EU Action Plan on Drugs 2000-2004

[back to previous text]

Mr. Ainsworth: I agree with my hon. Friend, although I believe that subsidiarity is an issue because there is no need to operate EU structures where national structures are more appropriate and where the problem is confined within national borders. However, there is an absolute need for good comparative information, if we are to be effective. We are not the experts or repositories of everything that is good in this country, but where we have got something right, it needs to be applied effectively in those neighbouring countries that have an impact on us. There is far more scope for active co-operation on the supply side, where some progress has been made, although not enough. The drugs supply route has an international dimension. Extensive co-operation is necessary so that intelligence can be provided by Europol to enable us to increase our ability to intervene.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): I hope that the Minister will not mind me asking an obvious question. Is it not nonsense to talk about a European action plan on drugs and importing best practice from other countries when we are so far away from having a common regulatory framework, especially for class B drugs, and when, for example, people can go to Holland and buy cannabis? Are there any plans to harmonise the position on class B drugs throughout the EU, perhaps to bring our policy more in line with Dutch policy? If not, is that not a huge lacuna—a hole at the heart of the European action plan?

Mr. Ainsworth: I do not think that the problem is as central as the hon. Gentleman suggests. There is a problem because we have not yet managed to achieve agreement on minimum and maximum penalties, largely because the Dutch are not happy to accept them in relation to the small-scale supply of cannabis. Difficulties arise because of national decisions, but any objective analysis of what occurs in different jurisdictions in the EU will show that, by and large, there is a convergence of policy, although there are still differences.

Just because a different approach is taken on one drug, it does not mean that the Dutch authorities do not agree with us on the need to intervene effectively against the supply of cocaine from South America and heroin from Afghanistan and the need to share best practice on treatment and harm minimisation. Much can be done that is not controversial, but information about the different methodologies must be freely available to member states.

Column Number: 11

Paul Flynn: Has the Minister had a chance to study the major report on the drug abuse reduction exercise in the United States, which followed up the conclusions of all other independent schemes, including the drug abuse reduction treatment scheme, a massive billion dollar anti-drug education programme? The report's conclusion is that anti-drug education does not have a beneficial effect on reducing drug use. As we will embark on spending money in Europe and this country, is it not time to evaluate things that the Government once celebrated such as Project CHARLIE—chemical abuse resolution lies in education? That is an extraordinary name, but it is what the project is called, believe it or not. Are there any independent reports on that that would justify spending a penny on anti-drugs education?

Mr. Ainsworth: I have not read the report to which my hon. Friend refers but I am sure that he is winging it on its way to me or that he is getting someone else to do that. I am more than happy to read the report. However, I have heard comments about several drug education programmes, and my hon. Friend's conclusion is different from the one that I, or the majority of people, would draw. He seems to conclude that education cannot make a difference. We cannot draw that conclusion just because particular programmes have failed. I do not understand how we can effectively reduce the drug problem in our country by addressing simply supply and demand, without using an education strand.

I accept that the education strand that has been pursued has not been as effective as it might have been. We need good education that has an impact and is useful. The message must be good and credible, and delivered effectively. If we get to that position, the education strand of any drug reduction programme will be a vital component. I do not draw the same conclusion as my hon. Friend.

Simon Hughes: I tend to the view that the Minister expressed rather than that expressed by the hon. Member for Newport, West. What is the Government's view on whether the balance in the action plan between reducing supply and concentrating on education and treatment is right? It might concentrate, understandably, on what Europe can do to reduce demand and to control supply but it does not concentrate as much as might be useful on intelligent, discriminatory information education, rather than ''Just say no'' education, and on ensuring that treatment works for people and gives an early intervention to get people out of the drug cycle. Are the Government sympathetic to that view? Do they think that the action plan could be amended to tilt the balance in favour of things that we can definitely do rather than things through which we probably cannot achieve much?

Mr. Ainsworth: I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman's intentions, but the documents expose the fact that the reverse is the case. The position in the action plan on demand reduction is probably more advanced and that is not necessarily the area in which the European Union can add value. We need more progress on supply reduction and on

Column Number: 12

intercepting criminal activity. We must put that right, and we could use the mid-term review to do that.

My comments on education were about our domestic policy as well as Europe-wide domestic policy. We should explore the amount of cross-border co-operation that will be necessary for education and how much commonality can be agreed because, as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) rightly said, there is a different emphasis in some jurisdictions. We should be prepared to look abroad to see where policies have been effective.

Mr. Hopkins: I have looked in vain through the documents for scope for radical actions and the possibility of experimentation that will actually work. Following on from my hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) and for Newport, West, will it be possible for radical ideas that would work to be injected into the debate, at least by Britain? Are some of the solutions that might work not considered because they are not politically saleable, rather than because they are not considered intelligent?

Mr. Ainsworth: Is there any chance that the radical ideas supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West will be injected into the plan by the British Government? I do not think so, as my hon. Friend fully appreciates. We jump to too many conclusions if we assume that the route we have chosen cannot work.

Let us be clear: we have not had a drugs strategy for very long that has attempted to tackle both ends—supply and demand—in a systematic way and in conjunction with each other. A marked lack of treatment capacity in this country has undermined our ability to reduce demand. Such issues are being addressed and it is the Government's view that policies need time to take effect. The frustration of hon. Members who jump to the conclusion that we need to do something different and go down the legalisation route is understandable to a degree, but is not shared. We must persevere with a comprehensive attack on all aspects of the problem and we must be prepared to stick at it. It can and will bear fruit.

Mr. Hawkins: May I say how pleased I am once again to hear the Minister wholly repudiate the well-known views of arch legalisers such as the hon. Member for Newport, West? Are the Government prepared seriously to examine the experience of the Swedish Government in tackling the drugs problem? From my own investigations, over several years, Sweden is the one country that has had significant success, especially with drug education, contrary to the hon. Gentleman's views. The Swedes' advantage is that there is a much lower use of drugs in Sweden, because of the national consensus running throughout the establishment, from the royal family downwards. When talking about injecting clear targets, does the Minister have in mind the sort of targets there are in Sweden? One analysis of Sweden's drug problem states:

    ''A general condemnation of drug use as something 'evil' is seen as a crucial prerequisite for a successful drug policy. In 1999, for the fourth time in a row, a big conference and exhibition, ''Sweden against drugs'' was held. It was opened by the Queen of Sweden,

Column Number: 13

    with the Minister of Social Affairs as one of the key speakers, and attracted almost 4,000 visitors during 3 days of seminars and discussion.''

Do the current British Government intend to benefit from the Swedish experience in looking for clear targets?

Mr. Ainsworth: I know that the hon. Gentleman and the leader of his party visited Sweden some time ago to great fanfare. I listened in vain for the outcome of that visit in the speeches made on the subject last week at their party conference. I could see no difference between what they proposed and the strategy adopted by the Government. I am interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman will say anything radically different when we begin the debate.

There is evidence that some countries with tough restrictive regimes have low levels of drug use and some have high ones. There is also evidence that the adoption of a liberal regime can lead to both high and low levels of drug use. Levels of drug use are not solely determined by the methods employed to tackle them: fashion, background and culture are also factors. Simplistic comparisons of our country with Sweden that do not take a broader view do not take us anywhere.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): Mention has been made that Turkey is unlikely to gain European Union membership. What discussions have there been with other aspiring EU members about drug strategy and policy, especially the old eastern bloc countries?

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 17 October 2002