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House of Commons

Tuesday 6 March 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Kent County Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 13 March.

Medway Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Order for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Tuesday 13 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

Ministerial Correspondence

1. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): If she will make a statement on recent correspondence between her Department and the Irish Prime Minister's Office. [150733]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I wrote to the Taoiseach on 28 February to confirm my conversation with him and to invite him to make an official visit to Scotland as a guest of the First Minister and myself.

Mr. Syms: The Carfin affair has caused great embarrassment north and south of the border. Is it too much to hope for a full statement on the matter and, indeed, an apology?

Mrs. Liddell: I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman even knows where Carfin is. However, may I point out that the Taoiseach and I had a conversation? He knows that no offence was intended, and he took none. He will come to Scotland at an appropriate time to unveil the memorial at Carfin grotto.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray): Will the Secretary of State pay tribute to the interparliamentary body that is working hard on strand 3 of the peace agreement? Will she acknowledge that five Members of the Scottish Parliament have been accepted as full members of that body? Will she ensure that she gives it full support, recognising that we are building bridges and bringing

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hope? Anyone from the Dail and the Northern Ireland Assembly will be given a warm welcome in Scotland, whenever they come.

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Lady makes a good point. All of us in Scotland are conscious of the fact that the peace process in Northern Ireland is at a difficult stage. Our hopes and good wishes are with Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Dail and our own Scottish Parliament and, indeed, with the Prime Minister, who will have discussions on those matters in the next few days. The hon. Lady made a much more appropriate comment on the situation than the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms).

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Will the right hon. Lady explain why, if no offence was given to the Taoiseach and this is not a diplomatic incident, her Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy) resigned?

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend resigned because he is a man of honour who did not wish to cause continued distress to his family. Opposition Members' activities in trying to make political capital out of the matter are disgraceful. Those of us who know Carfin know its history. It was built by miners from Scottish communities, and from Poland and Lithuania, during the great depression; it is a sign of their working together to create employment for themselves and in recognition of the Church that they supported. My hon. Friend supports those miners and will continue to do so.

Mrs. Browning: I am trying to establish what responsibility the Secretary of State and the Government take for foreign affairs and relations with other countries--relations that concern Scotland. Under the Government's proposals, and if Labour wins the general election, would not the right hon. Lady be the last Secretary of State with responsibility for Scotland? The roles of the Secretaries of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland and for Wales, and responsibility for the English regions, would be rolled into one Cabinet post. Having seen the mess created by the Secretary of State's PPS, what hope do we have that relations with foreign countries will be any better when there is no longer a dedicated Secretary of State for Scotland in the Cabinet?

Mrs. Liddell: I find it interesting that the official Opposition could not even put forward the shadow Secretary of State today.

Mrs. Browning: I am the shadow Secretary of State.

Mrs. Liddell: Oh, the hon. Lady is now in that position. There has been another change--a further sign that the Opposition cannot even put up a Scottish Member as shadow Secretary of State. I note that the Leader of the Opposition is suggesting that he would retain the post of Secretary of State for Scotland and that that post should be filled by a Member representing a Scottish constituency. I therefore say to the hon. Lady: win one.

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2. Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister concerning the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [150734]

6. Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister concerning the Government's anti-drugs strategy. [150739]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): My right hon. Friend regularly meets the First Minister to discuss a range of topics, including the Government's anti-drugs strategy.

Mrs. Adams: Does my hon. Friend agree that legalisation of any drug, other than for medical purposes, would be absolute folly? Will he join me in stating publicly that he will march against drugs on 1 April, shoulder to shoulder with Daily Record readers?

Mr. Foulkes: My hon. Friend is right on both counts. Some people are trying to denigrate the march on 1 April, but I think that the Daily Record deserves nothing but praise for organising a march that will focus attention on the menace of drugs and the terrible toll--[Laughter.] Opposition Members are laughing. The menace of drugs takes a terrible toll in death, illness and crime. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State--[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) is out of order. He knows that he is out of order.

