HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc26-41 3.48 pm
The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Government's new anti-drugs strategy.

I am pleased to lay before the House today the Government's White Paper, "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", which sets out our strategy for the next 10 years.

I hope that there is no need for me to have to persuade the House that more effective action against drugs must be a priority. Illegal drugs are now more widely available than ever before, and children of all ages are increasingly exposed to them. Drugs damage health as well as education and employment prospects. Drug problems wreck families and relationships. Drugs are a major contributing factor to the crime that undermines communities and gets in the way of progress and prosperity.

Much has been done in recent years. The previous Government's strategy for England, "Tackling Drugs Together", was an important step forward, particularly in the creation of drug action teams, which were set up to create partnerships across the country to tackle the problem. Important progress has also been made in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have their own distinctive strategies.

We will build on that valuable work. There are some signals that levels of drugs misuse are relatively stable across England and Wales as a whole. That suggests that drug misuse is neither inevitably bound to increase nor irreversible, but the problems remain acute, and a fresh long-term approach is now needed to galvanise our efforts and bring new energy and action to these challenges.

Drug problems are complex. There are aspects that require responses at different levels. Responsibility for action lies with many different Government Departments, statutory services, voluntary agencies, businesses, community groups and individuals. A partnership approach is therefore essential, and we must be consistent in the messages that we send out.

Drugs are often only part of a range of problems facing individuals or communities which have to be addressed. Too often, however, action is patchy, unco-ordinated, too short term or based on inadequate knowledge of what works or of what others are doing.

That is why the Government appointed Keith Hellawell as the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, to pull together a more strategic response. He was an experienced senior police officer with considerable anti-drugs expertise. He and his deputy, Mike Trace, are providing a fresh perspective and ensuring that action against drugs is effective and consistent. They have spent the first few months of this year in an intensive review of existing drugs activity, consulting more than 2,000 organisations and individuals. The new strategy is based on their rigorous assessment of the problem, of what works, and, of course, what needs to be done to have a real impact.

The new strategy has four main aims: first, to help young people resist drug misuse to achieve their full potential in society; secondly, to protect our communities from drug-related, anti-social and criminal behaviour; thirdly, to enable people with drug problems to overcome them and live healthy and crime-free lives; and, fourthly, to stifle the availability of illegal drugs on our streets.

This year, we shall draw together clear, consistent and rigorous national targets against which to measure progress towards these aims. One of our early priorities will be to establish clear baselines for these targets.

Action will be comprehensive, combining firm enforcement with prevention. It will be linked to our wide-ranging programme to get people off benefit and into work, with reforms in the welfare state, education, health, criminal justice and the economy, and with work to tackle social exclusion. Enforcement against all illegal substances will continue, focusing, as necessary, on those who cause greatest damage.

The programme of action will include education for all young people, including primary-age children, to give them the knowledge and skills to resist drug misuse; information and support for parents; and programmes for young people who may be at high risk because of other social factors. It will include action to cut drug-related crime, including the piloting of drug treatment and testing orders; the disruption of local drugs markets; and crime reduction partnerships in local neighbourhoods. It will also include improvements to services for people with drug problems, especially young people, through health and community care; and it will include enhanced efforts to reduce the availability of drugs, with a focus on the activity that has most impact on our streets, using all our international and domestic resources.

The Government currently spend more than £1 billion on tackling drug misuse. Most of this is reactive—it tackles the consequences of drug misuse, not its causes. The White Paper proposes that, in the long term, the emphasis should shift towards prevention. We have to stop drugs problems before they start.

A detailed resource framework, building on this strategy, will be announced later in the year, but the Government have already shown their clear commitment to resources for fighting drugs. Last year, we extended the life of the drugs challenge fund. We reversed the proposed cut of 300 front-line Customs officers involved in anti-drug work, and, last month, we announced support from the single regeneration budget for 44 projects, which include prevention of drug misuse as one of their objectives. These range from a five-year drug prevention and regeneration scheme in the black country, to a seven-year partnership between the public and voluntary sectors in Kent, which aims to tackle the growing problems of drug and alcohol misuse.

In addition to this valuable activity, I can announce today that, for the first time, a proportion of assets seized from drug barons will be channelled back into the anti-drugs programmes. These assets have amounted to at least £5 million in each of the last five years. It is right that the profits from this evil trade should go back into tackling the problems that it generates.

