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Drug-related Crime

10. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What recent advice he has given to chief constables in respect of reducing drug-related crime. [21153]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Chief constables are responsible for determining what action should be taken to reduce drug-related crime in their areas, taking account of the nature of the problem and other local circumstances. The Home Office issued advice on measures to reduce drug-related crime through a circular on the communities against drugs programme sent to chief officers in August 2001. Advice was also issued in October on the piloting and evaluation of the drug- testing provisions that the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 introduced. General guidance on tackling drug-related crime is also available in the communities against drugs toolkit on the Home Office crime reduction website.

Mr. Chaytor: Does the guidance specifically refer to prioritising either drug dealers or drug users? Is there a

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tension for local police commanders between the need to attack the root cause of the problem by tackling drug dealers, and the need to improve their crime reduction figures? It is easier to meet crime reduction targets by dealing with drug users.

Mr. Ainsworth: As my hon. Friend knows from my previous answer, we have repeatedly tried to ensure that priority is given to tackling class A drugs. We expect the police and the chief constables to pay the highest regard to the more serious crimes of trafficking and possession with intent to supply, rather than simply possession. Action must be proportionate. Class A drugs should be at the top of the list, and trafficking in any illegal drug is obviously far more serious than possession.

Active Community Unit

11. Phil Hope (Corby): If he will make a statement on the work of his Department's active community unit. [21154]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): The Government want active, confident and self-reliant communities that are in control of their lives and well-being. To achieve that, we need to revitalise communities and build social cohesion so that everybody has a sense of belonging and

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that their views matter. The active community unit, in co-operation and partnership with Whitehall and the voluntary and community sector, drives that work forward.

Phil Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for her reply and for attending the parliamentary youth hearings that I chaired in the House last month. I draw her attention to the views of those young people, many of whose programmes are funded by the active community unit. They said that they wanted to be involved directly in the decision making of voluntary sector, local government and central Government programmes. Does my hon. Friend agree that involving young people directly in planning and providing those services means that they will be better able to meet young people's needs? Will she promote that principle throughout Government?

Angela Eagle: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. The remarkable thing about the hearings that I attended the other day was how committed, focused and talented the young people involved were. The difference that they were making to their communities was also remarkable. Too often we see young people as a problem, but they are our future, and we need to engage them not only in the political process but in the process of building, changing and strengthening their communities. We all gain when they realise that society is made better by their own involvement.

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European Council (Laeken)

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement on the European Council which took place in Belgium on 14 and 15 December.

The fight against terrorism remains uppermost in the minds of all the members of the European Union. There remains unanimous support for the military action which has been taken in Afghanistan and a determination to continue our efforts to root out the al-Qaeda terrorist network. The recent video of bin Laden demonstrates his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt whatever. It brought home the sheer evil of bin Laden and his followers, and their sick pleasure in the murders that they have committed. I do not think that anyone can now dispute that ridding the world of the al-Qaeda terrorist network is a job that is in the interests of us all.

The European Council welcomed the Bonn agreement between the Afghan groups. It gave strong support for the deployment of an international security assistance force authorised by the United Nations Security Council, as called for by the Afghan parties in the Bonn agreement. The details of such a force must await the outcome of the meetings in Kabul between an international military team led by Major General McColl and the interim authorities in Afghanistan. But I can tell the House that Britain is willing, in principle, to lead such a force, which is likely to comprise troops from various countries, European and others.

Friday's meeting of potential troop-contributing nations was attended by a number of EU countries as well as Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Jordan, Malaysia, Turkey and the United States. The British contingent is likely to be up to 1,000 to 1,500, though I stress that that has not yet been decided. We expect the resolution to be passed by the United Nations Security Council later this week. The United States has given its full help and support for the security force, and we would hope to have lead elements in place shortly.

The force was a critical part of the agreement reached in Bonn on 5 December for the establishment of a provisional Government in Afghanistan. There has been a brilliant victory over the Taliban, who have ceased to be the Afghan Government, and that, of course, is a welcome liberation, but we know that that is only the start of enabling Afghanistan to cease being a failed state and to become a responsible partner in the region. The situation in Afghanistan remains fragile; the new political process remains in its infancy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to ensure that, as the war is being won, we play our part in securing the peace.

