I end by referring to the European Commission’s regulation on new psychoactive substances, which was proposed on 17 September 2013 and passed by the European Parliament on 17 April. We need to learn from the work done by the European Commission in producing that regulation. In proposing this new clause, I am not suggesting we should have no legislative response to new psychoactive substances—I would not take that view at all—but we need evidence-based policy designed to reduce the harms caused by the risk-taking behaviour of too many young people. After all, as I say, these young people do not want to kill themselves or harm themselves. If we give them the right environment and the right information, we can keep them a lot safer than we are doing today or than we will do under the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I find it baffling that the Government, presented with the evidence from the two laboratory experiments that have taken place in recent years, in Ireland and in Poland, have none the less persisted in their approach of introducing a blanket ban on the supply of new psychoactive substances. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has just told the Committee, in the four years since the ban was introduced in Ireland, following an initial dip in the use of psychoactive substances and a rapid disappearance of head shops, consumption of new psychoactive substances actually rose to higher levels than before. The Irish, it is reported, are the largest consumers of new psychoactive substances in Europe. That has followed the implementation of a ban essentially the same as the Government are now proposing to introduce in this country.

Similarly in Poland, three years after the ban was introduced, the number of what the Poles call “poisonings” has risen to above the level before the ban. The evidence is that, in the face of a ban and of the closing down of the sources of supply that users were previously availing themselves of, users have resorted to more obscure

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and more dangerous suppliers online. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction has confirmed that. It also seems highly likely that, with the greater difficulty of obtaining new psychoactive substances, more people taking drugs will have resorted to taking controlled substances and, indeed, may have become poly-drug users.

There seems to be some very significant evidence available from the experiences of bans in these two countries to indicate that the Government’s approach is fundamentally misconceived. The Minister has insisted that the approach of the Home Office is always to base its policy on good science, good evidence and expert advice. How come then that, in the face of this evidence, it is persisting with the policy that it is presenting to the House in this Bill?

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I very much support what has been said on this amendment and, indeed, the amendment itself, in particular because we want to avoid driving those human beings who will go on using drugs underground. One small point I want to mention, before I forget about it, is that the impact in Northern Ireland should be looked at, because I wonder what has been happening across the border. The report by Mark Easton yesterday, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred, revealed the difficulty that the police have in proving that a substance has a psychoactive effect. That seems to me to be very much at the heart of this, with only four successful prosecutions in five years.

The expert panel talked about “robust” definitions and the Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House reported, I think yesterday, on the need for certainty. The Joint Committee on Human Rights probably does not have its full membership yet, but no doubt it would have taken points on the importance of certainty in legislation—it did so for other legislation, particularly the recent anti-social behaviour Bill. The Constitution Committee said:

“The Bill inevitably exists in tension (at least to some extent) with the principle of legal certainty since its raison dêtre is the regulation of activities in respect of substances that may not currently exist and whose nature and composition cannot readily be prescribed in advance with any accuracy”.

I thought that was very honest of it. However, it then went on to comment about not making,

“unacceptably broad inroads into the principle of legal certainty”.

We may come on to some of the detail of that on later amendments, but it seems to me to be very relevant to the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has made with this amendment.

A proper, independent assessment would mean that we had advice that was not from those defending their own scheme, which can sometimes happen. I hope that we can hear sympathetically from the Minister on this, because I have absolutely no doubt that the noble Baroness will pursue this matter throughout the passage of the Bill and she will certainly have support from these Benches when—not if—she does that.

Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): My Lords, somebody has to give the Government some support on this. Amendment 3 talks in the first proposed subsection about an impact assessment and it being used to justify the commencement of the Act. I do not understand Amendment 109, but

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Amendment 114 is clearly about delaying the commencement of some provisions of the Act until the report of that assessment has been considered. Amendments 3 and 114 between them would delay the commencement of the Act.

Although the balance was a little uncomfortable, we had a very good Second Reading, in which it was clear that the central debate was about whether you believed banning produces a benign effect or not. That was the essence of the debate, as it has been of the debates we have had today. The position of the Government is that effective bans are benign in their effect; the position of Her Majesty’s Opposition is that effective bans will have a benign effect; and the position of the Liberal Democrats was—at least until the election, we thought—that effective bans had a benign effect.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I wonder whether I can quickly try to squash this. A clamp-down on new psychoactive substances, which was in our manifesto, is not the same as a complete ban.

Lord Tunnicliffe: I thank the noble Baroness for that clarification. As I say, we are divided between those who believe that banning has a benign effect and those who do not.

This is a simple, fairly narrow Bill to close a loophole in the 1971 Act which is growing exponentially. We believe that it is appropriate that this loophole should be closed urgently and that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to close it with this Bill, which we believe should be introduced as soon as reasonably possible. We believe new psychoactive substances are not safe and we want them to be illegal as soon as reasonably possible.

6 pm

Lord Bates: I thank the noble Baroness for introducing this amendment. I am conscious that if I had had the opportunity it would have been impolite to have sought the advice of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay on the amendment because, of course, it has the heading “Republic of Ireland: impact assessment”, and goes on to tie us to a piece of legislation. The problem with that is thinking back through the history lessons and what the Anglo-Irish treaty and the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 might have made of that strong connection. It is probably more uncomfortable for the Irish than for us, but it is an interesting tool to link their legislation with ours because we are two sovereign countries and two different systems. We approach a common problem but understandably, as we do on many different things, may choose to do so in different ways—not so, of course, when it came to this piece of legislation.

I will set out the legislation in the Republic of Ireland a little because in the headline of this debate we are invited to say what assessment Her Majesty’s Government have made of the effect of introducing a ban in the Republic of Ireland. That assessment was set out in the expert panel’s review last year since the ban in Ireland came into force in 2011 following the 2010 Act. The expert panel went away and evaluated that. I have a long section in my speaking notes which

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I will try to avoid reading out and I will just cite it. Page 38 of the expert panel’s report sets out the basis by which it concluded that there was evidence that this was the model which should be followed. In addition to that on page 38 there was also the Scottish Government’s—

Baroness Meacher: It may be relevant to note on the record that when the BBC journalist began interviewing a very senior official, that official said, “Oh yes, the ban has been going well”, and it was only through rather expert probing by the BBC journalist that gradually the truth came out that the ban was not working at all as anticipated. So in terms of an expert panel from Britain going over, I think we need to be aware that the Government need to do more work on Ireland.

Lord Bates: I will come to that in just a minute because it is a specific point which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, raised in the earlier debate on the issue of the “Newsnight” report, of which I have read a transcript although I did not actually catch it last night. I want to address some of the points in there. What I am going through is the methodology by which we arrived where we were. Taking the amendment at its word, we are effectively deciding whether we should delay the progress of the UK introducing the new psychoactive substances legislation and the blanket ban in order to undertake an assessment of how effective the 2010 Act has been in the Republic of Ireland. Our view on that is no, because that assessment has already taken place in the expert panel review and—

Lord Howarth of Newport: The Minister invited us to look at page 38 of the expert panel’s report, where it recognised that there were some risks. It said that:

“A precautionary principle would now be used rather than one of acting proportionately in response to evidence of harm”,

and went on to suggest that very significant difficulties would attach to this approach. It was by no means unambiguous in its recommendation of the blanket ban.

Lord Bates: Let me try to avoid the ambiguity in it. The expert panel recommended that there should be a blanket ban. A blanket ban in the Republic of Ireland had been operating for three years, so it had had an opportunity to look at that. It looked at New Zealand and what had been happening there as another example. I can also point to the report in March from the Health and Social Care Committee of the National Assembly for Wales, in which recommendation 13 of its inquiry said:

“The Committee welcomes the Home Office’s expert panel’s recommendation of a ban on the supply of NPS in the UK, similar to the approach introduced in Ireland”.

I also have a quote from paragraph 4.23 of the report from the similar expert group set up by the Scottish Government:

“The Group agreed that there are a number of benefits to the Irish model, which could strengthen the tools that are currently available and being used by agencies to tackle NPS supply in Scotland”.

What I am doing here is piecing together the information to show that we did not whistle this out of thin air.

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Some serious people—whether you agree or disagree with them—looked at what was happening in Ireland, and this was their conclusion on which they based their recommendation.

To the next point, I am very much with the noble Baroness. I happen to think that one of the things with which we got close to this, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was the Modern Slavery Act. It is without doubt the piece of legislation in either place with which I am most proud to be associated. One reason why was because of the process in which it actually engaged. It listened to the people who were on the ground, it talked to people, it talked to the experts, it framed legislation, it had pre-legislative scrutiny and there was an ongoing system of monitoring. Also, the Government committed themselves to proper post-legislative scrutiny; we will need to look at that. Should your Lordships and Parliament determine that the Bill gets on to the statute book, in our plans, although there is no set time for it, in a period of three to five years and certainly within the lifetime of this Parliament there will be some post-legislative scrutiny.

The other point which I make in passing here is that, if our friends in the Republic of Ireland were to undertake an impact assessment of our politicking to tackle this, it might not look so sharp. They would say, “Well, what has the UK been doing popping around with temporary banning orders, and every time they tweak one molecule the perpetrators and the traffickers simply change the packaging and change the molecule? What a ridiculous system that is”. In a sense it can go both ways and we must be conscious of that critique of us.

Lord Tunnicliffe: Can the Minister go back to his point on post-legislative scrutiny? I think the House at a subsequent stage may feel much more comfortable with this Bill if he were able to make some time commitment about when that would take place. Clearly he cannot now but I would be grateful if he would consult colleagues and see if he can be a little more specific at a future stage.

Lord Bates: I am very happy to do that. We are in Committee and this is where the Government listen to the arguments—

Lord Howarth of Newport: Should the Irish Government take post-legislative scrutiny of their legislation, will the Minister take that into account?

Lord Bates: Of course we will take it into account, but should we necessarily stop taking our own advice and implement what has been recommended to us until that time happens? Of course this is a fast-moving world in which there are very devious forces—“ingenious forces” is the correct term—using their dark methods to perpetrate these drugs, which are blighting the lives of communities. That was a key message that came out of the “Newsnight” documentary. Here was a community that was absolutely blighted. Unless I actually misread the transcript that I saw, the people there certainly were not saying, “Hey, listen, let us just have a free-for-all”. They were saying, “Where are the

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Gardai? Where are the police? We want them to come down, because these drugs are running rife in our community”.

Of course, there will always be chancers—we will come up with one answer to this, then people will come up with something in response, whether it is on the dark web or elsewhere. One of the wonderful things about this House is that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who is an acknowledged expert in drug policy, mentioned the dark web, while behind her sits the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who can offer her a tutorial on the dark web if required. The point is that we are all moving in the same direction.

I am conscious of the figures that have been put out in the Eurobarometer poll, which talked about the level of usage. This figure should be viewed with caution, because: the sample for each member state is relatively low, at 500 respondents; the questions used have changed over the years, making comparisons over time less reliable; and the Eurobarometer survey tends to overestimate usage when compared to more robust surveys.

As I touched upon earlier, we can say categorically that prior to the introduction of the Irish legislation in 2010, 102 head shops were operating in Ireland. After the legislation came into force, the trade virtually disappeared, and the Garda drugs unit told the BBC just last week that the head-shop trade has gone. Furthermore, no Irish-domain web pages selling NPS are still in operation. Those are examples of concrete progress. They may not address all the points, but I hope that they might demonstrate to the noble Baroness that the Government have considered this.

Baroness Meacher: One has to think about whether the demolition of the head shops is a positive or a negative when you consider that the young people will have moved from the head shops, which do not sell very dangerous substances, into the dark web and the back streets, where they will buy very dangerous substances that are completely unknown to them, which probably do not have any kind of labelling at all.

Lord Bates: We can debate what benefit labelling that says “Plant food” or “Not for human consumption” is. The fact is that the head shops are absolutely at the heart of this problem. I, for one, will be very happy if they are removed from our high streets, as will the Local Government Association and countless parents who are worried about the availability of drugs—earlier I gave an example from Canterbury. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.

Baroness Meacher: I thank the Minister for his reply. Obviously, like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, my expectations are not massively high at this stage of proceedings, but I look forward to discussions with the Minister between now and Report on some of these issues. I have a great regard for the Minister with regard to his willingness to listen and certainly to learn from professionals who, with any luck, will be able to come to a meeting with us. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

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Amendment 4

Moved by Baroness Meacher

4: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—


Following the commencement of this Act, the Secretary of State must publish a report annually setting out the impact of this Act, including on deaths and other harms caused by all controlled and banned substances.”

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, Amendments 4 and 6 seek to ensure that following commencement of the Act, the Government will undertake an annual impact assessment of the Act—as the Minister has indicated he might be willing to do anyway—including an assessment of,

“deaths and other harms caused by all controlled or banned substances”.

The important points in that sentence are “all controlled”, under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and “banned substances” under the Bill. Of course there is always an interrelationship between those two groups of substances, as I mentioned in an earlier debate. In addition, the Government would have to,

“publish a report annually setting out the impact of this Act”—

again, including information about the impact on the number of deaths and other harms caused by all these controlled and banned substances.

