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Column 455addiction, but worst of all, many inmates are not addicts when they go in but are when they are released. Many more have graduated from soft to hard drugs in prison by the time they are released. The social consequences for the community are dire. On release, an addict will need about £500 or £600--possibly as much as £1,000--a week to fund his or her habit. Such people will probably have no job, so they will need to steal roughly the equivalent of £1,500 or £2, 000-worth of goods to achieve the sum that they need to fund their drug habit. Statistics now show that house burglary and theft from cars are the most common offences by addicts, and nearly half of all property crime is drug related.
The average cost of keeping someone in prison is roughly £23,000 a year. The average sentence at Downview prison, where the trust works, is four years. Including police and court costs, a Downview inmate is therefore costing the taxpayer some £100,000. Yet on release there is every chance of a prisoner reoffending because of his or her addiction. The vicious circle of offending, prison and reoffending must be broken, and treatment in prison must be the most cost-effective way of doing it.
The Addictive Diseases Trust runs one of the first specialised full-time dedicated addiction treatment programmes within the English prison system. The model is adapted from a very successful one that has been used in the United States for the past 14 years. I am happy to say that, after three years of charitable funding, it has now been taken over by the Prison Service. The unit is run by a small dedicated team in the prison itself and by its support staff. It includes qualified addiction counsellors, trainee counsellors and therapists. Most important of all, it has a number of peer counsellors, inmates, including at Downview, one prisoner who is serving a life sentence for murder, who has gone through the programme, has had intensive training and is now a peer counsellor to his fellow inmates.
I quote the words of Lord Justice Woolf, the author of the report on prison reform, who said:
"Although the pressures on prisons at the present time are intense, there are still beacons of excellence throughout the system and the ADT is one of the brightest of those beacons. I only hope that the work that it has started will spread throughout the service."
The programme is full time, intensive and rigorous. It involves group therapy, one-to-one counselling, lectures and daily written work. Above all, it is not a soft option for inmates. It has many other supporters and endorsements that have been placed on the record. John Harding, the chief probation officer of inner London, his honour Judge Tumim, chief inspector of prisons, and many others have visited the prison. Most important, they have witnessed the fact that the unit has credibility with inmates, because of the involvement of the peer counsellors. It is a remarkable achievement that more than 90 per cent. of prisoners have signed a contract agreeing to random urine testing and that, within the next few weeks, that figure will be 100 per cent. Downview prison can therefore justifiably claim to be the first drugs-free prison in the country. In the context of earlier discussions on educating the young, one final bonus is that a programme exists whereby inmates go to local schools and tell children, not
Column 456just about the horrors of drugs, which often does not deter young people, but about the horrors of being in prison, of their addiction there, of the sort of life that they lead, and of how horrific it is for them. I warmly commend their work. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister hopes to visit the prison soon. I hope that that model can be extended elsewhere.
I personally know only too well the scourge of drug abuse in our society, and the havoc and misery that it causes to families, people's jobs and their health. I also know personally only too well the ultimate grief and loss that drug abuse can bring. I urge the Government to redouble their efforts. I congratulate them on the White Paper and I hope that they will see through everything that they promise in it.
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I tender my apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to both Front-Bench Members. In common with the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), due to a previous engagement I shall not be present for the winding-up speeches, although I hasten to add that my engagement is not to attend the hon. Gentleman's well-advertised advice service. In a sense, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who regrettably is no longer in her place, was the speech that I had intended to make. Both graphically and accurately, she described the realities of drug abuse in communities in an inner-London suburb such as mine. Every incident that she related has been replicated on my estates.
The tragedies of drug abuse involve not only its effect on the life of the individual user and his or her family, but the way in which the incidence of drug abuse and the targeting of certain areas by drug pushers affects the lives of whole communities. Parents are afraid to allow their children out to play on their estates because, as my hon. Friend said, used hypodermic needles are being found in sandpits and they fear the aggressive way in which many drug pushers attempt to sell their products.
