Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1200-1219)|
MP, AND MR
14 JUNE 2006
Q1200 Dr Harris: However, Professor
David Nutt, who is the Chair of the ACMD Technical Committee,
says, "I think the evidence base for classification producing
a deterrent is not strong". So, on the basis of what you
have just said, will you now take that away and change your answer?
If you are referring to him, he disagrees with you by 180.
Mr Coaker: Professor Nutt, as
you know, is a member of the ACMD. We have a matrix which we use.
That matrix is part of the way we determine which drug should
be in which category. Of course, we always look at the evidence
that people give us; we always look at the opinions that they
give to us; but what we have there is Professor Nutt being part
of the ACMD and we take his advice.
Q1201 Chairman: It is disturbing
for the Committeeand this is about evidence and policy,
Vernon, not about whether the Government's policy is right or
wrong. What we are saying is this. Is there any occasion when
the Home Office has commissioned research to show that when you
put a drug into a higher classification it actually has a deterrent
effector the opposite?
Mr Coaker: We have a scientific
basis for determining harm. The ACMD refer to that when they classify
drugs. When we come on to methylamphetamine, they risk-assessed
that against the matrix, and that is when they have come forward
with the proposals they have with respect to that drug.
Chairman: We will return to that specific
Q1202 Adam Afriyie: I have just one
last question around evidence and research. Have you commissioned
any research to look at the classification of a drug and the level
of crime associated with it? It does seem from studies in America
and elsewhere in the worldI am not sure about the UK because
I have not seen the research herethat if a drug is in a
higher class, it therefore has a higher perceived street value;
dealers get involved; there is a higher economic incentive for
crime. Have you commissioned any research into that area?
Mr Coaker: The Department of Health
carry out a lot of research and we work closely with them. They
commission a lot of research into different aspects of drugs.
I have here a number of reports, both by the Home Office and by
the ACMD, which research into various aspects of drug and drug
Q1203 Adam Afriyie: Do they look
at the class of a drug and the crime associated with that and
the correlation between them?
Mr Coaker: There is an obvious
example with respect to that recently. As Phil was saying, we
will come back to the methylamphetamine. Cannabis is an example
of a drug that they looked at and did some research into. Ketamine
is another one that recently the Technical Committee looked at
and, obviously, date rape. So there are a number of research projects
which are going on at the present time, looking into various drugsboth
recently and now.
Q1204 Chairman: Coming back to the
ABC classification, in January the then Home Secretary announced
that a consultation paper on the ABC classification system would
be published within a few weeks. It has still not been published.
Mr Coaker: I am sorry, could you
repeat the question?
Q1205 Chairman: In January the then
Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that a consultation paper
on the ABC classification system would be published within a few
weeks. There was obviously a concern about it at that time. Why
has it not happened?
Mr Coaker: Two things. First of
all, the Home Secretaryin post for four weekshas
not yet taken a decision on how to proceed with the review of
the classification system. With respect to the consultation document
which is in draft form in the department, the view is that we
will need to wait until such time as we decide how to proceed
with respect to the review of the classification system and also,
similarly, wait for the report of this Committeewhich we
want to take into account in determining the best way forward.
Q1206 Chairman: That is a very honest
reply, if I may say so.
Mr Coaker: I am trying to be helpful.
Q1207 Chairman: Of course you are.
Do you think, as the minister responsible now, the classification
system should be directly related to the penalties for possession
and trafficking? Do you think there should be that direct relationship
between classification and penalties?
Mr Coaker: I think that the classification
system is based on harm, and there is a relationship therefore
between harm and the penalties that should be apportioned to them,
according to that classification. Yes, I do. Class A drugs, for
example, are regarded as the most dangerous drugs and therefore
in that sense the penalties associated with possession, supply,
et cetera, correlate to that degree of harm.
Q1208 Chairman: So the greater the
degree of harm of the drug should then attract the highest penalty?
Mr Coaker: That is a matter for
the courts in the end, as to what they actually think; but certainly
that is the way the legal system is basedon the potential
Q1209 Chairman: Do you support that?
Do you support that classification equals penalty?
Mr Coaker: Classification equals
the degree of penalty which is available to the courts.
Bob Spink: Could I get clarification?
Will methylamphetamine be reclassified as a Class A drug?
