|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I cannot do so as regards alcohol, but I can recollect that from cigarettes the figure is about 120,000 a year. Is the noble Baroness assertingI am interested to hear if that is what she claimsthat because a lot of people die from smoking cigarettes (and we do not currently prohibit the smoking of cigarettes nor is it our policy to do so) that we should legalise the use of category A drugs? If that is her argument, I shall be pleased to hear it said clearly.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I think that I can answer that. The Minister said that legalisation would produce a free-for-all. Those of us who ask the Government to reconsider prohibition certainly do not propose a free-for-all. We propose a tightly-regulated and controlled regime which would take away the need for people who need to use drugs to get involved with the criminal fraternity. By no means do we propose a free-for-all. We accept that these are very dangerous substances. I believe that if tobacco were discovered today, it would not be legalised.
The point I was making was that people die, but those substances also have a massive negative effect on people's ability to live a successful life, and on their families and friends. If it were a neutral policy, one would be more open minded to legalisation, but the Government are not.
On international policies, UNGASS came in for some stick. No one claims that UNGASS policies are perfect. The UN conventions do not allow specifically for harm reduction policies and the UK would support calls for a review of the conventions to make the option
The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, made a thoughtful contribution to the reality of the challenge to improve treatment. Clearly, whatever position one takes as regards legalisationI think that most of us are opposed to itone still has to face the importance of trying to find effective ways of treatment which are cost-effective. It is a key element of the Government's national drug strategy. We are on track to meet our target of an 8 per cent increase in the numbers presented for treatment. The investment in treatment is producing early results. We clearly need to do more, but I cannot speak at length on that, given the time that I have.
The noble Lord, Lord Chadlington, made a thoughtful and powerful speech based on a lot of evidence from his work. I agree with him that the involvement of local communities and local agencies and their ownership of strategies to address drug treatment in their communities must be part of any sensible policy. It is a matter of getting the balance between central funding and local initiatives right; that is the challenge for the Government. That does not mean that one can abolish any form of monitoring, nor do I believe that he was arguing that. But we recognise that we must work closely with regional and local partners to minimise burdens on frontline staff, to support initiatives and experimentation and to roll them out when they appear to work. Knowing that one does not have all the answers, one must have a mindset that recognises that local innovation and experimentation must be part of the policy.
On prisons and reintegration improvements, integrated teams are being built in each of the 30 areas with the highest drug-related crimes. Some £46 million to resource criminal justice programmes is going in from April 2003. We recognise the need for through-care and after-care. It is useless if there is not a continuous process of professionals and treatment, dealing with people in what can often be chaotic transmissions to different parts of the criminal system and their employment or housing. We have to challenge public agencies and professionals to make that more integrated.
We decided not to introduce Swiss-style injecting rooms. They can present risks and attract dealers to the areas involved. We prefer the option of enabling doctors to prescribe heroin to those with a clinical need.
There is a five-year research programme blueprint to evaluate the effectiveness of drugs prevention. One hopes that the early evidence from that is fed back into policy making. We are reviewing a range of direct education approaches, including motivational interviewing, and recognise its importance.
The noble Lord, Lord Best, argued that the unauthorised cultivation of cannabis is a lesser evil. Our view is that it is illegal and should remain illegal. There are dealers who cultivate cannabis for commercial gain, and a full range of penalties needs to be available to the courts for those cases. It would be impractical to make a distinction in law between those who cultivate small amounts and those who cultivate on a large scale, but the courts are expected to, and have the discretion to take account of the circumstances of individual cases.
Several noble Lords spoke on the crucial role of drugs education. The drugs strategy means preventing today's young people from becoming tomorrow's problematic drug users. That is the goalI am not implying that it is that simple or that we necessarily believe that we have the right answer, but it has to be part of a balanced drug strategy. Almost all schools now have drugs education policies; there are programmes to support teachers' continuing professional education, and £21 million is being made available to support drug education in schools by the Standards Fund in 200304.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that the policy was ineffective and at worst encouraged use. It is not as effective as we want it to be, but we do not believe that it encourages use if it is properly done. I give the FRANK campaign as an instance of the Government's commitment to reduction of category A drug use. Research shows that campaigns that say, "Just say no", do not work without equipping young people with the knowledge to help them to make informed decisions about how dangerous that route is if they venture into it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked a number of questions about drug treatment and testing orders. The percentage of the proposals for a DTTO that were converted by the courts into actual orders was 89 per cent; more than 54 per cent of orders have been successfully completed or are still engaging offenders with rehabilitative treatment. An evaluation of the three pilot schemes found that, on average, offenders committed 70 per cent fewer offences while on the order and reduced their spend on drugs by over 90 per cent. But these are early days. We have to continue to monitor the situation closely.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked about the Prison Service. Sixteen per cent of prisoners are there because they have breached the drug laws. There are no data on the percentage of prisoners who have committed drug-related crime, but 75 per cent of heroin and crack users do commit crimes; and, of those in prison, 4.5 per cent are opiate users.
