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Khat-astrophe Averted

Jan 2006

On Thursday, the Home Secretary announced that he had decided not to ban Khat.

Is the Government about to embark on a new crime multiplication initiative? Possibly yes - as this exchange on Monday the 16th January 2006 illustrates.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the number of people who would be (a) arrested, (b) brought to court and (c) imprisoned if khat was classified as an illegal drug.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): No such estimates have been made. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has carried out a comprehensive study into the harms associated with the plant khat. The Council's report is currently with the Home Secretary and will be published in due course.

Paul Flynn: Is not the call for a ban on khat based on the naive, mistaken belief that banning drugs eliminates their use while in fact the reverse is true? Millions of people in Britain use illegal drugs every day. Would not a ban on khat drive a wedge between the police forces and the Somali and Yemeni communities, encourage khat users to use far more addictive and dangerous drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and change legal businesses into criminal ones overnight.

Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend and the Government have a rather different view of the control of drugs. It was due to concern about the health and other impacts of khat use in the communities that he mentioned that the issue was referred to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The council has made its assessment and its report, and the Home Secretary is considering it. He will make his decision and an announcement in due course.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): In the courts where I sit, there is no link at all between the consumption of khat and crime. The danger of banning such a substance is that the price will shoot up, supplies will drop and more people will turn to crime to fund their habit, so may I urge the Minister to focus more on crack cocaine and heroin and to take no steps, for obvious reasons, on that particular substance? Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that the Government's priority is class A drugs—heroin and crack cocaine—which do the most harm, but the Home Secretary is considering the report from the advisory council. He will have heard the hon. Gentleman's comments and will make his decision in due course.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): The noble lord, Lord Adebowale, the chief executive of Turning Point, said of khat: "It is a social care issue and it requires a social care response. We need to be looking at the whole range of people's needs from physical and mental health right through to employment and family support services." Will my hon. Friend take Lord Adebowale's opinion into account before he makes his decision?

Paul Goggins: Not only that, but Lord Adebowale and Turning Point, the organisation that he heads, have done important work in that area. Indeed, Turning Point submitted a report to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is among the range of evidence being actively considered by the Home Secretary.