My hon. Friend most graphically made the point that the police resources to counter the activities of drug pushers seem to be markedly lacking. To give a precise example, one of my estates was built towards the end of the 1960s, when open-plan architecture was the vogue. It is not unusual for it to be flooded during the summer months by drug pushers and their assistants. The assistants stand on every corner around that estate with a mobile telephone in their hand. When a resident on the estate telephones the police to inform them that drug selling is going on, which my constituents are very much against on their estates, those young men with mobile telephones warn the drug pusher of the police's approach before they are even within eye contact of where the actual commercial exchange is taking place. They disappear from sight. No charges can be brought. The police are overstretched and undermanned, certainly in my constituency. They respond to another call and the commercial exchanges go on as before.
I was somewhat surprised when the statement on the White Paper was given to the House a few weeks ago. I and all hon. Members welcome the Government's policy that there must be a multi-department approach to tackling
Column 457drugs in our nation. Representatives of the Home Office, the Department of Health, and the Department for Education were present on the Front Bench on that occasion, but there was no one from the Department of Employment, the Department of Social Security or the Department of the Environment. Those Departments have
responsibilities for areas of our national life which impact directly on the lives of many young people who turn to drug use or drug selling, and who do so not least because they can find no job or interesting training scheme to join. Certain 16 and 17-year-olds who are also excluded from making any claim on the social security benefit system inevitably turn to prostitution and drugs simply to make a living.
Homelessness in central London is an ever-increasing problem. There is a direct link between it and drug abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, although not every homeless or unemployed person will automatically turn to drug use, there is an undoubted link between having no home and using drugs. I urge the Government to broaden their multi-departmental approach to include those other three Departments, which have a vital input to the social fabric of our country.
It is important to consider how to approach the educational and health education aspects of the Government's programme. In common with other hon. Members, I have visited schools and spoken to young people about drugs. The bulk of the knowledge about how drugs are obtained and their effects seems to rest exclusively with the scholars in schools while the teachers are deemed to know absolutely nothing. When I have spoken to young people about the drug education programmes that they have attended at their schools, they often tell me that the programmes are risible. On many occasions they say that they should be standing where the teacher is standing and vice versa because they know a great deal more about drugs than their teachers will ever know.
The dangers of drug misuse are presented as part of the strategy to tackle drugs. In many instances, young people have no present life worth talking about, so to threaten them with the possibility of an appalling future is irrelevant. The present is so appalling for many of them that they cannot conceive, by the widest stretch of the imagination, any future. They welcome the fact that drug use is a means of escaping the reality of life. Prevention should be central to any campaign against drugs, so telling a young person not to take drugs now because he or she may die or some terrible disease in the future is the wrong approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) made a key argument about the core funding. Whatever the scheme, and however it is implemented, that funding does not even begin to scratch the surface of the problem. We must acknowledge that preventing drug use--and in some cases prosecuting, if that is the right plan--is a long-term process. It is important that adequate long-term funding is provided for the dedicated people who work incredibly long hours, often in appalling circumstances, to help those with drug problems. I know of one drug initiative which is manned by three people who have suffered not only threats of physical violence but actual violence. They go back, day after day, because they are committed to lifting the burden of drug abuse from young people and their communities.
Column 458Such initiatives must be funded adequately and staffed with sufficient numbers of people to make them work successfully. Such initiatives are attempting to deal with youngsters such as the 13-year-old boy, who lives just outside my constituency, who can earn anything up to £1,500 a week acting as a runner for drug pushers. That child is supporting his whole family. He is not, as it happens, a drug user himself. What does our society, his local community or any drug initiative team have to offer that child? The answer, I am afraid, is absolutely nothing.
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South): Against the background of increasing drug trafficking in Croydon, I and all those involved in combating drugs in the Croydon area would like to take this opportunity to welcome the White Paper. As the Prime Minister said, it is
"the most far-reaching action plan yet against drugs." We are all aware of the appalling impact that drug abuse has on our society. The problems associated with drug misuse affect every community in the United Kingdom.
A decade ago, when we talked about the problems created by the use of drugs, we spoke about adults and teenagers. We are now increasingly talking of children--some, as I mentioned in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, as young as six years old, to whom knowledge and sometimes use of soft drugs has become a reality of life. I quoted from the minutes of the Croydon regional drug and alcohol unit of 1 June, which said:
"It is known that children as young as 6 or 7 may be using cannabis and pills."
