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House of Commons

Wednesday 14 February 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


The Minister was asked--


2. Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): If she will make it her policy that all Government Departments and agencies make use of constituents' postcodes in correspondence with hon. Members and others. [148766]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr. Graham Stringer): It is general practice for constituents' full addresses, including the postal code, to be included in ministerial replies to Members of Parliament. It is not, however, in the guide to Departments issued by the Cabinet Office for replies to MPs' letters.

Mr. Barnes: It is not my experience that the postcode is included. If a constituent writes to me from the S45 postcode area, complaining about the loss of 700 jobs at Biwater in Clay Cross, I forward that to the Department of Trade and Industry, seeking a response. Normally, however, the reply from a Department gives the full name and address but not the postcode details. It is administratively convenient to give the postcode details. I hope that that will be put in place. I would much sooner have the jobs, but will settle, on this occasion, for the postcode details.

Mr. Stringer: I take my hon. Friend's point. When we re-issue the guide to Ministers replying to letters sent to Members of Parliament, we shall include the point that postal codes should be included.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey): Will the hon. Gentleman examine not only the postcode issue but an extraordinary development that has taken place since the last election? MPs' letters are often replied to at their constituency office. I regard my work as a Member of Parliament as separate from my work as a Conservative based in the constituency office. To an extraordinary extent, more and more letters are returned to the constituency office, not to the House of Commons. I regard the roles as a little different.

Mr. Stringer: I shall certainly look into the point that the right hon. Lady raises. My expectation is that letters are returned to the Member of Parliament at the address that was on the original letter. However, if that is not the case, I shall look into the matter and ensure that it is considered when the next guide is issued.

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Commonwealth Games

4. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): If she will make a statement on preparations for the Commonwealth games. [148768]

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr. Ian McCartney): I am pleased to say that Manchester 2002 is on target with plans and preparations to host the biggest sporting and cultural celebration ever held in the United Kingdom.

The sports programme has been finalised, and will be the largest ever for a Commonwealth games, with 14 individual and three team sports. Six new venues are being provided for the games, with improvements made to others. The £32 million aquatic centre was opened in October last year, the Bolton arena is nearing completion and is expected to open later this month, and work on the City of Manchester stadium is on target, with completion scheduled for December 2001. Some £18 million of commercial income has been announced and a further sponsorship announcement is expected later this month.

Mr. Grogan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. As a proud Yorkshireman, it is rare for me to wish any event in Manchester well. On this occasion, however, will my right hon. Friend do everything possible to ensure that the games, which will occur in jubilee year, are promoted not just in the north-west but throughout the United Kingdom, so that they will be as inspirational for our sportsmen, sportswomen and youngsters as the Sydney Olympics were in Australia?

Mr. McCartney: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is an international event--a window of opportunity for the United Kingdom--based in the city of Manchester. I am delighted to say that, across the country, Members of Parliament on both sides of the House are fully behind this project.

The national spirit of friendship festival will organise a programme of events in celebration, engaging skills, clubs and communities across the country in the year of Her Majesty's golden jubilee. Sport England is organising youth regional games alongside the Commonwealth games, with events in which up to 250,000 young people can compete. So we are well on schedule for the biggest sporting and cultural event ever held in Britain.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister will be aware that there is concern that the high-speed rail link to the games may not be completed in time. Along with Members on both sides of the House, I hope that it will be. What steps have been taken to ensure that the rail link is completed on schedule?

Mr. McCartney: I think that the hon. Gentleman may be mixing up the transport infrastructure for the Commonwealth games with the proposal for the extension throughout Manchester of the metro system. The metro system is not part of the transport infrastructure for the games, and never has been. [Interruption.] I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman. In terms of getting to the games and getting around the city of Manchester, discussions are taking place with all the transport partnerships, including the buses and trains. There will be a separate, clear transport infrastructure strategy to ensure

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that not only is there access to the games from outside Manchester and the north-west but that people in Manchester have fast and easy access to and from all the venues. In addition, we hope to have a ticketing arrangement that includes transport costs. That will make it easier for people to buy a ticket, get on a tram or bus and go to and from the games.

Drug Arrest Referral Schemes

5. Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): If she will make a statement on the effectiveness of drug arrest referral schemes. [148769]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Marjorie Mowlam): There is clear evidence that arrest referral schemes work. For example, in Barnsley, the custody sergeant's promotion of the scheme has helped to accelerate take-up, and drug users not previously in touch with services are being reached. There has been a steady increase in the number of people seen for initial assessment, and a high rate of those attending for drug treatment. Areas where referrals have been working longer show significant reductions in the amount spent on illegal drugs, and drug-related crime has been reduced by as much as 80 per cent.

Mr. Clapham: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. I thank her for her recent visit to Barnsley, when she was able to hold discussions with the chief executive of Barnsley metropolitan borough council, the co-ordinator of the community partnership and the vice-chair of DAT--the Drug Action Team--Barnsley's drug strategy. From those talks, she will be aware that the drugs referral system is vital in getting young offenders who are on drugs into treatment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a need to strengthen the community support services after treatment? Will she look into how resources might be focused on improving that service to complement the referral system?

Marjorie Mowlam: I certainly recognise what my hon. Friend says--helping young people stay off drugs and giving them support once they have finished treatment is crucial. The best approach to ensuring that that care is provided is to make certain that the partnership that developed during the arrest referral continues afterwards. I hope that system is working in Barnsley; as my hon. Friend pointed out, I heard about it while I was there.

We are also working to encourage young people to stay away from drugs--not just helping with treatment and post-treatment care. I am pleased to announce that an additional £152 million is going into drug education for young people, particularly to identify the most vulnerable and those most at risk so that they can be given special help.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): How soon does the Minister expect that drug arrest referral schemes will have an effect on reducing drug-related crime nationally? Does she agree that, unless the early release of 3,000 drug dealers is halted forthwith, Government targets will be seriously jeopardised?

Marjorie Mowlam: As I have just said, where the schemes are working, there is already a real decrease in

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crime. Arrest referral schemes are being rolled out across the country at present and, by the end of this year--definitely by next year--we hope that most areas will have them. The schemes bring results.

Mrs. Winterton: What about early release?

Marjorie Mowlam: That is a matter for the Home Office. It is important that when people are in prison we give them help to ensure that they come off drugs. Whatever the reason for them being in prison--whether they are dealers or people caught using drugs--the best course is to get them off drugs so that when they get out, they do not continue with the same behaviour.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern that those who enter drug treatment programmes through the judicial system might displace those who do not do so? If that is true, it could send out dangerous signals.

Marjorie Mowlam: Let me assure my hon. Friend that that is not the case. In areas where demand is high or fluctuating, adequate treatment--whether inside or outside the judicial system--is not always available. The national treatment agency that will be set up with £145 million will provide the additional treatment needed. That is being rolled out at present. Local drug teams are putting in their requests, so where there are problems--I readily acknowledge the problems--they will be dealt with.

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