Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : I join my hon. Friends in welcoming the opportunity to debate the subject of drugs. I should like to address one specific aspect of drug abuse, and that is the use of drugs in sport. Sportsmen and sportswomen in all sports, especially those who reach high levels, are role models and peer groups who set examples to youngsters. Youngsters feel that if senior sportsmen can take drugs they might as well do the same. I commend sportsmen from around the world, such as Carl Lewis, who have gone out of their way to make it clear that they do not take drugs and to discourage others from doing so.

It is relevant to talk about drug abuse in sport about nine months after the events at the last Olympics, which received enormous worldwide publicity, because it allows us to consider the progress that is--or in some cases, tragically is not--being made. In Reykjavik last week, my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport presented, on behalf of

Column 498

European Ministers, a draft anti-doping convention, which is to be commended. Page 5 of the convention mentions the association between general drug abuse in society and drug abuse in sport. It says that the object of the convention is to emphasise

"the dangers to health and the harm to ethical values inherent in doping in sport."

That succinctly shows the influence that sportsmen can have on our values.

Discussion in Reykjavik was useful. Unfortunately, it occurred many months after the events in Seoul, and it may be several months before the convention is ratified by one country. Even countries regarded as being in the lead in tackling drug abuse, such as Norway, Australia and Britain--who we hope will be joined by Canada when the Dublin commission has completed its report--are moving slowly.

I welcome the recommendations of the convention, but, unfortunately, it makes no suggestions about the length of bans for those found to have taken drugs. It makes no recommendations about sponsorship, which one might reasonably have expected. I hope that, the convention having been ratified, anyone who is found guilty of taking any of the major banned drugs--I accept that some drugs are taken in error or in association with medicine-- will be banned for at least three years, and possibly four, for a first offence and for life for a second. International sport cannot accept what occurred with Slopaniek and others who, having been banned for two years, were allowed to return to the world athletics championships and Olympics to win a gold medal and set what are classified as world records. It is laughing in the faces of any efforts to ban drugs if such people are allowed to return so soon. We need--and this is suggested in the

convention--random and unannounced testing in all sports, with independent collection. Without such policies there will be no major drive against drug abuse in sport.

I am pleased to say that 19 governing bodies of sport in the United Kingdom have either adopted policies that meet the convention's requirements or are in the process of doing so. Beyond the 19 listed, amateur tennis is making substantial efforts to catch up, and I hope that it will be able to join the list soon.

In addition to signing the draft convention, each country should adopt a policy for individual competitions, whereby anyone who is in the list of top 10 competitors according to the previous season's performances is a prime target for random and unannounced testing. I welcome the willingness of the Sports Council and other sports councils in Europe to fund tests, not only in the United Kingdom but other parts of the world, of individuals who are recognised as leading competitors. The Sports Council regularly visits the Canary Islands to test competitors who are training out of season, which is a welcome development.

It is interesting to consider the scale of drug abuse in sport, given that we are talking about role models. Daley Thompson, who should know about world competition, not only because of his phenomenal achievements but because he trains in the Canaries and Los Angeles and therefore mixes with leading world athletes in Europe and the United States, estimated that while

"30 per cent. of Britons had used drugs to improve their performance"

Column 499

80 per cent. of American athletes had used drugs to improve their performance. Those are quite staggering statistics.

I said that we are making progress, and last year the Sports Council funded 3,400 tests, of which 14 were found to be positive. The cost of carrying out those tests in the United Kingdom and abroad was £478,000, showing that testing can have an enormous effect for a relatively small outlay. Britain is fortunate in being able to bring pressure on some sports because they receive funds from the Sports Council. If those sports do not adhere to a policy similar to that which the Government are advocating, they will lose their grants. Major sponsors, as I suggested in relation to the anti- doping convention, should look carefully at the sports that they support. They participate in not only amateur but professional sports. Regrettably, there will be no testing at Henley, Wimbledon or the British Open golf championship this year. While we are making progress, some of which is very slow, some of the major British sporting events, only nine or 10 months after the events in Seoul, do not recognise the importance of dope testing. It costs little to prove to sponsors that sports are clean. if they can show that they are clean, it will give a clear message to our youth.

