House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
HOW THE GOVERNMENT HANDLES THEM
Wednesday 14 June 2006
JOAN RYAN MP and MR VERNON COAKER MP
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Wednesday 14 June 2006
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Mr Robert Flello
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Mr Brooks Newmark
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Joan Ryan, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for nationality, citizenship and immigration, and Mr Vernon Coaker, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for policing, security and community safety, gave evidence.
Q1142 Chairman: Good morning to our two ministers, Joan Ryan and Vernon Coaker. Welcome to this our final evidence session on two of our case studies on ID cards and the classification of illegal drugs. For your benefit and the benefit of visitors this morning, this is part of an overarching inquiry looking at how scientific evidence informs government policy, how it informs risk, and how Government takes advice from an evidence base and a scientific base. That is its purpose. Our job is not to decide whether ID cards are a good thing or a bad thing. It is very much a matter of looking at the science behind it, the evidence behind the Government's policy. We are, first, going to run through the issues on ID cards and then move on to drug classification. Several witnesses have said that they were unclear about the objectives of the ID card programme. Are you clear what they are? Would you give us a quick canter through that?
Joan Ryan: Yes, I think I am. I am happy to do that. The reason I am clearer than most is because I served on both the standing committees that took ID cards through the process in the Commons. I would outline four main reasons for ID cards. That is not to say there are not or will not be others as this develops but I think we have four key objectives. The first I would identify as being to enable people to have a secure means to establish and protect their identity. The second is to help to counter illegal immigration and work to strengthen our borders. The third is to counter the misuse of public services, to ensure that public services are used by those entitled to use them, and therefore also to improve efficiency and effectiveness in service delivery. I would identify the fourth as to counter organised crime and terrorism, to disrupt the activities of terrorists and organised criminals, and to make the UK the most difficult place in the world to use false identity.
Q1143 Chairman: Do you feel that from the beginning of this process the Government has been clear as to what its objectives are since David Blunkett announced them as the Secretary of State a good number of years ago now? Do you think there has been a clear timetable and are you working to that timetable? Are you conscious of a timetable?
Joan Ryan: I do think the Government has been clear right from the beginning and, as I say, I have had quite some involvement in that process from an early stage. I think we were very clear on the face of the Bill. We have been clear in the early discussions and consultations that took place. These four reasons have figured throughout. It is true that people have sometimes given them in a different order and perhaps with a different emphasis.
Q1144 Chairman: You are working to a timetable?
Joan Ryan: In terms of a timetable, we have what I would describe as a broad timetable with landmarks along it, rather than a detailed timetable. If we go back to David Blunkett in 2002, we can see the progression; we can see that a very big landmark was getting the legislation enacted. There was a delay there of a year. That is now part of the timetable. In the main, we are now at a stage where we are seeking to move to procurement and the procurement process itself will have a very big influence on determining the timetable from the point at which procurement happens.
Q1145 Chairman: As the Minister responsible, are you now clear in your mind that, from now until the time that we all have ID cards, not only is the timetable mapped out but there are no hurdles that are yet to be overcome and, if there are any, what are they? Is it all plain sailing?
Joan Ryan: On the timetable, we do not have a date at which I can say to you, "Here you are. On this date the scheme will be ready and we will start at that point rolling it out". I can tell you where we hope to be. However, as I have said, the procurement phase is crucial. We have landmarks in this timetable to work with our partners to deliver on our building blocks. The committee is probably aware of things like biometric passports, UK biometric visas and biometric residents' permits. Those kinds of developments and the feedback from them will help determine the timetable. The reason why the timetable is perhaps a bit looser than what might be called a very detailed timetable is because of that development and because we want to be very cautious on the basis of all the lessons we have learnt from good and bad projects.
Q1146 Chairman: You are giving the impression that there are no problems facing you at the moment, no scientific problems facing you at the moment, and all has been resolved.
Joan Ryan: I am not attempting to give that impression, Chairman. What I am saying is that the procurement phase is going to be absolutely crucial and trialling during that procurement phase in identifying for us where the issues are, if problems are going to have to be caught. It is because we are taking it in that incremental developmental way that we expect therefore to be able to deal with issues as they come up in that procurement.
Q1147 Chairman: Has procurement begun already?
Joan Ryan: No. We have done a preliminary information notice.
Q1148 Chairman: Has that thrown up any problems?
Joan Ryan: That has obviously alerted the market to the fact that we are seeking to go forward towards procurement. We have done some very detailed market soundings. What we have identified through this are risks rather than problems. De-risking is a very important part of the way we are going forward and of the incremental build with the building blocks I have mentioned and also the way in which we are hoping to structure procurement.
Q1149 Mr Flello: Do you think that perhaps some of the confusion and difficulty has arisen because actually as the whole idea around ID cards has evolved, more and more really good uses are being thought of for them, for example, in terms of employment? If somebody is coming to an employer and needs to prove their identity, ID cards would be a very good mechanism in that sense. Do you think that some of the confusion and difficulties have arisen simply because there are so many add-on benefits for an ID card?
Joan Ryan: I think that is exactly right. There are a number of other schemes in different countries around the world, all of which we are looking at and we are talking to the people involved. I know the committee has had some evidence on some of these issues and our conversations with people in terms of the US visit with the FBI; IDENT 1, the police fingerprinting scheme; and the Hong Kong scheme where they can use ID to counter on-line fraud. All of these developments continually bring forward, first, that this is a concept of its time now and, secondly, that there are growing advantages. Different bits of the advantages appeal to different people, and that is what they will emphasise. That is why it is important we have our four main objectives. As I said, that should not exclude developmental work on using the card in other ways as time moves on.
Q1150 Chairman: One of our concerns as a committee is about the principal objective. Let us say that there is an agreement and the Government is clear about its four major objectives. I understand that different things could be added on in the future, but at the moment take those four things. What we find difficult to understand is how it is possible to decide on a technology which will be most suitable when you do not really know what it is that you want the technology to do. You have some objectives. You are going out to procurement but you do not know what it is you are going to procure in order to achieve your objective. We find that difficult to understand, or I as a simple person do.
Joan Ryan: I am clear about that. Obviously I have had many meetings discussing these issues with my officials and those who advise me on scientific issues in recent weeks, and only in recent weeks as I am newly in post, as you will understand. That is a very crucial part of understanding how this is going to happen. I think the committee is right to ask the question because these are large expenditures and we have to get this right. My understanding is that the reason procurement will happen in the way it does is that we do have clear objectives and so we know what outcomes we want. The technology that will be developed through procurement will be driven by the outcomes we require. We are not going to the market to buy something off the shelf. We are not saying to the market, "The technology must look like, feel like and act like this". We are saying that the technology must be able to deliver these outcomes for us. We will test that through the trialling. The private sector suppliers are the experts in developing the technology. We want to use their expertise and continually stretch them throughout the procurement process, but always testing and ensuring that we meet our objectives; i.e. the outcomes we require in order to establish the identity card programme.
Q1151 Chairman: You are now totally in the hands of the market to deliver an unknown product on which you may or may not meet the specifications which have been laid down by the Department?
Joan Ryan: I do not accept that we are totally in the hands of the market. You will know that in the first instance when we go out to procurement, the first phase will be when the market will produce for us a pilot or prototype where they will bear the risk and they will compete with each other. We will then have trialling of that small-scale production as to how we will enrol people and how the technology will work. At the end of that phase, we will select either a consortium or a private sector provider.
Chairman: You are confident that that is going to work.
Q1152 Dr Iddon: While we have been taking evidence, industry has been quite critical of the Home Office. I will give you a quotation from Microsoft, who, after all, are one of the biggest firms, in the field. They said: "After all these consultations we still do not seem to have had an impact on the level of understanding about what makes for a good identity system". On the back of that quotation from Microsoft, I would ask: is industry going to be entirely clear in the procurement process about what you are asking them to deliver?
Joan Ryan: You will know that we have, as I said, had a comprehensive market sounding exercise, and we have worked closely with industry and technical bodies using the industry routes such as Intellect. We have also worked closely both with experts within the Home Office, through our Biometrics Experts Group, our Biometrics Advisory Group, across Government, through the Assurance Group and the Chief Scientific Officer and his panel. We have also looked very carefully at other schemes that are up and running. I cannot answer for any individual company's comment but I can say that we have worked closely with industry. We have taken a great deal of care to work closely with schemes that are already in operation. We are working with caution, I think it is true to say, to get these building blocks in place so that when we come to the procurement, we already have a large amount of evidence about the way in which biometrics are working. I think we are right to be cautious and to question. This is a big programme and a big expenditure. I am confident that the work we are doing with the market is in-depth work and that we will be able to move successfully through into procurement.
Q1153 Dr Iddon: It is not just Microsoft that are critical. Here is another criticism from another source. They say, and I quote, "You have people who are, frankly, scientists giving evidence to people who are, frankly, not". The implication there is that there are not enough scientists in the Home Office with which outside agencies and industry can engage at the same level and communicate properly.
Joan Ryan: Someone said to me on this position, "Don't you think it would be helpful if you were a scientist?" I said, "No, I do not. I think scientists are very helpful people and in fact I could say I am a scientist, a social scientist".
