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Lord Hylton: Will the Minister take note that his amendment is not terribly well-drafted. It should be inserted at lines 19 or 20 on page 54 of Schedule 4.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I shall reflect on his helpful observation.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Will the Minister respond to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and give the Committee an adequate definition of what is an indecent photograph of a child? For those of us who have not been involved in the drafting of the Bill, but have been listening to the discussion with great interest, that seems to be the main point. Is that in the guidance that no one has seen? Is the Minister able to give a definition now or will he wait until Report stage? So far as concerns the amendment, clearly that is the nub of the matter.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The definition is contained in Schedule 4 to the Bill. The guidance is guidance. It is interpretation, rather like the PACE codes are guidance to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. When the noble Baroness has had an opportunity to look through the draft guidance I look forward to any constructive observations she has. I shall want to listen to any concerns she has about it. I shall be more than happy to meet and discuss those concerns. But what we are talking about this afternoon is actually what is on the face of the Bill and in the schedules.

Baroness Blatch: Perhaps the Minister would like to know that my noble friend Lady Seccombe has just been to the Library to get a copy of the guidelines for me and it is not there.

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): I apologise to the Committee for being precipitous previously but I had not realised that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, wished to intervene. It is now my duty to put the Question. The Question is that Amendment No. 82 shall be agreed to. As many of that opinion will say, "Content". To the contrary, "Not-Content". I think the Not-Contents have it. Clear the Bar.

Division called.

Tellers for the Contents have not been appointed pursuant to Standing Order No. 54. A Division therefore cannot take place, and I declare that the Not-Contents have it.

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3.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 83:

    Page 55, line 41, at end insert--

("( ) he commits an offence under section 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (restriction on production and supply of controlled drugs) by supplying a controlled drug to a child,").

The noble Baroness said: When this issue was discussed in another place--

Lord Shepherd: I wonder whether we could have an explanation. A number of my colleagues are still in the Division Lobby where they went as a consequence of the Opposition's action--

Noble Lords: No!

Lord Shepherd: At least time should be allowed for noble Lords to come back to the Chamber.

Lord Carter: I take full responsibility. A second teller was not appointed on the "Content" side.

Baroness Blatch: When this issue was discussed in another place the Minister said:

    "There can be few incidences of the supply of drugs that are more serious than the supply of drugs to children. That is wicked beyond belief. The hon. Member for Surrey Heath is right to draw attention to the evil that it represents. When there is evidence of the supply of drugs to children, it attracts properly condign and exemplary punishment, and it is right that it should. It is also right that we should take a particularly dim view of those who exploit their position with children to peddle drugs to them. That is a very serious matter and one would expect the law to take it seriously".

It is on the basis of the Minister's own words that I have moved the amendment today.

In the same debate the Minister said:

    "The evidence, which forms the basis for the Bill, is that drug dealers seldom target the under-18s; they have a much more scatter-gun approach and are out to sell drugs to anyone whom they can lure into buying from them. They do not care how old someone is--which is partly where the wickedness lies".--[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee G, 13/4/00; cols. 145-146.]

I agree with the Minister that dealers do not care to whom they sell drugs. As long as they sell them they do not care who is buying them. But to say that they do not target children is monstrous. If we believe the statistics, we see that too many of our children are being supplied with drugs in their communities and at school gates. While they may not be targeted specifically, they are nevertheless being targeted.

We cannot continue to wring our hands about the drug problem among children if we are not prepared to make those who supply the drugs, particularly controlled drugs, pay the price by banning those people from working with children. That is what we are talking about in this amendment. It is about the disqualification order. Anyone who supplies drugs to children should be included in the disqualification order. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: On the face of it the amendment moved by the noble Baroness is attractive. I yield to no one in my determination as a Minister to

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do all that I can to ensure that we fight the drugs war and the drugs menace. As a parent, as a Minister and as a socially concerned person, I see it as one of the Government's primary responsibilities to do all we can to ensure that we counter the drugs culture and dissuade people from becoming interested in drugs, becoming involved in drugs and becoming drug dealers and drug users.

