|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Douglas Hogg : The hon. Gentleman referred to increasing evidence of infections within the prison system. There is no evidence of a person becoming HIV positive as a result of any act in a prison.
Mr. Randall : The hon. Gentleman believes that there is a problem, but I accept what the Minister says. Even if no one in prison has contracted the AIDS virus, we should consider carrying out the kind of tests that are undertaken elsewhere. To tackle the AIDS problem, we must be persistent in ensuring that tests are carried out. It is interesting that the Swedish authorities feel that it is necessary to have these tests in prisons. It is interesting also that we feel that there is no need for such tests because we believe that no one has picked up AIDS in our prisons. I accept what the Minister says--he is responsible for prisons.
It is crucial that we do all that we can to prevent pushers from earning profits from drugs. We must persist with the confiscation of assets. I hope that, through the European ministerial groups and working parties, we will pursue this matter as strongly as possible. The Pompidou group of the Council of Europe and the Government have spent money in certain countries where it has been deemed desirable to grow alternative crops to drug-based crops. We seem to be making little headway in the Caribbean islands. I do not know whether other hon. Members share my view, but I cannot grasp whether we are winning, losing or standing still. Perhaps it is an impossible question to answer. I feel from reading reports on what is happening in the Caribbean that there are immense problems.
I hope that the Minister will let us know the Government's policy on harm reduction and primary prevention. I shall quote an article in the May/June edition of Drug link which impinges directly on the Government's policy. Under the heading "Beyond Just Say No' " it contends :
"drug education should go beyond primary prevention".
The article refers to the attempt to stop people taking drugs and says :
"Most of the kinds who don't use drugs are not influenced by drugs education. It has, at best, a neutral effect. Drug education should encompass the best aspects of primary prevention programmes. It should give information, it should
Column 513get kids to examine their attitudes, to examine social, legal, political, historical, cultural and health issues. Most importantly, it should look at secondary prevention strategies, ie how to prevent kids harming themselves from drug use."
To paraphrase, the article also says that, in general, primary prevention of whatever kind, seems to be ineffective. It seems to lack a social, cultural and political dimension and to focus instead on the individuals, adopting a victim-blaming approach. It deals with stereotypes and isolates and castigates drug users as deviants. It is negative and does not address the problems of young people who reject the message. Any outcome other than not taking drugs must be seen as a failure. Primary prevention is based on flawed assumptions about behaviour change. It focuses on the expertise of the educator, as opposed to the young people's experience and it does not take into account a period in everyone's life called adolescence, during which people like to take risks. That is strong criticism. The article suggests that primary prevention, which is at the core of the Government's policy, does not work. The people who wrote that article are at the grass roots, dealing with the helping services for drug addicts.
Mr. Rathbone : The hon. Gentleman has not identified the author of that article and my memory does not serve me well enough to identify him. I believe that the article is referring to propaganda and advertising, but not to the activities of teachers responsible for drugs problems in schools. Whatever the article is referring to, the problems could be overcome at a stroke if the Government gave support to the life education centres to which I referred in my own speech.
"Drug education in schools seems to be up a blind alley--approaches aimed at preventing drug use are ineffective and those aimed at reducing harm are unacceptable."
The article reflects an alternative approach to the issue and goes on to say :
"Our underlying assumptions are that drug use is part of normal behaviour and will take place. The moral high ground has in the past been claimed by the just say no' lobby who, while accepting that some young people will ignore their advice, see these as inevitable casualties in their attemps to prevent drug use to the exclusion of other aims. Our view is that the moral high ground lies with developing strategies aimed at minimising harm to individuals and communities."
I felt that it was worth putting that alternative on the record, so we can consider it later on.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) made an interesting speech. I know that he has been active in the all-party drug misuse group, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).
Mr. Randall : Yes, the hon. Member for Warrington, South is also a member of that group. I welcomed what the hon. Member for Lewes said. However, the way in which he referred to his three measures for restoring some sort of criminal justice system in Colombia made me slightly bemused, although I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge on these matters. Indeed, I tackled him on those measures in one of my interventions. I am not
Column 514sure that Governments can be bought off. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be help in buying communications equipment and in providing intelligence information and, possibly, weapons. I believe that although the exchequers of those countries may not, on paper, be receiving anything from the drugs crops, the opportunities for them to be bought off with very large sums of money must make it possible that they are benefiting from the drugs. The hon. Gentleman advances a high risk strategy, which raises doubts and questions in my mind, although I am not sure that I have an alternative.
