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Column 485aware of how wise it is never to begin. I believe that, whatever we do towards reducing production--there is much more that we can do--however we can better inhibit and overcome, reduce and, perhaps, in some areas even eliminate trafficking, and whatever we do to improve treatment, we will not get to the crux of the drugs misuse problem until we reduce demand.
It is a problem that is no longer confined to big cities, to a social e lite or to any particular sub-section of deprived or well-off people in the developed world. In those countries, where hitherto the major problem of drug misuse has been the problem of containing production, we have seen--as everybody forecasted would be the case--a quite horrible increase in drug misuse.
It is worth mentioning in that context that not only are people in the production countries becoming drug-addicted, but the consumption countries are becoming production-orientated. I believe that it is still right to say that the largest cash crop in the ninth largest economy in the world happens to be marijuana ; and the ninth largest economy in the world happens to be the state of California in the United States of America. I cite that as an instance of how we can no longer talk about production and consumption countries we are all in this horribly together.
To come to grips with the problem of demand, it is crucial to build a better understanding of what prompts it. I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister to touch on what the Government are doing within our marvellous National Health Service to encourage medical and genetic research into what may underlie drug misuse.
I know that in the United States there are studies into the genetics of those who have become misusers of alcohol as well as of drugs. There are indications, to put it no higher, that whatever a person's social or family background, the most likely cause underlying a person becoming entrapped into drug or any other misuse is a genetic propensity to such misuse. If that is the case and we are finding a new channel of approach--a genetic approach--to the problem, we should carry out more research in that area in this country, so that we will be better able to come to grips with the problem. However, it is not only medical research that is necessary, but social studies and research into the number of addicts and where they are.
In Brighton we have an extraordinarily well set-up drug unit, which is under the wing of the East Sussex county council. That unit draws together social, medical and police services. It has a well-conceived well-planned and well-costed research project, so that it can understand the problem of drug misusers on a numerate basis in Brighton, which has a great problem. I was disappointed, however, to discover that it was impossible for that unit to get funding from the district or regional health authorities and that it had to tap other sources for funds. Thank goodness it has been successful in doing so, because that research will make an enormous contribution to all of the other efforts that it applies so manfully--I suppose that I should say "womanfully"--in the battle against drug misuse in that town. It is only after we have a better understanding of the problem that we can ensure that all our activities impinge properly and most effectively in the fight against drug misuse.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South raised queries about the advertising campaigns that have been run so far, and I would add my own question mark to those. We must be certain that in this complex area of
Column 486human behaviour advertising campaigns, first, communicate and have an immediate effect along the lines for which they were designed, and, secondly, that their effect has some form of longevity which makes them worth while. I feel that, while those advertisements are visible and dramatic because of their visibility, the rather longer-term and more mundane methods of health education and drug advice for the medical profession, for parents, for teachers and for high- risk groups are really the way in which to tackle the problem. In my area-- and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South drew attention to one in Merseyside--we have a first-class drug advice and information service. It is well publicised, it has become very well used and it is a point of reference for those people who are worried about getting tempted into drugs or, having been tempted, are worried about the effect that it is having. Perhaps most importantly, it is a source of information for parents who are concerned that their children may be in the process of being tempted and want to know what they can do to intervene in that process and cut it off.
I commend the Government on their funding for the next three years of drug advisers in schools. They anticipated the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, because they have taken on the additional task of advising on AIDS, and I believe that they might also take on the task of advising on alcohol. It is absolutely essential to have within each school a teacher identified as a source of knowledge about addiction of all sorts and who can recognise those addictions in children.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South did, I draw attention to the life education centre programmes, which were started in Australia by the Rev. Tom Noffs, and which have been started to such good effect in parts of this country. It is a sophisticated but simple device for injecting into young people's minds a greater awareness of the value of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body. It is a simple caravan with a trained teacher inside using displays as extraordinarily dramatic and innovative methods of communication. It visits a school and in two hours can take an entire age group through one of its classes. There are different classes for each age group from five to 15. Therefore, it can cover a normal school in less than a week. The caravans have proved effective in parts of Essex and they are now part of life in the Isle of Man. They have been visited by Ministers from all the Departments within my hon. Friend the Minister's ministerial group. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister participated in one such session in a caravan brought into No. 10 Downing street a few months ago. She was enormously impressed.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) but I shall interrupt his speech for only a moment. We wonder whether there has been a request for a statement to be made this morning. We had expected one on the new and somewhat novel proposal for a carbon tax which emerged yesterday. You will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we want to know the status of that announcement from the Secretary of State for the Environment and the amount of the tax.
