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Constituency Visit (Blackpool)

Q7. [65836] Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South): When he next plans to visit Blackpool.

The Prime Minister: I will visit Blackpool in the autumn.

Mr. Marsden: May I assure my right hon. Friend that he will be warmly welcomed back to a Blackpool that has had three sure start schemes, one of the best-used NHS walk-in centres in the country, and major sea defences all completed in the last 12 months? May I also remind him, however, that Blackpool has 11 million visits a year, and that those visits are not fully funded by the money that is given for policing, health and social services? Given that we are having a fundamental review of local government finance, will he at least talk to his colleagues about this factor, which disadvantages Blackpool and other seaside towns?

The Prime Minister: Let me congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on the significant advances that they have made on the facilities in Blackpool and on the changes in schools and health, which are important for them. On visitors' costs, he will know that there is a consultation at the moment; some options include provision for this, and some do not. This is obviously a matter that we will consider very carefully, but, at this time, I cannot give him a determined view.


Q8. [65837] Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are 6,500 parents, including 30 in the Medway towns, struggling to bring up their children in bed-and-breakfast hotels, where they are forced to share a bathroom, toilet and kitchen? Is it not the case that compassionate words are simply not good enough for these children? Will he give a commitment

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that the £35 million provided to tackle this issue will be continued in the comprehensive spending review so that we can put an end, once and for all, to this hellhole-type accommodation that blights the lives of our children?

The Prime Minister: We have set a time limit of March 2004 by which to ensure that no homeless family with children is in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for more than six weeks. My hon. Friend is right to say that we have put £35 million into tackling this. Obviously, he will have to wait for the comprehensive spending review to find out the details of that. To return to the first question that I was asked this afternoon, the other thing that is necessary is to increase the levels of affordable housing and social housing in London, the south-east and elsewhere, because that is one of the things that will relieve the pressure on homelessness and avoid what I agree is the wholly unacceptable situation in which families are in bed-and-breakfast accommodation for long periods of time.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim): Is the Prime Minister aware that all the members of the Ulster Democratic Unionist party in this House have received a warning from the police of a threat to their lives? Does he know that each one of us has had attempts on our lives in the past, by both bomb and bullet? Is he aware that the authorities have not only refused, in some cases, to make any provision of security for these Members of Parliament, but lavishly given security provision to many members of paramilitary organisations? Further to my letter to the Prime Minister of 4 July, delivered by hand, will he now agree to meet the Democratic Unionist Members of the House to discuss this issue?

The Prime Minister: I shall be perfectly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and his delegation—of course I will. In relation to protection, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has just indicated to me that, if the hon. Gentleman has particular concerns, he would be happy to meet him to discuss them. We

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obviously put forward protection for people on the basis of the advice that we receive, and I cannot really say any more than that about it. I do not think that it would be very sensible of me to speculate on levels of threat. I would simply say that, for all of us who have been Members of Parliament for many years, but not in Northern Ireland, it is sometimes difficult to understand the degree of courage that it takes to be a politician of any democratic description there. Even though the hon. Gentleman and I disagree on many things, I think that he and all his colleagues in the Ulster Unionist party and elsewhere who are democratic politicians deserve our thanks for persevering with the democratic commitment in the face of such threats.

Q9. [65838] Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East): Given the Prime Minister's visit to Dundee earlier in the year, I am sure that he shares my joy at the announcement two weeks ago by a Canadian company called Arius 3D on the creation of 250 high-tech jobs in Dundee. The decision was taken, according to the president of that company, on the basis of Dundee's growing international reputation as a centre of innovation and expertise in life sciences and other technologies. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the two universities and to companies such as NCR and Michelin, which have done so much to give Dundee that position and the growing added value from such jobs?

The Prime Minister: I well remember my visit to Dundee and to Cyclacel, which is a new technology company in my hon. Friend's constituency. The two things that are most important at the moment are, first, carrying on the relationship between universities and business—Dundee university and Abertay university have been pioneers in the link between business and universities—and, secondly, the significance of science and biotechnology for the future of this country. I hope that the investment that we are making in science and the Government's strong commitment to science ensure that many more companies come to my hon. Friend's constituency and to others up and down the country.

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Speaker's Statement

3.32 pm

Mr. Speaker: I have a statement to make. Several Members have written to me expressing concern that Members of the House who were or who are members of the RMT union might have been, or might be, subject to improper pressure on the part of the union. I have considered whether such information as has been brought to my attention justifies me in giving precedence to a motion to refer the union's actions to the Standards and Privileges Committee. On the information that I now have, I am unable to give Members the precedence they seek.

Let me, however, draw the attention of all Members to part of the House's resolution of 6 November 1995, which states that

The full text of the resolution is set out on page 33 of the code of conduct.

No evidence has been submitted to me that arrangements between Members and the union have been of that contractual nature. The House expects at all times that Members will take the greatest care to ensure that their relationships with all outside bodies will be in strict conformity with our rules.

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Does it relate to this matter?

Sir Brian Mawhinney: Yes. I thank you for that ruling, Mr. Speaker, as one of those who wrote to you. Right hon. and hon. Members will have heard your judgment. Would we be right to assume that your statement should be seen as a warning to outside bodies to stay well clear of any behaviour that might raise even the suspicion of a breach of privilege in the minds of hon. and right hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker: Those bodies must interpret my statement as they think fit.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am one of the other Members who drew this matter to your attention. Can you confirm that the letter you have seen is the reply to the union on behalf of a number of Members of the House, but that you have not yet seen the letter from the union to Members, which made the apparent threats to which the Leader of the House and other Members have referred?

