HC Deb 13 May 1998 vol 312 cc291-312

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Ms Quin.]

9.34 am
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

I thank the Minister for moving the motion, and welcome her to the Front Bench.

It may help if I give the accepted definition of drug misuse. It is best defined as the non-medical use of drugs intended for use only in medical treatment and the use of drugs that have no accepted medical purpose. Such drugs are controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. That Act does not cover solvent misuse.

The main drugs that are misused are opiates, such as heroin; stimulants, such as cocaine, amphetamines and Ecstasy; tranquillisers; hallucinogens such as LSD; and cannabinoids, such as cannabis.

First, let me say that I have done plenty of things that I ought not to have done. I am not an expert on drugs but I want make practical suggestions on the culture that affects the number of people who take up drugs and the way that they use them in front of other people and what might be an additional effective way of coping with the undoubted problems of drug misuse.

To those who want to consult the real experts, I commend a book by Commander David Stockley called "Drug Warning". It is subtitled "An Illustrated Guide For Parents, Teachers and Employers", and is published by Optima.

David Stockley was a commander in the Metropolitan police. The information is factual. I recommend that parents who find that their child is involved in drugs read the book so that they understand what is involved. The author reminds us of some of the warning signs that a young person may be using or experimenting with drugs. He says that there is no simple answer, but mentions out-of-character behaviour; loss of appetite; being either unusually sleepy or unable to sleep at night; bouts of talkative, excitable and overactive behaviour; being unusually irritable, aggressive or even violent; changing moods, from happy and bright to moody and confused, for no apparent reason; telling lies or acting secretively; losing interest in school work; and truanting. He further mentions changing friendship patterns; losing interest in hobbies and sports; money or valuables disappearing from the home; coming to the notice of the police for unruly, disorderly behaviour or dishonesty; unusual spots, sores and marks on the body or arms or around the mouth and nose; and stains and chemical smells on clothing and about the body.

I read that list not to frighten people—although some aspects of the misuse of drugs may be frightening—but because when people get involved in something that they regret, or will probably come to regret, it is important that they do not go on experiencing their problems alone. It is important that those around such people, especially young people—parents, teachers and people in the community—are in a position to ask whether there is a problem and say that it ought to be shared with them. Young people should not go through difficulties alone. It weighs and preys on them and changes their lives unnecessarily.

I want to acknowledge, although not concentrate on, another point. I realise that the debate will go wider than my contribution. Most crime is not drug-related, but some people involved in drugs, especially the heavier end of drugs, are responsible for irruptions of crime that can be severe in local areas. When we lived in Stockwell, there was a drug dealer in the block of flats opposite. When that flat was in constant use, the amount of crime in the area was horrendous. People might expect almost weekly to suffer some assault on their car, their home or themselves. I do not want people to get the idea that all that we have to do to solve crime or drugs is take away the criminal behaviour that surrounds drug dealing and some of the pushers, however. I do not wish to go into crime in great detail, but it matters even on a small scale.

I talked to a constituent in Worthing last week. She was an elderly woman who had lost a locket given to her by, I think, her godmother. It was of no particular value to anyone else. Its street value was probably so trivial that a smoker who did not smoke cigarettes for a day would probably save the same amount. To my constituent, however, it was a link to someone who had mattered a great deal to her. I do not want to start bringing out the tears for all these things, but they show that it is worth working hard to deal with such behaviour and try to reach a level, which I hope we can reach in this country, at which crime, or at least personal crime of the kind that I have described, is virtually unheard of.

The leadership given by the Government on drugs will be welcomed. I hope that they make progress. The work is built on the work that Tony Newton led when he was Lord President of the Council, and on the 1994 document "Tackling Drugs Together", the annexes to which contained not only information about the link between drug misuse and crime but an overview of drug misuse statistics. Obviously, only a part of the figures can be known, but it is important that, in our monitoring of progress and setting of targets, such an approach is brought from the annexes to the front.

I wish to draw a parallel with the experience of tackling drink-driving, with which I was associated for a time. If we run campaigns on drink-driving in accordance with the temporary interests of the media, we are unlikely to get it right. We had to have some sense of the incidence and pattern of drink-driving, the people affected and where it happened. We need an approach that will get at the culture of people doing things that are wrong. Clearly, drinking is not unlawful and driving is not unlawful, but the combination of the two is.

We spotted that we would not make progress without dealing with young men. There is a parallel with drug misuse, which is predominantly, although not exclusively, a young male activity. We realised that, if we did not deal with young men and their drinking and driving, where they drank, and the type of social life that they had, we would not be involved in the areas in which we could make a difference, or get them to make a difference. We spotted the fact that they were the ones who had to make a difference—one of the themes of what I want to say this morning.

We—society, not the Government—cut drink-driving by young men from about 2 million occasions a week to about 600,000 occasions a week within two years, with no change in the law, sentencing or enforcement. So two thirds of an illegal, socially unacceptable, body-damaging habit evaporated. The reason why it happened is not known to most people, because, although it is perhaps the biggest cultural change since the war, there has not, to my knowledge, been a five-minute radio or television programme or a 600-word article in any of our broadsheet newspapers about how it happened. Although I occasionally say out loud what my view is, saying it before the House of Commons is probably the best way of keeping it a secret. But I will try anyway.

Ten years ago young people listened in large numbers only to Radio 1, the only national pop music station. No other cultural medium was accessible to most young people. When Johnny Beerling, the controller of Radio 1, said that drink-driving issues should be dealt with in news and current affairs on Radio 1, we knew that the right audience was being involved. People were not being preached at, but they were involved.

Pop music stations are now more diverse. Radio 1 does not have the same dominance, although it is still important. I commend to youth magazines and radio the importance of raising drugs issues as news and current affairs. It should not be a public service message from a 44-year-old Minister—I do not know how old the Minister is—but probably a discussion led by a 58-year-old disc jockey. It is important to make the message part of people's culture if we want to spread information and give people choices.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

How does the hon. Gentleman react to the week-long debate on cannabis that was conducted on Radio 1, in which 25,000 people rang in to give their opinions, of whom 87 per cent. said that they wanted to see cannabis decriminalised?