The point behind these amendments is that, as I mentioned earlier, we do not have two separate markets: one for substances controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and another quite separate one for psychoactive substances that will be controlled under this legislation. The reality is that once substances are illegal, they join a single market and are purchased from the same illegal drug barons or from the web. This is an absolutely crucial point, which runs through a number of these amendments. Social media are also absolutely vital in this. It is through social media that young people immediately communicate about a banned psychoactive substance or something new arriving from somewhere, or that a traditional drug such as ecstasy has suddenly become more pure, and the young people will all rush into that area of the market rather than moving from one market to another.

6.15 pm

For those of us with a substantial concern about the unintended consequences of drug policies in this country and across the globe, this is a profoundly important amendment. The point is for the Government to begin to move towards a rational, evidence-based drug policy. If they do that, it will be the first time in 50 years that any Government will have done it. That is a fairly remarkable point for anyone in this House to make, but it happens to be true. In that sense, how can the Government not do what this amendment suggests? It is interesting that the Minister indicated that perhaps this is one area where the Government might be willing to move towards us. Let us hope that that happens.

It may be that in view of that offer from the Minister, I do not need to continue with this speech. I was going to give examples of how these things happen,

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but if we are going to have a dialogue about a genuine impact assessment of the Bill when it becomes law, I hope that we are all on the same page at this point. On that basis, I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I just wonder whether it would be for the Secretary of State to monitor this. I would have thought that the importance of this topic, particularly in the light of the concerns that the noble Baroness has expressed, would merit post-legislative scrutiny by a committee—usually a Joint Committee of both Houses—rather than by the Secretary of State. There is room for that sort of consideration to be kept in mind. I think that the Minister has given at least some encouragement to that and I certainly think that that would be a good thing to do, rather than have the Secretary of State in a sense being his own monitor in this area. It is better that it should be independent, in the sense of being done by Parliament.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I suggest that post-legislative scrutiny would be assisted if the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government as a whole, were to make an annual report to Parliament along the lines that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has suggested. I propose that an annual report from the Government as a whole should cover the three principal strands in the drug strategy introduced by the coalition Government in 2010: reducing demand, restricting supply and building recovery.

I hope that the annual report would begin with a presentation of the facts, in so far as they had been ascertained by the Government, and that it would cover developments in the usage of drugs of all sorts: controlled drugs, psychoactive substances under the terms of the Bill, exempted substances under the terms of the Bill, and prescription drugs of which there is abuse. I would also want to see a breakdown by age groups and by regions. We need to know about consumption patterns—whether the consumption of one drug is being displaced by consumption of another; what new drugs are available to consumers in this country; what the most popular ones are, and the ones about which there is the greatest cause for anxiety. We need to know about developments in purity, potency and toxicity.

I hope that the Government would advise Parliament on the development of markets in drugs and tell us what us has happened to the head shops, year by year. Maybe they will all close down quickly, as in Ireland. If so, I hope that the Government would then tell us where people are finding their drugs—perhaps from online sources such as the surface web, but perhaps from the grey net or the dark net. All this is usefully discussed in a preliminary way in the latest annual report from the European monitoring centre. But 18 months ago, the European monitoring centre reported that there were 651 websites selling drugs to Europeans. We need to know what the evolution of this online market is and about the shifting locations. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, told us just now that, following the legislation in Ireland, Irish web-based domains were closed down. But we know that at the same time the consumption of new psychoactive substances has risen in Ireland. Where, then, are Irish consumers obtaining their drugs? We would need to have that equivalent

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information here. We need to know about patterns of social media use relevant to the drugs trade and what is happening in terms of street markets and gangs.

I hope also that the Home Office would report to Parliament on the drugs situation in prisons, which is an extremely disturbing situation, one understands. Which drugs are most in use in prisons? How have they been obtained? The Home Office should report on any issues there may be about corruption in the National Offender Management Service; on the effectiveness, as it believes it to be, of the means it is using to try to reduce drug consumption in prisons; and on the effectiveness of rehabilitation. Very importantly, the Home Office needs to report on the question of continuity. What happens to prisoners when they leave prison? Do they continue to have the benefit of rehabilitation services? What is the relapse rate? The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, told this House, perhaps a couple of years ago, that the Chief Inspector of Prisons had reported that in Her Majesty’s Prison Oakwood it was easier to obtain drugs than soap. We need to know what progress the Home Office and the Government as a whole are making with regard to prisons.

We should be advised on the Government’s dealings with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs—what advice they have sought from the council, what advice they have received from the council, what advice they have accepted from the council and what advice they have rejected from the council. In the case of rejection of the council’s advice, I hope that the Government would offer a reasoned explanation as to why they have declined to accept the advice that the ACMD has given—as has occurred on a number of occasions in recent years.

We should be told what drugs have been newly controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act regime and about how, in practice, the relationship between the various relevant regimes—the MDA regime and the regime created under this legislation in respect of psychoactive substances and exempted substances—relate to each other, and whether it is effective co-ordination or the Government see problems in having at least three different systems of regulation operating concurrently. I hope that we would hear about the dealings of the Government with other consultees and partners: people with academic expertise, the voluntary sector, non-governmental organisations and other expert organisations.

We should be provided with information about the state of forensic services, about which the Home Secretary has recently expressed her own personal anxiety. We will come a little later in our proceedings to talk about the possibility of a network of testing centres. Do the Government think that that is desirable? If so, what progress is there in making testing facilities widely available around the country? We will need a report on progress in education and training, but, again, we will have an opportunity to discuss those issues more extensively a little later.

I hope that we would hear about the impact of drug usage of all kinds—controlled drugs, psychoactive substances and the exempted substances—on health, society and the economy. The European monitoring

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centre has particularly asked the Government to monitor acute drug-related harms. Again, I would expect to see their response to the EMC reflected in the report. Of course we would want to know about the progress of treatment and engagement strategies with different groups of consumers or people at risk.

We should hear a report on enforcement and the strategies of the NCA, the police and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. If the online trade is thriving, and if that is becoming the principal source of supply, we should be advised what percentage of postal packages, for example, the system is able to check for drugs. We should also know what percentage of shipping containers the Government are able to inspect.

Surveillance will be another important component of the report. What powers are the Government using to ascertain what is going on in the drugs trade, particularly the online trade? We need to know the statistics on the usage of data-search powers and have an assessment of their effectiveness. Perhaps a little later, the Minister will give us some preliminary thoughts on how the enforcement regime that the Government are proposing to create through this legislation will relate to the new surveillance regime, which we understand the Home Office will introduce later in the year. Undoubtedly, these things will need to be understood in conjunction.

The Bill creates powers of prohibition notices and prohibition orders, and we would want to hear about the incidence and effectiveness of the use of those powers. We would want to know the number of seizures and successes, but also about the challenges that the Government identify. The new stop-and-search powers created in the Bill are another appropriate subject for report and we will debate those towards the end of Committee.

We would need to hear about the Government’s progress in dealing with the problems of money laundering and the extent to which the proceeds of the drugs trade are thought to be funding terrorism. We will need to know about the costs of enforcing this regime—not just to the NCA, the police and HMRC but to the Financial Conduct Authority, which I think has lead responsibility for dealing with money laundering; the criminal justice system, which, for example, will incur costs in hearings in the attempt to establish definitions of psychoactive substances; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At Second Reading, the Minister was kind enough to say that he would follow up the point I made previously, that when mephedrone was banned, the Government did seek to come to an understanding with the Chinese authorities so that they would facilitate the effective interdiction of supply. However, it appears that that did not work very well because production shifted to India. We will want to know what part the Foreign Office is playing in assisting the Home Office to make a success of its strategy.

The local government dimension is hugely important. The Minister has explained that the Government are acting in response to pleas from the Local Government Association, and we all understand how very unpleasant and difficult it is for people if they have head shops in their neighbourhoods and the anti-social behaviour that may be associated with that. But there will be

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costs for local government in training and maintaining in the field the numbers of trading standards officers that are going to be needed and, I dare say, in prevention, more youth workers. Again, it would be useful to know what is going on there. The Department of Health will have a whole complex story to tell.

I think that the Government would owe it to Parliament to provide in the annual report a cost-benefit analysis of the overall strategy: have they found, with experience, that the policy is working as they hoped? How does it need modification? What do they see as the way forward?

I acknowledge that all this may make for quite a long report, but I think that it would be very interesting and worthwhile and a very useful form of accountability of government to Parliament.

6.30 pm

Lord Blencathra: My Lords, I am sympathetic to the noble Baroness’s amendment. Of course, we need some monitoring information and we need information around effectiveness, but I am just not sure that the Home Office or a government department is the right body to produce such independent information. It may be, but I have my doubts.

My main concern about the noble Baroness’s amendment is the timescale. Having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, I am now very concerned about the timescale if the Government, or anyone else, attempted to report on the wide range of things he has suggested. I am not being facetious, but it struck me that compiling a report of the length that the noble Lord wants would probably end up taking longer than the new sexual abuse review by the distinguished New Zealand judge. I do not mean that as a facetious comment or to diminish the work she is doing.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and many others in this Chamber have some experience in government. I think we know that if a government department were to produce a report within 12 months, it would have to be approved by the Cabinet at month 11. This is a territorial Bill and would need to go round all the territorial Governments in months 9 to 11 to be checked by them. It would need to go round the UK government departments in Whitehall, probably in month 8 or 9, to be amended by them, which means that the Minister in the Home Office, or wherever, would need the first draft in about month 6, which would mean that civil servants would start writing it in month 3.

I say to the Minister: if the Government have to produce a report, preparing one within 12 months of the Act would not be sensible. It would be impossible—no, it would not be impossible, but it would include only a fraction of the information that one would want. There may be merit in the Government producing a report, but not of the length that the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has suggested and certainly not within the 12-month timescale.

Lord Rosser: We have an amendment in this group and it is not about post-legislative scrutiny. It calls for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on new psychoactive substances and sets out some of the information that must be included in the report.

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1524

There is currently a real lack of data collected and published on new psychoactive substances and their impact. For example, the first indication of a new drug tends to come from a hospital admission. If this happens in the United Kingdom, the National Poisons Information Service is informed and it then advises the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction. The EMCDDA tells the National Poisons Information Service of drugs detected elsewhere in Europe. However, the Home Office keeps its own lists, the main one being the forensic early warning system, and, to date, successive Ministers have been unable to explain the relationship between the EMCDDA list and the Home Office list, which suggests that data are not being collected and published in a consistent or helpful way. Similar problems arise with monitoring drug-related deaths and overdoses. No proper data are collected on drug deaths as the data we have rely on examining countless records, which is why they are often incomplete and take years to publish.

There is a significant problem, too, with hospital admissions. The National Poisons Information Service collects new drugs but does not collect data on all drug- related overdoes. We do not know how many hospital admissions result from taking these new substances. Nor do we know in how many cases new psychoactive substances were a factor for those needing to access mental health services. Anecdotal evidence suggests that legal highs are a major factor, especially for adolescent mental health services.

In their response to the expert panel, the Government accepted the importance of information on new psychoactive substances and that it should be shared systematically at both a local and national level in a timely manner. However, the Government did not appear to accept the current inadequacies in the information, including those to which I have referred.

The expert panel said that, with the rise in the availability of NPSs, coupled with possibilities for NPS market development via the internet, the UK drug scene had become increasingly complex and fractured, and that a number of information issues arose from this. These included,

“the difficulty for any one agency to keep to keep abreast of all the new developments … the acknowledgement that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 needs to be supplemented by other legislation has meant that more professional networks require information including trading standards … the current time lags involved between data collection and publication of data obtained by current networks mean these systems cannot be employed in the service of providing more timely early-warning-type information; and … the need to collect, analyse and distribute information in a more systematic and timely fashion to help inform policy and practice at both a national and local level”.

Frankly, the Government’s response did not address all these issues since there seems to be a view that the forensic early warning system’s annual report can fit the bill. In its recommendations, the expert panel says:

“There is a need to establish prevalence, evidence and harms associated with NPS”.

It suggests that we should:

“Develop detection and data collection tools across criminal justice and health services, and other relevant settings, for example, schools and universities”.

A recommendation refers to developing,

“internet tools to monitor internet activity around NPS”,

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and to the need to:

“Record health and social harms related to NPS by utilising professional networks and other early warning systems … understand local markets, including through headshops, retail outlets, prisons and local police assessment”.

On enhancing the share of information on NPSs, the panel said:

“Sharing information at both local and national levels is essential in helping to achieve a reduction in the demand and supply of drugs and in promoting comprehensive and effective interventions”.

It is fairly clear from the report of the expert panel that it does not think enough is currently being done in the area of the provision of information. The purpose of this amendment, as I said at the beginning, is to provide for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on new psychoactive substances. The amendment sets out, in not quite so extensive a list as that of my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, some of the information that should be included in that report.

I hope the Minister will reflect further on this issue—the importance of information on NPSs—and the adequacy of the current information and the systems and methods by which it is provided. Our amendment gives the Minister the opportunity to do just that and I hope it is an opportunity she will take.

