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Tackling Drugs

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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Oral Answers To Questions

2.30 pm

The Government were asked

Drug Use (Schools)

1.

What assessment they have made of the proportion of pupils who have had experience of (a) soft and (b) hard drugs by the time they leave school, broken down by (i) independent and (ii) maintained schools. [114217]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

The 2002 school survey on smoking, drinking and drug use suggested that 36 per cent. of 15-year-olds had used some form of drug in the preceding 12 months; 8 per cent. had taken a class A drug during that time.

On the question relating to types of school, the last available information, in 2000, indicated no discernable difference.

The last available evidence is now quite distant and my information comes from visits that I have made to a great many universities as higher education spokesperson. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest a rather higher prevalence of drug use among those who come from the independent sector—not surprisingly, perhaps, given that most of them tend to be from the richer sections of society. Would it not be a good idea to do some rather better and more up-to-date research to check those figures? It might be of interest to parents in deciding whether to send their children to one sector or the other.

I am not sure that it will do the hon. Gentleman's party in the south of England much good to say that drugs are rife among those who attend schools in the independent sector.

As this is our first question, I take the opportunity to say that drugs are an issue of tremendous importance to young people, parents and communities throughout the country. They will welcome the fact that, for the first time, we parliamentarians have taken the opportunity to consider the issue across the Government, and to allow the Government to be scrutinised and held to account by opposition parties.

On the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman in respect of there being no discernable difference in 2000, it is not particularly helpful to make sweeping statements about the nature of schools and links between that and drug use. Our aspiration is to use drugs education to maximum effect to influence young people's behaviour, whichever school they might have attended. However, I am willing to consider the case for next year's study being clearer on the nature and scale of the problem in different schools, although I am not persuaded that that would be the most worthwhile use of our resources.

I concur with my hon. Friend the Minister. Rather than categorising schools, would not a better use of resources be a look at who is taking drugs and, more particularly, the development of a long-term study to consider young people's susceptibility to addictive behaviour? It is important that we start at the youngest age possible. Too often, researchers look at the problem only once young people have been taking drugs for a considerable period. We need to begin earlier; we need to look at those who are likely to start taking drugs.

My hon. Friend is right. There is a growing awareness and understanding of the importance of addressing those issues from primary school age onwards. We are putting significant resources into curriculum content and continual professional development for those working with primary school children.

My hon. Friend's comments on young people who are particularly susceptible to such addictive behaviour are worth considering. Most useful would be a look at existing evaluation, research and analysis to ensure that it takes adequate account of his concerns, and we shall certainly seek to do that.

I am glad that the Minister has mentioned drugs education. What evidence does he have that it works? As far as I can see, there seem to be as many different education programmes as there are illicit drugs, and they are delivered by bodies as diverse as the police and reformed addicts. Which programmes are the most effective and what impact have they had on stopping young people experimenting with drugs?

Our policy is quite clear. We have devolved resources to local education authorities and schools so that decisions are made locally about which provisions are most appropriate and respond to the requirements of the personal, social and health education national curriculum.

It is not appropriate for central Government to prescribe models, although that is not the same as saying that we do not want to learn from good practice or to study drugs education programmes that work. That is one reason why we have launched a project to study the effects of drugs education in 30 schools up and down the country over a relatively long period. The impact of such programmes on behaviour cannot be established in the short term. What is required is a longer-term study of young people's access to drugs education, and one would hope for a reduction in drug use in that cohort later.

Following on from that, I commend the Government for their educational initiatives in schools. However, one of my concerns is that teachers are often not fully aware of what is happening out in society—they are not really in tune with cultural changes. What measures have been introduced to raise their knowledge and awareness?

I can assure my hon. Friend that unprecedented resources are going into focusing on the issue at the initial teacher training stage. Equally important, if not more so, is continual professional development. We need the experts in PSHE to feel comfortable and confident about delivering drugs education in schools and to know when it is appropriate to call in specialists to assist them. In that respect, we should not forget that there is a role for external voluntary organisations, as well as the police, in some cases, to come into schools to assist teachers. As I say, there is unprecedented investment.

The curriculum support materials that we now provide are far more effective than they were. We are in the process of clarifying and reissuing guidance to front-line teachers and head teachers on what constitutes appropriate drugs education at the beginning of the 21st century. We must ensure that our approach gets through to today's generation of young people, and that requires a far better understanding of how they will respond. It is no good turning them off—we must turn them on so that they take seriously the credibility, integrity and relevance of the drugs education programme.

