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13 Jan 2003 : Column 478—continued

Mr. Ainsworth: Presumably the right hon. Gentleman would spend that money by withdrawing interventions that are available for other people who would then not be covered. So, under his proposals, there would be no new money such as that outlined in our updated drugs strategy. Let us take an example of what that money needs to be spent on. One of the biggest gaps that we have identified is the need for through-care and after-care for people leaving prison. We have found that, unless there is adequate provision for picking those people up as they are released and carrying them through into community treatment services, they will go straight back to the market, and to the dealers. They will begin committing crimes again, and that is one of the main causes of the revolving door syndrome in which people go back into criminality almost as soon as they are released from prison. I suppose that that money provided in the updated drugs strategy would no longer be there under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals, because he would just have spent it on rehabilitation. That is one example of an important gap that we are seeking to plug and to provide for effectively being taken away by the Conservatives.

Mr. Letwin: I am grateful to the Minister for giving me the opportunity to engage in what I think is constructive repartee. Let us test his proposition. Why do we not try piloting the proposal that I am suggesting, and the one that he is suggesting, in relation to picking people up as they come out of prison? Both are worthy objectives, but I suspect that the empirical evidence would show that his methods would fail to have much impact on ex-prisoners and that my methods would succeed in getting those people off drugs. If I am wrong, however, the empirical evidence would show that, and we need not nationalise it.

Mr. Ainsworth: It would be worth the right hon. Gentleman's while considering his own policy and putting it up against some of the proposals in the updated drugs strategy. I do not know what opportunity he has had—with all his different responsibilities—with the research facilities that he has available to him, to go into the detail of where we are planning to spend the additional money. One of the other areas is that of making early interventions through the criminal justice system to oblige people into treatment. That is something that the right hon. Gentleman is advocating, yet he seems to think that he can lift the pot of money

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allocated for piloting presumptions against bail, for extending the drug testing programme, and for doubling the amount of drug testing and treatment orders. I know that there has been criticism from the Conservatives about the failure rate, or success rate, of DTTOs, but when we look at the kind of people we are dealing with in relation to the orders, we can see that, in the circumstances, we are doing very well in terms of the interventions that we are trying to make. All that additional money would be taken away by the right hon. Gentleman to provide residential rehabilitation across the piece for a particular group of people.

The right hon. Gentleman asks for empirical evidence, saying that he believes that the Government are honest in their intentions, but misguided. Well, from whom should we get our information? I would have thought that we should get it from people with a long record of working in the field, who have experience of providing drug treatment and services in our communities. In preparation for this debate, I spoke to Geoff Cobb, the chief executive of the Swanswell trust, which provides drug and alcohol services in Birmingham, Coventry and Warwickshire. He has had 30 years' experience of working in that area. He said of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal:

He makes a plea:

the national treatment agency—

The right hon. Member for West Dorset must have received DrugScope's response to his consultation on the proposals that he is now putting before the House. He is asking the House to consider the evidence. I do not know what he thinks of DrugScope. It does not agree with Government policy in every area, but it appears to be one of the more serious organisations and it is taken seriously by almost everyone working in drug rehabilitation, treatment and services in this country. DrugScope's response to the Conservatives' consultation states that their costings are incorrect, their policy is too rigid, there is no evidence base to support what they suggest, and the basis on which they make their analysis is flawed. Its recommendations to the Conservative party go on to say:

DrugScope suggests that the evidence on which the policy is based is Xpartial and inaccurate", and says that it is worried that the policy would be Xunworkable" and that it would

There is the first evidence in response to the right hon. Gentleman's proposals.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon): I know that the Minister takes this issue very seriously and, like the rest of us, is keen to do what he can about the issue of drugs. Is he sure, however, that his existing policy is

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working? The police in Plymouth told me last Friday that, of 38 DTTOs issued to people in Plymouth over the last few months, 28 of those people were arrested while still subject to one of those orders for offences related to their drug habit. They were committing crimes while still subject to a DTTO. That is the picture that is emerging from the police's empirical studies of the Minister's current system. If it is not working, why does he not open his mind to alternatives?

