Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. That is you; you have said that—

  . (Mr Hayman) I do not know where the source you have got that from but certainly the interview that I gave really built on the evidence that ACPO gave two or three years ago to the Police Foundation research and report. Again I do not wish to be pedantic about this or indeed boring, but going back to those three points—purpose, evidence and consequences—ACPO's view around the reclassification of ecstasy is what is the scientific and medical evidence? What are the experts saying? Based on that at the time of the submission the chair at that time (which was not me but I endorsed those comments two or three years ago) said the indications are that there is not much to be taken between ecstasy and other amphetamines and from the police perspective it does not make much difference because the police powers are exactly the same. What it may do is make a stronger statement around class A drugs, ie, heroin, cocaine and crack cocaine, but the consequences from the police perspective were minimal. You may be referring in that quote to what we were saying. We were not driving the debate, when we were asked for our view we deferred to the experts for their expert opinion, and if you ask for the police perspective, sadly, we know that quite a substantial number of people pass away from use of ecstasy but when you put them alongside the categories of heroin and cocaine they may not be as serious. That is not minimising the sad cases that exist. There seems to be medical and scientific evidence that puts it very closely alongside other amphetamines.


  301. So you are in favour of reclassifying ecstasy?
  (Mr Hayman) The medical and scientific evidence suggests that there is a cigarette paper's difference between the two and we feel there has been a mature debate about that and from the perspective of the community they recognise the powers are not lost from the police perspective and if the purpose is we give a greater clarity around the focus on class A, the trigger of this discussion is whether ecstasy is as dangerous as the other class A drugs?

  302. Is your answer yes or no?
  (Mr Hayman) If the medical and scientific evidence suggests that, the answer is yes.

Bridget Prentice

  303. Thank you for clarifying that. My apologies for not recognising that you are the Chair now.
  (Mr Hayman) To be fair to you, that was only two months down the line.

  304. A final point about the Police Federation which seems to take a very robust view about not changing anything; do you have any views on that?
  (Mr Hayman) In changing what?

  305. They are very much against any reclassification, decriminalisation, legalisation. You are quite right, the different terms become a bit of a mouthful. They argue that their police officers, the Bobby on the beat who picks up the lads with cannabis are against it. Do you think they have got it too strong in their view?
  (Mr Hayman) I can understand why they would oppose those views but I do feel that the Service needs to respond to the concerns of the community and in talking about cannabis we must be very clear what we are talking about here. Cannabis is the most prevalent debate at the moment but indications are from the community and certainly from Government that there should be class B reclassification. We would want to be clear about why we want to be doing that and have a discussion about transference of powers which is a separate discussion on which we have got a view. It may be that the Federation are recognising the debate about community concerns and the Government's view moving toward re-classification and it may be they want a more mature debate around the transference of powers. Without seeing that quote it would be difficult to know what they are referring to.


  306. Somebody said to us the other day in Manchester that there was a case for defining precisely what constituted "possession". He was referring particularly to ecstasy, but I imagine the same arguments might apply to other drugs. He said a lot of court time was wasted and also a lot of people were criminalised who were not really dealers who had six as opposed to five ecstasy tablets. Does anybody agree with that, starting with Mr Hayman?
  (Mr Hayman) There is probably lots of court time taken up on legal arguments about different legal points and possession is no different. There is the case law that can refer to what would be possession for dealing or possession for personal use. I was interested to see Mr Paddick's written submission—and I think he is appearing later—where he said in guidance in the Lambeth initiative experiment, that it does not necessarily follow that if you have got six wraps of cannabis you would necessarily be seen as in possession as a dealer as opposed to personal use. It is very much a pragmatic interpretation being put on that. It is not about the cold possession of what somebody has got in their pocket. Other factors must come to bear and must be considered. What are the circumstances of the activity, where was that individual, and then other intelligence is brought to bear.

  307. Stick with ecstasy for the moment, you are in a club and you get caught and you have got five or six tabs in your pocket; is that possession?
  (Mr Hayman) If I went out into Whitehall, Chairman, and asked the members of the public in a straw poll "what would you think if you saw someone in a club with six tablets?" the consensus would be that no-one could take six tablets so they must be for other people's usage. If that person is then selling them or giving them out under the definition of dealing, that is a very serious criminal offence.

