Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Battle: During negotiations about the number of constables at Dounreay, the chief constable proposed an extra six officers. It was agreed that those six officers would be put in place, and in February the chief constable declared that he was happy with that arrangement. Therefore, I cannot for the life of me understand why he persisted in resigning. That is why it is a matter for him and not for me.

It was well known at the time--it was in the public domain--that the chief constable had tendered his resignation. That was seen as an operational matter within the UKAEA as to how it organised its staffing complement in consultation with the Directorate of Civil Nuclear Security. The directorate has underpinned the decisions that were taken before this information came to light and before we accepted the Georgian high-enriched uranium. That uranium is being guarded properly at Dounreay--there should be no doubt about that--because the arrangements were put in place before it arrived.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): For the second time in two weeks, there has been a reassuring statement to Parliament about these matters. The tabloid press reported at the weekend that an assault was carried out against a nuclear installation somewhere. Can the Minister confirm whether that report is true? If it is not, the record should clearly be put right.

Mr. Battle: There were many bits of information in the press and commentaries in the media during the weekend that were not true. Of course, security is tested and reviewed regularly. Fiction is occasionally reported--for example, that the Special Boat Services' report was ignored. That was absolutely fallacious. The service never participated in any security scenarios.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside): Does the Minister understand the public concern that will exist when, at a time when Ministers were conducting negotiations with the American Government about the transfer of enriched uranium to this country for storage and reprocessing at Dounreay, there was concern within the UKAEA at the level of security at Dounreay? Does the Minister not understand the public's difficulty in reconciling these two factors? Does he not believe that having made this statement, there should be some further independent scrutiny of the evidence that he has brought to the House, to guarantee that public concern can be fully allayed by an independent inquiry?

Mr. Battle: What was received from Georgia was a fragment of what was already stored, as I think was spelt out in previous answers. I would not be standing here if I felt that what was already stored was not securely and safely guarded. It is so guarded. There have been no security questions about Dounreay in recent months and weeks. The only issue was the complement of the constabulary, which was raised by the chief constable. The chief constable's advice to increase that complement by six was taken into account and implemented.I therefore do not believe that there is a need for a public inquiry into this matter.

27 Apr 1998 : Column 25

To be as fair as I can to the hon. Gentleman, of course we must do our best to allay public fears and to ensure that nuclear establishments are properly secure. That is why security is regularly reviewed and tested in consultation with the civil nuclear security people.

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Is my hon. Friend aware that both in the previous Parliament and this one I raised the question of non-Home Office police forces and the fact that there is concern that, albeit perhaps unconsciously, commercial or quasi-commercial considerations can come into operational decisions relating to these forces? Is there not a case for a review of them and their stewardship?

Secondly, if, as my hon. Friend protests from the Government Dispatch Box, the chief constable resigned voluntarily after being persuaded to stay, can we be assured that no public money will be put up front in so-called compensation? If I take the Chiltern Hundreds or if someone resigns from the Daily Mirror or The Daily Telegraph, we go without compensation. If the chief constable has gone, presumably he is not going with a penny extra. He has resigned. He has quit his job, which he is entitled to do. There should be no additional emoluments. Can my hon. Friend confirm that that is so?

Mr. Battle: The chief constable's contract is with the UKAEA, not with the Department of Trade and Industry. It is a matter for the UKAEA contractually to sort out the arrangements when people resign. I simply leave it at that.

I share my hon. Friend's view in that I do not think--the point has been raised by Opposition Members, to be fair to them--that we should be engaged in a cost-cutting exercise. Rather, the opposite should apply. Security is paramount. I have checked the facts and figures and I am reliably informed that the overall funding for the constabulary has continued to rise year on year, even though numbers have fallen because there are fewer establishments.

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I welcome the reassurances that the Minister has been able to give the House. Will he confirm for the record that he is entirely satisfied with the level and adequacy of security at Sellafield, near my constituency in Cumbria?

Mr. Battle: The answer is yes. To the best of my knowledge, no one has even raised that question. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks.

27 Apr 1998 : Column 26


3.48 pm

The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor): With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Government's new anti-drugs strategy.

I am pleased to lay before the House today the Government's White Paper, "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", which sets out our strategy for the next 10 years.

I hope that there is no need for me to have to persuade the House that more effective action against drugs must be a priority. Illegal drugs are now more widely available than ever before, and children of all ages are increasingly exposed to them. Drugs damage health as well as education and employment prospects. Drug problems wreck families and relationships. Drugs are a major contributing factor to the crime that undermines communities and gets in the way of progress and prosperity.

Much has been done in recent years. The previous Government's strategy for England, "Tackling Drugs Together", was an important step forward, particularly in the creation of drug action teams, which were set up to create partnerships across the country to tackle the problem. Important progress has also been made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have their own distinctive strategies.

