Oral Answers to Questions — Drugs

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2 May 2001.

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Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central 12:00, 2 May 2001

If she will make a statement on progress made by the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator. [159096]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office Marjorie Mowlam):

The anti-drugs co-ordinator's annual report for 1999–2000 shows that we are making progress towards meeting the challenging targets that we have set as part of our 10-year anti-drugs strategy. The co-ordinator's role involves him visiting local community projects. He has, for example, recently visited Doncaster, where he saw at first hand the initiatives taking place. He is also responsible for enforcement by trying to work across national boundaries in Europe and elsewhere, to maximise the efforts to cut supply.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Labour, Doncaster Central

My right hon. Friend may be aware that central Doncaster was awarded £52 million on Monday under the new deal for communities, and one of the flagship schemes is a drugs rehabilitation project. That is extremely welcome. The only concern of the local drugs action team is to find medical staff trained in detox programmes. Will she therefore discuss with the anti-drugs co-ordinator—particularly given their support for the efforts being made in Doncaster—whether we need to do more to encourage medical professionals to enter this field and have a fast-track programme to train detox staff?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and the acknowledgement that the £52 million that has gone into Donny will make a big difference, as such funding has in other cities, in terms of the important project to which a locality chooses to allocate the money. Drug rehabilitation was chosen in Doncaster; other areas will choose closed circuit television to try to halt crime. It is up to the local partnership to decide how to allocate the money.

On recruitment, we advertised for more drug counsellors, as we were well aware that some areas had difficulties in respect of adequate staffing. As a result of a national campaign, we received more than 42,000 expressions of interest—far more than we ever expected.

Additional funding has been provided to drug action teams, which have been working with local service providers to turn those expressions of interest into work on the ground by local people. To help with that, we have established a bursary scheme, which will create basic training for newly recruited workers. I hope that the follow through will begin soon, but I shall certainly watch the Doncaster situation to ensure that the money is matched by an adequate number of counsellors. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. We must have order in the Chamber.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I congratulate those who have been doing positive work in trying to deal with and curb drug addiction. Will the Minister say whether there has been much success, in sequestrating the funds of those who make large profits from drugs? Does she accept that those who try to educate people away from drug use often hear discordant voices in high places suggesting that some drugs are not harmful? Is not that a dangerous practice?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

We have allocated more money, because of the difficulty caused by young people getting involved with drugs. We have put an additional £152 million into education recently and there are programmes in most schools—we are up to 96 per cent. of secondaries and 76 per cent. of primaries—to ensure that that education is of a quality that makes a difference. We have also put more funding into "positive futures", which I think operates in the hon. Gentleman's neck of the woods. I remember reading about a scheme in Northern Ireland.

That positive initiative is aimed at keeping young people, whether they are excluded or truants, out of the culture on the street and encouraging them to involve themselves in activities such as sport. We have received a lot of support from sporting figures in getting the scheme going. That is what we are doing to get young people off the streets and, I hope, to make better choices in life.

We have concentrated on heroin and cocaine because they are the killers, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no discordance in policy. We will do all that we can to ensure that young people become aware of the problems with drugs.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

The Government are about to make more widely available the deadly addictive drug alcohol, which is involved in 80 per cent. of crimes of violence and abuse. However, they still support the jailing of those seriously ill people who use cannabis medicinally, in spite of the fact that, a month ago, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's conference said that the drug has unique benefits for those who suffer from severe pain and the effects of multiple sclerosis. Why are the Government soft on a hard drug and hard on a soft drug?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

The first part of my hon. Friend's question relates to alcohol. We are considering what we can do to co-ordinate alcohol and drug policy, because there is clearly a discordance between drugs, alcohol and how they are treated. We are fully committed to taking action on alcohol. I come from an alcoholic family, so I know the difficulties that alcohol creates and I assure him that work is under way.

In relation to cannabis and its medicinal use, as I have said to my hon. Friend on many occasions, we are considering that issue and we keep our policy under constant review. With DW Pharmaceuticals involved, we have a good chance of not being too far from producing a cannaboid, which will be tested by the Medical Research Council. That will provide comfort to those suffering from MS and other diseases. I assure my hon. Friend that the matter is not ignored; it is kept under constant review, and we will change policy when the scientific evidence merits that.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

Is the Minister shocked by the recent adolescent assessment services group report, which calculates that drug abuse has become a regular part of the daily life of more than 400,000 under-16s who use cannabis—now accepted to be a gateway drug—heroin and cocaine? Does she accept that mere harm reduction education programmes have failed those youngsters, and scrap them by removing public funds from their wrong-headed liberal providers? Will she substitute a sensible, sustained campaign—pursued with real conviction—in which children are told the truth about the harmful biological, social and economic consequences of taking any illegal drug?

