HC Deb 14 July 2003 vol 409 cc16-8
10. Mr Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

If he will make a statement on his policy on non-custodial sentencing options for repeat drug-related offences. [125063]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department(Caroline Flint)

Effective treatment is the key to reducing drug-related crime. The courts have access to sentencing options, including drug treatment and testing orders, community rehabilitation orders or community punishment and rehabilitation orders, drug abstinence orders and drug abstinence requirements. I am pleased that the Criminal Justice Bill will provide for all community orders for adults to he combined into one generic order that can be tailored to the individual offender's requirements, including participation in drug treatment.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I belatedly add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary on her new promotion. I am sure that she is well aware of the Government's drugs strategy, which says that investment in drugs treatment is cost-effective, although perhaps not in the way that the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety envisaged. Nevertheless, the strategy claims that every £1 spent saves the criminal justice system an estimated £3. Does she not agree that the Conservative policy of increasing places for hard drugs young offenders from 2,000 to 20,000, so that every young addict can be treated, makes eminent good sense?

Caroline Flint

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. However, with all due respect, you have to put your money where your mouth is. It is all very well Conservative Members talking about numbers, but given that they are also considering 20 per cent. cuts in public spending, the figures do not add up.

The Government spent £438 million on drug treatment in 2002–03. That figure will increase to £503 million in 2003–04. That is real money for genuine need. We believe that our efforts to target the drug problems that cause crime, including non-custodial sentencing through drug treatment orders, is the way forward. Much remains to be done but the Government are taking the matter seriously and are prepared to put the money where it counts.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham)

Let me say to my good and hon. Friend that the war against drugs is simply not working. Indeed, much evidence shows that it is a total failure. Drugs are more freely and cheaply available throughout our country and the police are swimming against a tide that they cannot turn back. To be honest, the Government must now be radical: they must either go for total legalisation or start chopping people's hands off. Since I would prefer the former, is it not time for the Government to admit their failure in the war against drugs, and, as in any war that one is losing, to change the strategy entirely?

Caroline Flint

I am afraid that I disagree with my hon. Friend's assumption that we are losing the war. From travelling around the country last week, and speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers conference on drugs, it is clear that We are making huge inroads into breaking up drugs trafficking. That has resulted in the figures for the people caught for such offences. However, it is widely appreciated and welcomed that we must focus on the class A drugs that cause the most harm to the individual and communities and lead to crime. That position is endorsed by the police and by those involved in the treatment of people suffering from drug addiction. We shall embark on such a course and continue to keep to it; that is how we shall achieve success and results.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

May I, too, belatedly welcome the hon. Lady to her post, in which she arrived just before I arrived in mine? Does she accept the international surveys that suggest—echoing the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks)—that we now have the third highest incidence of hard drug users in the EU after Italy and Luxembourg? Does she also accept that the desperate shortage of in-patient treatment facilities for hard drug users is a large part of the cause of that? Does she really think it right that we have roughly the same number of in-patient beds as Sweden, which has one eighth of the population of the United Kingdom?

Caroline Flint

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his Front Bench and thank him for his welcome to me. We now have 3,000 residential places, which is twice as many as five years ago, but it is not enough. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would recognise, however, that residential treatment is not the only answer, and that we also have to provide care for people leaving it. I was in Bristol only a few weeks ago, speaking to people involved in the Bristol drugs project. I spoke to drug users, all of whom had been in residential treatment, and they told me that they had been let down by the aftercare. We have to look at this picture in the round, and ensure that treatment is provided for different needs. I am pleased to say that the provision of services across the board is going up and the waiting times are going down.