Skip to main content

Drug-related Crime

Volume 458: debated on Monday 19 March 2007

The most recent published crime figures show that the strategy is working. Recorded acquisitive crime, to which drug-related crime makes a substantial contribution, has fallen by 20 per cent. since the onset of the drug interventions programme, which is now getting on average more than 3,000 drug misusing offenders into drug treatment each month. The Home Office is carrying out an ongoing research programme to look at the effectiveness of individual programme components.

Given that the Minister’s own Department’s report in 2005 on determining the effectiveness of drug treatment interventions concluded that

“there is strong evidence that the most effective interventions to reduce drug-related crime are therapeutic communities”,

why are there so few residential rehabilitation centres, particularly for young people, and why are only 18 prisons offering intensive therapeutic programmes?

We have made considerable resources available to the drugs sector to ensure that services are available, whatever the needs of the individuals concerned. We have introduced the drug interventions programme to ensure that people who commit a trigger offence in the DIP areas can be tested on arrest; those who commit such offences in other areas can be tested on charge. Others might come into the system through the health sector. GPs will then allocate them to services as appropriate. I cannot see the hon. Gentleman objecting to the significant increases in budgets; this year, we have invested £1.5 billion in drug-related services in this country. That is a huge increase, compared with the situation a few years ago.

Does my hon. Friend agree that detection is important in combating drug-related crime? Will he join me in congratulating the Wiltshire constabulary, which has detected and shut down crack houses and cannabis farms in Swindon? Does he also agree that local, neighbourhood policing is extremely important for detecting low-level drug pushers and other young people who get involved in drug-related crime?

Since the introduction of the drugs intervention programme more than 69,000 drug-misusing offenders have entered treatment, and many will be treated in Swindon and elsewhere in Wiltshire. The Government’s drugs strategy has succeeded because it is about bringing people treatment not just through the criminal justice system, but through the health service and through self-referral. All that is now working, not only in Swindon but across the country.

Given the link between drug-related crime and drug-infested prisons, does it worry the Minister that at a prison that I visited, often the only penalty imposed on visitors discovered carrying drugs on their way to meet a prisoner was not to be allowed to make a contact visit to that prisoner? When will the Government get tough on drugs in prisons?

The Government are already getting tough on drugs in prisons. The Offender Management Bill, which the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) has just steered through the House, contains a range of measures to deal with some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

I have already given figures relating to the increase in investment in drug treatment outside prisons. Let me add that in 1996-97, £7.2 million was spent on drug treatment in prisons. In 2006-07, £77.3 million was spent on it—974 per cent. more. Of course, we must ensure that there is good management and that the system is made more effective, and we will do that.

Operation Tarion, conducted throughout south Wales, has—along with a taskforce of police throughout Wales— achieved the highest-ever cocaine haul in the area, resulting in many arrests, and police in Bridgend F division have also made a number of drug arrests recently. Successful policing can actually reduce the anxiety of people who observe the prevalence of drugs in their communities. How can we reassure the public when the police succeed in making such high-level arrests?

At a strategic national and international level the Serious and Organised Crime Agency is responsible for the seizure of cocaine and other drugs, but we also have neighbourhood policing. The interaction of police at local level is extremely important. If we are to overcome local anxiety about drugs, the police must engage with local communities—as they do in the best neighbourhood models—and explain to them what they are doing. People across the country tell me that they do not worry when the police take action over dealers in the street; what worries them is dealers’ being seen to act with impunity. When the police take action, as they have in my hon. Friend’s constituency in south Wales and elsewhere, we should get behind them, because people want to see the dealers where they should be—in prison.

In the courts where I sit, every class A drug addict defendant began his or her life on cannabis. Does the Minister accept that cannabis in its current form is much stronger than it used to be, and is deeply damaging to young and vulnerable people? If he does, will he send a message to the courts and the police to take cannabis much more seriously, and will he raise its classification from C to B to signal our worry about the problem?

I know that the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this issue. I think the message we must send is that cannabis remains an illegal drug which causes immense harm to communities. We know that skunk causes a particular problem. Recognising that, the Government recently issued a series of television and other advertisements under the title “Brain Store” in an attempt to show young people, in particular, the link between cannabis and mental illness. There will be a continuing debate about drug classification, but I think the message we should send today is that cannabis remains a dangerous drug and is illegal.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Northamptonshire police on their effective programme of crack house closures, especially in the town centre, where they have dealt with a great many drug-related crime problems? Does he agree, however, that the programme would be much more effective if there were cross-party consensus, particularly involving the Liberal Democrat Opposition?

The power to close crack houses was introduced by this Government. As my hon. Friend says, that was opposed by the Liberal Democrats. It is an important tool that the police have available to them to tackle drug-related crime.

The Government drugs strategy is simple. We want to see tough enforcement of the law. There has to be a real clampdown on people who deal in drugs in our communities. Alongside that we want to see education for our children and for others in society, and an expansion in and more effective use of treatment. As I say, we need to have not an either/or policy, but an all-inclusive policy.