Brian Paddick upsets the Daily Mail over drugs policy. Oh what a shame.

Brian Paddick is not some hippy anarchist. He used to be the Assistant Commisioner of the Metropolitan Police for goodness’ sake. He knows, therefore, about what works in trying to tackle drug addiction. And it’s not the futile “war on drugs” which successive governments have insisted on waging. Prohibition just doesn’t work. All the evidence points to that. Drug users who need help should get it through the health service not the prison service.

Funnily enough, the Daily Mail doesn’t much like his plan to amend the government’s ridiculous law banning legal highs.

This afternoon, Brian moved his amendments to the Bill. Here’s his speech in full:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is exactly the ground we should be fighting on – practical, evidence, based, liberal policy.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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23 Comments

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Jun '15 - 7:15pm

    The last time this came up(and the time before that) I asked several pertinent questions, none of which were answered. They were hard questions, questions totally ignored by the Abolishonists. Until they are answered I cannot see the country going for legalisation

  • Duncan Stott 23rd Jun '15 - 8:41pm

    Mr Wallace,

    Like you I would have loved to have seen more progress made on liberalising our drug laws during our period in government. However I think you are being unfair to suggest that nothing was done. We conducted the first ever comparative review looking at alternatives and released this report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/drugs-international-comparators

    To quote from it:
    “There are indications that decriminalisation can reduce the burden on criminal justice systems.
    “It is not clear that decriminalisation has an impact on levels of drug use.
    “The disparity in drug use trends and criminal justice statistics between countries with similar approaches, and the lack of any clear correlation between the ‘toughness’ of an approach and levels of drug use demonstrates the complexity of the issue.”

    This is a significant breakthrough and getting the Home Office to at least acknowledge the promise of reform is good. Contrary to what you said, an awful lot of political capital was expended to get this research carried out and published.

  • It’s when the Daily Mail approve of a policy that I worry!

  • People often quote the Portuguese drugs experiment as showing that decrimalisation works, but there is some evidence that the different factions manipulated the data to prop up their own arguments. https://kar.kent.ac.uk/29901/1/Hughes%20%20Stevens%202012.pdf
    Generally decriminalising anything will tend to increase its use which, in the case of drugs, could actually lead to more addicts. A difficult dilemma.

  • A Social Liberal 24th Jun '15 - 2:40am

    Mr Wallace
    These are the questions I asked

    1) What does the state do when an addict has reached a state where their tolerance to their drug of choice makes it dangerous to take the amount necessary to give them what they crave. Do we :-
    – supply the amount regardless?
    – give them only the safe dose with the result that they will top up with street gear?

    2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs – angel dust, crystal meth and crack cocaine?

    3) What do we do when a client is coming down off his drug of choice but it is not yet safe to issue him with another dose. Do we :-
    – give it them knowing they could OD?
    – Deny them the drug knowing they will head off to the dealer?
    – lock them up so that they cannot obtain any drug until it is safe for them to get their next high?

    Indeed, there are fundamental questions which need answering.
    4) What is the end game in giving clients what they want? Is it :-
    – Simply to give the client what they want?
    – A holding strategy to stop the client taking ever greater amounts of drugs?
    – To force the client to wean themselves off the drug?

    5) Do we supply only addicts with their drug of choice, or give anyone the chance of using drugs?

    6) Will the drugs be supplied by the state, or will private companies be able to make a buck off the suffering of others? If the state, do we charge clients for the drugs they take?

    7) Do we supply clients with a safe place to take their drugs and stay whilst high or do we chuck them out into the cruel and dangerous world?

    8 ) Do we allow clients benefits to keep them whilst they follow their lifestyle?

    9) Do we supply clients with the wherewithal to take a cocktail of drugs in order to maintain their high for longer?

  • Pleased to see Brian Paddick pursuing this. And supportive of pretty much anything the Mail opposes.

  • Simon Gilbert 24th Jun '15 - 8:42am

    All recreational drugs cause harm. The war on drugs however leads to cartels, corruption and violence in countries far from the country where the consumption occurs.
    A real debate on the consequences of prohibition is needed, not just focussing on end users in rich countries.
    Decriminalising consumption, production and supply of cannabis might reduce the power of the large violent drug cartels. Psychosis rates would increase however, as well as lung problems if smoked.
    The argument is no different than that for alcohol prohibition.

  • Glenn Andrews 24th Jun '15 - 9:38am

    Since the legalisation of cannabis in Colorado; there has been a reduction in crime, a reduction in traffic fatalities, an increase in tax revenues and of course what should be of most interest to Liberal Democrats who are constitutionally bound to defend the rights of non-conformist citizens (within the limits of the harm principle) an increase in freedom to cannabis users.

