Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 339)



  320. How confident are you that if we met again as a Select Committee or in some other forum in another few years you could say "I told you so"?
  (Mr Hayman) That would be being a bit smart, would it not, but what I would say to you is that the indications are that there are some very strong aspects in this strategy. I can already answer that question and say it is working, certainly with the commitment to treatment. There are some problems around availability and full access, but the three different intervention points are starting to look promising, which has been reported in the report. Certainly I think there is a lot more to be done in education but there are some strong indications that we have got the direction well articulated, and now what we have got to do is get all the agencies to work together. Enforcement of the middle markets is looking good, looking promising. The experiment that is going to be kicked off in January in the Midlands which has brought three or four forces together, government-funded, there is tremendous potential there. If we met in a year's time we would be able to reflect some positive responses from that. When was the last time—it probably goes back to the regional drugs squads there is even some discussion to be had there. For the first time we have now got collaboration across three or four force areas, resources being shared, greater focus, intelligence-led, targeting the middle markets which is seen as a priority. You can tell by the way I am presenting to you I am very optimistic about this strategy. I am not seeing things through rose-tinted glasses—I have already highlighted that by the weaknesses ACPO feel—but structurally, its process and direction is sound.

Mr Winnick

  321. The difficulty really in your written evidence and what you have said today, Mr Hayman, is that we have been told over a period of time by witnesses (not the Committee itself but this Government and the previous Government) that the policy is working, we should not depart from it, and yet in your written evidence you are quite frank about it, you say "If we judge whether the existing drugs policy is working by measurable reductions in the number of people who use drugs, the number who die or suffer harm as a result, the supply of drugs, the amount of crime committed to get money to buy drugs and the organised criminality involved in transporting and supplying drugs, then we have to say that the results are not coming through." Therefore inevitably there is this feeling—justified or otherwise and who knows what conclusions we will come to as a Committee and whether we will be able to come to a unanimous view—that the policy simply is not working. Your suggestion in the paper that really all that is required is more co-ordination may not impress a great number of people that that is the solution.
  (Mr Hayman) As you have selected an aspect of my paper which describes an area that I feel needs to be improved, I could equally select pieces of my paper that describe the positive parts, as in the answer to the first question I described. What I am saying is that it is understandable the results are not coming through because we are only three years into the strategy. If ACPO is still writing the same conclusion in two or three years' time I really do think we need to go into a darkened room with a wet towel on our head, but at the moment I think it is too early to come to that conclusion.

  322. When the Police Foundation Report came out and suggested certain changes, including the reclassification of cannabis, the reaction of the Government (of which I am a supporter, whether or not on this issue remains to be seen) was that there should be no change whatsoever and therefore my question is were you surprised by the press reaction, including from papers not associated normally with liberal policy such as the Daily Telegraph, who argue for a wider debate and not just a negative rejection?
  (Mr Hayman) My recollection is that whilst the outcome was that there was no reclassification (contrasting with the position we have now got at the moment), what I do feel the Police Foundation report was doing was building the basis for a wider, more mature debate and that was not discounted, in fact it was happening, whether or not the government lead at that time was they were going to do anything, the agencies were discussing that report. ACPO was very prominent in those discussions and I think it was those discussions that went on and pre and post the Police Foundation report that gave the confidence for the most recent announcement. Although there was not an announcement three or four years ago, as there is now, there was still work being discussed.

  323. You are critical, as the paper states in paragraph 6.3, of the reclassification of cannabis by the Government. Of course, that is a view not shared by your colleagues, the Police Superintendents, who take a somewhat different view on the evidence that has come before us. Obviously both organisations are entitled to their views but the reclassification is clearly not something of which you approve.
  (Mr Hayman) Perhaps I could refer you to 6.3. What we were talking about there is decriminalisation. I think I have made clear in answer to previous questions that reclassification is an issue we are supportive of, other than we need a debate about powers of arrest. What we are talking about in 6.3 is the decriminalisation, which, as I said earlier, has the potential to derail the strategy at an unhelpful time.

