HC Deb 09 June 1995 vol 261 cc424-70

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

11.16 am
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Before I was so interestingly interrupted, I was talking about chill-out rooms. They are not for indignant shareholders of privatised power companies, or even for hon. Members, but for people at rave parties who are exposed to the risk of dehydration and fatigue in a context where drugs such as ecstasy are frequently taken. The Government find it impossible to encourage the provision of that particular facility, although they are allowed to encourage the provision of plentiful supplies of clean water, because to do the first would appear to condone drug-taking, whereas somehow to do the second is accepted from a health and safety point of view. That illustrates the tension between strategies designed to promote not taking drugs at all and those designed to deal with the fact that many people are taking drugs. That tension runs through the whole problem, including the issue concerning prescribing.

I find it particularly difficult that we receive quite conflicting advice from those who are dealing with addicts, or simply users of drugs, as opposed to those who are primarily involved in promoting a different approach to the issue and promoting abstinence. That is illustrative of the underlying questions which the White Paper does not even ask, let alone answer. Why do people abuse drugs? Why do so many young people abuse drugs? There are different answers for different age groups. How much is social and cultural? How much is in response to despair and hopelessness? The Scottish White Paper expressly admitted the link between such social and cultural factors. It said: Drug misuse tends to flourish in conditions of deprivation, alienation and poverty of aspiration. It is particularly prevalent in some of the peripheral housing schemes in Scotland's cities. Since that is true in Scotland, it cannot simply be untrue in England.

Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

Drug abuse is a problem right across the world; in third-world societies and in industrialised societies. It crosses every national boundary, every political system and every socio-economic group. That is the essence of the problem and to bring in such aspects as those to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, important though they may be, and to regard them as central to the whole area of drug abuse, is to misread the situation. The White Paper is of course attempting to address the situation as it is.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Gentleman is critical of his Government. I was quoting a statement of Government policy on drugs in Scotland, that drug misuse tends to flourish in conditions of deprivation. I agree that it flourishes under many other conditions, but one must look for some explanation of the prevalence of Friday and Saturday night drug abuse in the context of raves and other events in some of our cities, particularly in Scotland and northern England—where the problems are similar—and of the prevalence of other forms of drug abuse in areas of massive social deprivation and general hopelessness.

How much drug abuse, like alcohol abuse, is inevitable? We have never in centuries cured the still serious problem of alcohol abuse, which is involved in a large proportion of violent crime in this country and the rest of Europe. Different strategies have failed to prevent it. What is most likely to discourage young people from taking drugs? What is likely to lead addicts and regular users to shake off their dependency on or frequent use of drugs? What role can the law play? It clearly fails to discourage large numbers of young people from taking drugs. There could not be so many possession offences recorded, let alone remain unrecorded, if large numbers of people were not influenced by the state of the law. If their attitudes are to change, they must be influenced in some other way.

Why do we view alcohol so differently? Why is not it part of this debate? Sometimes I wonder whether we still have an alcohol policy. It was once part of that policy, if not a very successful part, to control supply strictly by limiting retail outlets and licensing hours, but that has gone. The price issue is challenged by what is happening in Europe. A report published this week rightly argues that we should not be looking for a levelling down of alcohol taxation but for ways of ensuring that prices will not drop in countries that have high alcohol taxation, because there is ample evidence that lower prices would lead to increased alcohol use and abuse. There is a policy in relation to drink driving, and there was a recent announcement of possible further restraint on permitted alcohol levels in drivers. That is welcome, but is only one element of what should be broader policy.

Mr. Tony Banks

The right hon. Gentleman's comments about alcohol abuse are undoubtedly true but no one in his right mind would suggest criminalising the use of alcohol. We could not ban alcohol or make its consumption illegal. Why should cannabis, which does less damage to health than alcohol— [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."]—be selected as an illegal substance?

Mr. Beith

The United States tried to make alcohol illegal and called it prohibition. I am sorry to say that it did not work. It was not a successful method of dealing with the problem. One questions what would have happened if alcohol had been in the same position as cannabis when it was made the subject of legal restraint in this country. A different view might have been taken if alcohol had not been widely known or used before. Perhaps total prohibition would have been tried. Legal prohibition alone is not working in respect of cannabis, so we must find another way of persuading young people in particular that they should not embark upon its use and that it poses associated direct and indirect health risks.

I said before that a change in the law on cannabis would send a signal that might have a wide and more dangerous impact, even if such a change had no direct impact. People who are involved in one form or another of drug abuse ask, "Why is my form of drug abuse regarded as some kind of deviancy whereas other people can abuse alcohol or nicotine freely, without any prospect of legal penalty?" There is no sign that the White Paper process involved listening to or understanding drug abuses—particularly among young people—who do not understand why their action is treated as a form of deviancy and as being on a different level from widespread abuse of socially acceptable drugs.

One must understand the nature of the problem to find the solution. It is not sufficient simply to preach. Drug abuse of all kinds does immense harm, but we cannot tackle that harm unless we understand what causes the problem and work out realistically how and to what extent we can bring about change. A royal commission would be of considerable help in examining the fundamental issues.

I welcome the interdepartmental approach, the commitment shown and some of the things that can emerge. I have anxieties about key areas where resources may not be available—most notably education but also prisons and rehabilitation. I am glad that the Leader of the House tried to rescue the debate from the level of merely arguing whether or not cannabis should be legalised and to raise it to a serious and objective argument. There are much more fundamental issues that the White Paper has not begun to examine, but we cannot afford to delay dealing with matters such as drug trafficking or persuading young people to change their views towards drugs while we await the answers.

11.25 am
Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes (Wimbledon)

Seldom in my time in the House have I witnessed such a thoroughly well-co-ordinated and speedy interdepartmental exercise as represented by the White Paper. Judging by the initial welcome given to my right hon. Friend the Lord President when he presented "Tackling Drugs Together" last month, that togetherness seems rightly to transcend party divisions. I say that in the context of the speech of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

The misuse of drugs is one of the most alarming issues of the day. Although hon. Members will have different priorities and viewpoints, the general aim is the same. The syndrome is all too recognisable, but the cure remains elusive. It is no exaggeration that the combination of corruption, crime and personal tragedy corrodes many of our basic values and constitutes a menace to society. Whether we approach the matter as politicians or as parents, the problems are formidable.

I claim no special expertise, save as a practising physician for a quarter of a century. Other people have studied the subject in much greater depth. Although mind-altering drugs have been used from the earliest of times, the variety of drugs available in the past 25 years—especially of synthetic drugs—and the sophistication of delivery in an increasingly prosperous world mean that the threat to communities and ultimately to civilisation has never been greater.

In the lectures on pharmacology that I attended, the properties of various drugs were discussed in academic terms, perhaps laced with a few historical allusions. There was precious little mention of the socially debilitating effects of those drugs. The inference was that a few dropouts were addicted to certain drugs, but there was no suggestion of a possible burgeoning in their volume and availability, which poses a serious worldwide threat. I trust that the ethos of such lectures has changed.

There is a sharp contrast between those sad addicts of a few years ago and the superficially glamorous image of the use of so-called recreational drugs by the young today. I take the opportunity to endorse the comments of both Front-Bench spokesmen in rejecting the wholly misguided legalisation lobby that has from time to time gained superficial credibility. The Government have every right to feel pride in taking the initiative in tackling a problem to which there are no easy answers.

I shall concentrate on the slightly hackneyed medical principle that prevention is better than cure. Sadly, it is unrealistic to suppose that drug use can be eliminated. In that context, I welcome the extra funds from the Department of Health for the treatment of addicts. Progress can be made in tackling supply and demand. I had the opportunity to see at first hand measures to combat the drug trade emanating from South America. No one denies that the problem of drug trafficking, primarily of cocaine, is serious—whether the countries concerned contain primarily growers, processors or traders.

The House should never accept that the issue is too large to grapple with and is thus insuperable. For instance, in Colombia, I have seen international efforts involving American and British expertise, ranging from the pooling of intelligence to joint military and police action and the tracking of drug routes on a worldwide basis. Our drug liaison officers in six countries in South America, with links to colleagues in the Caribbean and the United States, do splendid work and their deployment is flexible enough to respond to the new situations that constantly arise as the sophistication of trafficking increases and new markets and even new crops develop.

There is a sinister trend away from violent gangs in that part of the world to cosmopolitan and professional sales and marketing corporations, fronted by apparently respectable business men with the usual gamut of professional advice in the shape of lawyers and accountants, who are now running much more insidious operations.

A manifestation of the apparent saturation of the cocaine market in the United States is the targeting of people with high disposable incomes elsewhere in the world, such as in Europe and Australasia, via countries as diverse as Nigeria and the Netherlands. If cocaine were the end product, the problem might be more easily containable, but the ease of conversion into crack, which is attractive to a different type of user and is closely related to inner-city crime in the United States and in more deprived parts of this country, is a formidable and frightening new aspect.

It is not only the use of cocaine that is on the increase, which is shown by consumption figures and seizure statistics, but that of heroin, whether from the golden triangle of Thailand, Burma and Malaysia, which primarily look to markets in north America, or from the golden crescent in Pakistan, Africa, Afghanistan and Iran, which is primarily directed to European markets.

While it is an inexact science to correlate the number of seizures with volumes and to detect trends, it is increasingly worrying that Customs and Excise inform me that United Kingdom seizures of 500 kg of heroin in the first quarter of 1995 are approaching the 640 kg seized throughout 1994. Such a pattern of increasing consumption is also seen with cannabis and synthetic drugs. The consignments are getting larger and another worrying new trend is the increasing use of former Soviet bloc countries, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, as entry points into the European Community. That trend has become even more marked since the dangerous break-up of the former Yugoslavia, which has interrupted the other route through the Balkan states.

Whether cocaine comes in bitumen drums, pickled peaches or even within fresh flower consignments, or heroin is transported overland in continental lorries before being broken down into smaller consignments in countries such as the Netherlands, the key question must be addressed: is it really appropriate that the single market has made life so much easier for drug traffickers? A recent United Kingdom seizure crossed the so-called frontiers of no fewer than seven European Community countries. Let us consider the control of other criminal activities and the increasing problems of economic migration—is it right that we should be required to lower our border controls? I heard what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said and I welcome his endorsement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's assurance in the matter, but many Conservative Members will certainly be keeping an ever more vigilant watch. I am doubtful about the risk of undermining our increasingly sophisticated Customs and Excise and police operations, which are arguably the market leaders, on the altar of the aim of some spurious European unity, but I suspect that that is an issue for another day, Madam Speaker.

An expert has told me of the effect of what he described as a Pizza Express service developing, whereby the question, "Are you sorted?" can bring not only heroin and cocaine but amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis to the door on virtually instant demand in certain parts of this country within 15 minutes. At present, that is primarily a problem in London and southern England, but—

Mr. George Howarth

indicated dissent.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

I see that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman acknowledges that alarming pockets of use and trends are developing elsewhere.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who chairs the excellent all-party committee on drug misuse, said, everyone is at risk. The best customer is often the young person living at home with a job and, therefore, a fairly reasonable disposable income. He or she is a prime target for the pushers.

I am not criticising our admirable enforcement agencies, whose powers and efficiency will, I hope, be enhanced by the current review of the structure and operation of our security services, including the Ministry of Defence, and increased funding of the national criminal intelligence service. The Drug Trafficking Act 1994 is working well, but increased worldwide intelligence and intervention can only stem the flow and can never stop it.

In conclusion, ultimately the Government's policy of combining education, awareness and guidance is the right one. The drugs struggle is apolitical and this enlightened initiative will be of immense benefit in the protection of future generations.

11.37 am
Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen)

There can be no hon. Member in the House today who is not concerned about the problems associated with drug misuse. In some parts of the country, they would appear to have reached epidemic proportions. Every parent is worried about the impact of drug misuse on individuals and families and, indeed, on the communities in which they live.

Opposition Members have taken a positive approach to the White Paper and are pleased that many of our arguments have been accepted. There is a need for a national strategy and for co-ordinated action. There is also an overwhelming need to increase community safety from drug-related crime. Recent estimates claim that a staggering 80 per cent. of crime may now be drug related. That equates with police estimates in my constituency.

It has been alleged to me that there is virtually no school playground in my constituency in which drugs of one sort or another are not available. Parents tell me that they will not allow their children to use the local playground because that is where drugs are peddled. There is one park in the Darwen part of my constituency which the local police claim is used regularly as a haunt for young people who are buying and selling drugs. It was even suggested to me the other day that there is an off-licence in the same area that is known locally to supply drugs to schoolchildren during their dinner hour. Everyone seems to know that that goes on.

In his introduction to the White Paper, the Prime Minister said: Containing the drugs problem is a long-term process. But this is not just a job for Government. Effective partnership to protect individuals and communities is the foundation. It is now time to turn this resolve and sense of common purpose into action. He is quite right. Collective and community action, working in partnership with local communities, must be the answer, because those local communities are at the front line of the problem. Research shows that nearly 50 per cent. of our 15 and 16-year-olds have been offered drugs, and at least two thirds of all thefts are drug related. That is a problem of record proportions.