Q1154 Dr Iddon: I am not talking about you, Joan, but about the officers.
Joan Ryan: The point I was going to make is that I think we can demonstrate involvement at all levels of scientific and technological expertise both inside the Home Office and outside. It is also crucial that people who are not scientists are able to assess and understand this information and make a judgment about how confident we can feel in all the work that is being done. When we are running this out to the public, there is a huge issue of trust. We have a responsibility I believe, as Government and as Members of Parliament, to ensure that public trust and confidence in a project such as this is developed and maintained for all the right reasons. I think both scientists and non-scientists need to be able to understand it.
Q1155 Dr Iddon: What we are picking up, and it is not just in this inquiry but in other inquiries that this committee has undertaken, is that there used to be a scientific structure in the Home Office that seems to have been destroyed during the last couple of decades maybe and that the Home Office, when it comes to major procurement programmes like this, gets itself into difficulty because there is not enough technological understanding within the Home Office to be able to communicate with an industry that is going to deliver. Would you think that is a fair criticism or do you think the Home Office is well set with scientists and technologists able to handle this project?
Joan Ryan: I know that criticism has been made and there has been previous criticism of lack of a scientific culture in the Home Office. I also think that if we look towards the Home Office's Science and Innovation Strategy of 2005-06, which summarises the science in the Home Office and a series of reforms to invent science within the department, we can see that some of those concerns are perhaps not justified.
Q1156 Adam Afriyie: There are three main types of risk. We have a risk of time; it might take too long to deliver. We have a risk of money; it may cost too much to deliver. We have a risk of functionality; it may not deliver at all or it may not work. Which of those risks would you consider the easiest to mitigate - time, money or functionality - within each area?
Joan Ryan: All risks have to be mitigated. From what I have said previously to the Chairman about ultimately the issue of trust and confidence, the fact is that this is a large project involving large sums of money and all of those risks must be mitigated. If the honourable gentleman would like me to say a bit on each of those, I think we are working very hard to make sure that that de-risking does occur.
Q1157 Adam Afriyie: Perhaps you could say a few words on the type of risk in terms of time. You have a very tight time schedule here. I have 15 to 20 years' experience of IT projects. It seems almost inconceivable that you could trial new technology, develop it and have it deployed within the timescale set. Perhaps you could talk about how you are mitigating the risk of time so that all this does not take too long.
Joan Ryan: As I said, the timetable is not one that says to us, "Here is a ready-to-serve date. You must be rolling out ID cards at this point". We have aspirations built on some of the building blocks that we are putting in place, but the detail of the timetable will only become absolutely clear though procurement. That is as it should be because we would not be de‑risking if we said to the committee, "We can absolutely guarantee to you that you will see the first ID card at such and such a date". If we did that, you would rightly say to me, "So are you going to learn no lessons through the procurement process? Are you going to learn no lessons through the trialling?" Obviously we have to work through the procurement process and the exact timetable will fall into place. I am sure we will have much more discussion about that as the process takes place.
Q1158 Bob Spink: Is the Minister now withdrawing the implementation timetable that had previously been announced for ID cards?
Joan Ryan: We do not have an implementation programme for me to withdraw, so I am not withdrawing anything. We do not have an implementation timetable.
Q1159 Chairman: We have been given evidence on that.
Joan Ryan: What we have been told is that there is a desire, and a strong desire, to see ID cards towards the end of 2008-09 being issued.
Q1160 Mr Newmark: Is that an aspiration or is that real timing?
Joan Ryan: That is a strong desire that we are working towards. As for the building blocks I have spoken about, I was watching ID cards being issued yesterday at Lunar House in Croydon. The ARC card for asylum seekers is, in effect, an ID card. You will know that from August every passport issued will be a biometric passport. All these building blocks are being put in place. We dealt with the secondary legislation on UK visas last week. By end 2007/early 2008, all UK visas will be biometric. That is a timetable and we are moving towards it, but that is not to say that I can give you a guarantee that the procurement process will have happened in a particular way.
Q1161 Chairman: To be fair, Joan, your predecessor did not give us a specific date either. We will not follow up on that. Risk is something on which we have not had a clear answer from you. Your predecessor appeared to be content to allow us to view the risk register. Why have you said no?
Joan Ryan: I hope I explained in my letter that there are potential confidentiality issues around parts of the risk register and obviously, at the point we go into procurement, this is crucial. Therefore, I took the decision that this could pose a difficulty.
Q1162 Chairman: What changed between your predecessor and you? Why am I not trusted to look at parts of the register?
Joan Ryan: Also, much of the register is outside the scope of this investigation. It is not a question of trust between myself and you, Chairman. I have said that I would be very happy, if you want to make a specific request, to do all that I can to meet that request and enable you to see those parts of the risk register within your specific request as it relates to the scope of this investigation and the work of the committee.
Q1163 Chairman: This inquiry is actually dealing with scientific evidence and risk. Particularly for those bits of the register that relate to science and technology underpinning the scheme, it would be very useful if in fact as a committee I can report back that we have actually seen the register and seen those elements of it and can say that that is happening.
Joan Ryan: I appreciate the point you are making and I would say that the offer I have made was very genuine. If you come back with specifics, then I will do all I can to accommodate that request. I understand that your desire is genuine and obviously the findings and the outcomes of the committee are helpful to us.
Q1164 Chairman: Of course they are and so I will be able to look at those elements of the register which refer specifically to the science and technology underpinning the scheme on a confidential basis?
Joan Ryan: I would ask the honourable gentleman, the Chairman, to respond to the offer made in my letter.
Q1165 Chairman: Why can you not just say yes?
Joan Ryan: I would like you to write to me with a specific request. It is important, with my responsibilities as an Under-Secretary of State, to consider carefully, particularly from a select committee, the requests that are made to me. I would like to give that consideration to your specific request. I can assure you that I will do that in good faith.
Q1166 Chairman: I find that very disappointing, if I might say so. One of the purposes of a select committee, particularly on an inquiry like this, is in fact to be able to have a trust between a minister and the committee. The idea that we cannot see and I cannot see elements of the register without going through a long process with you I think is disappointing, but there is no point in moving that on.
Joan Ryan: I am not saying you cannot, and I do hope that you will not be disappointed and that that trust will exist and does exist between us.
Q1167 Mr Newmark: Given that the Home Office has said that trials will provide vital new information, why is there at least a perception that this has been left so late? Is this not just increasing the risk of problems at a later stage?
Joan Ryan: That presupposes that no trialling has occurred, and I would not say that that was the case. First of all, there was some very important case work done early on in 2004 on the biometrics and technology options. There has been trialling since then. I would point to IDENT 1, which I think all are agreed has been a very successful procurement and build operation, and also obviously the IAFS immigration and asylum fingerprint system. The fact is that these are new, up and coming and existing programmes as IAFS is going to move into IAFS Plus to accommodate the UK visas and biometric resident's permit. They give us a huge amount of information and they are in effect trialling. However, that can only happen within the procurement phase because we want to trial what is being developed. We are able to do that in that first phase at the private sector's risk, which I think is a very good option for Government in procurement. Following that first phase, we will then, once we have our private sector partner and as the technology and the register are built, trial. For a system that will run for some 60 million entrants, we think somewhere around the first 2 million people registered into it will in fact mean very large-scale trialling. That is another reason why we are taking it a step at a time.
Q1168 Mr Newmark: According to the evidence we received on 8 May, there is not going to be that sort of trialling of specific technical issues.
Joan Ryan: We have used evidence from the US National Institute of Science and Technology that does world class biometrics testing.
Q1169 Mr Newmark: Let us move on. One of my concerns is about what happens if the technology actually does not meet up with the expectations in these live enrolment trials. Just to give you an example, and I am sure you have heard this two or three times at least, in women in terms of iris recognition there are changes at various times of the month.
Joan Ryan: No, there are not. The retina might change but the iris does not. I think we have clarified that.
Chairman: We have sorted that out.
Q1170 Mr Newmark: That was one of the things they were not confident about when we went to the States.
Joan Ryan: Brian raised it with me in Home Office orals. I would understand any concern like that. I am very pleased it was raised with me.
Q1171 Mr Newmark: I will come back to a more generic statement. What happens if the technology does not meet expectations during live enrolment trials?
Joan Ryan: You can see from what I have been able to say when you read the answer about irises that we are alive to these issues and these risks, and we are alive to them because of the work that we are doing looking at the deployment of existing technology and working with using evidence from bodies like NIST. I think that is a very important part of our trialling. Clearly, as I have said, we would build on that.
Q1172 Mr Newmark: By definition, you would not be trialling if you had total confidence in the technology.
Joan Ryan: I think it is best and good practice to trial and we would be trialling. We are confident that we will achieve procurement to deliver a technology that will deliver the programme, but I think your committee would rightly ask me what I thought I was doing if I was not insisting that there was trialling through the process. If I did not do that, you might be worried.
Q1173 Mr Newmark: Adam has been in high tech for 15 years and I have been in business for 20 years. Things never run smoothly and that is why I am curious. Have you any contingency plans in case there are problems during procurement?
