HC Deb 22 December 1997 vol 303 cc655-6
17 Mr. Touhig

What plans he has to tackle the link between drugs and crime. [20175]

Mr. George Howarth

My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a specific measure in the Crime and Disorder Bill, which is currently in another place, for a treatment and testing order. That will require prisoners, at the will of the court, to undergo treatment and regular testing, and to be kept under review. It is an issue that we take seriously. We are concerned also that the lessons of the drug prevention initiative on interventions in the criminal justice system should be taken forward.

Mr. Touhig

I welcome my hon. Friend's firm response to the question of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). Will he confirm that the Government will firmly oppose the decriminalisation of any controlled substance?

Mr. Howarth

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. If the House or the Government were to send out the message that we were prepared to consider either legalising or decriminalising any currently banned substances, that would be a green light to all the young people and others who do not take drugs to do so. We are certainly not prepared to do that.

3.30 pm

Madam Speaker

We were due to have a statement at this time, to be made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The statement is ready, but the Opposition spokesman has not yet seen it as there has been a computer breakdown. I shall therefore take a sensible approach and not take the statement now—we shall move on to the Second Reading of the School Standards and Framework Bill. As the Secretary of State for Education and Employment was not aware of this change, he is being brought to the House. I think that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has something to say.

I intend to suspend the sitting for 15 minutes until the Secretary of State arrives at the House. I shall then hear his opening statement, to give the Opposition time to read the statement that will be made by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. John Cunningham)

First, Madam Speaker, I accept your ruling. Secondly, I apologise to the House. It could not have been foreseen, however, that at 3 o'clock all the computers in my office would go down. Those who put their faith in technology sometimes have a price to pay, and that was the price.

I fully understand that the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) has not had time to consider a very important statement, and I am content that we should proceed as you recommend, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Thank you, Madam Speaker, on behalf of the Opposition, for the suspension that you propose. As we have been told that the Minister's statement was long in coming, does not what has happened show some incompetence by Ministry? It would have been helpful if we could have been provided with a draft of the statement earlier.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)


Madam Speaker

No, there can be no points of order. I am seeking to be helpful to the House, including the Opposition. I shall suspend the sitting, and we shall resume at 3.45 pm. The statement will be heard after the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has introduced the School Standards and Framework Bill on Second Reading.

3.32 pm

Sitting suspended.