The Methodist Church has suggested that one answer to that problem may be to give drug addicts greater access to their chosen drugs under the supervision of general practitioners. It has proposed that long-term drug users would be healthier and less likely to fall into criminality if they were able to have realistic doses of their preferred drugs, taken in the way that they would like. Other people, as has already been mentioned by hon. Members today, suggest that legalisation or decriminalisation—of cannabis especially—may be of assistance.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) attempted to explain away what the Liberal Democrats did at their conference, but let us place it on the record. I have in my hand a copy of the resolution that was passed by that conference in 1994. It was quoted verbatim in the House on 15 February 1995 by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). The resolution says clearly: Conference calls for: The establishment of a Royal Commission to investigate and consider strategies for combating drug misuse, including:—

  1. 1. Greater resources to be given to HM Customs & Excise …
  2. 2. The police to be given more resources …
  3. 3. All schools to be obliged to offer advice and guidance to all pupils …
  4. 4. Immediate action to set up rehabilitation centres throughout the country;
  5. 5. Much stiffer penalties for all convicted drug dealers;
  6. 6. The decriminalisation of the use and possession of cannabis in order that … Customs & Excise are able to target their resources".—[Official Report, 15 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 922.]
That was the resolution that was passed at the Liberal Democrat conference.

I invite the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed to tell us what he believes the opinions of the Liberal Democrat candidate in Littleborough and Saddleworth are about that issue. I understand, for example, that he is on record as favouring the legalisation of cannabis. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah".] Obviously the right hon. Gentleman wants to do some homework before he responds to that question. That approach may stem from the best of intentions, but it is misguided because it confuses two separate aspects of the problem.

Some people believe that soft drugs present no health problems, and that dealing with that aspect of the problem takes up too much police time and resources, so the answer must be to legalise or at least to decriminalise the use of soft drugs. I used to be tempted towards that approach. However, I recently had the opportunity, with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and other members of the Home Affairs Select Committee, to visit Holland, where the police, as we know, have decided to turn a blind eye to soft drug indulgence. Indeed, in Amsterdam there are at least 100 "coffee shops" where young people—and those who use those coffee shops are overwhelmingly young people—are able to indulge their habit in relative freedom.

The problem with that approach is that it assumes that no serious health problems arise from the use of soft drugs and makes no attempt to tackle the problem of supply. One cannot accept that without recognising that one is ensuring a guaranteed market for soft drugs, to be exploited by organised crime. By their policy, the Amsterdam police are guaranteeing a market for people such as the Italian mafia and the organised crime groups rapidly growing in the Soviet Union—a guaranteed market for soft drugs. The profits from that market enable those people to establish funding for other, even more reprehensible activities.

We must not underestimate the criminal implications of those activities. When the Government introduced their White Paper to the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) said: The effects of drug-related crime and a drug culture are undermining the potential of our young people, pervading every community and devastating some."—[Official Report, 10 May 1995; Vol. 259, c. 749.] That is why the Labour party opposes the legalisation of cannabis. Debate about the legalisation of cannabis can only serve as a distraction from the real issues—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We must do more to alert young people to the dangers. The funding made available to schools should certainly be sustained. The figure of £240 a school is not very much, but it is better than nothing, and I hope that the Government will not seek to cut that.

Most important, action to tackle that problem, and the drug-related crime problem associated with it, must be taken at local level by means of a partnership approach among all the local agencies, to develop and implement policies to reduce drug misuse.

We all welcome the debate today. I have been proud to take part in a debate in which there has been such consensus on both sides of the House about the need for a general strategy to tackle this important issue.

Finally, if there is one reason above all why we must do something about this problem, it is because it especially affects our young people. I have three teenage children. Touch wood, none of them has yet been attracted by that type of substance abuse. I hope that they never will be, and I look forward to our working together to tackle the problem and to ensure that our young children are protected.

11.45 am
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

I join colleagues in thanking the Lord President for finding time for this important debate. I place on the record, for those who are involved with the procedures of this place, that as it is a popular debate in which many people wish to speak, I think the point of order that I raised regarding private notice questions is relevant.

Earlier this week, we held a debate which lasted until 10 o'clock in which there were very few speakers indeed. I cannot recall what it was about, but I see that the Lord President recalls the one that I mean. Today we have a debate in which many people wish to speak, perhaps at some length. I make no criticism of the private notice question—there is nothing wrong with that—but we must find ways of introducing more flexibility into our procedures so that we do not have so much time wasting, with people preparing speeches and then in one way or another being frankly messed about by the procedures. I hope that the Lord President and everyone else involved with our procedures will give a little thought to the difficulties which can arise as a result of those sudden changes.

I was interested to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), which confirmed the positive and consensual approach expressed by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth). Those and other Opposition Members are right to say that we must tackle the problem as a national one, and as far as possible adopt a cross-party approach to it. I also welcome to some extent the remarks of the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who at least said that he personally was going along with that consensus. However, he has a problem with his party and it was fascinating to hear the little dialogue between new Labour and old Liberal on that. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have some difficulty there, although I suspect that he agrees with the general consensus that is emerging, even on the subject of legalisation of cannabis.

Mr. Beith

Before the hon. Gentleman gets too excited, he should remember that my Conservative predecessor as Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed was convicted and fined for possession of cannabis.

Mr. Thompson

The debate about the legalisation of cannabis cuts across party lines, as the hon. Member for Knowsley, North pointed out. However, I shall return to that point in a moment.

I fully support the Government's strategy for the next three years as outlined in the White Paper, "Tackling Drugs Together," and as described by the Lord President. Therefore, I shall not go over that ground again in my speech. I think that it is a good initiative which the Government are following up vigorously.

This morning I shall refer to two main issues, the first of which is local. I said earlier, by way of intervention, that Norfolk has taken a lead in combating drug abuse. I congratulate those authorities in Norfolk which have done excellent work in that area. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Minister from the Department of Education has arrived at an opportune moment as I wish to refer to the work that the Government are doing and can do in schools to address the serious drug problem.

I was pleased that the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen referred to the way in which drugs affect young people. There is no worse crime than that perpetrated by those who profiteer in substances which do so much harm to our young people. That is one of the reasons why so many hon. Members wish to take part in this important debate.

I put on record a fact which must be obvious from my remarks: I am firmly opposed to any campaign to legalise cannabis or any other drug of that nature. The ongoing debate between the libertarian and the more authoritarian approaches cuts across the party divide. Those who know me will recognise that I come down firmly on the side of the authoritarians, probably because I am an ex-schoolmaster. I cannot help it: I tend to side with those who want to control and intervene—although, I hasten to add, not in the way that the Opposition propose. I am an authoritarian, not a libertarian.

I recently read John Stuart Mill, which I do not do as regularly as I should—my hon. Friends will be delighted to hear that I do not intend to quote him—and decided that I do not support the sentiments that people like him have expressed. I know that some people will understand what I mean. I totally reject the libertarian arguments with regard to drugs and I will not develop them further. In this country we are confronted by the problem of how to address the questions of authority and discipline—whether it be internal discipline or self-discipline. We face a crisis in this country as far as authority and discipline are concerned; it is not a party matter.

One day politicians must address the issue of how our society and culture deals with drugs. Some hon. Members have referred to that point this morning. I do not intend to initiate a debate about the Church of England, but even it faces a crisis in trying to decide whether it has authority or whether it is merely responding to general public pressure. I know which side I am on in that debate, but I shall develop that point on other and better occasions.

I shall skip the part of my speech about John Stuart Mill—much to everyone's relief—and turn to the question of drug abuse among young people. I raised that issue on an Adjournment debate as long ago as 1989. I recommend that my colleagues never read Adjournment speeches that they made a long time ago, as I was horrified by what I had said and the way in which I had said it. However, I made several good points and I referred to the need to protect our young people from the growing drugs threat. We have heard today that the threat is still growing.

The then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher)—who has a constituency that is almost identical to mine and with whom I often compare constituency issues—made an excellent reply to my Adjournment speech. He proposed a very good 10-point plan for schools which aimed to reduce demand for drugs. That has been followed by a succession of very good Department of Education initiatives—including the most recent strategy document that I shall refer to in a moment if there is time—which have culminated in today's debate.

Norfolk has taken a lead in combating drug abuse—this is not just a Member of Parliament giving a puff for his own constituency. Norfolk adopted the inter-agency approach as early as 1990. I pay tribute to the east Norfolk and north-west Anglia health commissions, the police, the local education authorities, the probation service and all of the voluntary organisations that have been involved with that measure. The White Paper was published only last month, but the Norfolk drug action team—the teams are referred to in the White Paper—has been established already. It will have responsibility for the entire county and it plans to meet on 17 July to discuss a strategic co-ordinated approach to education, prevention, treatment, law enforcement and rehabilitation issues. The Government are right to emphasise the co-ordinated inter-agency approach, which I cannot support too strongly.

Norfolk's response has been excellent, and the authorities in the area have been the pathfinders on the issue. In particular, the Norfolk education service has produced guidelines for schools. There is not time for me to give details of them, but I can certainly recommend them. I hope that my hon. Friend can confirm that the guidelines have been put forward as examples of good practice to be followed by schools up and down the land. I hope that Norfolk's example can be followed nationally.

It is important to pay tribute also to the police in Norfolk. I would particularly like to commend the work of the crime prevention panel, which has kindly provided me with some information that is appropriate to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) talked about the national trend in drug seizures. Norfolk's figures are 811 in 1992, 1,028 in 1993 and 1,551 in 1994, giving increases in successive years of 27 per cent., and then 50 per cent. That surely confirms what my hon. Friend said.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

indicated assent.

Mr. Thompson

I see the my hon. Friend agrees. That there is an increasing trend is confirmed by those figures. There was a recent seizure of cannabis in Norfolk with a street value of some £200,000. Fortunately, the offenders concerned were arrested in that case. That is good news, but it is all part of the increasing trend about which we are so concerned. The police are doing an excellent job as far as that is concerned.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to voluntary organisations, and gave the example of rotary clubs. One good example to which I should like to refer in passing is the Norwich rotary club's DrugBuster '95 initiative, which was given publicity this week in the local press. The idea of the initiative is to have a drug awareness campaign aimed at year seven in our schools—that is 11 to 12-year-olds.

Earlier speakers, including my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), referred to the distressingly low age at which drug abuse first appears. That has been confirmed by recent surveys. The rotary club is addressing the 11 to 12-year-old group in particular and, in doing so, have taken advice from the police, teachers and the Matthew project and other voluntary organisations in Norwich. The rotary club has said it was astonished to find the extent of drug abuse in the area, and they felt that it should support initiatives within schools—including short plays and designing tee-shirts—to help. While I do not wish to go into detail, it is a worthwhile initiative and many others are taking place as well.

Finally, I wish to refer to a survey called "Cracking Drugs in Schools" produced by the Professional Association of Teachers. At this point, I must declare an interest as a consultant or adviser to that association. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) referred to that survey in his excellent speech as well. It is relevant to the debate, and particularly to those concerned about what is happening among young people in schools.

There were some 483 responses to the survey, which was conducted over a wide geographical area in primary and secondary schools, and in further education establishments. I wish to highlight some of the points which came out of the survey, as they relate to remarks made earlier in the debate. First, the feeling among teachers is that the general culture of this country—including the conduct of the media—is part of the problem.

The survey also mentioned role models for our young people. I could get carried away on this subject—but I will not, because everyone else wants to speak. Society is offering our young people the wrong sort of role models: so much is clear from the survey.

Another point to emerge from the survey is the idea that we should not forget about alcohol and tobacco while we concentrate on drugs in schools. They, too, constitute a serious problem. So I go along with those who say that we should not push alcohol and tobacco to one side as being of no importance just because we are debating other drugs.

The survey confirmed what my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South said—that drug misuse in primary schools is significant and growing. It also showed that teachers want more and better training. I know that there is cross-party agreement on that point.

Tremendous support for the way police are helping schools was clear from the survey, but there was some concern that there might be a confusion between their role as advisers and their role in enforcing the law when serious offences are committed. There may be a need for clarification in that area. I think that the Minister of State is aware of the wish for clarification of the legal position of teachers who try to deal with incidents of drug misuse in schools, and I know that the Department is responding to that wish.

Finally, the survey pointed out that there is no real distinction, in this context, between the inner cities and rural areas. This is a national problem. The survey concluded that all schools should have a drugs education policy and a drugs incidents policy. At the moment, only 40 per cent. even of secondary schools and further education colleges have such policies. The teachers surveyed also felt that the law governing the sale of alcohol to minors should be more strictly enforced. More controversially, they suggest a ban on cigarette advertising within range of schools. All these points need to be thought about and debated.

I promised to be brief, so I will conclude by saying that we must continue the debate between the disciplinarians or authoritarians and the libertarians. There may be other opportunities to develop that debate, so that we can move on to a more creative, more fulfilled and happier society, in which there are fewer family break-ups, with all their attendant problems. I agree with those who have talked about training for 14 to 16-year-olds—the hon. Member for Knowsley, North made some good points about them.

We are all involved—not just parliamentarians but leaders of society and the media. I hope that this debate will issue in a national discussion of this important subject, because we are holding the debate for the sake of our young people.

12.2 pm

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I represent an inner-city constituency in London with one of the most serious drug problems in the country. Anyone who is as close to the crisis caused by drugs as my constituents and I are must question whether the Government are yet taking the problem seriously enough. It is hard to disagree with the detail of much of the White Paper, but in my view it is a well-meaning but essentially bureaucratic response to a problem with complex economic and social roots which the document does not begin to touch.