In response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Rea, we deplore the human rights abuses in Thailand. I shall read the speech of the noble Lord Mancroft. It was based on considerable experience. To put it politely, it was a serious encouragement to the Government to do more. The noble Lord claimed that there was not sufficient aftercare. There has been a considerable increase. He said that treatment can work, but that there is little chance of getting on to such a programme. Waiting times are being reduced, and the targets for reducing them considerably further are in place. I totally agree with the noble Lord that prevention is massively important.
A large part of the programme consists of targeted interventions with vulnerable young people. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and others signalled that drug use does not occur in isolation. It is frequently the product of some disturbance in the individual's lifestyle; therefore, one hopes that one has some ability to deal with some of the distress that leads people to take drugs rather than merely thinking that they can be treated mechanistically. So prevention programmes will be targeted at the most vulnerable young people and those who develop drug problems will be identified and supported earlyit is to be hoped before problems escalate. Significant additional resources are going into such programmes. The Home Office will be investing an extra £107 million, and £28 million for local authorities to provide prevention treatment; and £30 million will be provided for prevention treatment and throughcare in juvenile custody institutions.
Looking to a further element of prevention, Positive Futures has not been mentioned but is an instance of an initiative launched in 2000 in an attempt to make a difference to the lives of thousands of young people which have been blighted by drugs and to find alternative ways of challenging people into a better lifestyle than dependence on drugs.
Several noble Lords made comparisons with Europe. The general picture in Europe is one of a stable endemic situation with constant recruitment and exit rates. The picture is one of a churn of people coming in and going out of drugs use.
On the FRANK drugs information campaign, we see that the provision of accurate, honest information to potential drug users and their families must be part of any mature strategy. The FRANK helpline will be open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, offering counselling in many languages.
As to the interesting economic analysis advanced by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, we have found no evidence in any setting world-wide for the central claim that more action on supply leads to increased prices and more crime to fund drug use. By comparison, the Australian heroin drought in 2000 indicated that there was a substantial reduction in the consumption of heroin and a fall in expenditure among users. I am not claiming, however, that it will be simple to reduce supply; rather that it must be part of any balanced strategy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, commented on treatment. We are on track to meet our target of an 8 per cent per annum increase in the numbers presenting for treatment since 1998. Waiting times have been reduced to 2.8 weeks for priority treatment, and to 8.3 weeks for non-priority treatment. That is a substantial improvement, but there is a further way to go.
I shall read with interest the statement of Conservative policy set out by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. My initial reaction is that the flaw is that these problems need a variety of interventions. It is not a case of one size fits all. Furthermore, many young people at whom the policy is aimed have not developed a problem requiring residential treatment at this stage. Nevertheless, I would wish to study and reflect on it and will not dismiss it out of hand.
In conclusion, we all recognise the scale of the problem. Most noble Lords recognised that there is no major or miracle solution; there is no one quick fix. The process will require persistent effort; the involvement of communities; experimentation with new methods when old ones do not appear to be working; an evaluation of new methods; and, when we find new methods that work, I hope that there will also be deterrence, education and treatment to roll them out. Undoubtedly, that will require an holistic approach, which is what the Government seek to roll out, that looks at the major elements in a co-ordinated manner to treat supply, demand, treatment and education in a balanced package.
Lord Cobbold: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who participated in this debate, particularly because it took place so late in the evening and during the dinner hour. As I said in my opening speech, strong views have been expressed on both sides of the argument. We all agreethere is no doubt about thisthat drugs are dangerous and the whole situation is very tricky. We could argue, as noble Lords have done this evening, about the relative merits of different treatment methods, the availability of different treatments and the value and success rate of educational programmes. I strongly believe that the main problem is criminality, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, said. I thank the noble Lord in particular for his supporthe spoke in both debates this afternoon and has had a busy day.
I was very disappointed by the Minister's response. It appears that the Government's mind is still totally closed towards decriminalisation. He mentioned the availability of evidence for a massive increase in use but was not prepared to say where that evidence came from. He did not answer my request about whether the Government believe that their policies are actually working. Nor was he prepared to say that the Government would do more work
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page