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Class A Drugs

5. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the First Minister and his ministerial colleagues on the measures required to reduce the availability of class A drugs in Scotland. [26711]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): I and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have regular discussions with Scottish Executive Ministers on a wide range of issues.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. He will be aware of the by-election held in my constituency in Knightswood Park last week, where Labour received 55 per cent. of the vote. One of the main issues on the doorstep was the effect that drugs are having on the community—[Interruption.] That is obviously not important to Opposition Members. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the recent article in the Sunday Mail about the Daniels family, who amassed more than £16 million through drug peddling. Will he continue to work closely with the Scottish Executive to find solutions to prevent the misery and havoc that the drug culture wreaks on our communities, and will he do something about these parasites?

David Cairns: Every hon. Member is aware of the scourge of drug consumption—it ruins the lives of addicts, the lives of their families and the lives of those who have to live among people who deal in drugs. The Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency has had some considerable success. In the first six months of 2004–05, it seized more class A drugs than during the whole of the
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preceding 12 months, and so far this year it has seized class A drugs with a potential street value of more than £22 million.

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the work of the Assets Recovery Agency, which takes away the assets of those suspected of drug dealing. We cannot come down too hard on these people because they ruin lives and they ruin communities.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that one way to deal with the availability of class A drugs is to deal with demand? Everywhere I have been—Colombia and Afghanistan—the argument has been that if we were not demanding drugs, they would not be supplying them. One problem appears to be that we still use a methadone substitute for those who are addicted, but buprenorphine has been used in other countries—and in an experiment in Bassetlaw—to wean people off substitutes for heroin. Will my hon. Friend discuss that with the Scottish Executive and bring the results of that experiment to their notice, so that they might use a drug that can get people off heroin and its substitutes?

David Cairns: I have heard our hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) speak about that initiative in his constituency. It sounds like a very exciting initiative that is worth studying. If the results are positive, I am sure that the Scottish Executive will wish to take a look at it. As for Afghanistan, the most recent findings from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime show that the production of the opium poppy, which has led to an increase in cheap heroin in the past few years, may be beginning to be reduced. Obviously, that is very welcome news indeed.

Labour Statistics

9. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): If he will make a statement on employment levels in Scotland. [26715]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The number of people in employment in Scotland has increased by over 200,000 since 1997, and is currently at its highest level since quarterly records began. This shows the Government's success in bringing opportunity to all and has been achieved because of sound management of the economy working in combination with the enterprise policies of the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Devine: Unemployment in my constituency is 2.1 per cent., but what further action will my right hon. Friend and the Government take to achieve the socialist utopia of full employment?

Mr. Darling: I certainly do not regard the concept of full employment as utopian, but when our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that one of his ambitions was to secure full employment, he was criticised by the Conservatives and other parties. The fact that many people are in work, which is bringing them opportunities of which they could only have dreamt years ago, is a tribute to the management of the
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economy. We intend to continue those policies, because that is the best thing to do for the benefit of Scotland and, indeed, the whole country.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Despite what the Secretary of State said about employment levels, many manufacturers, particularly in my constituency, are seriously worried about the ever-increasing cost of energy. Over the next few months many of them will pay huge costs for their energy, and they are worried that that will impact on their ability to continue. What action has the Secretary of State taken to deal with the rising cost of energy, particularly for manufacturing industry?

Mr. Darling: The cost of energy is clearly of concern to a number of manufacturers, and we must make sure that we have a competitive supply of energy. The hon. Gentleman is not particularly in favour of that, but it is very important. It is also important, as we discussed a few moments ago, to do everything we can to ensure that we have security of supply, which also helps to bring down the price of energy. We will continue to ensure that those things happen for the benefit of manufacturing in Scotland and elsewhere.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Secretary of State mentioned that the Chancellor was keen on, and supportive of, full employment in Scotland. I should declare my interest in the oil industry, which appears in the Register of Members' Interests. One of the major contributors to the manufacturing economy of Scotland is investment in North sea exploration and production. Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the Chancellor that he must not impose on the North sea a windfall tax or other surprise taxation, which will frighten off the vital investment that is doing so much both for jobs in Scotland and for the security of our energy supply?

Mr. Darling: On full employment, I have just told my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) that measures such as the new deal, which the Liberals opposed—to be fair, they were in favour of the concept, but against its funding—mean that hundreds of thousands of people are now in work and doing well in employment. That would never have happened but for the Government's policies.

The North sea oil sector is doing well at the moment. Over the past 20 to 30 years, there have been many changes in the regime governing taxation, but I am confident that the Government will do everything that they can to make sure that the North sea oil industry continues to develop and expand, as that is extremely important, particularly for the economy of north-east Scotland.


10. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): What estimate he has made of the number of Scottish pensioner households which will receive the £200 payment to help with council tax payments. [26717]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): In Scotland, around 400,000 pensioner households with someone aged 65 or over and not in receipt of the guaranteed element of pension credit will receive the £200 age-related payment.

Miss Begg: I am glad to hear that. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is aware that the Liberal council in Aberdeen has increased council taxes for my constituents more than almost anywhere else in Scotland, so they will welcome that £200. What advice can he give my constituents when faced with high council tax hikes from the Liberal council?

David Cairns: My hon. Friend and I share the terrible burden of living in constituencies controlled by the Liberal Democrats at council level. At least hers does not have the distinction, which Inverclyde council has, of being the worst-performing council in all of Scotland since the Liberal Democrats took control. However, she is right that the £200 payment is part of a package of measures introduced by the Government to improve the lot of pensioners. Since we came to office, millions of pensioners have been taken out of poverty, which stands in stark contrast to the 18 years when the value of the basic state pension rose once and millions of pensioners were plunged into poverty under the Conservatives.

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