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This is a drafting amendment which simply makes it clear that the obligations under clause 8(1), in respect of the handling of documents in his possession are exactly the same for a Government contractor, who has been notified under clause 1(6), as they are for any other Government contractor.
Mr. Teddy Taylor : May I ask the Minister a brief question? He has been very helpful and courteous in his answers. How do police fit in if they are used by Government Departments? We know what a Crown servant is, but would someone who was employed by the
Column 150Metropolitan police or the local authority police and used for this purpose, be a Government contractor or a Crown servant? Is the serious drugs squad, which is apparently directly employed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for particular purposes, a Government contractor? The Minister will appreciate that this is an important and serious matter, particularly as the serious fraud squad has the special ability, due to the length of its deliberations, to stop matters coming before the general public. What is its position when it is directly employed by, for example, someone directly employed by a Government Department? Will it be affected?
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 6, in page 8, line 18, after "any" insert "official"
Mr. Patten : The amendments relate to the offence in clause 8(6) of giving unauthorised access to protected information. The amendments are aimed directly to meet the points made in another place ; they are intended to apply the offence only to someone who knows that he was disclosing official information, and to clarify the presentation of the offence. I was glad that the Opposition spokesman in another place said that the amendments were acceptable to the Opposition and had his consent and approval.
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendments Nos. 7 to 9 agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 10, in page 12, line 11, at end insert-- "( ) Section 30(2)(b) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 ;"
The amendment corrects an omission in schedule 1 and inserts in the schedule a reference to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975.
Question put and agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Sir Fergus Montgomery (Altrincham and Sale) : I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister, who has had a very busy time replying to the previous debate and who must now reply to an Adjournment debate starting just before midnight. I should like to say, however, how important I consider this subject. It is a worldwide problem. I think that we are all aware-- certainly I am aware--of the Government's efforts in this regard ; I am also well aware that there is no single answer to the problem of drugs.
First, there is the problem of drugs coming into this country. All the heroin and cocaine and most of the cannabis comes from abroad : 80 per cent. of the heroin comes from south-west Asia, the cocaine from South America, the herbal cannabis from West Africa and Jamaica and the cannabis resin from the Lebanon and Morocco. The drugs must first be smuggled into the United Kingdom ; the drug traffickers then ensure that they get on to the streets.
Obviously, the more readily available the drugs, the more likely people are to experiment with them. That is why it is important to try to stop them coming in, and I believe the increase in international co-operation to be of immense value. Through the United Nations, a conference was held in Vienna in June 1987 which produced more international co-operation to combat all aspects of the problem. Its aims were, first, to stop illicit drug production, and secondly to co-operate to prevent international trafficking.
Three main ways were suggested to prevent the raw material of drugs from being produced. The first was law enforcement--in other words, preventing people from growing illicit crops. The second was crop eradication--in other words wiping out crops that have been grown unlawfully. The third was crop substitution--in other words encouraging the growth of new crops in place of illicit crops. All those methods, however, have proved very difficult. Law enforcement is very expensive in terms of manpower ; crop eradication cannot stop farmers replanting at the earliest opportunity ; and crop substitution is likely to require a new infrastructure--in other words, it would prove extremely costly.
Perhaps it is best to consider enforcement. This country now has a national drugs intelligence unit, which I believe provides an essential link between the police and Customs and Excise. I pay tribute to the work done by drug squads. We must remember that the illegal drugs business is now the most profitable international business in the world : addiction and smuggling continue to spread, not just in the rich countries but from Peru to India. In several countries, narco syndicates, as they are called, are more powerful than the Governments of those countries. With these enormous drug empires comes a chain of violence and terror.
I do not have to remind my hon. Friend the Minister of what happens in Colombia, which is dominated by the Medellin drug cartel, which may be admired by the poor for its flamboyance but which is feared by all in public life because at least 20 journalists and 50 judges have died for daring to challenge it. I am told by people in the drug
Column 152squads in this country and the United States of America that the Mafia at its worst pales into insignificance beside the Colombian drug syndicates.
Now this country has what is called the advent of the yardies. I will quote the following article from the Daily Telegraph of 13 October 1988 :
"When Innocent Egbulefu, a Nigerian drug dealer, was thrown from the eighth floor of an east London tower block in March 1986, the investigation into his death received little publicity. During it, however, disturbing rumours emerged of a new and vicious Jamaican gang attempting to gain a foothold in the expanding London cocaine market.
