HL Deb 09 December 1997 vol 584 cc117-40

10.12 p.m.

Lord Layton rose to ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the appointment of a "Drugs Czar" from the police force, what direction their policy will take and how the funding will be allocated.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it was with a certain amount of misgiving that I read that the Government had appointed a "drugs czar" to head up their fight against drug addiction in this country. That is not because I have anything against Mr. Hellawell or his deputy, who both have the right credentials and, what is more, the right understanding necessary to deal with the problem. No, my objection is to the term "drugs czar", which imitates the title of Mr. Hellawell's counterpart in the US. They have had little joy with the anti-drugs programme over there. If the Government are thinking of following the direction of the American programme there is little hope of success. What is needed in this country is a radical change in the approach by government. I shall lead up to that change, which is the main object behind the Question.

As a large part of the subject with which we are dealing concerns the illegal use of drugs, I shall speak briefly about the law and enforcement. On the whole. there is no point in prosecuting drug users for possession or use of drugs. In most cases they should be treated as victims rather than perpetrators of criminal activity. However, that said, they must take responsibility for any other criminal activities in which they take part. These days custodial sentences tend to lead to increased rather than diminished drug use, and will continue to do so while rehabilitation programmes in prison are inadequate and drugs are rife.

The full weight of the law should concentrate upon the suppliers of addictive substances at all levels. No police force in the world can hope completely to eradicate the supply of drugs, since they are fighting the most incredibly rich and powerful multinational organisations imaginable, but the fight can go on. The punishment inflicted upon suppliers must be draconian to discourage any participation in the trade.

One of the most serious and sad problems that besets the country at the moment is the consumption and abuse of alcohol by minors. Once again, the target should not be the children but the suppliers. Those who supply alcohol to minors should be treated in a mandatory way, using the same approach as is used against those who drink and drive. If a publican loses his licence and hence his livelihood that is a fitting punishment for his irresponsible behaviour. The laws as they stand need to be enforced, then perhaps some progress will be made.

I cannot agree with decriminalisation. The emphasis should be moved away from the user, but as cannabis is still a "gateway" drug suppliers should be punished. However, there should be a move away from the easier option of chasing cannabis towards the more difficult task of chasing the hard drugs.

The backbone of any drugs policy must be education, which must start at a very early age. Only by indoctrinating—and I mean indoctrinating—our children about the evils and ultimately degrading nature of drugs and drug dependency can we hope to secure their futures. They need to be taught these evils alongside the concepts of right and wrong, which everyone understands and accepts even though they may not adhere to them. Only by understanding inherently the harm which drugs can do to the self, like a baby quickly understands that flames burn, will the avoidance of drugs become second nature.

The second part of education that is of considerable importance is the education of ourselves; that is, you and I and the ordinary man in the street. We must understand that people with dependencies are victims—I use that word again—and that they need our compassion and not our approbation. People with dependencies are suffering and must be treated as such. They are as ill as the Aids or cancer sufferers. Would you turn your back on them? Perhaps I may read from something given to me by a person in recovery. I have had to change some of the words. First, you start using for pleasure and fun and it's good. Then you start using to take away negative feelings and it works for a bit—makes you feel better. Then it stops making you feel better and you realise that it is time to stop. Then you try and you realise you can't. And you don't feel any change when you use, and the pain doesn't go away, and you still can't stop. That is the most frightening thing of all".

Over the years, alcohol has become a more socially acceptable dependency. Society has seen enough of it to extend a helping hand perhaps because it is legal and, as many people say as they down a pint, "There but for the grace of God go I", and so forth. We must extend that helping hand to all colours of the dependency spectrum.

I turn to the third war zone in the fight against dependencies, which is rehabilitation. I call it a war zone because like all the previous aspects there are many separate battlefields. If education is the backbone surely rehabilitation is the heart. Rehabilitation is a very intense and long-drawn-out process. Most doctors agree that three months is probably the minimum time for effective treatment. As a result, it is a very costly affair.

In the early 1960s there were between 400 and 500 registered drug addicts in this country. At that time, about 100 NHS beds were available for specialist drug treatment with no time limit specified as to how long the treatment should last. By the end of that decade the number of addicts had increased to about 2,000 and had become the cause of concern.

Since then the number of addicts has risen more than 20-fold to more than 45,000—and that is a conservative estimate. Today there are about 100 NHS beds available for specialist drug treatment. And to say that there is a large number of beds available in general mental wards begs the question, as the treatment under those circumstances is on the whole inadequate and basically a waste of resources.

Luckily, the private sector has done very well during the past few years, expanding to meet the demands of the ever increasing problem. That is fine if you are a well-heeled drug user or your insurance company recognises your chosen treatment centre. But what of your average NHS drug addict? His chances of finding an NHS berth are remote and if he does, because of the enormous demand, the time allowed for treatment has been reduced from the no time limit, as in the 1960s, to, currently, 28 days with a great deal of consideration being given by management to a further reduction to 14 days. I prefer to make no comment on that.

If the NHS patient is lucky in where he lives, he will have a champion who will perhaps get him into the private sector with funding arranged through the addict's local council. It may still take months. And when he is in recovery, where does that vulnerable person go? If he relapses, his chances of being accepted into treatment are greatly diminished. Yet it is an accepted fact that sometimes treatment must be repeated several times, just like for the cancer patient who needs radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

Where does that person go when the treatment is finished? Protected housing is available but, unfortunately. it is not as protected as it claims to be. Therefore, that is another avenue for funding by government and investment by the private sector.

Three main ingredients are needed in rehabilitation: first, crisis wards along the lines of the one at the Maudsley Hospital to catch the drug addict at his lowest point; secondly, funding for treatment—with the money available, the centres will follow; thirdly, funding through benefits for protected housing.

I shall take the second of those points as it most graphically highlights the problems. As I said before, treatment for dependency is an expensive and time-consuming occupation. Because of the uneven and at times non-existent funds available through local government's limited allocations, it is essential that central government handle the funding if rehabilitation is to be successful.

I should also like to see a change in the Government's policy in relation to the registration of counsellors as reiterated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. on 4th November at col. 1321 of Hansard when she said that the Government have no plans to introduce statutory registration. Perhaps if the Government are involved in spending funds, they will insist that counsellors are registered and regulated as they always should have been.

But which ministry gets to spend whose funds and on what? The drugs problem crosses boundaries between health and education, social security and employment, and environment and the Home Office; and do not forget the Treasury. How can any solution be found if those boundaries are not eliminated? How can any drugs czar expect to carry out any policy if he has no executive power?

