With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Government’s new 10-year strategy for addressing illicit drug use, which has been published today.
Illegal drugs inflict devastation on a horrifying scale. The impact on individuals, families and neighbourhoods is profound. The cost to society is colossal—running to nearly £20 billion a year in England alone—but the greatest tragedy is the human cost. Drugs drive nearly half of all homicides, and a similar proportion of crimes such as robbery, burglary and theft. More people die every year as a result of illegal drug use than from all knife crime and road traffic accidents combined. The county lines drug dealing model fuels violence and exploitation. The need for action could not be clearer. Today, we are setting out how we will turn that around. Our new strategy “From harm to hope” is a blueprint for driving drugs out of our cities, towns and villages, and for ensuring that those affected get the help that they so badly need.
In February 2019, the Government commissioned Professor Dame Carol Black to conduct an independent review of the issues and challenges relating to drug misuse. In July, Dame Carol published the second part of her review. Both parts together formed a call to action. We accept all Dame Carol’s key recommendations, and this strategy sets out our response in full.
The task of gripping the issue cannot be undertaken by any one Department alone. A collective effort is required, which is why we have developed a whole-system approach, with a focus on three strategic priorities: first, breaking drug supply chains; secondly, delivering a world-class treatment and recovery system; and thirdly, achieving a significant reduction in demand for illegal drugs over the next generation. It is a truly whole-of-Government effort that takes in contributions from a number of my ministerial colleagues. I thank Dame Carol Black for her thorough reviews and championing of this important agenda.
I am pleased to tell the House that our strategy is accompanied by nearly £900 million of dedicated funding. That record level of investment will bring our total spending on drug enforcement, treatment and recovery to more than £3 billion over the next three years. That is unprecedented and a clear signal of our commitment, and that of the Prime Minister, to addressing the challenges.
Using that funding, we will mount a relentless and uncompromising campaign against the violent and exploitative illegal drug market. That will include: further action to prevent drugs from entering the country; the disruption of criminal gangs responsible for drug trafficking and supply; a zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prisons; and a continued focus on rolling up county lines, building on the success of our efforts to date.
The county lines phenomenon is one of the most pernicious forms of criminality to emerge in recent years, which is why we ramped up activity to dismantle the business model behind that threat. Since that programme was launched just over two years ago, we have seen the closure of more than 1,500 county lines, with over 7,400 arrests. Importantly, more than 4,000 vulnerable, often young, people have been rescued and safeguarded. Those results speak for themselves, but we will not stop there. By investing £300 million in throttling the drugs supply chain over the next three years, we will take a significant stride towards delivering the objectives of our beating crime plan and levelling-up agenda.
Tough enforcement action must be coupled with a renewed focus on breaking the cycle of drug addiction, which is why we are investing an additional £780 million in creating a world-class treatment and recovery system. That is the largest ever single increase in treatment and recovery investment, and the public will expect to see results—and so do we.
The strategy sets out how the whole-of-Government mission aims to significantly increase the numbers of drug and alcohol treatment places, and people in long-term recovery from substance addiction, to reverse the upward trend in drug-related deaths, and to bolster the crime prevention effort by reducing levels of offending associated with drug dependency. To achieve that, we are setting out a clear stance today that addiction is a chronic condition and that when someone has been drawn into drug dependency, they should be supported to recover. Of the £780 million, £530 million will be spent on enhancing drug treatment services, while £120 million will be used to increase the number of offenders and ex-offenders who are engaged in the treatment that they need to turn their lives around.
Treatment services are just one part of the support that people need to sustain a meaningful recovery, so we are investing a further £68 million for treatment and additional support for people with a housing need and £29 million for specialised employment support for people who have experienced drug addiction. That enhanced spending on drug treatment and recovery will also help to drive down crime by cutting levels of drug-related offending.
The harms caused by drug misuse are not distributed evenly across the country. Although our strategy is designed to deliver for the country as a whole, it is right that we target our investment so that the areas with the highest levels of drug use and drug-related deaths and crime are prioritised. That will be a key step in levelling up such areas and supporting them to prosper.
Local partners working together on our long-term ambitions will be key to the strategy’s success and we will develop a new set of local and national measures of progress against our key strategic aims, with clear accountability at national and local levels. We will also continue to work closely with our partners in the devolved Administrations to embed collaboration, share good practice and strengthen our evidence base in this UK-wide challenge.
The new strategy sets out our immediate priorities while also highlighting our longer-term goals. We want to see a generational shift in our society’s attitude towards drugs, which means reducing the demand for illegal drugs and being utterly unequivocal about the swift and certain consequences that individuals will face if they choose to take drugs as part of their lifestyle. We will improve our methods for identifying those drugs users and roll out a system of tougher penalties that they must face.
Unlawful possession of drugs is a crime and we need to be clear that those who break the law should face consequences for their actions. That is why our commitment includes going even further in this mission with a White Paper next year to ensure that the penalties for recreational use are tougher and have a clear and increasing impact. Those penalties must be meaningful for the individual, which is why we are considering options such as increased powers to fine individuals, requirements to attend drug awareness courses, and other reporting requirements and restrictions on their movement, including—possibly—the confiscation of passports and driving licences.
Alongside that, our strategy commits to research, innovation and building a world-leading evidence base to achieve a once-in-a-generation shift in attitudes and behaviours. A new £5-million cross-Government innovation fund and a new research fund will start that decade-long journey. That will include a review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on how best to prevent vulnerable people from falling into drug use. A national drugs summit will be also held in spring next year to bring together experts, educators, businesses, law enforcement and Government to discuss the issue.
Preventing drug use is always a better route than dealing with the consequences of harms. The strategy also sets out our commitment to evaluating mandatory relationships, sex and health education in schools, and to supporting young people and families most at risk of substance misuse. The new strategy marks the start of a journey and we will publish annual reports to track progress against the ambitions contained in it.