Does the Minister share my concern about recent survey evidence that suggests that 86 per cent. of primary school children think that cannabis is legal, while 79 per cent. think that it is safe? Does he also share my concern about the evidence given to me by the Department of Health in a written answer on 11 April? It indicated that the use of cannabis has increased markedly among teenage children since the Home Secretary announced his intention to downgrade it to a class C drug. That is particularly true of 15-year-old girls, among whom its use has increased from 25 to 30 per cent., according to the Department's figures. Are the Government giving children the very dangerous message that cannabis is okay? Should not the policy change before more children are damaged?

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman does no one in the House a service by presenting a misleading, factually incorrect statement on the current situation. There are absolutely no data to support any such linkages between the attitudes or behaviour of young people and the decision on the declassification of cannabis. It is clear from Government policy, in all the drugs education programmes and other programmes that we promote, that cannabis is unsafe and a risk to health. We do not want our young people to take cannabis in any circumstances or with any sense of justification. There is no evidence to suggest that young people's attitudes or behaviour have changed as a consequence of the reclassification of cannabis within the criminal justice system.

The Minister makes the case that the increase in drug use among children since the policy was announced is coincidental. He may or may not be right. Would it be reasonable for the Government to take seriously concerns about the increase in cannabis use among very young children? The figure for the 11 to 14-year-old age group has risen to 14 per cent. Indeed, there are increases in every category: the figure for 14-year-olds has risen from 18 to 19 per cent., and that for 15-year-olds has risen from 30 to 32 per cent.

Among girls, there has been an even greater increase. The figure for 15-year-old girls has risen from 25 to 30 per cent., and that for 14-year-old girls has risen from 16 to 19 per cent. Those figures come from the Department of Health. Surely they are a cause of concern to the Government. Is it not time for Ministers in all Departments to pause and reflect on whether they are sending the wrong message and causing the damage?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

:Of course the figures are of concern, and cannabis use is far too high. The issue that divides us is how that should be tackled. The main motive behind the reclassification decision is to create a credible message that young people are prepared to listen to. They will not listen to us if we pretend that cannabis, harmful as it is, is as dangerous as heroin or crack cocaine.

We must have a credible differential message when we are dealing with young people in the modern age. They are not prepared simply to accept messages handed down from on high. Sadly, many young people have friends who take cannabis. They know about its effects, and we have to engage effectively with those people. If we are going to do that, we have to send a credible message. We decided that a credible message is a differentiated message—cannabis is harmful, but not as harmful as class A drugs, which do massive damage to our communities. It is harmful to health, and people should not take it. If people in this House and elsewhere helped to get that message across, they would be behaving a little more constructively.

Cannabis (Medicinal Use)

2.

If they will make a statement on progress towards licensing cannabis for medicinal purposes. [114219]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

GW Pharmaceuticals has completed its advanced clinical trials on the development of a medical preparation of a cannabis-based drug. A dossier of those findings has been submitted to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency—an agency of the Department of Health—for evaluation. The assessment is one that all prospective new medicines must go through, and it is designed to protect public health. In consultation with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Government are considering how the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 would apply to the cannabis-based medicine, in the event that the agency approves the safety, quality and effectiveness of the product. The Government will seek Parliament's agreement to any necessary changes to the regulations.

When I raised the matter with the Prime Minister on 3 July 2002, he said:

"As he probably knows, we are currently reviewing the issue of cannabis and people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis. We are not yet in a position to state the findings of that review, but we are giving it urgent consideration."—[Official Report, 3 July 2002; Vol. 388, c. 225.]
Foolishly, I thought that he had used the words "urgent consideration" in the normally understood sense of the term, not in some Government or civil service manner. Will the Minister approach the matter with rather more vigour and urgency than appears to be the case at the moment? The law puts people such as my constituent, Biz Ivol, in an unspeakable dilemma whereby they are forced either to suffer unbearable pain from a disease such a multiple sclerosis or to put themselves on the wrong side of the law, thereby exposing themselves to all sorts of dangers, not least facing drug dealers and the possible ill-effects of self-medication.

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman what we will and will not do, which is in no way out of line with what the Prime Minister said. We have encouraged GW Pharmaceuticals to do this work, and we shall encourage all the relevant health authorities to conduct the appropriate evaluations in good time. We do not want any unnecessary delays in that regard, because the initial findings of the evaluation were extremely positive.

However, we do not say that the normal, necessary procedures for properly evaluating the safety and appropriate use of a drug ought to be thrown in the bin in the case of cannabis, and that instead we ought to have a completely separate fast-track procedure. I hope the hon. Gentleman realises what a dangerous precedent that would set. In this country, we have procedures to protect our public health. All new drugs must be properly evaluated, and cannabis must be evaluated along with those.

