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We have something here which is necessary and seems to be reacting to a real need. For that, we offer congratulations all round. In addition, I give my thanks for the concessionary fares and I am grateful that the rather unnecessary scare that the voluntary sector had about water charging has been dealt with. The answer that the Government came up with, if not perfect, was well handled. I say a profound thank you to them because some of us felt that a lot of damage could have been caused to the structure.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions of both noble Lords. I conclude by offering my particular thanks, of course, and second the vote of thanks from the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to the Bill team, who worked under considerable pressure against a background where we had limited time to consider a Bill which had its real complexities and challenges. I place on record my thanks to them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Thornton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will also address Motions B and C. The Government have listened to local government and to the concerns expressed here and in another place. By accepting Lords Amendment 2, the Government recognise that a new Parliament may wish to confirm the arrangements for implementing this important first step towards a future national care service. Local authorities will still have the time that they have told us they need to implement the legislation most effectively, subject to parliamentary approval of the commencement order. This recognises the collective desire for more time to implement these measures and for more time to scrutinise them. It does so by requiring a commencement order to be laid and approved by both Houses before the Act can come into force.
In accepting Motion A, therefore, this House is accepting that Lords Amendment 1, due to its current wording, would delay the implementation of the scheme until June 2011 at the earliest. This is because it prevents regulations being made and signed by the Minister before laying until 1 April 2011 at the earliest. Many people in many places say that April 2011 implementation is what they want, and we have committed in another place to bringing in the regulations which would achieve this.
Accepting Motion C recognises that Lords Amendment 4 inserts what is known as a sunset clause and would require the Act resulting from this Bill to lapse at the end of two years after Royal Assent unless there were regulations in force. This is now not a necessary amendment. The White Paper now makes
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It is clear from Reason 3A why Motion B is being moved. The amendment has been subject to debate in both this House and another place. The Minister for Care Services in another place, Phil Hope, applauded the quality of the debate in the House of Lords. He described it as being of our usual consistent high standard and it has led us to include, among other things, the transitional portability of assessment.
Lord Best: My Lords, I moved the amendment to delay the implementation of the Bill until April next year in your Lordships' House, where it was carried by a huge majority. I was representing the views of local government as articulated by the Local Government Association, of which I am president. I might now be expected to be rather disappointed by the rejection of the amendment by the other place; however, by accepting subsequent Amendment 2, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, the other place has provided the opportunity for implementation of the legislation at a later date than that proposed in my amendment. The Secretary of State, Andy Burnham, and the Minister of Health, Phil Hope, have given commitments that implementation will not begin before 1 April 2011. The Local Government Association has therefore expressed itself as very pleased with this change achieved by your Lordships, for which the LGA is most grateful.
"( ) This Act shall not come into force until the Secretary of State has commissioned an independent review of the affordability of the provisions contained within this Act and has laid the report of that review before both Houses of Parliament."
(2) The condition is that regulations made under section 15 of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Act 2003, having the effect of requiring the provision of personal care at home free of charge for periods of more than six weeks, are in force."
Lord Best: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the order was laid before Parliament on 30 March. If it is approved, it will bring mephedrone-m-cat, bubble or miaow-miaow, as it is known-and other cathinone derivatives, a group of so-called "legal highs", under the control of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as class B drugs, as from 16 April 2010. As required by the Act, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been consulted and the control of these drugs fully reflects its recommendations. I wish to take this opportunity to thank the advisory council for its thorough advice and its continuing commitment and work in this important area.
The advisory council's assessment is integral to our ability to respond effectively and in an informed way to the threat posed to our society by emerging harmful drugs. We act together out of a shared concern about the harm that these drugs can do and the pace at which they have become available.
Cathinones are stimulants with effects similar to those of amphetamine. The advisory council has provided its assessment of the risks that these drugs pose having undertaken a full review of their status through examination of their use, pharmacology, physical and societal harm. The harmful effects of these drugs include overstimulation of the cardiovascular system, which creates a risk of heart and circulatory problems, and overstimulation of the nervous system, with consequent risk of fits and agitated and paranoid states and hallucinations. Mephedrone has also been linked with a number of deaths in the United Kingdom and one confirmed death of a young girl in Sweden.
The advisory council advises that the harm posed by these drugs is of a level to justify control as class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has rightly waited for advice from his independent expert advisers. The Government continue to value scientific advice and are committed to evidence-based policy making in this area as elsewhere. Indeed, based on the advisory council's advice, and very much in keeping with our approach to the control of synthetic substances-such as synthetic cannabinoids, which were controlled by Parliament in December last year-we are introducing generic definition of these drugs. By enshrining in law a generic definition of cathinone drugs, rather than specifying each one individually, we shall capture a wide range of cathinone derivatives, which is, as far as we are aware, a world first for this group of drugs.
We have seen a number of these derivatives in the UK already, including methylone, methedrone and butylone. However, these controls also look to deal with future trends to stop unscrupulous, illicit manufacturers, who work for organised criminals, tweaking substances to circumvent our laws.