Mr. Bottomley

If the most important issue in a week-long discussion on Radio 1 was whether cannabis should be decriminalised or remain a criminal offence, I think that Radio 1 missed the point. Decriminalisation of cannabis may be an issue of some interest, but what really matters is the information given on page 31 of The Express yesterday. When young people were asked: Are you worried about the effect of drugs on yourself?", 40 per cent. said yes. I do not know whether the question distinguished between misuse of illegal drugs and pharmaceutical drugs, but if 40 per cent. of young people say that they are worried, that strikes me as a worry that we ought to share. We should not share our worries with them; we should share their worries.

When young people were asked: Do you think drug use is spreading to younger boys?", 87 per cent. said yes. If 87 per cent. are worried, we should share their worries. We should not try to impose ours on them. It is in the nature of politics that relatively few people are elected to the House of Commons at the age of 21. Bernadette Devlin was and Paul Channon was, but I am not sure that many others have been. By our nature, we are rather older. So if 60 per cent. of young people say yes when asked: Are you worried about the effect of drugs on someone else?", we should be concerned and share those worries.

My part in this debate is not to discuss whether things should be criminalised or decriminalised. It is to consider whether the House can start taking the worries about misuse of drugs as seriously as we appropriately did the worries about drink-driving.

Drink-driving now kills about 550 people a year. In the 1994 document "Tackling Drugs Together", the statistics show that deaths through the misuse of drugs number way over twice that figure. They are at the level at which deaths from drink-driving were when I became an assistant Minister at the Department of Transport in 1986. So the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) has rightly, indirectly, pointed out the importance of having this debate and cutting the number of people who start to misuse drugs and the number of years or months for which they are involved in drug misuse, and of being far more open about what is happening.

At this point I want to come on to my second major point—my second of two. I have one or two other things to say, but the two major points are, first, that we must take a cultural approach in addition to other things that are happening. The Minister may explain what Keith Hellawell is doing. She may talk about the Government's update of the "Tackling Drugs Together" approach. My contribution is, first, to say that we must make the cultural approach to the misuse of drugs important. That means information, understanding and action that does not rely only on policemen, the courts and sentencing.

My second point is that it is outside my experience, but within my perception, that young people are not sold unlawful drugs the first time they are offered them. They are given drugs. If I am wrong in that and if young people are listening to this debate, they should let me know. I believe that almost every young person experiencing drugs for the first time, and possibly for the second, is given them by a friend, but after that, we are back into what research evidence shows. When people who are misusing drugs are asked where they get the money from, a significant proportion say that it comes from selling drugs to other people.

In effect, drug dealing is a pyramid-selling operation. I am told that I should not make comparisons with psychotherapy or Holiday Magic, but it seems to me that, if someone is on drugs, unless they happen to spend very little or are very wealthy, they are likely to get some of their money for their habit by selling drugs on to other people. To do that, they have to have a network and they cannot build that simply by happening to meet people at large parties or on the street. They are likely to ask their friends or people in contact with them, "Would you like to have some of this?"

Later on, when those people say that they would like some more, they say that the drugs have to be paid for. Once that happens, the pyramid goes on down, which ends in avoidable disadvantage, stress and handicap for the person who gets hooked. It also involves avoidable disadvantage, distress and handicap for those who become victims of crimes. The scale of crime that is necessary to produce money to fund a drugs habit and the amount of cash paid to the person supplying the drugs is disproportionate to the great suffering caused.

Young people should be warned that the first time they are offered drugs it will probably be for free. They need to know that in advance: there is no point telling them afterwards. People have a choice whether to start using drugs or not to continue using drugs, having experimented with them. We should make the same plea as I make to smokers—I say that as someone who smoked for many years: I am still addicted, but I have not smoked for some time. They should try not to smoke in front of someone who is younger than they are. That would have been bad news for Deng Xiaoping, because he was one of the oldest people in China.

If we have a habit that we do not think should be spread to other people, we should try not to indulge in it in front of others. We may do it privately. However, 12-year-olds will be influenced if they see 14-year-olds taking drugs. They in turn will be affected if they see 16-year-olds taking drugs, who will be influenced if they see 18-year-olds taking drugs and so on up the age groups.

The information should be out in the open, and we should monitor the situation. If the Government's approach is working, it should show up not in the newspaper headlines—because newspapers and the media require more rapid results—but in the figures such as we had in the drink-driving campaign. Twice a year we had a pretty firm indication of whether drink-driving behaviour and the answers to questions about drink-driving were changing in the prime target group.

In 1987, if young men were asked, "Do you have to drink at a party to enjoy yourself, even if you are driving home?", the predominant answer was yes. By 1989, the predominant answer was no. That was associated with a change of culture. In 1987, the predominant answer to the question, "If you say that you're not going to drink at a party because you are driving home, will people think that you are a wimp?", was yes. By 1989, the predominant answer was no.

We need such a change of culture. If young people now were asked, "Do you think that misusing drugs is a sensible, good or cool thing to do?", I do not know what answer they would give. Such surveys are needed every six months or so, and the figures should be examined for each age cohort to establish trends over time. That may not draw much attention, but it helps those responsible for improving the position, and that is not only the Home Office, the Department of Health and parents groups—not that we have many effective parents groups in this country—but many others who want to make a difference and to improve the well-being and welfare of our young people.

Better work has been done over the past eight years and more is to be done in the next four or five years, and if the misuse of drugs is as common as it seems, the results should show a drop in such behaviour. Drug misuse involves people in inner cities and in more rural areas. It affects people who think that they have control over their lives and those who have not. It is not helpful merely to have a discussion such as The Independent on Sunday had about whether some drugs should be made legal. The problem is far more serious than that.

I welcome the sensible parts of the Government's approach. They are continuing the work that had been started under the previous Government. I hope that we can co-operate on this issue and test whether some of the claims being made make sense. When one listens to people on the streets talking about how they fell into a slough of despond for 10 years because of drugs, and about how they have tried to control their drug habit, one realises how important it is to prevent young people from becoming involved in drugs in the first place.

9.53 am
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) on securing this debate. I pay tribute to him for his personal crusade against drink-driving, which saved thousands of lives. However, I believe that his approach to the problem of illegal drugs is not as developed as his successful case against drink-driving.

It is a unique pleasure to congratulate a Government on an illegal drugs policy. I am delighted to see the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin) on the Front Bench. She has always dealt thoughtfully and pragmatically with my questions and with the matters that I have put to her. As was shown yesterday, the Government have adopted a drugs policy that does not seek popularity by appearing to be tough. They took an intelligent decision. The Government attitude to drugs in the past 30 years has been bedevilled by attempts to seek policies that are popular in the pages of the tabloid newspapers, but such policies do not work.