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Cabinet Office

We share the hon. Lady's concern—as do most people in this country—about the increasing number of very young people who are experimenting with drugs. The situation is unhealthy and appalling.

We have tried sending messages in the past, but "Just say no" had no effect, or at most a very limited effect. Now, with "positive futures", we are working towards better educational programmes, in which role models and mentors talk to children and try to steer them into a different life. To advertise the problems of drugs, we are trying—with the help of the £220 million over three years that has just gone into communities—to work with those communities, and to work with parents, and in partnership with voluntary and other organisations. The one way to get through to young kids in a community is to work with their parents, peers and mentors, and that is the approach that we are adopting.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

If she will make a statement on the part played by treatment in the ant-drugs strategy. [159098]

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

Treatment is a key component of the Government's 10-year strategy. We are committed to improving the provision of drug services across the country, such as the NORCAS agency in Lowestoft.

We have already seen a steady increase in the number of problem drug misusers attending treatment services, which was up by 8 per cent. in the six months to March 2000. We have established a counselling, assessment, referral, advice and through-care service in every prison in England and Wales, and through the spending review we have allocated an additional £167 million for drug treatment services over three years from 2001–02. We have also set up a new National Treatment Agency, which is engaged in an appointments process and will make announcements shortly.

Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard Labour, Waveney

I welcome the extra £89,000 a year for the next three years that has just been announced for the local crime reduction partnership in my constituency, under the Government's communities against drugs initiative. It will really help the fight against the menace of drugs in my part of the country.

We have had substantial funds for treatment purposes, but the problem is recruiting people to be trained to administer treatment. Will my right hon. Friend look into recruitment? Treatment is crucial to getting people off drugs, getting crime down, and preventing our streets from being littered with needles. [Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. Before the Minister replies, let me say that there is far too much noise in the Chamber. It is unfair to Members who want to hear what is being said.

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

In replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office gave an absolute commitment on the very issue that my hon. Friend has raised. Let me confirm that in spades: we will look into both the Doncaster situation and the situation in my hon. Friend's constituency as a matter of urgency.

Resources have been made available, because 42,000 people want to do this job and need to be trained. I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that I will get back to him as soon as possible after considering his particular circumstances.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman Conservative, Billericay

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) gave the example of alcohol. When the Americans tried prohibition as a way of restricting alcohol use, was not the attempt a complete failure? Is it not time that we looked at the problem of drug taking more from the viewpoint of the victims—those who are attacked and robbed by drug addicts—than from that of people who are silly enough to take the drugs?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

I hope that the hon. Lady will not take this wrongly, but her last comment was the silliest comment about drugs that I have heard in this place. As one who witnessed, on a daily basis, a son dying of drug abuse, I can say that that was not a self-inflicted injury, and also that it is not possible to take cannabis as something other than a gateway to more dangerous drugs.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of Members in this House and people outside thinking that there is an easy answer to preventing children from falling into drug abuse traps—through cannabis and then from that to other drugs. This is a very difficult, complex issue. We have a 10-year plan. I hope that the hon. Lady will get behind it. Every year we succeed with that, hundreds of children who would die if they did not have the plan will go on to be good citizens and good adults.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

I welcome the setting up of the National Treatment Agency, but does my right hon. Friend agree that treatment should be more than methadone, methadone and even more methadone, and that choices of treatment must be made available? Will he encourage the NTA to offer those choices, including more abstinence programmes, so that we can wean people off methadone?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

I make it absolutely clear that the whole purpose of building capacity in treatment is to provide an individual service to meet the needs of the individual. Many of those individuals have complex multi-drug problems, so each treatment has to relate to their needs and get them to buy into the treatment. Far too often, a young person starts treatment, goes off it and ends up using illegal drugs, getting damaged and sometimes dying from an overdose. My hon. Friend's point is well catered for in the new strategy. Additional resources are being made available to ensure at local level that drug treatment referral systems and capacity relate to the needs of the individual and not to the system.

Photo of Mrs Jackie Ballard Mrs Jackie Ballard Liberal Democrat, Taunton

The Minister will be aware that many drug addicts lead chaotic life styles that do not lend themselves easily to treatment within the community. What progress have the Government made in the past four years in the provision of residential treatment facilities for drug addicts who are not serving prison sentences?

Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State, Cabinet Office

That is a fair question. One of the key challenges for the Government is to provide growing capacity. We have set ourselves targets for 2002, 2005 and 2008. One of the aims of the National Treatment Agency and of the resources that are going into the Prison Service is to develop the strategy that she talks about: outreach facilities where individuals can seek what I would call asylum—a protected environment to deal with their specific needs. Some of those needs are to do with chaotic drug use, some with their mental health, and some with their physical health. Sometimes, it is all three. Because of that, treatment in the community is sometimes not a realistic prospect for them in the first instance, so the point is well made. I assure the hon. Lady that that is part of the strategy.