The drugs czar in the United States is a perfect example of that failure. Although its programme has not been successful for the reasons I have stated, the Americans have come up with some extremely robust statistics about rehabilitation. For every one dollar per day spent on keeping an addict in treatment, whether he relapses or not, the savings in terms of health, law enforcement and all the ancillaries is seven dollars per day. There is a short-term answer that serves also to solve the long-term situation: make funding available; saturate the market with treatment centres; and look at the savings to be made. But unless the government can make the necessary radical changes and invest the programme with executive powers, any drugs policy they have will be nothing but window dressing.

I should now like to thank all noble Lords who have waited so long to speak in the debate. I leave it to them to put some flesh on my bones. I await with great interest the noble and learned Lord's reply for the Government.

10.24 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Wakefield

My Lords, I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House and for the helpful encouragement and advice that I have been most kindly given by the Officers of the House, both before and since my introduction.

The appointment of the new anti-drugs co-ordinator has been greeted with some dismay and concern in the West Yorkshire area of my diocese. We are dismayed at losing an excellent chief constable and we are concerned lest, through lack of adequate support for him in terms of policy and funding, our loss will turn out to have been in vain.

As the noble Lord, Lord Layton, indicated, there is no doubt that Mr. Hellawell has the experience and the vision required for the job. Long before it was fashionable, he was advocating special drugs courts which would not simply send people to prison but would sentence them to be treated for their addiction. The sadly increasing drug problem for which he is to recommend a new national strategy is certainly evident in my west and south Yorkshire area: young girls who, in order to pay for crack cocaine, become prostitutes as young as 12; and experimentation with heroin which is also starting among 12 year-olds.

In one area of my diocese there has been a 300 per cent. increase in heroin use since 1992. A kilo of heroin bought in Liverpool for £18,000 will, when sold to our local people, produce profits totalling £250,000. I am very distressed that one of my parishes, once famed for its colliery, is now known as the heroin capital of south Yorkshire.

The reasons why people become addicted to heroin are complex; and I know that it is not true that deprivation and high unemployment inevitably link with illicit drug use. Nevertheless, those of us who know these coalfield communities well can see the obvious correlation between this new level of addiction and the sudden and tragic devastation of the local economy, which took place five years ago. Male unemployment in one of my pit villages is at 40 per cent. and, in some parts of it, 90 per cent. It is tragic that the bodies, minds and spirits of the young people there are being nurtured in such an atmosphere of hopelessness in which, of course, drugs find easy targets.

I am very concerned by the suggestion in the 19th September edition of the British Crime Survey that the focus of drug taking is now moving northwards—and that at a time when, nationally, the key level of primary contact on the ground with drug users has, for the most part, broken down. Effective co-ordination between those working with drug users happens all too rarely. Funding for local assessment and groundwork is, sadly, getting less. In Tower Hamlets a number of innovative projects, including those working with Asian drug users, have disappeared through cuts in health authority funding. I believe that there is a case for the excellent drug action teams to have more strategic influence over funding, and for the very good drug reference groups to have more drug users on them. I believe that I am right in saying that only 15 per cent. of them really have the opportunity to listen to people who are on drugs. We need to follow the practice in the United States which 1 hear is a very good practice of "Street Voice" in Baltimore or "Outside" in Portland which are groups that actively listen to what drug users are saying.

The Church has long been active in such matters, not least in pressing, since the 1960s, for more education and preventive work; and, indeed, in reaching those who are detached from contact with existing services. Here I am thinking especially of detached young people. The Young Womens Christian Association's Maze project in the East End was funded to do precisely this by the former Urban Programme. Then the local health authority took over the funding, and cut its grant without warning. As a result young people who were being helped have now been further damaged.

It is youth workers who are often the first point of contact for the street drug user. Their informal style of education, and informal pastoral support, are absolutely crucial to the kind of tasks that Mr. Hellawell has been appointed to perform. But the youth service is claimed to have been so seriously underfunded as to be near its demise, and certainly not capable of giving the kind of support in that crucial area which Mr. Hellawell will certainly need.

The noble Lord, Lord Layton, has rightly emphasised the importance of aftercare and rehabilitation. During the 1960s many aftercare centres were run by Christian groups, one of which, the Coke Hole Trust in Andover, is still active. In fact it is the small, intensive residential group work which is so good for aftercare and rehabilitation. There are examples such as the excellent Langley House Trust which give good credence to that. But I am afraid that many others have collapsed, again through lack of funding on the ground. The director of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence recently described rehabilitation as the Cinderella of the drug services. The whole story is remarkably sad. But all who are concerned with drug users on the ground know that their crucial work can be saved or wrecked by government policy and levels of funding.

I believe that the Government deserve to be congratulated on bringing into this uncertain area a drugs czar who has a welcome vision. But his vision will not become a reality unless the Government maintain a tough international policy on drugs and the evil syndicates; it will not become a reality unless the Government next year adopt a policy that is in tune with Mr. Hellawell's sensitively nuanced approach and his likely recommendations; and it will certainly not become a reality unless there is better co-ordinated and adequate local funding for the workers and agencies who are there on the ground alongside those who are at risk or already addicted. Without such levels of support he may find it impossible to do his job. Were that to happen, we would like our chief constable back!

10.33 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, I am sure the whole House will agree with me that we have heard a most excellent maiden speech. It is not for nothing that the right reverend Prelate is known as the people's Bishop; that is very fitting in the days of new Labour. He is a man who gets about. Although he now proudly displays his West Yorkshire badge, he is of course a Lancastrian who likes Yorkshire. He has been in many places round the country, Taunton, Sarum, and now Wakefield. He is a radical in many respects in many Church matters, as I am sure many noble Lords know. I believe that his speech today indicates that he will contribute many times to our debates. I welcome him to our House.

First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Layton, for tabling this Question. I must declare an interest: I chair a management committee of a charity, City Roads, which is a 24 hour, pan-London service which treats drug addicts. Drug addicts are referred to us and we have a small number of beds. We look after addicts and reassimilate them into the community. I am glad to say that the return rate is not high. In many senses, the community consists of some of the most deprived people. Drug addiction, especially in the cities, has race and gender dimensions. With women addicts, there is the welfare of children to consider.As the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and the right reverend Prelate said, on the issue of drug addiction, health, social security, environment and crime are interrelated.