The European Council also took stock of European security and defence policy. We are determined to finalise soon the EU's arrangements with NATO. That will enhance the EU's capability to carry out crisis management operations over the full range of the so-called Petersberg tasks.

The European Council met amid continuing and appalling violence in the middle east. In our view, and that of all our partners, the only basis for durable peace in the middle east is full recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security, together with the establishment

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of a viable Palestinian state. The members of the European Council will continue to do all that they can individually and through the good offices of the Secretary-General, Javier Solana, to whom I pay tribute, to help create the circumstances in which the violence can be halted and the dialogue resumed.

The European Council's other main purpose was to prepare for discussion on the future of Europe. It now looks increasingly likely that 10 new countries will join the European Union in 2004, and we welcome that. Their accession will contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in Europe—ours as well as theirs. It is obvious, however, that the European Union cannot, with 25 and more members, work in the same way, with precisely the same constitution, as it has with 15. Decision making will need to be streamlined, and EU laws will need increasingly to take the form of framework legislation, with the details of implementation left to the member states.

It is already the task of the European Council to give strategic direction to the European Union as a whole. But carrying that strategic direction into practice will mean looking again at the size and role of the Commission, reviewing the workings of the existing presidency of the Union, which at present changes hands every six months, and managing the business of the various specialist councils in a more coherent way. That is why, at Nice a year ago, when we opened the way for enlargement, we also agreed that there had to be another intergovernmental conference in 2004, and why we are now going to set up a convention to prepare for that conference by detailed examination of all those issues.

The basic agenda for the conference was of course agreed at Nice. The sort of questions that will need to be asked are set out in the declaration of Heads of Government issued at Laeken at the weekend. That declaration, which I welcome, acknowledges not only the contribution that the European Union has made to peace, stability and prosperity in all our countries, but the extent to which it has to deliver results to the citizens of Europe on jobs, the single market, the fight against crime, a safe environment and so on.

The British view, widely shared, is that while it is right to co-operate ever more closely with our partners, democratic accountability is fundamentally and ultimately rooted in the member state. As the declaration says, what European citizens expect is

The Laeken declaration, and the convention, give us the opportunity to take a serious look at the division of competencies between the Union and the member states. For the first time in the Union's history, we shall be looking at the prospect of restoring some tasks to the member states. We now also have the chance to open up the European institutions to greater public scrutiny, and the role that we want to see our Parliament play in policing that process is now explicitly recognised.

The convention, which has now been established, will be chaired by the former French President, Mr. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who, when President of France, played an instrumental role in bringing the European Council into being. The convention will work for a year. Each national Parliament will have two representatives as members of the convention. The regions will be represented as

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observers and there will be ample opportunities for views from all sections of public opinion to be fed into the proceedings.

Consultations will, of course, be held in the usual way on who the parliamentary representatives will be. The convention will present options to Heads of Government who will determine whether those options should lead to changes in the treaty. Those ultimate treaty changes will be made by unanimous agreement of the Governments concerned.

In the aftermath of 11 September, the European Council welcomed the agreement that has been reached on a European arrest warrant. We also agreed to give fresh impetus to delivering our objectives on asylum and illegal immigration. That will mean return agreements with third countries and a new agreement on handling asylum seekers, including common standards on asylum procedures and reception. We have agreed to improve co-operation on our external border controls.

Those are all areas where we need common action within Europe, and the strength of a united European approach in dealing with the rest of the world. I hope that we shall see agreements concluded in the coming year on all those points.

Once again at this Council, Britain played its full part constructively and achieved the outcome it desired. Europe faces huge challenges ahead, as it enlarges to 25 and, over time, to more than 30 countries covering territory from the Atlantic to the Black sea, with 500 million citizens in the EU. Those challenges are clear: over the completion of the single market with a single currency; over economic reform; over making European security and foreign policy work; over giving Europe the institutional framework to allow it to function effectively.

Those debates matter to Europe, but they also matter fundamentally to Britain. The days of isolationism are gone, rightly. Our role now is to be a leading partner in shaping the Europe of the future, not following reluctantly the shape moulded by others. We are playing that role now. We will continue to do so.

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