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James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing this informative and important debate on anti-drug awareness. I also congratulate him on the
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publication, “Early Intervention: Good Parents, Great Kids, Better Citizens”, which he co-authored with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and which makes some provocative points about the direction of policy. It has certainly provided me with interesting bed-time reading and some thoughts and ideas on the emphasis that might, and should, be made, and on where things are going wrong regarding the direction of policy from the centre. We must look at the importance of local initiatives, and how the arrangement between the two could be more effectively structured. I shall deal with that in further detail.

I congratulate the Minister on his promotion to the new challenges of policing and security. In all my dealings with him, he has always been prepared to listen to, if not agree with, the points that I have made to him. I have always found the way in which he has conducted ministerial business fair-minded and honourable. I wish him well, as I suspect that those qualities will be well tested in his new role and function.

The emphasis of today’s debate is very much on prevention and the need to address intergenerational issues, which are important, as is the stress on partnership working, however we define it. Much good work is taking place in communities up and down the country. It is important to recognise and appreciate that, but the hon. Member for Nottingham, North made an important point about the need for informed choices and better assessment so that local communities and authorities that seek to commission services or assess their policies have a much better toolkit, framework and guide for assessing their existing approaches and approaches have proved successful elsewhere.

We cannot prescribe some top-down solution. We cannot say, “We prescribe from the centre that this will happen, and therefore it will work in your community.” It is perhaps that emphasis that has been the mistake in recent years. We must recognise that the effectiveness of a solution in one community may not necessarily and automatically be replicated in other communities. There is a need for localisation. At the same time, we must recognise the things that are working and consider why and how they are working and the lessons and messages from them.

This is a difficult area, and the cost is great, not just to the individual but to society. The illicit drug market is estimated at between £4 billion and £6.6 billion. The use of class A drugs alone generates an estimated £15 billion in economic and social costs, which is why the emphasis of today’s debate on prevention is important. However, one cannot look at it in isolation. The emphasis should not be just on prevention but on enforcement and rehabilitation as well. The question is the balance to be struck between each of those strands.

I have some sympathy with what the hon. Member for Nottingham, North said about reorienting things towards earlier intervention to try to break some of the challenging problems perpetuated from one generation to the next, and about supporting parents in their role. Parents are key if we are to address the issues that we have debated and discussed today. We must support them properly and give them the information that they need, but, equally, there must be a focus on rehabilitation. It is unacceptable that, on the latest figures, the Government’s drug treatment programmes result in only
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3 per cent. of people leaving those treatment programmes drug-free. Drug users who seek treatment and services say that they want to be drug-free: they want to be able to abstain and to get support, which is why the emphasis of policy must move in that direction and not simply be badged as harm reduction, which in many ways merely means holding people in addiction by switching them from an illegal substance to a legal one to modify or control their behaviour. It simply cannot be right to hold people in addiction by, for example, keeping them on methadone. The cost of such prescriptions is rising every year.

Early intervention is important, because the age at which young children now use alcohol and illicit drugs is shocking. It is getting lower and lower, and that is one of the most disturbing trends that we see. Seventeen per cent. of schoolchildren aged between 11 and 15 have used an illegal drug in the past year. We are seeing an increase in prescriptions for anti-psychotic drugs among teenagers, and class A drug use has not really budged at all in the 16-to-24 age group. Another important issue is binge drinking and alcohol. The hon. Member for Nottingham, North, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, and the Centre for Social Justice highlighted the effects of binge drinking among 10 and 11-year-olds, who admit going out and getting drunk on a regular basis. Younger and younger children are doing so, which is why messaging is so important. I heard what the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said about the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, but we cannot simply delegate responsibility to the ACMD.

There is a wider perspective on all this, which is why it was right to seek the reclassification of cannabis. I hope that the Minister will update us on what progress has been made on implementation. I disagree with the potential reclassification of ecstasy, which would downgrade it, because that would send out strong messages suggesting that it is somehow a more acceptable drug, whatever evidence the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs may bring to bear on that issue.