Let me say that we welcome the appointments of Mr. Hellawell, and Mr. Trace. We must not forget that this is a balanced ticket. I do not like the word "czar". The Americans have a misconception that czars were efficient kings. They may have had a lot of authority; they were often cruel; but they were never efficient. Therefore "czar" is not a good word to use. I presume that "czar" is a vulgarisation of Caesar; at least we have a dual remit in Mr. Hellawell and Mr. Trace. Let us hope that together they will continue the national drug strategy, which is based on partnership.

At this late hour, I do not wish to take up too much of your Lordships' time. Drugs misuse is a complex issue, as other noble Lords have said, and as many people know more than I do. From my limited experience as chairman of the management committee of the charity to which I referred, I know that when funding reforms take place in the health service or local authority, people often do not recognise that there are effects on the way we finance drug rehabilitation. For example, the charity now faces separate negotiations with all the London boroughs as well as all the London health authorities. If one London health authority has a budget problem it often finds that paying for drug misuse by one of the people in its community who comes from north London to City Roads is a marginal item. It is easy to cut it out.

If someone knocks on the door of a drug charity at one o'clock in the morning, we cannot say, "Are you from that part of London? We are not accepting you because your health authority is not paying us any money". It is a complex problem. I know that money is always short and that there are priorities. But in this area a small amount of money goes a long way at this stage. It makes good economic sense to invest in rehabilitation and treatment of drug misusers. If we treat them, many other costs which they might impose on society through crime, ill-health or unemployment are lessened. It is sound economics to say that rehabilitation of a drugs misuser deserves good funding because it is an efficient use of our money.

Some noble Lords will have been present when my noble friend Lady Jay made a Statement about the new White Paper on the National Health Service. She spoke of the Berlin Wall between health and social services which had to be broken down. I entirely welcome that. In the field of drugs misuse it is important that we break that wall down.

Again, experience shows that there are considerable problems for such people in being able to claim the benefits to which they are entitled. The paperwork has increased enormously in recent years. And, sad to say, the Government are notoriously late payers of outstanding bills. It is a matter that I have often taken up with Ministers both in this Government and the previous one. It is important when drug policy is co-ordinated, both at government level and by means of the new appointments, that we examine this question. We should make quite sure that those agencies—especially local agencies—that do the very hard work of looking after drug misusers are at least adequately funded, and that they are not undermined and do not have obstacles put in their way by way of delay, changes in regulations or arbitrary cuts in the funding to which they are entitled.

I welcome the appointment of Mr. Hellawell and Mr. Trace. They will have to take a rounded view of the multifarious and complex issues raised by the drugs question. They will have to take an independent, strategic view of the problem. I hope, too, that they will be able to elicit the co-operation of all the government departments to which they can appeal to solve this problem. In saying that, I welcome the initiative.

10.41 p.m.

The Earl of Strafford

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Layton, for launching this debate. It is particularly opportune because of the Government's appointment of the two drug czars. I was most encouraged to hear Keith Hellawell describe the brief that he and Michael Trace had been given. He explained that it included a review of the national drug strategy, to be published in April, and that 200 of the key players in the drugs field had been asked for their views. He went on to say that his report would consider a broad range of views, it would be honest and realistic, and would identify best practice and programmes that were succeeding. So far, so good. However, I was disappointed that a review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act was not in their remit. I know that a detailed study of that Act is under way, but that report will not be out for 20 months, and to update the national drugs strategy without referring to that 26 year-old Act, which has proved seriously flawed, would seem difficult.

The 1971 Act was a reaction to an increase in opiate use, over-prescription by a few doctors and the need to harmonise national laws with the American-inspired 1961 UN single convention on narcotic drugs. The British system, under which doctors could prescribe a maintenance dose of a Class A drug such as heroin or cocaine, was virtually over. So addicts turned to the black market. We had finally accepted that the American solution, prohibition, was the only way of tackling drug problems. Under the Act, any new psycho-active recreational drug which proved dangerous and had no medical use was banned. A medical committee was established as a referee.

The conventional wisdom was that if medical experts said that a drug was dangerous, and if it was made illegal, people would avoid it. The problem would simply wither on the vine. The opposite has happened. What we failed to appreciate was that that approach works with therapeutic drugs but not with psycho-active and recreational drugs. Human beings have always used these drugs to alter the conscious state. It is part of the human condition. It is normal. We are a very inquisitive species, and when new drugs have appeared we have experimented with them, and if they fill a gap they become part of the repertoire. The introduction of tobacco from America is a classic example.

Prohibition is a very unsubtle method of drug control. Not only does it not work very well, but it ensures that the black market will flourish. The result, since 1971, with the world shrinking to a global village, has been a staggering increase in the availability of illegal drugs. The UN 1997 World Drug Report estimates the trade at £250 billion, an eighth of world trade. In this country the number of drug offenders dealt with has gone up from 7,000 in 1969 to 94,000 in 1995 and the quantity of heroin seized has gone up from 3.2 kilograms in 1973 to 1,390 kilograms in 1995.

Are there more intelligent ways of dealing with the drug problem? First, we must assess the problem. The Home Office crime statistics tell the story from the drugs seized and the persons convicted. Of the six most widely used drugs, two stand out: cannabis, which accounts for 80 per cent. of the seizures and convictions; and heroin, which, though only comprising 5 per cent. of drug offences, makes up 90 per cent. of the notified cases of addiction and causes the same amount of drug-related crime.

First, cannabis: we must ask ourselves why cannabis was classified as a dangerous drug in the first place. After all, it has been around for a very long time. Both its medical and recreational qualities have been known for several thousand years. The classification happened largely by accident. In 1925 there was an international conference in Geneva concerned with controlling opiates. Largely thanks to an emotional outburst from the Egyptian delegate concerning cannabis, it was included in the ban. It was not a decision based on scientific evidence. Cannabis was successfully demonised in America in the 1930s and has remained on the classified list ever since.

In 1968 the report of the Wootton Committee, set up by the Government to advise on cannabis, was published. The committee found no evidence that cannabis led to crime or aggressive behaviour, nor that it produced psychotic states in otherwise normal users. The report concluded: Having reviewed all the material available to us, we are in agreement with conclusions reached by the India Hemp Drugs Commission and the American La Guardia report that the long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects". Unfortunately, society at the time could not accept those findings and, largely because cannabis was seen as the gateway to hard drugs, the ban remained.

