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House of Commons

Monday 28 October 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Committee of Selection

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [16 October].

Hon. Members: Object.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Drug Offenders

2. Ian Lucas (Wrexham): If he will make a statement on the provision that his Department makes for treatment of drug offenders. [75310]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth): To break the links between drugs and crime, we are taking every opportunity to get offenders into treatment. There is a range of initiatives to ensure early intervention to identify drug misusing offenders and to help them gain access to treatment, for example arrest referral, drug treatment and testing orders, and drug testing and treatment services in prisons.

Treatment works and is the most cost effective tool in tackling drug misuse. Effective treatment, accessible to all who need it and when they need it, is essential to the drugs strategy as a whole. Funding has increased from #234 million in 2000–01 to #401 million planned in 2003–04.

Ian Lucas : I am very pleased to hear the general tenor of that answer. In Spain, this year's national plan for drugs refers to

for the period since 1985, which is in stark contrast to the consequence of drugs policy in this country. Spanish policy is based on harm minimisation and, wherever possible, political consensus in dealing with the issue.

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Will the Minister take heed of the Spanish experience and accept that better treatment, and the resources that go with it, will achieve far more in confronting this horrible problem than a war on drugs that can never be won?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend will be aware that we are conducting a review of the 10-year drugs strategy. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said that he wants harm minimisation to be central to our treatment and demand reduction initiatives. My hon. Friend must wait for a final announcement on that, but I think he will find that Government thinking on harm minimisation is not removed from the regime that he describes.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Does the Minister agree that a high proportion of burglaries are carried out to feed a heroin addiction? For that reason alone, there are persuasive arguments why the treatment of the heroin addict should be given a high priority in sentencing.

Mr. Ainsworth: The acquisitive crime that flows from problematic drug use is caused almost entirely by those people who have either a heroin or a cocaine addiction. The hon. Gentleman is right in that regard. We require not only good quality treatment where it is needed but effective criminal justice interventions to make an early analysis of the problem and to get people into that treatment. That is why we introduced drug treatment and testing orders, and why we are considering where and how we can have initiatives that come into effect earlier. We need to be as effective as possible when dealing with such acquisitive crime.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): May I take this opportunity to thank the Home Secretary for the #1.5 million of extra funding that has been given to police forces in my area for drugs intelligence work? Is the Minister aware, however, that only 31 beds are available in Wales for the treatment of drugs offenders? Will he discuss with Welsh Assembly Ministers the need to increase that and to improve the service, bearing in mind the emphasis that he places on the treatment of drugs offenders?

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend may be aware that we set up the National Treatment Agency to increase the planning of the provision of drug treatment, to improve its quality and to involve the medical profession in such work. We need to be certain that the NTA works closely with the Welsh Assembly to ensure that there are no gaps in what we are trying to provide.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Although I acknowledge that quite a bit of work has been done on drugs recently, and echo what the hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) said, may I suggest that one way to fund the rehabilitation centres that are so badly needed is to ring-fence drug confiscation moneys, many millions of which are taken every year from drug barons in crown courts?

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Mr. Ainsworth: I agree that much could be done with confiscated money. The whole purpose of pushing the Proceeds of Crime Bill through the House of Commons last year was to increase substantially the confiscation that takes place, which is woefully below international levels. That money is available. Some 50 per cent. is earmarked for the communities that have been damaged by the drug problem. We also want to improve our performance on the confiscation of criminal assets. In principle I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We need to use the money as effectively as possible, but for the purposes of reducing crime we need to increase the amount of money that we confiscate from criminals because it is nowhere near as high as it should be.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): May I say how pleased I am that the Home Secretary came to my constituency on Friday and met the families of drug users, some of whom are dead, some are in prison and some are receiving treatment? Does the Minister agree that we must think about the problem globally? Since 90 per cent. of the heroin on the streets of the United Kingdom comes from Afghanistan, we must offer Afghan farmers alternatives to growing the poppy, and we must do so as quickly as possible.

Mr. Ainsworth: My hon. Friend is right to say that we must think of the problem from end to end. We must not only have a demand-reduction strategy but try to limit supplies as much as possible, which means chasing the problem back to source countries. I assure my hon. Friend that we are trying to do our level best to intervene in Afghanistan in the most appropriate and effective way. We are trying to build civic society in that country; there have been encouraging signs, and we are trying to build on those. At the same time we are trying to tackle the problem of the opium poppy.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): What assurance can Ministers give to society and to Rob, a divorced man in his 30s with two children whom I met on Saturday on a train from King's Cross to the north-east? He was discharged from a prison in south-east England five weeks ago, and he told me that although he has been inside three times for short periods in the last three years, he has had no follow-up support to deal with the drugs problem that was the cause of all three offences apart from four weeks' signing on with the probation service. Given last year's joint probation and prison inspectorates' report saying how important it is to give people follow-up support to keep them off drugs, will next year's sentencing Bill guarantee people discharged from prison as much support outside as they can receive inside? Has the Treasury provided the money for that support?

Mr. Ainsworth: The hon. Gentleman exposes a problem. I cannot announce exactly what we will do as a result of the stocktaking review that is under way, but I can tell him that, like him, I feel that the problem of through-care and aftercare for those leaving treatment or leaving prison is one of the biggest weaknesses in the system, and we seek to tackle that. If the hon.

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Gentleman will wait for our planned announcement, hopefully he will find that it addresses the issue that he has raised.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): It is encouraging that there is clearly a consensus emerging in the House that to lift people off the conveyor belt to crime we have to find means of dramatically increasing the availability of treatment and rehabilitation for young heroin and cocaine addicts. Has the Minister calculated the number of places that would be required to accommodate all those addicts, and has he compared that number with the effect of the plans that he announced a moment ago?

Mr. Ainsworth: Information on this matter is incomplete precisely because of the illegality involved, but our best estimate of the number of problematic drug users in this country—most of whom, but not all, are heroin addicts—is about 250,000. We have treatment places for more than 118,000, and we are managing to expand our capacity by 8 per cent. a year. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that there are easy ways of quickly expanding that capacity, we would be happy to hear from him.

As I said, we have substantially increased the amount of treatment available since the drugs strategy was introduced, and we plan to double that amount by 2008. We are on course to achieve that target, and if there is any way to achieve it sooner, we will seek to do so. We have to bear in mind that the treatment must be available where it is needed most, in the areas with the highest levels of acquisitive crime. We are considering those issues with the NTA.

Mr. Letwin: Does the Minister also agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and with us that we desperately need to find some means of compelling young heroin and cocaine addicts to take up that treatment? Is he aware that at present drug treatment and testing orders regularly fail because they are not properly enforced, and because there is not sufficient available intensive and residential treatment? When will the Department stop treating the matter as a problem that can be handled over many years, and start treating it as the crisis that it has become?

Mr. Ainsworth: I listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech to his party conference, and it was good to hear. I hope that it is true that we have a growing consensus as to how we deal with the problem. However, he should not seek to rubbish drug treatment and testing orders, because they are being used effectively. As magistrates learn and grow confident in the way that they use them, they are indeed behaving flexibly sometimes towards the problems that arise. I was surprised at the absence of a number of issues from the hon. Gentleman's conference speech. For example, having made mischief in south London, what exactly is his policy on the classification of cannabis, and how on earth does he think he will increase treatment places tenfold with #500 million? I wait to see what kind of treatment and what quality of treatment he is proposing. It may look good as a headline figure in a policy document, but I think his maths needs a little refining.

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