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Refugee Resettlement

8. Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow): If he will make a statement on his plans to develop a refugee resettlement programme with the UNHCR. [64753]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): In the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill now going through Parliament there is a provision to introduce a resettlement programme that will enable those refugees whose life, liberty or security cannot be protected to be brought safely to the United Kingdom and provided with protection. That will provide a legal route for those seeking international protection and is further evidence of our practical support of the refugee convention.

Mr. Rammell: I thank the Minister for that response. Does she agree that that programme can be one of the

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ways by which we cut off the supply to unscrupulous human traffickers, opening up a legal migration route within the country of origin? Over the longer term, will that not reduce the number of unfounded asylum claims in this country, and does not the programme demonstrate the need for more effective international co-operation on these issues?

Beverley Hughes: Resettlement is a humanitarian measure to provide protection and a legal migration route, and it has been welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by refugee organisations. My hon. Friend is right that it will help to keep people out of the clutches of the organised criminal gangs who are fuelling almost all the illegal immigration across the EU. In the longer term, and in the context of international co-operation and common systems, it could have a beneficial impact on levels of illegal immigration and unfounded claims. We need to keep up the pressure to bear down on illegal immigration and people trafficking, and that, too, requires international co-operation, including co-operation with source and transit countries.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the hon. Lady tell the House how she intends to respond to the high commissioner's offer to visit Sangatte to see which refugees should come to this country? Against the background of £5 million being made available to improve the security fence at Frethun, what guarantee have the Government been given that Sangatte camp will close?

Beverley Hughes: We welcome the offer of assistance from the UNHCR and the fact that it sees a potential role for itself in such situations. Decisions about the way forward will of course be taken by the UK and French Governments together.

The financial contributions to accelerate the provisions at Frethun and in northern France represent a good investment, because they will enable British business to get its freight through much faster.

On the closure of Sangatte, both Governments have said that they foresee that that will be necessary as part of the package of measures that we are working towards.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May I say how pleased I am that the Government are taking seriously the offer made by Ruud Lubbers, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, when he was here last week? He came to the House to talk to us about refugees, and offered to break the deadlock between Britain and France on that issue.

I was in Sangatte—not in the camp, but the village—just a few weeks ago. I walked around and talked to little groups of people, mostly men, on the beach and in the streets. They were mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq. When I asked why they had left, some of them said in the little English that they spoke that Saddam was a bad man; one man held two fingers to his head. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that we sort out who is and who is not a refugee as quickly as possible?

Beverley Hughes: If there was a deadlock, it was broken a few weeks ago when my right hon. Friend met his French counterpart and introduced the first package of measures.

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Those discussions have been continuing at official level and will be resumed on Friday this week at a meeting between my right hon. Friend and French Ministers.

As I said, I welcome UNHCR's seeing a potential role for itself. I have to say to my hon. Friend that that must include help with some of the most difficult aspects of the situation, especially in relation to returning people and to the growing problem of children and young people arriving unaccompanied in the area. That is a very difficult issue. If UNHCR is willing to help us with those two matters, we will be glad to receive that help.

Drug Awareness

9. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): What initiatives he is taking to promote drug awareness. [64754]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): Raising awareness of the dangers of drugs is a main focus of the national drug strategy. Educating young people and protecting them from the risks and harm of drug misuse is a high priority. Most schools now provide substance misuse education and parents are given information about where to get help. In December, I launched the first in a series of drug awareness campaigns promoting the national drugs helpline. The campaign resulted in substantial increases in numbers of young people contacting the helpline for advice and assistance.

John Robertson: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He will be aware that 50 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds have at some stage indulged in illegal drugs. As he said, one aim of the national drugs strategy is to reduce drug taking among that age group. Does he agree that former addicts are sometimes the best people to explain—rather than preach about—the pitfalls of taking drugs? Will he ensure that that will become an undertaking of this Government, and that such people will be allowed to go into schools to explain the problems?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend hits on a very important area. I do not believe that preaching to young people works or has the desired effect. I know from personal experience, having listened to a former addict explain some of the difficulties that they had experienced and managed to overcome, that such intervention is one of the most powerful weapons. I am sure that people with such communication skills would be happy to help where we could use them appropriately. They could have a great effect on the young people to whom they manage to talk.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): Is the Minister aware that he and the Home Secretary have indeed taken a huge initiative to promote drug awareness? Has not his Brixton experiment promoted awareness among young people that the Government want to send mixed messages on the persistent use of cannabis, and promoted awareness among drug dealers that Brixton is the place to be? How will either of those forms of awareness contribute to reducing drug dependency in this country?

Mr. Ainsworth: We have had quite a debate on drugs over the past year since my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary appeared before the Home Affairs Committee and asked for an adult debate on the issue. In some ways,

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we have managed to increase awareness of the effect of different substances and the harm that they cause. By misrepresenting the situation in Lambeth, the right hon. Gentleman is not helping the debate at all.

The overwhelming consensus is that both the police and the residents of Lambeth face most difficulty with the class A drug market. We need to take effective measures against that, and we are doing precisely that. There is no mixed message. The message is this: all drugs are harmful but class A drugs are particularly dangerous—and that is where our main attention should be aimed. The right hon. Gentleman knows that and ought to behave responsibly during the debate.

Mr. Letwin: Is there not one other form of drug awareness that the Minister would accept that he and the Home Secretary have failed to promote: the awareness of the public about the true nature of what they are proposing? The Home Secretary has leaked that he will double sentences for cannabis dealers. At present, cannabis is a class B drug, and the maximum sentence is

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14 years. If, as leaked, he universalises the Brixton experiment by moving cannabis to class C, the maximum sentence for dealing in it would naturally be reduced to five years. If the Minister multiplies that by two, the maximum sentence will, I gather from mathematicians, be 10 years. Will he explain to those of us who are not mathematically inclined how a move from a 14-year maximum sentence to a 10-year maximum sentence constitutes doubling sentences for cannabis dealers?

Mr. Ainsworth: The right hon. Gentleman ought to try to concentrate on the issues of substance instead of playing games with figures. The position is clear and has been for a long time. There has been an extensive debate in the Home Affairs Committee, in which members of the right hon. Gentleman's own party participated, where evidence was taken from everybody. Advice has also been given by the Standing Medical Advisory Committee, and we shall discuss with the police and announce to Parliament in the near future our exact proposals on reclassification and all its ramifications. I look forward to the right hon. Gentleman making a constructive response to that.

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