I intervene at this point because the announcement seems to be based on a completely new principle that goes way beyond the principle accepted by both sides of the
Column 487House that the polluter pays. It seems to be based on the idea that a tax should deter the use of coal. It is a hidden boost to the preference for nuclear power held by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Prime Minister. If there has been no request for a statement today--since no Minister is present I assume that that is the case--I should like to take this opportunity, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that we expect a statement on Monday.
Mr. Leigh : This is a major debate on a serious international and national problem. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has brought in his friends from the press to listen to a totally bogus and dubious point of order which has nothing to do with the
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I have answered the point of order. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has endorsed my feelings. This is an important debate and we must proceed with it.
Mr. Butler : In my speech I mentioned the media's responsibility in reporting about drugs. It was fascinating to watch the Press Gallery fill up on that spurious point of order and then to empty as soon as the point of order was finished. Does that not underline my point about the media's responsibility in this matter?
Mr. Rathbone : I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. Giving the gentlemen of the third estate the benefit of the doubt, I hope that they came in to find out how well the debate was going, to hear the points being made and to see the extremely poor turn-out on the Opposition Benches, except during that spurious point of order. Of course, the point of order did not deal with an unimportant subject but it may be straying far from the subject of the motion
Column 488to attempt to include the misuse of the environment in a debate on drug misuse rather than to treat it as a separate subject.
Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman has raised yet again the question of attendance. I deplore low attendance. Is the reason why there is such poor attendance on the Conservative Benches the fact that the party is now seven points behind in the poll or is it because Conservative Members are not interested in drugs?
Mr. Rathbone : We do the important subject of drugs no service by trying to inject into the debate the scoring of cheap political points. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West understands this matter and has expressed concern. It is not in his nature to be prompted into such behaviour by the presence of a Whip on the Opposition Front Bench.
I was describing the operation of the life education centre schemes in this country. That scheme is one, probably the best, of the specific schemes designed to get to the base of the problem of drug misuse by dissuading people from becoming involved in drugs in the first place. If there is a chance that I am right--I believe that I am--the scheme deserves Government support in order to enable it to administer a national expansion of its activities and to help it train teachers as well as to provide the capital cost of equipment so that in the not too distant future we can hope to see such centres operating in every local education authority. Some will require more units than others ; that will depend on the size of the education authority. Such schemes should provide for every school in the country an opportunity for the young to participate in the education programme for two hours of each of the 10 formative years of their life. If that is done, in 10 years we will be able to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, in initiating the debate, turned a corner in coming to grips with the horrible problem of drug misuse, and the House and the nation would be indebted to him for that.
Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham) : I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for what we must all agree was a compelling and telling speech. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has already done a great deal, will take on board some of the points that he raised.
Awareness is growing rapidly in the community about the horrific dangers of drug misuse. Crack is now easily available on street corners at £5 or £10 a go. It is time we exploded the cornershop cocaine, which is what it is. That cheap and highly addictive cocaine-based drug has brought nightly carnage to the streets of many American states. Profits from the trade in it have drawn youngsters, some scarcely in their teens, into a net of crime, often ending in death, as crazed addicts and dealers settle their grievances with guns.
Crack is smoked, not snorted and goes quickly to the brain. It can be bought for a few pounds and it is cheaper than a gun. It is now starting to show its ugly face in Britain as the drug bosses who set up the deadly trade scent the possibility of big profits. Britain, with a population about a quarter of the size of the United States conveniently concentrated into big cities, has many areas where disaffected and unemployed people become easy
Column 489prey. The Western Daily Press recently produced a compelling article by Simon Pipe with evidence of the drug abuse problems in the Bristol area. That was an humane expose which is well worth reading. Already, Wolverhampton and the south west have experienced the disorder that crack brings. It is a drug which brings destruction, despair and death to the addicts and those around them. The spread of crack must be stopped before it brings us the hell on earth which it has visited on America.