  324. It is being looked upon as decriminalisation as such, what the Government has done, and you would disagree with that?

  (Mr Hayman) Yes, it goes back to my earlier point, if we are not careful we will get tangled up in a long debate about the different terms, which needs to be done some time, but let's be really clear, the most recent government announcement is not decriminalisation. It might be de facto and we could argue that—

  325. The emphasis is on de facto?

  . (Mr Hayman) Yes.

  Mr Prosser: Thank you very much.

Mr Watson

  326. I would like to ask you about what your view is of the relative importance of prevention, enforcement and treatment. A lot of witnesses we have heard from would call for more and more resources to be poured into treatment for more and more addicts. Is that your view?
  (Mr Hayman) Would it not be nice to cut the cake up equitably so that it reflected what we see as the success that can be achieved in those areas of work—treatment, education and prevention. It is our challenge to understand how that cake can be cut up. Roger has already made the point, as indeed we did in our paper, that 65 per cent of our resources at the moment are stacked up in enforcement. You would not expect us to come here and say,"Okay, we are going to release those resources" because clearly they are very nice, thank you very much.

  327. That is what I was asking you.
  (Mr Hayman) What we are doing is putting our hat on table along with other agencies and saying we need to work together here. If that means the evidence suggests that either through harm reduction initiatives or prevention that we can get a greater gain down the line with a reduction in drug-related crime and health of the nation improvements, then that is a debate that needs to be had. Unfortunately, unless colleagues can help me, I cannot find any evidential source that substantiates that. What we are doing at the moment is inheriting resource allocations that are historical and not evidence based. What ACPO are asking for is a mature debate that gets us away from historical resource allocation into empirical research data and outcomes that everyone can sign up to and the community will be content with. My final point is we must not lose sight of what reassures the community. Like it or not, the enforcement activity, although it may not give us the outcomes we expect for and hope for, is a reassurance to the community and it is important and we must not disregard that. What we must try and do is complement that in a more proportionate way than resources are cut up at the moment.
  (Mr Howard) If we are looking at where the evidence of where success lies, I do not think we can get away from the fact that really the only the hard evidence is that treatment works. For every £1 that is spent on treatment it is reckoned there £3 is saved in the reduction of crime. That is a firm Government estimate. We are less sure on prevention. There are some promising approaches and there does seem to be some evidence of some success. We are operating somewhat blind, as Andy says, around the enforcement world. That does not mean to say it is totally ineffective. It means we need a much better evidence base about what impact and what evidence there is available to support certain enforcement activities.

  Chairman: Mr Cameron has some questions for the Superintendents.

Mr Cameron

  328. If I may direct my questions at Mr Morris. Mr Morris, from the very interesting paper the Superintendents put in where you point out there were 2.4 drug-related deaths per million inhabitants in the Netherlands 31 for the United Kingdom, I take it from that that in the broad scheme of things you do not think the approach in our country is very good?
  (Mr Morris) The overall strategy is right, that you cannot pick in isolation one part from it, it has to be an holistic approach. The difficulty comes in what is the ultimate outcome we want from this. If it is to criminalise people, to lock them up, to give them a criminal record, then we can concentrate on that and from the police side that is clearly what we are able to do. If you want to reduce deaths, then I think we need to look at the allocation of resources. I would not be in favour, as Mr Hayman said, because it is turkeys voting for Christmas really, of moving resources arbitrarily between one thing and another.

  329. I am not asking you to cut your budget but I sense from your paper that the Superintendents feel that the current strategy may be working in terms of the structure but it is a bit like a doctor saying "the operation was a great success but, sadly, the patient died".
  (Mr Morris) That seems to be the body of evidence we have picked up on. I would like to point out that our current policy is that nothing should change but we are quite willing to look at alternatives and, having gone into this, the evidence in favour of alternatives is really quite overwhelming.