Joan Ryan: As we are not tied to this exact timetable, that of itself is a contingency because if there are issues, then there is time to resolve issues. That of itself is a contingency. I think the real contingency is the fact that we are building gradually and it is incremental. That is because of the lessons we have learnt. I would say something else, and perhaps it comes back to the three risks that Adam mentioned, and add a fourth. If we look at what happened perhaps with the passport service, which is now an excellent service and one of our great successes and deserves to receive an accolade for that, as you all know, it had a difficult period, shall we say. That was not to do with the technology; that was to do with people issues - staff, training and enrolment. That is the fourth risk I would identify and it is another area we will be doing a great deal of work on. We are doing some of that work now through trialling, i.e. rolling out the biometrics passport and seeking to go to authentication by interview because it is not just about biometrics, you understand, establishing identity and issuing a card; it is also about a biographical footprint. That work is already going on as well.
Q1174 Dr Harris: To what extent is the scheme governed by politically imposed deadlines? Are you alive to the fact that there is a tension between the need to deal with pesky Opposition politicians who say, "No, this will be delivered" and scientific advice saying, "Wait a minute. There needs to be scope for wriggle room if problems emerge"? How do you balance that?
Joan Ryan: I hope what I have already said about the timetable you will find reassuring. I do not feel I am running this according to some political deadline. We have the legislation. We are moving to procurement. We are seeking to deliver, but I am not pressured by any external deadline outside that programme.
Chairman: That is good to hear.
Q1175 Dr Harris: If scientific advice said that the planned timescale, even if it is informal, is not reasonable because of difficulties, then that would count a lot. Do you fear that there is a culture that says that because this has become so political, it has to be delivered and the scientists will just have to get on with it?
Joan Ryan: I would like to go back to an earlier answer when I said there is another issue and that is about our responsibility to the public and the issue of trust. I do not think anything can be more important than getting it right. That would be my answer. I hope we can do that in a timely fashion, meeting a reasonable timescale, but nothing is more important than getting it right. If scientific evidence comes forward that tells us there is an issue, it will depend on the evidence. We will have to have that evidence assessed. I have no doubt we will be discussing it here. It would depend on what the issue is. I cannot comment on a hypothetical problem. I am not anticipating something major that would completely delay or derail the programme. I would like to reassure the committee that nothing is more important than getting this right.
Q1176 Margaret Moran: We have been told by the Government that facial recognition will be effective in protection and prevention of fraud as a central plank of what we are talking about here. Yet, we have received evidence from Professor Angela Sasse to say that 90 per cent of benefit fraud is committed by people who do not lie about their identity. What specific evidence do you have on the extent to which fraud is based on lies about identity? Could you also tell us how the ID card project will guard against this?
Q1177 Margaret Moran: You referred to yourself earlier as a social scientist. We have heard from the Home Office that social science is being used to validate assumptions and that where that research rejects a current assumption, a change is made. Could you give us a specific example of where that has been the case, where social science has influenced a change of direction in a project?
Joan Ryan: I can say that we have undertaken nine separate pieces of social science research, and so we do think this is very important. One of the pieces of research is looking into people with special needs issues. We have undertaken 16 focus group discussions. Certainly, from all that we have learnt from that, it is not so much that we make an assumption and then change it; it is that we are learning from that kind of work and from the other social science I have mentioned done with the public. We are learning from them what the issues for them will be. I mentioned special needs in particular because you will know from the UK Passport Service that we have done trialling and we have found that elderly, people with various disabilities and some minority ethnic groups had more difficulty enrolling than others. That was not necessarily to do with technology.
Q1178 Chairman: Have you changed the system as a result of this?
Joan Ryan: It is informing the way in which we are enrolling people and the way in which we are enrolling them for a biometric passport. That will inform how we are going to enrol obviously for an ID card because a passport is the designated document. I am struggling to think of specific changes that we have made. We know that there are issues for people about how easy it is, given various disabilities, for them to deliver their fingerprints, whereas facial recognition is much easier.
Q1179 Chairman: Would it be possible for you to look at that and perhaps let us have in writing some ideas on the way you conduct the social science research and the way it has affected the programme is moved on?
Joan Ryan: I would be delighted to do that. As I say, there has been a lot of work done there. I would appreciate giving the committee more detail on that.
Q1180 Margaret Moran: The Gateway Review has been completed but that focuses on process. Could you tell us whether you are prepared to undertake a gateway review on the practical and technical feasibility of the project and make that available?
Joan Ryan: I would have to ask to write to the committee on that. I would need to understand the gateway review process and how it has been applied so far to this process and also to biometric residents' permits. I do not feel I can answer that at the moment.
Chairman: That will be acceptable.
Q1181 Dr Harris: You said you are not aware specifically and you will let us know of any specific changes that have been made following social science research. We are told in your evidence, and I quote, "the mechanism for incorporating the results of social science work into the programme is predominantly a robust change control process". Do you know what that means because I do not, I am afraid.
Joan Ryan: I think it means exactly what Margaret was saying. We undertake this research and from it we are able to acquire information about how best to do things like enrol people and deal with people's issues. One of the things we were interested in finding out from people was whether they felt that giving fingerprints meant that in some way that you are a criminal. There is a lot said about people's perceptions being that if you are asked to give your fingerprints, there is some notion of criminality and people would be very resistant to do this. We discovered through the research that that is not the case at all. People's attitude was pretty much: if you have nothing to hide, why would you be worried? We also discovered, through things like the biometrics road show, that people quite like testing out the technology and that, far from it being a barrier, the only times when it hit the barrier might be when there are physical reasons why it is difficult for people to use the technology. There are other issues as well, cultural issues. We have seen these through the roll-out of the passport as well and the new photograph in order to get the facial biometric; for instance, the wearing of head wear for certain groups is an important issue. Social science research has helped inform us about to how to deal with and approach those issues. It is not so much making a complete change from one idea to another but it is informing us about how to approach and handle these issues.
Q1182 Dr Harris: Can I ask you about costs? To what extent would costs be a driver in choosing the technologies, or indeed the functionality? How do you balance costs?
Joan Ryan: I suppose we would want what is called best value in that the cheapest will not necessarily be our choice because it might not be able to deliver what we need to see delivered. Our business case has been seen by KPMG. It has been through the Office of Government Commerce gateway. It has had approval at many levels. We are confident that we have the funding and the costings, that they are robust, and we have built in contingency, optimism and bias. We feel we are going to be in a strong position in relation to cost and procurement, but clearly the priority is that we are confident we are (a) getting value for money but (b) that it will deliver.
Q1183 Dr Turner: Could either of you tell us something about the "joined-upness" of working between government departments on the ID scheme, both on the technology development and making sure that other departments can use it without any operational difficulties. Obviously the Department of Health is going to have an interest in this; DWP is going to have a considerable interest. What can you tell us about that aspect?
Joan Ryan: We have undertaken a great deal of work on what we call stakeholder engagement, which is what I think you are referring to in terms of the development of the identity card. We have also undertaken work with our delivery partners and then with other groups as well, such as industry groups and a technical group. Across government, the ID card programme managers are key stakeholders who may expect to realise benefits from the introduction of the scheme. We have account managers and they have been in place since 2004. They each have a key contact person at strategy board level. We draw in from that DWP, Department of Health, CRB, the police, and the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Q1184 Chairman: Are these contacts at ministerial level?
Joan Ryan: No, these are at civil servant level. Through that work, obviously we are attempting to get this cross-departmental recognition of benefits, the buy-in and working together. We also do that through working on our building blocks.
Q1185 Dr Turner: You will have taken steps to ensure that the technology is compatible across the whole piece?
Joan Ryan: Yes, it is absolutely crucial that interoperability exists. We have a number of ways in which that is being approached. We also ensure that with all other schemes we have the technical specification whereby everybody is going to be able to speak to each other.
Q1186 Dr Turner: One of our witnesses suggested that there has not always been the coherence that there might have been. Specifically they referred to the e-Borders programme where it is suggested that there has been a lack of sharing of evidence, a duplication of effort and a general overlap. There is a specific claim that there has been little coherence between the programmes, particularly in the early stages. What comment do you have to make on that?
Joan Ryan: In terms of interoperability, we have common technical standards as a start point. We have the e-Government Unit and the Government's Interoperability Framework. We work within that. Across departments, we have our stakeholder groups and our expert assurance groups to make sure that is all working together. You brought up the example of e‑Borders. The e-Borders Programme has its own timetable. Although we would look to learn from particularly Project Iris for instance and issues around iris scanning, e-Borders and iris scanning do not actually have a card that relates to the database in that way. It is not perhaps as close a building block to the ID card scheme as some of the other building blocks I have mentioned. It would not be correct to say that there is no interaction between our e‑Borders development team and the ID card scheme because there is and it is very important. I am not sure the relationship between what is being developed in both these things is as close as the relationship with UK Visas and biometric residents' permits.
Q1187 Bob Spink: Given the technological implementation uncertainties and the massive IT infrastructure requirement, procurement will, I guess from your answers, be a developmental process. Will it therefore be on a fixed-price basis, or are you returning to the old cost-plus contract basis for this procurement? Both of them have their problems.
Joan Ryan: I am loath to delve into talking about the cost issue at the point where we are about to go to procurement because I do not think that would be most sensible. At the point where we talk about that, we would want to discuss it.