The hon. Member for Lewes also talked about drug liaison officers. I agree that drug liaison officers in different countries should co-operate and use common information systems--especially in the EEC countries because of the special relationship that we share. The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) referred to the provision of police for drugs work in rural areas. He was absolutely right that our rural areas encounter problems ; it is not just London or the inner cities. The hon. Gentleman said that it was sad that requests to the Government for additional police officers for drugs work had not been met. I cannot understand why the Government are not making resources available.
The hon. Member for Lewes said that California was the ninth largest economy in the world and that the largest part of its economy derived from drugs.
Mr. Randall : Yes, the largest cash crop. The matter arose in the American presidential elections and President Bush made great play of it. I hope that the American Government will take a much tougher line than they have taken in the past. The problem lies not only outside but within the boundaries of the United States. The Americans say that they are going to tackle the problem in Colombia or in other south American countries yet at the same time drugs are a massive cash crop in their own country.
Medical research in also important, in addition to social research, and we must spend more on it. Hon. Members have referred to advertising campaigns. The people to whom I have spoken at grass roots level--in the helping agencies--believe that a number of campaigns, including those encouraging the use of clean needles and discouraging the sharing of needles, have been ineffective. Our schools display an element of rigidity on the question of drugs. Especially now that crack is firmly on the scene, we need to review our methods of promulgating our message about drugs. If we are not succeeding, the money is not being well spent and the Government should reconsider. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the money that is being spent is being spent effectively and whether he feels that the reports that I have received are not as accurate as I have been led to believe.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) made an excellent point about crack. he said that one could buy it for £5 to £10 a go. He told us of parents crying out for help, while we hold conferences on European co -operation. That as a telling point. The working parties are still talking three years later, but the parents still have problems.
Today's debate has been excellent and has shown the great concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have widely discussed the problem of crack and the crisis that we now face. We know that that and other
Column 515drugs debilitate our society. I hope that the Minister will answer the very many questions that have been raised today.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : Drug use and abuse has a long history. It goes back hundreds of years, to the time of the Crusades, when the Assassins of Palestine were one of the great powers in that area. They were all doped up to the eyeballs by the Old Man of the Mountains and they did terrible things to our men in Palestine. That was some time ago, but over the centuries there have been many other incidences of drug abuse. In London, during the time of Sherlock Holmes, there were the famous opium dens on the river. I am sure that the House will recall one famous scene where Holmes was found by Dr. Watson lying on a bunk puffing away at an opium pipe.
Drugs have been used for various reasons, such as to ensnare people's minds, and for pleasure. I suspect that today many drugs are abused simply because people are bored. The reason is clear to those who visit many council estates, with their high-rise blocks and terrible staircases that people always have to use because the lifts are broken down for the umpteenth time. No one ever parks his car in the underground spaces because the cars are vandalised or burnt and the car parks are used by the criminal fraternity for stripping stolen cars. There is evidence of drug abuse in such areas because the young people living there say, "What else can we do? We are fed up with watching television. We do not want to watch Sky, with its promise of 100 new channels because they will be even more boring." Those youngsters feel that in drugs they have something new, something exciting and something dangerous because it is against the law.
My first plea is for a little more life to be injected into such areas. A good start would be pulling down some of the tower blocks and sending those living in them to more civilised and sensible surroundings. They want little houses with gardens. That would strike at the heart of those who use the soullessness of the decay of council estates to push their lethal products on those who have the misfortune to live there.
I went to Washington D.C. last year for a conference and found the rate of killings among drug dealers quite terrifying. More than 300 people died violently last year in Washington, mainly because of shoot-outs between rival drug gangs. One of the worst aspects was that Capitol Hill itself was one of the most dangerous places in the capital of the United States of America. Everyone on our trip was warned not to go anywhere near Capitol Hill after dark because of the serious dangers there. I ask the House to imagine what it would be like if drugs got such a grip on this country that Parliament square itself became dangerous for our people and for the tourists. That is what has happened in the United States, and I only hope and pray that it does not happen here.
Another worrying aspect is the copycat tendency. Many people look up to those in the pop scene or who are media figures ; they look on them as gods. They do not realise that those gods are made of base material and have feet of clay.
