Drug Misuse

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

[Relevant document: The White Paper entitled "Tackling Drugs Together-A Strategy for England 1995–98" (Cm 2846).]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree 9:34 am, 9th June 1995

I very much welcome the opportunity to open a full day's debate on the Government's strategy for tackling drug misuse in England, which I presented to the House, in the form of a White Paper, as recently as a month ago. I did so on behalf, not only of myself, but of the Secretaries of State for Health and for Education, the Home Secretary and the Paymaster General. I recall that, on that occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) expressed the hope that we would find time for a debate on the White Paper, and I share what I hope will be his pleasure that we have been able to do so.

I should make it clear at the outset that I play a largely co-ordinating role rather than an executive one in this regard. I was asked to chair the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Drug Misuse and it is to me that the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit reports, but I am the conductor of the orchestra—an orchestra which plays in complete harmony—not a player.

None of us should be under any illusion about the seriousness of the drug problem that confronts us today and especially the threat that it poses to many of our young people. The evidence shows that, in any one year, at least 3 million people—about 6 per cent. of the population—take an illegal drug. Recent surveys have suggested that 28 per cent. of 16 to 29-year-olds have taken illegal drugs and that 14 per cent. of 14 to 15-year-olds admit to doing so. All the indicators—including drug seizures and the number of people found guilty of or cautioned for drug offences—have been increasing. The signs are that drug misuse in the United Kingdom and overseas has been continuing to increase.

It is little surprise perhaps that, in last year's British Crime Survey, the percentage of people who specifically expressed worry about drugs as a "big problem" increased from 12 per cent. in 1992 to 22 per cent., and that among young people themselves—16 to 19-year-olds—that figure has increased to more than 30 per cent.

Photo of Mr Harry Greenway Mr Harry Greenway , Ealing North

I dare say that I am anticipating my right hon. Friend, but I think it is important to place one matter on the record. I know that my right hon. Friend shares my concern about young people. Is he aware that the pressure on them to take cannabis and soft drugs, believing that there will be no after-effects, is growing, but that Professor Camps, a great and famous Home Office pathologist for many years, repeatedly said to me, as a leading schoolmaster, "Soft drugs always lead to hard drugs—always. Never let your pupils and students take soft drugs"? I never did.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is precisely because of worries of that type that we have sought to place so much emphasis on that strategy and, I may say, to make it absolutely clear, as I am glad has also been made clear from the Opposition Front Bench during the response to my statement, that we have no plans whatever to legalise any drugs that are currently not legal. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

It is, I say to my hon. Friend, for that type of reason and against that background that the Government have felt it right to develop a strategic framework that recognises the seriousness and complexity of the problem and sets out a range of commitments to tackle it.

I have been extremely encouraged by the support that the White Paper has received, in the House, as reflected in the general welcome given by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) when I made my statement, and more widely. All types of relevant organisations, many of them very distinguished, such as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and our own all-party drug misuse group, have welcomed the White Paper and expressed their willingness—indeed keenness—to work with it.

Indeed, I noted that the director of intelligence at Scotland Yard—not, on my acquaintance with him, a man given to saying things that Ministers like to hear simply for the sake of pleasing them—is reported as having said on the radio, on the day of the White Paper's publication: they actually listened"— that is us— to what we'd got to say and what you've seen is a great deal of hard work by the Central Drugs Co-ordinating Committee which has produced what I think is a stunning document compared with other drug strategies that have been prepared across the world. This is really the best I've ever seen and it deserves our support. I do not know whether everyone has been that fulsome in support of the White Paper—it appears that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) does not feel quite the same way. At any rate, it is an indication of the very positive response that the White Paper has received. That support gives us our best chance of success and it is a reflection of the extent to which the Government have sought to listen to serious, reasoned analysis and proposals during the consultation exercise which preceded the White Paper's publication. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman—perhaps he will be as fulsome in his praise of the White Paper as I would wish.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Not quite, hut I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the many comments about the fact that the Government have listened to criticisms of the proposed structure and arrangements and responded to those criticisms. However, there is a feeling that the Government did not heed advice about addressing some of the fundamental causes of the drug problem, which the White Paper does not deal with at all.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am not sure that I wholly agree with that view. None of us can be confident that we know what the difficulties are and research to which I shall refer later reveals that dilemma. We know that we are dealing with a very complex problem and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who shows every sign that he intends to participate in the debate, will elaborate upon his views later.

I was particularly pleased to note the positive response from the key agencies which have the responsibility for delivering the strategy. At its annual drugs conference during the week following the White Paper's publication, the Association of Chief Police Officers demonstrated the police service's commitment to the partnership approach by involving in those discussions for the first time the full range of enforcement, education and treatment agencies concerned with tackling drugs.

Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The inter-agency approach that he has mentioned is very important. Will he take the opportunity to pay great tribute to Norfolk, where the inter-agency approach has been working extremely well since 1990? I know that the local authorities there are following Government policy very actively indeed.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I am more than happy to pay tribute to my hon. Friend's county local authorities in Norfolk so long as I am also allowed to pay my own tribute to the local authorities in Essex which have also worked extremely effectively to that end.

Our task now is to ensure the implementation of the strategy whose aims are clearly set out in the statement of purpose, which is: To take effective action by vigorous law enforcement, accessible treatment and a new emphasis on education and prevention to:increase the safety of communities from drug-related crime:reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people; andreduce the health risks and other damage related to drug misuse. Those three priorities are interdependent and of equal importance. I emphasise the fact that delivering one helps to deliver the others and, in the same way, if we were to lose ground in one area, the others would be undermined. Our efforts must be connected, concerted and sustained across the board.

Our objectives in relation to community safety and crime are: to see that the law is effectively enforced, especially against those involved in the supply and trafficking of illegal drugs; to reduce the incidence of and the public's fear of drug-related crime; and to reduce the level of drug misuse in prisons, the importance of which was rightly stressed by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House in response to my statement of 10 May.