On the bright side, given the speed at which things are going, we hope that if they go well and the evaluations prove to be positive, there could be a product on the shelves before the end of the year.

As a result, in part, of the lack of urgency with which the Government have considered the medicinal aspect of cannabis and the mixed messages that they have sent, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) referred, there is a side issue to this debate—the proliferation of cannabis cafés.

We now have three cannabis cafés in Worthing, although it does not exactly have a reputation for being smack alley. Bongchuffa is one, while in my constituency Buddies Hydroponics—[Laughter.] The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department may think that this is a laughing matter, but it is not if one resides in the vicinity of one of those cafés. Such things are being marketed as a community service to elderly people with multiple sclerosis and other related ailments. In truth, such activities have become big business and they act as magnets. The cafés attract all sorts of lowlife and impressionable young people, and they indulge in drugs illegally.

If those drugs are illegal, why is action not taken? The mixed messages that the Government send out allow people to think that they can get away with it. When the police try to raid those premises, they cannot muster the resources to bring a prosecution. Such things have been happening for months in my constituency, so what is the Minister going to do about it?

Order. The hon. Gentleman must draw his question to a close.

I should clarify what I was laughing at—the hon. Gentleman's public school accent getting round the name of the cannabis café in his constituency. I found it somewhat amusing, but I apologise, as I should not mock the way people talk, especially not with my midlands accent.

Let us try to make things absolutely clear and stop trying to spread confusion among people. Even if the GW trials go well and the appropriate approvals and evaluations to bring in a medicine are obtained, that will not mean that smoking cannabis will be legal. It is not legal now, and it is not going to be; rather, the product that GW Pharmaceuticals will produce and test, which will be available to relieve certain people, will be. The hon. Gentleman asks why action is not being taken, but has he directed that question to his local police? Did he take the matter up with other people if the answer was not satisfactory? There are cannabis cafés in this country. Prosecutions have been brought against those who have used, owned or supplied them, and closures have been effected.

I wonder whether I might make a plea. This is a question and answer session. If questions and answers are concise, we will, I hope, make good progress through the list.

I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, as I have not been to a public school in my life. I shall try to use terms that he can understand. He has not answered the question. Such cafes continue to trade and make a large amount of money—£30,000 a week in profits, so we gather—because people have the impression that they can get away with it. Secondly, Sussex police say that they do not have the resources to mount raids on such places that will result in prosecutions. How is he going to help the police to ensure that they can close down such places, if they are illegal, and give local residents the service that they expect for the taxes that they pay?

If the premises are illegal, action should be taken against them, and I remind the hon. Gentleman of what I regularly tell Conservative Members: we now have record numbers of police officers.

Rehabilitation

3.

If they will make a statement on treatment and rehabilitation for drugs misuse. [114220]

Drug treatment was identified as a key component of tackling drug misuse in Britain in the Government's 10-year drug strategy, published in 1998. The Government set a public service agreement target to increase the participation of problem drug users in treatment programmes by 55 per cent. by 2004, and 100 per cent. by 2008. The target is supported by a substantial increase in funding for drug treatment to £236.1 million in the financial year 2003–04.

I thank the Minister. The links between drugs and crime and drugs and social exclusion are well established and indisputable. May I ask, in this ground-breaking, cross-cutting Question Time, when the Minister and her counterparts will meet the Welsh Assembly Government's ground-breaking and cross-cutting Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration to follow up on the £18 million that was announced last summer to consider further community-based drug treatment and rehabilitation services in south Wales, particularly as the dealers of south-west England are now targeting the south Wales valleys and see the area as a cash cow?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The problems relating to the links between crime and drugs challenge every Administration. We are making progress through the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, introducing models of care, which is a national service framework for substance misuse, driving down waiting times, modernising services and getting more GPs and specialist prescribers involved. It is important that good practice be shared, both in England and in Wales. I shall be delighted to ensure that good practice is spread for the benefit of communities in every part of the country.

Do Ministers agree that one way of getting people into treatment and rehabilitation is via a social housing provider? Since the imprisonment of the Cambridge two, Ruth Wyner and John Brock, workers in the sector have been left feeling very insecure, which hinders good practice. Their vulnerability arises from the wide interpretation available to police officers in enforcing section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Police Federation has suggested that section 8(d) should be redrafted to read, instead of "knowingly permits", "knowingly and wilfully permits" the production or supply of controlled drugs.

