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Cathy is 27. She was referred to Turning Point’s employment and education support project, which supports current and former drug users who wish to access learning or work opportunities. She was on a methadone script, but continued to use heroin as well, partly through boredom and partly through the lack of proper continuing support. That happens a lot; whether one likes it or not, that is the reality. She wanted to go to the gym and return to study—substance misusers often say such things. We at Turning Point sat down with her and helped her work through the funding requirements for a passport to leisure and arranged an appointment for her to use Adult Directions software to help her to decide what course she wanted. We helped her engage with her fitness desires and to understand the realities of becoming involved in fitness programmes in colleges.

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We also made sure that at every point of potential failure she was supported to take the next step forward.

To cut a long story short, Cathy is still on her course; she is doing a national diploma in animal management; she is enjoying it; she has stabilised her drug use and is no longer topping up her methadone with heroin, which is a big step towards total abstention from drug use that we must understand. She is due to start a work placement in conjunction with her course in January, and we will continue to support her in finding a suitable work place. Cathy has recently become engaged to her partner and is excited about the possibilities that her future now holds. We work with tens of thousands of potential Cathys. I urge the Government in their drug strategy to ensure that what we can do through wrap-around care helps all the other Cathys and people like her in this country.

6.55 pm

Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, it is surely a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, attending his last debate as Convenor of the Cross Bench Peers, that more than half of your Lordships present this evening are sitting on the Cross Benches.

I shall focus on the supply side of the drugs issue—where the drugs come from and how we should try to reduce and control the supply into this country, and thus the harm they do and the harmful criminal activity they spawn. I have deliberately chosen to speak in this debate rather than in last week’s debate on Afghanistan and the Middle East in order to emphasise the point—as did the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay—that the supply and demand of drugs are two sides of the same coin and cannot be considered separately. In that context I was disappointed that less than one page of the consultation document is devoted to questions of supply.

The facts are straightforward—around 90 per cent of the heroin sold in Britain comes from opium poppies grown in Afghanistan, most of it reaching us via Turkey, the Balkans and the Netherlands. The great majority of the cocaine sold in Britain comes from the coca plant grown in Colombia and in neighbouring South American countries, reaching us direct from South America or via the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. The Government’s basic approach, working with the Governments of the source and transit countries and through multilateral organisations including the European Union and the UN, is to seek to eliminate production, disrupt transit routes and thus reduce the flow of illegal drugs into this country. I have great admiration for those carrying out this policy. I have seen at first hand, for example, the work that the British authorities are doing in Jamaica, in close co-operation with the Jamaican authorities, to interrupt the supply of cocaine through Jamaica to the United Kingdom. I greatly welcome the unprecedented co-operation that we are now seeing among the different UK Government agencies involved—the Home Office, the FCO, SOCA, the intelligence agencies, the Armed Forces and HM Revenue and Customs. That co-operation is admirable and necessary and, as the noble Lord said in introducing the debate, there have been striking successes.

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I have huge admiration, too, for the work of our troops in Afghanistan, particularly in Helmand province in the south, to combat the Taliban and Afghan warlords and, working with DfID and other colleagues, to try to persuade Afghan farmers to switch from the opium poppy to other crops. But the question that we have to ask is whether this approach is working or is likely to work, or whether there are other approaches that may—I emphasise “may”—be viable alternatives.

Let us consider Afghanistan, as others have done. There is some good news. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, told your Lordships last week that the number of poppy-free provinces in Afghanistan,

over the past year. That is good but the noble Lord also told us that the total area under cultivation in Afghanistan rose this year by 17 per cent, and that cultivation in Helmand province has risen this year by 48 per cent, following a rise of 162 per cent last year. According to the Senlis Council, which has done a great deal of work on this over the past few years, the cultivation of illegal opium now directly involves 13 per cent of Afghanistan’s population and the indirect figure must surely be a good deal higher.

