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House of Commons

Friday 9 June 1995

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Drug Misuse [Relevant document: The White Paper entitled "Tackling Drugs Together-A Strategy for England 1995-98" (Cm 2846).] Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway.]

9.34 am

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I very much welcome the opportunity to open a full day's debate on the Government's strategy for tackling drug misuse in England, which I presented to the House, in the form of a White Paper, as recently as a month ago. I did so on behalf, not only of myself, but of the Secretaries of State for Health and for Education, the Home Secretary and the Paymaster General. I recall that, on that occasion, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) expressed the hope that we would find time for a debate on the White Paper, and I share what I hope will be his pleasure that we have been able to do so.

I should make it clear at the outset that I play a largely co-ordinating role rather than an executive one in this regard. I was asked to chair the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Drug Misuse and it is to me that the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit reports, but I am the conductor of the orchestra--an orchestra which plays in complete harmony--not a player.

None of us should be under any illusion about the seriousness of the drug problem that confronts us today and especially the threat that it poses to many of our young people. The evidence shows that, in any one year, at least 3 million people--about 6 per cent. of the population--take an illegal drug. Recent surveys have suggested that 28 per cent. of 16 to 29- year-olds have taken illegal drugs and that 14 per cent. of 14 to 15-year- olds admit to doing so. All the indicators--including drug seizures and the number of people found guilty of or cautioned for drug offences--have been increasing. The signs are that drug misuse in the United Kingdom and overseas has been continuing to increase.

It is little surprise perhaps that, in last year's British Crime Survey, the percentage of people who specifically expressed worry about drugs as a "big problem" increased from 12 per cent. in 1992 to 22 per cent., and that among young people themselves--16 to 19-year-olds--that figure has increased to more than 30 per cent.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North): I dare say that I am anticipating my right hon. Friend, but I think it is important to place one matter on the record. I know that my right hon. Friend shares my concern about young people. Is he aware that the pressure on them to take

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cannabis and soft drugs, believing that there will be no after-effects, is growing, but that Professor Camps, a great and famous Home Office pathologist for many years, repeatedly said to me, as a leading schoolmaster, "Soft drugs always lead to hard drugs-- always. Never let your pupils and students take soft drugs"? I never did.

Mr. Newton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is precisely because of worries of that type that we have sought to place so much emphasis on that strategy and, I may say, to make it absolutely clear, as I am glad has also been made clear from the Opposition Front Bench during the response to my statement, that we have no plans whatever to legalise any drugs that are currently not legal. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."]

It is, I say to my hon. Friend, for that type of reason and against that background that the Government have felt it right to develop a strategic framework that recognises the seriousness and complexity of the problem and sets out a range of commitments to tackle it. I have been extremely encouraged by the support that the White Paper has received, in the House, as reflected in the general welcome given by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) when I made my statement, and more widely. All types of relevant organisations, many of them very distinguished, such as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and our own all-party drug misuse group, have welcomed the White Paper and expressed their willingness--indeed keenness--to work with it.

Indeed, I noted that the director of intelligence at Scotland Yard--not, on my acquaintance with him, a man given to saying things that Ministers like to hear simply for the sake of pleasing them--is reported as having said on the radio, on the day of the White Paper's publication:

"they actually listened"--

that is us--

"to what we'd got to say and what you've seen is a great deal of hard work by the Central Drugs Co-ordinating Committee which has produced what I think is a stunning document compared with other drug strategies that have been prepared across the world. This is really the best I've ever seen and it deserves our support."

I do not know whether everyone has been that fulsome in support of the White Paper--it appears that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) does not feel quite the same way. At any rate, it is an indication of the very positive response that the White Paper has received. That support gives us our best chance of success and it is a reflection of the extent to which the Government have sought to listen to serious, reasoned analysis and proposals during the consultation exercise which preceded the White Paper's publication. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman--perhaps he will be as fulsome in his praise of the White Paper as I would wish.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): Not quite, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the many comments about the fact that the Government have listened to criticisms of the proposed structure and arrangements and responded to those criticisms. However, there is a feeling that the

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Government did not heed advice about addressing some of the fundamental causes of the drug problem, which the White Paper does not deal with at all.