At such a young age, children almost always associate taking drugs with having a good time, looking grown-up and making them more acceptable to their peer group. The reality, of course, is very different. Young children have died from their first experiment with solvents, choked to death on their own vomit and jumped from multi-story car parks under the delusion that they could fly. The problem is not confined to inner cities. The hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) spoke about their inner-city experiences, but outer cities, such as Croydon, have a drug culture, too, which is mainly based around cannabis or the new skunk, based on cannabis but seven times the strength.
Why do young people experiment with drugs? Some seek to place the blame for increased drug abuse on unemployment, poverty or lack of self-worth, but that does not explain why some people never try drugs. Some then try to abandon the practice, but some go on to develop a problem.
The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs took evidence which counteracted claims that the socio-economic environment is to blame. Its survey showed that peer group pressure would seem to be the single most important contributory factor in abuse, with another being the thrill of taking part in an activity which, although disapproved of by parents and society in general, is often glamorised by film and television. The media must take some responsibility for the way in which such issues are portrayed.
Column 459Unfortunately, merely telling young people about the dangers of taking drugs has no effect. Indeed, perhaps through arousing curiosity, it may encourage experimentation. The shock warning tactics employed in the past have proved to be of little value, as children know or think that they know more than the lecturer. Young people have the arrogance of youth that--perhaps--we all enjoyed. They make a clear distinction between soft and hard drugs. Using so-called soft drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and poppers is often seen as safe. They say, "I won't become addicted." Interestingly enough, they reserve contempt for those who succumb to hard drugs such as cocaine, crack and heroin. Unfortunately, many young people who claim to be able to handle soft drugs end up as addicts.
The delusion that some drugs are safe can only be reinforced by those who, ignoring the evidence that greater accessibility increases the use of drugs, have called for cannabis to be legalised. Those who favour such action argue that taking cannabis is a relatively harmless recreational activity which has little impact on the rest of society. But is it really harmless? Evidence is mounting that cannabis misuse can lead to mental illness, liver damage, lung complaints and reduced immunity. Additionally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) pointed out, research has revealed that cannabis interferes with male and female hormone levels and with fertility and gestation in women. A high proportion of those unfortunate enough to have throat cancer also admit to experimenting with the drug. That is quite a list of side effects for a drug that some people want to be more readily available. People who argue for relaxation say that legalisation would result in reduced prices, so drug-related crime would drop. One has only to look abroad to know that that is fantasy. Any country which goes down that road will leave itself open to drug traffickers hoping to target countries with weak controls. They would move in to meet demand for other, more dangerous drugs, so exacerbating existing problems as well as providing a useful, stop-and-shop for users from neighbouring countries. The 1961 United Nations Simla convention recognised that risk and required parties to adopt measures to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs, including cannabis.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and the Liberal Democrats have thought through their arguments. I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is not old Labour or new Labour but Liberal Labour. He spoke of legalisation. Did he mean through licensed trade? Would previously illegal drugs be sold through outlets? Unfortunately the hon. Gentleman is not present. Would there be age limits? I understand that the aim of people who want to legalise cannabis is to destroy the market for pushers and dealers, but if there were an age limit of 18 the illegality would be among users below that age. Traffickers would target the very youngsters whom we are trying to protect.
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are strong arguments for not decriminalising cannabis- -the policy of the official Opposition--but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will comment on the book "Satan's Children" by the hon.
Column 460Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), which argues for the legalisation not only of cannabis but of all dangerous drugs.
Mr. Ottaway: My hon. Friend's book is actually entitled "Saturn's Children". He is a bright and intelligent Member of Parliament, full of imaginative ideas, and his book contains many good concepts. However, I do not agree with him on the matter that the hon. Lady mentioned. Legalisation of drugs would result in increased use. The hon. Member for Newham, North- West could not answer that point when I raised it in an intervention. Legalisation would result in carnage among young children.
The Police Federation is against legalisation and is convinced that stricter sentencing of drug traffickers and dealers is needed. The police remain convinced that a multi-agency approach embracing greater international co-operation in reducing illegal drug supply, together with enhanced education, is the only means of reducing the danger. The way forward lies not in improving access to drugs but in increased availability of information for children, parents and people in authority who have the opportunity to recognise symptoms at an early stage.
