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Mr. Adrian Flook (Taunton) (Con): The Home Secretary told us in his opening remarks that his drugs Bill will allow test on arrest, not on charge. Like all the Bills in this Queen's Speech, that is nothing more than grandstanding for the electorate. It sounds tough, it looks tough, but in county towns such as Taunton it will not be the answer.
The issue of drugs is the biggest one in our society. It has moved way beyond that of the permissive society of the 1960s, when drugs were generally used by the middle classes. Drugs have now permeated every element of our society. Many hon. Members might not understand or appreciate the fact that the drugs in supply at the moment are much stronger, if cannabis, and less pure and far more dangerous, if heroin, cocaine or crack.
After 15 initiatives, a number of summits and even a drugs tsar, what has changed in the past seven years? The answer is that drugs have tightened their grip on our society. There are 1 million more violent crimes a yearup 44 per cent.and a great number of them are committed by those who are looking to acquire money for drugs. Gun crime has doubled from 12,000 to 24,000 crimes, and nearly all of that increase will be drug-related. Two thirds of property crime is drug-related. Perhaps the biggest, loud and clear message to many young people has been that cannabis has been downgraded to a class C drug.
I accept that not all those who have smoked, will continue to smoke or will ever smoke cannabis will end up as class A drug addictsthat is absolutely not the case. However, it is 100 per cent. the case that every heroin addict in our country started off smoking cannabis. I ask those who say otherwise to interview
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people who come to us looking for help for their drug addiction. Every one of those whom I have asked in the county town of Taunton has said that they began by thinking that drugs were not really a problem because cannabis is not a problem. The battle for hearts and minds in our society is being lost. It is a sad fact that more people are being caught with cannabis and fewer of them are being arrested, while more are doing drugs.
Like many other county towns, Taunton suffers from late-night loutish behaviour. The Government, mindful in the past year or so that they were about to introduce 24-hour drinking, have woken up to the concerns of many people in Taunton about antisocial behaviour, and have asked the local police to concentrate on it. The police are mainly concerned to maintain law and order on the street, the knock-on effect of which is that the policing of drugs and their excessive use has, unfortunately, been reduced in Taunton. Drugs, however, have not gone awayit is simply the case that fewer resources are thrown at them.
Locally, we have campaigned for an ioniser machine, which produces readings showing whether club-goers have handled drugs. Some hon. Members will know that a large number of £20 notes bear traces of drugs, mainly cocaine. The ioniser machine produces sophisticated readings that can be used to determine whether someone has been handling drugs to such an extent that they are likely to be a supplier. Unfortunately, in Taunton, there has not been enough money to fund the required number of police or supply a machine. However, thanks to Chief Superintendent John Snell, who has managed to raid another budget, we will have that £30,000 machine, but we do not have enough money to fund the police officers needed to operate it. We have had to turn to the clubs themselves to provide the money. Clubs spend a huge amount on business rates and raise large sums for the Treasury from the tax on alcoholic drinks. To some extent, it is fair that they should fund the policing that is needed, but by the same token, we should provide county towns such as Taunton with the wherewithal so that the police can operate the drugs machine and undertake associated duties.
I am grateful that the police are finding the funding for the machine, but if drugs are the biggest scourge of our society, we could do much more. Seventy-six per cent. of people think that we are losing the battle against drugs, with 1 million class A drug users and more 15-year-olds smoking cannabis than ever before.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does my hon. Friend blame the style of drugs education in this country, which is more like drugs information? Young people in school learn more about drugs as a result of what passes for drugs education, which creates curiosity by providing information about a range of drugs. They are told how to take them and which ones should not be mixed together, which encourages drug use.
No doubt, drugs education will enhance the interest of some inquisitive individuals and lead them to experiment. However, it is important that young people are made aware of the danger of drugs. To some extent, that can be done through education, but a great way to educate anyone who might be thinking of dabbling in drugs is to show them a user who has gone too far. I therefore welcome the picture sequence that
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the Government used to highlight the plight of three drug usersover a period of time, their faces were completely destroyed and at least two of them are no longer with us. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary said that there would be a huge expansion of drug treatment programmes under his drugs Bill, but it is not enough. It is Conservative policy to increase the provision tenfold.
Caroline Flint: Can the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by drug treatment? The Government have ensured that the number of people in treatment has increased by 54 per cent. Treatment is not just residential, and we recognise that people continue to need support in the community where they live. We need prescribing by GPs and many other forms of treatment. What does he actually mean by treatment?
Mr. Flook: It is not for me to tell a Home Office Minister precisely what drug treatment means, when two thirds of drug testing orders in prisons and elsewhere fail. The Government have been in power for seven years but they are still not giving proper attention to drugs. We know that for the simple reason that more people take drugs now than in 1997. As a result of misguided education and other factors, we are not getting the message across. The Government have missed an opportunity, and it is a shame that in the week following the Queen's Speech we have heard much more about identity cards than about drug testing and treatment orders. Much more could be achieved if the drugs problem, and not just ID cards, received front page coverage.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): I apologise to the Ministers on the Front Bench, because most of my speech does not relate directly to home affairs. It does, however, relate to the motion on the Order Paper.
