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The debate has been interesting. I particularly enjoyed the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who made some important points about the need to remove the blasphemy law in favour of a measure to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones). She made an important point about the youth service, which is often forgottena Cinderella servicein the whole crime and law and order debate.
I was somewhat perplexed when the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) accused the Government of being the French revolution of the modern era. In fact, from the speeches we heard today, if there were to be a Danton-style triumvirate, it would be the hon. Members for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard).
I had thought to speak about identity cards, not least because while rummaging through some old papers yesterday, I found my mother's old ID card. However, when I realised that she was given it in 1969 by General Franco's fascist dictatorship in Spain I thought that it would not really help my cause.
I decided instead to talk about drugs, for two simple reasons. First and foremost, as many have already said, drugs are one of the major problems that face every community in the land. About 38 in every thousand people in the country have some kind of drug dependency problem, although I want to correct the figure touted by many people in the debatethat there are 1 million drug users. That is overstatement by a considerable degree. It is certainly true that a million people say that at some point in their life they have taken a class A drug, but that does not make every single one of them a problem drug user. It is important that we get the figures right, and I think that the number is more like 250,000, although that is not to deny that there is a significant problem.
In my constituency, we have a significant drugs problem. Some time ago, the major regional dealers in Birmingham and Bristol decided to start marketing their
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services in the south Wales valleys. Unfortunately, that has led to the devastation of many families and individual lives, characterised, as many Members will know, by a potent sense of desperation and powerlessness, which undermines the strong sense of community historically experienced in many mining constituencies, such as mine.
I have especially in mind the problems we experienced in the Rhondda in 2002 when, over 10 days, 12 young people died through drug-related problems during the weekend of the Queen's jubilee. We have not had many drugs deaths since then. Some of the policies that the Government have implemented have changed things and given people the possibility of moving away from their drug dependency, although there is still a significant amount of work for us to do.
I want to draw the House's attention to some specific areas where there is work to be done, although I recognise that the Bill that will be introduced will help us to ensure that criminals with a drug dependency problem are given the right treatment from the moment they enter the criminal justice system, especially through the requirement that there will be drug testing on arrest and not just when a person is charged. There are a few issues on which the Government need to move faster. It is important that we get the statistics on drug-related deaths right. Members may have seen the claim in The Times a few days ago that Spalding in Lincolnshire was the country's drug death capital, linked to a report that showed that 12.1 in 1,000 deaths in Boston and Spalding were drug-related. In fact, contrary to the headline, the figure for Brighton and Hove was twice that number, at 25.3 deaths per thousanda significant number.
It is easy to take such figures for the truth, yet since 1984 the Government have produced no advice on how coroners should determine whether a death is drug-related. Some coroners will record a death as drug-related only if a needle is found in someone's arm; others will do so if there is a positive toxicology report of any kind. The truth is that it is time the Government produced new guidance for coroners. They promised to do so two years ago, but there has still been no new set of guidelines. Some drug-related deaths may be going unreported in some areas of the country, and if we are to ensure that we get the right resources to every part of the country, we need to get the statistics right.
Secondly, of course, we need to tackle the waiting list problem. We have done a significant amount in the past few years. Two years ago, the waiting time for the various kinds of drug treatment in Rhondda was about 18 months to two years. We have now cut that down to about four months, thanks to a significant extra amount of money from the Welsh Assembly Government for a new drug treatment centre in Llwynypia. The Government have done sterling work in cutting the average wait from about 12 weeks in 1997 to just over two weeks, but waiting times are still considerably longer in a significant number of areas of the country.
I will not give way to my hon. Friend because I know that at least one other very important Member wishes to speak on this subject, and she has already had a go.
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I agree with those hon. Members who have said that we need to tackle not just the regional dealers but the small dealers in local communities. Often when I have spoken at secondary schools on any random set of subjects, many young people come up to me and say, "We all know where the dealers are, but the police never do anything about it." That is the problem. Sometimes, the police decide that it is better to know where the local, small-time dealer is, because they are trying to catch the big, regional dealer. The problem for youngsters is that they always know where they can go to get their drugs. We need to destabilise the supply at local level, which involves tackling the small-time dealers.
We also need to focus much more significantly on education. The Government have done a great deal with the Frank programme, which is excellent. In some parts of Wales, we have had the drugs awareness resistance education programmeDAREwhich has also been good, but we need to go a step further. It is not enough just to have schools teaching about drugs; it is much more important to ensure that the home environment enables youngsters to talk with their parents about drugs and the problems that they face.
In Sweden, there is a programme whereby every parent of a 13-year-old is sent readily comprehensible information that they can use with their children. Building that relationship is one of the important things that we could do to tackle the problem of drugs. It is not particularly important to get macho, as the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten) said earlier, or to be tough. The important thing is to get the policies right, and I believe that the Government are travelling in the right direction, but we still have a significant way to go.
Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate on the Queen's Speech and to concentrate on home affairs, especially when the quality of the debate has been so high on both sides of the House. I was particularly struck with the thoughtful contribution made by my namesake, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright), who made a subtle and incisive speech. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) on many of the points that she made.
The Queen's Speech contained many proposals that will directly benefit my constituency. Its focus is right and reflects the achievements made after seven years of a Labour Government, but I should like Ministers to consider some points to ensure that my constituents gain even more from the proposals set out in the Queen's Speech.