Q1188 Bob Spink: I think that we as a committee and Parliament generally have a duty to hold the Government to account. If the Government is going to return to a cost-plus rather than a fixed-price contracting basis, then I think that is something of public concern.
Joan Ryan: We have given quite detailed information as far as we are able, without breaking commercial confidentiality or going outside the scope of the committee, on the business case. That is in the public domain. You will also know that we have undertaken every six months, subject to commercial confidentiality, to submit a report to the House of Commons, and that was agreed at the Lords' Amendment Stage.
Q1189 Chairman: It was and we are content with that. Joan, thank you very much indeed for answering all these questions. We will have further questions later in the session. Can I briefly ask you this? Last week we had Paul Wiles in front of us, the department's Chief Scientific Adviser. We specifically asked him whether he had responsibility for ICT in the department and he said "no". Neither he nor in any evidence we have received from the Home Office have said who is responsible for ICT. Do you know who it is?
Joan Ryan: Could I ask to write to the committee on that point to confirm who I think it is?
Q1190 Chairman: That is interesting because it is actually Vincent Geake. What we would like to know is why in fact he has not been mentioned in any evidence at all and why you as the Minister did not know and neither did the Chief Scientific Adviser. Perhaps you would write to us on that issue because IT seems to be incredibly important to this project.
Joan Ryan: Obviously he is the Chief Information Officer. I was just a bit thrown when you said "technology". I do in fact know that that is his job. Also, he is newly appointed and so I was struggling to find his name, but I do in fact know it is him.
Q1191 Chairman: It was not a trick question but just that it is an important issue. Thank you very much indeed, Joan. We will return to you. We move on to Vernon Coaker and the issue of drug classification. Could I launch in straight away, Vernon, and say that the Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council described the current classification system, and I quote: "It is antiquated and reflects the prejudice and misconceptions of an era in which drugs were placed in arbitrary categories with notable, often illogical, consequences". Do you agree?
Mr Coaker: No, I do not agree with that.
Q1192 Chairman: Why not?
Mr Coaker: I think it is a fairly extreme view and I am sure it was meant to actually put a point of view. I think the classification system has generally served us well. There is a basis for the classification of the drugs. I think it is a system that is understandable to people and has credibility with the public.
Q1193 Chairman: You would defend it, as the Minister responsible?
Mr Coaker: I would defend it. That is not to say it is perfect.
Q1194 Adam Afriyie: Could I go back one step? What do you consider to be the aim of the UK drugs policy and the classification system in particular? Obviously we want to see drug use stopped. Is the policy to stop the users, is it to stop dealers, or is it to stop the suppliers? What is the aim of the policy of the classification system?
Mr Coaker: That is a very good question. It is not either/or. Sometimes, in these debates about drugs strategy, we get into an either/or situation. As an overall strategy, it is about tackling drugs, dealing with the street, trying to tackle that in terms of crime on the street and doing something about some of the problems that people see on their street. It is about getting more people into treatment, trying to do something about those people who are misusing drugs, and trying to support them. If you look at the numbers going into treatment, there is a record number of people going into treatment at the present time. It is about breaking that cycle. Alongside that, it is also about education and changing attitudes. I think the classification system helps in the sense that it identifies those drugs which are potentially harmful.
Q1195 Adam Afriyie: I am somewhat surprised that you argue that the classification system has been helpful when drug use has increased enormously since the introduction of the classification system. What does that say about the classification system when in other countries like Sweden drug use has virtually gone?
Mr Coaker: We have a situation where we have a drugs strategy that is tackling drug use out there; it is tackling the prevalence of drugs on the street and drug use. If we look at some of the statistics, in terms of the drugs strategy, we are seeing a degree of success with 16-24 year‑olds. The 2004-05 British Crime Survey compared the present situation to 1998 and for 16‑24 year-olds the proportion that reported that they had ever taken any drugs had fallen by 15 per cent.
Q1196 Adam Afriyie: If we go back to when the classification system was first introduced, then I think the picture would be very different. It is easy to point at a graph, take a couple of dates and make a case. If you look at the overall picture since the introduction of the classification system, the evidence is completely the other way round, is it not?
Mr Coaker: If you go back to '71, we were in a different type of society. We are dealing with society and the community as it is now. I think in that sense we have a situation where there is an overarching drugs strategy, which is not just based on the classification system but on education; it is about changing attitudes and it is also about enforcement of the law. It goes back to what I said earlier. It is not one situation or the other; it is a package of measures trying to deal with the problem we have.
Q1197 Adam Afriyie: What precise or specific evidence is there that putting a drug in a higher class actually has a deterrent effect? From what I can see, sometimes it even seems to have the reverse effect.
Mr Coaker: I think that people out there - if we talk about the population in general, the public at large - if we have classified a drug as a Class A drug, realise that it is a serious drug; they realise that it is a drug that is harmful. It is a drug that has a particularly ----
Q1198 Chairman: Where is the evidence? I am not doubting that you believe that, but where is the evidence to demonstrate your response to Adam's question?
Mr Coaker: The evidence is in the survey that we have taken recently where we have looked at drug use, and the statistics that I have just given out, where we have seen a reduction in the use of drugs.
Chairman: The point of Adam's question, if I get him right.... I am sorry, Adam, perhaps you should ask the question.
Q1199 Adam Afriyie: The point of the question is this. What specific evidence is there that when you move a drug to a higher class there is a deterrent effect on its use? Where is the evidence for that?
Mr Coaker: We take the advice of the ACMD; we take the advice of the police. The ACMD has scientific representatives on it. They are people who are professors of pharmacology, and so on. They advise us on that, and they advise us on the class of drug, where a drug should be classed, and we take evidence from them. Then that gives us the opportunity, as I say, to reflect on the impact that has on the public.
Q1200 Dr Harris: However, Professor David Nutt, who is the Chair of the ACMD Technical Committee, says, "I think the evidence base for classification producing a deterrent is not strong". So, on the basis of what you have just said, will you now take that away and change your answer? If you are referring to him, he disagrees with you by 180o.
Mr Coaker: Professor Nutt, as you know, is a member of the ACMD. We have a matrix which we use. That matrix is part of the way we determine which drug should be in which category. Of course, we always look at the evidence that people give us; we always look at the opinions that they give to us; but what we have there is Professor Nutt being part of the ACMD and we take his advice.
Q1201 Chairman: It is disturbing for the Committee - and this is about evidence and policy, Vernon, not about whether the Government's policy is right or wrong. What we are saying is this. Is there any occasion when the Home Office has commissioned research to show that when you put a drug into a higher classification it actually has a deterrent effect - or the opposite?
Mr Coaker: We have a scientific basis for determining harm. The ACMD refer to that when they classify drugs. When we come on to methylamphetamine, they risk-assessed that against the matrix, and that is when they have come forward with the proposals they have with respect to that drug.
Chairman: We will return to that specific drug.
Q1202 Adam Afriyie: I have just one last question around evidence and research. Have you commissioned any research to look at the classification of a drug and the level of crime associated with it? It does seem from studies in America and elsewhere in the world - I am not sure about the UK because I have not seen the research here - that if a drug is in a higher class, it therefore has a higher perceived street value; dealers get involved; there is a higher economic incentive for crime. Have you commissioned any research into that area?
Mr Coaker: The Department of Health carry out a lot of research and we work closely with them. They commission a lot of research into different aspects of drugs. I have here a number of reports, both by the Home Office and by the ACMD, which research into various aspects of drug and drug abuse.
Q1203 Adam Afriyie: Do they look at the class of a drug and the crime associated with that and the correlation between them?
Mr Coaker: There is an obvious example with respect to that recently. As Phil was saying, we will come back to the methylamphetamine. Cannabis is an example of a drug that they looked at and did some research into. Ketamine is another one that recently the Technical Committee looked at and, obviously, date rape. So there are a number of research projects which are going on at the present time, looking into various drugs - both recently and now.
Q1204 Chairman: Coming back to the ABC classification, in January the then Home Secretary announced that a consultation paper on the ABC classification system would be published within a few weeks. It has still not been published. Why?
Mr Coaker: I am sorry, could you repeat the question?
Q1205 Chairman: In January the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that a consultation paper on the ABC classification system would be published within a few weeks. There was obviously a concern about it at that time. Why has it not happened?
Mr Coaker: Two things. First of all, the Home Secretary - in post for four weeks - has not yet taken a decision on how to proceed with the review of the classification system. With respect to the consultation document which is in draft form in the department, the view is that we will need to wait until such time as we decide how to proceed with respect to the review of the classification system and also, similarly, wait for the report of this Committee - which we want to take into account in determining the best way forward.
Q1206 Chairman: That is a very honest reply, if I may say so.
Mr Coaker: I am trying to be helpful.
Q1207 Chairman: Of course you are. Do you think, as the minister responsible now, the classification system should be directly related to the penalties for possession and trafficking? Do you think there should be that direct relationship between classification and penalties?
Mr Coaker: I think that the classification system is based on harm, and there is a relationship therefore between harm and the penalties that should be apportioned to them, according to that classification. Yes, I do. Class A drugs, for example, are regarded as the most dangerous drugs and therefore in that sense the penalties associated with possession, supply, et cetera, correlate to that degree of harm.