  • David Faggiani 24th Jun '15 - 11:09am

    I am so glad this is getting discussed!!! I agree with a lot of the frustrations of Mr Wallace.
    In the interest of full discussion, here’s my take on ‘A Social Liberal’s questions above. I’m not exactly sure about the context they were first posed in (Issues of rehabilitation?) but here are my brief but not disingenuous answers:

    1) What does the state do when an addict has reached a state where their tolerance to their drug of choice….
    – supply the amount regardless?
    No
    – give them only the safe dose with the result that they will top up with street gear?
    No. I’m not sure why we (‘the State’) are doing this anyway?

    2) Do we supply drugs which have the potential to turn the client into maniacs
    Do you mean on the NHS, or in shops? Either way, no. They would be banned the same way that guns are.

    3) What do we do when a client is coming down off his drug of choice but it is not yet safe……
    – give it them knowing they could OD?
    No.
    – Deny them the drug knowing they will head off to the dealer?
    Yes, essentially.
    – lock them up so that they cannot obtain any drug until it is safe for them to get their next high?
    No.

    4) What is the end game in giving clients what they want? Is it :-
    – Simply to give the client what they want?
    Yes, basically.
    – A holding strategy to stop the client taking ever greater amounts of drugs?
    No.
    – To force the client to wean themselves off the drug?
    No.

    5) Do we supply only addicts with their drug of choice, or give anyone the chance of using drugs?
    Drugs should be commercially available to all adults.

    6) Will the drugs be supplied by the state, or will private companies be able to make a buck off the suffering of others? If the state, do we charge clients for the drugs they take?
    Private companies will be able to make a buck off the suffering of others. And the fun, and the ecstasy. And everything in between.

    7) Do we supply clients with a safe place to take their drugs and stay whilst high or do we chuck them out into the cruel and dangerous world?
    It’s called Glastonbury.

    8 ) Do we allow clients benefits to keep them whilst they follow their lifestyle?
    It’s called a student loan (I sound like Finchy from The Office)

    9) Do we supply clients with the wherewithal to take a cocktail of drugs in order to maintain their high for longer?
    Shops could, yes.

  • David Faggiani 24th Jun '15 - 11:12am

    I am of course, being a bit cheeky in several of my answers there! But genuinely happy to debate these points, and more, in more depth, A Social Liberal! I think drug policy is something we should be bold and brave on (far beyond out current position) and I said as much to Tim Farron recently.

  • I think drug policy is something we should be bold and brave on

    You don’t want any Liberal Democrats to get elected, then?

  • David Faggiani 24th Jun '15 - 12:15pm

    Hah, yes. You’re sort of paraphrasing Sir Humphrey, there, aren’t you? 🙂

    No, I think genuine liberalisation of drug policy would be a net vote-winner. Call me naive, but that is genuinely what I believe.

  • I think genuine liberalisation of drug policy would be a net vote-winner

    Yes, but it’s not like there’s much the Liberal Democrats could do to net lose votes, is it?

  • Simon Gilbert 24th Jun '15 - 12:58pm

    Precisely – this the exact time to debate and apply liberal thinking to these hard topics, when not constrained by political office.

  • this the exact time to debate and apply liberal thinking to these hard topics, when not constrained by political office

    And if you adopt this policy you’ll never by constrained by political office again, so I suppose that’s a win.

  • Malcolm Todd 24th Jun '15 - 4:20pm

    Dav
    At 11.51 a.m.: “You don’t want any Liberal Democrats to get elected, then?” – i.e. a liberal drugs policy will lose us even more votes.
    At 12.32 p.m.: “Yes, but it’s not like there’s much the Liberal Democrats could do to net lose votes, is it?” – i.e. a liberal drugs policy can’t make us any worse off than we are already.

    Are you perhaps participating in this discussion whilst under the influence of mind-altering substances?

  • “He used to be the Assistant Commisioner of the Metropolitan Police for goodness’ sake. He knows, therefore, about what works in trying to tackle drug addiction.”

    That’s a bit of a non sequitur.

    “Prohibition just doesn’t work. All the evidence points to that.”

    Yet the Mail quotes a report by the IFS which claims that an experiment in Brixton to stop arresting people in possession of soft drugs “led to a rise of 40 to 100 per cent in the numbers of men admitted to hospital due to their use of harder drugs”. On what grounds do you discount this evidence?

    @Glenn Andrews
    “Since the legalisation of cannabis in Colorado; there has been a reduction in crime, a reduction in traffic fatalities, an increase in tax revenues…”

    Has the weather been better, too?

  • Just to add to my last post, I really don’t think this policy is a vote-winner either; people out there will not take the Party as seriously if we support decriminalisation; it’s just a step too far at the moment. Maybe we need a proper review of the evidence, but we shouldn’t jump the gun on this right now.

  • Brilliant speech. Right on track Brian!

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