The White Paper not only sets out specific tasks for each of the criminal justice agencies in meeting these objectives, but requires them to work together to maximise effectiveness. For example, I attach considerable importance to the work to be undertaken by HM Customs and Excise, the police service—including regional crime squads—the Home Office and the National Criminal Intelligence Service to develop overall performance measures for law enforcement, including targets for dismantling major trafficking organisations.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

My right hon. Friend mentioned Customs and Excise. Will he confirm that we can be certain that adequate methods of border control will remain in place in Dover? We do not want the relaxation of border controls around Europe to prevent us from doing our normal checks at borders and thus allow drugs to be imported into the country illegally in lorries.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

My hon. Friend will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and many of my other right hon. Friends have repeatedly made clear the British Government's determination to maintain effective controls for many reasons, including that which concerns my hon. Friend.

As to law enforcement measures, I shall refer briefly to the prison service's own drugs strategy. It requires effective working in conjunction with other relevant agencies, such as the probation service, police and a range of local agencies, in order to tackle the control, safety and treatment issues which must be addressed for those in custody and on release. We shall seek to measure their performance against key performance indicators for tackling drug-related crime, some of which are mentioned in the White Paper.

The White Paper sets out a number of objectives aimed at helping young people to resist drugs. Their span is wide because the circumstances which determine why some of our children choose to experiment with drugs, while many others—still the majority, we must not forget—do not, arc contingent upon many different factors. I referred to that fact briefly in response to the intervention by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed a few moments ago.

The recent report entitled "Psychological Disorders in Young People" by Professor Sir Michael Rutter and David Smith demonstrates yet again the complexity of the social environment facing young people today. It makes clear that there are no simple answers as to which factors cause drug misuse, but it lends no support to some of the more facile suggestions about links with social and economic conditions.

However, central to our efforts must be discouraging young people—who take illegal drugs for whatever reason—from taking them in the first place; providing our schools with clear guidance on drug education and managing drug-related incidents; and developing effective publicity campaigns. Experience from the United States and elsewhere suggests that credible, focused information about the dangers of drugs can make a real impact on the attitudes of young people. If we can reduce their demand for drugs by highlighting their awareness of risk and developing their skills to resist pressures—to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred—we shall he on the way to containing the trends. But a fine and a careful line must be drawn in highlighting those risks and dangers, without overstating them so that they seem either totally unconnected with young people's lives or make drug taking perversely attractive.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway , Croydon South

My right hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the threat that drug taking poses for young people. Is he aware of the report of the Croydon regional drug and alcohol team which said, as recently as 1 June, that children as young as six or seven may be using cannabis or pills? That suggests that drug strategies should be targeted perhaps to primary as well as secondary schools.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I note my hon. Friend's point. I was not specifically aware of that survey, but the fact that it confirms his concerns indicates the importance of the efforts that are being made in relation to drugs education. We must ensure that appropriate steps are taken throughout people's schooling. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State from the Department of Education, who will wind up the debate, will refer to that matter in his speech.

I emphasise that the Office for Standards in Education will take a key role in assessing our performance in the educational field. The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised some concerns about OFSTED's expertise in her response to the White Paper's publication. I assure the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), who is leading for the Opposition today, that a detailed and comprehensive inspection brief for this work has been agreed between OFSTED and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. It requires all inspections to include comment on the quality of both policy and practice in drugs education at each school, as well as requiring specific studies on school provision and the contribution of the youth service to drugs prevention. Training for OFSTED inspectors in that vital area of their work is kept under regular review, and includes the provision of day conferences and regional meetings to share good practice.

But as I made clear when presenting this White Paper, young people's drug problems cannot be a matter only for schools. The White Paper's objectives and tasks in relation to reducing the susceptibility of young people to drugs stretches across the Home Office, the Department of Health and others. Work with young offenders, the homeless or children in care must all take place within a shared agenda of effective drug prevention and education.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has renewed the drug prevention initiative which works with local communities. Today, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Health is announcing grants to 40 projects developing specialist services for young people at risk of drug misuse or at an early stage of experimenting with drugs. This White Paper signals a strong and enhanced emphasis on prevention and education to help young people to resist drugs. It will necessarily be a long-term process, but it is essential.

Reducing the health risks of drug misuse—the third key area of the White Paper which has an equal priority with the others—is essentially about progress on two overall objectives: first, protecting our communities from the health risks and other damage associated with drug misuse, including the spread of communicable diseases; and, secondly, discouraging people from misusing drugs, and enabling those who do so to stop.

I attach particular importance in respect of these objectives to the work currently being undertaken by the task force established in April 1994 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health which is reviewing the effectiveness of treatment services for drug misusers. It is expected to report to Ministers in January. I hope that it will help purchasers to ensure that cost-effective and appropriate services—both from the statutory and the very important independent sectors—are accessible to those who need them. Department of Health guidance will therefore cover early intervention services, treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare services, and will include services for people serving community sentences or on release from custody.

Here again, interdependence is one of the themes. Close liaison with the relevant agencies will be the key to effective delivery. That is why the independent standing conference on drug abuse is seeking to draw together service providers across the spectrum.

Important though the overall strategy is, the direct impact of the White Paper must be at the local level if we are to make real progress. A great deal of good work has already been established in many areas, not least those which have had the benefit of the Home Office's drug prevention initiative. But the White Paper gives an added emphasis to the themes of partnership, leadership and accountability at the local level with the setting up of drug action teams across all parts of England to deliver progress on the ground.

Chief executives of district health authorities have been given the responsibility of setting up local arrangements and will report on these to central Government by the end of September. One or two hon. Members expressed concern at the time of publication of the White Paper—the hon. Member for Knowsley, North may advert to this today—as to why this responsibility was not accorded to local authorities. This is simply because—of all the bodies involved—district health authorities have a direct line of accountability to Ministers in central Government. We attach importance to that as our best method of making sure that something happens on the ground.

We certainly expect local authority chief executives to play a big role in taking forward the drug action teams, and the clear indications are that they are ready to do so. Indeed, we hope that some chief executives or their senior colleagues will come forward to chair such teams, because we have not attempted to dictate the chairing of the organisations, which will depend on what seems best locally.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) suggested that dynamic, co-ordinated local authority action required representation on the drug action teams by elected members, as well as officials. It would to be better to see how the current proposals develop on the basis that councillors will be keeping in close touch with their senior officials—we would welcome that—and that there is already a degree of flexibility in the arrangements to allow particular individuals to be co-opted on to the teams. I welcome the indications of commitment to the strategy that those who pressed that point are, in effect, expressing.

