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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): The Government are tackling cannabis use through a comprehensive package of measures as part of our national drug strategy, including prevention, education, early intervention, enforcement and treatment.
Mr. Brady: The Minister will be aware that there is alarming evidence of links between cannabis use and mental health problems for young people, particularly schizophrenia and psychosis. The Governments Talk to Frank website states:
Theres also increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems such as schizophrenia. If youve a history of mental health problems, depression or are experiencing paranoia, then taking this drug is not a good idea.
Does the Minister accept that that could mislead young people into believing that, if they have no history of mental health problems, it is safe to take cannabis? Will he ensure that the advice is strengthened to make it clear?
Mr. Coaker: I will look at it, but I do not accept the hon. Gentlemans point. He is right to point out that there is increasing concern throughout the House and the country about the link between stronger strains of cannabis and mental health. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has announced a review. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, is looking into it and will make its recommendations in late April, which the Home Secretary will consider.
Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): My hon. Friend ought to be aware that reclassification is part of the issue. We ought to reclassify cannabis. Not only has it got stronger, but the results of long-term cannabis use have been shown. Let us not continue to talk; let us take action and reclassify it as soon as possible.
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend is right to express his views with such passion. We are all concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health issues. That is why we are statutorily required to consult the ACMD, which is what we are doing. We must wait for its advice, which we have asked it to give as quickly as possible. That advice will come at the end of April, and then my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will consider it.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): Does the Minister accept that there is no evidence that increasing the classification to class B would reduce cannabis use, just as there was no evidence that reducing it to class C increased its use? Is it not crazy for him and his colleagues to purport to have evidence-based policy making if they are willing to reject the advice of the ACMD when it reports?
Mr. Coaker: That is a better answer than I could probably make! In all seriousness, the point made by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) demonstrates the need for the Government to have a statutory committee to consider the issues. The point that he makes has been made in public for the first time to the ACMD. That is a change that we brought aboutdifferent opinions have been put to the ACMD by scientific advisers, health professionals and all sorts of people, including his point about cannabis and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). The advisory council will judge the issues, come to a view and make a recommendation to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will consider it. That will be evidence-based policy.
John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab):
Early this month, Dr. King, an adviser to the Home Office, told the advisory council that the use of home-grown cannabis in the UK has risen from 15 per cent. to 70 per cent. The Government have put most of their
attack into preventing cannabis from coming into the UK, but will my hon. Friend tell me what he is going to do about the home-grown stuff, the use of which has so greatly increased?
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Last year, the police undertook an enforcement campaign, Operation Keymer, which targeted so-called cannabis factories in residential areas. The drugs strategy that we are due to publish shortly will address that issue, saying that we need more of that type of enforcement activity. As well as issues about drugs and cannabis farms, we are concerned about the increasing evidence of a link between trafficked children and cannabis factories.
The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Liam Byrne): In 2006, the net inflow of migrants to the UK was 191,000. For those who take an interest in the issue, as I know the hon. Gentleman does, that is about 15 per cent. lower than the year before and about 22 per cent. lower than in 2004.
Mr. Jackson: My constituency has borne, and continues to bear, the brunt of the shambles that this Government call an immigration policy. Does the Minister think that my constituents will be reassured by a policy involving a belated points-based system but no upper limit on the number of people allowed to come to the United Kingdom?
Mr. Byrne: I respect the passion with which the hon. Gentleman presents his argument, and I know that he recently held a debate in the HouseI think it was last weekon the impact on public services that he sees locally. However, when I look at the proposals for caps on migration, I find it difficult to see how they would capture, touch or affect more than one in five of the newcomers who entered the UK in 2006. I believe that the points system will capture at least three in five, and I therefore think it is the right way forward for carefully controlling migration to the United Kingdom.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): With regard to the administration of immigration law, will the Minister take whatever action is open to him to stop solicitors taking up asylum, leave to remain and nationality cases in which there is no need for legal representationcases for which these greedy shysters grab money, and which they far too often bungle, so that they then have to come back to Members of Parliament? In addition to taking whatever action he can, will he ask the Law Society to investigate?