Mr. Newton: I am not sure that I wholly agree with that view. None of us can be confident that we know what the difficulties are and research to which I shall refer later reveals that dilemma. We know that we are dealing with a very complex problem and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, who shows every sign that he intends to participate in the debate, will elaborate upon his views later. I was particularly pleased to note the positive response from the key agencies which have the responsibility for delivering the strategy. At its annual drugs conference during the week following the White Paper's publication, the Association of Chief Police Officers demonstrated the police service's commitment to the partnership approach by involving in those discussions for the first time the full range of enforcement, education and treatment agencies concerned with tackling drugs.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. The inter-agency approach that he has mentioned is very important. Will he take the opportunity to pay great tribute to Norfolk, where the inter-agency approach has been working extremely well since 1990? I know that the local authorities there are following Government policy very actively indeed.

Mr. Newton: I am more than happy to pay tribute to my hon. Friend's county local authorities in Norfolk so long as I am also allowed to pay my own tribute to the local authorities in Essex which have also worked extremely effectively to that end.

Our task now is to ensure the implementation of the strategy whose aims are clearly set out in the statement of purpose, which is: "To take effective action by vigorous law enforcement, accessible treatment and a new emphasis on education and prevention to: increase the safety of communities from drug-related crime; reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people; and

reduce the health risks and other damage related to drug misuse." Those three priorities are interdependent and of equal importance. I emphasise the fact that delivering one helps to deliver the others and, in the same way, if we were to lose ground in one area, the others would be undermined. Our efforts must be connected, concerted and sustained across the board.

Our objectives in relation to community safety and crime are: to see that the law is effectively enforced, especially against those involved in the supply and trafficking of illegal drugs; to reduce the incidence of and the public's fear of drug-related crime; and to reduce the level of drug misuse in prisons, the importance of which was rightly stressed by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House in response to my statement of 10 May.

The White Paper not only sets out specific tasks for each of the criminal justice agencies in meeting these objectives, but requires them to work together to maximise effectiveness. For example, I attach

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considerable importance to the work to be undertaken by HM Customs and Excise, the police service--including regional crime squads--the Home Office and the National Criminal Intelligence Service to develop overall performance measures for law enforcement, including targets for dismantling major trafficking organisations.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover): My right hon. Friend mentioned Customs and Excise. Will he confirm that we can be certain that adequate methods of border control will remain in place in Dover? We do not want the relaxation of border controls around Europe to prevent us from doing our normal checks at borders and thus allow drugs to be imported into the country illegally in lorries.

Mr. Newton: My hon. Friend will be well aware that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and many of my other right hon. Friends have repeatedly made clear the British Government's determination to maintain effective controls for many reasons, including that which concerns my hon. Friend.

As to law enforcement measures, I shall refer briefly to the prison service's own drugs strategy. It requires effective working in conjunction with other relevant agencies, such as the probation service, police and a range of local agencies, in order to tackle the control, safety and treatment issues which must be addressed for those in custody and on release. We shall seek to measure their performance against key performance indicators for tackling drug-related crime, some of which are mentioned in the White Paper. The White Paper sets out a number of objectives aimed at helping young people to resist drugs. Their span is wide because the circumstances which determine why some of our children choose to experiment with drugs, while many others--still the majority, we must not forget--do not, are contingent upon many different factors. I referred to that fact briefly in response to the intervention by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed a few moments ago. The recent report entitled "Psychological Disorders in Young People" by Professor Sir Michael Rutter and David Smith demonstrates yet again the complexity of the social environment facing young people today. It makes clear that there are no simple answers as to which factors cause drug misuse, but it lends no support to some of the more facile suggestions about links with social and economic conditions.

