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We have a women’s health group, mainly comprising Pakistani and Bangladeshi women. It provides a fantastic way for those women to emancipate and realise themselves. Where does it meet? It meets in the £3 million Sure Start centre in Longsight, which is one of the most remarkable achievements. All over my constituency, Sure Start is providing playgrounds in parks and all kinds of other facilities. In my Levenshulme ward, where people are asking for a Sure Start facility, the argument is not about whether there should be such a facility but about what it should be, how it should be run, the space that it should take up and the facilities that it should provide. Manchester royal infirmary is now one of the star hospitals in the entire country, and that achievement has been brought about by this Government’s policies. On law and order, that lot—the Liberal Democrats in particular—opposed ASBOs. They are now queuing up for ASBOs in my constituency— [ Interruption. ] That guy—the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws)—might giggle, but the Liberal Democrats opposed neighbourhood wardens when they were introduced, and now they are asking for more of them. The hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrat party! We have a voluntary group in Gorton, the On the Streets group, which is reclaiming young people who have had ASBOs or committed criminal offences. They now help old people with their shopping, remove graffiti and do all the things that the
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Tory party’s report says are needed. That has been brought about by the policies of this Government and by the wonderful, public-spirited local people.

On housing, during the Tory period we had negative equity and a spread of private landlords using their properties for drugs and brothels. This November, the licensing system for private landlords will come to my constituency and, as a result, there will be controls and fines for antisocial landlords. Under the antisocial behaviour legislation, which the Liberal Democrats opposed, the police can now close down pubs and other premises where drugs are being sold.

I totally agree that this is nowhere near enough. However, we were one of the most deprived constituencies in the country, and now we no longer have situations such as the one that existed during the period of the Conservative Government, when a man in the Fallowfield area of my constituency, a security guard, came to me and said, “My employers have increased my working hours to 64 hours one week and 72 hours the next, alternating, with no overtime. They have also reduced my hourly wage.” That was what life was like in my constituency under that lot who want to mend the broken society. When I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Employment and asked her what could be done for that man, she wrote back to say that he could resign from his job. With no jobs available in the constituency and no national minimum wage, that would have meant his forfeiting even his redundancy benefits, such as they were.

The Tory party reminds me of the boy who goes before court having murdered his parents and asks for clemency as an orphan. That is the Tory party today. What is happening in my constituency—steady, with lots still to do—is due to the Labour Government, after 10 years with many still to come.

6.11 pm

Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): So much for the consensual tone of the debate so far. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) referred to the original proposed title of the debate: “Mending the Broken Society”. When we use the phrase “broken society”, we at least begin to get close to how many people instinctively feel about the condition of our society today.

There is a deep unease about what could be called social breakdown, which goes far beyond a lack of income and often describes people who live in highly concentrated communities, experiencing multiple and complex challenges that serve to lock them and their children into a cycle of underachievement, poverty and unhappiness. We can argue about definitions of poverty, talk about the language—whether we describe it as social exclusion, deprivation or poverty—and discuss the measuring sticks we use to assess the extent of it, but at the end of the day most Members of the House know what we are talking about. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Laws) talked about the number of head teachers who referred to problems in their schools resulting from family and social breakdown. Many of us see the consequences of that in our surgeries on a Friday, and if we do not see it there, we should see it in social action projects in our constituencies, or at least read about the consequences of the phenomenon in the newspapers.

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When I was flicking through the social justice policy group report last night, I was reminded of a book I read 10 years ago, which made uncomfortable reading for Conservatives at the time. It was a book called “Dark Heart” by a left-wing journalist called Nick Davies, who had spent two years travelling around some of Britain’s most deprived communities. He saw teenage boys who had made the passage from local authority care into teenage male prostitution, girls who had been abused as young children and who had gone into prostitution, and people in cycles of substance abuse and addiction—people living on the fringes or outside the law. Flicking through that book, I wondered what he would see if he went back to those same communities 10 years on. I do not pretend that everything has got worse, but on the housing estates which I am familiar with in Walworth, Peckham, Bermondsey and south Hartcliffe in Bristol, or on some of the smaller estates in west Wales, poverty has become more entrenched for many and the situation has got a lot worse.

After 10 years of this Government, let us not pretend that the blame is all to be laid at their door. We have a shared responsibility, and there has been discussion about how long-term some of the challenges are. I was reminded recently of some girls I met on the youth offending wing of Eastwood Park female prison in Gloucestershire. Those girls would have been six or seven years old when this Government came to office, but by that time the course of the lives of many of them would already have been easy to predict. A lot of them would have been victims of abuse and deeply scarred inside. At the age of 16 or 17, many of them have deep, messy scars on their wrists; they wear ugly home-made tattoos and carry expressions of deep hopelessness and despair.

I found that the most prevalent factors in the lives of those girls were exactly the same for a group of lads in Cardiff prison. The common factors throughout their lives are family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness and substance abuse, and it is those themes that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and his group sought to address in their excellent report. I welcome the contribution that the report makes to the discussion. It must be taken seriously on the Opposition Benches, and on the Government Benches too. It provides some hope.