I welcome the White Paper, which rightly concentrates on enforcement and, more importantly, education. That reflects on my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for school policy and is present to respond to the debate. I hope that he noted my remarks about drug use among six-year-olds in the Croydon area, in the context of primary schools.
The Croydon police will be up and running in terms of the White Paper by September. Such projects will play an increasingly important role in the fight against drugs. Much excellent work is done by agencies and individuals in programmes to persuade young people not to resort to drugs, reduce the acceptability of involvement in drugs and teach the skills necessary to say no. All mediums are being used to get this message across- -from theatre groups and drug prevention buses to workshops and parent information leaflets.
In preparation for the White Paper, the Government have recognised that they cannot win the battle alone. The new central drugs co-ordination unit will enable a more focused and coherent approach, bringing in schools, the police, voluntary agencies and, most importantly, young people themselves. They will be working together to maximise efforts to deal with this awful problem, which still has too great an impact on our society today.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): I, too, welcome this debate on the White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together". With drug addicts growing in number by about 30 per cent. a year and drug-related crime by 11 per cent. a year, there has been an urgent need for co-ordinated Government action and it is more than time that this strategy was introduced. For many years, my constituents have been calling for action to stop the spiralling rate of crime, which they realise is related to drugs and they welcome the White Paper as I do.
The proposals to put money and effort into preventing and discouraging our young people from experimenting with drugs by telling them of the dangers and warning them of the consequences have been more than welcome. My children have been telling me for years that they and
Column 461their friends have found drugs to be all too easily available. They were telling me 10 to 15 years ago that they could come by them inside or outside school. If we had only had the White Paper then, we might not be having this debate today.
Many young people will tell of the availability of drugs, but few can tell of contacts which can be made to help them to solve their drug problems. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drug misuse, has done sterling work in the House and has been one of the many advocates of the action to be taken. I am secretary of that group and if I could have worked as hard as the hon. Gentleman, we might have done something before now. I must also pay tribute to all the organisations that have tackled the issues. They have struggled hard to make their voices heard and many have gone under through lack of funds. I must add my voice to the plea for long-term guaranteed funding for those groups, which do so much good work and have so much knowledge in this area.
It is surely well known that many drug addicts sell drugs to feed their own habits and thus create new users. In curing we can prevent, and we should put more effort into it.
The task force to be set up under the White Paper has to identify any gaps in the provision of drugs services. The Minister must already be aware that there is an enormous gap between the amount of money spent on enforcement and control--some £346 million in 1993-94--and the £61 million spent on treatment. Much more could be done about treatment for drug addicts.
I must also make a plea for solvent abuse to be included in the Government's strategy. A recent report by the Professional Association of Teachers cited solvent abuse as of much greater concern to its members than hard drugs. Here I must pay tribute to RE-SOLV, which has done much work in this area and has brought to our attention the real problems faced by solvent abusers.
Drug abuse in prisons is another problem. Many people and many hon. Members find it hard to understand, but the Addictive Diseases Trust says that in some prisons up to 80 per cent. of prisoners are using drugs. If we cannot control drugs in our prisons, where can we control them?
Many homeless people have drug problems. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to get them off the streets and to give them the treatment that they need? That brings me back to the causes of drug use. Surely there must be a link between homelessness, unemployment and drug use? The standing conference on drug abuse has produced some frightening figures: according to a survey conducted in 1992, 39 per cent. of people using drugs in public places are homeless; 10 per cent. of single homeless people in Sheffield had a history of drug misuse, according to the census report by the British Medical Journal in 1991; and Department of Health drug misuse statistics for 1995 show that 80 per cent. of London drug users are unemployed. In 1992, the Cheshire youth service said that 76 per cent. of drug users in Cheshire were unemployed. According to a survey done by the university of Liverpool in 1989, in Wirral 82 per cent. of drug users were unemployed. We need to support and encourage training and employment for drug users or we shall never get them off the streets and into employment.
