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Alliance and Leicester plc (Group Reorganisation) Bill [Lords]

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13 Jan 1999 : Column 289

Oral Answers to Questions


The Minister was asked--

Anti-drugs Strategy

1. Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): If he will make a statement on the progress of the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [63718]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): The strategy was launched in April last year. In September, we announced that more than £200 million would be added to Government spending in support of the strategy in the next three years. In December, we published a new public service agreement, setting four key performance targets for the strategy. Drug action teams throughout the country have now submitted their local action plans for 1999-2000. The United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator will produce his first annual report and a national plan in the spring.

Mr. Martlew: I welcome that answer from my right hon. Friend. In Cumbria, the new money from that initiative and the health action zone will mean five new people in post to fight the drugs threat in that rural county. I am sure my right hon. Friend agrees that we have problems with drug abuse in rural as well as in urban areas. Will he express a view on the recent reports about the increasing use of drugs, especially heroin, by children?

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support for the work that we are doing, in particular in Cumbria, which he and I represent in the House. We remain concerned about the reports, and evidence, of the increase in the use of heroin, in particular among children. All our strategic efforts are focused on reducing those problems. The Department for Education and Employment issued guidance on the effective delivery of drug education in schools and youth services and on dealing with drug-related incidents. The police give high priority to stifling the availability of drugs, in particular heroin. Research suggests that local responses are often the most effective and at least £57 million will be invested to develop better prevention approaches in the next three years, including a new national organisation, the drug prevention advisory service, which the Home Office will launch in the spring to support the development of drug action teams and local prevention strategies.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I appreciate what is being done, but does legislation need to be changed to advance the campaign against drug dealing and trafficking? A report in one of the Belfast newspapers a year ago suggested that the police needed a change in the law. Is the tardiness in dealing with some problems due to the fact that the law needs to be sharpened?

Dr. Cunningham: We would always be willing to consider changes in the law if evidence showed that they were necessary to make our fight against drugs

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more effective. If the hon. Gentleman refers that matter to me, I will be happy to consider it and to have my colleagues in Government consider it.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Will my right hon. Friend do two things? Will he ensure that the co-ordination of drugs strategy pinpoints students about to go to university, who are a vulnerable group and could be targeted with some ease? Also, will he caution all those involved in the valiant struggle against drugs to stop boasting when there is a haul? When I was a Front-Bench spokesman involved in that problem, I was told by senior people in the police force that every haul represented only 1 per cent. of the drugs available. That is a sign of how much is coming into the country, so please will my right hon. Friend ensure that those involved exercise caution when boasting about drugs hauls?

Dr. Cunningham: My hon. Friend is right to say that we should focus on the threat of drugs to young people, children in school as well as students, because drugs wreck lives, families and careers. On announcements about the success of the police or Customs and Excise activities in stopping drugs coming into the country in the first place, if law enforcement agencies have successes, they are entitled to tell us about them and I believe that the public want to know about them. I do not think that anyone is boasting too much.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Does the right hon. Gentleman regard it as a matter of principle that any Minister engaged in the forefront of the campaign against drugs should also be a non-smoker?

Dr. Cunningham: No.

Better Government Initiative

2. Barbara Follett (Stevenage): If he will make a statement on the progress of the better government initiative, with specific reference to women. [63719]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): As my right hon. Friend explained to the House on 21 October last year, the Government will publish a White Paper in the spring setting out our programme to modernise government. He chairs a Cabinet Committee that is driving forward this agenda. The White Paper will mean better government for all, as we work to improve the services that matter to those, women and men, who use them.

The Government's recent report, "Delivering for Women: Progress so far", set out the many achievements that we have already made for women, including our work on the national child care strategy, the working families tax credit and money to improve breast cancer treatment. We recently issued revised guidance to the civil service to ensure that the needs and concerns of women are taken fully into account at all stages of the development of policy and the design of services.

Barbara Follett: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Given the continued under-representation of women at all levels of Government, will he take measures to ensure that the forthcoming White Paper makes provision to correct that democratic deficit?

Mr. Kilfoyle: That question is entirely consistent with my hon. Friend's sustained and committed support for the

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cause of women. I assure her that, with the changes that have been made in the Cabinet Office, in terms not only of its designation but of the reallocation of the women's unit to it, and my right hon. Friend's responsibility for mainstreaming equal opportunities across Government, I can guarantee that the rights, needs and potential of women are taken fully into account in the White Paper.

Policy Co-ordination

3. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): What recent representations he has received about the mechanisms for the co-ordination of Government policy. [63720]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Peter Kilfoyle): Since the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) have raised issues relating to the mechanisms for the co-ordination of Government policy.

Mr. Amess: Will the hon. Gentleman give some details on precisely what are the mechanisms for co-ordinating Government policy? Are they press officers or Ministers of the Crown who have resigned because they have done nothing wrong, or does this refer to his right hon. Friend, who I believe was entrusted with the policy? If he alone is responsible, does the Minister agree that he is not having too grand a time?

Mr. Kilfoyle: My right hon. Friend is having a splendid time advocating the Government's cause from his position in the Cabinet Office. The redesignation of the Cabinet Office was designed to ensure the coherence across Government that the previous Government aspired to but failed miserably to achieve, given their fissiparous tendencies. We have put on record several times, in the House and elsewhere, that the presentation of Government policy is vital to this Government, as it should have been to the previous one. We are committed to ensuring that we co-ordinate effectively the delivery of our 177 manifesto commitments. To that end, the Prime Minister established a Committee, which my right hon. Friend chairs, to drive through the new agenda for the Cabinet Office.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): In order to ensure that the Government are in a position to implement their undertakings to allow the country to decide about the single currency and the reform of the electoral system to the House, will the Minister say that the Government support the introduction of generic referendums legislation to ensure that there is fairness in the conduct of such referendums and also to ensure that they can be introduced at the appropriate moment?

Mr. Kilfoyle: The answer is no, I will not support generic referendums on behalf of the Government.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): On the question of responsibility for co-ordination, we were all pleased to read, in the profile of the Minister for the Cabinet Office in The House Magazine this week, that he liked his "trouble-shooting role". Is that not just as well if the year proceeds for the Government as it has begun? When will he begin? Will he begin with his Cabinet colleagues, whom he accused on Monday of not being

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part of the team; will he begin with the Deputy Prime Minister, who has threatened to resign if the right hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Mandelson) rejoins the Administration; or will he begin with the many members of the Government who made it clear over the new year that they are fed up with the Government's obsession with spin and want to focus on substance? Or are the divisions in the Government such that even the right hon. Gentleman's well-known conciliation skills are not up to the task?

Mr. Kilfoyle: It ill-behoves me to give the right hon. Gentleman advice, but one thing that he should have learnt in his long tenure of office in the previous Government is never to believe everything that is written in the newspapers, and certainly not to misrepresent my right hon. Friend's position in those matters. The new Cabinet Office and the roles defined therein will continue to lead the drive for coherence across Government, to present the Government's case well and to ensure that in both policy formulation and the delivery of services we think strategically and deliver in a joined-up fashion.

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