The House knows that the Home Secretary has called for an adult debate on drugs and recently announced in evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs his intention to ask the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the arguments for reclassifying cannabis from B to C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This is a timely moment for Parliament to have a direct opportunity to participate in that debate, and to listen to the views expressed on the issue and the wider subject of drugs policy.
Drugs misuse poses serious problems for society. It causes misery for the users and their families and can destroy communities. It stops many young people reaching their full potential in life and fuels much of our crime. It is estimated that up to half of all property crime is committed by users of heroin and cocaine. The cost to the criminal justice system is estimated to be about £1.2 billion a year. There are the costs, too, of related ill health, absenteeism and social problems, to say nothing of the cost to individuals, the wasted lives and the lost opportunities.
The causes of drugs misuse are complex and deeply rooted and there is no simple solution. Our strategy therefore recognises the need for action on a wide front. Experience in other countries supports that. National drug policies and strategies have developed according to local needs and priorities, but in general the trend is to a balanced approach, in which supply, demand and harm reduction strategies are all important components. The differences between countries are not as great as is sometimes suggested. For example, much is made of the strong harm reduction orientation of Dutch policies, but the Dutch have not legalised the use of any controlled drug. Like us, they prioritise their enforcement effort against the drugs that cause the greatest harm.
Our strategy has four main aims: first, to help young people resist drugs misuse so that they can achieve their full potential; secondly, to protect our communities from drug-related antisocial and criminal behaviour; thirdly, to provide treatment services to help people with their drugs problems; and, finally, to attempt to disrupt the supply of drugs.
We recognise the scale of the problem we face in tackling drugs misuse. We also know that there are no quick and easy answers. That is why our strategy is supported by major long-term investment that is focused on proactive measures to tackle drugs misuse directly. The main aim of the strategy is to stop people taking drugs in the first place. However, there will always be some people who continue to take drugs even if they are aware of the dangers. We therefore have a duty to ensure that they have as much information and help as possible to reduce the risks that come with that behaviour, such as providing information on and services for needle exchanges and making people aware of the dangers of injecting and using shared needles.
Much good work has been done at national, regional and local levels. We are reaching out to young people in a variety of ways. Some 93 per cent. of secondary schools and 75 per cent. of primary schools now have a drugs education policy in place, compared with 86 per cent. and 61 per cent. respectively in 1997. The positive futures initiative set up in March 2000 aims to divert vulnerable young people away from drugs and crime through involvement in sport. So far, 24 projects have been set up. The initial results are encouraging, showing reductions in criminal activity and truancy and improved community awareness.