Much work needs to be done in all Government Departments, with all-party support. The paragraph that hit home very hard to me was paragraph 3.5 on page 16
Column 462of the White Paper, which was about cold drinks being available in clubs. Some drug pushers moved down the motorway rapidly, took over a club in my constituency, put in their heavyweights and turned off the cold water taps, leaving many of the young people in there dehydrated. Surely something more can be done about instant action to close clubs in which that happens while an investigation is made and perhaps plumbers are sent in, who might take as long as two weeks to arrive. That would cut the amount of money that those drug pushers make and that those clubs make when they do that to young people. I agree that more powers should be given to local authorities to evict from council flats the people who cause misery and ruin the quality of life on many of our estates. They move in and take over control of a flat on an estate that was previously well run and well ordered, and suddenly the estate goes rapidly downhill. Something should be done and more powers should be given to local authorities to evict them.
The debate has been informed and constructive and I welcome the White Paper, although it has been a late start and is far from a solution to a difficult and complex problem. We must all act together to drive drug abuse from our society.
I start by referring to a subject that I believe has not been mentioned-- the link between drugs and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. That is a serious problem because the use of injecting drugs is the commonest and quickest way of transmitting AIDS. It is also the way in which, in western countries, especially in Britain, AIDS has been transmitted into the wider heterosexual population. In the cities of Europe, there is a direct correlation between high levels of HIV and AIDS infection and the high use of injecting drugs.
It has often been suggested that the way to solve that problem is purely to put into effect exchange needle schemes. Although that does have a part to play, I believe that the real answer to the problem lies in the encouragement of abstinence from drugs. I would therefore entirely endorse the theme of the White Paper and the opinion that has been expressed by the Opposition, which I am pleased to hear, in that regard.
I wish to make two or three more brief arguments. First, it is most important that the acceptability of drugs is not encouraged. In other words, it is of the essence to ensure that the message is given that all drugs are illegal, that they involve criminal offences, that the taking of drugs is morally wrong, that they must not be taken and that they cause harm. There must be no room for wavering or for confused signals.
I condemn people who try to encourage a debate about the potential for legalisation or, as they call it, "decriminalisation", because they do a grave disservice to the young, especially the vulnerable young, who may take that as a signal of weakness and acceptance. We must take more action to prevent drug smuggling. Although that is only one part of supply, it is a very important part. The weakening of border checks sends very dangerous signals. I do not believe that proper border
Column 463checks affect our ability to be good Europeans and encourage free trade, any more than weights and measures enforcement affects free trade or the control of speeding affects travel. It is important to allocate more resources to monitoring imports to this country. There must be tighter controls and more routine checks in order to prevent illegal substances from crossing our borders.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke about the many inner-city problems connected with drugs. However, hon. Members should not think that middle class areas of outer London, such as my constituency of Beckenham, do not have severe problems also. Recent studies have shown that a high proportion of school children take drugs. There are regular drug-related arrests, and only two weeks ago a man was arrested in a supermarket car park. The back of his car was found to be filled with drugs worth millions of pounds. Those are the sorts of problems that communities face throughout the country.
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): This has been a very good debate and hon. Members are extremely grateful to the Lord President for providing the opportunity to debate this important subject today. He receives so many brickbats that it must be a rather unique experience to receive congratulations on finding time for this long overdue debate.
The House will probably not debate a more important issue than drug abuse. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) pointed out, it does not respect people, places, social groups or classes. It is a great threat to our young people and to our society as a whole. The Labour party welcomes any attempt to deal with the growing problems of drug abuse. The addicts index reveals that there has been a 20 per cent. increase in drug abuse, and drugs ruin the lives of too many of our citizens.
Agencies working in this area, such as the excellent Drug Advisory Service Harringey--DASH--in my constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, also welcome this perhaps rather belated acknowledgement of the drug problem and of their work in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) referred to the fact that drug-related projects in our constituencies often operate on a shoestring. They need our commitment and our support.
One of the biggest challenges we face is how to get the drugs message across to young people. There is no easy solution to that problem. I think that it is extremely difficult for teachers to convey that message to young people. One of the most interesting aspects of today's debate was the discussion about how to impart that message. There is consensus--it has been a morning of consensus--that peer pressure must be brought to bear on young people to the effect that drug abuse is wrong and that drug taking is not glamorous but is deeply damaging. We must consider how to put that message across to young people.