Lord Paddick: My Lords, I waited until this moment to speak because it seemed unfair to comment on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, without his having spoken to it first. I have some sympathy with what the Labour Party is proposing, but I prefer Amendments 4 and 6 proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for the very reason that she articulated. The market for new psychoactive substances and that for other substances covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act cannot be treated as separate. The whole reason for the existence of new psychoactive substances is the controlling of other drugs. There would be no need for people to develop so-called legal highs if they could get the high legally from controlled drugs. It is essential that the annual report includes exactly what the noble Baroness proposes: an assessment of the impact on health and the social harms brought about by the Misuse of Drugs Act and this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, gave a long list of things that could be included in the report. If everything he suggested was included, it might not only put the Government off producing the report but put me off reading it or trying to wade through it. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that post-legislative scrutiny of a Bill such as this by a Joint Committee of both Houses would be appropriate, but it should not mean that there should not also be an annual report, because things are changing so quickly. We have heard from other noble Lords about how different drugs come into mode and out again. We therefore need an annual assessment of whether the legislation is still fit for purpose.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con): I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Howarth, for setting out the case for their respective new clauses. In one way or

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another, these all require an annual report on the impact of the Bill, and we have covered a huge amount of ground. Let me say at the outset that good lawmaking absolutely dictates that all new legislation should be reviewed post implementation to consider its effectiveness, and this is no exception. We are committed to post-legislative review of all new primary legislation. I can therefore assure the noble Lords and the noble Baroness that the Government fully intend to carry out a review or reviews of this legislation, once implemented.

Of course, data are hugely important, and it is important that we take in all aspects of the Act. It is right that the evidence required to produce an adequate review of the Act is fully and carefully considered. However, it is really important to remember that, given the time lag of some of the key data sources, it is unlikely that any useful data will be available within the first year of the implementation of the Act. Such a review normally takes place three to five years after Royal Assent to allow for a rich source of data to be collected, particularly if we are going to collect the amount of data that I feel is important, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, suggested. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, it takes time to collect the data. It is important for the departments to conduct a particular review to make sure that they have everything in place. Certainly, in this case, we would not want to wait three years to review this legislation.

Understanding the evidence for and against the different legislative options to tackle the growth of psychoactive substances was central to the terms of reference of the Home Office’s New Psychoactive Substances Review Expert Panel, set up by the Liberal Democrat Minister Norman Baker. Alongside the expert panel’s report, the Home Office also published an evidence review last autumn. This set out the available evidence at the time on psychoactive substances. The review examined the identification of new psychoactive substances, along with the characteristics of users and their motivations for using these substances. It also examined the market and the evidence of harms. The evidence review provides us with a good basis for understanding the extent of the market, the uses and the problems associated with new psychoactive substances, and for measuring any changes over time.

The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, also mentioned that it was necessary for a wide range of data to be collected on the prevalence of traditional illicit drug use and its related harms. While the evidence on psychoactive substances is less established, there are data on a number of previously unseen substances identified in the UK, as well as on the prevalence of the use of some types of psychoactive substances, related deaths and treatment demand. Of course, the monitoring of data, along with the way they are collected so that they can be strengthened to provide a more complete picture of the use and harms of psychoactive substances, will continue over the period until a full review is done.

6.45 pm

I would expect any such review to include the kind of information outlined in Amendment 105, to the extent that it is available, as well as examining more generally the workings of the Act, the current nature

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of the psychoactive substances market and the present harms that we are seeing in the UK. Additionally, the advisory panel will of course be continually monitoring the harms presented by these substances in order to assess whether they need to be made subject to tighter control under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

As I have indicated, it is now an established practice for all new primary legislation to be subject to post-legislative review. Given that such reviews are now routine, I hope that perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Howarth, will accept that we do not need to provide for this in the Bill. Even if a case could be made for such a provision, I would have strong reservations about the necessity for an ongoing requirement to publish an annual report, because of the problems that I have already stated. I will happily share with noble Lords our plans for the review of this legislation once they are further developed. Of course, I am more than happy to reflect on the debate between now and Report. With that, I hope the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Rosser: Before the noble Baroness tells us what she wishes to do with her amendment, I want to say that I do not think that the issues raised in Amendment 105 will need three years. They are about the collection of basic data, where we appear to have a distinct weakness, which was identified by the expert panel and was the subject of recommendations by that panel. Why do we need to wait so long to address an issue of concern to the expert panel; that is, the lack of data?

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: The noble Lord is right: I was rather remiss in not saying that I was sympathetic to his views on this issue, and I apologise. We will certainly consider it between now and Report.

Baroness Meacher: I just want to explore the point in Amendments 4 and 6 that, because there is only a single market that incorporates all the controlled drugs under the 1971 Act and psychoactive substances, post-legislative scrutiny will not make any sense unless it looks at the overall impact of this Bill. For example, what we can expect to happen is that if you ban synthetic cannabis, people will move straight over to the cannabis controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. If you ban a substitute for cocaine, people will move straight back to the natural cocaine, if you like, that is controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. In order to assess the impact of the Bill, it will be essential to look at the overall consumption of illegal, banned drugs and the deaths from those drugs. The deaths may move across from one type of drug to another, as would the harms and so forth. It is essential that the Government begin to look at this as a single, illicit market for banned substances. Does the noble Baroness agree that, therefore, post-legislative scrutiny has to look right across the piece?

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I thank the noble Baroness for her points, and I agree with her. However, it is important that we do not tie the hands of the committee. It is up to it to review, going forward, and we have to let it decide what it feels is right.

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Lord Howarth of Newport: I am not sure whether it is fair to ask the Minister this, but perhaps her noble friend sitting beside her will find an opportunity to comment. While I readily accept that it is unrealistic to expect the Home Office within 12 months to produce a report remotely of the range that I suggested, none the less over time the compass of the report should grow so that it does address itself on behalf of the Government as a whole to that range of issues and concerns.

I wonder whether some of the difficulty that the Government may find in producing an annual report on their policies in relation to drugs and how they are proceeding may be because there have been such extensive reductions in staffing in Whitehall that it is very difficult for departments to get this work done. It would be helpful to have some comment on that and on the structure within government whereby the Home Office works in co-ordination with other government departments in the broader strategy to deal with the problem of drugs, to which I understand that Government are committed.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I thank the noble Lord. I have a lot of sympathy for what he said, and I think that it is right for us to go away and reflect on this and come back at Report. Of course, the Home Office has every intention of reviewing the Bill once it is implemented. We just do not feel we should put such a commitment in primary legislation. It is in our interests to consider the impact of this Bill and how the psychoactive substance market is changing to ensure that both our legislative and non-legislative responses are as effective as possible. Having said that, of course we will go away and think further on this.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who contributed to this debate, particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for his helpful proposal that there should be post-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee. I hope that that can come about. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, that that sort of scrutiny does not detract from the need for the Government’s post-legislative scrutiny, so I think that we are all going in roughly the same direction.

I was very pleased with the noble Baroness’s response about the recognition of the single market for these illegal drugs, because it would be an enormous step forward if we stop seeing these things as separate and start examining what is going on across the piece. That has all been extremely helpful. The timeframe is an issue: three to five years seems an awfully long time particularly as some of us do not really expect this legislation to work, especially bearing in mind the Irish experience. It is a great pity—Ireland is now four years on and still wondering what to do.

Given all of that, this is Committee and we have had a useful debate on this issue. I look forward to meeting Ministers between now and Report. On that basis, I am more than happy to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 4 withdrawn.

Amendments 5 and 6 not moved.

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Clause 2: Meaning of “psychoactive substance” etc

Amendment 7

Moved by Baroness Meacher

7: Clause 2, page 1, line 14, after “Act”” insert “synthetic”

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendment 8. I apologise that these have all come one after another and I was not anticipating that, but I will speak extremely briefly, noble Lords will be pleased to hear.

These amendments seek to limit the scope of the Bill to those substances that are synthetic—produced by chemical synthesis rather than grown naturally. The Government’s manifesto commitment, if I understand it, was to ban new psychoactive substances. All such substances identified by the EMCDDA have been of a synthetic nature. To broaden the scope of the ban beyond the limits of substances that are synthetic will create far more unintended consequences than I believe the Government really had in mind.

The point behind this amendment is that the Bill as it stands is disproportionate and will engender an intolerable degree of legal uncertainty for an awful lot of people—researchers, medical people or whoever—who have no interest in consuming these substances but may be involved in handling them. Actually, one should extend that to people who are in the commercial sector trading, producing and so forth who may need to use these substances and really do not want to be questioned by the police.

It would be helpful to know why the Government have extended the scope of the Bill to include natural psychoactive substances. Are the Government aware that there are many natural substances, included in perfumes and other products, for example, which could be caught unintentionally by the Bill as it stands? We had a debate earlier about the whole business of definition and in a sense that comes up here again. Things might be a bit simpler if the Bill were limited to synthetic substances. Will the Minister explain to the House what investigations have taken place to establish the unintended consequences of the extension of this definition to include natural substances? I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my noble friend and I have Amendments 9 and 10 in this group. Amendment 9 presents me with a dilemma, given the comments that we have been making about what has been happening in Ireland. Amendment 9 would import into the Bill the Irish definition in terms. Given where we are and given that the definition in the Government’s Bill is more telegraphic than the Irish one, I would nevertheless like to hear what the Government have to say about the differences.

I and other members of the Committee will have received from the Minister a response to points made at Second Reading, for which I am grateful. In response to one point that I made, the Minister wrote that,

“we have retained core elements of the Irish definition but sought to refine it so as to make it more concise”—

given the length of most of our legislation, that is not the most persuasive argument that I have heard—

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“by removing reference to different substances and behaviour changes, and remove the element of subjectivity inherent in … the word ‘significant’”.

I understand that the Government do not want this to be read subjectively, but can I add a thought? Different people react differently and they react differently to different drugs. We have heard that. There is something in the connection between that and subjectivity and maybe neither of us is quite right, but there is an issue there. The Minister talked about removing reference to behaviour changes. The point about the Irish definition is the impact on behaviour changes.

The second limb of Amendment 9, which is not an addition to the first because it does not qualify the first, refers to the substance having the capacity, as in the Irish definition, to,

“cause a state of dependence, including physical or psychological addiction”.

We are told that that has been removed because the Government have,

“concluded that this was captured as part of affecting a person’s mental functioning or emotional state and was unnecessary duplication”.

That surprises me. The Irish looked on it as an alternative in their definition. Perhaps the way I can best put it is to ask how the scientists look at this. I would have thought it was completely separate from affecting mental functioning or emotional state and is therefore not an unnecessary duplication.

7 pm

The second of our amendments, Amendment 10, would leave out the term “or allows” from Clause 2(3), where,

“a person consumes a substance if the person causes or allows the substance … to enter a person’s body”.

Would the Minister expand a little on that in particular? I think he is aware of this specific question—whether it somehow goes further than, or is different from, what is brought into the Bill by the element of recklessness in the offences clauses. Is allowing something to enter the body different from being reckless as to its consumption?

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, the definition of a psychoactive substance in the Bill does indeed seem to me rather vague. We should be grateful to both noble Baronesses who have so far spoken in this debate for pressing the Government to tighten the definition and to give us some clarification. It would be helpful if the Minister would explain to the House the basis upon which he was able to give us an assurance—I thought he gave it rather tentatively and with less than full confidence—at Second Reading, that if he were to send a bouquet of flowers for the gratification of Lady Bates, he would not be in breach of the law. I see that it is suggested that incense might be caught under the law. How can he be sure that all kinds of substances and activities that, on a common-sense view, people would regard as innocent may not in fact be caught?

I would also like clarification—if this is not leaping ahead too far—as to what is, in Schedule 1, a traditional herbal remedy. The term is terribly loose. I fancy that it is going to be quite difficult for police officers or

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courts to be very clear what the term “traditional” in a legally binding context means. How in practice does he foresee psychoactive substances are going to be identified? Will there have to be tests in court? That would seem to be expensive and disproportionate. Will there have to be a large number of placebo-based comparative scientific trials? Again, that would seem expensive, disproportionate and impractical. I think he owes it to us to clarify a little further than the drafting of the Bill does what he means by psychoactive substance.

Lord Blencathra: My Lords, I would be interested in hearing the Minister’s response to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. She seems to have a fairly good point—to me as an amateur anyway.

I wish to make my remarks mainly about Amendment 9. This may be heretical to noble and learned Lords and parliamentary draftsmen, but why can we not have the Government’s definition and the definition in Amendment 9? Definitions are going to be the big problem with this Bill—everybody recognises that—and I see no merit in brevity of definition if it makes for confusion. On the other hand, we do not want it to be tautological and we do not want too big a definition which is contradictory. I am sure that noble and learned Lords and parliamentary draftsmen will ensure that that does not happen. I ask the Minister to keep an open mind on this and be relaxed about extending the definition or picking up bits of Amendment 9 if it helps to bring more clarity, irrespective of the length of the definition.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I shall comment briefly on this group. I hear the debate on Amendments 7 and 8 and will be interested in the Minister’s response. On Amendment 10, similarly, we will be interested in the Minister’s response.

