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House of Commons

Wednesday 10 May 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 Monday 15 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Minister was asked--

Civil Service (Ethnic Minorities)

1. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): What measures she is taking to tackle the under-representation of ethnic minorities in the civil service. [120432]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer): The Government have a strong commitment to equal opportunities. It is our determination that the public sector is fully representative of the community of the whole of the United Kingdom. To that end, we have set targets at all levels of the civil service and in all Departments. Recently, Mr. Museji Ahmed Takolia has been taken on as a senior adviser on equal opportunities and particularly on the recruitment of people from ethnic minority communities.

Mr. Smith: I greatly welcome my hon. Friend's reply and especially the appointment of a senior adviser to oversee these matters. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an important role in going to schools throughout the country to try to recruit youngsters from ethnic minorities into the civil service? Does he also agree that we should target recruitment in certain regions of the United Kingdom? In evidence to the Welsh Affairs Committee, it was pointed out that, in south Wales, which has one of the oldest black communities in the UK, integration in public service and the civil service is not satisfactory. It would be helpful if we targeted resources accordingly.

Mr. Stringer: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I agree completely that there is a responsibility on all Ministers, Members of Parliament and people in official positions to explain how young people from schools and universities can gain access to the civil service. There is also a responsibility to ensure that, when people from

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ethnic minorities gain access to jobs in the civil service, it is seen as a fair and just place for those people to work. Last year, a careers fair was organised entirely for the purpose of attracting ethnic minorities into the civil service. It was extremely well attended--by 1,500 people in all. That fair will be repeated this year.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Will the Minister guarantee that only those with the appropriate skills and qualifications will be recruited to and promoted in the civil service?

Mr. Stringer: It is clearly this Government's policy that people who are appointed will be the best for the job. The same will apply to promotion. Statistics, particularly in respect of the top of the civil service, show a certain amount of unfairness. People from different communities in this country are not being attracted into those jobs. We must proactively do something about that without discriminating in the other direction.

Anti-drugs Strategy

2. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood): What recent discussions she has had with the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator on measures to tackle drug abuse. [120433]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): I hold regular meetings with the anti-drugs co-ordinator to discuss all aspects of Government policy.

Mr. Murphy: I am sure that my right hon. Friend accepts that too many young people use and experiment with drugs. Is she aware of the recent editorial in The Daily Telegraph, which stated that the Government should

Such a solution may make sense in the cosy confines of the offices of the editor of The Daily Telegraph, but it would not resolve the real-life problems of families throughout the country. Will she reassure me and my constituents that, in discussions on anti-drugs strategy, there will be no consideration whatever of changes to drugs legislation?

Marjorie Mowlam: The Government have made their position clear on cannabis and ecstasy in response to the recommendations of the recent Police Foundation report: no change. However, I always believe that there is room for discussion and debate on such issues; that is part of a good, open, democratic society. We shall, of course, consider--as we are now--many of the recommendations of the Police Foundation, and we hope to make many of them active policy very soon. We have a 10-year strategy that has four parts: treatment, stopping availability of drugs, prevention and working particularly with young people. I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes that.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): When will the Government stop making criminals of people with long-term neurological disease and painful terminal illnesses, and allow the use of cannabis for medical purposes?

Marjorie Mowlam: We are examining that. We have scientific research that is close to completion, and research

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is also being done on synthesising particular constituents of the cannabis plant to make substances available that are not cannabis. I cannot give the hon. Lady a direct answer on when, but like her, I hope that it will be soon.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Does the Minister agree that one way that we can get the message across is by getting to young people at a very early stage, as Life Education does in Lancashire, where it has three Rotary-sponsored vehicles--and is about to get a fourth--that go around primary schools? Will the Minister send congratulations on those efforts?

Now and again, rock musicians such as Cerys Matthews come out with irresponsible messages to magazines such as New Musical Express. What action can be taken to ensure that we hear responsible messages from rock stars, so that they serve as examples to young people, showing that they can enjoy themselves without the dangers of drugs?

Marjorie Mowlam: I believe that education is an essential part of prevention in relation to drugs. We are working hard with education authorities and schools. Well over 60 per cent. of primary schools and well over 90 per cent. of secondary schools provide some education about drugs, and progress is being made.