Each drug action team will decide the chairing arrangements which best suit their work, and we hope to see a variety of agencies and services represented in the chairs across the country. By 31 December this year, I expect to receive action plans from each, setting out their proposals for 1996–97 and 1997–98, and agreed key priorities on which local action and funding is to be focused, describing the arrangements for co-ordinating local services to tackle drug misuse and for liaising with other relevant bodies at local, regional and national level, giving their proposals for the use of development funds—£33,000 will be made available to each district health authority for each of the full two years of their work—and giving the arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the priorities being undertaken.

Those action plans should also set out proposed arrangements for each drug action team's drug reference group. These groups need a broad membership—this is another point to which I attach great importance—to help forge close working relationships with a wide range of local expertise and local communities. Without that, the drug action teams' impact will be seriously reduced.

The contribution that voluntary and community groups, in particular, can make to this work by their input to drug reference groups will be very substantial. May I take this opportunity—which I am sure everyone in the House today will wish to endorse—of expressing my very considerable appreciation of all those individuals directly involved in tackling drug misuse in voluntary and community organisations throughout the country at the grass roots? They undertake difficult, often thankless, work in the fields of prevention and treatment, and we want drug action teams to make full use of their very considerable expertise and commitment.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms , Newham North East

I endorse what the Leader of the House said about the contribution of the people who are working on the ground. Why will the drug action teams have only one at most representative from such people in their membership? The construction of drug action teams seems somewhat top heavy, with a preponderance of chief executives and chief constables and perhaps one co-opted voluntary sector representative. Should not the balance be shifted more in favour of the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman was referring?

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I shall come hack to the general point arising from what the hon. Gentleman has said in a moment or two, but I shall make two points in direct response to what he has said. First, the thinking that has informed the structure of the drug action teams has been that if there is too large a body, it will not be as effective. Everyone knows that a group of 25, 30 or 40 people is not a good body to oversee executive action, and we want a relatively small body with a main executive responsibility.

Secondly, we want to make sure that all the key agencies involved are directly represented in that body, because they will have to carry out the strategy. The combination of those two factors has led us to propose a structure of tightly focused, smallish and high-level drug action teams associated with the more broadly based drug reference groups. I am not saying that we are sure that we have every last dot and comma of the structure right, and we will be prepared to look at such matters as experience unfolds. But that has been the thinking behind the structure, and I think that it is a sensible approach.

I have spent a little time focusing on those matters, but I do not object at all to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North,-East (Mr. Timms) because the membership of the groups is an important ingredient. The groups provide the key to translating a comprehensive strategic framework into specific, tangible initiatives which make a real difference to local communities. The leadership and determination that will he required in establishing the teams is available and is ready to be deployed.

Having said that, I would not want the House to think for one moment that the Government and others working beyond the local level can now sit back and let the strategy unfold. Departments have over 80 objectives and tasks to undertake within specific timescales and there will be a lot to do in supporting the work at organisational and local level to keep up the momentum and to hold Departments, agencies and drug action teams to account.

Some of this work will fall to our officials in the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit, led by Sue Street, to whom I pay tribute. The unit has performed massively successful work in the relatively short time since it was established. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes will want to pay a similar tribute to the unit today and to emphasise the importance that he attaches to its work. I assure him that the unit's role for the life of the strategy will be assessed next year, in the expectation that it will continue in some form or other for the life of the strategy.

There will also be wider tasks. We must ensure that we make the best possible use of the large resources already available to us. I reminded the House when I published the White Paper that we already spend more than £500 million on tackling the drugs problem each year, and I announced a further total additional resource of slightly over £13 million this year to support the White Paper initiatives. We also want to increase our knowledge of the scale and nature of the drugs problem that we face, taking careful account of local differences inside England and more widely in the United Kingdom, and keeping the bigger picture in relation to organised crime and the international scene in clear view.

As we do all these things I have no doubt that some elements of the plan set out in the White Paper will, as I told the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), need to be refined and fine tuned in the light of new issues that arise and practical lessons that are learnt. But I believe that the strategic framework in the White Paper is clear and robust. We need to be ready to use its flexibility to give all involved in combating the drugs problem the most useful practical support throughout the three years of the strategy's life. Then we must provide a good basis for reviewing our priorities and tasks in future years.

I believe that this White Paper gives us a better chance than ever before to make a real difference to the many people whose lives are blighted or threatened by the damage caused by illegal drugs. The strategy that I have outlined and the local tools now available to implement it offer a positive way forward to enhance community safety, reduce health risks and, perhaps most importantly of all, help our young people to protect themselves from the malign influence of drugs on their lives.

So I welcome the debate as a means of signalling the clear collective determination of the House to do all we can to tackle the drugs problem. The Minister of State at the Department for Education and I will listen with close attention to everything that is said by those who contribute to today's debate.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:01 am, 9th June 1995

I repeat the welcome for the White Paper offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) when it was introduced. The Lord President will confirm that, ever since the Green Paper, we have consistently supported the Government's approach, offering constructive criticism where necessary, but welcoming the general direction. We confirm the need for a central strategy, and the one advanced by the right hon. Gentleman today broadly meets that need. We also agree with the idea of putting in place local mechanisms for delivering such a strategy. To that extent we broadly welcome the proposals.

It is essential, as far as possible, to build a consensus on this issue, first because the problem affects especially young people in every city, town and village. This is not just an inner-city problem or a rural problem. We in the House and others who are interested in those matters have a duty to build a consensus around our approach to dealing with the problem.

We are all well aware of the links between drug misuse and crime of all kinds, but we should be especially worried about the rise of violent crime associated with the drug industry. Today I put on record the Opposition's endorsement of the Lord President's two main themes: the commitment to proper maintenance of legal deterrents, and the firm enforcement of the law by the police and by Customs and Excise. We should not contemplate decriminalisation or legalisation of any substance that is currently illegal, including cannabis.

Whatever the merits of otherwise of the debate on cannabis, holding out the prospect that it might at some time be legalised or decriminalised—there is a subtle difference—would be wholly wrong, because it would send the wrong signals to young people. Holding out such a prospect to them would blunt the message that we are trying to broadcast.

Secondly, the liberalisation advocated by some is a distraction from the need to portray drugs as a problem. That is why I want to establish at the outset that the Opposition support the strategy set out in the White Paper and will do everything they can to make its implementation a success. I should also like to record my thanks to the Lord President for making his advisers available to me before the debate. I am grateful for that gesture, which bodes well for future co-operation across the House.

