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The President of the Council was asked--

Illegal Drug Use

31. Mr. Bayley: If she will make a statement about the Government's strategy against illegal drug use. [21743]

33. Mr. Nicholas Winterton: What are her priorities in the co-ordination of strategies to deal with drug misuse. [21745]

Mrs. Ann Taylor: Keith Hellawell, the United Kingdom's anti-drugs co-ordinator, took up his post full time on 5 January. He will be submitting proposals for a new anti-drugs strategy to me by March, following an extensive consultation process and in the light of a comprehensive spending review. The priorities are likely to be to help young people realise their own potential, protect communities from drug-related crime, provide effective services for drug addicts and restrict the availability of illegal drugs. Once agreed by Ministers, a report on the new strategy will be published as soon as possible.

Mr. Bayley: May I tell my right hon. Friend how much I support the decision taken by the Government to appoint 300 extra customs officers to prevent illegal drug shipments from entering this country? How sharply that decision contrasts with the policy of the previous Government, who cut the number of customs officers at just the time they were accepting a £1 million donation from a foreign secret source closely connected to the drugs trade. Will my right hon. Friend join me in urging the Leader of the Opposition to give that dirty money back?

Mrs. Taylor: The fact that we reversed the proposed cut in the posts of 300 customs officers shows how seriously we take the drugs problem and how alarmed we are about the amount of drugs coming into the country, which is one reason why hon. Members on both sides of the House will welcome the recent seizures and the disruption of drug supplies into this country by the enforcement agencies. All of us have been somewhat concerned, to put it mildly, about the reports that have just emerged about the sources of some of the Conservative party's funding.

Mr. Winterton: I thank the right hon. Lady for her full response. I wish the new drugs tsar every success in the vital and critical work that he is undertaking. Will the right hon. Lady accept that my right hon. and now ennobled Friend, Tony Newton--as we knew him in the House--did a superb job in co-ordinating the response of all Government Departments to the problems of drugs and drug abuse? He brought the Department of Health, the Home Office, the Department for Education and Employment, as well as the Treasury--because of its

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responsibility for Customs and Excise--together to co-ordinate their policy on drugs. Will the co-ordination that Tony Newton introduced continue?

Mrs. Taylor: When the previous Government introduced their new approach and the document "Tackling Drugs Together", I was the first on the Opposition Benches to welcome the moves taken by Tony Newton and outlined by the hon. Gentleman. We are trying to build on that strategy and take it several stages further, which is why we are auditing what is spent on drug work in every Department, undertaking proper evaluations and trying to co-ordinate. The big difference is that we are trying to ensure that the causes of drug taking, in particular the early signs of difficulty such as truancy, exclusion from school and joblessness, are tackled as part of the problem.

Mr. Skinner: Does my right hon. Friend agree that her job of controlling drug abuse and educating young people has been made 10 times more difficult due to the fact that--as we now know and as I forecast three months ago--Ma Ching-kwan handed over £1 million to the Tory party? He comes from a family who are recognised drug and heroin dealers in Hong Kong. The family did that because they wanted the father, who had escaped to Taiwan, to be brought back to Hong Kong. They used the offices of David Mellor and of Chris Patten, and they handed over the money in the presence of the former Prime Minister. The Tory party has now got the money, although people say it should hand it back. I am not so sure that that is the brightest of ideas because it would be going back to a known drug dealer. It ought to go to charity.

Mrs. Taylor: I should first congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that point several months ago. Having that information confirmed today proves that the House is right to listen to him on many occasions. He is right to say that it does not make it any easier to get the message across about the dangers of drugs. Although I have heard people saying, even this afternoon, that the money should be given back, I believe that it would not be appropriate to give it back to the donor in this instance. The money should be given to a drug-related charity.