Q1208 Chairman: So the greater the degree of harm of the drug should then attract the highest penalty?
Mr Coaker: That is a matter for the courts in the end, as to what they actually think; but certainly that is the way the legal system is based - on the potential harm.
Q1209 Chairman: Do you support that? Do you support that classification equals penalty?
Mr Coaker: Classification equals the degree of penalty which is available to the courts.
Bob Spink: Could I get clarification? Will methylamphetamine be reclassified as a Class A drug?
Chairman: You can answer that when we get on to that section.
Q1210 Mr Newmark: Is there a need for a more scientifically based scale of harm to be developed to facilitate education and debate, with an emphasis on a scientifically based scale of harm?
Mr Coaker: I referred earlier to the way the ACMD - which is the statutory body that we have to consult - have a harm index, which includes taking into account some of the scientific evidence that it gets. It also takes into account social harms, and so on. So there is a degree of assessment which is made, according to the matrix that they use.
Q1211 Mr Newmark: That is a form of matrix. I am talking specifically on the science of harm itself.
Mr Coaker: But they will receive reports; they will receive evidence; they will look at various things that are happening, and get people coming to them to talk to them. So scientists will come to them and talk to them about their scientific beliefs, their research. People will come to them with reports about what they think about particular things. The ACMD can take that into account when they are determining the way forward. The science plays an important part in the determination of the ACMD's conclusions.
Q1212 Mr Newmark: I am not sure if you have answered my question but, given that you put great stock in the ACMD, how do you respond to findings by experts, including the chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee, that tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than LSD and Ecstasy, both of which are classified as Class A drugs?
Mr Coaker: There is an important point to make about the ACMD. We put great store in what they say. We listen carefully to the comments that they make. However, it is not a cosy relationship; it is a challenging relationship. They will challenge us in a whole variety of areas. I think that is as it should be. It is an independent body. It is a body whose opinions we respect, and we try to work closely with them.
Q1213 Mr Newmark: Do you disagree then that tobacco and alcohol are not as harmful as those two particular drugs?
Mr Coaker: Alcohol and tobacco are legal drugs, and they operate within the framework of our society.
Q1214 Mr Newmark: But they are very harmful, are they not?
Mr Coaker: They are harmful in many respects, if abused - or alcohol, if abused. But they are socially acceptable drugs; they are drugs that most of us, particularly with respect to alcohol, will use sensibly. If we are looking at the real issues of society, alcohol and tobacco clearly are issues which, if abused - alcohol if abused, and smoking, as we know, is harmful - we are trying to combat, in terms of the abuse of alcohol and, in terms of smoking, trying to reduce that as well. However, they are legal drugs and we have to look at them within the context of the society in which we all live.
Q1215 Mr Newmark: How will that sort of thinking that is coming out of these experts influence future policy decisions on crime, with respect to drugs, crime and public health?
Mr Coaker: In terms of where we have particular representations made about drugs which are harmful, where they are talking to us about different things, then - as I was saying earlier in reply to Adam - that is the other aspect of drug policy, which has to be an enforcement policy. There has to be a policy which is out there, trying to tackle the supply and those people who deal in it on the streets. We have taken a number of measures in order to try to deal with that as well. For example, if you look at the recently established Serious and Organised Crime Agency, that has, as a very real focus and as one of its top priorities, the tackling of the supply of drugs.
Q1216 Mr Newmark: Why is it that in the UK spending on addiction research is so much lower per head than, for example, in the US? Is this a reflection of it being a lower priority over here versus over in the States?
Mr Coaker: We massively increased the spending on drugs, on trying to tackle the harm which drugs are causing in our communities. The drug treatment programmes, the establishment of the various projects that we have, have seen a massive increase in spending.
Q1217 Mr Newmark: And when it comes to addiction research?
Mr Coaker: With respect to addiction, there are priorities that people have. The health service and all the other bodies have seen big increases in spending. Do we want to see more spending on that sort of research? I think that is a legitimate question to ask and something we should look at.
Q1218 Mr Newmark: So would you like to see more money spent on it?
Mr Coaker: I think that it is something we should look at, yes.
Q1219 Mr Newmark: Do you feel that the lack of evidence in this area is actually an impediment to evidence-based policymaking itself?
Mr Coaker: You have taken evidence from the ACMD, but I think that they would say that their advice to us is evidence based. They take evidence from a variety of sources and, in taking that evidence, they make recommendations to us. I think they would say that the various reports that come to us, the various recommendations that they make, are based on evidence which they have taken and considered.
Q1220 Dr Harris: I do not think they do say that. Let us be very clear, because you have said three times now that you take advice from the ACMD; that the ACMD appear to take evidence; and that you are happy and they are happy that there is evidence. I quote Professor Nutt who chaired the ACMD Technical Committee, who argued to us that a more scientifically based scale of harm would be of value in the situation. He said, "...in education the message has to be evidence based. If it is not evidence based, the people you are talking to say it is rubbish". He co-authored a report that said that, with respect to the correlation between the class of a drug in the current ABC system and its harm score, calculated using their - I would say scientific - approach, was so low that it was "not statistically significant". So your main source of advice says that there is not enough evidence out there and the ABC classification in relation to harm has a non-statistically significant correlation. You should be furious about this: that your whole policy is based on an evidence vacuum.
Mr Coaker: We do not believe that it is based on an evidence vacuum. There is always a need to improve; there is always a need to look at the evidence that you take. However, as I say, the Nutt matrix forms part of the harm index matrix that the ACMD uses itself in order to determine the recommendations they make to us. They have a number of headings that they use. There are priorities within that. They score that according to the various priorities. There are nine priorities, I believe, and they score that. Then that determines the recommendations they make to us. So there is a matrix; there is a harm index which they use. That itself is influenced by Professor Nutt's criteria.
Q1221 Chairman: Why is he so critical, though?
Mr Coaker: That is something he has every right to say. We will always look at people who have criticisms to make; suggestions about improvements, and so on. The point I am making, however, is that the ACMD - which is a statutory consultee for the Government - does work according to a harm index which it uses to score drugs which it believes to be harmful. We will come back to a drug where it has actually used that in order to determine harm. It is fair comment and we will need to look at the comments Professor Nutt has made. That may be his individual view but, as I say, on the ACMD we have that harm index which is used by them.
Q1222 Dr Harris: Professor Nutt's quote that I gave was from a paper where he was calling for the scale to be a rational scale of harm. You say there is evidence. Are you aware that the amount we spend per head of population on addiction research is a hundredth what the Americans spend, and that the budget is somewhere between a hundredth and a thousandth? That is not a judgment call as to whether we are not spending enough versus other priorities. It is just one per cent per head of the population of what the Americans spend.
Q1223 Mr Coaker: On...?
Q1224 Dr Harris: On research into addiction - which would include the evidence base around this. It is a real problem.
Mr Coaker: As I said to what Brooks was saying, the money that has been made available to drug treatment programmes and this whole area of work has increased significantly. There is always the question of where you spend that money. It may be addiction that should have more spent on it, alongside some of the other priorities that you have. So there is always a scale of priorities. One of the things we can do as a result of the report that the Committee will no doubt make about it is to have a look at that, to see whether it is appropriate for us to look at the amount of money that has been spent on it.
Q1225 Dr Harris: To what extent do headlines in the newspapers influence, as a politician, your policy in this area? Do you use the newspapers as a proxy for public opinion?
Mr Coaker: No, certainly not. We try very hard to have a drugs policy, which we drive according to what we think is in the best interests of the population and the best interests of the communities that we all represent. Going back to what I thought was Adam's very important point at the beginning, about what is the purpose of the drugs strategy that we have, as I say, it is about enforcement; it is about education; and it is about drug treatment. Obviously, within that there will be disagreements and debate about the best way of delivering all of those objectives. We are not driven by headlines; we are driven by what is best for the people that we seek to do our best for.
Q1226 Adam Afriyie: If there were a town, a city, or a country elsewhere - outside Britain, obviously - that had been almost totally successful in reducing the use of drugs and in getting rid of the harmful effects of acquisitive crime around drugs, would you be willing to look at that example, even if it meant that you had to re-look at the classification system?
Mr Coaker: I think that it would be very arrogant of anybody to say they would never look at what anybody else is doing, or try to learn. Indeed, part of what the Select Committee itself is about is to make recommendations to government about how to improve policy. Obviously, you have to look at that and consider it. Whether you then say, "This is applicable to our situation; this is applicable to our communities; this is something that we will do", is a different matter; but certainly you should always look at what is going on, try to learn from other people, and see whether it is applicable.
Q1227 Chairman: Our concern, Vernon, is the way in which the Home Office goes about researching, getting proper evidence on which to make its policies. That is a genuine concern for us, which is why we are bringing this to you.
Mr Coaker: That is fine.
Q1228 Dr Harris: Do you think decisions on classification should - I think that you are saying this, whatever we think of the evidence base - be based on evidence of harm and therefore we classify on that basis, or should it be to send out signals to the public?