It has been rightly said that drugs are a nationwide problem, but they are especially a problem for the inner city. The British crime survey showed that, whereas in the inner cities 16 per cent. of 14 to 15-year-olds had experimented with drugs, in rural areas only 7 per cent. had done so. I shall talk briefly about my experience of dealing with and working with the consequences of drug abuse in an area such as Stoke Newington. It is easy to discuss the issue in the abstract, but I want to talk about what the drug epidemic in our inner city means in terms of the cost in human lives. Week after week in my surgery, I see middle-aged women who may have worked all their lives and have seen their sons destroyed by the drugs trade. Many young men and women get involved with drugs because drugs are fashionable, glamorous and seen as a high road to money. The reality for 99 per cent. of them is that their lives are ruined. If they are fortunate, they keep out of prison or mental hospital but, increasingly, the prisons and mental homes around London are full of the victims of the drug epidemic in the inner city.

There is also the environmental cost to the inner city. It cannot be acceptable that law-abiding people who live on council estates have to walk past drug peddlers to go to the shops or post office. On the same landing as those people live on, there may be a council flat entirely given over to drug retailing. In areas such as the east end of London, it does not matter whether one knows anyone taking or dealing in drugs; on many of our estates, it is hard to escape the environmental consequences of the drug trade, whether they be syringes in the sand pit at Clissold park in Stoke Newington or drug dealers on the street corner. That is the reality that the House must address.

One of the biggest costs that my constituents pay because of the drug trade is the cost of crime. To feed a hard drug habit nowadays can cost up to £1,000 a week. Where do people get the money? They get it from crime. Surveys show that over a third of crack users make the money to buy drugs through dealing. There is a tendency in the House to distinguish between dealers and users, but all too often they are the same people. A third of crack users get the money through dealing, a quarter through theft and one in seven through prostitution. Many of the petty burglaries, mindless assaults and much of the street crime in many parts of the inner city are caused by people trying to feed a drug habit.

Even worse than the cost in human lives or of having to push a baby in a buggy past drug dealers on Stoke Newington High street and worse than the crime is the rising incidence of violence and the increasing number of people armed with guns who are connected with drug distribution in London. In 1993, there were 10 murders and 21 attempted murders associated with the crack cocaine trade alone. Those figures are spiralling. The problem is that many of the young men—it is mainly young men—who go armed in the pursuance of drug distribution also use guns for all sorts of relatively petty domestic altercations. That frightens me because I live in the community. I am not talking about people from a report or what I have read about, but about my friends' and relatives' children. The rising number of young men involved with drugs in inner London and other inner cities who are armed with guns is a direct consequence of the drug epidemic in our big cities.

I cannot argue with much of the detail of the White Paper, but it does not begin to constitute an effective response to the drugs crisis that is engulfing some of our communities. Many hon. Members want to speak, so I will not expand my remarks.

Any effective response must seriously consider why people take drugs in the first place. The reasons are complex. I believe that some people have an addictive personality. Style, fashion, and street credibility are involved. Conservative Members have tried to challenge this, but there is no question that drug abuse is often connected with conditions of poverty and despair. Conservative Members do not like this, but we have to face the fact that, sadly, many young men in our inner cities regard dealing and trading in drugs as a viable economic route out of poverty. I do not condone that, but it is a reality. To talk about a little money here for education, about a few leaflets there and about meetings with chief executives and directors of social services does not begin to address the reality of young men who see drug dealing as their only route to acquiring the material trappings to which they believe that they are entitled. Until we have a strategy against drugs which takes that point on board and deals with it, we are far from having an effective strategy.

There is little point in dealing with the drug epidemic in narrow terms of education and meetings of bureaucrats without lifting our sights overseas to where the drugs are produced. The major drug production areas are some of the poorest countries in the world. Some of the most heavily indebted third-world countries are also the countries most heavily involved in drug production. It is in countries where the prices of traditional agricultural products such as sugar, bananas and coffee have collapsed that the rural agriculturists turn to drug production. It is no use Ministers telling me that they are serious about the war on drugs when their colleagues across Whitehall are pursuing trade, economic and aid policies that encourage thousands of small agriculturists to turn to drugs production.

What are we to say to small farmers in the rural Caribbean or in South America? They see that the price of coffee has collapsed and that there is no market for their bananas and sugar. They see that their only means of feeding and clothing their children and of making a life is through drug production. If this country is serious about the war on drugs, we have to tie in what we do about trade and third-world poverty with what we do here about drugs.

We also have to look at the territories that are used not primarily for drug production, but for transhipment. When one goes to some of the islands in the Caribbean and sees the relatively aged boats that the customs men have to use to chase the drug dealers compared with the state-of-the-art speedboats and helicopters that the drug dealers have, it is no surprise that the islands are increasingly used as transhipment points. Again, if we are serious, we have to start by trying to choke off the drugs trade not only at the point of production, but at the point of transhipment. A lot of money could usefully be spent on ensuring that the Customs and Excise men of the islands that are used as transhipment points have exactly the same high-tech boats, helicopters and equipment to stop the drugs coming through their borders as the drug dealers do.

I now come to what we are doing in the United Kingdom. There must be more money for Customs and Excise and more money for staffing to enable Customs and Excise staff to deal effectively with the drugs coming through our borders. We also need to look overall at the resources that we give to the drug problem. The Government talk about 4 per cent. of new resources; yet addiction has increased by 13 per cent. Offences related to drugs have increased by 11 per cent. No one in this debate has raised the question of the relationship between drug abuse in London and homelessness. We must look at the fact that 80 per cent. of drug users in London are unemployed. I am not saying that unemployment and homelessness lead directly to drug abuse, but for Ministers to say that they are serious about the drug problem when they do not look at that statistical relationship makes me wonder.

Especially in relation to women drug abusers, we must also look at the relationship between drug use and child abuse. One London clinic looked at a group of women drug addicts with whom it was dealing and found that 36 per cent. of those drug addicts were the victims of sexual abuse. The problem with this debate and the problem with the White Paper is that they look at the drug problem in narrow, theoretical and bureaucratic terms. In fact, this is a problem with global implications and complex social causes.

As well as giving resources to Customs and Excise and as well as trying to see the links with problems such as homelessness, we need to consider more resources for the police. Increasingly, the police are able to track down drug dealers only by using more and more resources and more and more money. Drug users are to the forefront in using new technology. Anyone who walks down Stoke Newington high street on a sunny day will see more expensive portable phones used by more people than he or she will ever see using them in the City of London. It is no longer a matter of policemen standing on street corners and saying, "You're nicked." They often have to set up prolonged surveillance arrangements. They have to undertake prolonged undercover work. They use video cameras to record transactions. They have to obtain corroborative evidence that will stand up in court. All those things cost money, and budgets are being stretched.

It is no use having White Papers which tell us that a little more money should be provided for education. If we are to counter the multi-million-pound trade, we must make the necessary money available for the countervailing agencies, including Customs and Excise and the police.

I live in an area in which the drug epidemic causes human tragedy day on day. I have had the opportunity to travel to America to visit its inner cities and to see the devastation wrought by drug misuse in areas such as Harlem, parts of Chicago and parts of Washington. In Harlem, hundreds of babies are born every month addicted to crack. I do not want to see the tragedy that has engulfed the inner cities of the United States engulf my people and my community in the east end of London, or in any of our inner cities.

We cannot argue with the White Paper as it stands, but if the Government were serious about fighting drugs they would put forward a far more widely encompassing strategy and would take on board some of the economic and social matters that I have mentioned. It is easy to talk about drug abuse in theory, to read reports and to blame others. The experience in America is that when the problem comes out of the ghetto and engulfs the children of the middle and professional classes, it is too late. I hope that the House will not wait until it is too late before embarking on a serious strategy and war against drugs.

12.16 pm
Mr. Richard Spring (Bury St. Edmunds)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord President. He has pulled the entire process together by the production of the Green Paper, the initiation of the consultation process and the publication of the White Paper. On behalf of all my colleagues, I pay tribute to him for his critical role.

I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), who for years has talked about drug issues in this place and outside, sometimes in a lonely way. The fact that the debate is taking place and the White Paper has been published is in large measure due to his efforts over many years.

The White Paper has a stated purpose, which I shall read out again. It states: To take effective action by vigorous law enforcement, accessible treatment and a new emphasis on education and prevention to: increase the safety of communities from drug-related crime; reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people; and reduce the health risks and other damage related to drug misuse. I shall consider these three important and interdependent courses of action in turn.

There is no doubt that we have a rising incidence of drugs throughout the industrialised world, especially among young people under the age of 25. We have heard that 70 per cent. of crime is now drug related. In the United Kingdom, the value of the drug marketplace is over £3 billion. We have gangs involved, including Chinese triads, Jamaican yardies and gangs from Nigeria and the eastern Europe mafiosi. There is a huge commercial impetus to sell drugs to our young people.

There may be different geographic and different socio-economic groups, but drug abuse is now prevalent throughout the nation in all sectors of our society, and especially among young people. That applies in the metropolitan areas and in rural areas. I know that crime, whether in towns, villages or farms, is now very much linked to the consumption of drugs.

I very much welcome the fact that there are now defined targets for chief constables to draw up formal drugs strategies, to modify their operational procedures under an umbrella of national priorities. Undoubtedly, the White Paper will be a spur to chief constables to work closely with Customs and Excise, and, indeed, the National Criminal Intelligence Service. We must not forget the role of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. Many of its operatives live—and are stationed—abroad in the countries from which the supply comes. They have a critical role in looking at what is going on in those countries and also to observe the supply centres. That is highly important intelligence. Although there is a certain amount of integrated working together in the enforcement agencies, the White Paper will spur that on in a most satisfactory way. It is vital, given the staggering profits that are available to drugs merchandisers, that good intelligence is obtained about the movement of drugs before they reach Britain.

The second element of the statement of purpose refers to the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people. The third element is about the health risk. A distinction is made, in the minds of some people, between soft and hard drugs, but it is an ever more superficial observation. Cannabis can no longer be regarded as some kind of safe non-addictive substance. The questions are these: is it somehow safe to take? Is there no health risk? Is it a merely recreational exercise? The fact is that the White Paper—the Green Paper having looked at the arguments—has come down with a view against decriminalisation.

I have spoken to a number of psychologists who are involved in this area. One individual described the situation thus. If one has a vulnerable personality, one is prone to phobias or anxieties. Given the fact that, after consumption, cannabis resides in the body for up to 30 days, there is emerging evidence that individuals who are prone to such disorders can be pushed over into more extreme states and even to schizophrenia by cannabis consumption. That is the psychological side.

On the physical side, there is increasing and frightening evidence of a cancer-cannabis link. We have evidence from distinguished surgeons in the United States, particularly in California, that shows aggressive head, neck and lung cancers occurring in young people who are taking cannabis as a drug. Evidence also shows that middle-aged people are becoming prone to that form of cancer 15 to 20 years earlier than the average of those who normally get that cancer.

It is suggested, in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs in the United States that three quarters of lung cancer patients are cannabis smokers. The reason is simple: cannabis contains 50 per cent. to 70 per cent. more carcinogens than tobacco does. The tragedy is that the process is slow. The World Health Organisation is now so alarmed about the cannabis-cancer link that it is investigating it and has already indicated that it believes that one joint of cannabis is equivalent to four cigarettes.

Mr. Tony Banks

It is quite possible, of course, that the interaction between cannabis and nicotine leads to precisely the results that the hon. Gentleman is talking about, but will he go back slightly? He was talking about people getting hooked on cannabis. No hon. Member in the House has ever said that he or she has taken cannabis, yet we know, privately—never publicly—that some hon. Members have said that they have. I have not noticed them being hooked. Has the hon. Gentleman ever in his life smoked cannabis or ingested it in any way?

Mr. Spring

The hon. Gentleman raises a point that needs to be dealt with. In the north Wealden district of East Sussex, it was shown that 20 per cent. of teenagers had tried cannabis. On the basis of that evidence, it was established that 5 per cent. in turn moved on to hard drugs.

There is increasing evidence of a cancer-cannabis link and we have potentially a time bomb in our midst. Young people who are taking cannabis may unexpectedly get cancer in middle age. There is evidence of that in California. We owe it to young people to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs because of those real health risks.

Many members of the public will know that there is considerable concern that prisons have become a breeding ground for the taking of drugs, enriching not only prisoners who may be suppliers but outside suppliers. I therefore welcome the random urine tests that will be introduced by the Prison Service. That will act as a powerful disincentive, and appropriate sanctions will be taken against prisoners who are found to have drugs.

Of course the rehabilitation of prisoners is important—that is the other side of the coin. It is also vital, however—this is what the White Paper is spurring on in the Prison Service—that there are increasing moves to stop drugs from getting into prisons in the first place by the increased use of drug dogs and by closed visits. That is extremely welcome, as anxiety exists in many communities about released prisoners who have become hooked on drugs.

I also pay tribute to the excellent work of the central drugs co-ordination unit and, in particular, the director Sue Street. I am delighted with the comment of my right hon. Friend the Lord President that their role will continue after their remit ends next year.

On continuity, I should like some clarity on one point. To what extent will drug action teams respond to the voluntary sector at local level and who will monitor that? That is a critical part of the success of what the White Paper proposes.

As I said earlier, it is true that drug abuse exists both in metropolitan and rural areas. In East Anglia, for example in the county of Suffolk, we have the particular problem of amphetamines in the Newmarket area, whereas we have the problem of heroin in Ipswich. That is why I especially welcome the fact that existing drugs task forces that are operating successfully are being encouraged to incorporate themselves in a flexible way in drug action teams and drug reference groups.

Two years ago, I founded a drugs task force in Newmarket in my constituency. We have had considerable success via the two youth outreach workers who work with the drug task force in going into the community, talking to young people, finding out about their problems and, where they have specific difficulties, guiding them on to seek appropriate professional help. I welcome the fact that a drugs task group similar to the one that was set up in Newmarket two years ago has been set up in Bury St. Edmunds.