Mr. Loughton: I applaud the President of the Council's firm words on the campaign that we need against drug misuse, but will she acknowledge that the budget of only £300,000 that has been allocated to the drugs tsar, of which his salary and that of his deputy will take up more than half, smacks of tokenism at its worst? What will she promise the House in terms of real resources and policies to tackle this very real menace?

Mr. Bayley: Give us £1 million.

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend's point is well made.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be operating under a misapprehension: it is not the job of the so-called drugs tsar to spend money fighting drugs; his job is to advise Government on the proper co-ordination of policy, so that we can make sure that the money spent by the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Employment and the Home Office is spent in the most productive way.

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The current auditing and evaluation process will be extremely important in helping us to tackle drugs more effectively.


The Leader of the House was asked--

Government Announcements

32. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley: What steps she is taking to uphold the rights and privileges of the House in respect of Government announcements. [21744]

Mrs. Ann Taylor: The Government seek to make all announcements about major changes of policy to the House.

Mrs. Bottomley: There has scarcely been a major Government announcement that has not first been widely leaked and trailed in the press. Is that part of a deliberate policy to erode the rights and privileges of the House and to diminish Parliament? Now that the Budget date has been announced, what specific action has the President of the Council taken to remind Ministers that they are accountable to Parliament and not to the media?

Mrs. Taylor: I often think that Conservative Members, and especially former Cabinet Ministers, have short memories about what they did in government. The situation regarding the number of statements to the House is similar to that which existed under the previous Administration; indeed, I remember that we made complaints from the Opposition Benches about the Department of Health, and I am sure that, if the right hon. Lady casts her mind back, she will also recall that. I doubt whether Ministers need to be reminded of their responsibilities regarding Budget day.

Mr. Winnick: Will my right hon. Friend promise the House that, when the Government make a firm decision to take legislative action to oblige all political parties represented in the House to identify the source of donations--certainly those above £5,000--an early announcement will be made in the House first of all? Is it not absolutely essential that such action should be taken, and that we should deal with all the latest Tory sleaze, including, one should not forget, the stolen money that was received from Asil Nadir and never returned to anybody?

Mrs. Taylor: Again, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in getting in that point as a supplementary question. When we are ready to act on the public funding

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of political parties, announcements will, of course, be made in the normal way, but we have to await the outcome of the Neill inquiry.

Mr. Beith: There is a serious point at the heart of the question. Ought not the Government, in their own interests, to make a more serious distinction between their official statements and the comments of press officers, people who use mobile telephones in pubs in Whitehall and friends of various parties in the Cabinet? Is it not becoming increasingly difficult for the public to distinguish the Government's voice from the unauthorised comments that expose their divisions?

Mrs. Taylor: I suspect that even Liberal Democrats have mobile phones, even if they do not have that many friends. There is great press interest in what is or is not said in various pubs around Westminster, and I would caution everyone to be extremely careful in what they say.

Sir Patrick Cormack: May I--

Mr. Campbell-Savours: Where is your tie?

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am not wearing a tie because, unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not have a brass neck.

Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has just come out of hospital after an operation and has apologised to me because it was not possible for him to wear a tie today. I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to make that announcement.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Although I exempt the Leader of the House from criticism, it is not good enough for her to fob off my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley) as she did. I have been in the House for almost 28 years and I have never before known a time in which more announcements have been leaked to the "Today" programme and other media sources. That is not good enough. Will the Leader of the House, based on her excellent example, circulate all her ministerial colleagues and ask them to ensure that every ministerial announcement is made to the House first?

Mrs. Taylor: I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place and I am glad that he exempts me from the charges that he makes. However, I take issue with him because I do not think that the situation now is very different from previous times. People are always anxious to try to find out what is going on in the Government. People speculate and sometimes obtain leaks, but there is no systematic leaking in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. I remind him that the last time a significant complaint about a leak was made, we found out that the Minister had given a written answer to the question at 3.30 pm, although someone from his party complained when the information was available at 4 pm. We should not always believe all we are told in allegations about leaks.

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