Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Stephen Timms (East Ham): I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the response of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), whom I welcome to the Opposition Front Bench.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the all-party group on drug misuse about the importance of starting drugs education at primary schools, building up young people's resistance to drug misuse at an early stage? She made explicit--and I welcome that fact--the link between tackling drugs misuse and the Government's wider assault on social exclusion. How does she expect the Government's urban regeneration policy to boost the fight against the most damaging drugs in inner-city areas, such as the one I represent in east London?

Mrs. Taylor: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments, and I know that the all-party parliamentary group has been looking at the issues. I am glad that he welcomes what we have said about education in primary schools, as it is important that we integrate an awareness of drugs into school curricula at an early stage. That will not have an adverse impact on other parts of the school curriculum, because youngsters of that age already receive education about medicines, their bodies and respect for themselves. Drug education can be integrated into that, although it must be appropriate for the age group that any teacher is dealing with. As I have said, there are examples of projects that seem to work.

My hon. Friend asked about urban regeneration. We have incorporated drugs projects into the criteria for single regeneration budget money. The announcements we have made on SRB money show that we are serious about encouraging drug work in that field because, on many occasions, the people who take drugs are the same

27 Apr 1998 : Column 32

people who play truant, are excluded from school and do not get jobs. We need an integrated approach to the problem.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I join other colleagues in welcoming the White Paper and the Leader of House's statement. The White Paper is clear, comprehensive and does not sensationalise. Although my party continues to believe that a standing royal commission would have benefits in terms of giving non-political advice, this first report from the new drugs tsar is a good start and shows a promising way forward--particularly in pointing out the importance of moving the agenda from dealing with the causes of drugs misuse to the consequences.

Does the right hon. Lady envisage an increase in the amount of drugs treatment? Will she make sure that those who come to treatment through the health route do not find that their opportunities are blocked by those who are referred for treatment through the criminal route? Will drugs education be a matter of core curriculum teaching in primary and secondary schools? If so, how soon does she envisage that beginning? Can I push her on resources? If £5 million a year has been the amount collected--as it were--from drugs barons in past years, can she give any figure for the amount to be committed from that income to the anti-drugs battle? When will that begin? Will that amount be protected in the future? Is it new money?

Mrs. Taylor: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He used the word "sensationalise", and it is important that we have sensible discussions about the problems without sensationalising them. I am glad that the House has reacted in that way today. He asked about treatment, and, clearly, there are pressures in terms of existing capacity. We want to ensure that those people who need treatment can get it at an appropriate stage. That is particularly important for younger people. If we can intervene earlier, it will be beneficial.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the criminal route. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is piloting schemes to try to make sure that prisoners, or those who come into contact with the criminal justice system, can get the treatment they need. That will help individuals, but it will also help the communities that they may have been attacking to get money for their drugs habit.

Drug education should be incorporated into the existing national curriculum. The House should be aware that there is scope in the core curriculum--even at key stage 1--for young people to learn about medicines and about respect for themselves. Incorporating drugs education into that phase is important.

The money from seized assets will provide new resources. That will be not only useful--the money can be spent on extra treatments, for example--but important, as it will send out signals about how seriously we take the problem.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend recall my writing to her a few months ago following a report in which doctors claimed that cannabis had unique medical benefits and that seriously ill people should be able to use it? Does she also recall the three people who came to the House some four years ago--a lady suffering from cerebral palsy who was taking

27 Apr 1998 : Column 33

cannabis to alleviate her pains, the mother of a 20-year-old girl dying from cancer who had discovered that the available chemical drugs were turning her daughter into a zombie, but that she was lucid on cannabis, and a woman who was using cannabis to deal with the pain and indignities of multiple sclerosis?

My right hon. Friend said that the Government intend to continue to inflict the same punishments on cannabis users. Does not she agree that the message that the House is sending to those tens of thousands of seriously ill people who are using cannabis as a unique medicine is that they should either continue to suffer or go to a market that is controlled by irresponsible criminals, in which they have no control over the quality or the purity of what they take? Is not that message unfair and cruel?

Mrs. Taylor: We all sympathise with anyone who has a serious and debilitating illness, but the Government take the view that, at this stage, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of cannabis or cannabis derivatives as therapeutic agents--that view was also expressed by the British Medical Association in its recent report.

Research into both cannabis and cannabinoids can take place within existing Government policy and the legislative framework, in which procedures are laiddown. Over the past year, the Home Office has received 27 applications for licences to carry out such trials--25 have already been approved. If people believe that some cannabis derivatives have therapeutic or medical benefits, they can follow procedures to take the situation further.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the Leader of the House put in the Library details of the primary school projects that she has identified as successful? Will she confirm that the Government are examining best practice and results from primary education abroad? I am sure that she would agree that deciding what is appropriate for children of different ages is a sensitive and difficult issue.

Mrs. Taylor: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am happy to provide any extra information that is required. She gives me the opportunity to mention the fact that we are today publishing guidance notes on some of the best practice and information that has been drawn up by the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator and his deputy on what is thought to work in different circumstances. She rightly says that we must be sensitive in dealing with the problem, as children do not react in the same way. We do not want to make drugs seem attractive, because they are daring, but we shall do children a grave disservice if we leave them in ignorance--we must provide appropriate education for all children and, indeed, for their parents.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh): Has my right hon. Friend studied what some of us consider to be the resounding success of the American drug courts, which deal exclusively with drug addicts and users of all ages? There is a highly specialised network of professional advisers and therapists to make recommendations to the drugs judge, who, for many years, has investigated drug addiction. That seems to be the right way in which to proceed--there has been a 34 per cent. success rate in rehabilitation, partly through short, stiff sentences, which have proved to be a great deterrent to users. Will she, with

27 Apr 1998 : Column 34

the Home Office, set up an experimental court to establish whether such a system would be practicable in this country?

Mrs. Taylor: My hon. Friend mentioned drug courts. It is always difficult to take a feature from another country and simply translate it here, without taking account of the different systems and cultures. The drug testing and treatment orders that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is piloting are a British version of part of what my hon. Friend is talking about. We are piloting those schemes because we think that they could be important, but the long-term outcome must be our priority.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): I welcome the statement and the White Paper. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on her extremely robust performance at the Dispatch Box--I am sure that it will be the first of many--and the Leader of the House made an excellent statement.

Macclesfield is fortunate in having the Barnabas centre, which has had great experience as a drop-in centre and tries to wean young people, in particular, off drugs and to start the rehabilitation process. My local paper, the Macclesfield Express Advertiser, said that some young people in Macclesfield spend up to £1,000 a week to fund their drug addiction. Will additional resources be put into residential establishments, as I believe that they stand the best chance of explaining the evils of drugs and helping people to get rid of an addiction that costs this country so dear?


Next Section

IndexHome Page