However, central to our efforts must be discouraging young people--who take illegal drugs for whatever reason--from taking them in the first place; providing our schools with clear guidance on drug education and managing drug-related incidents; and developing effective publicity campaigns. Experience from the United States and elsewhere suggests that credible, focused information about the dangers of drugs can make a real impact on the attitudes of young people. If we can reduce their demand for drugs by highlighting their awareness of risk and developing their skills to resist pressures--to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) referred--we shall be on the way to containing the trends. But a fine and a careful line must be drawn in highlighting those risks and dangers, without overstating

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them so that they seem either totally unconnected with young people's lives or make drug taking perversely attractive.

Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): My right hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the threat that drug taking poses for young people. Is he aware of the report of the Croydon regional drug and alcohol team which said, as recently as 1 June, that children as young as six or seven may be using cannabis or pills? That suggests that drug strategies should be targeted perhaps to primary as well as secondary schools.

Mr. Newton: I note my hon. Friend's point. I was not specifically aware of that survey, but the fact that it confirms his concerns indicates the importance of the efforts that are being made in relation to drugs education. We must ensure that appropriate steps are taken throughout people's schooling. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State from the Department of Education, who will wind up the debate, will refer to that matter in his speech. I emphasise that the Office for Standards in Education will take a key role in assessing our performance in the educational field. The hon. Member for Dewsbury raised some concerns about OFSTED's expertise in her response to the White Paper's publication. I assure the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), who is leading for the Opposition today, that a detailed and comprehensive inspection brief for this work has been agreed between OFSTED and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education. It requires all inspections to include comment on the quality of both policy and practice in drugs education at each school, as well as requiring specific studies on school provision and the contribution of the youth service to drugs prevention. Training for OFSTED inspectors in that vital area of their work is kept under regular review, and includes the provision of day conferences and regional meetings to share good practice.

But as I made clear when presenting this White Paper, young people's drug problems cannot be a matter only for schools. The White Paper's objectives and tasks in relation to reducing the susceptibility of young people to drugs stretches across the Home Office, the Department of Health and others. Work with young offenders, the homeless or children in care must all take place within a shared agenda of effective drug prevention and education. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has renewed the drug prevention initiative which works with local communities. Today, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary-Under Secretary of State for Health is announcing grants to 40 projects developing specialist services for young people at risk of drug misuse or at an early stage of experimenting with drugs. This White Paper signals a strong and enhanced emphasis on prevention and education to help young people to resist drugs. It will necessarily be a long-term process, but it is essential.

Reducing the health risks of drug misuse--the third key area of the White Paper which has an equal priority with the others--is essentially about progress on two overall objectives: first, protecting our communities from the health risks and other damage associated with drug misuse, including the spread of communicable diseases; and, secondly, discouraging people from misusing drugs, and enabling those who do so to stop.

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I attach particular importance in respect of these objectives to the work currently being undertaken by the task force established in April 1994 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health which is reviewing the effectiveness of treatment services for drug misusers. It is expected to report to Ministers in January. I hope that it will help purchasers to ensure that cost-effective and appropriate services--both from the statutory and the very important independent sectors--are accessible to those who need them. Department of Health guidance will therefore cover early intervention services, treatment, rehabilitation and aftercare services, and will include services for people serving community sentences or on release from custody.

Here again, interdependence is one of the themes. Close liaison with the relevant agencies will be the key to effective delivery. That is why the independent standing conference on drug abuse is seeking to draw together service providers across the spectrum. Important though the overall strategy is, the direct impact of the White Paper must be at the local level if we are to make real progress. A great deal of good work has already been established in many areas, not least those which have had the benefit of the Home Office's drug prevention initiative. But the White Paper gives an added emphasis to the themes of partnership, leadership and accountability at the local level with the setting up of drug action teams across all parts of England to deliver progress on the ground. Chief executives of district health authorities have been given the responsibility of setting up local arrangements and will report on these to central Government by the end of September. One or two hon. Members expressed concern at the time of publication of the White Paper--the hon. Member for Knowsley, North may advert to this today--as to why this responsibility was not accorded to local authorities. This is simply because--of all the bodies involved--district health authorities have a direct line of accountability to Ministers in central Government. We attach importance to that as our best method of making sure that something happens on the ground.