In a letter to me earlier this month the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), said:
"We do not want those professionals who carry out harm reduction and care policies when working with drug misusers to be in fear of prosecution."
Workers are pleased to hear of that intention, but what specific measures, if not the recommendation of the Police Federation, will the Government take to reduce the vulnerability felt by those workers?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

That uncertainty and worry has been raised with me a number of times in connection with the proposed extension of section 8 to cover other drugs and substances. We have decided for the moment not to go ahead with that, and that news has been well received by people involved in treatment and harm minimisation provision for the homeless and those in other housing situations. As an alternative, we have included a proposal in the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill to give the police powers to close down crack houses within 48 hours. We shall see whether that is effective before we go along with the proposal to extend section 8.

Have Ministers had a chance to read the excellent three-page article in The Guardian today? It is by someone for whom I have great respect, Nick Davies. He has a deep insight into the drug abuse problem, and he summarises many of my thoughts on the problem.

As successive Governments have bolted on so many policies we have been creating something of a monster and the whole situation has become rather complex. Nick Davies reckons that there are 44 funding agencies, and that 40 per cent. of the Bristol drug action team's time is spent treating patients, while 60 per cent. is spent dealing with bureaucracy—filling in forms, pulling agencies together and so on. Do Ministers agree that in the very near future we should set up an independent review of the effectiveness of Government policies on drug treatment and combating drug abuse? We could even consider a royal commission.

Yes, I have had an opportunity to read the article in The Guardian. It presents a fairly unbalanced report of current circumstances. It highlights important issues of administration, but it takes one perspective and makes the same allegations about the whole drug sector. In local communities throughout the country, people working in that sector do excellent work to fight the scourge of drugs, which causes so much distress. I acknowledge that Bristol has had problems. However, one of the authors of the information for that article was in a prime position to do something to improve services, but he chose to leave his position.

There is a desire across Departments to reduce bureaucracy and streamline funding systems, which the DAT manager in the article could have done. We do not want to spend our time on unnecessary bureaucracy. However, we are talking about a significant amount of public expenditure, so we must ensure that we monitor it to get value for money from the treatments. For years, one of the problems in drugs treatment has been that, because it has grown up from a diverse set of providers, it has not had the rigour that we have seen elsewhere. That is what we are introducing by establishing the national treatment agency.

Liberal Netherlands and illiberal Sweden are at opposite extremes in the drugs debate. Unlike this country, both treat drug addicts in primary care using medical intervention by doctors in their equivalent of the national health service. Why, for most addicts, do we not do so?

For most addicts we provide primary and secondary care, and we are increasingly engaging GPs in drug treatment services. We have just put on a course for 400 GPs and 40 prison doctors to give them greater expertise in prescribing medication and supporting problem drug misusers as patients in the community. The engagement of GPs has a significant effect on the success rate of people who enter treatment. It is vital that we provide a good primary care service.

Where people have more complex and specialised needs, it is important that specialist consultants and practitioners address their addiction issues, so that we provide the right service in the right place at the right time. That requires a range of care, including specialist rehab, detox, structured day care and counselling, and GP-prescribing services. We want to ensure that the NHS provides a range of services to support people wherever they are, to get them into treatment and to free them from the misery of drugs.

Is not the problem that the Government have said that they want to double the number of drug treatment places, but careful examination of the figures to which they refer reveals that they apply to the number of people who are in contact with drug treatment agencies? The two are not the same. That relates to the previous question.

Last February, the Audit Commission said that so far as drug treatment was concerned there were long waiting lists and limited treatment options; care management often failed to address drug misusers' wider social problems; and a lot of treatment was inconsistently delivered. Would it not be better to follow the Swedish model, for instance, and aim to provide intensive drug treatment places? That could be done; it would probably mean providing another 8,000 beds, but it is certainly an affordable proposition if the will is there. That might start to have an impact on reducing drug addiction and, above all, rehabilitating young drug addicts.

First, I say to the hon. Gentleman that treating problem drug misusers was hardly a priority for the Conservative Government. Because we recognise the scale of the problem in our communities, there is, for the first time, massive extra investment and a range of services. The hon. Gentleman's approach is fundamentally misconceived. He advocates a one-club policy, which would mean that we had in-patient detoxification only. He well knows that different drug misusers have different problems and need different kinds of care, including GP prescribing, specialist intervention, detox and rehabilitation. The world is a lot more complex than the hon. Gentleman seems to think, and it is important that the NHS provides a range of services in the right place at the right time to address people's needs.

We are now halfway through this question and answer session. With the assistance of all hon. Members, I hope still to succeed in making good progress.

Gang Culture

4.

What assessment has been made of the link between drug abuse and gang culture. [114221]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Research in Manchester last year, funded by the Home Office and undertaken as part of the targeted police initiative, suggested that drug-related offending was only one element of a patchwork of violent and non-violent crimes committed by gangs.

