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Column 696State shall not lay a draft of such an Order before Parliament except after consultation with or on the recommendation of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs established under section 1 of the 1971 Act.'.
Government amendments Nos. 42, 79, and 81 to 83.
It is a bizarre fact that when the Bill went into Committee it contained nothing to combat the problem of drugs and drug-related crime. Bizarre is too kind a word for such an omission, given that drug-related crime is the scourge of communities up and down the country and that up to £2 billion in burglary and property theft relates to the problem. Pressure from the Labour party, which has highlighted the need to tackle the causes of crime as well as crime itself, has resulted in the Government making some response. Did Ministers recognise the craziness of cutting drug co- ordinators' posts ? Did they recognise the damage that is being done by cuts in the youth service arising from Government failure to provide funds and leaving idle hands for which the devil is quick to find work ? No, the Government's action was to increase the upper limit for fines for drugs offences. They did nothing to cut crime or to prevent drug misuse.
Even more telling was the method that the Minister had to use to propose that change. As the Home Secretary had missed out drugs and drug-related crime as an issue for the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, the Government had to drag it into the Bill with an amendment to the clause which increases penalties under the Sea Fisheries (Shellfish) Act 1967. The action that the Government propose does nothing to provide the people, the funds, the resources or the strategies to tackle the problems of drugs and drug-related crime. In Committee, the Minister introduced an increase by five times in the maximum fine level for the possession of drugs. It was not asked for and it was irrelevant to the urgent problem to be tackled. Incidentally-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Michael : I was surprised, when we discussed the increase in fines for drugs in Committee, to hear that the Justices' Clerks Society had requested that rise. That was the assertion made by Conservative Members and by the Minister. They asserted it as the only example of support for their proposition that they could find. I have since been able to confirm that the Justices' Clerks Society had neither requested nor supported such an increase. The Government and their propositions ended up entirely friendless.
Frankly, increasing the upper limit of fines is irrelevant to the problem that should be addressed in the Bill. Consider the nature of that problem. The total number of notified addicts increased by five times between 1982 and 1992. The number of seizures of drugs increased by 233 per cent. between 1982 and 1992, with the number of seizures for class A drugs rising by 304 per cent.
In the past week, the publication of provisional figures for drug seizures in 1993 by the National Crime Intelligence Service showed an increase of 342 per cent. in seizures at import of amphetamines compared to 1992. It
Column 697showed a 19 per cent. increase in the seizure of cannabis and a 25 per cent. increase in the seizure of heroin. The number of people found guilty of drug offences has increased by 153 per cent. since 1982. There has been an especially worrying increase in the number of offences committed by young people. Among under-17s, there has been an increase by five times in the number of drug offenders between 1982 and 1992. In the 17 to 21 age group, there has been an increase of 244 per cent. One would have thought that those increases would have concentrated the mind of Government and brought Ministers to the House with a Bill, and ultimately to the Committee with amendments, which would tackle the problem and its roots. That is not the case. Research undertaken by Manchester university paints an alarming picture. In a sample of 800 young people aged between 15 and 16 in Merseyside and Greater Manchester, almost half had taken drugs. It appears that a new youth drug culture has developed, associated with raves and so-called dance drugs such as ecstasy, LSD and amphetamines.
It is relevant to tackle those root problems in the Bill because it is also clear that there is a link between crime and drugs. Addicts frequently steal to support their habit and the amounts of money they require to do so are truly frightening. Using a formula supplied by the Greater Manchester police, my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) has estimated that property worth up to £2 billion is stolen each year by drug addicts to finance their habit. That is why there is a need for a strategy to tackle the use of drugs, especially the use of hard drugs, and the problem of drug abuse by young people.
We need a policy that hits hard at the supply side of the drugs market by combating drug traffickers and dealers. That requires effective police and customs work to deal with the major importers and manufacturing, the distributors and, at street level, the low-level dealers who can make life a total misery for local people. I shall return to that important issue in a moment. In addition, there must be severe penalties for those convicted of trafficking drugs. We must also co-operate at international level to assist developing countries where drugs are grown--an aspect of foreign policy too often ignored and overlooked.
