|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Mancroft: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate this Green Paper and indeed I welcome the Green Paper itself. It is--and I believe other noble Lords have already made the point --quite a remarkable document in many ways. Apart from the fact that it is 114-pages long, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, pointed out, it has been signed by three Secretaries of State and the Paymaster General. Heading the list is the Lord President of the Council and it has
Reading my right honourable friend's introduction and the whole foreword to the document, I can only conclude that the concern which various Members of your Lordships' House and others have voiced about the drug problem in Britain over the past few years has finally registered with Government. I see this document as a statement by them that they have finally realised the extent and the serious nature of Britain's drug problems and that they are going now to do their level best firmly to grip this problem. It may not have escaped the attention of some of your Lordships that I have on occasions been slightly critical of the Government's policy in the past. I shall return to the offensive quite soon. But before I do so it is important to register very loudly and clearly that this is a tremendous step forward for any government to take. I believe that it is the first time that any European government, as I have said, has attempted to do that.
On the plus side, this Green Paper contains a really thorough and deep review of the present state of affairs relating to the drug problems in this country and what steps the Government at all levels have taken until now. It quite rightly acknowledges that there are many gaps in the information which we need in order to make the kinds of decisions that we would like to make, and that there are gaps in the services which exist at present. The document quite rightly outlines proposals to deal with them. It has also to be said that a great many of the 114 pages are taken up with telling us things that we already know. The foreword states,
That is all well and good and I believe that we all agree with that. It could of course apply to practically every government policy and every government department. Of course there are matters with which we shall agree and there will be others with which we shall not agree. It is probably not very helpful to go through all 114 pages picking out the parts which are good and the parts which are bad. It is important to try to look at the paper from a wide point of view and to see what is the overall strategy; what is the direction we are going to take and whether that is a good direction in which to be going. It is clearly on that that we are being invited to comment.
Roughly speaking, there are really only two ways in which one can deal with the drug problem. One can seek either to control the supply of drugs, using Customs, the police, courts and prison--that is to say, the criminal justice system--or one can seek to control the demand. There are two ways of doing the latter. The first is through education and prevention, and the other is through treatment of the existing addict population.
Looking at the Green Paper, it seems that the Government have opted for the route of education as the means of prevention. The immediate question is: why that route and not the other? I think that it is for a very simple reason. I refer to the lovely old English proverb, "Prevention is better than cure". I have two reasons for thinking that that might be the philosophy behind the policy. The first is that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health said that to me rather forcefully at a meeting some time ago. My second reason is that that phrase occurs in the Scottish version of the Green Paper although I could not find it in the English version. It is a marvellous idea. It is much better not to go out and get wet than it is to sit in bed with a streaming cold. It is better not to break your leg than to put a plaster cast on it. Clearly, prevention is better than cure--but only if it works; only if we can identify some factor or something that we can say or do that will actually persuade people not to start using drugs.
The present aims, as outlined in the Green Paper, and the policy that we are following as we speak at the moment, comprise three aspects. The first is education and the youth service, and that includes the work in the national curriculum. The second aspect is the Home Office drug prevention initiative, and the third element comprises the national information and advertising campaigns, including European Drug Prevention Week.
The aims that are set out in the Green Paper are to discourage young people from taking drugs and to develop effective education strategies focusing particularly on young people. I am not absolutely certain of the difference between the two. They seem to be exactly the same. Pages 47 and 48 contain a further list of five or six things saying basically the same thing, "We're going to try to educate kids. We're going to try to help teachers to educate kids. We're going to get into schools. We're going to do youth projects". All are saying the same: that the Government will develop effective education strategies focusing particularly on young people.