Will you also confirm, Mr. Speaker, that following my request for the full correspondence to be put in the Library—a request to which the Leader of the House agreed—only part of the correspondence was put there?

Mr. Speaker: I will not go into detail about the correspondence that I have received. That last matter is a matter not for me, but for the Leader of the House.

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Drugs Strategy

3.35 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): With permission, I wish to make a statement responding to the Home Affairs Select Committee's report on drugs. In doing so, I wish to make it clear that I will publish a substantial update of the 1998 drugs strategy this autumn.

On 23 October, in my evidence to the Select Committee, I set out a number of key themes that are reflected in the Committee's report. I am grateful for the excellent work done by the Chair and members of the Committee, and to all who have assisted both the Committee and me, including my drugs unit. I also thank the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and the many agencies and authoritative bodies that have contributed.

I cannot imagine that there is a Member of Parliament who does not wish to ensure that those whom we represent are free of the misery that is caused by drug abuse. Class A drugs are the scourge of modern time, and are potential killers. Over the last 30 years the huge increase in the use of drugs, particularly hard drugs, has caused untold damage to the health, life chances and well-being of individuals. That has undermined family life, fuelled criminality and damaged communities. The estimated social and economic costs of drug misuse are well in excess of £10 billion. Around three quarters of crack and heroin users claim to be committing crime to feed their habit.

I am grateful for the considerable progress made by my predecessors. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health for the announcement that we are to make today of an additional investment, totalling £183 million over the next three years, in treatment services and harm minimisation.

The number of people beginning treatment has increased by an average of 8 per cent. each year since 1998. In 2000, seizures worth £780 million were made. Last year 3.4 tonnes of heroin and 10.9 tonnes of cocaine were seized, which exceeded the targets.

Today I want to inform the House of the overall direction of the review of the drugs strategy, and the Committee's report. There will be an increased focus on class A drugs. The message is clear: drugs are dangerous. We will educate, persuade and, where necessary, direct young people away from their use. We will not legalise or decriminalise any drugs, nor do we envisage a time when that would be appropriate.

As recommended by the Committee, there will be a better focus on those whose drug addiction causes the most harm to them and to society—those described as problematic drug users. In the last two years we have established the National Treatment Agency, and invested more than half a billion pounds. We have begun to fill the gap in services relating to crack addiction.

We will continue the rapid expansion of offenders' referral for treatment. We accept that expansion in managed prescribing for heroin addiction will be necessary for the most appropriate cases—that there must be the right treatment for the right patient. But more than treatment is required: after-care and rehabilitation must become part of the package of care for those ending

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treatment or leaving prison. Harm minimisation will be given greater priority. However, in the form in which the term is normally used, we are not persuaded that shooting galleries would be helpful at this time. We will use the powers in the Proceeds of Crime Bill to confiscate the assets of those whose lifestyle depends on the misery of, and danger caused to, others, and to target the regional or "middle" drug market.

We will clamp down on dealers who prey on the young. We will increase the sentences for trafficking and dealing in class B and C drugs to 14 years. This will avoid sending mixed messages to those dealing in more than one drug, and will establish a new lead in Europe-wide discussions. However, we do not agree that it is necessary to introduce supply for gain offences. We will support parents and families to help them cope with the effects of addiction. In line with the Committee's recommendation, we will ensure that carers and families are involved in the development of services.

We will launch an education campaign, targeted at young people, with the message that all drugs are harmful and class A drugs are killers. We are not persuaded that ecstasy should be downgraded: it kills. However, the message to young people and families must be open, honest and believable. That is why I asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the classification of cannabis. It has recommended that the current classification is disproportionate in relation to the harmfulness and nature of other controlled drugs. It was clear, and so am I, that cannabis is a potentially harmful drug, and should remain illegal. However, it is not comparable with crack, heroin or ecstasy. The council made it clear that greater differentiation between drugs that kill and drugs that cause harm would be both scientifically justified and educationally sensible.

I have considered this advice, along with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. I have taken account of the Metropolitan police experiment in Lambeth, which has seen a 10 per cent. increase in arrests of class A drug dealers. The Metropolitan police will today announce that the pilot will be adjusted, and that the new model will be applicable across London in the coming months. I can tell the House that I will seek to reclassify cannabis as a class C drug by July of next year.

Let me be clear: cannabis possession remains a criminal offence. I am determined that the police be able to control the streets and uphold order. That is why I will instate the ability to arrest for possession where public order is threatened, or where children are at risk. The Association of Chief Police Officers will shortly issue national guidance to ensure that in the vast majority of cases, officers will confiscate the drug and use warnings. Police time saved will be refocused on class A drugs.

Where communities are strong, drugs do not take hold. Drug-related crime and disorder devastates communities. That is why last year, we launched the communities against drugs fund, which will provide £220 million over three years to enable communities to become part of the solution. It is the vulnerable who suffer most through drugs, and statutory and voluntary agencies, families and communities all have a role to play in protecting them.

Through education, harm minimisation, treatment, and tough action against dealers and traffickers, we have a winning strategy. It will require positive commitment, rather than grandstanding. Last October, I called for a

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mature and intelligent debate, and in making today's statement, I hope that we continue that sensible approach. I commend the statement to the House.

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