We must also cut the demand for illicit drugs at home. That is absolutely vital because it is quite clear that it is impossible to stop imports totally, despite all the efforts of the police and the customs. That is where we need the measures set out by the Opposition in the new clauses. We seek measures to discourage young people from using drugs in the first instance--for example, education programmes in schools and youth clubs--and measures to provide a range of treatment options for those misusing drugs. The Government failed to listen to those of us who protested when they ended the ring fencing of specific grants for drug and alcohol facilities, especially residential facilities, and now they are seeing their chickens coming home to roost as the availability of those facilities is reduced. We must have adequate treatment for those in prison, in remand centres and in secure training centres. We know that drug abuse is rife in prison. Far more must be done to provide treatment for those in institutions. I am glad to see that, in some of the other new clauses, Conservative Members are waking up to the type of new clause that has been proposed by the Opposition on previous occasions. I welcome that and I only hope that they will be able to
Column 698persuade Ministers of the need for action on the fronts proposed in the measures that I put forward during the passage of what became the Criminal Justice Act 1993, before that during the passage of what became the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and during the passage of this Bill.
We need to tackle the social causes of drug misuse. Ministers have still not adequately recognised those social causes and their many detrimental impacts on our society, which often result in an output through the medium of crime. We need to provide effective sanctions for drug users who are arrested for drug-related offences. At a local level, the importance of a partnership approach to the problems cannot be overemphasised. Just what can be achieved is shown by the King's Cross partnership. Until recently, 150 dealers in crack, cocaine and heroin operated in King's Cross. Residents felt terrorised and intimidated. A combination of robust enforcement techniques by the police, who cracked down on the dealers, and measures by the two local authorities, Camden and Islington, have produced dramatic results. The two boroughs improved street lighting, changed street design and used their licensing powers to prevent cafes from staying open all night, thereby depriving dealers of refuge. The result is that the number of dealers has been reduced to a handful in less than 18 months.
Ministers pay lip service to partnership at a local level, but those partnerships can succeed only if they have the commitment of police, local authorities and local people working together and if they have the effective support of central Government. The missing partner in so many of the equations is central Government ; the people who are missing in terms of practical commitment are Ministers of the Crown.
One vital element of a co-ordinated strategy is drugs prevention education for young people. Against that background, what have the Government done about such education ? Last year, they ceased funding for drugs advisers in schools. They expressed concern at the time and said that they were sure that, if drugs education was important, money would be made available by local authorities or other sources. An analysis by the National Liaison Group of Co-ordinators for Health and Drug Education shows that, whereas there were 135 drug education co-ordinators before the cuts in March 1993, now there are only 75. Those still in place are no longer able to devote most of their time to working with young people on drugs education.
No wonder the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which was set up to advise Ministers on drugs policy, would they only listen, said in a report in June 1993 :
"We are concerned that the ending of the funding for preventative health education will mean that many local authorities will not be able to fund their health education initiatives . . . those in the more deprived areas where drugs might be more prevalent may be least able to provide financial resources to finance this work." Tackling the drugs problem and, therefore, the crime that is related to drugs requires a co-ordinated policy. It requires co-ordination of response not just from the Home Office but from other Ministers, such as those involved with health, education and local government. We see no sign of the co-ordination and close working that is needed. Yes, there is a ministerial group, but we see no sign that it will introduce the positive action that is necessary to deal with the problems of drug-related crime and the causes of those problems. It is small wonder that the chairman of the
Column 699all-party group on drugs, the hon. Member for Lewis (Mr. Rathbone), described the ending of funding as a "near scandal".
Drugs education is vital to the fight against drugs and drug-related crime. Our new clause would place a duty on the local authority to assess the need for drugs education and would allow the Home Secretary to ensure that drug prevention education was reinstated across the country. We seek the partnership that the Government should encourage. The Government should accept the new clauses tonight.