Illegal drugs are the cause of untold misery across our society. The Government will not stand by while lives are being destroyed. This is about reducing crime, levelling up our country and, fundamentally, saving lives. Our new strategy sets out how we will turn the tide on drug misuse, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. Over the last 20 years, we have seen a stark pattern of class A drug use. Between 1996 and 2011, the use of class A drugs was on a downward trend year on year. Since 2011, the use of class A drugs has increased every year. Drug deaths are at an all-time high and we have seen the emergence of increasingly violent and exploitative gangs that use technology that is way ahead of the Government to groom kids and sell them drugs.
The question Dame Carol Black answered in her review on drugs was why that has happened, and her conclusions were damning. We have gone backwards over the last 10 years, with drug abuse up and drug treatment down. She said that
“drug misuse is at tragically destructive levels in this country…Funding cuts have left treatment and recovery services on their knees. Commissioning has been fragmented, with little accountability …partnerships…have deteriorated. The workforce is depleted…and demoralised.”
I could go on.
There has never been a greater need for a 10-year plan to try to undo the 10 years of damage caused by Conservative Governments. In his statement, the Minister talked of ambitious plans, but what is missing is any recognition that the policies followed by Conservative Governments over the last 11 years have caused such damage. The truth is that the Government have dropped the ball on drugs and on crime.
I have been going round the country over the last few weeks and I have seen the damage that has been done. Communities of good people with hopes and dreams have been invaded by serious organised crime that trashes our streets and preys on our young by offering false hope of money and a future. There are two-for-one deals on Insta: “Introduce a friend and get your drugs half price. You help us, we’ll help you.” Thousands of children at risk of abuse are taking a punt on their futures at the hands of thugs, and whole communities are having to deal with antisocial behaviour and the crime that follows drug addiction. This is Tory Britain.
I will not join the Prime Minister’s fanfare about the biggest investment in a generation, because this Government have overseen the biggest failures of a generation; and I mourn the loss of life. Instead, today I hope that the Government mean what they say, and want to welcome the strategy—at last—and ask some questions of the Minister.
I welcome the funding, the commitment to 54,000 new treatment places, the closure of the 2,000 lines we hope to close and the ambition to save 1,000 lives, but will neighbourhood policing be brought back to the levels we saw in 2010—so crucial for catching those who sell drugs in our communities—because we know that only 400 of the first tranche of 6,000 officers are in frontline roles? Will the 50% of police community support officers we have lost be replaced?
Can the Minister explain why he is not funding treatment to the level that Dame Carol Black has called for? We count a shortfall of over £200 million. Will the Minister look at the new offence of child criminal exploitation, accept Labour’s suggestion of putting modern slavery offenders on a register similar to the sex offenders register, and look again at all the amendments we have tabled to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to impose longer sentences for adults who involve children in criminal enterprise?
While this Government have dithered on drugs, those selling and producing them have been working hard. They have new, exploitative ways of pushing their products around the country, and they have chilling ways of advertising them online to our children. A shocking 58% of 18-year-olds reported seeing drugs being sold online, often via Instagram and Snapchat.
Can the Minister confirm that the statistic that the Government have shut down over 1,500 deal lines actually means they have taken or shut down an individual phone or phone number, not that they have necessarily caught the groomers and the exploiters? Most criminal gangs will keep copies of their customer list that can be sold for thousands of pounds. I have heard the police talk about using an order to force a communications provider to disconnect a device or phone number, and the line was back up in an hour. How many actual networks have been shut down?
What is the Minister doing to recruit more analysts? What is he doing to work with social media companies, which should not allow the sale of drugs on their networks, to get ahead of the criminals online? How are the telecommunication companies involved in his plan?
Finally, prosecutions for drug offences are down 36% since 2010 and convictions down 43%. This is alongside an overall drop in prosecutions since 2010—down 40%. Why has this happened, and what is the Minister doing about that? All around this country, people know what impact drugs are having on our communities and they want something done about it. This statement and this drugs plan, however the Minister presents them, are not about levelling up; they are compensation for cuts over the last decade, for lives lost and for communities that have had to bear the brunt of the Government’s complacency on drugs.
I am afraid that, while I obviously welcome some of the hon. Lady’s pleasure at what we are doing in the plan and I recognise, as she does, the need for some action, these exchanges between us have a slightly tiresome pattern, if I may say so, which is that I announce some new initiative and the hon. Lady starts talking about the events of 12 years ago, somehow implying that we are not really doing anything at all. Even if I accepted her premise about the pattern over the last 10 years—which, for the record, I do not—it would be refreshing, would it not, if she and her party were willing to accept some culpability for the financial situation that we inherited well over a decade ago. Somebody had to sort out the finances of this country, as we had to in 1979 as well, and if we had not done that and sorted out the money side of it then, I hesitate to imagine what financial situation we would be in now.
While the hon. Lady points to the pattern of consumption, she strangely seems to forget that drug consumption now is well below the level it was in many of the years of the previous Labour Government. In fact, consumption of class A did not really start to turn in this country till about 2014, not 2011, as she pointed out. That was because the industry, as it were, or the business of drug distribution reacted as any business would: it found different products and new ways to distribute, made products cheaper and stronger, and started to exploit people in a way we had not seen before.
We commissioned Dame Carol Black to do this study. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who has just left the Chamber, commissioned it when he was the Home Secretary, because we recognised the alarm being caused in neighbourhoods, towns, cities and villages across the country, and we wanted to do something about it. That plan has now resulted in our strategy that we are publishing today, and we firmly believe it will make a big difference over the next decade.
The hon. Lady should not imagine—and I slightly take umbrage at her accusation—that we have sat on our hands more recently. As you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, over the last two years that I have been in this job, I have dedicated myself to the Prime Minister’s command that we should roll up county lines. We have closed 1,500 deal lines, which has resulted in 7,400 arrests and, importantly, over 4,000 young people have been rescued from the clutches of those gangs. [Interruption.] I hope she, and her colleagues muttering at me, will welcome those results and, frankly, congratulate the police on manufacturing a modus operandi of dealing with these gangs that is often dismantling them permanently.