The supply of drugs to children is an extremely serious offence and should be treated as such. It can result in potentially long-term harm to children, either intentionally or recklessly. However, when you look at the actual facts on drug dealing, the amendment does not have the required impact, even if targeted at those who supply drugs to children. Neither in practical terms nor on an evidence-based approach would it be feasible to include this as an offence that merited disqualification from working with children. The evidence clearly indicates that drug dealers seldom, if ever, target under-18s as such but will supply drugs to those of any age who wish to buy. There is clear agreement across the political divide on that point.

The main group using drugs range from 16 to 29 and it will probably be a matter of chance whether a child figures on any indication of who takes drugs. Because the dealer may well not know the ages involved--if, for example, he is supplying drugs outside a night club--there could be an unacceptable degree of arbitrariness in the application of the disqualification. This question of practicality and arbitrariness is an important one. There are other serious drugs offences, such as possession with intent to supply or conspiracy to supply, which fall into the same area of harm. It would be odd and arbitrary to pick out only one drugs offence in the way envisaged in the amendment. However, the evidence in a case of possession with intent to supply is likely to concern lifestyle, quantity of drugs, equipment, and so on, not the possible identity of the person to whom the drugs would be supplied. For conspiracy to supply it is the agreement, not the actual supply, which would need to be proved. But this offence arguably catches the "bigger" fish.

Moreover, the offence of supply itself does not require any financial element. It would cover teenagers sharing pills even if no money changed hands. Indeed, the evidence is that children are introduced to drugs by their peers, not by older drug dealers, and the dealer allegedly hanging around the school playground is something of a myth. That is well established by the report on drug misuse and the environment produced by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in 1998. For the reasons I have given I do not accept the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness despite its apparent attractiveness. I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

The second area of difficulty in including the supply of drugs in the schedule perversely arises from the extremely serious nature of the offence itself and the proper severity with which the courts deal with it. A student selling drugs outside a night club might well, quite properly, be dealt with very severely by the courts but not pose a long-term danger to children such as would merit the disqualification.

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For these reasons we do not think it would be right to include this offence as a trigger for the disqualification order. It could not be delivered in practical terms or supported on an evidence-based approach. The practical and legal difficulties which lie behind the rejection of the amendment should in no way be misrepresented as a lack of concern over drug abuse by children or others, or a lack of rigour with those responsible for peddling illegal substances.

We should do all that we possibly can to bring such people to justice. But to include the offences in the list to trigger the ban would not help with that; nor would it serve better to protect children from abuse.

Baroness Blatch: I do not know on which planet the official who wrote that brief for the Minister is living. It would be wrong not to include as a person unfit to work with children someone who supplies controlled drugs to children. The noble Lord referred to the difficulty of identification. That might be used as a defence by a shopkeeper who sells cigarettes to children. Shopkeepers are expected, even though it may be difficult at times, to know who is under and who is over age. A publican is expected by law, though it may be difficult from time to time, to know who is under and who is over age. Why should it be any more difficult for a policeman to know whether drugs have been sold to someone who is or is not under age? In either of those cases, as the noble Lord pointed out, it is an offence. For that reason, someone who supplies controlled drugs to anyone else will be guilty of an offence.

But the other reason given by the noble Lord is completely baffling. He said that someone who supplies drugs outside a nightclub--I do not know why he referred so often to nightclubs; I am much more concerned about what happens outside the school gates or in youth clubs--is committing a very serious offence indeed. While that person may be severely dealt with by the courts for supplying drugs, in particular for supplying them to children, it does not make them fit people to work with children. In opposing my amendment, I must assume that the noble Lord is saying that a person who supplies drugs to a child can continue to be excluded from an order which prohibits them from working with children. I wonder if the Home Secretary would confirm that to the parents of Leah Betts or to all the other children who, sadly, have suffered from the effects of someone older supplying them with drugs.

I find that quite offensive and I shall return to this matter on another occasion. The noble Lord will have an opportunity to discuss the brief with his officials and perhaps reflect on what he has said. However, I can confirm that I shall certainly return to this issue and at that point I shall seek the opinion of the House.

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