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House of Commons

Wednesday 19 March 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Transas Group Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 26 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): What recent assessment he has made of measures to create effective local anti-drugs partnerships in Wales. [102968]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): Tackling the problem that drug misuse causes is an issue that is extremely important to me and to the Government. I am aware that the drug and alcohol action teams currently working in Wales will be integrated into the 22 Welsh community safety partnerships. We believe that that is a progressive way forward.

Mr. Bryant : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that he will be aware that it is no exaggeration to say that drugs are systematically undermining the social fabric of many valleys communities, especially former mining communities. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also agree that the answer to the problem must lie in establishing strong local partnerships between all the agencies involved. In my constituency, however, Rhondda Cynon Taff—which is meant to take the lead in establishing the new anti-drugs partnership—has played no part in making sure that we have a strong approach to deal with the issue. Is that because of political failure, and will my hon. Friend make sure that RCT gets its act together soon?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware that there have been problems with the operation of crime and disorder partnerships in Wales. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) raised the matter in a Westminster Hall debate a little while ago. I can tell my hon. Friend that £5 million has been

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provided since 2001 to the communities against drugs initiatives to support projects across Wales to tackle drug-related crime, and to disrupt the drug markets. I will, of course, ensure that my hon. Friend's comments about his local partnership are brought to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The Home Office initiative Operation Tarian is proving a great success in the south Wales valleys. However, will the Minister have a word with the Secretary of State and perhaps liaise with the Home Office about the fact that the Home Office is contributing only £50,000 to that very important initiative? Unfortunately, that means that £3.2 million must be drawn down from other National Assembly budgets, including rehabilitation budgets. We already know that there is a huge waiting list in Wales for those resources. In some south Wales valleys, the typical waiting time is 18 months. With the best will in the world, I ask the Minister to liaise with the Home Office about bringing in some more money. Otherwise, it seems to me to be almost self-defeating.

Mr. Touhig: I note what the hon. Gentleman said about Operation Tarian. It is an important initiative. It was started by police authorities in south Wales, and it is supported by colleagues in the Assembly, and by funding from the Home Office. Indeed, I was involved in discussions with colleagues when the operation was set up. The House may not be aware that South Wales police were involved in a large operation last week. Heroin, crack cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy were seized, and 83 people were arrested. Operation Tarian is making an important contribution to the intelligence gathering that is needed to combat the problem. However, I take note of what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I shall make sure that the appropriate Departments are made aware of it.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): I recently held talks with Wrexham magistrates, at which I learned that there has been a very positive response to the imposition of drug treatment and testing orders. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential for people to understand that substantial funding is necessary to safeguard the orders and make them effective? Will not any suggestion that funding might be reduced undermine one of the ways that we are beginning to get to grips with the scourge of drugs in our community?

Mr. Touhig: I agree with my hon. Friend. Substance abuse is not a simple problem. We must do everything that we can to break the cycle of drug misuse and criminal activity, but we must concentrate on three other initiatives—education, to prevent drug and substance misuse; treatment, including treatment for people who commit crime; and rehabilitation, to break the cycle. This year, £3 million has been allocated to drug and alcohol initiatives in Wales to enable 1,000 more people to access community detox facilities. We will need to expand that initiative, and I believe that my colleagues in the Assembly are working with the Home Office with that objective in mind.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Drugs are a bigger menace in Wales today than they were just five years

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ago. More people are hooked and dying, and the treatment for those who need it is totally inadequate. So what did the Government do? They demoted the drugs tsar, and then abolished the post. They removed all targets for reducing the number of people taking hard and soft drugs, and then reclassified cannabis from a class B drug to a class C drug. They have left the police and public confused about the law on the use of drugs. Even the annual drugs report has not been published since 2001. Is not the problem the fact that the Government do not have a strategy for dealing with drug abuse? Until they get one, more young people are going to get hooked, and to die. Is not it time that the Government got a proper strategy for drug abuse?

Mr. Touhig: The hon. Gentleman may be aware that the Government have provided £27 million of support for local initiatives across Wales. My colleagues in the Assembly provided a further £18 million over the next three years for initiatives, and the new community partnerships will work along those lines.

It is a bit rich for the hon. Gentleman to make further demands when his party is committed to a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure. What would that do for tackling the drug problem in Wales? His colleagues will have to give that answer to the people of Wales on 1 May, when once again they will be rejected.

Severnside Airport

2. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): What recent representations he has received concerning a proposed Severnside Airport. [102969]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain): I have met representatives of the Severnside consortium, who briefed me on their proposals.

Mr. Edwards : Does my right hon. Friend recall receiving from me representations that show that there is considerable opposition to the current proposals for Severnside airport on a man-made island in the Severn estuary? There is opposition from Monmouthshire county council and no support from the 18 airlines, including British Airways, that I have contacted, and I found majority opposition from the residents of Portskewett and Sudbrook in my constituency when I undertook a full household survey. Will my right hon. Friend study those representations and recommend to the Department of Transport that the proposal be rejected?

Peter Hain: I will certainly study those views. I am well aware of the concerns of residents in his local area, not least because he brought them to my attention a few weeks ago. In the consultation exercise that is being carried out by the Department of Transport—a White Paper will follow later this year—full account will be taken of environmental, safety and economic issues, as well as of the views of local residents. The Severnside consortium has an ambitious plan to relocate traffic

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from the south-east of England to that area, but the views of local residents must of course be taken into account.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): Does the Secretary of State still support the concept of a regional air service with Cardiff as its hub?

Peter Hain: Yes, I do. Regional airports already play a vital role in Wales and should play an even more vital role right across Wales, from north to south and from east to west. There is great potential for increasing air traffic in that way.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that international airports are good servants but atrocious neighbours? Would it not be right to use the Severn estuary, with its almost unique quality of having the second highest rise and fall of tide in the world, to generate electricity in a clean, benign and non-polluting way?

Peter Hain: As my hon. Friend knows, I am a keen enthusiast for renewable energy. The Severn estuary barrage was one of the issues that we examined during our consideration of the energy White Paper. It is hugely expensive, but there are opportunities for utilising tidal and wave power, and the Welsh coast and the Severn estuary may represent such an opportunity.

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