Much of the support for both those two drugs task groups has come from two local district councils—Forest Heath and St. Edmundsbury. Jointly with those district councils, we have hired a substance misuse training officer to talk to private organisations, schools and other bodies to raise the level of awareness and the training of individuals who will then talk to young people. I hope that all that will be included in the plan that will be brought forward by Suffolk health authority to deal with drugs in the county overall. I congratulate the two district councils in my constituency on their foresight and the moral and financial support they have given to those drug task groups.

I have discussed the problems of young people with many school heads in my constituency and it is fair to say that, before the publication of the Green and White Papers, many school heads, teachers and governors felt that they were operating without a sense of direction. Many were embarrassed if there were incidents of drug misuse in their schools because they did not know how to react. I therefore welcome the fact that even at primary school level young people will be warned about the dangers of drug misuse. By the time they leave school, young people will now have a comprehensive idea of the dangers of illegal drugs.

The school health education unit surveyed 100,000 children and found that the number who experiment with illegal drugs is now six times greater than the number recorded in the four years to 1993. That is a shocking statistic. I welcome, therefore, the creation of the digest as a single source of reference for teachers on agreed standards and procedures in schools. I am glad that, in future, the standard of drug education in schools will be subject to inspection. I am aware that the national curriculum already requires pupils studying science to learn about the harmful effects of drugs.

Concurrent with the White Paper proposals, I particularly welcome the rekindling of interest in sports in schools, because drugs misuse must be seen in the context of prevention and higher standards of health and fitness among young people.

As has already been said, the problem of irregularity of drug supply in rural areas exacerbates drug misuse there. Sometimes young people in my constituency are offered harder drugs when cannabis is not readily available. That practice has been responsible, particularly in rural areas, for some of the 1,200 deaths recorded in England and Wales as a result of drug abuse. Young people in rural areas have stolen a pig tranquilliser—which has dangerous effect on them—such is their desire to get hold of drugs if they cannot get any cannabis. The desire to get a kick out of drugs is prevalent throughout the country.

When one looks for role models from the world as to how to set about successfully tackling the tragic problem of drug misuse, Canada has hitherto been the best example. Under the umbrella of a national strategy, it has developed local community partnerships. That is precisely what the White Paper intends to foster through the use of local communities and the motivation of local people to deal with the problem of drug misuse.

Much of the success in tackling the problem in Suffolk is due to the moral and financial support given by the district councils. I am therefore disappointed to see that district councils are excluded from the drug action teams and that they have been given no specific role in drug reference groups. The White Paper recommends local adjustments, but, in reality, county councils are often remote from their constituents. Those living in west Suffolk feel remote from the county council headquarters at Ipswich; they look to the district council as their source of reference. I wanted to mention that given my experience of the success achieved by my district councils.

I have the honour to be patron of Adfam in Suffolk, which was founded in 1987 by Lilias and Robin Sheepshanks, to whom I pay tribute. They have sought to help families and friends sort out the tragic consequences of a young person's drug misuse. The scheme has been very successful. I am very pleased that family counselling has been brought to light in the White Paper. One of the points that Adfam made was that, although a national help line has been suggested, a local help line, perhaps regionally based, would be better, simply because of its geographic familiarity—a comforting regional voice, perhaps—and the fact that it would more easily provide an opportunity for home visits. I hope that that idea will be borne in mind.

I have talked about the cancer-cannabis link and its extreme dangers. Adfam has said—the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will be interested in this point—that all the evidence in the eight years that it has been going and all the contact that it has had with families and drug abusers suggest that all heroin addicts, or those on large methadone maintenance programmes, started with cannabis. The habit of smoking cannabis can lead to criminal activity too, as we have heard.

In the past two years, we have come a long way in looking at the problem of drugs. We are now considering not only enforcement, important as that may be, but prevention and education. I pay tribute once again to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and also to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has taken a special interest in drugs misuse and highlighted the subject at a pan-European level. I hope and believe that the White Paper will be an important stepping stone in dealing with the tragedy and cancer of drugs misuse in this country. Parents and young people will look back at the White Paper as a very important step in fighting the tide of drugs misuse, which so tragically destroys so many lives in Britain.

12.36 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I should like to comment on the White Paper, which seems perfectly reasonable in the context of this debate. In it, one sees the priorities that the Government give to objectives. Their first priority seems to be crime, followed, of course, by drug education and public health. In this country, and indeed in the United States—one must make the comparison—drug use is increasingly being viewed as a law and order issue. If drug use is treated as a matter of law and order—that, essentially, is the Government's approach—it becomes a battle. We are clearly losing that battle and we shall continue to do so. We spend about £500 million a year on law enforcement connected with drug use, yet we all admit that drug use is on increase in this country. No one has said that it is not. If a war is being waged against drugs, we are losing it.

The figures in the United States are absolutely horrendous. If one wants to see what will happen in this country in five or 10 years, one need look not into a crystal ball but at what is happening in the United States. Given many of the things currently happening in the United States, there are good reasons to be very worried about future developments in this country.

In the United States, $20 billion a year is spent on law enforcement concerning drug use, yet more drugs are available, they are cheaper on the streets and more people are using them. In this country and in the United States, the police acknowledge that they are losing the so-called drugs war.

Where is the sense in putting more and more people in gaol for drug abuse? In the United States, 440,000 prisoners are in local gaols for drug offences, 87,000 are in federal gaols, 2.7 million people are on probation and 500,000 are on parole. Those figures represent the highest proportion ever of the American population incarcerated for drug offences, and the highest proportion of gaoled persons anywhere in the world. In 1992, 535,000 people in the United States were arrested for cannabis possession, sale or manufacture. Seventy per cent. of the country's entire gaol population have been imprisoned for drug-related offences. I tried to discover the comparable figure for the UK. The Government say that perhaps 10 per cent. of the prison population is accounted for by drug-related offenders—but only directly related, in terms of drug use or dealing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), in an excellent speech, described the situation in her part of east London, which is similar to that in Newham but probably worse. She spoke of all the other crimes associated with drugs, such as burglary and car theft. When people appear before the courts for such offences, no one asks why they committed them. If that question were asked, perhaps the number of people in prison here for offences tangential to the supply and use of drugs would approach the United States' figure of 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. It seems that drugs are freely available within prisons. It is ludicrous that to stop people taking drugs we put them in gaol, where drugs are just as readily available.

It seems from the White Paper that far more resources should be made available for drug education. Will the Minister confirm that the standing conference on drug abuse budget will be maintained? I was told that it might be eliminated. I must press the Minister to answer that important question. The figures in the White Paper suggest that the Government will make available £10 million of additional resources, but for short-term objectives when guaranteed core funding is essential. Much more must be spent on drug education and reduction. If the Government and Parliament are serious, we must stop thinking of drugs as a law and order issue and more as a matter of education and reduction.

Teachers are not the best people to provide such education because it is difficult for them to relate to the pupils in their charge. More use should be made of drug advice projects such as that in Newham, and the three Members of Parliament representing Newham are in the Chamber. I hope that the Lord President will pay that project a visit—my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) plans to do so. Drug advice projects have the help of young people who still use drugs and can impart good knowledge, or who have kicked the habit. They can all relate to present users. One problem associated with drug education is that it is difficult for a youngster to discuss with his or her teacher doing something that is illegal. Drug advice projects are the best way to help young people to kick their habit.

I have never used drugs myself, despite arguing continually for legalisation, and would never encourage anyone to use them, but hon. Members who argue that using cannabis leads inevitably to harder drugs should examine their consciences. How many hon. Members in the Chamber now have used drugs? If I asked hon. Members to raise their hands, I doubt that any would. I would not raise my hand because of the assurance that I have just given the House, but how many other hon. Members could do the same? That is not a way of catching people out. All that I am asking hon. Members to say—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. In case anyone is tempted, I should say that it would not be in order for hon. Members to put their hands up.

Mr. Banks

The cavalry has obviously arrived—hon. Members were worried about what was going to happen next.

My point is, how many Members here or of the 650 or so who are in the House who have used cannabis have ended up becoming drug addicts? If they were capable of controlling the habit, why should they assume that other people are not capable of doing so? They say that using cannabis takes one on to harder drugs. For obsessive individuals, that is true, but it is equally true that if one has a dry sherry, one could end up drinking methylated spirits on the Embankment—the people who are there probably started off with a beer or a dry sherry—but it does not mean that, because one drinks a dry sherry or a beer, one will inevitably become an alcoholic. One must think this through logically.

I want drug use to be controlled and reduced and I want the criminal activity associated with drug supply and use eliminated. The only way to secure all those three socially desirable objectives is through legalisation, certainly of cannabis, and possibly of all drugs.

I admit that I do not know enough about the medical problems associated with the use of drugs—I have never taken them, so I cannot even speak from personal experience—but I agree with the Liberal Democrats' position. It seems entirely sensible to me that a royal commission, or at least a body of sufficient standing, should examine all the arguments for and against—the medical, social and enforcement arguments—so that legislators can take decisions based on the full facts and not on their own prejudices or on anecdotal evidence.

Mr. Ottaway

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that legalising the use of cannabis will result in a reduction in its use?

Mr. Banks

It does not necessarily follow that it will lead to a reduction. Initially, it could lead to an expansion of cannabis use. My arguments are that, if someone wants to use cannabis, it is a personal decision. Far more damage to a person's health is caused by nicotine, smoking cigarettes and alcohol. Once a substance is legalised, it enables us to regulate the quality, put in place far more drug reduction schemes and give far more advice. As it is a legal activity, one can reduce use, as we do with cigarettes. It is difficult to reduce use when it is illegal, other than through law and order issues. As we have already seen, as a law and order issue we are losing the war.

Mr. George Howarth

My hon. Friend is advancing a not unfamiliar argument for him, but it is normally his practice to differentiate between his position and that of his party. Perhaps he might care to do so on this occasion.

Mr. Banks

In case anyone did not read the health warning that I should have had stamped across my forehead, no word that I have uttered so far has anything to do with the official Front-Bench policy of the Labour party, but I am quite used to giving that health warning for many of the things that I say in the House.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

My hon. Friend is right to say that this is a big issue in east London. I do not go along with his remedy, but does he agree that something fundamental has not been mentioned? Everyone requires some recreation and relaxation—I would put in a hyphen and call it re-creation—but in a community or society in which people find a balance more difficult to achieve because of market forces, insecurity and the ease of commodity availability, the demand for drugs as opposed to other things that provide healthy relaxation and re-creation goes up. We must bear that in mind, because many Conservative policies increase people's demand for a commodity that gives them recreation and relaxation, rather than getting them through their lives as a whole.

Mr. Banks

My hon. Friend is saying that there are many more complex reasons associated with drug demand. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington made the same argument. The White Paper does not tackle any of the basic causes. I accept that that was not its purpose. However, unless one is able to start understanding why people use drugs, drink alcohol to excess or even smoke cigarettes, because there is a reason for all those things—

Mr. Spearing

They are relaxants.

Mr. Banks

They are relaxants, stimulants or whatever. All those matters need to be examined if we are to solve the "problem", as it is identified.

If all hon. Members took the example of my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Newham, South of using a bicycle to travel in London, they would undoubtedly be far healthier than they are now, although the atmosphere in London is probably as poisonous as a packet of 20 fags smoked one after another. The thought of my hon. Friend cycling down the Highway towards Newham on his bike with a spliff in his mouth would engender a great deal of amusement in some people. One knows, of course, that it is not the type of thing that he would do.

Mr. Spearing

It is a relaxant.

Mr. Banks

As a relaxant or otherwise. If my hon. Friend wants a spliff, I will no doubt be able to supply him with one, but it will not be one that I have rolled myself.

The White Paper begins to scratch the surface of a problem, but unless the Government are prepared to acknowledge that the problem is far more deep-seated and wide-ranging in our society, the idea that we can wage a successful war on drugs in this country is a load of bunkum.

12.50 pm
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

I want to deal with two issues in what I hope, for the sake of other colleagues who wish to speak, will not be an over-long speech.

First, I wish to speak briefly about what is happening in my constituency, which, as the House knows, is very rural and distinctly different from that of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott). However, I have witnessed what she described in her part of north-east London and in the United States of America, and I thought that she described the problem extremely accurately.

In Ryedale, about 15 or 18 months ago, there was growing evidence of the availability of drugs. As a consequence, I called a meeting of all interested agencies, to try to get to grips with what was happening and what was being done about drug abuse in that part of rural north Yorkshire.

Two things emerged from our deliberations. First, the drug education programme in schools was being dramatically curtailed as a result of a cut in funding. Secondly, although the police and other agencies—the national health service and social services—generally felt that they had a grip on the problem as far as they were able to detect it, no agency existed to reach the youngsters who had fallen through the safety net.

I want to make two points that are directly relevant to the White Paper. First, on education, some anxiety has been expressed that even the extra funding announced in the White Paper is not enough. I would simply make one judgment about whether it is enough. I would like us to restore the drug education programme in schools, run by the county councils, to its position of 18 months ago. If the funding that has been made available is insufficient, we need more. That is the test: whether it is £190 or £200 and so many pounds per school is not the issue. We had three health education officers in north Yorkshire; we now have one. I would like the other two, whom we lost, to be replaced.