The position in my right hon. Friends constituency sounds a little bit like that in mine, but he has a far more distinguished record than I have in helping constituents with errors made by immigration lawyers who claim to be acting in their clients best interests. One of the biggest things that we can do to help resolve the problem this year is to make the law far
simpler. That is why later this year we will introduce a Bill to simplify the immigration system and immigration law, some of which dates back pretty much to when I was born.
Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Is the Minister aware of last weeks OECD study, which showed that there are more British immigrants overseas than overseas immigrants in Britain? The implication of our experience of negative net immigration is that if immigrants returned to their country of origin, we would have more people here, not fewer.
Mr. Byrne: I had not spotted the report to which the hon. Gentleman alludes, but he is absolutely right to say that sometimes when we hold debates about the number of people coming into the UK, we forget that, for example, in 2006, of the 529,000 people who came into the UK, 77,000 were British citizens.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware of the growing concern among some sectors of the work force, particularly in the building trade, about maintaining rates of pay because of the large influx of EU migrants coming to work in the UK. There are no simple solutions to the problem, but does my hon. Friend think that we should implement measures such as those in the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, or allow multidisciplinary enforcement teams to go to workplaces such as building sites and make sure that people are properly qualified and are there legitimately? What can he do to implement such schemes?
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for championing those issues with me, both in the Chamber and outside. I said last year that I think that in the next couple of years we need to double the Border and Immigration Agencys budget for enforcement, and we need to use a portion of those resources jointly with other parts of Government, so that where possible we come together with the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Her Majestys Revenue and Customs and national minimum wage inspectorates to take a concerted approach to tackling abuse of workers from abroad, who are often vulnerable, and to stop the undercutting of British wages.
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Ministers latest attempt to affect levels of migration was last weeks Green Paper. He will have noted that it united opinion across the spectrumagainst it. The Guardian said that Ministers should have
more...respect for the facts.
Clumsy steps in the wrong direction.
The Sun said that it was a gimmick, and the Daily Mail said that it was simply barmy. I will spare the Minister the verdict of the Daily Express. Ministers were clearly trying to talk tough. To that end, page 34 of the paper says:
Probationary citizens will not...be entitled to access mainstream benefits.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to hear the spectrum of opinion that the hon. Gentleman mentioned; it might be a good sign that we have got things right. If he studies the issue in detail, he will soon realise that we propose a five-year cap on temporary leave. That will mean that quite a few benefits based on national insurance contributions, such as incapacity benefit, the state-based pension and those NI-based payments that require more than five years of contributions, will no longer be available to those coming into the country on temporary leave. The message that we want to send is simple: if someone wants access to mainstream benefits, they should have to earn their citizenship in Britain. People should not be allowed to sit on temporary leave for indefinite periods.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Jacqui Smith): I set up the Tackling Gangs action programme in September to undertake law enforcement and community engagement activity in areas of London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool where guns and gangs are a particular concern. An action day in November resulted in 124 arrests and the seizure of 10 real and over 1,000 imitation firearms. Early indications from a survey of front-line staff show that they believe youths are less at risk now of involvement in gangs and gun crime than they were six months ago.
Stephen Pound: In thanking my right hon. Friend for her comprehensive answer, may I tell her that, particularly in my part of north-west London, the gang and gun culture is corrosive and massively dangerous and destructive, not just to the young children dragged into that murderous web but to the rest of us, who are literally caught in the crossfire? What lessons have been learned from the Tackling Guns action programme that can be applied to north-west London?