The Dutch, who have a pragmatic approach to social problems and treat drugs as primarily a medical and social issue, had studied the various reports and in 1975 decided to decriminalise cannabis—to separate clearly soft and hard drugs. Licensed coffee shops, strictly regulated, can sell a small quantity, 5 grams, of cannabis for personal use. The policy works. The consumption of cannabis has risen, though not dramatically. Holland has an estimated 675,000 cannabis users out of a population of 15 million—far fewer than in this country. The glamour has been taken away and the authorities estimate that only between 1 and 2 per cent. of heavy users (those using it 10 or more times a month) have problems serious enough to go to a drug clinic.

The Dutch have also disproved the gateway theory. In Holland hard drug use is the lowest in Europe, at 1.6 per cent. of the population. The figure for this country is 2.6 per cent. and for the rest of Europe 2.7 per cent. Here I must disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Layton. The principal gateway drugs to heroin are much more likely to be alcohol and tobacco.

The present position is that cannabis is quietly becoming normalised. An estimated 6 million to 7 million people in this country have tried it and almost all have found it a benign experience. Public attitudes are also changing. In 1983, 82 per cent. of the public thought that cannabis should remain illegal. Ten years later the figure was down to 58 per cent. In a poll in the Mirror in October this year nearly two-thirds were in favour of decriminalisation. The campaign in the Independent on Sunday—in which I must declare an interest as a signatory—has highlighted that there is a thoughtful and informed minority who feel that the law must change because on the evidence it is clear that cannabis is not a particularly dangerous drug.

The authoritative report by the BMA on the therapeutic uses of cannabis is bound to fuel the pressure for change. When it happens, and drug offences are reduced by 80 per cent., it will be easier to concentrate on what I believe is the most serious drug problem we have, namely the growth of heroin addiction.

It is vital to increase the network of clinics to treat whole addiction; to treat addicts either on methadone or, if that does not work, on heroin, as was practised successfully by Dr. Marks on Merseyside in the late 1980s. His approach dramatically reduced the amount of drug-related crime and the rate of new addictions. The Swiss have done the same very successfully since 1994, and a recent referendum was 70 per cent. in favour of the continuation of that policy. We must move away from prohibition and concentrate more on harm reduction. We must move towards the far more successful Dutch approach based on a more pragmatic public health oriented policy.

10.50 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and congratulate him on his choice of Unstarred Question. It is a vitally important subject.

I know that Keith Hellawell is an excellent and forward-looking police chief, but by choosing a policeman as the "drugs czar", the Government send out a message that their concept of the drug problem is basically one of law and order. To use a name for the new drugs chief which is American, despite its Russian, or even further back perhaps, its Roman origins, suggests that the whole approach to drugs will have a transatlantic flavour.

The war on drugs started in the United States. It has been expensive but remarkably ineffective, though it is true that crack cocaine use in the United States is now declining. That may simply be that users have discovered that crack is a bad-tempered drug that has little to commend it. What is clear is that the campaign against drugs, particularly cocaine, in the USA and in Latin America has been hugely expensive but totally ineffective in curbing the supply and the enormous profits of the major dealers. In fact, those have steadily increased over the years, as the right reverend Prelate, in an excellent maiden speech, pointed out to us.

The cocaine trade and the US-backed efforts to control it are playing a major part in prolonging and deepening the violence on the streets of American cities and in many Latin American countries, particularly Colombia, about which we heard in the Unstarred Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, a month ago.

Phrases that are much bandied about when talking about drugs—we have heard them this evening—are "demand reduction" and "harm reduction" in the context of the existing legislation of prohibition. Demand reduction depends on education in an attempt to dissuade young people from experimenting and starting with drugs, and treatment to get dependent people off drugs. Sadly, there is little evidence that health education messages have much effect, and they may even be counter-productive. While some treatment programmes can claim success, it is mainly with addicts who have already decided that it may be time to stop.

In the context of the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord, Lord Layton, can the Minister say whether treatment centres are likely to expand and receive more secure financial support in the future? I echo my noble friend Lord Desai in that regard. There is sound evidence from the United States (the CALDATA programme in 1992) that money spent on treatment in the community is well spent, both in reducing demand and, more particularly, in reducing crime: $290,000 spent on treatment resulted in an estimated saving of $1.5 billion in California, a similar figure to that given by the noble Lord.

Can my noble friend also say whether Her Majesty's Government have heard and understood the plea of SCODA for a more enlightened sentencing policy for those convicted of drug-related offences? It is far more cost-effective to put those offenders into appropriately managed treatment units than into mainstream prisons, where they are likely not only to continue their habit but to sell drugs to other prisoners, who only too literally form a captive market.

Harm reduction—reducing damage to the health of the addict and damage to society through acquisitive and violent crime—may consist of giving a substitute drug. such as methadone, instead of heroin to those who are finding withdrawal otherwise impossible. Unfortunately, methadone itself is not a safe drug, so that, according to Home Office figures, deaths from misused methadone are now as high as those from street heroin. When controlled supplies of heroin itself—through reefers, if possible, to avoid injecting—were given to long-term addicts in the Wirral, a remarkable fall in the local crime rate was observed, as the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, pointed out, as well as an end to local drug-related deaths and hospital admissions. This was one of the few examples of the use today of the British or Rolleston system, named after the chairman of the committee which reported in 1926, and which worked perfectly well from 1926 until the 1960s, when it was then superseded by the more prohibitive Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This was brought in under the influence of a more puritanical American approach. It restricts the supply of maintenance drugs to known addicts and tries to wean them off drugs even when their motivation is lacking. Sadly, the psychiatrist Dr. John Marks, mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, whose clinic was using the Rolleston approach in Widnes until 1993, was then prevented from continuing to use it by the local health authority, with the result that several deaths from the use of street heroin have since occurred in that area. The reduction in crime and the reduction in new heroin use which had been achieved due to the end of the need for addicts to go in for "pyramid selling" to support their habit—I am sure my noble friend knows what "pyramid selling" is—was sent into reverse.

My own belief, as one who has had many drug addicts as patients over a long professional life, is that current legislation on drugs needs scrutiny, perhaps leading to a fundamental review. This view is shared by an increasing number of people whose work brings them into contact with problem drug use—doctors, police chiefs, social workers and judges, including no less than the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham, himself, who has suggested that there should be an inquiry into the operation of the law in this area.