Egbulefu is now recognised as the first of at least six murder victims in Britain of the Yardies, whose American counterparts are seen by the FBI as the most dangerous organised crime group after the Mafia.
His death prompted the Metropolitan Police to form a covert squad to cover intelligence on the Yardies. That the 16-strong squad is now to be almost doubled in strength, at a time of fierce competition for limited resources', is a measure of Scotland Yard's alarm at the threat posed by Jamaican organised crime.
The Yardies is a loose association of violent criminals, most of whom originated in Kingston, Jamaica and whose principal interest is the trafficking and sale of cocaine. In Britain, they are perceived as a new phenomenon. In America, however, their counterparts, the posses', are said to have been responsible for up to 800 drug-related murders since 1984. The aim of the Yardie squad is to make sure the American experience is not repeated in Britain."
Every person on that Yardie squad must be aware of the dangers involved. As I have said, the illegal drug business is highly profitable. This fact was brought home forcibly to me in 1985 when I went with the Home Affairs Select Committee to visit the United States. In New York, we were taken to the drug dealing area on the lower east side, where we saw the rooftop spotters who were there to ensure that, if the police or law enforcement officers came close, a warning would be given to the people selling drugs.
We saw the disused buildings where the drug dealing was done and the holes in the wall where people passed through their money and got their fix. Much of what we saw was in Washington. Then we went to Miami, which has been referred to as the drug capital of the United States. I do not need to give my hon. Friend lessons in geography, as I understand that that was his subject before he entered Parliament, but I must tell him that Miami is the largest city in Florida, a peninsula with thousands of miles of coastline. As it is impossible to monitor all that coastline, Florida could be called a smugglers' paradise, especially since it is so close to south America and the cocaine centres.
While in Miami, we were taken to a disused factory on an industrial estate, where an enormous amount of cociane had been seized by the authorities. Armed guards were on duty because the value of the cocaine held there was inestimable. We were sworn to secrecy--although it made no difference, since none of us knew his way around Miami--because of the danger to those employed at that centre. If the people who were keen to sell that cocaine had realised where it was being held, I doubt very much that armed guards could have kept them away.
I am told that a few years previously one of the strangest sights in Miami was a queue of men carrying suitcases outside a bank before opening time. Each person carrying a suitcase was accompanied by an armed minder. They were waiting to pay into the bank huge numbers of small denomination bills that had been acquired by drug pushing. Now there are no queues, because the United States has changed the law. The Banks Secrecy Act
Column 153requires all cash deposits of over $10,000 to be reported by the bank to the federal authorities. The drug barons in the United States have been forced to launder their profits in tax havens abroad. What struck me most about that visit to Miami was the way in which the assets of convicted drug barons were used to continue the fight against drugs. It was rather like going to an auctioneer's paradise. We were shown pictures of beautiful homes, racehorses, jewellery, paintings and cars, all of which were the assets of people who had been convicted of drug offences. Their assets were auctioned and sold. The proceeds were then used in the battle against drugs. I happen to believe that that is a good idea. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain why we have not followed the United States example.
A few weeks ago, at Question Time, I asked my hon. Friend what happened to the money that is confiscated as a result of the ill deeds of drug barons. He said that it was taken by the Treasury. Money confiscated from criminals should be put to work in the best possible way for the community. The United States Drug Enforcement Agency has been virtually self-supporting for some years because of the dirty money that it has seized and put to good use. If it is possible to do that in the United States, why cannot it be done here?
I draw to my hon. Friend's attention two recent cases. The first is the case of Charlotte Chrastny. She got seven years for her part in cocaine smuggling. She was ordered to pay £2,600,000 from the profits of her drug operations. The second case is that of Ronnie French. He got eight and a half years, with an extra 10 years without remission unless he hands over £1,700,000, which is regarded as his share of drug profits. Within the last two months, those two cases have resulted in the realisation of £4,300,000. That sum could profitably be used in the fight against drugs instead of going into the Treasury's coffers.
Finally, I draw my hon. Friend's attention to a new development. Last year, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency urged the Metropolitan police to apply for £32.5 million of drug assets that had been seized with the help of the Metropolitan police's special task force that had been investigating the Brinks-Mat bullion robbery. However, the United States authorities ruled against us. They said that there was no mutual assistance agreement with Britain. I think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took prompt action in that case, and agreement has now been reached. The change in the law that was needed has now taken place.
