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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23 June 2015.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Oaths and Affirmations

2.35 pm

Several noble Lords took the oath, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Housing: Private Rented Sector


2.37 pm

Asked by Lord Dubs

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to protect tenants in the private rented sector.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, the Government are committed to creating a bigger, better private rented sector. We are empowering tenants through information, including our How to rentguide, and legislation to require transparency of letting agent fees while avoiding excessive regulation that would burden good landlords and raise rents. We have also taken action to tackle the minority of rogue landlords by legislating to prevent retaliatory evictions and providing £6.7 million to tackle rogue landlords and beds in sheds.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, I am sure the Minister will be aware of the recent Citizens Advice report which showed that 750,000 households live in substandard rented accommodation, presumably owned by the rogue landlords the Minister was talking about, and that this substandard accommodation includes damp, rat infestations and the threats of fires and falls. What are the Government going to do to ensure that private landlords meet their responsibilities, and will not the Government’s policy of the enforced sale of housing association homes only make the situation much worse?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the Government are ensuring that private landlords do not welch on their obligation to do work that needs to be done in terms of health and safety and substandard accommodation, and that they will not be able to evict tenants should they ask for that work to be done.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Earl Cathcart (Con): My Lords, one of the problems is not knowing who the landlords are. Some suggest that there ought to be a national register of landlords, but the good ones might register while the bad ones will not bother and thus remain below the radar. Surely a better way is if all new tenants, who are required by

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law to complete a council tax registration form, put on that form the name, address and contact details of their landlords; then, councils would build up over time a complete picture of all the landlords in their area.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, one of the areas of concern in the private rented sector is houses in multiple occupation—HMOs. In areas where it can be demonstrated that licensing is needed, it is put in place and councils therefore know where some of those HMO landlords are. The Government intend to expand that.

Baroness Pinnock (LD): My Lords, I press the Minister again about the quality and maintenance of houses in the private rented sector. I know of a landlord who refused to mend a leaking roof, to the detriment, obviously, of his tenants. The landlord lived in South Africa and had no interest at all in undertaking the repairs. I press the Minister again to say what she is planning to do about it.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I myself have been a private landlord of a house in multiple occupation and know that, if a landlord refuses to do something, the tenant can inform the council. The council can come out and insist that the landlord does the work. If the house is in such a state that it is not fit for occupancy, the landlord has to make provision for alternative accommodation for those tenants in the interim.

Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab): My Lords, if I heard the term correctly, the Minister used the inappropriate term “welching”. Will she define it, please?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I did not mean it as a derogatory term to the Welsh.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Williams of Trafford: In all sincerity, I did not. There is a term, “to welch on an agreement”. I meant it as no insult. I simply meant to not meet one’s obligations.

Lord Naseby (Con): Is my noble friend aware that those of us who were in local government in the 1960s lived through the Rachman and De Lusignan eras, and that at that time local authorities such as the London Borough of Islington, where I was chairman of the housing committee, had to have a register of all rented accommodation? If there is a real problem at the moment, surely that is something Her Majesty’s Government should look at, and they should authorise local authorities to compile such a register. However, this has absolutely nothing to do with the sale of housing association properties to their tenants. The same scare was put up when we proposed selling council houses.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I agree with the noble Lord that this has nothing to do with the sale of housing association homes. I think there will have been

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more council ownership of houses back in the 1960s. There are now a number of ways to guard against substandard accommodation, and tenants have more rights through various mechanisms than ever before.

I say to noble Lords opposite that I did not realise that, in using the term “welch”, I was insulting anybody. I do apologise if any bad feeling was caused through the use of that term.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham (Lab): My Lords, following up the last question to the Minister, is she aware that only 30% of council houses sold under right to buy remain with their original purchaser and most of the rest have gone into buy to let or been sold on, and, in places such as Norfolk, have been bought as second homes? Therefore, surely she accepts that, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said, there is a very real connection between what her Government are proposing for housing association properties and what will be available for affordable rented accommodation.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, once someone exercises their right to buy, it is up to them whether they rent the property out. If they choose to sell it on within a five-year period, some or all of the discount can be clawed back. But once a tenant has purchased their home under right to buy, it is their house.

Lord Thomas of Gresford (LD): My Lords, will the Minister agree to scotch the use of the expression that she used?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: I thank the noble Lord for his point.

Health: Palliative Care


2.45 pm

Asked by Lord Farmer

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s report Dying Without Dignity, what steps they are taking to ensure that everyone in need has access to good palliative care.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): The cases highlighted in the ombudsman’s report are appalling. Everyone deserves good-quality care, delivered with compassion, at the end of their life. Last year we introduced five priorities for care—the key principles that underpin the care that all people at the end of life receive.

Lord Farmer (Con): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In the light of the parliamentary ombudsman’s report, Dying Without Dignity, is it the Government’s policy to encourage all schools of nursing to ensure that their graduates have core skills in end-of-life care by having the subject included in the formal assessments of their students’ competencies?

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Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank my noble friend for that question. I cannot answer it specifically, but the report prepared earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, and other subsequent reports have stressed the need for nurses to be properly trained. That is true both in hospitals and in community settings. I agree with the sentiments behind my noble friend’s Question but would like to take advice on whether what he is suggesting is indeed incorporated into nurses’ core training.

Baroness Emerton (CB): My Lords, yesterday I was at the Royal College of Nursing, where a lot of work has gone into producing advice on end-of-life care. It has produced a small pocket handbook—and a larger one that goes with it. If the Minister has not seen the handbook, perhaps he would find it useful from the point of view of spreading it through care homes and hospitals. End-of-life care is in the curriculum for nurses but there is always a need for a reminder. These little cards that are to go in the pocket provide the essentials about end-of-life care.

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for those comments. Over the years I have spent quite a lot of time with nurses who are specialists in palliative care and I have always been hugely impressed by their work. I have not seen the booklet produced by the RCN to which the noble Baroness refers and I would certainly like to do so.

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, was the Minister as shocked as I was, when reading some of the case studies in this report, to realise that the problems did not require further legislation or regulations but required staff who would follow guidelines and who had common sense, compassion and good communication skills? Why are people who lack these skills and attributes not being weeded out at the training stage, before they get anywhere near a patient?

Lord Prior of Brampton: My Lords, if Members of this House have not read the report by the ombudsman, I recommend it. It consists of 12 short, fairly straightforward case histories, which make for appalling reading. There are many nurses in hospitals and community settings who deliver wonderful care. The issue is their ability. The CQC is now making regular inspections of end-of-life care in all its hospital visits. It is one of the eight core services that it looks at. It has found that in the vast majority of cases, end-of-life care is caring. The noble Baroness asked why such care is so variable. I think that in hospitals it is partly because they are often busy places. They are not ideal places to die in. Who would wish to die in a clinical setting in a very busy ward unless they had to? That may be a part of the explanation.

Lord Wills (Lab): My Lords, my father-in-law died this February. He died at home, surrounded by those he loved and who loved him. However, he died in profound agitation because he was denied the palliative care that he so desperately needed. The local GP surgery said that that had to be delivered by the local

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Macmillan nurse. She was rung repeatedly throughout the day but never answered the phone. Finally, at 4.30 pm she picked up the phone and said that she could not come until the next day—even when the nurse who was looking after my father-in-law said that he was likely to be dead by then. She said there was nothing she could do about it and rang off. He died later that evening, without the comfort of any palliative care. What assessment have the Government made of the ability of Macmillan nurses to deliver palliative care at home?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The noble Lord describes a truly tragic situation and I am very sorry for him and his family that this happened. I am afraid that variation is at the root of this. There are many parts of the country where good local care is delivered. The noble Lord’s story illustrates the fact that it is not just where people die but how they die that matters. It is clearly preferable that people should die in their own home with their loved ones, surrounded by the love that the noble Lord described, but symptom control, pain relief and everything that goes with palliative care are just as important. Indeed, most of the stories in the ombudsman’s report are about a lack of symptom control for people dying in pain. That can happen at home, as in his father-in-law’s case, but it can equally happen in hospitals. NHS England is reviewing this whole area and will come to some final views towards the end of this year, when I might report back to the House.

Lord Howard of Lympne (Con): My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Hospice UK. Is the crux of this issue not the fact that most people do not want or need to die in hospital, and that not enough help is given to allow and help those people who do not need to die in hospital to leave hospital and get the palliative care which can be provided in hospices or elsewhere? Is my noble friend the Minister aware that Hospice UK has put forward a plan to the Government which would enable 50,000 people a year to leave hospital before they die so that they can get the proper palliative care that they need? That would save the Government money, and all we need is a modest sum to carry out an evaluation exercise to see what is the best way of achieving this eminently desirable objective. Will he go back to the department and urge his colleagues to make this modest sum available?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank my noble friend for that question. Perhaps I could suggest that he and I meet outside this Chamber, along with some colleagues from NHS England, to discuss his proposal in more detail.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, given that both NICE and NHS England have commended the services of spiritual, pastoral and religious care in the care of all people and in delivering great services to patients, clients and staff, can the Minister give us any assurances that a chaplaincy will be funded, going forward, in all NHS facilities that provide palliative care?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank the right reverend Prelate for that question. I share his sentiments entirely but that is a decision for local hospitals and local trusts.

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Mental Health Services: Young People


2.53 pm

Asked by Lord Storey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to develop mental health services for pupils and young people.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Prior of Brampton) (Con): My Lords, we are committed to transforming children and young people’s mental health and well-being across health, social care and education. The Department of Health is working with the Department for Education and other key partners to develop more seamless and integrated mental health services for pupils and young people. Work is under way to pilot single points of contact in schools and mental health services, and joint training to improve access to mental health advice and support in schools.

Lord Storey (LD): I thank the Minister for his reply. It is a sobering thought that, in every classroom, three pupils have a diagnosable mental health problem. Does the Minister agree that, when pupils are referred, there should be an agreed, minimum time by which they are seen?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank the noble Lord for that question. He is right that, out of a class of 30 children, three are probably suffering from diagnosable mental health problems. The Government are commissioning a prevalence survey to establish more precisely what that number is. There is a feeling that it will be increasing with the use of social media and more bullying in schools. I agree with the noble Lord that we must make it easier to access talking therapies in particular and the Government have plans to do that.

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that children and young people with serious mental health problems are not treated on adult psychiatric wards, alongside fairly dangerous adults, that they can access appropriate child mental health services, and that they do not have to travel hundreds of miles across the country to do so?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The Government have committed to spending £150 million over the next five years on children who are suffering from eating disorders. This may partly answer the noble Lord’s question. They have also now committed to spending £1.25 billion over the next five years to develop mental health services for children and young adults. That is against a background of our current spending of about £700 million, so we are talking about doubling the spend. Doubling the spend does not mean doubling the benefit and output, but the noble Lord can be assured that it is an absolute priority of this Government to tackle mental health problems right where they start: when people are young.

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The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, mental health cannot be considered in isolation from the rest of life. For example, a number of recent deaths of young people by suicide have been connected to their use of the internet or social media. Is the Minister prepared to work with the Department for Education, other education providers and others to produce a rounded programme of support for the whole person in their context? Will he also indicate the Government’s support for the Online Safety Bill, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. I am not aware of the Bill to which he refers. I hope he will excuse me for that; I will find out about it after today. The right reverend Prelate asked whether we will work with other parts of the Government, particularly the Department for Education. I assure him that we are doing so.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (CB): My Lords, I welcome the Government’s prevalence survey. However, does the Minister’s department have any idea at this time of the length of waiting lists and the number of children waiting for very specialist intervention from psychiatrists and psychologists? I hear from groups of people that the waiting lists are growing and the time children spend waiting is getting longer. For a child with a mental health problem, every day makes it worse. What are the Government doing about that? Does the Minister have the numbers?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I do not have the numbers to hand, but I can tell the noble Baroness that the number of beds that have been commissioned has increased significantly over the last three years and I think 1,250 tier-1 beds are now available. The noble Baroness puts her finger on it: the way we provide treatment for people suffering from mental health conditions—and have done for many years—falls far short of what we would expect for people suffering from equivalent physical conditions. We often talk about parity of esteem quite glibly, without putting the necessary resources behind it. The Government are determined to do so.

Lord Bradley (Lab): My Lords, it is welcome that the Government have decided to ban the use of police cells for children detained under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. However, what action is being taken to ensure that there are appropriate places of safety in every locality? Will the Minister confirm that adult psychiatric wards will not be used as places of safety for children?