The danger to the individuals who use drugs and to society comes from the fact that drugs are prohibited, so that their composition and strength cannot be controlled. The use of the drugs themselves, if they were available in a pure state, in known dosage, would cause far fewer problems. This applies to "hard" drugs as well as to "soft" drugs, though there are some synthetic preparations that do have dangers even in low dosage—crack cocaine, lysergic acid (LSD) and possibly methadone. Cannabis, as well as having its well known effects in reducing anxiety and inducing a pleasant mild euphoria, has been shown, as the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, pointed out, in a recent BMA monograph, to have considerable therapeutic uses; as an analgesic, a bronchodilator and anti-nauseant, particularly for patients with cancer. Unlike alcohol, it is associated with affability and friendship rather than aggression. In the long term there are some worries about paranoia, memory loss and carcinogenesis. However, it is difficult to undertake the epidemiological studies that are needed to confirm or deny the extent of these possible dangers when possession of the substance concerned is illegal.

To legalise or decriminalise the possession of a substance does not necessarily mean that its consumption will rise, especially with a substance like cannabis which any school child can quite easily obtain as things are. The evidence from Holland appears to be that, among Dutch people at least, the consumption of cannabis has not actually risen. The rise in consumption mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Strafford, is probably due to consumption by visitors. More importantly, the consumption of heroin has definitely fallen. Unfortunately, an enlightened policy in one country alone will run into difficulties because, as has happened in Holland, it will act as honey to a bee to visitors from more restrictive homelands.

That is why it is encouraging to hear another voice in favour of decriminalisation from across the Channel, from the French Minister for health. But, as with global warming and paying for the United Nations, the chief influence acting against progress lies on the other side of the Atlantic. That may seem surprising, perhaps, considering the disastrous experience of the prohibition of alcohol which occurred in the United States in the 1920s.

Offering a legal supply through registered outlets would make it possible to control the quality of the product and to get an accurate measure of how much is consumed. That is of greater importance for drugs other than cannabis, especially those which are injected or ingested, such as heroin or ecstasy. To use such drugs, bought from suppliers who have only a very approximate idea of their strength, and who may have adulterated it themselves, is to trust one's life to dangerous amateurs. Yet so great is the need or curiosity of millions of younger people that they take this risk cheerfully every week. They do that despite the law and the establishment telling them that it is wrong and dangerous. The slogan "Just say no" is about as helpful with regard to drug use as it is as a method of contraception.

In calling for a fundamental review of drugs policy, I am not calling for a free-for-all; quite the contrary. Supplies should be carefully controlled through registered outlets, with a more restricted supply of the drugs which have known potentially harmful effects. As well as doing away with the scourge of drug related crime virtually at one stroke, deaths and serious illness due to drugs would stop and the international drug smuggling mafiosi would suddenly find that their market had disappeared. And even if prices came down as much as 75 per cent. there would still be a large sum to be collected by the Government in excise revenue instead of the current, large expenditure on policing our ineffective drug legislation. This legislation, to steal a phrase from "Hamlet", is a custom more honoured in the breach than the observance". When that can be said about the law of the land, that law is surely an ass and needs to be changed.

11.2 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, there should rightly be a concerted call for a worldwide war against drugs. That is without doubt the challenge for the millennium. The narcotic evil that brings misery around the world, not only in life deterioration through addiction, but in the vast profits which fund instability through terrorist campaigns around the world, combine an essence of the policy of this Government. They are to be congratulated.

Drugs and terrorism are a lethal mix, and both are certainly in the national interest to fight. But I believe that we should hear more of the detail of the Government's policy and I hope that tonight is the night.

This evening I wish to introduce a simple premise: without precursor chemicals there would be no cocaine or heroin. The second reality is that the majority of precursor chemicals that end up in the hands of illicit drug producers come in greater part from the principal consuming nations.

So if we are ever going to be serious about the drug curse, what are we going to do about this? I do not single out the United Kingdom as being especially at fault. I suspect that we do more than most, but that said, this is an undeniable problem area and, most importantly, is where we can make a real difference contributing in the international fight against drugs—here in our own backyard.

I do believe that the European Union should be doing much more to have all member states agreeing to a concerted programme and with the United Kingdom having the presidency from the New Year, presents us with an ideal opportunity to take a decisive lead.

A major goal has to be preventing the diversion of precursor chemicals for the illicit manufacture of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, and synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines. I somehow sense that there are too many loopholes in UK anti-drug legislation, combined with which our Customs and Excise, together with specialist police units, such as the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) have a next-to-impossible task as things stand. They simply do not have the resources to follow through on a precursor campaign.

I find it staggering that NCIS has only three police officers, one Home Office analyst and a Customs and Excise official in its dedicated precursor chemical unit, combined with which there is no dedicated unit at the Home Office. Ministers must, in my view, be encouraged to consider this as a matter of urgency.

Another area that needs attention is the essential statutory requirement that a pre-export notification of movement of chemicals is established to include all shipments originating from the European Union to third countries. Licence procedures must be in place to ensure that failure to have such would constitute an offence.

Other measures could encompass the control of glassware that is necessary for the production of controlled drugs. In the United States, for example, it is an offence to possess three-necked flasks without full authority. In addition, we should consider also that it be unlawful to possess certain category precursors. Similar legislation is in place in the Netherlands.

Is the Minister also aware that a precursor chemical company does not need to co-operate with police in controlled deliveries? That is considered unhelpful and is an omission from the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act. The Act should be revised to reflect this, together with other matters, and generally given more teeth. For example, there are no formal disclosure laws of the need to inform the police of suspicious transactions such as exists in the Drug Trafficking Offences Act for money-laundering, where there are offences for non-disclosure and non-compliance. Will the Minister undertake to consider amending the Act in such a way as would make it more effective, but paying attention to ensure that it is not then made overly cumbersome?

Perhaps I may say a word on Customs and Excise. It has an often horrendous task to deal with. It is poorly equipped, for example, to deal with the hazardous nature of its work, misdescribed chemicals being a case in point. Adequate on-site field testing, training and protective clothing are required. Again, will the Minister undertake to look at this?

I can recommend that the Government study the MOU between the International Council of Chemical Associations and the World Customs Organisation. It sets useful guidelines. Commercial operators must be more vigilant and legally have a duty to alert competent authorities about any suspicious transactions. Operators must be required to maintain records and documents for all transactions for a period considerably longer than three years and there is a case for examining whether a more strict licensing regime should be introduced. All exports must be made contingent on the issuance of an export permit, with the exporting country requiring exporters to identify accurately ultimate consignees, as well as intermediaries such as brokers. Here there is a real difficulty that needs addressing. Brokers are a weak link.