The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

I have struggled with this problem in my three years in the Department for Education. My hon. Friend may know—I am sure that his local education authority told him—that the original funding of health education advisers was of a pump-priming nature, designed to establish their usefulness and so on. The programme was extended, but eventually we decided that it should be up to local education authorities to decide whether they could justify continuing the funding. Many have; some have not. We regarded it as being not right or feasible to continue funding from the centre something that was only ever intended to be a pump-priming exercise.

Mr. Greenway

I hear what my hon. Friend says. He will be aware of the funding problems in north Yorkshire schools generally and the difficult decisions that have had to be taken. I simply make the point that the White Paper promises more money for drugs education programmes and I am trying to establish a yardstick against which we can establish whether that funding is adequate. A number of hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have said that it is not enough. I should like the three local health education officers who were employed previously to be reinstated. That was the overwhelming view of all the public and voluntary sector agencies that attended the meetings that I called to address the problem.

As to the difficulty of youngsters falling through the safety net, in central Ryedale we have set up a detached youth work project such as exists in many parts of the country, including York and Scarborough. I pay tribute to north Yorkshire health authority, which has made funds available to enable the project to employ a detached youth worker.

We must address one very important issue that the White Paper does not make entirely clear. We are discussing the establishment of a county-wide drug action team with some form of executive control over drug strategies. I welcome that move. We are also talking about establishing a drug reference group, although one clearly is not enough in a county the size of north Yorkshire. I welcome the fact that the White Paper tries to be as flexible as possible in delivering support, but I should like us to embrace various schemes, such as the detached youth work project, using a combination of existing funds and those that the White Paper makes available.

In involving the police, probation service and criminal justice agencies in that work, we must ensure that there is a clear difference between a drugs-line approach and a helpline approach. If youngsters who are taking drugs and who need help, advice and support think that if they dial a telephone number the police will become involved, they will not use that service. As an ex-policeman, I feel very strongly about that. We must continue to hit drug users hard, particularly those who are extremely affluent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Dr. Goodson-Wickes) said. I am in favour of the police giving a caution for a first offence, but I think that drug users should expect to be prosecuted for any subsequent offences.

We must ensure that the White Paper's initiatives strengthen the assistance that is provided for young drug users who need support but who have fallen through the safety net. Therefore, we must consider carefully how the new drug reference groups and the drug action teams will work and who will be involved in their work.

The strategy document contains a general programme to combat drug trafficking. That issue has been at the forefront of our work in the Home Affairs Select Committee for the eight years during which I have been a member of that Committee. In 1989 we published two reports on the subject and in July we hope to publish another report on organised crime that will contain a significant section about the problems of drug trafficking.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) was not in his place when my colleague on the Committee, the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), made her quite excellent speech. She reflected on what we witnessed only two weeks ago when we visited Holland. As many hon. Members know, the Dutch authorities have now decided to decriminalise the use of soft drugs. The hon. Lady referred to 100 coffee shop premises in Amsterdam, but there are in fact 1,500 throughout Holland. Superficially, these coffee shops have an attraction. People can go there to buy a joint of cannabis, and they are not doing causing anyone any trouble. It all appears to be quite attractive but when one looks behind that, one sees the danger.

The Dutch authorities—the police or the Government—did not know what on earth to do about who supplied cannabis to the coffee shops. They have not legalised or controlled the supply of the drug and they have not done enough to attack the organised crime gangs involved in supplying drugs. A consequence has been a horrific increase in the involvement of organised crime in the supply of cannabis to coffee shops.

One can say that such shops have not led cannabis users on to hard drugs, but it is no wonder that people are not allowed to stand in the street outside coffee shops trying to sell hard drugs to the cannabis and marijuana users who have just been inside. The organised criminals would not like that at all.

The drug liaison officer in The Hague—I pay tribute to his work—told us in no uncertain terms that all the evidence that has now been collated shows that criminals go from France to Belgium, where they steal a car or rob a bank. They then go to Holland, buy as much cannabis as they can get in the back of a car and go back to France. The fact that those are all Schengen countries with virtually no border controls means that the criminals can do what they like. Even the authorities in Italy have strongly criticised the Dutch approach and the problems that it is creating regarding the supply of not just cannabis but hard drugs across western Europe.

Another problem is money laundering. There are now more than 100 currency exchange shops in one part of Amsterdam which make far more money from the laundering of currency than from tourists. That is quite staggering. Our police say that currency exchange shops in London are centres where sterling is exchanged for Dutch guilders by people who go to Amsterdam to buy more cannabis, which is brought back to this country. At Schipol airport, anyone stopped in possession of—wait for it—anything under 25 kg of cannabis is not arrested. They have their name and address taken, and they are let go because the authorities simply cannot cope with the enormity of the problem.

I say to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that I have tried to keep an open mind on whether any kind of drug should be decriminalised, but all the experience convinces me that, while there is a superficial attraction, it is not the answer. The Dutch have now realised that, and are hitting hard at the organised crime gangs involved in the supply of cannabis.

Time is short, and there is much more that I could have said—particularly about what we do in Britain. We must strengthen the National Criminal Intelligence Service, and I imagine that the Select Committee will have a lot to say about that when we report to the House. If there is one thing that I have learned in the eight years in which we on the Home Affairs Select Committee have looked at the horrid and tragic problem of drug trafficking and abuse, it is that we must not drop our guard on any one strand of the battle.

There has been a tendency in the past to concentrate on whatever approach has been in vogue—one year prevention, another year demand reduction, another year a crackdown on traffickers, another, an attempt to deal with the coca growers in South America. I maintain that it is not inevitable that we will lose the war against drugs; but we shall not win it unless and until we attack every strand of the strategy with the utmost vigour for many years to come. In a way, the White Paper recognises that. Annexe B sets out a five-pronged approach. I greatly welcome the interdepartmental approach which is to be adopted, and I urge the Minister vigorously to pursue all five strands at the same time. Until we do that, we shall never be sure that everything that we should be doing to stop the spread of this dreadful drug misuse has been done.

1.5 pm

Mr. Stephen Timms (Newham, North-East)

I listened with great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). I want to echo a number of his comments, particularly those about the need for consistent core funding for some of the drug work which has been established in recent years but which has now been either shut down or threatened with closure because the core funding to allow it to continue is not available.

The White Paper confirms for us an alarming picture of the scale of drug misuse in the United Kingdom. We have been reminded of some of the statistics in the debate already today. The Lord President reminded us that 3 million people will take an illegal drug this year; and that the number of notified addicts increased by 13 per cent. in the year to 1993, the last for which figures are available. In 1992 there were 1,200 drug-related deaths in England and Wales, an increase of 11 per cent. on the previous year. No doubt the figure increased again since then.

Recent research carried out at Exeter university showed that nearly half of 15 to 16-year-olds have been offered an illegal drug, and nearly half of the boys in that survey had used either cannabis or ecstasy.

There is among some young people a culture that accepts drug use as a leisure activity that is part of growing up. We might speculate about why that is so, but it undoubtedly is; and it is accompanied, where it prevails, by a sharp upward trend in school truancy problems, with low achievement at school and an increasing incidence of serious health problems. And we know, as we have been reminded today, that there is a strong correlation between rising drug misuse and crime.

I agree that there is much to be welcomed in the White Paper. It represents a move in the right direction away from a purely punitive approach, recognising realities, and it represents a serious attempt also to achieve a coherent national approach to the problem, using the £500 million or so in resources in a co-ordinated way, in place of the piecemeal approach of the past.

The document, however, also leaves a number of serious questions unanswered. It appears to try to face both ways on some of the issues. For instance, the White Paper seems to want to encourage frank discussion of drug problems in schools, and wants to help young people to develop "the skills and attitudes" to resist drug misuse, encouraging discussion between pupils and teachers to enable them to do just that; but it also suggests that the police be called in whenever there is evidence of drug use. That clearly makes it impossible for frank discussion of drugs to be undertaken with teachers in classrooms—I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about that.

Mr. Forth

If I get the chance later, I may try to develop this point; but in case I do not, I should point out that a distinction must be made between the routine dissemination of information on drugs to pupils of all ages, within the curriculum and helped by the guidance that we are giving teachers, and what should be done in schools to deal with incidents of drug taking, supply, use or misuse. That is an important distinction. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point and I am aware of the concern about it, but I believe that it will be possible as a matter of routine for teachers to conduct drugs education in schools on the one hand and on the other for heads and teachers to deal with the difficult problem of individual cases of drug taking among pupils, about which we also give guidance in the circular.

Mr. Timms

The problem is that that distinction will not be apparent to pupils. They will want to understand whether they are dealing with people who are there to provide advice or with people who are there to report them to the police. Teachers will have real difficulties in taking the strategy forward and understanding what they are supposed to be doing. I would like a clearer focus on the need, especially in schools, for help, initially, for drug users rather than punishment.

I shall focus my brief contribution to the debate on the lessons that can be learned from the experience of the Newham drugs advice project already mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West. It is a remarkable project and its achievements and experience throw a good deal of light on the debate.

I know that the Lord President has been briefed about the project and has said that he will visit it and that the Home Office has for some time been evaluating its work. One of the reasons why it is remarkable is that it has always had to be run on a shoestring. It was established in 1987, but has never had secure funding. Inevitably, much of the energy of those who work there has been taken up by fund raising. Colin Cripps, who leads the project and was one of its founders in 1987, estimates that he spends five months of the year filling in forms to make funding bids for the following year.

This year, the project has had continued support from the local education authority and, for the first time, significant support from the district health authority. Beyond that, it raises funds from whatever sources it can, such as Comic Relief and Stratford city challenge. Those are all one-off grants and the project will have to apply for them again next year if it is to continue its current level of activity. It is a hand-to-mouth existence in which it is impossible to plan ahead. The project staff cannot even be confident that they will have jobs in a year's time, let alone plan the strategy that we need.

Despite that, the project has remarkable achievements to its credit, especially what it calls the youth awareness programme or YAP. The programme has its roots in imaginative and detailed research, which was carried out with the help of students and others, using a variety of techniques, into the thinking of young people on drug issues.

The research shows—and I believe that this is a significant finding—that the source from which young people derive most information about drugs is other young people. They have friends with detailed first-hand knowledge of drug use. What their friends say to them about the subject is credible and compelling whereas, inevitably, what teachers or local Rotarians say is second hand and limited in its apparent relevance to young people.

The project responded to that research by training a large and growing group of volunteer drug workers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West mentioned earlier. Those workers are themselves young people. There are now 72 of them in Newham willing to tell school pupils about the dangers of drug abuse and how drug users can obtain help. The volunteers go through a rigorous 30-week programme, which entails two days' training per week—a big commitment on their part—to prepare them for voluntary work.

The standing conference on drug abuse is developing national vocational qualifications for training for such work. The Newham project hopes before long to be able to offer accreditation to those who go through the training programme. Some of the trained volunteers have in the past been drug misusers and many are unemployed. They are able to explain the dangers and problems of drug abuse to other young people in a way that teachers cannot. The value of that approach was mentioned by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). He pointed out the value of having young people, a number of them past abusers, telling their peers what the problems are and how they can obtain help.

The project has been remarkably successful in providing a route to help youngsters with problems. It is helping them to come through their drug problems to a future far better than would be the case if they were trapped for ever in drug abuse. Since the programme began, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of school pupils coming forward for one-to-one advice from the project and to talk about their drug problems. However, the key to the programme is the realisation that it is young people themselves who are in the best position to help other young people to tackle their drug problems.

The success of the programme is now being taken up elsewhere and I very much welcome that. The Newham project is also exploring ways in which to use the youth sub-culture to make young people aware of the dangers of drugs, by being present at raves and providing information to the young people attending them and by writing contributions for the magazines that circulate among young people. It is now taking part in the preparation of a CD-ROM package. The approach taken is non-moralistic but effective in explaining the dangers of drug abuse and in letting young people with drug problems know how they can obtain help.

The most striking feature of the Newham approach is that it can be shown to have worked, and the experience of that success raises three questions about the approach set out in the White Paper. First, projects such as the Newham project need to have secure core funding. That was well illustrated by the exchange between the hon. Member for Ryedale and the Minister a few moments ago. Almost all the funding sources that the project will aim to tap want to be associated with innovation and with creating something new, for which they can share the credit. It is understandable that that is what they want. The Newham project has been highly innovative and has attracted funds as a result, but it has succeeded and having demonstrated success, it now needs to be able to implement what it has developed in a consistent way.

The funding pressures compel projects to spend their time dreaming up novelties instead of applying the results of the innovative work that they have carried out in the past. The pressure from the funding regime is all towards gimmickry. We need the consistent application of good practice, but there is nothing in the White Paper to encourage me to believe that projects such as the Newham project will have a more secure existence in the next three years than they have had in the past three. This year's innovation needs to be turned into next year's routine and we need a funding regime that allows that to happen.

Secondly, there must be some scepticism about the effectiveness of conventional school-based drug education. It is encouraging that the White Paper recognises that young people make their own decisions about whether to abuse drugs, but it is doubtful that the White Paper view that formal classroom teaching and discussion are the best way in which to influence those decisions is correct. We shall need to develop and pay for more imaginative approaches than that, especially when schoolteachers will conclude from the White Paper that their overriding responsibility is to report cases of drug abuse to the police.

Thirdly, I question whether the establishment of top-heavy drug action teams, as described in the White Paper, is the best way in which to tackle a problem that is increasingly pervasive among the young. The White Paper emphasises the importance of bringing together the most senior officials from the local and health authorities, the police, the prisons and the probation service. Of course, we need to promote effective partnerships among the different agencies, but the most effective partnerships that I have seen do not simply bring together all the top officials. They have built into them input from the ground, where imaginative ideas and a real understanding of what is happening can be obtained. That seems especially important when we are talking about a problem that is most prevalent among young people. Whatever may be the strengths of local authority chief executives and chief constables, closeness to youth is not one of them.

