2 Feb 2000 : Column 1025

House of Commons

Wednesday 2 February 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]


City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Wednesday 9 February.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Eriskay Causeway) Order Confirmation Bill

Considered; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Minister was asked--

Rural Affairs

1. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): If she will make a statement on her work to date in the co-ordination of Government policy on rural affairs. [106582]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): I chair the new Cabinet committee on rural affairs. The committee met at the end of last year and will meet again as and when necessary. The committee's role is to co-ordinate the Government's policies affecting rural areas.

Mr. Bercow: Given that farming incomes have fallen by 75 per cent. in three years and, on average, hill farmers earn only £2,000, is it not an abominable insult to countryside dwellers for a Minister who admits ignorance of rural affairs to co-ordinate a policy in which she has no input on behalf of people for whom, as the Prime Minister showed yesterday, he cares little, and will do less?

Marjorie Mowlam: I think the role of co-ordinating between Departments is valuable. I have a love of the countryside and an understanding of agriculture: I was merely pointing out that I do not have a vested interest--from one perspective or the other. What the hon. Gentleman said about the Prime Minister is patently not true. My right hon. Friend made it clear when he spoke to the National Farmers Union yesterday that the Government have given British farmers considerable support: £3.5 billion, with an additional £750 million this year. In addition, the rural programme that we have just put together will modulate some of that money to ensure

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1026

that other parts of rural communities are allowed to grow--not merely the environment, but industries in addition to agriculture, and communities as well. That is a much greater degree of interest than was shown by the Conservative Government when they were in power.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase): Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the Government are considering extending the committee for rural affairs into a fully fledged department for rural affairs, to embrace both agriculture and the countryside? Would not that be a joined-up approach, and would not my right hon. Friend be an admirable person to head such a department?

Marjorie Mowlam: The ministerial network is working with Departments that have an interest in rural affairs to ensure that we maximise the impact of our policies for rural communities. The suitability of a rural department has been discussed on and off many times. There are vested interests on both sides. Obviously, that view will be considered in the rural White Paper, but our current position is that the ministerial network is the most effective and efficient way to move forward.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): In addition to the considerable problems that face agriculture, does the Minister recognise that the fate of village sub-post offices poses a huge threat to the viability of rural communities? Will the right hon. Lady take it upon herself--as the only example that we can see of an opportunity for joined-up thinking on the issue--to ensure that her colleagues in the Departments of Social Security, of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and of Trade and Industry talk to one another about this extremely important matter? Clearly, there is a failure of communication at the moment.

Marjorie Mowlam: There is no such failure. The performance and innovation unit is looking into the future of rural post offices and will produce a report. The previous Government did nothing to stop shops and post offices closing--in fact, 32 schools closed every year--but we have put extra money into more schools and buses. We have already offered village post offices and shops a 50 per cent. tax relief because we realise what an important and central focus they are for many rural communities. On the future of the post offices, we are listening and consulting. Departments are talking. We have talked about the matter with many Departments, and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Drugs Strategy (North Wales)

2. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): If she will make a statement on the Government's drugs strategy in north Wales relating to children and young people. [106583]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): One of the key aims of the Government's anti-drugs strategy is to help young people resist drug misuse in order to achieve their full potential in society. The others are to help communities protect themselves from anti-social and criminal behaviour; to provide treatment to help people overcome their drug addiction; and to stifle the availability of drugs in Britain.

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1027

The National Assembly for Wales will shortly be launching a refocused substance misuse strategy for Wales that will reflect the same aims.

Mrs. Williams: Is my right hon. Friend aware of a survey that was conducted by the University of Wales, Bangor, on behalf of the North Wales police, which revealed that more than a third of north Wales school children who have been offered drugs were first approached at the age of 12 or under, and that there is a misconception that rural areas are not affected by drugs?

I am aware that a drugs treatment fund has been identified in Wales, but, in view of the alarming figures among children and young people, do the Government have plans to allocate additional resources for drugs prevention and education?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is right to say that substantial numbers of young people of varying ages throughout Britain are being approached and offered substances such as drugs and alcohol which can be abused. It is important to have a partnership approach. That is why the National Assembly for Wales will be putting forward proposals to work with communities in Wales on an agreed national strategy. Since 1998, substantial new resources have been provided for a three-year programme to tackle drugs misuse, criminal activity, rehabilitation and refocusing people's lives, and education to try to develop awareness among young people of the dangers of abusing substances including drugs. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue and I assure her that drugs issues are a No. 1 priority for the Government.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Following the question of the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), with which I fully agree, will additional resources be made available for the Welsh Assembly? It is not overstating the case to say that primary schools in particular are being targeted by those evil people who sell drugs, and resources are needed to educate children about the evils of drugs. Is there any possibility that further resources will be made available?

Mr. McCartney: The operational strategy for the new drugs proposals for Wales is a matter for the Assembly. However, I clearly said that so far the Government have made available an extra £217 million--to deal with prison issues; to pilot and implement drug treatment and testing orders; for health authorities and local authorities to provide new treatment services; to improve community care services for drugs misusers; and for drug action teams. That is a multi-million pound new investment. The Government are providing significant new resources throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to tackle drugs misuse at its roots in the community. At the same time, we are providing resources for those who suffer mental and physical ill-health as a result of their drug addiction.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): When will the Minister realise that his drugs strategy is not working, in

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1028

north Wales or anywhere else? When will a royal commission be set up to examine all aspects of drugs misuse throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Lady's first comment was a rather cheap shot. I speak with some feeling and gusto when I say that heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and a range of other highly addictive drugs cause serious physical and mental health problems, destroy individuals' lives, damage and disrupt families and communities, and cause HIV and hepatitis C. We do not need a royal commission to tell us that; it is staring us in the face. What we need is support for the 10-year Government strategy to reduce drug addiction, tackle those on the street who peddle drugs and deal with those suffering from addiction, the victims and their families. Hon. Members should get behind the Government strategy and stop making cheap political points.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): The results of a recent Home Office drugs survey showed that 50 per cent. of 16-year-olds have tried cannabis at least once. Bearing in mind the American experience that a strong anti-drugs campaign with a clear message can deliver results, will the right hon. Gentleman now endorse a "just say no" message and support tougher penalties for drug pushers who target young people outside schools and elsewhere, as advocated by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. McCartney: May I deal with the various aspects raised by the hon. Lady? Every sane person in Britain is, like the Government, behind the campaign to encourage people to just say no to drugs and other abuses, but it is not as simple as that. We need to provide our children with the skill to deal with peer-group pressure, which means providing resources at every level of the education system to encourage young people--at a very early age--and teachers to acquire knowledge of how to handle being approached on drug issues in the community, at school or in a family situation. A long-term investment in education and training is needed so that our young people can cope and not only say no but withstand any sustained pressure that is put on them.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of dealing with drug traffickers: those who peddle drugs for profit in the community and the big-time criminals. The Government are currently undertaking a review dealing with the seizure of criminal assets and a report will go to the Prime Minister in the spring. I am responsible for that report. Rest assured that we are four-square on tackling drugs and improving access for Customs and Excise, the police, the courts and others to ensure that we get to the criminals and the heart of organised crime and businesses that are designed to flout the law and import drugs into Britain at every level to abuse our children and our communities. I hope that the House is four-square behind our strategy.

Next Section

IndexHome Page