The question has to be asked whether the UK chemical association has the will and even the capacity for self-regulation. I remain to be entirely convinced, but it has to be said that that is through no undue fault of its own. The association, for example, has approximately 200 or so members but how many manufacturers are there in the United Kingdom producing precursor chemicals and indeed, how many of those are brokers? To fight drugs effectively, mandatory registration would seem to me to be a must.

I am not brandishing the chemical association; it is made up of decent people and I have little doubt that they care as much as me about the international drug scourge. But the point is that they have conflicting allegiances with principally commercial interests at heart. They must consider the need to balance that with a recognition that the control of precursor chemicals is a principal concern of many, not least the drug-producing countries.

When I met the chemical association to prepare myself for this evening that body had the following to say, which I believe it is appropriate to share: It is our belief that the statutory controls are clear and robust, and that the most effective method of combating illicit use is to augment the controls through increased information, collaboration, education and constant alertness rather than through increased regulation". I have already stated my view. I have a particular interest in such matters, in that Colombia is a country with which I am associated. I know something of its anti-narcotics efforts. Perhaps noble Lords will allow me to suggest an initiative this evening that will undeniably help. Cannot the chemical industry work to introduce a signature in the chemicals manufactured that will enable anti-narcotics authorities to analyse seized precursors to establish country of origin and, ideally, producer origin? That would be a major step. Specific ports could also be designated for the loading and receipt of shipments of such substances. Prior to the departure of such shipments the authorities at the port of arrival could be informed of the route and itinerary of the shipments. Twenty-four hours' notice of the arrival of precursor chemicals might also usefully be given to the destination port.

How ready are the Government for the UN session in Vienna set for June next year? What proposals are they taking to the table? Do the Government now recognise that studies on the production, trafficking and use of precursor chemicals in illicit drug processing are urgently required in order that initiatives and suggestions can be considered? In addition, most countries are not even complying with stipulations in the convention signed in Vienna in December 1988. What is to be done about it? Does the Minister consider that further goals should be the strengthening and harmonisation worldwide of technical, judicial and economic agreements between countries?

In conclusion, much needs to be done. The more I probe the more I believe that we should consider legislation to allow greater governmental control over precursor chemicals. But to help determine this will the Minister undertake to organise a meeting between the Home Office, NCIS dedicated units, Customs and Excise and the chemicals association as a first step to see what could and should be done? He may also wish to have the views of the Colombian anti-narcotics authorities who are here in London to ensure that their ideas are factored in, as it is they who are in the frontline and who have as good a reason as any to see precursors effectively addressed.

11.13 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for initiating this debate and congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his maiden speech. Drugs are a menace to our society. We support any policy that is designed to take effective action against the demand for them and their supply. Drugs do not just ruin the lives of addicts but are a common cause of crime; therefore ruining the lives of others. The Conservative Party will help the Government build on our approach to reduce the amount, effect and consequences of drugs in our society. We must ensure that an anti-drugs policy is concerned with educating young people about the dangers of drugs, as well as enforcement. The Government must also build on the work of drug action teams established by the previous government which are responsible for organising and co-ordinating the work of local authorities, health authorities, the police and the voluntary sector in the fight against drugs.

I welcome this opportunity for the Government and the Minister this evening clearly to outline the remit of the new drugs czar: how it is envisaged his role will develop and what his budget and powers will be. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that "drugs czar" may be a rather unfortunate title. Nevertheless, that is what we have. Much more important is what he will be able to do.

The social costs of drugs are horrific. They ruin the lives of addicts and families alike. They cause the destruction of a person's ability to cope with ordinary life; the destruction of a person's relationships; and the destruction of ordinary, decent families who do not understand what is happening when one of their members becomes addicted. Drug peddlers spread evil, affecting communities and neighbourhoods.

The illegal trade in drugs is becoming more and more violent as drug traffickers brutalise and corrupt the communities in which they operate. Drug-related crime includes not just possession, drug dealing and trafficking but offences such as theft and burglary which are committed by drug addicts to finance their addiction.

Drug dealers trade in human misery. They deserve tough sentences. We took action to ensure that they got them. Tackling drug-related crime and catching drug dealers are now major police priorities. Education is vital. Drugs are a problem in all schools, whether private or public, good or bad. Drugs are not discriminating. They can affect children from any background, whether rich or poor, employed or unemployed. Tougher penalties alone will not solve the drug problem.

Educating people, especially the young, about the dangers of drug abuse is important. It was the previous government who made drug education in schools compulsory as part of the national curriculum introduced by the Education Act 1988. It placed on school inspectors the duty to conduct inspections and scrutinise schools' drugs education classes and policies. They gave LEAs £6 million in 1996 to train teachers in drugs education. They gave over £1 million to train youth service workers to tackle drug abuse among the young.

Those steps were crucial. I should like to hear from the Minister this evening that funding for such programmes will continue. As part of our anti-drugs strategy, £8.5 million was provided to 100 drugs action teams across the country. Those teams were responsible for organising and co-ordinating anti-drugs initiatives at local level. They work with local authorities, health authorities, the police and the voluntary sector. Will the Government continue with that initiative and funding? How will the drugs action teams relate to the post of drugs czar?

There has always been a problem with drugs misuse in prisons. All prisons have now introduced mandatory drug testing schemes and random drug testing programmes. Will the Minister say something about the result of those programmes and whether drug problems in prisons will fall within the remit of the drugs czar?

It is not just a matter of educating the youth of our country; it is educating the public as a whole about the dangers of drug abuse. Young people are vulnerable, but it has been shown that they value highly the drugs education that they receive. It helps them, because drugs pose a fatal risk to the health of anyone who uses them.

Perhaps I might say a word on the debate about legalising or decriminalising drugs. We believe that the legalisation of any drugs would be a disaster. The inevitable result would be that more young people would be put at risk. Drug taking would become a legitimate activity. The legalisation of drugs such as marijuana or cannabis would not reduce drug-related crime. That applies also to decriminalisation. There is no doubt that soft drugs lead to hard drugs.

There might be cases with special medical circumstances. We have read in the press that marijuana, for example, might help with some diseases, but we have to be firm about this. In that I declare an interest as the father of teenaged children. All of us with teenaged children know that those children, during their education in their schools and during their holidays, have been faced with a decision when someone offers them drugs. It has happened to almost every child in the land. It is universal. If we do not hold the line we shall open the floodgates to a terrible situation.

