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Home Affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 819
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 19 November 2013
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Chief Constable Andy Bliss, Lead on Drugs, Association of Chief Police Officers, and Commander Simon Bray, Lead on Psychoactive Substances, Association of Chief Police Officers, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Could I call the Committee to order and refer everyone present to the Register of Members’ Interests where the interests of this Committee are noted? I invite our witnesses to take their seats.
This is a one-off session, a revisit of the Select Committee’s inquiry into drugs that we published last year. We are delighted to see Chief Constable Andy Bliss and Commander Simon Bray who have come to give evidence today. Mr Bliss and Mr Bray, the Committee has decided not to revisit the whole of our recommendations. We are particularly interested in the issues of legal highs and prescription drugs, both of which we hope you will be able to assist us with. We will also be writing to the British Medical Association and taking limited written evidence.
Mr Bliss, you are the ACPO lead on drugs. As far as prescription drugs and their sale are concerned, the Committee visited the United States last year we were very concerned about the way in which prescription drugs had become so frequently sold by individuals-very much part of the criminal system. What is the position in the United Kingdom at the moment?
CC Bliss: We had a look at this last year, particularly focusing at that stage on the organised crime angle and whether organised crime was behind this. The committee at that stage were given some information from Northern Ireland indicating that this is a more significant issue in Northern Ireland and some suggestions around an organised crime element there, but we took soundings from forces round the country in England and Wales, and overall, while there was some evidence of this sort of behaviour around prescription drugs, there was not a significant indication it was of a great scale and certainly no indication that organised crime was involved.
Q2 Chair: Are we able to put a value or quantity on it? I have a figure that more than a million people are addicted to benzodiazepine.
CC Bliss: I can’t put a value on it. The report that came back was pretty short. It is restricted but I would be very happy to share it with the Committee if it would help.
CC Bliss: What did emerge from forces around England and Wales was that diazepam was particularly prominent in the list of drugs, but I am very happy to share that with you. At that stage, bearing in mind that we have to prioritise and we now work to police and crime commissioners and the priorities they set, this was not coming across, particularly as far as organised crime goes, as a very significant issue at that stage.
Q3 Lorraine Fullbrook: When you got the evidence from Northern Ireland, where exactly were the organised criminals procuring their prescription drugs? Was it theft or some other way?
CC Bliss: I don’t have that level of detail today but I am very happy to share the report with the Committee. It probably gives a little bit more detail and I can try to elucidate.
Lorraine Fullbrook: On our trip to the United States, it was mainly doctors who were prescribing prescription drugs in an illegal manner, so I would be interested.
Q4 Chair: Do you have evidence that anyone in the medical profession has been prosecuted in the same way as people in the United States have been prosecuted?
CC Bliss: No, I am afraid I don’t have that detail.
Q5 Chair: If you could write to us, that would be very helpful.
CC Bliss: Yes, I will write to you on that.
Q6 Chair: Let us move on to legal highs, something that really does concern the Committee greatly. There was an 80% increase in deaths as a result of psychoactive substances between 2011 and last year-there were 52 such deaths last year. Adam Hunt was a young man who died in Southampton and last week the coroner said, "Anyone taking this kind of drug in any kind of quantity is potentially walking into the unknown, into disaster really", which was quite a serious thing for a coroner to say. Is this on the increase or are we now able to control the amount of psychoactive substances?
CC Bliss: Obviously they are of significant concern to us. I chair the committee overall and it may well be that I will add some points, but Mr Bray, who is with me, leads for us and if he may lead off.
Q7 Chair: Please, Mr Bray. Is it on the increase?
Cmdr Bray: There are different sorts of drugs coming into the country or being made available over the internet, but a large scale of the new psychoactive substances that we are having dealings with would be things like mephedrone, where there has been, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, a notable reduction, and likewise in other surveys as well. There has been an increase in numbers of seizures of mephedrone and other controlled NPSs-new psychoactive substances-but the issue is that we can’t always tell what is in the substances until they are forensically examined.
Q8 Chair: Is it also correct that the substances and the tablets that are being produced are changing at the rate of one a week?
Cmdr Bray: There have been reports of new substances being found at quite a significant rate, particularly around Europe although not all those substances have been identified through our forensic early warning system. A lower number has been found in the UK.
Q9 Chair: What facts and statistics can you give this Committee today?
Cmdr Bray: In relation to the numbers? Most of the ones that are known through public sources anyway, and I will just get on to the forensic early warning system side of things. We are talking about 70-odd new substances in the last year. I believe it was 49 the previous year and 41 the year before that. However, the forensic early warning system has identified around 27, I believe, over that time as being relevant to the UK. Clearly there is a system for picking up on those that are causing concerns once they have been forensically identified and if they have any particular harms linked in with them. It is the job of ACMD to refer to Government as to whether they should become temporary class drugs.
Q10 Chair: In your evidence to the Select Committee last year you said, "Law enforcement agencies have well established methods for tackling criminality associated with conventional illicit drugs such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis, but these established approaches are not well geared to meet the challenges presented by legal highs". That was a year ago. Has there been any change in the way in which you meet these challenges?
Cmdr Bray: What has happened in that time, of course, is that a number of additional drugs have become controlled or temporary class drugs and fall within the remit of the Misuse of Drugs Act and therefore there is an opportunity to prosecute in those cases. Our testing regimes mean that we can now test for ketamine and mephedrone and some of those additional drugs. Once they are identified and forensically examined, we can do some more targeted work on them and deal with prosecutions or close down internet suppliers of those particular drugs. We work very closely with the National Crime Agency around internet suppliers.
Q11 Chair: The figures we were given showed where young people get these drugs from: 17% got them off the internet, 33% from what is called head shops that specialise in the sale of these substances, 36% acquired them in a party or a club, and 54% of those who used them were offered these substances by their friends. Are those figures still accurate?
Cmdr Bray: Those are different figures from the ones that I am aware of.
Q12 Chair: Would you tell us what the figures are?
Cmdr Bray: There are two sets of figures. One is that in new psychoactive substances generally, and that would include controlled ones, about 10% are obtained from the internet. However, I have also seen other surveys in relation to research chemicals as they are described-the non-illegal ones, the non-controlled ones-which show about half of people getting them from the internet.
Q13 Chair: But what do you think? You are the ACPO lead. Presumably you are the ACPO lead because you know which of these facts are correct. What facts are you giving the Committee?
Cmdr Bray: I think it does depend on the type of substance that we are talking about.
Q14 Chair: Roughly how much comes from the internet, 10% or 50%?
Cmdr Bray: I think it depends on substance by substance. I can’t tell you what I don’t know but I can tell you that in relation to mephedrone, for example, we know that there are about 4,000 offences recorded per year currently. Class B drugs, mainly new psychoactives but now controlled new psychoactives, in many cases nowadays are obtained through friends and dealers, not head shops in those particular cases but through established networks of getting drugs in the way that other drugs are supplied.
Q15 Chair: In terms of people going into shops, is that still about a third or has that increased?
Cmdr Bray: I would say if you take somewhere between the different figures, then possibly about a third, but again it will depend from place to place. There is a particular problem in relation to head shops in places that are outside the remit of this Committee, I suppose, like Northern Ireland where they have a set of five head shops in the city centre of Belfast and where they have also been affected by the knock-on legislation in the Republic. We learned quite a lot from that Northern Ireland experience about how they deal with the antisocial behaviour and new methods of tackling head shops.
Q16 Chair: How many traders have been prosecuted in respect of selling any of these psychoactive substances when the persons who use them have subsequently died? Have there been any prosecutions?
Cmdr Bray: I can’t give you any figures on prosecutions specifically around that sort of event. You may be aware of the incident in Leeds where some market traders were prosecuted under the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act for supplying a substance that was then inhaled by a young person, but the restrictions in relation to that Act are that it has to be inhaled.
Q17 Chair: Do we have these figures?
Cmdr Bray: We don’t collate those figures centrally in terms of prosecutions for-
Q18 Chair: Do you not think we ought to? Wouldn’t it help you as the ACPO lead if you knew how many people had been prosecuted?
Cmdr Bray: It is rather difficult to draw up figures when you know that the substances, from packet to packet in some cases, as well as from place to place, are of different compositions. That is why the forensic early warning system is so useful to us and also the work that John Ramsey and TICTAC and various other organisations have done in sampling the range of substances that are out there. We know, for example, from the forensic early warning system that in many cases a nice shiny packet of material may contain three different substances, it may contain more, and it is as likely to contain controlled substances as well as uncontrolled. Having been down and seen John Ramsey at work, I know the complexity of equipment that you need in order to establish all the different types of material. It is certainly an eye opener going down and looking at his work.
Q19 Chair: So the sad death of Adam Hunt could well be repeated in other parts of the country, and we are hearing later from Hester’s mother.
Cmdr Bray: We are learning all the time, quite clearly, as we come across new substances and get the intelligence. I have an ACPO working group, or it is a multi-agency working group in fact. It involves the Centre for Applied Technologies at St Albans-that does the forensic early warning system work-as well as the National Crime Agency, Trading Standards, the National Offender Management Service, Home Office, and so on. It brings together intelligence and we are constantly trying to find out from different parts of the UK and different organisations what the latest information is.
Q20 Nicola Blackwood: You have given us some stats about the use of psychoactive substances, but I wanted to take your mind back to maybe 2009-2010 when the concern about legal highs was really first raised to public awareness. What is your assessment of how popular legal highs are now among young people and those most vulnerable to the risks of legal highs?
Cmdr Bray: I think the experience of 2009 to 2010 in relation to mephedrone has heightened awareness quite clearly about legal highs but also the fact that mephedrone relatively quickly became a class B drug put a number people off. The trouble is that as new substances come through, are marketed in nice shiny packets and are quite accessible, whether it is through established head shops, pop-up shops, garages, cobblers, you name it, different sources, it is-
Q21 Nicola Blackwood: Would you say that legal highs are more popular, as popular, less popular?
Cmdr Bray: It is very difficult for me to say that. I think there is a lot of interest in new psychoactives now. I am trying to avoid using the term legal highs as well because, as I say-
Nicola Blackwood: Psychoactive substances. You are free to use that term.
Cmdr Bray: It doesn’t really trip off the tongue but we have to recognise that the substances within them quite often are not legal, that they are controlled. There is a big role here for education about putting people off them in that sense.
Q22 Nicola Blackwood: I am trying to get an assessment of how much of a problem police on the streets are having to deal with and whether it has increased due to the number of substances on the streets since 2010, or whether you think it is decreasing.
Cmdr Bray: I don’t think that there has been a massive increase. It is fairly stable in many respects. We know that 8% of young people in the UK have, in their lifetime, tried new psychoactive substances compared with 5% in the EU, so it is not massive in the sense that it is high percentage numbers. It is 8% have ever tried it. We also know that a large number of users of new psychoactives are those people who use controlled drugs too.
Q23 Nicola Blackwood: My next question was to follow up on some of the comments you made to the Chair. This is obviously a very dynamic field of criminal activity, with legal highs-psychoactive substances-continually mutating in order to avoid legal barriers. What is your assessment of both legal and legislative responsiveness to those drugs when we become aware of them but then also operational responsiveness? You have mentioned a number of ways in which you can respond operationally when you discover these substances, but also do you think that we are quick enough to respond legislatively when we find something that we think should be controlled?