The three big exporting forces of London, West Midlands and Merseyside have seen significant investment by the Government over the last two years to deal with this problem, and as a result, we have seen big falls. If we look at a county like Norfolk, only 18 months ago it had well over 100 county lines, and the number of county lines in that county can be counted on the fingers of two hands. There have been great results across the country, and I am disappointed that the hon. Lady has not recognised that. So the idea that somehow there was some dithering on drugs is completely unfair. We have closed down a large number of deal lines, but there is still a long way to go. We think we are down to about 600 active lines now across the country, and that over the next two years, with the investment we have put in place, we will be able to drive them down even further.
The hon. Lady did ask an interesting question about the role of telecommunications companies and the use of technology. One of the things we have learned over the last two or three years is that these businesses, as it were, of distributing drugs are uniquely vulnerable because of their use of telecoms to distribute, market and communicate with their customers. We will be talking to telecommunications companies about how they can help us.
On the hon. Lady’s final accusation that this is not about levelling up, we know that the impact of drugs has been disproportionate across the country. The north-east, for example, suffers much more than any other part of England. Again, Blackpool, where we have put a Project ADDER and where we are doing significant work, has the highest number of drug deaths in England. There is a disproportionality out there, and we are determined to address it. We will start our work in those kinds of areas, and that will be a key part of our levelling-up agenda in the years to come.
Order. If everybody could resume their seats. As you can see, there is a lot of interest in this. We still have three other bits of business following this so, please, no statements—just ask questions, so I can get in as many people as I possibly can.
May I commend my right hon. Friend on his statement and on the drugs strategy that he and I worked on together? In particular, I commend Dame Carol Black’s recommendations 17 to 19 relating to the Ministry of Justice—on the treatment of prisoners in custody, arrangements for release and, indeed, the issue of a co-ordinator role in the probation service to join up those vital support services. Will he make sure that those provisions in particular are carried out as soon as possible?
My right hon. and learned Friend was pivotal in the development and thinking around the plan, particularly from a Ministry of Justice point of view, and I am very grateful that he was, given his wide experience. He is quite right that while we can put in place high-quality treatment, it needs to be consistent across the country, particularly for those leaving the secure estate, but it also needs to be part of a jigsaw of recovery that includes housing and employment. The argument he used to make is that for success we need three pillars—a job, a house and a friend—and for a drug addict, that friend can often be a therapist, and we believe the same.
I thank the Minister for his statement and his letter, and of course we all desperately want to see the consumption of drugs and the devastation he referred to tackled urgently. Aspects of the strategy are welcome, including acceptance of Dame Carol Black’s recommendations—I think he said “all”, but perhaps he could clarify that—as well as funding for treatment, including harm reduction; more use of diversion from prosecution; work to tackle organised crime; and a commitment to collaboration with the devolved Governments.
However, I do not think the Minister will be shocked that I want to push him again on the need for overdose prevention facilities. I appreciate that he does not share my keenness for them, but given there is strong evidence from other countries that they help to reduce harm significantly, surely there must now be some trials conducted in the UK to confirm whether they can help here, too. That would be exactly strengthening the evidence base he has referred to a couple of times in his statement. Can I also push him on drugs checking facilities and on the regulation of pill presses? What are the implications of his strategy for these policies, because as far as I can see, it is silent on them?
If the Minister cannot answer those questions positively, then what really is different about this strategy compared with the other six that have been produced in the last quarter of a century? Is he not at risk of recycling the failed war on drugs in relentlessly ramping up punishment when the Home Office’s own research shows that that does not work? Is the UK not at risk of being left behind by the evidence-led public health approaches being followed by many other countries across Europe, north America and further afield?
Finally, the Minister may be aware of the campaign to tackle stigma launched today by the Scottish Government, recognising that people struggling with a drug problem should get support and treatment like those with other health conditions. Will he agree that tackling such stigma is vital in order to encourage people to seek the help that they need?
I obviously recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern in this area, given the scale of the problem in Scotland, which is by far and away the worst in the western world. I know that the party of which he is a member, and the Government in place in Scotland, have relatively recently made a similar investment along the same lines in health treatment.
On drug consumption rooms, I have always said that my mind is open to the evidence, and I am in correspondence with my counterpart, the drugs Minister in the Scottish Government, about what that evidence might be. As far as I can see thus far, it is patchy. It is very hard to divine the difference between an overall health approach on drug consumption and the specific impact of a drug consumption room. However, we continue to be in dialogue with the Scottish Government, as we are on pill presses and, indeed, on drug checking. My commitment to the drugs Minister in Scotland was to continue that dialogue and see what we could do.
On overdose prevention centres, at the moment, under current legislation, we believe there are a number of offences that would be committed in the running of one of those rooms, and that is a legislative obstacle to their running. In the end, though, the biggest impact we have seen in all parts of the world that have been successful in this area has been from a widespread investment in health and rehabilitation. I hope that the Scottish Government will support the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross), the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who has been very concerned about this issue and has been driving a campaign forward in the Scottish Parliament.
On stigma, I am afraid I do not necessarily agree. While we want to work closely to make sure that those who are addicted to class A drugs get the treatment they need, we need to be careful not to send confusing signals to those people who otherwise indulge in class A drugs and drive a huge amount of trade but do not regard themselves as addicted. I will be interested to see what the progress is in Scotland.
The key thing in all the home nations is that, as we roll out our various policies, we learn from each other. My pledge is that I will continue the home nations summits, which I have been holding regularly, most recently a couple of months ago in Belfast, to make sure that we do exactly that.
I think this new long-term strategy looks excellent. It is a thoughtful piece of work, it is funded, and I think it strikes the right balance between head and heart, so well done to the Government. Chapter 3 deals with support for families and mentions “family-based” treatment, particularly where
“parents are themselves dependent on drugs or alcohol.”