Mr Coaker: I think that what the classification does is categorise drugs according to harm. I also think that it does send out messages; it does send out signals to people, in a way which people understand. I think that most people, if you talk to them, would understand that Class A drugs are the most dangerous drugs. That is the advice we have received from ACMD, from the police, and so on. So I think that it is a balance of those things.
Q1229 Dr Harris: Andy Hayman, who chaired the ACPO Drugs Committee, told us in oral evidence, "I cannot envisage any user - a dependent user, that is - having any kind of thought as to whether it was a Class A, B or C drug they were consuming". I think the advice he would give, therefore, is that you cannot really send out messages to addicts with your classification system. I am saying that it has to be based on harm.
Mr Coaker: But is not part of any system with respect to drugs - as I think the Government would argue, and I would argue - not only trying to send messages out to people who misuse drugs but also about trying to send messages out to people out there in the community? So that when teachers are in schools, the parents are there, or the police are working, or whatever, there is a message there about which drugs are regarded by society as the most harmful. I would argue that it is about that as well.
Q1230 Dr Harris: If it is about that, then surely there should be evidence as to whether that is having any effect? Are you aware of any Home Office-commissioned evidence about the impact of the messages that you are trying to send out? Because if there is not any, then it is just rhetoric, is it not?
Mr Coaker: It is not just rhetoric, in terms of where we were before. The evidence base for us with respect to the last few years has been in the reduction of drug misuse. It has also been in the evidence that we receive from the ACMD, who advise us on these matters. We come back to this. If this is so unimportant in that sense - or not "unimportant" - if it is so unnecessary, why is it that people make such a big thing about the importance of reclassifying particular drugs? They do that because of the message that it sends out to people, and the belief they have that, by doing that, it sends an important message to people - which helps in controlling the prevalence of that drug.
Q1231 Margaret Moran: Coming on to the ACMD, we have had evidence from a variety of sources who raised concerns that this independent advisory committee is perhaps not functioning as well as it should. There was concern about the appropriateness of membership, about its expertise and transparency. Mary Brett, who is the UK representative on the board of Europe Against Drugs, asked the question, "Where are the biologists, the neurologists, toxicologists...? ...there is not a single member of an anti-drugs charity". In other words, in her words, "[the] committee lacks any sort of balance". Where is the independent evaluation of the quality of the ACMD's advice, given those levels of concerns? Would you support the introduction of a regular independent review?
Mr Coaker: As you know, the Home Secretary appoints the people to the ACMD. Looking at the list, I would say that there is a fair cross-section of people from across society. Does it always mean that every single section and part of society is actually represented? There is always a case for continuing to look at that; for continuing to make sure that the balance is there. We value very highly the advice we get from the ACMD. We believe that it is independent advice. We believe that it challenges us - which is very important. I think that we need to continue always to look at how we improve ----
Q1232 Margaret Moran: I was asking specifically about independent evaluation by the Government of the quality of advice that is being offered, and regular reviews of the quality of that advice.
Mr Coaker: We always reflect on the advice that we get from the ACMD. Whether there is a case for us to reflect on how we might improve that, what more we might do, is comment we need to listen to and to think about. However, the advice comes in to us from there and we often take further advice on the advice we have received from the ACMD. We often consult with other bodies about it as well.
Q1233 Chairman: Who do you consult?
Mr Coaker: We may go out and we may say, "This is the advice". We talk to other ministers. We listen to what other people have to say. These things can often be a case for us listening to what others have to say about the information that we get.
Q1234 Chairman: With respect, other ministers will not give you the sort of evidence that Margaret is asking for, in terms of that independent review. Who else would do it?
Mr Coaker: An independent review? Obviously, as ministers, we often go out to consult with people about ----
Q1235 Chairman: Like who?
Mr Coaker: Not formally, but we informally talk to charities or others about the sorts of policy directions that we have, and listen to what they have to say. For example, only last night drugs charities were in the Home Office, being asked about their views and opinions about the drug policy. So there is a whole variety of ways in which things feed into the decisions that are actually made. There was a formal event at the Home Office yesterday. Lots of drugs charities were there, lots of stakeholders there, talking about ----
Q1236 Chairman: So it is a purely ad hoc process. That is what you are saying?
Mr Coaker: But there is a process.
Q1237 Margaret Moran: We talked about the balance of expertise of membership. I referred to that and so did you. The question then is who is appointing this independent panel. Do you not think that the chairman of the committee plays an overly influential role in appointing the panel? Surely the Chief Scientific Adviser should have some role or oversight in this?
Mr Coaker: The Home Secretary, in the end, is the person who determines the membership of the committee. Looking at the membership we have, I think that there is a fair reflection of the various sections of society across the board who are members of the committee.
Q1238 Chairman: But it is dependent on the chairman. That is the point that Margaret is making.
Mr Coaker: Dependent on the chairman to advise him as to who should be on that, but the Home Secretary in the end makes the final decision.
Q1239 Margaret Moran: Where is the Chief Scientific Adviser in all of this?
Mr Coaker: Again, who the Home Secretary consults, who the Home Secretary listens to - he will get the recommendations and he will take advice accordingly.
Q1240 Margaret Moran: So there is a formal role for the Chief Scientific Adviser?
Mr Coaker: As I say, the Home Secretary will get the suggested people who should be on the committee or who should be members of it, and he will make the final decision.
Q1241 Chairman: I would really like to know your views on this. The previous Home Secretary and the Chair of ACMD seemed to disagree about the role of ACMD in considering social harm. Charles Clarke said, "...clinical, medical harm is the advisory council's predominant consideration". That was backed up by Andy Hayman who said, "What is directing which classification a drug goes into is the scientific and medical harm". However, Sir Michael, who is the chairman, contradicted this by telling us that social harms were given "equal weight" in the committee's deliberations. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: The committee's deliberations on it include social harm, and I think that is an important consideration.
Q1242 Chairman: Sir Michael says, "given equal weight"; the previous Home Secretary said no to that and Andy Hayman said no to that. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: My view on it is that the committee have a number of things that they consider alongside social harm. They consider physical harm, withdrawal, pleasure, and so on. So they take a number of things into account as well as social harm. I think that the balance the ACMD currently has is right.
Q1243 Chairman: So you agree with Sir Michael rather than the previous Home Secretary?
Mr Coaker: No, I agree with what was being said before - the previous Home Secretary - that it is the balance, where you have physical harm, pleasure, withdrawal, as well as social harm.
Q1244 Chairman: No, the previous Home Secretary said, "...clinical, medical harm is the advisory council's predominant consideration". You agree with that, and not Sir Michael Rawlins, who says that the whole issue of social harm should in fact be given equal weight.
Mr Coaker: Social harm should be included in the research harm index which they do, which it currently is. So I agree with what Sir Michael is saying: that it is not only social harm; it is physical harm; it is pleasure; it is all of those sorts of things. That is the matrix that the ACMD currently use to help prioritise what their decisions are.
Q1245 Chairman: You agree with both of them, but they take contrary positions. That is not tenable.
Mr Coaker: No, what I am saying is that the research matrix, the harm index that the ACMD currently use, is a tested thing. Social harm is a part of that. It has a number of priorities within it, and social harm is one of those; but, alongside that, physical harm, pleasure and withdrawal also have to be used. So Sir Michael is right in pointing out that those are the things that they use to consider their decisions.
Q1246 Chairman: In terms of the role of the Association of Chief Police Officers, we were somewhat confused by the response we had from Andy Hayman about the role of ACPO on the committee. Do you feel that ACMD should consider evidence from the police in its deliberations, or is it for ministers to integrate that advice from police with advice from ACMD? We were concerned that he did not see it as his role to initiate anything on ACMD, even though he is representing all the police forces in the UK. What is your view?
Mr Coaker: My view on it is that Andy Hayman and indeed Howard Roberts, another senior police officer who is on the ACMD, play a very important role on the ACMD. I think the role that they bring to it is the knowledge they have of policing and law enforcement in this particular area. It is that professional expertise which they are bringing to the committee, and that sits alongside all the other sorts of people you have on that. My own view is that, as well as reflecting the view of the police, they bring an independent voice to it, which is about law enforcement and the practical implications of the policies that the ACMD are considering.
Q1247 Chairman: Vernon, here is the rub. The police forces do collect evidence about the effects of drugs on the streets and how it interfaces with crime. They have that evidence. If we were going for evidence-based policy - and you have agreed that the ABC classification should in fact have a link between the degree of harm and punishment - surely the police, through their representatives, should be initiating advice to ACMD rather than just being there to comment on what is going through the committee?
Mr Coaker: ACPO will ----
Q1248 Chairman: He said no. He specifically said no, that was not their role. He was there to deliberate rather than to initiate. I just want to know whether you think that he should be initiating rather than deliberating.
Mr Coaker: If he is in the committee, he will be informing the committee of his view based on his experience and the experiences of the police forces throughout the country. That is part of why he is there. He is there as a voice of police experience, if you like, as is Howard Roberts.
Q1249 Chairman: That is not the point I am making. The point I am making is that, if we are looking at evidence-based policy here, the police have a vast amount of evidence to bring to the committee. That does not appear to be happening. Do you think that it should?