CC Bliss: Shall I start on that one? This is a very complicated area. You have used the word "dynamic". It is fluid; there is an element of fashion around this, and if either of us give a view about what the situation is today, that can change within almost weeks, particularly during the summer, the festival season. We have not mentioned festivals but I think they play a big part in this. In terms of the legal framework, inevitably some of these substances, as Mr Bray has mentioned, are legal and some are not, and it is very difficult for the frontline officer, or indeed for the young person who may be intent on buying this stuff, because it may just be a white powder. That is one of the issues.
In terms of the law, while we do have the orders that can be made pretty quickly, and that is helpful, nonetheless inevitably we are always playing catch-up and that is one of the dilemmas that we are having to deal with. Mr Bray can certainly say more about that. In terms of the operational impacts, you may be interested in talking about education later on. One of the areas of education-
Chair: We will come on to education later. Mr Clappison has specific questions.
CC Bliss: If I may just say in terms of education of police officers, I think we are already doing more and we intend to do even more to make sure that our frontline officers understand exactly what we are up against. I think to many frontline officers, when they look at these what appear to be condom-like packets, they look as though they are commercially produced, legitimate items when in fact, as we know, they are often not, so we have to do more about educating frontline officers, so that the operational response is as right as it can be.
Q24 Michael Ellis: Just following on from that, you have spoken of the orders that can now be made quite quickly that will in effect create an illegal substance or make it illegal if it was not before. Part of the difficulty has been that the legislative framework has struggled to keep up with the fact that illicit people working in labs somewhere are able to change one or two elements of a controlled drug and that actually under the law changes its status and makes it potentially legal. It is very easy to change one or two small parts of the chemical composition of a drug and therefore legalise it. Have the changes that have taken place in recent months and the last couple of years improved the situation? Is there any way that you can think of that would further improve it?
CC Bliss: I will lead off on that, but I think Mr Bray will come in on it. Inevitably, as I said, we are playing catch-up. The danger is that more and more substances become proscribed but you eventually legislate and there will be a whole host of substances. Is there another way to do this? It is a debate that we have had. For example, if Parliament legislates for a blanket ban on psychoactive substances in general, that would be very far reaching and that might be easier to enforce. The reality is, though, that frontline officers are equipped with powers and at the very front end at 3.00am when you stop someone and search them and find them in possession of a white powder, that could equally be cocaine. So we do have powers.
Q25 Michael Ellis: It could be, but frontline officers are not expected to have mobile labs with them at all times. So long as they are acting reasonably under a reasonable suspicion, if it turns out to be an innocuous or lawful substance those officers will not be in trouble.
CC Bliss: No, not at all, and I think that is the point I am making. We have got powers. This is more about what is prosecuted and what is not and the fact that the scientists are constantly looking to morph the substances very slightly, just to evade the law. That is the nub of the issue around prosecution.
Q26 Michael Ellis: Yes, which is the point that I am making. Just to finish that point, because this is the crux of it, it is so easy for the sham scientists, if you like, to change a little aspect of this and try to subvert the process. Mr Bray, did you want to say something about that?
Cmdr Bray: I was just going to come back to your original point there in terms of how responsive the system is. Under the current system, hundreds of new psychoactive substances are now controlled and most recently I think it took about five days turnaround from the ACMD reporting their recommendation for it to become law, so there is that quick turnaround. As you say, we are talking about white powders and, provided they are forensically examined and provided we then do follow up on it, then we can prosecute as necessary.
Q27 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask a supplementary before I ask my question. On that point, many of the new psychoactive substances contain legal substances like methadone or BZP. When the analysis is done, do you record the prosecutions on the illegal substance part of the psychoactive drug?
Cmdr Bray: Yes, we would. Sorry, I may have misheard you. The illegal part?
Lorraine Fullbrook: Yes, the illegal part.
Cmdr Bray: Yes.
Q28 Lorraine Fullbrook: The Government produced an action plan in 2012 for how to tackle this problem. What is your assessment of the effectiveness of the action plan that has been produced?
Cmdr Bray: We are working very much in sync with that action plan. The working group that I chair is focused on three elements of it: improving the understanding of the threat, the better use of the legislative framework and the strengthening of enforcement processes. That is why we try to take all the ideas from the different agencies like the National Crime Agency, which leads on certain aspects, trading standards and also police forces, not just from England and Wales but from Scotland and Northern Ireland too. As a result of following that plan in a shadow form, we have certainly learnt a lot and have spread good practice around. I think there is quite a lot more that we can do but I think it is all heading in the right direction.
The key bit about improving the understanding of the threat is having access to the FEWS, the forensic early warning system, and the drug early warning system, the DEWS, and all the work that we are doing with festivals. That has increased our knowledge of what types of substances are out there. We have been working with the regional intelligence units as well within individual forces to make sure that they are all aware of the different assessments and threats and there is much more linking together and that we are not as slow off the mark as perhaps we might have been a few years back.
Q29 Lorraine Fullbrook: On the early warning system, from the member state informing Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, how quick is the turnaround from the member state identifying the psychoactive substance to the report being produced to the council, the EMA and the commission? How long does that take?
Cmdr Bray: I am afraid I do not know the detail of that. I am sorry I am not in a very good position to answer your question on that one but I can find out.
Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you.
CC Bliss: Can I make a quick comment on the action plan, perhaps an update? There are three things I would mention. One is we are very keen to brief police and crime commissioners. We are working with Home Office officials to try to get in front of all the PCCs shortly to give them an update about what is happening in the drugs enforcement world, and this will definitely feature. I think that is an important point to make. Simon Bray has just mentioned festivals and, without going into operational detail here, we are planning pulses of activity over forthcoming months, including already starting to plan for festivals next year.
Q30 Mr Clappison: You began to tell us a few moments ago about your work in the field of education and prevention and you specifically mentioned police officers and how you are educating them. Could you tell us a bit more widely about the work that you are doing to educate people about the risks of these substances and hopefully prevent them from taking them?
CC Bliss: Absolutely. It is a very important aspect. I do think, as the policing lead for this area though, it is important that teachers, charities-obviously there is one here today-and health professionals play their part. In the past sometimes police officers have been going into schools and talking to young people about drugs and coming up with inappropriate messages. They have actually backfired on us. I think it is very important that we do what we know best and when we go into schools we talk particularly about choices and consequences, in other words explain what we really know best, which is policing and what the consequences may be if these substances are illegal, because that is very credible, and try to make sure that we only speak about issues around drugs that are within officers’ experience. I think that is where the focus of policing activity in and around schools is.
Q31 Mr Clappison: What about older people? We know that there are some older people, sometimes somewhat unusual older people, who resort to drugs. Perhaps you would not expect to see them but-
CC Bliss: Absolutely. I think the same applies. I recently had a meeting, and I know Mr Bray has a meeting coming up, with one of the directors at Public Health England and they are very keen to work with us on this and to come out to-
Q32 Chair: Specifically on older people?
CC Bliss: Well, on the education of people in general. They are talking about coming out with us to festivals and having stands and getting very involved in education. Obviously that does apply to the over-18s as well.
Q33 Mr Clappison: Do you think the work you are doing is having an effect?
CC Bliss: I think where it is credible it can have an effect, yes.
Q34 Paul Flynn: Will the prohibition of khat drive a wedge of antagonism between the police and the already marginalised Somali and Yemeni communities?
CC Bliss: I lead on the khat issue personally and, in succinct answer, I very much hope not and we are doing an awful lot of work.
Q35 Paul Flynn: Could we go into this? You have given your answer. One of the likely effects of the prohibition of khat is that a drug that has been used legally for a long time, by the Somali communities particularly, will suddenly become illegal. What do you think they will do? Will they use it illegally, which puts them in the criminal market, or will they go on to far more harmful drugs, addictive drugs like alcohol?
CC Bliss: I think and I am hopeful that many will give up, in other words they will-
Q36 Paul Flynn: We can see you are as optimistic as your name, Mr Bliss. Could we look at what has happened? The experience of 44 years in Britain is that every prohibition of a drug has resulted in an increase in that drug’s use, its harm and the black market profits. So if that happens with khat there will be more money made with khat, there will be a greater incentive for those that are in the khat business now to extend their markets beyond the Somali and Yemeni communities. Isn’t this likely to happen?
CC Bliss: Let me qualify my answer. I think we will know very quickly because, as members of the Committee may know, khat is a plant substance and it degrades very quickly. The psychoactive effects degrade within about three or four days. When the volcano off Iceland erupted-and you may wonder why I am talking about the volcano-and flights were grounded for about a week, the khat supply in England and Wales dried up. We have spoken in great detail with local communities about this because we are very keyed into these communities and we do recognise the sensitivity in policing. The feedback was that quite a lot of members of Yemeni, East African communities gave up taking khat but if they turned to anything they turned to valium. That is what the community are telling us. So, there is a risk and-
Q37 Paul Flynn: Have you studied the effect of bans on khat in other countries and seen the results of that?
CC Bliss: We have looked at some of them. We sent an officer to Holland to look at the recent experience there. We have not picked up, in the work that we have done, a very significant displacement to other drugs, which is part of the reason I remain optimistic. But I do accept that there is that risk.
Q38 Paul Flynn: Just one final point in the legal highs. Have you studied the effects of the legislation in New Zealand on legal highs, which is about the only country in the world that is taking an intelligent approach to this?
Cmdr Bray: We have been keeping a weather eye, recognising that New Zealand is a new scheme that has been put in place and we have not had any feedback as to how well it has gone. We are aware that there are other schemes in places like the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere. But we are focusing on making sure that we make the most of the situation in the UK and improve our knowledge of how things operate here and how best we can use the tools available to us.
Q39 Paul Flynn: The use of mephedrone increased threefold in Wales when it was banned and there is a report also suggesting it is still increasing and the ban, by publicising the drug itself, actually resulted in an increased use. You are on a hiding to nothing here, aren’t you, by using the legal process in trying to stop it? New Zealand has a different idea by saying that if the makers of the legal highs can prove that they are low risk they are allowed to sell them. That puts the onus on the people who are making the money.
Cmdr Bray: It is very interesting to hear how other legislatures are putting their ideas into practice. However, in relation to our own and in relation to the mephedrone point that you made, I would just reiterate about the England and Wales survey that suggested that there is a significant reduction in usage although naturally, because mephedrone has become controlled, the police have more contact with it and therefore the police figures have increased. There is this difference.
Q40 Paul Flynn: So you are one-trick pony. You have one answer to everything, which is prohibition, which has proven again and again that it does not work. It increases drug harm and use.
Cmdr Bray: What I am trying to say is that we are policing to the law that we work within and trying to make the most of that current situation.
Q41 Chair: Just to be clear, Mr Bliss, you did not recommend the banning of khat? You did not recommend it as the ACPO lead. You were asked for views, presumably.
CC Bliss: It is not my place to recommend. I didn’t recommend it, no.
Q42 Chair: Exactly. So you didn’t recommend it, and you know the position of the advisory council, which is that it should not be banned?
CC Bliss: I do, yes.
Q43 Chair: I should declare an interest. I was born in Yemen and I chair the All-Party Yemeni Group and I have chewed khat. It had no effect on me, I have to tell you, but I have chewed it. You mentioned that when the volcano erupted that some members of the Yemeni community went on to valium.
CC Bliss: That is what we have been told.
Chair: Was that legal or illegal valium?
