Drugs: Government Consultation Paper

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:36 pm on 29th October 2007.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 7:36 pm, 29th October 2007

My Lords, as we have heard in your Lordships' House, there is clearly a debate in policing agencies. The views of the chief constable, which were quoted in the debate, are well known but are not generally held in ACPO. They are certainly not held by the majority in ACPO, which is fairly self-evident.

Many of the problems related to drugs are underpinned by poverty, unemployment and the erosion of family and community life. They are not created simply by prohibition. The Government are seeking to reduce the number of people who use drugs. The real impact on reducing drug use and drug harm has to be through the identification and setting of actions that will have the most impact. The Government's view is that the national drug strategy itself, not law reform, has the real impact on reducing harm through education, prevention, early intervention, treatment and enforcement. Many of those issues were referred to in this evening's debate. That is why the ongoing development of our drug strategy, following wide consultation, is such a priority. The national drug strategy is central to the Government's approach to drugs, drug use and drug harm reduction.

That is a cursory summary of responses to views expressed during the debate. I am conscious of the time and of the many questions that were asked during the course of the discussion. I shall try to answer some of them if the House will indulge me for a few more moments.

I want to make a point in reply to the query of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, regarding the consultation being on the Home Office website, because it was a fair point. Of course, we will publish and widely communicate the new drug strategy and I am sure that there will be more debates of this sort. We will also be making available through various means a summary of the consultation responses in line with the Cabinet Office codes of practice. It is important that we seek to do that.

The drug strategy itself comes to an end in March 2008, and we contend that there have been successes in terms of prevention, education, early intervention, treatment and enforcement. There is evidence to support that contention. I know that we have had a lot of statistics pushed into the debate this evening, but the British Crime Survey data for 2006-07 show that class A drug use among young people remains stable while the use of any illegal drug in the past year has fallen compared with 1998—down from 31.8 to 24.1 per cent. We argue that there is success. Schools survey data also show that for 11 to 15 year-olds, the use of any drug within the past year has fallen by some 17 per cent.

In terms of our strategy for treatment, record numbers of drug users are entering and staying in treatment—more than 195,000 in the past financial year. That is a 130 per cent increase on the 1998-99 baseline. A national treatment target of 170,000 people receiving treatment has been exceeded two years earlier than anticipated and we are on track to meet our target to direct 1,000 offenders a week into treatment through the criminal justice system.

Those are bold figures and I know that some noble Lords were critical of the treatment methods and techniques and argued for particular strategies to be adopted. I was interested in particular by the reference by the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and others to the need to do far more in terms of residential treatment. I certainly do not disagree with that. It is certainly part of the Government's strategy to increase access to residential treatment. We plan over the next period to fulfil our commitment to increase the availability of inpatient treatment and residential rehabilitation for substance misusers. In February, we announced a £54 million funding package to improve inpatient and residential treatment for drug and alcohol abusers and to ensure that there was better access for that. That is certainly something that we see as an important priority.

The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, made a plea for what he described as "wrap-around" services. The Government are committed to ensuring that drug treatment is effective and that means that we make every effort to ensure that services are in place to support the gains made through treatment. It is certainly important to ensure, particularly with drug misusing offenders, that they receive support when they are released into the community and we need comprehensively to address that issue. That is part of our National Reducing Re-offending Delivery Plan and certainly part of our drug interventions programme, which aims to do exactly that.

Employment and benefit surgeries operate throughout the prison estate in England, Wales and Scotland. Jobcentre Plus advisers see prisoners on a one-to-one basis at both the induction and pre-release stages of their custodial sentence and provide help and support as do the other agencies. The Prospects programme is a three-year pilot programme which aims to reduce reoffending among drug misusing offenders who have been sentenced to 18 months imprisonment or less. That programme plays an important part in ensuring that we provide wrap-around treatment, because we recognise the importance of ensuring that there is proper after-care service for those who are released back into the community.

I was interested in particular in the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, on our strategy in Afghanistan. It is something on which we expect there to be continued debate over time, and the noble Lord was right to draw attention to the important comments made last week by my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown when responding on the issue of Afghani opium production. I repeat what has been said before: it is an issue for the Government of Afghanistan. We have to recognise that the poor security situation in the country means that there can be no guarantee that opium will not be smuggled out for the illicit narcotics trade. We agree with and support the Government of Afghanistan's position and we are a designated partner nation to counter narcotics. We do not believe that licensing opium cultivation is a realistic solution to the problem of the opium economy in Afghanistan. It risks a high level of diversion of licit opium into illegal channels and would send a mixed message to farmers, undermining the effectiveness of the Afghanistan Government's counter-narcotics campaign. We think that illicit cultivation could increase as a result.

There is also a question of whether it would be economically viable. As I said earlier, there has not been any systematic market testing across the world to calculate the demand for additional morphine-based medicines and as yet there is no evidence to show that Afghani opium would be price-competitive in a global marketplace. The UK supports the Government of Afghanistan in tackling the drugs problem—