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Column 439They have a critical role in looking at what is going on in those countries and also to observe the supply centres. That is highly important intelligence. Although there is a certain amount of integrated working together in the enforcement agencies, the White Paper will spur that on in a most satisfactory way. It is vital, given the staggering profits that are available to drugs merchandisers, that good intelligence is obtained about the movement of drugs before they reach Britain.
The second element of the statement of purpose refers to the "acceptability and availability of drugs to young people." The third element is about the health risk. A distinction is made, in the minds of some people, between soft and hard drugs, but it is an ever more superficial observation. Cannabis can no longer be regarded as some kind of safe non-addictive substance. The questions are these: is it somehow safe to take? Is there no health risk? Is it a merely recreational exercise? The fact is that the White Paper--the Green Paper having looked at the arguments--has come down with a view against decriminalisation.
I have spoken to a number of psychologists who are involved in this area. One individual described the situation thus. If one has a vulnerable personality, one is prone to phobias or anxieties. Given the fact that, after consumption, cannabis resides in the body for up to 30 days, there is emerging evidence that individuals who are prone to such disorders can be pushed over into more extreme states and even to schizophrenia by cannabis consumption. That is the psychological side.
On the physical side, there is increasing and frightening evidence of a cancer-cannabis link. We have evidence from distinguished surgeons in the United States, particularly in California, that shows aggressive head, neck and lung cancers occurring in young people who are taking cannabis as a drug. Evidence also shows that middle-aged people are becoming prone to that form of cancer 15 to 20 years earlier than the average of those who normally get that cancer. It is suggested, in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in the United States that three quarters of lung cancer patients are cannabis smokers. The reason is simple: cannabis contains 50 per cent. to 70 per cent. more carcinogens than tobacco does. The tragedy is that the process is slow. The World Health Organisation is now so alarmed about the cannabis-cancer link that it is investigating it and has already indicated that it believes that one joint of cannabis is equivalent to four cigarettes.
Mr. Tony Banks: It is quite possible, of course, that the interaction between cannabis and nicotine leads to precisely the results that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but will he go back slightly? He was talking about people getting hooked on cannabis. No hon. Member in the House has ever said that he or she has taken cannabis, yet we know, privately--never publicly--that some hon. Members have said that they have. I have not noticed them being hooked. Has the hon. Gentleman ever in his life smoked cannabis or ingested it in any way?
Column 440East Sussex, it was shown that 20 per cent. of teenagers had tried cannabis. On the basis of that evidence, it was established that 5 per cent. in turn moved on to hard drugs.
There is increasing evidence of a cancer-cannabis link and we have potentially a time bomb in our midst. Young people who are taking cannabis may unexpectedly get cancer in middle age. There is evidence of that in California. We owe it to young people to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs because of those real health risks.
Many members of the public will know that there is considerable concern that prisons have become a breeding ground for the taking of drugs, enriching not only prisoners who may be suppliers but outside suppliers. I therefore welcome the random urine tests that will be introduced by the Prison Service. That will act as a powerful disincentive, and appropriate sanctions will be taken against prisoners who are found to have drugs.
Of course the rehabilitation of prisoners is important--that is the other side of the coin. It is also vital, however--this is what the White Paper is spurring on in the Prison Service--that there are increasing moves to stop drugs from getting into prisons in the first place by the increased use of drug dogs and by closed visits. That is extremely welcome, as anxiety exists in many communities about released prisoners who have become hooked on drugs.
I also pay tribute to the excellent work of the central drugs co-ordination unit and, in particular, the director Sue Street. I am delighted with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Lord President that their role will continue after their remit ends next year. On continuity, I should like some clarity on one point. To what extent will drug action teams respond to the voluntary sector at local level and who will monitor that? That is a critical part of the success of what the White Paper proposes.
As I said earlier, it is true that drug abuse exists both in metropolitan and rural areas. In East Anglia, for example in the county of Suffolk, we have the particular problem of amphetamines in the Newmarket area, whereas we have the problem of heroin in Ipswich. That is why I especially welcome the fact that existing drugs task forces that are operating successfully are being encouraged to incorporate themselves in a flexible way in drug action teams and drug reference groups.
Two years ago, I founded a drugs task force in Newmarket in my constituency. We have had considerable success via the two youth outreach workers who work with the drug task force in going into the community, talking to young people, finding out about their problems and, where they have specific difficulties, guiding them on to seek appropriate professional help. I welcome the fact that a drugs task group similar to the one that was set up in Newmarket two years ago has been set up in Bury St. Edmunds.