Mr Coaker: You would expect and hope that the police are bringing that knowledge and experience of dealing with these issues to the committee. In my view, that would be why they are there: to bring that experience, knowledge and understanding to the committee - both with Andy Hayman and with Howard Roberts. Clearly ACPO sometimes, outside of that, will come to us about other matters and other issues.
Q1250 Dr Iddon: Could you confirm to us this morning that the Government is considering reducing the amount of all drugs, including cannabis, which individuals will be allowed to carry and bring them at risk of being charged, instead of with possession of the drug, with possession with intent to supply a drug? That brings a maximum sentence of 14 years in jail, of course.
Mr Coaker: As you will know, as a result of the Drugs Act, at the present time we are considering what the thresholds should be, in terms of coming to a conclusion as to what it should be for presumption of supply. No decisions have been made at the present time; but we are looking at that, yes.
Q1251 Dr Iddon: Will Parliament get a chance, either on the floor of the House or in delegated committee, to debate any changes, or can the Home Secretary do this without consultation?
Mr Coaker: No, it is affirmative resolution, so it will have to come before the House with respect to determining these thresholds.
Q1252 Dr Iddon: Will there be wide consultation with outside agencies before any decisions are made?
Mr Coaker: We have already consulted with different people. There was a consultation exercise which started in January and ran till March. Those consultations are currently being considered and, just recently, we have had the ACMD letter come back to us which has given us their view. We will take their view into account, and we will take into account the other consultations which took place in the three-month consultation period, before coming to a decision as to what we should do.
Q1253 Dr Iddon: We have changed the classification of cannabis from B to C; we are now considering changing it back again, from C to B. We are considering changing the amounts that people can carry, related to the charges that might be imposed upon them, and the previous Home Secretary agreed to look at the classification of drugs. Would it not be sensible if all this were done together, rather than in a piecemeal fashion?
Mr Coaker: We are trying to move forward with a coherent drugs strategy. No decision has been made as to how we move forward with respect to the review of the classification system. The Home Secretary has yet to make a decision on how we proceed with that. We are required by the Drugs Act to come to a decision about determining the thresholds at which we have to presume it is supply. There has been widespread consultation on that. With respect to cannabis, you will know that that was recently confirmed as a Class C drug - although, I emphasise, an illegal drug. Whatever system you have in place, there will always be issues which arise with respect to this. There will always be people who have opinions about what should happen - quite rightly, because it is a very important and serious matter - but there will be people who will argue and disagree about different aspects of it. We have a drugs strategy; we are moving forward on it, and we are taking decisions as and when appropriate.
Q1254 Dr Iddon: However, I think you would agree with me that the worst thing we can do is to confuse the public, and particularly the young people in the public.
Mr Coaker: With my background, I know how particularly important that is. I think it is very important for us to say from this Committee that, whatever the arguments there were about cannabis, it remains an illegal drug. That is the message we have been putting out from the Home Office. That is the message that I have continued to put out in the various road shows I have been to and will continue to go to; and that is the message that I will continue to push.
Q1255 Dr Iddon: What evidence do you or the Home Office have that led you to classify magic mushrooms as some of the most dangerous substances, aligned with cocaine and heroin? They are not addictive, of course.
Mr Coaker: The whole debate about magic mushrooms was really not with respect to classification; it was trying to clarify the law, and that is why it was changed in the Drugs Act. You know that psilocin, which is the active ingredient, is a Class A drug; but the problem with it was within fresh or natural mushrooms. We saw a huge increase in the number of people who were importing magic mushrooms into the country. There was a big increase in that. There was therefore a concern that there was a loophole in the law with respect to psilocin being got - for want of a better way of putting it - through this loophole. People were able to get psilocin through this loophole. We felt it important therefore, since psilocin is a Class A drug - and there was clearly a problem out there, there was a huge increase in the import of it - for us to take action. So we saw it as a clarification of the law rather than any classification change.
Q1256 Dr Iddon: We seem to have agreement between the Committee and yourself this morning that classification according to the ABC system is according to harm - 50 per cent harm to the individual, 50 per cent harm to the society. That is what the ACMD have told us. If that is the case, psilocin and psilocybin are not sold in shops and are not available on the street. I have not met anybody in my capacity as chairman of the Misuse of Drugs Group who uses them. I do not know a single person who has been harmed by them. Why are psilocin and psilocybin therefore in Class A?
Mr Coaker: Because that is the advice: that they were powerful hallucinogenic drugs, and that is why they were categorised with respect to that.
Q1257 Chairman: But we are supposed to have an evidence-based policy. That is the point that Brian is making. There is no evidence at all to show that these have the degree of harm which should put them into Class A.
Mr Coaker: What we are saying is that, should they be used, they are harmful drugs. They are Class A on the basis of the harm that they would cause were they to be used. We saw huge increases in the numbers of magic mushrooms which were being imported - naturally grown mushrooms, which were outside of the law - which would suggest that, if they were being imported in increasing numbers, somebody out there was using them, because people would be bringing them in to ----
Q1258 Chairman: There is absolutely no evidence about that.
Mr Coaker: The police were saying to us that clearly, if you have this increase in imported magic mushrooms, they are being imported for a purpose. The law with respect to psilocin is that it is a Class A drug. We were worried that this was a loophole and we have closed that loophole. On the basis of clarifying the law - as was made in one of the court judgments in 2004, somewhere in Gloucestershire I think it was, in Gloucester Crown Court - we were asked to do that, which is what we did.
Q1259 Dr Iddon: You have moved drugs up and down this classification. Bob is going to come to one that you have moved up. You have moved cannabis down. Why has nobody looked at psilocin and psilocybin in the classification, decided that they are not causing harm to society or individuals, and moved them down? In which case, magic mushrooms would not be in Class A with a maximum penalty of 14 years' jail.
Mr Coaker: The opportunity for drugs to be looked at will always be there, and that issue is there; but at the current time there are no plans to reclassify it. Those drugs are Class A drugs. No doubt people will have heard what you have had to say this morning and consider the evidence; but, as I say, that is where they are at the moment. There was a loophole in the law which we wanted to close.
Q1260 Dr Iddon: My final question is this. Can you cite another example of where the Home Office have moved a drug around in the classification system merely to clarify the law, instead of looking at the harm?
Mr Coaker: I may have to write to you on that one.
Q1261 Bob Spink: Minister, will methylamphetamine be reclassified as a Class A drug today?
Mr Coaker: The announcement that we are making from the Home Office today is that - subject to the proper procedures of the House, because obviously it has to go through the process - it is our intention to reclassify methylamphetamine from a B to an A.
Q1262 Bob Spink: I congratulate you on that. I think that early action on this drug - because it is not too prevalent in the UK yet - will protect individuals and society. It shows that the system is working in this case, and a certain sensitivity towards this very harmful and dangerous drug. So I thank you for that. I am delighted with it. The ACMD said last week that they had made this recommendation to you based on, for instance, evidence from the police forces that the police had found an increasing number of laboratories manufacturing that drug. Is that so?
Mr Coaker: Can I start by saying that I was at the debate a few weeks ago when the Honourable Member raised this whole issue - as a Whip at that time. I think it does show that Parliament listens. I would like to thank him for the comments that he made at the beginning. It just shows that sometimes these things can work. It is the case that, in the letter that we received from the ACMD - and this is one of the reasons why the ACMD changed its advice - they had become aware of a small number of illicit laboratories for synthesising this substance. It was a low number but, yes, that was one of the things.
Q1263 Bob Spink: That shows the police actually initiating action within the ACMD, which is contrary to the other evidence that we have received from the Association of Chief Police Officers. I just wanted to get that on record. The ACMD have previously given evidence to us that increasing the classification of the drug would increase its kudos and therefore increase its use. That is why they were not considering that at an earlier time. I accept totally that people change views as situations change, and you change your decisions - especially a marginal decision, as it clearly was. Do you accept that there is this tension and that increasing the classification of a drug might increase its kudos and use?
Mr Coaker: These are judgments, and very serious judgments, that are made. Bob himself thought that it was important that the drug was reclassified from B to A. Why was that? Because, listening to the points that he put, they are exactly the same as the points which the ACMD put. Although low use at the current time - and I think it is important to emphasise from this Committee that there is not an explosion of use at the present time, but there is low use - the potential for harm was there. That is why Bob, others, and the ACMD said that there was therefore a need to reclassify it to an A.
Q1264 Bob Spink: Why did the ACMD announce this last week, and why did they choose the Guardian to announce it to?
Mr Coaker: I cannot comment on how it got in the Guardian. I do not think that was chosen. We can speculate on why things happen. I will just leave that with the Honourable Member.
Q1265 Bob Spink: It appeared on the front page of the Guardian.
Mr Coaker: I know where it appeared. I am just saying that the route was not entirely clear to me.
Q1266 Bob Spink: Do you think it appropriate that the ACMD should have its deliberations often in secret, and its advice to ministers often in secret, but selectively to release certain decisions to instruments like the Guardian, which they selected very carefully?