In opening the debate for the Opposition, my hon. Friend the shadow Home Office Minister, the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), talked about striking the right balance in communicating that message to young
Column 464people. He referred to the anti-heroin campaign which, without criticising those involved, was perhaps not as successful as we had hoped. We must consider how to inform our young people about drugs without sending them the wrong message. In looking at the background to drug abuse, we ought to look at some of the social and economic problems. As Turning Point--the largest UK charity helping people with drink, drug and mental health problems--points out, more and more young people are deciding to take drugs because they cannot find any reason to hope in their own futures.
In many areas, a whole generation of young people have never worked and have become cynical as a result of broken promises on training, homelessness and low incomes. The cuts in youth services and the withdrawal of benefit from 16 and 17-year-olds must not be used as an excuse for drug taking, but they are part of the overall background to the difficulties that can arise when young people are tempted into taking drugs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) graphically illustrated some of the problems that that can cause. Research has shown that nearly 50 per cent. of 15 and 16-year-olds have been offered drugs. Two thirds of all thefts are drug related. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway)--with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Home Affairs Select Committee--rightly pointed to the connection between drugs and organised crime. The Select Committee is currently investigating that link, and at some stage will report its findings to the House. There is no doubt that organised crime plays a major part in the matter, and some good work has been done in the area by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. We must look at what other resources can be made available to the police.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) drew attention to the use of high technology by drug pushers, not all of whom are addicts. Some pushers have gone into the business, which harms the lives of others, for purely profit-making and cynical reasons. They are using modern techniques, and we must make sure that our police are adequately equipped to deal with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East mentioned the shocking statistics which Exeter university discovered in 1993. Six per cent. of the 12 to 13 per cent. of students surveyed had used drugs. A Gallup survey for the YMCA in 1994 showed that only 18 per cent. of 16 to 21-year-olds knew where to get help for drug problems. The Government must deal with that issue, and that is why it is so important to have a multi-agency and interdepartmental approach. In 1992, the British crime survey showed that the majority of 12 to 15-year-olds could not remember receiving any school lessons about drugs. Also, some 15 per cent. of children thought that taking an illegal drug once would not do them any harm. That is the group we must target. I hope that today's debate will be not the end but the start of our concern in this area.
The £5.9 million announced in the White Paper which will be available to schools in 1995-96 under the grants for education support and training programme works out at less than £250 a school. As in so many other areas of crime prevention, it is worth investing properly in education, prevention and treatment. California state
Column 465government research has shown that $1 invested in this way will save $7 to the taxpayer, largely through the reduced cost of crimes. Will the Minister give an assurance that the money will be sustained? I shall be grateful if he also states whether it is new money. Colleagues on both sides of the House may recall the farce in recent years when new budgets for drug education co-ordinators were announced and were followed by drastic cuts which undermined their work. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), chairman of the all-party group on drug misuse, said at the time, the Government's mishandling of the situation reflects entirely inadequate thought in Government Departments and entirely inadequate co-ordination between those Departments. I hope that heed will be paid to what he said about the need for counselling in prisons and about education in schools. His work, together with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), on the all-party group is much appreciated by all hon. Members.
We also need to look carefully at how training in schools will be carried out. When the statement on the White Paper was made, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), shadow Leader of the House, asked what training would be given to the schools inspectorate to enable it to check that schools were delivering drug education as part of the national curriculum. The Lord President suggested that some Ofsted provision was under way, but I should like the Minister of State to go into more detail.
The Minister should also comment on the problem of truancy. The local government drugs forum in its consideration of the White Paper rightly pointed out that if young people are not in schools to receive drugs education and advice, all the targeting in the White Paper will go astray. Truancy is a considerable problem, and it is linked to crime, to drug misuse and to young people going off the rails.
Our hard-pressed teachers must be given the training and resources to develop this aspect of the curriculum properly. It is by no means easy for teachers to do this; sometimes the young people whom they are teaching know much more about drugs than they do.
The message that must go out from the House is that legalising drugs is not on. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), in an excellent speech, put that message across graphically in the context of the Dutch experience. Furthermore, it is wrong to use arguments about the market to get across the message. I wish to use just one brief quotation from "Saturn's Children"--it ought to be entitled "Satan's Children"--to show what the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has to say about the problem: "nor are drugs a particularly threatening health problem". Of course they are: all drugs are. We must put that message across strongly.
