16 Dec 2010 : Column 341WH

Westminster Hall

Thursday 16 December 2010

[Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Backbench business

Drugs Policy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.-(James Duddridge.)

2.30 pm

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Thank you for presiding over our debate this afternoon, Mr Walker.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing the debate. I asked for a full day in the Chamber, in prime time, and the Committee gave me three hours in Westminster Hall, on a one-line Whip, on a Thursday-the last sitting Thursday before Christmas-but I am grateful none the less.

We are not so well attended that we will run out of time, so that will not be an issue, but I hope, Mr Walker, that you will use your offices to ensure that everyone gets an opportunity to speak, irrespective of their views. We need what I am, effectively, calling for-a full and comprehensive debate on drugs policy.

As people know, I was in charge of drugs policy for about two years in the early part of the past decade, as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department under my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). My right hon. Friend managed to get agreement from the then Prime Minister and Cabinet giving us a little headroom to make some progress on drugs. Before then, we had the regime of the drugs tsar-a lot of debate but not enough progress-but my right hon. Friend managed to gain some leeway. We ran that whole debate as comprehensively as we could, because we were looking to refresh our drugs strategy. We involved as many people as we could, such as practitioners in treatment, police officers and the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which was enormously helpful in thinking things through.

I am not unproud of some of the things that we did, but we did far too little. We took the policy in the right direction. Yes, the classification of cannabis got all the headlines at the time-we took cannabis from class B to class C, in line with the scientific information-and that appeared to be the only thing in which the press were interested, but we did a lot else besides.

We brought in guidance for clubs, encouraging them to have water fountains, so that young people did not die of dehydration if they had taken ecstasy. We opened the door to heroin prescription in my response to the Home Affairs Committee. That was difficult-some people in the Government were enormously worried-although, if we read the response, we can see that the door was open only a small fraction. However, open it was, and that was one of the most important things. I thought that we could follow that up over time, and use heroin prescription as one of the tools to reduce harm.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 342WH

We put harm minimisation at the forefront of our policy and we massively expanded treatment. When Members look at the reasons for the fall in crime-acquisitive crime, in particular-in recent years, yes, of course they can look at the increased police numbers paid for by the previous Government or the initiatives on antisocial behaviour, which made positive contributions, but they do not look nearly enough at the huge increase in drug treatment that we brought in. People do not fully appreciate the extent of the link between heroin addiction, in particular, and acquisitive crime and prostitution. Overwhelmingly, prostitutes in our country do what they do because they are addicted to drugs. A huge proportion of acquisitive crime is committed in order to pay for a habit. We also introduced an education policy, Talk to Frank, which is still going. I am glad that the new Government are to continue it, because giving people good advice on the consequences of drugs is so important.

Many people ask, as they did in the media this morning, why on earth I did not do or say the things that I am advocating now when I was in government. I had a choice to make. As people saw this morning, the Minister is straight out, saying, "This is wrong and I can't approve it." My own party disagrees with what I am saying, so my choice, had I wanted to go further than what I was allowed to do, within the limitations of collective responsibility, would have been to resign. That was my choice-to resign and make a small splash, which might have dampened my shoes but would not have moved drugs policy far at all, or to stick with it and make some small improvements. I chose to stick with it, and we made some small improvements, which were worthy.

I am saying to the House today-to the Government, to my own party and to anyone else-that we did far too little. We have not dented the huge apparatus that supplies drugs, not only to our country but across the world.

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): I am the secretary of the all-party parliamentary drug misuse group.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the downgrading of cannabis and the U-turn or about-turn when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) became Prime Minister, but the figures speak for themselves. NHS treatment for cannabis use doubled in the three years after the downgrading, drugs deaths surged by 15% the following year and the number of drugs dealers prosecuted for dealing cannabis in the three years afterwards fell by 29%. Does he not understand that he was sending completely the wrong messages to young people about drug use?

Mr Ainsworth: No, I do not agree, and those figures will not bear scrutiny. That is what we ought to do-scrutinise what the hon. Gentleman has just said. We ought to bring some reason to bear, rather than make simple allegations and claims.

Everyone said that, when we reclassified, cannabis use would go through the roof. There is utterly and absolutely no evidence for that-quite the reverse. Cannabis use, according to all the evidence that I have seen and heard-others are far bigger experts than I am-went down in that period. The reclassification had no impact. When we reclassified cannabis back to class B, it had no
16 Dec 2010 : Column 343WH
impact again. All the scaremongering about the reclassification of cannabis was uncalled for and proved to be incorrect.

Cocaine use, however, has gone up, because that has been the fashionable drug in recent years-a darn sight more dangerous than cannabis. Cocaine use has gone up, but we never reclassified cocaine. If the hon. Gentleman is positing an argument for reclassification making an ounce of difference to the levels of use, he is in real trouble.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his courage and vision, and it is a pleasure to be here today. Does he not agree, having heard the nonsensical intervention from the hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), that the classifications have almost nothing to do with use of the drug concerned? A huge amount of energy has been spent talking about and legislating on the classifications, but the real tragedy is that in every year of the past 39 years, the waste of lives in Britain has increased, from 1,000 addicts in 1971 to 320,000 now. We have the worst outcomes and the harshest penalties of any country in Europe. Does he not agree that there must be a better way?

Mr Ainsworth: I will move on to some of those issues later in my speech. The only point on which I disagree with my hon. Friend is his use of the term "nonsensical", because we really must get away from flinging insults when discussing the matter. In the days ahead, many insults will be flung at me by sections of the right-wing press, which I knew would happen when I raised the subject, but it will be a great shame if we cannot have a more serious debate on that most serious issue.

I have had some busy jobs in the past few years and so might not be as current as I was a short time ago, but I have always argued that the regulatory framework adopted in different countries makes little difference to their levels of drug use. Sweden has a hard attitude to drugs and relatively low drug use. Italy has a softer attitude and relatively low drug use. We have a very hard attitude and relatively high drug use. Holland has a relatively liberal regime and a high incidence of drug use. That tells us that the regulatory framework has little effect on the levels of drug use in those countries.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his courage in holding the debate today. It is a welcome contribution to the general debate that we should be having on the subject. As he will know, Brighton and Hove has a high rate of deaths related to heroine. Does he agree that drug users are not necessarily criminals and should be rehabilitated and assisted, and that part of that involves the recognition that criminalisation is perhaps inappropriate, particularly for marijuana? Does he also agree that the previous Government's decision to declassify marijuana to class C perhaps sent the wrong message because it was neither one way, nor the other, and people buying the drugs are still buying them from criminal gangs? Either it should have been legalised, or the message that should have been sent out was that it was a harmful drug. We really need a full, independent review of the whole situation, without the emotion that seems to come from all sides.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 344WH

Mr Ainsworth: I intend to move on to what I am proposing shortly and knock down some of the things that have been said that are not true.

During the changes that we made in 2002, a young and newly-elected Conservative Member was a member of the Home Affairs Committee-he is now the Prime Minister. He went along not only with all the changes that we made, but with the Committee's report, which asked the Government to go further in two particular areas: to reclassify ecstasy from class A to class B, which the Government would not do; and, more important, to have a full debate on the alternatives to prohibition. He supported and advocated that, and he was right to do so. We did not go along with that, nor have the current Government. They have condemned it and ruled it out in the new drugs strategy issued last week. When the right hon. Gentleman became leader of the Conservative party, he felt, for reasons best known to himself, that he needed to recant and said that he had been wrong to support that policy. That shines a light on exactly what the problem is.

This morning, the leader of my party said that what I was saying was not Labour party policy and that he did not agree with me. I am not surprised in the slightest and I expected nothing other that that. The Minister will stand later and say that the proposal is irresponsible, that it is not Government policy and that they will set their faces against it. When the Prime Minister was being commendably brave as an ambitious young Member, however, he believed in it, and I believe that he still does but knows that it would be enormously difficult to take that position. He would not hold the right wing of his party, with which, heaven knows, he has enough trouble, in place. That is why he will not support what he knows to be common sense, and that is the tragedy of drug policy in this country.

The new drugs strategy contains many of the phrases that were used in my refresh of policy in 2002: "overarching strategies"; "joining up the bits"; "let's get cleverer"; let's get smarter"; "let's work with others", and "let's work with others abroad." All those phrases are in the new strategy, yet the Government are trying to claim that it is a huge, new drugs policy, which will have an impact. It is not. Overwhelmingly, it is a continuation of what went before. There is one significant difference: the Government are retreating from the notion of harm minimisation, the only thing that made the difference. They claim that harm minimisation is fine, but that we have to go further and put the need to cure people of their addictions at the forefront of all our thinking. Who would not want to do that? Who on earth thinks that curing people's addictions is not a good idea? I think that it is a fantastic idea. However, we should not be naive. It will work in some instances, but not in others. It will work at some points in people's lives, but not at others. The opportunities, where they exist, to move people through drug addiction to becoming drug free ought to be seized and properly funded.

When we talk about an emphasis on cure, we should be mindful that rehabilitation is massively expensive. The Government are not about to start funding mass rehabilitation and are in fact cutting drug treatment programmes. There will be reductions in drug treatment budgets in every constituency the length and breadth of the country. The budget for drug treatment in Coventry and Warwickshire is currently £11 million, but the new
16 Dec 2010 : Column 345WH
budget will be £8 million, which is a huge cut. If we start taking money for rehabilitation out of that £8 million, the funding for many other treatments will be hugely reduced. I have a real fear about that, because we are about to enter a period when unemployment will rise, police numbers will decrease and drug treatment will be slashed, which will result in a massive increase in acquisitive crime. I fear that that is what our country is about to face.

Andrew Griffiths: The right hon. Gentleman makes a strong case for harm minimisation, as if it were the solution to the problem, but does he not accept that the figures show that 95,000 people in the UK have been on a methadone script for more than a year? Of those 95,000, 25% were still on methadone four years later. I do not know about him, but I am ambitious for people and do not want to see so many living in state-induced dependency. Does he accept that that maintenance is not providing the kind of solution that we are looking for?

Mr Ainsworth: I, too, am ambitious for people, and if anyone can be cured of an addiction, I want them to be cured of it. I do not want us to leave one person whom we can get off opiates dependent on them, but, equally, I am not naive. I do not believe that any Government, never mind a Conservative-led coalition Government, will fund the levels of drug treatment that provide the rehabilitation episodes that are needed to get the number of people that the hon. Gentleman talks about off their habit.