May I raise with Ministers the appalling experiences, ranging from intimidation to serious assault, that my constituents have had with gangs of young men? Gangs regularly break into blocks of flats and inhabit the stairwells specifically to take drugs, and when under the influence of drugs they continue to vandalise the entire estate. Will Ministers make me aware of any work that their Departments are doing to tackle gang behaviour and gang culture? Secondly, will they say whether they are considering any creative solutions, such as attaching youth workers, not just police, to specific schools? Will they fund the measures that work, and give more money for estate and neighbourhood wardens, and for youth services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out some of the problems. There is, of course, the youth inclusion programme, which is specifically aimed at people who have been involved, or are at risk of getting involved, in crime. Also, there is the positive futures programme, which is being extended to 67 projects across the country. It is designed for, and aimed at, people who are at risk of getting involved with drugs. We must see to it that all those programmes are targeted at the right people, are joined up, deter people from crime and keep them out of gang culture. Where best practice has been learned—as it has in south Manchester because of the size of the problem there—it must be spread to areas just as badly affected.

The Minister may be aware that those who deal with gun crime in London, Operation Trident officers in the Met, say that 99 per cent. of the crimes that they investigate are fuelled by crack cocaine. The Minister may also be aware that, in the past 10 years, the street price of cocaine has dropped by a third, and that of crack by a fifth. There are huge profits to be made. I gather that one 19-year-old owns four properties, bought with the profits of trading crack cocaine.

I have a straightforward question: what policy do the Government have to cut the number of people who are addicted? That is the cause of the market. How will they catch and deal with the people in the gangs that kill at random because the profits make life something that does not count for much?

On the latter point, the police standards unit held a conference in Bradford not long ago, to enable Operation Trident and others dealing with gang culture—and in particular gun culture, which is often associated with crack cocaine—to learn best practice from each other, and so that we could get a more effective police response to the kind of criminality that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

The national crack plan is there to ensure that we tackle areas in which there is a specific crack problem. As the hon. Gentleman says, crack is a very real problem. It is not as uniform a problem as heroin, but areas that are affected are developing the appropriate treatments. We do not have the breadth of knowledge going back years that we have in dealing with heroin addicts, but crack addiction can be treated. We must ensure that it is treated and that the treatment is available wherever it is needed.

Benzodiazepine

5.

If they will make a statement on their policy towards dealing with the problems associated with benzodiazepine addiction. [114222]

The Government are working to prevent benzodiazepine dependence and to ensure that treatment is available for those who have developed such dependence. Action has been focused on preventing addiction or dependence occurring in the first place by warning GPs and other prescribers of the potential side effects and dangers of involuntary addiction. Treatment is available in both primary and secondary mental health care settings and in specialist drug misuse services.

Do the Government accept that the nature of the mental and physical side effects of benzodiazepine addiction is such that there are tens of thousands of people—possibly hundreds of thousands—who are suffering in despair, isolation and silence as a result of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) called a national scandal as long ago as 1994? Is there not a case for greater co-ordination between Departments? The size of the problem must be established, then the problems must be dealt with: the correct scheduling of benzodiazepines, the treatment of addicts and the difficulty that some addicts have in claiming the social security benefits to which they are entitled.

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which we take seriously. In 1980 there were some 24 million prescriptions for benzodiazepines. Prescriptions decreased quite dramatically as more evidence emerged about the dangers of addiction. In 2001 there were 13 million prescriptions—almost half the 1980 figure.

Among the performance indicators for primary care trusts is one on the need to reduce benzodiazepine prescriptions even further and to ensure that they are not inappropriately prescribed. We also have guidelines from the Committee on Safety of Medicines which say that benzodiazepines should be used only for short-term relief of severe anxiety symptoms, not for mild anxiety, and only for insomnia if it is severe and disabling. We are trying to narrow the circumstances in which they are prescribed. National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines on anxiety management are being prepared and are likely to be published this time next year; they will ensure better treatment for the people involved. We have also put an extra £300 million into mental heath services to ensure adequate provision of treatment.

Drug Education

6.

When they expect to have in place a nationwide drug education programme for 10-year-olds, and if they will make a statement. [114223]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills
(Mr. Ivan Lewis)

All primary schools are required to teach children about drugs. It is up to schools to decide the most appropriate programme to meet the needs of their pupils and the requirements of the national curriculum. The Government are boosting drugs education in all schools through new guidance, training and support for teachers.

