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The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, asked me about costs before 2020, when construction begins. One thing is for sure; the costs are complicated. I will have to write to her separately on that. She is quite right that to parliamentarians “interim” usually means a couple of years or perhaps several months, but that, in this case, “interim” could be a couple of decades. In response to CoRWM’s recommendations, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is reviewing the adequacy of its planned and regulated interim storage programme to ensure the sufficiency and longevity of captivity. The result of this review will be published in the next update of the NDA strategy, which is due in 2008. Its strategy will be subject to public consultation and the agreement of the Government. The existing stores for packaged waste are designed to provide a life service of 50 to 100 years or more. The NDA’s current view is that the service life of these stores can be extended as required to provide longevity sufficient to meet the prolonged repository development programme. New stores are planned on NDA’s sites, and will have potential design lives of 100 years or more, subject to meeting the regulatory safety and security arrangements.

Security is an extremely fair and, in some ways, very obvious issue to raise. It is certainly not the case that the current security arrangements for nuclear waste are inadequate. The UK’s civil nuclear sites apply stringent security measures, which are regulated by the security regulator, the Office for Civil Nuclear Security. This office works closely with the Health and Safety Executive, the safety regulator that provides advice on safety implications and events, including external hazards such as plane crashes at nuclear installations. Civil nuclear operators must have site security plans dealing with security arrangements for the protection of nuclear sites and nuclear material on such sites. These arrangements cover, for example, physical protection such as fencing, CCTV, turnstile access, the role of security guards, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the protection of proliferation-sensitive data and technologies, and the trustworthiness of individuals who have access to them. Security at nuclear sites is kept under regular review in the light of the prevailing threat and has been significantly enhanced since the terrorist attacks in the United States of America on 11 September 2001. It is not our policy, of course, to disclose the particular details of those.

I have been told that I have two minutes, but I will finish answering the questions asked in this debate. I did say I would not take more than half an hour and I am taking too long.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, asked about tendering on the Magnox South sector. He said that it would undermine confidence in the capacity of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. One of the fundamental reasons for setting up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was to establish a competitive market in order to help drive innovation and efficiency. In order to optimise the process and ensure that we have the best possible timing and scope of competitions to attract the highest quality bidding teams, the authority and the Government will always consider any lessons learnt and review the best way forward. Feedback from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s ongoing

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market engagement activity around the Magnox South bundle identified issues around the sequencing, scope and timing of remaining competitions. As a result, the authority chose to hold back issuing the prequalification questionnaire. This pause in the competition process will enable the authority and the Government to consider any lessons to be learnt before proceeding with the remaining elements. There is an ongoing issue there.

The noble Lord also asked about the chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. There is currently an interim chair. By any stretch of the imagination, that is not to criticise the person concerned. The noble Lord rightly said that in February the then chairman gave notice and we have had nine months since then. Before I knew that I was dealing with this debate, some months ago I saw an advert for the chair of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. I am not buck-passing because I am answering for the Government, but once the new Session starts, I invite noble Lords to make sure that they get my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham to the Dispatch Box as the Minister for the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Minister, because the issue is very much one for that department.

The post was not filled following the advertisement in June or July. Noble Lords may be unaware of this, but nobody mentioned it in the debate: the post was readvertised just over a week ago at more than double the salary offered in the summer. I presume that that is because—this is not a criticism—they could not get anyone good enough for the job. I do not know why there is a delay and neither does my department, but the closing date for applications—in case any noble Lord knows anyone who is of special quality—is 12 noon on Monday 19 November. This issue is being dealt with, but I cannot explain all the reasons for the delay. I invite noble Lords to table questions, because that is the department dealing with the matter.

I do not want to be too brief in answering the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, given his vast experience. He is quite right, I accepted in my opening remarks that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s work will take many decades. It has been set up by statute for that purpose. We are willing to look at amendments to the Energy Act 2004 if necessary.

