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5 Dec 2002 : Column 1130—continued

5.18 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): The failure of the Government's drugs strategy to date means that our country still faces a very significant problem that affects the whole of our society—the wealthiest, the poorest, and everyone in between. Indeed, I think it highly unlikely that anyone of my generation does not know of someone who has succumbed to the horrors of drug addiction.

This is not just an urban problem. Now, our towns and villages have almost instant access to heroin, cannabis and—increasingly—crack cocaine. That is certainly the case in my own constituency, where there are almost weekly reports in the local papers of drug-related incidents, be it cannabis smoking underneath the skateboard ramps in Godmanchester, or heroin raids in Huntingdon. Indeed, almost every local youngster whom I speak to on the topic knows pretty much instantly where they can purchase drugs, whether or not they use them personally.

While it is clear that the Government have failed to meet almost every one of their targets for controlling illegal drugs, we need to look forward. However, I do not see enough in the new proposals to suggest that we are tackling the root of the problem, which, to my mind, is ultimately a question of addressing cultural values. However, I appreciate the fact that we are having this debate, and I welcome the Select Committee's proactive stance. I freely admit that I am no expert on drugs. However, I recognise that the issue is one of the most important social matters in my constituency. It is essential that hon. Members make it their business to educate themselves about drugs. In that way, we will be able to deal with the enforcement and medical-related factors, and understand the cultural implications.

For most drug takers, drug use is very much bound up with the concept of glamour. They want to be part of a clandestine counter culture, and to be alternative.

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Education, awareness and, above all, open debate are vital. Discussing the implications of drug use in a wider context would go some way towards breaking down drugs' attractive, private-club aspect and, therefore, their so-called glamour.

Describing crack cocaine and heroin as glamorous is repulsive to me, but the word provides an accurate description of the way many young people approach them. Many people will remember the advertisement that used the image of a young woman crouched dead on the floor with a needle in her arm. Some will have found that shocking, but most young people have been hardened by screen violence, and seduced by heroin chic in the fashion world and films such as XTrainspotting".

I should note that I do not want to denigrate that film, which portrayed reality and showed how heroin can cause people to die sad and lonely deaths choking on their own vomit. However, it also showed how some young people—living on sink council estates or bored in some idyllic country village—can see heroin as a glamorous escape from their everyday environments.

The advertisement to which I have referred failed because it concentrated on the damage that drugs can cause the people who use them, and ignored the wider implications for society, dependants and families. The truly unacceptable aspect of addiction is the destruction of families, and the way in which the houses of family members and neighbours are looted for drugs money.

We should aim to remove the glamour from drugs. We should explain the personal impact that they have on users, but it is also vital that we make children aware at a very early age of the impact that addicts have on the people around them. We must make children aware of their responsibilities towards other people. Instead of showing children pictures of overdosing addicts, I think that they should be exposed to pictures of the victims of drug-fuelled crime, of grieving parents and HIV-infected babies, and of old people on hospital trolleys waiting for a teenager to have his stomach pumped.

The Government's proposal to reclassify cannabis from class B to class C is a mistake. Leaving the technicalities aside, what message is being given to young people? Is it that the Government will take responsibility, and say that using cannabis is wrong and will be punished? No. Is it that the Government will take responsibility and say that cannabis is acceptable, that they will identify dosages and protect people from spiked dosages? No, I do not get that message either.

I believe that the message from the Government is that they want to make no comment on cannabis use. As long as people do not sell cannabis, their use of the drug has nothing to do with the Government. That is the worst of both worlds. As the experience on Lambeth shows, it will lead to a massive increase in the drug's use, and in effect hand control of the situation over to drug dealers.

Paul Flynn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: I should love to, but I am severely restricted for time, and other hon. Members wish to speak.

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The position is the same for hard drugs. A few weeks ago, I sat in on a prison drugs rehabilitation group run by the excellent organisation RAPt. I learned a lot from the young men in the group. Normally, heroin addicts are treated by being given methadone. Most of the men in the group had been on 10 or more methadone courses. They all said that the courses had done absolutely nothing for them.

With respect to those hon. Members who have spoken in support of the alternative, those young men did not talk about swapping methadone for prescription drugs or about having access to legal shooting galleries. They all said that the only effective treatment was rehabilitation.