This is my first cross-cutting question, Madam Deputy Speaker, so forgive me if I make any obvious mistakes. I congratulate the Government and the Opposition on this welcome innovation. I hope that the exchanges will be conversational, rather than a replica of what is said on the Floor of the House. Perhaps the heavyweight top table could look again at the seating plan in this Room because rather than getting the dialogue going among old colleagues, it replicates some of the worst features of the main Chamber.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and others will know that in Nottinghamshire every 10-year-old undertakes a course on 10 consecutive Fridays on what is called DARE—drug abuse resistance education. Many people have attended and I hope that the Minister may see an example of it soon.

Normally, a local police officer, or sometimes a teacher, gets involved with the children and teaches them to say no not only to drugs but to drink and cigarettes. That works wonders for the self-esteem of youngsters, so they break through a lot of the barriers. Will the Minister consider using the DARE programme or, indeed, any other programme, as a national model to be followed in some regard by other authorities? There are many good schemes here and there. I hope that the Minister agrees that it would be a great shame to come to the end of the second term of a Labour Government without a nationwide inoculation against the worst excesses of drug abuse by young children.

In the daily speculation about the future leadership of the Conservative party, my hon. Friend has never been mentioned as a potential solution.

Anything is possible.

My serious response to my hon. Friend's question is that I agree entirely with the objectives. We also agree that in influencing the behaviour of primary school children through drugs education, the stakes are incredibly high. Where we differ is on the means. We have backed away from prescribing a one-model approach to the provision of drugs education in this country. Having said that, programmes such as DARE need closer analysis so that we can learn from them for the national strategy. I give my hon. Friend an undertaking that when, in the near future I at last visit his constituency I shall visit a school where the DARE programme is being implemented. We can then reflect on some of its lessons for the wider drugs education policy in this country.

Ex-Prisoners

7.

What steps are being taken to prevent those who leave prison from committing drug-related offences.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Offenders who have misused drugs need access to a wide range of support on leaving prison. That may include treatment for drug dependency, but equally important is assistance with housing, employment and life skills such as literacy. The key to delivering that support is effective links between prisons and agencies that operate in the community. With significant new money having been made available, we are working to improve those links, for example by building single points of contact in drug action teams in the 25 DAT areas in the country with the highest levels of acquisitive crime.

My hon. Friend knows of the high-achieving track record in reducing crime of our community safety partnership, which has existed for a long time—it was one of the first in the country. Operation Trident drove some crack cocaine dealers out of London. Sadly, they came to Plymouth, and crime has started to rise again there. Does he understand the frustration experienced by its police division? It is so innovative in tackling such matters, some 600 former prisoners have come back to Plymouth in the last year. Some Government programmes are working well, but the final piece of the jigsaw that we need in Plymouth to help former prisoners in the way that he describes does not exist.

Does the Minister agree that bringing to Plymouth a programme such as the one he has mentioned would be a wise investment, as it would provide best value for the money spent in prisons? Will he give his colleague sitting to his left, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, a nudge over supporting our invest to save round 6 bid this year, so that we can get best value for money from all the magnificent programmes that the Government have been implementing to tackle drugs in our cities?

In fairness to my colleague to my left, there is significant new money in the updated drugs strategy. The biggest single gap that we identified in that programme was the need for us to provide schemes such as those in which Plymouth has been leading the way—for example, joined-up working with drug offenders. We are determined not only to provide both the link for those coming out of prison and the correct connections with community services and treatment, but to reach a position in the 30 basic command units where we have a handling strategy for drug offenders or drug addicts whereby we can pass on all the relevant information. We do not want them to fall between the grating and become lost if they refuse treatment and offend. We want to pick them up, so that we can continue to make progress.

I am most interested by what the Minister says. Can he bring us up to date about the progress being made with the prospects pilots that are under way for short-term prisoners? He has touched only on the period when people have left prison. Given the tremendous progress in the United States, where there has been a 15 per cent. reduction in misuse, can the Home Office Minister explain why there is still no comprehensive programme in prisons in this country? On what date does he expect to implement one?

There is a comprehensive system in prisons. Neither the Prison Service nor I pretend that it can deal with every single prisoner with a drug problem, but there has been considerable growth in the provision available. There is a joined-up system called CARATs—the Counselling, Assessment, Referral, Advice and Throughcare scheme—which provides an assessment at the start and then access to various treatments. It also provides through-care for people leaving prison.

One of our biggest problems is the huge number of drug offenders in prison who are serving short sentences. Due to the offences that they commit, such as shoplifting, they are released from prison quickly, although they are not out on licence. Changes to the updated drugs strategy should plug that gap in provision, and changes that we are making through the Criminal Justice Bill will plug some gaps in the justice system, so we can help to monitor prisoners when they are released back into the community and try to prevent them from reoffending.