We certainly expect local authority chief executives to play a big role in taking forward the drug action teams, and the clear indications are that they are ready to do so. Indeed, we hope that some chief executives or their senior colleagues will come forward to chair such teams, because we have not attempted to dictate the chairing of the organisations, which will depend on what seems best locally.

The hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) suggested that dynamic, co- ordinated local authority action required representation on the drug action teams by elected members, as well as officials. It would to be better to see how the current proposals develop on the basis that councillors will be keeping in close touch with their senior officials--we would welcome that-- and that there is already a degree of flexibility in the arrangements to allow particular individuals to be co-opted on to the teams. I welcome the indications of commitment to the strategy that those who pressed that point are, in effect, expressing.

Each drug action team will decide the chairing arrangements which best suit their work, and we hope to see a variety of agencies and services represented in the chairs across the country. By 31 December this year, I expect to receive action plans from each, setting out their proposals for 1996-97 and 1997-98, and agreed key

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priorities on which local action and funding is to be focused, describing the arrangements for co-ordinating local services to tackle drug misuse and for liaising with other relevant bodies at local, regional and national level, giving their proposals for the use of development funds--£33,000 will be made available to each district health authority for each of the full two years of their work--and giving the arrangements for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the priorities being undertaken.

Those action plans should also set out proposed arrangements for each drug action team's drug reference group. These groups need a broad membership-- this is another point to which I attach great importance--to help forge close working relationships with a wide range of local expertise and local communities. Without that, the drug action teams' impact will be seriously reduced.

The contribution that voluntary and community groups, in particular, can make to this work by their input to drug reference groups will be very substantial. May I take this opportunity--which I am sure everyone in the House today will wish to endorse--of expressing my very considerable appreciation of all those individuals directly involved in tackling drug misuse in voluntary and community organisations throughout the country at the grass roots? They undertake difficult, often thankless, work in the fields of prevention and treatment, and we want drug action teams to make full use of their very considerable expertise and commitment.

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East): I endorse what the Leader of the House said about the contribution of the people who are working on the ground. Why will the drug action teams have only one at most representative from such people in their membership? The construction of drug action teams seems somewhat top heavy, with a preponderance of chief executives and chief constables and perhaps one co-opted voluntary sector representative. Should not the balance be shifted more in favour of the people to whom the right hon. Gentleman was referring?

Mr. Newton: I shall come back to the general point arising from what the hon. Gentleman has said in a moment or two, but I shall make two points in direct response to what he has said. First, the thinking that has informed the structure of the drug action teams has been that if there is too large a body, it will not be as effective. Everyone knows that a group of 25, 30 or 40 people is not a good body to oversee executive action, and we want a relatively small body with a main executive responsibility.

Secondly, we want to make sure that all the key agencies involved are directly represented in that body, because they will have to carry out the strategy. The combination of those two factors has led us to propose a structure of tightly focused, smallish and high-level drug action teams associated with the more broadly based drug reference groups. I am not saying that we are sure that we have every last dot and comma of the structure right, and we will be prepared to look at such matters as experience unfolds. But that has been the thinking behind the structure, and I think that it is a sensible approach.

I have spent a little time focusing on those matters, but I do not object at all to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North,-East (Mr. Timms) because the membership of the groups is an important ingredient.

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The groups provide the key to translating a comprehensive strategic framework into specific, tangible initiatives which make a real difference to local communities. The leadership and determination that will be required in establishing the teams is available and is ready to be deployed.

Having said that, I would not want the House to think for one moment that the Government and others working beyond the local level can now sit back and let the strategy unfold. Departments have over 80 objectives and tasks to undertake within specific timescales and there will be a lot to do in supporting the work at organisational and local level to keep up the momentum and to hold Departments, agencies and drug action teams to account.