CC Bliss: I don’t know but that was-
Q44 Chair: You don’t know. Mr Flynn was obviously very probing, because he is very passionate about this issue, but it does seem to me that you seem to be reacting to what people are asking you to do and enforcing whatever is required of you rather than saying, "We think this is an important idea because it will stop criminality". Is that right?
CC Bliss: There is limited evidence that there is an association between khat and criminality. All I can speak of is the evidence that we have found and in our research we have discovered in England and Wales there is some low level antisocial behaviour linked with khat, including the littering from the bags it is contained in but also the spitting out of the cud.
Chair: Mr Flynn, I am sure Dr Huppert will continue with your line of questioning.
Q45 Dr Huppert: I think many of us are of similar views. You said that people moved to valium, and I think you are probably right that people transfer a drug rather than stop taking anything, certainly given that people do still consume cannabis and everything else. What assessment have you done of the harms of valium and how addictive that is?
CC Bliss: Just to be clear, that is anecdotal evidence from one community in London, I believe. We have not taken that further and looked at the displacement effect so I couldn’t say any more about that.
Dr Huppert: You raised it as your solution to what would happen.
CC Bliss: I absolutely take your point about displacement and would it be displacing to a more harmful product.
Q46 Dr Huppert: Many of us think that the khat ban is a big mistake, for the reasons the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs have set out. There is no evidence of harms and this will be debated in Parliament next Monday. To move on to the more general issue about transfer of drugs, you were talking about the need to educate people honestly. It must be a challenge when you know from any study of the evidence that a number of currently controlled drugs are less harmful than a number of perfectly legal substances. It must be slightly hard to explain to people that Parliament in its wisdom has made less harmful things punishable by many years in jail but more harmful things unpunishable. How do you get round that if you are trying to educate people?
CC Bliss: We are entering a complex area but I shall try to give a succinct answer. As I mentioned, clearly Parliament determines what is lawful and what is not lawful. I suppose my earlier answer to Mr Clappison was very much about the police sticking to the knitting. We stick to what we know best and talking about the law and choices and consequences that particularly young people, but older people too, make. It is for Parliament to decide. Frontline police officers exercise a degree of discretion, and at the more strategic level police and crime commissioners now set strategy and therefore can interpret to some degree Parliament’s wishes and exercise some discretion, but I think ultimately it is a matter for Parliament.
Q47 Chair: Thank you. Three very quick final questions. First of all, we recommended in our last report the use of consumer protection laws and trading standards departments to be used in order to tackle the new psychoactive substances. Do you know whether this has happened?
Cmdr Bray: There have been a number of attempts and ongoing efforts to deal with issues using consumer protection laws. Obviously trading standards experts would have greater knowledge and expertise and opinions than I would, but I am aware that there are a number of cases involving consumer protection from our Fair Trading Act and Enterprise Act approaches. They have not reached a conclusion yet, as far as I am aware.
Q48 Chair: No one has been prosecuted as far as you know?
Cmdr Bray: I am aware that there has been a prosecution in Norfolk under the General Product Safety Regulations. I think it was pushing at the boundaries of those regulations but that stuck. Likewise, you have heard about the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act. That has been put in place. However, I think the trading standards legislation is being stretched in order to meet the challenges.
Q49 Chair: It would need new legislation. It is not sufficient under current legislation?
Cmdr Bray: Without expertise but just looking at it from my perspective, I think it needs another look at because it is a new set of problems that have come along in relation to trading standards.
Q50 Chair: Very helpful. Mr Bliss, you meet Mike Barton on many occasions, I am sure, at ACPO meetings. Presumably you don’t agree with his view that there should be legalisation of drugs?
CC Bliss: I do know Mike Barton very well. He is a good officer and a very distinguished officer, but he has expressed his views and contributed to the debate. Back to my earlier point, my personal view in policing is we are best sticking to the knitting. It is for Parliament to decide. We will get on with policing, always proportionate policing and with discretion, but they are Mr Barton’s views not mine, I am afraid.
Q51 Chair: As you know, Uruguay today has decided to legalise cannabis and there is a couple of states in America where it is legal. Will you all be watching the results of what is happening there? I know you are keen on comparative research.
CC Bliss: Clearly in this area above all others-I am sure members of the Committee would agree with me-it is important always to look at the evidence. The international evidence is always interesting and informative. It does not always land the same here. So, yes, we will look with interest but at the minute cannabis is illegal. We are now seeing quite a lot of cannabis production in the UK, both farming on a large scale and in smaller scale premises, and there is quite a lot of violence and organised crime associated with that. There is quite a lot of enforcement work to do at the moment.
Q52 Chair: I think the Committee is concerned that you are still playing catch-up. You used that phrase a couple of times. It is no criticism of yourselves, but it is a very big worry when you look at cases like Adam Hunt, and indeed the Hester Stewart case. We are hearing from Mrs Stewart now. It is disappointing, isn’t it, that we are still playing catch-up with what is going on? For whatever reason it is, we still don’t seem to be in control of this.
CC Bliss: Chairman, we work, as do frontline officers, very hard to do our best around drugs enforcement. The biggest tragedy for me, and I am sure for members of the Committee, is that too many young people die through illegal drugs and that is what really matters to us.
Chair: Thank you both for coming at very short notice. It has been extremely informative. We intend to produce our report very quickly so if you could send us those documents, we will treat them in the manner in which you send them, on a restricted basis. Thank you very much for coming.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Maryon Stewart, Angelus Foundation, and Jeremy Sare, Angelus Foundation, gave evidence.
Q53 Chair: Mrs Stewart and Mr Sare, thank you very much for giving evidence to us again. Mrs Stewart, of course you have been before us 18 months ago and we, on this Committee, are full of admiration for the excellent work of the Angelus Foundation. We want to explore some of those issues with you today. We have just taken evidence from very senior police officers who do not seem particularly alarmed at the increase in psychoactive substances that are available. Do you feel that there is an increase? Is there reason for us to be more alarmed than we were when we saw you a year ago, Dr Stewart?
Maryon Stewart: Yes, I think there definitely is. If our mailbag, our emails and our telephone, is anything go by, we are seeing an increased number of reports of deaths and, even probably more importantly, harms, from families who have relatives, for example, who are either in a coma or have come out of their coma and they can’t function any more, or they have been sectioned in a mental hospital, and nobody seems to be measuring the harms. I do find it alarming that, although it is encouraging that the police are now opening their eyes, probably more so than 18 months ago-they have to because young people are falling over at festivals and dying-I do not think they have even licked the surface really. As for education, I do not think that they have the measure of that at all.
Q54 Chair: We are coming on to that later. You were very passionate about the need to ban GBL because of the death of your daughter Hester. Was it a concern to you that on 7 July two men were admitted to Cardiff Hospital who were critically ill as a result of using GBL even though it had been banned?
Maryon Stewart: Yes. I think it is very sad and very concerning, but the fact is that just because you ban something, we all know that does not mean that people are not going to take it. As we know with mephedrone, there were probably about two-thirds of young people still taking it, even though it was double the price, after it was banned. When I started my campaign when Hester died, which is actually four and a half years ago now, I thought that banning GBL and a few other substances would help to save lives and I thought that that was the end of the story. I had no idea that there would be an epidemic, and indeed there were 73 new substances identified last year. I spoke to John Ramsey last week when we were filming and there have been 68 so far this year and it is showing no let-up. It is a very worrying situation. Some of the substances he was talking about, which are available in the high streets, actually contain substances that are like class A drugs, so it is not just class B drugs we are talking about. He said that in his wildest dreams he would not have thought 10 years ago that this would be possible and yet now these things are available, not just in the head shops but also in some garages, cobblers, ice cream vans.
Q55 Chair: The inquest into the death of Adam Hunt took place last week and the words of the coroner are pretty chilling, that all young people face the possibility of this happening. Do you feel that not enough is being done by the police, the Government, other agencies? What needs to be done? It is alarming to hear what you have to say.
Maryon Stewart: I have to say that we continue to be baffled and deeply disappointed that the advice that committees like the Home Affairs Committee and also the All-Party Group for Drug Reform and the ACMD are giving the Government seems to fall on deaf ears. We were talking to Jeremy Browne in January this year and he was about to go on a tour and we did get his all-party committee to have a special dedicated meeting about legal highs. We are now nearly at the end of the year and no action has been taken. They are considering what is going on in other countries and yet each weekend and each week more children are being harmed and dying. Also the Government have devolved the power to the regions so that regions are supposed to have the power to decide what happens, but how are on earth are they supposed to do that when they do not have any education?
Q56 Chair: Indeed. We will come on to engagement with Ministers in a moment. Is your assessment to this Committee, a year on since you gave evidence, that the problem of psychoactive substances is on the increase? It is not stable, it is actually going up?
Maryon Stewart: Yes, absolutely. We were at a meeting with 30 festival owners last week and one of them was telling us about 20 bodies being laid out on ice blocks.
Chair: This happened last week?
Maryon Stewart: No, they were recounting a story and other stories about people who died at festivals. There is a serious concern. This is such an unknown quantity now. Young people and anybody who takes these substances are playing Russian roulette with their lives. There is no question about that. It is deeply concerning and I share that coroner’s view.
Q57 Mr Winnick: I join with the Chair in his opening remarks, Mrs Stewart. On the position that you have just made, which you have done previously in giving evidence to us, are you finding it a source of continued difficulties in meeting with the appropriate Ministers?
Maryon Stewart: Some Ministers have agreed to meet us, some have not. I find it difficult. I feel that the Home Secretary really should be taking more responsibility for this epidemic and there needs to be much more joined-up thinking and action, not just talk about what may happen. There is really very little action, at the end of day. We are now meeting with Public Health England and hoping that we can address the regions, but there needs to be central Government direction to the regions. This is not an ordinary situation. It is an epidemic. Young people’s lives are continually at risk. Their parents have very little information about how to have a wise or informed conversation, and absolutely no one is addressing the situation1.
Q58 Mr Winnick: You speak, of course, with personal and tragic experience. When was the last time you met with a Minister?
Maryon Stewart: I met Anna Soubry about two weeks before she was moved from her position.
Q59 Mr Winnick: Was there any difficulty in arranging a meeting with her?
Jeremy Sare: She refused to meet us first of all but Diana Johnson managed to facilitate a meeting eventually.
Q60 Mr Winnick: Presumably you will continue, insofar as it is possible, a dialogue with her successor?
Maryon Stewart: Yes. Obviously Jeremy Browne is no longer there and Norman Baker has taken over, so we have written to ask to meet him, but it just starts the process. Since Hester died I think there have been five different drug Ministers.
Q61 Mr Winnick: You wanted to meet the Home Secretary herself.
Maryon Stewart: Actually, since Hester died I think there have been 10 different drug Ministers, five since this Government began. I find it so unbelievable. If it was a corporation, you would not move the finance director to human resources and expect him to function, so I don’t know how a Minister who is starting to get a grasp of the situation and get a feel for how they can bring about change, then just gets moved or sacked. I feel like we take 10 steps backwards.
Q62 Mr Winnick: As far as Ministers are concerned, have you asked to meet the Home Secretary?
Maryon Stewart: Yes.
Q63 Mr Winnick: And the answer-
Maryon Stewart: We have never been granted an audience with this Home Secretary. I have seen past Home Secretaries2.
Q64 Mr Winnick: Can I turn for a moment to Mr Sare? You were in fact head of drug legislation at the Home Office. Would it be right to say, without putting words into your mouth for one moment, that you had some moment of conversion? The position that you have now is somewhat different, obviously, from when you were a senior civil servant at the Home Office.