Lord Prior of Brampton: The use of police cells for anybody suffering a mental health crisis, but particularly for children, is wholly unacceptable. Last year, the number of children who were held in a police cell was 160. That has come down from a much higher number. The Government and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary are determined to stop this happening—indeed, legislation is about to go through the other place to ensure that it does not happen. But that leads to the question of where, if not to a police cell, they

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should go. I have been told that there is a risk that young people going through a mental health crisis might actually be arrested to make them eligible to come into a police cell, which would of course be equally unacceptable. The number is getting much smaller and I hope that if I am here in a year’s time it will be down to zero.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords—

Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD): My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, we have not heard from the Conservative Benches yet on this Question. I think my noble friend Lord Elton is next.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the previous answer made it clear that a significant proportion of the pupils and young people the Question refers to are in custody. Can the Minister assure us that there is equality of treatment, within both the spend and the survey he referred to, for those children in these dire circumstances?

Lord Prior of Brampton: I thank the noble Lord for that question. I am not sure that I totally got the question, but I can say that keeping a young person in custody is the absolute last resort. The police do not wish to do it and do so only when there is no bed available in an appropriate, safe setting. The issue is the availability of beds. It is better for a child to be in a single room on an adult psychiatric ward than in a police cell.

Energy: Onshore Wind


3.02 pm

Asked by Baroness Worthington

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on investment in renewable energy of their decision to end the subsidy for onshore wind farms.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Wales Office (Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth) (Con): My Lords, onshore wind has made a valuable contribution to the United Kingdom energy mix in recent years, but there is now enough capacity in the pipeline for the United Kingdom to meet its 2020 renewable commitments. We will consider carefully the level of investment that developers are likely to bring forward under the proposals announced by the Secretary of State on 18 June.

Baroness Worthington (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. However, would he agree with me that we are not in fact on track to meet our renewables targets because they apply to all energy, and the targets for heat and transport are not on track? Therefore, this is an imprudent blanket ban on one of our cheapest and fastest-to-deploy technologies. Will he not reconsider?

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Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the importance of onshore wind, but it is already delivering for us. On that basis, we are convinced that the mix of other renewables, together with nuclear and CCS, means that the challenging commitments that we indeed have on heat and transport are deliverable.

Lord Vinson (Con): My Lords, as we learn from experience which type of renewable to back and which not to back, and as wind turbines have shown themselves to produce extremely expensive electricity due to their intermittency, would the Minister consider moving on to one of the greatest developments of our age, which is small nuclear reactors? That means that, instead of having one huge nuclear power station that probably takes 10 to 14 years to develop, you could have 10 factory-built nuclear units in a row—if one is closed down for maintenance, the other nine continue to work. This is the technology of tomorrow, which will give us limitless CO2-free cheap energy. Will the Government consider putting some serious resource into this to make Britain a world leader in this technology?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, renewables are important, but it is absolutely right that some renewables are intermittent and we therefore need back-up. Nuclear is certainly vital to us and we need it. We are looking at the possibility—I put it no stronger than that—of smaller nuclear as an additional part of the mix.

Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD): My Lords, the Minister was unable to respond to my question after the Statement yesterday as to whether a jobs and supply chain impact assessment had been carried out by the Government in advance of the Statement. I think that is to be regretted. One way to restore confidence within that community would be to signal that the Government have no plans to change their proposed contract date for contracts for difference from October this year. Can the Minister confirm that they are on course to do that and the details will be published before recess?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, first on the economic impact, it is possible to overstate that. That it is why I did not really dwell on the issue. Two hundred and fifty projects are likely to be affected, but a clear majority of those would not be processed even within the old limits, so the economic impact is small. With relation to contracts for difference, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place, we will be making a Statement on that in due course.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab): Why did the UK Government not consult with the Scottish Government before making this decision?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: The noble Lord will be aware that this is a reserved issue. There was correspondence with the Scottish Government and tomorrow my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be meeting with Fergus Ewing, the Minister for Energy in Scotland.

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Lord Hay of Ballyore (DUP): My Lords, in the Statement that the Minister made yesterday in the House on renewable energy and the ending of subsidies, he indicated that the Government consulted with the three regional assemblies: the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Assembly. Could the Minister indicate who the Government spoke to within the Northern Ireland Assembly, and was there forthcoming support from the Northern Ireland Assembly for what the Government announced yesterday?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, there is ongoing discussion with the devolved Administrations. I am not sure whether I used the word “consult”. I said there had been contact, certainly, with the devolved Administrations and contact that is continuing, particularly on the issue of the grace period where we have indicated that we are very happy to talk to stakeholders.

Lord Cunningham of Felling (Lab): My Lords, every nuclear submarine built in the United Kingdom has had a propulsion unit built by Rolls-Royce. We have decades of experience in the construction of small nuclear reactors. This is an amazing opportunity for our country to take up the point made by his noble friend and develop these small nuclear reactors for urban use.

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great experience. He used to represent the area of Sellafield and I take his contribution very seriously. As I have indicated, we are looking at the issue of small nuclears at the moment.

Lord Callanan (Con): My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 19 January 2015, which was the coldest day of the year so far, electricity demand in the UK was at its highest and yet wind turbines—both onshore and offshore—produced less than 1% of the UK’s total electricity demand?

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth: I was not aware that was the coldest day of the year, or indeed that that was the case. Renewables are a vital part of the contribution to our decarbonisation. That remains very much the case. We have a range of renewables, which are of key importance to us in meeting our targets and particularly in meeting the climate change agenda in Paris this year.

Built Environment Committee

Membership Motion

3.08 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That Lord Woolmer of Leeds be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Haskel, resigned.

Motion agreed.

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Information Committee

Membership Motion

3.08 pm

Moved by The Chairman of Committees

That Baroness Byford be appointed a member of the Select Committee.

Motion agreed.

Psychoactive Substances Bill [HL]

Psychoactive Substances Bill [HL]1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Committee (1st Day)

3.08 pm

Relevant documents: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Clause 1: Overview

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Paddick

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, after “about” insert “reviewing the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and”

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, I will speak also to the other amendments in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee in this group. This group is fundamental to our debate on the rest of the Bill, as it asks the Government whether they are really committed to an evidence-based approach to combating drugs—basically, whether they are committed to doing what works in practice.

Amendment 1 is a minor amendment which sets out our proposals in the overall context of the Bill. The key amendment is Amendment 5, which would require the Secretary of State to commission an “independent evidence-based review” of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its implementation, and to publish the results. Amendments 111, 112 and 115 would ensure that this review had to take place before the rest of the provisions in the Bill came into force. If, in the face of the evidence that such a review would produce, the Government were still determined to press ahead with this, so be it. However, our amendments would give the Government time to consider whether a different approach, based on evidence of what works, would produce the outcomes we all seek.

I will be clear: the Liberal Democrats are as concerned about the harm caused by the misuse of drugs in general, and the misuse of new psychoactive substances in particular, as anyone else in this House, including the Government. Liberal Democrats want what parents and families want. Parents want their children to avoid taking drugs. The evidence suggests that education, rather than criminalisation, is more likely to achieve that end. If their children use drugs, they do not want them to be harmed by taking them, let alone be killed by them. The evidence suggests that the best way to do that is through education and concentrating resources on the drug dealers, not the users. If their children use drugs, the last thing they want is for the rest of their children’s lives to be ruined by a criminal record for

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simply having small amounts of a relatively harmless substance on them. Educate them if they are being reckless, and if they are addicted, treat them.

Our concern, borne out by the evidence from other countries, is that prohibition and the criminalisation of drug users do not reduce the harm caused by drugs. They do not save lives, reduce addiction or deal with the serious criminality associated with drugs, such as the violence associated with drug dealing. Our concern is that the Bill—yet another Bill based on prohibition and criminalisation—will not only be ineffective in reducing the considerable harm caused by new psychoactive substances but will increase that harm, cost more lives, increase addiction and boost the profitability of drug dealing.

I expect the Government to say that they do not believe this will be the case, and that they have a manifesto commitment to enact this legislation—and of course under the Salisbury convention we on these Benches will not try to wreck the Bill. What we are asking for is an independent, evidence-based review of how effective current legislation is in achieving what it sets out to achieve—that is, a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—before we give effect to another piece of legislation which is very similar to that.

I can tell noble Lords that making drugs illegal is not an effective deterrent, and that the classification of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act lacks a sound scientific basis in the case of many of the drugs listed in that legislation, and therefore it lacks credibility in the eyes of those whom the system of classification is designed to deter. However, rather than taking my word for it, I ask the House to support an independent review. We are not asking for a major piece of new research but for a similar exercise to that carried out recently by David Anderson into the far more complex area of surveillance, which he completed in less than 12 months. We are not trying to delay the passing of this legislation, just asking that we hold back from giving effect to it until after the review has been conducted. It may well be that, having seen the review, the Government decide to adopt a different approach.

The Liberal Democrats want a health-based and harm reduction-based approach to dealing with the problems caused by the misuse of drugs. If I thought that making even more drugs illegal would save one life or stop one person becoming addicted, I would not be asking for this review. Therefore, will the Minister commit to having such a review so we can ensure that, before this Bill comes into force, we learn the lessons of the past? I beg to move.

3.15 pm

Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, it is indeed time for a fundamental review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. It is now almost half a century old and was the product of the prohibitionist orthodoxy that developed during the 1960s. It was the way in which our country implemented the requirements of the UN convention of 1961; subsequently, we doggedly signed up to the 1971 and 1988 conventions. It is through this legislation that the full panoply of prohibition was established, with the criminalisation of supply and possession. It is more than time to look again at

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the principles underlying this legislation, because there is an abundance of evidence that the legislation has failed in its purpose of protecting society from harm. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that our objective has to be to minimise the damage that drug usage causes in our society.

Since this legislation was introduced, we have seen, generation by generation, very significant increases in the use of drugs. There have been fluctuations in the use of cannabis, but if noble Lords study the latest annual report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, they will see that it sounds alarm bells over the rising problem of cannabis, in particular the increasing potency and purity of herbal cannabis and cannabis resin. The cannabis that is available in the market for consumers in this country is now far higher in THC, the most dangerous component of cannabis, than the cannabis that people were accustomed to using in the 1960s. A far larger proportion of our population now uses cannabis than in those days. Britons are among the largest consumers of controlled drugs in Europe. Therefore, there is evidence that the system is not working.

Prohibition is based on a false analysis of supply and demand. Where supply is interdicted, demand does not consequentially fall. Prices rise and the profits of criminals rise, but demand is displaced to different drugs. One reason we have the problem of new psychoactive substances, which the Bill seeks to address, is the prohibition of other substances, which has displaced demand, and people are looking for new opportunities to find the experience that they seek.

MDMA, better known as ecstasy, is another controlled drug, but the control has simply failed. Statistics indicate that some 300,000 young people each week are using ecstasy. As I mentioned at Second Reading, in universities its use is widespread, as is the use of smart drugs that are supposed to facilitate mental concentration and help people do better in severely competitive situations.

It is more than time for an analysis of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has recommended—an objective expert review of the way that this legislation has worked. It has been a gift to criminals. On the black market, price increases of 100 times between production and retail are not uncommon. In 2013, it was estimated that taxpayers across the world were spending something in the order of $188 billion on the enforcement of prohibition regimes, with the effect of creating an illegal drugs market of some 240 million users, with a turnover of $320 billion. This is a massive illicit business created by the prohibitionist orthodoxy.

At the same time, the Home Office estimated that the social and economic costs of organised drug crime in England and Wales were £10.7 billion a year. The collateral damage of the war on drugs has been immense, with diversion of public spending from health, education, development and other good causes—or, if you prefer, from the lowering of taxes and the reduction of deficits—and from tackling social exclusion and violent crime on estates in this country. That extends to the countries of production and transit: there have been 100,000 deaths in the drug wars in Mexico for which our people, as consumers, have to take serious responsibility. There is corruption of public life in many countries, and the

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proceeds of the illegal drug trade are used to finance terrorism. There are abuses of human rights, the use of the death sentence in a number of countries across the world, and environmental damage; for example, in Latin America, where the coca bean is produced.

Money laundering is a very significant problem, which is greatly exacerbated by prohibition. Banks in this country—unburdened by any particular sense of civic responsibility or by effective regulation—fund money laundering of drugs money, which is a profitable activity, as do money transfer services. It is not just the financiers, though. Other white collar professionals—accountants and lawyers—do not ask the questions they are required by the law to ask and are happy to facilitate the transfer of the proceeds of the illicit trade into the licit economy. It is ubiquitous across the country. At the other end of the scale, nail bars, taxi firms, car washes and, I am told, even childcare organisations are local small businesses that are used to facilitate the laundering of the proceeds of the drugs trade.