On Amendment 9, I see this Bill—and I will be grateful if the Minister can flesh out whether he sees it in the same way—as a very narrow Bill. Broadly speaking, everything is illegal except the things that are defined as legal. Bringing in the word “significant” seems to me to be getting into significant bad and not significant good, and therefore we are into the area of legal challenges et cetera. The idea of the Bill, I think, is to be free from legal challenge and that is why it is formed in that way. The Minister will no doubt enlighten me.

The point of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on the process—of how the judgment will be made that a substance is psychoactive—is a good one. I would be grateful if either now, or perhaps in writing, the Minister could spell out how the Government envisage determining whether a substance is indeed a psychoactive substance.

Lord Bates: My Lords, these amendments seek to reframe the definition of a psychoactive substance for the purposes of the Bill. This Bill is designed to capture substances supplied for human consumption that have psychoactive effects. Its aim is to capture substances that are not currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but, as with all drugs when misused, carry health risks.

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Subsection (2) provides that,

“a substance produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”.

We accept that this definition has been drawn purposefully wide. The nature of this market and of experience to date shows that producers of the substances are constantly and actively looking for loopholes to exploit, thereby fuelling this reckless trade. This learning has been central to how we have designed this Bill and in particular our definition.

By using a definition based on a substance’s effects rather than the chemical composition of substances, this legislation will avoid the issues that we have continued to face with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Many new psychoactive substances are still legal due to the speed at which they are produced, with manufacturers inventing new substances by tweaking chemical formulas in order to avoid the existing controls. The need to capture such a wide range of substances, and any that might be invented in the future, necessitated a broad definition. The definition is in two parts: the trigger and the effects. The main effect of psychoactive substances is on a person’s brain, the major part of the central nervous system. By speeding up or slowing down activity here, psychoactive substances cause an alteration in an individual’s state of consciousness.

Amendments 7 and 8 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, seek to restrict the definition of a psychoactive substance so that it captures only synthetic substances. The nature of this market and of experience to date shows that producers of new psychoactive substances are constantly looking for loopholes to exploit, thereby fuelling their reckless trade. There are any number of natural products—such as fly agaric mushrooms and salvia divinorum—that are openly on sale in head shops and elsewhere which are far from safe though they are not banned under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Bill should give us a proportionate way of dealing with these substances as well.

Amendment 9 seeks to import the definition of a psychoactive substance—

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I would like to understand—maybe if I had heard some of the other amendments I would have understood, but I am not sure I would have done given the comments that have been made—how, if the police, for example, have seized a product which may or may not be a psychoactive substance, they assess whether it is going to have these effects on somebody’s brain. Do they feed it to a tame police officer, or to a young person whose brain may be less developed? How is this going to happen? Is that something that then has to be replicated in a court room? What is the process going to be for saying, “This is definitely a psychoactive substance”? How will they tell?

Lord Bates: That is a good point. There are a number of ways. Perhaps I may make the point that I have been trying to set out the terms so that a future reader of the Official Report may actually be able to deduce—I will be careful here—what the Government intended when they set out the definition in this particular way. The noble Lord’s intervention is entirely appropriate

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and I do have an answer which I will give to him, but I want to make sure that we do not lose the flow of what underlies this, which is the rationale behind the definition.

There are a number of ways, and these include data based on a human user’s experience, argument by analogy and in vitro neurochemical profiling. Working with the Centre for Applied Science and Technology at the Home Office, we will identify and build the capability in the UK to meet the demand for this new forensic requirement, as well as working with the Office of the Forensic Science Regulator to ensure that the high standard of quality that forensic evidence meets is maintained.

The Home Secretary has written to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs seeking its views on how we can strengthen the UK’s forensic capacity and capability to support the implementation of the legislation. We remain ready to consider carefully any recommendations the council may have about other aspects of the Bill. We will continue with the forensic early warning system, which has enabled forensic providers more easily to identify new psychoactive substances coming on to the UK market through the provision of reference standards and establishing a new psychoactive substances community. I am sure that that has entirely answered the noble Lord’s point.

Lord Rosser: It seems to me that this is a fairly crucial part of the Bill because the argument, quite rightly under the present procedure, is the length of time it takes to ban a psychoactive substance. I have listened with interest to what the Minister has said, and I suspect he has listened with interest to what he has been reading out—I am not trying to be rude; I mean that. But what is really needed is an indication of how long it is going to take to ban one of these substances as compared with the current procedure. What the Minister has said does not help me form a view on how long it will take to ban such a substance in the future, compared with the current situation, and that surely is the key aim of the Bill: being able to ban these substances with a degree of rapidity.

Lord Bates: That is so, and many a true word is often spoken in jest—such as when the noble Lord talked about my going through the answer which has been provided. I accept that the key point here, which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was getting at, is to look at how a police officer would actually start the process of gauging whether a person was being disorderly, search them in the belief that they are in the possession of a new psychoactive substance, and then, if they find something, how it will be determined whether that substance is banned. I am going through the process whereby the substance will have to be sent to the lab, where it will be tested for certain chemical compounds which might be on a list or subject to a temporary banning order.

What we are saying is that a different approach will be taken in the future. We are setting up a very broad definition in order to avoid the constant race to hybrids and changes which officers are facing on the street. We arrive at a definition which is set on one day, but the substance has miraculously morphed into something

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else the next day and gets through the loophole. What we are dealing with here is a definition of the effect which a substance has or is intended to have on the person who is in receipt of it.

If I make a little more progress on my brief, the position might become clearer. The nature of this point is our experience of the loophole, which I have covered. There are any number of natural products, which takes me to Amendment 9. The amendment seeks to import the definition of a psychoactive substance used by the Republic of Ireland in its Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010. Indeed, we used the same definition as a starting point. As the Committee might imagine, during the drafting of the Bill we discussed the definition with counterparts in Ireland, and in Australia and New Zealand, and with scientific and law enforcement experts. Following this advice, we have retained the core elements of the Irish definition, but have sought to refine it to make it more concise.

7.15 pm

On the first limb of the Irish definition, we judge that a more general description of the effect of the stimulation or depression of a person’s central nervous system is preferable to what could be an incomplete list of different behavioural changes. On the second limb—that the substance causes “a state of dependence” —we concluded that this was captured as part of affecting a person’s mental functioning or emotional state and was an unnecessary duplication. We have also removed the element of subjectivity inherent in the use of the word “significant”. Substances that might have a mild psychoactive effect, such as food, are of course exempted under Schedule 1.

The focus of the Bill is the production and distribution of psychoactive substances for human consumption only. It is therefore important that the Bill addresses how a substance might be consumed. Clause 2(3) provides for this and makes it clear that an individual consumes a substance if they cause or allow the substance, or fumes given off by the substance, to enter their body in any way. This will include injecting, snorting, inhaling and smoking, as well as eating or drinking.

Amendment 10 seeks to narrow this definition so that the circumstances in which a person allows but does not cause the substance to be consumed are taken out of the scope of the Bill. We are mindful of the need comprehensively to capture all methods of taking a substance into the body and not allow any loopholes which will give the suppliers of these substances a “get-out”. I recognise the concern expressed at Second Reading that, under the definition we are proposing, any number of products may be inadvertently swept up. I recall the example of flowers, although my recollection is that they were flowers for my noble friend Lady Browning, which may have caused even more concern to Lady Bates.

Lord Howarth of Newport: The noble Baroness explained that she was a chocolate addict. However, chocolate is exempted in Schedule 1 and she need not have worried. I am worried that Lady Bates is not going to have the pleasure of floral tributes from her husband.

Lord Bates: I will send her chocolates.

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I can assure noble Lords that we are dealing here with the trade in new psychoactive substances. In looking at the workings of the Bill it is necessary to consider the definition of a psychoactive substance alongside the elements of the offences in Clauses 4 to 8, which we will come to shortly. It is not correct to equate the effect of a scent wafting through the air with the direct inhalation of fumes, such as from a solvent, and the offences apply only where a substance is likely to be consumed for its psychoactive effect. We may all appreciate the sight and smell of a fine bouquet of flowers, but we are not consuming the flowers or their scent for their psychoactive effect.

The noble Baroness asked whether the reference to “allows” in Clause 2(3) goes further than the recklessness test in the offence clauses. The noble Baroness is, I fear, seeking to compare apples and pears. In Clause 2 we are not dealing with the mental elements of criminal offences. The phraseology in Clause 2 is designed for a wholly separate purpose compared with that used to determine the mens rea of the various offences, so the question whether “allows” is a higher or lower test than recklessness does not arise.

I shall respond to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. The ban will come into effect as soon as the Bill is brought into force. What we are debating here is the quality of evidence required to pursue a successful prosecution. As I have said, we have asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to provide advice on how we can strengthen our forensic capacity to this end. It goes without saying, therefore—given that we are consulting widely on this— that the opinions and views of your Lordships’ House will also be helpful at arriving at that definition of minimal harm.

Lord Harris of Haringey: For the avoidance of doubt, I think that something should be done in this area and I am concerned that the Government’s proposals may not work.

I understood what the Minister read to us, in terms of the guidance on how you would test. It seems to me that the case rests on this: you have a substance that you think is psychoactive and you need to test it, because you need to establish whether it raises or depresses someone’s mental state. Does this mean that it has to be tested on a human being? If so, what are the arrangements for doing it? What are the safety provisions, given that some of these substances are extremely dangerous? Is there, therefore, a process that we can use when we think something is a psychoactive substance but the only way to find out is by finding a human being and testing it on them?

If that is not the case and the intention is to look at whether a substance is chemically similar to something else, you are back in the same routine of demonstrating that this is a small variant on something seen before. That is what I am trying to establish—the practicalities. Here is something. We have found it. We think it is psychoactive. Can we do something about it? Most Members of this House—there are a number of exceptions —think that something should be done. How do we know that something is psychoactive?

Lord Bates: That is a fair point, in that it is asking how this will be tested. We will come to those points because we are going to deal, to some degree, with

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medical testing and how it is possible to license some of these drugs so that they can continue to be tested. We were talking earlier about how universities and research institutions can continue testing on drugs such as cannabis. That is a key point: that testing will go on. I will make sure about that before Report.

Lord Tunnicliffe: May I take that as a commitment to write to noble Lords before Report? This has raised a very big question mark. Trying to hammer it out in words is too difficult; hammering it out on a piece of paper may give us much more confidence.

Lord Bates: I am happy to do that—let us set the matter out in writing. However, I want to state two basic principles that I hope that the noble Baroness in particular may just accept and will enable her to withdraw her amendment. First—going back to the first point—is that what is being sold in our streets and in head shops has never been tested on anything or anyone, yet is consumed by people in this country. That is the basis on which we are taking action. Secondly, we are mindful that the skilled perpetrators, manufacturers and distributors of this drug are in the sights of this legislation because we want to target them rather than the individual user. When they see a written definition they then go and find a potential loophole, something else appears on the market and the Bill becomes ineffective. We want to avoid that. Those are the two principles in play.

In the context of those two principles I am very happy to write with more detail on the mechanics of how that might be done, and perhaps a little more—looking at the Bill team—about the process we went through in consulting, to arrive at this definition. I hope that that will be helpful to the House and I undertake to do it before Report.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern : My Lords, when we talk about “banning”, we mean the substance being used to commit an offence under the Bill. There are two ways of reaching that conclusion. If you see someone taking a tablet or a substance and suddenly his mental state has been altered, cause and effect is likely to be demonstrated. The second way is that if you know the nature and qualities of substances, when you analyse the substance you may be able to do it that way too.

The important thing, however, is that it is not a question of the substance not being banned until you discover it: the definition applies right from the beginning. As the Minister said, when the Bill becomes law, substances with that character become the possible ways of committing the offence. The question of whether a particular substance is of that character can, I think, be approached in these two different ways, according to what is convenient in the circumstances of the individual case.

Baroness Hamwee : My Lords, before the noble Baroness responds, may I ask a question? It will display the depths of my ignorance, which will gratify the noble Lord, Lord Harris, who can never resist teasing me. If one has a herbal product and it is genetically modified, does that make the outcome synthetic, or does it remain herbal?

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Lord Bates: I am not sure at whom that question is directed. I could, of course, easily answer but I am sure that the author of the amendment would want to deal with it personally.

Baroness Meacher: I thank the Minister. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I spoke extremely briefly but it has proved a very illuminating debate. We have drawn out a number of issues, and I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and for agreeing to write to us about these matters. I hope that in that letter he may be able to answer the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about herbal remedies that are genetically modified, because I would not presume to take the place of a Minister in these matters.

Could the Minister also clarify whether, in tweaking the Irish definition of psychoactive substance, the Government have gone back to the Irish and to their experts to seek their opinion on whether this adjustment to the definition will overcome the apparently insuperable problems that the Irish have encountered? It is incredibly important that we accept and acknowledge that the ban in Ireland has failed and that we make sure, before this Bill is through, that it is adjusted as necessary to become a useful tool in the armoury of government drug policy. With that I am content to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 7 withdrawn.