Chairman: You can answer that when we
get on to that section.
Q1210 Mr Newmark: Is there a need
for a more scientifically based scale of harm to be developed
to facilitate education and debate, with an emphasis on a scientifically
based scale of harm?
Mr Coaker: I referred earlier
to the way the ACMDwhich is the statutory body that we
have to consulthave a harm index, which includes taking
into account some of the scientific evidence that it gets. It
also takes into account social harms, and so on. So there is a
degree of assessment which is made, according to the matrix that
Q1211 Mr Newmark: That is a form
of matrix. I am talking specifically on the science of harm itself.
Mr Coaker: But they will receive
reports; they will receive evidence; they will look at various
things that are happening, and get people coming to them to talk
to them. So scientists will come to them and talk to them about
their scientific beliefs, their research. People will come to
them with reports about what they think about particular things.
The ACMD can take that into account when they are determining
the way forward. The science plays an important part in the determination
of the ACMD's conclusions.
Q1212 Mr Newmark: I am not sure if
you have answered my question but, given that you put great stock
in the ACMD, how do you respond to findings by experts, including
the chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee, that tobacco and
alcohol are more harmful than LSD and Ecstasy, both of which are
classified as Class A drugs?
Mr Coaker: There is an important
point to make about the ACMD. We put great store in what they
say. We listen carefully to the comments that they make. However,
it is not a cosy relationship; it is a challenging relationship.
They will challenge us in a whole variety of areas. I think that
is as it should be. It is an independent body. It is a body whose
opinions we respect, and we try to work closely with them.
Q1213 Mr Newmark: Do you disagree
then that tobacco and alcohol are not as harmful as those two
Mr Coaker: Alcohol and tobacco
are legal drugs, and they operate within the framework of our
Q1214 Mr Newmark: But they are very
harmful, are they not?
Mr Coaker: They are harmful in
many respects, if abusedor alcohol, if abused. But they
are socially acceptable drugs; they are drugs that most of us,
particularly with respect to alcohol, will use sensibly. If we
are looking at the real issues of society, alcohol and tobacco
clearly are issues which, if abusedalcohol if abused, and
smoking, as we know, is harmfulwe are trying to combat,
in terms of the abuse of alcohol and, in terms of smoking, trying
to reduce that as well. However, they are legal drugs and we have
to look at them within the context of the society in which we
Q1215 Mr Newmark: How will that sort
of thinking that is coming out of these experts influence future
policy decisions on crime, with respect to drugs, crime and public
Mr Coaker: In terms of where we
have particular representations made about drugs which are harmful,
where they are talking to us about different things, thenas
I was saying earlier in reply to Adamthat is the other
aspect of drug policy, which has to be an enforcement policy.
There has to be a policy which is out there, trying to tackle
the supply and those people who deal in it on the streets. We
have taken a number of measures in order to try to deal with that
as well. For example, if you look at the recently established
Serious and Organised Crime Agency, that has, as a very real focus
and as one of its top priorities, the tackling of the supply of
Q1216 Mr Newmark: Why is it that
in the UK spending on addiction research is so much lower per
head than, for example, in the US? Is this a reflection of it
being a lower priority over here versus over in the States?
Mr Coaker: We massively increased
the spending on drugs, on trying to tackle the harm which drugs
are causing in our communities. The drug treatment programmes,
the establishment of the various projects that we have, have seen
a massive increase in spending.
Q1217 Mr Newmark: And when it comes
to addiction research?
Mr Coaker: With respect to addiction,
there are priorities that people have. The health service and
all the other bodies have seen big increases in spending. Do we
want to see more spending on that sort of research? I think that
is a legitimate question to ask and something we should look at.
Q1218 Mr Newmark: So would you like
to see more money spent on it?
Mr Coaker: I think that it is
something we should look at, yes.
Q1219 Mr Newmark: Do you feel that
the lack of evidence in this area is actually an impediment to
evidence-based policymaking itself?
Mr Coaker: You have taken evidence
from the ACMD, but I think that they would say that their advice
to us is evidence based. They take evidence from a variety of
sources and, in taking that evidence, they make recommendations
to us. I think they would say that the various reports that come
to us, the various recommendations that they make, are based on
evidence which they have taken and considered.