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Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Is my hon. Friend aware that, in some parts of the United States, offences caused by motorists subsequently found to be under the influence of drugs, particularly cannabis, outnumber the cases of drivers being under the influence of alcohol? Of course, drugs stay in the system for much longer than alcohol.

Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that cannabis can stay in the blood system for about 30 days; the effects can certainly last longer. If that is what they are doing in the United States and it amounts to good practice, perhaps we should investigate further and find out what equipment they are using and how best to use it in this country. The United States is one of my favourite countries and the Americans know how to crack down hard on alcohol. Anyone going into a pub there has to be 21, demonstrating that the Americans know about the damaging effects of alcohol. Overall, when it comes to drugs in America, the percentage is about the same as in the United Kingdom. The US does not have such a great record on drugs as it does on alcohol.

Searches are another aspect of the Bill. I sometimes feel uncomfortable about the issue. I am often as concerned about civil liberties as the next man, and I was amused by what my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham said about whisky in that regard. Civil liberties are important, but so is people's ability to live their lives free of the scourge of drugs. I understand why intimate body searches of those accused of concealing class A drugs must be voluntary, and I therefore understand the Bill's caution in that respect. People also have to sign up to X-rays, but they do not seem to me to be the same as intimate body searches. I would have thought that anyone suspected of dealing in drugs should have an X-ray whether they like it or not. If there is good evidence to suggest that they are concealing class A drugs, they should be X-rayed. I understand that, later in the Bill, it is made clear that
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the courts can take a refusal to consent to an X-ray into account. Again, I would like to look further into the issue in Committee.

On rehabilitation, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw and others, we should reflect on what happens in Sweden, where GP-led rehabilitation takes place. That seems to be right for Sweden, but we do not yet know whether it is right for the UK. We do not know whether it would work in exactly the same way. What we do know is that there simply are not enough places for the people who need rehabilitation. I believe that we have only about 2,000 places, yet we need about 25,000.

John Mann: Over recent months, a whole series of rehabilitation places have closed. Voluntary places, under the brand name of "team challenge", have been shut down because there is not enough demand for them.

Mr. Evans: If someone is convicted of a class A drug offence and sent to prison, they should not just be left in prison for whatever the term of the sentence. We need to ensure that they can rehabilitate themselves while they are in prison. Sadly, we all know of cases where that has not happened, perhaps because of shortages in resources or in the number of trained personnel required for rehabilitation. The skills required are demanding and we need to ensure that we get the right people to help those who are hooked on drugs. Whether it is done under GP referral or in residential centres, it is crucial to get the right people to assist with treatment. If we are to crack down on drug dealers and give some hope to those who are hooked on drugs, we must ensure that the places are there in some form. I hope that the Government can assure us that that will happen. There is no point in convicting people if we cannot give them the assistance that they so greatly deserve.

Prohibition has been mentioned repeatedly, but it is clearly not part of this particular Bill, as it represents tackling the problem from the opposite direction. If legalisation of drugs were the answer, I suspect that it would already have happened somewhere. It would have been seen to have been a great success and we would all be following the example. However, I suspect that the vast majority in the House and in the country believe what I believe: that if drugs are made more generally available, even through a legal system, more people will use them. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) referred to the signals that we send. One can only imagine the sort of signals that would be sent if we legalised or decriminalised the use of class A drugs. It would be a complete shambles. We have seen the effect of being softer on drugs in other countries and we do not need to repeat their mistakes.

On the reclassification of cannabis, I refer to the Brixton experiment. The comments of many people, from police chiefs through vicars to mums, testify to the greater availability and use of cannabis in that area since that experiment started. Let us learn the lesson. Part of my private Member's Bill deals with the reclassification of cannabis. As I said, a number of reports have been published about the longer-term effects of cannabis. We should not put it on a pedestal and say that it is okay and that only dirty class A drugs are harmful. We need to tackle all drugs.
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When the former Home Secretary first appointed the drugs tsar, Keith Hellawell, I thought that it was a good decision. He brought out an annual report; we had an annual debate; and targets were set, if not always met. At least there was a focus of attention and a strategy. There seems to have been a blurring of late. We may not be able to go back to having a drugs tsar, but I hope that we can get back to having an annual report and setting targets.

