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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1102—continued

Paul Flynn: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: I want to make some progress, but I shall try to give way to my hon. Friend a little later.

There can be few more deserving cases than those of parents, carers and families. The distress and disruption that drug misuse causes to families cannot be imagined if it has not been experienced. More support will be provided for families and carers so that those affected can easily access advice, help, counselling and mutual support. We will be looking substantially to improve the support given to families locally.

Young people will remain a key priority. We will focus on preventing young people from taking and misusing drugs through a major new education campaign to drive home the risks. There will be support for young people most at risk and increased outreach and community treatment and support. That will include referrals to treatment and care through the youth justice system, so that by 2006, we will be supporting 40,000 to 50,000 vulnerable young people a year.

We will take on the dealers and protect the communities from the harmful flow of drugs on to the streets. That will include strengthening enforcement action at both street level and the middle market level.

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We will disrupt supplies at all stages in the supply chain. The police need and deserve the full support of the other agencies and partners at a local level. We need co-ordinated activity by local partners to tackle drug supply at street level and build community resistance to dealers and their crimes.

An awful lot has been said about Lambeth—a lot of factual stuff and also a lot of nonsense. In the past few years, we have managed to put together in Lambeth a coalition of the drug action team, the local authority and the police that has had considerable success against the open crack market that existed in the centre of Brixton. It has shut crack houses, arrested considerable numbers of dealers and pressured people into treatment in order to prevent them from going elsewhere and dispersing the problem to other boroughs. A lot of good work has been done in Lambeth in the past few months and it should be recognised.

Mr. Hawkins: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I am surprised that he wants to give such a paean of praise to what has happened in south London. I do not think that the residents see it that way.

I wanted to intervene with regard to what the Minister said about support for addicts. Am I correct in my understanding that part of what the Government are now proposing in their new strategy is that a licence will be issued to hundreds of GPs to prescribe heroin to anyone who is a heroin junky and whom the GP thinks might benefit? Is that the Government's position on heroin?

Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Gentleman could shelve his petty prejudices for just a second and participate in a factual debate, we would all be better off, as would his party.

Our policy on the injection of heroin is very clear. We believe that, for serious opium addiction, methadone will overwhelmingly remain at the centre of treatment. It is a drug that the profession is used to working with, and comfortable with. It is also the most appropriate drug in many instances. There is, however, a lack of confidence in parts of the medical profession in regard to the prescription of heroin. In some cases, certainly those in which people have failed to respond to any other treatments that have been offered, it is appropriate. We are working with the profession now, and we have consensus around some guidelines that may give GPs the confidence to use diamorphine when it is the most appropriate drug to prescribe. It would be very sad if the hon. Gentleman were against that. What he has said also seems to go against what the shadow Home Secretary appears to be advocating.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Since the publication of the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on drugs, and of the Government's response, the son of a close friend of mine has died in circumstances that suggested that he had been injecting heroin, although that has not finally been determined. May I ask my hon. Friend whose door we should knock on when people with drug problems—and those who are actually

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addicted—come into our surgeries and we cannot get them into detox centres or get them the treatment that they require?

Mr. Ainsworth: We cannot grow these services to the level that is needed overnight. That simply is not possible. We need to grow the work force and the expertise, and we need to increase the quality of that work force. In the first instance, my hon. Friend needs to talk to his local drug action team. We need to provide the funding to his local DAT, so that it can grow the treatment to deal with the problems that exist in his community and many others. We have established the National Treatment Agency, which will help us to monitor the performance of his local DAT—and the others—so as to ensure it is hitting its waiting list targets, and that it has the most appropriate treatments in place to deal with the addicts in his community.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. That is what annoys me about the policy that is coming across the opposite Dispatch Box, which is that only residential rehabilitation amounts to treatment. In many circumstances, people do not need such rehabilitation, and it would be inappropriate to provide it. Sometimes a drug treatment may be appropriate, sometimes counselling. In the case of really chaotic drug users, it is a question, in the first instance, of getting hold of them, establishing contact and settling them down, so that we can start to deal with their problems. Dealing with addiction is a far more complex issue than the hon. Gentleman is prepared to acknowledge.

Paul Flynn: Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I was by one of the claims made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins)? We were told, in the all-party group on drugs misuse a few weeks ago, that the estimate of the number of people who had problems with addiction was 320,000—a higher figure than we had ever heard before—and that the number of those receiving some form of treatment was 118,000, also a substantial figure. The hon. Gentleman says that he will increase the amount of people in treatment tenfold, to 1 million, which is three times the number of addicted people. Can the hon. Gentleman be treated seriously?

Mr. Ainsworth: I thought that too when I first heard the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has some figures that are a lot nearer to what the Conservatives are saying, which suggest that the number of people in treatment that they are planning to increase tenfold involves only a fraction of the total. I think that they are planning to increase tenfold 2,000 residential rehabilitation places for young people, which would give us about 20,000 places. I do not know what they intend to do with the rest of the problematic drug users, but those plans are a little different from what I first thought they were, and from what my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) thinks they are.

John Mann: May I assist my hon. Friend with the figures, as I have them in front of me? The proposal involves 8,618 residential places, which would be available only to 11 to 19-year-olds. This is described as a tenfold increase precisely because it applies only to

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that age range. That figure is taken from the Conservative party's home affairs implementation paper.

Mr. Ainsworth: I am not sure that we should dwell on the Conservative party's policies any longer, because Conservative Front Benchers need to sort out exactly what they are so that they can tell us what they mean by getting addicts into treatment and what is their policy on reclassification. They are certainly not prepared to do so at the moment.

Mr. Hawkins: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Ainsworth: I shall give way again later if I can.

The Government will also increase the amount of drug-related criminal assets that we recover as we work to make the UK the least desirable, most uncomfortable and most unprofitable place to deal drugs. We will make full use of the new powers introduced by the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to maximise the recovery of profits from those convicted of drug supply offences. There is no room for the notion that having convicted and sentenced a drug dealer, it would be wrong to confiscate that person's ill-gotten gains. We must drive that idea out of every corner of our criminal justice and law enforcement system.

We will continue to collaborate with other countries, including the Afghan Government, to achieve their opium production eradication targets. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, who has expressed considerable scepticism about that, that Afghanistan now has a Government who are committed to ridding the country of its drug problems. They have set themselves targets and those will be extremely difficult to achieve. I understand that.

We will have to do a lot of nation building before we can eradicate poppy cultivation in that country, but it would be wholly wrong not to send the new Afghan Administration the message that we are prepared to do as much as we can not only to help them to rebuild civil society, but to eradicate narcotics and the terrorism that flows from them, which prevents them from getting a grip of their country and being able to help their own people.

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