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13 Jan 2003 : Column 475—continued

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): What my right hon. Friend is saying is compelling, but does he agree that we also need dedicated, determined, committed GPs who understand drug addicts and want to work in drug rehabilitation clinics? Will he look at the case of my constituent Dr. Adrian Garfoot, who, having been struck off by the General Medical Council, is doing absolutely nothing and who wants to be out there helping to save drug addicts' lives?

Mr. Letwin: I will indeed look at that case. I have been vastly impressed by the work of people in or near my constituency. GPs involved in the Providence project have reached the same conclusion as my hon. Friend's constituent and are devoting their lives to exactly the same goal—and it is working.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the prevalence of drugs in our prisons? It is possible to go into a prison such as Holloway drug free and come out with a drug habit. I think that, before embarking on extensive treatment programmes, Ministers could do more to make our prisons drug-free zones.

Mr. Letwin: Over the last week or two I have observed an alarming tendency on my part—which I had never suspected probable—to agree repeatedly with the hon. Lady. That may be as disturbing to her as it is to me. In my view she is undeniably right.

I find it extraordinary that there are still drugs in prisons. I do not find it extraordinary that there are drugs anywhere else; but if a prison is about keeping people in, one would have thought that it might be able to keep substances out. I do not speak for open prisons, but one would have thought that making closed prisons drug-free zones was a feasible operation. Not only are they not drug-free zones but, as the hon. Lady says, in some cases—tragically—people go in unaffected by drugs and come out affected by them.

I hope the Government will produce measures to make the Prison Service more effective in excluding drugs. I think we shall have to accept more restrictions on visiting by relatives. That will be a sorry loss—there is no doubt that physical barriers distance prisoner from visitor, and there is no doubt that that may have an effect on rehabilitation—but so bad is the drugs menace in our prisons that we may have to contemplate it.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on what strikes me as the most courageous and pragmatic Front-Bench speech made during my 15 years in the House. During his observations on Holland, he accurately stated that heroin and cocaine were seen as the drugs of losers. Is that not the result of 25 years in which Holland has separated the markets for hard and soft drugs? Soft drugs are seen to be undesirable, but are not associated

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with an underworld or with low life. As a result, those taking or selling hard drugs are isolated, which has led to a reduction in the use of all drugs and a marginalisation of suppliers and users of hard drugs.

Mr. Letwin: As I think I have said here before, two models appear to have been successful. One is, indeed, in the Netherlands, where the very strategy described by the hon. Gentleman has been adopted—separation of the markets. The other is in Sweden, where serious efforts have been made to eliminate both markets. The one strategy that shows little or no promise of success is, I regret to say, the Government's approach to soft drugs—a muddled approach that neither separates the markets nor seeks to eliminate them. I will continue to inveigh against that approach.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Letwin: I will give way one last time.

Mr. Weir: The right hon. Gentleman seems to see intensive treatment in prisons or young offenders institutions as in-patient treatment of a sort. Specialist drugs corps are about to be piloted in Scotland. They will deal not just with drug-dependent but with criminal behaviour, and try to get young people off drugs in that way. I agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott): unless people are willing to stop taking drugs in the first place, no system will work.

Mr. Letwin: I repeat my view—and, as I have said, I am prepared for the Government to subject it to empirical investigation. I do not think it essential for people to want to stop at the beginning of treatment; what is essential is for the reconstruction of a life to be such that by the end of the treatment the person wants to stay off drugs. I do not envisage programmes in young offenders institutions or prisons; on the contrary, it is clear to me that they should take place in clinics. They are separate from the issue of punishment, and need to be kept separate from it. But a life can only be reconstructed in the right way if the person concerned is purposeful, and that must involve constructive rather than criminal purpose. For many of the young people who commit today's burglaries and robberies crime is virtually a necessity, because it is impossible to feed a drugs habit without being either very rich or prone to crime.

Bob Spink (Castle Point): I think my right hon. Friend is on the right track in considering compulsion in rehabilitation, but will he also consider prevention? As he knows, the first use of any drug by a young person often occurs under the influence of alcohol. Is it not regrettable that, in the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, Labour removed police officers' right to take unopened cans and bottles of alcohol from young people in public places? Will my right hon. Friend encourage the Government to reinstate that power, so that the police can save youngsters from getting involved in drugs in the first place?

Mr. Letwin: My hon. Friend is right to mention the severe problems of binge drinking among the young.

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We need to think again about how we can prevent the habit from becoming widespread. There is no doubt that it is associated with being dragged into the drugs culture as a whole.

I am outstaying my welcome—[Hon. Members: XMore!"] No. This is a short debate, and I want both my hon. Friends and Labour Members to have a chance to speak.

I hope I have made clear the contrast between this debate and the earlier piece of splendid political knockabout on both sides of the House. In this second debate, I have argued passionately for a position I believe to be right, which need not separate the political parties. It can be adopted by the Government now. It could prevent a tragic waste of resources, and—at least as important—could save thousands of young people from being drawn into the vortex that so afflicts not just them and their families, but the many victims of the crimes that they find themselves compelled to commit.

7.48 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth) : I beg to move, To leave out from XHouse" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I thank the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) for the serious way in which he presented his case, and I will try to respond seriously. I must say that so far I have not taken his alternatives to the updated drugs strategy very seriously, for what I believe to be good and practical reasons. I see a number of holes in what he suggests, and a number of real inconsistencies in what we hear from the Conservatives about drugs strategy.

I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman some questions—let him by all means intervene if he wishes—about his proposals. He seems to be suggesting that an awful lot more should be spent on the rehabilitation of relatively few people. It would be good to know exactly what he proposes. Does he propose a substantial increase in spending, or does he propose to take money away from some parts of the strategy in order to pay for others? I understood him to say the latter—that he intended, in large part, to abandon rehabilitation treatments for many people in order to concentrate on the young.

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which he is approaching this, and I will answer his question. I do not have the precise figures in my mind, but I believe that his intention to increase by about 118,000 the number of people in contact with treatment is scheduled by the Government to cost about #325 million, or perhaps somewhat more—perhaps even #400 million. The proposal that I make to the Government today—because I understand the requirements that the Home Office faces in dealing with the Chancellor—is that that money, which would

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otherwise be increasing the numbers of those in contact, in some vague sense, with some set of agencies, should instead be spent on the kind of programme that I am describing. We have costed such a policy at #460 million a year. Almost the entirety of that sum could be found from the additional sum that the Minister has in mind. For our own part, I have agreed with my colleague, the shadow Secretary of State for Health, that if we were in government we would find the money from the health budget, because the savings to the national health service alone would, over time, justify that. I am not, however, asking the Minister to agree to that. He already has a budget of the same order of magnitude as ours—perhaps not to the last #10 million, but of the same order none the less—and if he could spend it on the policy that we are proposing, it would be vastly better spent.

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