I understand that the remit of the drugs czar extends to Scotland. The noble and learned Lord, with his particular knowledge of Scotland, will be able to explain that and whether the drugs czar will be funded in Scotland and Wales. Will the proposals for devolution change that? Will he be answerable to two parliaments?

I do not wish to speak at length tonight; the hour is late. The key question was posed by my noble friend Lord Layton and we look forward to hearing the Minister's answer. What will be the executive powers of the drugs czar? What will his funding, role and powers be? Without the necessary powers to do the job he will not be a success.

We on this side of the House support any initiative which works in the fight against drugs. If the Government can demonstrate that the initiative will work, we look forward to supporting it.

11.21 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)

My Lords, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Layton, for giving the House the opportunity to consider this important subject. I add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield on his well-informed and moving maiden speech. Tonight's contributions have been informative, well-informed and helpful and I hope to refer to them all in a moment. However, perhaps I may first respond directly to the Question, set out the Government's general policy in relation to drugs and deal in particular with the role of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, if I may call him that rather than the drugs czar.

I turn, first, to the basics. It is this Government's view that drugs are a major menace in our society. They can destroy individuals who are dependent on or involved in them. They can destroy an individual's life chances at a time and at an age when society should be helping him through a vulnerable and difficult period. Drugs demoralise and undermine the families of those involved. They threaten whole communities where the evil of drug dealing becomes a bullying, threatening, destroying presence over an estate or area where dealers dominate or they become a warped role model for those whose lives are brought down by drugs or deprivation. They are a most potent motive for crime and a sweeper aside of responsibility, which causes crime. No one should for one moment consider that this Government are not wholly committed to standing up and fighting against the menace of drugs.

Enforcement has an important part to play in that fight; but so, too, does the treatment of those addicted, the education of those who may be affected and the prevention of children and young people becoming involved. They recognise that the problem of fighting drugs cannot be looked at in isolation from social conditions. They believe that policies to combat drugs must include measures to address not just drug abuse directly but also the social exclusion, deprivation and social conditions which cause it. They recognise that there are two kinds of drug user. First, the person who usually starts young—often very young—who is the victim of social deprivation or exclusion, who becomes dependent on or involved in drugs, whose life begins to revolve around drugs and who frequently resorts to crime to feed his habit. Secondly, there is the so-called recreational drug user. He hopes to avoid dependency. He is gambling that the chemicals he is putting into his body from unsupervised, unregulated sources are not doing him long-term damage. One hopes he is not misguided in that belief.

In May 1995, the previous government introduced their White Paper called Tackling Drugs Together. It focused on the need for enforcement, treatment, prevention and education in relation to drugs and led to the setting up of the drug action teams throughout the country. At the time, the Labour Party welcomed those proposals. It believes that the problem of drugs is too important a matter on which to take political points. It wishes to build on the progress made by the previous government and to reinvigorate the fight against drugs. It wishes to ensure that the fight against drugs is a fight to prevent people using drugs; a fight against those who profit from drugs; and a fight against the economic and social conditions that encourage their use.

This Government also wish to see the fight against drugs being conducted on a comprehensive cross-departmental, cross-agency basis, with all the appropriate departments and agencies focusing together on the problem. Since this Government came to power, there has been very real co-operation between the main departments involved—the Department for Education and Employment, the Department of Health, the Treasury and the Home Office, under the leadership of the President of the Council.

In addition, a comprehensive spending review has been introduced and implemented in relation to the discrete area of drugs itself. That comprehensive spending review, the terms of reference of which have been published, is designed to identify what is the current level of spending on drug-related programmes across government; to form a view about the social and economic costs to the country of drug abuse; and to establish all relevant information on which the review's proposals can subsequently be made. After that information is available, it will then consider what is the best way to target money in relation to the fight against drugs.

I move from the general to the specific and, first, the appointment of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator. I believe that Mr. Keith Hellawell and his talents are well known to this House. I felt that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield spoke with real regret at the loss of the chief constable from West Yorkshire. He has been appointed and takes office on 5th January. His deputy, Mr. Mike Trace, has also been appointed. He has already reported. Mr. Hellawell will report directly to the President of the Council. He can call on the support of the Prime Minister where appropriate. His first task will be to review the existing strategy overall and to put forward new proposals for tackling the drug problem with renewed vigour. He is expected to report with his plans in or about the spring of next year. Although he is still engaged as the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, he is presently embarked on wide and detailed consultation in preparation for the plan he proposes to put forward in the spring of next year.

I pick up the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Layton, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. Mr. Hellawell's role will be to provide visible leadership; to galvanise partnerships both within and outside government. The fact that he is from the police force does not mean that the policy will be skewed in the direction of enforcement. His background shows that he has a firm commitment to prevention, education and treatment measures. He will aim to build on good practice. He is keen to learn from and focus on that which actually works. We believe that his approach will be entirely and eminently practical. He will wish to focus on ministerial commitments which have already been flagged up. In particular, he will wish to ensure that there is a greater focus on young people, especially those at risk; for example, those excluded from school or in care. He will wish to investigate the links between social deprivation, unemployment and drugs.

Again, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield said, drugs cannot be dealt with in isolation. It is impossible not to reach the conclusion that there is a link between social deprivation and drug use. Regeneration projects and welfare-to-work all have their part to play in the war against drugs. He will also seek to ensure that there is effective enforcement to reduce the flow of drugs into this country to enable drug action teams to root out drug-related crime.

The Government have already taken a number of steps, quite apart from the appointment of the anti-drugs co-ordinator, to fight drugs. Perhaps I may mention just a few of them. First, we will reverse the plans for the reduction of the number of anti-smuggling Customs and Excise officers by 300. Customs has a very impressive record and an important part to play in the war against drug dealers. For example, there have been two trials recently concluded in Bristol where important drug dealers of a major sort were convicted and imprisoned for long periods as a result of the intensely brave and committed efforts of the Customs people.

In addition, the Customs national investigation service and the police regional crime squads have recently agreed on operational protocols to facilitate working arrangements. The Government have also funded 79 local anti-drugs projects under the £2 million drugs challenge fund in England. Those projects act in concert between, on the one hand, the Government and, on the other, private industry or the voluntary sector.

