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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1093—continued

John Mann (Bassetlaw): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hawkins: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman after I have given way to my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron). However, I should pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is a relatively new Member of the House. He has done much valuable work that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has also publicly praised.

We want any changes to the law or to the Government's targets to be evidence based. I know that the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and his Select Committee would be clear in saying that there should not be a rush to judgment on such important matters.

Mr. Cameron: Does my hon. Friend not think that there is some cause for celebration? Following the Select Committee report, which puts a great emphasis on treatment, both sides of the House are emphasising treatment. The Government are doing that through the ditching of their many targets, and we are doing so through the talk of mandatory treatment. Is that not something to celebrate as we go ahead to deal with this difficult problem?

Mr. Hawkins: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. He is a member of the Select Committee that produced this valuable report. We need to ensure that we have real treatment. In answers given to me and to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset at recent Home Office questions, the Government have used the wholly misleading figure of 118,000 people in contact with treatment agencies. The Chairman of the Select Committee and I know perfectly well—evidence to the Select Committee makes it clear—that being in contact with a treatment agency is vastly different from receiving the intensive rehabilitation that my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, many other members of the Select

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Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and I are talking about. We mean real intensive rehabilitation for many more people.

John Mann: I am a little confused, because the Conservative party website says that the Government's treatment plans

Precisely how much residential rehabilitation does the hon. Gentleman think should be provided? The Leader of the Opposition suggested that it should be available for everybody and the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) suggested, in response to me, that it should be provided to many. How many residential rehabilitation places does the hon. Gentleman think should be provided?

Mr. Hawkins: We have made it clear from the Dispatch Box—in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has done this—that, as a start, an incoming Conservative Administration would increase tenfold the number of real intensive rehabilitation places from whatever figure is inherited at that time. A tenfold increase is an exponential increase, and that is what is needed. In the end, any Government addressing the problem of people seriously addicted to class A drugs will have to ensure that they work towards intensive rehabilitation being available to everyone who needs it.

John Mann: I have a copy of the Conservative implementation paper on home affairs, and it specifies in the small print that the 10 per cent. relates only to juvenile class A drug addicts. That is obviously a much smaller figure than the one that the hon. Gentleman quoted. He mentioned a 10 per cent. increase—I am sorry, a tenfold increase—on the current figure, but the small print to the document states:

It therefore assumes a fivefold increase. I seek clarification. Are we talking about a fivefold or tenfold increase? Is the document or the hon. Gentleman right?

Mr. Hawkins: The hon. Gentleman became confused between 10 per cent. and tenfold in his second intervention. We have said tenfold, and we have also said—this is common ground with the Minister—that there needs to be a particular focus on young adults because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset has put it, they are joining the conveyor belt to crime. It is most important that the number of those addicted to hard drugs should not continue to increase, because they are so disproportionately involved in acquisitive crime to fund their drug habit.

Another issue on which the Government need to do much more is that of drug drivers. The Minister knows that I have been pursuing that for some time. Last week I was fortunate to be to invited Hampshire constabulary to speak at the launch of their Christmas and new year campaign against both drink drivers and drug drivers. They had seen my speeches on drug drivers, our work on

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getting information from all police forces in England, Scotland and Wales and the work by my researchers, Rhiannon Sadler and Anarkali Moonesinghe, on getting information from coroners. All the police forces and coroners said that insufficient information was collected nationally about the number of deaths and serious injuries that are caused by those who drive when addicted to drugs.

Sometimes it is a matter of trying to disentangle whether someone has been drinking and taking drugs. We have at last acquired a clear picture, which is, I am afraid, that the Government do not have enough information. There is also a clear lack of joined-up government. Whereas the old Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions had acquired a well written report from the Transport and Road Research Laboratory at Crowthorne, just up the road from my constituency, on the huge increase in the number of fatal and non-fatal accidents caused by drivers under the influence of drugs, the Home Office did not use that information as an impetus to start collecting figures. Almost every coroner who responded to my office said, XWe need more information. It has to be collected centrally. Only the Home Office can do it."

Some police forces, such as Northamptonshire and Strathclyde, are involved in pioneering work and have started their own projects. Hampshire police were launching their new Christmas and new year campaign called XAre you FIT to drive?" FIT is an acronym and refers to the test that the Hampshire police will use, which they demonstrated to me and the media. What was most moving about the launch at the Hampshire county constabulary headquarters at Netley last week was the contribution by the victim of a drug addicted driver. She had made a remarkable recovery thanks to her courage and her family's support and was prepared to appear before the media—television, radio and the press—to say what had happened to her when she was unwise enough to get into a car driven by someone who was under the influence of drugs. The driver had also had vastly insufficient sleep, having been up for days at the Glastonbury rock music festival. As a result, people in the accident were killed.

The young lady who spoke at the launch was lucky enough to survive and I was impressed by the courage she displayed by standing up and saying, XI want to persuade other people not to have anything to do with drug drivers." That is fine in terms of influencing passengers of drug drivers, but what about those entirely innocent victims who are driving lawfully along a road and are hit head on by a drug abusing driver? They have no opportunity to avoid the problem but are nevertheless the casualties of it.

The Government have presided over a huge increase in drugs use, as confirmed by their figures. It is clear that something is going wrong. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South referred to a consistent failure of policy since the second world war. I agree that the figures speak for themselves. Drug use has increased tremendously over those years. In recent years, however, it is not so much a case of things being tried and found wanting, but of things being found difficult and not tried properly. That is where I part company with the hon. Gentleman and his Committee's report.

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When the hon. Gentleman talks about the reclassification of ecstasy, he should ask the parents of the late Leah Betts and the relatives of the other victims of ecstasy what they think.

Mr. Mullin: I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman took the subject seriously. I think I made it clear that the arguments about ecstasy—whether one thinks it a good or a bad thing—are based purely on the science. We have taken the advice of scientists on which category it should fall into. Were it to be reclassified into class B, the penalties available would still be great and would leave those who use it in no doubt about society's disapproval.

Mr. Hawkins: I assure the hon. Gentleman that I take the issue seriously. We will have to beg to differ. Unfortunately, reclassification sends the wrong signals. I think he will agree with me on one thing at least. When we talk about sentences available, we are, of course, referring to maximum sentences. He will appreciate that my practical experience in the courts is that people rarely get the maximum sentence. We are dealing with signals that the Government have sent.

Simon Hughes: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Home Affairs Committee recommendation is worthy of support because we need to ensure that the relative harm is understood? The evidence shows that heroin and crack cocaine are the big killers. They are the nasties. Ecstasy occasionally kills people. Cannabis has killed no one. The logic of the Committee's recommendation and the logic of the view taken by the Liberal Democrats, which I hope will eventually percolate through to the Conservative Benches, is that it is nonsense for ecstasy to be in the same league as heroin and crack cocaine, or for cannabis to be in the same league as either.

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