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : I shall speak to the new clauses standing in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. They relate to the reduction in sentences for offenders willing to attend drug rehabilitation programmes--new clause 65--and to drug dependence and rehabilitation programmes in prison--new clause 64.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) is not alone in his concern about drugs and drug-related crime. We are all aware that property crime committed by drug addicts seeking to finance their cravings has been running at about £2 billion a year. I estimate that the cost is equal to about £114 stolen from every household in the country.
I accept that the Government are fully aware of the problem and I congratulate them on trying, among other things, to identify drug addicts. An example of that is clause 128, which empowers prison officers to take samples from an inmate on arrival in prison. However, there is no point in doing that unless it is carried through to its logical conclusion. The only way that prisoners will not reoffend is to wean them off drugs in the first place. There must be no half-hearted measures and, as in all things, it takes two to tango. As shown in new clause 65, there must be an incentive for an offender to undertake a course in drug rehabilitation. Under the new clause, there could be a reduction in sentence if an offender were willing to undertake the drug treatment programme. My response to the cynic who might say, "Well, any prisoner would agree to promise that if he got a reduction in sentence", would be that the sting in the tail would be that if the prisoner failed to complete the course successfully, he would have to serve the whole of the original sentence.
New clause 64 is the second part of the tango. It puts the onus on the Government to provide effective drug rehabilitation services. At present, they are woefully inadequate. It is not sufficient for officials at a prison such as Whitemoor, which I visited just a few months ago, to say, "Ah, we have prison counselling services available should any prisoner ask for them." It is no wonder that every prison in the land is riddled with drugs and that the inmates leave prison high on drugs only to reoffend.
Mrs. Gillan : I agree in principle with what my hon. Friend is saying. However, does she believe that statutory provision is required ? A few weeks ago, I went to look at Holloway prison. The prison governor told me that he wishes to experiment with drug-free zones within the prison. That would be successful only if the prisoners undertook to be tested on a random or regular basis for drugs. In return, they would receive extra privileges. Does my hon. Friend agree that that method, rather than going the whole hog and introducing statutory provision, might be the way in which to deal with the problem ?
Lady Olga Maitland : The governor of Holloway prison should look to the example of the governor of Downview prison, who already has in place a successful drug rehabilitation programme that works exactly as my hon. Friend describes. Downview prison, which is in Banstead on the edge of my constituency, has a programme run by a voluntary agency called the Addictive Diseases Trust. The trust runs intensive courses of about 12 weeks and they are attended on a voluntary basis. Since the courses began two years ago, 200 prisoners have now either successfully completed the course or are in the process of doing so. The success of the scheme is such that it is the only prison in the country where there is a drug-free corridor. Prisoners can qualify for that corridor only if they submit themselves to a urine test, which provides an incentive for maintaining the programme on rehabilitation. We find that having one drug-free corridor in the prison has led to other prisoners asking about it. They are applying to join it from other prisons and it will undoubtedly lead to a day when the governor will say, "I shall no longer just have a corridor ; I shall have an entire wing."
I have visited Downview several times and I have sat with the inmates in the counselling area, which is called the "Serenity Shack", and seen them undergoing their counselling. Interestingly, it is conducted by a former drug addict who speaks the addicts' own language and who is able to understand their problems. In that way, he puts a lot of discipline on the prisoners to complete the programme. It was interesting that the inmates told me about their sheer relief in finding a course of treatment that was effective and that relieved them of a nightmare that had begun when they were children aged between 10 and 12 and first started to experiment with soft drugs. I have had discussions with grown men, lifers and murderers, who have broken down in tears at their wasted lives. They felt that drugs controlled their lives and caused misery for their families and themselves, and they felt that there was no stopping this terrible curse.
Lady Olga Maitland : I thank my hon. Friend for that most useful remark, which I totally support. I find it scandalous that there is a new clause that would legalise soft drugs. I cannot understand how any party can be so irresponsible.