Jeremy Sare: That is right. That was not the reason I left the Home Office. That was another matter, but I think it came to me when I was interviewing, as a journalist, Bob Ainsworth and realised that at the time when he was Minister and I was an official we were both arguing about a point that neither of us believed in.
Q65 Mr Winnick: You were at the Home Office at the time when cannabis was reclassified. You were secretary to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Is that correct?
Jeremy Sare: I was head of drug legislation at the point of January 2004 when the reclassification happened.
Q66 Mr Winnick: Was it your personal view that cannabis should be reclassified?
Jeremy Sare: Yes, I think it was commonly held among the drugs directorate that the two main stated reasons by the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, at the time of realigning police resources towards class A and preventing 60,000-odd young people having a permanent criminal record were strong and valid reasons for reclassification to class C.
Q67 Mr Winnick: Do you regret the fact it has been reclassified again?
Jeremy Sare: These are my personal opinions that are not that relevant to-
Mr Winnick: Yes, of course. That is what I am asking you. The answer is yes?
Jeremy Sare: Yes.
Q68 Chair: Is the problem that there has been so many drugs Ministers over the last three and half years? I think I have counted seven different Ministers responsible for drugs. If there was more continuity it would be-
Maryon Stewart: Yes. We worked with James Brokenshire for about 18 months just before the election and he did have a really good grasp of the situation and he helped enormously. At the time we all thought that banning would be helpful. We had no idea, we didn’t have a crystal ball so we could not see what was about to happen. Then he agreed that banning was not and that raising awareness was the best way to travel. We had a good relationship with him and it looked like we were probably going to get other Ministers co-operating but then he got moved.
Chair: It is the turnover that concerns you.
Q69 Lorraine Fullbrook: I think you have answered some of this question already. Last year the Government published the action plan to tackle the new psychoactive substances and I would like to ask the same question I asked the two police officers. In your assessment, what is the effectiveness of the action plan?
Maryon Stewart: I don’t think it is very effective, for a start. One of the things that they are planning on doing is using social media and Talk to Frank. They have practically no presence in terms of social media. I don’t think they are making much impact on young people at all. I am not aware that their action plan includes educating even educators or going into schools or educating parents. I suppose my personal opinion is that they are just paying lip service to this whole situation.
Jeremy Sare: It is very much reliant upon the Misuse of Drugs Act, and the UN report showed that there are now more legal drugs, commonly known as legal highs, than there are illegal ones in the UN convention. I think we have reached that tipping point whereby everyone must ask whether the Misuse of Drugs Act can cope. Even though we have the temporary class orders, which are probably the fastest way of controlling drugs across the European Union, is that still sufficient to take action against the supply of these substances.
Q70 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you think it is or is not?
Jeremy Sare: No, certainly it is not, because the numbers have grown inexorably. We expect this year’s figure to be even higher than last year’s, which was a record.
Q71 Lorraine Fullbrook: What additional would you like to see to the action plan?
Maryon Stewart: One of the things that we had at the end of last year was a pro bono campaign that was given to us by a communications agency, Leagas Delaney, because Tim Delaney’s daughter had had her drink spiked so he was sympathetic. He gave us a pro bono campaign that was worth about £500,000 and we had posters around the country and in stations and fliers and things like that. There needs to be a national awareness campaign. This is an epidemic.
Q72 Lorraine Fullbrook: How long did the campaign last?
Maryon Stewart: Our campaign was only able to last for officially a month but some of the posters stayed up for two months. It was a spot in the ocean, so that campaign needs to be continued.
Q73 Lorraine Fullbrook: Do you think that would be the best way of doing it?
Maryon Stewart: I think that is one of the ways. Social media is very important and we need to find material. The point is that when we first start talking about mephedrone, for example-after GBL came mephedrone-I was asked to be the spokesperson for that and we found that when newspapers like the Daily Mail covered it, John Ramsey, our toxicologist, could not even buy it because it had sold out. We realised that we had to go back to the drawing board and we had to do focus groups and surveys to find out what would actually move young people to make a different decision. We found through our research that the things that they seemed to be most touched by were short films that had examples of young people who had died, how their families and friends had suffered. It seemed to touch them in their hearts and it made them feel that they did not want to be the next casualty and they would not want to lose their friends in that way. So we have been going into schools and talking to 14- to 18-year-olds and we are finding that it does move young people. In fact, over three-quarters of 14-to 18-year-olds that we have spoken to so far feel angry and misled and they feel that they should be being educated, and they are quite right, they should be.
There has only been one survey of parents done so far by Talk to Frank and that found that 86% of parents had no knowledge about legal highs. I don’t think the other 14% really knew what they were being asked because I have yet to meet a parent that really does understand what they are. There is nobody providing education for parents, so how on earth can parents have wise conversations, and yet professors in our group say that approximately 70% of decisions young people make are determined by direction from their parents.
We believe, at Angelus, that there needs to be a coming together, not just of the Government but of the police and educators, medical profession, toxicologists and probably psychologists to look at how peer pressure influences young people, so that we can come up with some wise, incredible solution to this situation and set the way for the rest of the world, because it has become an epidemic in other countries around the world like America. It is not simple. I believe it is doable but it has to be done in a very informed and scientific way, and we have to measure outcomes every step of the way to make sure that we are succeeding.
Q74 Lorraine Fullbrook: Currently at the moment the Angelus Foundation are doing all of this on your own?
Maryon Stewart: Yes. Well, we are doing it in conjunction. We have published a handbook for parents called Talking to your children about legal highs and club drugs. We have done that in conjunction with the charity Adfam and the Club Drug Clinic. We do have other charity partnerships, but we are very small, we have very, very limited funding. It is very difficult and involves working very long hours.
Q75 Chair: On this question of where do young people get their drugs and legal highs from, we were given the figure of 10% from the internet, 36% from head shops and about a third were able to get it from nightclubs. Do you have any figures that would help the Committee as to where these psychoactive substances are coming from?
Maryon Stewart: I don’t think we have any internet figures. We did get Amazon to stop selling them worldwide in the summer, with the help of the Daily Mail.
Q76 Chair: What happened? Did it work?
Maryon Stewart: Amazon wouldn’t communicate with us but we got the Daily Mail to phone them. We had the front page and the inside cover of the Daily Mail and by teatime that day they had removed the legal highs from their websites, not just in the UK but in other countries.
Q77 Chair: How long did they do that for?
Maryon Stewart: It is permanent.
Q78 Chair: Permanently. Would you like to see that happen with others on the internet?
Maryon Stewart: Yes, absolutely. Google is a bigger fish, though, and it is going to require a lot more work to stop them taking sponsored adverts. But our attention at the moment is on trying to amend the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill so that we can prohibit the sales of legal highs through retail outlets. We strongly believe that the onus should be put on the manufacturers to prove that these substances are safe for human consumption, as a pharmaceutical company would have to do if they were bringing a drug to market.
Q79 Chair: As does the Committee in our previous report. Is 54% of legal highs being offered by the friends a correct figure?
Maryon Stewart: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think there is any evidence to support that, to be perfectly honest.
Q80 Paul Flynn: We are all very sympathetic to your situation and hope your campaign is successful. I watch your website. Can I gently suggest to you that there is no record of education working? I don’t know if you remember a campaign called Operation Charlie in 1997. Charlie stood for Chemical Harm Reduction Lies in Education. They chose the title of the trial before they actually started and they reached the conclusion that it did not work. There have been trials over 25 years in other countries where they have tried education. Isn’t it in the nature of young people to believe that they are immortal, that they court danger and that they will be attracted by the true scary stories that we present to them, and in fact by having a campaign of education we could increase and give them a further incentive to use the drugs?
Maryon Stewart: Yes, I think we have to be mindful of that. There are some studies I am aware of that have had positive outcomes. There are Canadian, Australian and American studies that have actually shown a reduction, not necessarily in legal highs but in alcohol and conventional drugs. That is why we went back to the drawing board to do our research very thoroughly so that we could only choose things that would move young people. We are at the beginning of a journey and we are working with the first master at Eton and some researchers at Cambridge to get our research published so that it can become part of a schools programme.
I agree that some young people display risky behaviour. Some of the studies show that 40% do. Other young people will not try anything because they just won’t. Then you have a huge group in the middle who are very much peer-led and will probably be persuaded to use something if they think it is legal and safe. They are low-hanging fruit as far as we are concerned because we believe, from the research that we have done and the focus groups we have done so far, that we can actually change their viewpoints just by giving them information, because they don’t want to be duped, they are wise and they don’t want to risk their lives. They just want to have fun.
Q81 Paul Flynn: Are you attracted by what New Zealand is doing by giving those who profit from the sale of these drugs an interest in reducing the risks?
Maryon Stewart: Sorry, I am not sure I understand.
Q82 Paul Flynn: In New Zealand they are suggesting that some of the legal highs should be allowed to be sold legally as long as the manufacturers can prove that they are low risk.
Maryon Stewart: Absolutely. Young people have always wanted to experiment. If we could find the utopia that they can experiment with and it is not going to cause any harm, then I would say that we can’t stop them and why would we want to. The point is we don’t want them out playing Russian roulette with their lives and their wellbeing and we don’t want them being misled thinking that they are not.
Q83 Paul Flynn: I understand precisely your motivation as a bereaved parent, but wouldn’t you agree that more young people and more adults are killed by paracetamol and by illegal drugs and isn’t this a matter of equally great concern?
Maryon Stewart: If you take paracetamol for a headache you are not going to be killed by it. If you have one or two glasses of alcohol, there are medical studies to show that it has a therapeutic effect. We are talking about chemicals that are available in the high street and on the internet that are being called legal, so young people are being misled to think they are safe, and they can have damning consequences to ruin their lives or even kill them. That is a different animal altogether.
Q84 Dr Huppert: The idea that we should be giving people information that is credible and accurate is fantastic and I wish more people took that approach in this space. You are absolutely right, there is some very bizarre behaviour. When we looked at this before, we had a look at the Guardian/Mixmag survey, which I am sure you have seen. It found that 15% of respondents said they had taken an unknown white powder in the last 12 months, so not even knowing what it was supposed to be, and a third of it was supplied by somebody they did not trust. That ought to be the easiest thing to persuade people not to do. Thank you very much for what you have been doing.
I have two questions, one short, I suspect, and then a slightly longer one. The short one is that we were talking earlier about khat and the proposals to make that illegal. Is it something that has crossed your radar in any way? It is technically a legal high at the moment. Is it a completely separate issue from the sort of things that you have been dealing with?
Maryon Stewart: Yes. We don’t really concentrate on that.
Dr Huppert: It has not been coming up in your postbag?
Maryon Stewart: No.
Q85 Dr Huppert: I thought that might be a brief question. To come back to something that, Mr Sare, you said earlier about the Misuse of Drugs Act and whether it is now fit for purpose, I wanted to make sure I understood. Our predecessor committee, which included the Prime Minister, in 2002 said there should be an independent assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We called last year for a royal commission to look at ways forward, including looking at the Misuse of Drugs Act. You said you would have to question whether it is fit for purpose. What do you think is the best way forward? Is it something like a royal commission, broadly speaking, or is it something else?