Therefore, the choice that we face is to keep those people safe until such time as they can make progress, or to hand them back to the criminal market, put them back into the hands of the dealers, let the guy on the street corner supply them with diamorphine, encourage them to go back to prostitution or to start robbing their mates and neighbours. That is the stark choice . My Government chose to expand drug treatment hugely. We did it not for the benefit of the drug users themselves but for the benefit of the entire community.

Mike Weatherley: Were the drug rehabilitation programmes based on methadone or abstinence? I have been to various drug rehabilitation centres, and by far and away the most effective drug rehabilitation was through abstinence rather than methadone. I wonder whether there would be some cost savings in the long run from full abstinence.

Mr Ainsworth: We should listen to the experts. I went to see the person who runs the drug treatment facilities for Coventry and Warwickshire in Coventry city centre a few weeks ago, in preparation for this debate. He said that, to some degree-and if they do not go too far-we ought to look at the Government's policy, because perhaps in some instances we have been complacent about moving people through. We were so pleased with ourselves for stabilising people, getting them safe and keeping them out of crime, but perhaps we should have been more assiduous in trying to cure them of their addiction. I am not opposed to trying everything to cure people of their addiction.

Let me say what I am and what I am not advocating. I am simply saying this, and no more: it is about time we had a debate in this country, and provoked one internationally, about whether the war on drugs can succeed, or whether we ought to be prepared, in a
16 Dec 2010 : Column 346WH
rational way, to examine the alternatives. We ought to look at continuing the current prohibitions, we ought to look at the alternatives, we ought to examine the issue properly, rationally and sensibly. We ought to be prepared to have that debate.

We ought to look at whether we should reintroduce heroin prescriptions as one of the potential treatments for heroin addicts in this country. We used to do that in the 1960s, but we stopped doing it. People, including famous and gifted people, lived with their heroin addiction and continued to make a contribution to our society, but we stopped that under international pressure. We are now part of the international pressure that stops others from moving.

Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalised small amounts of drugs. People do not go to Portugal to get zonked; there is not a huge problem. I understand that there is a huge financial problem in Portugal, but there is not a huge drug problem. People go to Portugal to play golf and to enjoy the sun. Portugal is still there. It is fine, it has saved a fortune, its HIV rates have crashed through the floor, the sky has not fallen in. We have been part of the international pressure to stop that country from doing what it has done.

Portugal has been successful to such a degree that the sitting Prime Minister at the last general election held up his drug liberalisation programme as a reason for his re-election. Would it not be amazing if the Prime Minister of this country could stand in front of the British public and say, "Vote for me because I have liberalised drug policy and it has made a huge difference," instead of shrinking from what were his clearly held beliefs as he climbed the ladder and became leader of the Conservative party? The war on drugs is not working.

I want the Minister to answer only one question. I know that he will disagree with me today-he has to; he would not be allowed to be the Minister if he were to agree with me-but I want to ask him this one question. I flagged it up on the media this morning, so he should not be surprised by it. He has a new drugs strategy, which he says is different. He says that it will work, that it will make a difference. How many years will he give his new strategy to make a significant difference?

If in two years' time we have not made any progress, will he agree to the kind of debate and policy shift that I am advocating? Do we have to wait five years, or 50 years? We have been at this, unsuccessfully, for 50 years. We have built international criminal organisations that dwarf the mafia that arose out of prohibition in America. In America, good people with good intentions banned alcohol for 13 years. They created Al Capone and Lucky Luciano and, in the end, they caused the St Valentine's day massacre. After 13 years, they did not give in-they came to their senses and removed prohibition.

If we do not start looking at alternatives to prohibition, we will continue to have the Pablo Escobars and General Noriegas of this world. Sher Mohammed Akhundzada in Helmand province, the Taliban, the corruption of the Afghan Government and the funding of the Afghan insurgency will continue. If we move production from Afghanistan, it will simply go elsewhere, as it moved from the golden triangle to Afghanistan some years ago. If we spray the entire forest in Colombia and destroy the foliage so that coca cannot be grown, production will move to Bolivia, Peru and, potentially, to Africa. When? That is my only question to the Minister.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 347WH

I am not advocating a big bang. I do not believe that any political party would dare to propose some huge, instant change in this regard. People are too frightened, and rightly so, by the size of the problem. I am proposing debate, incremental change, pilots and rational thought. I am proposing that the Government do not do what is in their Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which I believe includes a measure to remove the requirement to have scientists on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. How stupid is that? In a modern society, we are about to say that we do not need scientists on the advisory council. Perhaps we should legislate to have witch doctors on it. That is about as silly a thing as I have heard for some long time.

Andrew Griffiths: The right hon. Gentleman mentioned science, and I saw Professor Nutt on television today, coming to his aid and supporting his proposition. I have listened to his reasoned speech, in which he has set out why he thinks this is important, but he has not mentioned anybody involved in drug treatment who supports his suggestion. What groups advocate the legalisation of heroin and cocaine?

Mr Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman needs to listen to what I am saying. I am not advocating kiosks on street corners where young people can buy heroin, for heaven's sake. I am a parent and a grandparent, and I want to make my children and my grandchildren safer. I do not want them to experiment with dangerous drugs. [Interruption.] I have said that it is about time that we had a reasonable debate, but the hon. Gentleman cannot help this yah-boo nonsense. He has asked a question and I will give him an answer-and after today we will give him a load more as well, because there are lots of them.

I am advocating the replacement of the dealer, who has a ready market with addicts putting money in his pocket and who is, in his totally and utterly irresponsible way, prepared to sell heroin to children and anybody else to extend his market, to the extent that we can do so-perfection does not exist-with a doctor. I want to get people into clinics and give them prescriptions and remove the dealer's market, thereby removing at least some dealers.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I want to cite a couple of people who support the right hon. Gentleman's position. Sir Ian Gilmore, the former president of the Royal College of Physicians, argues that decriminalising illicit use could

The chairman of the Bar Council, Nicholas Green, QC, says:

We are not short of any allies on this side of the Chamber.

Mr Ainsworth: I have been helped in preparing this speech, and in my thinking on this matter, by an organisation called Transform, which is often accused of being a libertarian organisation, although it is not; it
16 Dec 2010 : Column 348WH
proposes good, solid, readily available, well-funded treatment, while saving a fortune and many lives in the process.

Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having the bravery to initiate this important debate. Drugs destroy lives and wreck families. I suspect, sadly, that few families in Britain today have not been touched by the scourge of drugs-the thieving, lying, deceit, violence and unreasonable behaviour that come from drug abusers. Yet families do not talk about that with friends, for fear, in many respects, of criminalisation and because of the instinctive need to protect loved ones. The situation is difficult. There is no one to talk to and no one who can help, in many cases, and it can be lonely for families dealing with such matters. Nevertheless, it is a killer and we have real problem. I am not in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals for legalisation, but there are some excellent abstinence-based systems in residential programmes, one example of which is the Kenward Trust, in my constituency, which provides respite for the family and treatment for the abuser.

Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair): Order. I think we need to let Mr Ainsworth respond to the intervention. May I say to all colleagues that interventions are getting a little bit long? I am not picking on one colleague. This is a useful juncture at which to remind hon. Members to keep interventions short.

Mr Ainsworth: I thank the hon. Lady for her heartfelt comments. She disagrees with me. Turning the clock back to when I was a relatively new Member of Parliament, I would have said exactly the same as her. When my Government came out with a new drug policy, particularly if I had had the opportunity to have input into it, I would have hoped and thought that a lot of good people were working on it and that it would make a difference. In the period ahead, the hon. Lady should watch what happens. If this new drug policy does not make any difference-I believe it will not-she should keep an open mind and come to another conclusion. I do not know how many years she or the Minister will give it, but she should keep an eye on the policy and stay engaged with this issue. I think that she will, like me, come to different conclusions over time, but that remains to be seen. All I can say is that I hope that she keeps an open mind.

I want to raise one more issue that is not to do with drugs, but I am determined to say this. As I said, I am neither the slightest bit surprised about, nor do I have a problem with, what my party leader said this morning. He distanced the Labour party from what I am saying. I expected that; he was never going to do anything else. However, I am annoyed that an anonymous Labour party spokesperson said that what I am saying is irresponsible. I do not mind that the leader of the party, the shadow Minister or the Labour party spokesperson think that; if they do, they should say it. I will not be the slightest bit upset if anybody disagrees in any terms with what I am saying. But I am upset by anonymous briefings by my party against its members. I used to get angry about that in government. It used to happen to me in government and I am sure that it happens to Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members, too. I will not allow people anonymously to say these things without my making an issue of it, because doing so is the only way that hon. Members can fight back.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 349WH

The road of anonymous briefings leads to Damian McBride. My party learnt from that problem once; it does not need to learn the lesson again. Whoever this individual is, they should stop, because if they do not stop and if they say these things about me, I will say things like this, publicly, in television studios and in the Chamber of the House of Commons. We will, between us, damage our party. Stop. If they want to say anything about me and my views, they should give us their name and say it on the record. I will not be offended. Anonymous briefing has been a plague of modern politics. I am determined that people will not do it to me without some retaliation.

Several hon. Members rose-

Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair): Order. Six Back Benchers are here and we have quite a bit of time. Just two Back Benchers were planning to intervene, but given the nature of this debate I would not mind, and I am sure that colleagues would not mind either, if they made short speeches, because this is an important subject.

3.8 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): My name is Neil Carmichael, in case there is any doubt about my being anonymous.

I welcome this important debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) not only on securing it, but on having the courage to say something different from what he has said before. I do not agree with him, but it is right and proper to have such a debate from time to time, because in respect of the current drugs strategy we are looking back to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Time has marched on. This is a good opportunity to review the situation.

Decriminalising drugs and drug use will not be helpful. Instead, what do we do about people who are on drugs? That is the more important and immediate issue.

Colleagues have mentioned the use of methadone, which is one of the big issues that we have to confront. Methadone is not a satisfactory solution to the problem, and we simply have to state that. Let me give hon. Members an interesting statistic. When the Labour Government's programme kicked off back in 2000 or 2001, it was spending £60 million on methadone. By the time it had finished, the figure was more than £400 million, which is an astonishing amount to spend on something that really is not solving the problem. The first key point, therefore, is to recognise that the methadone strategy is the wrong one and that we need to look much more carefully at getting people off drugs altogether.