Some of this work will fall to our officials in the Central Drugs Co- ordination Unit, led by Sue Street, to whom I pay tribute. The unit has performed massively successful work in the relatively short time since it was established. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes will want to pay a similar tribute to the unit today and to emphasise the importance that he attaches to its work. I assure him that the unit's role for the life of the strategy will be assessed next year, in the expectation that it will continue in some form or other for the life of the strategy.

There will also be wider tasks. We must ensure that we make the best possible use of the large resources already available to us. I reminded the House when I published the White Paper that we already spend more than £500 million on tackling the drugs problem each year, and I announced a further total additional resource of slightly over £13 million this year to support the White Paper initiatives. We also want to increase our knowledge of the scale and nature of the drugs problem that we face, taking careful account of local differences inside England and more widely in the United Kingdom, and keeping the bigger picture in relation to organised crime and the international scene in clear view.

As we do all these things I have no doubt that some elements of the plan set out in the White Paper will, as I told the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), need to be refined and fine tuned in the light of new issues that arise and practical lessons that are learnt. But I believe that the strategic framework in the White Paper is clear and robust. We need to be ready to use its flexibility to give all involved in combating the drugs problem the most useful practical support throughout the three years of the strategy's life. Then we must provide a good basis for reviewing our priorities and tasks in future years.

I believe that this White Paper gives us a better chance than ever before to make a real difference to the many people whose lives are blighted or threatened by the damage caused by illegal drugs. The strategy that I have outlined and the local tools now available to implement it offer a positive way forward to enhance community safety, reduce health risks and, perhaps most importantly of all, help our young people to protect themselves from the malign influence of drugs on their lives.

So I welcome the debate as a means of signalling the clear collective determination of the House to do all we can to tackle the drugs problem. The Minister of State at the Department for Education and I will listen with close attention to everything that is said by those who contribute to today's debate.

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10.1 am

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North): I repeat the welcome for the White Paper offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) when it was introduced. The Lord President will confirm that, ever since the Green Paper, we have consistently supported the Government's approach, offering constructive criticism where necessary, but welcoming the general direction. We confirm the need for a central strategy, and the one advanced by the right hon. Gentleman today broadly meets that need. We also agree with the idea of putting in place local mechanisms for delivering such a strategy. To that extent we broadly welcome the proposals.

It is essential, as far as possible, to build a consensus on this issue, first because the problem affects especially young people in every city, town and village. This is not just an inner-city problem or a rural problem. We in the House and others who are interested in those matters have a duty to build a consensus around our approach to dealing with the problem.

We are all well aware of the links between drug misuse and crime of all kinds, but we should be especially worried about the rise of violent crime associated with the drug industry. Today I put on record the Opposition's endorsement of the Lord President's two main themes: the commitment to proper maintenance of legal deterrents, and the firm enforcement of the law by the police and by Customs and Excise. We should not contemplate decriminalisation or legalisation of any substance that is currently illegal, including cannabis. Whatever the merits of otherwise of the debate on cannabis, holding out the prospect that it might at some time be legalised or decriminalised--there is a subtle difference--would be wholly wrong, because it would send the wrong signals to young people. Holding out such a prospect to them would blunt the message that we are trying to broadcast.

Secondly, the liberalisation advocated by some is a distraction from the need to portray drugs as a problem. That is why I want to establish at the outset that the Opposition support the strategy set out in the White Paper and will do everything they can to make its implementation a success. I should also like to record my thanks to the Lord President for making his advisers available to me before the debate. I am grateful for that gesture, which bodes well for future co-operation across the House.

I have no doubt that during the debate some hon. Members will attempt to exploit such divisions as exist in some corners of the House. That may be understandable, but it is important to emphasise our broad areas of agreement, not our divisions. Depending on the significance that one attaches to the resolution passed at the Liberal Democrats' conference last year, it would appear that they are in favour of legalising cannabis--

Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman has suggested that he intends to be accurate and objective, so he should perhaps bear in mind the fact that the resolution to which he refers recommended that the matter be considered by a royal commission. I have made it clear on many occasions that neither I nor my right hon. and hon. Friends are persuaded that the signal that would be given by legalising possession would be a good one to send out. In that context, I would be interested to know whether the hon.

