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13 Jan 2003 : Column 489—continued

Mr. Streeter: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John Mann: May I continue my point before taking interventions?

The waiting time for community prescribing is three weeks for priority cases and 11 weeks for non-priority cases. Clearly, I have a problem in judging what is priority and non-priority, but I have asked the questions and believe that person B is likely to be deemed a priority for various reasons.

Person B has been involved in a range of semi-criminal activities. She may have been involved in prostitution, like many people of her gender. She has not volunteered that information to me, but the advice workers in the field suggest that the vast majority of women heroin addicts in my constituency are regularly involved in some form of prostitution to fund their habit. I believe that information to be accurate. Certainly, if person B has not been involved that activity, she is very rare among her cohort of young women drug users.

Is person B in the three-week or 11-week category? I have followed person B's case on a weekly, not monthly, basis because she gave evidence at my inquiry nearly five months ago. Person B said, XI was due to meet a drugs worker outside Boots the Chemist for an appointment to discuss a potential detox." Why the meeting was supposed to happen outside Boots the Chemist is a separate issue, but it was not person B's choice. The drugs worker did not turn up. Person B then had to wait while the drugs worker went on holiday.

Person B happens to have a mobile phone on which the drugs worker has left messages. I have listened to those messages. Frankly, they are extraordinary, showing the most patronising and worst aspects of any bureaucracy and any section of the health service.

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Person B was asked whether or not she was ready for a detox. That is a professional decision. Who takes it? One person, not a team of people—it is not a multi-agency issue, like DATs or drugs reference groups. So person B has been waiting and waiting.

I have a letter that was sent to person B on 24 December. It says:

the name of the drugs treatment centre—

That letter was written despite my involvement as the Member of Parliament and despite the fact that I and other people from my office and the community rang up the drugs treatment service on behalf of person B. Is person B on the waiting list or not? On what basis has that decision been made? Who is sending out a new referral letter, and how does that equate to the statistics?

I could give many more examples, but the two that I have mentioned are particularly poignant, as they happen to be ones that I followed in the first instance purely because the people involved came to my surgery.

Mr. Bob Ainsworth: We all appreciate the depth to which my hon. Friend has been prepared to go into this issue. I would not stand at the Dispatch Box and seek to suggest that every decision taken in his DAT or any other is right. Of course I do not know the identities of person A and person B, but no one seeks to pretend that we will provide residential rehabilitation on demand. My hon. Friend should talk to a number of people who work on drugs issues. The person whom I quoted, Geoff Cobbe, from my own area would say that providing such treatment on demand would be totally wrong and that many millions of pounds would be wasted on inappropriate treatment, as happened until 1993, when, in effect, such treatment was available in theory, but nothing else besides.

John Mann: I thank the Minister for his intervention. My response is straightforward: person B does not want residential rehabilitation but community-based treatment. If person A is suitable now, why were they not suitable previously? What has changed, especially as the drugs treatment budget was underspent for the last year? I suspect that the only thing that has changed is that a year end is coming, there has been an inquiry and some pressure, and people are spending up the budget. I am not an advocate of residential rehabilitation as a panacea. People come to me for quick solutions, which I do not offer or recommend. A range of possibilities exists. All I wish to see in my area is a menu of treatment provided for people when they want it, straight away, and not further down the line.

A Home Office written answer to me on 12 December stated:

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I hope that the statistics for my DAT are unique in the country, but they are meaningless, fairy tale statistics, in relation to both education and drugs treatment. That is very worrying, because what I ask for repeatedly—I would ask for it from the Opposition, too, with regard to their proposals—is an evidence base in relation to what succeeds and what does not. Let us be honest with people. Of the 150 addicts in my constituency whom I have seen—the number is increasing, as more and more come to see me—and who are officially documented in the inquiry, all of them want treatment. Some of them will be good bets, and some will be bad bets. Some of them are heroin addicts who became criminals, and some are criminals who became heroin addicts. Some will get through treatment, and some will not. The one thing that is common to them is that they want treatment, and they want honesty. They want people to be straight with them. If they are told that they must wait six months for a residential rehabilitation place, but that, if they do certain things, they will get one, many of them—although they may not be delighted—will be prepared to wait on that basis. The problem in my area is that they do not trust a word that they are told by the drugs treatment services.

To explain partly why that is, let me read from a leaflet produced by a neighbouring drug reference group within my DAT:

The evidence from my constituents is that one of the biggest risks is moving on to other drugs. I would include cigarettes and alcohol in the same equation as cannabis in terms of drug experimentation by young people. Some young people in my constituency move on to heroin, and commit crime as a result of addictive use.

That kind of publication is not what Government money should be spent on in my area. I want effective education. The question of DARE has already been raised in this debate. It originated in Nottingham, and it is education run mainly by the police in primary schools. There is no evidence base, although I am now constructing my own, with the consent of users: an effective database detailing when they started using, who they are, where they are from, and what interventions there have been. One thing that is interesting is that there seems to be clear evidence that DARE has had success: the 16-year-olds, 15-year-olds and 14-year-olds are not getting addicted to the extent that, three or four years ago, their older brothers and sisters were. It is early days, and we are dealing with the first group of 16-year-olds to go through the programme. However, I understand that the blueprint programme has a budget of #9 million while the budget for the DARE organisation is only #80,000, and that money is provided by local businesses in and around Bassetlaw. Let us consider what could be done if we experimented with DARE for every year in secondary schools, in sure start and, crucially, with parents. I would like pilots to do that.

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DARE has recently extended successfully into parts of south Wales, and I would like the experience to be shared across the country. There is no question that it is beginning to have an impact. My view and that of many of the 16-year-olds to whom I have spoken is that, if the programme continues at ages 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, we will have informed school cohorts who, at a minimum, will not make irrational decisions. However, DARE provides more than that. It deals with issues such as bullying, pride and self-respect. That is why it works. It is not so much a drugs message but a message about an individuals' self-respect wherever they come from and whatever their parents are like. We face the problem of quite a large number of second-generation kids whose parents are heroin addicts. The sum of #80,000 is not a lot so let us imagine what might happen if the figure was doubled, tripled or quadrupled to allow DARE to expand and pilot other programmes in secondary schools. That would be a cheap, cost-effective and valid use of resources.

I hope that the Opposition will take heed. They offer a simple solution and they need to get their line right. On 7 January in the Committee considering the Criminal Justice Bill, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) referred to their policy involving an eightfold increase, but I am sure that that was a slip of the tongue. More worryingly, however, he said that the money was for residential and non-residential treatment. I urge caution against accepting the view that there is a panacea for a particular age group. The proposal equates in my constituency, as in everyone else's, to 12 new places for young people, and we need considerably more than that in residential rehabilitation, community-based treatment and everything else. We need significantly more places and we need them now. The Opposition's policy must be reconsidered.

I want in my area drugs courts that give people a choice. The moment that young people enter the criminal fraternity, they should be given immediate treatment. Drugs testing should also be introduced in the way that it has been by the chief constable at Worksop police station.

I have a final request for the Government. Pilots have all too often been based on where the maximum amount of crime is perceived to take place—that is, the cities. One of the problems with pilots in cities is that the population in them is highly transient. The population in my area is highly immobile. Because it is not transient, we can provide better than any city an evidence base that shows what does and does not work. The same people who are in my area now will be there in 10 years. We should not work on the overall statistics that mean that my consistuency is masked by an average that relates to it and to the constituencies of the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). The problem is in Worksop, and the drug-related crime rate there is as high as anywhere else. We want to be part of the pilots so that we can provide an evidence base and offer real hope to young people.

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