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Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, we on these Benches welcome the alterations made in response to representations and the fact that there will be parliamentary scrutiny, albeit of the negative, rather than the affirmative, variety. I reserve judgment on that, partly because I wonder how much notice will be taken of the public representations that will no doubt be made following the publication of the Government's closure guidance.

I realise that I have only a draft copy, but there are one or two welcome points in it: for example, it says that cost savings that might arise from withdrawing services or closing parts of the network will be important. It also says that cost savings should be as detailed and as accurate as possible rather than being based on broad averages. Broad averages were used in the Beeching closures and, as a result, the money that it was said would be saved was not saved because broad average costs cover a much wider range of activities that were still considered to be necessary.

There is also provision here for consideration of micro-franchises and other local people running services in the absence not of the main franchisee but of someone else. Another operator could step in to provide the services which otherwise it was proposed to close. In those circumstances, I hope that the Government will consider leasing the track to such an operator on a peppercorn-rent basis or something similar, as operators are never going to be able to take on very large-scale costs.

However, I ask the Minister to ensure that in these assessments care is taken to use plain English which people can understand. I am afraid that I have been associated with the railway for a long time—back to the days of Beeching. I have attended closure proceedings and the obfuscation which surrounded them was manifest. The documentation used in support of them was more to confuse the people rather than to enlighten them. I ask that plain English is used in all these matters so that people can understand what the Government are saying. Otherwise, I welcome the changes made by the Government and I am sure that they will go some way to mitigating the concerns expressed to us.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend to clarify the wording—not the intention—of Amendment No. 15. It refers to,

I am sure I have this wrong, but the meaning I take from that wording is that the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers can be joined together through a
 
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resolution of either a House of this Parliament or of the Scottish Parliament, whereas I would have thought it would require a resolution of this Parliament and—rather than "or"—a resolution of the Scottish Parliament. I accept that I may have misunderstood the whole process.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I shall deal with my noble friend's last point first to ensure that I deal with it accurately. When joint guidance is produced, a joint resolution will be required.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, so it is not "or", but "and"?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, at this juncture I can only reiterate that on this point we are addressing it on the concept of joint guidance. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his welcome of certain crucial features of the draft guidance. I assure him that, of course, further representations will be welcomed and taken on board. He will recognise the areas where he sees some improvements, and I pay tribute to the fact that he identified those weaknesses in Committee and emphasised that it would be advantageous for certain concepts to be identified in different terms. I am grateful to him for that and for his continuing interest in this area.

On the more general issue, he will recognise that I am prepared to accept his plea for plain English. We are all in favour of plain English on all occasions. The problem with plain English at times, as our lawyers are prone to tell us, is that it may not have quite the degree of accuracy that is sometimes necessary, both in legislation and in guidance. I want to reassure the noble Lord. He has laid this complaint presumably against my department, the Department for Transport. In falling short of the highest standards of plain English on occasions, I just say that it is not alone.

Many other departments can be open to this challenge. We all bear the cross which the noble Lord urges us to bear; namely that on occasions we shall get complaints about complexity on issues which are genuinely complex. He will recognise one in particular, which is the whole question of costs and cost-benefit analysis, where jargon creeps in. I agree with the noble Lord that unless the legislation is in plain English he will not be satisfied and I shall not understand it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 55 [Powers exercisable by statutory instrument]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendments Nos. 14 and 15:


( ) in relation to an order made by the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers jointly, means a resolution of either House of Parliament or of the Scottish Parliament."

On Question, amendments agreed to.
 
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Drugs Bill

6.41 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill before us today is a tightly focused package of measures that aims to steer people away from a life of crime and into treatment, while making tougher powers available to the police and courts to deal with those who refuse to turn their backs on drugs.

I am grateful for the wide measure of cross-party support for the large majority of the provisions in the Bill. I hope and expect that your Lordships' House will wish to continue the constructive dialogue that was evident during the debates in the other place. That is not to say, however, that there are not differences of opinion on the precise detail of some of the clauses, nor that we should not properly discharge our responsibility to scrutinise carefully the legislation that comes before this House.