In other words, the existing strategy for education and the proposed strategy for education are very much the same thing. That does not matter very much because it is fine if it works. Furthermore, performance indicators will be built into the new strategy. That is a first and we should welcome it. The big question is: can it work? My noble friend Lady Cumberlege has talked about our track record, so I ask again: can the policy work? Well,
As I think that this is an important subject, I have spent the past year looking, in my amateur way, at studies of drug education in schools. I have not found a single example of a study anywhere in the world to demonstrate that if you put a programme of this nature into schools, you will actually lower drug use. One or two studies show the type of things that might happen and that some advantage might occur over a short period of time, but there is no really good peg on which to hang one's hat. I found two studies from the United States in the last two years which demonstrate clearly that if drug education policies are introduced into some schools, the incidence of drug taking is actually raised. That is really bad news, but it is not a fact that we can ignore.
The people who have been in the game longest are the Australians. They have been practising pretty thorough and complete drug education in their schools for just over 20 years. Last year two Australian states changed their policy. They are no longer going to try to teach kids not to use drugs; they are going to try to teach them how to use drugs safely because they have had to admit that the former policy simply does not work. Drug use is not only continuing to rise; it is rising at an increasing and accelerating rate.
The assumption behind drug education is that by educating children about the dangers of drugs, they will be able to make informed and responsible decisions about drug use, but will they and do they? That assumption behind drug education--we have talked about it in lots of different ways and have heard many different people talk about it in lots of different ways--is based on the idea that, currently, part of the problem is ignorance and that as soon as young people are educated and gain some knowledge, they will make better decisions. However, the Green Paper openly states that one of the problems facing teachers is that, on the whole, the kids know more about this than the teachers. So, if ignorance is not the problem, why would education be the answer?
Let us look at it from another angle for a moment. We all know the object of French lessons. It is to learn to speak and write French at a reasonable level. Like, I expect, most of your Lordships, I sat through about four French lessons a week for about 10 years and I have to tell your Lordships, with deep shame and regret, that I write and speak French appallingly. That was what happened when I was taught something positive, but with drug education we are trying to teach young people something in the hope that they will not do it. There is a lack of logic in that. I know that it was a silly example, but I think that the point is relatively clear.
There is another major difference. While my school was desperately trying to teach me French, my parents, family and wider friends were not desperately saying to me, "Don't speak French". But in the case of drug education, while the teacher may be telling the kids for one, two or three hours a week, "Let's not do this", the
There is a logistics problem also. The Department for Education in its statement and in the speech which my right honourable friend Mrs. Shephard made in launching the policy has announced that it will fund 10 innovative projects in the field of drug education. I do not know what your Lordships think, but I tend to believe that people who ask to be told about "10 innovative projects" only do so because they do not have any projects that work. They are looking for ideas. That is fine. If you do not have an idea, you look for one. So, we find 10 innovative projects, fund them, implement them and monitor them to see how they work, but how much time will pass? Another 10 or even 15 years will pass before we have the type of results that we need on which to base our judgments. During that time, drug use will rise. During the past 10 or 20 years, it has risen by about 1,000 per cent. So, while we are desperately looking for educational answers, on the other side of the coin the street will be beating us to it. I suspect that that is not an easy way of going about things.
We are already doing more work in the areas of education and prevention than ever before. The Home Office drug prevention initiative is now in its fourth year. As the Prime Minister said in his foreword, since 1990 it has started 1,000 projects, yet in those four years drug use has doubled. Does that show that those projects are successful? Well, it might be early days yet, but I do not think that it shows that they are successful because we must ask whether the object of the Home Office drug prevention initiative is to start projects or to lower drug use. It appears to be very good at starting projects, but it does not seem to lower drug use.
I ask myself, therefore, whether we are sensible to set as the cornerstone of the new policy a strategy that cannot demonstrate any tangible evidence of success. Are we really to place so much reliance on a strategy that at the end of the day may not work? That is not to say that we should not try such an approach. Of course we should try it. We should try everything, any innovative ideas. We should try them and fund them, but we cannot rely on them if we do not think they are going to work.
