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House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

First Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

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First Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. Mike Weir

†Atkins, Charlotte (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
†Featherstone, Lynne (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD)
†Garnier, Mr. Edward (Harborough) (Con)
†Goggins, Paul (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
†Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
†Horwood, Martin (Cheltenham) (LD)
†Lepper, David (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op)
†McFadden, Mr. Pat (Wolverhampton, South-East) (Lab)
†Miliband, Edward (Doncaster, North) (Lab)
†Pound, Stephen (Ealing, North) (Lab)
Prisk, Mr. Mark (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
†Ryan, Joan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury) (Lab)
†Sheridan, Jim (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab)
†Spellar, Mr. John (Warley) (Lab)
Streeter, Mr. Gary (South-West Devon) (Con)
Frank Cranmer, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

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Monday 31 October 2005

[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2005

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2005.

I am delighted to see you in the Chair, Mr. Weir. I understand that this is your first time as a Committee Chairman. We wish you well in this Committee and in all future deliberations over which you preside.

The purpose of the draft order is to bring the substance Ketamine under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The draft order was considered in the House of Lords on 27 October. As the 1971 Act requires, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been consulted, and it agrees with the proposals.

At present, Ketamine is a prescription-only medicine that is controlled under the Medicines Act 1968. It is primarily used in veterinary medicine as an anaesthetic, but it is also prescribed in hospitals as an analgesic to manage acute pain. Ketamine is a drug that can be misused. It has hallucinogenic properties and can make the user feel detached from his or her body. It is mainly misused by clubbers, who snort it in powder form, although it can also come in pill form or be injected.

Risks to health from Ketamine use indicate that it should be a controlled drug. It can affect the memory and has the potential, if used over a prolonged period, to disrupt the personal and working life of users. Ketamine may lead to psychotic relapse or the precipitation of schizophrenia in people who have a tendency towards such disorders. To mix Ketamine and alcohol can be fatal. Ketamine increases the heart rate, cardiac output and blood pressure, and that makes the drug potentially dangerous to people with cardiovascular diseases.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has stated that Ketamine use remains fairly low, although indications are that its use is growing. Information that has been gathered from annual self-reported postal surveys of Ketamine use among clubbers shows that the number of regular users increased from 4 per cent. to 16 per cent. between 1999 and 2003.

The British crime survey has been monitoring levels of Ketamine misuse since April 2005, although no figures are currently available. Seizures of the drug have been relatively constant, with 195 reported seizures in 2003. Criminal groups’ potential to make substantial profit for little risk will remain as long as Ketamine is not classed as a controlled drug under the 1971 Act and importers are not penalised.

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During 2001-02, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs identified an emerging trend for large parcels of Ketamine being imported into the United Kingdom from the subcontinent. The drug was concealed in solution in packages labelled “Rosewater”. As hon. Members may be aware, customs officers can take action against those who import medicines unlawfully only when the substance takes the form of a medicinal product. As the Ketamine was invariably in a solution, and not in medicinal form, action could not be taken. The packages had been wrongly declared, however, so HMRC was still able to seize a substantial number of those packages.

The draft order will allow customs officers to include Ketamine on their list of controlled drugs. That will enable them to be considerably more systematic in their enforcement policy. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs established a dedicated Ketamine committee, which took evidence from a wide range of experts. It produced a comprehensive report and, in November 2004, the advisory council recommended that Ketamine should be controlled as a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The report can be accessed from the Home Office website.

In February 2005, the Minister then responsible for drugs policy, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), now the Under-Secretary of State for Health, accepted in principle that Ketamine should be classed as a controlled drug, subject to views received in a public consultation that then took place between March and June. The consultation generally supported classing Ketamine as a controlled drug.

If the order is approved, we shall table an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 that will bring Ketamine within the scope of those regulations. The amended regulations will impose the regime of control over the drug. The Government will then aim for the draft order to become law, together with the relevant amendment to the regulations, on 1 January 2006.

