Oil and Gas Industry

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Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I recognise the Minister's personal commitment and his desire to tackle this major challenge. I welcome the fact that his father's ambition has come true and that we have the relevant UK Minister before the Grand Committee today. I welcome the powers of the draft Proceeds of Crime Bill. The key assurance that we seek from the Minister is that as we tackle this extremely important issue, the safeguards will be in place to ensure that people are innocent until proven guilty.

Secondly, what research has his Department done into the costs of providing treatment versus the costs saved to society of not having to tackle all the associated crime and family disruption, once people have been successfully treated and taken away from crime? Finally, what work has his Department done to look at the wider issue of addictive behaviour and the damage that that does to individuals? Alcohol abuse is a scourge on society and individuals. What work has his Department done to look at some of the root causes of misuse, whether the drug is legal or illegal?

Mr. McCartney: I said in my speech that the research so far shows that for every £1 spent on treatment, we save £3. There is much more behind that. As we go into the next decade of investment in public services, much of that investment will go into regenerating communities. Many of the communities that we need to regenerate are at the front line of the drugs war. One cannot reinvest in the housing and social environment of a community if the cancer of drug organisations controls what happens there. One cannot expect a community to deliver a modernising strategy and a new economy for its people and get them involved in social activities if all of that is stamped on by drug dealers. It is not just a question of the £1 and £3 to which I referred. Everything that we do to regenerate our communities must be predicated on damaging, disrupting and ultimately closing down the drug economy. If we do not do that, the regeneration resources that go into many of our communities will be dissipated.

I share the hon. Gentleman's view about alcohol abuse. It is quite clear that the national treatment agency that we are establishing in April will deal exclusively in its first phase with drug abuse. However, it emerged from the consultation that a large proportion of antisocial behaviour relates to alcohol abuse. There is a correlation, which we should recognise. The Department of Health and the Home Office recognise that. Perhaps in its second phase the national treatment agency should also deal with alcohol issues. In advance of telling my colleagues in the Department of Health about that, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He made a third point; I apologise that I did not make a note of it.

Sir Robert Smith: It was about protecting the presumption of innocence until someone is proved guilty.

Mr. McCartney: Nothing in the Proceeds of Crime Bill is incompatible with human rights. This is not an abuse of human rights. The Human Rights Act says that society is entitled not to be abused by criminal activity. We are talking about people who have more guns and arms than some of the terrorist organisations in Europe. These are tooled-up operations. In some parts of Britain, someone who wants to set up a taxi business will be burned out, as will anyone who wants to run a club or a pub in some city centres. If a community leader says, ``We don't want drugs here'', their life can be threatened.

A chap from the Daily Record wrote to me about a letter that it had published from a teacher who had stated what he wanted for his school. I was told that that teacher received death threats from drug dealers in the Gorbals, simply for stating his point of view. I think that we should change the rules and not be namby-pamby about it. I am in favour of the greater good, which must be the civil rights of those of us who do not want to damage and destroy our society.

The biggest asset we have in society is the next generation. Anyone who gets in the way of helping society should have action taken against him. If that requires locking someone away, that is fine; if it means destroying their business, that is fine; if it means asking someone to explain why they have £50 million but are still claiming jobseekers allowance, that is fine. One of my constituents has just gone down for 14 years. He was on benefit and £250,000 was found when his house was raided. Such people should be asked, ``How did you get this money?'' If they cannot persuade us that they obtained it through legitimate means, we should redistribute it. That is an old socialist theory, but do not tell anyone that.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): The Minister will be aware that the statistics for drug misuse in Scotland in 2000 tell us something about the age of the onset of drug misuse. Some 16 per cent. of those using drugs are under 15 years old, 47 per cent. are between 15 and 19, so 63 per cent. of those with drug problems are teenagers. What does the Minister think about people who ask for the decriminalisation of some drug? He might consider what that might do to cloud the judgment of teenagers who fight to uphold their street cred. Does the Minister agree that that would be a dangerous game to play with the minds of teenagers?

Mr. McCartney: That is certainly something that we can do without. We need to debate how we might provide our young people with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to resist drugs. Simply saying no does not always work. We live in a drug-orientated society, so it is important that we give people the skills and capacity to cope. If people use drugs, we must give them the resources to get them off drugs and keep them safe.

I am sorry to say that two issues get mixed up when we discuss cannabis. Vulnerable people, such as multiple sclerosis sufferers, get exploited. There are drug dealers out there who are rubbing their hands together, because most dealers deal not in one drug, but in a basket of drugs. Cannabis is the gateway to other drugs, and if you decriminalise or legalise cannabis, young people will be turned on to class A drugs from the moment they come into contact with dealers. We must argue that legalising cannabis is not the way forward.

Some people may want to curl up and die and say that the drugs issue requires too much effort, so let us just legalise drugs. That is the view of some people, but it is not ours. Cannabis is a dangerous gateway drug and it has a long-term ill effect on health, even when other drugs are not used later. I know that a large proportion of people do not move on to other drugs, but a significant number do. The vast majority of those who use class A drugs say that cannabis was the first drug that they used, and that that introduced them to the drugs market.

In respect of multiple sclerosis sufferers, the Government recognise that there is a case for medical research. Heroin is employed for medicinal uses and we need research to be carried out; trials are currently going on. We hope that by 2003-04 medicinal products that contain a cannabis derivative will be available. If the issues of medicinal and recreational use were separated, a more realistic and honourable debate about drugs in society could be achieved.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I would like to ask the Minister about the funding of voluntary agencies that battle against drugs.

We have a serious drugs problem in Aberdeenshire, although it is not the most serious in Scotland, as is sometimes inaccurately reported in the press. A voluntary agency called Grampian Addiction Problem Services covers much of the area. Last year, its grant of £3,000 was cut by Aberdeenshire council. I accept that the council is cash-strapped, but that was a foolish decision. I have spoken to other voluntary agencies in Scotland that are under pressure in terms of funding. Instead of the expansion of the effort against drugs that is suggested by the Minister's announcement today, and by announcements in the Scottish Parliament, they see a cut in the funds that are provided for them to take part in the fight against drugs.

Given the tenor of the Minister's remarks, I am sure that he accepts that voluntary community-based groups are one of the key weapons in fighting the drugs menace. Can he offer voluntary groups in Scotland some comfort and security with regard to funding, which they have not experienced in the past?

Mr. McCartney: The hon. Gentleman has been personally involved in the arguments about resourcing such organisations. Huge resources are going into voluntary organisations. However, we do not fund them simply because they are voluntary organisations. There must be clarity about their objectives in working with Government and non-governmental agencies. We fund many organisations, voluntary and otherwise, and if they do not quite come up to scratch, we have to improve the vehicle or find other vehicles. If we do not have a strategy, the system will not work.

As for the organisation to which the hon. Gentleman referred, I know that the local authority have had discussions with it about its strategy and activities. I do not know the organisation, so I cannot criticise it. If the Government's strategy was to say no in absolutely every circumstance, people might be left out of the game. We do not just say no—we have an inclusive and realistic strategy. Ultimately, we want people to stop using drugs, but in the meantime they need services in order to cope with their problem. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman about the organisation. I believe that it may receive more funding in future. The fact that there has been a change of funding in relation to that particular organisation does not mean that we are denying funding to those who deal with drug issues in Aberdeenshire. Aberdeenshire is a big area with a big problem. That has been recognised at every level in both rural and city communities.

A huge new resource is there, and we need to get the voluntary organisations to work to an agreed strategy in utilising it. They must do that; there is no easy answer and no short cut.

 
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Prepared 28 March 2001