I have already covered the issues of accountability and responsibility. Ministers at this Dispatch Box will come and go. I will not be the last Minister to answer questions about this issue, far from it; there will be others over the years. They will have to come to the Dispatch Box annually. That is self-evident. The committees of this House and the other place can do that, even if the Government were unwilling, which we are not. We are more than willing to debate the White Paper next year once we have produced our plans. Obviously that will be a matter for public statement and a debate.

The problem of confusion was raised. If there is clarity once the work starts about who is responsible for setting policy, for executing it, and for checking on the people actually doing the work—the regulators and scrutineers—I think we can overcome many of the doubts that have been expressed over the years. That was fully explained in the consultation document

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and I hope that members of the committee and other noble Lords will appreciate that the Government have thought about this and have taken on board many lessons from the committee’s work.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, asked how long it would take to plan and build the facility. It is true that the timing is uncertain, but the consultation document reflects an estimate of 20 to 30 years until the first waste replacement. In practice we shall look to proceed as swiftly as we can, commensurate with all the caveats I set out earlier in my speech. Whether there is to be any new nuclear build is currently the subject of a consultation, the responsibility for which does not lie with my department. I do not seek to avoid it, but my personal view—I always speak for the Government at this Dispatch Box unless I am speaking for myself—is that we need a mix of energy supply and we need security. I am not in favour of putting all our eggs in one basket, especially with politically unstable countries. It is as simple as that. That was my view when I was at the ODPM and we discussed this issue in terms of planning.

Some people say that they do not even want windmills, and there is a row over whether to build a Severn barrage. There will always be arguments about renewables. There will also be arguments about clean coal technology, and here I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. We are trying to sell that technology to the Chinese, who are opening up a coal-fired power station every week. If it is clean coal technology, fine. If it is dirty coal, that is not too good. But the Chinese are now waking up to that. So nuclear has to be an option. It provides something like 20 per cent of our energy. I believe that two stations closed on New Year’s Day last year and we lost 1.5 per cent of our capacity, so it is important that it is looked at as an option, and that is what we are consulting on now. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, accepted that, and in turn I accept his challenge that I will be required to come to this Dispatch Box to answer questions much more frequently than has been the case over the 20 months that I have been at Defra.

We have had an incredibly useful debate. I can assure the House that it has been taken on board by officials in my department. I do not say this defensively, but the fact is that the committee has produced a robust report. Members have been very critical about the Government’s response overall, although I hope that I have been able to show that we have amended our proposals in the light of the committee’s discussions. It is true that a central tenet of the committee, one that has been repeated by virtually every member, concerns the need for an independent body that will oversee everything and last for ever, although I am not sure how appointments would be made or renewed. We need a system that will meet the worries behind that demand, and it is one that has to be met and satisfied by the Government. I may not have been able to do that adequately today, but we have a plan and it will be thoroughly scrutinised as the months and years go by.

5.14 pm

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, the whole House, and particularly the members of the committee who participated in the preparation of this report, will be

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grateful to the Minister for his very full and helpful reply. I believe he said that he thought his response might be inadequate, but he should be assured that 36 minutes provided an absolutely excellent response.

I want to reflect one last message from this debate, which I agree has been incredibly useful. If there is to be public confidence in the institutional responsibility for radioactive waste management, which there must be, we need the components of transparency, continuity of management over very long timescales—by which we mean millennia, a long time by anyone’s standards—high-quality science and accountability.

A number of noble Lords said in relation to the existing and evolving proposals for agencies and committees—I recognise that the Government have responded already to some—that if it were possible to simplify and improve accountability, and therefore public acceptability, then clearly such measures should be adopted. I thank everyone who has participated in the debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Drugs: Government Consultation Paper

5.20 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That this House takes note of the Government consultation paper, Drugs: Our Community, Your Say.

The noble Lord said: My Lords. In a sense, the Motion does not do justice to an important consultation document, which has been usefully received by people in the great out there. I thank all noble Lords who have stayed behind to join in the general discussion on the consultation paper and the associated consultation exercise that the Government have recently conducted. It says something about the interest in the subject that there are so many speakers at this late stage of the parliamentary year.

