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Mr. Blunkett: There is a big distinction between advising children how to avoid being caught, and advising young people, for instance, on fluid intake and on the way in which they can protect themselves in clubs. That distinction must be made. I agree entirely that the task of education, preventing people from drifting into drugs, building confidence, self-esteem, self-belief and hope for the future and early intervention are all critical in this regard. I do not accept that the evidence on the gateway to hard drugs is overwhelming; otherwise I would not have made the statement that I made. I accept that the evidence is incredibly mixed, as I said earlier.
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on taking head-on what is probably the scourge of our time. However, there are aspects of his speech with which I disagree. I represent a constituency that has very strong communities, but it was almost destroyed in the mid-1990s by drugs, and I have to say that cannabis was a part of that. The only way in which we tackled the situation was by all the agencies coming togetherthe politicians, the police, the medical services, the educationists and the whole community. Using that approach, we reduced violent crime by 56 per cent. within a year.
My main concern todaymy great fearis that much of the Home Secretary's statement will be lost, and the only part of it that will be reported is the downgrading of cannabis. It is almost tantamount to telling a child that he may not have a sweet, but that if he takes it from the drawer behind our back, that is all right. We are sending extremely mixed messages that will worry many communities. I hope that my right hon. Friend will ensure that there is a wide-ranging debate in the House and outside it before the proposals are enacted.
Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to give that assurance, and to offer my congratulations on the enormous amount of work that my hon. Friend put into building the community as a solution, to which I referred in my statement. The risk to which she put herself at one time in doing that, I understand, is greatly respected. Organised criminalsthose intent on destroying the lives of others and making moneyare at the heart of the challenge that we face. I believe that what we are trying to do today by sending the right messagethe proportionate messagewill help. All of us with children of our own deal differently with the commission of an offence or some deed that we know to be wrong. We deal with it differently not just in terms of how often it happens, but what it is. That is what I am trying to do in aiding the police to do their job.
Pete Wishart (North Tayside): I, too, welcome the move to reclassify cannabis from class B to class C, but has the Home Secretary given any thought to how the measure will apply across the United Kingdom? Such are the vagaries of the devolution settlement that drugs laws
Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. That is one of the joys of devolution. As we talk to Ministers in the Executive, we need to ensure that there is clarity and continuity. I am sorry that people in Scotland have reacted in a different fashion, but I hope that we can get very similar messages across so that we are all batting on the same wicket in terms of reducing drug trafficking and drug use.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Will not today be remembered as the day when we started to get it right? The Secretary of State is to be commended for being the first with the courage and sense to change a policy that has failed every year since 1971. Then, there were 1,000 heroin addicts and no drug crime, and drug-related deaths were very rare. Every other Government's continuing with more and harsher prohibition has resulted in 250,000 addicts and record crime and deaths compared with any country in Europe.
The Home Secretary has introduced a policy that changes direction and is pragmatic, rational and courageous. May I urge him to look at the drug injection rooms throughout Europe, which are a very distressing sight? I suggest that he go to the Paulus Kerk in Rotterdam to see people injecting. The needles are clean, and people are in hygienic surroundings with support, education and training for jobs. That is infinitely better than being on the streets.
Mr. Blunkett: I accept that there is a debate to be had about managed prescribing and whether that spills over into unsupervised or alternative prescribing, but I am clear about the fact that it would not help that debate if we allowed people, unmanaged and unsupervised, to set up so-called shooting galleries around the country. That said, as regards the so-called paraphernaliasterilised water, pads and needlesit is critical that we are able to develop policies to minimise harm and to ensure that we take those things out of the hands of the dealers and organised criminals who are destroying people's lives.
Mr. Blunkett: There is a danger in every area of policy that we end up debating with ourselves, those whom we meet, and those who influence us through the newspapers and other media. That is why the first-past-the-post constituency and the constituency work that we do are so crucialwe meet people in our surgeries every day and we have to respond to them.
The hon. Gentleman made a serious point about listening to young people. All Departments need to pull together forums to listen to young people, hear their message, weigh it and give advice where we can. Young people do not necessarily expect diktats or life by exampleGod forbid that we should preach thatbut they expect us to establish a structure having heard what they have to say.
Clive Efford (Eltham): My right hon. Friend has not proposed a perfect solution today, but, sadly, we do not live in a perfect world. Does he agree that those who oppose the proposal deny the sheer scale of the problem of crack and heroin throughout the country? Does he accept that the appointment of Mr. Hellawell, with the ridiculous title of "drugs tsar", raised expectations, which were not met in the communities that we represent? Does he also accept that today is a watershed and that it will also raise expectations?
The success of my right hon. Friend's proposal will be determined by whether the police use the opportunity to target dealers in class A drugs. That is crucial. People know the houses and cars from which people deal. The proposal will be successful only when people see action against those individuals.
Mr. Blunkett: I agree. There will be change on the streets in the years ahead. Expectations are often raised and dashed, and democracy is thus damaged. I have tried to raise expectations not of immediate change but of long-term investment. I was pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I were able to announce additional resources, and I hope that they will be complemented by further resources, consequent on next week's comprehensive spending review.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from a Work and Pensions Minister, or, indeed, from the Minister for Pensions to come to the House to correct a serious error on the record about the treatment of elderly and vulnerable pensioners? On 20 May, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), the Minister for Pensions said:
The Minister for Pensions (Mr. Ian McCartney): In normal circumstances, that would be treated as a partisan, political point. However, the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) has questioned my integrity and I have come to the House to set the matter straight; I have nothing to correct. I thank the hon. Gentleman for at least advising me that he intended to raise the matter in the Chamber.
I want to make it crystal clear that the process of developing the Pension Service and the pension credit has been open and transparent. I have kept hon. Members informed of progress and I shall continue to do that. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions took evidence from the Pension Service on 12 June. After that session, the Committee asked for additional information on a range of issues, including the scope of the local service. The chief executive provided that on 2 July.
Last Friday, the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who chairs the Select Committee, wrote to me personally to ask for fuller clarification of the local service, especially the availability of home visits for Pension Service customers. He requested a response in seven working days. I provided a fuller explanation through the Clerk to the Committee. I sent it well within the deadline, which does not expire for a day or so. I believe that it will fully tackle any remaining queries that the Select Committee may have. I shall place all the correspondence in the Library.
I facilitated a visit to a Pension Service site for the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Select Committee. I have extended a similar invitation to all hon. Members who participated in the debates on the State Pension Credit Act 2002. Furthermore, this week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have written to all hon. Members to set out our plans for presentations to hon.