The White Paper represents only a beginning. Continued development will be needed to translate its ideas into actions and achievements. Keith Hellawell and Mike Trace will oversee this programme, but their co-ordinating role does not take away from others the responsibility for tackling different aspects of the problem. We must all work together to tackle the scourge of drugs.

This week, the co-ordinators will embark on a nationwide tour to explain the radical new measures to those in the field, and to ensure that everyone is working together. They will, of course, be involving drug action teams who will be responsible for implementing the strategy on the ground. The co-ordinators will continue to work with Government Departments and key figures from the private and voluntary sectors, and they will keep in touch with parents, teachers and young people themselves to listen to their views and to learn from their experiences. They will ensure that anti-drugs work is relevant and effective. From 1999 onwards, the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator will present to Ministers an annual report and plan of action, setting out the progress made and the work still to be done.

This strategy is ambitious but realistic. It sets out clear and challenging new objectives, but it builds on good practice and on what we know works in the fight against drugs. It has partnership and common purpose at its heart. It will require commitment, effort and energy from everyone involved in its implementation. It provides an opportunity to make real progress over time against a destructive social problem, and I commend the White Paper to the House.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)

I begin by thanking the Leader of the House for her kind consideration in letting me have a copy of the new White Paper at lunchtime. It was very helpful indeed.

The Opposition welcome the publication of the White Paper "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", which outlines the Government's strategy on drugs for the next 10 years. We recognise that drug misuse is a huge, complex social problem. There are growing concerns about increases in drug trafficking. For example, recent figures revealed a 30 per cent. rise in drug-related offences in London, against an overall fall in crime. It is estimated that the increases in drug misuse and drug-related crime accounts for 50 per cent. of offences.

I believe that it would be helpful to establish common ground between both sides of the House and to reaffirm our support for a continuing commitment to legal deterrents and firm enforcement of the law by the police and Customs and Excise. There should be no soft message on drugs promoted from the House of Commons. We reaffirm our opposition to the legalisation of any currently controlled drug—such a move would send out the wrong signals and open the floodgates.

We welcome the fact that the Government are building on the undoubted success of the drugs strategy introduced in 1995 by the previous Leader of the House, who is now in another place, and supported by the right hon. Lady as shadow Leader of the House. "Tackling Drugs Together" provided a firm foundation on which to build, setting out, as it did, to take effective action by vigorous law enforcement, to provide accessible treatment, to place new emphasis on education and prevention, to increase the safety of communities from drug-related crimes and to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people and the health risks and other damage related to drug misuse.

When the appointment of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator was announced last October, the point was clearly made that the same themes would be continued and that the Government wished to build on the success of "Tackling Drugs Together" and not to demolish it. Against the background of the undoubted growth in drug misuse and the recent record seizures of heroin, there are high expectations of proposals in the new White Paper and a need not only for a clear long-term strategy, but for more immediate action.

As many hon. Members will wish to ask questions, I shall be as brief as I can. However, I have some questions for the right hon. Lady. The strategy that she has announced today involves many different professionals as well as those from the voluntary and charitable sector. What training will be made available, especially for those in education? How and on what time scale will it be delivered?

The programme of action includes young people at high risk. Who will be responsible for that action and by what means will it be achieved? What impact will the inclusion of drug education as part of the national curriculum have on other subjects? In other words, what will be lost as a result?

The right hon. Lady announced that national targets will be introduced in all priority areas and clear baselines will be established against which progress can be measured. How soon will that important information be available? Are there no comparable statistics available now that might prove useful?

How much money will be allocated to each target, and whence will this come? Will the Government provide any new money other than those extra funds from assets seized from drugs barons? Although I warmly congratulate the right hon. Lady on getting the Treasury to loosen its iron grip on such receipts, will she acknowledge that £5 million in each of the past five years is not a huge sum, bearing in mind the size of the task, and that a proportion of that sum is even less? What proportion will be made available and will she give an undertaking that if receipts rise, that proportion will not fall?

How will those resources be divided between education and enforcement? For example, will the enforcement agencies such as the police and Customs and Excise receive a share for their operational successes?

Will the right hon. Lady clarify the Government's policy on cautioning drug offenders, particularly for class A drugs?