I have no doubt that during the debate some hon. Members will attempt to exploit such divisions as exist in some corners of the House. That may be understandable, but it is important to emphasise our broad areas of agreement, not our divisions. Depending on the significance that one attaches to the resolution passed at the Liberal Democrats' conference last year, it would appear that they are in favour of legalising cannabis—

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman has suggested that he intends to be accurate and objective, so he should perhaps bear in mind the fact that the resolution to which he refers recommended that the matter be considered by a royal commission. I have made it clear on many occasions that neither I nor my right hon. and hon. Friends are persuaded that the signal that would be given by legalising possession would be a good one to send out. In that context, I would be interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that the practice of cautioning as a way of dealing with possession offences—now the practice in half of all possession cases—is the right one.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Talking about a royal commission or explicitly endorsing legalisation or decriminalisation amount to the same thing. What the right hon. Gentleman says is technically correct, but what matters is the message received by the average young person. That is why the conference resolution was a mistake. I do not condemn the right hon. Gentleman or his party for it; I just think that it was wrong.

I have no complaint against the strategy that the police are adopting. Earlier this week I was briefed by the Merseyside drugs squad, so I know about the difficulties that they face and I know that they have to make tactical decisions depending on the circumstances. I would not therefore dissent from the tactics often employed in the field.

I am not trying to isolate the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I merely mentioned that resolution to show that there are dissenting voices on the political scene. I have to concede that one or two of my hon. Friends take the same view as the Liberal Democrats

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not so sure about that. The point is that my hon. Friends are always at pains to make it clear that theirs is a personal point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may seek to speak later; when he does so, I am sure that he will make it clear that he does not speak for the Labour party.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

As we are clearing up misunderstandings before they re-emerge, as they undoubtedly will, later in the debate, my hon. Friend might like to point out that there are Conservative Members who hold similar views. I am sure that he was going to get round to saying that, so that we can see that the matter both unites and divides parties across the House and that that is perfectly reasonable.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend read my mind. I was making the point that they are personal views. I do not agree, and the Opposition do not agree, but hon. Members are entitled to hold them.

To round up the balance of what I was saying, I come to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). [HON. MEMBERS:"Where is he?"] I exercised the normal courtesies of the House and pointed out to him yesterday that I intended to refer to his views on the subject, but where he is, I cannot say.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton recently published a book, a copy of which I have here. I did not purchase it, but got it from the Library. The book goes by the title of "Saturn's Children" and it was co-authored by Domonic Hobson. In the book, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton advances a number of arguments, one of which is the legalisation of drugs. That is in the context of a general right-of-centre argument about rolling back the frontiers of the state which will not be unfamiliar to many Conservative Members.

I quote briefly from the hon. Gentleman's book. The nub of the argument is on page 411: Above all, legalisation would save the taxpayer the many millions of pounds the police and the Customs and Excise spend on a war which they not only cannot win but which they are now actually losing, and at considerable cost to the ordinary people caught in the crossfire". I have simply established that there are dissenting views on both sides of the House. Indeed, if some of the Ulster Unionist Members were here, we might even find some completely different dissenting voices among them. Although dissenting voices exist, there is broad agreement.

Although I would never share some of those views, it is important that the common message that we send out is that, first, taking drugs is wrong, and, secondly, there is no prospect whatever of any legalisation or decriminalisation. That is important for a number of reasons, but it is most important for parents struggling to get children, especially teenage children, to understand that drugs are a path that should not be embarked upon. Similarly, schools, police and other agencies involved in the process would be appalled if the House were to take anything other than the line that we are adopting today.

It is important to be clear that there are unresolved difficulties that need to be addressed if we are to be serious about approaching the problem. First, there is a cycle of hopelessness that affects many young people. That has to have some impact on this problem.

Unemployment, as it affects school leavers and, more recently, graduates, cannot in itself be an excuse for embarking on the path to taking drugs, but it can be put down as part of the cause in some cases. That has many tragic consequences of which we are all aware, not least the sense of a lack of a stake in society, which leads people to have the proper self-control and self-discipline that comes with employment. That must be a factor in drawing people into the pernicious tentacles of the drug culture. Most certainly, that sense of hopelessness has grown remorselessly over the past two decades and the Government cannot entirely escape their share of the blame for that phenomenon.

I shall quote briefly from a document that hon. Members may have had from Turning Point, which is a well-respected national charity dealing with the problem. It quotes a long-term alcohol, opiate and tranquilliser user as saying: I was told I could leave (the rehab) when I found somewhere to live. The social services wouldn't give me any money 'til I found a flat. I couldn't get a flat until I had money to pay in advance. So it was a Catch 22. That's why I went to live with a drug dealer. The problems that such people face are often practical and lead people into that sort of culture and difficulty.

Similarly, the Local Government Drugs Forum, a respected body that has done some solid and useful work, quotes from a paper produced by the Scottish Drugs Misuse Task Force called "Drugs in Scotland: Meeting the Challenge", which states: Drug misuse tends to flourish in conditions of deprivation, alienation and poverty of aspiration. The Local Government Drugs Forum continues: People with drug problems must have available the opportunity to recover with a seamless division between health care and social care. People recovering from drug problems require access to and the support of employment opportunities, housing and quality primary health care in order to stabilise and sustain their lifestyles. That argument needs to be taken into account.

We need to be absolutely certain that the necessary resources are available, and in the right place and at the right time. That is not just good policy; it makes economic sense. The Lord President of the Council will he aware of a recent study in the United States, which evaluated drug recovery services in California. After a comprehensive survey, it concluded that for every dollar spent on drug rehabilitation and treatment, $7 was saved for the Californian taxpayer. It could conclude that because it was able to take into account the cost of crime and other problems that follow from drug abuse. That serves to illustrate that that is a cost-effective way of dealing with the problem and a necessary and right way of dealing with it in principle.

Similarly, a Turning Point survey shows that 20 per cent. of its clients cited delays in funding as a contributory factor to their failure to come off drugs and alcohol. Those are people who have attempted to come off drugs, found that they could not get back into the mainstream of society and drifted back into drug or alcohol abuse.