I draw the Minister’s attention to FRANK, which is a key part of the Government’s 10-year prevention strategy, which was launched in 2003. FRANK provides information, advice and guidance to young people in relation to drugs. However, I question some of the approaches that are being taken. For example, the FRANK website says some things about the effects of cannabis, but there is no mention of psychotic episodes, paranoia and all those mental health issues that are attached to cannabis. The information that is provided therefore needs to be clearer and much more robust. Prevention has to be the watchword in all of this. I appreciate that early intervention goes much further than prevention, but prevention must still be at the forefront in the approaches taken on information and education. We bandy around the words, “harm reduction”, but I am entirely unconvinced that people understand what that term means. Prevention is a much more understandable concept in respect of what we are trying to achieve in all this and it is a better form of road-marking to signpost the direction of preventive policy on drugs.

Will the Minister spell out how he sees FRANK’s development as a resource? He will be aware that the budget for FRANK has been cut by about one third in
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the current financial year and is due to be reduced by a further £1 million in the next financial year. The Government say that they are committed to the initiative, but how is that commitment represented when funding is being significantly reduced in the current year and in the year ahead?

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is in the Chamber, because I paid an interesting visit to the Bolton drug treatment service in his constituency. I was interested to hear about the approach adopted by that service, particularly its use of outcome-based measures: in other words, looking at the results of things, rather than simply measuring inputs and box ticking, which, sadly, has been the approach taken by many services, not just those dealing with drugs, but other public services around the country. One of the things that struck me—the people working there were rightly proud of it—was that information on cocaine use was being put across to provide better signposts to treatment for people addicted to it. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East is aware of the problems locally in respect of mixing cocaine and alcohol, and knows about some of the tragic deaths resulting from polyaddiction—the mixture of those two substances together—and what that has meant for so many people. He will also be aware of the question of how to get people into treatment. The Bolton drug treatment service has effectively set up its own website, because those involved thought that the information was not out there on the effects of cocaine and what might happen if cocaine is combined with alcohol. I congratulate those involved on that initiative.

Dr. Iddon: I am aware of the hon. Gentleman’s visit to Bolton, and I thank him for informing me that he was coming. I have had a full report of his visit. However, while he was there, did the Bolton drug and alcohol team explain Project 360, which seeks early intervention for children from broken families, and tries to weld those families back together again and do something about the young person’s abuse of substances?

James Brokenshire: Yes, it did. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention and for making that point clear. I was interested to see some of the good practice that that team is putting into effect through different strands of work. I welcome its approach on early intervention and its focus on abstinence-based rehabilitation, which is at the core of its work. There are a number of different strands of intervention. The team uses an outcome-based approach, which has led it down the route of early intervention to try to improve people’s life chances. That further example of a practical approach supplements the examples in his own city given by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North in his opening speech.

I was surprised that the Bolton team felt that there was no information available publicly on cocaine. I should like to question the Minister about the approaches that have been taken, because there are large gaps in the provision allowing people to access services and signposting the way to treatment. That came through loud and clear from the Bolton drug treatment service: those involved thought that there was a lack of information, which prevented people from getting help, even when they wanted to go down that path.

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We have heard a lot about education, and I agree with hon. Members that it is patchy at the moment. Parents are not a strong enough part of the process of education within schools; they need to be engaged much more. This theme comes through in the Government’s 10-year strategy. I remain to be convinced about how that strategy will be implemented and what it will mean. Some of the materials and approaches that have been taken are somewhat confusing. They do not engage parents enough in the whole process, they do not equip them to deal with problems that they see at home and do not support them.

Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman mentioned parents not being sufficiently involved, but does he agree that sometimes a small number of parents are actively working against detailed drugs and sex education programmes in schools?