Great store is placed on the drug treatment and testing orders, which are to be piloted before being introduced. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that they will not be available for at least two years? What action is being taken in the meantime, especially against drug pushers?

As drug abuse is a chronic, relapsing condition, will the right hon. Lady ensure that waiting lists for detoxification and rehabilitation programmes are reduced and that appropriate residential care, which has a measurable impact, is available, as well as care in the community from which the problem has often arisen?

What evidence can the Government produce to back up their claim that levels of drug abuse have stabilised?

The Government have asserted that they intend to be tough on crime and the causes of crime. If they are tough on drugs and those who push drugs, they will deserve and receive our full support for the measures that they introduce.

Mrs. Taylor

May I first welcome the hon. Lady to her Front-Bench responsibilities and thank her for her general comments and her welcome for the White Paper? On what is clearly common ground, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Tony Newton, who introduced the previous Government's strategy, which set the framework for us to build on.

The hon. Lady said that this is a huge, complex social problem, and we can all agree on that. She also mentioned the difficulties in London and the vast mushrooming of drug-related crime in certain areas. It is true that, overall, there has been an increase in drug-related crime and, in recent years, there has been an increase in drug taking, but the problems are concentrated in certain areas. We must be realistic and recognise that there are very few parts of the country that we could claim were free from the problems of drugs and drug-related crime.

The hon. Lady asked about legal deterrents and said that there should be no soft messages from this House. I agree. I have said that we should send out clear and consistent messages. We must remember that drugs ruin the lives not only of many young people and families but of people who live in those communities and who are secondary victims because they are the victims of crime, to which many young people turn to fund their drug taking.

The hon. Lady asked me specific questions about how we will implement the White Paper. In certain respects, she asked me to prejudge the next stage in consultation and implementation. She can rest assured that the professionals have been widely consulted and are very much in line with our thinking and the way in which we wish to take things further.

The hon. Lady specifically mentioned education and the need to train teachers, which we, of course, recognise. People undergoing teacher training are being told about the problems and are being helped to explain the issue to young children. Teacher training is, of course, an on-going process. We know from different experiences in different parts of the country that some areas have already developed very effective education packs. I visited a school in London this morning, where Project CHARLIE—Chemical Abuse Resistance Lies in Education—was being used to good effect. We can use and promote best practice so that all schools are able to get the benefit of experiences thus far.

The hon. Lady asked about targets, when they may be set and why we could not start immediately. We looked at the possibility of establishing targets as part of the White Paper, but the baseline information was simply not available in a way that would have given us confidence that targets would be realistic. It is always possible to set targets that can be met, but whether that means anything at the end of the day is another matter. We thought that it was right to spend time ensuring that the targets were relevant and realistic before jumping in. As a result, it is impossible to answer her question about how much money will go into each specific type of work, just as it is to give details of how seized assets may be used. However, I accept her recognition that allowing seized assets to be used in such a way is a significant step forward.

The hon. Lady asked about resources generally. Of course, resources are important in dealing with these problems. We must be realistic and acknowledge that this is the first time that any Government have had such a clear investigation into what is being spent on tackling the problem of drugs. We are trying to ensure that we have the full picture, because we want to know what works, what provides value for money and what kind of treatment is most effective. There is still some way to go in assessing all that, although, as I said in my statement, the Government have made their commitments on resources very clear by extending the drugs challenge fund, reversing cuts in front-line Customs officers, ensuring that drug projects are a priority in the single regeneration budget and, now, by the proposals on seized assets. Once the comprehensive spending review is complete, more can be said on the matter. We have laid out our principles, and they will guide us in future.

The hon. Lady asked about cautioning. Although we would not want to interfere with the way in which the police make decisions in any area or on any case, we would like more consistency—as, indeed, would many police officers. We recognise that cautioning has a part to play. We must ensure that we provide the most effective mechanisms for dealing with the problems. There must, therefore, be a degree of flexibility.

The hon. Lady asked me where the figures on possible stability in drugs problems had come from. They are from the previous British crime survey. Although there are signals that there may be some stabilisation in trends of drug taking, we must all be aware that the nature of drug taking may still be changing, which, in itself, may pose extra dangers for many young people.