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Gentleman thinks that the practice of cautioning as a way of dealing with possession offences--now the practice in half of all possession cases--is the right one.

Mr. Howarth: Talking about a royal commission or explicitly endorsing legalisation or decriminalisation amount to the same thing. What the right hon. Gentleman says is technically correct, but what matters is the message received by the average young person. That is why the conference resolution was a mistake. I do not condemn the right hon. Gentleman or his party for it; I just think that it was wrong.

I have no complaint against the strategy that the police are adopting. Earlier this week I was briefed by the Merseyside drugs squad, so I know about the difficulties that they face and I know that they have to make tactical decisions depending on the circumstances. I would not therefore dissent from the tactics often employed in the field.

I am not trying to isolate the right hon. Member for

Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). I merely mentioned that resolution to show that there are dissenting voices on the political scene. I have to concede that one or two of my hon. Friends take the same view as the Liberal Democrats--

Mr. Beith: So does the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Mr. Howarth: I am not so sure about that. The point is that my hon. Friends are always at pains to make it clear that theirs is a personal point of view. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may seek to speak later; when he does so, I am sure that he will make it clear that he does not speak for the Labour party.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): As we are clearing up misunderstandings before they re-emerge, as they undoubtedly will, later in the debate, my hon. Friend might like to point out that there are Conservative Members who hold similar views. I am sure that he was going to get round to saying that, so that we can see that the matter both unites and divides parties across the House and that that is perfectly reasonable.

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend read my mind. I was making the point that they are personal views. I do not agree, and the Opposition do not agree, but hon. Members are entitled to hold them.

To round up the balance of what I was saying, I come to the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). [Hon. Members:--"Where is he?"] I exercised the normal courtesies of the House and pointed out to him yesterday that I intended to refer to his views on the subject, but where he is, I cannot say.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton recently published a book, a copy of which I have here. I did not purchase it, but got it from the Library. The book goes by the title of "Saturn's Children" and it was co-authored by Domonic Hobson. In the book, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton advances a number of arguments, one of which is the legalisation of drugs. That is in the context of a general right-of-centre argument about rolling back the frontiers of the state which will not be unfamiliar to many Conservative Members.

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I quote briefly from the hon. Gentleman's book. The nub of the argument is on page 411:

"Above all, legalisation would save the taxpayer the many millions of pounds the police and the Customs and Excise spend on a war which they not only cannot win but which they are now actually losing, and at considerable cost to the ordinary people caught in the crossfire".

I have simply established that there are dissenting views on both sides of the House. Indeed, if some of the Ulster Unionist Members were here, we might even find some completely different dissenting voices among them. Although dissenting voices exist, there is broad agreement.

Although I would never share some of those views, it is important that the common message that we send out is that, first, taking drugs is wrong, and, secondly, there is no prospect whatever of any legalisation or decriminalisation. That is important for a number of reasons, but it is most important for parents struggling to get children, especially teenage children, to understand that drugs are a path that should not be embarked upon. Similarly, schools, police and other agencies involved in the process would be appalled if the House were to take anything other than the line that we are adopting today.

It is important to be clear that there are unresolved difficulties that need to be addressed if we are to be serious about approaching the problem. First, there is a cycle of hopelessness that affects many young people. That has to have some impact on this problem. Unemployment, as it affects school leavers and, more recently, graduates, cannot in itself be an excuse for embarking on the path to taking drugs, but it can be put down as part of the cause in some cases. That has many tragic consequences of which we are all aware, not least the sense of a lack of a stake in society, which leads people to have the proper self-control and self-discipline that comes with employment. That must be a factor in drawing people into the pernicious tentacles of the drug culture. Most certainly, that sense of hopelessness has grown remorselessly over the past two decades and the Government cannot entirely escape their share of the blame for that phenomenon.