James Brokenshire: I think that the hon. Gentleman has made a valid point. I visited the south-west last year and talked to some youth workers. I asked them why parents do not support their youngsters in getting treatment or better education. Sadly, one worker said—their reply summed it up for me—“Well, doing that and seeing their children doing better would make their lives even worse.” That was a stark statement about how some communities, whatever the debate may be about, are quite broken. We need to look at early intervention and consider how we can break the intergenerational problems that have been highlighted this morning. However, that does not detract from the essential need to give support and information to parents who want to be good parents and want to see their children do better, while recognising that there is a small cohort who take the more negative view that has, sadly, been relayed to me and to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington.

We have to put education in a wider perspective. I had the pleasure of visiting the St. Neots community alcohol partnership earlier this year, where I heard how education was being bound into the process. Talking to the kids who had been through the educational programmes, I saw how the process built links and brought together retailers, the police, trading standards agencies and drug awareness charities in a whole approach. That was a good lesson to learn. Certainly, I will monitor closely how that programme is rolled out. I hear that it is being expanded into other counties and other areas of the country. It is an interesting and important project to follow, enabling us to see how a community and partnership-based approach can be effective in reducing alcohol consumption and antisocial behaviour and the crime that goes with it.

In conclusion, anti-drug awareness approaches may be summed up in three words: prevention, in terms of focus; partnership, as an essential element of delivery in communities; and perspective, in terms of the wider social context in which they may sit and the other policies that they are intended to supplement as an overarching approach to reduce the harm of drugs and the crime that may lead from that. I was struck by a quote from the pamphlet by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North, which states that the early intervention objective is nothing less than an effort

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That is a powerful message, which the hon. Gentleman expressed very well this morning. We shall certainly focus on implementation and the approaches that might give effect to the themes that he rightly identified as important in making a difference in this serious issue.

10.40 am

The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Anderson, during the first debate in Westminster Hall for a few weeks.

I thank all hon. Members and my hon. Friends who have taken part in this debate for their good wishes on my change of post—I hesitate to say promotion, being the sort of person that I am. I look forward to it, and my intention is to continue in the way in which I tried to conduct myself in my junior ministerial role. It is a great privilege, and I am aware of the responsibilities that come with the post. I am grateful for everyone’s good wishes.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing the debate. He and I have been friends for a number of years, and his constituency is next to mine. During all that time he has pursued his agenda, and it is now everyone’s agenda. The words “early intervention” are now used by everyone across the political spectrum. It would be remiss of me not to tell hon. Members here and those who will read our proceedings that my hon. Friend has gone on and on about early intervention since he was elected to Parliament 20-odd years ago. That opinion was unfashionable in many ways back then, and it shows that opinions that are unfashionable in one decade sometimes become fashionable. My hon. Friend has never wavered or changed his opinion on early intervention, and he deserves great credit for that. With others, he has forced the issue on to the agenda and has made policy makers, not only at national level but at local level, look to early intervention as one way of dealing with the problem that we want to do more about.

I also congratulate all those in Nottingham on their work under my hon. Friend’s leadership as chair of One Nottingham, and that of Alan Given, Derek Stewart, Nottingham city council and the wider community safety partnership. We should carefully examine with my hon. Friend and his colleagues what is happening in Nottingham and evaluate it to see what difference it is making and how we can take that forward. I look forward very much to seeing what progress is made under Drug Aware—my hon. Friend and I were at the launch together—and how we can take it forward.