I challenge any view that drugs policies—either those of Tony Newton or of the present Government—are working. According to the only European measure of the harm being caused by drugs, which is from the Lisbon monitoring group, the drug problem in Britain is the worst in Europe. Heroin deaths have doubled in each of the past four years. Drug-related crime in this city has increased by an enormous amount in the past year. The Government and the drugs tsar admit that Britain is facing a new epidemic of heroin use. Virtually nothing that we have done has worked.

We cannot exaggerate the difficulties: this is the greatest problem facing Europe, and our peace and stability is threatened by the drugs mafias and cartels in the newly democratised states of eastern Europe. Drug cartels in countries such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, where the Taleban have decided that heroin is a gift from Allah and they are using it to fight their wars, have become so powerful that they can buy Governments. Such cartels make money mostly from drugs, although they are involved in prostitution and other crimes. In Colombia, there is a war between the drug barons and the Government, and we know that the forces of organised crime will win. This extraordinary, unrecognised problem of international crime in Europe threatens the stability of our continent. The problem of money laundering will be greatly simplified by the introduction of the euro.

As with the rise in criminal activity during the prohibition era in America between 1920 and 1933, these cartels have developed because there is only one market for the drug in demand, and that is an illegal market run by criminals. In Britain, even children of 13 can obtain drugs. The figures from the Department of Health show that 70 per cent. of men and 47 per cent. of women have used an illegal drug by the time they reach the age of 24. The market is saturated. Where do they obtain illegal drugs? The only source is irresponsible criminals.

Our only hope of reducing drug harm is to collapse that illegal black market. Drug dealers are committing the same crime if they sell a drug to a neurotic 10-year-old as they are if they sell it to a well-balanced 50-year-old. As in America in the 1930s, we have to collapse the market and replace it with a market that will not be harm-free, but will be licensed, regulated, policed and controlled. Then, if someone sells a drug to a minor or to someone with a known mental illness, they will be put out of business.

That is not just theory; it has happened in Holland. There is much black propaganda about Holland. In the past 18 months, I have been there three times—the last time with someone who was teaching young people in schools about cannabis. She explained to the Dutch that the problem with cannabis was that it made men impotent and women promiscuous, which is about as unsatisfactory a situation as one could imagine. It was interesting to see how so many Dutch men were willing to be generous with their time and energy and prove to the lady that the effects of cannabis on men were very different from what she imagined. That is the type of nonsensical propaganda that is preached about drugs.

This morning, we know that the Government have at last differentiated between cannabis and hard drugs. We must emphasise that there is a huge difference between the effects of a hard drug—a virulently addictive drug, such as heroin or tobacco—and those of drugs that are far less harmful. No drug is without harm, but young people use some drugs for a short time and then get over them. For the first time, in their prison policy, the Government are distinguishing between hard and softer drugs. I hope that, before long, a new policy will be announced on the exchange of needles in prison.

At the moment, cannabis is used as a drug of choice among young people. The hon. Member for Worthing, West rightly said that we should try to influence young people's views. There is a huge gulf of opinion between the current generation's experience of drugs and the experience—not mine; I have never had any experience of any illegal drug—of older generations. Nearly all the premature deaths of hon. Members in my time in Parliament have been the result of drug use. People are shocked when one says that.

Mr. Bottomley

Booze and fags.

Mr. Flynn

Several hon. Members' deaths were hurried by the use of alcohol, and many by tobacco; and at least one hon. Member was taking a near-lethal dose of a painkiller every day. I have often raised points of order in previous debates when the principal speaker on the Government side and the principal speaker on the Opposition side have been obliged to leave the Chamber for a fix, because they were both chain smokers.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West spoke about the first use of drugs. Heroin is now smoked, as cannabis is almost universally smoked, in this country. The gateway drug is tobacco; that is what draws people in. People's first drug is not cannabis or heroin, but tobacco, and hard drugs are often taken under the influence of alcohol.

The problems of drug use in this country are principally the problems of tobacco, alcohol and medicinal drugs. To find the place in any town in Britain with the largest number of people zonked out on drugs—walking around like zombies, incapable of communicating—we should go, not to some back alley to see the heroin addicts, but to a residential home, because 88 per cent. of elderly people in such homes are subjected to the use of neuroleptic drugs that they do not need.

There is enormous misuse of antibiotics and medicinal drugs on animals in this country. The animals do not have illnesses, but drugs are used to promote growth and to prevent illnesses that they might get.

Drugs are misused on an unimaginably vast scale. Significantly, every year 120,000 people die of tobacco use; between 25,000 and 40,000 of alcohol use; 2,500 of medicinal drugs; none of cannabis—whose pathology I shall discuss later—and about 180 of heroin. Unfortunately, it is said that solvents should be removed from the equation, but as many as 100 people die from solvent misuse.

The myth has been perpetrated—and is believed by most parents—that if a young person starts to take cannabis, inevitably they will go through a sequence of events and end up dead in a dark alley, with a needle sticking out of them. In fact, there is as much chance of a cannabis user going on to heroin as there is of a social drinker becoming a wino or alcoholic, for the same reasons.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

Some people listening to the debate must ask themselves, "What is the hon. Gentleman on, to come out with some of the stuff that he is saying this morning?" He is trying to paint a picture of cannabis as an okay drug. It is made up of 400 chemical compounds, and doctors say that, in itself, cannabis is an extremely damaging drug. If we go down the route that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, and allow a free-for-all—decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis—does not he expect that, even with his licensed control and his licensed market, far more drugs will be available, and far more people will take drugs, than at present?

Mr. Flynn

The hon. Gentleman is a drug pusher—I have called him that in Parliament before, and I repeat it—because he runs a convenience store that sells cigarettes. It is cigarettes that lead people into cannabis and into heroin. If the hon. Gentleman is serious, he should read what the World Health Organisation said about cannabis—that if cannabis was used as cigarettes were used, it would not be as dangerous as cigarettes. [Interruption.] Wait a minute; let me finish what I am saying. However, cannabis is not used that way. No one smokes 40 cannabis joints a day—they normally use one, possibly two, at a weekend—so no reputable scientist would say that cannabis was as dangerous as heroin, cigarettes or alcohol.