Faced with that evidence it seems to me that we have to ask ourselves whether the present approach to controlling poppy production in Afghanistan is right or whether there may be a better alternative. The Senlis Council, which as I say has studied these issues in great detail, has proposed that there should be in the first instance a pilot project to examine the feasibility of controlled production for medicinal purposes, using the local community structures in Afghanistan and working with the Afghan Government and international agencies. It seems to me that that approach of controlled production for medicinal purposes has real merit and needs to be closely examined. I accept that there are arguments against that approach, as the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, explained last week. I welcome his proposal for a more structured approach to the cultivation of alternative crops in Afghanistan to make them more attractive to growers by comparison with the opium poppy.

That approach is not incompatible with controlled cultivation of the poppy as well. I did not find wholly persuasive the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, against controlled cultivation; I refer in particular to the argument that there is not at present sufficient medical demand for morphine to justify controlled production of the poppy in Afghanistan. Even if there were insufficient demand, there might still be advantage in controlled production; benefiting growers, local communities and the Government and squeezing criminal activity. The bigger point is that the argument about insufficient demand today is a static argument. At present, 80 per cent of morphine is consumed in five developed countries, including the US, the UK and France. The developing countries, with 80 per cent of the world’s population, use 5 per cent of the world’s supply. The objective need for morphine for patients in the developing world is no less than in the developed world, not least for palliative care. As countries develop and as health delivery systems improve, that demand will grow.

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That, surely, is the context in which we should be considering opium poppy production in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Can the international community put in place an internationally controlled regime of poppy production that will help to meet the growing demand over the years ahead in the developing world and the developed world? How can we work with Governments in consumer countries to ensure effective and controlled user regimes?

The arguments in respect of cocaine and coca are more complex. There are medical uses for the coca plant, as local anaesthetic and for the creation of bloodless fields in surgery. That is much less significant than the importance of opium and morphine, and there are effective alternatives. Furthermore, our influence over the control of coca production and trade in South America, where US influence clearly predominates, is less than over poppy production in Afghanistan, where Britain has the lead in co-ordinating the international anti-narcotics effort. Nevertheless, given the scale of the harm that cocaine and crack do to our society, the perverse influence of international crime that flows from the policy of prohibition and the misery that the resulting conflict causes in Colombia and other producing countries, it seems to me that we should be looking with a genuinely open mind at alternative approaches thereto.

None of this is easy but, to say the least, it is not obvious that the present policy of prohibition is working or will work in the future. Surely the Government now need to look, perhaps via a commission, as some other noble Lords this evening have proposed, with international partners and with a genuinely open mind at alternative approaches to supply, in particular in relation to the opium production in Afghanistan. I hope that in closing the Minister will be able to give us an assurance to that effect.

7.03 pm

The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, for the same reasons as my noble friend Lord Adebowale, I apologise to the Minister for missing the first few minutes of his speech.

I will talk later about what I see as some of the causes, but I want to start with the old saying that laws seldom prevent what they seek to forbid. The real problem is the politicians’ public posturing to try to get headlines that they are being tough on things, without thinking of the effect. That means that changes can be very tricky, because I can imagine the newspaper headlines screaming out the moment someone wants to take one of the more sensible approaches that have been recommended by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Cobbold and Lord Mancroft.

I see drug abuse as primarily a medical problem rather than a criminal problem; the criminals flow from it. The challenge is that most of us use a drug of some sort. Most of us stick with legal drugs, such as alcohol or nicotine. Some of us use coffee to speed us up. Others use the expression, “I could murder a cup of tea”; there is a drug in tea, which is why people so long for it. We need pick-me-ups; we need things to help us to interact socially, because we are shy, or to cope with the stresses of life. Some people can handle

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drugs in sensible quantities and in a controlled way. Unfortunately, some people cannot; some people are less stable and not everyone is normal—in fact, who is? We all have differing degrees of stability or instability.

It is no good when people who are very stable say to those at the edges, “You must not do this and I’m going to stop you doing this”. The desire to isolate or insulate yourself from life is very powerful. Throughout my life, I have known people who have taken drugs in various ways. Invariably, they have had a need to insulate themselves from the realities of life when things got stressful. That was particularly true of those who took hard drugs. People, including some high-powered businesspeople, could not handle the stress when things went wrong. That is the real problem.

If we then make drugs illegal and crack down on them, as we have done, that forces the price up. At that point, you get the crime problem, as people need to commit crime to fund their habit. There is a point at which people become addicted. There are people on the edges who would not have become addicted to drugs if they had not been introduced to them. I shall return to that point at the end of my little talk.