It is interesting that those inmates now feel that a burden has been taken off their shoulders. They are fitter, healthier and have control over their lives. Most important, there is no incentive for them to reoffend when they are released from prison. That can only be of benefit to everyone.
According to a parliamentary reply that I received some weeks ago, the Government's contribution to the enormously successful programme is barely £18,000 a year. The rest of the money comes from voluntary contributions. Private discussions with the Government have not yet encouraged me to believe that they are willing to extend that programme to other prisons. They have doubts on the grounds of cost and the fact that the treatment is not fully proven. The programme at Downview prison
Column 701has meant that 20 former prisoners are now free and have successfully remained off drugs. That alone more than compensates for the cost of the programme.
It is shortsighted to say, "Let us keep watching and waiting". As the Government spend £36 million a year on the disastrous Health Education Authority, I suggest that they make a cut in the budget on pornographic sex education and put £1 million into an effective rehabilitation programme, the benefits of which have already been tried and tested at Downview prison, where the results are open for all to see. Could not that programme be extended to all prisons in this country ? We have no time to waste. We should get on with the programme as a matter of urgency, and I trust that the Government will give the subject full consideration.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : This is the worst nightmare that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) could have imagined--I rise to speak in favour of new clause 67, which proposes to decriminalise cannabis possession and use. Perhaps it is unnecessary for me to say this, but so that Conservative Members, even the most obdurate ones, understand, the proposal is not supported by those on the Front Bench of the official Opposition. It is not Labour party policy to decriminalise cannabis.
I understand that this is the first opportunity that we have had in about 15 years to decriminalise cannabis rather than just to talk about it. Despite what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam said about how scandalous it was that anyone should even presume to urge the decriminalisation of cannabis, there is a debate going on outside the House. That debate involves not only a bunch of 1960s ex-hippies, but judges, senior police officers involved with the drug squad, the head of Interpol, the Surgeon General of the United States of America, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Times , The Economist , and a number of right-wing radical groups. The issue is not confined, therefore, to one narrow sector of society. One of my worries was that, despite that debate outside the House, we were not able to debate the matter in the House. All I want to do is promote a debate, so that we can be sure that we are judging the situation as it should be judged--dispassionately, coolly and in the interests of the population.
I enter a personal note. I have never in my life taken or used illegal substances such as cannabis. I do not know how many Conservative Members can put their hands on their hearts and say that. [Interruption.] I can see three or four raised hands among Conservative Members, so I must assume that at some stage the rest have partaken.
I have done a little bit of homework. I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not at the Dispatch Box, because I have been reading about some of his wilder moments at university. I would like him to come to the Dispatch Box, put his hand on his heart and say that he has never in his life used cannabis. He might find some difficulty doing that and being honest at the same time.
I am not speaking on behalf of myself or to legalise anything that I have done in the past. That is not a moral point, but something that is worth putting on the record. Much to my regret, the permissive 1960s seem to have passed me by in all respects. I have made up for it in certain areas since then, but this is not one of them.
Between 1.5 million and 5 million of our citizens regularly use cannabis for recreational purposes. My new
Column 702clause seeks to create a new category of drug, class D drugs that would, in effect, put cannabis on the same level as alcohol and tobacco. Although it is legal to purchase alcohol and tobacco, we do so under strict conditions. They are not always enforced, but the law exists to enforce them, should we wish. They must be bought from licensed premises, they should not be sold to people under a certain age ; there are tax, revenue and quality considerations. My proposal would only put cannabis on the same level as alcohol and nicotine. If one was being strictly logical, one would consider the health aspects of cannabis, nicotine and alcohol, then legalise cannabis and ban alcohol and nicotine. I have not yet been able to discover anyone who has died from using cannabis, but, every year, tens of thousands of our citizens die from, and suffer from illnesses related to, using alcohol and nicotine. We talk about drugs, but alcohol and nicotine are far more potent drugs than cannabis.
