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Drug-Related Crime

Volume 301: debated on Monday 24 November 1997

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4.

What estimates he has made concerning the amount of drug-related crime. [15771]

My hon. Friend may be aware that research by the Home Office shows that there is a strong relationship between drugs and crime—indeed, the figures show a much higher relationship than we expected. However, the results of that research are not yet complete. We hope to publish them early in the new year.

I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate the Government on the appointment of Mr. Hellawell as the anti-drugs co-ordinator—I do not like to call him a tsar because he is no royal; he is certainly not of that ilk. He is to visit Scotland, where drug-related crime is to the fore—police reckon that 70 per cent. of all thefts are drug related. Will the Minister guarantee that Mr. Hellawell will be given full authority to cross all the borders and break down all the barriers to ensure that crime does not pay and that we eradicate the crime of drug taking?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be aware that the Scotland figures also apply in England and in some parts of Wales. I join him in congratulating Keith Hellawell and his deputy Mike Trace and assure my hon. Friend that the United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator's writ runs throughout Government. Every year, £500 million of Government money is spent on dealing with the problem. We want to be sure that every pound of that £500 million is spent in the right place, either in treatment or in criminal justice interventions, to ensure that every part of Government works towards eradicating the evil of drugs.

May I help the Minister by telling him that, on best estimates, 40 per cent. of all burglaries are committed by drug addicts, who steal to get money to fund their drug habits? Does he agree that the way that the trend is going means that that statistic can only get worse? Does he further agree that it is important to make our streets an area of zero tolerance on drugs and ensure that our prisons are drugs free? Too many prisoners go into prison as drug addicts, stay as drug addicts and then come out as drug addicts. It is a vicious circle which must be broken.

The hon. Gentleman raised three points. First, the most recent British crime survey showed that the incidence of drug taking is not rising, but has levelled off. However, we do not want to be complacent about it. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman's figure of 40 per cent. possibly underestimates the relationship between various sorts of acquisitive crime and drug taking; it may be even higher than he suggested.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government take very seriously the problem of drugs in prisons. At this very moment, officials at the Prison Service are reviewing all the statistics on drug abuse because we are not sure that they are sufficiently accurate to enable us to take proper action to eradicate the problem in prisons. Let it not be misunderstood—we are very serious about the problem, whether in prisons, on the streets, in clubs or elsewhere. The Government will not tolerate drug abuse and those who fuel it.

What work will be done looking at the problems of young people, especially very young people, and drugs-related crime? Will the drugs tsar be looking at that? Is my hon. Friend aware of the problems on the Blackthorn estate in my constituency where there is a large drugs problem; indeed, there was rioting there earlier this year? Will he or one of his hon. Friends visit the area to talk to people about the problems they face and the real loss in quality of life on that estate?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already visited the area, but I am sure that one of us will be willing to come again if there is a particular problem. My hon. Friend will be aware that we shall shortly introduce measures in the crime and disorder Bill relating to drugs testing and treatment. She may also be aware that the drugs prevention initiative, which is funded by the Home Office, is implementing a number of different and interesting measures, which we are currently assessing. We are keen that community-based initiatives to eradicate drugs on estates and in the wider community should be assessed and evaluated and the best practice possible introduced to deal with the problems.

The link between drugs and crime is indeed a serious matter, and those who fuel drug abuse are committing serious offences. Will those convicted of offences involving the supply of drugs, who are serving sentences of between three months and four years, be eligible for early release under the Government's tagging scheme?

The hon. Gentleman will already be aware that we have introduced section 2 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, which covers the point he raised. He should be under no illusion that we shall deal just as seriously with such problems as the previous Government did. Quite frankly, the problems escalated during the previous Government's period in office, so we shall not take any lessons from Conservative Members. However, we are prepared to work with the Opposition on those issues. If the hon. Gentleman has any serious points to make, we shall listen to them. It is a serious problem, and we take it seriously.