I referred to the difference that Daley Thompson identified between the number of British atheletes who had used drugs, as he estimated it, and the number of American athletes who had done so, as he estimated it. He is in a good position to know what is going on in sport. I should like to dwell on American sport, because it is generally believed in America that it is making progress in tackling drugs in society and sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) referred to that belief. Unfortunately, it is not so. I raised the subject with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on an Adjournment debate about five and a half years ago. I said that in 1982 there had been no drug tests at 51 major European sporting events or at any of the major sporting events in the United States. What progress has been made? The track athletes club in the United States said that it was willing to accept short notice testing, but it has not done so yet. Weightlifting authorities in the United States announced two years ago that they were prepared to accept testing, but not one test has been carried out in a weightlifting contest in the United States. The United States reached agreement with Russia to have an exchange on testing, but no document has been produced that could be signed, let alone any test being carried out in the United States.

It is a sad comment on American sport that, only this week, the chief medical adviser to the United States Olympic Committee, Dr. Robert Voy, resigned because of the total lack of progress in the United States on dope testing. Yesterday, I took the opportunity to speak to him. I asked him to clarify why he had resigned. He made it clear that one of the prime reasons was the total lack of commitment--to use his phrase, "The USOC has put dope testing on the back burner." There is no evidence that the USOC will act on the report of the Dubin commission. It is clear that Canadian sports of all forms will take urgent, clear and positive action.

Column 500

No American sport, with one exception, is willing to take the same steps. The one exception in the United States is cycling which, having been confronted by the embarrassment of having competitors return home from competitions for fear of being dope tested, has decided to throw everything open and is willing to have dope testing in any circumstances. Despite the embarrassment of having had American competitors leave in droves from the Pan-American games a year before the Olympics, not one other American sport has made any progress. In competitions last year in Europe, track athletes from America, including discus throwers and pole vaulters, withdrew because they suddenly discovered that there would be dope testing, carried out with the assiduity pursued in Europe but not in the United States.

It is interesting to note why so many sports in the United States are not willing to take action. Echoing Dr. Robert Voy's words, they are hiding behind the veil of the legal system. Before the last Olympics, the director of sport sciences for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Mr. Frank Uryasv, said :

"the legal system makes it almost impossible"

to drug test.

It is interesting that cycling in the United States does not face that problem although it has opened up its doors, but other sports are willing to continue along those lines.

Mr. Rathbone : I draw the attention of the House to the extraordinary comparison between those statements and the readiness in the horseracing world to spot-test horses. Is it not peculiar that we can do this for animals but not for human beings?

Mr. Haywood : As my hon. Friend says, there are many anomalies. We are making progress in horse racing, although I admit that it is not a matter about which I know much. There have been disqualifications this season in this country. It is important that all sports adopt policies similar to that outlined in the doping convention.

Mr. Harry Greenway : My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) rightly said that there is regular dope testing of all horses at all race meetings. The same is true of all other aspects of equestrian sports. For example, in event riding the horses are severely tested because their performance can be enhanced by drugs. The same is true of greyhound racing in this country.

Mr. Haywood : I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) pointed out, not just the human sports need to be tested to ensure that victory is clean and honest.

Five sports in the United States, along with cycling, were willing to open their doors, but they gave up because of the lack of positive action by the USOC. Yesterday, the Sports Council told me that, as far as it was aware, United States professional golf just did not want to know about testing. We are talking not purely about Olympic sports or sports involving humans ; a range of professional sports is involved. It cannot be presumed that performance in any sport does not improve with the use of drugs. It should be assumed that every sporting performance improves with the taking of some form of drugs. I recognise that in the United States sport is in a different form. There is no equivalent to the Sports Council, so one must consider alternative means of making progress. I have referred to golf. More than any other sport, American football and American basketball

Column 501

are probably riddled with drug-taking. In 1986 the collegiate football teams had 40 teams Bowl-bound, to use their expression--they were about to play in one college bowl or another--and they announced that there was to be random testing. We are talking about 40 teams and between 2,000 and 2,500 footballers. Random testing was carried out on about 10 per cent., so let us assume that between 200 and 250 people were tested. Despite the fact that the tests were announced in advance and people could take masking agents, there were 21 positive tests. The NCAA announced that, because it had found that only 10 per cent. of all those tested were positive, there was no evidence of drug-taking so it would discontinue such a policy. That is a tragedy and it fills me with disbelief.

Collegiate football argues that it cannot afford testing. I have already said that the total cost for testing in all the sports in Britain that are involved so far was only £487,000. I have suggested that British sports should test individuals who appear in the top 10 rankings of their competitions. In American collegiate football it would be easy to say that the top 10 colleges involved--Notre Dame, the universities of Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Michigan, the university of South Carolina and the like--would be the prime targets for random tests. What a message would be sent out to American youth if it were announced that the prime athletic achievers in collegiate football were to be tested.