Jeremy Sare: We don’t take a very strong sort of political view on what model is ideal for controlling drugs and setting penalties for supply and possession and so on. Our advisory board are mainly clinicians and so on. We are of the general view that we would support a review of the Act, and I think a survey in the Sun, of all places, showed that the public agree with that and privately I am sure MPs would mostly agree with that too. That is not a terribly controversial view. Whether it comes to a royal commission, that would be something where, given that the Misuse of Drugs Act is so overdue for a review, I am not sure we would quibble about what form it took.
Maryon Stewart: I would like to add something to that. One thing I would really like to emphasise is that all too often people say, "Oh yes, we need to review the Drugs Act" and they lump legal highs-I know that is an awful term and we hope that one day we will not call them that but that is the reality of what they are called at the moment-into the Drugs Act. I fear that that is going to take quite some time to come about and that we need to take some radical and fast action to protect young people and their families. I don’t think we can afford to wait for reviews of major Acts. I just want to stress the fact that these substances that are not technically drugs, although many of them contain drugs, are legally available on the market and we need to take some urgent action to curtail the supply as well as the demand.
Chair: Thank you very much for giving evidence. We are most grateful. If there is anything that you have missed out in the evidence session please write to us. We are going to turn around our report very quickly. What we decided to do is not just publish the report on drugs last year but to revisit it to see whether any of our recommendations have been met. Otherwise all we do as select committees is have good ideas and make recommendations and nothing happens. We don’t want that to be the case. We are most grateful to both of you and we wish you well in the work that you are doing.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Dan Reed, Director, Legally High: True Stories, gave evidence.
Q86 Chair: Thank you very much for coming in. Mr Reed, you are the director of Legally High: True Stories, a documentary that looked at this area very carefully. We know some of the evidence that you give to us today will be from another party who is not here, but we are keen to know what you found, which we think is relevant to the inquiry that we are conducting into this issue. From what you saw and what you experienced with these young people, do you think that the use of psychoactive substances is on the increase?
Dan Reed: The young people that we spent time with and got to know quite well were in different parts of the country and I think there are different patterns in different parts of the country. It is hard to generalise, but certainly, anecdotally and statistically, in the last five years the use of legal highs has increased hugely.
Q87 Chair: I understand that they took these legal highs in front of you and you filmed what was going on.
Dan Reed: Correct.
Chair: I have admitted earlier on today to chewing khat. Did you try any of these? Obviously it is perfectly legal to do so, but before they were taken by these young people, did you try them?
Dan Reed: No, absolutely not.
Q88 Chair: But you saw them try these drugs?
Dan Reed: Yes.
Chair: What was the effect that you saw on them?
Dan Reed: The effect of the drugs that we saw them take orally and by injection and by snorting ranged from very powerful, rendering them almost comatose, incoherent, completely incapable of functioning-very, very high in other words-to what you would describe as a mild buzz. There is a spectrum according to the different drugs that they took.
Q89 Chair: Of course these were perfectly legal because they had not been banned, but were the young people aware when they took these substances that they were going to have the effect that they had on them? Someone being comatose sounds pretty dreadful.
Dan Reed: Yes, they were. Injecting legal highs is not common behaviour; I would describe as being quite specialised behaviour by more experienced drug users. Certainly Baxter, the name of the protagonist in my film, was aware that the drugs would have that effect on him, yes. He has experimented with them before, similar types of drugs, and he knew what he was in for.
Q90 Chair: Hopefully we are going to see your documentary when it is available.
Dan Reed: It is on already.
Chair: It is available? I have not seen it yet, but were there any bits of it that were too shocking to put into your documentary? Did you leave anything out or what you showed the public is very clearly what is in there?
Dan Reed: I think what we showed the public gave a very good indication of the kinds of things that happen. There were perhaps extremes of behaviour that we did not show, but they do not augment the picture that the documentary presents. Baxter at one point is completely overcome by the 2-MeO-ketamine, the drug that he injects.
Q91 Chair: Do you think your documentary perhaps glamorised the use of psychoactive substances and, as a result of people seeing what was going on, they will say, "Well, this is perfectly legal. We would like a bit of that, please"?
Dan Reed: That is a very interesting question. I have three children and I live in a community with a lot of children around and I meet a lot of mums. Many of the mums watched my film and I distinctly remember one of them saying to me, "I’m going to show your film to my teenage daughter because it will put her off drugs for the rest of her life". We have had that kind of reaction quite a bit. The behaviour that people see on screen is interpreted as discouraging and the opposite of glamorising. No doubt there are people who already take drugs who might watch the film and say, "Well, that is pretty strong stuff. Maybe I will get some, too". That obviously was not the intention of our film and I think there is a very strong argument for saying the film de-glamorises or debunks some of the glamour that can be associated with drug taking. It is a sad spectacle, I think.
Q92 Chair: You seem too young to have a teenage child. Perhaps I am wrong.
Dan Reed: I am 48.
Chair: Well, you are old enough to have a teenage child. Would you allow one of your children to take legal highs or even get involved in this programme?
Dan Reed: No, I would not.
Q93 Michael Ellis: Mr Reed, how do you find these people when you are beginning your television programme research? Where do you go to look for these people? I am interested, because it could be said by sceptics that television producers will often go in a particular direction, whatever the sample subject is, and find those people that are easiest to find and, therefore, get the same results. How do you go about finding people who are taking these substances but also are prepared to go on television about them?
Dan Reed: Specifically in the case of Baxter and company and with the other people we found-we had a group of lads and girls in Redcar in the north-east and then we had what you might describe as a middle-class couple from Hertfordshire and others. Quite often we deal with subjects that are controversial or subject to different social interpretations. Are drugs good? Are drugs evil? Should the taking of drugs be banned? People line up on both sides of the argument and some people feel evangelical about it.
Q94 Michael Ellis: What I am saying is, do you advertise for these people?
Dan Reed: If you let me finish I will answer your question.
Michael Ellis: Go on.
Dan Reed: Therefore, we do sometimes find people who take these drugs who do believe it is important to show what effects they have, it is important to show how it happens and important to show that has dangers or that it can be done safely, according to them. Most people would not agree to appear in a documentary taking drugs. That is clear. I am satisfied that the types of people in my documentary are representative of certain niches, certain pockets of-
Q95 Michael Ellis: Yes, but you are not answering the question so far. How do you find these people? Are you advertising for these people?
Dan Reed: No, no, no.
Michael Ellis: You say you are satisfied, but I want to see if others might be satisfied. Are they representative of what is going on outside in this country?
Dan Reed: As far as we can ascertain, yes. For instance, the reason we found most of the people who have been in the film taking drugs was through online chat forums. These are places where people who do take these drugs congregate and exchange notes and exchange trip reports and so on.
Q96 Michael Ellis: Having met with them subsequently, especially the young people-you talked about a group of lads in Redcar, was it?
Dan Reed: Yes.
Michael Ellis: Can you say anything to this Committee about what your impression is of what it was that attracted these people to these drugs? What was their motivation?
Dan Reed: There is obviously the more general question of why do young people want to take drugs, and I will put that aside for the minute. Why were these people specifically taking legal highs? I think that is what you are interested in. There are a number of different reasons. First, the availability of good conventional drugs was not as good in Redcar as elsewhere. It is harder outside the metropolitan areas to come by good conventional drugs. That is one reason. The second reason is that you can order these drugs online and if you are caught with them you will not get arrested.
Q97 Chair: It is ease of access?
Dan Reed: Ease of access is a big factor. The other factor is that if you are part of a self-selecting little cultural group-emos or the more sophisticated kids perhaps, as these were in Redcar-you might pride yourself on your exploration of the world of new psychoactive substances. The exotic chemical names are quite impressive.
Q98 Michael Ellis: It is a way of being cool?
Dan Reed: It is a way of being cool and it is a way of getting drugs cheaply as well. These drugs are often cheaper and they can be purer. There are two types of legal highs. There are branded legal highs that are blends and mixtures and you often do not know what you have, and then there are the so-called research chemicals that are pure.
Q99 Michael Ellis: Finally from me, what do you think, if you have an opinion on this, having spoken and worked with these young people, would be the most effective way of stopping their use of them? Do you think it would be somehow making it uncool? In some jurisdictions, for example, they use celebrities to promote messages-celebrities that the users of these drugs might be influenced by as opposed to politicians or police chiefs-and to say how uncool it is or how dangerous it is. Do you think that might work with these people or do you think something else might work?
Dan Reed: No, I don’t think grownups saying something is uncool is going to convince anyone. This is a very big question, obviously. How do you stop people taking drugs, let alone legal highs? I think what is important is to primarily stop people taking drugs in a dangerous way. When you ban a substance like mephedrone or any of the other drugs that we examined in the film they are driven underground and, therefore, purity is tampered with. There is an incentive then to adulterate it, to make it into something that might not be mephedrone and that you can then overdose with. At the risk of sounding bland, I think people need to be educated and people need to know what they are dealing with and what they are taking and that is very important.
Q100 Mr Winnick: The fewer people that use drugs the better, whether they are illegal or legal, except obviously those who use them as a result of a medical prescription in the way that we know. Be that as it may, in your film one of the subjects-I think it was only one-stated that he was moving from these new substances, which we are now discussing, to using heroin. Was it just one person on the programme?
Dan Reed: Yes. If you are asking, are legal highs a gateway to serious opiates-
Q101 Mr Winnick: Basically, yes.
Dan Reed: No, I don’t think so.
Q102 Mr Winnick: Being a media person, clearly you anticipate politicians’ questions.
Dan Reed: No, I don’t see any particular connection. What you have in Stephen Baxter is someone who has experimented with a lot of drugs, who had used heroin apparently even before he came into contact with legal highs, I think, or around the same time. Heroin was just one in a spectrum of drugs including legal highs that he used.
Q103 Mr Winnick: What you are saying, if I understood, Mr Reed, is that using these substances is in no way, necessarily, an avenue or gateway, whatever expression one uses, to the drugs that we know about?
Dan Reed: Not at all, no.
Q104 Dr Huppert: Did you at any point come across people who were using khat or was that any part of what you looked at?
Dan Reed: Using khat?
Dr Huppert: Yes.
Dan Reed: No. You are aware that mephedrone is a derivative of khat?
Dr Huppert: Chemically, yes.
Dan Reed: Not chewing leaves, no.
Q105 Dr Huppert: Thank you, that is helpful. The other question, following on from the question from my colleague David Winnick, there is an issue at the moment that some of these legal substances are more harmful than some of the illegal substances. Do you think, because of the legal or illegal nature, people are choosing take things that are more dangerous?
Dan Reed: I think the big danger with legal highs is dosage. People do not understand the active dose and a lot of the deaths that have occurred have occurred either as a result of multi-drug use-combining legal highs with other stuff, you never know how drugs will interact-and also taking the wrong amount. With conventional drugs, because people have been taking them for 20, 30 or 50 years, there is a rule of thumb. If you have a sense of whether your heroin or your cocaine, or whatever it is, is reasonably pure you know roughly how much to take. There is an anecdotal rule of thumb. With legal highs, because they are so new, nobody knows what 5-MeO DALT does to you apart from the aficionados and that is why there are these online forums. If people are making the effort to get informed then they are usually okay. If kids take it the way they would any other Saturday white powder it can be very dangerous because people just have no idea what they are taking.
Q106 Dr Huppert: You are right that with many of these new substances we have no idea how they work, how they would interact with alcohol or all sorts of other things, but I did not quite get an answer to the question. Maybe I did not quite express it clearly. Because of the legal structure we have where some things are classified and some things are not, is that changing people’s behaviour in a way that means they are taking things that are potentially more dangerous for them?
