Drug action teams have a crucial role in the delivery of the national drugs strategy. They consist of agencies, such as probation, health, education, police authorities and local authorities, and they are the main mechanisms for delivery on the ground.
All drug action teams are required to plan and deliver an effective programme of anti-drug activities in their area that is in line with the national strategy.
In the Bolton drug action team area, the community drug team has been hitting a target of four weeks waiting lists. Unfortunately, the waiting list has increased to six weeks because of a difficulty in recruiting staff, and, of course, waiting times in other DAT areas are much longer. What are the Government doing to ensure that more trained staff are made available, especially in view of the new demand expected from arrest referral schemes?
This week, advertisements will be placed in a range of the press in Britain for applications to be made for the 300 new personnel to work at a local level. In addition to that, my hon. Friend's borough, Bolton, has benefited from an allocation of resources for the new arrest referral schemes. A total of £20 million has been allocated nationally and £1.3 million has been allocated for Greater Manchester. A range of schemes is also in place, including an aftercare programme in Bolton, for those who need to reintegrate into the community as they recover from drugs misuse.
Does the Minister agree that politics should not be involved in dealing with such a pernicious scourge to the nation? Is it not strange that a Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive was not prepared to preside over a meeting of agencies because the Royal Ulster Constabulary, which has done such a splendid job in dealing with drugs misuse, was present?
The hon. Gentleman is right about the need for a non-partisan, non-political approach. I say that each time I come to the Dispatch Box both at Question Time and in Adjournment debates. I concur with that.
In relation to Northern Ireland, it is our job to encourage all UK agencies to co-operate with the police, the health and probation services, community groups, local authorities and parent organisations to ensure that we have a co-ordinated approach in the prevention of drug misuse and to bring to justice, and have jailed, those who sell drugs to our young people.
The Opposition welcome the apparent fall in the number of young people taking drugs following the successful foundation of drug action teams, which were a primary feature of the White Paper, "Tackling Drugs Together", introduced by the then Leader of the House, Tony Newton, who is now in the other place. Will the Minister confirm that, while that trend is encouraging, there must be no let up in drug prevention efforts? Will he outline what action is being taken to support drug action teams in the nationwide introduction later this year of drug treatment and testing orders?
I, too, welcome the figures from Exeter university, but we should be cautious because much more needs to be done. However, they are another welcome sign that the 10-year strategy is beginning to bear fruit. We must now build on the clear indication that, although young people are more likely to be approached about drugs, there is a growing awareness among them about the dangers of drug abuse, which should be welcomed by all. We shall shortly make an announcement about measures to ensure that each drug action team correlates with its local authority area, and we shall be making decisions about cross-cutting and funding, which I think the hon. Lady will find satisfactory and will support.
I make this commitment to the hon. Lady: drug action teams are at the heart of our planning and decision making to ensure that the referral schemes are successful. I invite the hon. Lady to meet me to discuss our decisions on funding and cross-cutting issues.