Could the Minister expand on that a little? Is that through the new family hubs that were announced in the Budget? Is it through local authorities? Will he just say a bit more about that, please?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his words of encouragement. It has been an enormous effort across the whole of Government to put this plan together. I congratulate my team, and I thank my fellow Ministers who have worked on putting it in place. My hon. Friend is quite right that we need to focus very much on drugs in the home. The funding that is put in place, although it is routed through the Department of Health and Social Care, will go to local authorities, which will then be able to design their own services locally to fit their own requirements and demographic. Some of that might be in the home, some of it might be residential, and some of it might be on an out-patient basis. We do not want to be prescriptive at this stage, but this will be channelled through local authorities, which can design services appropriately.
I welcome the measures set out in the Government’s new strategy and the funding that goes with it. I particularly welcome the emphasis on disrupting supplies and dealing with those who already have addiction problems. One piece of the jigsaw that seems to be missing, although I may have missed it, is targeting of so-called drug barons and the extent to which money laundering is going on in this country, always through legitimate businesses and increasingly, I think, through some private landlords. Will the Minister say a word about how the Government intend to tackle that specific problem?
The right hon. Gentleman puts his finger on one of the key issues. One of the issues that I have discussed with the police is that when we arrest people, they ought to be high-quality arrests of people who have unique skills, so that when they are taken out of circulation, specific damage is done to the business of drugs. I have likened it, in this festive season, to that Christmas cracker joke: “How do you kill a circus? Go for the juggler.” We need to make sure in each of these groups that the juggler is dealt with on a systemic basis, but key to doing that is following the money.
The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that, with the Minister for Security and Borders, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), who is here on the Front Bench and leads on economic crime, we have an operation under way with the National Crime Agency called Project Plutus, which is about both intercepting that money and, critically, learning about the flows of money, within the UK—whether that is into property assets or elsewhere—and internationally. If we can cut the money flow, then the business itself becomes pointless and hopefully it will disappear.
I strongly welcome the Minister’s plan and intent, and I wish him every success with it. On that money point, will he make it clear to the people making these big profits that the state will pursue them to take the money back?
We absolutely will, and our plan contains an ambition to significantly increase the denial of assets to the criminal fraternity. We know that this business, if it is a business—a horrible business—is prosecuted for profit. It is all about the money, so if we can make it a low-return, high-risk business, we will deter a lot of people from getting involved.
I welcome the focus in the strategy on treatment and recovery; £780 million is a significant investment, and I commend the Government for that. On supply and demand, I fear we are being offered an enhanced version of the same general approach that has failed for the last 50 years, and I am sad to say that it will fail for the next 10 years. On drug consumption rooms, the Minister said that the evidence is “patchy”. Surely, then, this is the time for some proper trials and pilots so that we can get the evidence. There is a lot of talk in the strategy about evidence; surely the Government have a duty now to allow some of those trials to get the evidence that these drug consumption rooms—I prefer to call them overdose prevention centres—can save lives.
As I say, I think there is a big difference with this plan, which is that on the supply side we are very much coming at this from an economic point of view. We have done an enormous amount of work to examine the nature of the business. We are not necessarily looking at the individuals involved, who very often are replaced if they are arrested—sometimes within hours—but fundamentally at the structure of the business, and interfering with it in a way that means it does not reoccur, using the method of distribution and communication against the business to make sure that we stamp it out. We are showing success across the country, particularly on county lines.
On drug consumption rooms, as I say, we remain open to evidence. We are looking at the evidence that has been presented by the Scottish Government, and we will respond to the Minister there shortly. However, as I say, even if that evidence was compelling—I am not convinced that it is at the moment—there are legislative obstacles that mean that we have no option for the moment but to focus on health investment and making sure that we ramp up treatment and rehabilitation, which we have seen have effect across the world.
I welcome the commitment in the strategy to building a world-leading evidence base, and the funding of it, with a cross-Government innovation fund to test and learn. Given our desire to become world leaders in this space, will the Minister confirm that that evidence will include international examples and evidence?
I am more than happy to confirm that we will look anywhere in the world where there are good ideas that are having impact and effect, but the evidence has to be properly evaluated, properly peer reviewed and scientifically proven, because we are dealing with people’s lives here. Across the world, we have seen unintended consequences from measures taken on narcotics, which we do not want to repeat. I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work in this area and that he is very well informed. I hope that, over the months and years to come, we can communicate regularly on this issue.
The Minister will know that many women end up in the criminal justice system because of substance misuse and addiction, and often exploitation. Can he say how the drugs strategy that the Government have announced today will link to whole-system approaches to women’s offending, such as we have applied successfully in Greater Manchester to roll out a programme of support that enables women to desist or avoid entering the criminal justice system?
First, all those in the secure estate who have a drug dependency or drug problem will receive a treatment place. We have made the commitment that 100% will be covered, and that obviously includes female offenders. On top of that, we want to ensure that as they exit the secure estate and rejoin society, they can also access high-quality treatment places configured to their own requirements, demographics and geography. It will be down to local partners to design those services off the back of the funding that we are providing. Our only ask is for a rigorous evaluation and results framework in each area of the country to show that the money we are investing has the desired impact.
Sobriety tags—wearable devices that monitor alcohol consumption in offenders—were trialled first in Lincolnshire and have been rolled out due to their success in preventing 90% of people from consuming alcohol while wearing them. Could such an approach be useful for those taking drugs?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on an extremely good question, and a very topical one. She will be pleased to hear that this morning I met the Korean ambassador and that country’s superintendent of police, with whom we do an awful lot of work, not least on international money flows. I raised in particular my interest in the research and invention by a Korean research institute of a drugs tag—a wearable device that detects drug consumption in somebody’s sweat. We are very interested in the technology and have a fund that we can invest in such technological developments. She is right that, on sobriety ankle tags, we are seeing 97% compliance, and we think that there is a role for such checking in drugs.