This has been a good debate which will be warmly welcomed by all the agencies working in this field. It will send out a clear signal that hon. Members of all parties are worried about drug dependence, about rising crime and about the quality of people's lives. The lives of our citizens should not be blighted by drug misuse, and it is wrong that the many people who have never taken drugs in their lives should have those lives disrupted by the criminals who push drugs to young people. Most people
Column 466in this country reject drugs, and are determined to do something about them and to make sure that the lives of our young people are saved.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth): I immediately apologise to the House for being unable to be present for the early part of the debate. I decided--I hope that hon. Members will approve- -to honour a commitment to appear at a special educational needs conference in London this morning.
In the debate, many hon. Members have taken much interest in this important issue and shared their experiences of, involvement with and commitment to helping to deal with the problem, generally on a local basis in their constituencies. If I may say so, these occasions bring out the best in the House.
I also want to express gratitude to everybody who has welcomed the White Paper, which has been put together under the inspiration and leadership of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. Even if hon. Members cannot agree with the detail, they have all agreed that it has marked a dramatic departure in the extent to which the Government have recommitted themselves to tackle the problems of drugs in our society. The Government welcome the support for the White Paper.
I was slightly puzzled by one or two aspects of what was said by some hon. Members, especially by the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). They said that they thought that the scope of the White Paper was too limited. We went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that it was not limited.
Even a modest perusal of the White Paper and the strategy will show that the Government wanted to make sure that the problem was tackled across its whole width, to the extent that the aspects needed to deal with it, such as local drug action teams, Customs and Excise, the police, the judicial system and education--about which I shall say more in a moment--involve total expenditure in excess of some £500 million a year.
I hesitate to interrupt the consensual approach--as hon. Members know, occasionally I give way to such temptation--but throughout the debate, I have noted in passing that not only Opposition Members but some of my hon. Friends have repeatedly called for more money to be spent. That is fine and it is very respectable for hon. Members to express their concern about the issue, but have Opposition Members agreed it with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)? I counted that the hon. Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), for Newham, North-West, for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and even the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) all said that they wanted more money spent. I made of note of that and Hansard will have recorded it.
Column 467my speech and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), he will find that we were clear about the need for the right resources, in the right place at the right time. That does not necessarily imply that additional expenditure is needed.
In that case, I will not press the hon. Gentleman to do this today, because he will need to think about it, but he must tell the House what expenditure we should reduce to spend what he thinks is the right amount of money. It simply will not do for hon. Members to come to the House and say that they want more money spent. I acknowledge that some of my hon. Friends made the same plea and I say the same to them: the onus is on any hon. Member who wants more money to be spent, however worthy the cause, to identify the increase in taxation or public borrowing or the reduction in other elements of public expenditure that would be needed to fund it. That is the dilemma that the Government face.
We have sought to identify money--much of it new money--to support the White Paper strategy. We believe that we have the right amounts in the right places and deployed in the right way. Our monitoring and review will tell us over time whether we have got it right, and we are prepared to return to the issue and to make changes where changes are appropriate. That is the answer to many of the questions raised in the debate today. None of us sees our policy as being set in concrete or as one that will not change. By definition, such a policy has to be dynamic, developing and changing as we develop experience, especially locally in the drug action teams. In education, for which I speak, we must see whether we are doing the right thing and after a reasonable period, after monitoring and reviewing the situation, we shall return to the issue to see where it can be improved. Another point that has emerged clearly from the debate has been an almost universal rejection of the arguments for the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs, whether cannabis or other drugs. I immediately acknowledge the sincerity of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who put his arguments with his usual sincerity and passion. It has been pointed out that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has put forward a similar view in his recent excellent publication which has been produced today. Although this is a legitimate area of debate, it is clear from what has been said today that my hon. Friend's view is shared by very few colleagues.
The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) gave me his apology for being unable to be here for this part of the debate, so we cannot explore the Liberal Democrats' embarrassment over this matter, which is a pity. I certainly welcome the strong agreement from Opposition Front Benchers and, indeed, most Opposition Members with the Government's strongly held view that there should be no compromise or change on the core issue, which is that the use of drugs in our society is unacceptable and illegal. That is one of the central messages that we wished to reinforce today and the debate has given us a good opportunity so to do.