Crack is one cigarette puff away from the dirty needle syndrome and the AIDS virus which will cost the economy billions of pounds in medical care and loss of earnings in the next 10 years. Drug abuse runs the parallel risk of sending the AIDS epidemic into a freefall. The HIV virus marches on relentlessly with no vaccine in sight to end sufferers' misery. Prisons are a known breeding ground for it and regional secure units are a myth. The next century approaches with the ominous legacy from the 1900s and the fear that drugs and AIDS, especially in prisons, will become hideously out of control. Crack is terrible. It is deadly and has a street value running into tens of millions of pounds. It is the purest, most lethal form of cocaine and its users become addicted and dependent. Surely it is essential that even greater efforts should be made to harness the skills and the brilliance of health and education officials, both regional and national. They must wake up to the growing threat before it becomes a horrible reality and turns all of us into victims. The evil purveyors have targeted Britain and the invasion is already here. Parents in virtually every constituency are crying out for help. All we can suggest is working parties and conferences, the involvement of European sources and even the Home Secretary. As far back as 1983, he warned of the tragedies that lay ahead ; six years later we have little to show, and working parties are still talking. It is simply not enough to punish offenders. The probation service, housing associations such as Stonham, of which I have the privilege of being chairman, and NACRO have much to offer in the way of providing a secure haven for addicts and using the techniques available to wean them off drugs. However, when we want to offer the services of these nationally sponsored bodies we are met with a brick wall : there are no resources.
For many potential victims, the threat of greater punishment will only increase the lure and it will certainly increase tension between the police and those involved. The pushers need heavy punishment, and the addicts and their families need the nation's help.
Crack respects no boundaries and no classes. It traps the vulnerable, desolate and hopeless with the chance of a quick, cheap thrill which rapidly becomes a destructive addiction, leaving users physically damaged and mentally dependent. Cardboard box city will not be confined to the Thames but will spread throughout the country bringing the tragedies that we already see in some of our bigger cities. To combat that, a massive programme of education is needed to alert youngsters and parents to the great social and personal dangers of this drug. The police, social services, local authorities and health services must link together to stop this drug plague. There should be no holds barred or money spared in our efforts to relay the message through schools, clubs, television and doctors' surgeries. There is nothing to be said in favour of crack. It has no
Column 490mindbender defenders, as had LSD, and there are no arguments in favour of it such as those put forward by people who want legislaton to liberalise the use of marijuana.
I do not underestimate the difficulties that the Home Office faces in trying to resolve the problem. I do not underestimate the sterling efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister. However, we have a unique opportunity which comes rarely in this House, to urge, plead and beg that something be done quickly.
I have stuck to my usual 10-minute speech, Madam Deputy Speaker. 11.16 am
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for giving the House the opportunity to debate what has become a devastating international problem. I hope, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), not to detain the House more than a few minutes. In my few remarks I intend to survey the world situation, which has not so far been done in detail, to consider what the Government are trying to do to meet the problem and, in the last few moments of my speech, to offer a few thoughts of my own. We have heard much about the problem in the United Kingdom. According to the Home Office statistical bulletin of 11 April 1989 :
"The number of new and former drug addicts notified to the Home Office increased by 1,100 between 1987 and 1988, almost reaching the peak number recorded in 1985."
Although there had been an apparent levelling off in heroin addiction, that has now proved not to be the case, and there has been an upturn.
As hon. Members have already made clear this morning, cocaine is a much more worrying problem. In London a kilo of cocaine is worth four to five times the price in Miami. This financial incentive, coupled with the apparent saturation of the American market, makes Europe an attractive proposition. The experience of the Bahamas and the United States is that crack will not become readily available until there is a large stockpile of cocaine. Recent events in Wolverhampton may point to the fact that a stockpile has been built up. I can put it no better than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who said in a press release on 18 May :
"Crack is the spectre I see hanging over Europe. Prior to 1985 crack was an almost unheard of term in the United States. It is now a major drug in 49 out of the 50 States."
