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House of Commons

Wednesday 1 November 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


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

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Wednesday 8 November.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Minister was asked--

Drugs (Young People)

1. Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): If he will make a statement on action being taken to reduce drug taking among young people. [133637]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): A key objective of the Government's anti-drugs strategy is to reduce the incidence of drug misuse among the under-25s in order that they can achieve their full potential. Our target is to reduce the proportion of young people using the drugs that cause the greatest harm--heroin and cocaine--by 50 per cent. by 2008, and by 25 per cent. by 2005.

The outcome of the recent spending review provides expenditure of up to £1 billion to underpin delivery of the strategy, and this includes taking forward prevention and education work. For example, Blackpool will have its own drug action team from next April; and in 2000-2001, nearly £20,000 has been made available to the local education authority there to make sure that young people receive the help and advice that they need.

Mr. Marsden: I thank my right hon. Friend for those comments, which underline the seriousness, commitment and--if I may say so--the thoughtfulness with which the Government have taken the programme forward. Many of the programmes being proposed are pilot programmes of reintegration that emphasise a holistic treatment of drugs. Will my right hon. Friend consider giving clearer and sharper guidelines to health authorities and social services to make sure that those holistic elements are high on the agenda when the pilot programmes move on to other areas?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is critically important that pilot projects are not the end of the matter but that they are the beginning of a holistic,

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across-the-board range of services. That is what we are attempting to do in Blackpool, where there has been a pilot project. The announcements that I have made today flow from that project. The health authority has the responsibility to provide continuity of care for those clients identified during the pilot project. However, I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend and discuss any problems that he may want to raise, or any further improvements that may help in his area.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden): We all know how seriously the Minister takes this matter. This morning's newspapers carried reports about his announcement of a new approach to minimise the risk to youngsters taking drugs. However, is there not a risk that changing a policy of "Just Say No" to one of "Just Take Care" will lead to more youngsters thinking that it is okay to take drugs?

Mr. McCartney: The right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other since 1987, so I take his question at face value. It was not a quip, or an attempt to be flippant. However, there has been no change in policy. The matter is far more complex than "Just Say No". We want to target and work with four groups of young people, and the first and overwhelmingly important aim is to prevent them from taking drugs.

For people who are already taking drugs or who are at risk of doing so, we want to implement a strategy of getting them off drugs. We also need a strategy to ensure that people who are on drugs do not lose their lives. When a child loses its life, there is no strategy left.

The issue is therefore complex. Most hon. Members are parents or grandparents. Some have children who take drugs, and not all will know about it. Every right-minded parent would agree that the Government have a responsibility to prevent drug taking, but additionally that the Government must try to ensure that young people who are taking drugs do not lose their lives.

What I announced yesterday was not a new policy. However, for the first time in 15 years club owners who have a turned a blind eye to drug taking in their establishments will be required to take their responsibilities seriously and join the Government in promoting a new culture in clubs. Owners will work to prevent drug taking in their clubs. They will also ensure that their staff are trained to make sure that safety measures are in place to deal with any drug taking that might go on, and to work with young people in the youth culture. In that way, young people will be told, in their own language, about facilities to help them come off drugs.

The Government want to help young people who are still not prepared to come off drugs to do so safely, so that the police do not have to knock on their parents' door one morning to tell them that their child is dead. That is the Government's strategy, and I do not think that anyone in Britain would say that it is wrong-headed. It is the only strategy worth pursuing. That is why the message that I delivered in Liverpool yesterday was so strong. I hope that all hon. Members will support what I said.

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the campaign in the Brighton and Hove area initiated by the local newspaper, the Evening Argus, and supported by local agencies? Its aim is to

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encourage people to give money to agencies working with the street homeless and those with drug problems, rather than to beggars on the streets. What evidence is there for a link between street begging and drug addiction?

Mr. McCartney: I know of the projects in Brighton. Indeed, a fortnight ago I did an interview with a young person from The Big Issue, who is on the programme and looking to change his life style and take up journalism. I have also given a commitment to go to Brighton with the young people to look at the project from the point of view of the partnership approach and that of the young people themselves.