Dan Reed: Yes, it is changing some people’s behaviour because they have access to chemical compounds that they do not understand the effects of.
Q107 Chair: The cheapest legal high that you could find on the market was how much?
Dan Reed: £10 a gram, ethylphenidate. That is the cheapest snort. There are probably cheaper cannabinoid compounds, very cheap.
Chair: I think Dr Huppert has found one that is cheaper.
Dr Huppert: No. I do not have a useful handle on how much a gram is.
Q108 Chair: What is a gram?
Q109 Dr Huppert: What is the cheapest per high or per dose?
Dan Reed: Per high, yes. Something like ethylphenidate, which was the one Cane that was snorted in the film.
Q110 Chair: We remember Smarties.
Dan Reed: I am sorry?
Chair: In relation to a Smartie in a Smartie packet, is that a gram?
Dan Reed: Smartie packet. Well, a gram would be slightly more. Do you mean a Smartie tube?
Dan Reed: Yes, that is lots. That is far too much. A gram is a tiny amount. If you imagine a small baggie, do you know what I mean?
Chair: Yes. It is that size.
Q111 Dr Huppert: A dose is in the order of gram or-
Dan Reed: A dose might be anything from a tenth of a gram to a 100th of a gram.
Chair: We should have asked you to bring them in with you.
Dan Reed: Yes. I am not being evasive. There is a huge range and a huge variation in this stuff.
Q112 Chair: Basically a teaspoon is five grams?
Dan Reed: A teaspoon is around five grams, yes. Three to five grams, depending on the compound.
Q113 Chair: So it is about £50?
Dan Reed: Yes.
Q114 Lorraine Fullbrook: In the Netherlands there is a drug-testing service that allows the chemical composition of drugs to be identified.
Dan Reed: There is one here, too.
Q115 Chair: Is there? Where is it?
Dan Reed: It is called TICTAC and it is at St George’s Hospital.
Q116 Lorraine Fullbrook: Would that type of service be useful to the users that you had on film?
Dan Reed: I am sorry. You are talking about a consumer service?
Lorraine Fullbrook: Yes.
Dan Reed: I don’t think so. There are a tiny number, and there is one in my film, of people who take the drugs almost scientifically, with a real method. They allergy test and then they take a full dose and then they proceed with great caution. Those people are okay. They are not going to come to much harm anyway because they are doing it very advisedly. They are taking the drugs in a very structured way. The people we need to look out for are young people who are just given a powder or given a pill in a bar or at a party. They will never go and test what they are given because they need to take it straight away.
Q117 Lorraine Fullbrook: You do not think if a consumer-testing service was available in the UK it would be-
Dan Reed: For legal highs?
Lorraine Fullbrook: Yes.
Dan Reed: I don’t think it would be used much.
Q118 Lorraine Fullbrook: You don’t think it would make any difference to the users in the UK?
Dan Reed: I am afraid not, no. I don’t think so. I think a few people might use it, but I do not think it is going to address the big issue, which is how do we stop people coming to harm by taking these drugs.
Q119 Chair: You do not think that responsibilities on the manufacturers to say what is in their product is going to be helpful?
Dan Reed: If so-called legal highs were placed in a regulatory framework where the onus was on the manufacturer, the producer, to guarantee the purity of the product, I think that would be an interesting move. If people were misguided enough to take drugs, then perhaps they would come to less harm because they would know what it is they are taking. If you buy a bottle of Jack Daniels you don’t expect to be drinking moonshine that makes you blind or methylated spirits. In the same way, it would be nice for people to be able to purchase their drug of choice, whatever it might be, and not come to harm.
Q120 Chair: If it turns out that obviously it is not non-harmful then the manufacturers can be prosecuted.
Dan Reed: If the manufacturers produce something that is showing signs that it could be harmful then, yes, they should be prosecuted. You could envisage a safety-testing framework that tests drugs along the line of current clinical drugs where you have stage one clinical testing and stage two with pigs, dogs, rats and so on. Once it has gone through there, I think it is quite unlikely that the drug by itself would prove to be harmful.
Q121 Chair: Dr Zee is on record as saying that he tests all his legal highs before they are sent out. He does not want people to be used as guinea pigs. Very few other people have come up and said that. Is that right?
Dan Reed: Yes. To be precise, I think Dr Zee’s latest product or the product before the latest one has been tested. The money that he needs to put drugs through a proper testing regime has only been available recently. The drugs he produced before then have not.
Q122 Paul Flynn: The Journal of Substance Abuse has recently reported that mephedrone is much more popular since it was banned. Its price has increased from approximately £10 a dose to £25 and it is less pure. It very much follows the lines you are taking, that ban increases the danger. Is that you view?
Dan Reed: It is my view, yes. What is sold now as mephedrone is not necessarily 4-methoxymethcathinone, which is the original mephedrone. What is sold now is any number. It could be 4-MEC or 3-MMC. It could be any number of compounds. These compounds might be pure or they might be adulterated with other stuff. The answer is, yes, since it was banned, mephedrone has become something different, often something less pure, often something more expensive. It has been combined with other drugs. It has basically gone dark. We do not know what is happening to it, but anecdotally, in various tests at urinals in big cities, it seems to be very widely consumed now. It is apparently the fourth most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the UK.
Q123 Paul Flynn: You significantly mentioned moonshine, and the experience of prohibition in America is that the great number of deaths that took place was because of spirit that had not been properly manufactured. It was not controlled in its strength or its purity. Are you attracted by the New Zealand approach to this of putting the onus for purity and risk on those who make the profit from it?
Dan Reed: I am. I do not see any other rational way to control the drugs that our young people might choose to take.
Q124 Paul Flynn: We can see the present view of going on from prohibition of one drug to prohibition of another drug is utterly futile and likely to do more harm. Do you agree?
Dan Reed: I think so, yes. I am always interested at comparisons with America where they have these very sweeping drug laws and if you produce drugs you never quite know whether you have committed a crime or not because the legislation can be applied, I think, retrospectively. That seems to put the fear of god certainly into the manufacturers of legal highs that I know. They will not export to America.
Paul Flynn: Thank you very much for your film. It was very educational.
Q125 Lorraine Fullbrook: When you were doing the research for your documentary did you find any evidence of criminal activity or organised crime behind so-called legal highs or psychoactive substances?
Dan Reed: I didn’t come across any evidence of organised crime being involved in the UK, no, but I did hear of organised crime being involved in other countries, especially as the drugs become illegal and move around.
Chair: Mr Reed, you have been extremely helpful. I will go off and-
Dan Reed: Watch the film.
Chair: -watch the film, indeed. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed, and Paul Garlick QC, Furnival Chambers, gave evidence.
Q126 Chair: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to this Committee about the issue of khat in particular. We are not going to talk to you about psychoactive substances or other issues of that kind. We are particularly interested in khat. I have to declare my interest, having been born in Yemen and having-not at the age of nine but since I returned to Yemen over the years-chewed khat in Yemen, though not in the United Kingdom as yet. Have you had any khat, Mr Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed? Have you chewed khat?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: Yes.
Chair: What kind of effect does it have on you?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: I don’t see it affecting me when I am chewing
Q127 Chair: Is it readily available within the Yemeni and Somali community? I have a few Yemenis in Leicester. Mr Flynn has quite a number of Somalis. I have a number of Somalis in my constituency. How important is this pastime of chewing khat to the community?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: It has been used when we are introducing for marriage, in case we want to get-
Chair: Sorry, you will need to speak up a little. I know it is difficult for you because it is your first appearance before the Select Committee.
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: We have been using it as a tradition whereby, when we go to give a dowry when you are getting married or something like that, we normally give a box of khat. Also, it is for pleasure. We chew it after work. It is like somebody going to the pub drinking. That is the normal use.
Chair: Mr Garlick, you are obviously representing those that are challenging the Government on this.
Paul Garlick: Yes.
Q128 Chair: Have you come across criminality in respect of the use of khat by the various communities?
Paul Garlick: I must say straight away that my knowledge of this particular subject is entirely derivative from the materials I have read.
Chair: Of course, yes.
Paul Garlick: I have never been involved in a criminal prosecution or defence case involving khat because, of course, it is not yet prohibited.
Q129 Mr Winnick: You have not chewed it?
Paul Garlick: I haven’t, no. All the evidence that I have seen in preparing the application for judicial review, and particularly the advisory council’s report, points to the clear indication that there is, at the moment, no criminal activity involved in the importation or the distribution of khat, which would automatically follow. I spent five years as standing counsel for Customs & Excise before I took silk and I can remember in those days, when cannabis importations were rife and in huge quantities, some of the cases involved very highly organised and very serious criminal activity.
There has been no evidence of that at all in relation to khat, primarily because it is not prohibited and, therefore, you have legitimate businessmen such as Mr Mohammed who are importing and also because the evidence tends to show that the profit involved in importation is very small, so serious crime are not interested in it. Of course, as soon as a prohibition comes into effect then, as one sees, there is a very substantial difference between the prices involved in the United Kingdom, where I understand it could be as little £3 to £4 a kilo, whereas in the United States it could be $500 per kilo. That is where organised crime becomes very interested in the activity.
Q130 Chair: The information we have received is that at the moment those who import, like Mr Mohammed, and those who pay for the khat pay taxes of about £2.8 million. Do you have any figures that you can give this Committee about importation or taxation? At the moment it is taxed, of course.
Paul Garlick: Yes, it is. VAT is taxed and I understand, and this information comes from the advisory council’s report, that the amount of VAT recoverable on importation has fallen since 2005, which indicates that the amount of khat being imported-and it is all imported legitimately because I understand there are only two agents who operate at Heathrow, Mr Mohammed is one another person, who import the substance.
Q131 Chair: Mr Mohammed, if they cannot buy it from you across the counter in your shop-I don’t know where your shop is. Where is it?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: In Southall.
Q132 Chair: In Southall. We have heard evidence from the police today. I don’t think you were here. There is evidence to suggest that if you take the community off khat in one particular case they went on to take valium instead of khat. If they can’t go along there and buy their khat and they want to continue with it, what would they do? What would the Somali and Yemeni community do when they can’t come along to your shop and buy a pound of khat off you? Where would they go and get it? Do you think people will just stop using it?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: No, they will keep on digging looking for khat. They won’t stop.
Q133 Chair: Where would they get it from? Presumably it would be illegal, wouldn’t it?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: I can’t tell that one.
Chair: No, I don’t want to know today. I don’t mean today specific shops or streets. I am trying to ask you if they can’t get it from you would they try to get it or would they just suddenly give up this habit of a lifetime and go on to valium, which is what has been suggested?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: They have been using it for quite a long time and they will not leave it because it is in their blood. It has been traditional, so they will keep on using it.
Chair: Indeed. I understand from my Yemeni past, from the times of the Queen of Sheba. From that we go on to Mr Ellis.
Q134 Michael Ellis: That was a very good segue, Mr Chairman. I noticed that. Mr Mohammed, you made reference to it being traditional in some communities, but is it not correct to say that once upon a time it was traditional to smoke opium in some communities? That does not mean that the tradition should always be permitted to persist. There have been traditions in many cultures that no longer are in line with the social norms and mores that we have today. Do you accept that traditions can change and sometimes should change? Do you accept that, Mr Mohammed?