There is also widespread and legitimate concern that the potential 400 job losses in the Customs and Excise service will create further problems in the effort to stem the supply of drugs. Last year, as the House will be aware, customs officers seized 51 tonnes of drugs estimated to he worth over £550 million.

I understand that the new strategy adopted by Customs and Excise is to operate in a more mobile and flexible way. The Lord President made that point in his statement, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury. I understand that argument, but not everybody who works in the field—and there is a great deal of expertise available—accepts it. It is not entirely clear that it is going to work in the way that the Lord President and others hope. It seems to me self-evident that if we reduce the number of customs officers by 400, it must have an impact on intercepting the supply of illegal substances. I hope that there will be further consideration of that proposal.

Photo of Mr Patrick Thompson Mr Patrick Thompson , Norwich North

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is important to raise this point of order now, bearing in mind the time that we have for this debate. It has just been announced that there will be a private notice question at 11 am. Are you, therefore, able to rule that speeches should be curtailed, bearing in mind the number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate? Would you also look at the procedures of this place to avoid this happening again?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

It is not possible for me now to place a time limit, because that has to be done at the outset of the debate. The hon. Gentleman's point of order, however, gives me the opportunity to say what I might have said after the Front-Bench contributions—that I hope that hon. Members will make their contributions fairly short. I say that not only because of the private notice question at 11 am, but because of the large number of hon. Members who have indicated already that they wish to contribute.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) that I do not intend to take any more time than the Lord President, who was admirably brief in his opening remarks.

It is important to reiterate the point that there is widespread and legitimate concern that if the new strategy does not work, it should be quickly picked up and quickly reversed. I ask the Lord President, who co-ordinates Government policy in the matter, if he is not prepared to reverse the job cuts, at least to set up a system of monitoring how effective the changes in operational responsibilities in Customs and Excise are. If a problem emerges, I hope that it will be dealt with quickly, because nobody wants the successes of the past to be reversed.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling me his hon. Friend. I give way to him.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, especially as there is such pressure on time in this debate. Does he agree that as well as trying to stop drugs at our borders, it is essential that we share proper intelligence, especially with our nearest European neighbours? Does he agree that that is as effective as trying to stop the stuff at our borders?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am not sure that I agree that that would be equally effective, but I acknowledge the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point and agree with it.

I now refer briefly to education, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) will have more to say later. Although we welcome the £5.9 million that has been made available under the White Paper, we have made the point—my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury made this point during the statement—that that works out at only £240 per school. I understand the argument that the money will not be allocated on that basis; it will not be allocated at so much per school, after which the schools do what they want. The money will be a pool from which projects and ideas can draw resources. However, it is not a lot of money to be spread across the country. I hope that the Lord President understands that the amount needs to be kept under review, because there are important projects and approaches that need to he financed if we are to get the education side of the message right. We need to ensure that the resources are there to do the job.

I again make a point that I have raised consistently over the past six to nine months and which I know that the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit and the Lord President are interested in. My point concerns how we get the message across and how we focus the ideas and techniques available to, for example, the advertising industry, so that they can be more successful than in the past. There is now clear evidence—there is no dispute about this—that the well-meaning and well-intentioned anti-heroin campaign through public advertising in the 1980s did not have the desired effect. I do not say that as a criticism, because effectiveness is difficult to achieve. I believe, however, that it is necessary for us to conduct some more detailed research and to talk to the advertising industry and those who know how to get messages across. After all, as political parties, we are keen to talk to them about getting the message across. We should try to find out how we could get the message across better to young people. I should be pleased to support any efforts made in that direction.

With due deference to my hon. Friends, who are not in this category, there is an element of men in grey suits trying to determine what is the best way in which to get the message across to teenagers, which does not quite square the circle. I have no prescription for that, but I believe that it is important that we consider the point.

I am concerned—this concern is, I am sure, shared by many—about the problems of drug abuse in our prisons. In his report on Styal prison, Judge Tumim stated: Inmates asserted, and staff agreed, that drugs were freely available in Styal, mainly brought in by visitors and by inmates who had been on Home Leave. They said that almost all inmates used cannabis in addition to which 80 per cent. used opiates (mainly heroin), 50 per cent, cocaine/crack, 15–20 per cent. amphetamines, 10 per cent. LSD occasionally, and 60 per cent. benzodiazepines (mainly Temazepam). It was believed that 60 per cent. of those who injected used shared needles. Inmates were aware of the risk of contaminated needles. That is possibly the worst example in Judge Tumim's reports on various prisons and it is certainly the worst example that I have come across. Although I am not saying that that is typical of every prison, we know that drugs are readily available in many of our prisons. We know that there are risks of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases that are spread by the use of shared needles. It is an area to which more attention needs to be given. I know that the Lord President shares my concern on this subject, but I believe that more needs to be done and I hope that, at the appropriate time, further initiatives will be taken within the Prison Service.

I now come to some criticisms that we have made about the local drug action teams and about the other instruments that, according to the White Paper, the Government intend to deploy at local level. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury rightly made the point that a more considered approach should be taken to how to deploy the expertise available to local authorities. The same point applies to the use of the police. Although I have nothing but the highest respect for the chief executive of my local authority and for the chief constable of Merseyside, it strikes me that that is not necessarily the right level at which to pitch the involvement. Often, further down the chain, for example at superintendent level in the police and perhaps at a more junior level in local government, there is expertise that can be brought to bear and which would be more helpful.

The involvement of local councillors can often be crucial and beneficial in the local drug action teams. I say that not because local councillors are elected officials, although that is important, but because, through living in the community, which senior police officers and chief officers often do not, they have a detailed knowledge of what is going on on the ground, which can be brought to bear and which can be very useful. From the detailed meetings that I have from time to time with local authority members in my own area and with the local police, I know that the knowledge and expertise that local councillors can bring to bear is appreciated by the police and is of use. Although I accept that that involvement will not be built into the system, I hope that there will be no ban on local councillors being included, where appropriate, in the local drug action teams.

