Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1240-1259)|
MP, AND MR
14 JUNE 2006
Q1240 Margaret Moran: So there is
a formal role for the Chief Scientific Adviser?
Mr Coaker: As I say, the Home
Secretary will get the suggested people who should be on the committee
or who should be members of it, and he will make the final decision.
Q1241 Chairman: I would really like
to know your views on this. The previous Home Secretary and the
Chair of ACMD seemed to disagree about the role of ACMD in considering
social harm. Charles Clarke said, ". . . clinical, medical
harm is the advisory council's predominant consideration".
That was backed up by Andy Hayman who said, "What is directing
which classification a drug goes into is the scientific and medical
harm". However, Sir Michael, who is the chairman, contradicted
this by telling us that social harms were given "equal weight"
in the committee's deliberations. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: The committee's deliberations
on it include social harm, and I think that is an important consideration.
Q1242 Chairman: Sir Michael says,
"given equal weight"; the previous Home Secretary said
no to that and Andy Hayman said no to that. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: My view on it is that
the committee have a number of things that they consider alongside
social harm. They consider physical harm, withdrawal, pleasure,
and so on. So they take a number of things into account as well
as social harm. I think that the balance the ACMD currently has
Q1243 Chairman: So you agree with
Sir Michael rather than the previous Home Secretary?
Mr Coaker: No, I agree with what
was being said beforethe previous Home Secretarythat
it is the balance, where you have physical harm, pleasure, withdrawal,
as well as social harm.
Q1244 Chairman: No, the previous
Home Secretary said, ". . . clinical, medical harm is the
advisory council's predominant consideration". You agree
with that, and not Sir Michael Rawlins, who says that the whole
issue of social harm should in fact be given equal weight.
Mr Coaker: Social harm should
be included in the research harm index which they do, which it
currently is. So I agree with what Sir Michael is saying: that
it is not only social harm; it is physical harm; it is pleasure;
it is all of those sorts of things. That is the matrix that the
ACMD currently use to help prioritise what their decisions are.
Q1245 Chairman: You agree with both
of them, but they take contrary positions. That is not tenable.
Mr Coaker: No, what I am saying
is that the research matrix, the harm index that the ACMD currently
use, is a tested thing. Social harm is a part of that. It has
a number of priorities within it, and social harm is one of those;
but, alongside that, physical harm, pleasure and withdrawal also
have to be used. So Sir Michael is right in pointing out that
those are the things that they use to consider their decisions.
Q1246 Chairman: In terms of the role
of the Association of Chief Police Officers, we were somewhat
confused by the response we had from Andy Hayman about the role
of ACPO on the committee. Do you feel that ACMD should consider
evidence from the police in its deliberations, or is it for ministers
to integrate that advice from police with advice from ACMD? We
were concerned that he did not see it as his role to initiate
anything on ACMD, even though he is representing all the police
forces in the UK. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: My view on it is that
Andy Hayman and indeed Howard Roberts, another senior police officer
who is on the ACMD, play a very important role on the ACMD. I
think the role that they bring to it is the knowledge they have
of policing and law enforcement in this particular area. It is
that professional expertise which they are bringing to the committee,
and that sits alongside all the other sorts of people you have
on that. My own view is that, as well as reflecting the view of
the police, they bring an independent voice to it, which is about
law enforcement and the practical implications of the policies
that the ACMD are considering.
Q1247 Chairman: Vernon, here is the
rub. The police forces do collect evidence about the effects of
drugs on the streets and how it interfaces with crime. They have
that evidence. If we were going for evidence-based policyand
you have agreed that the ABC classification should in fact have
a link between the degree of harm and punishmentsurely
the police, through their representatives, should be initiating
advice to ACMD rather than just being there to comment on what
is going through the committee?
Mr Coaker: ACPO will
Q1248 Chairman: He said no. He specifically
said no, that was not their role. He was there to deliberate rather
than to initiate. I just want to know whether you think that he
should be initiating rather than deliberating.
Mr Coaker: If he is in the committee,
he will be informing the committee of his view based on his experience
and the experiences of the police forces throughout the country.
That is part of why he is there. He is there as a voice of police
experience, if you like, as is Howard Roberts.
Q1249 Chairman: That is not the point
I am making. The point I am making is that, if we are looking
at evidence-based policy here, the police have a vast amount of
evidence to bring to the committee. That does not appear to be
happening. Do you think that it should?
Mr Coaker: You would expect and
hope that the police are bringing that knowledge and experience
of dealing with these issues to the committee. In my view, that
would be why they are there: to bring that experience, knowledge
and understanding to the committeeboth with Andy Hayman
and with Howard Roberts. Clearly ACPO sometimes, outside of that,
will come to us about other matters and other issues.
Q1250 Dr Iddon: Could you confirm
to us this morning that the Government is considering reducing
the amount of all drugs, including cannabis, which individuals
will be allowed to carry and bring them at risk of being charged,
instead of with possession of the drug, with possession with intent
to supply a drug? That brings a maximum sentence of 14 years in
jail, of course.
Mr Coaker: As you will know, as
a result of the Drugs Act, at the present time we are considering
what the thresholds should be, in terms of coming to a conclusion
as to what it should be for presumption of supply. No decisions
have been made at the present time; but we are looking at that,
Q1251 Dr Iddon: Will Parliament get
a chance, either on the floor of the House or in delegated committee,
to debate any changes, or can the Home Secretary do this without
Mr Coaker: No, it is affirmative
resolution, so it will have to come before the House with respect
to determining these thresholds.