However, that is not the problem. We must consider young people's drugs of choice and ask how we may deal with them in a practical way. I return to the case of Holland. I am not saying that anyone should take any medicinal or illegal drug; I should like people to take as few of them as possible, and preferably none. However, remarkably, in Holland, as a result of decriminalisation, the two markets have been separated, and cannabis use has not increased. In Britain we have almost reached saturation point with cannabis, but in Holland, any outlet that sells it to young people is closed.

The most significant effect of decriminalisation in Holland has been the effect on heroin use. In the Dutch population, it is almost unknown to find a heroin user under the age of 20, and since 1981 the average age of the heroin user has increased from 28 to 41. A larger proportion of heroin users are in their 60s there. Holland has half the proportion of heroin users to the general population that we have in Britain, and the number is decreasing. Meanwhile, the average age of heroin users in Britain has decreased from 29 to 28, and the drugs tsar says that heroin is being used by 13-year-olds.

Young people throughout the world are experimenting with soft drugs; nothing can stop that. We are not even trying to stop the use of Ecstasy. Ninety per cent. of young people at raves use Ecstasy, and the police no longer arrest them for doing so. The law is being ridiculed.

In prisons, drug use is endemic. This week, I asked the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), how many prisons he expected to be drug-free in the lifetime of this Parliament, and the Government have yet to come up with an answer. That target is probably unattainable. If we cannot keep illegal drugs out of prisons, behind high walls, where people can be searched, where is the hope of keeping them out of clubs, raves and schools? We have lost that battle, and we can only ensure that, if those drugs are used, they are used in a way that causes least harm.

As a young man, I was told not to drink beer and not to smoke, and very soon we all went out and got into Woodbines and bitter beer because there was peer pressure on us to do so. Today's young people will be given similar warnings—we all say such things to our teenage children, myself included. However, if we had all told our teenage children, for example, "Don't take Ecstasy" but then said, "If you do, don't overheat, don't drink more than a pint of water an hour and don't take Ecstasy with any other drug," and if they had followed that advice, there would have been no Ecstasy deaths in Britain, because no one dies from Ecstasy alone. In Holland, there have been no confirmed cases of deaths resulting from Ecstasy, or solvent abuse.

Switzerland can also teach us lessons about hard drugs. That country has had all kinds of problems, especially with drug tourists.

In a recent referendum, 70 per cent. of the Swiss people approved of a proposal to treat confirmed heroin addicts not as criminals, which is futile, but as patients. Trials had shown that if addicts were given heroin—not methadone, which kills more people than heroin—in a rehabilitation scheme, there was an immediate drop in crime because the addicts did not have to become burglars or continue with other criminal activities or prostitute themselves to get money. They can relax, get their heroin and try to get off the drug and lead a normal working life. That policy has worked splendidly in Switzerland. It has had massive approval and is being adopted throughout the country.

Italy, Spain and 20 American states have decriminalised cannabis and in every case there has been no increase in its use. We must understand that. Britain is following the so-called tough policies of the United States. For 30 years the USA has conducted wars against drugs. It has bombed and defoliated the drug crops in its own country and elsewhere and has imprisoned some drug users for longer than murderers. It has had three drug tsars. The present one is a disaster and is known as the drugs nanny. The result is that Mexico now rivals Colombia as a source of drugs, and America faces the greatest ever use of heroin. Meanwhile, marijuana use goes up and down, as its use has nothing to do with prohibition. When there is a demand people will get the drug, and the USA has the worst drug-related corruption in its history.

The policy of prohibition has never worked anywhere. When a drug is in demand, there is a ready supply and people will get it. Drug education is a blind alley, but it figures prominently in the drugs tsar document and the White Paper. The policy is based on Operation Charlie. Photographs were taken of the drugs tsar and the Lord President of the Council in a school, and on that basis it is said that drug education will work. The absurd claim is that it will work by means of Janet and John lessons given to five-year-olds. Cynics might say that that is a convenient escape from intelligent thought, because no one will be able to tell whether the policy is working for at least 15 years, by which time the drugs tsar will have retired and Labour will be in its fourth term of government.

What is Operation Charlie—the operation on which is based the myth that drug education reduces drug use? It is difficult to get details or answers, but I received some a couple of days ago. Did it involve thousands of people over tens of years? It involved 43 young children over the period of a year, and people are reaching conclusions on that basis. A report has been presented about the effects of the Ecstasy sorted campaign last year. I begged the Government to give me a copy, and they supplied assorted pages—pages 7, 8, 9, 14, 20, 87 and 64. They are concealing from me what I know. Perhaps they will admit today that the effects of the sortie campaign—which was a well-intentioned response following the death of Leah Betts—was to frighten parents, unreasonably so. However, it increased Ecstasy use.

There is a wealth of evidence from all over the world, and especially from America, that drug education increases drug use. The worst example was in the 1950s in America, where there were serious drug problems in all the major cities. It was decided to solve them by means of drug education using teams of ex-drug users. Those people had been through everything. With their long hair and guitars, they explained to the kids that drug use was bad. They said, "Look at us. We have been through it. We have been through all the drugs and have experienced degradation and sexual orgies. Drugs are wicked and dangerous and your parents do not want you to use them." One could not imagine a more irresistible recipe for young people. Young people know that they are immortal, and they are risk takers.

The policy of exaggerating the danger of some drugs has the appeal of forbidden fruit to young people. Much of what we have done is futile, and the evidence for that is in the figures. The Government have presented some figures to show that problems have evened out. I ask the hon. Member for Worthing, West to look at the figures which I shall send him showing what has happened over the past 20 years. There has been a continuous rise in all drug problems in Britain, including an increase in drug deaths and drug-related crime.

Our policies are not working, but the White Paper suggests that we should continue to implement them. There is next to nothing new in the White Paper. We must recognise that the only way to reduce drug harm is to separate soft drug use and hard drug use. We are learning about cannabis and I am sure that hon. Members will relate stories about its damaging effects. I am not suggesting that it should be used other than by people with serious illnesses. We have found two new ways of proceeding with cannabis: I have contributed to a splendid paper on that.

New dangers and problems have been found, but so have new medicinal uses. Cannabis affects the pressure on the inner eye. The Egyptians who built the pyramids 3,000 years ago used cannabis as an eye medicine, and we have now discovered that it reduces inter-ocular pressure. The new danger is that it has damaging effects, but no one suggests that it is an dangerous as the accepted drugs of our generation.