On a personal level, the point that my hon. Friend made about intergenerational change is fundamental. As many hon. Members know, in a previous existence I taught, and one of the worst experiences that I remember was of a young girl who was having problems with substance misuse. I had been teaching long enough to remember that I had tried to help her mother, who had also had problems with substance misuse when I was teaching her. It is easy to say that the problem is this or that, and that it is so-and-so’s fault or someone else’s fault, but it struck me at the time that whoever’s fault it was, and whatever the issues and challenges for the system, the fact that that was the case reflected that,
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whatever our intentions and with the best will, we had failed because the same problems had carried on from one generation to another. We must do better.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) referred to tobacco, and I know that the Nottingham project deals not only with illegal drugs, but with the whole issue of alcohol and tobacco abuse through a process of education, as my hon. Friend said, and particularly the idea of empowering individuals with self-esteem and so on.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North knows that the work in Nottingham is entirely consistent with the principles underpinning the Government’s policies of effective co-ordination and education, and early intervention. It may help if I speak more broadly about education. Clearly, it is essential, but I believe that we have sometimes asked the wrong questions about drugs education. There is quite a lot of such education in schools, and I provided it when I taught personal and social education, which was a new subject then. The question is not, “Is there enough drugs education in schools?” but “What is effective drugs education, and what works and makes a difference?” Some of the current research by the Blueprint programme, my hon. Friend’s evaluation and the comments from hon. Members here are beginning to answer that question. That provides a great deal more hope for the future than just arguing about the amount, and many teachers agree.

I refer my hon. Friend to the “Drug Education: An Entitlement for All” report to the Government by the advisory group on drugs and alcohol education in September 2008 on personal, social and health education, and teacher training. In their response the Government agreed to examine initial teacher training and the non-statutory nature of PSHE. We will conduct an independent review of PSHE, focusing on improved outcomes for children and young people, and on a statutory common core for PSHE. If we go to the heart of what my hon. Friend said—lots of other issues arose—I hope that, depending on the outcome of that review, we shall start to address the fundamental point. That review will be an important piece of work, to which we must all contribute if we want to move forward.

Tom Brake: Will the Minister clarify—if not now, in writing to all hon. Members present—whether the statutory core will refer or be applicable to all schools, regardless of their nature?

Mr. Coaker: If the hon. Gentleman means all ages, I understand that it will apply to all ages. If he means something else, perhaps he would intervene again.

Tom Brake: I mean the different nature of schools, whether faith schools, local education authority schools or any other sort of school.

Mr. Coaker: The hon. Gentleman knows that there are other governance arrangements for such schools, but if we get the review under way and it changes the statutory core for PSHE, it will influence all schools. He knows the different governance arrangements for different types of school.

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My hon. Friend and other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire), raised issues of treatment, education and rehabilitation. All are important. Of course, education and early intervention treatment are fundamental, but treatment is also essential for people who have difficulties now, and we must deal with that. It is important in the treatment agenda that we have brought more people into treatment. However, when people are brought into treatment, the question changes; it is not why have people not been brought into treatment, but what is effective treatment. That question cannot be easily asked until people are brought into treatment. The Government are currently asking that question: what do we mean by effective treatment and what will actually work.

To some extent, I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch: rehabilitation and treatment must include abstinence as one of the options available. It is not good enough for treatment simply to move people off illegal substances on to legal substances, such as methadone. I know that the hon. Gentleman has met lots of people and will have heard that, for many, methadone is a first, important step in stabilising their chaotic lives. However, we should not be saying that one particular course of action is appropriate for every individual. Treatment should be based on medical and health grounds, and health professionals should make a judgment about what treatment is effective for each individual. I agree with the hon. Gentleman: there must be greater recognition that abstinence and residential rehab needs to play a more important part in treatment. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) also said that.

James Brokenshire: My point was that the drug-free target should be a greater part of the goal of Government policy and the direction of treatment. Sadly, that has not been the case to the extent that it should and could have been. However, I recognise the point that the Minister has made about the use of methadone to lift people out of the circumstances that they are in. I am acutely aware that sex workers have provided a good example of how methadone can be used to provide a transition away from drugs. I hope he agrees that that should not be the end of the transition and that it is possible, and indeed imperative, to help people further and to ensure that they are addiction-free.

Mr. Coaker: I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point. However, sometimes the debate on drug addiction is polarised between those who think that abstinence should be the only treatment available and those who almost say that abstinence should be ignored. I have tried to say that treatment should be based on the individual’s clinical need and what works for them. Abstinence has been absent from the available treatment options and more should be done in relation to that, but for a considerable number of people, the expectation of an immediate move from addiction to legal or illegal drugs to being drug-free is simply not based in the real world.

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