The criticism of costs beggars belief. Most of those universities that I identified have major medical schools attached to them. They could ask their students, as part of their research, to carry out dope testing of their sportsmen. That would be the best way of making progress in collegiate football and then making progress in professional sport.

I suggest, as I did in relation to European sports, that the major sponsors in American, British, European and worldwide sport give serious consideration to withdrawing sponsorship unless they are certain that the sporting event is clean. I am not suggesting that the sports are not clean. I said that golf in the United States did not want to know. Perhaps drugs are not used, but we do not know because there have not been any tests.

I am not suggesting that any of the sponsors that I have mentioned sponsor drug-ridden events, but they do not know whether they do. They should be able to say, "We know that these events are clean." The major banking institutions, such as Citicorp and Chase Manhattan, companies such as Pepsi -Cola and Coca-Cola, the NBC and ABC, which buy the sporting rights, and Texaco and other big oil companies should ask the sports events that they sponsor, "Can you make a categoric assertion that this event is clean?" Without such a policy on sport, everything that the American Government say that they are attempting to do can be laughed at.

How can William Bennett, the head of the American drug task force, say, "We are taking this issue seriously" when the President of the United States welcomes and congratulates teams that have won major bowls, major sporting events, but which cannot stand up and say that they are clean? It should be an embarrassment not only to Mr. Bennett but to President Bush and other members of the American Administration that the most public aspects of American society are not clean of drugs, and that apparently little effort is made to make them clean. I should like to see in the United States major progress not in words but in action.

Column 502

Although I have criticised America for its marked failure to make progress, I hope that, worldwide, we shall not sit back and say that it is only like that in the United States. It is not. We have a long way to go in Britain and in Europe. It was only last year that Birgit Dressel, a German heptathlete, died as a result of drug overdoses in an attempt to lift herself from being between 30th and 40th in the world's heptathletes into the top 10. That is a sad commentary on drug abuse in sport. We must make massive progress in this country because, as I said earlier, only by making progress in sport shall we be able to set an example to the youngsters in society as a whole. By setting that example, we shall have taken one step--and only one step--in making progress towards eradicating the drug problem within society today.

12.20 pm

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for having introduced this important debate. It has enabled hon. Members to speak with some insight on a subject that concerns us all. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) was a classic example of an ideal speech in this House. My hon. Friend has deep knowledge of a particular aspect of this subject. He has carried out research and looked into the matter, and has shared his findings with the rest of the House to the enhanced benefit of us all.

The Guardian on 19 May, in its first editorial, said : "Drug addiction is already perceived as the single biggest threat facing Britain. A survey of parents published yesterday, puts drug abuse far ahead of all other risks threatening the future of their children : well ahead of Aids, pollution, mugging, drink, tobacco, unhealthy foods and accidents. But serious though the present drug problem has become, an even more serious threat looms on the horizon : crack."

Speaking as the parent of two young children--I know that many other hon. Members are also parents--I suspect that one of the spectres that haunts us all is drugs.

All of us, from time to time, have had a glimpse of hell. For our grandfathers, it was probably the trenches of the first world war and the carnage there. For our fathers, it was the hell of Auschwitz and Belsen and the destruction of that time. By comparison, my glimpses of hell have been less horrific, though none the less frightening. I am thinking of the feeding camps of Ethiopia and the mass starvation there. I also think of a day that will stick in my mind for a long time and to which I alluded earlier. I visited a children's hospital in Newark, New Jersey, which was largely full of young babies who had contracted AIDS in the womb. Their mothers, by and large, were women who had become drug addicts for a variety of reasons. They had taken to a life of prostitution to pay for their drug addiction and a vicious circle of prostitution, drug addiction and prostitution had led them in an ever downward spiral. When they became pregnant, their babies become infected with AIDS.

It is difficult to look at such a large number of children who, through no fault of their own, have been born with the most terrible illness and for whom life will be short and fraught. Fortunately, as yet, there are no hospital wards in this country where one can see similar scenes, but, unless we get to grips with the drug problem in this country, such a spectre awaits us.