It is true to say that people have the absolute right to donate to someone on the street. People will continue to do so, but not everyone can do that and they cannot do it to everyone who approaches them. So the Government's advice and that of the agencies is clear and simple and it is the right advice. If people want to make a contribution to solving the problem of homelessness, to getting young people off the streets and into a safer environment, or to helping young people who have mental illnesses and are on the streets, they should make it through an organisation that works not only with one young person but with every young person who is in a vulnerable position 365 days a year. If they get that balance right, people can make personal donations, but also make donations that help not just one person but a range of people in vulnerable situations.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the highest priority is to act against those who push drugs to the young? Will he adopt the Opposition's proposals to introduce a seven-year minimum sentence for any adult convicted for the third time of supplying drugs to children?

Mr. McCartney: The Government are deeply committed to getting drug dealers off the backs of our young people and out of our communities. We are also deeply committed on a national and international basis to dealing with drug barons who operate in the international marketplace and continually try to breach this country's defences and promote drugs to our young children. The Government have taken a range of measures, and we are prepared to do more.

Some months ago a new process was introduced to deal with the seizure of the assets of criminals and to make certain when drug dealers are prosecuted that further action is taken against them. I have a simple view. In some instances of people who are found guilty of drug dealing, I would lock them up and throw the key away.

Interdepartmental Co-ordination

2. Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives): What recent assessment she has made of the Government's progress on interdepartmental co-ordination. [133638]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): The Government have taken a wide range of steps to improve the way in which Departments work together, including the creation of cross-cutting teams working on issues such as social exclusion. They have also set out a blueprint for co-operation in the

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performance and innovation unit's report "Wiring it up", and I will be reporting to the Prime Minister on progress against this early next year.

Mr. George: Does the Minister accept that local communities that need help now face a growing snow storm of disconnected initiatives and schemes? Although places such as Cornwall are grateful for all the action zones, sure starts and new deals, and the many other silos of funding through many Government Departments, the average local person needs a PhD to comprehend interdepartmental complexities before they can even get to first base. Does the Minister share the growing fear that local authorities are becoming weighed down with bureaucratic overload as they get stuck on the treadmill of perpetual bidding?

Marjorie Mowlam: We are working with local authorities to deal with any potential difficulties in this area. The national neighbourhood renewal strategy will help to build communities and work with services such as the voluntary, police, health and probation services to deliver services on the ground. To make sure that the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes does not come about, we have recently ensured, for example, that the drug action teams have borders that coincide with those of the local authority and youth teams. We have a good example of best practice, where the strategy is working, and we will certainly share it with the hon. Gentleman's authority if it is facing difficulties.

Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North): Given the damning findings of the Phillips report, will my right hon. Friend look at how we can make our civil service more accountable?

Marjorie Mowlam: When we consider the Phillips report and the difficulties that BSE created, our first thought is with the victims and their families. We are looking hard to see what we can do in terms of compensation. In terms of the civil service, some changes will be made under the 167 recommendations in the Phillips report, which we are now considering. We will certainly tie any recommendations into the modernising government strategy, which aims to update, reform and innovate within the civil service.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Will the right hon. Lady be sending her cost-cutting teams into the national health service, which is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a changeover plan to adopt the euro? Is it not the case that the programme is not compatible with the line taken by her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said, during his trip to Tokyo, that if there were a referendum tomorrow, he would not sign up for the euro?

Marjorie Mowlam: It is in line with the Prime Minister's position, which is that we will go into Europe and accept the euro when it is in our own economic interest in terms of the five criteria.

As for the NHS--that it is changing for the future can be only positive. We must never forget that the NHS is being rebuilt after the privatisation package that the Conservative Government tried to introduce. We had to

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pull back from the privatisation under the previous Government and start to ensure that the NHS was available for everybody in this country.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): My right hon. Friend will be aware that if we are to exercise control over the arms trade, we need cross-departmental working. In 1996, some time ago, the Select Committee on Trade and Industry recommended cross-departmental working after the BMARC--British Manufacturing and Research Company--report. Are plans in progress for the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the security services to work together so as to get a grip on the arms trade?

Marjorie Mowlam: I do not know the agenda items for the meetings of those groups, but I know that they meet to look at a host of issues. I will report to my hon. Friend by letter as to whether the topic in which he is interested has been covered recently.

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