The Chancellor now wishes to make the City of London an offshore centre for trading in the Chinese currency regardless of the fact that the great majority of new psychoactive substances emanate from China. Prohibition is an engine of crime, of international organised crime, of gang-related street crime and of acquisitive crime. It accounts for between one-fifth and one-third of acquisitive crime. More enforcement leads to more violence and more profit. Prohibition drives innovation.

The Misuse of Drugs Act was never effective, but to attempt to overlay a regime that was not effective in the circumstances for which it was designed on today’s world of digital communications is, I believe, doomed to failure. The internet has made it far easier for people to obtain the information they need to know how to synthesise such drugs, to market them and to make them available. Smartphones enable people to tell each other about the arrival of new consignments of drugs—I am told even that invitations to parties contain links to suppliers. To extend the prohibition regime as the Government propose in the Bill seems a project doomed to failure.

Over the years, the Government have lacked conviction in the enforcement of prohibition. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to his immense credit, when faced with the challenge of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, wisely and humanely decided that to provide clean needles and needle exchanges was the right thing to do and that harm prevention should trump law enforcement. There has been vacillation by successive Home Secretaries about the classification of cannabis. In 2010, when cannabis had once again been moved to a different classification, the Lancet stated:

“Politics has been allowed to contaminate scientific processes and the advice that underpins policy”.

The noble Lord, Lord Bates, may correct me but I understand that in the preparation of this legislation the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, created under the 1971 legislation to be the Government’s statutory adviser in this field, was sidelined. As the noble Lord said in moving this amendment, this seems to be an end to evidence-based policy and the attempt at a rational assessment of harm. Ministers have done

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this through this legislation and the broader policy. They have further discredited the Misuse of Drugs Act, on which they rely and which they insist is so necessary.

In an interview in the Independent in 2005, David Cameron said:

“Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown. Drugs policy has been failing for decades”.

I greatly fear that this Bill will be another failure, and I commend to the Minister and the Home Secretary the course of action proposed in this amendment.

Lord Condon (CB): My Lords, I cannot support these amendments, not because I challenge the sincerity of those who wish to encourage wider debate about drugs and the value of criminalising or decriminalising them, but because I think this is the wrong Bill at the wrong time to try to bolt on this wider debate. There is a real mischief that needs to be dealt with now: the mischief of so-called legal highs, which, tragically too often, are lethal highs. Many families are grieving in this country because youngsters, in particular, have taken these substances and died as a result. The mischief that needs remedying as soon as possible is the spread of so-called head shops and other such shops in many of our major cities around the country. We are just getting into the serious music festival season. Many of those festivals will have the equivalent of head shops on open display. There is real confusion among many vulnerable, naive youngsters, who assume that, because there are head shops or stands at music festivals selling these substances, they must be medically safe.

I spoke yesterday to the chief constable of Hertfordshire, Andy Bliss, who leads for the police service on these issues, and the police are adamant that there is a real need for this legislation as soon as possible. So let there be a wider debate around the big issues of evidence, prohibition and legalising or not legalising drugs, but we need to deal now, laser-like, with this real and present mischief. Any attempt to make this Bill into a wider debate will dilute, probably defer and possibly damage our intent to deal with this real and present mischief. Although there is a need for this wider debate, I hope that it will not destroy the laser-like focus of this Bill, which deals with a real and imminent problem.

Lord Richard (Lab): The specific terms of the amendment are:

“The Secretary of State shall commission an independent evidence-based review of the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act … and the implementation of the Act”,


“The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of a report of the review before both Houses of Parliament within one year”.

Is the noble Lord saying that he approves of the amendment but does not think that it should be linked to the passage of this Act? If so, I would be grateful if he clarified that he is in favour now of an independent review of the way in which the Misuse of Drugs Act is actually operating.

Lord Condon: Certainly, I am not against such a review. It is for those who wish to make the case for it to put it forward and to find a mechanism for it to take

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place. I would very happily give evidence to such a review or assist in any way I could. The point I am making today is that, at the very least, there would be a 12-month delay, probably longer, and there is a pressing need to get legislation now to do something about the production, supply and distribution of these so-called legal highs, which, as I said, are lethal highs on some occasions and are killing young people.

3.30 pm

Lord Patel of Bradford (Lab): My Lords, I have listened to arguments on both sides and I am struck by the point that we somehow think that the introduction of legal highs is a phenomenon we have never come across. We had cheap, smokeable heroin in the early 1980s. There were outbreaks in various cities across England where people were smoking heroin. There was anxiety. We had a knee-jerk reaction and we set up services for heroin users. Then we had amphetamines in the nightclub scene, and in the mid-1980s kids were sniffing solvents and glue. There was huge panic and uproar and we banned children from buying solvents in supermarkets. We thought that thousands of kids were going to die because they were sniffing solvents. Things moved on.

Then we had MDMA, GBH and crack cocaine, and then heroin came back again. These things keep coming. We do not want to have a knee-jerk reaction to yet another drug that young people will take. The evidence, from watching last night’s “Newsnight” report from Ireland, is the opposite of what the noble Lord said his police officers wanted here. Officers there were saying that they could not enforce this law. This is simply imposing a blanket ban on new drugs as they keep coming out—and they will keep coming out. We can ban one thing and I guarantee that in the next five years, there will be another substance that young people are using and we will be panicking again. We cannot continue to do this.

There is a desperate need to review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. We have had all these policies and other Acts dealing with prescription drugs, and we have never looked at the evidence—not just this Government but the Labour Government as well. We have never looked at the evidence because, as my noble friend Lord Howarth said, Ministers look at what the public want and they want hard, strong enforcement tactics on tackling the use of drugs. The evidence is fairly clear and we have a lot of it in this country, so we desperately need a review. Whether we need to tag that on to this Bill I do not know, but my anxiety is that we will be passing a Bill because of a knee-jerk response.

We have not looked at the connections with existing legislation. We are creating legislation that is not looking at harms but simply banning everything in sight under this umbrella body, and it seems to everyone to be unenforceable. We need to take a step back. There has to be an opportunity somewhere along the way to have a review and to look at drugs policy effectively.

Lord Blencathra (Con): My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this amendment until I heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Howarth. With all due respect, I must say that he is profoundly wrong and also out of date. I say to the Minister that there is no need to do

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another independent review. A couple of years ago, EU Sub-Committee F, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, conducted a thorough review of drugs legislation. We discovered in that committee that enforcement has worked exceptionally well for all the main hard drugs we have had in this country. Drug use of heroin, crack cocaine and other such drugs has dropped dramatically. Where we are in the lead, unfortunately, is with the use of the new psychoactive substances.

It would seem from the evidence that we took in committee that children today do not want to smoke the same old stuff their hippie fathers did. If it was good enough for dad, the kids today want something different. We see that in a whole range of things, such as children who go off Facebook because their parents have joined. The fads on drugs seem to have the same trends.

Enforcement has worked exceptionally well in driving down the use of heroin, crack cocaine and other serious drugs. Enforcement can work equally well on psychoactive substances, provided that we can get the legislation watertight. The Government have tried enforcement with psychoactive substances by naming certain drugs, and within hours the chemical composition is tweaked slightly and the law is no longer effective.

Enforcement works, provided we have effectively drafted legislation. I entirely support the views of the noble Lord, Lord Condon. We have an urgent problem at the moment with psychoactive drugs. We do not need to review the whole of the drugs Act in this Bill. Maybe a review in a couple of years might be sensible, after we have seen how the legislation proposed in this Bill works. Finally, it is not a matter of enforcement or harm reduction, which are not mutually exclusive. We have been doing both in this country. It is right to have criminalisation and tough enforcement action against drugs and, at the same time, a harm-reduction policy that tackles drug use among first-time users and young kids, who probably do not know any better. Yes, we need education. Yes, we need harm reduction. But for goodness sake, keep the criminal law, which works.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, yes, there may have been a reduction in the use of illegal drugs over the last five years. I know that Ministers have responded by saying, “We do not need to look at this any more, because drug use has plateaued and acquisitive crime has decreased, although drug-related deaths have increased”. Why has that happened? Not because of better enforcement but because, for the last 10 years, the Labour Government piled £800 million per year into drug treatment—and drug treatment that worked. That was a pooled, ring-fenced pot of money. We quadrupled the number of people treated, and it worked. For every £1 invested, within a year you had a £2 return and on a longer-term basis you had an £8 return. Drug treatment works. We do not have the same evidence for education prevention and we do not have the evidence for enforcement, but we do have the evidence that treatment works.

The problem is now that the £800 million a year has gone into Public Health England’s £2.6 billion budget, which goes to the 152 local authorities around the country to spend as they wish. That money is not ring

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fenced. There is no local authority in the country that has the expertise or the inclination to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on drug treatment. Instead, funds are rapidly being withdrawn and we see the outcome: we see drug services shutting down and we see drug-related deaths going up. I guarantee that within five years we will see acquisitive crime going up and drug use increasing again. This is not to do with enforcement policies; it is clearly to do with how we invested that money properly last time.

Lord Blencathra: Again, I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Patel. Of course, harm reduction is good and of course treatment is essential, but unless we have Customs and Excise and the National Crime Agency and all the others interdicting tonnes and tonnes of drugs, we would need a lot more treatment because we would have a lot more drug addicts in this country. Enforcement has worked. Enforcement is driving down the use of those drugs which were rapidly increasing in the 1980s and the 1990s. There is no suggestion that that trend is wearing off, and there is no suggestion that enforcement is now failing with those drugs. Enforcement is failing in the new psychoactive substances for two reasons. First, the kids find it trendy and sexy to use them because they are not using the same old drugs that dad smoked. Secondly, we do not have legislation tight enough to enable the police and the enforcement authorities to use enforcement properly against those psychoactive substances.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I support this amendment and the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Howarth and Lord Patel, but I have to say that I cannot support the noble Lord who has just spoken. This country has some of the strongest and toughest rules and legislation relating to drugs, yet we have one of the highest levels of use of the dangerous drugs that we try to ban. The reality is that we are not succeeding. Countries with relatively liberal, harm-reduction, health-focused policies do a great deal better than we do.

I want to use this opportunity to try to get across to the Minister and to your Lordships why I feel so strongly that we need a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. I worked in secondary mental health for about a quarter of a century on and off, working with severely psychotic patients. I would say that the majority of those patients take cannabis. Why do they take it? They have told me many times, “Because it makes me feel human”. Thankfully, I have never had a psychotic illness, but if you do and you are given antipsychotic medication, the mix of the illness itself and the medication leaves you feeling, if I may put it this way, subhuman. You do not feel that you have any feelings; you feel dead. If you take cannabis, it makes you feel human. That is the word these patients use—“human”. In my view, that is not unreasonable.

If herbal cannabis is illegal, which it is, these patients along with all sorts of young people all over the country—I am slightly less sympathetic about them, but I am very sympathetic about patients—are driven to take skunk, very high THC cannabis, which is bad for their hallucinations and voices and makes them

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worse. But they still take the cannabis because it is so important to them to feel human. As I say, that is not unreasonable.

While they were within our services, these people were treated as patients because they had severe health problems. However, it always struck me as peculiar that when they left our hospital, day centre or whatever it was, these very sick people could be picked up by the police and charged with a criminal offence. Why? Because of their health problem. When our Convenor, as she was then, said when I came to this House, “Molly, you must put your name down on the ballot for a debate”, I said, “Oh no”, but I did and I won the ballot. I was told to produce a subject within the hour, and it came to my head that it would have to be about drugs. I feel strongly that our laws are illogical, unjust and cruel, and they are doing an enormous amount of damage to very large numbers of children and young people. That is why I cannot say that I am against the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

Of course I understand that this Bill is about psychoactive substances, and we will come to discuss them, but the fact is that we have only one market, and it is the market for illegal drugs. It is not a market for psychoactive substances over here and a market for controlled substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act over there. They are one market, and therefore it makes no sense to look at this market without looking at that market. That is why I believe firmly that the Government would find it very helpful to look seriously at how the market is working and to draw conclusions from other countries.

We will come to the experience of Ireland and psychoactive substances, where a ban has been in place for four years. What does the deputy chief of the drugs and organised crime branch say about the ban? It has not worked. Therefore, Ireland is thinking of going back to its misuse of drugs Acts. I think that we will be in the same position, so it is really important that we get the Misuse of Drugs Act right as well as the Psychoactive Substances Bill. If we do not, we will just go round and round in very unfortunate circles from one bad policy to another.

I have something else that I want to say. The Labour Party is worried about a delay in this Bill. It does not need to worry, because bans do not work. They have not worked in Ireland. A little bit of delay will not make any difference. We now know from scientists that, of the deaths which have been caused by psychoactive substances, maybe every single one of them—certainly 90% of them—has been as the result of young people taking banned substances, not legal highs. I want to make that point very strongly. A ban does not stop people taking a substance, and some of them will die from doing so. If low-level psychoactive substances were regulated and labelled, with the consequences of taking them clearly specified, the risks and side-effects explained and the maximum dose made clear—in the case of ecstasy, you must take water, but you must not take more than 1 litre, or whatever it is—they would be much safer. My only concern is the safety and well-being of our young people.