The Government are right to focus on safety and security, and to provide reassurance in our communities. As the Home Secretary said earlier in the debate, the economic competence of the Chancellor in the face of several global recessions since 1997 has ensured that, in my experience, my constituents are no longer saying, "Why can't we find work or a training place?" They are now concentrating on quality of life issues, and rightly so.
Nevertheless, there is a clear link between crime and economic prosperity. Let us consider a potential business man or woman. I imagine that they would not
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contemplate setting up a business in an area where they run the risk of losing stock or machinery through burglary on a nightly basis or having to repair their property time and time again after acts of mindless vandalism. Promoting safer and more secure business communities would greatly reduce social costs and help to rejuvenate deprived areas such as Hartlepool. I urge Ministers to do more in that regard.
On the proposals on drugs in the Queen's Speech, further progress with drug rehabilitation is a welcome step. I completely agree with the setting up of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. I ask Ministers to ensure that a key part of the agency's remit and the drugs Bill is to crack down on dealers. All too often for the young men and women growing up on our estates, the most successful member of their peer group is the local drug dealer, with a flash car, decent clothes and plenty of money in their pocket. The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was a great step forward, and I hope that the proposed legislation as outlined in the Queen's Speech will go further towards ensuring that people, including present and potential dealers, recognise not only that crime does not pay but that they will be punished severely for peddling drugs in our neighbourhoods.
I also welcome the proposals to extend financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds involved in education and training. By giving real financial incentives to continue studying or training, the Government will help the economy by producing a high-skilled work force and, as a nod to the antisocial behaviour theme, help keep people on the straight and narrow.
I believe a central element of the Queen's Speech is the Government's determination to do more to tackle antisocial behaviour. I applaud that, because this is the major concern of my constituents. People's quality of life is blighted by petty crimefrom graffiti and noisy neighbours to gangs of youths on street corners threatening and alarming residents. We in Hartlepool are in a curious position in which crime has come down by 20 per cent in the past three months, yet fear of crime is rising. I shared a platform on Saturday with the head of Hartlepool police, Chief Superintendent Dave Nixon. He specifically said that crime is reducing in Hartlepool as a direct consequence of the Labour Government's initiatives.
When I talk to my constituents about the fear of crime, however, it is the specific fear of antisocial behaviour that concerns them. It is walking past a gang of youths on their way to the shops to buy a pint of milk that intimidates them. I do not think that the proposed legislation should scare people, but reassure them. Responsive neighbourhood policing by which residents know the name of their local policeman or woman or community support officer is precisely what my constituents want. This will reassure them and help to reduce the problems on our streets.
I would also like Ministers to consider whether technology could be used to tackle the problems. I have been on a Friday night patrol with the local police, and I asked the officer concerned about the point continually made by the Conservative party about additional bureaucracy. He responded that he did not think that there was such bureaucracy. On the contrary, he said that he thought the number of forms was being reduced.
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However, he made the valid point that technology, such as hand-held BlackBerries to capture information, could be used. I ask Ministers to consider the provision of such technology on the front line for police to act against crime.
Most of all, I hope that the details in the proposed Bills in the Queen's Speech help to ensure that communities can take control of their own lives. For when residents say enough is enough and communities set their own standards of behaviour, great advances can be made, and I do not mean that in a way that encourages vigilantes. However, given the tools, the powers and the freedoms to make a difference in their areas, normal, decent hard-working people will lift their communities forward. That has been seen in my constituency in areas such as Burbank, where local residents, empowered by the Government, have reclaimed their streets and are making a real difference. It also means providing relevant and up-to-date places for young people to go, so that they can socialise without being intimidated themselves or intimidating others. I do not mean rewarding people for bad behaviour, but recognising that boredom and a lack of appropriate facilities often help to cause antisocial behaviour. I ask Home Office Ministers to provide funding in my constituency and others to allow for good facilities to nip problems in the bud.
I hope that the Government go further in stripping away empire building, which means that agencies such as local authorities, the police and registered social landlords do not share information for fear of losing some of their perceived power. My constituents do not care about thatthey want results. They want their streets safe and clean, and the local villains locked up. Hartlepool has been massively successful in pulling together agencies to ensure that results can be delivered, but we need to go further to ensure that all relevant agencies co-ordinate more of the information available to them so that problems are responded to quickly and antisocial behaviour is minimised.
The proposed charities Bill is also a welcome step. Ministers have a real opportunity to co-ordinate legislation in the Queen's Speech by linking the Bill with antisocial behaviour legislation, thus granting greater powers to voluntary and residents' groups. Hartlepool has strong residents groups, and they are a key reason why we are tackling the problems in our town. However, I ask the Government to consider whether the charities Bill's powers will be sufficient to allow charitable status for residents associations, for example, or to reduce bureaucracy sufficiently so that more money will be available on the front line for residents associations to tackle the problems in our neighbourhoods.
The Government have done much to reduce crime in my constituency and throughout the country, and the measures in the Queen's Speech are a further step in the right direction. We need to do more to reassure my constituents in respect of their fear of crime and antisocial behaviour, and the proposed legislation, if enacted, will help to do that.
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