There is one thing we can look at that we have so far missed out. It does work. It is something that is not much mentioned in the Green Paper, although that is not entirely the fault of the Green Paper. I refer to treatment of the existing addict population. It is a difficult matter for the Government in relation to the Green Paper and I do not criticise them for their lack of attention to it when, as your Lordships know, they have taken some steps forward. They have certainly listened to what some of the people involved have been saying for the past few years. We have in place at the moment an effectiveness review. We have the Department of Health task force, which is investigating what forms of drug
Another point made forcibly to the Government over the last few years concerns the "bridge" between the voluntary and independent sectors; that is, the major area of drug treatment in Britain. The bridge organisation, the Standing Conference on Drug Abuse, was not working effectively. We felt that it was not as it should have been. The Government recognised that, and I congratulate my honourable friend Mr. Bowis on the work he has done. The standing conference has been completely reformed. There has been long and careful study by management consultants. A new executive director has been appointed and a new constitution formed. So it is going to be made to work. We see from the Green Paper that its probable role, which cannot be decided yet, is being outlined. These are major advancements; we must congratulate the Government on them.
Harking back to some of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and by my noble friend in intervening, we heard about the two sides of methadone and abstinence. There are conflicts here. But these are not conflicts which need to be resolved on the Floor of your Lordships' House. These are clinical issues which should be resolved by their effectiveness. I suspect they will not be resolved to everyone's content. There has been much too much reliance clinically in this country upon maintenance programmes. We need to look at that aspect very carefully; indeed, we are doing so at the moment. The other side of the coin is that there is and always will be a very important role for methadone maintenance. We have not got the balance right but the way the Department of Health task force is looking at it and the results that follow will help us to correct the balance. So it is no small thing that the Government have done. I am confident that the results will be very beneficial.
I would have liked the Government to say in the Green Paper that, based on what the task force says, they will make a commitment to bolster treatment and fulfil the recommendations made by a combination of more resources and more effort. I hope that my noble friend, who is to reply, will confirm that it is the Government's intention to act on the report as best they can. It is, I recognise, difficult for the Government to go into details until the report appears.
Although there are many aspects of the problem that cannot be proved because we do not have all the evidence we would like, it is clear that the right sort of treatment applied in the right way at the right time works. The patient who is undergoing the treatment, the families and everyone involved derive substantial benefits. If something works, let us concentrate on that.
A fascinating study, the California drug and alcohol treatment assessment of 1992, is probably the most comprehensive report ever made on treatment in the western world: it must be of interest to anyone taking part in this debate. The study involved 150,000 people who had gone through treatment in California. That is
The report--it really is a tremendous report--revealed that the benefits of treatment outweigh the costs by a ratio of between 4:1 and 12:1. That is very concrete: it is something to go on amid the fog of misinformation in which we operate at the moment. If there is one single answer to the drug problem--I concede that there are probably many --it lies in reducing the existing addict population.
As I said, the Green Paper makes clear that there will be a major switch from supply to demand reduction services, largely because attempts to reduce supply do not work. However, the Green Paper fudges one of the most important issues. It would be wrong if I were to sit down, although I am sure your Lordships are longing for me to do so, without mentioning the issue of legalisation.
In what is generally a very serious and good paper, one element appears to me to be rather facetious and light. I wonder if that is not deliberate, so that we can have a debate about it in the future. The issue is dealt with in Annex D at page 111: it is probably the most important issue in the drugs world today. It is perhaps unfortunate that it is placed right at the back of the report. Some of the comments are important and need answering. The Government say:
It is important to realise that the case for change does not lie with those who seek to relax the law. The case for change lies with those who admit that the present law does not work and that we need to do something to make sure that it does work. In the Government's view, putting the argument around the issue of criminality is narrowing it. The most extraordinary comment appears in paragraph D.3:
What an extraordinary thing to say! No one has suggested that for a moment. I have never heard such a suggestion made. It is completely ridiculous. The issue is not the possession of cannabis or other drugs; the issue is around wholesale and massive acquisitive crime, and the motive behind that is to steal drugs put out of people's reach by a black market created by government. That is not an opinion but a fact. Whether we choose to do something or not about it is open for debate.