Mr Coaker: We have a close relationship with the ACMD and that is based on trust. It is based on close co-operation. I have only been in the job, as you know, four or five weeks. I am trying to come to terms with that. I have every confidence in the ACMD, in the work that they do. How that appeared in the Guardian, I am not sure. I am not blaming anyone for it. All I am saying is that, at the end of the day, however it appeared, we are pleased to say that we accept the advice that the ACMD have given us.
Q1267 Bob Spink: Does the Government intend to ask the ACMD to look at the classification of Ecstasy?
Mr Coaker: We have no plans to do that, no, at the present time.
Q1268 Bob Spink: Have you considered the evidence surrounding the classification of Ecstasy and the arguments for looking at reclassification?
Mr Coaker: My understanding is that there was some research done ten years ago with respect to that, which showed that there were considerable harms out there. We also know that, if you turn it round, there is no research out there saying that it should be reclassified.
Bob Spink: That is a very good answer. I am sure that Leah Betts' parents will be delighted to hear it.
Q1269 Dr Harris: If you do not ask, you will never know. So if the Home Affairs Committee and the Runciman Report say there is a good case to move it from A to B, and if you are so confident that there is no research - and I have to say, given ----
Mr Coaker: As far as I am aware.
Q1270 Dr Harris: ...how much you know about the evidence base, or how much we all know about the evidence base as politicians, is questionable - what harm is there is asking the ACMD? Is this not just a case of "see no evil, hear no evil"? You do not want to ask something that you do not want to hear the answer to?
Mr Coaker: Not at all. We have no plans to reclassify Ecstasy. As Brian said, we regard it as a dangerous drug, and it is something we want to make clear to people that we see as potentially harmful. Because I thought that this may come up, I looked at some of the figures in terms of deaths where Ecstasy was actually mentioned on the death certificate. There were 48 in 2004; 33 in 2003; 55 in 2002, and so on.
Q1271 Dr Harris: Thousands in the case of heroin. Professor Blakemore said, "...on the basis of present evidence Ecstasy should not be a Class A drug. It is at the bottom of the scale of harm".
Mr Coaker: That is not the Government's view. The Government's view is that it is a harmful drug and we do not want to see it reclassified.
Q1272 Dr Harris: I know that you do not want to, but why do you not ask the ACMD to look at the evidence? They may reject the evidence.
Mr Coaker: The ACMD may come forward and look at that but at the current time, so far as I am aware, there are no plans for them to do so.
Q1273 Dr Turner: We can get off drugs now! I want to ask you both a much more general question. This Committee has in the past been critical of the Home Office for a lack of a scientific culture. That criticism has been mirrored by outside bodies. Do you think yourselves that the Home Office has sufficient expertise within it to be an intelligent customer for scientific and technological advice? If not, what are you doing to correct that?
Mr Coaker: Yes, there are a lot of committees and bodies now which have been set up: people responsible for considering the scientific evidence that comes in. On a general point, however, can I say this? The whole point and purpose of the Select Committee system is to challenge the Government; it is to cause the Government to think. It has been a robust and interesting exchange of views that we have had here today. It would be arrogant for me, as a Home Office minister, to say that, whatever this Committee comes up with and makes as its recommendations, the Government would not need to go back and look to see whether it can learn from it. All I can say is that there are people responsible for evaluating the scientific evidence and research in the Home Office. Does that mean that we cannot learn from what the Committee may or may not say in its report? No, of course it does not. We will have to take that on board and listen to what is said - and we will do that.
Joan Ryan: Could I add to that? In the light of previous criticism, to be fair to the Home Office, we have to acknowledge the work that has been done to improve the level of scientific work, advice, expertise and experience within the Home Office. That is why I talked earlier about the Home Office science and innovation strategy. I particularly refer to the Science Research Group, which brought together several scientific units dealing with issues that cut across the Home Office and which were previously spread across Home Office departments. I think that this has significantly strengthened the science expertise availability and advice within the Home Office. I think that the use and extent of scientific expertise have grown substantially. From my own experience of the past four and half weeks, I can tell the Committee - as you know, I have responsibility for Forensic Science, for the DNA database, for licensing animal experiments, as well as all the identity scheme management issues and the science involved in all of those issues - I have never been exposed to so much science in my life, since I was about 15. I am very impressed with the clarity, the standard, the research, their ability to communicate all of that and their willingness to do so, and the amount of briefing that I receive. So from that point of view, yes, I think that they have made big efforts within the department and, personally, I am impressed with the scientific support that I am receiving in my role.
Q1274 Dr Turner: That is good to hear, though we are still in receipt of criticisms, and quite recent criticisms: notably, an academic who undertook research for the Home Office recently. To quote him, he said, "To participate in Home Office research is to endorse a biased agenda". Do you think that is fair?
Mr Coaker: No.
Q1275 Dr Turner: How do you protect research and evaluation from political pressures in the Home Office?
Joan Ryan: How do we...?
Q1276 Dr Turner: Protect research and evaluation from political pressure? How do you stop evidence being selectively used to back whatever preconception you start with?
Joan Ryan: We do not just use science internally; we do commission research and development that underpins policy development. I think that there will always be individuals who have a variety of views, for a variety of reasons. Overall, looking at the expertise both inside the Home Office and the expertise they commission for the R&D from outside the Home Office, I think that there is a good balance there and a degree of independence that is reassuring. I think that the co-ordination with other government departments through the Chief Scientific Adviser's committee is also a very good example of pulling together science and research across departments and looking at this - not embedded within the department but in a cross-departmental way. So we have both: embedded science and cross-departmental science.
Q1277 Dr Turner: Do you agree that there is still a potential trap that, instead of doing what the Government professes to do, which is to make evidence-based policy, you can actually be doing evidence-informed policy, which is subtly different?
Mr Coaker: The evidence will come up. There is an attempt, and a very serious attempt, by the Home Office to give scientific evidence much more focus within the department. Various groups have been set up, as Joan has just been saying; various attempts to give a greater strategic direction to all of that. Part of that is to inform and advise us about the best way forward with respect to the policies that we pursue. Inevitably, people will make judgments about policy decisions. That is what we all do all of the time. However, what we want is frank and open information on which we base the decisions, and an informed scientific base, where appropriate, to the decisions that we make - and that is what we are trying to do.
Q1278 Dr Turner: How do you see the role of the departmental Chief Scientific Adviser? Has he made an impact on the department, and how do you interact with him?
Joan Ryan: Yes, I have now met with him on a number of occasions. I think that there is an impact there. He has a dual role: that of an adviser and a manager. He has a clear remit to ensure improvement in quality standards; better evaluation of policies; improvement in internal skills by increased training and professional development. For the Home Office, that means he has a lead role in taking forward those reforms and bringing together the statistics, social and physical sciences. An example of that might be the DNA use, for instance. He is increasing the range of social science work, which we think is important - for example, on issues like immigration - and increasing science work across the Home Office portfolio beyond policing. So we need continually to monitor that that is having an impact, but I think that, in his role and the lead he is taking, he is taking things forward. It is very much in line with some of the comments that you have been making this morning about your concerns and previous criticisms.
Q1279 Dr Turner: What do you see as the main benefit of having the Chief Scientific Adviser in the Home Office?
Mr Coaker: Again, I think it goes back to the point that you made before: that we are trying to make informed policy decisions. Inevitably there will be judgments about that.
Q1280 Dr Turner: But you said to inform, rather than evidence based.
Mr Coaker: Your decisions are informed by the evidence. The evidence is there. You need to be informed by the evidence. In the end, however, people make judgments. Sometimes the evidence conflicts, even from scientists. You get different scientists saying different things. Then what do you do? They are both saying that they have the right evidence. "I am a scientist. I have this evidence." Another scientist comes along with completely different evidence. In the end, there is a judgment that is made; but what you are trying to do is that your policy is informed by the evidence. That is the role of the Chief Scientific Adviser.
Q1281 Dr Harris: In an article in Criminal Justice Matters, Professor Tim Hope, who is Professor of Criminology at the University of Keele, said, "...it was with sadness and regret" - in dealing with the Home Office - "that I saw our work ill-used and our faith in government's use of evidence traduced". My question to you is this. Do you take allegations like that seriously, or do you think it is just not fair and can never happen? That was the impression I had from your answer to the earlier quote, "To participate in Home Office research is to endorse a biased agenda". Are you concerned about allegations like that, or is it just mischief-making in your view?
Mr Coaker: No. If people are making comments to you, you need to take those comments into account, even if you find them uncomfortable. You need to listen to what people have to say. The point I was making before was that sometimes you will get conflicting pieces of evidence, in that some people will put forward one thing and somebody else will make a completely different point. In the end, you have to make a judgment.
Q1282 Dr Harris: This is a different point. This is an allegation of misuse, a traducement, bad faith by the Home Office. It is a separate issue about whether the policy was right. My question is this. Are you sensitive to that?
Joan Ryan: There are a large number of people who say very complimentary things as well. So there is always a balance to be struck. It is true that different scientists take different views.
Q1283 Chairman: But you agree that they should be taken into account?
Mr Coaker: You do. They should always be looked at and taken into account. I am sorry if I gave the impression before that I did not, because I did not mean that - if I did give that impression.
Chairman: Vernon Coaker, Joan Ryan, thank you very much indeed. It has been a long session. We have enjoyed it enormously. It has been very valuable to us.