Chair: Perhaps Mr Garlick could assist.
Michael Ellis: Mr Garlick, perhaps you could answer?
Paul Garlick: Certainly, I would be pleased to answer that. To compare what I would not describe as acceptable but something that was not illegal, the use of opium perhaps in London in the early 19th century, and the use of khat is perhaps not helpful. I mean this with the greatest of respect. It is perhaps not a helpful analogy because they are disproportionately deleterious. The evidence from the council points to the fact that those who are using khat in the United Kingdom tend to come from disadvantaged groups, diaspora from abroad who are socially disadvantaged, and khat to them has a greater significance than it would to non-members of that diaspora. To take what they regard as a legitimate cultural experience away from them would have a disproportionate effect on that small number in the community.
Q135 Michael Ellis: You say that but, of course, the point that you have already made in answer to earlier questions is based on a profit motive, isn’t it, on the part of your client? That is the logic of your argument in that effectively it is about profit and loss and it is about the fact that it would become much more expensive and it would put legitimate business supplying khat out of business and it would become more expensive for those to purchase it, but there is a wider argument to that argument, isn’t there? The issue is one of social harm and that is the motivation behind those who are interested in prohibiting the use of this substance.
Paul Garlick: I do not accept that, I am afraid. I do not accept that for a moment. I should say that, although one of my clients is Mr Mohammed, we act generally for a great number of people, including those in Kenya who are farmers and whose lives depend upon this. In fact we are receiving a great deal of support, both evidentially and financially, from people in Kenya as well, so our interests are broader than that.
I don’t think it would be correct to say that the decision by the present Government to make khat a prohibited substance is entirely revolving around the question of social acceptability. There is no evidence at all from the council to show that there is any social adverse effect. The amount of use is very small compared to the misuse of other substances.
Q136 Michael Ellis: Personal harm?
Paul Garlick: And social harm. There is very little evidence to show there is any social harm whatsoever. In other countries, such as the Netherlands for example, the prohibition was brought into effect with very little research before it was done and it seems that their major concerns were litter and people chewing the leaf and spitting it out in the street. I have seen no positive evidence, and certainly the council saw no positive evidence, that there is any real social harm.
Chair: I am going to have to end for the moment. We are coming back because we have more questions. You will just have to wait for another 15 minutes or so. We will return.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Q137 Mr Winnick: Mr Garlick, my questions are in no way to be misunderstood. You are a distinguished lawyer. You have acted as a judge for the War Crimes Court of Bosnia and so on. I preface my remarks so there should be no misunderstanding. What I am coming to is basically is, you are acting for Mr Mohammed in a professional capacity. Is that correct?
Paul Garlick: It is correct, sir. I am acting for Mr Mohammed because he is the claimant in the judicial review action.
Q138 Mr Winnick: Yes, perfectly legitimate.
Paul Garlick: I mention that merely because our clients are not limited to Mr Mohammed. We have instructions to act on behalf of the Kenyan Government and a great number of people who are in employment in Kenya, some 500,000 people. The Meru county in Kenya depend upon khat for their livelihood and they have all clubbed together and this action is brought. It is not a group action because judicial review does not permit group actions, but Mr Mohammed is our claimant in the action.
Q139 Mr Winnick: All perfectly in order and if it was not in order you would have not have been seated where you are, but I just want to press this further. You act in a professional capacity. You have referred to the large number of people in Kenya who would be placed at a great economic disadvantage if the ban went ahead, and that I understand perfectly, but your own personal views do not come into this, do they, Mr Garlick? If I could put it this way, if the British Government has asked you to put their case then obviously in a professional capacity you would act likewise. Would that be a fair summary?
Paul Garlick: That would be an extremely fair summary. Any lawyer acts in the best interests of his clients. I am very happy to give my personal opinion as well because that may be important. So far as khat use in this particular country is concerned, I think I talk now as a lawyer generally rather than acting for Mr Mohammed and my experience over many years of dealing with questions of criminalisation, both in this country and Europe because I sit as an expert on the European Criminal Policy Committee at the EU Commission. One of the matters that we are always very concerned about is the harmonisation of criminal matters throughout the member states, which is something that this Government-and I do not say this in any way pejoratively-seems to have been over concerned about, that the United Kingdom should not be at odds with other member states of the EU.
My personal, professional concern in relation to this matter, my opinion if you like, is that to prohibit the use of khat, which may not be culturally acceptable in terms of Mr Ellis’ questions to me before but there is no evidence that it causes any real social harm-and I found a reference during the Division, it is paragraph 235 of the council’s report. The council received evidence particularly from the Yemeni community who positively stated to them that any prohibition of khat would have a disproportionate effect on the Yemeni population because they are already marginalised and this cultural significance for them is very important to them. We may not fully appreciate that, but if you are a member of a diaspora like this and you are economically marginalised already, to criminalise an activity that has previously not been criminal will have a very disproportionate effect on such people.
Q140 Mr Winnick: I am not out of sympathy, it so happens, in my own personal view about this. I have a good deal of sympathy for the argument you have put forward, but, as far as the Home Secretary is concerned, presumably she has considered the various options and come to the decision that she has, which you are challenging by way of judicial review. Do you think the Home Secretary came to this decision because she considered this was dangerous drug in the same way as others that have been so classified?
Paul Garlick: If it was the case that the Home Secretary considered this so dangerous that it should be classified then that is irrational, because all the evidence points quite to the opposite. I would like to think of the Home Secretary that she would not rationally reach that decision.
Q141 Mr Winnick: Why do you think she made her decision?
Paul Garlick: I think there are at least two reasons. The first is political expediency, because she feels that we will stick out as a sore thumb in the European community and the members of the EU, because we are now the only member state that has not prohibited the substance. Secondly, I think that she failed to consider the question of proportionality and failed to consider any alternatives. Our case on judicial review will be on a number of points. First, that there was insufficient consultation, and the advisory council has made that quite clear. They had not been consulted properly, which, to put it generously, is unfortunate.
In this particular case, given that there is no evidence of any real social harm, the prohibition and to make it a criminal act to use this substance is disproportionate. There are other less coercive measures that could have been taken. Regulation would have been perfectly acceptable.
Q142 Mr Winnick: Would your clients be satisfied with regulation?
Paul Garlick: Certainly. In fact I know that Mr Mohammed would welcome it. If you had a licensing system and a regulation system it would protect them in a sense. Now it is legitimate. It is not unlawful, but certainly they have no objection to regulation.
Q143 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask a supplementary question to that. Do you not think that one of the reasons why this prohibition is being put in place is that, being out of sync with the majority of other member states, the United Kingdom would become a trading post for a prohibited substance?
Paul Garlick: Madam, I don’t. There are two parts to that question. First of all, this matter had a debate in the European Commission and the Director General of the European Commission pointed out that when you are dealing with matters of classification of substances subsidiarity is very important and each member state has to reach its own conclusions based on the social needs in each particular member state. I think it is very important that the United Kingdom should not blindly follow the decision of other member states because there may be very different considerations here. In the Greater London area there certainly are. The Somali communities and the Yemeni communities will all fall foul of the criminal law for the first time for continuing in a cultural exercise that has been going on for decades.
To your perhaps more important point, I quite understand the concern that the United Kingdom should become a hub. We do not believe that is the case, nor does the advisory council believe that. In fact quite the contrary. The previous witness, Mr Reed, adverted to this. As soon as you prohibit a substance and you criminalise it then automatically the value of the substance increases by a factor of probably 100, as we have seen between this country and the United States. That immediately causes serious criminal organisations to become involved.
If the Government was to adopt a less coercive measure, namely licensing and regulation, it would have this effect. At the moment you have legitimate businesses, principally two in London, Mr Mohammed and another agent, who are importing this. They are legitimate. They pay their income tax. They pay VAT to the Revenue. They act in a lawful way. If you criminalise their activities they will desist. They certainly will not continue. Who will fill the void? The demand will still be there and the supply will have to be met and, undoubtedly, organised crime will step in. As soon as you bring in organised crime you bring in a whole raft of highly undesirable factors.
However, if you regulate it and someone such as Mr Mohammed or other people are licensed they will not only be continuing to pay their VAT, they will also be under a licence. They will have every incentive to co-operate with the authorities to ensure that if someone tries to come to them to buy large quantities of khat for onward distribution they will blow the whistle on them because they certainly would not want to get involved in unlawful activities. It just would not be in their interests. In fact, when one looks at the effect of prohibition, it could cause organised crime to step in, fill the void, and could be an organised criminal hub rather than a regulated legitimate hub.
Q144 Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you. I would just like to go back to your point about the Kenya farmers. Evidence suggests that increased khat farming has led to the reduction of farming food and has had an impact on food security. Given the shortage of food in areas of the world, is there not a moral case for banning khat?
Paul Garlick: The evidence that I have seen in relation to food insecurity is incomplete. Certainly so far as Kenya is concerned, statistically there has not been any dramatic reduction in the production of food. In certain counties such as Meru there is a very high proportion of farmers who are involved in the production of khat, something like 500,000, but that has been reasonably constant over the years. We know there is a huge quantity of food supplies coming from Kenya into the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The scale of khat use, certainly in the United Kingdom, is not going to cause any grave food insecurity in the world.
In addition, I know from my time in Afghanistan with the United Nations Drugs and Crime Organisation where I did an evaluation of their anti-drug policy and their anti-narcotic policies, as soon as you force farmers to do something they will fall foul of the criminal law. In Afghanistan we spent millions of pounds trying to persuade farmers to burn their opium and plant saffron. It worked for a year and then the following season the poppies were in the fields.
Q145 Chair: On the Kenyan point, we understand that 50% of the total production in Meru actually is khat production and that brings in about £4.9 million annually. There is no alternative to them. Would an alternative be, as Lorraine Fullbrook suggests, that they will then start making more food and using food production or do you think that they will continue to grow because they are subject to the law of our country and this will continue to be harvested and continue to be grown? There is no reason why they should stop because we decide to ban it, is there?
Paul Garlick: No. There will always be a very high domestic demand.
Q146 Chair: There is a market in Yemen and Somalia.
Paul Garlick: Indeed, there is a market, but when you look at-
Q147 Chair: If you look at Africa, has any country banned it as far as you are aware?
Paul Garlick: No.
Q148 Chair: That production will continue with a view that somehow they will all change and do something else. It will just come to Britain in a different way, presumably.
Paul Garlick: Yes, in an unlawful way rather than a lawful way.
Q149 Chair: Indeed. You mentioned the issue of other governments. Was there any consultation with the Government of Kenya, the Government of Yemen and the Government of Somalia?
Paul Garlick: No. In our application, one of our witnesses, Senator Murungi from Meru county, will be giving evidence. There was no consultation whatsoever. In fact, far from it. I understand-it is in his witness statement-the senator had dinner with the High Commissioner in Kenya weeks before the ban and there was no mention of it at all. It seems even our High Commissioner to Kenya did not realise the ban was going to be announced in July this year.
Q150 Dr Huppert: Thanks to both of you for coming to give evidence. There will be a debate in the Delegated Legislation Committee on Monday at 4.30pm to decide what happens next and we will have to see what the outcome is. I personally hope that there will not be support for the proposals, but we will see. I would be interested to understand a bit more about what the future prospects are for the judicial review and the timescales for that and how that will impact. It seems to me you have quite a strong case because the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs says very clearly that, "The evidence of harms associated with the use of khat is insufficient to justify control and it would be inappropriate and disproportionate to classify khat under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971", which seems about as clear-cut as you can get.