We are not even using language in the correct sense. When we talk about cannabis, we are discussing an illegal substance or drug. When we talk about tobacco and alcohol, we are discussing legal drugs.
Dr. Spink : I hope that the hon. Member will accept that, if tobacco came on to the market now, as a brand new product, no responsible Government would legalise its general use for the public. In that case, why should he now ask for two wrongs to make one right ? Surely society should be protected from soft drugs, just as we would wish to protect it from tobacco, if it came on to the market as a new product.
Mr. Banks : That is an interesting point. If we decided in our wisdom and on health grounds--the hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are legitimate health grounds--to ban nicotine, we would create a large crime wave which would dwarf anything we had ever seen. Obviously, therefore, we cannot do that.
Cannabis is not as destructive of human health as nicotine. In those circumstances, I cannot accept what the hon. Member said, on two grounds, but he is right in one respect. If Sir Walter Raleigh had just returned with the new product of tobacco, I suspect that we would have banned it. Perhaps we would not even have allowed him to bring in potatoes.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : If the theory is that, by banning a drug, we protect people from it, could my hon. Friend explain the experience of a large number of my young constituents, who find themselves in no way protected from the possibility of being hooked on the drug and caught in the crime wave that goes with it ?
Mr. Banks : My hon. Friend is correct. Surveys show that a significant cross-section of society use cannabis for recreational purposes. Cannabis features in 90 per cent. of all drug offences. When we talk about drug offences, we are effectively talking about cannabis, and there were 42,000 offenders in 1991.
As well as the debate outside the House, the police, by their actions, are allowing cannabis use. When they pick up people who are carrying a small amount of cannabis that is clearly for personal use, they issue a caution and let them off. That is what is happening. I do not know what the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam would say about that, but it is a fact, and the House should recognise that.
Column 703People often say--the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) said it--that the use of soft drugs is the slippery slope towards the chasm. For some people that may be true, but not for everyone. One could also say that, as soon as someone sips a glass of dry sherry, they are on the slippery slope to drinking meths on the Embankment. I assume that the poor unfortunates who end up hopeless alcoholics started off by drinking a dry sherry, but that does not mean that everyone who has a beer or a glass of sherry ends up a hopeless alcoholic.
In countries where cannabis has been decriminalised, such as Holland, there has been a fall in the number of hard drug users. While I am on the subject of Holland, I must point out that we are in danger of creating drugs tourism in the European Union. If different laws apply in different countries in a union, where the movement of people across national boundaries is that much easier, people who are interested in experimenting with illegal substances will obviously move to the countries where they are more freely available. We should be concerned about drugs tourism.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) mentioned the extensive criminal activity that surrounds drug supply and said that it was estimated that 50 per cent. of property crimes are associated with drug supply and demand. The police recognise that, like prostitution, the use of illegal substances is something that they can never stop, whatever resources we give them. They also maintain that we do not give them enough resources to meet the demands that the Government place on them. The decriminalisation of cannabis will allow control and regulation and that is the way to approach the matter. It would also allow the police to use their resources more effectively in other areas where damage is being done to our citizens. I do not know whether the use of cannabis damages the people who use them or society, but much of the criminal activity surrounding the supply of such substances clearly damages us all.
I am not saying that, because we cannot beat it, we should legislate for it and legalise it. That is like saying that, because we cannot beat house burglary or car crime, we will make them legal. However, why should millions of citizens be criminalised for an activity that, according to the evidence that I have gathered, does not harm them, as the users, or harm others ?
When the Home Secretary tried to whip up some grass roots support at the Conservative party conference by saying, "Let's hit them with harder penalties," it was an absurd, but typical, reaction. We are not hitting them and we are not dealing with the problem, so how on earth will stiffer penalties solve the problem ? It is not surprising that a range of eminent authorities attacked the Home Secretary's proposals.
If we move from criminalisation to regulation, we can start to treat the drug-dependent--that is somewhat different from using cannabis--as patients rather than as criminals. We can also deal with drug education in a different way. It is difficult to become involved in education about drugs, because drug-taking is an illegal activity. Much HIV infection is passed on via people who use hard drugs, and we are not controlling that.