Q1252 Dr Iddon: Will there be wide
consultation with outside agencies before any decisions are made?
Mr Coaker: We have already consulted
with different people. There was a consultation exercise which
started in January and ran till March. Those consultations are
currently being considered and, just recently, we have had the
ACMD letter come back to us which has given us their view. We
will take their view into account, and we will take into account
the other consultations which took place in the three-month consultation
period, before coming to a decision as to what we should do.
Q1253 Dr Iddon: We have changed the
classification of cannabis from B to C; we are now considering
changing it back again, from C to B. We are considering changing
the amounts that people can carry, related to the charges that
might be imposed upon them, and the previous Home Secretary agreed
to look at the classification of drugs. Would it not be sensible
if all this were done together, rather than in a piecemeal fashion?
Mr Coaker: We are trying to move
forward with a coherent drugs strategy. No decision has been made
as to how we move forward with respect to the review of the classification
system. The Home Secretary has yet to make a decision on how we
proceed with that. We are required by the Drugs Act to come to
a decision about determining the thresholds at which we have to
presume it is supply. There has been widespread consultation on
that. With respect to cannabis, you will know that that was recently
confirmed as a Class C drugalthough, I emphasise, an illegal
drug. Whatever system you have in place, there will always be
issues which arise with respect to this. There will always be
people who have opinions about what should happenquite
rightly, because it is a very important and serious matterbut
there will be people who will argue and disagree about different
aspects of it. We have a drugs strategy; we are moving forward
on it, and we are taking decisions as and when appropriate.
Q1254 Dr Iddon: However, I think
you would agree with me that the worst thing we can do is to confuse
the public, and particularly the young people in the public.
Mr Coaker: With my background,
I know how particularly important that is. I think it is very
important for us to say from this Committee that, whatever the
arguments there were about cannabis, it remains an illegal drug.
That is the message we have been putting out from the Home Office.
That is the message that I have continued to put out in the various
road shows I have been to and will continue to go to; and that
is the message that I will continue to push.
Q1255 Dr Iddon: What evidence do
you or the Home Office have that led you to classify magic mushrooms
as some of the most dangerous substances, aligned with cocaine
and heroin? They are not addictive, of course.
Mr Coaker: The whole debate about
magic mushrooms was really not with respect to classification;
it was trying to clarify the law, and that is why it was changed
in the Drugs Act. You know that psilocin, which is the active
ingredient, is a Class A drug; but the problem with it was within
fresh or natural mushrooms. We saw a huge increase in the number
of people who were importing magic mushrooms into the country.
There was a big increase in that. There was therefore a concern
that there was a loophole in the law with respect to psilocin
being gotfor want of a better way of putting itthrough
this loophole. People were able to get psilocin through this loophole.
We felt it important therefore, since psilocin is a Class A drugand
there was clearly a problem out there, there was a huge increase
in the import of itfor us to take action. So we saw it
as a clarification of the law rather than any classification change.
Q1256 Dr Iddon: We seem to have agreement
between the Committee and yourself this morning that classification
according to the ABC system is according to harm50% harm
to the individual, 50% harm to the society. That is what the ACMD
have told us. If that is the case, psilocin and psilocybin are
not sold in shops and are not available on the street. I have
not met anybody in my capacity as chairman of the Misuse of Drugs
Group who uses them. I do not know a single person who has been
harmed by them. Why are psilocin and psilocybin therefore in Class
Mr Coaker: Because that is the
advice: that they were powerful hallucinogenic drugs, and that
is why they were categorised with respect to that.
Q1257 Chairman: But we are supposed
to have an evidence-based policy. That is the point that Brian
is making. There is no evidence at all to show that these have
the degree of harm which should put them into Class A.
Mr Coaker: What we are saying
is that, should they be used, they are harmful drugs. They are
Class A on the basis of the harm that they would cause were they
to be used. We saw huge increases in the numbers of magic mushrooms
which were being importednaturally grown mushrooms, which
were outside of the lawwhich would suggest that, if they
were being imported in increasing numbers, somebody out there
was using them, because people would be bringing them in to
Q1258 Chairman: There is absolutely
no evidence about that.
Mr Coaker: The police were saying
to us that clearly, if you have this increase in imported magic
mushrooms, they are being imported for a purpose. The law with
respect to psilocin is that it is a Class A drug. We were worried
that this was a loophole and we have closed that loophole. On
the basis of clarifying the lawas was made in one of the
court judgments in 2004, somewhere in Gloucestershire I think
it was, in Gloucester Crown Courtwe were asked to do that,
which is what we did.
Q1259 Dr Iddon: You have moved drugs
up and down this classification. Bob is going to come to one that
you have moved up. You have moved cannabis down. Why has nobody
looked at psilocin and psilocybin in the classification, decided
that they are not causing harm to society or individuals, and
moved them down? In which case, magic mushrooms would not be in
Class A with a maximum penalty of 14 years' jail.
Mr Coaker: The opportunity for
drugs to be looked at will always be there, and that issue is
there; but at the current time there are no plans to reclassify
it. Those drugs are Class A drugs. No doubt people will have heard
what you have had to say this morning and consider the evidence;
but, as I say, that is where they are at the moment. There was
a loophole in the law which we wanted to close.