The Government's drugs strategy is firmly focused on reducing the harm that illegal drugs cause to society at all levels. We are tackling the problem from every possible angle, and are reducing the supply of drugs that enter the United Kingdom, while educating our young people about the harms caused by drugs, in order that they do not ever become problematic drug misusers. Where people have become involved in misusing drugs we aim to get them into treatment, and away from crime.

Our strategy is having a marked impact. Drug dens are being closed and local drug markets are being disrupted. Operation Hatch is compelling evidence of the success that we are having in tackling drug dealing in our cities. This multi-agency, undercover operation targeted class A drug dealers in Humberside. Drug-using communities were infiltrated and high-quality evidence of drug trafficking was gathered. Since January 2004 the operation has resulted in hundreds of people being arrested and charged, with total custodial sentences in excess of 600 years being meted out.

I must also note that class A drug use by young people has stabilised since 1998 after years of increase; and 54,000 more people are in treatment compared with 1998. Those very people are being diverted away from a life of crime.

The focus of the National Treatment Agency has been on reducing waiting times and increasing capacity with the aim of increasing the numbers of drug users in treatment. Its programme for increasing the numbers in treatment has been successful and the NTA will now be working on improving effectiveness and retention of drug users in treatment services.

The latest National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) data showed that 90,500 individuals either successfully completed treatment in 2003-04 or were retained in treatment on 31 March 2004. The NTA will be building on that progress.

The Government announced in 2004 that they are to increase their investment in drug treatment from £253 million in 2004-05 to £478 million by 2007-08.
 
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The NTA will be using some of these funds to enhance treatment effectiveness by: continued improvement in the quality of drug treatment provided; improvement and expansion of the case management of drug misusers including supported access to social integration services; and ensuring that the needs of women and black and minority ethnic groups are being met within services that are planned and provided.

We must not underestimate the challenges ahead. To stay one step ahead of drug barons we need to ensure that we have the right structures in place and the necessary, but proportionate, powers at the disposal of the police and courts.

We know that there is no room for complacency and that we must continue to build on the successes we have seen to date. That is why our strategy for the next three years will drive us to further reduce the availability of drugs and put even more drug dealers out of business. In order to do that we need to tackle production in source countries and disrupt international traffickers along with regional drug barons and local street dealers.

We shall continue to improve the education available for young people and will expand the routes into support and treatment services for the most vulnerable. We are also increasing the provision, quality and effectiveness of treatment, including in prisons. The Drugs Bill is a key part of that strategy, and was informed by the concerns raised by the police about the powers they need to tackle street-level drug dealers, and by the consultation that was carried out last summer, following publication of Policing: Modernising Police Powers to Meet Community Needs.

The majority of the measures within Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill are specific, targeted powers that will help the police tackle the problem of street-level dealing of class A drugs. I propose to take a little time in opening because I know that a number of issues have caused concern to noble Lords. I wish in opening to deal with them as fully as I can.

In Clause 1 we stipulate that a court must treat dealing on or within the vicinity of school premises at a relevant time, or using a person under 18 as a courier, as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of the offence of supply committed by an adult. The aim of the provision is to protect children from exposure to drug dealing while they are attending school, and more generally.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council has issued excellent guidance, which courts "must have regard to" when deciding on the seriousness of an offence. Those list, among other aggravating factors, "deliberately targeting vulnerable victim(s)". However, while that would cover supplying drugs to young people on or in the vicinity of school premises, it is unlikely to catch adults supplying to adults in that area. We want to catch such dealing between adults on the basis that it exposes children in the vicinity to a risk and because we want to eradicate such risks from the vicinity of school premises.
 
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Furthermore, while the guidance is well known to courts, we wish to send a wider message to dealers about how they will be treated should they deal on or in the vicinity of school premises and a message of reassurance to parents, who we know express concern about dealing near schools.