I am not advocating drug use. I have never used the stuff, nor do I intend to, although I do not object to it. If
Column 704someone gave me a hash brownie, I would probably pop it down, but I would not smoke hash because I do not like smoke getting into my lungs. I am not advocating drug use, but decriminalisation would have some tangible benefits. One benefit is that it would allow up to 5 million of our citizens who use cannabis for recreational purposes to be brought within the law, rather than criminalised.
In summary, if the new clause were accepted and placed in the Bill it would : release law enforcement resources ; improve
police-community relations and, therefore, police effectiveness ; all but eliminate revenue-raising crime to fund illegal purchases ; enable effective measures to curb the spread of HIV ; improve the health of people using drugs ; increase the credibility of health education messages ; and improve early access to treatment for those developing drug problems.
The legal trade would have tax benefits, which would no doubt appeal to some Conservative Members ; would eliminate the excessive illicit profits that generate violence and corruption ; and would remove a major spur to the erosion of traditional, legal safeguards. On all those grounds, at an appropriate stage I shall urge the House to support new clause 7.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), speaking for the Opposition, directed his comments towards the Home Office and its Ministers. I echo the tenor of many of his comments, but he should have directed them to the Secretary of State for Education rather than to the Home Secretary. Lack of education--especially the education of young people--is an appalling chink in the Government's activities to tackle the misuse of drugs, and I say so advisedly. It is not that nothing is going on as there is much activity. Such illustrious organisations as TACADE are providing extremely well-designed material and Life Education Centres have marvellous programmes that are directed towards young children. They are doing their stuff and are supported by voluntary agencies.
However, I fear that, all too often, they are left to get on with it. The Government's decision to cut Government funding for health education co- ordinators in education authorities was appalling. As I told my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Education Ministers, I hope that they will review that decision, and I am sorry that they are not on the Front Bench for our consideration of new clauses 4 and 5.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth, who has just left the Chamber, also took an unfair swipe at my hon. Friend the Minister. Home Office initiatives are one of the areas in which Government activities are excellent. A word of warning, however, as their activities are under review. The Department should not undertake a review like that conducted by Ministers for Education--to find out how best to stop excellent initiatives. I hope that it will find out how programmes can be extended to other cities, towns and regions.
Programmes work best where a co-operative venture is already in place, as was the case in Sussex. Brighton had the first drugs initiative and it was able to stitch in with the East Sussex drugs advisory council and all the good work
Column 705that it has done. That is an excellent example of what Government funding for a Government initiative can achieve, working with local people.
I must offer some words of warning about the ideas about decriminalisation put forward by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). First, he cited the director general of Interpol in support of his contention, but he was taken out of context, and has been quoted very selectively. I shall be delighted to share with the hon. Member the correspondence that I have received from the director general in recent weeks.
Like the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, I am a delegate to the Council of Europe. I should remind him that the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs was debated extensively at the Council--I was proud to be the rapporteur for that debate. The recommendation not to legalise drugs was carried unanimously in the Council, which then embraced 26 nations-- certainly no fewer--with the support of representatives from all parties of all nations.
The truth of the matter is that the decriminalisation of drugs will not work, and that cannabis has worse effects than the hon. Member for Newham, North-West suggested. It increases the likelihood of lung infection, because it increases the toxic gases in cigarettes, it affects people's brains and, most important of all, it has severe effects on young girls, because it affects their reproductive organs.
Mr. Rathbone : The hon. Member seemed to hang his argument on the idea that, as cannabis is only a recreational drug, it should be made legal. Those who take hard nasty drugs such as cocaine and heroin also look upon them as so-called recreational drugs. To hang the arguments about decriminalisation on allowing people to have more legal fun when they are having illegal fun now is a rather sad commentary from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.