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Dirprwy Lefarydd. I know and the Minister knows—we all know—that penalising drug users does not save lives, and the uncoordinated criminal justice system that we suffer makes a bad situation worse in Wales, where drug deaths have increased by 78% in the last 10 years. The devolution of justice to Wales would allow a whole-system approach to offender rehabilitation. If that is good enough for London and for Manchester, when will it be good enough for those families who presently have to grieve in Wales?
I am afraid that the devolution of justice in Wales would not achieve the right hon. Lady’s suggested objectives, not least because the drug supply lines into Wales run from forces in England—from Liverpool, the west midlands and London. A co-ordinated approach to the problem is required from a policing point of view, making sure that we enforce consistently across the country where we can. My view is that enforcement in Scotland, for example, is held back by that lack of co-ordination. We would like to try to improve it. We need to work more closely together, but we cannot pretend that this problem affects the home nations separately. We must work together.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s 10-year strategy to fight the evil that is the drugs industry. I particularly welcome the emphasis on holding professional classes to account for their actions. They may want to buy their Fairtrade coffee and go to the farmers’ market to buy organic food, but perhaps they should spend more time thinking about the cocaine that they buy for their weekend parties, because that fuels county lines, which is possibly the worst grooming and safeguarding concern for our young people. Does he agree that we must treat the drug barons involved in county lines as predators who are using and grooming children? Perhaps we should look to put them on the sex offenders’ register and ensure that they are held to account for their crimes against children.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. She represents what is sadly one of the drug epicentres of the country in central London, and she is right that much of the drug abuse, violence and degradation is driven by casual, thoughtless use by people who do not regard themselves as addicted but who are nevertheless complicit in the violence. In spring next year, we hope to publish a White Paper with a structure of escalating impositions on such individuals, which means that we will be as likely to see a drugs operation outside Lancaster Gate or Bayswater tube station or in Belgravia as in other parts of the capital to ensure that we get among those people. She is right that we must focus very much on those drug barons and put them behind bars if we possibly can.
I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). We do need to clamp down on those barons who exploit our young people. That includes those who exploit young girls—they often do not get talked about in the whole issue of county lines—who are criminally exploited, gang-raped and sexually assaulted by drug barons; they used them even during lockdown to push drugs up and down the country.
Will the Minister outline how he will help not just the Metropolitan police but forces across the country to get the technology and investment they need to deal with this issue? The drug barons get smarter every day—it is not just about burner phones; they adapt their business models day in, day out and are always one step ahead—so the police need resources now.
I agree with both the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). Of the £300 million that we will be spending, £145 million will be on enhancing and turbocharging our effort against county lines.
Both hon. Members made a good point about the pernicious nature of the exploitation perpetrated by these drug dealers on young people. I hope that they will both be interested to know that police forces have brought successful prosecutions on the grounds of modern slavery. It would be good to see a prosecution on the basis of child grooming, not least because we think it would be an enormous deterrent to a drug dealer to know they would spend their time inside on the sex offenders’ wing.
I warmly welcome the Government’s 10-year anti-drugs strategy. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister for Crime and Policing join me in congratulating Northamptonshire police, which has had considerable success in recent months and years in busting county lines drug gangs in and out of Kettering and the county, aided not least by automatic number plate recognition technology? Can we have more ANPR so that we can identify the vehicles that the drugs barons are driving around in?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that Northamptonshire police’s bust a couple of weeks ago was remarkable. It was a huge one, intercepting drugs valued into the many millions of pounds. That will have had a massive impact on that particular business and, I guess, left it vulnerable to those who want to collect the debts.
My hon. Friend is right that the key to interfering with this business—it is critical—is gripping the transport network. As I hope he knows, we have funded a taskforce in the British Transport police, which every day is intercepting drugs and money, and young people exploited on the rail network. Our analysis of ANPR, making sure that we understand movements and therefore raise the likelihood of a drug interception on the road, improves every day. I hope he will see that in his constituency in the months to come.
A shiny new 10-year strategy sounds good, but the Government also need to address unfinished business. Three years after the Minister’s Government legislated for medical cannabis on the NHS, why have only three prescriptions ever been written for it, leaving families broke, having shelled out privately to fund their kids’ amelioration of pain?
That is a matter for the Department of Health and Social Care, but, where requests have come to me to facilitate the acquisition of those products for affected families who need them, we have moved heaven and earth to do so as quickly as we could. The hon. Lady might be interested to know that we are reaching the end of a piece of work by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on barriers to research and medical exploitation of particular compounds. I hope that we will be able to publish that soon and cover some of the regulatory hurdles that she points to.
I welcome the 10-year strategy’s focus on both prevention and enforcement as well as treatment. I welcome that it pledges to implement, I think, all of Dame Carol Black’s excellent recommendations, but there was one glaring omission in her terms of reference: any attempt to address the underlying legislative structure of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. From that moment, we have seen a burgeoning of the illegal industry, and that is our current drugs problem. Do the Government have any intention to address this underlying, much more difficult and intractable issue?
I understand what my hon. Friend said about the implications of the Act. At the moment, we do not have any plans to revise it, but we will bring forward a White Paper in the spring that will lay out, in particular, where we want to go on dealing with the overwhelming volume of drug consumption, which is among those who do not regard themselves as addicted.
I also welcome the move, if it is genuine, to begin to treat the serious use of class A drugs as a health, rather than a criminal justice, problem. That will make a material difference if the money is there. We know that one driver of criminal gangs is high-volume cannabis sales that allow the structure to remain intact. Will the Minister look very seriously at evidence from Portugal, for example, on using administrative methods, or from parts of North America or other European countries where cannabis has been taken out of the drug supply industry? It is radical, but it may make a real difference.
Our intentions are genuine and the money is there; I hope and believe that the strategy will make a difference over the next decade. As I said, we will look at evidence from around the world. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that it is widely accepted that the legalisation of cannabis in California has been a disaster. Although Portugal has seen the number of drug deaths drop, drug consumption has risen, and it still does enforcement very heavily on supply. The picture across the world definitely needs examination, but I am not sure that it will lead to the lessons that he outlines.