Amendments 8 to 10 not moved.

Clause 2 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.28 pm.

Welsh Assembly Elections 2016

Question for Short Debate

7.29 pm

Asked by Baroness Randerson

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they plan to take to ensure that the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections provide an opportunity to reflect recent and planned changes to the Welsh devolution settlement.

Baroness Randerson (LD): My Lords, I start by saying how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is the Minister replying to the debate today. I was delighted when I heard of his appointment to the Wales Office. I believe that we worked well together during the previous Government and I know that his understanding of Welsh devolution is unparalleled. Indeed, as he is a former member of the Silk commission I look upon him as the fount of all wisdom on such issues.

My purpose in tabling this debate today is twofold. First, I wish to press the new Government on progress and preparations for the new Wales Bill. I welcomed the inclusion of the Bill in the gracious Speech and I am mindful of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s promise, made when he was campaigning in Wales, that a new Bill would be brought forward within 100 days. So I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity to update us on progress. My second reason for wanting

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this debate is unashamedly to press the Government to think more widely and to be bolder than I fear is currently their thinking.

There are very good reasons why we need this Bill as soon as possible. Assembly elections will be held in May next year and it is important that electors know the extent of the Assembly and Welsh Government powers when they go to vote. More than that, the political parties need to know about that when they write their manifestos. I would argue that we need to move on from a Welsh politics which is defined by an endless refrain demanding more powers; we need instead a political campaign which debates what should be done with those powers.

The St David’s Day agreement gave us some clues as to what is likely to be in the Bill. For example, it said that the Assembly should have control over its size, the system and timing of elections, and ways of working. Now this will be a pretty fundamental change if and when it happens. The forthcoming Assembly elections should be an opportunity to debate, for example, how many Assembly Members are needed and how they are to be elected, rather than focusing on whether those powers will actually be devolved. The St David’s Day agreement also confirmed the intention to move to a reserved powers model of devolution. This is very welcome and I realise that it is a complex issue, but since the Supreme Court judgment on agricultural wages it is also an urgent issue, so I would like to ask the Minister to update us on progress there, too.

In response to the debate tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, last week the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said:

“The Government intend to discuss an early draft of the reserved powers model we are preparing with the Welsh Government in the coming months”—

so far, so good. He goes on to say,

“before publishing a draft Wales Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn”.—[

Official Report,

18/6/15; col. GC 67.]

Do I understand from this that we are no longer looking at a Wales Bill itself this Session, and instead only at a draft Bill?

The St David’s Day agreement also committed the Government to the introduction of a Barnett floor. The Prime Minister has said that this is in the “expectation” that the Welsh Government will call a referendum on income tax powers. Is it still the Government’s view that these two should be explicitly linked?

Like the Minister, I am keen for the Assembly to have greater fiscal responsibility, but I doubt the enthusiasm of the Labour Party for this. I fear that the Labour Welsh Government will not be keen to call a referendum. The need for a referendum was enshrined in the Wales Act 2014, and based on a Silk recommendation. It has been controversial from the start, not least in the Minister’s own party. We all know that the Silk reports have been overtaken by events in a number of respects. The Minister knows above all of us that there were elements of compromise in the Silk reports. What seemed bold in 2012 does not necessarily seem bold now. So I will be interested to hear whether the Government still feel that a referendum is needed.

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Returning now to the commitment made by the coalition Government to introduce a Barnett floor, do the Government intend to entrench and define this in the Bill? If not, how will it be incorporated into the funding structure in a way that gives us confidence that it cannot be dismantled simply at the behest of new occupants in the Treasury? We need detail on this and we need certainty. The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, said last week that there was no need to update Holtham as Wales is not currently underfunded. I accept that Wales is not currently underfunded. Government funding is at a rate of £116 in Wales for every £100 in England, which is clearly within the region that Holtham identified as fair. However, there was a past history of underfunding under the Labour Government. Labour failed to admit to this, or to address the issue, of course, until it was no longer in power in 2010.

These two factors mean that the presumption of underfunding is still out there, even among politicians. The First Minister, for example, continues to refer to unfair funding. I believe that the Government need to provide absolute clarity on funding, even if Holtham’s calculations still have validity today. The issue of funding has had a corrosive effect on Welsh politics. The perception of unfairness in funding for Wales strikes a much stronger political chord with electors than the issue of more Assembly powers, for example. If the Government are sensible, they will address this issue head on by entrenching it in the Bill.

I want to encourage the Government to broaden the scope of the Bill. I was pleased to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, that the Government are considering other non-fiscal elements of the Smith agreement. There are, of course, other powers already and long since devolved to Scotland and recommended in Silk, but not included in the St David’s Day agreement, such as, for example, policing. The Government appear to have set their face resolutely against devolution of policing, despite there being very good arguments for devolving it. In this financial year, the Welsh Government are providing just short of 40% of total police funding. They therefore have a big financial stake in it.

This Government have proudly boasted of their decentralising credentials that local decisions are best made locally. We agree with them, and I would suggest to the noble Lord that policing is just the sort of service which varies most according to the problems in each locality. The police work closely with many partner organisations that are devolved—for example, health services and local government services such as education and social services. Therefore, it is highly logical that it should be devolved. Policing is already devolved not just in Scotland but in Northern Ireland. If it can work successfully in a sensitive situation such as Northern Ireland, which has the added complication of a land border with a separate state, then I am sure it can be made to work in Wales.

There are other powers that the Liberal Democrats would like to see devolved—for example, an investigation into a separate legal jurisdiction and the devolution of youth justice. These seem such modest steps beside the giant leap that Scotland is taking. Although we welcome additional energy powers, we believe that more can be done.

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The establishment of the Silk commission in 2010 seemed a great leap forward. It was a great step forward, as was the referendum on full lawmaking powers for the Assembly. The Silk recommendations on fiscal responsibility were another really big step, enshrined in the Wales Act 2014. However, there is a long way to go before we can have any hope that the political debate in Wales will settle down to a discussion of what we do with those powers instead of what powers they should be.

May I remind the Minister that, despite the coalition Government’s excellent and progressive record on devolution, time and again their plans were overtaken by enthusiasm for reclaiming power, both in Scotland and in Wales? The St David’s Day agreement has already been overtaken by the success of the SNP in the general election. The baton has already passed over the Government’s head. What suits Scotland does not necessarily suit Wales. The history and geography of the two nations is very different and it means that their paths will diverge. There has been no rise of nationalism in Wales as there has been in Scotland, with only 3% support for independence. However, I would say to the Minister that Scottish devolution has not developed in a vacuum. People in Wales look north and they will draw lessons from what happens there.

7.41 pm

Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to follow the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. It was the other way round last week—we seem to be a rotating show. I thank her for facilitating this debate and keeping a focus on matters that are important to all of us from Wales across party boundaries.

I will come back to some of noble Baroness’s comments but I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, to his position on the Government Front Bench. He is there at an interesting time. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, perhaps has been the keeper who has turned back to be poacher—and I am delighted to see her in that role—the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, is a poacher who has turned keeper. I remember well the way he campaigned in the National Assembly. It is good that he brings experience to the Front Bench and he knows the way in which a compromise was reached on the Silk commission with a lot of give and take by all parties.

If one has all parties buying into a process—as has been emphasised in the context of Smith in Scotland—then there is a reasonable expectation that the recommendations of such a commission should be enacted in full. All the parties in this Chamber and the other place were represented on the Silk commission. That was their opportunity, if they were unhappy with some of the compromises made, to draw a line. The ultimate report of the Silk commission was a unanimous one, as the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, well knows. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that, having made the compromises in reaching that report, there should be an expectation that all parties here fulfil those recommendations. To have come to a compromise in drawing up that report and then to have got to a position where it is second-guessed by the parties running into a general election frankly brings a degree of cynicism that undermines the integrity of the system.

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It is bound to lead to questions, if there are future such commissions, as to whether parties should be buying in as sincerely and genuinely as they did to the Silk report. I would be very grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, perhaps pondered a little on that as the Government consider how and when to bring forward the new powers. However, I am delighted that he is on the Front Bench and no doubt we will have many occasions to argue these matters.

I am also delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, back in his place after a bout of ill health. He looks fighting fit now. There is slightly less of him now than there was a few weeks ago but no doubt the quality makes up for the loss in quantity. We look forward to his contribution not only to this debate but whenever the interests of Wales arise.

Last Thursday, in introducing the debate on similar matters, I concentrated on the UK dimension—the need to ensure that there is some compatibility and an understanding of a balanced type of devolution taking place. Otherwise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said a moment ago, people will start asking why things are happening in Scotland. Is it merely because of a knee-jerk reaction to the vote for the SNP? That will feed an agenda that could help my party but I am not sure if that is the incoherent way in which things should happen to get a better government for Wales. There needs to a balanced settlement but I will not repeat the arguments, except to say that I hope that that is an element in the thinking of the Wales Office as it addresses these issues.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said in introducing this debate, the political parties and candidates in the coming election need to know exactly where they stand. In Wales, perhaps even more than in Scotland, we have had a shuffling type of devolution going on all down the 15 years since the Assembly was set up. There has been change upon change upon change. There now need to be adequate powers and finances and the job needs to be got on with, particularly when one thinks of the challenges in the health service and education facing the next Government in Wales. We need the powers to be cleared up, so they know what to do and get on with doing it.

Picking up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, on the police service, there needs to be a rounding off of the devolution process by bringing the police into the purview of the National Assembly. Many of the associated services, such as the local government parts—not only funding, but social services’ co-operation with the police, and the transport responsibilities that come under the National Assembly—interface with the police and should logically and coherently be devolved. Having the police devolved to the National Assembly would bring a balance with the powers of Northern Ireland and Scotland. I accept what was said: that what happens in Scotland does not always necessarily reflect the priority in Wales. Of course not— but I am sure that Members on the Liberal Benches tonight will be only too aware of their commitment to a federal approach. The principle of a federal approach was that there would be balanced devolution, not least so that the people in the centre at

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the federal level know exactly what powers they are dealing with at other levels. I hope that will be given further thought.

With the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill currently going through Parliament, we have the odd situation whereby it is quite likely that powers relating to the police commissioners will be devolved to mayors in England—but what happens in Wales? We were told from the Government Front Bench last week that that Bill has nothing whatever to do with Wales, so Wales could be the only area with the existing commissioners. The National Assembly, which I am sure would like to do something about this, will not have the powers to do so. That really needs to be sorted and some clear thinking brought in.

On finances, whatever may be said about how Holtham might be reinterpreted in today’s circumstances, the reality is that the resources are not there to provide the services that Wales needs. Of course, the resources can be spent better. There is always a way of spending money better, but we really are cutting to the bone and next year we are going to see services eroded. There may well be places in England with equal problems that need more resources as well, but I am not willing to accept that because there has been a cutting back of public expenditure and a reversal in the Barnett squeeze effect, that justifies not trying to bridge the gap. Wales has been underfunded probably to the order of £6 billion or £7 billion since 1999 and it is time for that to be made up. Given the formula that Scotland gets, I cannot for the life of me understand why Wales has to get that much less. Is it a bonus paid to Scotland because it threatens to go independent at any point? Surely we do not have government policy based on that sort of thesis? I hope that we have a more logical approach to funding.

Reference was made last week to the referendum on tax powers. If we do not have a greater funding commitment to Wales, I wonder whether we are going to get any enthusiasm for that referendum. I am not convinced that a referendum is needed at all. We see all these other powers, including new taxation powers, going to Scotland, and yet we do not get them for Wales without a referendum. The time has come for Governments to make decisions and stand by them. If the commitment is that we need to get answerability through income tax powers, then let us get on with it rather than hiding behind a referendum. If we cannot get the capital that is needed for projects—we heard about the discussion concerning the M4 relief road at Newport only this morning—how on earth will we be able to meet our requirements without new sources of taxation?

I should like to make many other points but I know that time is squeezed. I will be grateful to hear the Minister’s response.

7.50 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, although I feel a little bit of an intruder because three of the six speakers were all leading Members of the Assembly in Cardiff. It is a delight to see our noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan back in his place.

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I would like to consider dangers to democracy and the democratic decisions of the Assembly and of Parliament itself. We celebrate the Magna Carta, yet the ordinary man and woman at that time had no voice at all in determining the laws that they were called to obey. It was only very slowly that people obtained a voice in their own destinies. Democracy has struggled to be born.

In Wales we saw the great advances of the middle and latter part of the 19th century. Those who had no vote objected to paying tithes. Why should non-conformist farmers and smallholders finance what was often an oppressive established church? So we saw the protests and evictions of the tithe wars. We saw the massive expansion of education from primary level to the establishment of the University of Wales, and the struggle for the disestablishment of the Church of England to shake off the shackles of the established church in Wales.

At the same time, throughout Great Britain there arose the demand for the right to vote. At last, people were gaining influence over the laws and decisions that shaped their lives. It was a slow progress from the Great Reform Act of 1832 to the universal franchise that we enjoy today, but it can never be static. Democracy can never be static; otherwise, it stagnates. Democracy, to be valid, must evolve, as we see in the campaign to enable 16 year-olds to be enrolled on the voting register.