The equivalent of six prisons are filled with cannabis offenders at a cost of £60 million a year. There are plans to build 20 new prisons, each costing about £88 million. That is madness. If we continue to persecute people for using a drug that is less dangerous than, and nothing like as addictive as, acceptable drugs, we shall build up problems. If cannabis is decriminalised, we can save the £3 billion that is estimated to be wasted by prisons, courts and the police service on chasing young people for using their drug of choice. That money could be concentrated on the real drug problems, which come from eastern Europe and south America.

People say that the policy I am suggesting has no chance. It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) is not in his place. He has said that he used cannabis when he was a young man and is in favour of legalisation. He wrote a splendid article about it. Unfortunately, in the atmosphere that prevails in Britain it is more dangerous to say that one is in favour of legalising cannabis than it is to say that one is homosexual. There is more scalding public contempt for expressing an intelligent opinion than for coming out of the closet.

I was shocked on Monday by the gratuitous schoolboy insult that was thrown at an Opposition Member for rightly saying that the use of cannabis in our gaols is seen as a pacifier. There is evidence that the Government accept that. Gaols containing cannabis users are much easier to run. People on the wacky backy are quiet and docile and do not break the furniture as they would do if they were on alcohol. Some prisoners are on alcohol. The only serious Government attempt to clear drugs out of prison occurred at Everthorpe. Every drug, including alcohol, was cleared from that prison, and the result was three days of rioting and a bill for several million pounds to put matters right.

We did not get an intelligent response from the Government. When the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark) made his point on Monday, he received an answer unlike the one that we shall get from the Minister this morning.

In America in the 1930s there were those who said that decriminalisation of alcohol could never take place and that prohibition would never end. Many people now say that of drugs. I believe that cannabis will be legalised for medicinal use in two or three years' time, and for recreational use in four or five years' time. The Government will have to recognise that their policy is not working if they examine what is happening, now and in a year or two, when they are committed to judging it.

An American politician said in 1930 that prohibition would end on the day that a butterfly flew to the moon with the Washington monument tied to its tail. Three years later prohibition of alcohol came to an end. The prohibition of cannabis must come to an end very soon in this country, otherwise we will continue to increase all drug problems.

10.20 am
Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

One of the most annoying political falsehoods of recent years is the slur and the claim that the Liberal Democrats support the decriminalisation of drugs. I invite the Minister to confirm that that is not the view of the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Evans

The Liberal Democrats voted for decriminalisation.

Mr. Russell

The Liberal Democrats are not in favour of the legalisation of cannabis or any other banned drugs. We take the threat of drugs extremely seriously. We therefore proposed a royal commission to examine the threat of drugs and how best we can deal with that threat.

Mr. Evans

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Russell

The hon. Gentleman will have his go in a minute.

A royal commission is required to consider the issues involved more rationally than has been possible in the highly political debate of recent times. With drug use, particularly of soft drugs, being so commonplace, many have questioned the point of fighting against drugs. However, it is important to protect the weaker and more vulnerable members of society, the disturbed, the uneducated, the people who are easily led— Mr. Evans: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm to the House that the Liberal Democrat conference voted for the decriminalisation of cannabis, and also voted in favour of setting up a royal commission?

Mr. Russell

The policy of the Liberal Democrats is to set up a royal commission, as I have stated. I regret the politicking that is taking place, primarily outside the Chamber. The Liberal Democrats support a royal commission, and many other organisations and individuals have followed that line.

We need to examine the facts rationally so that we can channel resources and strategies towards protecting the vulnerable. We have heard from both sides of the Chamber today that the drugs problem is formidable. The number of drug seizures is growing, as is the number of cases coming before the courts and leading to prison sentences.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) suggested that the number of deaths from drugs could be minimized, but I am advised that the number of deaths in the United Kingdom attributable to the misuse of drugs increased to 1,805 in 1995.

In the context of the global drug problem, we know that raw material production is increasing, as is the production of synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy. The health and social consequences of drug abuse must be addressed. In their White Paper, the previous Government correctly identified the need to reinforce the law effectively and to reduce drug-related crime. There is broad party consensus.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Is it not a fact that the fastest-growing crime in our country is burglary, and that a great deal of that is believed to be rooted in the search for money and goods to sell, to pay for drugs? If we want to reduce crime, should we not take a different view of those who take the drugs—which is self-abuse—and of those who are the victims of drug users, because the drugs are so expensive?

Mr. Russell

That was a timely intervention, as I was about to deal with the need to discourage young people from taking drugs. I endorse the hon. Lady's comments about drug-related crime. In my constituency, crimes related to feeding the drug habit are a major issue.

I endorse the sentiments of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) on the need to get the message home to young people and to discourage them from taking drugs. I should like to think that the hon. Member for Newport, West also agreed with those sentiments, if not with every word that the hon. Gentleman said.

I am concerned about the public health aspect and the need to protect communities from health risks. A constituent of mine was stabbed in her leg with a syringe thrown away carelessly in a black bin liner by her neighbour. That lady now faces six to nine months of worry and anxiety about the health risks to which she may have been exposed. We all pray that there are none.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the White Paper "Tackling Drugs: To Build a Better Britain—The Government's Ten-Year Strategy for Tackling Drugs Misuse". We broadly support the four strands, which are, first, to help young people to resist drug misuse to achieve their full potential in society; secondly, to protect our communities—in Colchester the other week some drug pushers were taken out of society and put in a place that I would like to think was safe, although we know that the drug problem in prisons is growing; thirdly, to treat those with drug problems; and, fourthly, to stifle the availability of illegal drugs on our streets and at schools, dance halls and so on.

We welcome the White Paper as a realistic statement of the issues. We particularly welcome the focus on education for children aged between five and 16. That is the age range at which we should aim, to enable those children to resist the temptation of drugs. The earlier we intervene, the better.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

On what evidence is that premise based?

Mr. Russell

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the premise that people in prisons are taking drugs. He is a prison visitor. If he does not believe that statement, I suggest that he check it.

We will look to ensure the consistent availability of treatment programmes, rather than the patchy, overstretched provision currently offered. We agree with the Government's vision, but we are disappointed with the level of resources to meet it.