The proposal for there to be one co-opted voluntary sector representative is inadequate and the establishment of somewhat cumbersome drug reference teams alongside the drug action teams does not seem to fit the bill. We need to build new and dynamic partnerships, which bring together at the appropriate level locally the agencies identified in the White Paper and those who work on the ground and who know the young people and their problems. It seems wrong that the £5.9 million for establishing the forums is much more than the extra money promised for work in schools.

There is a great deal at stake in tackling the drug problem. We must be imaginative and put into practice what we have learnt from projects throughout the country over the past decade. The White Paper represents a move in the right direction, but we need to go a good deal further before we can be confident about the future.

1.19 pm
Mr. David Faber (Westbury)

As so often on these occasions, we find ourselves pushed for time. I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Minister and to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), because I shall have to leave the Chamber before the Front-Bench replies. I have a surgery in my constituency, which has long been advertised in the local press.

I have been involved in the battle against drug and alcohol abuse, in one form or another, throughout my adult life. I am proud to be a trustee of two charities—Clouds house, one of the foremost drug treatment and rehabilitation centres in the country, which is based in my constituency, and the Addictive Diseases Trust, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), which is doing pioneering work at Downview prison in Sutton. I shall say a little more about the work of the trust later in my remarks.

I, too, welcome the White Paper, and I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend the Lord President on being the driving force behind it. We have heard about the three basic strands that are to be found in the White Paper. They include a continuing commitment to the legal deterrent and law enforcement, about which much has been said already. That has been dealt with effectively.

I add my support to all that has been said, especially by the Front-Bench spokesmen and my hon. Friends on the legalisation of any drugs, whether hard or soft. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) had it absolutely right when he said that it is a distraction to talk about legalisation and that it is damaging to raise the subject. Those who seek the legalisation of cannabis misunderstand the basic principle of a chemical dependency, which underlines all addiction whether it is to drugs or alcohol. The argument is not confined to whether cannabis may be less physically damaging than alcohol or hard drugs. Anyone who knows people who have been addicted to cannabis for a long time will know the apathy, the torpor and the generally debilitating effect that the drug has.

There have been many references to law and order and much has been said about Holland. Spain is a country that I know well. It decriminalised possession of cannabis over 10 years ago. It witnessed an immediate soaring crime rate and ever since there have been efforts to try to reverse the decision. Decriminalisation sends the wrong signals to our young people.

The second strand to be found in the White Paper is the need to reduce the availability and acceptability of drugs, especially to young people. As we have heard time and again, our young people are at particular risk. We have heard the figures and I do not need again to read them into the record.

We have heard, too, that drug misuse is not confined to the inner cities. It is to be found in rural areas such as the one that I represent. No school and no community is immune from the problem. I welcome the emphasis in the White Paper on a national co-ordinated strategy, which will be implemented at a local community level in partnership with the many statutory and voluntary agencies that are involved. One such local partnership is already well under way—it has been for about a year now—in my constituency. Secondary heads from schools throughout west and north Wiltshire have got together in partnership with the local newspaper, the Wiltshire Times, to launch an extremely welcome initiative called Drugs Wise.

As the Wiltshire Times recently acknowledged, drugs are freely available to children in our community and it will take a community approach to fight the problem. From that initial standpoint, the schools have undertaken a thorough assessment of the support and counselling services that are available in their catchment areas. The results were predictable—an all-too-sorry lack of places for young people, including school pupils, to go to for help. The result was a successful local initiative, which was begun by a local general practitioner in Warminster in conjunction with the local secondary school, Kingdown, to set up a drop-in centre for pupils who genuinely needed counselling or who wanted to talk about the problems that might face them. That is a model that we are looking to reproduce throughout the area in the other towns.

A questionnaire was sent to all 14 to 18-year-olds throughout north and west Wiltshire to ascertain how much they already knew about drugs and alcohol and about the services on offer to them. About 50 per cent.— a terrifyingly high percentage—said that they felt that they knew very little and that they needed a great deal more drug education. The results came as a shock to local teachers and parents. They rightly forced some schools to reappraise the way in which they dealt with their drugs policy.

I particularly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's initiative, the Department for Education's campaign, Drug Proof, which I know will be of great help to schools in seeking to advise parents on just where they stand.

One of our local campaign's major achievements is that schools and parents are now openly discussing the drugs problems in their communities, and many parents have come to appreciate the very real problems that drugs pose for them in rural areas and for those who live in the inner cities. I hope that adequate funding will be made available to the specific small community groups, which can do so much good work in our community.

I pay tribute to the work that is done at Clouds house, in my constituency at East Knoyle. It is one of the foremost drug treatment centres in the country and has been going for some 12 years now. I pay warm tribute to the director, Nick Barton, who is also chairman of the European Association for the Treatment of Addiction. Clouds house has a long and successful history. The treatment is based on the Minnesota model, now widely acknowledged as perhaps the most successful model for the treatment of addiction, when measured in terms of the outcomes from the treatment centre. That model is supported widely throughout the country when it comes to rehabilitation, by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, about whose work we have heard very little this morning, but to which great tribute should be paid for the work that they do throughout the country.

I warmly welcome the recognition in the White Paper that there should be a range of options to meet the different needs of drug addicts at different times, but that the principal objective remains to assist drug misusers to achieve and maintain a drug free state"— and that abstinence remains the ultimate aim. That should certainly be the ultimate aim of us all.

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the Addictive Diseases Trust, of which I am a trustee and which is currently operating at Downview prison in Sutton and has been for about the past three years. As we have heard today, drug abuse in prisons is at best widespread and at worst rampant. It is very much in the nature of addiction that people can change their chosen drug only too easily. In that way, an alcoholic can become a drug addict or vice versa. In the secure environment of prison, drugs are more easily distributed than alcohol, so of course it is only natural that drugs have become the main problem.

We estimate that some 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. of prisoners in our gaols—as many as 80 per cent. in some prisons—are using drugs. Many have a chronic or severe addiction, but worst of all, many inmates are not addicts when they go in but are when they are released. Many more have graduated from soft to hard drugs in prison by the time they are released.

The social consequences for the community are dire. On release, an addict will need about £500 or £600—possibly as much as £1,000—a week to fund his or her habit. Such people will probably have no job, so they will need to steal roughly the equivalent of £1,500 or £2,000-worth of goods to achieve the sum that they need to fund their drug habit. Statistics now show that house burglary and theft from cars are the most common offences by addicts, and nearly half of all property crime is drug related.

The average cost of keeping someone in prison is roughly £23,000 a year. The average sentence at Downview prison, where the trust works, is four years. Including police and court costs, a Downview inmate is therefore costing the taxpayer some £100,000. Yet on release there is every chance of a prisoner reoffending because of his or her addiction. The vicious circle of offending, prison and reoffending must be broken, and treatment in prison must be the most cost-effective way of doing it.

The Addictive Diseases Trust runs one of the first specialised full-time dedicated addiction treatment programmes within the English prison system. The model is adapted from a very successful one that has been used in the United States for the past 14 years. I am happy to say that, after three years of charitable funding, it has now been taken over by the Prison Service. The unit is run by a small dedicated team in the prison itself and by its support staff. It includes qualified addiction counsellors, trainee counsellors and therapists. Most important of all, it has a number of peer counsellors, inmates, including at Downview, one prisoner who is serving a life sentence for murder, who has gone through the programme, has had intensive training and is now a peer counsellor to his fellow inmates.

I quote the words of Lord Justice Woolf, the author of the report on prison reform, who said: Although the pressures on prisons at the present time are intense, there are still beacons of excellence throughout the system and the ADT is one of the brightest of those beacons. I only hope that the work that it has started will spread throughout the service. The programme is full time, intensive and rigorous. It involves group therapy, one-to-one counselling, lectures and daily written work. Above all, it is not a soft option for inmates. It has many other supporters and endorsements that have been placed on the record. John Harding, the chief probation officer of inner London, his honour Judge Tumim, chief inspector of prisons, and many others have visited the prison. Most important, they have witnessed the fact that the unit has credibility with inmates, because of the involvement of the peer counsellors. It is a remarkable achievement that more than 90 per cent. of prisoners have signed a contract agreeing to random urine testing and that, within the next few weeks, that figure will be 100 per cent. Downview prison can therefore justifiably claim to be the first drugs-free prison in the country.

In the context of earlier discussions on educating the young, one final bonus is that a programme exists whereby inmates go to local schools and tell children, not just about the horrors of drugs, which often does not deter young people, but about the horrors of being in prison, of their addiction there, of the sort of life that they lead, and of how horrific it is for them. I warmly commend their work. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister hopes to visit the prison soon. I hope that that model can be extended elsewhere.

I personally know only too well the scourge of drug abuse in our society, and the havoc and misery that it causes to families, people's jobs and their health. I also know personally only too well the ultimate grief and loss that drug abuse can bring. I urge the Government to redouble their efforts. I congratulate them on the White Paper and I hope that they will see through everything that they promise in it.

1.30 pm
Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

I tender my apologies to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to both Front-Bench Members. In common with the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), due to a previous engagement I shall not be present for the winding-up speeches, although I hasten to add that my engagement is not to attend the hon. Gentleman's well-advertised advice service.

In a sense, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), who regrettably is no longer in her place, was the speech that I had intended to make. Both graphically and accurately, she described the realities of drug abuse in communities in an inner-London suburb such as mine. Every incident that she related has been replicated on my estates.

The tragedies of drug abuse involve not only its effect on the life of the individual user and his or her family, but the way in which the incidence of drug abuse and the targeting of certain areas by drug pushers affects the lives of whole communities. Parents are afraid to allow their children out to play on their estates because, as my hon. Friend said, used hypodermic needles are being found in sandpits and they fear the aggressive way in which many drug pushers attempt to sell their products.

My hon. Friend most graphically made the point that the police resources to counter the activities of drug pushers seem to be markedly lacking. To give a precise example, one of my estates was built towards the end of the 1960s, when open-plan architecture was the vogue. It is not unusual for it to be flooded during the summer months by drug pushers and their assistants. The assistants stand on every corner around that estate with a mobile telephone in their hand. When a resident on the estate telephones the police to inform them that drug selling is going on, which my constituents are very much against on their estates, those young men with mobile telephones warn the drug pusher of the police's approach before they are even within eye contact of where the actual commercial exchange is taking place. They disappear from sight. No charges can be brought. The police are overstretched and undermanned, certainly in my constituency. They respond to another call and the commercial exchanges go on as before.

I was somewhat surprised when the statement on the White Paper was given to the House a few weeks ago. I and all hon. Members welcome the Government's policy that there must be a multi-department approach to tackling drugs in our nation. Representatives of the Home Office, the Department of Health, and the Department for Education were present on the Front Bench on that occasion, but there was no one from the Department of Employment, the Department of Social Security or the Department of the Environment. Those Departments have responsibilities for areas of our national life which impact directly on the lives of many young people who turn to drug use or drug selling, and who do so not least because they can find no job or interesting training scheme to join. Certain 16 and 17-year-olds who are also excluded from making any claim on the social security benefit system inevitably turn to prostitution and drugs simply to make a living.

Homelessness in central London is an ever-increasing problem. There is a direct link between it and drug abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, although not every homeless or unemployed person will automatically turn to drug use, there is an undoubted link between having no home and using drugs. I urge the Government to broaden their multi-departmental approach to include those other three Departments, which have a vital input to the social fabric of our country.

It is important to consider how to approach the educational and health education aspects of the Government's programme. In common with other hon. Members, I have visited schools and spoken to young people about drugs. The bulk of the knowledge about how drugs are obtained and their effects seems to rest exclusively with the scholars in schools while the teachers are deemed to know absolutely nothing. When I have spoken to young people about the drug education programmes that they have attended at their schools, they often tell me that the programmes are risible. On many occasions they say that they should be standing where the teacher is standing and vice versa because they know a great deal more about drugs than their teachers will ever know.

The dangers of drug misuse are presented as part of the strategy to tackle drugs. In many instances, young people have no present life worth talking about, so to threaten them with the possibility of an appalling future is irrelevant. The present is so appalling for many of them that they cannot conceive, by the widest stretch of the imagination, any future. They welcome the fact that drug use is a means of escaping the reality of life. Prevention should be central to any campaign against drugs, so telling a young person not to take drugs now because he or she may die or some terrible disease in the future is the wrong approach.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) made a key argument about the core funding. Whatever the scheme, and however it is implemented, that funding does not even begin to scratch the surface of the problem. We must acknowledge that preventing drug use—and in some cases prosecuting, if that is the right plan—is a long-term process. It is important that adequate long-term funding is provided for the dedicated people who work incredibly long hours, often in appalling circumstances, to help those with drug problems. I know of one drug initiative which is manned by three people who have suffered not only threats of physical violence but actual violence. They go back, day after day, because they are committed to lifting the burden of drug abuse from young people and their communities.

Such initiatives must be funded adequately and staffed with sufficient numbers of people to make them work successfully.

Such initiatives are attempting to deal with youngsters such as the 13-year-old boy, who lives just outside my constituency, who can earn anything up to £1,500 a week acting as a runner for drug pushers. That child is supporting his whole family. He is not, as it happens, a drug user himself. What does our society, his local community or any drug initiative team have to offer that child? The answer, I am afraid, is absolutely nothing.