  330. That is where I wanted to take you. In terms of the changes you might like to make to the policy, you say in your paper the issue of decriminalisation—this is with respect to cannabis—has to be addressed. Is the Superintendents Federation moving towards that position, given the very warm things you say about the Dutch policy?
  (Mr Morris) First of all, we are not the Federation.

  331. The Association, I am sorry.
  (Mr Morris) The Association as a whole is looking at this issue and we are moving in favour of changing our position. I cannot do that on my own, that is something we would have to put to the membership, but we are in favour of looking at all the factors. It comes back to what is success? If success is how many people we criminalise, we can be very successful, but if it is about harm reduction, at the moment the evidence tends to suggest we are not doing too well. That is not our specific role.

  332. What do you think it should be as a police officer? Do you think it should be about criminalising people or it should be about harm reduction?
  (Mr Morris) Our overall view is that we should as a nation be looking at harm reduction and that the law where it is applied should be applied equally wherever it is applied.

  333. Looking at some of the figures for the amount of police time in policing cannabis,—300,000 stop and searches for cannabis, 86,000 arrests in 1997—is it your view that if you took cannabis out of the illegal market and decriminalise it in some way that would free up a lot of police resources?
  (Mr Morris) It would free up resources but not necessarily for what the Home Secretary thought it would be. Mr Hayman mentioned this earlier—moving into class A drugs is very unlikely to happen. The other thing is street officers would probably see it as an affront to them. This is something they feel quite strongly about, as the Federation have already made clear. The difficulty we have as management is that officers are very good at going out in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night and not exactly sticking to what we would like them do.

  334. What do you mean by that?
  (Mr Morris) We let officers out during the day and they are very much then independent people. Much as we would like them to concentrate on various things, they may not. So what we have to do as managers—you will probably find out more from the evidence from the Lambeth experiment—is we have to be very clear about what the priorities are and again measure them for those priorities and nothing else. At the moment the success factor is an arrest, not necessarily the arrest that we actually want.

  335. I am not putting words into your mouth but we are looking at the effects of decriminalisation and it would seem to be the Suprintendents Association's view that the decriminalisation of cannabis would not be a leap in the dark, would not be something that you are totally uncomfortable be with, and you seem to be moving in that direction slowly.
  (Mr Morris) Not totally uncomfortable.

  336. Let's move on to some of the other drugs. Let's take a leap on to the hardest drugs, heroin in particular. This Committee has been told by many different groups that doctors prescribing heroin could make a radical difference to the level of crime and also could radically reduce the harm that heroin addicts do both to themselves and to society. What do you think about that?
  (Mr Morris) We have been trying to collect as much evidence as possible before we came here and the major thing was the point I made earlier—we notice from Australia that the heroin has dried up which drove the price up and reduced the quality of it and it was the lack of quality that was causing deaths. It did not reduce crime because people had to steal more to purchase the dwindling supplies. What it did do was force people into treatment and it reduced the deaths dramatically. The sad thing is they are waiting for heroin to reappear and then the deaths will possibly go through the roof again.

  337. So the lessons you take out of that are?
  (Mr Morris) That the policing influence on that level of intervention is quite difficult. If you look at prescribing drugs generally, we can buy over the shelf in the UK aspirin and Paracetamol and if you want to scare yourselves go and look up the contra-indications of both those and yet you can wander into a shop and buy them. It is the quality of the drug that is being purchased or is being supplied that causes the problem, not the fact that somebody is per se an addict.

  338. Again I do not want to put words in your mouth, but I take it from that that the concept of doctors or health centres or drugs centres prescribing heroin to addicts to make sure they have a clean supply would reduce the harm they do to themselves and would possibly reduce drug-related crime. Is that the feeling you have?
  (Mr Morris) I think it would reduce the deaths but whether it would reduce the crime is a very difficult area and I do not feel we have enough evidence on that at this stage.

  339. Would you describe it as the leap in the dark that some people would or something to be looked at?
  (Mr Morris) I think we would have to consider it very carefully.

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