Mr. Stephen Timms (East Ham)

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the response of the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), whom I welcome to the Opposition Front Bench.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with the all-party group on drug misuse about the importance of starting drugs education at primary schools, building up young people's resistance to drug misuse at an early stage? She made explicit—and I welcome that fact—the link between tackling drugs misuse and the Government's wider assault on social exclusion. How does she expect the Government's urban regeneration policy to boost the fight against the most damaging drugs in inner-city areas, such as the one I represent in east London?

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments, and I know that the all-party parliamentary group has been looking at the issues. I am glad that he welcomes what we have said about education in primary schools, as it is important that we integrate an awareness of drugs into school curricula at an early stage. That will not have an adverse impact on other parts of the school curriculum, because youngsters of that age already receive education about medicines, their bodies and respect for themselves. Drug education can be integrated into that, although it must be appropriate for the age group that any teacher is dealing with. As I have said, there are examples of projects that seem to work.

My hon. Friend asked about urban regeneration. We have incorporated drugs projects into the criteria for single regeneration budget money. The announcements we have made on SRB money show that we are serious about encouraging drug work in that field because, on many occasions, the people who take drugs are the same people who play truant, are excluded from school and do not get jobs. We need an integrated approach to the problem.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

I join other colleagues in welcoming the White Paper and the Leader of House's statement. The White Paper is clear, comprehensive and does not sensationalise. Although my party continues to believe that a standing royal commission would have benefits in terms of giving non-political advice, this first report from the new drugs tsar is a good start and shows a promising way forward—particularly in pointing out the importance of moving the agenda from dealing with the causes of drugs misuse to the consequences.

Does the right hon. Lady envisage an increase in the amount of drugs treatment? Will she make sure that those who come to treatment through the health route do not find that their opportunities are blocked by those who are referred for treatment through the criminal route? Will drugs education be a matter of core curriculum teaching in primary and secondary schools? If so, how soon does she envisage that beginning? Can I push her on resources? If £5 million a year has been the amount collected—as it were—from drugs barons in past years, can she give any figure for the amount to be committed from that income to the anti-drugs battle? When will that begin? Will that amount be protected in the future? Is it new money?

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He used the word "sensationalise", and it is important that we have sensible discussions about the problems without sensationalising them. I am glad that the House has reacted in that way today. He asked about treatment, and, clearly, there are pressures in terms of existing capacity. We want to ensure that those people who need treatment can get it at an appropriate stage. That is particularly important for younger people. If we can intervene earlier, it will be beneficial.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the criminal route. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is piloting schemes to try to make sure that prisoners, or those who come into contact with the criminal justice system, can get the treatment they need. That will help individuals, but it will also help the communities that they may have been attacking to get money for their drugs habit.

Drug education should be incorporated into the existing national curriculum. The House should be aware that there is scope in the core curriculum—even at key stage 1—for young people to learn about medicines and about respect for themselves. Incorporating drugs education into that phase is important.

The money from seized assets will provide new resources. That will be not only useful—the money can be spent on extra treatments, for example—but important, as it will send out signals about how seriously we take the problem.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Does my right hon. Friend recall my writing to her a few months ago following a report in which doctors claimed that cannabis had unique medical benefits and that seriously ill people should be able to use it? Does she also recall the three people who came to the House some four years ago—a lady suffering from cerebral palsy who was taking cannabis to alleviate her pains, the mother of a 20-year-old girl dying from cancer who had discovered that the available chemical drugs were turning her daughter into a zombie, but that she was lucid on cannabis, and a woman who was using cannabis to deal with the pain and indignities of multiple sclerosis?

My right hon. Friend said that the Government intend to continue to inflict the same punishments on cannabis users. Does not she agree that the message that the House is sending to those tens of thousands of seriously ill people who are using cannabis as a unique medicine is that they should either continue to suffer or go to a market that is controlled by irresponsible criminals, in which they have no control over the quality or the purity of what they take? Is not that message unfair and cruel?

Mrs. Taylor

We all sympathise with anyone who has a serious and debilitating illness, but the Government take the view that, at this stage, there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of cannabis or cannabis derivatives as therapeutic agents—that view was also expressed by the British Medical Association in its recent report.