Column 516All too often, people on the pop scene use drugs. They have an enormous influence on society. The young will look to them and say, "So and so uses drugs. It is obviously the in thing to do, so I shall do the same." There have been instances, too, of well-known media figures using drugs.
We can sit in the House and talk about the matter but all that the young people will think is, "Oh well, they are only blimpsih, old fuddy-duddies". They will not pay any attention to us, but they will pay attention to those to whom they look up--people in the media, on the pop scene and, perhaps, even footballers. Let us see if we can get some of those people on our side to put the message across--those to whom potential drug abusers will look and to whom they will listen.
I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston Upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) with great interest. He certainly described in immense detail exactly what he thought about the problem. I defer to him, a man of his years and experience, and I have therefore, cut my speech. I would have said more, but the hon. Gentleman's words of wisdom have made up for my shortened speech.
I fully applaud the Government's efforts to date. I am sure that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the Government intend to do even more not only to root out this vile trade and the vile use of drugs in our country, but to prevent it spreading any further.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Listening to the hon. Member for Kingston Upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) who spoke at great length, one could not help thinking that they also serve who only sit and wait. Unlike him I shall show that brevity is the spice of wit. How often have we heard during the debate the question, "what are the Government doing about drugs?". While the Government have a responsibility to stem and staunch the supply of drugs, the responsibility for effecting the demand for drugs goes much wider than the Government. It is one shared by us all as parents, teachers, religious leaders, doctors and social workers. We must ask ourselves the basic question : why is it that at a time of unprecedented prosperity, so many feel the need for the artificial stimulus provided by drugs?
I believe that we are reaping the whirlwind from the permissiveness of the 1960s. At that time, leaders in our society were willing to sign letters to The Times suggesting that soft drugs should be legalised and people were willing to suggest that soft drugs were chic. Those who created a climate of opinion then are responsible for what is happening today. Those, such as the authors of TW3--"That Was the Week that Was"--who were willing to destroy traditional values and who were able to sneer and to destroy, but were able to produce nothing positive to put to society, are responsible for what is happening today.
We have a society that is better educated and more prosperous, but still more anxious to indulge in drugs. That is because, as a society, too many lack a faith and a vision for the future. I believe that, if we are to cure that problem, the churches should be taking more of a role. We all know the views of the churches on the community charge. We all know the views of the Bishop of Durham on
Column 517the resurrection, but I would like to hear his views on drugs, and some of the major problems facing us as a country.
I cannot conceal the contempt, the anger and, indeed, the hatred that I feel for drug traffickers, because they are willing to sell drugs to others, oblivious of the consequences that those individuals will suffer. They are willing to trade in misery and in degradation. I believe that no penalty can be too great for any drug trafficker. I welcome the fact that the Government have been responsible for substantially increasing the penalties for drug trafficking. The drug barons of the world know no boundaries. The chains of command spread over many countries and pass through many frontiers. The Government are right to ensure that the corrective action and the campaign against drug barons are also international. However, does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that stationing merely 12 drug liaison officers in the principal producing and transit areas is enough?
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on securing the debate. I do so in that brief sentence because I have been driven to undue truncation of my speech due to the verbosity--or rather, the eloquence--of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I congratulate the Government on the considerable initiatives and spending that they have undertaken in connection with drug misuse and on the wholly correct priority that they have given to it.
The establishment in 1984 of the interdepartmental ministerial committee on the misuse of drugs has been extremely productive, as have the mass media publicity campaign undertaken, promoted and funded by the Government, and the Government's participation in international initiatives such as the 1988 United Nations convention. All of that proves that the Government are committed to tackling the problem. We welcome the support of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West for those initiatives.
The secret of reducing the demand for drugs is the education of the young. It is crucial that we produce a generation of young people who will despise the use of drugs as stupid and ridiculous, even if they are not prepared to regard them as immoral. That is the argument that we have to win. We should be asking why young people experiment with drugs. Well, why do they smoke and drink? Even though smoking is declining within the population as a whole, there is a rise in teenage smoking, particularly among young girls, and the increase in drink-related offences among teenagers is ample testimony to our failure to convince them of the dangers of alcohol. For the young, prohibition is often the equivalent of a dare and death is remote and unreal--unless, tragically, it happens to one of their peers when the shock can be salutary and thought-provoking.