Looking at the past, in the general elections of the 19th century, the Whigs challenged the Tories—two parties—and then the Liberals challenged the Conservatives. They were straight fights, with first past the post. In a time of just two parties, there was in each constituency a clear winner, although the nationwide picture was not quite so fair. For instance, in 1885 in Wales, the Liberals polled 58% and won 29 constituencies, whereas the Conservatives polled 39% and won just four constituencies. It was unfair, yes, but in every constituency the candidate with most votes won. Even in 1997, 30 of Wales’s 40 MPs were elected with more than 50% of the vote in their constituencies. Overall, Labour won 55% of the vote and had 34 MPs, whereas the Conservatives won 20% yet had no MPs at all.

The same distortion continues throughout the UK. At the last election, a Tory majority Government were elected with 37% support from those who voted but only the votes of 24% of the total electorate. There are other examples of which we are all aware—for instance, the result in Scotland, with the SNP winning 56 of the 59 seats on half the votes cast. I agree with nothing that UKIP proposes, but it gained only one seat after polling millions of votes. I suggest that something is seriously wrong.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last week at the Mansion House that people had voted for £12 billion-worth of cuts, when 63% who voted voted against them. Only 37% supported the Conservative candidates. Legislation will be rushed through backed by only a minority. We are in a very serious situation indeed. Can it be justified? Is it democratic for 37% to overrule 63%? Is it fair that 37% of the electorate hold the whip-hand over 63%? Does the fact that 37% dictates to 63% represent the opinion of the people? Is our electoral system fit for purpose? If such results were obtained in the Division Lobbies of the House of Lords, we would have a riot on our hands.

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The constitutional convention proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, includes Wales. When the Assembly was elected, it saw the shortcomings of relying solely on a first-past-the-post system. There are 40 constituency Members and an additional 20 Members to make good the lack of representation of the parties which are not forming a Government there. Twenty additional Members ensure that each of the five regions have fairer representation. Why did the Tory and Labour Parties support this top-up scheme in Wales? It was unfair, yet they are unwilling to look at the situation that we are in now where the unfairness is absolutely obvious.

At the last Assembly elections, the additional vote system gave the Labour Party half the seats for 37% of the votes. Other parties were more fairly treated because of the top-up system. The Conservatives won 23% of the seats for 22% of the votes—you cannot complain about that—Plaid won 18% of the seats for 18% of the votes, and my poor Lib Dems won 8% of the seats for 8% of the votes. But at least there is a fairness there, which is not to be seen in the Westminster elections. Only Labour is overrepresented. I am not starting a campaign yet to look again at the electoral system in Wales which distorts the results in this way. In spite of some attempts to try to change this to 40 constituencies each with two Members—that would destroy proportionality, although an Assembly of 80 Members would of course enable our AMs to be far more effective—any suggestion that you would have 40 constituencies electing two Members each on a first-past-the-post system would be totally out of proportion.

In addition, should we delay boundary changes in Wales at council and parliamentary level until we have an electoral system that is more representative than the one we have at present? We must not abandon the better representation of the Cynulliad or Assembly system for the much less fair system we have in Westminster elections. There is a far clearer mandate in Wales than there is here in Westminster. Is there a single Member of this House who would say that the present system is fair—that the 37% figure should provide a Government with a majority of 12? So our electoral system clearly needs total reform. I do not think anybody here would say that that is not the case. We are not sure what the reform will be but we certainly need a convention to discuss these matters. The opinions of a majority—this time 63% of those who voted—are ignored. We cannot accept that sort of system. There is no genuine mandate. It is not a matter of party advantage but of the very value of each person in Wales and in the United Kingdom.

7.59 pm

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB): My Lords, I express my gratitude to all the noble Lords who referred so kindly to me. It is a great delight to be back here once again. The House is very much in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, as faras this Question is concerned. My few remarks will be confined to the issue of reserved powers, a matter about which one will hear a great deal over the next few months and years.

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Over the years, particularly during the period from when devolution developed in Wales, from 1964, and the formation of the Welsh Office, there has been the belief that devolution really fitted into one of two mutually exclusive categories: either a reserved powers system, whereby there was a presumption that all other powers had been devolved, saving in so far as they were specifically reserved and excluded, or, on the other hand, a conferred or incremental system, whereby matters were devolved bit by bit, almost like confetti, and the devolution was valid only if they were specifically referred to—if there was an absence of reference to them, there was no devolution.

That was regarded as being the system up to July of last year, when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has mentioned, there was the decision by the Supreme Court in relation to the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014 of the Welsh Assembly. The effect of that was that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, had to face this issue head on. The case for the Cardiff Assembly was that there had been, under Section 108 of, and Schedule 7 to, the Government of Wales Act 2006, a transfer of,

“Agriculture. Horticulture. Forestry. Fisheries and fishing”,

and that therefore one should not interpret “agriculture” in a narrow way at all; it should be something much more than the mere pursuit of husbandry. It should include agricultural wages as well. That was the Welsh case. The case put forward by the Attorney-General on behalf of Westminster was, “What you say is true, but it is very limited. Agriculture is one thing; agricultural wages are another. Agricultural wages belong to the realm of employment and employment has not been devolved; ergo, it is outside your powers”. The Supreme Court was faced with the choice of either a narrow interpretation of “agriculture” or a wider, more liberal understanding of the whole situation. To its eternal credit, the Supreme Court took the latter course.

The consequence is utterly historic as far as Welsh devolution is concerned. It means that even though there is no specific reference in the 20 categories of devolution that we have under the 2006 Act, if there is a general intention to transfer authority to Wales, matters that are consistent with and closely attached to that—which might be referred to as the silent matters—will also be transferred. What does that mean? In Wales it means that we are in a situation not very different from that French gentleman of fiction who in middle age realised that he had been talking prose all his life. We have had powers that we never appreciated were within our grasp.

The situation causes possibilities and problems. I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State for Wales. In a speech in March at Aberystwyth, a place well known to the Minister and me, he said this:

“the UK Government’s defeat over Agricultural Wages last July, blew wide open the true nature of the Welsh devolution settlement … vague, silent on many key subject areas, unstable, not built to last—a payday for lawyers”.

Maybe it was a pay day for lawyers, but it was probably a legislative precipice at the same time.

Where do we go from here? We go in one direction only: that devolution, whatever is defined by the Government, should never be less than what exists at

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the present moment. It would be ironic if we ended up with a reform of the system that greatly reduced the totality of the powers, legislated under the Executive, that have been transferred to Wales already. I appreciate that the Government face problems. What is their attitude towards these? They have set them out in the White Paper published in February this year. They say that we will certainly have a system of reserved powers, which they had flirted with for a long time. They are accepting Silk 2, to which the Minister has made a distinguished contribution.

However, I find the way in which they go about it extremely upsetting. This is what they say: they set out in Annex B to the White Paper a list of subjects that they regard as proper to reserve and accept. How many are there? I make the number to be 103. However, it does not end there, as they have this sentence in relation to Annex B.

“The list is not exhaustive, and reservations would also be needed in other areas”.

It reminded one of that line in Macbeth, speaking of Banquo’s issue—of the shades of many more.

I appreciate that these decisions are not of necessity in any way the Minister’s. He is a man of great wisdom, legal expertise and statesmanship. However, I ask respectfully of him: when is a reserved powers model not a reserved powers model? I suggest that the answer is that when the matters that have been reserved are so massive and all encroaching they make the concept of a general devolution a nonsense. My advice to the Government is, therefore, in the words of Corporal Jones, “Don’t panic”. Some people flirt with the idea that devolution should prove itself. One or two remarks made by the current Secretary of State might suggest that. I do not accept that for a moment. That would be to turn the issue of devolution on its head. The entire lifeblood of devolution is that it is for the other side to prove the case against it, if it possibly can. Devolution is the birthright of this nation.

8.08 pm

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to his post. I do not think that anybody in Wales—certainly not in the Conservative Party—understands the journey of devolution better than he does. There were those heady days when we both worked together on the advisory group, setting up the standing orders of the Welsh Assembly. It has been very interesting to watch the development of the Minister to where he sits today. I should perhaps introduce my remarks to this debate by declaring an interest, because today I have announced my intentions to the Labour Party: I shall be seeking selection and election as an Assembly Member in next year’s election. I know that I can rely on many Members of this House to give me some great tips on what to expect in that chamber, if I am lucky enough to be selected and then elected. Your Lordships can rest assured now that any changes to the Assembly’s powers and responsibilities will be watched by me like a hawk—as if I was not doing that before.

This debate follows a similar debate that we held in the Lords last week, where I acknowledged that there was an increasingly positive attitude towards devolution in Wales but that we were far from having the kind of

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appetite for devolution demonstrated by the Smith commission. So on devolution, for Wales do not read Scotland. Wales has to establish its own path to devolution and the gradualist approach to it is one with which the Labour Party wholeheartedly agrees. This is not a never- ending process; there are limits to how far we are prepared to go in the devolution of power, as a party absolutely committed to the future of the union.

Many aspects of the first Wales Bill, which reflected to a large extent the views of the Silk commission, on which the Minister served, will be implemented in time for the Welsh Assembly elections next year. While there are experts in universities and political institutions—and, dare I say it, this House—who are fascinated by issues of constitutional settlement, it is worth remembering that the vast majority of the public who will cast their votes in next year’s elections will be determining their choice on the basis of who best stands up for Welsh public services and who can best deliver jobs and growth. It is of course the Labour Party. I do not know whether I am allowed to say that in the Lords, but there we have it. The constitutional debates remind me of some sailors I see when I visit the lovely harbours around Wales. There are always people fixing or painting their boats, or repairing their sails. At some point, it would be nice to see them actually sail somewhere; well, the Welsh Government are going somewhere. They have, through intervening and not letting the markets determine everything, created 17,000 job opportunities through the Jobs Growth Wales fund and 500 police support officers to mitigate against police cuts. They have funded free breakfasts for schools, making sure that children from the poorest homes are able to concentrate in their classes. But as this House excels in constitutional debates, I shall return to that theme now.

Following the passing of the Act, for the first time the Welsh Government will have the power to raise their own taxes. The consultation on the collection and management of stamp duty and landfill tax is well under way. In addition, an immense amount of work has already been undertaken to establish a Welsh revenue authority. Funding is of course an issue that still needs to be addressed. I do not buy into this idea that we are at the right place on funding at the moment. However, today I want to focus my comments on other aspects of devolution and to look at Silk 2, which made 61 recommendations. Many of these have been taken up by the St David’s Day agreement that was the precursor to the Wales Bill. Perhaps the Minister could let us know what we can expect on the timing, as he has suggested. Is it a full Bill or a draft Bill and what is the timetable, so that I might know whether I will be here or not?

One of the key issues that was recommended, and which thankfully has been taken up by the St David’s Day agreement, was the proposal to move towards the reserve power of government. The pros and cons of this system have been well rehearsed in this Chamber but I return to the theme that I alluded to in the debate last week since we now have the right Minister in place, who might understand the issues better. It is about whether in the process of drawing up the reserved powers list, the Minister can give a categorical assurance that there will be no grab for power by Whitehall of powers that have already been devolved.

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I gave the example last week of the fact that in Annex B of the St David’s Day agreement, civil law and procedure is a subject listed as a reserved matter but the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act is legislation which has amended civil law. Will civil law be reserved or devolved? If it is reserved, as suggested in Annex B, will there be an attempt to pull back powers such as those in the Human Transplantation (Wales) Act? It would be good to hear what the thinking is here. I will give another example. Aspects of equality legislation have already been devolved but others have not. Will we therefore see all aspects of equality law being devolved or will they all be reserved? I have to warn that any attempt to haul back powers to the centre will be fiercely resisted.

A further concern is the implication of the Supreme Court’s decision against the introduction of an asbestos Bill for Wales and how that reflects judicial attitudes towards devolution. I am aware that I could get into some hot water, with my learned friend on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, being such an expert. I am so pleased to see him back in his place. However, it is worth considering the implications of the judgment for the devolved settlement in Wales and the constitution of the UK as a whole. The asbestos Bill was an attempt by the Welsh Government to recover medical costs from past employers, and their insurers, whose staff or members had contracted asbestosis in order to compensate the NHS in Wales for treatment. This was knocked down by the Supreme Court, by a judgment of three to two. The court decided that the Bill was outside the subject matter competence of the Government of Wales Act.

On the issue of competence, the question was whether the Bill related to organisation and funding of the National Health Service, which is one of the subjects in Schedule 7G. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, and the majority of the Supreme Court interpreted the meaning of the subject under consideration by reference to the other subjects under the same heading. If the same approach were adopted in respect of other headings, it could result in a substantial clawing back of the Assembly’s competence. It is worth contrasting this view with the minority view expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. In his view, the Bill had two objectives. The first was to,

“withdraw the requirement that the Welsh NHS continue the delivery of the benefit to employers and their insurers of not having to meet the cost of medical treatment and care of an employee where the employers are responsible for causing asbestos diseases as tortfeasors”.