Another startling statistic is that fewer than 5% of people are in a form of drugs treatment whose task it is to get them off drugs altogether. We are therefore not only pursuing a methadone strategy with wild abandon, but being very reckless, given that we know that there are glittering examples of good practice, where people are treated for drug addiction and leave the system-usually very speedily-with a satisfactory outcome.

We have one of those glittering examples in Gloucestershire. The Nelson Trust was visited by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and its work has won an award from the Centre for Social Justice. That is quite right, too, because
16 Dec 2010 : Column 350WH
a huge number of people go to the trust with a drug addiction and a large proportion come out completely free of drugs. That is the direction of travel that we should be encouraging, and the Government have actually signalled that that is the direction of travel. We need to be sure that we get resources to organisations such as the Nelson Trust so that they can deal with the problem.

As a result of a question to the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Gentleman discovered that most of the money that we spend on treatment is being spent on methadone. We need to transfer resources away from methadone and towards taking people off drugs altogether. It is important that we flag up to the Minister right now the fact that organisations such as the Nelson Trust really need to be seen, examined and then supported, because there is clear evidence that they work-and that they work well.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is also signalling an interest in dealing with drugs. He has noted that too many people are on drugs in prison; indeed, it is probably easier to get drugs in prison than it is on the outside, which is an astonishing fact. Of course, if we are talking about comparisons, we should remember that it costs about £675 a week to treat somebody and take them off drugs, but, as we know, it costs more than £800 to keep somebody in prison. We need to act on that, and the Secretary of State for Justice is doing just that in the prison reforms in his recent Green Paper.

It is really important that we start supporting organisations such as the Nelson Trust with finance and Government policy, because it is essential that we tackle this question rigorously. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has pointed out that nearly half of all crime is related in some way or other to drug use and abuse. That is a staggering fact, which signals not only the scale of the problem, but the gains that we could make if we simply tackled addiction in the way that the Nelson Trust does and other organisations can. We really need to focus on a strategy that moves us away from methadone and towards getting people 100% off drugs.

The Nelson Trust recognises, as we all should, that this is about more than just the immediate issue of getting someone off drugs. We need to provide family support and opportunities for people to transfer into work. We also need to sort out what can sometimes be pretty difficult housing circumstances. When somebody is on drugs, of course, all those things and more become very problematic. To get somebody off drugs, therefore, we also need to tackle some of those surrounding issues. The Nelson Trust has pioneered some really good work on that, and that is the direction of travel that we should take. I finish with a strong appeal that we think less about methadone and more about getting people off drugs for ever.

3.15 pm

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): It is a joy among reasonable people to hear one prohibitionist talking good sense. That can be a turning point in the national conversation on this subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) is not the first former drugs Minister to say that he disagrees with his policy in office. I collaborated with
16 Dec 2010 : Column 351WH
the late Mo Mowlam on a book about her views in and out of office, although, sadly, her illness overtook her. My part of that book has been published, and I can commend it unreservedly to hon. Members who are looking for an intelligent Christmas present for the discerning reader-it is all there. However, I will not burden hon. Members with that this afternoon, because I have had ample opportunities to give my views on that subject in the past.

My qualification for speaking today is that I have been in favour of the policy my right hon. Friend has described for more than 25 years. I have strongly advocated decriminalisation and legalisation throughout my parliamentary career. I agree with what he said about politics. It has been a great advantage to me to advocate such a policy. The results in Newport West at the last election show that if I had experienced the same swing against Labour as all my colleagues in neighbouring constituencies, I would not be standing here now.

I admire the present Prime Minister of Portugal, because he is a man of courage and principle. When he introduced his policy as a Minister, it was highly unpopular; indeed, it was not popular in his own party, and it certainly was not popular with the press or the public. However, he went ahead, and his policy is now supported by all parties in the Portuguese Parliament.

Yesterday, Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugal's drugs tsar, visited the House and gave an account of what happened when the country de-penalised all drugs. The law came into effect in 2001. By 2005, it had halved the number of drug deaths-imagine that! The procedure is complicated, and I will not go into it entirely, but the Cato Institute did an assessment of it, which was published in Time magazine last year.

Every outcome of de-penalisation in Portugal has been positive. Seizures of big quantities of drugs have increased greatly because the authorities are not bothering with tiny quantities of drugs for personal use. The prison population has decreased, which has saved a fortune in prison and court costs, and the use of every category of drug has been reduced. The policy has been a huge success.

The point that I want to make is that we are on the verge of a breakthrough and a positive measure. I do not want to repeat the old argument-I have wasted many hours on it-between the prohibitionists and the pragmatists, who have a go at one another before retreating to their own silos, with no progress having been made. There has been success, and I say that as the current chairman of the Council of Europe's sub-committee on health and the Council's rapporteur on drugs for more than a decade.

I have visited more than 20 countries to look at their drug policy, and put forward numerous papers. The one that will be a success is a new convention on drugs, which I introduced in 2005 and which has gone through the great whale of a bureaucracy in the Council of Europe and European politics. I believe that next year it will become a convention that all the 47 countries of the Council of Europe will be asked to ratify.

The convention has already been approved-unanimously voted on by 47 countries in the Council of Europe. It has had the approval of the Red Cross and
16 Dec 2010 : Column 352WH
150 countries in the world have supported it. It has gone through the Pompidou Group, which has the reputation of being very conservative. Having had the approval of the Council of Europe, it is being assessed by two international think-tanks.

It is based on this: I despair of ever getting the Nordic view in line with the southern Mediterranean view, of Portugal, Italy and Spain-or of the Netherlands and Switzerland. That will not happen; but if the different views are regarded as circles, there is a point where they intersect. That point is where the convention will be built-on that common knowledge.

Everyone will disagree on many factors, at the extreme of each side. We shall not get people to agree on decriminalisation, I am afraid, in the foreseeable future; but we can get people to agree on stopping the waste of believing that the criminal justice system is a good-value, effective way of dealing with addicts. Every country in Europe knows it does not work, yet we pursue it and spend billions on it.

Mike Weatherley: The hon. Gentleman was talking about the Nordic view and Portugal; is he aware of the Swiss model? The four-fold approach that they have is:

Everyone in this House would, of course, agree that the last-harm reduction-is the ultimate goal.

Paul Flynn: I am very much aware of it. I did a scientific analysis some eight years ago of what was happening in drug production in four countries-Switzerland, Sweden, Britain and the Netherlands. It was an attempt to examine the effects and the level of drug abuse. On one point I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East: the level of drug use in Holland is lower than it is here. Sweden, from a very low base, had the biggest increase. The United Kingdom came out worst, and it remains the worst in all outcomes. Switzerland has tried a number of brave experiments, particularly in the way of prescribing heroin. That has been a great success as a way of reducing crime.

However, I want to mention our greatest failure internationally, and the one I feel despair about. I have addressed the Commonwealth of Independent States, the former communist bodies. The worst thing that has happened internationally on drugs concerns them, because when the Berlin wall fell, none of the communist countries had a drug problem; many had alcohol problems, but none had a drug problem. They came to us and said, "You in the west have had this problem for a long time. You guys know about it. What do we do? How do we deal with drugs?"

But instead of getting a formula in which we said, "Well, this has worked," those countries got back a babble of conflicting views from all parts of Europe. They repeated our remedies and inherited our problems. Those states have 25 million addicts now. If we had adopted a model that worked 10 or 25 years ago, we could have handed it on. I believe that such a model exists in its best state in Portugal now.

I urge all hon. Members to approach the matter with an open mind. I have memories of previous debates of this kind, and in particular of David Mellor, in about 1990, announcing that we could be absolutely certain of
16 Dec 2010 : Column 353WH
one thing-that heroin use had peaked. We had about 90,000 addicts then. When I spoke on the subject about 18 months ago, the number was 280,000, and it is now 320,000.

I recall another debate-we used to have a three-hour debate on Friday mornings-when the Government and Opposition spokesmen had to leave the Chamber because they both needed a fix of the addictive drug to which they were enslaved; they both needed to go out and smoke. I am sure that later in the evening they would wander off to any of the 16 bars in this place, decrying young people's use of drugs-with a cigarette in one hand, a glass of whisky in the other, and a couple of paracetamol in their top pockets for the headache that they were going to get the next morning.

We behave with hypocrisy and incompetence on drugs. I do not want to go into the wasted years that we have had, but can we just say where the United Kingdom is now, and put aside tabloid pressure? Let us forget about what people say, and the abuse that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East will get, and say we know what is right, and what works, and we know that the policies that we have pursued for 39 years have given us the worst drug problems and the worst outcomes in Europe.

We had tough policies in '71. They did not work, so we had even tougher policies-and they did not work, so we went on again to still tougher policies. There were great plaudits for all the politicians putting them through. Each time, our problems went up and up. That has not happened in Portugal. In the Netherlands, there is some kind of control. The glamour has been taken away. The joy of forbidden fruit has been taken out of using cannabis. People can go to a cannabis café and have a cannabis cake with their grandmother. Where is the fun in that? Part of the attraction, here, is the illegality of drugs. Part of the problem, and the reason why people die here, is the illegality of drugs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East mentioned that people can, if they get control of their heroin and know its quality and strength, become heroin addicts and live into their nineties. Many people have. There are homes in the Netherlands for geriatrics who are heroin addicts. They can be maintained. People here who are unfortunate enough to be addicted must take their heroin from illegal sources, from those who produce products that may well be toxic or contaminated. They take them in unhygienic surroundings in a dark alley. That is why prohibition is killing people.

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman paints a very rosy picture of people living a long and happy life on heroin. One of my constituents spent 30 years on methadone and has now been drug-free for two years. He has just celebrated his second drug-free birthday. He said he has wasted his life. The difference between his life on methadone and his life drug-free is like being born again. He is one of the strongest advocates of tackling the situation in which we park people on methadone for years on end, rather than, through rehabilitation, tackling the reason why they use drugs in the first place.

Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman is simplifying the problem. No one is in favour of people going on methadone for prolonged periods, but it does happen, and often it
16 Dec 2010 : Column 354WH
is preferable to the alternative. The point that the hon. Gentleman seems to miss is that a rich heroin addict can live almost without risk. We know of famous people-I shall not mention any names-who were heroin addicts all their lives and died in their beds at an advanced age. At the moment it is poor addicts who suffer, and who are in the position I described-exposed to street dealers and contaminated heroin.