Research into both cannabis and cannabinoids can take place within existing Government policy and the legislative framework, in which procedures are laid down. Over the past year, the Home Office has received 27 applications for licences to carry out such trials—25 have already been approved. If people believe that some cannabis derivatives have therapeutic or medical benefits, they can follow procedures to take the situation further.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

Will the Leader of the House put in the Library details of the primary school projects that she has identified as successful? Will she confirm that the Government are examining best practice and results from primary education abroad? I am sure that she would agree that deciding what is appropriate for children of different ages is a sensitive and difficult issue.

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I am happy to provide any extra information that is required. She gives me the opportunity to mention the fact that we are today publishing guidance notes on some of the best practice and information that has been drawn up by the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator and his deputy on what is thought to work in different circumstances. She rightly says that we must be sensitive in dealing with the problem, as children do not react in the same way. We do not want to make drugs seem attractive, because they are daring, but we shall do children a grave disservice if we leave them in ignorance—we must provide appropriate education for all children and, indeed, for their parents.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh)

Has my right hon. Friend studied what some of us consider to be the resounding success of the American drug courts, which deal exclusively with drug addicts and users of all ages? There is a highly specialised network of professional advisers and therapists to make recommendations to the drugs judge, who, for many years, has investigated drug addiction. That seems to be the right way in which to proceed—there has been a 34 per cent. success rate in rehabilitation, partly through short, stiff sentences, which have proved to be a great deterrent to users. Will she, with the Home Office, set up an experimental court to establish whether such a system would be practicable in this country?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend mentioned drug courts. It is always difficult to take a feature from another country and simply translate it here, without taking account of the different systems and cultures. The drug testing and treatment orders that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is piloting are a British version of part of what my hon. Friend is talking about. We are piloting those schemes because we think that they could be important, but the long-term outcome must be our priority.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I welcome the statement and the White Paper. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on her extremely robust performance at the Dispatch Box—I am sure that it will be the first of many—and the Leader of the House made an excellent statement.

Macclesfield is fortunate in having the Barnabas centre, which has had great experience as a drop-in centre and tries to wean young people, in particular, off drugs and to start the rehabilitation process. My local paper, the Macclesfield Express Advertiser, said that some young people in Macclesfield spend up to £1,000 a week to fund their drug addiction. Will additional resources be put into residential establishments, as I believe that they stand the best chance of explaining the evils of drugs and helping people to get rid of an addiction that costs this country so dear?

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generous comments to both Front-Bench spokesmen. I am not surprised that we have heard about Macclesfield today. He referred to the important issue of some young people spending up to £1,000 a week to fund their drug habit. Of course, it is rarely their own money: the victims of crime fund the habit, and that is one of the reasons why we must give the problem a high priority.

The hon. Gentleman asked about residential establishments, which are, of course, an integral part of the treatment provision that must be available, but they are not the only answer and we must remember that those who are successfully treated in them must still be prepared to go out and live in the real world again. One problem is that people often go back into their old communities and some of the work is undone. Residential establishments have a role to play, but so do many other types of development, because the problem is extremely complex.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

This morning, I visited the Mount prison in Hemel Hempstead, which detains two of my constituents. Like every other prison in the country, it is bedevilled by a sizeable drug problem, but I was pleased to note the attempts that the governor and prison officers are making to introduce mandatory and voluntary drug testing, to have drug-free wings and to prepare prisoners for release in a drug-free state.

I was concerned to see that there were only two staff provided by Druglink in support of that initiative in the prison. There needs also to be greater support for the probation service when prisoners come out of a prison drug free and return to the community, where they are again susceptible to drug dealers.

Mrs. Taylor

I do not know the prison to which my hon. Friend referred, but I am glad that he thinks that good work is being done there. Clearly, both mandatory and voluntary testing have a role to play. He mentioned Druglink staff and the probation service. A review is being conducted into how people can work together, and I assure him that when we were drafting the White Paper, the Prison Service staff, probation officers and link workers were all consulted, and they will be consulted on implementation in the future.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

Will the right hon. Lady confirm that central to all that must be securing convictions against drug barons? I see the Home Secretary in his place. Will the right hon. Lady tell us whether the Government are studying the rules of evidence, in particular the use of intercept evidence in trials and the present abuse whereby defence lawyers can demand to know the names of informers, even when their clients have been caught in possession? Surely the civil liberties of the accused cannot be allowed to override the desperate need of the wider community to tackle this evil.