I know that my right hon. Friend will need no persuading on this point, but will he set out his view on how the strategy will help those of us who represent rural constituencies and our rural communities? Very often, this is seen as an urban problem. He knows that county lines comes into the small, rural market towns of North Dorset, as it does into other counties, and missing the opportunity to nip that problem in the bud would be a huge omission.
As a rural Member, I have seen the impact of county lines in my constituency, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right that the pernicious effect of this method of distribution and marketing is felt in towns and villages across the land. Drug dealers have become very entrepreneurial, very crafty and clever in the way they do business, so we must be as well. I hope that in his county, in mine and in counties across the country, we will see a reduction in drug dealing in towns and villages and, as a result, a reduction in violence and degradation.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests: I have worked in addiction services and I am the current chair of the all-party group on the 12 steps recovery programme for addiction. As the Minister will know, 12 steps programmes can really augment recovery, with a focus on long-term maintenance and support. The fantastic thing about them is that they are absolutely free. Will the Minister agree to meet Lord Brooke and myself from the all-party group to discuss how we can work in an integrated way regarding narcotics anonymous and alcoholics anonymous to help rehabilitation in future?
I certainly will.
A number of buildings in Stoke-on-Trent South have recently been used to cultivate drugs, so will my right hon. Friend look at what more can be done to increase the punishments for those who allow their buildings to be used for such purposes, or do nothing to stop it?
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. There are penalties in place, but I would be more than happy to look again at whether we are achieving the deterrent effect that we need. As I hope he knows—this is quite interesting—at this time of year when it is cold, one of the things that the police helicopter does, when it has spare time, is to go and look for buildings that are not exhibiting quite the same pattern of heating as others or are more insulated, because that is often a sign that something untoward is going on.
I have also seen the impact of county lines on my constituency. Criminals who run county lines rely on using and abusing children. That could have been cut by imposing 14-year sentences on adults who involve children in criminal enterprise and by their going on to the sex offenders’ wing when they are caught. The Government whipped their MPs to vote against Labour motions to do just that in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Will the Minister explain why he chose to block a sentencing regime that would protect vulnerable children as well as cutting county lines far faster?
A number of very serious child exploitation offences that carry very heavy sentences are committed in relation to drugs. As the hon. Lady knows, in that Bill we are raising the penalty for child cruelty from 10 to 14 years. I hope that when she looks at the full package of sentencing, she will support the Bill, which she voted against.
I really welcome the strategy; it is fantastic news for Loughborough. I take this opportunity to thank Leicestershire police for the work that they have done over the past couple of years through Operation Lionheart; hopefully, the strategy will help to get us to phase 2 of Operation Lionheart, in order to go further and faster.
One thing that happened there, for example, was that when the police came in and arrested someone for drug dealing, and a closure order was operated by the council, everybody came out on to their balconies to clap and cheer the people who were doing the arrest. It was fantastic —really amazing. My first ask is: please can we have phase 2? Secondly, what are we planning on doing to work with voluntary groups such as the Carpenter’s Arms and the Exaireo Trust to really get rehabilitation going?
I am pleased to hear that my hon. Friend is delighted by the actions of her local police force. I know that Leicestershire police are working hard on drugs in her constituency and elsewhere, and they form a critical part of the team effort, not least because of the transport links: many drugs gangs transit through Leicestershire on their way to other areas from those big exporting cities.
As for the local structure, we urge the organisations—councils, largely—that are leading on the rehabilitation effort to make sure that they are tying in some of the really valuable third sector organisations that have enormous experience and are thirsting to come along and help, very often from their own sense of commitment and to do good in their community. I am sure that my hon. Friend’s local health leaders on the programme will involve the organisations that she referred to.
Clearly, the cost to individuals, communities, the criminal justice system and the police system in the north-east is increasing, and that is a huge concern. Although there is much to welcome in the drugs strategy and in Dame Carol Black’s report, it seems that the Government are placing ideology above public safety. I say that because I always want public policy to be informed by the evidence. I have a spent a good deal of time in the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group and there is ample evidence for the positive effects of heroin-assisted treatment programmes. Will the Minister consider the evidence and reconsider his position on heroin-assisted treatment rooms to save lives and create safer communities?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is conflating heroin-assisted treatment with overdose prevention centres, but as he may know, heroin-assisted treatment is under way in Cleveland. When licences are applied for, we look at them on their merits and on a case-by-case basis. I am happy to entertain other applications if people want me to. I will take the same view: that we have to look at them on a case-by-case basis and see what investment goes alongside that to make sure that we get the wraparound approach that will result in the recovery that we want.
A couple of years ago, I spent a day with paramedics in Scarborough. I was surprised to discover that they were getting an increasing number of call-outs to professional people in their 50s and early-60s who are suffering from serious, sometimes fatal, heart disease. The reason? Regular cocaine use over a number of years. Does the Minister agree that people who think that drug use is a victimless crime might well find themselves being the victims themselves?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. A lot of people underestimate the impact that illicit drugs can have on not only their physical health, but, importantly, their mental health. I think all of us may have experience of meeting those who have perhaps taken too many drugs in their past and have seen the damage that that has done to their brains, as well as to their bodies. That is perhaps one of the education items that we need to include in our deterrence campaign.
In 2016, in response to an HIV outbreak, Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board proposed a supervised drug consumption room—an overdose prevention room. The Home Office has sat on that request and blocked it for five years with absolutely no justification, while people in Glasgow, in my constituency, have died. When the Minister next comes to Glasgow, will he show the bravery that the Scottish Government’s Minister for Drug Policy has shown, come for a walk with me and tell me why people injecting in their groin in the snow tomorrow should support his drugs policy?
The hon. Lady often vents her fury and anguish about the situation in Glasgow, which is appalling, on me. She rarely does it on our Scottish Government colleagues—
Because they have listened!
They, of course, have presided over the incidence of drug deaths in her city for many years now. Happily, they have made an investment in health just recently—just before the election in which they were standing to be re-elected as the Government. The hon. Lady can shout at me all she likes, but until she shouts at me and the Scottish Government, it will be hard to take her completely seriously.