I remember vividly, from the time of the 2002 Home Office report-I was kindly mentioned in the introduction-working with David Cameron, and attending the meetings. I remember his sharp questioning of a man called Fulton Gillespie, whose son had been killed by injecting heroin contaminated with talcum powder.

I had a hope that the generation now in government and opposition-I am sure that most members of the Cabinet and shadow Cabinet used illegal drugs in their university careers-would at least have the courage to see that the present policies are not working, and can never work. I hope that they go through the same realisation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East has courageously undergone, and conclude that we have to have another policy. We should be able to agree on the extent of the failure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned prisons, and one of his hon. Friends told me that he went to a prison where a prisoner explained that he had toothache and wanted an aspirin, but would have to wait until the next day to see a doctor for that aspirin. He also said that he could go out of his cell and obtain heroin, marijuana or cocaine within five minutes.

How many of our prisons are drug free? None. No prison in the country is drug free. If we cannot keep drugs out of prisons with 30-foot walls, what chance do we have of implementing a policy of prohibition to keep drugs out of schools and clubs?

Andrew Griffiths: We agree on that point, but the matter is much worse. The number of methadone interventions-prescriptions-to prisoners has more than doubled in just over three years. The problem is not just illegal drugs in prison; methadone is being prescribed more and more to keep prisoners quiet.

Paul Flynn: There seems to be a concentration on methadone as a solution. It is not. It is part of the problem. There is no way round it, except the nonsense of putting addicts in prison for their addiction. Nothing could be more counter-productive or a larger waste of money. I believe that that is in the convention that will be introduced next year. There is a universal view that we must move away from using the criminal justice system for treating addiction, and use health outcomes and treatment.

As sensible people, we must recognise the enormity of our continued failure, and get politicians of all parties together-the hon. Gentleman is secretary of the all-party group on drug misuse, and I welcome that-to recognise the courage of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East and how he has taken on interviews today. That will arouse the realisation, throughout the country and among all parties, that the only way of ensuring that we are not top of the league of drug deaths, drug crime and the other drug problems on this
16 Dec 2010 : Column 355WH
continent of ours is to learn from other people-including lessons from the Netherlands, and particularly the recent lessons from Portugal.

There is a better way. There is certainly no way practised by any country in the world that is worse than what parties on both sides have done for the past 40 years in the United Kingdom.

Several hon. Members rose-

Mr Charles Walker (in the Chair): Order. It is conventional that I now call an hon. Member on the Government Benches, but I am aware that Caroline Lucas must leave for a surgery, so I will call her now, although I will not make this a habit. I apologise to the hon. Member who has been waiting.

3.32 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Thank you, Mr Walker. I appreciate that, and I am honoured to follow the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) who is such an expert on this issue and speaks such good sense about it.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) on securing the debate and on his position, which I believe is the right one and which my party has advocated for many years. My constituency is in a city that has the unenviable reputation of being home to the most drug-related deaths in the UK, so I have a keen interest in what can be done to reduce the harmful effects of drugs both on society as a whole and on individuals.

I shall start by saying a few words about what is wrong with much of the current drug policy, making a few references to the Government's newly published strategy, and making the case for an approach that focuses on reducing the use of drugs and the harm they cause-treating addiction primarily as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue.

The facts about drug use are not new to anyone in the Chamber. In the UK, for example, the social and economic costs of class A drugs are estimated at more than £15.4 billion a year, and more than half of the 35,000 people in prison are thought to have serious drug problems, which put them there. Those facts should be the starting point for any strategy, which should be based on available evidence. Instead, much of our current approach is based on moral judgments against drug use and users. The Home Secretary falls into that trap in the Government's drug strategy, which they published just last week. For example, she asserts that

while failing properly to recognise that the greatest risk is not drug use per se, but the societal and individual problems caused by a prohibitionist response. Moreover, although there is, understandably and rightly, considerable fear about the impact of drugs, it cannot be allowed to dictate policy. Reducing drug-related harm is a public health concern and should be subject to the same sort of effectiveness and efficiency standards as other areas of public health.

Drug-related harm is caused partly by the nature of the drugs being used-not just their addictiveness-by
16 Dec 2010 : Column 356WH
the way in which they are acquired and used and by how society treats people who use drugs. Unless we develop an approach that seeks to reduce the harm associated with all those aspects of drug use, we risk perpetuating it, and that is what has been occurring since the current prohibition-based policy has been in place.

The matter is not as simple as saying that the war on drugs has failed to reduce drug-related harm; it is actually making it worse. Far from it being a neutral intervention, it often pushes people towards more harmful products and behaviour, and certainly more harmful environments. I am especially mindful that the poorest in society usually suffer most from drug misuse, but it is crucial to differentiate between the suffering caused by drugs and that caused by drugs policy. For example, the vast majority of drug-related offending is a consequence of drugs policy. The burglary, theft and so on to enable drugs to be bought at vastly inflated prices would be significantly reduced under a regulated system.

There is a growing view among the scientific community, as well as among politicians, the police and the legal profession, that we must move away from prohibition, which criminalises people, towards a health-based strategy that seeks to reduce drug use and drug harm through control and regulation. During an intervention, I quoted some of the experts who agree with that position.

All too often, alternatives to the current prohibition-based approach are depicted as a free-for-all, with drugs being readily available with no checks and balances, and with people being encouraged to become users. That is deeply irresponsible, because nothing could be further from the truth. I am certainly not advocating a free market in legalised drugs, and I do not believe that anyone else is. The legalised market exists for tobacco, for example, and it still exists to a great extent in some parts of the global south.

From a public health perspective, the free market approach is even more damaging than the unregulated criminal control of drug markets, with the aggressive promotion of consumption via marketing and advertising, all to the one end of maximising profits for legal commercial actors.

In fact, under the current system there is a free-for-all with no controls on who sells drugs, no controls on who can buy them and no controls on their make-up. Every drug supplier is, by definition, unlicensed, placing them beyond any form of state control or management. If we persist in burying our heads in the sand on this issue, we will miss the opportunity for the state to intervene to regulate and control the drugs market, properly to treat drug users, and to reduce the harm to users and society, all within an overarching framework of seeking to reduce drug misuse.

Poverty, social exclusion and inequality all have an impact on drug use and drug markets, so they must be looked at alongside policies on education, prevention, treatment and recovery. All too often, success in the so-called war on drugs is measured in terms of numbers of arrests or drug seizures, when we should be assessing whether harm experienced by individuals and communities is declining.

As the Home Secretary acknowledges in the foreword to the new drugs strategy,

16 Dec 2010 : Column 357WH

I welcome that recognition, and the strategy's emphasis on the role of tackling disadvantage. In that context, it is important to note the work of the Equality Trust, which shows a clear and demonstrable correlation between drug use and inequality. There is a strong tendency for drug misuse to be more common in more unequal countries such as the UK.

Mike Weatherley: Does the hon. Lady agree that there is a small problem with the benefits culture, which often helps to perpetuate drug use?

Caroline Lucas: That is an interesting observation. Yes.

If the Government are serious about tackling drug abuse they also need to tackle inequality. Turning people with a medical problem into criminals, and burdening them with a whole new set of obstacles to overcome, seems particularly perverse and counter-productive. As well as tackling some of the social factors that contribute to drug use, we should tightly regulate the production, supply and use of drugs, as that is the most effective way to reduce drug harm.

Legal regulation of potentially risky goods is the bread and butter of Government, so it is logical and consistent to apply the same principles to drugs as those applied to alcohol and cigarettes, for example, or to imported toys and hair dyes. The Government are there to regulate potentially risky goods. Some of the most useful work on this issue that I have come across is from the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which has published a "Blueprint for Regulation". It starts by saying that it is helpful to know what regulation would actually look like, so that we can begin to outline different kinds of supply models. For example, it suggests prescription as one particular model, or pharmacies that have restrictions according to buyer age, the quantity of drug being bought, and the case specific concerns relating to potential misuse. One particularly appealing aspect of that approach is the scope to require pharmacists or licensed suppliers to offer advice about harm reduction, safer use and treatment services where appropriate.

I have had the privilege of visiting the RIOTT-randomised injecting opioid treatment trial-programme in my constituency. In case hon. Members have not heard of it, it is one of three trials to examine the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of treatment with injected opioids, such as methadone and heroin, for patients who were dependent on heroin but did not respond to conventional methadone substitution treatment.

Some 150 people receiving oral methadone substitution treatment and injecting illicit heroin on a regular basis were recruited to the trial. Fifty of them were provided with optimised methadone medicine to take orally, and 50 were given supervised injected long-acting methadone treatment. The remaining 50 were given supervised injected heroin, with access to doses of oral methadone. They also received-this is absolutely crucial-one-to-one personal support and had people who worked with them, got to know them and gave them advice and support. All participants were followed-up for six months to enable researchers to compare the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the three treatments.

The main measure of the trial's effectiveness was the proportion of participants who stopped using illicit heroin. In other words, they stopped trying to get dirty
16 Dec 2010 : Column 358WH
heroin from the streets. Laboratory urine tests allowed researchers to check if the heroin used had been prescribed or had come from the streets. Researchers also collected information about other illicit drug use, injecting behaviour, health and social functioning, criminal activity and so on. The results and the strength of the conclusion were amazing. They suggested that pharmaceutical heroin was far more effective in helping to stabilise people's lives, get them off the illicit heroin and, crucially, to begin to reduce their overall drug use. The treatment was not just about keeping people on a particular dosage for ever, it was about enabling them to withdraw from ongoing drug use. I met participants on the trial who told me that it had saved their lives. It had given them back control of their lives, allowed them to kick crime, find their families again and, over time, reduce their drug use.

Professor Strang from King's College London, one of the leading academics on the study, described its outcomes as follows:

I am pleased that the drugs strategy foresees a role for substitute prescribing. I call on the Home Office and the Home Secretary to ensure that the results of the RIOTT programmes are properly factored into the analysis, and that such programmes are made more available across the country. The trials are an example of the regulated use of a drug that is otherwise prohibited. They provide a useful, albeit limited, example of how regulation can enable users to become prescribed users, rather than street users, thereby illustrating some of the benefits of regularising the supply route and decriminalising drug use.