While the Sentencing Guidelines Council has issued excellent guidance on many matters, including in respect of targeting vulnerable victims, we believe that the issue of dealing in the vicinity of school premises is of such importance that Parliament should issue a benchmark in that respect.

During debate in the other place much time was spent on Clause 1, in some cases because the Opposition wanted to widen the scope of the clause by extending protection to other places where young people congregate, for example, and on other occasions by introducing amendments that would potentially restrict the scope of the clause by defining in the Bill what we mean by "in the vicinity". I hope that the Government's position on the clause is now absolutely clear. The clause will remain tightly focused on the problem at hand: the protection of children while they are at school and from being used as drugs couriers.

We have provided examples of the factors that we imagine will be guiding factors for the courts to have regard to when they are considering what constitutes "in the vicinity". But we are clear that it is not appropriate to define in primary legislation what constitutes "in the vicinity", as the term is used without further definition and without problem in other legislation.

It was also suggested in the other place that we should widen the scope of the provision to make it an aggravating factor for drug dealing to occur on or in the vicinity of school premises at any time. With the greatest respect, there is no benefit to that proposal, because it would effectively mean that someone dealing in the vicinity of school premises in the middle of the school holidays, when they were not exposing any school children to the risks of drug dealing, may receive a harsher sentence. Let us be clear that we are protecting children during the time that they are present on school premises. If children are targeted at other times, courts already have discretion to treat the offence as aggravated on the basis that the defendant has targeted vulnerable victims.

Clause 2 creates an evidential presumption of intent to supply where the defendant is found to be in possession of a particular amount of a controlled drug. The effect is that where the presumption applies, a court or jury must assume that the defendant intended to supply the drug which is in his possession. We intend to make it more difficult for those dealing drugs to claim falsely that drugs in their possession are for personal use.

The particular level of a drug that will give rise to the presumption will vary from drug to drug. It will be prescribed in regulations approved by a resolution of both Houses. In formulating those regulations the Secretary of State will consult the Advisory Council on
 
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the Misuse of Drugs. The thresholds set will be proportionate to the offence of possession with intent to supply the particular drug in question, to ensure compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Clause 3 amends Section 55 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to allow a court or jury to draw such inferences as appear proper, should consent to an intimate search be refused without good cause. Currently, a person's consent is not required under Section 55 of PACE for an intimate search to be undertaken. Its purpose is to enable those in possession of controlled drugs to be brought to justice by deterring those who conceal them in body cavities from withholding consent without good cause, and enabling courts and juries to act should they do so. Clause 4 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

Clause 5 enables a police officer of at least the rank of inspector to authorise an X-ray or ultrasound scan of a person arrested where he has reasonable grounds for believing that the person may have swallowed a class A drug that he had in his possession with intent to supply. Its purpose is to give police an indication of the need to detain someone to allow drugs to pass through their body. Clause 6 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

The Criminal Justice Act 1998 provided for a magistrates' court to commit a person charged with possession of a controlled drug or a drug trafficking offence into the custody of a customs officer for a period of up to 192 hours. That period of detention is designed to enable the recovery of evidence. Clause 8 gives magistrates similar powers to remand a person upon charge to the custody of a police officer, for a period of up to 192 hours.

For the avoidance of doubt, I make clear that Clauses 1 and 2 apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Clauses 3 and 4, taken together, apply the provision regarding drug offences searches to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Similarly Clauses 5 and 6, taken together, apply the ultrasound and X-ray provision to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Clause 8 also applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Let me briefly explain the powers in the other parts of the Bill. The powers that provide for testing on arrest and follow-up assessment will help us identify those who are misusing drugs at an earlier stage in their contact with the criminal justice system, allowing us to steer them into treatment and away from crime as soon as possible. Police will be given a power to request a person who has been arrested in certain circumstances to provide a sample for the purposes of testing for specified class A drugs—heroin and crack/cocaine—and, where a person tests positive for such a drug, will have a power to require those persons to attend an initial and follow-up assessment of their drug misuse. Where the assessor conducting the initial assessment does not consider it appropriate to require the person to attend the follow-up assessment, that second requirement will cease to apply.
 