Much of the support for both those two drugs task groups has come from two local district councils--Forest Heath and St. Edmundsbury. Jointly with those district councils, we have hired a substance misuse training officer to talk to private organisations, schools and other bodies to raise the level of awareness and the training of individuals who will then talk to young people. I hope that all that will be included in the plan that will be brought forward by Suffolk health authority to deal with drugs in the county overall. I congratulate the two district
Column 441councils in my constituency on their foresight and the moral and financial support they have given to those drug task groups. I have discussed the problems of young people with many school heads in my constituency and it is fair to say that, before the publication of the Green and White Papers, many school heads, teachers and governors felt that they were operating without a sense of direction. Many were embarrassed if there were incidents of drug misuse in their schools because they did not know how to react. I therefore welcome the fact that even at primary school level young people will be warned about the dangers of drug misuse. By the time they leave school, young people will now have a comprehensive idea of the dangers of illegal drugs.
The school health education unit surveyed 100,000 children and found that the number who experiment with illegal drugs is now six times greater than the number recorded in the four years to 1993. That is a shocking statistic. I welcome, therefore, the creation of the digest as a single source of reference for teachers on agreed standards and procedures in schools. I am glad that, in future, the standard of drug education in schools will be subject to inspection. I am aware that the national curriculum already requires pupils studying science to learn about the harmful effects of drugs. Concurrent with the White Paper proposals, I particularly welcome the rekindling of interest in sports in schools, because drugs misuse must be seen in the context of prevention and higher standards of health and fitness among young people.
As has already been said, the problem of irregularity of drug supply in rural areas exacerbates drug misuse there. Sometimes young people in my constituency are offered harder drugs when cannabis is not readily available. That practice has been responsible, particularly in rural areas, for some of the 1,200 deaths recorded in England and Wales as a result of drug abuse. Young people in rural areas have stolen a pig tranquilliser-- which has dangerous effect on them--such is their desire to get hold of drugs if they cannot get any cannabis. The desire to get a kick out of drugs is prevalent throughout the country.
When one looks for role models from the world as to how to set about successfully tackling the tragic problem of drug misuse, Canada has hitherto been the best example. Under the umbrella of a national strategy, it has developed local community partnerships. That is precisely what the White Paper intends to foster through the use of local communities and the motivation of local people to deal with the problem of drug misuse.
Much of the success in tackling the problem in Suffolk is due to the moral and financial support given by the district councils. I am therefore disappointed to see that district councils are excluded from the drug action teams and that they have been given no specific role in drug reference groups. The White Paper recommends local adjustments, but, in reality, county councils are often remote from their constituents. Those living in west Suffolk feel remote from the county council headquarters at Ipswich; they look to the district council as their source of reference. I wanted to mention that given my experience of the success achieved by my district councils. I have the honour to be patron of Adfam in Suffolk, which was founded in 1987 by Lilias and Robin Sheepshanks, to whom I pay tribute. They have sought to
Column 442help families and friends sort out the tragic consequences of a young person's drug misuse. The scheme has been very successful. I am very pleased that family counselling has been brought to light in the White Paper. One of the points that Adfam made was that, although a national help line has been suggested, a local help line, perhaps regionally based, would be better, simply because of its geographic familiarity--a comforting regional voice, perhaps--and the fact that it would more easily provide an opportunity for home visits. I hope that that idea will be borne in mind.
I have talked about the cancer-cannabis link and its extreme dangers. Adfam has said--the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will be interested in this point--that all the evidence in the eight years that it has been going and all the contact that it has had with families and drug abusers suggest that all heroin addicts, or those on large methadone maintenance programmes, started with cannabis. The habit of smoking cannabis can lead to criminal activity too, as we have heard.
In the past two years, we have come a long way in looking at the problem of drugs. We are now considering not only enforcement, important as that may be, but prevention and education. I pay tribute once again to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and also to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has taken a special interest in drugs misuse and highlighted the subject at a pan-European level. I hope and believe that the White Paper will be an important stepping stone in dealing with the tragedy and cancer of drugs misuse in this country. Parents and young people will look back at the White Paper as a very important step in fighting the tide of drugs misuse, which so tragically destroys so many lives in Britain. 12.36 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West): I should like to comment on the White Paper, which seems perfectly reasonable in the context of this debate. In it, one sees the priorities that the Government give to objectives. Their first priority seems to be crime, followed, of course, by drug education and public health. In this country, and indeed in the United States--one must make the comparison--drug use is increasingly being viewed as a law and order issue. If drug use is treated as a matter of law and order--that, essentially, is the Government's approach--it becomes a battle. We are clearly losing that battle and we shall continue to do so. We spend about £500 million a year on law enforcement connected with drug use, yet we all admit that drug use is on increase in this country. No one has said that it is not. If a war is being waged against drugs, we are losing it. The figures in the United States are absolutely horrendous. If one wants to see what will happen in this country in five or 10 years, one need look not into a crystal ball but at what is happening in the United States. Given many of the things currently happening in the United States, there are good reasons to be very worried about future developments in this country.