I would like to address the issue of cost, which has been mentioned several times. Some people argue that programmes such as RIOTT are extremely expensive, but I would like to look at the other side of the equation. Given the cost of following up drug-related crime to the police, or the cost to the NHS, approaches such as that of the RIOTT programmes are far more cost-effective than the continuing prohibition that we see today.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I apologise for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of this important debate and I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue today. The hon. Lady sets out an alternative approach to tackling the drugs problem. Does she agree that, whatever policies are advocated, it is essential that they are properly assessed for their effectiveness in reducing crime and improving health, and that they should be based on sound science and regularly reviewed after implementation to check whether they continue to be effective?

Caroline Lucas: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that our position needs to be based on science and evidence, and regularly reviewed. It is precisely that kind of approach that characterises the RIOTT programmes that I mentioned. I have seen the results in my own constituency and I passionately hope that such programmes will be made more available across the country.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 359WH

In conclusion, hon. Members will appreciate that to consider the legal regulation of drugs represents a huge shift in thinking. As such, any regulation should be brought in slowly and carefully, step by step, with each phase properly assessed before moving on to the next one. I mentioned earlier that, sadly, any debate on drug strategy is all too often derailed by knee-jerk reaction and an assertion that attempting to question the existing prohibition-based approach is tantamount to dishing pills out like candy to school children.

I hope that hon. Members will not take that kind of simplistic approach today. I am sure that they will not as the nature of the debate has been very constructive. I hope that we can build a cross-party approach to drug regulation that will be open to learning from the example of countries such as Portugal, which primarily treats drugs policy as a health concern. I would certainly advocate an entirely joined-up approach to drug abuse under the auspices of a single unit in the Department of Health, rather than, as at the moment, the Home Office. I hope it is clear that being in favour of drug controls is entirely consistent with the objective of reducing drug-related harm, and that continuing to support prohibition actively works in the other direction.

3.47 pm

Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak in the debate, Mr Walker.

It was not my intention to speak today, predominantly because I was due to go back my constituency this evening, where I was to present awards to 250 drug addicts and recovering drug addicts and their families at an event run by the Burton addiction centre, which I am lucky to have in my constituency. I received a call this morning from one of my constituents, a young man called Jamie, who for many years had been a prolific user of heroin and many different substances. He has been drug free for three years because we in Burton are lucky to have an abstinence-based programme at the Burton addiction centre that aims to help change people's lives in a way similar to the scheme mentioned by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). People's lives have been changed.

Jamie rang me to say that he had heard on the news what is being advocated by the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth). He told me to ask him this: on the day that drugs are legalised, will he arrange for the police van to arrive at Jamie's house, put on the cuffs and take him to prison? If that does not happen, Jamie guarantees that he will be dead in six months. He said that not as a knee-jerk reaction, but as someone who has experienced the devastating impact of heroin abuse, and has had the ability, the support and the power to get himself clean and to get his life back.

Mr Ainsworth: Neither I, nor anyone else, proposes to force the hon. Gentleman's constituent to start taking drugs again. As he believes in an abstinence-based policy-the new Government's policy-I will ask him the question that I asked the Minister. How many years will he give the policy to make a difference? We are at the end of 2010 and he and I might be here in a couple of years' time. How many years will he give the policy to make a real difference?

16 Dec 2010 : Column 360WH

Andrew Griffiths: The policy is making a real difference in my constituency now. If the right hon. Gentleman comes to see this evening the 250 people in my constituency who, along with their families, have gone through an abstinence-based programme, he will see for himself that it works. It changes lives; it changes communities. He says flippantly that he will not force anyone to take drugs. That fundamentally shows that he does not understand addiction. The issue is not that someone would be forced to take drugs, but that they would be freely available. Every time someone went into the town centre, they would be able, if they were feeling down, to go to their chemist or doctor and get a hit of heroin or cocaine. Drugs would be much more readily available. The right hon. Gentleman does not understand that one of the major problems for addicts is removing themselves from the circle of friends, from the community, that leads to their drug use. All too often, people fall into drug use because friends, colleagues or associates are using drugs. Because of that, they get hooked; they get addicted.

Of course the right hon. Gentleman is well intentioned. I have always known him to be a thoughtful and considered person, but in advocating either licensing or prescription, presumably on the NHS, for heroin and cocaine, he fails to understand addiction and the way in which it works.

Let me read out an e-mail that I received this morning from a young lady who is a recovering addict. She says:

When we hear from addicts and see the situation in which they find themselves, we can understand their concern. It is not easy to tackle an addiction. We recognise that that is one of the most difficult things that people can do. But when it comes to the idea that making drugs more accessible to people will in some way solve the problem, the addicts I talk to regularly just do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I urge him to come and talk to the all-party drugs misuse group. We will give him a good hearing. We regularly hear from dozens of very committed people who are involved in real drug treatment. Some advocate maintenance and some advocate abstinence programmes, but they are all actively involved in, as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion says, trying to give people back their lives.

The right hon. Gentleman prays in aid the Transform organisation. That is a think-tank and a lobby group, but it does not help people overcome addiction. It does research and it talks to people, but it does not help people, on a day-to-day basis, deal with the effects of addiction. I urge the right hon. Gentleman to talk to people who are working with addicts day in, day out, to understand their very real concerns.

I am not going to hide away. I went on television today and said that I thought the right hon. Gentleman was not just wrong, but reckless and dangerous, because the message that is being sent out that drug use is acceptable in some way is simply wrong.

Mike Weatherley: Surely one of the reasons why we are having this debate is to have a frank and varied discussion. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need an
16 Dec 2010 : Column 361WH
independent review? We all agree that drugs are harmful and we would like to reduce their use in society. In my constituency, 70% of all crime is related to drug use. We need to stamp that out. I made the point earlier that the benefits culture perpetuates drug use. Many people are trapped in such a situation. Surely an independent review of the best way to make progress cannot be objected to; it must be a good thing.

Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend is well intentioned. I do not know whether he thinks that no one considers these things. I do not know whether he thinks that despite the thousands of people involved and the millions-indeed, billions-of pounds that are spent on trying to find a solution to the drug addiction problem in our country, someone has not at some stage sat down and considered whether legalisation would be a good idea, but I can assure him that they have. I do not want to send a message to young people that drug taking is an okay thing to do. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion can tut, but in my constituency I have seen families who have been devastated by drug deaths. I have seen people young and old who are living with addiction. I am sure that the hon. Lady has, too.

Caroline Lucas: I apologise for tutting, but the reason why I was tutting is that I do not think that any hon. Member is suggesting that we want to give a message that drugs are okay. One of the things that hinder the debate is attributing to one another positions that we do not actually espouse. We all start from the point of saying that drugs are causing harm in society. The question is this: how do we best reduce that harm? It is fairer to accept that all of us are driving towards that aim.

Andrew Griffiths: I absolutely accept that the hon. Lady is well intentioned, but the right hon. Member for Coventry North East this morning advocated licensing or prescription of heroine and cocaine. What does a parent say when they see a senior politician saying, "We should license these drugs"? The nuances of the argument about a debate and a discussion are lost on young people, who may this very weekend be thinking about whether to try drugs for the first time.

Caroline Lucas: What confuses young people is mixed messages given out by Governments, people obviously being hypocritical about drug use and so on. We should not underestimate young people's ability to understand this debate, and they will have a much better chance of understanding it if we are all straight with one another, rather than hiding behind positions that none of us is really espousing.

Andrew Griffiths: I could not agree with the hon. Lady more. We talk about mixed messages. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the assertions that I made about the impact of downgrading cannabis. I point him to Hansard for 1 April 2009 and the answer to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), with the reference number 267674. It shows that the number of patients treated by the NHS for cannabis use in 2004-05 was 13,408 and that three years later, that had increased to 26,287.

I think that we need to move on and talk about the impact of the approach that the right hon. Gentleman advocates. He advocates prescription for heroin or for
16 Dec 2010 : Column 362WH
cocaine. Of course there is already the prescription of methadone and similar heroin substitutes, and I think that we all accept that that has been a complete failure. The aims were good, and I recognise the need to minimise harm and stabilise people. That is very important, which is why it remains a key part of the drugs strategy as outlined by my hon. Friend the Minister. However, the public think that our drugs strategy should be fundamentally about getting people free from drugs-getting them off their addiction. We are misleading the public when we say that it is okay to take drugs. It is true that, as was said, some people live a long life as a heroin addict. Some people live for 20 or 30 years on methadone, as I said was the case with my constituent. However, that is not something that I would want for a member of my family or for a friend or colleague. Stabilisation-harm minimisation-should have an impact in the short-term, but we all have to be more ambitious about moving to recovery thereafter.

Mr Ainsworth: If a child, grandchild or relative of mine had a serious addiction and was in a place where rehab would help, I would pay for it-I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He should not think that I am naive or devoid of life experience-I am not. However, the Government will not pay for rehab on the scale necessary.

Andrew Griffiths: I do not want to steal the Minister's thunder, but I think he will outline how payment by results and changing the culture of how we treat drugs and drug rehabilitation can deliver the outcome and be more cost effective. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to visit the Burton addiction centre in my constituency, where the programme is not only cost-effective, but so cost-effective that GPs pay for beds because they see the impact it has on difficult patients, who were in a revolving door, going in and out of their surgery. A proper abstinence-based rehab programme, with support for both them and their families, makes a massive difference to GPs' health budgets. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he should come and see some of these projects before he dismisses them.

Mr Ainsworth: I was drugs Minster for two years.

Andrew Griffiths: It is true that the right hon. Gentleman was drugs Minister for a number of years, and I understand that the drug problem increased in every one of them.

Tom Brake: Earlier, the hon. Gentleman said that all the Transform organisation did was research. Does he feel that there is already sufficient evidence on the effectiveness of abstinence programmes versus substitution programmes, or prohibition versus the licensing scheme that the right hon. Gentleman proposed?

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is true that we do not yet have enough evidence on the success of abstinence-based programmes, which is why I am encouraged that the Minister is going for a pilot project in the drugs strategy. I am evangelical on the benefits that proper rehab in an abstinence-based programme can have, but we need to be able to prove that it works. I accept that. Not only am I confident, but the providers and the clients who have been through these programmes are confident that
16 Dec 2010 : Column 363WH
this is a radical change to the drugs strategy and the way we treat drugs. The simple fact is that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot continue along the path on which the Labour Government set us.

