Drug Addiction (Crime)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th March 1999.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 12:00 am, 15th March 1999

What new steps he is taking to tackle the links between drug addiction and crime. [74581]

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Our initiatives include piloting a new drug treatment and testing order with a view to national roll-out in 2000–01, and setting up and monitoring arrest referral and court referral schemes such as the STEP—the substance misuse treatment enforcement programme—in West Yorkshire, which I have visited and which is resourced by the police and probation services. We are also establishing a new drug prevention advisory service to support drug action teams on drug prevention, including prevention of drug-related crime.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

Although we have done much good work on both the supply of and demand for drugs, is my hon. Friend aware that police attention seems too often to be focused on low-level, corner-shop parts of the drug trade? Anyone who has spoken to a chief constable will know that drugs are a multi-million pound business and a tremendous problem that we must face up to. Does my hon. Friend believe that signing up to the Schengen group of countries will help us to take on large operators and big gangs, so that we can stop a business that is dangerous to many of our constituents?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend should know that about £1.4 billion is spent across Government on drug-related activity. Following the comprehensive spending review, £217 million of additional expenditure will be made available over a three-year period, mainly for treatment-based approaches. As regards Schengen and the international drug trade, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is undertaking constructive discussions with colleagues from states that have signed up to Schengen and we hope that that dialogue will bear fruit in due course. One thing is absolutely clear: we will use our resources and our influence to stop the foul and iniquitous international trade in drugs, which does no one any good in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

Does the Minister agree that there is a trade in drugs in our prisons? Keeping drugs out of prison is vital if the link between drug addiction and crime is to be broken. Is it not a fact that drugs are far too readily available in our prisons? This is a difficult problem, but does the Minister accept that the Government made a serious mistake in weakening the system of mandatory drug testing just when there was evidence that it was working? Are not the Government in danger of not even fighting the war against drugs, let alone winning it?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman's statistics are inaccurate, and I shall return to that point in a moment. First, however, we do not believe that it is acceptable that anyone in prison should use drugs, and whatever means are necessary to prevent that will be made available to the Prison Service, including additional resources from the comprehensive spending review.

The truth is that our more careful targeting of mandatory drug testing has made us able to deal with the problem at the point at which it most seriously manifests itself rather than following a scatter-gun principle. Mandatory drug testing remains, but it is partly random, and partly at the discretion of governors. The hon. Gentleman should know that the proportion of people discovered through mandatory testing to be taking drugs has fallen rather than risen. Independent evidence shows that more people come out of prison drug-free than are going in. We must be doing something right.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

Bolton probation service has been running an excellent project, funded by the Department of Health, to examine the link between drugs and crime. The project will terminate at the end of this month, but last year it reported to the Department and I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the report, which identifies various gaps in the service that we could fill. One that concerns me is the absence of treatment services for very young people—that is, those under 18. Is my hon. Friend, with the Department of Health, dealing with that problem?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Although we may disagree on some of the finer points of policy, may I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend does on this matter? He is knowledgeable and he puts in a lot of time. There is concern that the right resources are not in all the right places to deal with the problem of drug taking at a young age. We are in continuous dialogue with our colleagues at the Department of Health and we are determined that, where appropriate, treatment-based approaches should be available to people of every age. It is particularly important that we catch people as young as possible so that they do not get into the spiral of drug abuse, particularly abuse of hard drugs, which leads to crime and often, in the longer term, to very serious crime. It is important that we intervene as early as possible.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) (EMU and the City)

Does the Minister acknowledge that the extent of addiction and criminal behaviour that originates in alcohol abuse is quantitatively much larger than that originating in drugs more narrowly defined? What plans do the Government have to give that problem comparable attention?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Gentleman is right. A long history of particularly violent crime is associated with the heavy use of alcohol. I am chair of the ministerial group that is considering the problems of under-age drinking across the board. We have already introduced several measures to deal with it, including discouraging the use and production of inappropriate, so-called alcopops. More needs to be done and we are working hard to produce a programme that will start to deal with that serious problem.