I am very much in favour of decriminalisation. The British Crime Survey figures, which I read in the newspapers on Friday, show that since the confiscate-and-warn policy came in on cannabis, cannabis use has gone down from 24 per cent to 21 per cent. So it looks like the policy is working. Why reverse it now? Is that not completely perverse?

Let me answer a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. I remember that when, in the good old days, heroin was supplied by doctors under prescription to addicts—that is exactly what used to happen before all this posturing—we had about 7,500 addicts and it was reckoned that there were about as many again who were not registered. In other words, we did not have a serious problem. Then one of the parties—I think that it was the party now in opposition—decided to get tough on these things, since when the situation has become out of control. Clearly, we have gone the wrong way and we should take a lesson from that.

For some history on all this and some facts on addiction and whether you can get over it, there is a very good book, Heroin Century, written by Tom Carnwath, with whom I think I was at school. He did not take drugs but he ended up in the Midlands running a place with a lot of addicts along with a person who had taken drugs; together, they collaborated on the book. It contains a lot of common sense and I highly recommend it for a rational, well argued approach from someone who has been on the front line and sees the truth and the falsehoods of the public statements that people make.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Jay about some of the solutions on the supply side. I have heard it said before that we could use quite a large proportion of the Afghan crop for proper medical and pharmaceutical use. Why not get the pharmaceutical companies to do that? They are used to running well regulated operations with controlled drugs—those drugs that must not get

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out and be released generally. I am quite sure that they would cope with that properly, particularly with someone breathing down their necks to make sure that they did not put a foot out of line.

On the demand side, why are so many young people turning to drugs? I think that in many cases it is because they are bored out of their skulls. The Health and Safety Executive has closed down things that were fun and exciting to the extent that even the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents says that our play places are so safe that people are now playing on railway lines to get their kicks and that we need to make play a little more dangerous. People are terrified of being sued, despite the fact that Part 1 of the Compensation Act says that the courts, which have in the past levied huge fines against schoolteachers and scout masters, ought not to permit a compensation claim if there was a good reason or if it would close down a publicly desirable activity. But, unfortunately, the insurance companies do not seem to have noticed that.

We are also selling our playing fields, and that is highly significant. Peer-group pressure plays a large part in drug-taking. You are sitting there with no excitement, no challenge and no risk-taking. You get in with a group of people who are doing something exciting and illegal and suddenly there is peer-group pressure to start taking drugs. There is then pressure, manipulated by the people selling the drugs, for you to take the drugs that they find more interesting to sell because they produce a higher profit margin. People get dragged along by their peer group, and we need to establish activities so that the peer group moves in a different direction—one in which there is a desire to be fit and healthy, to perform well and so on. That is the point of team sports and the activities surrounding them—for example, for the supporters, who are not necessarily as good at taking part, and for the coaches and the mentoring that comes from the coaches. We have destroyed a lot of that through the willy-nilly sale of playing fields.

We must get a bit more excitement and challenge into life. We need to accept that a few more people may get injured or killed taking part in dangerous and risky activities, but that is nothing compared with a generation being wiped out by drugs, which is far worse. We have shifted the problem from an area which was good for society to one which is evil.

7.11 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, it has been a privilege to listen to the contributions to this debate, and it is particularly interesting that many of them came from the Cross Benches. I fully take on board the inappropriateness of a political response to this problem, with accusations of people being hard or soft, and I hope that my response from these Benches will not be inappropriate. I acknowledge the expertise of the noble Lords who have spoken. I am fairly new to the Home Office brief, so I am very much in listening mode.

One theme running through the contributions was disappointment with the Government’s consultation exercise. However, I pay credit to the Government for

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having brought it forward, because it is time to reassess the situation: drug use is changing; the threat is changing; and the policy options are certainly changing. But the question is whether a consultation such as this was needed. The answer this evening seems to have been very clear: the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said that it was a woolly consultation and “thin”, and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, said that he was disappointed with the paper.