In the United States, $20 billion a year is spent on law enforcement concerning drug use, yet more drugs are available, they are cheaper on the streets and more people are using them. In this country and in the United States, the police acknowledge that they are losing the so-called drugs war.
Column 443Where is the sense in putting more and more people in gaol for drug abuse? In the United States, 440,000 prisoners are in local gaols for drug offences, 87,000 are in federal gaols, 2.7 million people are on probation and 500,000 are on parole. Those figures represent the highest proportion ever of the American population incarcerated for drug offences, and the highest proportion of gaoled persons anywhere in the world. In 1992, 535,000 people in the United States were arrested for cannabis possession, sale or manufacture. Seventy per cent. of the country's entire gaol population have been imprisoned for drug-related offences. I tried to discover the comparable figure for the UK. The Government say that perhaps 10 per cent. of the prison population is accounted for by drug-related offenders--but only directly related, in terms of drug use or dealing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), in an excellent speech, described the situation in her part of east London, which is similar to that in Newham but probably worse. She spoke of all the other crimes associated with drugs, such as burglary and car theft. When people appear before the courts for such offences, no one asks why they committed them. If that question were asked, perhaps the number of people in prison here for offences tangential to the supply and use of drugs would approach the United States' figure of 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. It seems that drugs are freely available within prisons. It is ludicrous that to stop people taking drugs we put them in gaol, where drugs are just as readily available.
It seems from the White Paper that far more resources should be made available for drug education. Will the Minister confirm that the standing conference on drug abuse budget will be maintained? I was told that it might be eliminated. I must press the Minister to answer that important question. The figures in the White Paper suggest that the Government will make available £10 million of additional resources, but for short-term objectives when guaranteed core funding is essential. Much more must be spent on drug education and reduction. If the Government and Parliament are serious, we must stop thinking of drugs as a law and order issue and more as a matter of education and reduction.
Teachers are not the best people to provide such education because it is difficult for them to relate to the pupils in their charge. More use should be made of drug advice projects such as that in Newham, and the three Members of Parliament representing Newham are in the Chamber. I hope that the Lord President will pay that project a visit--my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) plans to do so. Drug advice projects have the help of young people who still use drugs and can impart good knowledge, or who have kicked the habit. They can all relate to present users. One problem associated with drug education is that it is difficult for a youngster to discuss with his or her teacher doing something that is illegal. Drug advice projects are the best way to help young people to kick their habit.
Column 444I have never used drugs myself, despite arguing continually for legalisation, and would never encourage anyone to use them, but hon. Members who argue that using cannabis leads inevitably to harder drugs should examine their consciences. How many hon. Members in the Chamber now have used drugs? If I asked hon. Members to raise their hands, I doubt that any would. I would not raise my hand because of the assurance that I have just given the House, but how many other hon. Members could do the same? That is not a way of catching people out. All that I am asking hon. Members to say--
My point is, how many Members here or of the 650 or so who are in the House who have used cannabis have ended up becoming drug addicts? If they were capable of controlling the habit, why should they assume that other people are not capable of doing so? They say that using cannabis takes one on to harder drugs. For obsessive individuals, that is true, but it is equally true that if one has a dry sherry, one could end up drinking methylated spirits on the Embankment--the people who are there probably started off with a beer or a dry sherry--but it does not mean that, because one drinks a dry sherry or a beer, one will inevitably become an alcoholic. One must think this through logically.
I want drug use to be controlled and reduced and I want the criminal activity associated with drug supply and use eliminated. The only way to secure all those three socially desirable objectives is through legalisation, certainly of cannabis, and possibly of all drugs.
I admit that I do not know enough about the medical problems associated with the use of drugs--I have never taken them, so I cannot even speak from personal experience--but I agree with the Liberal Democrats' position. It seems entirely sensible to me that a royal commission, or at least a body of sufficient standing, should examine all the arguments for and against-- the medical, social and enforcement arguments--so that legislators can take decisions based on the full facts and not on their own prejudices or on anecdotal evidence.
Mr. Banks: It does not necessarily follow that it will lead to a reduction. Initially, it could lead to an expansion of cannabis use. My arguments are that, if someone wants to use cannabis, it is a personal decision. Far more damage to a person's health is caused by nicotine, smoking cigarettes and alcohol. Once a substance is legalised, it enables us to regulate the quality, put in place far more drug reduction schemes and give far more advice. As it is a legal activity, one can reduce use, as we do with cigarettes. It is difficult to reduce use when it is illegal,
Column 445other than through law and order issues. As we have already seen, as a law and order issue we are losing the war.
