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Drug Misuse

8. Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): What progress has been made on tackling crime associated with drug misuse. [205643]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): I am pleased to inform the House that between April 2003 and June 2004, recorded acquisitive crime, such as theft and burglary, fell by more than 12 per cent. We know that people with drug addiction problems are hugely responsible for such crime. The drug interventions programme provides a route out of crime and into treatment. So far, crime is falling faster in the drug interventions programme areas than elsewhere across the country, as drug addicts get out of crime and into treatment.

Jane Griffiths: My hon. Friend will know, I hope, that excellent work has been done in Reading with those who have committed drug-related offences. Does she agree with me and with the crime reduction initiative drug user project in my constituency that publishing photographs of women who sell themselves on the street to feed their drug habit will not help such women, but that treatment will?

Caroline Flint: I am pleased to say that not long ago I visited Reading, where I met members of the drug action team and the police. Reading is doing a very good job both in ensuring that there is capacity for treatment and in dealing with offenders. My hon. Friend will also be aware that I am currently undertaking a review of issues related to prostitution. There are serious issues in relation to the antisocial behaviour caused by street prostitution, but I agree with her that 90 per cent. of street prostitutes are addicted to class A drugs, and we need to examine how to get them into treatment. That is why the Drugs Bill proposes an intervention order for adults, which can be provided where an antisocial behaviour order has been issued, to get people into treatment. I hope that that will be used in this area.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I regret that I guessed wrong as to which question the new Home Secretary would go for. Craving your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, may I take a moment to congratulate him? He and I have known each other and, I dare even say, been friends for about 30 years. I look forward to seeing him for many years across the Dispatch Box, albeit, perhaps, in some time, from the other side.
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The last time the Home Secretary was a Home Office Minister, he said:

Does the Minister agree?

Caroline Flint: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we reclassified cannabis for a number of reasons. First, we had A, B and C categories, and we felt that having cannabis in B was not appropriate. We are trying to have a credible discussion with young people and adults about the different harms of different drugs. Cannabis is still illegal, however. Secondly, we felt that reclassifying cannabis would allow the police to devote greater amounts of time and resources to priority areas such as class A drugs. A recent Metropolitan Police Authority report showed a 53 per cent. decrease in arrests for cannabis possession, which has saved a huge amount of officer time, which can be better used, for example, to shut down crack houses—150 have been shut down this year—and to support efforts to tackle those organised criminals involved in drug distribution and supply. That is the right way to tackle the problem.

David Davis: I do not think that that was a yes or a no. Since the Home Secretary left his previous position in the Home Office, drug-related offences, criminal damage, theft, robbery and violence against the person, all drug-driven, have all gone up. Sadly, our British teenagers top the European Union league of drug abuse. Now that the Minister has a new Home Secretary, will she consider reversing the declassification of cannabis?

Caroline Flint: No, I will not consider reclassifying cannabis, because there are serious issues in relation to understanding the nature of different drugs. All illegal drugs have different harms associated with them, and we need to give a credible message to young people. The figure on young people who have used cannabis is 26 per cent., which has gone down, and some of our figures suggest that it will decrease further in future. Our strategy must recognise the crime connected with those involved in drugs, which is exactly what we are doing by putting record amounts of money into treatment and policing to tackle the problem. The evidence is in what I said earlier: recorded acquisitive crime has gone down, and the number of offenders going into drug treatment is increasing day by day.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde) (Lab): Given that 95 per cent. of the heroin on Britain's streets originates in Afghanistan, and that the United Nations has reported a 64 per cent. increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan in one year, can my hon. Friend assure me that she will work closely and urgently with our counterparts across Europe to crack down on the trafficking of this evil crop before it reaches our shores and causes even more crime and misery?

Caroline Flint: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I know that he has paid a huge amount of attention to this area, and committed a lot of his time to examining the problems underlying source and supply. The issue in Afghanistan is complicated, and involves tackling the people involved in developing the crop. It is
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also about livelihoods—alternative livelihoods for the people involved. He makes an important point, because the drugs go through Europe, through a number of different countries, so our work across the European Union, and also with countries such as Turkey, is essential in trying to stop the supply of drugs to the UK.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the hon. Lady accept that cannabis use among British teenagers has doubled since 1997? In constituencies such as mine, which includes many small market towns such as Sowerby, Thirsk, Bedale, Boroughbridge and Easingwold, petty crimes and vehicle crimes are fuelling cannabis use, and the Government have failed to deal with that problem.

Caroline Flint: As I said to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) a moment ago, cannabis use among young people has been going down in recent years, but we still take the problem very seriously. That is why we have the Blueprint education project—one of the first longitudinal studies that examines how children in years 11 and 12 can better understand drugs and their implications and dangers. We need to have a credible message about these issues. FRANK, which was launched in May 2003, has had 3.5 million visits to its website, and 657,000 phone calls have been made to the service. That shows that there is information out there for families and young people—but we should never be complacent about such issues, and we need to ensure that we continue to drive down the number of people who peddle drugs. The Drugs Bill will do that by, for example, making it an aggravating factor to sell drugs near schools or use children as couriers.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): Should we not give preference to those who volunteer for treatment without committing a crime, rather than coercing people into treatment after they have committed a crime?

Caroline Flint: We know that drugs fuel crime, and in the drug interventions programme we find that when we test people and get them involved in assessment, they are more likely to take up treatment. That is why we feel that in the Drugs Bill we need to move to testing on arrest, but also to making assessment a mandatory part of the process. I can reassure my hon. Friend that the fact that the Home Office is focusing on the relationship between crime and drug addiction does not mean that people who volunteer for treatment, but who have not committed a crime, will lose out. We are putting more money in, working with the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, and treatment has increased across the board, including treatment for people who self-refer and have not committed a crime.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): A few months ago, as part of the parliamentary police scheme, I visited the Tower project, run by Lancashire police in Blackpool, which works with persistent offenders who are drug users, enabling them to break their drug habit. That has led to a 30 per cent. reduction in acquisitive crime in Blackpool. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is an example of how joined-up police work can achieve
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the results that we all want—less drug use and less acquisitive crime? Will she commend Lancashire police for their work, and does she agree that such a scheme could be adopted in other parts of the country?

Caroline Flint: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about the success of the Tower project. Such projects have informed our thinking on how to tackle offenders when drugs are at the heart of their offending behaviour. It is part and parcel of the drug interventions programme, and our work with persistent and prolific offenders, to look at projects such as the Tower project, and I commend Lancashire police for their challenging and innovative approach to these serious issues.

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