|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: I rise to support the noble Earl. He is correct that the Licensing (Amendment) (Scotland) Act dealt with the misuse of drugs. I played a part in taking the Bill through, with all-party support. It was particularly interesting that the Scottish MPs genuinely believed that they had a right to legislate on subjects relating to the misuse of drugs. I believe that there is a dilemma for the Minister here. If he seeks to take away this responsibility from the Scottish Office and from the Scottish parliament, the Scottish MPs will have less influence than they had in the past on this subject. At a time when crime prevention is being devolved, it seems only sensible that the prevention of drug misuse should also be devolved. I do not imagine that the Minister will give a comprehensive reply this afternoon, but I hope that he will look at this matter over
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: From a layman's point of view, I wish to support what my noble friend has just said. I wonder whether the Minister could describe to us how any new legislation for Scotland on this subject in the UK Parliament would be presented to Parliament and who would handle it. I believe that that would be an important element in whether the public understand and accept the new arrangement. Since the cost of the health service, prisons and the police will be such a large part of the budget of the Scottish parliament, and since those costs will be greatly added to by the extent of drug abuse in Scotland, it will be frustrating for members of the Scottish parliament if they cannot do anything about it. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay suggested that the balance which the Government have struck in this case between the two parliaments may not be quite right. I shall listen carefully to what the Minister says about this matter. I tend to agree with my noble and learned friend.
Lord Hughes: I must confess that I was impressed by the case put forward by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. Unless my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench has some strong, convincing reasons for asking him to withdraw the amendment, my preference would be that the Government should be prepared to take away this matter and consider it, so that it might be brought back or disposed of at the next stage.
While I am on my feet, perhaps I may raise a matter which has nothing to do with this amendment. I was careful to say "the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon", as there are two "Mackays" sitting side by side. The reason I emphasise that is that a speech was made in relation to the first amendment by my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside. I do not disagree with one word of what he said. However, several speakers attributed his speech to me and I do not want the record to show that I made that speech. Perhaps Hansard will make certain that if my noble friend Lord Hughes of Woodside makes a speech, it does not matter what anybody else calls him, he will be referred to as "the noble Lord, Lord Hughes of Woodside". The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, made a similar mistake when referring to her "noble friend Lord Mackay".
Lord Hardie: We have had an interesting discussion on this amendment. The question is whether the legislative competence for the subject matter of certain statutes relating to the misuse of drugs should be devolved or, in the case of the noble Earl's amendment, whether certain parts of a specific statute should be devolved to the Scottish parliament rather than to Westminster.
The real issue is: what is the argument for leaving the question of the misuse and control of dangerous drugs to the UK Parliament rather than to devolve that issue, either in whole or in part, to the Scottish parliament? I start with the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon. He began by saying that he could understand the Government's thinking on this matter; that is, that there ought to be a common approach in the United Kingdom. That is correct; there ought to be a common approach throughout the United Kingdom on the question of regulation of dangerous drugs. I shall come back to explain why I believe that to be the case.
The noble and learned Lord went on to say that that would not hold water because there is a different prosecution system, a different prosecution policy applied north and south of the Border and different sentences which one could expect to receive in Scotland and England. However, I do not wish to embark upon a discussion on the sentencing approach of the courts in England or, for that matter, in Scotland.
What is clear is that the courts both north and south of the Border have common powers. The statute which creates the offence and imposes the maximum penalty applies north and south of the Border. It is for the courts in the specific jurisdictions to apply what they believe to be the appropriate sentence for a specific offence having regard to the prevalence of the offence and the local characteristics. I do not take anything therefore from the fact that the Scottish courts may or may not impose greater sentences than English courts in connection with the offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act. That is not a good reason for devolving the regulations for the misuse of drugs to Scotland--because the courts appear to impose different sentences in some cases. As the noble and learned Lord is aware, each case must be decided on the specific facts, having regard to the situation which applies in a specific jurisdiction.
Nor do I believe that the application of different prosecution policies would be a justification for devolving the question of the misuse of drugs. I do not know what the Home Office policies are south of the Border and therefore cannot confirm or deny that there are differences. But even if there are, the policies of prosecution must take account of the local circumstances. In certain situations it may be appropriate to prosecute in one part of the United Kingdom and not in another, but that is entirely for the prosecutor to decide.
The question of the legalisation of soft drugs was raised. Again, I have difficulty, as the noble Earl anticipated, not with whether or not they should be legalised, but as to whether different laws should apply in different parts of the United Kingdom as regards
We are speaking of a United Kingdom, not of separate states. That is the difference between the situation in Ireland where there is a different state in the Republic from the north. That is why I have problems with the question of different laws applying to the control of certain drugs in different parts of the United Kingdom.
The noble and learned Lord may say that that does not matter; that it is not a real answer because we have always got Clause 27(7). If it does not work out, the United Kingdom Parliament could enter into the fray and sort it out by re-legislating. But does that make sense? Why burden the United Kingdom Parliament with that obligation when there is no sound reason--at least not one that I have heard in this debate--why the regulation of drugs should be different north and south of the Border?
I have already noted that the different systems of drug control will inevitably give rise to problems of controlling trafficking between the two jurisdictions. At the moment, because there is a United Kingdom system of control, at least we can limit or seek to limit the entry of illegal drugs through international border controls. We should not expect any success at all in trying to maintain different regimes of drug control on either side of the open Border between Scotland and England.
These arguments apply with particular force to the statutes that are the subject of the amendments. The statutes provide powers for the police and customs, which are UK organisations, and the courts in connection with the investigation of drug trafficking and the confiscation of proceeds. What is to happen if it is lawful in Scotland or in England but not in other jurisdictions to possess drugs and to be involved in dealing with drugs, whether they be soft drugs or otherwise? What is to happen about the confiscation of the proceeds of this trade? Would it not mean that the traffickers could set up in the jurisdiction where it was lawful to traffic and then smuggle drugs across the Border?
If that were to happen, would the English courts, if it were still unlawful in England, have the same facility for confiscating the proceeds? Some of the proceeds might well be lawful. If the trafficking had taken place in Scotland, that would be a lawful trade; so the profits from that lawful trade ought not to be seized as attributable to the illegal trade south of the Border. What about money laundering offences in relation to drug trafficking? Those, too, would be difficult to regulate.
The present Government and their predecessor spent a considerable amount of time and effort setting up international treaties and arrangements to try to stop the evil of drug trafficking, to try to gain access to the
In the face of the continuing threat posed by international drug dealers, I am sure that we would all agree on the importance of maintaining a robust, consistent and coherent regulatory regime throughout the United Kingdom and that nothing should be done to prejudice that. Drug trafficking is a sophisticated, well-organised and highly profitable criminal activity that is carried out on a global basis. As I explained, this Government, as did their predecessor, regard it as essential that a common statutory framework should apply throughout the United Kingdom to enable us to comply with our international obligations in this regard. Otherwise there will inevitably be gaps for differences to develop as between the regimes north and south of the Border which drug traffickers and money launderers would be quick to exploit. We do not accept that the subject matter of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 or the other legislation under consideration here should be devolved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, raised similar points. Of course drug abuse is related to social conditions. However, the Misuse of Drugs Act is a United Kingdom Act and is seen as a United Kingdom solution to a problem which is not confined to one part of the kingdom or another. Indeed, it is not confined to the kingdom. It is an international problem. With that explanation, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page