Mr. George Howarth: My hon. Friend is advancing a not unfamiliar argument for him, but it is normally his practice to differentiate between his position and that of his party. Perhaps he might care to do so on this occasion.
Mr. Banks: In case anyone did not read the health warning that I should have had stamped across my forehead, no word that I have uttered so far has anything to do with the official Front-Bench policy of the Labour party, but I am quite used to giving that health warning for many of the things that I say in the House.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): My hon. Friend is right to say that this is a big issue in east London. I do not go along with his remedy, but does he agree that something fundamental has not been mentioned? Everyone requires some recreation and relaxation--I would put in a hyphen and call it re-creation--but in a community or society in which people find a balance more difficult to achieve because of market forces, insecurity and the ease of commodity availability, the demand for drugs as opposed to other things that provide healthy relaxation and re-creation goes up. We must bear that in mind, because many Conservative policies increase people's demand for a commodity that gives them recreation and relaxation, rather than getting them through their lives as a whole.
Mr. Banks: My hon. Friend is saying that there are many more complex reasons associated with drug demand. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington made the same argument. The White Paper does not tackle any of the basic causes. I accept that that was not its purpose. However, unless one is able to start understanding why people use drugs, drink alcohol to excess or even smoke cigarettes, because there is a reason for all those things--
If all hon. Members took the example of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newham, South of using a bicycle to travel in London, they would undoubtedly be far healthier than they are now, although the atmosphere in London is probably as poisonous as a packet of 20 fags smoked one after another. The thought of my hon. Friend cycling down the Highway towards Newham on his bike with a spliff in his mouth would engender a great deal of amusement in some people. One knows, of course, that it is not the type of thing that he would do.
The White Paper begins to scratch the surface of a problem, but unless the Government are prepared to acknowledge that the problem is far more deep- seated and wide-ranging in our society, the idea that we can wage a successful war on drugs in this country is a load of bunkum.
Column 44612.50 pm
First, I wish to speak briefly about what is happening in my constituency, which, as the House knows, is very rural and distinctly different from that of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). However, I have witnessed what she described in her part of north-east London and in the United States of America, and I thought that she described the problem extremely accurately. In Ryedale, about 15 or 18 months ago, there was growing evidence of the availability of drugs. As a consequence, I called a meeting of all interested agencies, to try to get to grips with what was happening and what was being done about drug abuse in that part of rural north Yorkshire.
Two things emerged from our deliberations. First, the drug education programme in schools was being dramatically curtailed as a result of a cut in funding. Secondly, although the police and other agencies--the national health service and social services--generally felt that they had a grip on the problem as far as they were able to detect it, no agency existed to reach the youngsters who had fallen through the safety net.
I want to make two points that are directly relevant to the White Paper. First, on education, some anxiety has been expressed that even the extra funding announced in the White Paper is not enough. I would simply make one judgment about whether it is enough. I would like us to restore the drug education programme in schools, run by the county councils, to its position of 18 months ago. If the funding that has been made available is insufficient, we need more. That is the test: whether it is £190 or £200 and so many pounds per school is not the issue. We had three health education officers in north Yorkshire; we now have one. I would like the other two, whom we lost, to be replaced.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth): I have struggled with this problem in my three years in the Department for Education. My hon. Friend may know--I am sure that his local education authority told him--that the original funding of health education advisers was of a pump-priming nature, designed to establish their usefulness and so on. The programme was extended, but eventually we decided that it should be up to local education authorities to decide whether they could justify continuing the funding. Many have; some have not. We regarded it as being not right or feasible to continue funding from the centre something that was only ever intended to be a pump-priming exercise.
Mr. Greenway: I hear what my hon. Friend says. He will be aware of the funding problems in north Yorkshire schools generally and the difficult decisions that have had to be taken. I simply make the point that the White Paper promises more money for drugs education programmes and I am trying to establish a yardstick against which we can establish whether that funding is adequate. A number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have said that it is not enough. I should like the three local health education officers who were employed previously
Column 447to be reinstated. That was the overwhelming view of all the public and voluntary sector agencies that attended the meetings that I called to address the problem.
As to the difficulty of youngsters falling through the safety net, in central Ryedale we have set up a detached youth work project such as exists in many parts of the country, including York and Scarborough. I pay tribute to north Yorkshire health authority, which has made funds available to enable the project to employ a detached youth worker.