Last year we spent £235 million on methadone-that is just on the drug, not the prescription or related services-to treat 154,000 methadone users. That £235 million is the equivalent of spending £500 a minute on methadone. It would pay for 11,000 NHS nurses. That puts into perspective not only the costs to society in crime and anti-social behaviour, but the costs in numbers of a purely maintenance-based programme that is simply failing. I say that it is failing because 95,000 of those 154,000 people who received a methadone script last year were still on the script a year later, and more than 25% of them would have been on methadone for four years. The idea that a maintenance programme is a short-term thing that gets people drug free is not correct. It is clearly not working, which is why we need this fundamental shift in our approach to drugs.

I agree that we have lost the war on drugs to date, but I do not think it is inevitable that we have to raise the white flag and accept that heroin and cocaine will be prescribed or sold in our communities. I say that because those dealing with these things on the ground have warmly welcomed the different approach laid out by the Minister. As I said in my all-party group, a number of very cynical and concerned charities, voluntary groups and organisations involved at the sharp end of dealing with addiction have warmly welcomed the change in approach. They recognise that we cannot continue with the current failed policy.

We win the war on drugs by improving rehab, giving people a recovery-based programme and being optimistic and bold about what we can help them deliver. It is about much more than rehab. It is about helping people deal with the chaotic lives they lead as drug users. It is about ensuring that people have the support of their family, and that their family recognise and understand the process, and that they have access to good health care, a safe home and opportunities. We must ensure that we do not simply expect people to go into the same community, where they had been shooting up for the previous 10 years, after a four-week detox programme, and think that they have their lives back together. It is about ensuing that we give them an opportunity to get back into work, have work experience or work in the community. All those things are very important.

I will draw my contribution to a close, but I wish to say that I do not believe for one moment that the solution to our drug problem is the one advocated by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to see prescriptions for heroin or cocaine issued in my constituency, and I know that many hon. Members feel exactly the same. We have a blueprint in the Government's drugs strategy for fixing the mistakes made by previous Administrations, and many of us are completely behind what the Minister is trying to do.

4.7 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Walker. I congratulate my right hon.
16 Dec 2010 : Column 364WH
Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) on securing the debate. I note his great success in getting his views and comments widely trailed in the media. Despite the fact that it is the Thursday before Christmas and we are on a one-line Whip in the House, the debate this afternoon has had a great deal of attention.

All Members know from our work in our constituencies that drugs cause misery to people and thwart the opportunities and life chances of not only the individual, but family members. They sometimes blight whole communities. However, when looking at drugs in the UK, it is important to remember that we have had some successes. For example, the coalition Government's strategy refers to the fall of a third in the last decade in young people's rates of drug use. The importation of cocaine has also been disrupted.

As my right hon. Friend said, there has been a great deal of investment in treatment for people with drug problems. He is a very distinguished Member, with, as he explained, experience as a drugs Minister. It is right that we should all welcome the opportunity for a considered and mature debate on drugs policy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) spoke with great passion and knowledge about his experience in European countries. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) talked about her interesting experience looking at the Riott trials, and about what we can learn from them. She also addressed the matter of tackling inequality when thinking through drugs policy.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East has set out his approach, but it is not one with which the Opposition agree. There have been headlines and a great deal of newspaper copy today, but the topic has been reported in far too simplistic a way to deal with the complexities of the drugs problem we face. The issue is not straightforward; there are many different-and respected-views on the way forward for drugs policy in this country.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), the Leader of the Opposition, commented today:

referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East-

That is an interesting point. We do need to have fresh thinking, and we need to keep the area under constant review.

This debate is timely due to the recent publication of the coalition's drugs strategy for 2010. We have also had the Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill in the House of Commons this week. That includes clauses specific to drugs policy, which I will address later.

The Opposition share the coalition's broad approach to drugs strategy, building on the pillars of preventing drug-taking, disrupting supply, strengthening enforcement and promoting treatment. There is a lot on which we can agree. However, the strategy marks a departure, from the previous focus on reducing the harm caused by drugs to a focus on recovery as the most effective route
16 Dec 2010 : Column 365WH
out of dependency. We want to look at that further and examine what that would mean.

It is important to note that the Home Secretary, in her foreword to the drugs strategy, states that during consultation the Government looked at the issue of liberalisation and decriminalisation, but decided that that was not the answer-that it fails to recognise the complexity of the problem and gives insufficient regard to the harms that drugs pose.

I want to explore the drugs strategy a little further and test some of its statements against the reality of the current policies being put forward by the coalition Government in areas such as health, education, benefits and criminal justice. The backdrop to the strategy was the announcement of the comprehensive spending review and the budgets that will be available to the pubic sector over the next few years. I focus particularly on the budget allocations to the police, local authorities, the NHS and the education sectors. They all have a very important role to play in drugs policy.

In line with the coalition's general thinking, the strategy features a move away from a top-down to a local decision-making approach-the localism agenda. I hope the Minister can reassure me and other hon. Members that good practice, which does exist around the country now, will continue to be spread and that we will not see only pockets of good practice, with the rest of the country left to mediocre practices. I hope the Minister can reassure me about that, based on this new local approach.

There are three areas on which I want to comment. There is the issue of reducing demand. We know from research that people from backgrounds in which they face problems, such as homelessness, unemployment or exclusion from school, are more likely to take drugs.

There are policies in the strategy that include a great deal about early intervention and getting to those groups early on to stop them from taking up drugs. There is mention, for instance, of the 4,200 additional health visitors that the coalition Government will have in place by 2015. That is all well and good, but I am concerned about how we are to train those additional health visitors, and also about where the money is to come from for those additional professionals.

The situation is the same with Sure Start. The strategy mentions Sure Start and the coalition Government recognise the important role that Sure Start and children's centres play. We all know that the funding of the 3,500 that were opened under the previous Labour Government will now go to local authorities and will no longer be ring-fenced. As local authorities are under huge pressures to balance their budgets, I ask the Minister to look carefully at whether the role of Sure Start and children's centres will be as effective as the strategy sets out, with reduced resources.

There is also mention of the national programmes of support for families with multiple problems. Again, I hope that that money will be protected. Pilots of those programmes are showing very good results. Will the Minister respond by saying how he will secure the resources to ensure that that category of early-intervention project is as effective as it can be?

I want to mention education. All of us recognise how important drugs education is. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East mentioned FRANK,
16 Dec 2010 : Column 366WH
which he was pleased to hear was still going. That is right, and most people accept that the initiative has been a success. However, drugs education has to be more than just a website. We know the important role that schools play in getting messages across to young people. I am concerned about the changes that we are seeing in the education sector-the move to a narrower academic approach in schools, moving away from the Department of Children, Schools and Families' approach, which was about "Every Child Matters" and championed the well-being agenda. That seems to have been sidelined within schools with the new approach of the Secretary of State.

Will the Minister reassure me that drugs education will remain an important subject in schools? I was deeply disappointed that at the very end of the previous Parliament, the Conservative party blocked personal social and health education from becoming a statutory, compulsory subject in schools. PSHE is a good vehicle for ensuring that drugs education is present and effective in the educational setting.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), a former drugs Minister and schools Minister, made clear to me that if teachers are expected to provide good drugs education, they need training, resources and the use of external experts to come and talk to children and young people. That all takes resources and I am concerned that those may not be available to schools and head teachers.

I wanted to pick up one other point on education, which is in the section of the strategy dealing with reducing demand, and encouraging young people to stay in education and obtain qualifications to help them get employment. There is one section that deals with educational opportunities and talks about supporting children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay in education. I read that and thought it did not fit well with the coalition Government's current policy to remove educational maintenance allowances. That has a direct effect on some of the disadvantaged communities, where drugs have been a problem. As a number of hon. Members have already said, the removal of EMA is a real problem when trying to encourage young people to stay on up to 18.

I move on to restricting the supply of drugs. The strategy is building on the good work over the past few years and relies on a number of factors. One is around good neighbourhood policing, and of course we have seen additional police numbers over the past 13 years. We now face a 20% cut to police budgets. PCSOs, who often provide an effective presence on the streets, will have their numbers cut. Again, I seek reassurance from the Minister about how the strategy will deliver, given that reduction in resources. Under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which had its Second Reading earlier this week, police and crime commissioners are to set out the strategic direction for police forces. When the Bill comes to its Committee stage, we will want to consider the possible conflict between reduced resources and the fact that police and crime commissioners will probably want to play a part, encouraging the police to join them in partnership working. It will be difficult for police commissioners to square that circle of not having the resources needed to provide effective partnership working.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 367WH

Legal highs are mentioned in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. The Minister knows that there is common cause on tackling legal highs, as there have been a number of debates on the subject over the previous few months. There is common cause not only because it is the right thing to do; the previous Government began the journey, and the present Government are continuing on a similar line. What is proposed in the Bill will prevent manufacturers from tweaking compounds to stay ahead of any ban.

The chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs says that the Bill permits a systematic approach, which is to be welcomed. Clause 149 of the Bill allows the Secretary of State to introduce temporary class drugs orders to deal with the problem of legal highs. Overall, we support the proposal, but we shall want to examine it further in Committee. The matter was raised in a previous debate, but will the Minister give some indication of the cost of legal highs' being banned for up to 12 months?

I turn to the question of building recovery in communities, the individual tailored approach set out in the document. Although it is recognised as important, I hope that there will be true recognition of the need for different approaches, and that they will be deemed equally valid. For some people, moving on to methadone and remaining stable and able to function as members of the community may be seen as a positive result, whereas for others being entirely drug free will be the right goal.

I do not agree with the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael). He seemed to imply that we did not need to have a range of treatments, although he spoke passionately about the Nelson Trust and the excellent work that it does. The hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) spoke about the Burton addiction centre, and told us about Jamie's view of the situation. However, I believe that we need a plurality of approaches. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach for something as complex as dealing with drug treatment. Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, said:

The massive reorganisation of the NHS means that PCTs will be going and that GPs will hold 80% of the NHS budget. Along with the creation of the national public health service, and local authorities taking on the public health role, the way in which much of the public sector is to operate will be a constantly moving feast. I understand that public health money is to be ring-fenced, but it is unclear exactly how much money local authorities will have for dealing with public health matters in their areas. I believe that directors of public health will commission services locally. The services will be competitively tendered and rewarded, and there will be transparency about the performance of any drug treatments contracted for.