My disappointment with the consultation paper lay in the fact that it was very wide-ranging. It encompassed drugs in their totality, whether legal or illegal, including everything legal but harmful—for example, volatile substances and alcohol, whether used by a majority or a minority. However, extremely harmful substances such as crack cocaine were barely mentioned in the consultation. It would have been useful if the Government had issued one consultation paper focusing on health issues, both physical and mental, with the aim of stopping people starting on drugs and helping users to quit. That, on its own, would have been a very valid consultation. A second consultation could then have focused on criminal issues, covering legalisation and other issues on which we need to focus, such as on how to deal with criminals and the supply of drugs. In effect, the subject should have been covered by two separate consultations. The Minister said that 1,100 responses came in. I admire those who replied, because it must have been extremely difficult for them to respond to such a breadth of questions, or perhaps they focused on only one or two of them.

The Government are also to be congratulated on some of the steps that they have taken over the past 10 years—for example, in introducing the Proceeds of Crime Act. Other speakers referred to the general downward trend in drug usage, including, as we learnt last week, in cannabis use. I fully acknowledge the justified worry about the new strength of cannabis—the sort of cannabis known as skunk—and about the psychosis produced in some cannabis users. Again, those are specific issues that should be dealt with as health issues. I should have preferred this to be two separate papers: health issues and criminal issues.

Another theme that came through this evening was the issue of supply. I bow to the knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme, and agree with his analysis of the doom and gloom response of the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, when we debated Afghanistan and poppy cultivation. He had something slightly more cheerful to say when he was talking about a CAP-style support of other products. If we consider the history of Afghanistan and what it used to be able to grow—fruit, nuts, wheat and so on—and think of the world debate around biofuels and the demand for land to grow other things, we see that that is a powerful combination. It is not treating the matter with sufficient urgency to say, as the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, did, that DfID will look at it in the long term.

As for South America and cocaine cultivation, in the past 10 years the Government have done nothing but withdraw from South America. They have closed embassies there and, although we have a few remaining embassies elsewhere, now regard Brazil and Mexico as the two hubs. However, when we talk to ambassadors

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in central America we hear that we are fire-fighting instead of being influential players. I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Jay: I do not think it is sufficient to rely on the influence of the United States. The United States’ aerial spraying of Colombian fields has not produced the results that it hoped for. It has not proven very effective. A rethink of our attitude to and policies on central America are very much needed.

I turn to some of the other issues which arose in the debate. I was particularly struck by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about young brains and addiction. The issue was addressed also by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who said that young people have complex needs, and by the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, who talked about the young needing danger. It may be difficult for us to cast our minds back to when we were between 14 and 26, but I think that we did react differently to things then. We needed a kick out of life and some danger. Young people are not stupid; they know that driving fast is dangerous, but they still do it. There are all sorts of issues around why young brains tend towards addiction that merit further exploration.

I completely relate to the issue of complex needs. During my time as a local government councillor, numbers of homeless people presented themselves because they were on drugs. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, quoted a figure of 84 per cent of homeless people using drugs, a figure which is no different from eight years ago. There are complex needs in that sector of the population and criminalising them has never helped them. What would help is a recognition that spending money on residential treatment is cheaper and far more effective than prison.

The next issue is whether it is a good idea to have a consultation such as this one when the Prime Minister will only close down the debate by saying that drugs will never be decriminalised, a point already made today. This occurs against a background in which a member of a law enforcement body, Richard Brunstrom, Chief Constable of North Wales Police, has been quoted as saying that he will campaign hard for the legalisation of drugs such as heroin. The evidence of falling cannabis use also suggests that reclassification may have had a beneficial effect.

I pay tribute to the Government’s hard-hitting “Talk to Frank” campaign; the telly adverts were extremely effective and no doubt played their part. But surely a consultation such as this, to be effective, must be predicated on no options being closed down. Against that background and the themes running through this debate, we must take this issue out of politics. Several speakers suggested that we should have a commission on this. The Government are setting up a climate change body which will be independent of politics, because hard choices will have to be made there. Perhaps the same should happen with this issue. As the results of the consultation come in, an independent commission could be established. It could move away from the “hard on drugs/soft on drugs” arguments and produce the sort of result that all noble Lords speaking this evening would wish for—a result where the various types of substance harm no longer affect our younger generation and we can move forward into a much brighter future.

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