HC Deb 10 March 1994 vol 239 cc381-3
1. Mr. Gordon Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action his Department is taking to reduce drug-related crime.

4. Mr. Byers

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to reduce drug-related crime.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

The Government are committed to tackling every aspect of the problem of drug misuse, including that of drug-related crime. Key elements in the overall strategy include increasing the effectiveness of enforcement, developing prevention publicity and education, and improving the treatment and rehabilitation of drug misusers.

Mr. Prentice

Is the Minister concerned about the easy availability of drugs in prison, as evidenced by Judge Stephen Tummy's report on the privatised Wolds prison? Has the Minister seen the extraordinary report in The Times today which shows that prisoners are receiving dole payments and other benefits in prison which could conceivably be used to finance their drug habits? Is not it a national scandal that Ministers have known about it for six years but have done precisely nothing? Is it not another example of the Minister being all mouth and no action?

Mr. Maclean

If the hon. Gentleman paid attention to what was happening in the House, he would know that we have tabled a amendment, dealing with drug testing of prisoners, to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which is currently in Committee. It is the Government's policy that prisoners shall not have access to drugs. I hope that the Opposition will support the measure as fully as the hon. Gentleman says that he will.

Mr. Byers

Following the drug-related shooting of two police officers in Brixton last night and the murder in Gates head of North Umbria police officer Bill Forth, does the Minister agree that the greatest social menace facing our country is the expanding drug misuse among young people? Will the Government now adopt a comprehensive strategy to tackle the escalating problem and, in particular, stop the reduction in the number of drug education officers, and employ more customs officers?

Mr. Maclean

Of course we agree that it is one of the greatest social evils facing us. That is why we have such a comprehensive strategy; that is why we have the Home Office drugs prevention initiative; that is why we have the safer cities programme; that is why we have the toughest penalties in Europe for dealing with drug traffickers and why we have the powers to take their ill-gotten gains from them; that is why we have effective customs action and why drug education is included in the national curriculum. It is all there; it is about time that the Labour party stopped telling us that we should have a strategy and supported the strategy that the Government have.

Mr. Shersby

Will my hon. Friend join me in extending to the Metropolitan police the congratulations of the whole House on the way in which they are tackling drug-related crime in the metropolis? Will he ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to extend the deepest sympathies of all hon. Members to the two officers who were seriously injured in the shooting last night? What equipment was available to those officers and others on the streets of Brixton and elsewhere to protect them from the shootings and stabbings which they encounter daily while doing their duty on our behalf?

Mr. Maclean

The whole House will wish to pay tribute to PCs Simon Carroll and James Seymour, the two officers shot last night while on duty. They are two officers in a long line of thousands of police officers across the country who, every day of the week, make themselves vulnerable in carrying out their duty, for which we are all grateful. I understand that their injuries are not life threatening—one will undergo an operation this afternoon. I shall gladly pass on the comments of the whole House to those officers.

The protective equipment available to officers is a matter for the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. I shall of course draw his attention to my hon. Friend's remarks.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

Does my hon. Friend agree that if we were to give way to the calls for the decriminalisation of cannabis, the only effect would be to get more children into the habit of taking that level of drug and that it would not be long before traffickers suggested that they get more of a kick by taking heroin or cocaine? Would not the result be an increased demand for hard drugs, which could lead only to more crimes being committed? Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to say no yet again to all calls to decriminalise drugs?

Mr. Maclean

Absolutely. As I said, the Government have the most draconian penalties in Europe to deal with those who traffic in the more serious drugs—crack, heroin and cocaine. We should be sending out a cloudy message if we were to suggest that not only cannabis but category B and C drugs—we have recently uprated the penalties for them; they had not been uprated since 1977—did not matter or that taking drugs did not count. Taking any drug is harmful, those included.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is the Minister aware that the biggest link between drug taking and the use of another drug is the use of alcohol? Is he saying that he is going to ban alcohol?

Mr. Maclean

I shall treat that remark with the contempt that it deserves.

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