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7.19 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the debate has been interesting, at times sensitive and certainly worthwhile. The Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together, is a consultative document. It invites comments on all aspects of the proposed strategy. I know that those with responsibility for collating and considering comments will study with particular interest what has been said

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during the course of the debate. It is also worth noting that the paper has been generally welcomed, not least today by noble Lords.

As I said, the Green Paper is a consultative document. The Government welcome comments from those involved in organisations dealing with drug issues and from the community at large. It is vital to ensure that we develop a strategy which commands maximum support. Subject to the views expressed, the strategy will be published in Spring 1995. It will not be possible in the time available to me to address all of the points raised in the course of the debate, but I will do my best to address many of them.

I had intended on behalf of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege to make reference to the precipitate ennoblement of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, to an earldom! He mentioned a conversation he had with an American in which the noble Lord was described as being at the bottom of the pile. That reminded me of a conversation I had with my daughter when I knew I was coming to this august place. She said to me, "Did you know, mother, you will be the lowest form of nobility"?

There has been much said about the conflict between enforcement and treatment. I certainly wish to address that point. A number of noble Lords have alluded to what they perceive to be a conflict between law enforcement on the one hand and education and treatment on the other. My noble friend Lord Mancroft spoke of either controlling the supply of drugs or the demand. The Green Paper makes clear that the Government give an overarching commitment to doing both. The paper makes it clear that we have no intention of letting up on law enforcement but also recognises that there should be a new emphasis on prevention and education. I believe that this comprehensive approach will ensure progress in meeting the aims of the Green Paper.

I take one specific point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, in this respect. I can assure all noble Lords that the Green Paper proposals give the police every flexibility and encouragement to participate in local, multi-agency partnerships such as education and prevention initiatives. Many police forces are already involved in arrest referral schemes to refer drug misusers to appropriate treatment services and other similar activities.

One option the Government have ruled out is the legalisation or decriminalisation of any currently banned drug. The arguments of supporters of legalisation often centre narrowly and misleadingly on the issue of drugs and criminality. It is argued that because drug misuse involves criminal activities drug use is driven underground, prices are driven up and the illicit market thrives, together with drug related crime. Those in favour of legalisation say that if one removes drugs from the criminal law, the economic base of the traffickers will be undermined, drug taking would be less risky and therefore less attractive, prices would fall and drug-related crime would drop. But is it remotely possible that cause and effect would fall so neatly into place in real life? For a start, if the price of drugs were to fall, consumption is likely to rise. If one just looks at

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legalisation simply from the point of view of health, the withdrawal of legal controls would be likely to have disastrous consequences. As Professor Griffith Edwards of the National Addiction Centre has pointed out, access to drugs has been proved significantly to encourage use of drugs. With legalisation therefore the number of people addicted to all kinds of drugs will be likely to increase, and with this increase in availability children and young people will inevitably be put at greater risk.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said,

    "This is not simply a moral issue. It is also about the kind of society we want for our children. I do not want a society where it is acceptable to be stoned on drugs or where we pop into the cannabis shop to get the evening supply".

Some people find the idea of legalisation more attractive when confined to removing controls from cannabis and the so-called soft drugs, but that solution too is flawed. Just because making something illegal encourages a black market is not an argument for legalisation. The criminal law sends important signals about what society does and does not see as acceptable and safe behaviour. Claims are made that there is little if any danger in consuming cannabis or soft drugs and of course not everyone who misuses cannabis goes on to become a heroin addict. But it is, however, frequently the case that those on hard drugs started life taking soft drugs. We should not underestimate or disregard the dangers posed by the drug. Research has suggested that there is the possibility of long-term physical or psychological harm among heavy cannabis users and the short-term effects such as light-headedness and lack of concentration are at least as serious in their implications for road safety or safety at work.