1.39 pm
Mr. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South)

Against the background of increasing drug trafficking in Croydon, I and all those involved in combating drugs in the Croydon area would like to take this opportunity to welcome the White Paper. As the Prime Minister said, it is the most far-reaching action plan yet against drugs. We are all aware of the appalling impact that drug abuse has on our society. The problems associated with drug misuse affect every community in the United Kingdom.

A decade ago, when we talked about the problems created by the use of drugs, we spoke about adults and teenagers. We are now increasingly talking of children—some, as I mentioned in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council, as young as six years old, to whom knowledge and sometimes use of soft drugs has become a reality of life. I quoted from the minutes of the Croydon regional drug and alcohol unit of 1 June, which said: It is known that children as young as 6 or 7 may be using cannabis and pills. At such a young age, children almost always associate taking drugs with having a good time, looking grown-up and making them more acceptable to their peer group. The reality, of course, is very different. Young children have died from their first experiment with solvents, choked to death on their own vomit and jumped from multi-story car parks under the delusion that they could fly.

The problem is not confined to inner cities. The hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) spoke about their inner-city experiences, but outer cities, such as Croydon, have a drug culture, too, which is mainly based around cannabis or the new skunk, based on cannabis but seven times the strength.

Why do young people experiment with drugs? Some seek to place the blame for increased drug abuse on unemployment, poverty or lack of self-worth, but that does not explain why some people never try drugs. Some then try to abandon the practice, but some go on to develop a problem.

The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs took evidence which counteracted claims that the socio-economic environment is to blame. Its survey showed that peer group pressure would seem to be the single most important contributory factor in abuse, with another being the thrill of taking part in an activity which, although disapproved of by parents and society in general, is often glamorised by film and television. The media must take some responsibility for the way in which such issues are portrayed.

Unfortunately, merely telling young people about the dangers of taking drugs has no effect. Indeed, perhaps through arousing curiosity, it may encourage experimentation. The shock warning tactics employed in the past have proved to be of little value, as children know or think that they know more than the lecturer. Young people have the arrogance of youth that—perhaps—we all enjoyed. They make a clear distinction between soft and hard drugs. Using so-called soft drugs, such as cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and poppers is often seen as safe. They say, "I won't become addicted." Interestingly enough, they reserve contempt for those who succumb to hard drugs such as cocaine, crack and heroin. Unfortunately, many young people who claim to be able to handle soft drugs end up as addicts.

The delusion that some drugs are safe can only be reinforced by those who, ignoring the evidence that greater accessibility increases the use of drugs, have called for cannabis to be legalised. Those who favour such action argue that taking cannabis is a relatively harmless recreational activity which has little impact on the rest of society. But is it really harmless? Evidence is mounting that cannabis misuse can lead to mental illness, liver damage, lung complaints and reduced immunity. Additionally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) pointed out, research has revealed that cannabis interferes with male and female hormone levels and with fertility and gestation in women. A high proportion of those unfortunate enough to have throat cancer also admit to experimenting with the drug. That is quite a list of side effects for a drug that some people want to be more readily available. People who argue for relaxation say that legalisation would result in reduced prices, so drug-related crime would drop. One has only to look abroad to know that that is fantasy. Any country which goes down that road will leave itself open to drug traffickers hoping to target countries with weak controls. They would move in to meet demand for other, more dangerous drugs, so exacerbating existing problems as well as providing a useful, stop-and-shop for users from neighbouring countries. The 1961 United Nations Simla convention recognised that risk and required parties to adopt measures to prevent the misuse of controlled drugs, including cannabis.

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and the Liberal Democrats have thought through their arguments. I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West is not old Labour or new Labour but Liberal Labour. He spoke of legalisation. Did he mean through licensed trade? Would previously illegal drugs be sold through outlets? Unfortunately the hon. Gentleman is not present. Would there be age limits? I understand that the aim of people who want to legalise cannabis is to destroy the market for pushers and dealers, but if there were an age limit of 18 the illegality would be among users below that age. Traffickers would target the very youngsters whom we are trying to protect.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are strong arguments for not decriminalising cannabis—the policy of the official Opposition—but perhaps the hon. Gentleman will comment on the book "Satan's Children" by the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), which argues for the legalisation not only of cannabis but of all dangerous drugs.

Mr. Ottaway

My hon. Friend's book is actually entitled "Saturn's Children". He is a bright and intelligent Member of Parliament, full of imaginative ideas, and his book contains many good concepts. However, I do not agree with him on the matter that the hon. Lady mentioned. Legalisation of drugs would result in increased use. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West could not answer that point when I raised it in an intervention. Legalisation would result in carnage among young children.

The Police Federation is against legalisation and is convinced that stricter sentencing of drug traffickers and dealers is needed. The police remain convinced that a multi-agency approach embracing greater international co-operation in reducing illegal drug supply, together with enhanced education, is the only means of reducing the danger. The way forward lies not in improving access to drugs but in increased availability of information for children, parents and people in authority who have the opportunity to recognise symptoms at an early stage.

I welcome the White Paper, which rightly concentrates on enforcement and, more importantly, education. That reflects on my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who has responsibility for school policy and is present to respond to the debate. I hope that he noted my remarks about drug use among six-year-olds in the Croydon area, in the context of primary schools.

The Croydon police will be up and running in terms of the White Paper by September. Such projects will play an increasingly important role in the fight against drugs. Much excellent work is done by agencies and individuals in programmes to persuade young people not to resort to drugs, reduce the acceptability of involvement in drugs and teach the skills necessary to say no. All mediums are being used to get this message across—from theatre groups and drug prevention buses to workshops and parent information leaflets.

In preparation for the White Paper, the Government have recognised that they cannot win the battle alone. The new central drugs co-ordination unit will enable a more focused and coherent approach, bringing in schools, the police, voluntary agencies and, most importantly, young people themselves. They will be working together to maximise efforts to deal with this awful problem, which still has too great an impact on our society today.

1.49 pm
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I, too, welcome this debate on the White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together". With drug addicts growing in number by about 30 per cent. a year and drug-related crime by 11 per cent. a year, there has been an urgent need for co-ordinated Government action and it is more than time that this strategy was introduced. For many years, my constituents have been calling for action to stop the spiralling rate of crime, which they realise is related to drugs and they welcome the White Paper as I do.

The proposals to put money and effort into preventing and discouraging our young people from experimenting with drugs by telling them of the dangers and warning them of the consequences have been more than welcome. My children have been telling me for years that they and their friends have found drugs to be all too easily available. They were telling me 10 to 15 years ago that they could come by them inside or outside school. If we had only had the White Paper then, we might not be having this debate today.

Many young people will tell of the availability of drugs, but few can tell of contacts which can be made to help them to solve their drug problems. The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on drug misuse, has done sterling work in the House and has been one of the many advocates of the action to be taken. I am secretary of that group and if I could have worked as hard as the hon. Gentleman, we might have done something before now. I must also pay tribute to all the organisations that have tackled the issues. They have struggled hard to make their voices heard and many have gone under through lack of funds. I must add my voice to the plea for long-term guaranteed funding for those groups, which do so much good work and have so much knowledge in this area.

It is surely well known that many drug addicts sell drugs to feed their own habits and thus create new users. In curing we can prevent, and we should put more effort into it.

The task force to be set up under the White Paper has to identify any gaps in the provision of drugs services. The Minister must already be aware that there is an enormous gap between the amount of money spent on enforcement and control—some £346 million in 1993–94—and the £61 million spent on treatment. Much more could be done about treatment for drug addicts.

I must also make a plea for solvent abuse to be included in the Government's strategy. A recent report by the Professional Association of Teachers cited solvent abuse as of much greater concern to its members than hard drugs. Here I must pay tribute to RE-SOLV, which has done much work in this area and has brought to our attention the real problems faced by solvent abusers.

Drug abuse in prisons is another problem. Many people and many hon. Members find it hard to understand, but the Addictive Diseases Trust says that in some prisons up to 80 per cent. of prisoners are using drugs. If we cannot control drugs in our prisons, where can we control them?

Many homeless people have drug problems. Can the Minister tell us what plans there are to get them off the streets and to give them the treatment that they need? That brings me back to the causes of drug use. Surely there must be a link between homelessness, unemployment and drug use? The standing conference on drug abuse has produced some frightening figures: according to a survey conducted in 1992, 39 per cent. of people using drugs in public places are homeless; 10 per cent. of single homeless people in Sheffield had a history of drug misuse, according to the census report by the British Medical Journal in 1991; and Department of Health drug misuse statistics for 1995 show that 80 per cent. of London drug users are unemployed. In 1992, the Cheshire youth service said that 76 per cent. of drug users in Cheshire were unemployed. According to a survey done by the university of Liverpool in 1989, in Wirral 82 per cent. of drug users were unemployed. We need to support and encourage training and employment for drug users or we shall never get them off the streets and into employment.

Much work needs to be done in all Government Departments, with all-party support. The paragraph that hit home very hard to me was paragraph 3.5 on page 16 of the White Paper, which was about cold drinks being available in clubs. Some drug pushers moved down the motorway rapidly, took over a club in my constituency, put in their heavyweights and turned off the cold water taps, leaving many of the young people in there dehydrated. Surely something more can be done about instant action to close clubs in which that happens while an investigation is made and perhaps plumbers are sent in, who might take as long as two weeks to arrive. That would cut the amount of money that those drug pushers make and that those clubs make when they do that to young people.

I agree that more powers should be given to local authorities to evict from council flats the people who cause misery and ruin the quality of life on many of our estates. They move in and take over control of a flat on an estate that was previously well run and well ordered, and suddenly the estate goes rapidly downhill. Something should be done and more powers should be given to local authorities to evict them.

The debate has been informed and constructive and I welcome the White Paper, although it has been a late start and is far from a solution to a difficult and complex problem. We must all act together to drive drug abuse from our society.

1.54 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I am grateful for the opportunity to get in a few words at the end of the debate.

I start by referring to a subject that I believe has not been mentioned—the link between drugs and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. That is a serious problem because the use of injecting drugs is the commonest and quickest way of transmitting AIDS. It is also the way in which, in western countries, especially in Britain, AIDS has been transmitted into the wider heterosexual population. In the cities of Europe, there is a direct correlation between high levels of HIV and AIDS infection and the high use of injecting drugs.

It has often been suggested that the way to solve that problem is purely to put into effect exchange needle schemes. Although that does have a part to play, I believe that the real answer to the problem lies in the encouragement of abstinence from drugs. I would therefore entirely endorse the theme of the White Paper and the opinion that has been expressed by the Opposition, which I am pleased to hear, in that regard.

I wish to make two or three more brief arguments. First, it is most important that the acceptability of drugs is not encouraged. In other words, it is of the essence to ensure that the message is given that all drugs are illegal, that they involve criminal offences, that the taking of drugs is morally wrong, that they must not be taken and that they cause harm. There must be no room for wavering or for confused signals.

I condemn people who try to encourage a debate about the potential for legalisation or, as they call it, "decriminalisation", because they do a grave disservice to the young, especially the vulnerable young, who may take that as a signal of weakness and acceptance.

We must take more action to prevent drug smuggling. Although that is only one part of supply, it is a very important part. The weakening of border checks sends very dangerous signals. I do not believe that proper border checks affect our ability to be good Europeans and encourage free trade, any more than weights and measures enforcement affects free trade or the control of speeding affects travel. It is important to allocate more resources to monitoring imports to this country. There must be tighter controls and more routine checks in order to prevent illegal substances from crossing our borders.

The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) spoke about the many inner-city problems connected with drugs. However, hon. Members should not think that middle class areas of outer London, such as my constituency of Beckenham, do not have severe problems also. Recent studies have shown that a high proportion of school children take drugs. There are regular drug-related arrests, and only two weeks ago a man was arrested in a supermarket car park. The back of his car was found to be filled with drugs worth millions of pounds. Those are the sorts of problems that communities face throughout the country.

2.2 pm

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

This has been a very good debate and hon. Members are extremely grateful to the Lord President for providing the opportunity to debate this important subject today. He receives so many brickbats that it must be a rather unique experience to receive congratulations on finding time for this long overdue debate.

The House will probably not debate a more important issue than drug abuse. As the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) pointed out, it does not respect people, places, social groups or classes. It is a great threat to our young people and to our society as a whole. The Labour party welcomes any attempt to deal with the growing problems of drug abuse. The addicts index reveals that there has been a 20 per cent. increase in drug abuse, and drugs ruin the lives of too many of our citizens.

Agencies working in this area, such as the excellent Drug Advisory Service Harringey—DASH—in my constituency of Hornsey and Wood Green, also welcome this perhaps rather belated acknowledgement of the drug problem and of their work in this area. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) referred to the fact that drug-related projects in our constituencies often operate on a shoestring. They need our commitment and our support.

One of the biggest challenges we face is how to get the drugs message across to young people. There is no easy solution to that problem. I think that it is extremely difficult for teachers to convey that message to young people. One of the most interesting aspects of today's debate was the discussion about how to impart that message. There is consensus—it has been a morning of consensus—that peer pressure must be brought to bear on young people to the effect that drug abuse is wrong and that drug taking is not glamorous but is deeply damaging. We must consider how to put that message across to young people.

In opening the debate for the Opposition, my hon. Friend the shadow Home Office Minister, the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), talked about striking the right balance in communicating that message to young people. He referred to the anti-heroin campaign which, without criticising those involved, was perhaps not as successful as we had hoped. We must consider how to inform our young people about drugs without sending them the wrong message. In looking at the background to drug abuse, we ought to look at some of the social and economic problems. As Turning Point—the largest UK charity helping people with drink, drug and mental health problems—points out, more and more young people are deciding to take drugs because they cannot find any reason to hope in their own futures.