As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made clear in his pertinent remarks, crack is a devastating phenomenon of which this House should be aware, and it is the more worrying in that dependence on it is far more devastating than dependence on heroin. It seems that Latin American groups are setting up distribution chains in Europe. Put at its simplest, cocaine supply is moving from an individual, entrepreneurial business to a multinational one. It is important that the House should be aware of what is happening overseas. There is a continuing and worrying growth of addiction. It was recently estimated that in Karachi one in nine young men were heroin addicts. Bolivia, with a population of six million, estimates that it has 250,000 addicts. According to the World Health Organisation--a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South--HIV infection among
Column 491heroin injectors in Thailand has risen from 0 per cent. three years ago, to 1 per cent. two years ago, to a staggering 50 per cent. last year.
It is unlikely that there will be any significant reduction of production. The golden triangle is even more lawless, and the golden crescent is unlikely to be contained until the situation in Afghanistan is resolved. There has been some success in dealing with cocaine in Bolivia, but there was an upward trend in Brazil, although cocaine production there is relatively low grade. The United States Drugs Enforcement Agency estimates that there has been a 25 per cent. increase in production in Peru. All this shows the problems that we face.
I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who recently addressed the parliamentary all-party drug misuse group to which he gave an interesting analysis of what is happening in Peru, which he recently visited. His experiences there make grim reading :
"To get to a first stage laboratory took one hour by helicopter and required the protection of two other, heavily armed helicopters. It took considerable time to find the laboratory, which was under the canopy of the jungle. The site had three to four huts for production, a power house, dormitory and cooking facilities. In the course of that journey, four more factories were spotted, three of which were still in production. In a small area there were estimated to be 100 factories. The scale of production was massive and the whole of the Peruvian army could not seriously impede the scale of cultivation and production. The physical act of manually eradicating the crops was extremely difficult and yet if substitute crops were to be produced, chemical eradication was not possible. Colombia was doing a tremendous job, but the problems were immense. The Head of the Drug Squad had a $2 million price tag on his head. There was considerable corruption. The judiciary was increasingly unlikely to convict for drug offences. Despite these impediments, Colombia was becoming more sophisticated and successful in tracking planes."
It seems from this report that the authorities are only scratching the surface of the problem.
That is the international epidemic that we face and the source of the spectre that my right hon. Friend described as hanging over Europe, and it is why this debate is timely. What are we doing in this country? The new convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and substances which was signed in Vienna in December 1988 provides an international framework for co-operation against trafficking. More training continues to be provided, with the exchange of enforcement officers and an increase in the number of United Kingdom Customs and police officers.
A number of problems remain to be dealt with, not least the under- resourcing of the United Nations drugs bodies. Despite the best efforts of the Government to promote international co-operation, at best we are only holding our own.
Hon. Members have mentioned what the Government are doing domestically in terms of detection and enforcement. In an interesting Adjournment debate on 2 May, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office said :
"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".--[ Official Report, 2 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 156.]
It is easy for us armchair analysts to claim that the Government are not doing enough, but that quotation shows that there has been a big increase in police drug squads.
Column 492The interesting Home Office document, "Tackling Drug Misuse : A Summary of the Government's Strategy", makes it clear that the Government take this problem seriously and have increased the penalties. I refer the House to paragraph 5.7. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us in detail what the Government have been doing and intend to do.
I end with my personal thoughts on this problem. The Government are doing a great deal, but is it enough? I am reminded of a block of flats. On the ground floor live people who are producing substances with the potential to kill our children. What do we do? First, we politely complain. Secondly, we ask them to set their house in order. Thirdly, we might give them the resources with which to do that. All that is good and it has been happening. Ministers have visited South America and have attempted to increase international co-operation. They have talked of giving more resources. That is all very well, but is it enough?
As I have said, the situation in South America is getting out of control. Can the Western world go on accepting what may be an attack on the very nature of our society? I do not think so. Unless certain countries, such as Bolivia, can get to grips with this problem it may become necessary for the international community to take action.
Mr. Leigh : I do not want to speculate at this stage ; neither do I want to underestimate the appalling spectre that hangs over us. Those countries do not have the resources to tackle the problem and it may be necessary to adopt other methods.