As a class C drug, the maximum penalty for unauthorised manufacture, importation and supply of Ketamine will be 14 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine. The maximum sentence for the offence of possession of Ketamine will be two years’ imprisonment and a fine.

A full regulatory impact assessment was carried out prior to the laying of the order and the costs to industry are expected to be minimal. Control of any drug showing signs of prevalence are likely to result in increased costs to the criminal justice system through prosecutions for possession and supply offences. However, we anticipate a significant deterrent effect on those wishing to import Ketamine, and criminal justice costs are estimated to be less than £1 million.

We will publicise the law change with regard to Ketamine through a Home Office notice and through the “Talk to Frank” and websites. Reference to the law change and health risks relating to Ketamine will be included in future Government materials for young people.

The measures are very much in line with the Government’s commitment to cause maximum disruption to drugs markets and so protect young
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people from the harms of being exposed to dangerous drugs. I commend the proposed changes to the Committee.

4.36 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): I begin by apologising for being one or two seconds late, Mr. Weir. In normal circumstances that would be a huge disadvantage, because I would not have been able to hear the opening paragraphs of the Minister’s speech. However, I read the debate in the other place, and much of what was said there was similar, if not identical, to what the hon. Gentleman said. I also had the advantage of being at a meeting this afternoon with Lord Bassam, who introduced the measure in the other place. I therefore think that I know what the Minister said in the short period when I was absent.

Broadly, the official Opposition support what the Minister said and the thrust of the proposal. However, one or two points need to be made in addition to those made by the Minister. First, Ketamine is a “new” chemical drug in that it is being used now by human beings rather than animals. The Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), who knows a lot about this subject, is nodding in agreement. I have not yet had a chance to read his paper on the subject, but I am looking forward to doing so.

Ketamine is one of the new chemical drugs that is being increasingly used on the club scene. I have some knowledge of the club scene, not because I go to clubs but because, as a Crown court recorder, I sentence people to prison for dealing in drugs, particularly in clubs. Ketamine has become the drug of choice because it is not yet on the list of illegal drugs. There are plenty of other drugs of a chemical nature—I will not recite them now—that are responsible for wrecking the lives of a great many young people and making a great deal of money for some very unscrupulous people. Anything that we as legislators can do to shut off another source of immoral—I was going to say amoral—income for dealers who prey upon youngsters in clubs will benefit society as a whole.

It is right that the Government have taken steps to put Ketamine on the illegal drugs register. It will be a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 once the order is passed. However, it provides us with a commentary on the Government’s behaviour in relation to the downgrading of cannabis from B to C. I hope that their enthusiasm to put Ketamine on the list as a class C drug will perhaps act as a catalyst to encourage them to think again about the classification of cannabis as a class C drug.

Speaking as a constituency Member of Parliament whose experience has, I hope, been added to in a sensible way by his experience as a Crown court recorder, I can say that there is a huge amount of confusion about the status of cannabis, among the police and among cannabis users, too. I hope this short debate will allow us an opportunity to encourage the Government to clarify their position on cannabis and to issue clearer instructions and practice guidance to
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the police, so that young people who might be tempted to deal in or to use cannabis under the impression that they are not committing a crime, would be well advised, first, that it is a crime and, secondly, that it is deleterious to their health.

4.40 pm

Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): It is clear that there has been a huge increase in the misuse of Ketamine. An internet search shows how well known it has become. I understand that Ketamine can be known as K, Ket, Special K, Vitamin K—not to be confused with the real vitamin K—or Kitty. That there are so many colloquial names for the drug shows how long overdue is the measure to bring it into class C. We welcome the proposal and broadly support it.

As was made clear in the other place by my noble Friend Lord Dholakia, we have no problem supporting the change. I was encouraged by the Minister’s statement that there will be a website for information to be supplied to young people. I would strongly encourage an education campaign—the more the better. There is great confusion about drugs, and public information campaigns work best when they are properly targeted, resourced and undertaken.