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3.45 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, one rises with some trepidation following that passionate plea by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, whose expertise, commitment and sincerity we all acknowledge and admire.

It seems to me that there are three issues before the Committee this afternoon. The first was gently but firmly underlined by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and echoed by my noble friend Lord Blencathra from the Privy Council Bench. The Government are seeking in the Bill to deal with a specific problem: dangerous substances are legally available on our high streets and there is no doubt whatever, as the noble Lord indicated, that great harm has been done already. The Government committed themselves at the general election to legislating on the matter—and that they are doing by placing the Bill before your Lordships’ House.

The second issue, of course, arises from the amendment moved very moderately and quietly by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Again, I do not for a moment question his knowledge as a former senior police officer, nor his commitment and sincerity. But I have to say to him—as he is already an accomplished parliamentarian, he will know that this is right—that the amendment he moved has some of the qualities of a wrecking amendment. It would delay for at least a year the implementation of legislation that is considered by many to be urgent.

This brings me to my third point. The noble Lord referred to the Salisbury/Addison convention that in your Lordships’ House we do not seek to vote down manifesto Bills at Second or Third Reading; nor do we introduce wrecking amendments that would either inordinately delay or negate the purpose of the Bills. I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, in his place. In his previous incarnation as Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the other place, he had to adjudicate on wrecking amendments—or those that could be so construed—because in another place there is an absolute rule against them: no such amendment can be selected for debate.

I am not suggesting that there is anything improper—far from it—in what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has sought to do this afternoon. Of course there is not; it is entirely within the rules of your Lordships’ House. But there is another convention that is not binding, as Salisbury/Addison should be, which certainly has governed the general conduct of our business in this place. It is the convention that in Committee it is desirable to have good, clear debate on a subject, but not to vote. There are exceptions—there have been in my time, in the past five years.

Lord Addington (LD): My Lords—

Lord Cormack: May I just finish this point? On the whole, the suggestion that in your Lordships’ House it is better to have a thorough debate in Committee, give the Minister a chance to reflect and then come back on Report if necessary has a great deal to commend it. This afternoon, we have on the Bench to reply to this debate my noble friend Lord Bates. He may prove me wrong this afternoon, but I regard him as an exemplary Minister who has proved on many occasions that he

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truly listens to debate in your Lordships’ House and often comes back with genuine recognition and concession. I very much hope that he will listen to the debate this afternoon in that exemplary fashion and reply accordingly.

I have heard a whisper that there could be an attempt to divide your Lordships’ House this afternoon. I very much hope that that will not happen because this is a profoundly serious matter—literally a matter of life and death for some people. It is crucial that we should have full and thorough debate. It is through that that we have earned our reputation for scrutiny, critical examination and the improvement of legislation. We have a chance to do that in this Bill, which, like every Bill, is far from perfect and is certainly capable of improvement.

I conclude by saying that I believe the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon: we are seeking to tackle a specific issue and the Bill is tackling that issue. We should take no steps that would frustrate that, and certainly not frustrate it at this early stage.

Lord Richard: I put the same question that I asked the noble Lord, Lord Condon. I hear what he says about the relationship between the Bill and the general proposition in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that there should be an independent review of the operation of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Does the noble Lord support that?

Lord Cormack: I would give a very similar answer to that given by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. He said that he acknowledges that there is a very good case for it, and so indeed do I.

Lord Addington: If I may make one small point: any convention about not voting in Committee is very recent, and it is one determined by the procedures in Grand Committee. It is a waste of time for us to go over the same debate twice if we are determined to have a vote or if we feel that the answer cannot be given. If the noble Lord, Lord Bates, says that he is very positively minded towards this amendment—let’s face it, the smell ain’t exactly in the air at the moment—of course, there would be no need to seek a conclusion. If, however, he is not, why go through it again?

Lord Cormack: If that question was addressed to me, I should perhaps have given way earlier. There is every case for the most wide-ranging, critical scrutiny of any Bill. The point that I sought to make—I did not do so aggressively at all—is that in this House we tend not to vote in Committee but rather to reserve our votes for Report. There have been only a handful of such occasions in the past five years. That is all I am saying and I commend it to your Lordships.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Ind Lab): It seems to me that the noble Lord has changed his mind. I want to be very clear. A convention is a convention and it is almost legally binding in some cases. Now he is saying that a habit has grown up that we do not vote in Committee. But it is only a habit, and in my view it is quite a bad habit. I hope that the House will not be swayed into not allowing voting in Committee to become a convention.

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Lord Lester of Herne Hill (LD): It is my fault and my stupidity but I do not understand how this amendment can properly be regarded as a wrecking amendment. Can the noble Lord explain that to me?

Lord Cormack: I said that it had some of the ingredients of a wrecking amendment because it would delay by at least a year the implementation of legislation that many believe to be urgent and necessary.

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (CB): My Lords, I am puzzled. Somebody has lost the plot and it is probably me. I do not see why this has to delay the legislation at all. I follow that in this group, Amendment 115—the last one—would indeed delay the legislation. It involves an insertion into Clause 57, which is about commencement. However, I do not think that applies to any of the other amendments. On the face of it, Amendment 5 seems to demand the implementation of the Bill. How would one review its implementation under proposed new subsection (1)(b), except by bringing it into force and letting it go ahead? Unless someone can explain why Amendment 115 within this group necessarily has to be passed, I do not see that any delay at all is involved.

Lord Paddick: My Lords, if I may assist the Committee, clearly these amendments can be taken separately and, if the Committee is minded to say that there needs to be a review and no delay in giving effect to the legislation, that is a matter for the Committee. We are talking about the Misuse of Drugs Act in that amendment rather than the Bill, if that helps the noble Lord.

Baroness Meacher: I wonder if it might help the Committee if the noble Lord withdrew Amendment 115 simply so that we can debate the need for a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act without setting it in the context of a delay to the psychoactive substances ban.

Lord Rosser (Lab): I acknowledge the strength of feeling of many noble Lords on this issue but I hope we can all accept that, whatever our view, we all have the interests and protection of young people in particular in the forefront of our minds when discussing this group of amendments and the Bill as a whole. That is not the prerogative of one particular point of view. The effect of this group of amendments—certainly its intention—is to put back the commencement of most of the Bill’s provisions for, in reality, probably at least 18 months after the Bill has been passed.

The proposals in the Bill for a blanket ban on new psychoactive substances have been supported by the New Psychoactive Substances Review Expert Panel, whose report was called for by one Liberal Democrat Minister and accepted by another. The ban has also been supported by a similar panel in Scotland, the Health and Social Care Committee of the National Assembly for Wales, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, the Local Government Association, the police and the two largest political groupings in this House, including the Opposition, at the recent general election. The Liberal Democrats said that they would clamp down on those who produce

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and sell unregulated chemical highs. That all these organisations, committees and parties reached their conclusion in either the face of all the evidence or the absence of any evidence—as has been implied—is unlikely.

We need to start to tackle the issue of legal highs now. The United Kingdom now has the second largest legal highs market in the world, beaten only by America. We are the top country in Europe for emerging new psychoactive substances. Over the past four years, hundreds of new internet sellers have been established in the UK, along with an estimated hundreds of specialist high street head shops. Beyond this, an unknown number of other stores, including late-night garages and takeaways, have started selling these products. In short, an entire industry became fully established under the previous coalition Government, selling and marketing dangerous drugs largely aimed at young people, many of whom would not otherwise have considered experimenting with drugs.

It also appears quite common in the legal highs market for legal high sellers to send out samples of new psychoactive substances to existing customers and use human beings as guinea pigs with no consideration of the consequences. The evidence also shows how far behind the market we currently are.

4 pm

Baroness Meacher: I thank the noble Lord for giving way. He says that head shops have no consideration for their customers. In our experience, head shops are the one outlet that do have to have some concern about their customers because, if they kill them or if they finish up in hospital, they will not come back for more and head shops will not make profits, which is what they are there to do. That is the one reason why, unpleasant though head shops are—and they are—if they were properly licensed and controlled, they would be rather better than the alternative: the black market.

Lord Rosser: I think I actually said that it is quite common in the legal highs market for legal high sellers— and there is more than one way of selling it—to send out samples of new psychoactive substances to existing customers and literally use human beings as guinea pigs, with no consideration of the consequences. I do not think that implies that everybody is doing that; it is saying that it is not uncommon for that to be the situation.

The evidence also shows how far behind the market we currently are. Substances were being banned following parliamentary debate earlier this year, when it had been known that sellers were sending out to potential customers samples likely to be toxic three years previously.

I wish to quote the Home Affairs Select Committee report, to which I referred earlier. I realise that some have already challenged this statement but it is set out in the Home Affairs Select Committee report. The report states:

“England and Wales has almost the lowest recorded level of drug use in the adult population since measurement began in 1996. Individuals reporting use of any drug in the last year fell

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significantly from 11.1% in 1996 to 8.9% in 2011–12. There was also a substantial fall in the use of cannabis from 9.5% in 1996 to 6.9% in 2011–12”.

That does not mean there is not still a problem, but the area where things have been going in the wrong direction, as identified in the report of the expert panel, has been as a result of the emergence of new psychoactive substances. The explosion of new psychoactive substances in the last few years is a unique phenomenon which warrants specific legislation. Some 670,000 young people in the UK were thought to have experimented with new psychoactive substances by 2013, and this is leading to an increase in deaths. To my knowledge, no new psychoactive substance which has been referred to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been found to be safe.

We are not in agreement with this group of amendments, which will delay the introduction of key parts of this Bill, including the blanket ban, when the need for action to address the growing issue of new psychoactive substances, including through education, prevention and treatment, is now.

Lord Richard: My Lords, for the third time, I ask the same question: if the link between delaying the Bill and the part of the relevant amendment which calls for an independent inquiry is broken, does the Labour Party support an independent inquiry into the operation of the Misuse of Drugs Act?

Lord Rosser: I can only say that I am not aware that it is currently Labour Party policy to press for such a review.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con): My Lords, it is wise to remind ourselves of what has been going on in relation to these substances in the past year or two. The system has been that, once a new substance is discovered, the procedures of the Misuse of Drugs Act have been used to add that substance to the prohibitions under that Act. It seems to me that the trouble with that is that it is very late in the day in relation to the emergence of the new substance. The purpose of this Bill, as I understand it, is to eliminate that particular difficulty and to make the provision operate in a general way so that you do not need to move, as in the past, during the emergence of a new psychoactive substance. So, that is what Parliament has been doing for some time. This seems to me to be a much better way to handle the problem than what has been available in the past.

Baroness Meacher: I would like to point out that the Government introduced what I consider to be a very good instrument, the temporary class drug orders. These could be sped up. You can, or should be able to, put an order in place quickly for a 12-month period while an assessment is undertaken. If the drug is not deemed to be safe, it is placed under the Misuse of Drugs Act. There is an instrument in place.

Lord Howarth of Newport: From all his experience, does the noble and learned Lord anticipate that there may be problems in the criminal justice system over definition and establishing that a substance is indeed psychoactive; and that in the case of individuals it is

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their intention to supply illegally? Also, does he have any anxieties about the practicalities of enforcement? In the interests of the courts and of wider society, it is important that legislation that lays impossible burdens on the police, HMRC and other enforcement authorities is not enacted. They are going to have a large, complex and difficult additional set of tasks under this legislation, at a time of diminishing resources.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: The impact assessment to some extent deals with that. It is plain that the difficulty has arisen in relation to the emergence of new substances whenever a particular prohibition is enacted. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, says about this. The problem is that by the time the enactment takes place, considerable harm may be occurring. The idea of this Bill is to prevent the production of these dangerous substances as a general matter of course.

Baroness Bakewell (Lab): Perhaps I might add to this conversation about the need for evidence. At Second Reading, on the matter of addressing the damage being done to these young people, Ireland was cited as evidence of the effectiveness of legislation.

I refer my colleagues in the House to a report made by a fellow journalist at the BBC. Following Second Reading he went to Ireland to examine what is happening with the Bill. Young people there are taking a great many of these legal highs. He found that one young man had hanged himself from a tree in the middle of the estate where he lived. The parents were frantic. In County Monaghan and in a number of towns my BBC colleague found that there was an abundance of these drugs, and that young people were turning to them.