We have talked about deterrence. The document to which I referred shows that the Government have increased penalties.
Mr. Randall : I should like to press the hon. Gentleman on this. I know that he is sincere about this, as are we all. Earlier, I pressed the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) on the same point. The problem is immense. We are talking of independent sovereign countries, and I am at a loss to know exactly what we can do to overcome the massive forces at work in them. An enormous amount of money is being made. What action is the hon. Gentleman specifically recommending?
Mr. Leigh : The hon. Gentleman must draw his own conclusions. I speak as a Back Bencher. Even so, this is a sensitive area and I would prefer to hint rather than to make concrete statements. I drew the analogy with the block of flats for a good reason, and I stick to it. We ask for the police to be brought in if what is happening on the ground floor endangers our children. These are sensitive matters and our debate may well be heard in other places.
We have spoken of deterrence. The problem is enormous and the potential gains are vast. The international trade is worth £50 billion. Deterrence may not be enough. No hon. Member is asking for the death penalty to be imposed for international drug traffickers or smugglers, but this is not just a moral issue. There have been many debates on the rightness or wrongness of imposing the death penalty. The House has taken a decision. Some hon. Members take the view that to impose the death penalty would always be wrong in any circumstances. Others believe that because most murders are committed within the family, the death penalty should
Column 493not be imposed. What will happen, though, if the international control of drugs breaks down, resulting in a breakdown of law and order on our streets to the extent that has occurred in Washington? I have lived for most of my life in this capital city and have never been afraid to go out at any time of night. I am a big chap, but I would not walk at night on the streets of Philadelphia or New York. The response of the United States Government to the problem has been grotesquely insufficient. There has been a major breakdown of society in many inner city areas in the United States. The problem is not wholly drug related. Some of it relates to the breakdown of the family unit. Some of it relates to certain welfare concepts, but that is another issue. If, however, there were a breakdown of law and order in inner city areas in this country and the police started to lose control, it would no longer be a moral issue. Society--not individuals--would be under attack. In the past, society has taken the decision that it has the right to defend itself from foreign aggression by the use of force or violence. If society is placed under that kind of pressure, hon. Members might say that we ought to follow the example of other countries and impose the ultimate deterrent to deal with the problem. I know that the problem cannot be solved by deterrence alone and that the Minister will tell us that prevention is very important and that international co-operation is vital.
I have tried to explain the seriousness of the problem. Unless other measures are successful, we may have to consider using more extreme measures. I would not want to use them, but eventually they may prove to be necessary.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I shall follow the example of the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and will make a short contribution to the debate. I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr Butler) has given us to debate this important issue, on which there is a great deal of unanimity on both sides of the House. We all recognise the need to combat the evil of bringing drugs into this country and the consequent evil of pushing drugs, with all its implications. To push drugs is one of the most evil crimes, and we must take the strongest possible action to combat it. The taking of drugs can ultimately lead to death. Drug pushers commit an act that is tantamount to murder by making drugs available to people, some of whom become hooked on them and ultimately die.
The families of those who take drugs are also affected. Drug-taking can destroy family life. A person can become so obsessed with taking drugs that he resorts to crime to get money to pay for them. I have met many constituents who need a great deal of support during extremely difficult periods in their family life. When people get into debt and resort to crime, one often finds that drugs are involved, but that is not so in all cases.
The problem is not confined to big cities or to certain classes of people. It affects small towns throughout the country, including Burnley. There is a tendency to ignore the drugs problem. We shall be unable to tackle it unless we recognise that it is a problem. A press campaign in my constituency is being led by a local reporter, Ian Pilkington, of the Burnley Express and News . The campaign is called "Drug Alert". Every week the Burnley
Column 494Express and News draws attention to the problem and tries to ensure that at local level it is being tackled. A local solicitor, Mr. Dearing, is also trying to make people aware of the fact that there is a drugs problem in Burnley and that it is not confined to Liverpool and Manchester.