The public consultation period ended on 19 October and Ipsos MORI has begun the compilation and analysis of the responses received. Well over 1,100 responses have been received and they are now being earnestly analysed. We are in the period before the drafting of the new strategy takes place and we therefore have an opportunity to consider the often contentious issues which surround this subject.

I shall provide some background to the consultation but perhaps I may first give a short overview of the history and content of the existing drugs strategy. The strategy, which was the Government’s first comprehensive strategy to tackle drug misuse, was launched almost 10 years ago in 1998. Following a review and a number of recommendations made by the Home Affairs Committee, it was fully updated in 2002. The overarching aim is to reduce the harms caused by illegal drugs and, to achieve this outcome, it focuses on four key strands: first, preventing young people taking drugs; secondly, reducing the availability of illegal drugs; thirdly, reducing drug-related crime and its impact upon communities; fourthly, reducing drug use through the provision of treatment and support.

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Over that nine years, extraordinary progress has been made in delivering this strategy, with challenging targets often exceeded or achieved early. Through the dedication and concerted action of a range of agencies and departments, we have seen a sustained reduction in drug use and the harms caused by illegal drugs. During the lifetime of the strategy, we have also seen the development of truly innovative programmes, such as the drug interventions programme and Positive Futures, which provides diversionary activities for the young people most vulnerable to developing drug misuse problems.

Tackling drug supply is a key part of our strategy. We have provided law enforcement agencies with the tools to tackle organised criminals and individuals who traffic or supply drugs by introducing the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which allows law enforcement agencies to seize the assets of convicted criminals, and further, under a new scheme which came into effect on 1 April 2006, front-line agencies will get back 50 per cent of the amounts recovered. In addition, the threshold for seizing suspect sums of cash under the Proceeds of Crime Act was reduced from £5,000 to £1,000 in July this year. This new lower threshold gives the police the opportunity to tackle those at the lower end of organised criminal networks and will serve to disrupt individuals involved in organised crime who previously carried smaller amounts of cash to avoid meeting the threshold. Developing crack house closure legislation has led to more than 1,000 premises being closed, according to survey data to be published early next year, giving respite to communities and individuals plagued by crime and anti-social behaviour that can occur near these types of premises.

We have set up SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency. It has been formed from the amalgamation of the National Crime Squad, the National Criminal Intelligence Service, that part of HM Revenue and Customs dealing with drug trafficking and associated criminal finance and a part of the UK Immigration Service that deals with organised immigration crime. SOCA became operational in 2006. Already, increasing quantities of drugs are being seized and organised crime groups and dealers disrupted. Figures published in SOCA’s annual report for 2006-07 show that more than 74 tonnes of class A drugs were seized in that period, which, if sold on the UK market, would have raised in excess of £3 billion and generated considerable associated acquisitive crime. We will continue to support law enforcement agencies whenever the opportunity is identified.

We can point to further real successes that have been delivered by the strategy. The British Crime Survey data from 2006-07 show that fewer people reported the use of any drug within the past year than at any time since the survey began. Data from the same survey show that drug use among young people is falling; that more people than ever before are accessing high-quality drug treatment; that drug-related crime is falling, as more than 3,000 drug-misusing offenders are entering treatment through the drug intervention programme each month; and that intelligence-based enforcement approaches are targeting the organised criminal groups, where most impact can be made.

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We can see where the drug strategy has been successful, but we can also see where more work is needed.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but before he leaves that immediate point, the report says on page 20:

Can he give us the basis for that figure? Where does it come from?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I will aim to pick up on that question later, but I think the figure is based on research that has been conducted.