After this young man’s suicide the police seized 34 grams. They offered it to the scientists, who analysed its contents. They said that they were not able to prove that it was a psychoactive drug. At that point the police were stymied procedurally, because the scientist to whom they turned could not verify the evidence they needed. My colleague speculated in a conversation with me that the police were turning back to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, because they did not know how to handle this matter.

What ties this issue, Ireland and legal highs to the amendment is that young people are turning to legal highs because they cannot get natural cannabis. That is the crucial link. If we are to stop these young people doing such terrible damage to themselves, we must consider the broader spectrum of motive that turns them towards these legal highs. Young people do not grow up knowing about them. They grow up in a community that perhaps 20 years ago was using cannabis plant. Now, the whole drugs business has accelerated to such an extent that millions of pounds can be made through criminal behaviour, and that has driven the legal drugs industry to invent more substances to market to young people. It is a desperate situation, but we need to examine and unpick the motives that drive young people into this market. That is at the heart of this amendment and the conversation about the Bill.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, first, I welcome the amendment and the way in which it was proposed by the noble Lord,

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1492

Lord Paddick, because it has sparked a genuine debate, one of real high quality and passion on all sides of the argument. I thought that the arguments in the contributions we heard were pretty finely balanced for and against. I want to try to respond to some of those points. The point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, relating to Ireland is an example worth looking at. That issue comes up in a later group of amendments and I will be happy to respond in more detail at that point, if I can.

I want to pick up on the comments made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. He talked about the difficulties that the Government are facing and about these new versions of psychoactive substances that are coming on to the market. In fact, the European centre that monitors these things is identifying two new versions per week. More than 500 have been identified and banned since 2010. That is the difficulty that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, touched upon when she referred to temporary banning orders. We have tried those so we have some evidence that they do not work, because the minute we clamp down on one substance, up pop another one or two—or three or 10—somewhere else. The challenges that we face are clear.

Another point in the evidence—evidence that people have cited in all their contributions from their different perspectives on this—for the Government to take action on this is that we are seeing a general fall-off in the use of drugs, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned. The positive signs are there about the current approach to drugs. I will come back to this at some point but there has been an overemphasis on the Misuse of Drugs Act, which was a response to a series of international conventions, such as the UN convention. It recognised that the fight against narcotics and drugs was a global fight. We therefore introduced legislation but if there was just the Misuse of Drugs Act, as it was configured in 1971, there would of course be little support from any part of the House. The fact of the matter is that that is only one part of the legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, talked about the excellent work being done in treatment and rehabilitation. There is work going on in education and very sophisticated work going on in policing, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. In fact, having been a commander, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was at the centre of the challenge of finding new ways to tackle those issues through law enforcement. There is a whole suite of different ways in which we are tackling this but across the majority of drugs and age groups, there has been a long-term downward trend in drug use over the past decade, a point made by my noble friend Lord Blencathra. Among 11 to 15 year-olds, drug use has been falling since its peak in 2003. More people are recovering from their dependency now than in 2009-10, and the average waiting time to access treatment is now down to three days. As a result of such innovation, the work that has been done in that area is providing alternatives and treatment. However, enforcement is part of that.

I come to the point that against the downward trend that we are seeing, in one area we see that the opposite is actually the case: usage is increasing and the number

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1493

of deaths has almost doubled. There were 120 deaths of young people in 2013, and all the evidence is that that trend is on the rise.

Lord Paddick: Of those 120 deaths, for how many were new psychoactive substances the sole cause and for how many was it a mixture of these with alcohol and other controlled drugs?

Lord Bates: I do not have an exact breakdown, but that is how the health—

Lord Paddick: I can assist the Minister, because in only 23 of those deaths did the post mortem find only psychoactive substances in the bloodstream. It is important that we get the facts straight in these cases.

4.15 pm

Lord Bates: The fact that it is present in the death of a young person is an absolute tragedy. The Government cannot stand idly by and have an interesting debate about general drug policy when that is happening on the streets. The Local Government Association—

Baroness Meacher: The scientists who are advising me say that all the deaths have possibly been a result of banned substances which may be psychoactive or controlled. Four or five may possibly have been due to legal substances that had not yet been banned. A ban is not the way forward on that issue.

Lord Bates: These substances are available. For example, a grandmother told me about the death of her grandchild, although it was not directly related to this. She expressed absolute despair that across the road from a school in Canterbury, 100 yards away from it, was a head shop selling “legal highs”. She believes that they are lethal highs. They are allowed to be traded, on the high street, to children way below any age of consent. There are no restrictions, as there are with alcohol and tobacco. Anyone can go in there with cash and come out with a brightly coloured package which actually says “not fit for human consumption” or “plant food”. Are we supposed to stand idly by when the Local Government Association is telling us that and when the police are telling us that they lack the powers to act? The Republic of Ireland has closed these shops down altogether. We need to get a clear and important message to young people that these drugs are not without risk.

Lord Howarth of Newport: No one is suggesting that we should stand idly by. No one is suggesting that these new psychoactive substances do not carry hideous dangers. No one is suggesting that urgent action is not needed. The question at issue is whether the policies in this legislation are well framed and well designed to address what is undoubtedly a very grave and serious problem.

Lord Bates: That is not exactly what the amendment says and we see a risk there to the prospects for the Bill, which carries the support of the Official Opposition and was in their manifesto. It was in the Conservative manifesto that we would bring forward this legislation.

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1494

Norman Baker, who was the Liberal Democrat Minister in the Home Office, wrote to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in the following terms:

“As our response makes clear, we will explore the feasibility of a UK wide new offence(s) by which the distribution for human consumption of non-controlled NPS is prohibited, based on the approach taken by the Republic of Ireland in 2010. This would give law enforcement greater powers to tackle NPS in general, rather than on a substance by substance basis. The international experience shows that it would have the most impact on the open availability of non-controlled NPS in high street ‘headshops’ and on UK domain websites, placing downward pressure on NPS related harms”.

That was from a Liberal Democrat Minister in the Home Office, not in history but in August 2014. Lynne Featherstone, who was then the Minister at the time, said on 11 March:

“I will be working right up until the dissolution of Parliament to ensure we have done as much as we possibly can to pave the way for a general ban. This will mean the next government can act quickly to clamp down on this reckless trade”.

Those are not the comments of some distant academic but the words of another former Liberal Democrat Minister in Her Majesty’s Government.

Action needs to be taken urgently to tackle new psychoactive substances, but we have not acted in a knee-jerk way, as has been suggested. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs looked at this in 2011 and issued a report saying that we should explore legislation to introduce a ban because it was clear that temporary banning orders were not working on an individual case-by-case basis. We then said that we would set up, in addition to that, an expert panel to take a broader range of views, including from law enforcement. That expert panel came to the view that there should be a ban on new psychoactive substances. That view was supported by the Home Affairs Select Committee and by the other committees in Scotland and Wales that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to. It was also of course endorsed by action by the Government in the Republic of Ireland. This is not a knee-jerk response: it has been gathering pace over a period of some three to four years. We have been steadily building up and testing the case, listening to the police and local government, and finding out what is working and what is not working. This is what they have recommended that they want to see.

This is not the end of the matter. In the wider debate, there is no reason there cannot be ongoing exploration of the effectiveness of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The All-Party Drug Misuse Group frequently produces excellent and thorough reports looking at the effectiveness of that overall policy. The Home Affairs Select Committee has the ability to look at this, and has done so. I think that there have even been specific reviews of the Misuse of Drugs Act; for example, in 2001 under the Labour Government. I am going from memory there rather than the official note, so I have to be very careful, but I think it might have been Dame Ruth Runciman who led a review of that nature. This is about timing, and if we need something further, there are many excellent avenues through which that exploration can take place.

The Government’s response is that we have a piece of legislation—the Misuse of Drugs Act—and we have a cross-government policy, which involves health,

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1495

education and law enforcement. We listened to that advisory committee, took further evidence from the expert panel and recommended the course of action which we are now taking and which this amendment would delay coming into effect. That is why we do not want this amendment to be agreed and why I urge the noble Lord to withdraw it. We have made our case and built the evidence, and we have a mandate from the electorate on the manifesto to act in such a way—as did the noble Lord’s colleagues who served in the previous Government.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, a few minutes ago in his speech, the Minister distinguished between the issue of new psychoactive substances—the substance, if I can use the word, of the Bill—and the review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. My noble friend will deal with the fact that those are linked but distinct and the fact that we are not seeking to wreck the Bill, as some have suggested.

I wanted to intervene because of the reference to the report of the expert panel. We will come on to some of these issues in later groups of amendments, but one of its recommendations was about exploring,

“the feasibility of an approach to control NPS”,

and referred to,

“taking into account the need for … a robust definition in the legislation”—

an issue we are clearly going to come to. It also referred to,

“monitoring … possible adverse implications and unintended consequences”,

which we will come to as well.

In the next recommendation it also refers to “robust” definitions and needing to build,

“on learning and evidence from countries that have already taken this approach”.

It is not quite as simplistic and narrow as perhaps some noble Lords might be thinking from the debate all round the Committee.

Lord Bates: I certainly agree with the noble Baroness that the wider issue is not narrow, it is very broad, but what we are trying to do here with this Bill is very narrow. It is very focused and based on the evidence. The noble Baroness says that the two amendments are linked but distinct. Now she is a lawyer and I am not, but to me if they are linked then they cannot be distinct. They are linked in the sense that if they are both moved together, then one effect will be to have a review which will delay action being taken on this menace—or mischief, as the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said—which is happening up and down this country and through which people are suffering and dying. We need to take action and we are doing that on the basis of medical evidence, law enforcement evidence and evidence from the Local Government Association.

Lord Paddick: My Lords, the debate this afternoon has been passionate on both sides, and both sides of the argument seem to be equally committed to believing that their side is right. If ever there was an example of why we need an independent, evidence-based review, the debate this afternoon is it because everybody who has spoken in the Chamber this afternoon cannot possibly be right. We might agree to a review of the

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1496

Misuse of Drugs Act, but people will then ask why we would want to link it to this piece of legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, for whom I have a great deal of respect, raised this as an issue.

The fact is that somebody said that the definition of madness is to carry on doing exactly the same thing while expecting a different result. Some people brought forward evidence in this argument that prohibition and criminalisation of drugs do not work, which the Minister has countered. One of the campaigning organisations called Release, which no doubt has sent information to noble Lords, claims that the UK has the highest lifetime amphetamine and ecstasy use, the second-highest cocaine use and the fourth-highest lifetime cannabis use in Europe. Not everybody can be right on this and my real concern—there is some evidence which we will come to in future amendments when we consider the Irish situation—is that this Bill, or this approach of prohibition and criminalisation, actually makes things worse. It makes people less safe. It makes more people die. It gets more people addicted. What I am concerned about is, if we make even more drugs illegal, it will have completely the reverse effect to the one wanted by everybody in this House, which is to make it safer, to have fewer deaths and fewer people addicted. That is why this amendment is here. That is why this amendment is linked to this Bill and that is why I wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.29 pm

Division on Amendment 1

Contents 98; Not-Contents 316.

Amendment 1 disagreed.

Division No.  1


Aberdare, L.

Addington, L.

Afshar, B.

Andrews, B.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Bakewell, B.

Barker, B.

Benjamin, B.

Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury, B.

Bradshaw, L.

Bragg, L.

Brinton, B.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Clancarty, E.

Clinton-Davis, L.

Cotter, L.

Coussins, B.

Desai, L.

Dholakia, L.

Doocey, B.

Dubs, L.

Dykes, L.

Elder, L.

Erroll, E.

Falkner of Margravine, B.

Fearn, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

German, L.

Hamwee, B.

Harris of Richmond, B.

Haworth, L.

Hayman, B.

Howie of Troon, L.

Humphreys, B. [Teller]

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Hylton, L.

Janke, B.

Jolly, B.

Kennedy of The Shaws, B.

Kerr of Kinlochard, L.

Kidron, B.

Kinnock, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Kramer, B.

Layard, L.

Lee of Trafford, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Loomba, L.

Low of Dalston, L.

Ludford, B.

Maclennan of Rogart, L.

Maddock, B.

Maxton, L.

Meacher, B.

Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Northover, B.

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1497

O'Loan, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

Paddick, L.

Palmer of Childs Hill, L.

Palumbo of Southwark, L.

Pannick, L.

Parminter, B.

Pinnock, B.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Randerson, B.

Rea, L.

Redesdale, L.

Rees of Ludlow, L.

Rennard, L.

Richard, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.

Rooker, L.

Sandwich, E.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Scriven, L.

Sharkey, L.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Shipley, L.

Smith of Newnham, B.

Stephen, L.

Stern, B.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Storey, L.

Strasburger, L.

Suttie, B.

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Thomas of Winchester, B.