I am sure my learned friend could tell us what that means, but I looked it up and it means:

“A civil wrong that unfairly causes someone else to suffer loss or harm resulting in legal liability for the person who commits the tortious act”.

Secondly, it created a mechanism to collect the costs.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, argued that these were clearly within the subject matter competence. The more worrying aspect for the Assembly of the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mance, is that it appears to suggest that it is legitimate for the court to investigate the extent to which Assembly legislation is in the public interest, and also to investigate

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the sufficiency of the consideration given to legislation by the Assembly before it is passed. This approach does not hold true for England. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, powerfully suggested that each democratically elected body must be entitled to form its own judgment about public interest and social justice under the structure of devolution, and there is no logical justification for treating the views of one such body differently from others.

The asbestos case had implications of a commercial nature—who knows whether this might have had a bearing on the judgment? Will the Minister respond to that judgment and tell the House whether it will be a consideration when formulating the Wales Bill that we can expect in this place?

8.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con): My Lords, I stand here as a poacher turned gamekeeper, as has been said. This has been an excellent debate and I will try to do justice to the contributions that have been made forcefully and with great grace. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for securing this evening’s debate, and pay testament to the considerable work she has done in the Wales Office. Her great and continuing commitment to public life in Wales is appreciated much more widely than in her own party. It is a tonic to see the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, back in his place. Like many others, I have missed his smiling presence and wisdom. I am sure he will be giving us both of those for many years yet.

I will say a little bit about the Wales Bill. Without wishing to pre-empt the will either of Parliament or the National Assembly for Wales, next year’s Assembly elections may well be the last in their current form. The Government will publish a draft Wales Bill in the autumn for pre-legislative scrutiny and will introduce a Bill in the Commons—the correct place for Bills of a constitutional nature that are as far-reaching as this one—early next year, to implement the legislative commitments made in the St David’s Day agreement to make the Welsh devolution settlement clearer, stronger and fairer. This work was begun before I entered the Wales Office and was pushed forward by the Secretary of State and the noble Baroness so effectively.

The Bill will provide for a clearer settlement, founded on a reserved powers model, to clarify the division of powers between Parliament and the Assembly. I will try to answer the points made in different subject areas if I can. The first of these is reserved powers, a point made forcibly by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. We are moving to a reserved powers model. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that it is important to get this right and not panic. We will not. There will be no attempt at a power grab but, as has been demonstrated during the debate, it is not a straightforward issue and we want to get it right. The debate has been interesting in that, much as we all want to move on to look at health, education, the economy and transport, they barely surfaced this evening. They were touched on cursorily here and there but we

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are still, perhaps understandably, looking at the constitutional settlement. It is important that we get that right and we will.

We need a stronger settlement with important new powers devolved to the Assembly—as they will be—over energy, transport and elections. I will come back to elections separately. Understandably, some mention was made of policing. It is quite true that this was a recommendation for devolution from the Silk commission which was not taken up in the St David’s Day agreement. However, let us not become too pessimistic about this. We have come a long way in devolution, under the previous Government and this one. There have been previous commissions which have not seen the light of day, although they should have. The noble Lord, Lord Richard, who I see in his place, will perhaps understand my point. The Silk commission has been substantially taken forward in a way that we can see in the forthcoming Wales Bill.

I understand the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, and some of his frustration, but he himself went on to suggest that we drop the referendum on tax-raising powers, something that was in the Silk commission. Let us remember that we are driving this forward considerably in the Wales Bill and there will be a chance for scrutiny and discussion of that as it proceeds through both Houses. Legal jurisdiction was not something that was recommended to be subject to devolution under Silk. It is right that we should look at Scotland but, as all noble Lords have said, we should not be hidebound by what happens there. Scotland is very different from Wales, not least on the funding basis, to which I will come back in a while.

I will say at this juncture that I would happily run the noble Baroness’s campaign to get into the Welsh Assembly—we go back a long way. This will probably not do her too much good, but I hope they have the sense to pick her, and I am sure that they will. I had better say no more in case it does the noble Baroness more damage than is sensible.

A central issue raised by noble Lords was tax and funding. This is important and we want to get it right. The Finance Minister in the Assembly, Jane Hutt, and the First Minister, Carwyn Jones, are very much aware of the Government’s view that the funding floor needs to go hand in hand with some commitment to a referendum. A referendum has been accepted as central to Silk, for reasons we can understand. I agree that there has been historic underfunding of Wales, certainly under the Labour Party, which has continued for some time. We need to get that right. The noble Baroness talked about putting this on a statutory basis in order for it to be lasting. The Barnett formula, goodness knows, has lasted well for many years without being on a statutory basis, so I am not convinced that is the case, but we have certainly not closed our minds to that. If we have some agreement going forward, it may be something that could be looked at, but I am not sure that it is absolutely necessary.

In terms of elections, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, spoke very passionately about the democratic processes and pressures that exist. Although I can understand the frustration that is felt by the Liberal Democrats and other parties about the electoral

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system, I gently remind him that we did of course have a referendum in the previous Parliament on electoral reform and that the fairly clear result was to retain the present system, certainly against the choice that was offered. I reassure the noble Lord that all these powers over the electoral system, the elections and the number of Members will be devolved to the National Assembly, as is appropriate. I think that will be subject to a supermajority again, as has been the case in Scotland, but they will no longer be a concern for us. Instead, they will be a concern, quite rightly, for the National Assembly for Wales.

I hope I have addressed the significant points raised in the debate. As I say, it was a very good debate and will certainly inform our thinking on the Wales Bill and the way forward. We anticipate the publication of a draft Bill which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. This is an important piece of legislation and we want to see it on the statute book next year. Then I hope that we can move in a way that we all want so that we can consider the issues that truly matter to people in Wales. As we well know from the recent general election—and as we will see, I am sure, in the Assembly election in the same way—nobody on the doorsteps talks about reserved powers or the Barnett formula. They certainly talk about funding for Wales, but the issues that they really talk about and that really matter to them, as they matter to us, are education, health, the economy, transport, agriculture, tourism and so on.

Lastly, I come back to the final theme that emerged, which is Scotland. We certainly have to be aware of what is happening in Scotland—we do not exist in isolation—but at the same time, we have to recognise that Wales is very different from Scotland, not just in the way it votes, which clearly was the case and which is a relevant consideration, but in many other respects. For example, our legal history is very different and we have a much more porous border. Very few people live near the Scottish-English border, while a heck of a lot of people live near the English-Welsh border, on both sides of it. That makes a difference to many of the things that we want to do. We must ensure that what we do is for the good of the people of Wales within the United Kingdom. That is what this Government are determined to do.

I thank your Lordships once again for an excellent debate. We will take away all these comments and study them very closely to inform progress on the Bill.

Psychoactive Substances Bill [HL]

Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

8.29 pm

Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Amendment 11

Moved by Lord Howarth of Newport

11: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—


The Secretary of State must issue guidance, before this Act comes into force and regularly updated thereafter, as to how users, enforcement authorities and others can identify individual psychoactive substances, the degree of the psychoactivity, their safe uses and their relative harms.”

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Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, the new clause proposed in Amendment 11 follows very closely on the debate which we held just before the dinner break. In their proposals in this Bill the Government are setting a very complex and difficult task for police officers, customs officers and others. The definition of a psychoactive substance is quite deliberately broad and, some would say, vague. Powders and pills look much alike and the question is, how is an officer to know, first, if a substance is indeed a psychoactive one and, secondly, what is in the mind of the person in possession of that substance? How are they to determine the intention? That is essential in the establishment of whether or not a criminal offence is being committed. I would also be grateful if the Minister told us whether he envisages that there will be a de minimis level of psychoactivity and below that level, enforcement officers will not be worrying and will not seek to enforce the regime that the Bill creates. Or, are the Government saying that any substance which is at any level psychoactive is to be controlled, in the sense that this particular legislation will control it?

As we have also acknowledged in earlier debates, there is a shortage of forensic facilities in this country. That is why the Home Secretary belatedly, just before the Bill was tabled in Parliament, wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to ask,

“how best we can establish a comprehensive scientific approach for determining psychoactivity for evidential purposes”.

That suggests that the Home Secretary is rushing into enacting legislation before she has any clear idea as to how it would work. What we know is that significant additional burdens will be laid upon police whose numbers and resources have been diminishing and may well continue to do so. These measures, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has already put to the House, may further inhibit research in important respects and create multiple new possibilities for the criminalisation of people who are in some way involved with new psychoactive substances.

I propose that the Government owe it to consumers, businesses, research institutions and those responsible for enforcement to explain exactly what they intend, and to advise them all on how this legislation would work. The Minister kindly undertook to write to us, the Peers who have been involved in consideration of this Bill, between Committee and Report. I suggest that in due course the Government should write to a much wider range of readers—people who will have responsibilities created under this legislation, who will need to understand the definition of and the practicalities of identifying a psychoactive substance, and what is in the minds of people they apprehend who may be contemplating purposes that the Government wish to discourage and would make a criminal offence. That is the burden of the new clause proposed in Amendment 11. The Secretary of State must issue guidance before this Bill comes into force and keep it regularly updated thereafter as to how users, enforcement authorities and others can identify individual psychoactive substances, the degree of their psychoactivity, their safe uses and their relative harms.

I now move to the new clause proposed in Amendment 12, in the same group. If people are to look after themselves and others—their children, friends

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and people whose interests they care about—they are going to need full and reliable information about psychoactive substances. We have heard much about how the internet can be a force for bad, but it can also be a force for good in its ability to disseminate information that may be extremely valuable and helpful in enabling people’s safety to be preserved. It is the Government’s responsibility to use the means at their disposal to provide the fullest information they can. The previous Government, I think, relaunched the FRANK website, the earlier version of which was considerably criticised, but I praise them for doing this because it is a genuine effort to provide fairly full and certainly honest information about psychoactive substances.

The difficulty about the Talk to FRANK website is that its official provenance and rather starchy tone mean that it will not be the go-to website for young people who want to find out about drugs. While it is important that the Government maintain a website of this kind and amplify the information that it provides, they should recognise that the work they do in preparing and maintaining such a website is complementary to other, unofficial sites that are created and maintained by experienced people, whose motive is good, because they want to share information about the realities of psychoactive substances and protect people from coming to harm by their use of such substances. I have in mind websites created by organisations such as DrugScope, Bluelight, Urban75, SafeOrScam and PillReports, which are examples of some of the websites to which people can go to learn about psychoactive substances. Those websites are maintained with very good intentions with regard to the public good—public safety and health—and I therefore hope that the Government see their work as complementary.

At all events, we need to capture as much evidence as we can about the substances, so that we better understand the harms we are trying to prevent, the ills we need to cure and the effectiveness of the measures taken to prevent people coming to harm, and to remedy— so far as is possible—the harms that people experience. We should learn as much as we can from collaboration with other countries; the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction is an excellent model of international information sharing and co-operation. However, we cannot expect the people of this country habitually to turn to the website of the EMCDDA; they need to have something that is designed for them, and more appropriate and accessible for them.

My second proposal, in subsection (b) of the proposed new clause in Amendment 12, is that the Secretary of State should provide,

“a network of testing centres, readily accessible at no charge to users and others, at which they can be informed about the identity, composition, toxicity and potential harms to human health of any substances brought in by them which there is reason to think may be psychoactive”.

As I understand it, that service is available in the Netherlands. It appears that they have a fuller range of forensic resources and facilities for the identification and testing of substances, and that access to those facilities is freely available to the public at large as well as to officials and enforcement authorities. We should seek to construct such a model in this country, not

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least because an early alert to a bad consignment of drugs, which is very dangerous, could save lives. I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on both those amendments. We talked a lot about legislation earlier on today, but we know, both internationally and from the Home Affairs Select Committee and others, that legislation does not make very much difference at all to the key issues relating to drugs, whether traditional drugs or new psychoactive substances. The important job the Government have concerns information. I have said it before and will say it again: young people do not want to kill themselves, believe it or not, and they do not even want to harm themselves and finish up in hospital. Why do they kill themselves and finish up in hospital? Because they do not have the information they need to keep themselves safe. Why do they not have the information? Because far too many substances are banned in a rather simplistic way. Countries such as the Netherlands, which have coffee shops where people can get cannabis, have very little problem with heroin, for example. There are other ways of keeping people safe. But the most important way, as the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, says, is information. I agree with his ideas about how this should be done—it cannot be typical government information. It really is important. If we stopped focusing on legislation quite so much and focused on some of these other issues, we might actually make some progress.

I want also to support the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, in relation to the testing centres. Testing centres would be a very important adjunct if we were to have a more proportionate system where low-harm substances would be regulated, labelled and so on, as recommended by the European Commission and approved by the European Parliament. If we had a proportionate system like that, and had testing centres, a young person could go into a testing centre and ask whether a substance was low harm and okay to take. With a combination of a proportionate legal system, testing centres and really good information, we would begin to have a really good drugs policy. Would that not be wonderful? We could lead the world with such a policy.

