Tuesday, June 12, 2007

EVENTS: Westminster Hall debate on drug classification

The Science and Technology Select committee is holding a debate on its report: Drug Classification: Making a hash of it. The Debate is in Westminster Hall this Thursday, from 2.30- 5.30, and is open to the Public. (details below)

The committee's report was highly critical of the A,B,C drug classification system, which it concluded was unscientific, outdated, riddled with anomalies and 'not fit for purpose'. The report made a series of suggestions for ways forward including institutional reforms.

Responses to the report were received from the ACMD (which itself came in for some criticism) and the Government. There has subsequently been a follow up session during which the Committee returned to the issue in light of these written responses, during which they re-interrogated Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker, and the two senior figures in the ACMD.

Thursdays debate will again feature Vernon Coaker defending the Governments position that it 'believes' the classification 'has stood the test of time' and is 'fit for purpose' despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary as assembled by his fellow MPs on the committee. It promises to provide a showcase for the essential Home Office ministerial skills of spin and defending the indefensible for transparently political reasons. The hopeless written response from the Government was absurdly dismissive of the Committee's detailed analysis and an insulting intellectual response to the Committee's considered conclusions and recommendations. We can expect some fireworks, especially if the Ministerial bluster from the follow up session is any precedent. The Committee are clearly not happy.

Report links:

Transform's written submission to the Inquiry
which, along with Transform's oral evidence, is extensively quoted in the final report, significantly shaping its conclusions and critique.

Drug Classification: making a hash of it?
The Committees final report in pdf (includes oral and written evidence). It is strongest on the science critique, although arguably a bit clumsy in some of the institutional/structural critique.

Governments written response to the report
Defensive to the point of being an embarrassment to all concerned. Fails to engage with all meaningful questions asked about the scientific basis or evidence base for drug policy and classification.

Follow up session on classification with The Committee cross examining the Drugs Minister and ACMD chair (Hansard transcript)

Whilst ACMD are redeemed to some degree, this is worth reading for the absolute astonishing series of exchanges with Coaker in which the Government's belief-based drug policy is laid bare in all its science-free glory. Any pretence that the policy is based on evidence is unashamedly jettisoned.

Previous blogs:

Transform Blog: Classification and Deterrence: Where's the evidence?
discussion of one of the more ludicrous aspects of the Government's response to the Committees assertion that the classification system lacked an evidence base.

Transform Blog: Meth is Class A: we can relax now
revisits some of the themes from the committee report with reference to the reclassification of meth-amphetamine

Transform Blog: The Lancet and drug harms: missing the bigger picture
the ACMD technical experts finally publish their new methodology for assessing drug harms in the Lancet. The Home Office, who appoint the ACMD to advise them on classification issue. Also discusses the Minister's response to this analysis in the world's premier medical journal - needs to be read to be believed.

press release from Select Committee on Science and Technology

No. 39 of Session 2006-07 22 May 2007

A debate on the Committee’s Report
Thursday 14 June 2007

On Thursday 14 June there will be a debate in Westminster Hall on the Committee’s Report Drug classification: making a hash of it?. The debate is open to the public.

The debate will focus on the conclusions of the Committee’s Report, the Government’s response as well as the response received from the ACMD, and will also cover relevant recent developments.

The Report to be debated is:

  • Fifth Report, Session 2005-06, Drug classification: making a hash of it?, published on 31 July 2006 as HC 1031.
Also relevant is the subsequent Government response to the Committee’s Fifth Report:
  • The Government Reply to the Fifth Report from the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 1031, Drug classification: making a hash of it?, published in October 2006 as Cm 6941

The Committee held a follow-up evidence session with the Minister on 22 November 2006. Minutes of Evidence from this session are published as:

  • Drug classification: making a hash of it? – follow-up: Oral evidence from Mr Vernon Coaker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Policing, Security and Community Safety, Home Office, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman, and Professor David Nutt, Member and Chair, Technical Committee, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), published as HC 65-i on 20 March 2007.

The response received from ACMD is published together with the oral evidence.

For further information please call Ana Ferreira, on 020 7219 2793.

Previous press notices and publications are available on our website

Notes for those wishing to attend the debate in Westminster Hall:

Members of the public wishing to attend should present themselves at St Stephen’s Entrance where they will be directed through security and to Westminster Hall. It is advisable to allow about 15 minutes for this. Please ensure that mobile phones and pagers are turned off before entering Westminster Hall. Under no circumstances should members of the public address Members during the debate. Those attending the debate are asked to remain silent throughout.

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