Tope, L.

Truscott, L.

Turnberg, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.


Adams of Craigielea, B.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Ahmed, L.

Altmann, B.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B.

Armstrong of Hill Top, B.

Armstrong of Ilminster, L.

Arran, E.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Bach, L.

Baker of Dorking, L.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Bates, L.

Beecham, L.

Berridge, B.

Bew, L.

Bichard, L.

Bilimoria, L.

Billingham, B.

Birt, L.

Black of Brentwood, L.

Blair of Boughton, L.

Blencathra, L.

Boateng, L.

Boothroyd, B.

Borrie, L.

Borwick, L.

Bottomley of Nettlestone, B.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bowness, L.

Brabazon of Tara, L.

Bradley, L.

Bridgeman, V.

Bridges of Headley, L.

Bristol, Bp.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Browning, B.

Buscombe, B.

Butler of Brockwell, L.

Butler-Sloss, B.

Byford, B.

Caithness, E.

Callanan, L.

Campbell of Surbiton, B.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cashman, L.

Cathcart, E.

Cavendish of Furness, L.

Chadlington, L.

Chandos, V.

Chisholm of Owlpen, B.

Christopher, L.

Clarke of Hampstead, L.

Collins of Highbury, L.

Colwyn, L.

Condon, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Cormack, L.

Courtown, E.

Cox, B.

Craig of Radley, L.

Craigavon, V.

Crathorne, L.

Crawley, B.

Crickhowell, L.

Cunningham of Felling, L.

Davies of Stamford, L.

Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.

Dear, L.

Deben, L.

Deech, B.

Denham, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dobbs, L.

Donaghy, B.

Eccles, V.

Edmiston, L.

Elton, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Empey, L.

Evans of Bowes Park, B.

Evans of Watford, L.

Farmer, L.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Fellowes, L.

Fellowes of West Stafford, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Flight, L.

Fookes, B.

Forsyth of Drumlean, L.

Foulkes of Cumnock, L.

Fowler, L.

Framlingham, L.

Freeman, L.

Freud, L.

Gale, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L. [Teller]

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Garel-Jones, L.

Geddes, L.

Giddens, L.

Glenarthur, L.

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1498

Glendonbrook, L.

Glentoran, L.

Golding, B.

Goodlad, L.

Gordon of Strathblane, L.

Goschen, V.

Green of Hurstpierpoint, L.

Greenway, L.

Griffiths of Fforestfach, L.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hannay of Chiswick, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Harris of Peckham, L.

Harrison, L.

Hart of Chilton, L.

Haskel, L.

Hay of Ballyore, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henley, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Higgins, L.

Hilton of Eggardon, B.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Hollick, L.

Holmes of Richmond, L.

Home, E.

Hooper, B.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Horam, L.

Howard of Lympne, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howarth of Breckland, B.

Howe, E.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Hoyle, L.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Hunt of Kings Heath, L.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hurd of Westwell, L.

Inglewood, L.

Irvine of Lairg, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Janvrin, L.

Jay of Ewelme, L.

Jay of Paddington, B.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jones, L.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Judge, L.

Keen of Elie, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kennedy of Southwark, L.

Kilclooney, L.

King of Bow, B.

King of Bridgwater, L.

Kinnoull, E.

Kirkhill, L.

Knight of Weymouth, L.

Laming, L.

Lawson of Blaby, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Leach of Fairford, L.

Leigh of Hurley, L.

Leitch, L.

Lennie, L.

Levy, L.

Lexden, L.

Liddell of Coatdyke, B.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Listowel, E.

Liverpool, E.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Lyell, L.

McAvoy, L.

McColl of Dulwich, L.

McDonagh, B.

Macdonald of Tradeston, L.

MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

Mackay of Clashfern, L.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Magan of Castletown, L.

Mar, C.

Marland, L.

Marlesford, L.

Masham of Ilton, B.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Maude of Horsham, L.

Mawhinney, L.

Mawson, L.

Mobarik, B.

Monks, L.

Montrose, D.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Moynihan, L.

Naseby, L.

Nash, L.

Neville-Jones, B.

Newlove, B.

Northbrook, L.

O'Cathain, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

O'Neill of Gatley, L.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

Ouseley, L.

Oxburgh, L.

Palmer, L.

Palumbo, L.

Parekh, L.

Patel of Blackburn, L.

Patel of Bradford, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Peterborough, Bp.

Pitkeathley, B.

Popat, L.

Prior of Brampton, L.

Prosser, B.

Ramsay of Cartvale, B.

Ramsbotham, L.

Rawlings, B.

Rebuck, B.

Reid of Cardowan, L.

Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.

Ribeiro, L.

Ridley, V.

Risby, L.

Rogan, L.

Rosser, L.

Rowe-Beddoe, L.

Ryder of Wensum, L.

St John of Bletso, L.

Sanderson of Bowden, L.

Sassoon, L.

Seccombe, B.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Selsdon, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharples, B.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Sherlock, B.

Shields, B.

Shrewsbury, E.

Simon, V.

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1499

Singh of Wimbledon, L.

Slim, V.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Smith of Finsbury, L.

Somerset, D.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, L.

Stevens of Ludgate, L.

Stirrup, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Stone of Blackheath, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Strathclyde, L.

Suri, L.

Sutherland of Houndwood, L.

Swinfen, L.

Taylor of Blackburn, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L. [Teller]

Temple-Morris, L.

Thomas of Swynnerton, L.

Thornton, B.

Touhig, L.

Trees, L.

Trefgarne, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

True, L.

Trumpington, B.

Tugendhat, L.

Tunnicliffe, L.

Turner of Camden, B.

Uddin, B.

Ullswater, V.

Waldegrave of North Hill, L.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Walpole, L.

Warner, L.

Warsi, B.

Warwick of Undercliffe, B.

Wasserman, L.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

Wei, L.

West of Spithead, L.

Wheatcroft, B.

Wheeler, B.

Whitaker, B.

Wilcox, B.

Williams of Elvel, L.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Willoughby de Broke, L.

Wills, L.

Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Young of Norwood Green, L.

Younger of Leckie, V.

4.47 pm

Amendment 2

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

2: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“( ) Section (Control of Cannabis) provides for legal possession and supply of cannabis prescribed by a doctor.”

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, this amendment is also in the name of my noble friend Lord Paddick, and I will speak to our Amendments 50 and 110. Amendment 50 is the substantive amendment and is about the use of cannabis for medical purposes, which was trailed in the previous debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

I cannot pretend to be an expert on the scientific and medical details of this issue, but politicians are not expected to be experts. We are generalists, here to represent strands of opinion and concern. As I cannot pretend to be an expert, it may therefore be that I will not understand the response from the Minister, except that I will almost certainly understand what will come as a no, judging by his Answer to the Oral Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, last Wednesday. On that occasion, the Minister said that the steps that she was inquiring about and that I am proposing in this amendment would,

“undermine … efforts to reduce drug harms”.—[

Official Report

, 17/6/15; col. 1158.]

But our concern is to enable cannabis and cannabis resin to be used for good and to reduce the danger of harm—we have many other amendments aimed at harm reduction. The matter was considered in 1998 by the House’s Select Committee on Science and Technology, which noted that it was rejected by the then Government on the day of publication. There have been other reports since, and very recently a report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform by Val Curran, professor of pharmacology at University College, London, and Frank Warburton. I am very

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1500

grateful for such a readable report. It is so readable that I was tempted to read the whole of it out because it is quite short, but I will not. I will spare your Lordships that and attempt to pick out the points that I think are particularly salient.

Professor Curran writes that the problem of,

“a significant number of people”,


“are not authorised to receive medication which they believe will alleviate their condition … are compounded by: An inflexible legal framework … A stranglehold on research into cannabis”,

and, as she puts it:

“A determination when considering medical licensing to equate cannabis, a well known substance in terms of its effects on humans and used medically for around 4000 years … with an entirely new chemical introduced by a pharmaceutical company”.

Therefore, Professor Curran and this amendment propose that these substances should be moved from Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, which deals with substances perceived as having no recognised medicinal use, to Schedule 2, which would allow a doctor to prescribe them. They would be in the same class as heroin or diamorphine. I understand that there is no evidence of significant diversion of heroin from medical supplies to the illicit market—to anticipate one possible argument. They would be subject to strict controls via medical regulation, so the diversion to recreational use would be unlikely—to anticipate another possible argument.

Medicinal herbal cannabis is available in the Netherlands, in 23 states of the USA, in Canada and in Israel. Its most-established uses include the relief of pain and muscle spasms or cramps associated with many diseases and conditions, including multiple sclerosis and spinal cord damage, nausea and other responses during treatment for cancer and AIDS; and to deal with nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy used for that treatment. The particular cannabis substances are being exported from the Netherlands to eight other European states, including Germany and Switzerland.

In the exchanges on the Oral Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, last week, the Minister referred to the drug Sativex having been licensed here. Indeed it has been, but it is very expensive and NICE recommends that it is not used to treat spasticity in multiple sclerosis sufferers because it is not cost effective. However, specialist prescribers can and do make individual funding requests, which has led to wide variations across England, and in Wales its use is approved.

It is no wonder that, given no access to legal cannabis-based treatment in a practical sense and no access to herbal cannabis legally, an estimated 30,000 people in the UK find their own sources, with the concomitant risks of severe side-effects, greater potential harm, and no benefit because most street cannabis is skunk with a different make-up from Sativex and from the drug that is manufactured and exported from the Netherlands and elsewhere.

In the Netherlands there has been a genetic alteration to maximise the benign substance, CBD. There is no THC in the drug that is produced there. Professor Curran also reports on a “Stranglehold on research”, as she puts it, and that Schedule 2 status for cannabis

23 Jun 2015 : Column 1501

and cannabis resin would “greatly facilitate research”. In her report, Professor Curran talks about the “costly obstacle course” and the delay taken by licence applications for use in research. She refers to practical problems such as the need to import cannabis, with import licences being granted for 12 weeks and expiring before all the arrangements for the import licence to be implemented can be made. She said at a meeting that I attended a couple of weeks ago that it is,

“a shame not to allow talent to fly”.

I could have suggested a more caveated amendment—for instance, starting with clinical trials—but I wanted at this stage to get to the heart of the matter. This is about facilitating and stimulating research in the UK into the drug and its constituents, above all by allowing the import of a drug that is widely used—and much less expensive—in the Netherlands, to enable patients to access it without breaking the law and without risking the harms of an unlawful drug without medical supervision or quality control. I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I shall speak briefly to this amendment because the noble Baroness has said most of what I was going to say. The aim, of course, is to decriminalise the 30,000 patients in this country who currently take cannabis not because they want some sort of high—they do not—but because cannabis, they say, is the best drug for their particular pain, seizures or discomfort. It seems to me that that is important.

The types of illnesses that can be helped have already been stated: multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy, chronic pain, glaucoma, and nausea and loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy. That is a lot of illnesses—disturbing and distressing illnesses—the symptoms of which can be alleviated by cannabis, so it does seem strange that there is such a resistance to reschedule cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. Any substance from Schedule 1 has no recognised medicinal use. I just do not understand this, but maybe the Minister can comment on how any Government—it is not this Government; it is every Government—can continue to maintain that cannabis has no recognised medicinal use when Germany and Italy make sure that people with these illnesses can gain access to it. Germany and Italy and many countries across the world know that this is important for their populations. It would be really helpful if the Minister would consider that point.

I also want to draw the attention of the Minister and your Lordships to the extraordinary case of a little seven year-old boy called Jayden. Jayden suffers with Dravet syndrome—an extremely severe form of epilepsy—where he has at least 500 fits a day. He was on 22 pills a day including benzodiazepines. These medications plus the seizures resulting from the illness were giving him hallucinations and terrors. The poor child would scream for literally eight hours at a stretch until he was exhausted and presumably would fall asleep. His mother left home because she could not take it, so he was being looked after by his father.

When the child was four and a half, the father was told that he probably would not live another week. The father asked whether he should try medicinal

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cannabis. The doctor said that he should try anything, and so he did. The day after the child was given cannabis that the father had found in a chemist’s—this was in the United States; it could not happen here—the child suffered no fits, and then no fits on the following day. Since then he has had a small number, but nothing like before. He is now being painfully weaned off all the drugs that he had been taking, including the benzodiazepines. Anyone who knows anything about those drugs—I do not, actually—will say that it is excruciating to come off them. The poor boy has been put through all this, but he does now smile, walk and play in the water. But, of course, after all those seizures, I imagine that his brain is very damaged.