Having said that, I believe that the strategy that we have put in place will have an impact in the hon. Lady’s constituency, not least because in the early part of 2019, as she will recall, it was enforcement efforts by the National Crime Agency in this country—in England—that intercepted 27 million street benzo tablets destined for Glasgow. That is the kind of impact that we can have on behalf of the whole United Kingdom.
I speak as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol harm and as vice-chair of the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group. Addiction is never a choice; I am grateful that the Government are now talking about drugs in terms of rehabilitation and addiction, not just criminality. However, the cheapest and most readily accessible drug is alcohol. When will the Government develop an addiction and rehabilitation strategy that will include alcohol? This is one thing I never thought I would say, but I agree with hon. Members on the SNP Front Bench. We need to tackle the stigma of addiction, so will the Government agree to tackle it and remove the exclusion of addiction from the Equality Act 2010?
As my hon. Friend may know, alcohol-related crime is of deep interest to me. That interest was behind my 10-year campaign to bring in sobriety ankle bracelets, which are having an enormous impact across the country with 97% compliance. While this strategy is drug-focused, it is worth pointing out that, as I am sure he knows, quite a number of people have an addiction both to drugs and to alcohol. The provision of treatment services that are primarily for their drug addiction will have a spill-over effect on their alcohol addiction; I hope that he will see an improvement in that as well.
One of the frustrations that my constituents have is that if they live in a flat and someone else in the block is a persistent cannabis smoker, the whole block can reek of cannabis. It affects their health; it affects their children’s health. They go to the landlord, but the landlord says, “We won’t get involved unless there’s a police prosecution”—and more often than not, the police will not prosecute people for smoking in their own home. Is there anything in the strategy that will put an end to the misery that people experience in that situation?
The hon. Gentleman raises a good point—a good counterpoint to issues that others have raised. As part of our strategy, in the next year we will produce a White Paper that we hope will contain a new system for changing such behaviour and deterring individuals from such casual, thoughtless and often cruel drug consumption, which not only interferes with his constituents’ happiness and enjoyment of their home, but drives an enormous amount of violence on the streets.
I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and its emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation, but throughout the country, as we speak, shopkeepers and small businesses are at the mercy of drug-addicted shoplifters. In Greater Manchester, a shoplifting offence will be occurring at this moment with no response from the police. Shops are being pillaged. People have no defence to this type of drug-related crime. Although we want to concentrate on rehabilitation and ensure that we have the best treatment in place, we have to protect the victims of crime as well.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. As he may know, last year I wrote to chiefs across the country to urge them to take such offences as seriously as possible as part of our general confrontation of crime in a retail environment. He is right that individuals who undertake such low-level crimes to fund a habit need to be punished for them, but at the same time we need to ensure that they do not do them again, which means treating their addiction.
The year-on-year cuts to treatment services have been devastating, and we have also lost a lot of the skill of professionals working across treatment services. Will the Minister publish a workforce plan that not only rebuilds the treatment service, but ensures that people are skilled up to work in residential settings as well as in drug consumption rooms?
We have undertaken to publish an annual report to Parliament evaluating our progress on all these matters.
I very much welcome the strategy that the Minister has outlined today. I entirely agree about the vile practice of county lines drug dealing; having joined officers from Thames Valley police in Aylesbury on drugs operations, I know that one of the most shocking aspects is the way in which criminal gangs manipulate vulnerable people by taking over their home and using it as a base to carry out their trade. Can the Minister tell the House how the drugs strategy will help to tackle that evil exploitation?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The practice of cuckooing, particularly where it targets often vulnerable adults in a destination drug-dealing town or village, is a really horrible thing to witness and often results in violence and victimisation. The £145 million that we are putting in to turbocharge our effort on county lines, making sure that the big exporting forces are co-ordinated through the national county lines co-ordination centre with the importing forces, will allow us to get ahead of exactly the kind of exploitation that my hon. Friend points to.
The drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group fully supports Dame Carol’s recommendations as key. Will the Minister meet the group to discuss how treatment providers and service users can be actively consulted to make sure that the strategy works?
I would be happy to take that meeting.
Drug dealing, unfortunately, happens under everybody’s nose in Keighley, which is why I am so delighted that the Government are delivering this plan. It was only a couple of months ago that a constituent sent me video evidence of drug drops by a Keighley taxi firm. One of the most harmful aspects of drug dealing in my constituency is the grooming of young children and getting them involved in the practice from an early age. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that that we will stop that vile practice by tackling the drug barons with much tougher sentences?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. One of the most unpleasant characteristics of county lines is the exploitation—often victimisation and terrorisation—of vulnerable young people. They are often given drugs; they become addicted; they then run up debts and are forced to deal drugs on behalf of these appalling individuals. Over the past two years, the police have rescued a little over 4,000 individuals from exactly that situation. We hope that the investment we are making will rescue a hell of a lot more.
I welcome the strategy’s holistic approach, but there is an element of irony in it, given that it is the Minister’s party that has cut 60p in every £1 to local authorities over the past decade and has failed to address the structurally flawed police funding model affecting counties such as Bedfordshire, which has contributed to increasing drug-related issues in towns such as Luton. Will the Minister commit to addressing the core funding formula issues affecting forces such as Bedfordshire, to ensure the longer-term resilience of our police to tackle organised crime groups and drug-related crime in Luton?
I am hesitant to point out that it was the hon. Lady’s party that crashed the economy, but nevertheless I feel compelled to do so. As she may have heard me say from the Dispatch Box, we have committed to bringing in a new funding formula, and work is under way to devise exactly that.
As somebody who has lost a family member to drugs, I am incredibly grateful to the Minister for bringing forward this 10-year strategy. I know only too well the misery that drugs cause children, families and communities, which so often leads to death. Does the Minister agree that addiction is an illness and we need to treat it as an illness? Sending people to prison time and again does not cure the problem, whereas access to good treatment is the solution.