I hope that the Bill will be amended to make it stronger. Pressure can be exerted—from Conservative and Government Members and others—against drug dealers, whether they are dealing with class A drugs or cannabis. We should set targets to ensure that our policies are working effectively. We must aim to clean up our schools and the places where our young people go, so as to ensure that our communities are safer and free of the fear of crime fuelled by drugs.

The Bill is a good start. It goes in the right direction, but I hope that discussion in Committee and in the other place will strengthen it and make it more effective.

3.20 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): I shall touch on three issues—the national scene and the rationale behind the Bill, the local drug scene in Barnsley, and finally the content of the Bill and ways in which it might be improved.

I heard what was said by my friend the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about Keith Hellawell, the former drugs tsar. However, the development of the Government's drug strategy since 1998 has brought good results, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) described. I hope to illustrate that when I set out the improvements achieved in Barnsley through the application of various programmes within the framework of the Government's drugs strategy.

This Bill will toughen the law to reinforce the fight against drugs in our communities. The organisations DrugScope and Training Point have some concerns about that, which I share. I hope that in Committee we will be able to concentrate on the points that those bodies have raised. In particular, I hope that treatment will be improved by taking on board what they have said.

The renewed drive to tackle class A drugs has achieved good results in Barnsley already. I shall give some of the details later in my contribution, but that success has been achieved within the framework of the Government's strategy. There is still quite a long way to go, but there are signs that progress is being made and that there have been improvements throughout the community. That is why I support this Bill, although I believe that taking on board the suggestions of the two bodies to which I have referred will make it better.

All hon. Members know that drugs cause misery. They fuel crime and antisocial behaviour, and the latter problem is dealt with by part 4 of the Bill. In my constituency, we had some problems about 18 months ago with young people who combined the consumption of softer drugs with drinking alcohol. That caused a real problem in the community, but we have tackled that problem locally and seem to have got on top of it. As I have said on many occasions in this House, the crime
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and disorder reduction partnerships offer a good mechanism for bringing together all the agencies in a locality to tackle crime and disorder.

Some developments have been especially good. For example, our local primary care trusts work with wardens in the communities, and that has enabled us to tackle problems of antisocial behaviour caused by drug taking and fuelled by alcohol. Nevertheless, the cost of dealing with these problems is enormous. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) put it at about £16 billion, but all sorts of figures are thrown around, with some estimates as high as £19 billion. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, when she winds up, will say what the real cost is. It is difficult to be accurate about such matters, as programmes run in each local authority area tend to overlap. It is also hard to estimate the cost of police and court time, and of the work done by the probation service, treatment centres and social services. Nevertheless, the amount of money involved is clearly enormous and must be between £16 billion and £19 billion.

There is clear evidence that the Government strategy is beginning to work. It deserves to be supported, even if that means that we must bear a greater part of the cost. The Bill gives us an opportunity to come to grips with many of the problems in our communities.

The link between drugs and crime is especially pertinent in my constituency, and in Barnsley as a whole. The local authority publicised a very interesting statistic after a survey was conducted in the mid-1990s. It stated that, in 1975, Barnsley was 15 per cent. below the national average when it came to crime but that, by 1994, the area was approaching 20 per cent. above that level.

Two significant things happened in that period— the dislocation of the local economy as a result of the colliery closures, and the advent of drugs. Cannabis and heroin are the main drugs and they had become a real problem by the mid-1990s. There is no doubt that heroin had an impact on the statistics that I have just set out.

On the national scene, it is evident that there is a relationship between drugs and crime. For example, the national England and Welsh drug abuse monitoring project—New Adam—conducted surveys and interviews involving 3,091 arrestees. The findings showed that 60 per cent. of them acknowledged a link between their drug use and their offending behaviour, and that there was a strong association between the use of heroin and cocaine and levels of acquisitive crime. Users of both heroin and crack cocaine reported that they needed an illegal income to pay for their drug use of about £24,000 a year on average.

The same conditions apply to Barnsley. Much of the local research shows that users of cocaine and heroin resort to acquisitive crime to pay for their habit.

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