We must provide additional resources for hospital units that are trying to get people off drugs. There is a unit in Prestwich that serves a large area, but only a very small number of beds are reserved for drug addicts. Additional facilities are needed in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north- west. The Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale district health authority has authorised an increase in the number of people who are helping drug addicts, but we are only tinkering with the problem. Far more people are needed to tackle it. The National Health Service is under pressure, but provision for dealing with the drugs problem should be treated as a priority. It should not have to compete with other hospital services. If adequate provision is made to tackle the drugs problem, it must not lead to money being taken away from other services. That would be wrong. Far more must be done to educate young people. Somebody in every school should be responsible for doing that job. Young people should also be educated about the dangers of AIDS. The sharing of needles is one of the major causes of the spread of AIDS. We have underestimated how much money will be needed by the National Health Service, the social services and the education authorities to tackle the AIDS and the drugs problem. The sooner we wake up to that fact, the sooner we shall be able to overcome these issues. The cheapest and most effective way to tackle the drugs and the AIDS problems is to spend money on the education service so that young people are made fully aware of what might happen.
We must make every effort to stop drugs from being brought into the country. Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the difficulty of doing that, but we must ensure that the resources are there. Many of the Government's actions over the past few years have received the support of hon. Members--for instance, the confiscation of money made from the sale of drugs. A prison term will not be a sufficient penalty if the offender can later benefit from the profits that he made before his imprisonment.
Resources are needed for education, the Health Service and the social services : full support is needed for the family which might otherwise be destroyed by the drug problem of one of its members. Many such families do not know where to turn.
There is considerable unanimity on this problem. We must devote resources to ensuring that it does not increase, in the hope that we may ultimately see a reduction.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on initiating one of the most important debates that I have heard in the House. The drug problem affects the survival of our land and our society, and is a no less important subject for debate than war. This is, indeed, a war of a fundamental nature.
First, let me ask my hon. Friend the Minister to address his mind to the growing number of individuals and small groups now pressing for the legalisation of soft drugs such as marijuana. I should like his assurance that, as long as
Column 495the present Government remain in power, such drugs will not be legalised. Professor Francis Camps, Home Office pathologist for some 20 years and an outstanding man, said that soft drugs always led to hard drugs and hard drugs to death. To legalise marijuana, therefore, is to put people on the road to hard drugs and thence to death. Francis Camps, than whom few people can have had more experience of drugs-- he observed their effects when performing autopsies on those who had died of their addiction--observed that the average length of the cycle from the first soft drug to death was seven years, although people often lasted for a shorter time than that.
Mr. Rathbone : I may be anticipating what my hon. Friend is about to say. I hope, however, that he is not implying that the only threat of soft drugs is the fact that they lead to hard drugs. Although some years ago there was a school of thought that held that marijuana, for instance, did not do any great harm, there is now almost incontrovertible evidence that it is physically debilitating for the taker. Soft drugs of themselves are bad for people.
Mr. Greenway : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made my next point for me. Soft drugs are indeed highly damaging, and can lead to prolonged illness and death. My initial point was merely that if soft drugs lead to hard drugs the progress towards death is accelerated. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give me the assurance for which I have asked--and also that he will forgive me for leaving the Chamber for some time after my speech to undertake a school engagement.
In his admirable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South referred to the spread of AIDS through the multiple use of needles by drug addicts and others. We all know of the tragic consequences of that practice, which continues despite the Government's excellent record in making more needles available to those who require them for medical purposes. There is now no need for any needle to be used twice.
A friend of mine, a Church of England clergyman, in addition to his parish work, has dedicated his life to taking into his home AIDS sufferers of all ages, particularly younger people. He told me the other day that there were always about four in his home, and that about two died each year : if I may use a crude term, he has a "throughput". He spoke movingly and disturbingly of a 17-year-old suffering not only from AIDS but from senile dementia induced by his condition. Think of the devastating effect on that young life. I want to trumpet my friend's achievement. The world needs to know what he is doing, to gain an even greater appreciation of the horrors of AIDS and the suffering of patients and those who care for them. Those who devote their lives to nursing AIDS sufferers are doing a wonderful thing, but what they must watch imposes on them extreme emotional distress.
My hon. Friend did not mention a drug problem of considerable and, I fear, growing proportions : glue-sniffing. It is as much a drug problem as any other, and is increasing particularly in schools, in some of which one in 10 children is said to be sniffing glue. The number of deaths is rising steadily each year, as is the suffering involved,
Column 496despite an Act passed about two years ago under which those selling glue kits to known would-be sniffers can receive severe punishments, including imprisonment.