The $64,000 question that I want to ask my hon. Friend is this : does the Treasury get the £32.5 million, or do the police get it? I understand that the United States Drug Enforcement Agency believes that the police should have the money. I support that view. We all want progress to be made in the fight against drugs. To use the ill-gotten gains of drug barons in the fight against drugs surely makes sense. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm that when he replies to the debate.
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) rose --
Column 154Sir Fergus Montgomery indicated assent .
Mr. Rathbone : I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) and the Minister for allowing me to speak for just a few moments. I rise as the chairman of the all-party drug misuse group to support every word said by my hon. Friend. He drew attention to the marvellous job which the national drugs intelligence unit has been doing, both in encouraging co-operation between police forces, and--all-important--encouraging co-operation between police forces and the Customs. Anything we can do to finance their operation better, to improve the gathering of intelligence, which is imperative in tracking down drug traffickers, ought to be done.
My hon. Friend drew attention to the horrifying activities of the Mafia and the Yardies, and the way this took place in crack houses, which have yet to come to this country--thank goodness, although all the signs are that they are on the way. I know that the Home Affairs Select Committee has studied this question and will return to it again. I should like to endorse what my hon. Friend said about their studies and also what he said about the Government's expenditure, their activities and their attention to this problem, most particularly in terms of the confiscation of drug assets. I add my own voice and the voice of the all-party drug misuse group to my hon. Friend's plea to the Government to reconsider yet again the application of these funds taken from drug misusers and traffickers in order to use them to the benefit of the hunt for those international criminals and to prevent the tragic social harm they do to everybody in this country and around the world.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : I am extremely pleased to be able to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), and also to one or two important points in the short and pointed intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), whom I am very pleased to see in the Chamber tonight.
Of course I recognise the concern which has led my hon. Friend to raise this problem. It is a very serious problem indeed, and I welcome the opportunity to put on record what the Government are doing to tackle it both nationally and internationally, where I believe we have a strong case to claim that we are playing a leading role, certainly within Europe and possibly in other parts of the globe as well.
Drug misuse is a very complex problem, and I suspect that some, like my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, may know more about some of the complexities than I do, but I think my hon. Friend will agree that there is no single answer to the problem, just as there is no single drug which is misused and abused in this country.
In seeking to combat the problem, a strategy has to be devised which tackles every aspect of it. Our strategy was first formulated in 1984 and is set out in the Home Office document "Tackling Drug Misuse", the third edition of which was published last June. The strategy is comprehensive, and I hope that it is balanced as well. It
Column 155seems so to me, and it is as much concerned with reducing demand as it is with trying to stop illicit supplies being imported. Both are very important aspects.
We are taking action simultaneously on five main fronts : first, to reduce supplies from abroad ; secondly, to increase the effectiveness of enforcement, to which my hon. Friend referred ; thirdly, to maintain effective deterrence and tight domestic controls ; fourthly, to develop prevention and education, which is critical ; and fifthly, to improve treatment and rehabilitation. No one who has visited treatment and rehabilitation units, as I am sure all hon. Members in the Chamber tonight have done, could fail to be full of admiration for those who work there to try to help those seeking treatment and rehabilitation, or to be moved by the terrible condition to which some have been reduced by their misuse of drugs.
Our strategy is co-ordinated by an interdepartmental ministerial group on the misuse of drugs under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. That too was established in 1984 and brings together Ministers and officials from all the Departments with an interest in the problem. Brief mention of the machinery of government may not seem very important, but when Ministers at the Home Office, the territorial Ministries, the Department of Health and others have an interest, those interests need to be brought together and interrelated.
I should like to give a brief account of progress in the 10 minutes or so that remain. My hon. Friend questioned me about the Government's attitude to passing on the proceeds of confiscation to the police forces responsible for that confiscation. A high proportion of the drugs that are misused in this country are illegally imported. The Government give the subject of drugs a prominent place in our exchanges with other countries and we are active in the relevant international forums, which include the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, of which the United Kingdom has been a member since 1946, the Council of Europe's drug co-operation group--more ordinarily known as the Pompidou group--the European Community, the Customs Co-operation Council and Interpol. We played a leading role, which was internationally recognised, in drawing up the new United Nations convention against illicit drug trafficking, which was adopted in Vienna last December. It is the first international instrument concerned exclusively with the illicit traffic in drugs. It provides a comprehensive framework for international co-operation in tackling the problem. At the last count, 59 countries, including Britain, had signed the convention subject to ratification. That is not bad since last December.