We must address one very important issue that the White Paper does not make entirely clear. We are discussing the establishment of a county-wide drug action team with some form of executive control over drug strategies. I welcome that move. We are also talking about establishing a drug reference group, although one clearly is not enough in a county the size of north Yorkshire. I welcome the fact that the White Paper tries to be as flexible as possible in delivering support, but I should like us to embrace various schemes, such as the detached youth work project, using a combination of existing funds and those that the White Paper makes available. In involving the police, probation service and criminal justice agencies in that work, we must ensure that there is a clear difference between a drugs-line approach and a helpline approach. If youngsters who are taking drugs and who need help, advice and support think that if they dial a telephone number the police will become involved, they will not use that service. As an ex-policeman, I feel very strongly about that. We must continue to hit drug users hard, particularly those who are extremely affluent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) said. I am in favour of the police giving a caution for a first offence, but I think that drug users should expect to be prosecuted for any subsequent offences. We must ensure that the White Paper's initiatives strengthen the assistance that is provided for young drug users who need support but who have fallen through the safety net. Therefore, we must consider carefully how the new drug reference groups and the drug action teams will work and who will be involved in their work.
The strategy document contains a general programme to combat drug trafficking. That issue has been at the forefront of our work in the Home Affairs Select Committee for the eight years during which I have been a member of that Committee. In 1989 we published two reports on the subject and in July we hope to publish another report on organised crime that will contain a significant section about the problems of drug trafficking.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was not in his place when my colleague on the Committee, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), made her quite excellent speech. She reflected on what we witnessed only two weeks ago when we visited Holland. As many hon. Members know, the Dutch authorities have now decided to decriminalise the use of soft drugs. The hon. Lady referred to 100 coffee shop premises in Amsterdam, but there are in fact 1,500 throughout Holland. Superficially, these coffee shops have an attraction. People can go there to buy a joint of cannabis, and they are not doing causing anyone any trouble. It all appears to be quite attractive but when one looks behind that, one sees the danger.
Column 448The Dutch authorities--the police or the Government--did not know what on earth to do about who supplied cannabis to the coffee shops. They have not legalised or controlled the supply of the drug and they have not done enough to attack the organised crime gangs involved in supplying drugs. A consequence has been a horrific increase in the involvement of organised crime in the supply of cannabis to coffee shops.
One can say that such shops have not led cannabis users on to hard drugs, but it is no wonder that people are not allowed to stand in the street outside coffee shops trying to sell hard drugs to the cannabis and marijuana users who have just been inside. The organised criminals would not like that at all.
The drug liaison officer in The Hague--I pay tribute to his work--told us in no uncertain terms that all the evidence that has now been collated shows that criminals go from France to Belgium, where they steal a car or rob a bank. They then go to Holland, buy as much cannabis as they can get in the back of a car and go back to France. The fact that those are all Schengen countries with virtually no border controls means that the criminals can do what they like. Even the authorities in Italy have strongly criticised the Dutch approach and the problems that it is creating regarding the supply of not just cannabis but hard drugs across western Europe.
Another problem is money laundering. There are now more than 100 currency exchange shops in one part of Amsterdam which make far more money from the laundering of currency than from tourists. That is quite staggering. Our police say that currency exchange shops in London are centres where sterling is exchanged for Dutch guilders by people who go to Amsterdam to buy more cannabis, which is brought back to this country. At Schipol airport, anyone stopped in possession of--wait for it--anything under 25 kg of cannabis is not arrested. They have their name and address taken, and they are let go because the authorities simply cannot cope with the enormity of the problem.
I say to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that I have tried to keep an open mind on whether any kind of drug should be decriminalised, but all the experience convinces me that, while there is a superficial attraction, it is not the answer. The Dutch have now realised that, and are hitting hard at the organised crime gangs involved in the supply of cannabis.
Time is short, and there is much more that I could have said--particularly about what we do in Britain. We must strengthen the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and I imagine that the Select Committee will have a lot to say about that when we report to the House. If there is one thing that I have learned in the eight years in which we on the Home Affairs Select Committee have looked at the horrid and tragic problem of drug trafficking and abuse, it is that we must not drop our guard on any one strand of the battle. There has been a tendency in the past to concentrate on whatever approach has been in vogue--one year prevention, another year demand reduction, another year a crackdown on traffickers, another, an attempt to deal with the coca growers in South America. I maintain that it is not inevitable that we will lose the war against drugs; but we shall not win it unless and until we attack every strand of the strategy with the utmost vigour for many years to come. In a way, the White Paper recognises that. Annexe B sets out a five-pronged approach. I greatly
Column 449welcome the interdepartmental approach which is to be adopted, and I urge the Minister vigorously to pursue all five strands at the same time. Until we do that, we shall never be sure that everything that we should be doing to stop the spread of this dreadful drug misuse has been done.
Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East): I listened with great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I want to echo a number of his comments, particularly those about the need for consistent core funding for some of the drug work which has been established in recent years but which has now been either shut down or threatened with closure because the core funding to allow it to continue is not available.
The White Paper confirms for us an alarming picture of the scale of drug misuse in the United Kingdom. We have been reminded of some of the statistics in the debate already today. The Lord President reminded us that 3 million people will take an illegal drug this year; and that the number of notified addicts increased by 13 per cent. in the year to 1993, the last for which figures are available. In 1992 there were 1,200 drug-related deaths in England and Wales, an increase of 11 per cent. on the previous year. No doubt the figure increased again since then.
Recent research carried out at Exeter university showed that nearly half of 15 to 16-year-olds have been offered an illegal drug, and nearly half of the boys in that survey had used either cannabis or ecstasy.
There is among some young people a culture that accepts drug use as a leisure activity that is part of growing up. We might speculate about why that is so, but it undoubtedly is; and it is accompanied, where it prevails, by a sharp upward trend in school truancy problems, with low achievement at school and an increasing incidence of serious health problems. And we know, as we have been reminded today, that there is a strong correlation between rising drug misuse and crime.
I agree that there is much to be welcomed in the White Paper. It represents a move in the right direction away from a purely punitive approach, recognising realities, and it represents a serious attempt also to achieve a coherent national approach to the problem, using the £500 million or so in resources in a co-ordinated way, in place of the piecemeal approach of the past.
The document, however, also leaves a number of serious questions unanswered. It appears to try to face both ways on some of the issues. For instance, the White Paper seems to want to encourage frank discussion of drug problems in schools, and wants to help young people to develop "the skills and attitudes" to resist drug misuse, encouraging discussion between pupils and teachers to enable them to do just that; but it also suggests that the police be called in whenever there is evidence of drug use. That clearly makes it impossible for frank discussion of drugs to be undertaken with teachers in classrooms--I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about that.
Mr. Forth: If I get the chance later, I may try to develop this point; but in case I do not, I should point out that a distinction must be made between the routine dissemination of information on drugs to pupils of all ages, within the curriculum and helped by the guidance
Column 450that we are giving teachers, and what should be done in schools to deal with incidents of drug taking, supply, use or misuse. That is an important distinction. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I am aware of the concern about it, but I believe that it will be possible as a matter of routine for teachers to conduct drugs education in schools on the one hand and on the other for heads and teachers to deal with the difficult problem of individual cases of drug taking among pupils, about which we also give guidance in the circular.
Mr. Timms: The problem is that that distinction will not be apparent to pupils. They will want to understand whether they are dealing with people who are there to provide advice or with people who are there to report them to the police. Teachers will have real difficulties in taking the strategy forward and understanding what they are supposed to be doing. I would like a clearer focus on the need, especially in schools, for help, initially, for drug users rather than punishment.
I shall focus my brief contribution to the debate on the lessons that can be learned from the experience of the Newham drugs advice project already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. It is a remarkable project and its achievements and experience throw a good deal of light on the debate.
I know that the Lord President has been briefed about the project and has said that he will visit it and that the Home Office has for some time been evaluating its work. One of the reasons why it is remarkable is that it has always had to be run on a shoestring. It was established in 1987, but has never had secure funding. Inevitably, much of the energy of those who work there has been taken up by fund raising. Colin Cripps, who leads the project and was one of its founders in 1987, estimates that he spends five months of the year filling in forms to make funding bids for the following year. This year, the project has had continued support from the local education authority and, for the first time, significant support from the district health authority. Beyond that, it raises funds from whatever sources it can, such as Comic Relief and Stratford city challenge. Those are all one-off grants and the project will have to apply for them again next year if it is to continue its current level of activity. It is a hand- to-mouth existence in which it is impossible to plan ahead. The project staff cannot even be confident that they will have jobs in a year's time, let alone plan the strategy that we need.
Despite that, the project has remarkable achievements to its credit, especially what it calls the youth awareness programme or YAP. The programme has its roots in imaginative and detailed research, which was carried out with the help of students and others, using a variety of techniques, into the thinking of young people on drug issues. The research shows--and I believe that this is a significant finding--that the source from which young people derive most information about drugs is other young people. They have friends with detailed first-hand knowledge of drug use. What their friends say to them about the subject is credible and compelling whereas, inevitably, what teachers or local Rotarians say is second hand and limited in its apparent relevance to young people.
The project responded to that research by training a large and growing group of volunteer drug workers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West
Column 451mentioned earlier. Those workers are themselves young people. There are now 72 of them in Newham willing to tell school pupils about the dangers of drug abuse and how drug users can obtain help. The volunteers go through a rigorous 30-week programme, which entails two days' training per week--a big commitment on their part--to prepare them for voluntary work.