Mrs. Taylor

I think that we would all like to be more successful with the drugs barons, who are clearly the evil people driving the trade and encouraging and tempting young people into drug misuse. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the rules of evidence; some of his points about disclosure have been covered. Intercept evidence is a complicated area, although I know from my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary that it is being looked into, along with other matters.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

May I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, in particular the part that dealt with the introduction of drugs education into the primary curriculum? However, does she agree that by the time children reach secondary school age, they are often more knowledgeable about and familiar with drugs than their parents? Will she ensure that drugs education and awareness are made available not only to children and teachers, but to parents, grandparents and other people who come into contact with young children?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right to say that parents need extra information. Schools have a part to play in that, but so does everyone else. We propose to issue a new leaflet to parents, prepared by the Health Education Authority. That will go out later this year. Also, conferences are proposed in different parts of the country, aimed at involving parents. As parents, we all have significant responsibilities. It is important that we understand the situation and, perhaps, become aware of it as soon as our children enter school. Some parents may be learning with their children, but, far too often, children know more than their parents.

I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the primary curriculum and I hope that she will be pleased that the first port of call for the anti-drugs co-ordinator in the next phase of consultation about the White Paper will be Cambridge in the near future.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)

The right hon. Lady has commended to the House the value of an integrated approach to the drug problem, and I agree. What will happen after devolution, particularly in the context of Scotland? As this is a multi-agency strategy, I assume that responsibility for health and the police and education authorities in Scotland will be the exclusive responsibility of the Secretary of State and then a Scottish Minister of a Scottish Parliament. How will the Government maintain an integrated approach to fighting drugs if responsibility in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers, and the same applies in Wales and perhaps in Northern Ireland?

Mrs. Taylor

I do not see that there will be any difference after devolution. At the moment, there is a separate but related Scottish strategy. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has been working with the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator, and that co-operation will continue.

Mr. Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the statement, which is a step in the right direction. It would be remiss of us if we did not congratulate United Kingdom Customs officers on the way in which they have done their jobs and on the number of seizures that they have been getting. I remind my right hon. Friend that the number of Customs officers was halved by the previous Tory Government during the past few years. I heard what she said—she is reversing that trend. I hope that it is reversed and that Customs officers get back to full strength. If they do, we will see the number of drugs seizures double.

Mrs. Taylor

I thank my hon. Friend. Customs officers have an important role to play. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, into whose remit they fall, is on the Government Front Bench and will pass on the congratulations of the whole House.

My hon. Friend will be aware of initiatives for disaffected youth in Blyth Valley, mainly focusing on drug abuse, that have been included in a single regeneration budget grant. I hope that that will help him to fight the problem in his constituency.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I regret that there seems to be little evidence in Greater Manchester that the problem of misuse of drugs is stabilising. Indeed, there has been a frightening change of culture, as heroin prices have collapsed and young people have moved straight to heroin without experiencing soft drugs. That has happened in spite of many excellent projects and the work of the previous Government. I sincerely hope that the Government can get to grips with the problem. I know of their serious intent and welcome the statement. Misuse of drugs is the third largest industry in Britain. It makes £8 billion internationally, so spending £5 million is a drop in a large ocean.

Are the Government prepared to keep an open mind on misuse of drugs? The Police Foundation has held an excellent two-year inquiry and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is taking evidence on cannabis. My right hon. Friend said that there would be an annual report on the subject, which I welcome, but the Government must listen to all opinions so that together we can overcome a major problem.

Mrs. Taylor

The Government are always willing to listen to all opinions. I hope that my hon. Friend will listen to the opinion of the World Health Organisation, as its most recent report stated that cannabis has an adverse effect on human cognitive, motor skill and reproductive functions, that smoke from cannabis contains up to 50 per cent. more carcinogens than tobacco smoke, that cannabis is a risk factor in schizophrenia, and that up to 50 per cent. of regular users develop dependence that they are unable to control. I hope that those who take a different line from that of the Government will bear all those factors in mind.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. To be helpful to the House, I should like to call all Members who are standing. Will they help me by making questions and answers very brisk?