Crack is a cocaine-based narcotic and will make the drugs problem worse, as the United States experience

Column 503

clearly demonstrates. As the House will probably know, it is produced by cooking cocaine hydrochloride with baking soda and water. When the mixture cools, it crystallises and can be cut into squares, commonly known as rocks. It is consumed by heating the rocks and inhaling the vapour. The rush reaches the brain within seconds and addiction is acquired far more quickly than with other drugs. Worse still, there is no substitute drug which can be offered to addicts in rehabilitation. That has made them more reluctant to seek help than opiate users, such as heroin addicts. I speak as a member of the Bar who, from time to time, has had to defend addicts to heroin and other drugs. Heaven knows, it is hard enough to persuade heroin addicts to seek proper help and support. There are 100,000 heroin addicts in this country.

More alarming still is the increasing level of violence associated with the dealing in and use of crack. Those who smoke it are said to experience a feeling of omnipotence and paranoia which, in the United States, has led to an increasing number of shootings of police officers as well as other crimes of violence.

In the past four years, there has been a six-fold increase in the seizure of cocaine in Europe. In Britain, Customs and Excise seized about 220 kg in the first three months of this year alone, compared with 35 kg in the whole of 1984. It is worth dwelling on those figures. Of course, 35 kg of a drug such as cocaine is, in itself, a pretty substantial problem. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Office by their actions have already acknowledged that the seizures represent only a fraction of the illegal drugs being smuggled into this country.

Three or four years ago, even in the United States, crack would not have been seen as a problem. Yet in three years it has gone from being a minor problem in the United States to one that is reaching epidemic proportion. We, at least, have the advantage of being forewarned. We know the spectre that could face us. Clearly, Europe is increasingly in the sights of the drug barons in south American countries such as Colombia and Bolivia. It seems that production in south America has increased to the point where the north American market is saturated, so the south American traffickers are now targeting the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe as additional outlets. It is horrific to think of drug trafficking as akin to the export trade, but that is certainly how the drug traffickers of south America look at it. One has only to recall the activities of ex-President Noriega of Panama, who made drugs one of that country's major exports to realise the problems that we face in Europe. Crack is extremely addictive. Smokers seem to become hooked after smoking it as few as three or four times. By contrast, even cocaine can be smoked for 13 to 14 months without addiction. Already, the introduction of crack into this country is having an impact on the behaviour of pushers, who appear to have slashed the price of cocaine so as to widen the market. The street price has fallen from about £100 per gramme 18 months ago to as little as £40 in the east midlands and even £30 in parts of London. It seems almost obscene to allude to drug dealing as akin to business but clearly the drug pushers want to persuade people to switch brands--to go up market and change to crack. The reason is that it doubly benefits the pushers, who boost their income with each gramme of powder that

Column 504

is turned into crack and increase their revenue because crack produces such as intense and short-lived high that the user's craving and consumption far outstrips the craving and consumption of the cocaine snorter.

There is a strategy operating in some parts of Britain whereby cannabis is deliberately withheld from the streets and cocaine offered in its place. In some parts in Britain crack is on sale for as little as £20 a hit. That is terrifying because many youngsters can lay their hands on £20 with a bit of petty thieving, whereas in the past drugs such as heroin may have been more expensive.

Mr. Rathbone : My hon. Friend may not be painting a gloomy enough picture. One can get a hit or fix of crack for as little as £2 or £3.

Mr. Baldry : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. That is even more horrifying because many youngsters can acquire £2 or £3 by way of pocket money these days.

Last September police raided a flat on an estate in south London and discovered large quantities of drugs in a crack factory fortified with steel doors. Armed police had to use oxyacetylene torches and a hydraulic ram to force their way in. That estate, which houses about 3,000 people is, alas, already known by locals as "crack city". Customers come from all over the country to buy crack in the centre of that estate. One local resident said :

"There are times when it's like Waterloo station in the rush hour Sometimes you can get 15 street dealers outside the pub. We get really big teams, from all over the place. Sometimes a dealer will arrive with four or five blokes minding him."

The police have taken to wearing bullet-proof vests when raiding the estate. That is horrific. We are talking about a housing estate not more than 15 minutes away from the Palace of Westminster, and it is only a matter of months since armed police wearing bullet-proof vests had to raid it. Hon. Members have referred to Elliot Ness and "The Untouchables", but we are already seeing horrific signs of things happening here that hitherto have been associated with the United States.