Drugs in prisons, as the Minister will confirm, are a massive problem. We hope that the Government will not take shortcuts in resourcing their proposals to rehabilitate drug users. We support greater continuity of care between prison and the community, especially for those serving short sentences, so that the cycle of drugs, crime and prison is broken.

In conclusion—there is only one conclusion—I invite the Minister to confirm Liberal Democrat support for a royal commission on the drugs culture. Will she give an assurance that the Government will support the setting up of a royal commission?

10.28 am
Mr. Alan Clark (Kensington and Chelsea)

On Monday, the important subject of drug misuse in prisons was raised three times during Home Office questions. The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Ms Quin), answered considerately and courteously, and cited statistics to show what the Home Office is doing—on the number of prison dogs and so forth—saying that she hoped that further announcements about Government strategy would be made in due course.

A little later, I asked her colleague, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), a question on the subject and paid him the courtesy of saying: The Minister may well be serious and sincere in his contention that he is trying to wage a war on drugs in prisons, but, if he looks more closely at the Prison Service, he will find that in many institutions their circulation is encouraged. That is generally accepted, and I shall cite further evidence in a minute. The hon. Gentleman's answer was very unsatisfactory. Clearly, he had no idea what he was talking about and was blustering—I should have been delighted if the Minister of State had answered. He concluded by saying: It is simply not true, and it is about time that he,"— talking about me— at his advanced age, grew up."—[Official Report, 11 May 1998; Vol. 312, c. 14.] We all enjoy that sort of thing, but it is usual to rely to a slightly greater extent on the strength of one's argument than on what the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) called "schoolboy insults".

Had I been so minded, I might have said that, before lowering himself to that level, the Under-Secretary should have assessed his own vulnerability to such remarks by looking in the mirror, because he is—

Mr. Peter Bottomley

He has not finished shaving.

Mr. Clark

Exactly. We should never reduce debate to that sort of level.

It has only been a couple of days since then, and not only have three Labour colleagues approached me about the subject and endorsed what I said, but I have had telephone calls from magistrates saying that it was perfectly true and something that must be brought out, and police officers have confirmed to me the validity of what I said. It is something that is well known.

Today, the Daily Mirror has run a story on the subject, consequent, I believe, on our exchanges in the House on Monday, which states: Jail bosses are going easy on inmates caught with cannabis"— by bosses, it presumably means governors— in a new bid to cut drug abuse behind bars. Instead they will target prisoners using more harmful hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The Minister will tell us whether that is a covert policy. Unfortunately, there is substantial evidence that some drugs—cannabis among them—are tolerated simply because they induce a degree of docility in prisoners, much as other drugs are used in other circumstances to lower the pressure and temperature inside an institution. The hon. Member for Newport, West gave the example of residential homes. That is playing into the hands of the drug barons and people who peddle drugs inside the institution. It is delegating power within the prisons to those who can provide the drugs.

If the hon. Lady were really serious about getting rid of drugs in prisons, she could do it. How? Target one prison at a time and prepare for the fact that the complete elimination of drugs within the building will, in all probability, lead to a riot, as it has done in the past—the hon. Member for Newport, West gave an example. One would have to have the resources standing by and everything available needed to deal with it. One would have to go through the trauma of whatever crisis it might induce, but then the institution would be free of drugs. One could move on from one institution to the next. Such action is perfectly possible—it may well be administratively undesirable and inconvenient. It is not true that one cannot stop drugs going into prisons and being circulated inside the prison walls. If the will is there, it can be done, in one prison at a time, with the maximum application of resources.

The editorial in the Daily Mirror today states: But why are there drugs in prison at all? They might as well open pubs and nightclubs in them. Surely being in jail is a good opportunity to put drug-takers on cold turkey and wean them off the addiction. Admittedly, that is a somewhat crude response.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

The right hon. Gentleman made some serious allegations when he asked his question on Monday. He said that the circulation of drugs in prisons was being "encouraged" by prison staff and that there was free circulation of narcotics in prisons. First, what hard evidence of that can he send to the Government? Secondly, how many prisons has he visited in the past few months to substantiate those allegations?

Mr. Clark

The answer to the second question is none. One does not need to visit a prison to substantiate accusations of that sort. I will certainly send the hon. Lady a dossier of the people who have written to me, and they include former prisoners. I am surprised that she should try to confront the problem so directly. Perhaps I should have said not "encouraged", but tolerated. I will be very surprised if she really denies that, because she has a completely different reputation to that of her junior colleague. She knows her brief and her subject. Why does she not talk to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has gone on record and said that, among many other things— Mr. Peter Bottomley: It was the chief inspector.

Mr. Clark

Yes; I stand corrected by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Flynn

The Minister has been sent copies of evidence given to the parliamentary drugs misuse group not only by the chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, but by three ex-prisoners—articulate and intelligent people, who said that drug use in prison is precisely as the right hon. Gentleman described it.

Mr. Clark

Yes. The House must allow the Minister to concentrate her mind on the issue. She is denying accusations on the basis of I do not know what briefing from officials in her Department, but she is setting her opinion—and, presumably, their advice—against that of Sir David Ramsbotham and the expressed opinion, based on experience, of police officers, magistrates and former prisoners. That is a tide of evidence that runs so strong that I am surprised the hon. Lady should simply resist it. Unless she accepts it and takes it on board, the strategy to which she referred and of which she has promised us further details in due course—perhaps she can give us a little trailer this morning—will be completely valueless.

I shall conclude, but perhaps the hon. Lady will clearly say whether she denies that the circulation of narcotics in some prisons is tolerated by the staff—I suppose that she has to say that. Will she proceed from that to say that that does not happen and, if so, what she is going to do about it? Does she accept my argument that, if she is serious about the problem, she can tackle it by dealing with one prison at a time, making all the appropriate provisions for disturbance that may follow a genuine attempt to root drugs out of Her Majesty's prisons?

10.38 am
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

This has been an interesting debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) on securing one on such an important subject. I agree with him on many points, in particular his valuable remarks about addressing young people through the medium of youth culture, which is realistic and important. I also agree with his generous tribute to our right hon. Friend Lord Newton, whom we knew better as Tony Newton, the former Lord President of the Council, who played such a leading role in producing the strategy "Tackling Drugs Together". He worked hard to that end.

This subject is so important for so many of our constituents, and I wonder whether the House spends long enough debating it. I do not want to make too partisan a point, but it was noticeable that, on this immensely important and complex subject, out of all the hundreds of Labour Members, only one actively participated, making a passionate speech in favour of the legalisation of cannabis.