I shall quote briefly from a document that hon. Members may have had from Turning Point, which is a well-respected national charity dealing with the problem. It quotes a long-term alcohol, opiate and tranquilliser user as saying:

"I was told I could leave (the rehab) when I found somewhere to live. The social services wouldn't give me any money `til I found a flat. I couldn't get a flat until I had money to pay in advance. So it was a Catch 22. That's why I went to live with a drug dealer." The problems that such people face are often practical and lead people into that sort of culture and difficulty.

Similarly, the Local Government Drugs Forum, a respected body that has done some solid and useful work, quotes from a paper produced by the Scottish Drugs Misuse Task Force called "Drugs in Scotland: Meeting the Challenge", which states:

"Drug misuse tends to flourish in conditions of deprivation, alienation and poverty of aspiration."

The Local Government Drugs Forum continues:

"People with drug problems must have available the opportunity to recover with a seamless division between health care and social care. People recovering from drug problems require access to and the support of employment opportunities, housing and quality primary health care in order to stabilise and sustain their lifestyles."

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That argument needs to be taken into account.

We need to be absolutely certain that the necessary resources are available, and in the right place and at the right time. That is not just good policy; it makes economic sense. The Lord President of the Council will be aware of a recent study in the United States, which evaluated drug recovery services in California. After a comprehensive survey, it concluded that for every dollar spent on drug rehabilitation and treatment, $7 was saved for the Californian taxpayer. It could conclude that because it was able to take into account the cost of crime and other problems that follow from drug abuse. That serves to illustrate that that is a cost-effective way of dealing with the problem and a necessary and right way of dealing with it in principle.

Similarly, a Turning Point survey shows that 20 per cent. of its clients cited delays in funding as a contributory factor to their failure to come off drugs and alcohol. Those are people who have attempted to come off drugs, found that they could not get back into the mainstream of society and drifted back into drug or alcohol abuse.

There is also widespread and legitimate concern that the potential 400 job losses in the Customs and Excise service will create further problems in the effort to stem the supply of drugs. Last year, as the House will be aware, customs officers seized 51 tonnes of drugs estimated to be worth over £550 million.

I understand that the new strategy adopted by Customs and Excise is to operate in a more mobile and flexible way. The Lord President made that point in his statement, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury. I understand that argument, but not everybody who works in the field--and there is a great deal of expertise available--accepts it. It is not entirely clear that it is going to work in the way that the Lord President and others hope. It seems to me self-evident that if we reduce the number of customs officers by 400, it must have an impact on intercepting the supply of illegal substances. I hope that there will be further consideration of that proposal.

Mr. Patrick Thompson: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is important to raise this point of order now, bearing in mind the time that we have for this debate. It has just been announced that there will be a private notice question at 11 am. Are you, therefore, able to rule that speeches should be curtailed, bearing in mind the number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate? Would you also look at the procedures of this place to avoid this happening again?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): It is not possible for me now to place a time limit, because that has to be done at the outset of the debate. The hon. Gentleman's point of order, however, gives me the opportunity to say what I might have said after the Front-Bench contributions--that I hope that hon. Members will make their contributions fairly short. I say that not only because of the private notice question at 11 am, but because of the large number of hon. Members who have indicated already that they wish to contribute.

Mr. Howarth: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) that I do not intend to take any more time than the Lord President, who was admirably brief in his opening remarks.

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It is important to reiterate the point that there is widespread and legitimate concern that if the new strategy does not work, it should be quickly picked up and quickly reversed. I ask the Lord President, who co-ordinates Government policy in the matter, if he is not prepared to reverse the job cuts, at least to set up a system of monitoring how effective the changes in operational responsibilities in Customs and Excise are. If a problem emerges, I hope that it will be dealt with quickly, because nobody wants the successes of the past to be reversed.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Howarth: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for calling me his hon. Friend. I give way to him.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, especially as there is such pressure on time in this debate. Does he agree that as well as trying to stop drugs at our borders, it is essential that we share proper intelligence, especially with our nearest European neighbours? Does he agree that that is as effective as trying to stop the stuff at our borders?

Mr. Howarth: I am not sure that I agree that that would be equally effective, but I acknowledge the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point and agree with it.