Mr. Randall : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's vivid description of the possible consequences of the arrival of crack. A number of hon. Members have suggested that we are just about holding our own in the containment of drug misuse, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that some radical changes in our drugs policy may be needed if we are to contain this new drug which he has described in such strong terms?

Mr. Baldry : Yes, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will outline some of the initiatives that the Government have been taking. All the evidence suggests that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has clearly understood the spectre of crack. After all, it was he who made it clear to the Pompidou group of the Council of Ministers exactly the spectre that Europe faces from the introduction of crack.

Many hon. Members may recall that a few weeks ago there was a debate on the inner cities on an Opposition Supply day. It was, perhaps ominous that on that very night there was a riot in Wolverhampton. It did not involve lager louts. it was not an alcohol-related riot--it was a riot following the discovery of a quantity of crack. The incident began with a drugs raid on a public house suspected of being the focus of drug dealing. It degenerated into a fight between local youths and the

Column 505

police officers, who were quickly backed up by properly equipped riot squads. There was looting, vandalism and arson, but it was clear that much of that was inspired by the drug pushers trying to protect their interests.

I have no hesitation in saying that the police, both in Wolverhampton and in south London, were right to go in hard and pursue the matter to the end. It must be fully understood that those who deal in crack will be dealt with heavily. I am sure that the courts will also make that quite clear. It is a telling point that on this very day The Times reports that a young person aged 22 was yesterday remanded in custody charged with possessing crack. It is the first case of its kind in Britain, so it is appropriate that we should have this debate today.

During recent years police throughout Britain have become professional and sophisticated in their war against drugs and they have responded positively to the new threat of crack. Scotland Yard has set up a 17-man intelligence unit to study links between the crack market and certain sections of the population. There is a difficult problem, which the House and the country must face honestly but with a degree of sensitivity. One of the areas where crack appears to have become prevalent most quickly is the inner city, which houses large numbers of black and West Indian youths. A senior police officer is reported as saying that a great deal of the crack trade is imitative of what is happening in certain sections of Washington and new York and that much of it is Jamaican inspired. The incidence of crack among a minority in the Afro-Caribbean community in inner London creates a difficult problem which, although it must be handled positively, must also be handled with sensitivity if it is not to look as though we are somehow asserting that crack is a black problem. Crack poses a problem that affects us all, but it appears to be easier for crack pushers to penetrate the Afro -Caribbean communities rather faster than other communities.

I have no doubt that many black community leaders will be highly apprehensive that if we as a community do not act together, crack here will become a focus in the same way as it has devastated numbers of black communities in American cities. It is a tragic comment that in some precincts in the United States half the young people are crack addicts and there are daily street battles between drug groups.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred to crack as a plague. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of the lines written at the time of the black death :

"We see death coming into our midst like black smoke, a plague which cuts off the young and has no mercy".

That is certainly the effect of crack. It is a plague which cuts off the young and has no mercy. The drug has spread like a plague across the United States, especially the poorer inner cities. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was right to say :

"If crack ever becomes deeply rooted in Europe the outlook will indeed be bleak. Our job must be to work together urgently to ensure that the United States experience is not repeated here."

As many of my hon. Friends have said today, crack and similar drugs must be tackled on two fronts--supply and demand. I know that Home Office Ministers have been active in both areas, with initiatives such as more money for the United Nations anti-drugs programmes and, beginning next April, programmes to train Customs officers from the producer and transit countries. It is, of course, an international problem. We might be the

Column 506

recipient, but drugs go through a number of other countries. It is therefore important to work together. The British Government have given £2 million to help to improve the equipment of the law enforcement agencies in countries along the supply route. I am sure that Ministers will be working towards persuading our partners in the European Community that there should be an effective European convention which makes it possible to confiscate traffickers' profits and to tackle the problem as a community.

There may be limits to the success of controls over supply, because the rewards are so high and the potential loopholes so large. After all, the product is not difficult to transport. I have been involved in cases, as I am sure have other hon. Members who are also members of the Bar, where drugs have simply been sent through the post. Try as it may, the international sorting office of the post office cannot examine every parcel that comes into the United Kingdom. We must, therefore, not only tackle supply, but also seek ways of controlling demand.