As I have said, we can see where the drug strategy has been successful, but we can also see where more work is needed or where we need a change of approach. For example, while we can see that drug-related crime has been driven down, we also recognise that further support needs to be given to help those people stay clean and rebuild their lives so that they do not fall back into drug use and criminality. Drug users with the most severe problems account for around 99 per cent of the costs of drug misuse in England and Wales and do most harm to themselves, their families and communities.

There can be no doubt that the overall costs to society are enormous, but reducing the harms caused by drugs has been one of our top priorities and the benefits of successful engagement with drug treatment services are huge for individuals, their families and the wider community. Over the past 10 years one of the key aims of the national drug strategy has been to improve the availability and effectiveness of drug treatment interventions. We have met the “numbers in treatment” element of our target two years early. On reflection that is a remarkable achievement, but we are not complacent. We have been working closely with the Department of Health to ensure that drug users within the criminal justice system have access to drug treatment services.

The result of that cross-government partnership work is the development of the drug intervention programme, also known as DIP. The programme provides a route out of crime and into treatment. On average, some 3,500 drug-misusing offenders are entering treatment each month. Engaging drug-misusing offenders in treatment has contributed to reductions in drug-related crime. We know that acquisitive crime, to which drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution, has fallen by 23 per cent since the introduction of DIP.

Prison drug treatment funding has increased year on year since 1996-97—up some 997 per cent to £79 million in the current financial year. Prisons now offer a comprehensive treatment framework, consistent with the National Treatment Agency’s revised models of care, to address individual drug users’ needs. Drug users can benefit from clinical services, CARATs and intensive drug rehabilitation programmes, with the treatment interventions supported by mandatory and voluntary drug-testing programmes. The numbers engaged in prison treatment have increased year on year since 1996-97.

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To consolidate progress, the rollout of the integrated drug treatment system—IDTS—continues. It is designed to boost the quality and increase the volume of drug treatment with a particular focus on drug users during their first 28 days in custody. By March of next year, full enhanced clinical services and psychosocial support through CARATs will be available in 29 prisons; additionally, enhanced clinical services will be available in a further 24 establishments.

The new drug strategy provides an opportunity for us to build on those successes and improve the treatment framework for those in prison. Prisons are already closely engaged with the drug intervention programme and offender managers to ensure continuity of treatment and wider integrated support requirements are considered on release from prison. We are also looking at how we might improve through-care arrangements and release-planning to ensure a seamless transition from prison to the community.

We are reaching more children and young people than ever before with sophisticated prevention messages. Our tracking of the impact of the FRANK drug awareness campaign has shown a significant shift in young people’s attitudes to cannabis, with 57 per cent of them saying that cannabis would be very likely to damage the mind. That figure is up from 45 per cent one year ago.

Reductions in drug use among young people demonstrate that our cross-departmental young people and drugs programme is having a positive impact through improved targeting of early intervention for those young people most at risk of developing problems with drugs, through the work of youth offending teams, children’s social care services and education support services, and through the provision of specialist substance misuse services for under-18 year-olds, which has been accessed by some 20,000 young people in 2006-07.

While we can see that we are reaching more children and young people than ever before with sophisticated prevention educational messages, it is also clear that more needs to be done to target the young people who are the most likely to develop problems with drug misuse. Drug misuse is not only a health, but also a social and community safety issue which has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable young people and deprived communities. The very nature of the mechanisms and levers of policy delivery will present new challenges and opportunities.

Across all government business is a move towards greater local accountability and priority-setting. This removes levers that exist in central government to ensure the delivery of specific policies, but it also presents an opportunity to begin to deliver drug policy in its wider context of social and personal well-being. We may hope that the consultation will provide valuable insights into how this new delivery landscape might most effectively be exploited to deliver the best outcomes for all.

While we can see where we need to commit our efforts now, it is quite simply impossible to anticipate every challenge that will arise over the coming years. However, a clearer picture of the scale and nature of those challenges may be formed by consulting the

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people who are most directly affected by drug misuse, or who have the greatest experience of it: those who work in the field and members of the public, whose lives and those of their families will be affected by policies such as these.

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