legal duty to safeguard their employees' health and safety, and welfare. I hope that that policy, when combined with the unprecedented sums that are going to support treatment, will help many people who have a problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley mentioned the West Sussex drug and alcohol action team's pioneering online training package, which will be launched shortly, and I am happy to have provided the foreword. We have been working closely with the team to roll the tool out, and it is a good example of how a DAAT can have a real impact on what we do nationally. There are almost 3.8 million small businesses in the UK, and such an e-learning tool is a good way of getting information to them in a form that they can use.
Let me outline where we are with drug driving. Driving while impaired by drugs is already an offence under the Road Traffic Act 1988. When it comes into force, the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 will enable the police to carry out preliminary roadside screening tests for impairment and the presence of drugs. The main difference between the two Acts is that it will become compulsory for someone to take such a test if required to do so by a police officer.
In the light of existing techniques, we expect impairment tests that do not involve the use of equipment to be introduced later this year. We will need a code of practice to set out how such tests should be administered, what tasks might be described and what deductions might be drawn from the observations made. Such a code is currently being developed.
Tests for the presence of drugs depend on the availability of type-approved equipment, and we have talked about the complications in that regard. We are preparing the necessary specification, which will take into account the research that the Home Office's Police Scientific Development Branch has been doing for some time on drug detection. That specification will cover issues such as which drugs a device should be able to detect, at what levels, to what degree of reliability and using which scientific techniques and operational practice. Devices prepared by manufacturers to meet that specification will undergo comprehensive field and laboratory testing. I hope that that work will be completed and that type-approved equipment will be available in about two years.
A person who refuses to take a test will commit an offence and is likely to be arrested. The test will cover the full range of drugs, including illegal drugs, such as cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy and heroine, but it might also pick up some prescription drugs. We must ensure that we deal with the issue. There are also issues about people using prescription drugs and alcohol. We are doing a lot, and I shall write to hon. Members about the other issues that they raised.
We are trying to have an informed debate. The "Talk to Frank" literature states that drugs are illegal, but it tries to talk to people in an informed way that will help them. People are taking drugs, and we must tackle the issue by providing proper information and advice. The fact is that drug use has not gone up in the past few years. We are dealing with a 30-year legacy of drug use, and we are attempting to do so in the right and proper way.