The problem is most common in deprived areas. It occurs among children of all ages, including tiny tots who find it interesting and fun and who stagger about after sniffing. A few months ago I heard of a teenager who, having sniffed glue, believed himself to have superhuman strength and kicked down a hard wooden fence when wearing pumps, knocking it to the ground and causing great damage. Violence is induced by glue sniffing.
We are not solving the problem, and, although it has not been mentioned much lately, it is still there and growing. While everyone is anxious to see substances that glue sniffers are keen to use removed, it is not always possible to remove such substances, or other things such as boot polish from the shops, glue sniffers like to abuse boot polish. I ask the Minister to step up prevention through education and to combine that with stiffer penalties for pushers of glue kits, wherever they are found. In particular we must concentrate on the education of children and families to prevent glue sniffing.
When it is not curbed, glue sniffing leads to soft and hard drugs and can take away a person's mind. A few weeks ago I heard about a prisoner of 24 whose mind had completely gone as a result of glue sniffing over several years. He was not able to respond even to simple instructions and simply sits and stares into space. His life is effectively ended even though he is only 24. That is not an imported problem because it is within our own society and continues to grow.
Mr. Pike : Glue sniffing can be started when people are very young. Does the hon. Gentleman think that there has been sufficient research about the progress from glue sniffing to soft and hard drugs? Perhaps there should be more research to see how that type of problem emerges.
Mr. Greenway : The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Much more research into how it starts should be undertaken and we should find out more about how it may be cured. It starts most simply by one child influencing another. As I know from my long experience of teaching, little children get a great kick out of being with older children. If the older children smoke, the younger ones soon want to do the same, even if they are only about the age of three. The same is true of glue sniffing. When older children glamorise it, as they regrettably do, younger children become interested in it, partake of it and become addicted. Much more research would be valuable and is urgently required.
The broad question of drugs coming into Britain was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) who said that the international trade in drugs is about £50 billion. We need to think again about our Customs procedures. We are now employing fewer Customs officers than ever before in relation to the number of people travelling. Examining the baggage of the millions of people who travel each year is an enormous problem. We now have a system which is common in the European Community and in many parts of the world. The system has been a failure.
When people declare what they have bought, as I did a few months ago, they have to join a queue of 20 or 30 people. The people in that queue will be handled by two or
Column 497three Customs officers, one of whom seems to leave the moment that the queue appears while another goes off for a cup of tea. That leaves one Customs officer to deal with a queue that grows quite quickly. By definition, each person in the queue has much to discuss and almost certainly will have to open bags to show what is in them. That is a lengthy process and people may have to wait for several hours, having gone to the trouble of being honest and declaring what they have bought. They then discover that they are free to go through, as I discovered on the occasion that I mentioned.
Because of that cumbersome system many people go for the "nothing-to- declare" booth even though they have items that should be declared. They do that not because they are dishonest, but for personal convenience and to save time. There is no guantlet to be run in the "nothing-to-declare" section and large numbers of people go through it. Many of them know that they have much to declare and many must have hard and soft drugs because a large quantity of such drugs is still known to be coming into the country. That is serious and unsatisfactory.
I appreciate the worry that the Customs process imposes upon the Home Office, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether the time has come to revert to the former process in which everyone was automatically expected to declare rather than having the choice of opting for the green or red channel. That would lead to a greater chance of people being apprehended, and people who need to be seen could do so through a process that is not as lengthy as the present red channel process.
I commend the Home Office on the policy enacted in legislation of confiscating the profits of those who gain from the sale of drugs. I know that that legislation has been highly effective and is one of the great improvements in the law of the 1980s. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said, we need more education on the subject in schools. Those who say that there is no drug problem in schools cannot substantiate the assertion. I have shown that glue sniffing is certainly a problem in schools and the same may be true of other drugs. However, the problem is still much smaller than it might be. The system of an efficient education officer per local authority which was initiated by the Government is vital, and will help to keep the problem at bay. I hope that it will eliminate the problem altogether.