The blanket withdrawal of legal controls over drugs would be unwelcome, from a health point of view, it is said. Yes, of course. Whoever suggested otherwise? In the entire debate on the issue surrounding the legalisation of drugs, I have never heard anyone suggest the blanket withdrawal of legal controls. Indeed, most of the debate centres around making the legal controls work. The Government go on to say:
The second, and most important, question at the end of the day, which the Government fasten upon, is this: would the benefit, in terms of reduced crime, be heavily outweighed by the human cost of widely increased drug dependence? There is only one purpose in legalising drugs. It is not to beat the drug issue, because it does not beat it. It is to tackle the issue of crime. It is very likely that if Government were to control the drug market, as it controls the pharmaceutical market, the tobacco market, the firearms market, the motorcar market and in fact every market we can imagine, they could control the price and hold it down at its real, as opposed to its black market, level and thus vastly reduce crime. If we can control and destroy the black market--there is every reason to believe that we can, because it has been done before--we would inevitably make drugs more available. There is no escaping that fact. If they are more available, how many more people will take them? That is the price we have to pay. That is the question we have to answer. We do not know, but we can make some reasonable assumptions.
If Black Rod were to come charging into your Lordships' House and say, "By the way everybody, heroin is legal", how many of your Lordships would rush out and buy some? Probably not many. One or two might--those with gout--but probably no one else. The reality is that most people over the age of 30 who are not currently using drugs will not rush out and start; most people under the age of 10 who have not yet started using drugs will not suddenly start. The danger area is for those aged 10 to 30. They are the ones identified in the Green Paper as currently taking drugs in ever-increasing numbers. We need to direct our services towards them. We are directing our services towards them at the moment, but we cannot direct the services that we would like because so much money is tied up in the criminalising and policing of drugs. That is the area at which we need to look closely.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary, addressing the question in the summer, was not convinced of the link between drugs and crime. That may have been because he probably had not read in detail the Greater Manchester Police model research on drugs which had come out earlier. I know that he had read a little of it, because he had a copy in his hand. However, he obviously had not read it in detail. It is the most extraordinary piece of research. It demonstrates the undeniable link between drugs and crime.
I shall not go into the research now because I have been speaking for far too long. It is an extraordinarily strong piece of research. It is not good enough for a Home Secretary, or anyone else, to stand up and say that he is not convinced. Why is he not? Which figure is wrong? Let us look at it now. I have spent a great deal of time looking at it. I have asked and talked about it in detail. It is a convincing piece of research, but we do not base government policy on just one piece of research. The answer is simple. Let us do some more.
That figure contrasts unfavourably with the Government spending £25 million on health care. We cannot afford to be spending those millions throughout the country. That figure relates to 1,500 addicts. The true number of registered addicts throughout the country is 15,000. If we accept the estimates, the number goes up to 150,000. Your Lordships can do the mathematics yourselves. It is the biggest area of crime. If there is the smallest possibility that we can reduce the incidence of crime considerably or even wipe it out we cannot dismiss the matter as it is dismissed on page 111. It needs to be looked at carefully.
I started--I have come full circle--by saying that this document is important. It is. It contains much of which the Government should be proud, but it is a start only. If I were a schoolteacher, I should be tempted to say, "A very good first effort, but rather lacking in content". Fortunately, I am not a schoolteacher, but I am reminded of one of Sherlock Holmes's frequent and rather cruel admonitions of Dr. Watson, when he said to him, "Watson, you must make sure that the theory fits the facts. You must not select the facts to fit your pre-chosen theory".
I have a feeling that in some areas of the Green Paper, we have a pre-chosen theory. The only way in which we will come up with the right results is if we use to the full the facts that we have, and where we do not have them that we do the research necessary to obtain them. Then, when we have the facts, and admit their full extent, we shall have a theory. I therefore look forward to the publication of the Government's White Paper.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page