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

When I was chairman of the all-party drugs misuse group, I welcomed the appointment of the drugs tsar, and I welcome the right hon. Lady's strong, clear announcement today, which is one in the eye for the Independent on Sunday and its irresponsible campaign on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Will the right hon. Lady send a congratulatory message to Kennington Road primary school in my constituency which announced at the weekend that it would involve itself in getting the message across to primary school children on the dangers of drug and solvent abuse? There is an important job for the primary schools to do. Will she ensure that there is proper support for teachers, particularly in rural schools, which are not insulated from the drug problem? Will she ensure that all parents—not just targeted or high-risk parents—get information about what is being taught to their children, so that they, too, can get involved?

The right hon. Lady mentioned £5 million. Will she consider using all the assets of drug dealers for her campaign, as that would send a very clear message? Finally, may we debate in the House of Commons the drugs report that is to be issued every year, so that we can all have our say on how the problem is being tackled?

Mrs. Taylor

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and am happy to send my congratulations to Kennington Road primary school. It is important that we provide information to help schools to present these problems to children, but that they should have the independence to judge what is most appropriate in each case. He is right that other problems should be considered, such as solvent abuse, which is a real problem in many areas.

The hon. Gentleman asked for support for teachers. I said that it will be provided. He made the valid point that rural areas, like urban areas, need advice, information and support. He is also right that all parents need information. No parent can complacently ignore the problem.

The seized asset figure that I gave was the figure for seizures. What might be available will depend on what can be seized. We are serious about trying to ensure that as much money as possible is recycled into treatment provision. As I resist so many calls for debates from other hon. Members, I must be wary of his request for a debate each year, but I shall bear it mind from time to time.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)

My right hon. Friend's statement will be welcome in my constituency, where the police and the community have to deal with more cases of heroin abuse than cannabis abuse. Does she accept the message given to me over many years by the pupils whom I taught in several high schools, that education about the dangers of drugs needs to start much earlier, before children come to high school? It must start in primary schools. Does she agree that all the education in the world will not be effective unless it is backed up by adequate enforcement, and that enforcement requires adequate resources, but that ultimately there will be a return on those resources through fewer burglaries and fewer neighbours from hell who terrorise neighbourhoods because of drugs?

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend is right that all those aspects must go together. We need education, not only for secondary children but for primary school children. Of course, that must be done in the context of strict enforcement. He is also right that many people become victims when drugs take hold of an area. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already made statements about anti-social behaviour, and we are very conscious that whole communities can suffer when young people in an area start taking drugs. That is why we have a responsibility not only to young people but to the community in which they live.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

Will the Government consider extending their drugs programme to include the misuse of alcohol? Under-age and excessive drinking causes as great—if not greater—social problems, as do drugs in terms of domestic violence, violence in the street, social breakdown and so on. The misuse of alcohol would fit well with the educational and social aspects of the Government's programme.

Mrs. Taylor

My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department chairs a ministerial group on alcohol misuse. We are very conscious that there are many problems. Many of the youngsters who abuse alcohol are the same ones who abuse drugs and who are truanting or excluded from school. That is why we cannot look at these problems in isolation and why we are trying to ensure better co-ordination to tackle the problems together.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

Should not we all embrace this statement with great enthusiasm, as it will be embraced in my constituency, not least because my wife is chair of the crime prevention committee? I live on a council estate where the evidence of youth involvement in drug crimes becomes greater every day. We should welcome it unreservedly and not be churlish or seek to water it down.

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. From his personal experience, he understands the extent of the problem in Portsmouth, which is to receive nearly £3 million over seven years from the single regeneration budget. Part of that project is aimed at diverting disaffected young people from crime to education and employment. That reinforces the need not only to tell young people that they should not take drugs but to be able to offer them a positive alternative. We need to be firm in our message that young people should not take drugs, and firm in respect of what we have to offer young people by way of better opportunities.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

As a result of today's statement, what extra resources are being made available to the Prison Service to enable judges to impose more and longer deterrent sentences on drug pushers?

Mrs. Taylor

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already increased resources for this year. The answer to drug problems does not only involve sending appropriate people to prison. Many other options are often more appropriate. We must ensure that we have sufficient flexibility. If we can divert people from prison and criminal behaviour by providing effective treatment, that is one of the options which should always be considered. There are no hard and fast rules about what works in any individual case. The hon. Gentleman is wrong if he thinks that there are simplistic answers to the problem.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

May I broadly welcome my right hon. Friend's proposals? Will she confirm that they cover solvent abuse, which involves the widespread abuse of products that are legally available and results in the deaths of more than 100 young people, mostly under the age of 16, every year?