The Government also contribute substantially to the United Nations for drug abuse control, as I am sure the House would wish. Between 1982 and 1988, we pledged or contributed a total of $16.7 million to the fund, making us the fourth largest donor. Our contributions to the fund's specific projects have included £3.4 million for opium eradication and substitution in Pakistan. Crop substitution is extremely important and costly, as it involves not only money but social change, because in some countries people have cultivated poppies and other
Column 156substances for generations. In addition, we have contributed £2.2 million to drug-related development projects in Bolivia.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary secured agreement in 1987 to the quadrupling to some £2 million a year of his budget for enforcement and eradicating illicit drug crops in key producing countries. Approximately two thirds of the overall sum is spent through the fund. We are contributing some £1 million over three years to a major law enforcement project by the fund in India, and in the past three years a total of £1.8 million has been provided to Latin American countries, to which my hon. Friend referred, particularly to Colombia, specifically in law-enforcement-related assistance against cocaine traffic. The remaining one third of the budget is spent on bilateral projects directly with other countries. The Caribbean, which alas is one of the principle transit routes for cocaine coming to Britain--I share the fears of my hon. Friend for the future--has been a particular focus for bilateral assistance. We have a network of customs and police drug liaison officers at strategic posts abroad who work with their counterparts overseas and provide valuable intelligence. Some 15 are now in place doing that difficult and potentially dangerous work. We intend to add more in the not-too-distant future. The intelligence which flows from the work of those customs and police drug liaison officers is enormously valuable in leading to the seizures of drugs in recent years. On the European front, we regard the Council of Europe group to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking--the Pompidou group--as the primary forum for developing further co-operation. We have chaired the group since 1984. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has convened an extraordinary ministerial meeting of the group in London on 18 and 19 May 1989 to give renewed political impetus to the fight against drugs in Europe. That again shows that my right hon. Friend and the United Kingdom Government are taking the lead in Europe on this important issue.
The agenda for the meeting will focus on three items, which seem to us to be the most urgent at the European level. First, there is the threat posed by cocaine which, all the evidence suggests, is now being targeted increasingly on Europe following the saturation of the North American market to which my hon. Friend referred when he was talking about his visit to Miami. Secondly, there is the confiscation of drug traffickers' assets, which again concerned my hon. Friend ; thirdly, there are the important problems posed by AIDS and drug misuse.
I want to speak briefly about resources and to give some answers to my hon. Friend's questions about whether confiscated resources should go to the police forces that have carried out the confiscations. Many resources have been put into fighting the drug problem in this country. We have trebled the number of customs and specialist investigators since 1979. Over £13 million is being made available over four years to develop and introduce technical aids, such as X-ray machines for scanning cargo, and another £7 million has been spent on cutter replacement to improve surveillance of coastal waters.
The strength of the police force drug squads in England is more than 40 per cent. greater than it was at the end of 1983, standing as it does now at about 850 men. That greater commitment of resources is being reflected in real success in enforcement. In 1988, customs seized illicit
Column 157drugs with a street value of £185 million. The number of custodial sentences of more than seven years imposed for drug offences rose from 16 in 1980 to 102 in 1987, so we can see that enforcement is beginning to work.
I am aware of the demands that have been made--to which my hon. Friend referred--for drug investigations, especially those with an international dimension, to be recognised in terms of the additional weight they place on police resources. Initially, the concept of funding drugs work through seized assets is appealing. It is the measure of success of an individual force, and that force could say, "We have seized the money and we are now going to spend it on drugs enforcement." However, funding drugs work through seized assets is not very flexible and it might not be fair. Sometimes, seizures of drugs happen almost by chance. Sometimes, a number of consignments come in persistently through the same avenues.
If we relied on funding drugs work through seized assets, we could not rely on a steady income and we could not plan ahead. It makes sense to determine law enforcement resources according to needs and spending priorities, rather than what happens to have been
Column 158confiscated in any particular place. The debate began a couple of weeks ago during Home Office questions, when I was able only to give a short answer. My answer has been slightly afforced to my hon. Friend tonight, but I suspect that he may want to return to this point and to argue it in greater detail.
My hon. Friend also referred to the desire of the American drug enforcement authorities to pay the Metropolitan police £32.5 million in reward money. My hon. Friend is right : in the last stages of trying to achieve that, the American Government realised that they did not have the powers within their laws to make such an award. My hon. Friend is also right to say that so much that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, who is ministerially responsible for these matters, are doing is concerned with trying to improve multilateral and bilateral arrangements concerning enforcement and confiscation. We shall pursue that vigorously.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-four minutes past Twelve o'clock.
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