In the short time that I have left, I would like to make a few points. First, I make a plea to my party’s Front Benchers to consider seriously the report’s findings and not to allow caution, especially on spending commitments, to prevent them from adopting many of its recommendations. There must be up-front investment to provide some of the solutions, and we need to be ambitious. We might be cautious and afraid of opening up little holes in our public expenditure plans, but the truth is that there is a whopping great hole—a bleeding great hole—in our public finances, which is the £102 billion cost of social breakdown.

My second plea is to Government Front Benchers for positive engagement on the issue. I know that the Minister has a powerful intellect and a good heart, and I welcome his positive engagement. Too often, when I
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have raised such issues, Ministers have refused to engage and provided answers to completely different questions. For example, when Ministers have been asked about the number of young people not in education, employment or training, who are doing nothing constructive with their lives, too often they trot out statistics about the fall in youth unemployment. It is a completely different subject. The cohort of 16 to 20-year-olds who fall through the net has been growing at a time when, demographically, the number of 16 to 20-year-olds has been shrinking. In Wales, 12 per cent. of young people are not in education, employment or training. I therefore appeal to the Government to start to engage positively on that.

Thirdly, let us consider alcohol misuse. At the weekend, there was discussion in the media about one or two recommendations in the large report about tackling the curiously British problem of widespread alcohol misuse and the proposal for a tax hike on alcoholic drinks. The alcohol industry’s response was predictable and depressing—it simply dismissed the suggestion out of hand. I do not know whether that policy solution is correct; I would need to consider evidence for elasticity of demand and availability of alternatives and so on. However, we need the drinks industry to respond positively and join the discussion as it has not done up to now. We should tell it like it is—it is not the drinks industry but the binge drink industry. It makes its money not from people having a pint of beer after a round of golf, but from all the young people who go out on a Friday and Saturday night and get hammered.

In the past 10 or 20 years, the industry has progressively ramped up the alcohol content of the drinks it sells. A pint of beer nowadays is not the same as a pint of beer 20 years ago. It is now common to buy a pint of beer that is 6° proof; 20 years ago, it would have been 2.5° or 3° proof. That is one reason why alcohol consumption, especially among young people, causes so much damage and devastation. I encourage hon. Members to spend an evening with their local police or in the accident and emergency department of their local hospital, if they still have one, to ascertain the sheer volume of cases that are a direct result of alcohol misuse.

There has been much discussion of family policy and whether the proposals in the Conservative report will have the suggested impact of encouraging more couples to stay together. There is much more discussion to come. Family breakdown was the most prevalent factor in the lives of the young people I met in Eastwood Park prison and Cardiff prison. Often, their parents were not divorced—they had simply been raised by a lone parent. We do the children of this country a huge disservice by trying to cling to a pretence that we can be neutral about different family structures. A huge body of social science research shows that a child from a broken home or a lone parent family is far more likely to fail at school, turn to crime, be a victim of crime and fall into alcohol and substance misuse.

When we discuss human rights and international development in the House, we adopt a tone of voice that is different from the note that we strike when discussing other issues. On those subjects, we have a consensual approach to ultimate aims that does not
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prevent dissent and disagreement about specific policies, but the tone is much more attractive to the public. We need to achieve that tone on the subject of today’s debate. We must avoid the petty tribalism and partisanship that will get us nowhere. If we are to make progress and tackle deep-seated, entrenched problems, we need to achieve a consensus on the aims. We can have a robust discussion about how we get there, but we need to change our tone and start engaging with a much wider audience. Perhaps that would also help restore faith in this place.

6.19 pm

Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): There has been a lot of talk about consensus in today’s debate, but it is important to test the breadth and depth of that consensus. I am afraid to say that I, for one, am not convinced of its sincerity and I intend to test it in my contribution today.

The good news for the Opposition is that the Daily Mail is delighted by their rehashed Mary Poppins agenda, but the bad news is that their recently beatified patron saint Polly Toynbee is fully depressed by it. I welcome their attempted apostasy, but like the British people I do not believe it—simply because, on the basis of today’s comments, there is no evidence to support it. With that in mind, I care too much about the progressive cause, improvement of society and social democracy to turn away willing converts, but any such conversion must recognise past social policy mistakes and the root causes of them. If there is to be a consensus, we must test it.

My point is that if society is broken, Opposition Members should recognise that it was they who broke it. A strong society needs strong social policies. Key elements of our currently effective social policy include the national minimum wage and the record-breaking increase in public spending on our nation’s schools, hospitals and other public services. That must be recognised—those investments not only strengthen the bond of our society, but are the glue that keeps it together. If the Opposition are serious about social cohesion, they must recognise that the failed policies of the past—including lower taxes paid for by less public spending on public services—inevitably resulted in worsening public services and social decline. Those policies were unwanted and unworkable.

Logically, if the Opposition recognise that truth, they must jettison their proceeds of growth rule, which underpins all that they sought to achieve in office and would also lead to a repeat of the failed policies of the past and their consequences. If they really wish to help improve society, they should commit to its betterment with actions rather than words. To go further, they should support us and support our public expenditure policies.