The standing conference on drug abuse is developing national vocational qualifications for training for such work. The Newham project hopes before long to be able to offer accreditation to those who go through the training programme. Some of the trained volunteers have in the past been drug misusers and many are unemployed. They are able to explain the dangers and problems of drug abuse to other young people in a way that teachers cannot. The value of that approach was mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). He pointed out the value of having young people, a number of them past abusers, telling their peers what the problems are and how they can obtain help.
The project has been remarkably successful in providing a route to help youngsters with problems. It is helping them to come through their drug problems to a future far better than would be the case if they were trapped for ever in drug abuse. Since the programme began, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of school pupils coming forward for one-to- one advice from the project and to talk about their drug problems. However, the key to the programme is the realisation that it is young people themselves who are in the best position to help other young people to tackle their drug problems. The success of the programme is now being taken up elsewhere and I very much welcome that. The Newham project is also exploring ways in which to use the youth sub-culture to make young people aware of the dangers of drugs, by being present at raves and providing information to the young people attending them and by writing contributions for the magazines that circulate among young people. It is now taking part in the preparation of a CD-ROM package. The approach taken is non- moralistic but effective in explaining the dangers of drug abuse and in letting young people with drug problems know how they can obtain help.
The most striking feature of the Newham approach is that it can be shown to have worked, and the experience of that success raises three questions about the approach set out in the White Paper. First, projects such as the Newham project need to have secure core funding. That was well illustrated by the exchange between the hon. Member for Ryedale and the Minister a few moments ago. Almost all the funding sources that the project will aim to tap want to be associated with innovation and with creating something new, for which they can share the credit. It is understandable that that is what they want. The Newham project has been highly innovative and has attracted funds as a result, but it has succeeded and having demonstrated success, it now needs to be able to implement what it has developed in a consistent way.
The funding pressures compel projects to spend their time dreaming up novelties instead of applying the results of the innovative work that they have carried out in the past. The pressure from the funding regime is all towards gimmickry. We need the consistent application of good practice, but there is nothing in the White Paper to
Column 452encourage me to believe that projects such as the Newham project will have a more secure existence in the next three years than they have had in the past three. This year's innovation needs to be turned into next year's routine and we need a funding regime that allows that to happen.
Secondly, there must be some scepticism about the effectiveness of conventional school-based drug education. It is encouraging that the White Paper recognises that young people make their own decisions about whether to abuse drugs, but it is doubtful that the White Paper view that formal classroom teaching and discussion are the best way in which to influence those decisions is correct. We shall need to develop and pay for more imaginative approaches than that, especially when schoolteachers will conclude from the White Paper that their overriding responsibility is to report cases of drug abuse to the police.
Thirdly, I question whether the establishment of top-heavy drug action teams, as described in the White Paper, is the best way in which to tackle a problem that is increasingly pervasive among the young. The White Paper emphasises the importance of bringing together the most senior officials from the local and health authorities, the police, the prisons and the probation service. Of course, we need to promote effective partnerships among the different agencies, but the most effective partnerships that I have seen do not simply bring together all the top officials. They have built into them input from the ground, where imaginative ideas and a real understanding of what is happening can be obtained. That seems especially important when we are talking about a problem that is most prevalent among young people. Whatever may be the strengths of local authority chief executives and chief constables, closeness to youth is not one of them.
The proposal for there to be one co-opted voluntary sector representative is inadequate and the establishment of somewhat cumbersome drug reference teams alongside the drug action teams does not seem to fit the bill. We need to build new and dynamic partnerships, which bring together at the appropriate level locally the agencies identified in the White Paper and those who work on the ground and who know the young people and their problems. It seems wrong that the £5.9 million for establishing the forums is much more than the extra money promised for work in schools.
There is a great deal at stake in tackling the drug problem. We must be imaginative and put into practice what we have learnt from projects throughout the country over the past decade. The White Paper represents a move in the right direction, but we need to go a good deal further before we can be confident about the future.
Mr. David Faber (Westbury): As so often on these occasions, we find ourselves pushed for time. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), because I shall have to leave the Chamber before the Front- Bench replies. I have a surgery in my constituency, which has long been advertised in the local press. I have been involved in the battle against drug and alcohol abuse, in one form or another, throughout my adult life. I am proud to be a trustee of two charities--Clouds house, one of the foremost drug treatment and
Column 453rehabilitation centres in the country, which is based in my constituency, and the Addictive Diseases Trust, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), which is doing pioneering work at Downview prison in Sutton. I shall say a little more about the work of the trust later in my remarks.