Even the Government’s own impact assessment cites costs of £12.8 million in VAT per year. £4.1 million is their estimate of the profits. I do not know if that is correct, Mr Mohammed. They estimate a total net present value of £150 million out and no benefits at all that they can identify that are monetised. Do you think you have a strong case? I am sure you will say yes. What does the timescale mean and what would that mean about implementation of any ban?
Paul Garlick: This is a matter that has concerned us. There are two stages to judicial review, as I am sure you are all very aware. The first is the permission stage where you make an application to a single judge of the High Court for permission to bring judicial review proceedings. That application was lodged and we understand from the Crown Office of the Administrative Court that that application has now been put before a single High Court judge and he will consider the application and all the evidence that has been submitted in support of that application. We have a bundle of both the grounds and the evidence in support that we would be happy to make available to your Committee so that you can see the evidence and the witnesses.
We anticipate that the decision as to whether or not we will be given permission to proceed with the judicial review will be made during this legal term, so before Christmas. If we are granted permission to continue with the judicial review then that will go to a full court of three High Court judges. That will not be dealt with before the Christmas vacation. That is more likely to be dealt with next term, so that will probably be sometime in February. If we are refused permission by the single judge, then we have a right to renew our application to the full court and to ask the full court for permission, which we certainly will do if we are refused permission. Again, I doubt that could be dealt with this term, but could probably be in January of next year.
My personal opinion is that, at this stage in the judicial review, the test for being granted permission for a judicial review proceeding is to show that there is an arguable case and certainly the grounds that we have put in, which extend to some 20 pages, and the evidence that we have, not only from people in this country but from people in Kenya and abroad, is sufficient for there clearly to be an arguable case. As Dr Huppert said, when one looks at the terms of the council’s report itself and other professional witnesses, the decision seems to be quite contrary to the advice that was given. I think we have a more than reasonable chance of being granted permission and I would foresee that the full hearing will take place probably in February of next year.
Q151 Dr Huppert: Thank you for that and we will have to see how the two timescales fit. The report does say that there is no robust evidence to find a causal link between khat consumption and any of the social harms. Was there an assessment of the amount of social harm that would be reduced by banning khat versus the amount of social harm that would be created by banning khat by increasing the efforts for the criminal justice system or increasing the marginalisation of already marginalised communities? What is your assessment of the balance of social harms?
Paul Garlick: My assessment is that if it is criminalised those members of the Somali and Yemeni community, particularly in the Greater London area, will feel even more marginalised. There will be a great deal of social tension. They will not stop using it. If they don’t stop using it, they will have to obtain it illegally. The cost will be much higher if it is illegal and if they are caught they will be prosecuted, which will inevitably increase tensions between that member of the community and the law enforcement agencies. In terms of community relations, it could have a very deleterious effect.
Q152 Dr Huppert: Thank you very much. As I say, it seems you have a strong case. It would be helpful, if you have materials that would be of benefit to us, either as a Committee or for the Delegated Legislation Committee on Monday, if you could send them through us to in time for the debate. I think that would be incredibly helpful and could make a difference.
Paul Garlick: We would be happy to do so.
Q153 Paul Flynn: In the 26 years that you, Chairman, and I have been members of this House, about every three or four years there is a call to ban khat and all the Governments in that time, 26 years, have looked at the evidence, examined the calls and rejected them and come to the conclusion on the basis of evidence that there would be more harm than good coming from it, for the reasons you mention: driving a wedge between the police and the Yemeni and Somali communities, criminalising a legal activity and possibly driving those communities into worse drugs, like alcohol, which are far more dangerous and addictive. Why do you think there has been a change now? There is no new evidence. It is an evidence-free policy, but one that I believe is probably prejudice-rich. What on earth do you think made this Government do what previous Conservative Governments and previous Labour Governments refuse to do?
Paul Garlick: I think that our present Home Secretary is a lady of independence and forthright opinions. I think, whereas previous Home Secretaries may have looked more carefully at the evidence that was put before them, I do not believe that in this case the Home Secretary has spent sufficient time considering the evidence. Other factors such as relationships with other EU member states and not wanting to give the impression of being out of step may have caused the decision to be made rather than a careful and critical look at the evidence.
As you rightly said, sir, nothing has changed. In 2005 the advisory council said, "No, it would be disproportionate". In 2013 they said the same. In the course of our litigation, my instructing solicitor and I visited the community in Southall. We went to a community centre there. We were amazed at the number of people who turned up just to know what we were doing and how we could help; not just people who were involved in the business but people who were involved in the community.
Q154 Paul Flynn: As someone who represents a city where there are substantial Somali and Yemeni communities and was born in Cardiff where there are even bigger communities, long-established, been there for a long time, I would wish you well in your cause and I hope you have a look at the previous weakness of the defence for this policy that came up in the earlier sessions of today’s Committee.
Paul Garlick: I sit as a recorder in the Crown Court in Bristol and there are similar communities there, obviously. It is quite interesting. When you get outside London it seems that the local communities are quite able to deal with any of the criticisms-the litter problem, the chewing in the street. In places like Cardiff and Bristol, just by way of more gentle, less coercive measures, they seem to have solved the problem.
Q155 Dr Huppert: There is some controversy within the Kenyan and Somali populations and there are people within those communities who are in favour of a ban. Do either of you have a sense or know of any evidence, polls that have been done or whatever it might be, of what the balance is among the populations? There clearly are some in each camp, but is it 50:50? Is it more of one or more of the other?
Paul Garlick: I am afraid I am not able to help you on that. Mr Mohammed might be able to help you.
Q156 Dr Huppert: Do you have a sense of the balance?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: 30% are against it and 70% are in favour.
Q157 Dr Huppert: That is your estimate or based on a proper analysis?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: That is my estimate.
Q158 Chair: We have not touched on the issue of community relations, but presumably that will be affected in the sense that these two communities are at the forefront, in some respects, of our fight against terrorism in Somalia and indeed in Kenya where we saw the recent outrage in Westgate. Do you think that the ban will have an effect on those relations?
Paul Garlick: I think certainly the relations between this country and Kenya will be very severely affected. We were at a meeting yesterday at the High Commission here in London. I understand you may well be communicating with a delegation that has come from Kenya to London and is here now, a very large delegation of all sorts of people, from senators to politicians to other people. The feeling in Kenya, certainly from the senator who I spoke to, is one of amazement that this could have been introduced without any consultation whatsoever and, in fact, without even the High Commissioner in Kenya being told. I understand he was extremely embarrassed to have to announce it to some of the senior politicians in Kenya.
Q159 Chair: I asked you this earlier, Mr Mohammed. Both you and I, of course, have chewed khat and I asked where you thought people would get it from. Just to re-emphasise, you don’t think this will suddenly be given up as a social activity? There is a view that everyone will suddenly stop because it is banned, that they will give it up. You don’t think that that is going to happen, do you?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: It will not stop. They will keep on looking for it in other ways and the problem is going to affect our community whereby it will be criminalised in other ways. It will be a lot more expensive to buy it and, secondly, it will affect the elders to be arrested by the police. They have never been arrested before.
Q160 Chair: You mention a very important issue, which is generational change. The community that came here as first-generation immigrants perhaps used it and chewed in their countries of origin, whether it is in Sana’a or Somalia or Nairobi. The next generation is probably unlikely to be as interested in khat as the older generation because it was very much something to do with the old country. Do you think the fact that it is going to be banned will make it cool and people will want to know why it is being banned? I have looked at the figures and it seems to me khat use is going down.
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: No, it will make it worse.
Q161 Chair: It will make it worse if it is banned, do you mean?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: If they ban it, it will create more criminals.
Q162 Chair: Sure, but at the moment do you find a generational change? Do you think the younger generation is as eager on khat as the older generation?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: No.
Q163 Chair: You think they are less likely to use it anyway? What I am saying is the use is going down among the younger ones. Your customer profile, the people who come into your shop, are they more likely to be the elderly people or are the likely to be the teenagers or people of a younger age?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: Most of them are underage.
Q164 Chair: They are underage?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: Yes.
Q165 Chair: Which means how old?
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: 18, 17. Once they leave work they come and chill. It a situation where they come and chill and have conversation. Somebody will ask another person, "Do you have any vacancy in your place?" It is like a community where we normally sit down and discuss, sharing ideas.
Q166 Chair: And chew the khat, literally.
Mahamud Ahmed Mohammed: Yes.
Q167 Chair: Mr Garlick, a final question to you. Do you understand the point I am making, that this is very much a generational thing?
Paul Garlick: I do.
Q168 Chair: I am not saying no young Kenyan, Somalian or Yemeni is chewing khat. There are other things on the market that they are more keen on, but if you start banning something and telling young people they must not do something they are more likely to want to do it.
Paul Garlick: I have had a teenage daughter and I don’t think she has chewed khat but, as we know with all teenagers, if you say to the teenager, "You can’t do it," particularly if they are in a very small proportion of society where it is readily identifiable, they are more like to say, "Yes, we will". Once you criminalise that then there are difficulties.
I have just been handed a note that perhaps would be helpful. When we went to our meeting in Southall and we met a lot of the elders of the community in Southall it was made clear to us that it is mainly the older people who use it at the moment in that area.
Q169 Chair: Yes, as I thought. It is a generational issue, isn’t it?
Paul Garlick: Yes. In your very first question to me you asked me about the amount. I have just turned to the council report. At paragraph 54 they have the comparative figures between 2005 and 2012 where the volume of tonnes imported and sold in 2005 was 280,000 tonnes and in 2011-2012 it was reduced slightly to 256,000 tonnes. In terms of importation, it has dropped a little. The community has increased in size but the quantities have dropped a little.
Chair: Excellent, thank you. Thank you both of your evidence and, on behalf of the Committee to those visiting members of the Kenyan and delegation, we pass on our sympathy for the recent atrocity that has occurred in Kenya. We were very concerned about them and I know that our Government is going a great deal working with the President of Kenya and others to try to find those who were responsible for this terrible crime. Thank you very much for coming in. You have been extremely helpful. As Dr Huppert has said, because the idea of this session was Dr Huppert’s, the parliamentary debate will be on Monday in one of the committee rooms and it may well be that Members may want to try to also get this on to the floor of the House next week. Thank you very much.
 Note by witness es : I [Jeremy Sare] would also like to clarify the issue of access to Ministers raised by Mr Winnick. It has not been altogether satisfactory. We were granted a good meeting with Jeremy Browne as HO Minister in January 2013. However we were refused a meeting with Public Health Minister Anna Soubry. Diana Johnson managed to facilitate a meeting with Ms Soubry eventually in September. We were not informed prior to the meeting that it would be a roundtable with other organisations. I would like to put on record extremely helpful Diana Johnson has been to our cause. We met Liz Truss Schools Minister at DfE in February. Again it was a roundtable with five organisations lasting only 30 minutes. Maryon was allowed to raise one issue, I myself [Jeremy Sare] was not able to contribute anything. We were refused a meeting with DPM but instead had useful discussions with two SpAds Tim Colbourne and this month Alex Dziedzan.
 Note by Witness es : These were not formal written requests to the Home Sec retary 's office. The requests were raised personally with Drugs Minister Jeremy Browne and Home Affairs PS to PM Gus Jaspert but did not progress.