I now refer briefly to education, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) will have more to say later. Although we welcome the £5.9 million that has been made available under the White Paper, we have made the point--my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury made this point during the statement--that that works out at only £240 per school. I understand the argument that the money will not be allocated on that basis; it will not be allocated at so much per school, after which the schools do what they want. The money will be a pool from which projects and ideas can draw resources. However, it is not a lot of money to be spread across the country. I hope that the Lord President understands that the amount needs to be kept under review, because there are important projects and approaches that need to be financed if we are to get the education side of the message right. We need to ensure that the resources are there to do the job.

I again make a point that I have raised consistently over the past six to nine months and which I know that the Central Drugs Co-ordination Unit and the Lord President are interested in. My point concerns how we get the message across and how we focus the ideas and techniques available to, for example, the advertising industry, so that they can be more successful than in the past. There is now clear evidence--there is no dispute about this-- that the well-meaning and well-intentioned anti-heroin campaign through public advertising in the 1980s did not have the desired effect. I do not say that as a criticism, because effectiveness is difficult to achieve. I believe, however, that it is necessary for us to conduct some more detailed research and to talk to the advertising industry and those who know how to get messages across. After all, as political parties, we are keen to talk to them about getting the message across. We should try to find out how we could get the message across better to young people. I should be pleased to support any efforts made in that direction.

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With due deference to my hon. Friends, who are not in this category, there is an element of men in grey suits trying to determine what is the best way in which to get the message across to teenagers, which does not quite square the circle. I have no prescription for that, but I believe that it is important that we consider the point. I am concerned--this concern is, I am sure, shared by many--about the problems of drug abuse in our prisons. In his report on Styal prison, Judge Tumim stated:

"Inmates asserted, and staff agreed, that drugs were freely available in Styal, mainly brought in by visitors and by inmates who had been on Home Leave. They said that almost all inmates used cannabis in addition to which 80 per cent. used opiates (mainly heroin), 50 per cent. cocaine/crack, 15- 20 per cent. amphetamines, 10 per cent. LSD occasionally, and 60 per cent. benzodiazepines (mainly Temazepam). It was believed that 60 per cent. of those who injected used shared needles. Inmates were aware of the risk of contaminated needles."

That is possibly the worst example in Judge Tumim's reports on various prisons and it is certainly the worst example that I have come across. Although I am not saying that that is typical of every prison, we know that drugs are readily available in many of our prisons. We know that there are risks of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases that are spread by the use of shared needles. It is an area to which more attention needs to be given. I know that the Lord President shares my concern on this subject, but I believe that more needs to be done and I hope that, at the appropriate time, further initiatives will be taken within the Prison Service.

I now come to some criticisms that we have made about the local drug action teams and about the other instruments that, according to the White Paper, the Government intend to deploy at local level. My hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury rightly made the point that a more considered approach should be taken to how to deploy the expertise available to local authorities. The same point applies to the use of the police. Although I have nothing but the highest respect for the chief executive of my local authority and for the chief constable of Merseyside, it strikes me that that is not necessarily the right level at which to pitch the involvement. Often, further down the chain, for example at superintendent level in the police and perhaps at a more junior level in local government, there is expertise that can be brought to bear and which would be more helpful.

The involvement of local councillors can often be crucial and beneficial in the local drug action teams. I say that not because local councillors are elected officials, although that is important, but because, through living in the community, which senior police officers and chief officers often do not, they have a detailed knowledge of what is going on on the ground, which can be brought to bear and which can be very useful. From the detailed meetings that I have from time to time with local authority members in my own area and with the local police, I know that the knowledge and expertise that local councillors can bring to bear is appreciated by the police and is of use. Although I accept that that involvement will not be built into the system, I hope that there will be no ban on local councillors being included, where appropriate, in the local drug action teams.

The Lord President has made it clear that he hopes that the voluntary sector will be involved in drug reference groups and local drug action teams. There are some very good local projects, some of which have already been mentioned. There is a good drugs unit in Kirby in my

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