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Anti-drugs Strategy

4. Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): What initiatives have been taken by Mr. Keith Hellawell to involve parents in the national anti-drugs strategy. [63721]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): Many parents were consulted by the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator and his deputy before the Government's anti-drugs strategy was published in April 1998, including some with experience of problems in their families. The strategy includes the provision of information, advice and support to parents. Drug action teams across the country have been asked to include, in their local action plans, action to consult and involve parents and carers of vulnerable young people in relation to drugs education and prevention programmes. The national picture will be reported in the spring.

Mrs. Winterton: Is the Minister aware that some clubbing magazines, which can be bought anywhere, are positively undermining parents, teachers and the Government's anti-drugs message by articles virtually promoting illegal drug use to the young? Will he ask the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator to tackle the problem as a matter of urgency, and to advise companies, such as British Telecom, that it is utterly irresponsible to advertise in publications that encourage people to break the law?

Dr. Cunningham: The hon. Lady raises an important point with which I wholeheartedly agree. I deplore the promotion, or the glamorisation, of drug taking, from wherever it may emanate. It is an insidious and evil message to give to young people in particular. I can assure her that I have already raised the issue on one occasion with my officials, but, as she has raised this important issue again in the House, I shall ensure that I raise it with them again.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston): Customs and Excise officers at Birmingham international airport have been put on alert because of the danger of a new

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drug coming in from the United States on the daily flights from New York and Chicago, which is commonly referred to as Nazi crank, or the poor man's heroin. Can the Minister confirm that, within the drugs policy, we shall continue to co-ordinate with Customs and Excise, but also to alert parents and teenagers that, whatever the drugs are called, they are deeply dangerous and should not be trivialised?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, I shall do as my hon. Friend requests, simply because what she says is excellent advice to parents and children everywhere.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of my long-standing interest, as a barrister who has prosecuted and defended drugs cases for a number of years, in tackling the drugs problem. Will he join me in paying tribute to the work done in Surrey by Dr. Tony Blowers and the Surrey drugs action team in helping to pilot many projects which I know are now being looked at by the drugs tsar, Mr. Hellawell? Will the right hon. Gentleman say that it is important to use best practice from countries such as Surrey, which have a long track record of tackling the drugs problem effectively?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, I will join the hon. Gentleman in complimenting and congratulating the drugs action teams in Surrey and elsewhere which are promoting best practice. We now have a template for drugs action teams across the country. We are examining their performance exactly so that we can take the good examples such as those referred to by the hon. Gentleman and promote them across the country.


5. Mr. David Drew (Stroud): If he will make a statement on the co-ordination of Government policy on biotechnology. [63722]

13. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East): If he will make a statement on the co-ordination of Government policy on biotechnology. [63732]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): The Prime Minister announced in October the establishment of the ministerial group on biotechnology and genetic modification and asked me to chair this group, on which all Departments with an interest are represented. The group is reviewing our policies on biotechnology.

Mr. Drew: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know that he is aware of the amount of public concern on a whole range of issues from genetic modification through to xenotransplantation. May I urge my right hon. Friend to communicate as much information as possible to the public so that they can make up their minds on the basis of the facts rather than on innuendo?

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The formation of the new ministerial group reinforces our already robust arrangements for overseeing developments in biotechnology. Many of those arrangements were put in place, quite rightly, by the previous Administration. We are keen to ensure that our safeguards and mechanisms

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for oversight keep pace with the rapid developments in biotechnology without stifling the huge potential for biotechnology to benefit society, whether in health care, agriculture, food or environmental protection. As my hon. Friend said, it is essential to carry the confidence of the public in those developments and to be completely open with the public about the nature of them.

Jane Griffiths: I, too, welcomed my right hon. Friend's announcement before Christmas of a review of the regulatory framework for genetic modification and biotechnology. Does he agree that the best way to alleviate public concern is to maintain and achieve transparency in all those matters? Will he assure the House that that will be achieved?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that she requests. We are determined to ensure transparency. We are determined to allow people to express their views on those developments. One of the purposes of the review is to see whether it is necessary to create any new organisations to enable people to participate more effectively in the development of our policies.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon): Does the Minister recognise that the policy for the approval of genetically modified foods is incoherent both within Departments in Britain and within the European Union? Does he accept that, if consumers need information, businesses equally need the assurance that the processes will be rapid, effective and transparent so that we do not miss the opportunity of major investment in Britain by being left behind on a modern and important new technology? Will the right hon. Gentleman knock heads together in Britain and Brussels?

Dr. Cunningham: No, I do not agree with that. I do not believe that that policy is incoherent. If the right hon. Gentleman had been listening carefully a moment ago, he would have heard me pay tribute to some of the work done by his Government in putting in place some effective controls. The purpose of the review is to check that there is no gap in our existing regulations.

I agree with the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question about needing to ensure that we do not stifle legitimate and effective opportunities for commercial exploitation. I had already said that in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) a few moments ago.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Will the right hon. Gentleman co-ordinate not only clarity of thinking in United Kingdom policy but diplomatic efforts to provide support for those countries such as Austria and Luxembourg which have taken the entirely rational decision to say that genetically modified organisms should not be released in their territory for the time being?

Dr. Cunningham: No, and I believe that those two countries are in breach of their EU obligations. The United Kingdom has taken the lead in Europe in pushing for improved, more effective legislation on GMOs and in promoting more wide-ranging risk assessments and more discussion of the legitimate ethical concerns. The way forward in Europe could not and should not be unilateral action in defiance of EU decisions.

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Better Government Initiative (Older People)

7. Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West): If he will make a statement on the better government for older people initiative. [63724]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Dr. Jack Cunningham): The better government for older people initiative is a new and significant part of our programme to modernise government. Twenty-eight local authorities, working with a Cabinet Office-led team, are developing an ambitious range of projects to improve the quality of public services for older people. I can inform the House today that we are setting up a learning network to encourage many more authorities across the United Kingdom to prepare services for an aging population and to share learning and best practice.

In addition, this morning my hon Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and I announced £120 million of new funding for 33 projects promoting greater responsiveness and efficiency in the delivery of public service. One example is the integrated services for pensioners, run by the Benefits Agency, to try out new ways of integrating the services that they provide to pensioners with those provided by local authorities and others. The funding is being provided from the invest to save budget set up by the Treasury following the comprehensive spending review.

The projects that we announced today are practical examples of what we mean by modernising public services. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend asked for a statement and I am making a statement. They demonstrate--

Madam Speaker: Order. Responses are becoming far too long. I have Back Benchers to consider. Let us have an end to this answer.

Mr. Ross: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I welcome the statement that he made with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary this morning on the invest to save projects. Can he assure the House that elderly people will be involved in the projects from the outset? Will the projects deliver quality effective services for the elderly? Can my right hon. Friend tell me whether any of the projects will be in Scotland?

Dr. Cunningham: Yes, I can. The Scottish Office is introducing an integration of planning and delivery of health and social services for community care clients in Scotland. Two other projects will be devoted to improving services for elderly people. Of course we shall consult elderly people and organisations about the projects.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood): When Labour was in opposition, it used regularly to promise that a Labour Government would reform the arrangements for payment for long-term care to reduce the need for elderly people to sell their home in order to pay for such care. Since the Government took office, we have the establishment of a royal commission and nothing else. When will we hear about the Government's proposals to discharge the pledge that the Labour party gave to the electorate before the general election?

Dr. Cunningham: That question comes ill from the right hon. Gentleman, who in many years in government

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took only actions that made the problem worse. One of the purposes of establishing the royal commission is exactly to examine in detail the problems and see how best we can introduce policies to resolve them.

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