The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) honourably holds the views that he expresses on this subject, and he is something of an expert. It seemed that his speech had been fermenting for some while, and it took him more than a little while to make it. The hon. Gentleman began with a passionate plea on behalf of cannabis. He went through a list of statistics and arguments and then talked about the legalisation and harm reduction of other drugs. The hon. Gentleman spoke especially about Ecstasy. In itself, his speech was a worrying sign of how easy it is to open the door for one drug, only to find that we are opening the doors for other drugs. That is how the hon. Gentleman's speech left me.

With all respect, I profoundly disagree with the hon. Member for Newport, West. His arguments do not set out any way of tackling the problems of hard and soft drugs. In legalising soft drugs, we would be taking a step backwards, whereas we must take two steps forward to tackle the problem of hard drugs.

The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Russell) began by seeking to defend the Liberal Democrat policy, as though that was the most important issue regarding drugs. I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Gentleman, because he is no longer in his place, but it is my distinct recollection that those who attended the Liberal Democrat conference voted in favour of the legalisation of cannabis. That was followed shortly afterwards by a vote in favour of establishing a royal commission on the same subject. That happened after the leader of the Liberal Democrats had become a little agitated. As I said, I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Member for Colchester, because he is no longer in his place. It is right that he made common ground with the rest of us in wanting to fight drugs. It was clear that he realised the importance of this subject.

Indeed, it is an immensely important subject. There can be few of us in this place who do not have, for example, head teachers in our constituencies who are worried about the problem of drugs, or the potential problem, in their schools. There can be few families where parents do not have somewhere in their minds a lurking fear that, one day, their children will come into contact with illegal, controlled drugs. They will be worried about the effects that may flow from that. Sad to say, this is an immensely important subject for millions of families and for communities and schools throughout the country. The Minister must grasp how high are the public's expectations for action to be taken. They want the Government to give a clear lead. They want them to realise the importance of the issue.

Two weeks ago, we had the presentation of the drugs tsar's strategy. The appointment of a drugs tsar was one of the Government's principal initiatives in this context. We welcome any beneficial influence that can be brought to bear on such a complex problem. At the same time, we recognise that in the Government's criteria the position of the drugs tsar is advisory and presentational. The drugs tsar is not responsible for Executive action. We look to Ministers and to the Government generally for a clear lead, commitment and action. Action must be taken by Ministers, who have Executive responsibility, to give the subject of drugs the importance that it deserves.

We think that prevention and treatment are important and that emphasis must be placed on both approaches. With that in mind, we were slightly surprised by the Department of Health's recent consultation paper "Our Healthier Nation". As the Minister may know, it contains barely a mention of the problem of drugs. We think that drugs constitute an important issue in health terms. The mention made of the problem in the consultation paper was to the effect that the Government had a drugs tsar, who was proposing a strategy. For its part, the strategy of the drugs tsar referred to "Our Healthier Nation" and the efforts of the Department of Health. We look to the Department to give this subject the priority that it deserves.

I do not know whether the Minister can assist us, but we would be interested to know whether waiting lists for drug treatment, for example, are monitored. Any information on that would be welcome. We would be interested to know especially whether waiting lists for drug treatment are increasing, as they seem to be in other areas, or diminishing.

The Government have set great store on the introduction of drug treatment and testing orders. We welcome the orders, but we recognise that, however they may be presented by the Government, they represent only an incremental and possibly even a marginal change to what already exists in the form of probation orders with a condition for treatment. We are surprised that this important new policy, which has been put forward by the Government as one of their principal approaches to tackling the drugs problem, will not be implemented generally for nearly another two years. In the meantime, there will be only a few hundred drug treatment and testing orders in pilot areas. It is something that we shall watch carefully.

We shall watch carefully also how much is made available by the Government in the way of new resources to assist in the treatment of drug problems. The Government set great store by the £5 million that they estimated will be available from the seizure of drug barons' assets to fund health care in this area. Again, we welcome the provision of £5 million, but we would like to know a little about how certain the Government can be that this provision will be made every year.

Can it be guaranteed that £5 million will be available every year? Given the importance of drug treatment and providing resources to treat people, especially young people, so as to get them off drugs and out of a drugs way of life, £5 million is a small sum. We are looking to the Government for a much clearer lead and a greater commitment to providing resources to show that the Government are prepared to take clear action.

We have heard something about the link between drugs and crime and the increased use of heroin. We think that there is some evidence, as does the Government's drugs tsar, of an increase in the use of heroin. I was struck by figures that the Government made available in a written answer to me. It appears from a Government strategy that 60 per cent. of all those arrested for offences—any offences—had been misusing drugs. Nearly 20 per cent. of them had been misusing heroin. Those are worrying statistics. We know that they are borne out by the experience of the police and of those who work in the Prison Service. We invite the Government to accept that drug abuse among young people is a significant factor in crime, especially in drug-addicted crime, where addicts steal to fuel their addiction. My hon. Friends have rightly referred to that.

Against the background of the link between drugs and crime, and given what we know about drugs and prison, we were surprised by what the Government announced yesterday about mandatory drug testing in prisons. We know that it is difficult to deal with drugs in prisons. However, the Minister admitted yesterday that mandatory drugs testing was showing success and reducing the number of prisoners testing positive. Given that one policy is showing signs of success in a difficult area, we find it extremely strange that the Government would want to relax that policy in any way. That seems to defy common sense and logic.

Our worries were increased by the warm response from the hon. Member for Newport, West to the Government's relaxation of mandatory drugs testing. The hon. Gentleman is passionately in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, and he interpreted the Government's move as one in that direction. The hon. Gentleman is not alone. It appears that others have taken the same cue from the Government. We think that the Government were sending out a confused and mixed message. The Minister shakes her head, but that is the message that has gone out. We look to the Government to send out a clear message that all drug taking is wrong and that the Government will take a clear lead in the fight against drugs. Testing in prisons was valuable in respect of all drugs. It was detecting all drugs, including heroin, and not only cannabis. We are concerned that the testing has been relaxed.

As I said, we look to the Government for a clear lead and for commitment. We shall give constructive support to the Government. We know that there has been cross-party support in the past. At the same time, we are looking for clear action and a demonstration of commitment. Let us have an approach that goes beyond presentation and has a direct effect on the problem, which matches the huge concerns throughout the country. There are high expectations among millions of parents. That concern is shared by teachers and communities. There is a wish for the Government to give a clear lead in this difficult area and to show their commitment to tackling drugs. We expect nothing less.