I believe in marriage, which is an important and valuable institution, but my commitment to it is personal, not social. I did not marry for the benefit of society and I do not believe that the Government should incentivise lifestyle choices. I am surprised that so many supposedly libertarian Conservatives seem prepared to do so. If minor financial inducements can really make marriages work, perhaps the Leader of the Opposition should consider repealing his flight tax in
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order to subsidise honeymoon travel—I think that might work. It is a curious juxtaposition when someone claims to want to mend society while creating social divisions between the married and the unmarried.

It is surely perverse to ask the state to make a judgment on the value of people’s unique relationships both within and outside marriage. Would such incentives apply to gay marriages and civil partnerships? If the motivating factor behind such a move is, in part, consideration for the well-being of children, why discriminate against children from relationships and in families outside married relationships? How many children—the innocent parties and unwitting victims of those proposals—would be disadvantaged by this move? As a married father, I have no wish for the state to reward my children for my relationship choice and I do not think that their classmates, whose parents are not married but clearly enjoy stable and loving relationships, should be penalised because of the state’s view of their parents’ actions. That cannot be right.

The Opposition are absolutely right to highlight the effects of drug use on our society. Here again, however, I must take issue with them because their prevailing mindset seeks to penalise certain behaviours among the lower social orders while ignoring those same vices or lifestyle choices among the more affluent sections of society. That manifests itself in a particular way in current Conservative thinking.

The Leader of the Opposition recently announced that he was in favour of lowering the classification of ecstasy from a class A to a class B drug. In the same week, the police in my constituency seized a huge haul of ecstasy. The market for that drug was clearly children and teenagers, whose safety and well-being should not be sacrificed in a desperate search for modernity or, still worse, a headline for the Conservative party. I do not doubt the sincerity of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) or the intentions of the Opposition more widely, but they must be consistent. If they care about the effect of drug use on our society, the Leader of the Opposition must recant his views and drop his double standards. Talk is cheap—but by their deeds shall we know them.

6.24 pm

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, in which I have a particular interest as the deputy chairman of the addictions working group. In the short time available, I hope to draw on some of our material. I apologise for the pressure it may have caused on the printing machines that we used to get the report out, but I make no apologies for the depth in which we sought to tackle the problem of addiction to drugs and alcohol. We looked primarily into the underlying causes behind the massive problem of addiction.

We sought to take the inquiry deeper than some other commissions, which ask the great and the good to give their words of wisdom. We heard from a balance of the great and the good, but we also sought to go out to the different areas of the country to hear from those who are profoundly affected, both addicts and their families and those in the field. I hope that the report was informed by their experiences.

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I can also draw upon 11 years of work as a criminal solicitor dealing with many clients who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. We should be concerned both about the 300,000 people with an opiate or cocaine dependency and the increasingly younger people who are being affected by the misuse of alcohol. It is important to look at individuals and, in my years as a criminal solicitor, I have learned that the characteristics of those affected are that they are drug addicts, often with a learning difficulty. They may have come from single-parent homes and had little or no contact with the father or any role model.

My first client at Enfield police station, who also ended up as my last client, graduated through crime to become one of the most prolific burglars in Enfield, sometimes doing 100 burglaries in a weekend. He is now serving a stretch at Pentonville, but he had become disconnected from society and consumed by his addiction, which affected those most dear to him. There were times when he connected with society, mainly when he was in his role as a father and he suddenly realised that he had a relationship with society and those around him. It is important for policy makers to capture such individuals at those times and to ensure that they realise that they have a role in society.

The Government want such people to stop committing crimes, but that is it. They are happy in many ways to see such people parked up on a methadone programme and not going any further. However, we have higher expectation—we want them to recover, become part of society and take their responsibilities seriously as fathers, citizens and employees. Such individuals are parked up in prisons, but some are in other institutions such as hostels, child care facilities and the like. They are most at risk of never getting out of the cul-de-sac they are in.

The Government have approached that matter by throwing money at it. We talk about public spending, and £7 billion has gone into the fight against drugs. That is no mean amount, but how has it been spent? It has been spent to the detriment of the funding of alcohol dependency treatment, which accounts for only 6 per cent., while the money is spent primarily on methadone prescribing; £111 million—one third of the pooled treatment budget—goes into prescription. That is a concern for those in the field, addicts and recovering addicts. In many ways, the expectation has not gone beyond methadone prescribing. There is a place for methadone prescription, but it has to be part of a supportive programme.

Professor Strang, the director of the national addiction centre—who is often prayed in aid by those supporting a harm reduction approach—says that one of the valid criticisms of some methadone maintenance programmes is that they are “little more than dispensaries.” There is no recovery plan or support programme. That is a concern to addicts in particular. Lee, an addict who graduated from the Phoenix programme in Sheffield, said:

The concern now is that we have “geriaddicts” who are simply parked up.

If one method is the Government throwing money at the problem, the other is targets. Someone once said:

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