I agree that addiction is an illness or affliction that is outwith an individual’s control. Although addiction often drives individuals to commit crime, for which they must be punished, we have a duty to make sure that there is no repetition, which means that we need to treat the addiction in the best way possible in the circumstances. I am very sorry to hear that my hon. Friend has experienced that loss; there are too many families in this country who are in the same situation. I hope that our strategy will mean that those numbers reduce.
Richard Lewis, the chief constable of Cleveland police who is soon to take the helm at Dyfed-Powys, wrote in The Guardian recently that problem drug use must be seen as a health issue as opposed to a policing issue. His view was based on his experiences of the heroin-assisted treatment pilot programme in Middlesbrough. Will the Minister work with the Welsh Government to roll out that pilot across Wales so that it is seen as a treatment-based alternative to street drugs, dismantling the demand that sustains the operations of criminal gangs?
I am already working with the Welsh Government as much as possible. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have an ADDER project in south Wales, and we are working in close partnership with the Welsh Government on the health side to try to drive the numbers down.
While I am interested in examining heroin-assisted treatment, I am more interested in the new pharmacological treatment that is being rolled out in Wales. A monthly injection of depot buprenorphine effectively kills the craving for opiates, particularly heroin. I think that 600 or 700 people are now receiving it in Wales and indeed in England, with fantastic results. That is the kind of innovation of which we would like to see more.
Drugs bring nothing more than pain and misery and leave nothing more than blood on our streets, fuelling human slavery, terrorism, child sexual exploitation and, ultimately, death. I therefore welcome the £145 million investment in tackling county lines, but does the Minister agree that we must win the war not only against those who push drugs but against those who find it socially acceptable to take them? Does he agree that we should pursue every possible solution, whether it is treatment, rehabilitation or stop and search, but should also introduce far longer and tougher jail sentences for those who push drugs?
Well, Mr Speaker—Mr Deputy Speaker, I should say. Forgive me, but maybe, one day.
I agree with my hon. Friend that those who promote drugs, in his constituency and many others including mine, deserve sentences that will deter others from following their path. We need a 360-degree approach, attacking supply—as we are doing now, with ever greater skill—but also dealing with demand. By killing both, we will drive those people out of business completely.
I welcome today’s announcement, but the Minister must know that delivering this strategy will demand a change of mindset on the Government’s part. All the services that will be required to co-operate have suffered serious cuts over the last 10 years. We have lost 21,000 police officers, and drug and alcohol services and probation services have been cut severely. Will this new money do no more than backfill the holes that have been left by the Government cuts, or will we actually see any new services?
The hon. Gentleman is refusing to accept any culpability for the financial situation of the country 12 years ago, when a number of Members—certainly on our side of the House—were still teenagers. Notwithstanding his claim, however, we intend to build a world-class treatment system that will require the acquisition of skills and personnel across the country; and, as I have said, we have undertaken to come to the House annually to report on our progress.
I thank the Minister for paying tribute to the Norfolk constabulary in his opening remarks. They have done a fine job in smashing county lines drug dealing.
Recreational cannabis undeniably causes harm to individuals and society. When I was a much younger man, I was asked to play football—mainly because I was not very good—with a drug rehabilitation group, and I saw at first hand the devastation that drugs had caused those young men. Notwithstanding the arguments that legalisation would eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, I feel that it would not. Can the Minister assure me that we will never legalise cannabis, and that this new strategy will ensure that we crack down on illicit drug use and the misery that it causes?
I recognise the situation that my hon. Friend has posited. Indeed, if we look around the world at the countries that have gone down the path that he eschews, we see a pattern of impact that is not completely desirable—and of course we do not know what the impact of overuse of that particular substance will be in the long term, particularly the impact on young people’s mental health. We currently have no plans to change the status of cannabis, and I hope that my hon. Friend will participate in the promotion of the White Paper when it appears in order to bring about the change in behaviour that both he and I seek.
I had hoped for something better, especially from this Minister, and I think that a great many people will have been disappointed by his statement. Rather than bringing fresh thinking to the problem, he is doubling down on the failed strategies of the past. He knows that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is not fit for purpose—he has already accepted that it constrains and compromises his ability to deal with this problem—so will he commit himself to an evidence-led review of the legislation?
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed, and is disappointed in me in particular. I have to say that I am disappointed in him, because while some of us try to remain open-minded on this issue and seek evidence, I am not sure that his position is shifting at all.
As I have said, we are making a significant investment in what is internationally accepted to be the most efficacious way to deal with pernicious addiction to heroin and crack, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that, as he has welcomed it in Scotland. No doubt he has accepted and welcomed what the Scottish Government are doing, and I hope he will accept and welcome what we are doing here, and will not be in denial just because it is us. I hope he will be encouraged by the fact that our plan includes a commitment to build a really strong, world-beating evidence base, drawn from across the world, which will allow us to make drug policy into the future. While we have a 10-year-ambition, this is a journey that we are just starting, and we will learn as we go. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will undertake to learn too.
As this Government seek out more people to arrest, tomorrow the Global Commission on Drug Policy, backed by 14 former Prime Ministers and Presidents, will call on Governments to break their addiction to punishing users, and to legalise and legislate instead. When will the Government learn, from 50 years of experience, that they cannot arrest their way out of a drugs crisis?
If we followed the hon. Gentleman’s logic, we would give up arresting burglars.
The Beacons in Blantyre, which is in my constituency, aims to provide treatment for those with drug addiction whose needs are not being met through the traditional routes. It is volunteer-led, and, crucially, it looks for volunteers with lived experience. It is an excellent community asset. Have the Government considered the ways in which organisations of this kind can contribute to successful intervention and rehabilitation across the UK?
As I said earlier, we hope that those who design the local frameworks to bring about the recovery chains that we want to see will take account of the skills and facilities that can be provided by the third sector, but in the hon. Lady ‘s constituency that will obviously be a matter for the Scottish Government.
I thank the Minister for his statement, and for answering questions for more than an hour.