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Drugs Strategy

Volume 490: debated on Monday 23 March 2009

1. What progress has been made in the implementation of the Government’s strategy to tackle drugs. (264795)

Drug use is now down to its lowest level in more than a decade, and we continue to see reductions in the harms caused by drugs. Enforcement action is reducing drug-related crime, more effective drug treatment is being delivered, and effective communications and information campaigns are getting across the message that drugs harm.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It is clear that children who live with drug-addicted parents face a specific set of risks, including emotional or physical neglect and abuse, and ingesting the drugs or substitute drugs that their parents take. After Lord Laming’s report, which was published on 12 March and detailed what went wrong after the death of baby P, what further steps will my hon. Friend take to ensure that the best practice that exists in some places becomes standard practice across the country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because it raises an important issue. The first family intervention programmes targeting substance misuse are under way, and they are particularly important for chaotic families whose lives are affected by substance misuse. They help misusing parents to improve their parenting skills, and also offer protection to their children. We hope that up to 20,000 families will be able to access this support.

Given the Government’s treatment of Professor David Nutt, the independent adviser whom the Government appointed, in haranguing him after he had published an academic paper in his own right as an academic, do the Government fear that they will no longer be able to get good quality, independent advice on their drugs policy because scientists will be fearful of getting a morning call from the Home Secretary demanding that they apologise for disagreeing with her?

The simple answer to that is no. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we take the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs very seriously. We agreed with much of its advice on cannabis and on ecstasy, but we have to take a judgment based on a wider picture, including the harm that drugs do. It is up to the advisers to advise, but it is up to the Government to take the decisions.

We welcome what the Government have done and their proposals for the future, but does the Minister not agree that we also have to deal with the dealers? We need a hard-line policy to extend the amount of time that they spend in prison. Previously, people who ended up on drugs and went to prison could voluntarily go and get cleaned up, but that has now been taken away. What can we do to ensure that people who are on drugs get the support that they need, and that, more importantly, we take a hard line against the dealers?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that enforcement is a key part of the Government’s drugs strategy, but it is also important that we do not have a revolving door policy in relation to drug misusers and prison. That is why we must ensure that misusers have appropriate treatments before they get caught up in prison, as well during any time spent in prison, and that there is a seamless transition on coming back out into the community.

This set of Ministers has done more than any other I can recall to fight the problem of drug abuse in this country. Will the Minister tell the House what action he can take to implement as soon as possible the control of gamma butyrolactone, the date rape drug that is becoming a real problem?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, and I should like to pay tribute to the work that he has been doing on this issue. He will be aware that the chemical to which he refers is widely used in industry, and we are looking at how alternatives can be provided to allow legitimate practices in industry to continue. He should be under no illusion, however; we do intend to take the action that he is calling for.

I understand that my hon. Friend was in Vienna recently, at the United Nations General Assembly special session on the misuse of drugs. Will he tell us what position Britain took at that assembly, and what the general outcome of it was?

We made no secret of the fact that the UK Government were disappointed by the political declaration that came out of the long deliberations, and also the conference itself. We did not support views on difficulties concerning use of the term “harm reduction” in the declaration. It is inconsistent to refer to millennium goals that talk about tackling HIV and AIDS, but to do and say nothing about clean needles. We signed up to the declaration reluctantly, but we will continue the process to ensure that harm reduction gets a fair hearing.

If the Government think that their drugs strategy is working so well, will the Minister explain why heroin and cocaine are trading on British streets at prices that are at an 11-year low?

I am not sure that we would agree with the hon. Gentleman’s figures, but let me tell him something about cocaine. There is no evidence that its use has risen in recent years. Its wholesale price is rising, as are seizures of the drug, and the purity of cocaine on the streets is falling. Taken together, those factors suggest that the action that we are taking on cocaine has been successful.