  308. What that person was saying was can we not all agree on a number and then everybody will know where they stand. At the moment, he said, we are criminalising a lot of young people who are recreational takers because no-one knows precisely where the boundary is.
  (Mr Hayman) Would that not be nice?

  309. That is my question.
  (Mr Hayman) You will think I am ducking the question but I think that is an legal argument rather than for us to be thinking whether it will fit into possession or whether it will not.

  310. Everybody has got an opinion but I am interested in what your opinion is.
  (Mr Hayman) If you are suggesting to me five or six tablets of ecstasy I would say that is clearly possession for supply.

  311. We have all got different opinions about the number. I want to know whether it is worth arriving at a number and sticking to it so everybody knows where they stand.
  (Mr Hayman) Working against that is the notion of fair justice and all the other issues that come to bear on a certain set of circumstance which a defendant will want to be considered. They may feel that would be exclusive. If you are just looking at the numbers all the other factors would be lost. I feel that someone facing the criminal justice process would feel half his job has already been done because he would think "I have got three which complies with the number I am not allowed to have."

  312. So you would not be in favour? Does anybody disagree with that?
  (Mr Howard) I think the people you met in Manchester have hit on quite an important point. If we take cannabis, not ecstasy, and if we look at the evidence from South Australia, for example where they have set parameters and very clear and defined limits, that does not seem to have led to increased prevalence of use. It does not seem to have led to increased crime. I do not recognise entirely the evidence and the research base that Andy was referring to that automatically says that some liberalisation or some less punitive approach in our drug laws would necessarily lead to an increase in prevalence or automatically an increase in crime. To go back to the point about what your Manchester people were saying, it does seem to me having clarity about that would send a very clear signal. We have case law at the moment in terms of supply and it does not seem to be beyond wit's end to say that might apply to possession offences. I have other things to say about simple possession offences—

  313. We will come to that in a minute but on that one point, a clear line would be sensible?
  (Mr Howard) Yes.
  (Mr Morris) It does seem to make sense to have an easy guideline. However, what do you do if somebody has had 100 tablets and sold 96 of them and are left with four? If we had got that sort of evidence we would have to put it before the court.

  314. If you have got evidence that they were selling—
  (Mr Morris)—But then you come back and say if somebody is in possession of one tablet and it is clearly admitted they intended to sell that on to another person, that can no longer be simple possession. It is difficult and it would have to be up to the judiciary to say what level of punishment they decide is appropriate in the circumstances.

  315. You say leave the discretion to the judiciary?
  (Mr Morris) It would depend on the evidence we have to put forward. There are other things we were saying earlier, particularly about Southern Australia. The interesting thing about the heroin debate is that their heroin has practically dried up and yet street crime has not gone down as a consequence of it. What has improved is the number of deaths, which have dropped dramatically because people have gone onto programmes to help them.

  316. We are going to come on to that in a moment. Sticking with this one point, Mr Ledger?
  (Mr Ledger) I support the principle that you do need to set a target. Those who decide, the judiciary, have to recognise that there are different sub-cultures within drug use and ecstasy is a very particular one often related to the club scene and people sharing. If you are going to draw a line somewhere you have to make sure you take in the scenario that applies to that particular use of the drug. It could be very particular.

  317. So for ecstasy you would say yes?
  (Mr Ledger) Because the context might allow it. It is about young people often in a social context where clear directions might be of help.

  318. That is two yeses and two nos; you see our problem!
  (Mr Hayman) Take the jury out!

Mr Prosser

  319. Mr Hayman, you posed the question what is our drug strategy all about and can we have clarity. Not to over-simplify the matter, if our drugs strategy aims are to reduce harm to individuals, to provide better treatment for addiction, and to reduce drug associated crime. I know it is much wider but if it was as simple as that, would you still describe any move towards decriminalisation or legalisation as a "step in the dark"?
  (Mr Hayman) Yes I would because all the points you have made give us such a world-leading strategy. I know that other countries can recite it but our commitment to treatment, our commitment to education (and I think there is a lot more to be done around enforcement, most particularly in middle markets) is such a bold, strong step in the right direction it would be so much of a diversion to start getting into debates as you have suggested. Also it is just so early. We are only three years down the line. There have been previous strategies but most commentators agree with the point this is the first time there has been a strategic, all-embracing strategy as you have described. Let's be patient.

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