In recent years, we have seen that controlling demand can be effective by means of, for example, media campaigns, school education programmes on such things as drug abuse, and an increase in funds for treatment and drug rehabilitation projects. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is to respond to the debate, is chairing a ministerial group on the misuse of drugs. I believe that such groups are beginning to become effective--not only the one dealing with the misuse of drugs but also the one dealing with alcohol abuse, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is chairing.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already called for initiatives to tackle crack and to step up education programmes to warn young people of the highly addictive effects of the drug and to stress the concern among doctors that, sadly, there is no way to wean addicts off the drug. I hope that at some time it might be possible to send a straightforward leaflet on crack and its dangers to every parent in the country. After all, we are becoming increasingly used to schools sending out information to parents. This is a challenge to every parent and something about which everybody should be concerned.

There are one or two important ramifications of the crack problem which it is important to take on board, particularly with the European elections taking place next Thursday. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to see a Europe sans frontiers. Metaphorically, we all understand what that means--a Europe with no trade barriers. That has been translated into a belief that we should also have a European Community in which there are no frontier posts or border controls. Therefore, if an illegal substance entered the European Community in southern Greece, it could reach northern Scotland without having to pass another border control or frontier check. That would be lunacy because it would be much easier for drug traffickers to move drugs around the Community. I hope that Home Office Ministers will resist attempts to dismantle border controls. Some checks should be retained and there should continue to be increasing co-operation between the police and drug enforcement authorities throughout Europe in exchanging intelligence with Customs officers, police officers, drug officers and others, so that there is a Community effort, in which border controls form a useful part.

In the next few months the fight against crack will be crucial. The actions within the next few months of

Column 507

Parliament, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office and those in the European Community will determine whether we succeed in that fight. From the actions that Home Office Ministers have already taken, there is every indication that they are determined that we should succeed. The rest of us in the House must play our part in awakening public opinion with sense of alarm about what may take place. We must persuade vulnerable communities that crack represents the most serious threat that they face. By the time they find out for themselves, it may be too late.

The House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South for having introduced the debate. This is one of the most horrific threats to face the country for a long time. No words that we can utter in the Chamber are sufficient to stress to every parent and every community leader in the country that crack has to be defeated quickly.

12.48 pm

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on his motion. We have had a valuable debate. It has been comprehensive and it is good to see the House united on matters such as this. Apart from a slight flurry on the Conservative Back Benches, no party points have been made today. The House appreciates the seriousness of the problem and the way in which crack, in particular, could affect our society. I am glad that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) made such an emphatic speech about crack because I was going to take a similar attitude towards it. I raised the matter with the Home Secretary during the last Home Office questions and asked what initiatives the Government would take to combat the threat to our society. Even if the Parliamentary Under-Secretary does not answer any of my questions I hope that he will today take the opportunity to tell us precisely what initiatives the Government plan to take to combat crack. We have had a constructive debate today and I intend to continue it. Conservative Members have said that we are just about holding our own in the drugs battle and have referred to the activities of yet another working party. That demonstrates that there is concern that the Government's policy is not getting to grips with the problem. Crack threatens our society and our democracy. If we are only holding our own in the battle with other drugs, what on earth can we do to contain this new drug which is so addictive, has spread throughout the United States over a three year period and is now used in massive proportions. A person can be addicted to crack after using it only three times.

I hope that the parliamentary Under-Secretary will say a little more and be a little more constructive than the Home Secretary was during the last Home Office questions when he merely highlighted the problem. The speech of the hon. Member for Banbury was admirably constructive. Experience in the United States has shown many of us that this is a huge problem and we urgently need some solutions from the Government. That will involve a review of resources including money, manpower, technology, and

Column 508

medical research. It is not enough merely to have another meeting of the Pompidou group but there must be action to prevent the spread of this horrifying drug.

As the hon. Member for Banbury said, the use of the drug throughout the United States has devastated communities and has resulted in violence which we have also seen in Wolverhampton. The drug has a great effect on those who take it, become high and behave in an extraordinary fashion. As the hon. Gentleman also said, Ministers have been active. They have put forward money to try to solve the problem. It would be unfair to dispute that. But is the policy working? I can put my hand on my heart and say that I am not confident that the Government's existing drugs policy is working. I say that in the most constructive way because the subject is too serious for one to be flippant.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington, South. He made a progressive speech and injected into the debate a number of new ideas which must be given serious consideration when tackling the problem of drugs.

Three tests should be applied when assessing the Government's success in tackling drug abuse. First, how successful has Government policy been in discouraging people from taking drugs? Secondly, how successful have the Government been in discovering the sources of drugs and reducing their supply? That is an international as well as a national problem. Thirdly, how successful are the help and services provided to encourage drug addicts to give up drugs and to stay off them indefinitely?