I, too, welcome the White Paper, and I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord President on being the driving force behind it. We have heard about the three basic strands that are to be found in the White Paper. They include a continuing commitment to the legal deterrent and law enforcement, about which much has been said already. That has been dealt with effectively.
I add my support to all that has been said, especially by the Front-Bench spokesmen and my hon. Friends on the legalisation of any drugs, whether hard or soft. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) had it absolutely right when he said that it is a distraction to talk about legalisation and that it is damaging to raise the subject. Those who seek the legalisation of cannabis misunderstand the basic principle of a chemical dependency, which underlines all addiction whether it is to drugs or alcohol. The argument is not confined to whether cannabis may be less physically damaging than alcohol or hard drugs. Anyone who knows people who have been addicted to cannabis for a long time will know the apathy, the torpor and the generally debilitating effect that the drug has. There have been many references to law and order and much has been said about Holland. Spain is a country that I know well. It decriminalised possession of cannabis over 10 years ago. It witnessed an immediate soaring crime rate and ever since there have been efforts to try to reverse the decision. Decriminalisation sends the wrong signals to our young people.
The second strand to be found in the White Paper is the need to reduce the availability and acceptability of drugs, especially to young people. As we have heard time and again, our young people are at particular risk. We have heard the figures and I do not need again to read them into the record.
We have heard, too, that drug misuse is not confined to the inner cities. It is to be found in rural areas such as the one that I represent. No school and no community is immune from the problem. I welcome the emphasis in the White Paper on a national co-ordinated strategy, which will be implemented at a local community level in partnership with the many statutory and voluntary agencies that are involved. One such local partnership is already well under way--it has been for about a year now--in my constituency. Secondary heads from schools throughout west and north Wiltshire have got together in partnership with the local newspaper, the Wiltshire Times , to launch an extremely welcome initiative called Drugs Wise. As the Wiltshire Times recently acknowledged, drugs are freely available to children in our community and it will take a community approach to fight the problem. From that initial standpoint, the schools have undertaken a thorough assessment of the support and counselling services that are available in their catchment areas. The results were predictable--an all-too-sorry lack of places for young people, including school pupils, to go to for help. The result was a successful local initiative, which was begun by a local general practitioner in Warminster in conjunction with the local secondary school,
Column 454Kingdown, to set up a drop-in centre for pupils who genuinely needed counselling or who wanted to talk about the problems that might face them. That is a model that we are looking to reproduce throughout the area in the other towns.
A questionnaire was sent to all 14 to 18-year-olds throughout north and west Wiltshire to ascertain how much they already knew about drugs and alcohol and about the services on offer to them. About 50 per cent.--a terrifyingly high percentage--said that they felt that they knew very little and that they needed a great deal more drug education. The results came as a shock to local teachers and parents. They rightly forced some schools to reappraise the way in which they dealt with their drugs policy.
I particularly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's initiative, the Department for Education's campaign, Drug Proof, which I know will be of great help to schools in seeking to advise parents on just where they stand.
One of our local campaign's major achievements is that schools and parents are now openly discussing the drugs problems in their communities, and many parents have come to appreciate the very real problems that drugs pose for them in rural areas and for those who live in the inner cities. I hope that adequate funding will be made available to the specific small community groups, which can do so much good work in our community.
I pay tribute to the work that is done at Clouds house, in my constituency at East Knoyle. It is one of the foremost drug treatment centres in the country and has been going for some 12 years now. I pay warm tribute to the director, Nick Barton, who is also chairman of the European Association for the Treatment of Addiction. Clouds house has a long and successful history. The treatment is based on the Minnesota model, now widely acknowledged as perhaps the most successful model for the treatment of addiction, when measured in terms of the outcomes from the treatment centre. That model is supported widely throughout the country when it comes to rehabilitation, by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, about whose work we have heard very little this morning, but to which great tribute should be paid for the work that they do throughout the country.
I warmly welcome the recognition in the White Paper that there should be a range of options to meet the different needs of drug addicts at different times, but that the principal objective remains
"to assist drug misusers to achieve and maintain a drug free state"--
"abstinence remains the ultimate aim."
That should certainly be the ultimate aim of us all.
I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the Addictive Diseases Trust, of which I am a trustee and which is currently operating at Downview prison in Sutton and has been for about the past three years. As we have heard today, drug abuse in prisons is at best widespread and at worst rampant. It is very much in the nature of addiction that people can change their chosen drug only too easily. In that way, an alcoholic can become a drug addict or vice versa. In the secure environment of prison, drugs are more easily distributed than alcohol, so of course it is only natural that drugs have become the main problem.
We estimate that some 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of prisoners in our gaols--as many as 80 per cent. in some prisons--are using drugs. Many have a chronic or severe