I have a five-minute clip, and I would ask the Minister to take five minutes of his precious time to look at it. I know that that is a lot of time in a Minister’s day, but even if one child is spared from going through the hell of that illness, I would suggest that that is well worth five minutes. This is a slightly cheeky request to make of a Minister, but it may be an important piece of work that the Minister could do.

5 pm

Lord Ribeiro (Con): My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has demonstrated why anecdote is no substitute for good research. I heard that word used, so it is important to ensure that any use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, for which I have some sympathy, has to be on the basis of clinical research which has been properly carried out and peer reviewed. NICE is a good organisation and I am sure that it would be prepared to take that on board.

In response to a Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, last Wednesday, I did make the point that there is evidence from America that troops coming back from Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting in terrible nightmares about their battle experiences have improved using cannabis. However, it is still something which needs to be subject to properly controlled clinical trials.

Something that is often done during a clinical trial is to put the drug out to people on a named-patient basis. Once the clinical trials have been done, one way to institute this is to put in place legislation whereby medication can be given on a named-patient basis. However, I cannot accept it as a blanket way of dealing with these problems.

Baroness Meacher: I should like to make one simple point, which is that I agree absolutely with the noble Lord that what we need are clinical trials on medicinal cannabis. The problem is that researchers do not want to go into this area because the substance is illegal. Getting cannabis in is a tremendous problem because it takes a long time to get the licences. I do not know, but there are problems which the noble Lord may know more about than I. However, if adults and children in particular who are in severe pain and distress could be prescribed medicinal cannabis on a named-patient basis, that would be a good option. But certainly we need to get on with a lot of work on clinical trials.

Lord Rea (Lab): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Walton, who spoke last week during the supplementaries on the Question for Oral Answer

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tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on this topic, I served on the Select Committee which looked into the medicinal use of cannabis. One of the central recommendations was exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, has suggested. We need controlled trials. The noble Baroness has just backed up that suggestion as well. But it is very difficult to get these trials going. As she has said, because cannabis is an illegal substance, it is difficult to get people to agree to do the work. One or two trials have been carried out which resulted in the production of Sativex, but only one firm is producing it. As the noble Baroness said, it is terribly expensive and can be prescribed only on a named basis; it is very difficult for doctors to prescribe it to patients who have been shown to benefit from cannabis by getting it illegally.

One of the problems with getting cannabis illegally is that you do not know the ratio of the different cannabinoids in the illegal drug. It has been shown—this was told to us in our committee—that there is a huge range of effects from different cannabinoids. The one that gives the psychoactive effect, tetrahydrocannabinol— THC—is something that people who take cannabis for medicinal purposes do not like. But it is very difficult to find an illegal version of cannabis that contains a good ratio with more cannabidiol—CBD—which is the calming one that reduces spasms. Sometimes people have thought that it does not stimulate psychotic results but prevents them; it is an antipsychotic drug.

So there are real reasons why it should be made legal for researchers to concentrate on doing proper, controlled clinical trials to work out what cannabis can do, and what components or mixtures of cannabis components are most effective. This is crying out to be done, but as things are, it is very difficult to get scientists to agree to do it because of the illegality of the substance.

Lord Blencathra: My Lords, I have no idea whether cannabis is relevant and effective in dealing with nausea or spasms caused by motor neurone disease or other diseases, but I have a wee bit of experience of multiple sclerosis, and I say to the House that I do not want to be used as an excuse to legalise cannabis, because it is not necessary for treating the spasms that come from multiple sclerosis; there is already a fairly large range of drugs on the market that deal with that.

The spasms are difficult to describe and usually happen at night. The main muscles of the body—the torso, the legs and the chest—just spasm, and it is difficult to get a bit of sleep when that happens. In my case, when it started getting bad, my consultant said, “In that case, we must give you a drug that will deal with the spasms”. At the top of the list is baclofen, which is dirt cheap and highly effective. The maximum prescribed dose is 50 milligrams. I take 10 milligrams in the morning and 20 milligrams at night and have had no more body spasms because of it.

Okay, I cannot speak for all multiple sclerosis sufferers. When I was a constituency Member of Parliament, I had constituents come to me who said that they wanted cannabis legalised so that they could deal with their MS. I said that there were clinical trials under way that resulted in the drug Sativex, but they were not so keen to take a pill; they wanted to smoke a joint because it made

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them feel better in many other ways. Well, it could, but I do not want people who wish to smoke cannabis to get high to use the excuse that it is essential for multiple sclerosis sufferers in order to remove their pain and spasms.

If baclofen does not work—it seems to work for about 95% of people—doctors usually try tizanidine: I will give the Minister the spellings later. Following that, going down the list, is gabapentin. It is not usually prescribed because the other two drugs are usually much more effective. At the bottom of the list is Sativex, which is the cannabis derivative. The problem here, as has been stated already, is that NICE reviewed it and concluded that it was not cost effective. Unfortunately, that is absolutely right, because it costs 10 times as much as baclofen, which I have in my pocket at this precise moment.

I therefore think that the solution is: patients should be prescribed baclofen. If that does not work, they can go on to tizanidine, and if that does not work they can try the next legal drug, gabapentin. If those three do not work, then people can be prescribed Sativex. I suggest that my noble friend the Minister should say to the Department of Health and NICE that in those priority corridors it should be permissible to use it throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Wales overruled NICE and has allowed Sativex to be prescribed. It is not prescribed, except by private prescription, in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I think that that is wrong. It should be allowed to be used by doctors but not as the first port of call.

There is merit in rejecting the amendment as far as multiple sclerosis is concerned. It may be beneficial for other illnesses when people suffer spasms but it is not necessary to deal with the problems that occur with multiple sclerosis. I wish to put my liberal credentials—or near liberal credentials—on the table. A part of me takes the view that if people want to smoke a cannabis joint and get high, okay, let them but do not expect the taxpayer to pick up the bill for the cancers and other illnesses they may get later. Similarly, a part of me thinks that if people want to eat themselves through gluttony into obesity and sit on their backsides, taking no exercise, let them, provided the NHS does not have to pay for that.

As the taxpayer has to pay for these things and for the dangers which smoking cannabis can cause, the taxpayer and the Government must be in a position to say, “No, I’m sorry. You’re not allowed to smoke that because there are alternatives that can deal with the alleged problem”.

Lord Howarth of Newport: May I say how welcome it is to see the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm of Owlpen, on the Front Bench alongside her colleague from the Home Office? I hope that she will report this debate to her colleagues in the Department of Health. It is excellent that the two departments are represented on the Front Bench for this important debate.

The noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Ribeiro, spoke with all the authority of their medical expertise, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke with the authority that comes from his own unfortunate experience. I follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher, in commending to the Committee, and very much to the two departments represented on the

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Front Bench, the report just recently published under the auspices of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform by Professor Val Curran and Mr Frank Warburton, entitled

Regulating Cannabis for Medical Use in the UK.

Had they heard the presentation of this report by Professor Curran from University College London, they would have been persuaded that the arguments put forward are eminently reasonable.

She talked about the severe constraints applied to the progress of medical research by the Government of the United Kingdom’s persistence in listing cannabis in Schedule 1. She told us that it costs a minimum of some £5,000 to achieve the licence and to pay for the secure conditions to enable the pursuit of research into the medical properties and potential benefits of cannabis. That is a severe discouragement, particularly in the stringent climate of funding for academic research. She estimated that research on cannabis costs some 10 times as much as research on other drugs. It is a serious constraint, yet a significant body of evidence strongly suggests that cannabis-based medications can be beneficial for a whole series of conditions, many of which have been itemised by previous speakers.

The noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, drew attention to the tentative evidence that may be emerging of benefits in relation to post-traumatic stress disorder. That is certainly a pressing and important issue for us in this country, as well as in America. Professor Curran also told us that there are suggestions that cannabis could be beneficial in the treatment of schizophrenia. It would seem perverse in the extreme to continue to deny ourselves the opportunity effectively to pursue research on the medical benefits of cannabis when patients suffering from such a range of diseases could be assisted.

5.15 pm

The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, feared that this could be the beginning of a wholesale loosening, and that if we were to license cannabis for medical research and medical use it might lead to widespread abuse and widespread additional recreational use. I do not think he need entertain that fear. Heroin has been in Schedule 2 for many years and there is no evidence of leakage of heroin, or diamorphine, from properly protected medical situations into the recreational market. No one is suggesting that facilitating further research and development of cannabis-based medications should imply any easing of security and protection and a loosening of the regime, such that the consumption of illegal drugs could be widely facilitated. Important evidence that that need not be so is presented in another recent report, in the name of Professor Deborah Hasin and her team, at the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University. They looked back at the evidence over 24 years, across a population of 1 million adolescents, to see whether, in the American states where cannabis use for medical purposes is legal, there has been any correlation with additional consumption of cannabis in those states and indeed in contiguous states. She found that there is no higher incidence of cannabis consumption in that group of adolescents than in the rest of the relevant population. I hope that somewhat allays the fears very naturally put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.

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The legal regime in this country at the moment seems substantially confused. It seems wrong in principle and very hard on individuals that a consistent policy is not applied across the country. This is because the guidance is uneven and the effects of the guidance certainly are very variously interpreted. I am aware of one person who has been prescribed Bedrocan because nothing else is as effective in assisting her in dealing with chronic severe pain. She has to go to Holland on something like a monthly basis to collect her medication, as I mentioned in the short discussion last week. It is a very harsh requirement to make of a person who is in great difficulties because of her pain and who does not have large resources of cash to cover the cost of travel and of buying such medication. Bediol, one of the cannabis-based medications available in the Netherlands is in many ways comparable in its benefits to Sativex and costs a fraction of the price. Dronabinol is in Schedule 2 under our system but it has not been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. The system seems riddled with inconsistencies and needs a proper look to tidy it up and ensure that some principles are being applied and applied consistently.

I also echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that it is wrong not to have a more humane understanding of the predicament of those 30,000 or so people who it is estimated are providing their own cannabis in this country illegally—because nothing else works so well for them—and of course risking prosecution. I understand that the Court of Appeal ruled out the defence of necessity in 2005. We do not seem to have a well-considered, consistent, sensible and humane set of policies.

I believe that cannabis should be listed in Schedule 2. The Government’s own Drugs: International Comparators report told them that the relative severity of different regimes makes no difference to the incidence of recreational usage. The fears that are associated with allowing, or facilitating, the medical use of cannabis are overstated and inappropriate. People should be prescribed cannabis-based medications, when appropriate, on a consistent basis across the United Kingdom.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, as far as I am concerned, the issues that have been raised in this debate are certainly ones that Ministers in the two departments would be well advised to consider. However, I wonder about the procedure that is proposed here for carrying out this amendment.

Amendment 50 states:

“Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall make regulations to amend the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001”,

and so on. The procedure for that is already laid down. I doubt whether it is correct for another Act of Parliament, as it were, to overrule the arrangements made in relation to that. That is rather technical but it is perfectly reasonable that the matter should be looked at by the Ministers.

Lord Rosser: As has already been said, one assumes—though life is full of surprises—that the Government’s response will be in line with the Answer that was given in this Chamber on 17 June to an Oral Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.

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This Bill deals with a particular issue—psychoactive substances—on which there is surely a need for specific separate legislation. The amendment we are discussing appears to be a considerable extension of the Bill, and an extension of the prescription of cannabis, which can be very harmful. One would not have thought that one would want to go down that road without clinical evidence and trials indicating that it was the right road to take and, if so, in what circumstances, for what drugs, and based on whose advice. No doubt I will be corrected if I am wrong, but I understand that at present the approach suggested in the amendment does not, for example, have the support of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Nevertheless, I await the Government’s response with interest.

Lord Bates: My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. In some senses, it is a rehearsal of our discussion following the Oral Question she asked in your Lordships’ House last week.

The Government’s position is that we have no plans to reschedule cannabis. There is clear scientific evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and which can have a pernicious effect on communities.

Let me deal with a couple of the points that were raised in the debate. In responding to these amendments, I remind the Committee that cannabis is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and listed in Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001. The 1971 Act will continue to regulate the availability of controlled drugs, and Schedule 1 to the Bill specifically excludes drugs controlled under the 1971 Act.

To move herbal cannabis and cannabis resin to Schedule 2 to the 2001 regulations, and thereby enable their prescribing, would amount to a circumvention of the established evidence-based regulatory process that successive Governments have had in place to ensure that products made available in the UK as medicines are as safe and effective as possible. My noble friend Lord Ribeiro made the point about the importance of rigorous clinical trials.

Lord Howarth of Newport: How, then, does the Minister explain that heroin, which is a far more dangerous drug, is in Schedule 2?