One or two countries have responded to the problem of drug misuse by turning a blind eye to the possession of drugs such as cannabis while maintaining a tough line on heroin and the other so-called hard drugs. While this may sound attractive to some, we believe that such a policy is fatally flawed. In particular it sends out a confused message to the young and to the impressionable and suggests that drugs are not harmful. Any country which flirts with this approach risks becoming a prime attraction for drug takers. The traffickers quickly move in to meet the demands for other and more dangerous drugs which in turn provides a market for surrounding countries. Let us not forget that we would be failing to honour our international obligations if we were to legalise drugs. Fortunately there is little or no support for this in the international community. Let me make it absolutely clear that this Government have no intention of legalising any currently banned drug.

We are also taking steps to deal with the misuse of drugs in prisons. Drug taking in prison can lead to violence, intimidation and of course disorder. This unnecessary misery can only be tackled head-on. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred to not being able to eliminate it completely. Of course we will never totally eliminate drugs from prisons but we are determined to do what we can to minimise the taking of drugs in prisons. The first step will be the introduction of mandatory drug testing. It will be one of the largest drug testing programmes ever seen in this country with

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the random testing of up to 60,000 prisoners each year across the prison system. There will also be targeted testing of all known drug users. This will be linked to the introduction of new prison rules. Any prisoner testing positive or who refuses the test will be liable to disciplinary action which could result in 28 added days confinement or loss of privileges or indeed loss of earnings.

The prison service is, however, committed to providing help to prisoners who have misused--I think that was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu--or are at risk of misusing drugs and to working with agencies in the community to provide continuity of help on release. I believe that was another point made by the noble Baroness. As part of the new strategy the range of drug treatment and education programmes in prison will be expanded. A series of new drug treatment programmes will be implemented in prisons during 1995 and the efficacy of those programmes will be monitored to ensure that the most appropriate treatments are available to meet the demands of different levels and types of drug misuse. Existing programmes will also be monitored and evaluated.

One of the particular strengths of the drug prevention initiative has been its ability to support a wide range of different treatments. The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, in an excellent speech, referred to the review of the Health Education Authority. That review is complete and it is with Ministers at the moment. I understand that an announcement will be made as soon as possible. However, I must say that the Health Education Authority does not of course deliver public education on drugs; that is for the Department of Health. On both HIV issues and drug misuse issues, we will encourage a range of agencies and expertise to contribute to all prevention programmes. It is frequently most effective to use experience close to the people, targeted to produce campaigns in that work.

The noble Baroness also talked about our commitment to the global effort. As a result of the recent Budget, the Government will, for the first time, give £2 million towards international research on HIV, and that is in addition to the £40 million given through the World Health Organisation's global programme, and to 15 African and Caribbean countries for prevention since the late 1980s.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jay, made reference to sex education in schools. She will know that she and I did battle on this over a number of hours across the Dispatch Box on a previous occasion. We have made sex education a compulsory subject--that is new--across the curriculum, not the national curriculum as the noble Baroness knows. We have provided substantial guidance. I understand that it has been welcomed and is helpful. There is now more information. It is objective information, and it is certainly more effective. As a result, we expect sex education to be more effective.

Every school must have a sex education policy. It must be discussed with parents. I believe that that is right. Information to parents will be better. There will be open discussion about the materials used. And, of

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course, it will all be subject to inspection, which will address the quality of the sex education. That is important.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said something with which I shall personally take issue. He said that we should not be judgmental on these issues. I think that education has been non-judgmental for too long. I believe that we have to be judgmental. All of us who are concerned with young people have to take our courage in both hands and have a view about what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral and what is desirable and undesirable behaviour. Without that, how are children to make sense of what is being said to them in the educational programmes?

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, said--and I hope that I have not misinterpreted him--that drug abuse affects no one but the drug abuser. I disagree with that, too. Drug abusers destroy relationships between parents and their children, between husbands and wives and often between mothers and their babies yet to be born. I am afraid that the noble Lord could not be more wrong in what he said.

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