We have heard in the debate that many factors are involved in assessing the success of Government policy. The third edition of the Home Office document entitled "Tackling Drug Misuse"--I compliment the Minister on the quality of the document : it is very readable--shows in figure 1 that, after a period of relative stability in the 1970s, the misuse of drugs greatly increased in the first half of the 1980s. The number of drug addicts notified to the Home Office increased in that time from about 2,500 to about 9,000. However, addicts notified to the Home Office constitute only a small proportion of the total number of chronic misusers of drugs.

The upshot is that since 1980 we have experienced a worrying increase in the numbers of chronic misusers. The Government will argue that what has happened here is but part of an international phenomenon which has affected many western countries. There may well be an element of truth in that. Nevertheless, the Government are responsible for limiting the demand for drugs and restricting their supply to this country, and Government policy is at least partly responsible for the alarming increase in drug misuse.

It is clear from today's debate that the House shares my reservations about Government policy and believes that we are only just holding our own. We are creating too many committees, as hon. Members have pointed out in their constructive speeches.

I do not believe that the Government have done all that they could to reduce the supply of drugs to the United Kingdom. There is a vast number of different ways in which drugs can be brought into this country, and it is clear that it is impossible to prevent all drugs from entering. However, if we are really determined to restrict the supply, more manpower, money and technology are needed. Is the Minister satisfied that enough staff have been employed to reduce the supply of drugs to the United

Column 509

Kingdom? Do we still have enough Customs and Excise officers to tackle this massive job? In the end, it comes down to Government priorities.

In an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) said that in his county the resources that have been made available for drugs research are limited and that it was sad that requests are not being met for additional police officers to carry out drugs-related work. The third test of Government policy is how successful they are in encouraging drug addicts to give up using drugs and stay off them. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems, which has a very successful track record, believes that the Government's attitude, and that of the medical profession, has had a deleterious effect on the treatment of chronic drug misusers. The Government's Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs recommended in its two- part report on AIDS and drugs misuse that specific action should be taken to stop the spread of the HIV virus in prisons through the use of condoms. That recommendation was rejected by the Government. The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Warrington, South. I hope that the Minister will explain why the Government decided not to accept that recommendation.

The report also proposed that there should be comfortable withdrawal from drugs for prisoners. It would involve the use of methadone as an alternative drug. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems has advised me that the Government have rejected that approach. Their general view is that prisoners should not be provided with the alternative approach to drug withdrawal that was recommended by the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. In other words, prisoners should experience cold turkey. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems believes that a safe environment is needed so that prisoners with a drugs problem feel confident enough to go to the prison authorities and admit it. Then they could be properly treated.

It is estimated that the helping agencies in the United Kingdom know about 10 per cent. of the drug users in their communities. That has to be contrasted with about 75 per cent. in Holland. I have already raised the matter with the hon. Member for Warrington, South. It demonstrates the different approach and attitude to drugs between the two countries. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

I have been advised that drug addicts in the United Kingdom come forward only when they have no money and cannot therefore buy drugs. We must encourage more people who use drugs to make themselves known to the helping agencies so that help can be given to them. The helping agencies have also advised me that the attitude of the medical profession does not always help drug addicts. The general feeling is that people should stop using drugs. In practice, doctors prescribe methadone only if they believe that people will come off drugs quickly. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems also believes that re gimes are usually set up for doctors rather than for drug users. Consequently, most drug users start to take drugs again. The helping agencies believe that the medical profession needs to listen more than it does to what drug users say so that they can be helped to reduce their dependency on drugs. At the moment, almost all drug addicts fail to do so.

Column 510

The inconsistency of the medical profession seems to be a matter of concern to the helping agencies. Some parts of the country have a good range of services designed to help addicts--the hon. Member for Warrington, South described the services in Merseyside--but in other parts such services can be described only as poor or non-existent. I should welcome the Minister's comments on that fourth point. In Holland "methadone buses" are used to encourage drug addicts to break the habit, and I understand that such services also exist in Merseyside. Those at the grass roots in the helping agencies believe that they should be more comprehensively available. Needle exchanges, which are vital to a reduction in the transmission of HIV through the use of dirty and shared needles, are only now being organised in some cities.

The helping agencies have also expressed concern about the Government's attitude to women drug users. I am told that few rehabilitation units take in children along with their mothers. As a result fewer women come forward, fearing that their children may be taken away if they admit to their drug problem. This is my fifth point : it is important to recognise that women addicts can care just as much for their children as those with no addictions.