Pop stars are individuals and make their own choices in life. I am not about to start dictating to them what they should say in public. However, I think that mentoring makes a difference; it helps. If people go into schools and speak about what they have done in their lives, that is extremely useful, whether they are ex-football players, ex-policemen or, God forbid, ex-Members of Parliament. All that helps, from both men and women. When I go round schools now, I notice that the girls asking the questions are confident. I think that the boys need more role models. I ask the hon. Gentleman to visit the schools in Lancashire.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Is the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator working closely with the rough sleepers initiative to encourage drug misusers to come off our streets, hopefully into treatment programmes? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Winter Comfort case in Cambridge is causing great concern among those working with rough sleepers? Will the Government please give guidance to field workers?

Marjorie Mowlam: I can reassure my hon. Friend that the drug unit and the social exclusion unit rough sleepers initiative work closely together, because many rough sleepers are exposed to drugs and some become addicts. To realise the extent of the problem, one has only to walk home from this place late at night and see the homeless being propositioned by drug pushers.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I agree that the Winter Comfort problem in Cambridge is a difficult issue. It is hard for me to comment in detail, because it is still under legal review. [Interruption.] I assure my hon. Friend that we are watching the court case and will study the options that are open afterwards. As always is the case, I am not sure that we have all the

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facts, but the problem needs to be addressed. We have looked at how it is dealt with in other countries to learn from them what we could put in place in this country.

3. Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): What is her policy on the use of the media in the delivery of the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [120435]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): The Government's anti-drugs communications strategy is co-ordinated by Keith Hellawell and his team. Resources for communications form part of the funding for the drug prevention action service and local drug action teams so that they can tailor publicity to local needs. Work is also being done nationally through the Health Education Authority. We welcome the work of the Metropolitan police through their "Rat on a Rat" campaign, which is yielding results in London.

Mrs. Winterton: Since the publication of the Broadcasting Standards Commission report, "Knowing the Score", which was published with the British Board of Film Classification, has the right hon. Lady met representatives of the BBC and the Independent Television Commission to discuss the glamorising of drug use in fictional and factual programming, and the gratuitous coverage of drug use on the news? The latter causes particular anxiety.

Marjorie Mowlam: I have not met representatives of the BBC or the ITC, but we have examined high-profile campaigning and the use of images of drug takers in the media. Our results show that while such high-profile coverage does not help, it does not hinder as much as many people believe.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Should we not congratulate Fulcrum television, which set up a commission on drugs and, like the Police Foundation, visited many parts of the world, and reached precisely the same conclusion? It was "impressed" that, after 20 years of decriminalisation in Holland, less cannabis is used, and in safer forms, by all generations in the Netherlands than in Britain. We should start telling the truth about the success of decriminalisation in the Netherlands and stop misrepresenting it.

Marjorie Mowlam: As I said earlier, we made the Government's position clear in our response to the Police Foundation; I leave it to my hon. Friend to respond to Fulcrum.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I understand the points that the right hon. Lady has been making. However, I was struck recently by a comment that George Best made in a film about him. He said that drugs were a no-no, after acknowledging his mistakes about other matters. It is important to encourage the media to set more positive examples of life style. It is not enough to claim that they represent reality. As an old friend of mine used to say, rats are a reality, but we do not allow them in the kitchen.

Marjorie Mowlam: I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are doing everything we can in schools and throughout society to try to get our message on prevention across.

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Our research shows that the best way to reach young people is not by dictating to them, but by getting someone--for example, a footballer or a Member of Parliament--to go to schools and youth clubs to talk to them about the problem. That makes a difference, because young people can ask questions and interact with the visitor. However, I do not deny the hon. Gentleman's basic statement. We all agree that just saying no is crucial.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Up to now, I have opposed any change in policy, for the reasons that Members of all parties have given. Nevertheless, I have now reached a different conclusion. There should be a wide-ranging debate because the current policy, certainly on cannabis, does not work. It makes criminals or semi-criminals of otherwise law-abiding people. The Police Foundation report will be the subject of a hearing by the Select Committee on Home Affairs in the near future. I hope that my right hon. Friend and members of both Front-Bench teams will listen carefully to the evidence of the chairperson of the Police Foundation on the reasons for its conclusions.

Marjorie Mowlam: I hear what my hon. Friend says. I look forward to the Select Committee report and I welcome debate on the issue.

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