HC Deb 04 May 1999 vol 330 cc688-9
5. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East)

If he will make a statement on the extent to which the requirements on the NHS to deal with the effects of drug addiction and abuse are increasing or decreasing. [81812]

The Minister for Public Health (Ms Tessa Jowell)

A key objective of the Government's drugs strategy, "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain", is to increase the participation of problem drug misusers in drug treatment programmes. The number of users starting drug treatment in all agencies, including the national health service, has increased from 17,684 in the six months ending March 1994 to 23,916 in the six months ending March 1998.

Sir Teddy Taylor

In the light of that serious information, do the Government accept that hepatitis C, which stems from needle abuse, is reaching epidemic proportions in some parts of the country? Is the Minister willing to look into the matter and consider whether sufficient resources and attention are being given to this serious and worsening problem?

Ms Jowell

I certainly take the hon. Gentleman's point about the risks posed by hepatitis C, from which drug users are particularly at risk. We are considering how to reduce its prevalence among those who persistently misuse drugs.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Is it not a disgrace that Opposition Front Benchers should deliberately encourage the use of a drug that kills 1,000 times more people every year than heroin? I refer to the deadly, addictive drug tobacco. The official Opposition are complaining and asking for the price of tobacco to be reduced, even though there is irrefutable evidence that every time the price is increased, its use declines. Will my right hon. Friend condemn the official Opposition for that blatant attempt at drug pushing?

Ms Jowell

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that this is another example of the Opposition in disarray, which is a daily occurrence. An Opposition Member has today criticised the Government's stance on raising tobacco taxation, whereas the right hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mrs. Bottomley), a former Secretary of State for Health, claimed that tobacco taxation is crucial in reducing deaths caused by smoking. We have double-speak from the Opposition, and once again we have Tory disarray.