The helping agencies feel that the Government are concentrating too much on the injection of heroin and other opiates : clearly the risk of contracting AIDS arises from infected needles irrespective of the drugs that are used. They believe that the Government should also emphasise that users of amphetamines--including "recreational" users who may inject themselves on Saturday evenings--are just as vulnerable to AIDS, if they are using contaminated needles. I should like the Minister to comment on that as well.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South began his excellent speech by talking about the lack of a registration scheme for crack. I agree that such a scheme is needed, especially as the availability of crack seems far greater than I had thought. Press statistics suggest that it is not widely available, but hon. Members on both sides of the House have said today that it can be obtained for as little as £2--or, according to one hon. Member, for between £5 and £10.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South said that the probable number of addicts in this country is between five and 20 times the number of registered addicts. Home Office statistics in the report to which I referred earlier show that drug seizures have generally increased, with a slight turndown in recent years. However, the amount of drugs seized is a small proportion of the total amount brought into the country. That is worrying and if the same thing applies to crack we are in danger. Crack is a manufactured drug and I understand that it is made from cocaine. Movements of such drugs will take place throughout the European continent from various parts of the world. The statistics produced by the Home Office suggest that our fears about the extension of the use of crack are well- founded. If one assumes that the amount of crack that will not be seized is in the same proportion as the amount of other drugs that are not seized one realises that we have a big problem. We have a drugs crisis on the horizon- -I hope that I am not overstating the case--that will affect many parts of the country, especially the inner cities, the

Column 511

areas of deprivation and the ethnic communities. I cannot stress enough that we are on the verge of a serious problem.

The police think that cocaine will pose a major problem in future and, as we know, crack is a derivative. In some parts of the country there is an extraordinary correlation between drug taking and crime. Not unreasonably we can expect far more crime if the use of crack increases. The Government parade statistics, as one would expect them to do, that crime is decreasing. However, violent crime is increasing at an alarming rate. The Government's policies could lead to a greater circulation of crack and that could lead to an increase in violent crime. I do not say that in a negative way but simply because I am extremely worried.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South spoke about Amsterdam and the Dutch situation. He did not fully develop that argument nor shall I because I do not know all the details. One of the arguments--which I do not advocate-- for legalising drugs is that one can prevent or to some extent control, overdosing. Overdosing usually occurs when somebody who is taking an impure drug comes across a pure drug and does not know the difference and overdoses himself. There are many threats to the argument about legalising drugs but my intuitive reaction is to say, "No way." However, we must take into account the failure of our policy on primary care.

Mr. Butler : I think that the terms that we use in the debate must be more precise. Is there a difference between decriminalisation, which makes it totally legal for anybody to possess drugs in any circumstances, and a system of registration? One needs to distinguish between decriminalisation and the legal availability of drugs within a registered framework surrounded by a tight criminal framework of the type that I developed in my speech.

Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We must have a registration scheme to ensure that we know who is who, which is important in the fight against drugs. We must ensure that the problem of over dosing is controlled as much as possible. Britain's helping agencies are aware of only 10 per cent. of addicts whereas in Holland the figure is 75 per cent.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South described the Merseyside case in some detail. It is important that the argument, which has been described by some people as, "just say no", is considered. It is a specialised subject, but I fear that, as politicians, our first reaction is to say no to any form of drug taking. As policy on primary prevention so far has been fairly ineffectual, alternatives must be considered.

I am glad to hear that the Merseyside policy is working and reaching the addict population. I am especially glad--I cannot emphasise this enough-- that the AIDS virus seems to be under some sort of control. We must consider the Merseyside experience carefully and gain knowledge from it. The threat of AIDS is greater among drug users. The sharing of needles can spread the HIV virus, with staggering results. The use of heroin has had a massive effect. The hon. Member for Warrington, South referred to prostitutes. I share his view that it verges on evil for a

Column 512

prostitute who is HIV positive to carry out her trade, thereby placing anyone who goes with her at risk of catching the virus. I am worried that within the closed community of prisons--Hull prison is experiencing the problem--needle sharing is occurring, resulting in many reported infections. I was interested by the comments of the hon. Member for Warrington, South about prisons in Sweden, where prisoners are screened daily so that the authorities know who is vulnerable. I think that lessons could be learned from that experience.

Next Section

  Home Page