Jacqui Smith: In the areas on which we focused, we have learned important lessons about how to identify gang members at an early stage, and how to use all the resources in the hands of the police, particularly things such as covert surveillance, to do so. We have learned more about how we can mediate and put in place services that prevent the escalation of violence between gangs. We have learned about how we can prevent young people from being drawn into gangs in the first place, and how to ensure that there are exit strategies to get them out at the end. Alongside that, we have taken action to cut off and reduce the supply of guns into the country. All of those are aspects of success of the Tackling Gangs action programme, and they can all be shared more widely at the end of the programme.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con):
The Home Secretary said that 10 guns were confiscated. She will know that some estimates say that 70 guns a week on average are imported illegally into the United Kingdom, because of our porous borders. Years ago, the Home Affairs Committee recommended the
introduction of an X-ray system at all ports of entry. Nothing has happened. When are we going to stop illegal importation of arms into the United Kingdom?
Jacqui Smith: First, we have made sure that the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Her Majestys Revenue and Customs increase the priority in resources focused on this issue. Secondly, specific operations have looked at some of the suggested routes in for illegal working and, thirdly, the new UK Border Agency can focus its combined resources on ensuring that we cut even further the import of illegal guns.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Three independent reports, including the Home Affairs Committee report of 2005, the Audit Commission report of May 2006 and the National Audit Office report of December 2006, have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. We have also appointed Ipsos MORI to undertake a qualitative study investigating the circumstances in which different antisocial behaviour interventions are most effective. Antisocial behaviour orders are just one of these. The outcome is to be published some time in 2008.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Oh no they have not. The National Audit Office, which the Minister cited, indicated a breach rate of 55 per cent., and the rate in Durham is as high as 74 per cent. When are we going to try to tackle the situation before young people start to become antisocial? Can we not give greater encouragement to the sea cadets, the Army cadets, the air cadets, the scouts, the guides and other uniformed organisations, to give young people a purpose in life at an early stage?
Mr. Coaker: I am tempted to say that the National Audit Office said, Oh yes they are. In my constituency and in constituencies throughout the country, people want more, not fewer, antisocial behaviour orders because they see their effectiveness in dealing with antisocial behaviour. However, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point when he asks whether we have to rely solely on antisocial behaviour orders. Of course we do not. Those are a consequence for people who act in an antisocial way, but it is an important part of policy to try and prevent that in the first place, including through parents, families and the uniformed organisations of the sort that he mentioned.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op):
I welcome the approach taken by the Minister, and emphasise that the experience in my constituency and
in the black country is rather different from that outlined by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton). The opinion locally is that if we are to combat crime, there must be a high level of community involvement. Antisocial behaviour orders not only provide a fast-track method of dealing with individuals, but give reassurance and incentives to local communities to get involved in anti-crime initiatives. Will my hon. Friend ensure that that element is reinforced at local level in community policing?
Mr. Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a thoughtful contribution. As he says, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the answer when dealing with antisocial behaviour, but alongside that there need to be other initiatives not just by the police, but by the local authority, schools and all the other agencies working together to tackle problems. As part of that, it is important to involve young people, as my hon. Friend said. When we talk about antisocial behaviour, it is incumbent on us to remember that the vast majority of young people in this country are decent, hard-working and growing up in difficult times. They want something done about the small minority who are a problem as much as the rest of us do.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The ASBO unit at north Northamptonshire police is overwhelmed with work because it is far from straightforward to persuade magistrates to issue an antisocial behaviour order. It is meant to be a weapon of last resort. What speedy and effective penalties are in place to ensure that parents are held responsible for their childrens behaviour?
Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the fact that, as I said, antisocial behaviour orders are one part of the solution, but he is right to point out that alongside that we hear the cry, What are parents, schools and families doing? Other measures are available, such as acceptable behaviour contracts. Parental contracts are also available to the courts to ensure that the minority of parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children are encouraged to do so. Where parents refuse to do so, surely being encouraged to do the right thing and look after their own children is part of the solution as well.
Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): What steps can my hon. Friend take to encourage local authorities that have consistently failed to use antisocial behaviour orders against antisocial tenants to do so, instead of leaving people at the mercy of awful tenants next door to them? Can we stop local authorities constantly offering mediation, which puts the victim on the same level as the perpetrator, and encourage them to tackle those who make decent peoples lives a misery?
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