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12 Mar 2003 : Column 306—continued

Matthew Green (Ludlow): I listened very carefully to the Home Secretary, but I heard nothing about extra resources for what the Home Office calls "diversionary activities" for young people. It is a shame that the Government cannot fund activities for young people on the basis that they are good for them, rather than regarding them as a means of cutting crime. Can he reassure me that he respects young people as individuals, rather than simply regarding them as criminal statistics?

Mr. Blunkett: They are victims as much as they are people involved in crime. We are devoting £370 million that did not exist before 1997 to the Youth Justice Board and to the youth inclusion programmes. Through the Department for Education and Skills, some £420 million—again, that money did not previously exist—is being spent on the massive expansion of the Connexions

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programme. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the DES, the Department of Health and ourselves to develop summer and holiday programmes. All those measures, along with the New Opportunities Fund and after-school activities, are the beginning of a process of getting our act together, so that there is an alternative. People are expected to take that alternative, rather than creating mayhem for others.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge): One manifestation of antisocial behaviour is car crime. Does the Home Secretary agree that in the wrong hands, a car can be as lethal a weapon as a gun, and that death or injury caused by the illegal or reckless use of either ought to carry the same, very heavy penalty?

Mr. Blunkett: My hon. Friend and his parliamentary colleagues from the north-east have been running a very effective campaign on this issue. I am deeply sympathetic to ensuring that we get the penalties and the signals right, and individual cases have highlighted the fact that, at the moment, they are not right.

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Points of Order

1.32 pm

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Mid-Bedfordshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If there is a debate on a substantive motion before ground troops are committed in Iraq, and given the clear disquiet that exists in the House at the prospect of war, can you confirm that it would be both in order and advisable for a free vote to take place on such a motion when it is brought before the House?

Mr. Speaker: That is a hypothetical matter and has nothing to do with me. Free votes have absolutely nothing to do with me—I seldom get a vote these days.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that the Bush Administration have blatantly given contracts to American corporations to rebuild Iraq once they have bombed it, and despite the spin from No. 10 that Donald Rumsfeld was trying to be helpful to this country when he made it clear that they do not need United Kingdom troops for such bombing—in fact, on the basis of that, the Prime Minister could now bring our troops home—how can we go about securing a debate on what are momentous events by any standards?

Mr. Speaker: I have no responsibility for the actions of American politicians or of the American President's officials. They have absolutely nothing to do with me.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have just received a pager message saying that the Prime Minister of Serbia has been shot dead. I should be grateful if the House would take cognisance of that fact in the way that it organises its affairs.

Mr. Speaker: I am very sorry to hear about that.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At times of national debate and national crisis, the House looks to you to represent it, and the public look to the House to represent them. You will undoubtedly be aware that throughout this country people are talking about the possibility of British troops being deployed in Iraq in the next few days. Can you assure us that as soon as there is any firm news from the United Nations or about the deployment, the House will be given the opportunity to have a debate—if need be, on an application for an emergency motion—so that it can represent the views of the ordinary people of this country, who are deeply concerned about the danger of going to war?

Mr. Speaker: It is my duty to protect the rights of Back Benchers. As a Back Bencher of long standing, the hon. Gentleman will know that tomorrow's business questions perhaps provides an occasion for him to raise those matters.

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Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards)

Mr. Secretary Milburn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Margaret Beckett, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Secretary Peter Hain and Mr. John Hutton, presented a Bill to amend the law about the National Health Service; to make provision about quality and standards in the provision of health and social care, including provision establishing the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection and the Commission for Social Care Inspection; to amend the law about the recovery of NHS costs from persons making compensation payments; to provide for the replacement of the Welfare Food Schemes; to make provision about appointments to health and social care bodies; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed. [Bill 70].

Local Communities Sustainability

Sue Doughty, supported by Gregory Barker, Dr. Vincent Cable, Mrs. Patsy Calton, Mrs. Helen Clark, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Don Foster, Paul Holmes, Alan Simpson and Ms Joan Walley, presented a Bill to require the drawing up and implementation of a strategy to promote sustainability among local communities; to make provision for the inclusion of targets and indicators in the strategy; to make provision for councils to implement the strategy in their area; to make provision in respect of the powers of electors in relation to the implementation of the strategy; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 28 March, and to be printed. [Bill 71].

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Prevention of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs (Road Traffic Amendment)

1.35 pm

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): I beg to move,

I introduce this Bill not simply because of the views that I hold—although they are very strong views—but because the shadow Home Office team collectively believes that this is an important issue that has been neglected for far too long. We are therefore adopting a recent change in strategy whereby, although this is a ten-minute Bill, we are taking the matter seriously and we hope that it will progress to become law. Indeed, a counterpart Bill will be introduced in another place tomorrow by my noble Friends Lord Dixon-Smith and Baroness Anelay of St. Johns. We very much hope that it, along with this Bill, will receive all-party support.