Lord Bates: I shall come to that a little further on. The point made by the noble Lord about diamorphine, which is prescribed in this country, is perfectly fair. Interestingly, in some other countries it is not prescribed. There will be a difference of view. That is one reason why, from a government and policy point of view, it is important that we have the best possible scientific advice and give due regard to it. The advisory council is specifically charged with that under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; that categorisation is its view. Should there be derivatives—I shall answer my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s point on that in a minute—we have the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which can offer some advice as well. Beyond that, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence can decide on the deployment.

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That is not a case of policymakers passing the buck but of their basing policy on the evidence that comes before them. The Government’s position, based on the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is that cannabis in its raw form is a harmful drug and its use should not be encouraged. The advisory council has reported that there is clear evidence that cannabis has a number of acute and chronic health effects, and that prolonged use can induce dependence. Even occasional use of the drug can pose significant dangers for people with mental health problems.

Baroness Meacher: The Minister refers to cannabis causing severe problems for people with mental health problems. I hope he agrees that Professor Curran is the top expert on cannabis in this country. She has done a lot of research on cannabis with a balance between CBD and THC, and on CBD with little or virtually no THC. She found that that form of cannabis is an anti-psychotic. She believes that it is likely to be able to be used as an alternative to some of the anti-psychotics currently used, which we know have really unpleasant side-effects. There is the prospect of an effective anti-psychotic based on the CBD element in cannabis, but we want that research to be encouraged, supporting the point that we need clinical trials. Professor Curran is very keen for this research to go ahead, particularly in the field of psychiatry. It is she who wants the rescheduling of cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 in order to facilitate the research. That is the issue we want to crack today if possible.

Lord Bates: The Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience has not taken a position. As we found out last week, medical opinions, as with legal opinions, fly effortlessly across the Chamber.

I want to make sure for the record that I have got something absolutely correct, as it is an important issue. I spoke about diamorphine in response to an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport. Diamorphine heroin has internationally recognised medical uses in UN drug conventions and has UK marketing authority. I was therefore not too far off the mark in what I said, in the sense that it underscored the point that there is a process which we go through and there are conventions to help us.

5.30 pm

The noble Baroness raised some specific cases. As a politician, I often find individual stories and experiences compelling. As a Member of the other place, along with my noble friend Lord Blencathra, I would often hear policymakers telling me one thing and then see people coming into my surgeries who were telling me something very different, so I find anecdotes a great help in understanding broader issues. I cannot find in my notes the name of the young boy with Dravet syndrome whom she mentioned.

Baroness Meacher: Jayden.

Lord Bates: There was a video, which I would be keen to see. Perhaps the noble Baroness could send me the link or I will happily sit down and watch it with her. During the Bill’s passage, we have tried to have meetings with all interested Peers. We have a meeting

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on health and education on I think 7 July. Notices will be put out to all parties, but that would be a good opportunity for people to come forward. I am thinking particularly of my noble friend Lord Blencathra, who gave us his personal experience of living with multiple sclerosis and its effects. The point about the alternatives might usefully be made at that meeting if he can attend, as I hope he will. As I say, details will be on their way.

The advisory council has reported that there is clear evidence that cannabis has a number of acute and chronic health effects, which prolonged use can bring about. That is why the trials are important and why Sativex went through that process. The position is that it can be prescribed by a doctor, after the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency issued a marketing authorisation.

I do not know whether I have failed the test but the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, set a pretty low hurdle as to whether the Government’s position had changed since last Wednesday. Policy used to change pretty quickly under the previous coalition Government, but now it is a little more set out. Our position is our position but generally, as matter of policy, we have to remain alert and open to the medical evidence being brought forward. The correct channel for that is though the advisory council, which obviously draws on a broad body of research and evidence. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to explore that issue again and, with that additional assurance of a meeting specifically on health matters to give Members of the House an opportunity to talk to those making the decisions, I ask her to consider withdrawing her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I cannot be disappointed because my expectations were not high. The Minister has been very generous, particularly on the Modern Slavery Bill, in holding meetings that included people from outside the House. I wonder whether we could bring into that meeting some who can speak much more coherently on these issues than I can. I do not ask the Minister to commit himself to that now, but perhaps I could put it in his mind.

I am grateful for the support for the underlying issue from the noble and learned Lord. I have often been asked about the high points of my career in this House and I have said that perhaps the highest of them—this shows what a rotten politician I am—was when, on a Bill on family law reform, the noble and learned Lord said from the Dispatch Box of one of my amendments to his Bill, “The noble Baroness’s drafting is better than mine”. That really was the pinnacle of my achievements in your Lordships’ House.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has found a drug which suits him but, as I think he recognised, these are personal matters. I am quite puzzled as to the apparent differences between the physiologies of Britons—we are by no means a homogenous race—and those of people living in other parts of Europe. Clinical research is of course important and that is very much at the heart of this proposal, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said. I may have used this phrase already but Professor Curran said

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that research involving Schedule 1 drugs is “a massive uphill struggle”, for the reasons of time, cost and practicality mentioned in her report. Yes, Sativex is recognised but its expense, not its effectiveness, is the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, mentioned Bediol, which I think is about 10% of the cost of Sativex. Perhaps this goes against my street credibility but it is important to say that I have in mind boring pills, not getting high from a joint. I want to make that quite clear.

The issue comes down to what is harmful. Skunk is harmful and I do not want to see people continuing to be driven to it, or having to find ways of getting the drug that helps them from outside this country. As I said, my expectations were not high but I am very grateful to noble Lords for contributing as usefully as they have, and at greater length than we did previously. I certainly look forward to discussing the matter with the Minister and his colleagues from the Department of Health pretty soon because whatever happens with an amendment to the Bill, the issue has to go forward. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed.

Amendment 3

Moved by Baroness Meacher

3: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—

“Republic of Ireland: impact assessment

(1) The Secretary of State must conduct an impact assessment of the Republic of Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010.

(2) The Secretary of State must publish a report setting out whether or not the impact assessment under subsection (1) justifies the commencement of this Act in its current form.”

Baroness Meacher: My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 109 and 114, which propose that the Bill should be implemented only if an impact assessment of a very similar ban introduced into the Irish Republic in 2011 is undertaken, and a report is issued setting out whether the assessment justifies the commencement of this Bill. The objective against which the Irish Act should be assessed must surely be a reduction in the use of dangerous psychoactive substances and the harms caused by them to the Irish population. I am sure that the Government’s aims in introducing this Bill are along those lines, or something similar, but perhaps the Minister could confirm that point. I hope that will not be a problem.

I certainly believe that the Government’s motives in proposing the Bill are entirely honourable. I have no doubt about that. Ministers want to see a reduction in deaths and injuries to young people resulting from the use of psychoactive substances. I am absolutely on the Government’s side in terms of these aims. I would support the Bill wholeheartedly if the evidence showed that the ban would work as intended. I therefore hope that this proposed new clause will be regarded as entirely uncontroversial, and I propose it as a helpful contribution and not as some wrecking amendment. We are very fortunate to have what must be regarded as a pilot for the Bill right next door in Ireland, where an Act has been in place and operational for four

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years. They have had four years of experience since their Act became operational. I therefore propose this clause as a helpful contribution.

The BBC has produced firm evidence that the Irish ban is not working. The EMCDDA also has concerns about the situation in Ireland. It talks about the levels of use of legal highs among young people. The average across the EU for 15 to 24 year-olds increased from 5% to 8% from 2011 to 2014, but the figures for Ireland are 16% in 2011 and 22% in 2014—the highest rate in Europe, despite the blanket ban introduced in 2011. I understand that there is a degree of uncertainty about the precision of those figures, but it would be sensible to be absolutely clear what has happened to use of and damage from these psychoactive substances in Ireland before we move ahead.

The other point is what has happened to the levels or numbers of deaths and serious injuries in Ireland following the introduction of that Act. Whatever the figures, we need to take very seriously the comments of the deputy head of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau in Ireland who, as I understand it, has said that the ban has failed and that they have not been able to operationalise it because of definitional problems. They have not got off the starting blocks, let alone explored whether the ban might work in other respects. As I mentioned at Second Reading, the experience in Poland of a blanket ban on psychoactive substances has coincided with an increase, rather than a decrease, in the harm to young people. A concern in Ireland, identified by the BBC, has been about whether they can determine if a particular substance is psychoactive or not. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, mentioned this earlier. As a result of that problem, it seems that Ireland is considering moving back to its Misuse of Drugs Act. I find that profoundly distressing because of my absolute lack of respect for our Misuse of Drugs Act, particularly in relation to consumption by children and young people and their criminalisation.

The Bill also seems to have definitional problems which could undermine it catastrophically. For example, Clause 2(1) defines a psychoactive substance as one that is “not an exempted substance”. For the latter, we turn to Clause 3 and Schedule 1. We see that alcohol, nicotine products and caffeine are exempted, but only if they do not contain a psychoactive substance. However, these are psychoactive substances; how can they not contain a psychoactive substance? Maybe the Bill intends to say that substances such as alcohol should not have any other psychoactive substance within them. If so, the Bill needs to make that clear. How on earth can we justify exempting a substance such as alcohol, which is profoundly psychoactive and dangerous, just because it might have some relatively marginal other psychoactive substance within it?

This confusion perhaps illustrates the utter nonsense—a word which I use very carefully, having thought about it for a long time first—which runs through our drug laws generally, of exempting dangerous psychoactive substances while banning much safer ones. Some noble Lords have referred to cannabis as a dangerous substance. I would completely agree that skunk, high THC cannabis, is dangerous but there are other forms which are

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absolutely not. Professor Curran is clear about that and certain forms of cannabis can, indeed, be good for you.

Another definitional problem relates to food. Apparently, a food is a substance which is, “ordinarily consumed as food” and would be exempt. However, what about a food containing a psychoactive substance which is only consumed by rich people or an ethnic minority and not ordinarily consumed as food? Rudi Fortson QC raised this and many other issues with me and questioned how a court could decide on whether a food was a food or not, depending on who ate it. There is a genuine problem there. From paragraph 10 of Schedule 1, it seems that a food is exempt if it contains a psychoactive substance which occurs naturally in the product and which is authorised by an EU instrument. Have the Government thought through all the foods in which a psychoactive substance—using the Government’s sweeping definition—naturally subsists but which might not be covered by an EU instrument? There may well be eastern, or other different, foods which would not be covered. For example, do flavourings and spices, which are obtained by a process of extraction and widely used in food, satisfy the expression “naturally occurring” in the substance?

5.45 pm

Mr Fortson argues that the definition of a psychoactive substance in Clause 2(2) is far too wide. It includes all substances which affect the person’s mental functioning or emotional state. We know that Ireland has been unable to apply its blanket ban because of definitional problems. Will the Minister take this issue back and explore the potential for problems in the Bill? Mr Fortson provides other examples of such problems but I do not want to test the patience of the House too much so I will send some of them to the Minister for his consideration. I have, perhaps, said enough to justify asking the Minister whether he will revisit the issue of the definition of a psychoactive substance.

On a separate issue, we have evidence that banning substances does not generally lead to a drop in their use. I am grateful to Release and Transform for their briefing which pointed out that, in the year following the ban on the NPS mephedrone, use of the drug increased from 27% to 41%. Use of mephedrone only began to decrease once the availability and purity of cocaine and ecstasy were restored. In other words, the overall use of comparable drugs is not, apparently, affected by bans and changes in circumstances. Young people simply switched from one to another depending on purity and availability.

There is no reason to believe that this ban will lead to an overall drop in the use of dangerous psychoactive substances. I am sure the Minister and noble Lords would agree that is the essence of what we are trying to drive at. The Home Affairs Select Committee concluded, following their review of the drug policies of 11 countries, including pretty severe ones such as Sweden and more relaxed ones such as the Netherlands, that the toughness of drug policy does not appear to have a significant influence over the use of controlled drugs. Policy needs to be guided by this fundamental, evidence-based truth.

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The EMCDDA has warned that a blanket ban will push NPS into the grey marketplace, that is, online and on to the darknet—whatever that is; I do not fully appreciate these things. The ban will also drive young people back to the drug dealers where they will buy traditional controlled drugs. I am sure the Minister will agree that both drug dealers and the darknet are even more dangerous sources of drugs than head shops. I would be grateful if the Minister will comment on this point in his response. He referred earlier to the dangers of people going to head shops to get drugs. We will talk about this later, but I want to make the point that head shops are businesses which want to make profits. Therefore, they are going to sell psychoactive substances but not dangerous ones. The web and back-street dealers are where the dangerous stuff is purchased. Much as we do not like head shops, they can be licensed and controlled by trading standards and the police. If that is done, and done well, I hope the Minister might think about whether there is some way to retain the market which exists in visible premises rather than driving it into the back streets and on to the web. I sincerely believe that would be a very dangerous move.