We heard earlier in the debate about payment by results. I hope that we will be able to explore that question further, and to discover how the pilots, which will be created by 2011, will work. We need more detail about how they are to be judged successful. Will it be if
16 Dec 2010 : Column 368WH
people become drug free, or if they are merely stable and able to function on methadone? We need that information.

Andrew Griffiths: The hon. Lady raises a point that is crucial to the success of payment by results. The danger is that certain providers will cherry-pick the easy-to-cure addicts, and that the more difficult and complex cases will be abandoned. Does she agree that we need to ensure that providers that deal with the toughest cases should be properly rewarded?

Diana Johnson: We will want to look carefully at the pilots and exactly how such problems might be dealt with. There must be an imaginative way of dealing with that matter, but we need more detail. The strategy sets out in broad terms what the Government want to do, but the hon. Gentleman is right.

There is also the question of prisons and the criminal justice system. Reference has been made to the proposals in the Green Paper published by the Secretary of State for Justice. It is worth pointing out again that resources and funding will be required. For the approaches that the majority of Members want to see put in place, the important question is where the money and resources will come from.

We also need to deal with the social issues set out in the strategy, such as the reintegration of former drug addicts so that they can obtain housing and employment. Such matters sit uneasily with some of the proposals made by the coalition Government on housing, housing benefit and changes, and that may cause problems for people returning to work. Those matters, too, need to be considered.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East said, clause 150 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will remove the requirement for certain appointments to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to have a scientific background. It will remove the requirement set out in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to include those with wide and recent experience of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, the pharmaceutical industry and chemistry, and those with experience of the social problems caused by drug abuse. That approach rather undermines the view of the Minister for Universities and Science, who wrote into the ministerial code the principles for respecting independent advice-including scientific advice, obviously and importantly.

The Liberal Democrats seem to be in some difficulty on this question. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) raised it in an intervention, and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) has tabled EDM 1148. The problem is that the Liberal Democrat 2010 manifesto says that drugs policy should always be based on independent scientific advice, including making the ACMD independent of Government. There will be some discussion in the coalition about how to deal with that, as it seems that that pledge is in danger of bring broken.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister, and particularly to his answer to the question posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East on evaluating the success of the drugs strategy, and at what point we can have a further debate to consider whether the strategy has worked.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 369WH
4.28 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Thank you, Mr Walker, for presiding over this Westminster Hall debate on drugs policy, and for giving me the opportunity to speak on a subject that I know is of real concern not only to right hon. and hon. Members in the House, but to communities throughout the country.

It is obviously a timely debate, given that the coalition Government launched their new drug strategy on 8 December. The development of the strategy was supported by a targeted consultation exercise in the autumn, which generated more than 1,800 responses. That shows how seriously people take the matter, and how important it is that the Government get their drug policy right. We have worked hard to achieve precisely that.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) on securing today's debate. It is right that we should debate these issues. Although we may disagree with the approach, it is, I think, an honest disagreement on the basis of emphasis, priority and what is likely to be most effective. In no way would I impute anything other than honourable intentions to the approach that he seeks to bring this afternoon. None the less, there is clearly a difference of opinion across the House and probably across his own party. Although he clearly brings passion and belief to the debate, I genuinely disagree with him on a number of issues that he has raised this afternoon.

On the issue of the criminal justice system, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reflect on recent developments. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who speaks for the Opposition, has just highlighted the issue of legal highs. One of the challenges that the Government have faced was the perception that because a drug was legal it was safe, and the way in which that was interpreted by many young people.

Putting a legal framework around some of the newly emerging psychoactive substances did have an effect. It reduced demand. It telegraphed very clearly that these were dangerous drugs and could significantly harm health. That in itself provided a significant public health message as well as a criminal justice framework around both supply and possession.

This is a changing environment. Issues and challenges are emerging to which the Government must respond. Indeed we need to look at why people become addicted and why they become involved in drugs in the first place. The problem is complex and cannot be resolved by looking at criminal justice in isolation. Other factors must be taken into account, such as intergenerational deprivation and treatment pathways, which we emphasise very clearly in our drugs strategy.

I genuinely welcome our discussion and the approaches that right hon. and hon. Members have brought to it this afternoon. As for the notion that our proposal on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is silly-that was probably the one pejorative phrase that the right hon. Gentleman used during the course of his contribution this afternoon-let me say to both the right hon. Gentleman and the shadow spokesman that its existing framework is a matter that has merited our careful consideration. Our proposal should in no way be characterised as Government not wanting to receive scientific advice.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 370WH

As hon. Members will know, there are different types of members of the ACMD: the statutory and non-statutory members. We are not convinced that drawing that distinction between the two is necessarily sensible. Equally, the need for scientific and other expert advice has changed over the years. Indeed, the science itself has changed, and it is important to have flexibility in the arrangements on the construction of the ACMD. That was the purpose that lay behind the provisions in the Police and Social Responsibility Bill.

The ACMD was supportive of the proposal. It acknowledged that it is questionable whether the statutory positions in the Act correlate with how the council now operates. It considered that the proposed change was particularly important given the introduction of the temporary bans and the need to provide advice within short timeframes.

The chief scientific adviser to the Home Office, Professor Silverman, has also consulted the wider scientific community and garnered broad support. The flexibility of bringing different expertise to the ACMD as the drugs landscape changed was welcomed. Those consulted were the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the British Society of Criminology, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the British Pharmacological Society, the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Medicine. The proposals also had the support of Sir John Beddington, the Government's chief scientific adviser.

I just want to put it on the record that this is in no way seeking to undermine or weaken the scientific approach that we wish to take over the formulation of drugs policy. We very much value the scientific input and the relationship that we have with the ACMD in the formulation of policy. That is very important and I would not wish in any way to give the impression that the Government were, in some way, not looking to scientific advice or input or not having that expert involvement in the formulation of policy. It is important that I state that this afternoon.

There were some good contributions by a number of hon. Members this afternoon, which highlighted the various different treatment providers in their constituencies. I welcome the work that is undertaken in that regard. When I come on to the main body of my speech, I will set out some of the themes that have emerged from the strategy, explaining how we wish to develop them further.

The right hon. Gentleman challenged me on the evaluation and asked how long we are seeking to pursue the policy framework that was set out in the drugs strategy. Let me say that this is the Government's drugs strategy for this Parliament. None the less, let me draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the penultimate paragraph of the drugs strategy, which makes it clear that we are committed to reviewing the strategy on an annual basis.

Such a review will allow us to respond to new and emerging evidence and to respond flexibly to the changing nature of the drugs trade and the outcomes being achieved. That is something that we have underlined along with the need to ensure that we consider the newly emerging evidence as it moves forward.

Mr Ainsworth: I thank the Minister for his firm support for continued scientific input on the advisory committee. In the annual report, if there is no evidence
16 Dec 2010 : Column 371WH
of decreased availability, of an improvement in drug problems in the country next year, is he prepared to consider other prohibition?

James Brokenshire: I do not intend to have an annual debate on decriminalisation. What I want to see is the emerging evidence. Some of the issues that are raised are sometimes on the basis of supposition and assertion and we will look at any clear evidence that appears. I have been considering this issue for quite some time, as I know that the right hon. Gentleman has, and the comments that I make this afternoon are made not because I am on the Front Bench or the Back Bench, but because they are honestly held views. We are simply not persuaded by the arguments on decriminalisation because we feel that it will increase supply, that it does not take account of the complexities of the drug problem-why people become addicted to drugs in the first place-and that it could make the situation worse. It is a question of looking at the outcomes of our policy.

The pilots around payment by results will be introduced during the course of this year. It would be premature to expect results over the course of 12 months. This is a five-year strategy-or a four-and-a-half-year one now. We will be considering not only the interim outcomes that will be produced by the strategy, but the evidence and the performance that sits alongside the course of the strategy as it is implemented. That is the responsible and sensible thing to do.

The right hon. Gentleman said that drugs have become a party political football, but I believe that they are becoming less of that. I certainly welcome some of the comments that were made this afternoon by the hon. Lady who speaks for the Opposition in relation to the approaches that have been set out in the new drugs strategy. I also appreciate the welcome that has been given to our proposals for dealing with legal highs and the temporary bans that are suggested in the new Police and Social Responsibility Bill. I hope that even this afternoon we are having a measured debate, even if we disagree on some of the themes and issues that are being debated. It is important that we have a sensible and measured debate, even if we may fundamentally disagree on some issues. At least it sets a measured framework around the discussion of some of these themes, which I know is sometimes difficult to achieve in debating what is a sensitive issue that often provokes a number of passions.

I would also take issue with the claim that the approach on enforcement is not capable of working, especially when one considers that the quality of cocaine on the streets is, in some cases, as low as 10% in purity at the moment. That shows some of the very effective work that is taking place, both in-country and also upstream back to places such as Latin America, where cocaine-from coca production-comes from, as I know that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East will know very well. When I visited Latin America at the end of September, I was very impressed by a number of measures that Governments in that region are undertaking, not only to tackle production but to undermine and take very clear action against the organised crime groups that do harm in this country as well as in Latin American countries. That co-operation between countries on
16 Dec 2010 : Column 372WH
enforcement and on sharing intelligence is a very effective way of responding to some of the organised crime groups, including seizing assets and using such powers more effectively to get at what is driving a number of those groups. I know that right hon. and hon. Members will have seen that that has been a theme that we have developed clearly in the drugs strategy itself.

The new drugs strategy is a critical articulation of our reform programme and work to tackle the key causes of societal harm, which include crime, family breakdown and poverty. It sets out a different approach to tackling drug use and dependence. The difference from previous strategies is the focus on the key aim of supporting and enabling those who are dependent on drugs and alcohol to recover fully, and the strategy places responsibility on individuals to seek help to overcome their dependency. Alongside our holistic approach to supporting people to overcome their dependency, we will also be reducing the demand for drugs, by taking an uncompromising approach to crack down on those involved in the drugs trade and shifting power and accountability to local areas to tackle the damage that drugs and alcohol dependence cause to communities.

The strategy sets out two high-level ambitions; first, to reduce illicit and other harmful drug use, and secondly to increase the numbers of individuals recovering from their dependency on drugs and alcohol. I think that we are seeing a changing pattern in what the experts would describe as polysubstance abuse; drugs are not being taken in isolation, but are being taken together. That is why it is important in the treatment framework to ensure that alcohol is part of that treatment platform. These ambitions will be achieved through activity that will encompass three themes: reducing demand; restricting supply, and building recovery.