In the Crime and Disorder Bill presently before the House, the Government have introduced provision for a new drug testing and treatment order, so that those who offend because of drugs can agree at an early stage to a treatment order as part of a sentence, coupled with drug testing provisions which will permit their progress in trying to throw off drugs to be monitored. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has announced that a new key objective for policing will be to target drug-related crime in partnership with other agencies. Again, that will encourage the multi-agency approach. The Prison Service is currently in the process of reviewing its drugs strategy. Around 44 pilot drug treatment programmes are already under way in prisons.

Those are some of the steps that have already been taken. I hope that I have set out the basic commitment of this Government to the war against drugs and indicated the extent to which we accept the need for enforcement against the drugs barons and also for education, treatment, prevention, and, indeed, the need to seek to address the problems of social deprivation that lead to drug problems.

I shall now deal with points made by noble Lords during the course of our short debate. The noble Lord, Lord Layton, objected to the phrase, "Drugs Czar". I agree with him that it is an inappropriate phrase. He pointed out that there has been little joy in relation to the adoption of such a czar in the United States of America. We do not intend to seek to emulate the American experience, although some lessons can be learnt from it. In particular, what the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator and his deputy will seek to do is to provide recommendations, galvanisation and leadership for a team approach to the problem of dealing with drugs.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Layton, that there should be stiff penalties on suppliers and that the war should be primarily directed to them. As far as this Government are concerned, there is no war on young people. It is against the suppliers, the dealers and the profiteers from drugs that the enforcement effort should he directed. I agree with the noble Lord that decriminalisation is not an option. Indeed, the Government believe that decriminalisation would simply lead to greater drug abuse and would not achieve anything. I also agree with the noble Lord that there should be a greater emphasis on education. At present there is a substantial emphasis on the latter, but in the view of this Government that can only be increased.

The noble Lord referred to the importance of rehabilitation and described it as being at the heart of a drugs programme. Again, I agree with him. Indeed, rehabilitation is of great importance. Like everyone else, I accept that there are not enough rehabilitation places available. However, the comprehensive spending review will consider the best way to target resources in that respect. Finally, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the attack on drugs must cross the boundaries of ministries and those of agencies. That is what the Government very much hope to do.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield expressed concern about the funding and the policy for support as regards the Chief Constable he is losing. It is for Mr. Hellawell to make his recommendations and to give us his plan. The latter will coincide with the comprehensive spending review. The last time detailed costings were made as to how much was being spent on fighting drugs was in 1995, and the figure was something in excess of £500 million. It is to be hoped that more is being spent now, but the comprehensive spending review will determine how what is being spent can best be targeted. I can unfortunately offer no prospect of more money but I can offer the prospect that all of the money that is being spent will be considered and will be targeted as effectively as possible.

I agree entirely with the right reverend Prelate that effective co-ordination and targeting of resources are important. I agree with the priority that he placed on drug action teams. I believe that targeting of resources and effective co-ordination constitute precisely the kind of action the chief constable can bring to bear in the fight against crime.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, declared an interest; namely, his involvement in the City Roads project. This project is well known and has contributed much to the guidance issued by the central drug co-ordination unit which seeks to co-ordinate within Whitehall action in relation to drugs. He, too, focused on the need for co-ordination. That was a theme in a large number of the speeches. The Government accept that need and it is in part for that reason that the UK's anti-drugs czar—I apologise, I meant to say anti-drugs co-ordinator; that was a Freudian slip—will have such an important role to play.

The noble Earl, Lord Strafford, welcomed the appointment of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator, but he referred to what he described as the inefficiencies of prohibition and raised the question of the decriminalisation of cannabis. I think I have already made clear that decriminalisation of cannabis would simply lead to the greater misuse of drugs; it is not on the agenda of this Government. I do not accept the noble Earl's argument that the Dutch experience encourages one to believe that cannabis should be decriminalised. I believe rather that the opposite is the case. I believe that the open sale of cannabis in Holland may well mask the covert sale of hard drugs. The Dutch experience suggests that soft drugs cannot be disengaged from the sale of hard drugs.

As I understood it, the noble Lord, Lord Rea, to some extent supported the decriminalisation of some drugs. He suggested that there should be a limited supply through licensed outlets. That is not on the Government's agenda. We believe that the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs will simply lead to their greater misuse. His view that to decriminalise drugs, or provide a legal supply through licensed outlets, will get rid of the black market in drugs is, with the greatest respect to him, misconceived and misguided.

The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, discussed primarily the position of precursor chemicals. The Government obviously recognise the importance of precursor chemicals in relation to the manufacture of illegal drugs. Over the past few years the precursor chemicals industry has significantly contributed in many respects to the apprehension of illegal drugs laboratories through the provision of vital information. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, asked me a large number of questions about the chemicals industry, none of which it would be appropriate for me to answer at this stage. I shall read Hansard carefully and write to the noble Viscount.

I very much welcome the support given by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, for the appointment of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator. The noble Viscount asked whether the funding of £8.5 million will continue for the drug action teams. The answer is that it will continue in relation to them. However, when the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator has produced his plan, after a comprehensive spending review, precisely how much will be given to drug action teams will have to be considered again. They will continue.

The noble Lord asked what is happening in relation to prisons. The Prison Service is currently in the process of reviewing its drugs strategy. There are around 44 pilot drug treatment programmes under way across the prison estate. They are currently being evaluated, with a report due early next year. Voluntary testing units in drug-free wings are being established across the prison estate in accordance with the Government's manifesto commitment. Mandatory drug testing, aimed at reducing the level of drug misuse in prisons, is carried out on a set percentage of prisoners every month. A review of mandatory drug testing is due to be completed early next year.

The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, asked whether the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator's remit would relate to Scotland. He will focus primarily on a drug strategy for England, although obviously he will look to see what is going on in Scotland. There may well be complementary strategies there. The noble Viscount also asked what the executive powers of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator will be. I have described what his role will be. As regards his funding, he will operate out of the central drugs co-ordination unit. He will not be the person given the whole of the budget for anti-drugs activity in the Government. His role will be to provide plans, to galvanise, to invigorate and to provide the ideas for the effort in government against drugs.

I am sure that I have not answered all the questions I have been asked. However, I have very much overshot my time and it is late in the evening, so I shall bring my remarks to a close. I hope that I have set out in general terms the Government's strategy in relation to drugs and the role of the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator. Again. I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Layton, for giving us the opportunity to have this short debate.

House adjourned at nineteen minutes before midnight.