We will build on that valuable work. There are some signals that levels of drugs misuse are relatively stable across England and Wales as a whole. That suggests that drug misuse is neither inevitably bound to increase nor irreversible, but the problems remain acute, and a fresh long-term approach is now needed to galvanise our efforts and bring new energy and action to these challenges.

Drug problems are complex. There are aspects that require responses at different levels. Responsibility for action lies with many different Government Departments, statutory services, voluntary agencies, businesses, community groups and individuals. A partnership approach is therefore essential, and we must be consistent in the messages that we send out.

Drugs are often only part of a range of problems facing individuals or communities which have to be addressed. Too often, however, action is patchy, unco-ordinated, too short term or based on inadequate knowledge of what works or of what others are doing.

That is why the Government appointed Keith Hellawell as the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, to pull together a more strategic response. He was an experienced senior police officer with considerable anti-drugs expertise. He and his deputy, Mike Trace, are providing a fresh perspective and ensuring that action against drugs is effective and consistent. They have spent the first few months of this year in an intensive review of existing drugs activity, consulting more than 2,000 organisations and individuals. The new strategy is based on their rigorous assessment of the problem, of what works, and, of course, what needs to be done to have a real impact.

The new strategy has four main aims: first, to help young people resist drug misuse to achieve their full potential in society; secondly, to protect our communities from drug-related, anti-social and criminal behaviour;

27 Apr 1998 : Column 27

thirdly, to enable people with drug problems to overcome them and live healthy and crime-free lives; and, fourthly, to stifle the availability of illegal drugs on our streets.

This year, we shall draw together clear, consistent and rigorous national targets against which to measure progress towards these aims. One of our early priorities will be to establish clear baselines for these targets.

Action will be comprehensive, combining firm enforcement with prevention. It will be linked to our wide-ranging programme to get people off benefit and into work, with reforms in the welfare state, education, health, criminal justice and the economy, and with work to tackle social exclusion. Enforcement against all illegal substances will continue, focusing, as necessary, on those who cause greatest damage.

The programme of action will include education for all young people, including primary-age children, to give them the knowledge and skills to resist drug misuse; information and support for parents; and programmes for young people who may be at high risk because of other social factors. It will include action to cut drug-related crime, including the piloting of drug treatment and testing orders; the disruption of local drugs markets; and crime reduction partnerships in local neighbourhoods. It will also include improvements to services for people with drug problems, especially young people, through health and community care; and it will include enhanced efforts to reduce the availability of drugs, with a focus on the activity that has most impact on our streets, using all our international and domestic resources.

The Government currently spend more than £1 billion on tackling drug misuse. Most of this is reactive--it tackles the consequences of drug misuse, not its causes. The White Paper proposes that, in the long term, the emphasis should shift towards prevention. We have to stop drugs problems before they start.

A detailed resource framework, building on this strategy, will be announced later in the year, but the Government have already shown their clear commitment to resources for fighting drugs. Last year, we extended the life of the drugs challenge fund. We reversed the proposed cut of 300 front-line Customs officers involved in anti-drug work, and, last month, we announced support from the single regeneration budget for 44 projects, which include prevention of drug misuse as one of their objectives. These range from a five-year drug prevention and regeneration scheme in the black country, to a seven-year partnership between the public and voluntary sectors in Kent, which aims to tackle the growing problems of drug and alcohol misuse.

In addition to this valuable activity, I can announce today that, for the first time, a proportion of assets seized from drug barons will be channelled back into the anti-drugs programmes. These assets have amounted to at least £5 million in each of the last five years. It is right that the profits from this evil trade should go back into tackling the problems that it generates.

The White Paper represents only a beginning. Continued development will be needed to translate its ideas into actions and achievements. Keith Hellawell and Mike Trace will oversee this programme, but their co-ordinating role does not take away from others the

27 Apr 1998 : Column 28

responsibility for tackling different aspects of the problem. We must all work together to tackle the scourge of drugs.

This week, the co-ordinators will embark on a nationwide tour to explain the radical new measures to those in the field, and to ensure that everyone is working together. They will, of course, be involving drug action teams who will be responsible for implementing the strategy on the ground. The co-ordinators will continue to work with Government Departments and key figures from the private and voluntary sectors, and they will keep in touch with parents, teachers and young people themselves to listen to their views and to learn from their experiences. They will ensure that anti-drugs work is relevant and effective. From 1999 onwards, the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator will present to Ministers an annual report and plan of action, setting out the progress made and the work still to be done.

This strategy is ambitious but realistic. It sets out clear and challenging new objectives, but it builds on good practice and on what we know works in the fight against drugs. It has partnership and common purpose at its heart. It will require commitment, effort and energy from everyone involved in its implementation. It provides an opportunity to make real progress over time against a destructive social problem, and I commend the White Paper to the House.

Next Section

IndexHome Page