The enforcement response will initially concentrate on those people who peddle and traffic these harmful drugs rather than on young people who may be found in possession of them. It is not our intention to criminalise young people, and we expect the police to respond proportionately. However, let us be clear: after 16 April, mephedrone will be an illegal drug; those in possession will be breaking the law and, if caught, face the risk of prosecution and a criminal record. Those who traffick these drugs will face a substantial term of imprisonment, up to a maximum of 14 years, and, where they have profited from what will be an illegal trade, we will look to seize their property and other assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
We are also working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and other agencies to develop a comprehensive approach to tackle the sale of these drugs. The Serious Organised Crime Agency and the UK Border Agency will take effective enforcement action against those criminal gangs which traffick these drugs across our borders.
On receipt of advice that these drugs were harmful and dangerous, as well as bringing this order before Parliament the next day, the Government took a series of other immediate actions. First, to limit the supply of mephedrone, specified other cathinone derivatives and all products containing those drugs, we banned their importation and instructed UKBA officials to seize and destroy shipments of mephedrone at the border unless the shipment was licensed by the Home Office. UKBA has already successfully seized a number of suspected mephedrone importations as a direct result.
Secondly, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary wrote to local authorities urging them to consider what action they could take under consumer protection legislation where mephedrone was inaccurately advertised as being for use as plant food or bath salts. It certainly has no effect as a plant food; I would be amazed if it had a result as a bath salt. Police forces and other agencies are contacting head shops and other premises thought to be supplying the drugs to warn them of the ban and to make clear the enforcement powers that they have if suppliers fail to comply with the ban once it comes into force.
Legislative control is only part of the solution. As the advisory council recommends in its report, there are a series of actions beyond classification and law enforcement that need to be taken across prevention, public health and education. These very much reflect the remit and concerns of the advisory council. These concerns are shared by the Government. The council's wider recommendations are welcomed and are already part of our response. Therefore-our third action in respect of our health messages-our drugs information service, FRANK, provides information on cathinones, including mephedrone, with clear information about
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Fourthly, the Department of Health has issued a formal health alert through the public health warning system to ensure that all frontline hospital staff, medical staff and drug treatment staff have the most up-to-date information about the harm posed by mephedrone. The concern around mephedrone and other cathinone derivatives has been well publicised in recent weeks. Users of these drugs should therefore be aware of these changes. If the order is approved, the Government will publicise the law changes through a Home Office circular and through the Talk to FRANK and drugs.gov.uk websites. Reference to the law change and health risks relating to the drugs will be included in future government material for young people. The Government will continue to make it clear that legal highs can cause serious and sometimes considerable harm to those who use them, as well as great distress to their families and friends. Our aim is to ensure that people, young people in particular, are well aware of all the risks associated with using these drugs. The Government are determined to crack down on these so called legal highs. We must be vigilant and responsive. We must tackle those that have no other motive but greed with no regard to the harm they cause. We must ensure that our children know about the harms of drugs and do not think that, just because they are legal, they are safe.
Lord Swinfen: I quite understand what the Minister is doing and agree with it, but has there been any research or is any research planned into why people take these drugs? We might then be able to prevent rather than deal with the problems later.
Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comprehensive explanation of this order, which we on these Benches welcome unreservedly. The scientific evidence on which the Government have based their action is very clear and comprehensive and I congratulate the Government on having acted as promptly as they have to ensure that mephedrone and cathinone derivatives are clamped down upon and that the requisite messages are promulgated to all relevant quarters including, I am pleased to say, schools and National Health Service institutions.
The enforcement action by the UKDA is also extremely welcome. We hope that the measures taken by the Government will serve to ensure that the supply of these substances is rapidly limited and, indeed, eliminated.
Baroness Hamwee: I thank the Minister for his introduction. We are about to ban another drug-and would that banning meant that it was no longer taken; indeed, would that banning did not itself increase the risks of criminals taking over the supply, cutting it with goodness knows what in order to reduce its purity and increase their profit, peddling to users other even more addictive and harmful substances. Sadly, there is no simple equation that banning it will stop it. The far more likely equation, in our view, is that banning creates a new market for criminal gangs who will use guns to protect it. I have read that in Guernsey, where mephedrone was criminalised last year but where it is hard to get guns, gangsters have apparently been guarding the supply with samurai swords.
The recent publicity will have had its share in promoting the drug as well as, we fervently hope, acting as a deterrent. Of course we do not know that it is killing young people. The Minister mentioned a death in Sweden. It has been linked with 25 deaths here but with no post-mortem evidence of its role in any of these or of its interaction with other drugs that those poor young people had taken, which probably included alcohol. All of this has highlighted the disputes about the relationship between the Government and the scientists who advise them. I understand that the new principles governing that relationship include a requirement that neither Ministers nor scientific advisers should act to "undermine mutual trust". I do not know whether that works in both directions.
Those who make synthetic drugs, which are legal until they are outlawed, will always be one step ahead. I was interested to hear what the Minister said about other steps that might be taken to-I wrote down this morning "to deal"; that is not a very good word, but to deal-with such drugs. I have heard it suggested that trading standards could have damped down on it more because, as the Minister says, it is sold as a fertiliser. I shall not myself try it as a bath salt.
I regret that in the last days of this Parliament our response is one that will be described as knee-jerk. I hope that the new Government will see a new approach to the scourge of drugs that is better than the one which society has achieved so far-one that is broad-based, thoughtful, less punitive as regards users, that sees this as a public health issue. We see all this as a priority because, as I am sure we all agree, the law must be credible.
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