New clauses 64 and 65, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) relate to drug treatment in prisons. We do not know how many prisoners misuse drugs. We know that about 45,000 people are in prison, and we know that they are roughly representative of the population. A survey of prisoners in 1989 found that 43 per cent. said that they used drugs regularly outside prison. It is therefore likely that they could be misusing drugs inside prison.
The British Medical Association found that 40 per cent. of women prisoners in Holloway may have problems with drugs--my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam spoke about that earlier. The 1991 national prison survey reported that 41 per cent. of prisoners who were questioned said that their first confrontation with police was because of drink or drugs. That relates to the comments made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West.
Of the cases tried by magistrates in the London area, 80 per cent. involve drink or drugs. That highlights the need for treatment for misuse of drugs and alcohol, and the fact that one should not differentiate between them.
Column 706It is extremely difficult to provide such treatment in prisons. Those involved in the work of the Addictive Diseases Trust have said categorically :
"Admitting to a drug or alcohol problem in prison can have unpleasant consequences"
on release. That is absolutely true, but it is still essential to have the ability to offer that treatment.
In common with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, I lift my hat to the Addictive Diseases Trust and to Sir Anthony Hopkins, who is more famous for other things, for his marvellous support of and deep involvement with the trust. I also commend Jonathan Wallace, the trust's director, on getting a unit going in Downview prison.
New clause 64 makes an important reference to "voluntary organisations". The Addictive Diseases Trust believes, based on its experience, that it is essential to establish with inmates that the treatment process is not part of the prison system, and that its staff are not employed directly by the Home Office or the prison service. That is not a criticism of my hon. Friend the Minister or of prison officers, but it means that such treatment must be at arm's length from the Department and the prison service to make it a credible point of contact to which prisoners may turn.
The success of that concept is endorsed by everyone who has had any experience of what has gone on in Downview prison. I know that the prison governor, the area manager and everyone from the Home Office who has visited the prison is behind that concept. They are supportive because they can see the effect on prisoners. It is also important to consider the rollover effect, because, when I visited that prison, it was clear to me--I am sure that the Minister can confirm this--that the treatment was helping not only the prisoners, but their wives and their families to come to grips with their problems outside.
The Addictive Diseases Trust says :
"We are in the business of turning liabilities into assets." I believe that the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam would achieve just that.
Mr. Maclennan : In common with the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), I should like briefly to discuss the three sets of amendments and new clauses that have been grouped together. I agree with the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) that the Government have not shown a co-ordinated appreciation of the serious threat that drugs are posing to society. As the hon. Member for Lewes has said, it is true that the Department for Education is primarily to blame for the recent ending of the role of health education co-ordinators. Earlier today, Ministers--most notably the Foreign Secretary, in his statement to the House--told us about the importance of collective responsibility. I believe that the Departments of Health and for Education and the Home Office should be working closely together to tackle the problem of drugs, which afflicts society.
My main concern about the Home Office is that it is not devoting sufficient resources, research and analysis to the extent of the problem. It is true that anecdotal evidence suggests that many offences can be traced to a criminal seeking to finance his drug-taking habits. The statistical evidence to support that, at least that which is available to the public, is extremely slender. With crime figures rocketing, the time has come for a much more scientific analysis of the relationship of drugs to offending.
Column 707New clauses 4 and 5 deal with cognate matters--the imposition of a duty upon local authorities, funded by Home Office grants, to pursue anti-drugs education in partnership with the police and other agencies. New clause 5 would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to
"publish a national strategy for drug prevention."
That too would focus on education and young people in custody or care.
I sympathise with and support the intention behind the clauses, and they are a useful peg on which to hang the debate, but we must recognise that education on drugs often misses the target. I give full credit to the Home Office for its responsibility for a valuable study which was prepared at Sheffield university by Marian Lightner and others. It showed that drug education was most likely to be effective among those socio-economic groups that were responsive to education generally.
Those who are least responsive to education are, broadly, those most disposed to take harder drugs, and indeed all drugs more frequently. Therefore, although it is important to educate in schools, we cannot regard even an extensive drugs education in schools as sufficient, and we require counselling services and detoxification centres outside schools to catch those who are not caught by what goes on in schools.