4.41 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone) and the Minister in welcoming the proposal to add Ketamine to the register.

It is true that there is a great deal of information about the drug and its misuse. I found one disconcertingly well-informed website called, which explained the effects of Ketamine. It stated:

    “If you’re on a dance floor music can sound heavy, weird and strangely compelling, lights seem very intense and physical co-ordination can fall apart along with an overall feeling of numbness.”

That is not surprising, given that Ketamine is an anaesthetic. The website went on to warn clubbers:

    “This may turn you into a gibbering, spaced out bore, mumbling and slurring away while your dancing may begin to resemble Bill and Ben on acid. Your movements may become as swift as a spliffed-up tortoise crawling across an extra-sticky big bun on a very hot day. You may be unable to move at all.”

That is humorously phrased, but the serious point is that an anaesthetic is not the best thing for someone’s dancing, and if a person falls as a result of taking the drug and is injured, they may not realise it. For instance, they may be bleeding without realising it. The website warns of the further effects that the Minister and others mentioned: mixing the drug with other drugs may induce serious side effects, including, at its most extreme, heart failure.

A BBC report in May 2000 claimed that medical research had shown that controlled tests on Ketamine users had revealed impaired memory and mild schizophrenia several days after taking the drug. There have even been reports of it being implicated in so-called date rape. It is clearly a drug that needs to be controlled, but as with cannabis, ecstasy and other
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drugs that are subject to public debate, it is important that the policy is intelligent and rational and that it takes an evidence-based approach.

It is also important that in general, policy on the misuse of drugs directs resources where they are most needed, and that policing, rehabilitation and social services efforts are aimed at the drugs that are most harmful, at the users who are most problematic and at those who are responsible for the most crime.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green in calling on the Government to support education. In that respect, allowing and supporting websites such as is essential. National charities such as Addaction have taken the same approach in pursuing education in media and language that are relevant to young people, which is worth much more than high-profile Government PR campaigns. I am happy to support the order.

4.44 pm

Paul Goggins: I suppose we cannot promise that every Committee you chair will be quite so consensual, Mr. Weir, but I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) for his support. He is right, of course—a generation of new drugs is becoming available and we need to monitor their impact and availability very carefully. We do that with the help of HMRC and the police.

Increasingly, from April next year, the Serious Organised Crime Agency will have an important role to play. We also have the benefit of advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that we as legislators must do what we can to tackle the problem and, in particular, to deal with those who perpetrate the dreadful trade in drugs, which does so much harm and so much damage to individual lives and communities, and the more we can do, the better.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to comment on the classification of cannabis. He will forgive me if I do not do that in any detail this afternoon; there will be other opportunities to discuss
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the matter. We are awaiting the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as to the classification of cannabis. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary referred the question of classification back to the advisory council to see whether there was any fresh evidence and additional concerns, and it will make its recommendations in due course. However, I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that whatever the outcome of that deliberation, recommendation and eventual decision, we must all be clear on the position of cannabis. He is right that, whatever its classification, it is illegal and harmful. We must ensure that that message is heard and understood loud and clear.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green said that our actions were a little overdue. Because the consultation took place over a period that included the general election, followed by the summer recess, proceedings may have been held back a little. However, the order will be implemented from 1 January 2006, and I am sure she is pleased about that. She is right, as is the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), to emphasise the importance of education, and of ensuring that awareness-raising in education for young people takes a form that is credible to them. The “Talk to Frank” website is out on its own as to its credibility with young people for the information it provides and the way in which it does so.

We need time to combine education and prevention on the one hand, with treatment on the other, as well as a united effort to take on the organised gangs that deal in this dreadful trade and do so much damage. The hon. Member for Cheltenham is right that our actions must always be based on evidence, and we continue to be mindful of that. With those comments, I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (Amendment) Order 2005.

Committee rose at twelve minutes to Five o’clock.


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