Given that figures show that two in three people who are arrested have taken one or more illegal drug, is it Government policy that, on release from prison, everybody with a known history of drug use should have an immediate referral to somebody who can deal with the risk of their reoffending and continuing their drug use? If that is Government policy, is it already in place on the discharge of all prisoners? If not, when will it be?

The hon. Gentleman has hit on the nub of what we need to achieve. No, that policy is not in place, and, yes, it needs to be.

We are doing work in the 25 drug action team areas that cover the 30 high-crime BCUs in the country. We are trying to develop a system that means that we do not lose people, so that they do not come out of treatment when they come out of prison—a seamless system in which they are, effectively, handed over to people who are warned not only about when they are coming out, but their needs, so that we can pick them up and work with them outside prison. We are trying to do that in 30 areas initially, to get the system as robust as possible. Then we will roll it out nationwide as quickly as we can.

Drug Treatment And Testing Orders

9.

What progress has been made in reducing the time between the issuing of a drug treatment and testing order and its implementation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

There is a national standard requirement for the implementation of drug treatment and testing orders. It comprises two conditions: within one working day of the order being made, the offender should attend an appointment with the probation service; within two working days, contact should be established with a treatment provider. The latest DTTO figures show that 89 per cent. Of appointments are being kept. That compliance rate is more than 5 per cent. higher than it was over the preceding six months.

My supplementary question is probably more relevant to the Health Minister. Do Ministers recognise that NHS providers of drug treatment services are not responding quickly enough in some areas? They are not meeting this national standard to respond to the orders made by the courts.

Recently, in Reading Crown court, a heroin addict was sentenced to a drug treatment and testing order after committing more than 40 offences of burglary and criminal deception to fund his addiction. Do Ministers agree that it is nothing less than shocking that the local national health service treatment service told him to come back and start his course in four weeks, which triggered yet another drug fuelled mini-crime wave? Will they authorise a review of the failure of NHS service providers in that regard?

My hon. Friend is right. We face a problem: capacity in the drug treatment sector must be increased. We are starting from a low base, because that sector was not a high priority. Most of its capacity has come from very good voluntary sector providers, but they have not had the same of models of care, of standards and of work force development as other sectors. With the advent of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, capacity in the sector is now growing at a fairly phenomenal rate. Our estimates for growth for this year have been exceeded, so people are beginning to see the drug field as a worthwhile place to work and somewhere to build a career.

We are building better occupational standards to provide good-quality treatment, but my hon. Friend is right that there is much more to do to ensure that people can receive good, high-quality treatment from day one. That is exactly what we plan to do. With the criminal justice intervention programme, we plan to provide a Rolls-Royce service. As soon as people are referred, whether as a result of arrest referrals or of DTTOs, they will be held in the system and they will have a personal adviser to guide them through it. Increasingly, we need not only to refer for treatment, but to retain people in treatment and see them successfully through the programme. I acknowledge that we have much more to do, but the system is substantially improved from what it was a short time ago.

Doug Smuggling

10.

What joint actions have been put in place with their EU counterparts to prevent drugs from entering the UK through the enlarged EU.

The UK works closely with other member states to deliver the EU drug strategy, and works closely with countries joining the EU.

The EU drug strategy includes a commitment to ensure that candidate countries develop and implement drug policies that are in line with existing EU standards. To that end, the Union is providing pre-accession assistance to candidate countries, which includes locally-based accession advisers and twinning projects.

I am conscious of the fact that the existing EU 12 have many direct access points for drugs. With my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), I visited Europol and the Amsterdam drugs team as part of the police parliamentary scheme. On one aeroplane, the Schipol team found 48 people, each of whom had swallowed a kilo of cocaine to bring it to Amsterdam. There are already lots of routes.

When I visited Colombia, I saw the coca fields being sprayed. The person in charge of the police there named a number of countries which were soon to be members of the enlarged EU, but were then outside the Union, that provided routes for Colombian cocaine into Europe and through Europe back to the USA, because it is more difficult to bring it in through Mexico or similar countries.

The problem is huge, so are we giving the resources to the border police and drugs squads that will be necessary in an enlarged EU to prevent a flood of cocaine and heroin from entering the EU and, eventually, the UK once enlargement takes away the existing barriers?

My hon. Friend raises a genuine concern. I emphasise that, in joining the EU, candidate countries are required to sign up to closer co-operation with other member states on such matters.