Another report, produced for the Department of Health on young people and illicit drug use, researched at Durham university, found that it was commonplace among young 13 to 18-year-olds in some areas to take drugs. Drug use and abuse by children is growing, and growing frighteningly. There must be very few head teachers in the land who can put their hands on their hearts and say that drugs are not being brought into their schools. I do not sense that the urgency of tackling that problem is reflected in Government thinking. One of the group of amendments has not yet been moved by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Perhaps he will forgive me if I mention it even before he has moved it, for there is much to be said for new clause 52, which would require the detention in rehabilitation centres of drug addicts convicted of possession under section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
It has to recommend it, first, the fact that prisons are not the best places to send people who need to kick the habit of drug-taking. Secondly, detention in a rehabilitation centre might at least prevent reoffending in the same way on release. It is extremely important that drug addicts are given rehabilitation rather than prison sentences, but we have to qualify that view by recognising that such centres do not currently exist extensively around the country. I think that the proposal of the hon. Member for Tayside, North is almost certainly not capable of implementation on practical grounds, but the thrust of his argument is extremely important. It also has to be recognised that treatment for drug addiction is not always lasting or successful, and that lasting care for ex-addicts is necessary to prevent recidivism. The hon. Gentleman might care to consider that in the context of his thinking about those matters, for follow-up and after-care are extraordinarily important.
Column 708Many addicts who come before the courts do not do so because they are addicts. They are tried for other offences and convicted of other offences, and their addiction comes to light only once they are taken into custody.
With those reservations, I generally support the thrust of new clause 52, but I think that the intentions of the hon. Member for Tayside, North were similar to those expressed by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who speaks with some obvious personal interest and knowledge of activities and regimes in certain prisons where drug rehabilitation programmes are being experimented with. I agree with her that it is sensible that those programmes should be tried out by other prisons and by voluntary agencies working in prisons. We need all the help and experience that we can find to tackle that problem. The hon. Member for Lewes said that, although we know that drug abuse in prison is high, we cannot accurately quantify it, and certainly not all users come to the attention of the authorities. Measures to restrict the supply of drugs, even in the newest prisons, are never, as far as one can make out, completely successful. Further, a person who is already in prison may not be deterred by an extension of sentence for drug use, so I think that a strategy of drug demand reduction is required.
The treatment of drug dependence among prisoners is an important part of tackling offending behaviour generally, as they are often linked, and the availability of treatment is crucial. I therefore support the thinking of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam that lies behind the clause. I shall be interested to see whether she presses it to a Division in the face of the reluctance of the Government to move in the direction that she has in mind. Many of the arguments which I have adduced in support of her new clause 64 would obtain in respect of new clause 65, as it allows the court to reduce the sentence of an offender where it believes that drug use contributed to the crime and where the offender is willing to go on a rehabilitation course.
I think that that power is unlikely to be frequently used because of the difficulty of proving causation, but its value would lie in the recognition that drugs can lead to crimes that would not otherwise be committed. An addict who receives treatment may be in greater danger of returning to dependence while inside prisons where drugs are more readily available than outside.
The last group of amendments which I wish to mention includes new clause 51, which would alter the sentences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to provide that all offences will be tried on
indictment--most can be tried either way at present. Maximum sentences for possession, supply or production would be 50 years for class A, 25 years for class B and 10 years for class C.
Longer sentences are known to contribute little to deterring others or to preventing reoffending. In the United States, minimum sentences and an explosion in the number of convictions have not reduced the incidence of drug crime or addiction. A heavy-handed criminal justice response may even exacerbate the drugs problem by driving users further from other agencies offering rehabilitation, and by increasing the violence associated with drug-dealing.
I am less attracted to that proposal of the hon. Member for Tayside, North. The Government too often instinctively believe that one tackles criminal problems by lengthening sentences. The position of drug addicts and drug users is