I have been concerned about this issue for many years—long before I came to this House. I began in practice at the Bar in the late 1970s, and as with all barristers on circuit, I dealt with many cases involving motoring offences. Tragically, many of the most serious involved very serious injury or death. In recent years, we have seen increasing incidences of death or serious injury caused to entirely innocent, law-abiding drivers as a result of dangerous driving by motorists under the influence of drugs, or of a combination of drink and drugs. I shall say a little more in a moment about the particular problems arising from a cocktail of drink and drugs, and about the reasons why there is an increase in such incidents.

I want to pay particular tribute to Rhiannon Sadler and Anarhali Moonesinghe, who are two researchers in my office. In preparing the shadow Home Office team's work on this issue, they contacted every police force in the country and all of Her Majesty's coroners. They asked very detailed questions about the increasing incidence of serious injury and fatal accidents caused by, or contributed to by, one or more drivers being under the influence of drugs, or of drink and drugs. I should stress that we have also had enormous support from the AA, the RAC Foundation and the British Medical Association, all of which—like the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), myself and the rest of the shadow Home Office team—have pursued this issue for years.

The big problem that we understood from our research is that nobody is required to collate the statistics on this issue. Indeed, almost every one of Her Majesty's coroners said, "We'd love to get more information about this, but we haven't got the resources." That is why the Bill would require that funding be provided to every coroner and to every police force in the country, to ensure that these statistics are collected properly. Once we know the scale of the problem, we will be able to address it more rapidly and accurately.

Traffic officers are at the sharp end of this problem and have to deal with the horrendous consequences of serious injury and fatal traffic accidents. I want to stress

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that every officer to whom we spoke said that people who are addicted to drugs or are regular drug users and who are planning to drive will often choose to drink alcohol as well. If they are stopped because an accident has happened, or for any other reason, they will merely be breathalysed and dealt with only as a drink driver. Although that will probably lead to a ban in court, it will not lead to an investigation by drugs squad officers, which might lead to much more serious criminal sentences, and perhaps a lengthy period of imprisonment. That applies especially to those who deal drugs as well as take them. As one officer said, drug addicts who do not drink as well are crackers. If they drink as well, they will get away with a lower penalty if they are stopped or if there is an accident.

The Opposition have pursued the matter in various debates, notably in two debates on the Government's drugs policy either side of the recent Christmas and new year recess, in which the Government effectively promised jam tomorrow. They said that they would do something about the matter when parliamentary time allowed. Opposition Members are convinced that the problem is far too serious to be kicked into the long grass in that way, and we are strongly supported in that by the AA, the RAC Foundation and the BMA.

The Bill gives the Government an opportunity, as I told the Home Office Minister who responded to one of the Government drugs policy debates that it would. We hope that the Government will allow this Bill, or its equivalent in another place, to proceed.

I also thank the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for his support for the Bill, and for all the work that he has done to highlight the extent of the drugs problem. It is an issue that I hope will attract all-party support.

We need to protect law-abiding motorists from being seriously injured or wiped out by drug-crazed drivers. The BMA says that the use of illegal drugs by the younger generation is frequent and increasing. Talking to young people at secondary school or in their late teens, one finds that they have been persuaded by the media that the Government have legalised cannabis already. They are stunned when they are told that cannabis is not legal. Unfortunately, the Government have given out all the wrong signals on the matter.

The BMA reports that nearly half of all 16 to 24-year-olds in England and Wales have used cannabis at least once. Because they are going to be the young drivers of the immediate future, it is even more worrying that 39 per cent. of that age group said that they had taken hallucinogens. Rather fewer of them had taken other

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drugs. However, a separate survey of club goers in Scotland found that 69 per cent. had taken cannabis, and that 85 per cent. had at some time driven a car after using illegal drugs.

The problem of drug driving is not only related to the misuse of illegal drugs, as prescription drugs may also cause drivers' judgment to be impaired. However, this Bill concentrates specifically on the illegal, controlled drugs. That is not to say that we ignore the other serious aspects of the matter, but I wanted to keep the Bill's scope within bounds, in the hope of attracting all-party support.

Recent research from the transport and road research laboratory in Crowthorne, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), next door to mine, shows that between 1987 and 1999, there was a significant increase from at least 3 per cent. to 12 per cent. in the detection of illegal drugs in the blood of drivers in road accidents. However, coroners and police forces need to be able to use roadside tests.

I pay tribute to forces such as those in Hampshire, Surrey, Strathclyde and Northamptonshire for piloting the field impairment test. Specific legislative provision can be given for such tests. The roadside impairment test takes place at the side or the road and can form the basis for the arrest of a driver, after an accident or moving-traffic offence, who may have taken drugs. That person can then undergo a full medical blood test, and in that way we will detect people who take drugs and drive, and deter people from doing that.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nick Hawkins, John Mann, Mr. Oliver Letwin, Mr. James Paice, Mr. Dominic Grieve, Mr. Humfrey Malins, Mr. Mark François, Angela Watkinson and Mr. Iain Duncan Smith.

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