Many Latin American countries talk about these things. They know just how bad the war on drugs can be. They know just how important it is for the demand end of the drugs market to be managed effectively in order to save them from tens of thousands of deaths a year, corruption, government failure and all the rest of it. It is absolutely disastrous across the Atlantic. In my view, we have a responsibility to ourselves and our young people but also to Latin America and central American countries.

I very strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, said. I really hope that Ministers will take it very seriously and somehow link it with a proportionate, rational system of drug control.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, I support these amendments. However, I have some concerns. The first is, as has been previously mentioned, the limited forensic capacity that the Government and police have.

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Already the police service has to make rationing decisions as to which cases it refers to forensic laboratories. This Bill could create a massive increase in the amount of work that forensic laboratories would have to do.

Before we had new psychoactive substances and this Bill, the idea of websites that advised what was a safe dose of an illegal drug seemed somewhat contradictory, and there would have been some fairly stiff arguments against providing testing stations for drugs that are illegal to possess. However, as noble Lords will know, this Bill does not criminalise possession, and therefore does not make it illegal to take these substances. Therefore, the case for public information about safe dosage and having testing centres appears absolutely necessary if the Government are to continue to pursue this idea that simple possession for personal consumption of new psychoactive substances should remain legal.

8.45 pm

Lord Norton of Louth (Con):My Lords, I rise briefly to support the amendments proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and to reinforce the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, looking particularly at information—in this instance, under Amendment 11, information directed at users. That struck me as the key point in the amendment because the Bill is concerned primarily—necessarily so—with those who produce the substances. The danger is leaving out those who might then consume them. They are not doing anything illegal, but we should not leave them out of the discussion about them being better informed about the effects of the substances.

We will come on to education in Amendment 13. That might be useful in deterring people who want to take substances in the first place. It might be a bit optimistic, but I think that is eminently sensible. But what about those who are users and making sure they are at least informed as a consequence of what we are talking about? I am a little concerned if we focus solely on production and what we do about that, without thinking about those who are still prone to consume these substances. I am not particularly wedded to the particular amendments the noble Lord proposes, but I am very much at one with him in the intent and in what he is calling attention to: making sure we do not lose sight of that dimension. I will be very keen to hear the Minister’s response. If we are not deterring them—my hope would be that we would—I cannot see what the difficulty would be in having some regime for providing that sort of information.

Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab): My Lords, there are effectively three amendments here. One is Amendment 11, whose essence is guidance. All three may have some merit and we would be very interested in the Minister’s reply. The first one on guidance would seem to be very important for potential users. Also, of course, it would meet a concern which we were lobbied about regarding the retail sector, which clearly is going to have problems given this Bill. It is going to need some guidance and it may have to try and generate its own if the Government do not help. I would be very interested about what the Government have to say on that.

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Proposed new paragraph (a) in Amendment 12 and the availability of information on the internet also seems sensible to me. It does not mean we are softening our general position on the Bill. Good information provided by government has to be a good thing. I would be very interested in the Government’s response to the proposal relating to testing centres. At first sight, it looks rather over the top, but on the other hand the Government are committed I believe—and it is very important how carefully this response comes across—to a much more comprehensive approach to testing, to support the Bill. That will give us some tangible evidence that the Bill will work. I hope the Government will take these three areas seriously and, depending on their response, we may take this further with the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, on Report.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con): I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for his explanation on these amendments. Before I start, I was very rude earlier when I did not thank him for the kind words he said at the beginning of this debate and I feel very honoured to be taking part. I agree that a joined-up approach in departments is a very useful point. Also, I feel extremely privileged to be able to learn from my noble friend Lord Bates about how these things are conducted. The noble Lord has asked that, before this Act comes into force, the Home Secretary must issue guidance on how users, enforcement authorities and others can identify individual psychoactive substances, the degree of the psychoactivity, their safe uses and their relative harms.

I can certainly understand the sentiment underpinning at least part of Amendment 11. I acknowledge the importance of the effective implementation of the provisions in the Bill by enforcement agencies and the crucial role played by the Home Secretary in ensuring that this takes place.

I emphasise that we are working closely with enforcement agencies—the police, the Border Force, the National Crime Agency and the Local Government Association—to ensure the successful implementation of the Bill. All the agencies, supported by the Home Office, will produce guidance for their own officers that will address issues such as those raised by the noble Lord. For example, it seems sensible that the College of Policing, with the national policing lead on drugs policy, is best placed to produce the guidance for police officers, along with our input, as I have said. Similarly, the Local Government Association is well placed to produce tailored guidance for local authorities.

We are also working with other bodies, including the British Retail Consortium and the Association of Convenience Stores, to produce targeted guidance for their members. It is also important to discuss with the Welsh and Scottish Governments and with Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice what guidance is needed to address their national needs. Any guidance for prosecutors in England and Wales is a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions.

However, I have grave concerns about issuing guidance to users of psychoactive substances on how they might identify such substances, along with their degree of psychoactivity, their safe uses and their relative harms.

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I have the same concerns about Amendment 12, which states that the Government must establish a network of centres where drug users can get their illegal drugs tested. Although this is doubtless well intentioned, I fear that such approaches could have the opposite effect to that intended. Such initiatives could actually serve to promote the availability of psychoactive substances and encourage their use, which is clearly contrary to the purpose of the Bill. A better approach is to highlight the harms of such substances, alongside wider efforts at prevention.

Baroness Meacher: The Minister referred to testing centres possibly having the opposite effect to that intended. In the Netherlands, where such centres have been in operation for some time, they are actually rather successful. For example, there have been, I believe, no deaths resulting from psychoactive substances. Rather than worry about whether they might have the opposite effect to that intended, I suggest that the Government check with the Netherlands how those centres are working, because they would find that they were working well.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I will certainly take that forward. However, with regard to testing centres, the Dutch model sits within a more tolerant drugs policy that the Netherlands has. Our key message is that there is no safe dose of these drugs, and they should not be taken. Any move towards such a scheme would undermine that message and could encourage drug use, contrary to government policy. This proposal would also cover drugs controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, not just those covered by this Bill. That would undermine our intentional obligations as a signatory to the UN conventions, and no clear public protection case has yet emerged for such a testing centre.

There is a well-established system for issuing a national alert. Any intelligence that Public Health England receives alerting it to identifiable problems, such as a batch of drugs likely to cause significant risk in England, is acted on.

Lord Tunnicliffe: There is more common ground than the Minister allows. I can see her aversion to saying that there are safe levels and safe doses, and I am quite sympathetic to this. But there can always be the inverse—there can be “dangerous”, “very dangerous” and “fatal”, which is the reciprocal way of putting it. I ask the Government to look into whether there is some common ground in this area because the provision of information and alerting people to the dangers of these substances—we share the Government’s enthusiasm for banning them—by these various amendments must have a generally benign effect.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I thank the noble Lord for that, but there is a well-established system for issuing a national alert. Any intelligence that Public Health England receives alerting it to the identifiable problem of a batch of drugs likely to cause a significant risk in England is acted on. There was an example earlier this year. There was a warning from Madrid that Superman pills sold as ecstasy containing PMMA were found in Spain. This followed the tragic deaths in England over the Christmas period caused by similar

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Superman pills. PHE took immediate action and issued a warning that these highly dangerous drugs may still be in circulation. Public Health England is working with partners to accelerate the review already under way on how drug alert systems in the UK can be improved, including how they join up with intelligence from Europe.

Lord Norton of Louth: I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe—you start from the basis that it is harmful and ascend in order of degree of harm. I take what my noble friend said about there being a mechanism for identifying them already and for disseminating that, but could she say a little more about the dissemination? How far does it go? The concern is whether it actually reaches the users or stops at an earlier point in trying to prevent the dissemination of the drugs. How much is there a greater awareness of and sensitivity to those who are in danger of consuming these substances?

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen: I thank my noble friend Lord Norton for that. That is probably covered by FRANK, which is an element of our broad approach to prevention. We are investing in a range of programmes that have a positive impact on young people and adults, giving them the confidence, resilience and risk-management skills to resist drug use. It has been a valuable resource for young people, parents and teachers, especially when used for wider resilience-building and behaviour change. It continues to be updated to reflect new and emerging patterns of drug use and to evolve to remain in line with young people’s media habits and to strengthen advice and support. Since its launch it has been visited by more than 35 million people, and millions have called the helpline to speak to specially trained advisers.

I hope that explanation has gone at least some way to satisfying the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and that on that basis he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Norton, and particularly my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe on the Front Bench. He saw some merit in what I said. This illustrates the virtue of the Committee process. The dialectic helps us all to learn. My noble friend Lady Meacher was right to say that information is at the very least as important as legislation, because we have all this evidence that prohibition has not worked. In that case, it is much better that people should be helped to understand what they do.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was concerned that my recommendation of a network of testing centres would lay impossible demands on the existing resources of laboratories and forensic facilities. Of course, he is right: with our existing resources we could not possibly construct such a network that would be accessible in all regions of the country. My proposition is that we should aim to achieve that. We know that this legislation will in any case require an expansion of forensic facilities. It seems to me that you can achieve both purposes simultaneously: to enable those whose responsibility it is to enforce the law to have speedy

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access to the information they need, but to also assist vulnerable consumers. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for his endorsement of the value and importance of providing reliable, trustworthy and up-to-date information to all concerned.

9 pm

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, for the kind words that she spoke. She had absolutely no reason to apologise to me. I particularly appreciated the kind words, however, that she spoke about her noble friend the Minister. Every member of the Committee greatly appreciates the thoroughness and care with which he—and I add my thanks to the officials—seeks to assist the Committee in our inquiries and in our concerns. The noble Baroness did not answer my question about whether there would be a de minimis threshold—such a low level of psychoactivity that in practice people would be advised that they do not need to concern themselves about it, whatever the technical letter of the law might say. I think that is quite an important practical consideration. Perhaps in due course we could have a response on that.

I was encouraged, of course, to hear how the Government are working closely with a whole range of agencies. I recognise that they have to work with devolved institutions across the UK as a whole, and also that the guidance that the DPP issues needs to be independent of government. All those points I take. I was a little confused—my fault, no doubt—by what she had to say about guidance to consumers. She rather deprecated the provision of guidance to consumers; on the other hand, a little later on, she became quite lyrical about Talk to FRANK, and explained what a marvellous thing it had been and what large numbers of people it had helped. So I am left a little uncertain about the Government’s view on that particular point.

The noble Baroness raised a very serious objection to my amendment in that establishing a network of testing centres might be seen as sending the signal that the Government approve of the taking of drugs. I do not think it would. It is a very sad and worrying reality, but the reality is that people are going to use these substances. The task then is to recognise that and see how we can best protect them. I also acknowledge the valid point she made that provision in Holland is in the context of a rather different regime. But perhaps she will go on a fact-finding mission to Holland and she will investigate the testing centres and form her own view as to whether they are a good thing or not and whether we ought to do something similar—

Baroness Hamwee: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flow, but I think he might be coming to the end. If he is considering bringing this back, I wonder if I could raise one thing that has been troubling me during this debate, concerning the advice as to harm or danger. If it is advice as to whether something is or is or not harmful, perhaps before the next stage, he might think about duties of care and liability and all those things. If it is advice as to whether a substance is dangerous, very dangerous or fatal, does he share my concern? I am not seeking to pick holes; I genuinely want to explore the subject. My concern is that if there are those categories, the lowest category would be interpreted as meaning “not harmful”;

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in other words, it would be reduced to people thinking, “Well, it’s not fatal and it’s not very dangerous, so it must be okay”. I do not know if there is a way through all this.

Lord Howarth of Newport: The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, makes a very important point, and I think that it was strongly suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, as well. We have to convey that there is no such thing as a safe dose. We are dealing with relative harms. We are helping individuals who are possibly ignorant, gullible and vulnerable—they may be very knowledgeable—to navigate their way through what is very treacherous territory indeed. The Government, in partnership with other well-intended agencies, NGOs and the voluntary sector, should be quite systematic about trying to ensure that the best information is available to people who are going to take risks and may come to appalling harm. In this policy-making process, we are looking for the least bad solution. We are not dealing with an ideal world—there is not going to be a drugs-free world; some would contend that that is not even an ideal. At any rate, the practical reality is that people will always use drugs, so our responsibility as good citizens and the responsibility of the Front Bench opposite on behalf of the Government is to minimise harm and danger.

Finally, the Minister talked about the value of the European early warning system, which is an important component of the array of policies to try to protect people from harm. But as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, inquired, we need to know how the Government intend to make sure that those early warnings are widely circulated and reach the people who are perhaps most in need of them. Earlier this year there was a spate of stories about people being killed by taking new psychoactive substances, which seem to have arrived somewhere in East Anglia and were spreading quite rapidly across the country. Whether or not there had been an early warning from an official European system, the fact is that people did not get the advice they needed in time. We have to think of all the best practical ways we can in order to help spare people that kind of fate. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 11 withdrawn.

Amendment 12 not moved.

Amendment 13

Moved by Lord Howarth of Newport