In many areas, a whole generation of young people have never worked and have become cynical as a result of broken promises on training, homelessness and low incomes. The cuts in youth services and the withdrawal of benefit from 16 and 17-year-olds must not be used as an excuse for drug taking, but they are part of the overall background to the difficulties that can arise when young people are tempted into taking drugs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) graphically illustrated some of the problems that that can cause. Research has shown that nearly 50 per cent. of 15 and 16-year-olds have been offered drugs. Two thirds of all thefts are drug related. The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway)—with whom I had the pleasure of serving on the Home Affairs Select Committee—rightly pointed to the connection between drugs and organised crime. The Select Committee is currently investigating that link, and at some stage will report its findings to the House. There is no doubt that organised crime plays a major part in the matter, and some good work has been done in the area by the National Criminal Intelligence Service. We must look at what other resources can be made available to the police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) drew attention to the use of high technology by drug pushers, not all of whom are addicts. Some pushers have gone into the business, which harms the lives of others, for purely profit-making and cynical reasons. They are using modern techniques, and we must make sure that our police are adequately equipped to deal with that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East mentioned the shocking statistics which Exeter university discovered in 1993. Six per cent. of the 12 to 13 per cent. of students surveyed had used drugs. A Gallup survey for the YMCA in 1994 showed that only 18 per cent. of 16 to 21-year-olds knew where to get help for drug problems. The Government must deal with that issue, and that is why it is so important to have a multi-agency and interdepartmental approach.

In 1992, the British crime survey showed that the majority of 12 to 15-year-olds could not remember receiving any school lessons about drugs. Also, some 15 per cent. of children thought that taking an illegal drug once would not do them any harm. That is the group we must target. I hope that today's debate will be not the end but the start of our concern in this area.

The £5.9 million announced in the White Paper which will be available to schools in 1995–96 under the grants for education support and training programme works out at less than £250 a school. As in so many other areas of crime prevention, it is worth investing properly in education, prevention and treatment. California state government research has shown that $1 invested in this way will save $7 to the taxpayer, largely through the reduced cost of crimes.

Will the Minister give an assurance that the money will be sustained? I shall be grateful if he also states whether it is new money. Colleagues on both sides of the House may recall the farce in recent years when new budgets for drug education co-ordinators were announced and were followed by drastic cuts which undermined their work. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), chairman of the all-party group on drug misuse, said at the time, the Government's mishandling of the situation reflects entirely inadequate thought in Government Departments and entirely inadequate co-ordination between those Departments. I hope that heed will be paid to what he said about the need for counselling in prisons and about education in schools. His work, together with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding), on the all-party group is much appreciated by all hon. Members.

We also need to look carefully at how training in schools will be carried out. When the statement on the White Paper was made, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), shadow Leader of the House, asked what training would be given to the schools inspectorate to enable it to check that schools were delivering drug education as part of the national curriculum. The Lord President suggested that some Ofsted provision was under way, but I should like the Minister of State to go into more detail.

The Minister should also comment on the problem of truancy. The local government drugs forum in its consideration of the White Paper rightly pointed out that if young people are not in schools to receive drugs education and advice, all the targeting in the White Paper will go astray. Truancy is a considerable problem, and it is linked to crime, to drug misuse and to young people going off the rails.

Our hard-pressed teachers must be given the training and resources to develop this aspect of the curriculum properly. It is by no means easy for teachers to do this; sometimes the young people whom they are teaching know much more about drugs than they do.

The message that must go out from the House is that legalising drugs is not on. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Ms Anderson), in an excellent speech, put that message across graphically in the context of the Dutch experience. Furthermore, it is wrong to use arguments about the market to get across the message. I wish to use just one brief quotation from "Saturn's Children"—it ought to be entitled "Satan's Children"—to show what the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has to say about the problem: nor are drugs a particularly threatening health problem". Of course they are: all drugs are. We must put that message across strongly.

This has been a good debate which will be warmly welcomed by all the agencies working in this field. It will send out a clear signal that hon. Members of all parties are worried about drug dependence, about rising crime and about the quality of people's lives. The lives of our citizens should not be blighted by drug misuse, and it is wrong that the many people who have never taken drugs in their lives should have those lives disrupted by the criminals who push drugs to young people. Most people in this country reject drugs, and are determined to do something about them and to make sure that the lives of our young people are saved.

2.14 pm
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth)

I immediately apologise to the House for being unable to be present for the early part of the debate. I decided—I hope that hon. Members will approve—to honour a commitment to appear at a special educational needs conference in London this morning.

Mr. George Howarth

Wearing that tie?

Mr. Forth

I was wearing this tie, but no one was rude enough to comment on it.

In the debate, many hon. Members have taken much interest in this important issue and shared their experiences of, involvement with and commitment to helping to deal with the problem, generally on a local basis in their constituencies. If I may say so, these occasions bring out the best in the House.

I also want to express gratitude to everybody who has welcomed the White Paper, which has been put together under the inspiration and leadership of my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council. Even if hon. Members cannot agree with the detail, they have all agreed that it has marked a dramatic departure in the extent to which the Government have recommitted themselves to tackle the problems of drugs in our society. The Government welcome the support for the White Paper.

I was slightly puzzled by one or two aspects of what was said by some hon. Members, especially by the hon. Members for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). They said that they thought that the scope of the White Paper was too limited. We went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that it was not limited.

Even a modest perusal of the White Paper and the strategy will show that the Government wanted to make sure that the problem was tackled across its whole width, to the extent that the aspects needed to deal with it, such as local drug action teams, Customs and Excise, the police, the judicial system and education—about which I shall say more in a moment—involve total expenditure in excess of some £500 million a year.

I hesitate to interrupt the consensual approach—as hon. Members know, occasionally I give way to such temptation—but throughout the debate, I have noted in passing that not only Opposition Members but some of my hon. Friends have repeatedly called for more money to be spent. That is fine and it is very respectable for hon. Members to express their concern about the issue, but have Opposition Members agreed it with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)?

I counted that the hon. Members for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms), for Newham, North-West, for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and even the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) all said that they wanted more money spent. I made of note of that and Hansard will have recorded it.

Mr. George Howarth

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way in the brief time available. If he checks my speech and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), he will find that we were clear about the need for the right resources, in the right place at the right time. That does not necessarily imply that additional expenditure is needed.

Mr. Forth

I am glad that we have clarified that. We will all look at Hansard and see just what was said and by whom.

In that case, I will not press the hon. Gentleman to do this today, because he will need to think about it, but he must tell the House what expenditure we should reduce to spend what he thinks is the right amount of money. It simply will not do for hon. Members to come to the House and say that they want more money spent. I acknowledge that some of my hon. Friends made the same plea and I say the same to them: the onus is on any hon. Member who wants more money to be spent, however worthy the cause, to identify the increase in taxation or public borrowing or the reduction in other elements of public expenditure that would be needed to fund it. That is the dilemma that the Government face.

We have sought to identify money—much of it new money—to support the White Paper strategy. We believe that we have the right amounts in the right places and deployed in the right way. Our monitoring and review will tell us over time whether we have got it right, and we are prepared to return to the issue and to make changes where changes are appropriate. That is the answer to many of the questions raised in the debate today. None of us sees our policy as being set in concrete or as one that will not change. By definition, such a policy has to be dynamic, developing and changing as we develop experience, especially locally in the drug action teams. In education, for which I speak, we must see whether we are doing the right thing and after a reasonable period, after monitoring and reviewing the situation, we shall return to the issue to see where it can be improved.

Another point that has emerged clearly from the debate has been an almost universal rejection of the arguments for the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs, whether cannabis or other drugs. I immediately acknowledge the sincerity of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who put his arguments with his usual sincerity and passion. It has been pointed out that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) has put forward a similar view in his recent excellent publication which has been produced today. Although this is a legitimate area of debate, it is clear from what has been said today that my hon. Friend's view is shared by very few colleagues.

The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) gave me his apology for being unable to be here for this part of the debate, so we cannot explore the Liberal Democrats' embarrassment over this matter, which is a pity. I certainly welcome the strong agreement from Opposition Front Benchers and, indeed, most Opposition Members with the Government's strongly held view that there should be no compromise or change on the core issue, which is that the use of drugs in our society is unacceptable and illegal. That is one of the central messages that we wished to reinforce today and the debate has given us a good opportunity so to do.

That point brings me to education, and I hope that colleagues will forgive me for spending most of the rest of my time talking about education. We are on strong ground here. Drug education is an issue for all schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), whose experience in education far exceeds mine, made the point that we cannot seek to limit the deployment of drug education to any one kind of school. We feel strongly about that as well. Although I accept that there is an element of controversy about the issue, my belief—our policy is directed in this way—is that it is essential to start drug education in primary schools.

As so many of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have pointed out, the drugs problem is, tragically, now emerging in ever-younger age groups. Even six, seven and eight-year-olds are aware of drugs and in some cases, although I hope at this stage in an extraordinarily limited number, they may have access to and be using them. That tells me that it is vital that we have a drugs education policy in our primary schools so that very young children do not hear about drugs only from the wrong sources but hear about them from the right sources—authority figures and respected teachers who can tell them about drugs in a structured way within the curriculum. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway) made that point as well. I hope that he accepts our commitment to a properly structured drug education approach in primary schools and throughout the rest of the period of compulsory education.

We are making important progress in other ways. Until now, there was a danger that many schools would feel that if they had a drugs education policy, it was a stigma and something about which they should be ashamed. The clear signs are that what we are now doing, through the work in progress, the conferences, the information that we are disseminating and the money that we are spending, to which I shall return in a moment, is already working. We are persuading schools that having a drug education policy is essential so that they can demonstrate to the parents of the children in their care that they are doing something positive about drugs. Even if none of the pupils in a school has any exposure to drugs at the moment, we can demonstrate to parents that everything is being done to ensure that their children will be equipped to resist the temptation to use drugs if and when they are offered them. There is a sea change taking place in education in schools in that very respect.

Some hon. Members have suggested that there is a paradox or contradiction in that drugs are illegal, as is drug use—that is central to the message that we want to get across in schools—but we want schools to be able to counsel, advise and support young people when they feel that that is necessary. The hon. Member for Newham, North-East raised the matter. I can see immediately that it could be a difficult issue. I believe, however, that there is no contradiction—nor need there be—in asking our teachers and schools generally to educate young people in what drugs are, the dangers that they pose and the fact that they are illegal and should not be used. At the same time, schools should still be able to give support, advice and help where that is appropriate, and to use their discretion in doing so.

We have made it clear in our circular that where drug use is evident in schools, especially if it is dealing of any sort, the police should be informed. We are, after all, talking about illegal substances. If we attempted to argue a different case, we would quickly find ourselves in difficulty. We would be asking teachers somehow to put themselves in the position of condoning the use of an illegal substance even if that were somehow to help the pupil. I do not think that there is the degree of contradiction that the hon. Member for Newham, North-East suggested.

The issue was considered carefully between the production of the draft circular and that of the circular itself. Having spoken to many teachers, my feeling is that they can live with a problem that will occasionally arise locally. I am sure that they can still find and will find—they are dedicated and committed to doing so—ways in which to help young people.

We have issued a circular of guidance to schools. We have issued also the digest of materials, which I hope will be helpful to teachers in finding sources of information. We have put in place funding, in the form of grants for education support and training, of about £6 million. Much play has been made about that by colleagues who have taken £6 million, divided it by the total number of schools and produced a footling figure. To take that approach is to misunderstand the nature of the funding.

The programme is designed to do several things, but its purpose principally is to put in place a facility to help to educate teachers more about how to deploy drug education in our schools. We are not talking about a per-school figure. Instead, it is a fund that will, in the normal way, be made available to schools and local education authorities so as to develop a training programme. I am sure that everyone would agree with that.

We are also using some of the money to support 16 imaginative new drug projects, run by local education authorities throughout the country. We have done that in truancy areas, which the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green mentioned. I believe that we have done so to some considerable success. We recognise that we must stimulate schools and local education authorities to find ever-better ways of dealing with problems such as truancy or drug abuse, distilling that best practice and disseminating the results throughout education so that we benefit from the experience that has been developed by schools and authorities. That is a good and imaginative use of the funds that are available.

I have time only to answer one or two of the specific issues that have been raised during the debate. I undertake to write to hon. Members who have raised specific questions soon after the conclusion of the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), whose work has rightly been praised throughout the debate—I add my praise because I am aware of the length and extent of his commitment on these issues and to the work of the all-party group, which he chairs—expressed concern about Ofsted. I am confident that Ofsted, although it is a separate Department of State over which we have no control, and rightly in my view, will want through its chief inspector to ensure that its inspectors are properly equipped and trained to deal with the new responsibility that the chief inspector has taken on gladly, to ensure that the drug education policy is dealt with properly and comprehensively.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes will also know that Ofsted is currently reviewing its framework of inspections for schools. Although the draft framework is still in the consultative phase, I understand that in its final form it will indeed contain a specific reference to drugs and to drugs education, and that will therefore provide the vital link that is necessary between the responsibility that we are laying on schools to have a drug education policy and the role that Ofsted will play in looking at that, assessing it and commenting on it to ensure that, as far as possible, all schools will respond positively, as I am confident they will, to the responsibility that we have laid on them.

I believe that the debate has been timely. I think that it has brought out well the fact that the House—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.