Mr. Cameron: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Djanogly: I would love to, but I cannot.

Rehabilitation is slower, more intensive and more expensive, but it works. The experience made me realise that the policy advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), of increasing rehabilitation tenfold—we can argue about exactly what tenfold means—and giving young people a clear choice between rehabilitation or prison is the right one. I urge the Government to go down that road.

More than 60 per cent. of prisoners in many of our jails take heroin. Drug testing is, if anything, making matters worse—prisoners are switching from cannabis to heroin, which stays in the body for a shorter period. A generation of prisoners is leaving our jails with huge drug debts that force them to reoffend immediately to pay off their debts and feed their habit. In the prison that I visited, only 5 per cent. of inmates had access to rehab, and how grateful they were for being given a new chance in life. That figure must be increased.

Likewise, although excellent work is being carried out in my constituency by groups such as DASH—Drug and Alcohol Service Huntingdon—and DIAL Druglink to tackle drug-related crime, provide counselling, develop employment opportunities and educate children, there are not enough available funds for them. Huntingdonshire primary care trust, with a population of 148,000, provides 1,600 structured counselling sessions a year. However, it calculates that it needs four times that number of consultant sessions to be effective. It is also concerned at the lack of Government understanding of the practicalities for local areas in implementing the Government's compulsory 200-page long treatment notes, given the inadequate space and resources to operate it. It is all very well to come out with new strategies and 200-page guidance notes, but the Government must appreciate that they need paying for, and that is not happening at present.

Finally, I note that not enough is being said here today or generally about alcohol abuse. Several hon. Members have mentioned the connection between drugs, driving and alcohol. There is a lack of clarity surrounding the Government's policy on how drugs and alcohol policy combine. My local PCT has been told that drugs funding is only to be used for drugs misuse, although many drug addicts also have alcohol problems. The two cannot be detached. I ask the Government to look at the issue again.

If this debate is the start of a new mindset for the Government in acting on the massive implications of drugs in our society, it has my full support and I

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welcome it. However, I do not feel that what I have heard in the Government's proposals so far will be adequate to solve the problem.

5.27 pm

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I welcome this report and the amount of money that the Government have invested in it. I have always felt that public money invested in an anti-drugs strategy, providing that it is effective, is one of the most cost-effective ways of using such money.

Inevitably, following the report of the Select Committee, the debate has been dominated by the issues involving the appropriate level of criminality of various classes of drugs and rehabilitation. In the short time available to me, I want to focus on effectively breaking into the drugs distribution network. Labour Members agree that all drugs are dangerous, whatever their criminal classification, and that they are promoted and marketed by a network of criminals who are ruthlessly efficient and very effective. There is a real danger that however effective our rehabilitation programmes, this criminal operation will continue to recruit new people to drug-taking, irrespective of our propaganda initiatives.

The Assets Recovery Agency is mentioned in the report. Unfortunately, I feel that its potential in combating drugs use is being underplayed. When the Minister commented on the confiscation of criminal assets, he did not mention that the ARA, set up under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, can target people with a criminal lifestyle, such as drug dealers, even though there is not sufficient proof to prosecute them in a criminal court. Currently, that procedure is under-used.

After all, a drug dealer is fairly obvious. Such people tend to drive flash cars and wear gold chains and designer suits. They are certainly not renowned for squirreling their money away in a stakeholder pension. They like to cut a dash in their local, criminal, youth-oriented community, where they act as negative role models for marginalised young people who want to get in on the act.

It is essential that we tackle the drug dealers. By identifying them and confiscating their assets, the ARA could remove one of the strongest incentives for taking up that activity. The agency could knock out a link of the chain that spreads drugs and the misery associated with them.

I realise that many members of the Home Affairs Select Committee have spoken in the debate. I am a member of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs. We visited Dublin and talked to members of the Irish Criminal Assets Bureau, which does a job similar to that of the ARA. Ireland has a population of only 3 million and the drugs market is much more rudimentary, yet the CAB has achieved remarkable success. Over the past six years, it has obtained £72 million in confiscated assets from criminals in Ireland—a not inconsiderable sum.

In this country, previous legislation on such matters has not worked effectively. A report from the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit, published before the establishment of the ARA, stated:

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If the legislation is to be effective, we need to increase considerably the number of officers engaged in asset recovery.

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