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Information Technology

4. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): What steps have been taken to improve the delivery of Government IT projects. [101545]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): A major review of the handling of Government IT projects is under way, to identify the pillars that support successful IT projects and make sure that those are put in place in the future. Early work shows that those factors include a full assessment of the risks involved in a project, and clear plans for managing them; strong contingency plans; keeping the scale of a project manageable; making sure that both the supplier and the purchaser clearly understand the aims of the project, and their respective responsibilities; and building capacity for learning lessons from previous projects, both good and bad.

The review will ensure that we learn lessons from past projects, so that future systems run effectively and deliver value for money.

Mr. Todd: I thank my right hon. Friend for that full answer. He has taken out of my mouth many of the phrases connected with successful IT management. May

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I commend to him the remarks of the chief executive of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency, who also highlighted the lack of leadership skills in this area and the need to supplement IT skills in key Departments? That adds to my central point, which is that any project requires clear and accountable leadership. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is right. The points that I listed were not mere words. They describe a process that will dramatically improve the way in which the public sector, and central Government in particular, will produce IT projects in the future. One of the key areas is the skills and knowledge necessary to devise a project, to ensure that it is manageable, and to negotiate with those who will supply the project. My hon. Friend's remarks are well targeted. I give him an assurance that when the Government produce their IT projects strategy in March, what he said will be included in that strategy.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Has the Minister had a chance to look into what happened in the Home Office in relation to the IT project for passports? He will know that that was specified and ordered under the present Government, and that rather than the organisation becoming more efficient, we are told that people will have to pay 30 per cent. extra for their passports to pay for the mess that the Government created. That must surely be investigated by the Cabinet Office and the lessons learned for other projects.

Mr. McCartney: We are prepared not only to learn lessons from what happened in the Passport Agency; part of my work is dealing with the previous Government's projects in 1995, 1996 and 1997, all of which I have to review. In fact, we have to go back as far as 1990 to resolve the problems left by the previous Government. I shall take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman about botched IT projects.

Regulatory Impact Unit

5. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South): If she will make a statement on the work of the regulatory impact unit. [101546]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer): My right hon. Friend recently set out a whole new approach to cutting Government red tape. The unit has an important role in making sure that new regulations are really necessary, do not overlap and are as comprehensible as possible.

The unit also looks at existing regulations and asks the basic question, "Is there an alternative to regulation?"

Mr. Chapman: Given the police's views, reported earlier this week, that their administrative burden was so great that it hampered them in their duties, and, in particular, hindered them from doing front-line work, what plans have the Government to reduce the burden of red tape, especially in the public sector, so that people can spend more time doing their jobs and less time on administration?

Mr. Stringer: My hon. Friend is right; the police spend up to six hours completing initial paperwork for a simple

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arrest. We are worried about that, and, consequently, one of my first tasks in the new year will be to visit a police station--voluntarily--to examine the paperwork involved. We are committed to ensuring that the public sector--schools, hospitals and the police--is not overburdened with red tape. We will try to find ways in which our teachers can spend more time in the classroom, our police can spend more time dealing with crime and our health workers can spend more time improving people's health.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Will the unit have any responsibility for regulating the speed with which Cabinet Ministers write their memoirs after leaving office? The going rate is £350,000.

Mr. Stringer: Cabinet Ministers' memoirs are already covered by rules, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): Does my hon. Friend believe that the work of the unit, which is operating under yet another new name, will mean that, next year, new measures will come before the Select Committee on Deregulation?

Mr. Stringer: As my hon. Friend knows, next year we shall introduce a regulatory reform Bill, which will ensure that his Committee has plenty of work.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): The Minister refers to the announcement on 15 November as "a whole new approach". Why, only three days later, did the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), sign an inadequate regulatory impact assessment of the Representation of the People Bill? What will the regulatory impact unit do about such an assessment, which appears to ignore the credit industry's view that clause 9 of that Bill would cost industry £800 million in the first year and £600 million thereafter. Marie Curie Cancer Care told me that clause 9 would cost it between £100,000 and £150,000 a year. The regulatory impact assessment does not reflect that.

Mr. Stringer: The matter is under review and a full regulatory impact assessment will be finalised.

Anti-drugs Strategy

6. Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): What progress is being made in implementing the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [101548]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): The Government are making good progress towards the tough targets set out in their strategy document, "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain". In June 1999, the national treatment outcome research study found that, two years after treatment, former users' drug use and related offending is significantly reduced. The study supports the strategy's aim of getting offenders into treatment. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary

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announced details of how £20 million has been set aside for the expansion of arrest referral schemes, which are designed to get drug misusers into treatment. That is in addition to the extra £217 million allocated to anti-drugs work as part of the previous spending review.

Charlotte Atkins: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. What efforts are being made--particularly through the school system, in both urban and rural areas--to prevent young people from getting into drugs? I believe that it would be complacent to suggest that there is no drugs problem in rural areas.

Mr. McCartney: The Government are deeply committed to dealing with what is, in effect, a war that is killing our young people. One 12-year-old in 12, one in three 14-year-olds and nearly half all 16-year-olds have tried drugs at least once. More than half of young homeless people use drugs regularly and one in 10 has tested positive for crack after committing an offence. The Government have set out basic targets to assess young people to prevent them from getting involved in drugs and to assist those who have become involved--both with their life style and in treatment programmes--to stop them using drugs, to sustain their education and employment and to give them and their families the space and opportunity to achieve a better, healthier life style.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Although I welcome the successes that the Government have been achieving, how successful have they been in sequestrating funds from known drug runners and dealers? Has further thought been given to marshalling world financial centres to do away with known drugs-funded bank accounts?

Mr. McCartney: We are working internationally to prevent drugs from coming into this country and co-operating across international boundaries on security and intelligence issues. We are also working with developing countries to promote alternatives to growing the poppy in the killing fields. It must be made clear that the 10-year programme introduced by the Government--[Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members are listening because we are talking about the youth of this country: 3,000 have died in the past year alone and that could touch any one of us, so please listen. We must make it clear in the 10-year plan that no drug baron, no drug cartel and no drug dealer can feel safe in carrying on his evil activity in this country. That requires the assistance of everybody in the community working together: the people, local government, the health service, the police, Customs and Excise and, dare I say it, Members of the House.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does the Minister agree that some of the saddest and most intractable examples of people with drug problems are those rough sleepers who are addicted to alcohol and other drugs? Are not the policies of the homelessness Tsarina a great encouragement and should not the House congratulate her on those new, pragmatic, practical and courageous policies?

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Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be making further announcements about investing in the care and social needs of those who are on the street. That includes access not only to accommodation, but to health care, education and training and a range of other measures that will help to bring them back into a sustainable life style.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): Given that about half of all drug treatment and testing orders are being breached and nearly a third have been revoked by the courts, what steps are the Government planning to take to make them more effective than they seem to be at present?

Mr. McCartney: Without that action there would be 100 per cent. failure: no young people would be diverted into treatment programmes; no young people would be diverted from drugs into education and training; and no young people would be directed from the street into protective environments. The programme has been successful and because of it children who would have died in the next few years will live. That should be commended by all Members of the House.

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