I am disappointed that the Queen's Speech does not include a Bill on regional government. It is said that devolution is a process, not an event, and despite the result of the north-east referendum, that remains true. The region still has to struggle with the north-south divide and a politically and economically strengthened Scotland, Wales and London. The process must continue, and I hope that the legislative measures promised by Her Majesty will deal with other relevant issues. The continued representation in Cabinet of Scotland and Wales must be ended in the interests of fairness, as we must attempt to create a level playing field. There is no justification for continuing to dedicate parliamentary time to Scottish and Welsh questions, now that both countries have devolution. That is not a sideswipe at Scotland, Wales or my hon. Friends who represent such constituenciesindeed, I have great respect for thembut a recognition that the balance has shifted and must be corrected.
The Barnett formula must be revisited, although I do not believe that scrapping it would necessarily bring huge economic benefits to the north-east. It has been overtaken by circumstances and the process of devolution, and contributes to the imbalance of economic power in the United Kingdom. The Gracious Speech does not contain any reference to the ongoing issue of reform of the House of Lords, although a
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brainstorming session by a small cross-party group resulted in its stated intention to introduce a draft Bill in the current Session. Its ideas turn on the principle that the majority of Members of the second Chamber should be directly elected. Members of the group seem to have learned little from the recent experience in the north-east, where it was clearly shown that there is little enthusiasm among the electorate for more elected politicians. Perhaps the idea of abolishing the Lords and replacing it with an elected House should be put to the people in a referendum.
I welcome the sudden conversion of the official Opposition to the cause of local government. Current trends, which were started by the Conservatives, should be put into reverse and power should be transferred back to local authorities. The ongoing review of the balance of funding between central and local government is an opportunity to begin the process, but will Ministers have the guts to do so? Is there a real belief in subsidiarity in the Government or in the official Opposition, or is subsidiarity merely a means of bypassing local authorities by giving the impression of empowering local communities, while Whitehall holds tightly on to the power and the purse strings?
The education Bill as outlined in the Gracious Speech cannot be criticised for its stated intention of raising standards in all schools, but when I read that it will introduce yet another new relationship with schools, I get very nervous about the direction in which it might take us. I repeat the warning that distancing schools from local authorities will be inconsistent with the Every Child Matters initiative. Now we have the self-styled guru of education, Mr. Chris Woodhead, dedicating himself to the reintroduction and strengthening of elitism in our education system. Perhaps those of my hon. Friends who embraced Mr. Woodhead in 1997 will reflect on the warnings they were given then, and listen more carefully now.
During the previous Session of Parliament, I raised the issue of consumer credit and the horrendous effects that the activities of some of the less desirable companies can have on members of the public and I gave examples of constituents who had suffered. Ministers promised that they would look seriously at the matter, and I welcome the inclusion in the Queen's Speech of a consumer credit Bill to begin to tackle abuses in this area.
Measures financially to assist and encourage young people who choose further education and/or training are also welcome. I draw attention to the recent report on the performance of colleges of further education. I am proud to say that any criticism in the report applies to a minority of colleges and certainly does not apply to Gateshead or Newcastle colleges in my constituency. Those colleges provide a wide range of excellent opportunities for young and not so young people in the Tyneside and wider area. They are an example of how further education and training should be provided and are a vital part of the regeneration of the area. Our region badly needs to train new craftsmen and to retain and retrain those we have.
In that regard I make a plea to Ministers to revisit the smart procurement policies talked about in 1997 but never effectively implemented. It must make sense to
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ensure that highly skilled workers are not cast aside because of temporary gaps in order books, when Government Departments know that they will be needed at a foreseeable time to carry out new work. There ought to be a way of planning the procurement of equipment in the Ministry of Defence and elsewhere so that we do not lose vital skills and families do not suffer unnecessarily.
I welcome the inclusion in the Gracious Speech of a Railways Bill. I hope that that will give us the chance to look not only at the national rail infrastructure and services, but how that links into local and regional services in a proper integrated way. I ask the Secretary of State for Transport to look again at the modernisation plans that our local passenger transport executives have in their filing cabinets and help them to realisation. Tyne and Wear metro system is popular and efficient, but it needs upgrading and extending. Plans to do just that will be presented to Ministers in the next few months, and I hope that they will receive a fair hearing and a favourable response.
I make a plea for more local control over local bus services. The Railways Bill is intended to tackle the dysfunctional system that resulted from Tory privatisation. The Tory privatisation and deregulation of local bus services has ended up with an equally dysfunctional system. Recent changes to services in Gateshead have highlighted the inappropriateness of reliance on the profit motive to provide essential local services, and I hope that the Government will look favourably on reintroducing local regulation into local transport systems.
The successful bid for the franchise for the north-east main line will be announced soon. In general, GNER has done a good job and, on the basis of my experience, would get my vote, but I hope that during the process Ministers will look at another aspect of the responsibilities of franchisees. I refer to our great railway stations. These give rail travellers their first impression of the place where they alight, and it is much more important to the town or city than it is to the train operatorso it is with Newcastle central station in my constituency. GNER looks after its customers very well and the areas used by GNER passengers are generally well kept and well maintained. However, other areas used by local and regional trains are less well catered for. The station would be far better managed by local authorities.
There is much to be commended in the Queen's Speech. I support the proposals to introduce new measures to clean up neighbourhoods and protect the environment. I welcome the proposal that there should be more visible security on our streets. The street wardens and community support officers that we have are popular and effective.
Finally, I welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to security, for "security" is a word that encapsulates all that most of my constituents want from life. People want and need to feel secure in their homes, in their communities, in their jobs and in their retirement. They want to be secure in the knowledge that there are good, efficient public services to support them and their families and to help them live long and contented lives.
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