Mr. Ainsworth: If the hon. Gentleman wants to examine whether there is a local anomaly in Plymouth, compared with the national situation, I would be happy to study that with him. Yes, there are failures relating to DTTOs, but the orders are aimed at people who would otherwise go to prison because they have a drug problem that has led them into serious crime. Yes, there are people who fail, and who are brought back in, but taken overall, when we consider the nature of those with whom we are dealing and the size of the problem, DTTOs are working in a high proportion of cases.

One of the areas of funding that the Conservatives are suggesting that we remove relates to the ability to introduce DTTO-type policies for a lower level of criminality at an earlier point of intervention, as an addition to community sentencing. We would then be able to put a requirement for drug testing and treatment on the very people whom the right hon. Member for West Dorset says he is trying to cut off before they become serious drug offenders and provide us with the levels of crime that we are experiencing. That is the funding that is in the updated drugs strategy, which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to remove to pay for expensive rehabilitation that everybody working in the field says is inappropriate in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): The Minister has preyed in aid the views of DrugScope, which is well respected and which I have visited as it is based in my part of south London. Is he willing to take its advice on other areas of drugs policy on which it suggests that the Government ought to choose a different route? In particular, does he accept that DrugScope is clear that if public policy concentrated on the class A and serious drug users and did not pursue people who possess cannabis for their own use and the like, there would be a much clearer message, much more concentrated resources and, on the basis of all its evidence, a much more successful policy on separating the casual user, referred to by the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn), from the addict, who regularly uses criminals to supply his addiction?

Mr. Ainsworth: I always take seriously what DrugScope says and I am always prepared to listen to it, but the Government do not agree with it on every single area.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton): So DrugScope is right only when it attacks Conservative policies, not Labour ones.

Mr. Ainsworth: The comments on the Conservative party paper are a little more scathing than anything that has been said about the updated drugs strategy.

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DrugScope has not said things in such strong terms in response to our updated drugs strategy. [Interruption.] We began the debate with a serious attempt to study the issue, but if we are going to descend into heckling, we can do something else by all means.

Let me say to the right hon. Member for West Dorset that that is not the biggest dispute between the Government and DrugScope. The Government have moved on the issue and we want the police to concentrate their efforts on the dealers and traffickers. We do not want the police to let up on cannabis traffickers, because they are often the same people who deal with class A drugs, but nor do we want them disproportionately concerning themselves with simple possession cases, which is why we reclassified cannabis. I know that the Liberal Democrats would go a lot further, but we have decided not to. However, we certainly listened to the sense of what was being said.

I have tried to take the right hon. Gentleman's comment seriously and I abandoned the speech that I had prepared so as to run across all our proposals on the updated drugs strategy, but the problem is a lot more complex than he seems to think, with his single initiative, which appears to be rehabilitation, rehabilitation, rehabilitation. We must try to hit the drug problem across the piece. We must tackle supply as best we can. We must co-operate with Governments abroad, such as those of Afghanistan, Jamaica, Turkey and our European partners, to try to cut off the supply.

We must improve our policing. We must improve the input against what we call the middle market—the linkage between the traffickers nationally and the problem on the streets. We plan to apply money to that. We must have intensive policing in those areas that suffer from problems of crack cocaine with all that flows from them, such as the connections with violence and gun crime. We must protect our communities by having a comprehensive programme of inputs, using the criminal justice system wherever appropriate, to oblige people into treatment. We do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman on that in principle. At every stage, we want to use the criminal justice system to get people into treatment.

We are going to run a pilot involving presumption against bail. We are going to have new community sentence DTTO alternatives. We are going to double the number of DTTOs. We already have mandatory testing in nine police force areas and we are going to roll that out to all high-crime areas. There are a lot of issues on which we do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman in principle.

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