Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1440 - 1459)

TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2002

MS TINA WILLIAMS, MR HYWEL SIMS, MR FULTON GILLESPIE AND MRS HOPE HUMPHREYS

  1440. What do you think about the comments that were made last week by the Minister that clubs should have places available and information available for people to take ecstasy?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I think that is a brilliant idea because I think that keeping people alive and helping is better than sort of saying, "Oh well, you have been disobedient. We are not going to help you die. It doesn't matter. You have been stupid and have taken ecstasy when you shouldn't". They are being realistic in understanding that young people will do this whether they like it or not and I think it is very good that they can have the health things that they need there. It is brilliant.

Mr Malins

  1441. A constituent of mine was a 21-year-old girl who was an undergraduate, otherwise of completely good character, who was caught in a nightclub supplying to three or four friends an ecstasy tablet each at no personal profit to herself and she was sent to prison for two years. Now, could I assume that each of you would take the view that she should not have been prosecuted and that in any event disposal was wrong? Would any of you like to say that that is what they think, if it is?
  (Mr Gillespie) Yes, I do.

  1442. Do you think there is anything in the argument that the judge who sentenced her said, "This will act as a deterrent to others"? Do you think there is any merit in that?
  (Mrs Humphreys) No merit in that whatsoever and even going to prison did not stop, does not stop young people taking drugs, even when they are caught. There used to be laws against being a homosexual and it did not stop people being homosexuals even though they knew they could be locked up. I know that I perhaps should not say that, but it is something that people are doing and do and that is it and I really do not think that there should be laws like that.

  1443. Could I press each of you perhaps to answer this question. The views you express now are very genuine, but do you think that the same attitude would have been taken or should have been taken by a parent of one of the three other students who was sold for the first time in their life perhaps an ecstasy tablet?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I doubt that it was like that because she was supplying it to friends. They probably said, "Are you going to get them tonight?". I do not know.

  1444. Can we just assume that one was a parent of a person who bought one that night off this girl for, say, whatever price, £3 or £4, I do not know. It would be harder to accept that parent taking the sort of attitude which you all appear to be taking.
  (Mr Sims) Well, I think particularly if the only access that parent had had to information was, let's say, in the media, for example, but if that parent had been provided with education early enough because what often happens in families is that the parents are frightened to start a conversation because they are frightened that they will say the wrong thing and that their kids will know more than they do, and they might be right in that, but that means that no conversation often starts, so early conversation that is informed can maybe in that kind of circumstance that you describe prevent a parent from maybe panicking about that episode to the degree that it then is counterproductive in the family with that particular child.

  1445. You see, appreciating that it is very possible to take the view that this student should not have been sent to prison and should not have been prosecuted, there is a difficulty, is there not, with the vast majority, if you like, of parents and families in the country who take the view that if such a tablet were sold to their own child who had previously not touched such a tablet, then the law would have to intervene?
  (Mr Sims) I think there is a natural inclination on the part of the families that we work with, for example, to hope that the law will provide a simple answer to the problem of drugs. That cannot happen and it does not happen because society plays a role as well as does peer pressure and what we seem to find in the families we work with as well is that where that family has been affected by drugs in some way, it begins to understand that there are not any simple answers, that the law is not and cannot be enough on its own.

  1446. You do not think that that kind of tough prison sentence was in any way a deterrent in their eyes?
  (Mrs Humphreys) No, absolutely not.
  (Ms Williams) It is not a deterrent. If you talk to heroin users, young girls who prostitute themselves, 13 or 14-year-olds, for £4 or £5 bags of heroin, they are picked up, they are put in jail, they either deal or steal, and there is no deterrent and that drug becomes their first cause of concern. They do not think about going to prison, if they do or when they do; it just comes with the territory. It is not a deterrent unfortunately, no.

Chairman

  1447. Mrs Humphreys, I want to be clear. Are you arguing that ecstasy should be reclassified from A to B or something like that?
  (Mrs Humphreys) The Runciman Report looked into it all and they had all sorts of scientists looking at it and they recommended that, and I would tend to go along with what the scientists say. If that is what they recommended, and there are lots and lots of people out there who have done it on a purely scientific basis, yes, it should be downgraded to B if that is the category it should be in for the dangers that it presents.

  1448. So you are not saying that it should be legalised?
  (Mrs Humphreys) No. Having said that, it does not matter what category they are in, whether they are legalised or not and lots of prescriptive drugs are in categories, are they not, but I think all drugs should be legal and brought under reasonable legal control, which does not mean a free-for-all and everybody taking drugs, just legal in the same way as alcohol is. I do not think it is any different.

  1449. One of the difficulties that we have discovered is that if you sit two sets of professionals down side by side, you get different opinions about what is dangerous and what is not.
  (Mrs Humphreys) But they would do that with alcohol too. Apparently if alcohol was classed, it would be a Class A drug and smoking would be Class B apparently if they used the same criteria.

  1450. Well, we have not had anybody telling us that, but what we have had—
  (Mrs Humphreys) Well, the Runciman Report said it.

  1451. Well, what we have had, and I do not think the Runciman Report recommended declassifying it, did it, ecstasy—
  (Mrs Humphreys) Yes, it did.

  1452. Well, there have been scientists who say that it is dangerous still.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Yes, there are scientists who say it is dangerous

  1453. And they quote the 80 people who died last year.
  (Mrs Humphreys) Yes, but the thing is that it is not so simple as that. A lot of the people who are dying after taking ecstasy had probably been drinking, they may be overheated, the wrong health things were done. You cannot just blame it on ecstasy, I would say.

  1454. Can I put to you a tough question which I think one or two Members would want me to put to you and that is that if your son had been one of the people who died as a result of being sold ecstasy rather than one of the people who was convicted of selling it, would your view be any different?
  (Mrs Humphreys) I think perhaps at first I would be just so shattered by the death and everything that I would want to blame somebody, but then I would have to think about it as a whole thing and understand why did he want to take it in the first place, what are young people doing, why was it able to be so dangerous, why was it not controlled. I think I would have gradually got to it because in a way your son being sent to prison just out of the blue and like that, I am not saying it is the same as a bereavement, but it is almost a kind of bereavement, so I had to understand then what he was doing and why was he doing it and what his friends do and try really to understand and make sense of it and how we could improve that kind of thing and how wrong it all was. Even if he had died, I would still feel the same.

  1455. Ms Williams, what would the effect in Stockton be, do you think, if heroin was legalised and regulated?
  (Ms Williams) You would cut the crime rate immensely. There would be no crime, it would take the market away.

  1456. Would it?
  (Ms Williams) I am not sure when you say "legalise". For me it would be controlled and prescribed by a GP, you know.

  1457. But then you run into an immediate problem, there are not many GPs interested in this?
  (Ms Williams) In our town we have two now.

  1458. Two in the whole town! That really summarises the problem.
  (Ms Williams) I think we could get more GPs to come on board. It would not be every user that would want diamorphine, some users do like methadone. It is back down to choice, if you are treating the user with what they need to keep them well why would they go to the black market?

  1459. Now the problem is this, is it not, that as you said that there are 13 year old girls, never mind kids of 18 or 20, and if it was legalised and regulated there would have to be an age limit, would there not, so there would still be a large illegal market available?
  (Ms Williams) I would leave that to the doctor to decide in their opinion who should be given it and who should not be given it.


 
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