Fighting drugs and organised crime is not only a matter of controlling access points, which my hon. Friend is rightly worried about, or of frontier controls. In any event, the UK would retain its essential checks for drugs crossing our frontiers. Enlargement will allow new levels of cross-border co-operation in the fight against drugs and organised crime, and most major drug investigations are already carried out jointly or with the help of European partners. EU enlargement should be seen as the chance for a significant increase in cross-border co-operation, which will allow our law enforcement agencies to work much better when dealing with the problem that he is rightly concerned about.

It is clear from what the Minister says that eastern Europe, including a number of entrant nations, is an increasingly important source of illegal drugs. Given that, and given the importance of secure borders in the fight against drugs, can he tell us why Customs and Excise is planning to withdraw 40 per cent. of its officers in ports such as Holyhead, Pembroke and Swansea?

Over the next three years, Customs will increase resources on frontier controls and combating organised smuggling. That will involve staff from some low-volume, low-risk entry points being deployed in intelligence-led mobile teams, which will allow us to deal with the methods of modern smugglers.

The hon. Gentleman, in the context of his question, is right: 95 per cent. of British heroin originates in Afghanistan. The supply routes come through some EU candidate countries, which emphasises the importance of the work that we are already doing, and increasingly so, with countries such as Turkey to intercept those drugs before they reach United Kingdom borders and the United Kingdom's streets.

Rural Areas

11.

What initiatives they are taking to combat the drugs problem in rural areas and market towns. [114228]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

All areas are covered by the drugs strategy, including those in rural locations. Funding is made available pro rata to need for every local drug action team to buy a wide range of services to meet the needs of rural communities.

Is the Minister aware of the increasing problem in the small market town of Thirsk, together with Sowerby, in Vale of York? Drugs-fuelled crime is rising to an alarming extent, with young offenders in particular turning to prostitution to fuel their drugs habit. That is a source of great social concern, but it is especially worrying to the local community and residents. What action do the Government propose to take to give the police more powers to clamp down heavily on the crime of prostitution?

We are trying to increase the number of police on our streets. Thankfully, we have achieved record numbers and the rate of recruitment to the police force is the highest since 1976. We are trying to supplement police numbers by growing the extended police family through the addition of community support officers, accredited schemes and neighbourhood wardens to give people reassurance and a visible presence in their neighbourhoods and in areas where there is a serious crime problem. I am not aware of the problems in the villages to which the hon. Lady refers, but I am aware that there are particular problems in rural areas. The Home Office is conducting studies on how young people in rural areas are affected by drugs to assess whether methods need to be used in rural areas that differ from those that are necessary in the urban environment.

Only last Saturday evening there was a murder in my home town—the first time in many years that a crime of such significance had taken place there. We have also had a spate of suicides by young people, some of which have been linked to the drugs scene.

I want to mention the outstanding success of Operation Emperor in Dumfries and Galloway, which led to the arrest of more than 70 people in the town of Stranraer, some of whom received hefty jail sentences. It was a joint operation between Dumfries and Galloway constabulary and Strathclyde constabulary during an 18-month period. However, there are many other parts of the locality where people are frustrated by what they consider to be significant inaction.

Does my hon. Friend agree that public confidence can be renewed only when operations such as Emperor are carried out? Of course, they can succeed only with the support of and information fed in by the general public.

My hon. Friend touches on a couple of important points. No matter how good the police force is on its own, there is a need to establish good and effective working relationships with the community. Intelligence and feedback are essential to the investigation of serious crime and we need to work at lowering the barriers. Different police operations in different parts of the country are designed to build those links and grow that confidence.

My hon. Friend raises the issue of deaths and suicides as a result of drugs. For the first time, we have seen a drop in drug-related deaths, which is very welcome. There is a new emphasis on harm minimisation in the updated drugs strategy, but we have a lot further to go, as other jurisdictions have a better record over many years than this country on drug-related deaths.

In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh), the Minister made much play of record police numbers. Is he aware, however, that once one adjusts those supposed record numbers to account for shifts and for the fact that people may be in training, on courses and off ill, one finds that the number of deployable officers is going down, particularly in my constituency? What does he say about that?

We have to have a figure of some kind so that we can compare trends. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that there was shift working in the police force when the Conservatives were in government. There is still shift working, but there are record numbers of police. That may be an uncomfortable fact for him, but it is a fact none the less.

The hon. Gentleman knows that we are carrying out a programme of work as part of the police reform agenda. The Conservative party has supported some elements, but has been less supportive of others. The programme is designed to free up police time and to put as much of that resource into the front line as possible. I ask his party to continue to engage positively with the reform agenda, because it is right that we have the necessary police numbers and that we relieve officers from unnecessary duties so that as many as possible are on the streets doing the job that our constituents want them to do.