10.49 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) on choosing this subject for debate and on the characteristically thoughtful way in which he introduced it. It is good to see the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton) on the Front Bench. I congratulate her warmly on her appointment. We welcomed her contribution and reaction to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons on the Government's drugs strategy.

There have been several contributions to the debate; obviously, they have been made by hon. Members who feel strongly about the issues, and they have raised some important points. I welcome the thrust of the contribution by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). There were many points made during the debate with which I agree and some from Opposition Members and my hon. Friends with which I do not agree. I shall refer to those comments, particularly to some of the questions directed to me by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Clark).

The misuse of drugs, as hon. Members have recognised, raises a range of complicated and interlocking issues. In the short time available to me, I shall concentrate mainly on the threat posed to young people by drug misuse and on the crime generated by an addict's need to buy drugs. Both those themes came out strongly during the debate.

The hon. Member for Worthing, West talked about the need to look at changing attitudes and changing culture, and made some interesting points. He looked also at the effects of drug-related crime, the havoc that it can cause in some neighbourhoods and the individual heartbreak that it can cause to victims of such crimes.

Information on the level of drug misuse is hard to obtain, and I do not believe that any simple statement about whether the problem is getting better or worse is likely to do justice to the complex reality. However, clearer information is emerging from research both on the levels of drug misuse in the general population and on the extent and nature of drug-related crime. I believe that that improving research can help us draw up effective policies in response.

We are looking at a serious problem. On some measures it is stabilising and on others the trend remains alarming. For that reason, there can be no room for complacency, and there should not be any facile assumption that we are losing the war against drugs or that the cause is lost. I do not believe that; nor do the Government.

We know that young people are increasingly exposed to illegal drugs, as well as to alcohol and tobacco at even earlier ages. Some young people may be at particular risk because of other problems, perhaps to do with their family, housing, education or employment prospects. The activities of the Home Office drugs prevention initiative have included important work with young people. From that, we are finding that young people are concerned about drug-related risks and worried about the dangers. I believe that people, including young people, want reliable information about drugs. It is possible to reach those particularly at risk through existing services, but we need to stop as many youngsters as possible from experimenting with drugs. I believe that drug education can play an important role in that.

Recently, the Home Office drugs prevention initiative published an evaluation of one life skills drugs education programme. The objectives of the programme were to equip youngsters with the social competence necessary to cope with the pressure to begin using drugs, to enhance their self-awareness and self-esteem and increase their knowledge of the harmful consequences of substance misuse. The children from the programme were followed up four years after their initial involvement. The programme was piloted in three primary schools in Hackney in 1991–92 and the children were aged 13 to 14 when they were followed up in 1996.

The findings showed that those young people had a more negative attitude toward drugs than their contemporaries. They demonstrated a greater ability to resist peer pressure, which is an important part of the process, and were less likely than their contemporaries to have used legal or illegal drugs. Those encouraging findings provide important evidence on what works. They help to support the arguments that have been made for investing in drugs education and prevention for young people, which is part of our new drugs strategy.

Mr. Flynn

I believe that my hon. Friend is referring to Operation Charlie. May we consider bigger anti-drug propaganda and educational activities such as those which have been run for many years against the use of cigarettes? Does my hon. Friend judge those to have been successful with young people?

Ms Quin

Obviously, there have been mixed results. It is possible to change attitudes and culture, and the evidence quoted this morning on drink driving was an interesting example. We need to learn lessons from such experience, to find the most effective way to deal with the problem. It is obviously important to look at ways of imparting information and connecting with young people in a relevant way. The hon. Member for Worthing, West referred to some of those approaches.

I shall look now at the link between drugs and crime. Until fairly recently, our perception of the extent and nature of drug-related crime was ill defined. Various estimates of the extent of such crime had been made, but Home Office research published last month is helping to clarify the picture.

That research involved interviewing and urine testing a range of people held in police custody in five locations—Sunderland, Nottingham, Cambridge, Hammersmith in London and Trafford in Manchester. It showed that the level of drug misuse among offenders was remarkably high compared with the general population. More than 61 per cent. of arrestees proved to have one or more prohibited drugs in their urine and 27 per cent. tested positive for two or more prohibited drugs. As a result of that research, we believe that referral systems at court level, as well as early intervention, will be particularly important in trying to get people off drugs at that stage.

I was interested to visit the "Get It While You Can" project in Brighton which involves going to see people who are being held in police custody and encouraging them to be referred to treatment services at that early stage. I believe that that early referral is extremely important in helping to tackle drug misuse and drug-related crime, which is so clearly revealed by the statistics.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere said that drug treatment and testing orders were an important part of the Government's proposals. That is true and we want to build on it. We will pilot that programme to see what lessons we can learn in the early months. I can tell the hon. Gentleman clearly that we are determined to take that programme forward. We believe that it will be an important part of our strategy.

I shall now say something about drugs in prison, about which I know that there is great interest. Unfortunately, I have only a couple of minutes left.

I do not accept many of the comments made by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea, and I urge him to visit some prison establishments and to talk to prison staff and prison governors. The Prison Service is a disciplined service. It is given a framework in which it has to operate by the Government and the Director General of the Prison Service. That framework is built on a clear anti-drugs strategy, which was introduced by the Conservative party when in government. As the hon. Member for Hertsmere pointed out, that has had some success.

This is a considerable problem, so I shall certainly not gloss over it and say that there are no drugs in prisons or take a view that is artificially opposed to that expressed by the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea. However, I am absolutely certain that the right hon. Gentleman's extravagant comments are simply not borne out by the facts.

Mr. Alan Clark

It is the director general.

Ms Quin

It is not the director general. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand the difference between the Director General of the Prison Service and the chief inspector of prisons. Although the chief inspector of prisons has rightly drawn attention to problems in some prison establishments, he has not expressed himself in the way that the right hon. Gentleman did at Home Office Question Time on Monday, when he completely overstated the problem and tried to convince us that drugs were somehow encouraged in prisons. That is simply not the case. The results of mandatory drugs testing, as well as a panoply of measures on security, searches, testing and penalties, which we have added—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. We must now move on to the debate on plutonium disposition policy.

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