HC Deb 16 June 2003 vol 407 cc4-5
2. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

What discussions he has had with the Scottish Justice Minister regarding the co-ordination of UK drugs policy. [119012]

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

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) last met the Scottish Deputy Justice Minister, Hugh Henry MSP, at the British-Irish Council meeting on 7 February. A programme of drug-related activities was agreed at that meeting to improve co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations and to share experiences and good practice.

John Barrett

I congratulate the Minister on her new appointment. Are there any plans to work with the new Justice Minister to reduce the amount of drugs entering the country, both north and south of the border? What message can she send to my constituents to prove that everything that can be done is being done?

Caroline Flint

The Scottish Executive are also represented on a number of cross-Government official groups and committees and there is strong liaison north and south of the border. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government and the Scottish Executive take the abuse of drugs, and the crime that emanates from it, very seriously. It is a major priority for the Government.

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Given that 90 per cent. of the heroin on the streets of Scotland—and on the streets of Doncaster—originates from poppies grown in Afghanistan, may I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the recent report from United Nations inspectors, which says that this year's poppy harvest is likely to be a record bumper crop? Can she give me an assurance that every step will be taken to ensure that that poppy harvest does not become the raw opium that becomes heroin on the streets of Scotland and Doncaster, leading to devastation for her constituents and mine?

Caroline Flint

My hon. Friend raises an important matter. We need to deal with the source from which drugs come, and I am pleased to inform him that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary met the Afghan President only last week. Some £150 million of UK money is being provided to tackle the problem. I know that my hon. Friend works hard on the issue and I will ensure that his comments are drawn to the attention of the appropriate Ministers.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

I welcome the Minister to her new role. Is she aware that one of the major ways to address the drugs problem north and south of the border is by a massive increase in rehabilitation facilities? Will she commit to learning the lessons from experience in both England and Scotland through consultation? That obviously did not happen on Thursday when the post of Secretary of State for Scotland was first abolished, and then reinstated.

Caroline Flint

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. What happened last week is not relevant. The Home Secretary has overall responsibility for the UK strategy on drugs and the Scottish Executive have responsibility for implementing strategies and deciding priorities in Scotland. There is no change there, regardless of changes to the position of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Treatment is very important, and we recognise that north and south of the border. We know that we have to do more in that area, but we are providing resources on a massive scale to ensure that people get the treatment that they need, according to their needs and when they need it.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. Does she agree that the recovery of drug dealers' assets is an important weapon in the fight against the drug trade? What mechanisms exist to ensure co-operation between the Assets Recovery Agency in England and Wales and the Crown Office, which is responsible for asset recovery in Scotland? Does she agree that an equally stringent regime on both sides of the border is necessary to prevent drug dealers from moving around to try to take advantage of an apparently more lenient regime?

Caroline Flint

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If we are going to make progress, it is essential to have co-operation between all the agencies involved. I am only three days into my job, but it will be an issue that I will seek to look at. I welcome any representations from Members of Parliament or their constituents on how the matter is dealt with, locally, regionally and nationally.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath)

I congratulate the Minister on her appointment and welcome her to the Dispatch Box. When she considers the Home Office's responsibilities for drug strategy, will she bear in mind the great anger in all parts of the country—not only Scotland—at the fact that British taxpayers' money is used to purchase and supply hard drugs to prisoners in Scottish prisons? Will she also bear in mind the fact that anti-drugs campaigners are very angry about the messages given on the Home Office's Talk to Frank website, which appear to provide excuses for drug taking rather than to steer children away from drugs?

Caroline Flint

We do not provide any excuse for drug taking. I will look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises in relation to prisons, but I am afraid that I do not have the information to hand. We take the situation very seriously, and our priority is to tackle hard drugs—class A drugs—because they cause the most harm to individuals and provoke the most crime.