Khat - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Appendix A: Government response

Letter from Rt Hon Theresa May MP, Home Secretary, 13 March 2014

I am writing to provide the Government's formal response to the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on khat published on 29 November 2013.

I welcome the Committee's consideration of some of the issues associated with khat in the UK.

I have made clear that the decision to ban khat was finely balanced. Having reviewed the Committee's report, I am not persuaded to reconsider my decision which was made following an extensive consultation process and careful consideration, not least because of the breadth and complexity of the issues associated with khat in the UK and abroad.

The Government has developed a wider framework to address the concerns and issues associated with khat and support the affected communities in England. I set this out in my further response to the advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to Government on khat, published on 20 November 2013, which the Committee appears not to have seen prior to issuing its report.[1]

I am aware that, following the publication of your report, the Committee received representations from 32 organisations of the UK Somali Network. They represent large sections of the British Somali diaspora who share the view that the control of khat can deliver real and positive changes on family life, community cohesion, health and economic outcomes and can promote integration. Indeed, it was the concerns expressed by some of these organisations that I considered, alongside the ACMD's advice and broader policy factors, before making my decision last year.

The Committee has also received representations made on behalf of the Kenyan Government, which is concerned that the UK's decision may have an adverse impact on its khat industry. I acknowledge their particular concerns about the people and economy of Meru County in Kenya. The UK is providing assistance to Meru County through the Kenyan Market Access programme. However, we cannot ignore the facts that the UK's current position is being exploited by the international khat trafficking trade and that this places UK interests at risk.

The Committee acknowledges this risk in its report, stating that "there is good evidence to suggest that this argument is correct" and citing the example of the Netherlands, where khat was banned last year. I welcome its support for the need to address this threat. It remains clear to me that without robust Government intervention to tackle this issue the UK will be at serious risk of becoming a single, regional hub for the smuggling of khat to countries which have banned it to protect their own citizens from harm.

Conclusion/Recommendation 1  

We recommend that the Home Office publish a unified strategy for addressing the multiple disadvantages faced by the Somali diaspora in the UK, drawing on the areas identified by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and previous research in this area. (Paragraph 21)

taken with

Conclusion/Recommendation 2

We recommend that the Home Office establish a framework for evaluating the impact of the khat ban on police/community relations, including recording the frequency with which on-street police powers such as stop and search are used; the number of arrests, out-of-court disposals and convictions for khat-related offences; and community attitudes to the police. Data should be published annually. (Paragraph 22)

taken with

Conclusion/Recommendation 3

We recommend that evidence presented by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs be given a more comprehensive Government response and used more extensively in the Secretary of State's decision-making process (…) (Paragraph 23)

A further response to the ACMD's recommendations to Government on khat was issued on 20 November 2013. In this letter I set out our wider response to the issues faced by local communities where khat is causing concern. A copy of that letter is annexed to this response.[2] Our response to the ACMD was informed by the full consideration of its findings, which have helped us to gain a better understanding of the related issues and informed cross-government deliberations which have included the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Besides the health and community-based interventions that we will continue to promote and support, we acknowledge the wider issues faced by the affected communities as well as the need to respond sensitively to concerns about khat and vulnerable users. My further response to the ACMD therefore explains how, by removing khat from affected communities, and building on approaches to address khat-related issues, we will continue to deliver our equalities and integration strategies to engage and support these communities in pursuing equality of opportunities and chances in life. It further sets out briefly the escalation framework for the proportionate and consistent policing of khat possession offences, supported by timely Government messaging and targeted communications about the risks associated with khat and the services locally available for users and their families.

As recommended by the ACMD, we have committed to reviewing the impact of our policies by monitoring seizure and treatment data which are published annually. We do so for all drugs, although in the case of khat we will look to monitor the impact locally and nationally in more detail where appropriate. My Chief Scientific Adviser also wrote to the relevant Research Councils and the Government's Chief Medical Officer to bring to their attention the ACMD's recommendation that further research will be needed to understand the links between khat and the associated harms. We are exploring the possibility of monitoring the use of khat among the general population by reintroducing a question on use to the drug misuse module of the 2014/15 Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Conclusion/Recommendation 3

(…) and that the ACMD should be allowed to review annually decisions taken by the Secretary of State with a view to recommending whether the control should be removed, retained or moved to another class. (Paragraph 23)

Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the ACMD is under a statutory duty to keep under review the situation in relation to all drugs, including controlled drugs. The ACMD can of course advise Government on drug-related issues of its own volition which Ministers will consider and respond to. However, I am not persuaded that decisions made on drug control - most often in line with the ACMD's own recommendation, and always scrutinised and approved by Parliament - need to be subject to a systemised and frequent review. Where there is merit in reviewing the status of a drug's control, more particularly where the evidence has developed over time, we have taken such action. I draw your attention to the ACMD's latest advice on ketamine which I commissioned.

Conclusion/Recommendation 4

We recommend that the Government enter into urgent discussions with the Kenyan Government and international aid agencies to understand the impact of the UK's khat ban on khat-growing areas, and stand ready to delay or reverse its proposed ban if necessary in order to prevent any negative impact. (Paragraph 24)

taken with

Conclusion/Recommendation 5

We recommend that the Government introduce a scheme for licensing the importation of khat to the United Kingdom, instead of controlling khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. (Paragraph 25)

Although I acknowledge the Committee's reasoning behind these recommendations, the Government's decision to control khat is of course primarily concerned with the protection of UK interests and UK citizens.

Licensing the importation of khat would not address the public concerns about its prevalence in local communities. It would not provide the necessary and strongest response to tackle the risk of the UK being the single, regional trafficking hub for khat. It should also be remembered that the two active ingredients of the khat plant are controlled Class C drugs because they are harmful. Moreover, in the context of our Drug Strategy aims to reduce all drug use, such an approach would be entirely inconsistent with our wider approach to drug issues, including public health messaging on drug misuse and inequalities in the UK.

We have discussed the proposed ban with the Kenyan Government on a number of occasions. Notably, on 17 September 2013, the Foreign Secretary discussed the matter with his Kenyan counterpart, Amina Mohamed. On 20 November 2013 his officials also met the Kenyan Parliamentary Select Committee on khat when they visited the UK.

I appreciate the associated concerns about the livelihood of khat farmers in Meru County. The UK is delivering a number of projects in Meru County through the Kenya Market Access programme intended to better enable low-income households to participate in a range of value added markets. Current support includes work on aquaculture, livestock and improving the productivity of agricultural communities in Kenya. The Government is considering how best to improve the commercialisation of rangelands, including through supporting investment in the livestock value chain, tourism and leisure as well as other value added markets. This should help the Government to achieve our objective of lifting the poorest Kenyans out of poverty and provide Kenya with an exit from aid.

For these reasons, I remain satisfied that the decision to control khat is the right one. Mindful of the broader policy framework to address the issues associated with khat, and having weighed up the wider risks and issues concerning khat and the UK's position (including the potential impact of control), I have decided to make no change to my decision, and not to delay the introduction of the ban.

I am copying this to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Minister for Integration, Minister for Public Health, Minister for Crime Prevention, Minister for Security, Chief Constable Andy Bliss and Devolved Administrations.

Rt Hon Theresa May MP,
Home Secretary,
13 March 2014

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Prepared 24 March 2014