The Lord President has made it clear that he hopes that the voluntary sector will be involved in drug reference groups and local drug action teams. There are some very good local projects, some of which have already been mentioned. There is a good drugs unit in Kirby in my constituency. My hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) and for Newham, North-West have a drugs project in their area which has a good reputation. I hope that, where appropriate, those organisations will not only be incorporated in the system, but will continue to receive support for their excellent work.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

I did not think it right, not least because of pressure of time, to seek to intervene to comment on all the hon. Gentleman's arguments. However, perhaps he will turn to page 30 of the White Paper, where he will find that there is provision for rather greater flexibility than he has implied. For the police, there will be the ranks of chief constable, assistant chief constable or equivalents, or superintendent. Paragraph 5.6 states: The Teams will have the discretion to co-opt additional members with special skills, commitment or expertise. I think that the necessary flexibility is there.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I was not criticising a lack of flexibility. I accept that there is flexibility. It is important sometimes, however, to ensure that flexibility is available at all levels, and especially at lower levels. That is the point that I am making, and I think that the Lord President accepts it.

It is important that the debate is taking place. We are discussing a crucial issue. I hope that we can get things right. If there are mistakes and faults in the mechanisms that are being set up, I hope that the Government will be willing to be co-operative. I hope that they will be able to monitor how the strategy works as it unfolds. If it is seen over time that improvements can be made, I hope that the Government will make them. It would be entirely wrong to set in place a strategy, welcome though it is, on the assumption that we can all complacently sit back and assume that everything in the garden is rosy when manifestly that may not turn out to be so.

It is right and responsible that the debate is taking place. It is right and responsible that the Government have taken the steps that they have. I hope that it is right and responsible that we, the Opposition, have supported the Government. I hope also that the rest of the debate reflects the consensus-building approach that we have all adopted, so that the message goes out from the House that things are happening, that drug taking is wrong and that it is not an ineluctable process that cannot be reversed over time.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes 10:31 am, 9th June 1995

As my right hon. Friend the Lord President and Opposition Members have said, drug-taking is a tragic threat to all our families and communities in this country, in the rest of Europe and throughout the world. Everyone is a potential victim, and I think that people are becoming aware of that. More drugs are more readily available nowadays than ever before, but too few people appreciate the real dangers of drugs misuse. Drugs misuse is costing the taxpayer huge sums in tackling crime and in providing treatment. Even more important, it is costing individuals their health.

It is against that background that the White Paper was produced. Like others, I welcome it. I do so especially in the awareness, as I have said before, that Governments find it extremely difficult to tie themselves down to any strategy on any subject. The strategy and co-ordination of effort that the White Paper reflects are what the all-party drugs misuse group, which I am proud to chair, has been arguing now for many years.

I offer my congratulations on the consultation process—not something always associated with government. The process, the reactions following it and the changes that have been incorporated in the White Paper following the production of the Green Paper in the autumn of 1994 arc extremely welcome.

I welcome this full day's debate, for which I thank my right hon. Friend the Lord President, wearing his other hat as Leader of the House. In anticipation of a Department of Education Minister winding up the debate, I strongly welcome that ministerial presence, which gives added emphasis to the importance of good health education in the process of more effective prevention.

To take up the point made in an intervention by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I welcome the reference in the White Paper to the single regeneration budget, which shows the Government tipping their hat towards the broader aspects of policy, such as housing, employment and training, in the confused area of drugs misuse.

At the forefront of our minds, and running throughout the White Paper, is the importance of activities directed towards the young. I offer my praise to local efforts in Sussex, particularly the East Sussex Drug Advisory Council and, more recently, the Home Office drugs prevention team, the first unit of which was established in Brighton and covers the whole of East Sussex. I welcome the additional accent that the White Paper gives.

Colleagues will have noted on reading the White Paper that the Department of Health is providing £million to fund new initiatives to develop services for young people, especially those at special risk of drugs misuse or in the early stages of drug taking. I understand that the standing conference on drugs misuse has received bids totalling about £10 million. That reflects the innovative and creative approaches that can be applied to the horrible problem with which we seek to deal and the widespread threat of drug taking among the young. In this area of government, as in others, we must watch carefully to assure that sufficient funds are being applied.

The marketing of home drug-testing kits has come to the fore. This form of testing is not mentioned in the White Paper, but it could be encouraged by it. I have deep reservations about the use of such kits by parents, with or without the knowledge of their teenage children to whom they are applying such tests. This testing may seem practical and immediate, and a way in which parents can come to grips with the problem. However, I fear that the risks inherent in eroding the trust and the overall relationship which should exist between parent and child, and without which the parent is incapable of helping his or her child to resist or come out from the problems of drugs misuse, could be exacerbated. As ADFAM National said recently, it is better to talk than to test.

References have already been made to a new prison policy, and I will take them up because of the well-known Lewes prison in my constituency. I fear that there is real potential for resentment if testing is not matched equally by the availability of counselling and treatment. There is a risk that prisoners will be reluctant to seek help from drug workers in prisons, especially if they feel that such a resource would finger them as people who should be tested, or targeted for testing. As the chairman of the Prison Governors Association has said: Testing must be balanced with measures to assist prisoners cope with this problem, and assistance in getting out of the habit is just as important. I welcome the £10 million that the Prison Service is making available for support programmes. The voluntary agencies are already preparing bids to meet that requirement. I believe that the service can draw knowledge from the marvellous operations already being undertaken by the Addictive Diseases Trust and by Phoenix House. They have set a good example in terms of the services that should be provided.

I also advocate the better use of boards of visitors, which sometimes have a capacity to help with the institution of new processes in prisons. That capacity is sometimes overlooked.

Are the Government giving any consideration to investigating, and perhaps even piloting and evaluating, what seems to be an interesting and successful initiative in the United States with the establishment of specialised drug courts? That alternative to the criminal justice system seems to be successfully and satisfactorily diverting misusers into treatment under the control of the courts instead of going to a medical centre. The establishment of those courts and their operation in the United States has already indicated that they are more effective than the criminal courts. The Miami initiative, which was where it started, is already being picked up in other states. I believe that that would be a worthwhile initiative to try here.

Within the constraints of time, perhaps I may briefly identify some problem areas which I believe need to be tackled within the context of the White Paper. The first has to do with the operation of social services departments. I question whether sufficiently widespread and proper services, appropriate to local needs of drugs misusers, are being made available through the new community care responsibilities. Services should be strategic and needs-led, but I fear that they are sometimes more revenue-led or resource-led. That was identified as a problem in a recent report from the social services inspectorate in five representative departments around the country. Not only were they thought to be too resource-led, but all too often they also seemed to be too inaccessible. That, too, needs looking at.