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Since anti-social behaviour orders were introduced, they have become a vital tool. The new civil intervention order that we seek to introduce will allow us to continue tackling the underlying causes of a person's anti-social behaviour. A court will be able to impose an intervention order in the interests of preventing a repetition of the person's anti-social behaviour. The order can direct the person to take part in activities prescribed by an appropriately qualified person that will help to address their substance misuse issues.

Clarifying the status of fresh magic mushrooms as a controlled drug will, we hope, decrease the trade in a harmful and hallucinogenic drug that is on a par with LSD.

I anticipate that the issue of cannabis is likely to be raised by noble Lords during this debate. As noble Lords will be aware, cannabis was reclassified to a class C drug on 29 January 2004. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, on 18 March to ask the council to conduct a comprehensive assessment on cannabis and its association with mental health problems. My right honourable friend wanted to be clear what influence the evidence presented in the more recently published studies had on the overall assessment of the classification of cannabis.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had considered possible links with mental illness prior to reclassification. It concluded that there is no proven causal link between cannabis use and the development of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, although cannabis use can unquestionably worsen a mental illness which already exists. Heavy cannabis use can produce a psychotic state, although this is in most cases short-lived. The use of cannabis should be discouraged in all people with mental health problems.

Since the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published its cannabis report in March 2002, it has continued to monitor new cannabis studies. It will consider further studies such as the Ferguson report from New Zealand published in March. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will agree its terms of reference of the review at its next meeting on 19 May and arrange its work programme. It is intended that the council will have concluded its assessment by its November meeting.

I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is vital that young people, in particular, are fully aware of the harms of taking drugs and can access the relevant information. The Home Office, in conjunction with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, have been developing a series of health messages around cannabis use through the FRANK campaign, with which I know that several noble Lords will be familiar. It is part of a broader communications programme targeting 13 year-olds to late 20 year-olds to communicate the mental and physical health risks associated with cannabis use. Other elements to the programme include targeting heavy and frequent cannabis smokers. The
 
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Government have been working closely with mental health organisations to produce materials for sufferers, carers and health professionals.

I should also mention the matter of the plant khat, which is known to be misused primarily within Somali communities in the UK. It is a plant which, when chewed, has an effect analogous to amphetamines. Khat suppresses appetite and is connected to problems of insomnia, anxiety and aggression. It is not a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The communities affected typically have high levels of male unemployment, low educational standards and high levels of poverty. Recent reports suggest a hidden issue of domestic violence. Excessive khat use can lead to psychotic reactions, although mental health issues among the Somali community are complex and can be related to post-traumatic stress.

The Government are very concerned at the social damage that khat misuse has on those communities. During the Committee stage of the Drugs Bill in another place, the Opposition tabled a new clause to control khat as a class A drug. In Committee, on 3 February, the Drugs Minister undertook to refer the matter to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and subsequently wrote to the chair of the council, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, to conduct an assessment of whether there was a case for making it a controlled drug. We will await the deliberations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which are expected before the end of the year. Khat does not fit the profile of other drugs, as its misuse is restricted to one or two ethnic groups. Its potential to become a controlled drug should be considered in that context.

I am aware of the special interest that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, has in the issue of khat misuse, as part of his wider interest in all matters relating to substance misuse. The care organisation Turning Point, which he heads, has recently published an excellent report detailing the social impact of khat misuse. The report's conclusions will be fed into the considerations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

This Government have a strong record of success in tackling drugs. We are seizing considerable amounts of drugs that enter the country. We are disrupting those gangs that peddle drugs and spread misery. More drug misusers are entering treatment and being retained in treatment programmes. Our comprehensive programme of work for the coming years will ensure that such success continues. This Bill will better equip the police and courts to tackle street-level drug dealers and steer people into treatment and away from crime. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

7.2 p.m.


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