Mr. Foulkes: The right hon. Gentleman is out of order in more ways than one.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be on the march, and we hope that as many hon. Friends as possible will join us. If Opposition Members can find their way to Glasgow, they are welcome to join us, too.

Mrs. Winterton: What discussions has the Minister had with the First Minister about setting up in Scotland United States-style drugs courts, which aim to bring together enforcement and treatment and to take people out of a life of criminality? Bearing in mind that almost 70 per cent. of offenders use drugs illegally, and that in Scotland up to 90 per cent. of those released from prison go on to reoffend, does the Minister agree that the matter is of the utmost urgency? Will he consider ensuring that those who push drugs are not released early from prison?

Mr. Foulkes: I am glad that the hon. Lady, unlike some of her right hon. and hon. Friends, is treating the matter seriously. The First Minister has met Mr. Hellawell, who is in charge of drugs policy in the United Kingdom as a whole, as well as the Cabinet Officer Minister responsible for drugs policy. An announcement has been made about drugs courts, and we will take account of the points that the hon. Lady has sensibly made.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): May I, too, congratulate the Daily Record on organising such a relevant march on 1 April, and say how pleasant it is that so many hon. Members will participate in it? Will my

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hon. Friend outline the recent measures announced by the Government to seize the ill-gotten assets of people who traffic in drugs? That seems to be one of the best ways of tackling the problem and getting rid of the insidious evil in our midst.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he is right. The Government are taking strong measures to deal with that menace and other profits from crime, to ensure that they are taken into custody. I commend the initiative of my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. Browne) in proposing the setting up of a register of serious drug dealers. I know from my constituency the tragedy and appalling waste of life and talent involved. We are working with the Scottish Executive on their drugs action plans to deal with the availability of drugs, the treatment of addicts, the education of young people and, above all, the provision of community support for people who take drugs. The police have an extremely important part to play in that.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): Unusually, I commend the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) for her courageous work against drugs over many years. I find some of the Minister's remarks perfectly reasonable--[Interruption.] I am sorry if that is offensive to him. On the matter of drugs, as on other important policy matters, what steps does the Scotland Office intend to take to ensure that, during any forthcoming general election campaign, announcements will not be made by the Scottish Executive that could be construed as using public funds to help Labour candidates or their partners in coalition, the Liberal Democrats?

Mr. Foulkes: I thank the hon. Lady for her nice remarks, and congratulate her on her recent good news. We all wish her well, and our thoughts will be with her over the next few months.

Every year, the Scottish Executive spend more than £250 million dealing with sickness, absenteeism and crime caused by the awful problem of drugs. It would be ludicrous to put that work on hold and to stop any announcement just because of a United Kingdom general election. If there is any announcement to be made or any work to be done, it should be made and it should be done.

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the police in my constituency, as well as the partners who work with them, on reducing crime by 20 per cent? This morning, I spoke to the sub-divisional commander, who told me that he estimates that about 80 per cent. of crimes involving dishonesty, including car thefts, relate to the misuse of drugs. Does my hon. Friend agree that to break that connection we need a long-term strategy that does two things? First, through legislation that can be passed in this Parliament, the strategy should target the dealers. Secondly, and in partnership, it should deal with drug users by imposing a structure on their lives that will lead them out of their habit. Orders to achieve that aim could be imposed by the drugs courts introduced by the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Foulkes: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whom I congratulated earlier on his initiative to establish a register of serious drugs dealers. It would be too much to

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congratulate him again. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] All right; why not? His work certainly deserves underlining. He is absolutely right that the police play a very important role, and has been discussing the matter with them. Indeed, all Scottish Members are concerned and have been speaking to the local police. Many have also been involved in local community activity to try to wipe out the drugs menace. It is increasingly appalling, if not embarrassing, that Opposition Members treat with such levity a problem that has killed hundreds of people every year in Scotland. I think that the people of Scotland will have noted that.

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