This country also needs, as do other countries, a better understanding of the process of health and drugs education to prevent young people from being lured into drugs. I am certain that generic health education is the proper way to approach drugs prevention. The educational value and the interest and appeal to pupils is in little doubt with schemes such as those mounted by life education centres or by TACADE—the Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drug Education—but I believe that we need a more precise measurement of efficacy. I believe that research is planned, and I hope that it will be instituted soon to measure that efficacy and see where we can get the very best health education for our children. May I say in parentheses that, despite what my right hon. Friend the Lord President said, I still worry about the ability of the schools inspectorate to do its job properly in the regular monitoring of health education without having more special training.

In health education, misusers are often used as peer educators and advisers on how best to plan and deliver services to drugs misusers. They can be extremely useful, particularly among groups of new problem drugs users, such as crack users, which tragically are developing now. The use of crack is not widespread, but it is growing. The users are generally young and mainly white. Two thirds of users are male. Almost all are poly abusers—mostly mixing with heroin—and all too often they are completely out of control. It can be of immense value in planning how best to reach those people and to help them out of that problem if one taps into the knowledge available among their own peer group.

We are still faced with the problems of whether teachers in our schools are sufficiently trained to do their job, not only in terms of health education but in being able to aid and advise the pupils with whom they have to relate. As the Professional Association of Teachers has pointed out: Neither the levels nor the quality of training available to teachers in respect of drug education are currently"— that is, this very month— adequate. The White Paper identifies £5.9 million in grant for the education and support of teachers, and that is extremely welcome. As others have pointed out, however, I wonder whether that will be sufficient. I also wonder whether the whole question of health education is not still too closely tied to the science sector of the national curriculum.

On training and information, there is still the risk that all medical staff, particularly general practitioners, are inadequately informed and inadequately trained to assist to the best of their abilities in providing not only drugs treatment but assistance in the Government's efforts on international prevention.

My next concern, which is touched on too lightly in the White Paper, is whether the Government are giving sufficient support and encouragement to international agencies, and the Government's activities within them, particularly in Europe but also in international agencies, to help control production and to tackle international trafficking and money laundering and the crime that goes with it.

A matter which has been touched on already is the continuing advocacy of drugs legalisation by too many people who I believe should know better. Organisations such as Release support it as part of what they see as human rights. Individuals such as the director of the National Youth Agency advocate it as being in the interests of young people, although I am glad to say that that has been firmly sat upon and I believe that she is moving on to other areas—a bit late, in my view. Others claim that the legalisation of drugs would rob the Mafia of its markets and profits and would cause the crime rate to fall, but the truth is that it would automatically create millions more drug users, seeking stronger and stronger drugs for bigger and bigger highs. Yet others claim that no harm is done by some drugs, such as cannabis, but the opposite is true in both medical and psychological terms. Still others, out of desperation, say that there is no other way out; yet there is a growing recognition, as identified in the White Paper, that prevention does work and that treatment can he effective.

I believe that there is a need for better public understanding, not just of the Government's position and, indeed, that of the Opposition on this, but of the reasons for that position. Agencies such as the London Drugs Forum, and the City of London, in its co-operation in "Cities Against Drugs Around the World", are doing a great deal. It has been debated in the Council of Europe, but I believe that the Government have a responsibility to collect together the information and to promulgate it more effectively than ever before.

There is no doubt that there is an ever greater need for more resources and stronger leadership. The Government have given a lead, at least, with the White Paper and the funding identified in it. That must continue. I still believe that seized assets from drugs dealers should be recycled into tackling the drugs problem. The White Paper is the proper, strategic beginning of nationally co-ordinated efforts to tackle drugs misuse in Britain, but leadership must be encouraged and it must be forthcoming from businesses, non-profit organisations and voluntary organisations not yet involved in this work, locally, in the regions, nationally and internationally.

The White Paper shows the way—I am confident of that. The good works have started. The drugs prevention teams are operating and will be expanded. The expansion of all that effort must be the motivation for the Government's drugs co-ordination unit in the next few years. I warmly welcome the reassuring words of my right hon. Friend the Lord President in his opening speech about its future. If that unit, which has done a magnificent job, continues to operate in the intelligent way that it has done, if it is given a truly United Kingdom remit and not just for England, and if it is supported by proper Government funding for the demand reduction efforts of prevention, intervention, treatment and research, we can be assured of safer and healthier families and communities in Britain. That is what the White Paper is really all about.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 10:49 am, 9th June 1995

As the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) ended with the decriminalisation issue, I shall start with it and say that my right hon. Friends and I are not in favour of the decriminalisation of cannabis and consider that the most appropriate place for such an issue to be considered is a royal commission. I would take a lot of convincing and a lot of evidence before I would be prepared to take the risk of signalling public approval of what is dangerously described as recreational drug-taking, as that signal could readily increase the use of other drugs.

Changing the law in that way will not stop the dealers. Organised crime, so much of which is tied up with drugs, will either move to an opened-up cannabis market or take up the increased demand for other drugs that may result from such a change.

Photo of Mr Piers Merchant Mr Piers Merchant , Beckenham

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish my sentence. There is a danger, however, that if the issue of decriminalisation is viewed as some sort of virility test of whether organisations and individuals are serious about the commitment to a drugs strategy, the views of many people who have relevant experience will be inappropriately dismissed. The Leader of the House has served us well by seeking to raise the debate to a higher level than one of simply testing people according to whether they fit a pre-defined set of criteria, of which decriminalisation is the principal one. He moved it to a level at which we may make some objective examination of the issues involved.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am, however, genuinely confused. Will the right hon. Gentleman explain this to me? If he and his right hon. and hon. Friends are all opposed to the legalisation agenda, why does he want to set up a royal commission?

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I wish to continue my argument. A number of initiatives in relation to this matter, which I shall come to later, although that may be interrupted by a private notice question, have not been addressed in the White Paper. They are fundamental issues about why young people take drugs and about what sort of things are likely to stop them taking drugs. The White Paper does not begin to deal with that. It is about the structures and procedures by which we can proceed with roughly the sort of strategy for which consensus now exists. It does not deal with what we do if some of that fails or with the great doubts that exist.

