Lord Brian Paddick writes…Standing up for evidence-based policy on drug laws

Yesterday in the House of Lords I called a vote to change the government’s Psychoactive Substances Bill. The Conservatives and Labour refused to support the change and we lost the vote 314 votes to 95, which was a great result. So how can such a crushing defeat be good? Because we established, on the record, that neither the Tories nor Labour support a scientific, evidence-based approach to reducing the harm caused by drugs. And here’s why.

The Tory government, supported by Labour, is pushing through a draconian, authoritarian law that would ban any substance that changes the way you think or the way you feel (your mental functioning or emotional state). There is no doubt some of the substances that the legislation covers are highly dangerous, but Lib Dems do not support a blanket ban that could do more harm than good. Things normally consumed as food and prescription medicines are not covered but tea, beer and cigarettes would all be banned except for the fact that caffeine, alcohol and nicotine (and only those three things) are specifically listed in the bill as being exempt.

The government has made it quite clear that they do not intend to add anything else to the list of exemptions and the law also prohibits anyone from removing ‘the establishment’s drugs of choice’ from the exempt list. So despite the wealth of scientific evidence that shows how much more dangerous alcohol is than, say, nitrous oxide (laughing gas), both in terms of the harm it causes to individuals and to society, the government intends to use this Bill to ban it.

The Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), a body that the government is required by law to consult on drugs legislation, was asked for their advice only after the Bill was published. Instead an ‘Expert Panel’ was set-up to advise the government on what it should do about new psychoactive substances (‘legal highs’). The Expert Panel said there should be a concept of harm in the Bill, so that psychoactive substances of low harm or no harm could be excluded. On July 2, the ACMD in a letter to the Home Secretary backed the Expert Panel’s view, saying it could envisage situations where the supplier of benign or even beneficial psychoactive substances could be prosecuted under the Bill unless a harm element was included.

Armed with the recommendations of both the Government’s own Expert Panel and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords tabled an amendment, skilfully drafted by Baroness Sally Hamwee, to include a harm element. Sally used the established legal definition of harm, directly lifted from the Misuse of Drugs Act, in our amendment. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party voted against it, even though it was a scientifically and legally sound amendment that would have brought some sense to this ridiculous piece of legislation.

Sometimes we have to vote on issues that we know we are not going to win to show that there is clear water between us and the other main political parties. It establishes, on the record, that we are a distinctive, reasonable, and necessary liberal voice in British politics.

* Brian Paddick Is Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs. He was Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London's Metropolitan Police Service until 2007, the Lib Dem candidate for the London mayoral election in 2008 and 2012, and a life peer since 2013. He is joint President of LGBT+ Lib Dems.

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  • Peter Reynolds 16th Jul '15 - 5:55pm

    Very well said Lord Paddick. The House of Lords is a beacon for truth, evidence and democracy on drugs policy. The conduct of the Tory and Labour parties is shameful and will undoubtedly lead directly to deaths, misery and ruined lives.

    I voted for Norman Lamb but congratulations Tim Farron!

  • steven dunloo 16th Jul '15 - 10:29pm

    Glad there is people with brains you support science. Pity the rest won’t listen.

  • “Lord Paddick…”

    I really wonder at lib Dems being so deferential. He is just Brian, folks. Lib Dems do not do airs and graces, surely.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 17th Jul '15 - 8:49am

    Brian, you are doing for our Party what you did within the Police Service and bring some genuine reality and sense into this debate.

  • Darth Paddick, surely, Phyllis… 🙂

    But well said, Brian!

  • Quiet little backwater here without too much attention paid. What should I say? This is exactly the kind of policy which built up support for the libs, so recently lost.

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