Column 468That point brings me to education, and I hope that colleagues will forgive me for spending most of the rest of my time talking about education. We are on strong ground here. Drug education is an issue for all schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), whose experience in education far exceeds mine, made the point that we cannot seek to limit the deployment of drug education to any one kind of school. We feel strongly about that as well. Although I accept that there is an element of controversy about the issue, my belief--our policy is directed in this way--is that it is essential to start drug education in primary schools.
As so many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have pointed out, the drugs problem is, tragically, now emerging in ever-younger age groups. Even six, seven and eight-year-olds are aware of drugs and in some cases, although I hope at this stage in an
extraordinarily limited number, they may have access to and be using them. That tells me that it is vital that we have a drugs education policy in our primary schools so that very young children do not hear about drugs only from the wrong sources but hear about them from the right sources-- authority figures and respected teachers who can tell them about drugs in a structured way within the curriculum. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) made that point as well. I hope that he accepts our commitment to a properly structured drug education approach in primary schools and throughout the rest of the period of compulsory education.
We are making important progress in other ways. Until now, there was a danger that many schools would feel that if they had a drugs education policy, it was a stigma and something about which they should be ashamed. The clear signs are that what we are now doing, through the work in progress, the conferences, the information that we are disseminating and the money that we are spending, to which I shall return in a moment, is already working. We are persuading schools that having a drug education policy is essential so that they can demonstrate to the parents of the children in their care that they are doing something positive about drugs. Even if none of the pupils in a school has any exposure to drugs at the moment, we can demonstrate to parents that everything is being done to ensure that their children will be equipped to resist the temptation to use drugs if and when they are offered them. There is a sea change taking place in education in schools in that very respect.
Some hon. Members have suggested that there is a paradox or contradiction in that drugs are illegal, as is drug use--that is central to the message that we want to get across in schools--but we want schools to be able to counsel, advise and support young people when they feel that that is necessary. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East raised the matter. I can see immediately that it could be a difficult issue. I believe, however, that there is no contradiction--nor need there be--in asking our teachers and schools generally to educate young people in what drugs are, the dangers that they pose and the fact that they are illegal and should not be used. At the same time, schools should still be able to give support, advice and help where that is appropriate, and to use their discretion in doing so.
We have made it clear in our circular that where drug use is evident in schools, especially if it is dealing of any sort, the police should be informed. We are, after all, talking about illegal substances. If we attempted to argue
Column 469a different case, we would quickly find ourselves in difficulty. We would be asking teachers somehow to put themselves in the position of condoning the use of an illegal substance even if that were somehow to help the pupil. I do not think that there is the degree of contradiction that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East suggested. The issue was considered carefully between the production of the draft circular and that of the circular itself. Having spoken to many teachers, my feeling is that they can live with a problem that will occasionally arise locally. I am sure that they can still find and will find--they are dedicated and committed to doing so--ways in which to help young people.
We have issued a circular of guidance to schools. We have issued also the digest of materials, which I hope will be helpful to teachers in finding sources of information. We have put in place funding, in the form of grants for education support and training, of about £6 million. Much play has been made about that by colleagues who have taken £6 million, divided it by the total number of schools and produced a footling figure. To take that approach is to misunderstand the nature of the funding.
The programme is designed to do several things, but its purpose principally is to put in place a facility to help to educate teachers more about how to deploy drug education in our schools. We are not talking about a per-school figure. Instead, it is a fund that will, in the normal way, be made available to schools and local education authorities so as to develop a training programme. I am sure that everyone would agree with that.
We are also using some of the money to support 16 imaginative new drug projects, run by local education authorities throughout the country. We have done that in truancy areas, which the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned. I believe that we have done so to some considerable success. We recognise that we must stimulate schools and local education authorities to find ever-better ways of dealing with problems such as truancy or drug abuse, distilling that best practice and disseminating the results throughout education so that we benefit from the experience that has been developed by schools and authorities. That is a good and imaginative use of the funds that are available.
I have time only to answer one or two of the specific issues that have been raised during the debate. I undertake to write to hon. Members who have raised specific questions soon after the conclusion of the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), whose work has rightly been praised throughout the debate--I add my praise because I am aware of the length and extent of his commitment on these issues and to the work of the all-party group, which he chairs--expressed