Mrs. Taylor

I know that my hon. Friend has a long-term interest in the problem and has raised the issue on other occasions. He is right that we should not simplistically separate the different strands of this problem. As I said earlier, the young people who take drugs are often those who have taken alcohol or been involved in solvent abuse. In some places, drug action teams take a more comprehensive approach, but we have left it to those teams to decide the most productive approach and the best way to co-ordinate locally.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall)

The right hon. Lady rightly emphasised the need for clear and consistent messages. Is she aware that governing bodies with a policy of excluding any pupil found with drugs on school premises find it difficult when local police then only give a caution? The penalty visited on the pupil by the governing body is often seen to be greater than that under the law of the land, and governors find it difficult when they confront the parents of the children involved. There a need for a clear and consistent approach both at governor and school level and at local police level.

Mrs. Taylor

I am sure that there is a need for clear and consistent approaches. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the responsibilities of governing bodies. At the end of the day, provision must be found for any child who is excluded temporarily or permanently. We must try to ensure that the various agencies work together so that fewer children are excluded, not least because excluded children are more likely to get deeper into drug taking and criminal activity. That is one of the prime reasons why we must have as much co-operation as possible.

Mr. Ivan Henderson (Harwich)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important strategies for stopping drug misuse is preventing people from bringing drugs into ports? Will she join me in congratulating the Customs at Harwich International port on its great results in detecting drugs and preventing them from entering the country? Will the strategy for education include the use of professionals such as Customs officers in schools close to ports to help educate young people, as happens in Harwich?

Mrs. Taylor

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating Customs officers in his area. They play a critical role in all this, and their work should be recognised, along with that of many other agencies, including the police, the Prison Service and probation offers. Many people are already involved in the fight against crime. Much co-operation is taking place, and we have to build on that.

My hon. Friend asked about education and whether it was possible for Customs officers to go into schools as part of the drugs education programme. In some areas, Customs officers do that; in others, police officers and others involved in the fight against drugs participate in that co-operative way. We should look at what works in any particular area and always be ready to build on that, learn from best practice and ensure that best practice is spread throughout the country.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I also warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, especially the proposals to tackle drugs-related crime, which makes life hell for many decent people in parts of my constituency. Does she agree that an important part of tackling the problem is what goes on in our prisons? Does she welcome what is being done by officers and nurses in HM prison Risley in my constituency, who have put forward proposals to set up a drugs detoxification unit? Will she aim to ensure that the Prison Service gives priority to similar proposals throughout the service, given that someone who goes into prison addicted to drugs and comes out addicted is highly likely to commit further crimes?

Mrs. Taylor

I agree with my hon. Friend. Someone who goes into prison addicted to drugs and comes out addicted to drugs will almost inevitably get caught up in crime. I have not visited the unit at Risley, but I have seen the unit in Strangeways and heard of various prisons' success in ensuring that prisoners who are willing to take the first step to kick a drugs habit are given the support and help they need. I am sure that the Prison Service will generally welcome my hon. Friend's comment and be happy to try to move in the direction she recommends.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

I apologise to other hon. Members, whose questions I did not hear; I did hear the statement. May take this opportunity to thank the Government for the £2 million in support for the anti-drugs work of the single regeneration budget partnership in Slough? May I urge that, in tackling this problem, we work carefully with parents of different communities and cultures? The Sikh community in Slough are extremely anxious about young people's involvement in drugs, but they feel that, in the past, many of the programmes have not been sensitive to their concerns. They would be grateful for the assurance that their needs will be clearly at the centre of the strategy.

Mrs. Taylor

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comments. She is right to say that all parts of the community need help in this respect. She mentioned the SRB projects in Slough, which are unusual in including peer-led drugs education as well as outreach workers. It is important that we use all possible means to get the message across. She also mentioned minority communities and the Sikh community in Slough: we have to face the fact that no community is immune from the problem of drugs and that if we are to get the message across to different communities, we may have to use different ways and be sensitive to the reaction of the communities. The problem is so serious that all parts of the country and all communities must get the necessary information so that, together, everybody is as well equipped as possible to face the challenge and to equip our young people for a better future.