Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for her kind consideration in letting me have a copy of the new White Paper at lunchtime. It was very helpful indeed.

The Opposition welcome the publication of the White Paper "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", which outlines the Government's strategy on drugs for the next 10 years. We recognise that drug misuse is a huge, complex social problem. There are growing concerns about increases in drug trafficking. For example, recent figures revealed a 30 per cent. rise in drug-related offences in London, against an overall fall in crime. It is estimated that the increases in drug misuse and drug-related crime accounts for 50 per cent. of offences.

I believe that it would be helpful to establish common ground between both sides of the House and to reaffirm our support for a continuing commitment to legal deterrents and firm enforcement of the law by the police and Customs and Excise. There should be no soft message on drugs promoted from the House of Commons. We reaffirm our opposition to the legalisation of any currently controlled drug--such a move would send out the wrong signals and open the floodgates.

We welcome the fact that the Government are building on the undoubted success of the drugs strategy introduced in 1995 by the previous Leader of the House, who is now in another place, and supported by the right hon. Lady as shadow Leader of the House. "Tackling Drugs Together" provided a firm foundation on which to build, setting out, as it did, to take effective action by vigorous law enforcement, to provide accessible treatment, to place new emphasis on education and prevention, to increase the safety of communities from drug-related crimes and to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people and the health risks and other damage related to drug misuse.

When the appointment of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator was announced last October, the point was clearly made that the same themes would be continued

27 Apr 1998 : Column 29

and that the Government wished to build on the success of "Tackling Drugs Together" and not to demolish it. Against the background of the undoubted growth in drug misuse and the recent record seizures of heroin, there are high expectations of proposals in the new White Paper and a need not only for a clear long-term strategy, but for more immediate action.

As many hon. Members will wish to ask questions, I shall be as brief as I can. However, I have some questions for the right hon. Lady. The strategy that she has announced today involves many different professionals as well as those from the voluntary and charitable sector. What training will be made available, especially for those in education? How and on what time scale will it be delivered?

The programme of action includes young people at high risk. Who will be responsible for that action and by what means will it be achieved? What impact will the inclusion of drug education as part of the national curriculum have on other subjects? In other words, what will be lost as a result?

The right hon. Lady announced that national targets will be introduced in all priority areas and clear baselines will be established against which progress can be measured. How soon will that important information be available? Are there no comparable statistics available now that might prove useful?

How much money will be allocated to each target, and whence will this come? Will the Government provide any new money other than those extra funds from assets seized from drugs barons? Although I warmly congratulate the right hon. Lady on getting the Treasury to loosen its iron grip on such receipts, will she acknowledge that £5 million in each of the past five years is not a huge sum, bearing in mind the size of the task, and that a proportion of that sum is even less? What proportion will be made available and will she give an undertaking that if receipts rise, that proportion will not fall?

How will those resources be divided between education and enforcement? For example, will the enforcement agencies such as the police and Customs and Excise receive a share for their operational successes?

Will the right hon. Lady clarify the Government's policy on cautioning drug offenders, particularly for class A drugs?

Great store is placed on the drug treatment and testing orders, which are to be piloted before being introduced. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that they will not be available for at least two years? What action is being taken in the meantime, especially against drug pushers?

As drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition, will the right hon. Lady ensure that waiting lists for detoxification and rehabilitation programmes are reduced and that appropriate residential care, which has a measurable impact, is available, as well as care in the community from which the problem has often arisen?

What evidence can the Government produce to back up their claim that levels of drug abuse have stabilised?

The Government have asserted that they intend to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. If they are tough on drugs and those who push drugs, they will deserve and receive our full support for the measures that they introduce.

Mrs. Taylor: May I first welcome the hon. Lady to her Front-Bench responsibilities and thank her for her general

27 Apr 1998 : Column 30

comments and her welcome for the White Paper? On what is clearly common ground, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Newton, who introduced the previous Government's strategy, which set the framework for us to build on.

The hon. Lady said that this is a huge, complex social problem, and we can all agree on that. She also mentioned the difficulties in London and the vast mushrooming of drug-related crime in certain areas. It is true that, overall, there has been an increase in drug-related crime and, in recent years, there has been an increase in drug taking, but the problems are concentrated in certain areas. We must be realistic and recognise that there are very few parts of the country that we could claim were free from the problems of drugs and drug-related crime.

The hon. Lady asked about legal deterrents and said that there should be no soft messages from this House.I agree. I have said that we should send out clear and consistent messages. We must remember that drugs ruin the lives not only of many young people and families but of people who live in those communities and who are secondary victims because they are the victims of crime, to which many young people turn to fund their drug taking.

The hon. Lady asked me specific questions about how we will implement the White Paper. In certain respects, she asked me to prejudge the next stage in consultation and implementation. She can rest assured that the professionals have been widely consulted and are very much in line with our thinking and the way in which we wish to take things further.

The hon. Lady specifically mentioned education and the need to train teachers, which we, of course, recognise. People undergoing teacher training are being told about the problems and are being helped to explain the issue to young children. Teacher training is, of course, an on-going process. We know from different experiences in different parts of the country that some areas have already developed very effective education packs. I visited a school in London this morning, where Project CHARLIE--Chemical Abuse Resistance Lies in Education--was being used to good effect. We can use and promote best practice so that all schools are able to get the benefit of experiences thus far.

The hon. Lady asked about targets, when they may be set and why we could not start immediately. We looked at the possibility of establishing targets as part of the White Paper, but the baseline information was simply not available in a way that would have given us confidence that targets would be realistic. It is always possible to set targets that can be met, but whether that means anything at the end of the day is another matter. We thought that it was right to spend time ensuring that the targets were relevant and realistic before jumping in. As a result, it is impossible to answer her question about how much money will go into each specific type of work, just as it is to give details of how seized assets may be used. However, I accept her recognition that allowing seized assets to be used in such a way is a significant step forward.

The hon. Lady asked about resources generally. Of course, resources are important in dealing with these problems. We must be realistic and acknowledge that this is the first time that any Government have had such a clear investigation into what is being spent on tackling the

27 Apr 1998 : Column 31

problem of drugs. We are trying to ensure that we have the full picture, because we want to know what works, what provides value for money and what kind of treatment is most effective. There is still some way to go in assessing all that, although, as I said in my statement, the Government have made their commitments on resources very clear by extending the drugs challenge fund, reversing cuts in front-line Customs officers, ensuring that drug projects are a priority in the single regeneration budget and, now, by the proposals on seized assets. Once the comprehensive spending review is complete, more can be said on the matter. We have laid out our principles, and they will guide us in future.

The hon. Lady asked about cautioning. Although we would not want to interfere with the way in which the police make decisions in any area or on any case, we would like more consistency--as, indeed, would many police officers. We recognise that cautioning has a part to play. We must ensure that we provide the most effective mechanisms for dealing with the problems. There must, therefore, be a degree of flexibility.

The hon. Lady asked me where the figures on possible stability in drugs problems had come from. They are from the previous British crime survey. Although there are signals that there may be some stabilisation in trends of drug taking, we must all be aware that the nature of drug taking may still be changing, which, in itself, may pose extra dangers for many young people.


Next Section

IndexHome Page