On reducing demand, we will focus on establishing-

Andrew Griffiths: I think that the vast majority of those involved in drug treatment recognise that it will take a while-a period of time-to see meaningful results. We have to change the ethos in relation to recovery and we have to up-skill a work force and teach them the new skills that they will need. I think that the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) is the only person who is looking for a quick fix.

One of the elements that is very important is the role of those people who are in recovery in the community. In my own constituency of Burton, what has been a huge success has been the fact that addicts in recovery are going out and being advocates for not taking drugs. They are going into schools and educating young people, which is far more powerful than the Minister or somebody else standing up and saying, "You shouldn't take drugs."

James Brokenshire: I agree, and the issue of champions is developed in the strategy; I hope to discuss it shortly. Having visited the Burton addiction centre, I know that the approach of detox, rehabilitation, recovery and resettlement really takes people down that pathway. Equally, using the 12-step programme and then receiving ongoing support from other community and voluntary sector organisations can work in responding to and dealing with those challenges posed when people relapse. It is important to have the support in the community to support those people and deal with those situations.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 373WH

We will focus on establishing a whole-life approach to prevention and breaking intergenerational paths to dependence. Under this theme, we will focus on early years prevention, particularly for those families with multiple needs, to improve children's life outcomes. On that point, we are establishing the early intervention grant, to bring together funding for services for the most vulnerable children and young people. It will be worth around £2 billion by the end of the period that we are talking about, including funding for family support, Sure Start and targeted youth support. Further detail about how we expect that money to be spent will be made available shortly. I am sure that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North will be looking out for that information in response to the questions that she posed in her contribution this afternoon.

Alongside early prevention, good-quality drug and alcohol education and information will be provided to young people, families and parents, through schools, as part of their pastoral responsibilities, and through colleges, universities and the "FRANK" service. We will ensure that accurate information and advice is provided on the effects and harms of drugs. We are committed to giving schools greater freedom and flexibility, and we want them to be free to innovate. The Department for Education will conduct an internal review to determine how it can support schools to improve the quality of all personal health and social education teaching, including drug and alcohol education. Intensive support will be provided to vulnerable young people, such as those who are truanting or excluded from school, to stop them becoming involved in drug or alcohol misuse. Drug and alcohol services will be encouraged and supported to make the best use of early interventions, such as parenting and family support projects, to keep families together and aid the recovery of parents who are misusing drugs.

On supply, we will reduce drug-related crime, drug trafficking and organised crime's involvement in the drugs trade. The new National Crime Agency will lead the fight and with the UK Border Agency it will deliver on the Government's determination to enhance the security of our borders. We will take action to stop drug traffickers profiting from the drugs trade, through cash seizures and asset forfeitures, money laundering prosecutions, and civil and criminal recovery prosecutions. We will also tackle the trade in drug precursors, which are compounds required to produce drugs, by working with producer countries, the legitimate trade in those compounds and international partners. We will strengthen international partnerships and make best use of the Government's capabilities overseas to disrupt drug traffickers at source or in transit countries.

The introduction of police and crime commissioners will bring local democratic accountability to policing, ensuring that where drug-related crime is a problem for local people it is tackled as a priority. PCCs will be at the heart of an integrated community response to improve co-ordination between the police, community safety partnerships, communities, drug services and users, and the public. I look forward to the debate during the Committee stage of the Police and Social Responsibility Bill about PCCs, because we believe that they will be an important facet in driving change at the local level. We will also address the issue of so-called legal highs through the development of temporary banning orders, by improving the forensic analytical capability to detect
16 Dec 2010 : Column 374WH
new psychoactive substances and by establishing an effective forensic early warning system.

On recovery, we will focus on building a recovery-led system to enable individuals to become free from dependence on drugs or alcohol and to contribute to society. Although recovery is something that is personal to each individual, the strategy sets out three key principles for recovery: well-being, citizenship, and freedom from dependency. The individual will be placed at the heart of the system, with personalised services providing appropriate support.

We have touched on the issue of payment by results and the models that are being developed around that approach. The detailed information on those models will be provided in the early part of next year, as we are looking to develop those pilot projects. Perhaps I might give some indication of the sorts of outcomes that we are looking to achieve, because I think that it is those outcomes that will telegraph our desire, strategy and approach in this regard. They are very much focused on helping individuals to be free from clinical dependence but they will also look at offending, employment, health and well-being, and the outcomes in those areas. Taking that approach will help us to deliver and I think it will inform the pilot projects as they develop, including the treatment and recovery processes that are involved in the broader system.

The recovery system will also be locally led and owned. Public Health England will be established from April 2012 and a ring-fenced public health budget will be allocated from April 2013. The commissioning and oversight of drug treatment and other recovery services will become a core part of the work of Public Health England. We will look to directors of public health, jointly appointed by Public Health England and local authorities, and located within local authorities, to work with a range of local partners and the health and well-being boards to design and jointly commission services that most meet local needs.

Nationally, we will not prescribe the approach, but will develop and provide an evidence base of what works-the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and others mentioned that theme. We will create a recovery system that focuses not on getting people into treatment and keeping them there, but getting them off drugs and alcohol for good. Substitute prescribing continues to have a role to play in the treatment of heroin addiction, in stabilising drug use and supporting detoxification. Medically assisted recovery can and does happen. However, for too many of the 150,000 people currently on a substitute prescription, what should be the first step on the journey to recovery is where their journey ends. That must change. We will ensure that all those on a substitute prescription engage in recovery activities and so build upon the 15,000 heroin and crack cocaine users who successfully leave treatment every year, having overcome their dependency.

Recovery can be contagious. People tell us that they are most motivated to start on their individual recovery journey by seeing the progress made by their peers-a point made clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths). Those already on the recovery journey are often best placed to help. Active promotion and support of local mutual aid networks will be key. We will also support communities to build networks of recovery champions to help such individuals at the start of their recovery journey.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 375WH

People's housing needs must be met to secure their recovery. We will work with local authorities and housing providers to share best practice and to examine the development of a payment-by-results approach to housing services. The strategy will ensure that the benefits system supports engagement with recovery services. It will offer claimants with a substance dependency a choice between rigorous enforcement of the normal conditions and sanctions if they are not engaged in structured recovery activity, or appropriately tailored conditionality for those who are.

A key contributor to recovery is employment. The strategy sets out how we will equip people in recovery with the confidence and necessary skills to compete in the labour market, encouraging them into a range of employment opportunities through training, work trials and adult apprenticeships. We also plan to introduce a small number of pilots to explore how payment by results can incentivise providers to support recovery. We will work with the pilot areas to co-design the approach. The work on implementing a payment-by-results approach for drugs recovery will help set the future direction for all commissioning of drug services under Public Health England. Such work will complement that being undertaken within the criminal justice system to encourage drug and alcohol misusers into recovery-focused services, including: developing and evaluating options for providing alternative forms of treatment-based accommodation in the community; making liaison and diversion services available at police custody suites and courts by 2014; and diverting vulnerable young people away from the youth justice system where appropriate.

As I have said, evidence is of crucial importance in the field of drugs. The most recent study of the outcomes of drug treatment, the largest area of spend for the strategy, found that drug treatment was cost beneficial. For every £1 spent on treatment, £2.50 was saved, and drug treatment was found to be cost beneficial in 80% of cases. In order to allow us to evaluate the strategy, an evaluation framework is under development. It will aid assessment of the evidence currently underpinning the themes of the drug strategy and identify where new evaluation is required to provide a better assessment of effectiveness and value for money.

During the consultation process, which informed the development of the strategy, some respondents advocated liberalisation and decriminalisation as a way to deal with the problem of drugs, in many ways returning to some of themes we have been debating this afternoon. The Government do not believe that liberalisation and legalisation are the answer, for the many reasons I have highlighted. Such an approach addresses neither the risk factors that lead individuals to misuse drugs or alcohol, nor the misery, cost and lost opportunities that dependence causes individuals, their families and the wider community. By delivering on the national commitments set out in the new drug strategy and enabling local partners to take responsibility at a local level, we will ensure that individuals, families and communities will be stronger and healthier. I very much look forward to continuing the debate in the months ahead.

16 Dec 2010 : Column 376WH
4.54 pm

Mr Ainsworth: The hon. Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths)said that I am the only person who is looking for a quick fix. No one understands more than I do how busy Ministers are. I know the work that the Minister will have undertaken in his consultation-writing the documentation and everything else over a period. However, can he find a little time over his Christmas break to do what I did: put our drug strategy refresh together with his drug strategy-eight years apart-and look at the phrases, issues and so-called solutions?

The Minister will find that we had overarching strategies and key principles. I cannot remember if we had three or four themes-he has three themes. He thinks that seizing assets will be part of the solution-I took the Proceeds of Crime Bill through the House in 2001, with all-party support, and it has been on the statute book since 2002. He thinks that upstream interdiction will solve the problem-look at our strategy and see how much emphasis we put on upstream interdiction eight years ago. He thinks that champions are new-look at champions in our strategy. Also, look at action against precursors in our strategy, which is another thing that he is saying will, in some ways, deliver something.

The Minister thinks we are having some success, and that adulterated drugs on the streets of London are an indication that policy is working. The hon. Member for Burton thinks that the war on drugs is not working, while the Minister thinks there is some evidence that it is, but there has been feast and famine in drugs repeatedly over the years. At the moment we have a famine-we have a shortage of heroin and a problem in Afghanistan. However, it will be got over, and we will see availability increase again, because there is too much profit for that not to happen.

The Minister will have an annual review, although he is not prepared to look at the alternatives. His mind is closed-he has his drug policy-but he will have the annual review and participate in it. Let me predict something that I say with huge sadness: when we get to the annual review, heroin will still be freely available in the towns and cities of this country, the price will not have gone up astronomically and, in all probability, the adulteration level will have gone down, because it is at a high point at the moment. We will have lost another year and gained little, and the argument for alternatives will have grown stronger.

I knew before I started that the Minister would not move. I ask him to keep an open mind. I know how hard that is and how very difficult it is for him or for my right hon. and hon. Friends to deal with, but he will find, sadly, that I will be right. We will be saying the same things in a year-if he is still in post, because he might have moved on to greater things-and, sadly, we will have lost another year. However, we will keep up the debate and, hopefully, we will get there.

Question put and agreed to.

4.58 pm

Sitting adjourned.

    Index Home Page