The only body that would have any chance of convincing me that we should have a change in where the boundary of the law should fall would be one that assessed evidence carefully and objectively—rather more objectively than some of those who take part in this public argument. The royal commission is the proper body to do that. Over the years, we have used such bodies sensibly when there are major areas of controversy to consider.

I welcome the interdepartmental approach that the White Paper represents and the fact that the Leader of the House has personally put considerable effort into it and has, as I said in an earlier intervention, listened to criticisms that were made at the Green Paper stage and responded to them. I hope that a great deal of good, in the form of commitment and co-ordinated effort in dealing with this scourge of our society, will emerge from the White Paper, but I have some doubts and anxieties and I shall refer to some of the anxieties of others.

One is bound to ask whether we are simply creating a new bureaucratic structure that is not locally accountable and that is primarily health-led. The lack of real local accountability is a problem because we need to take communities with us on this issue; we need to build up the support of local communities. People identify more closely with their local authority than with health organisations which have changed their names, status and functions and are surrounded by controversy over matters that are nothing much to do with the issue.

The Government's reason for using the Department of Health and the health authorities as the lead is precisely that they are directly accountable to them. They are part of the centralised aspect of Government. The Government see that as a virtue; I see it as a potential weakness. The local community commitment might be better reflected if the lead were taken by locally accountable organisations.

Photo of Mr Tony Newton Mr Tony Newton , Braintree

Again, I do not want to interrupt every time someone says something with which I do not agree, but it is important for me to restate that the reason for asking health authorities to do this is simply that someone needs to take the lead in setting the scheme up. That is not the same as saying that they must have the lead role in the on-going action. It is important that there should be direct accountability to central Government because, frankly, as everyone knows, local arrangements vary enormously in their effectiveness and in some cases have not been effective.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The Leader of the House is more convincing if he is saying that this is just the process of setting it up; someone has got to set the scheme up, so let the health bodies set it up, rather than this being done as a means of centralisation. I also hope that his remarks suggest that the involvement of a central Government appointee or someone responsible to central Government will produce more funding and readier access to Government funds. If we can draw that advantage from the arrangement, it would be fine, but a serious disadvantage exists.

I am still unclear, even from reading the White Paper, where the existing Home Office drug prevention teams will fit into the process. There is considerable potential overlap in the many areas where those teams exist. They may not even have the same boundaries as the new areas and they will operate over similar matters.

It is important to involve voluntary organisations. The Government have sought to do that through the drug reference teams, hut, again, I hope that the process will not be too bureaucratic. We want both specialised voluntary organisations and the more general community organisations such as churches, the rotary organisation and all bodies involved in giving practical help to projects to raise money, find facilities, provide accommodation and, in all sorts of practical ways, help to keep things moving. We do not want matters to get bogged down in committees, meetings and the exchange of papers all the time.

The second area of anxiety involves resources. There are three areas where I fear that key resources may not be available or may not be sufficient. One of them is schools. It may sound like a lot of money, but it is £193 per school and it is going to schools that have serious resource problems. Even the Government and the Secretary of State for Education recognise that schools are severely stretched. There is not the extra teaching time. Staff time is not available to give the effort in each school which the White Paper requires. Whatever supplementary training provision is made out of these funds, it cannot replace the need to find someone who can spend some hours outside the immense commitments of the national curriculum and the introduction of testing to do the job that is called for. A serious resource problem exists which is primarily to do with the existing resource problem of schools. We are asking schools to do a difficult job when they are hopelessly overstretched. It will not work.

Secondly, I can see no evidence of resources going into rehabilitation centres, which need to be an important part of the strategy. I gather that there is to be an announcement today about treatment services for young people. I do not know how far that is going to go, but it is important that resources go into rehabilitation centres for addicts.

Thirdly, I am not clear that there will be adequate resources in prisons. Some of the drugs problems in prisons have resulted from lack of prison resources. Prison searches have been withdrawn. That has happened in prisons in my constituency where staffing has not been available for adequate searching.

Incredible ingenuity is used to get drugs into prisons. They come in babies' nappies and arc concealed within the persons of visitors. All sorts of tricks and techniques are used. You would be surprised, Madam Deputy Speaker, how many friends and family of prisoners are happy to take part in the provision of drugs to feed the drug addiction of those in prisons, which is on a serious scale.

We need resources for constructive programmes of work and activity for prisoners. We will not wean people off drug dependence unless they have some sort of constructive activity in which to engage in prison. That is costly.

The Prison Service is instructed to include in its business plan action to reduce the level of drug misuse. Again, there is no clear indication of the resources that will be available, even for that, let alone for more adventurous treatment, such as the scheme undertaken at Downview prison in Surrey with the Addictive Diseases Trust, where prisoners are being brought into a programme, consenting to urine testing, signing a contract or taking part in a programme that is designed to make the prison 100 per cent. drug free. If more of that work is to go on, we need the resources for it.

We must consider one of the more fundamental issues that plagues the White Paper. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has sought to deal with it in response to the criticisms in relation to the Green Paper. That issue is the tension between harm reduction strategies and strategies designed to promote abstinence. I am perfectly familiar with that problem. I do not drink alcohol, but, at the same time, I must recognise that schemes to deal with alcohol cannot simply be based on the preaching of abstinence. Real problems exist, which are described in paragraph 4.1 of the White Paper. Harm minimisation is embraced as an objective secondary to that of encouraging abstinence. Many who are involved in the treatment of drug misusers are cautious about the claim that we can cure people of their drug addiction readily. Some people say that drug addiction is a chronically relapsing condition. Often addicts come from social conditions where drug dependency has become normalised and accepted, and where opportunities for self-betterment are extremely restricted.

The White Paper specifically endorses needle exchange schemes to fight against HIV infection. That is an example of a harm-minimising strategy that might appear to be in conflict with preaching abstinence. Problems arise, for example, in dealing with Ecstasy. The Government recognise that water should be available at raves, but they are not so keen on the idea of chill-out rooms, which some of those involved in dealing with the problem consider to be necessary. The Government believe that the provision of such rooms might seem to imply approval of drug taking. We must recognise that unavoidable tension exists between the two different strategies aimed at combating drug misuse. A Government decision to opt for a certain strategy should not be seen as a virility test.

It being Eleven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).