Column 518It is not only the young who suffer from the malaise of "It can't happen to me." Many people of mature years do not moderate their sexual behaviour despite the chilling message of the campaign against AIDS. It is a piece of conventional wisdom that most people will believe in the reality of AIDS only when someone they know dies from it, but I suspect that even then some will hear the splash of the ferryman's oars for only a short time before convincing themselves that everything is all right and that that person was simply unlucky.
Our social climate is a product of the decade of delusion--the 1960s--and people are not expected to bear the consequences of or take responsibility for their actions. If someone commits a premeditated crime, their background was deprived ; if they cheat to obtain credit, it is the fault of the finance company for making credit available ; if there are difficulties in marriage, people get a divorce, even if the marriage has lasted only a year ; if someone is inconveniently pregnant, they have an abortion ; if people do not want to work even if work is available, they claim social security ; and if they smoke, or drink to danger point, they believe that the NHS will make them better.
A natural conclusion of all that is that people will think that there is no real danger and that they have no responsibility to consider the question of drugs. That is the result of the mentality of those brought up by 1960s parents. We have to eradicate that mentality, which will take as long as it did to inculcate it. We have to look for some short-term measures and ask ourselves what will convince the young.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) suggested that youngsters are convinced by words of wisdom from those whom they respect. Peer group pressure, the hatred of being the odd one out and the views of their own age group also convince the young, and that is important. It is time we made much more use of young people in helping and educating young people with the drugs problem. Where the didactic approach does not work, the shared experience approach may. We could successfully use the young who have had, and overcome, drug problems to teach other young people of the dangers involved. They will listen more carefully to those of their own age.
We must strip the glamour image of drugs, touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Earlier, I asked why young people drink and smoke. It is because grown-ups do so and because they see their heroes and favourite characters in glamorous TV series doing so. Every time a well- known personality is convicted of a drug offence, that is seen by the young as an endorsement of drug use, which we call abuse. We must come down with extremely tough penalties on those in positions of influence and in the public eye who use drugs and set a deplorable example.
I shall particularly welcome an answer from my hon. Friend the Minister on the use of young people in the education campaign. 1.51 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg) : It is extraordinary that we should have had so few debates in recent years on an issue which is so important to the nation and involves a substance so destructive to individuals. That is true of drug misuse and individual drugs, which have rarely been
Column 519the subject of debate in this House. Therefore, the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for giving us the opportunity to discuss and consider such an important issue. I say that not least because it gives me the opportunity to emphasise the high priority that the Government give to problems associated with drug misuse, and to outline in broad terms, the nature of our present policies and those that we are likely to pursue.
Before I set about that, may I say how much I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) when she reminded the House that this is not exclusively a Government matter. Of course, they have an important role to play, but so do individuals. It is jolly good to remind individuals that they, and society as a collection of individuals, have a moral responsibility for their actions, those of their neighbours and the consequences which so often ensue.
I shall begin by giving a snap-shot picture of the drug scene as I see it both in general and in particular. I shall then outline in broad terms the nature of our present policies and answer more extensively the points made by hon. Members during this important debate.
The nature and extent of drug use varies from year to year, drug to drug and area to area. Those variations are caused by a variety of factors including availability, fashion, tradition, price, and quality. It is a mistake to suppose that a particular sort of drug misuse which might be prevalent in central London is also prevalent in Lincolnshire. They may well be different, and, therefore, we should be careful when analysing a drug problem to keep in mind the fact that, though present throughout the country, it is not the same throughout the country.
Trends are worrying, whether measured in terms of seizures or in terms of the rising number of addicts. Both records show that the trend is increasing, which is worrying. In part, one could say that increasing numbers of seizures are signs of greater efficiency on the part of Customs and the police. The increase in the number of registered addicts points at least in part to a closer compliance with the law on registration, but I do not take undue consolation from these facts because the underlying trend, which is reflected at least in part in those increases, is worrying.
In this context, I shall mention cocaine, of which crack is a derivative. For the second year running, seizures of cocaine have exceeded those of heroin in volume terms. I acknowledge that that is partly the result of increased police and customs efficiency, but it also tells us that Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular are being made the subject of the importation of cocaine by Latin American traffickers.
For this, there are a number of reasons, of which three are worth mentioning, First, hon. Members have mentioned the difference in price in the United States and the United Kingdom where a much higher return is to be secured. Secondly, the United States market is not capable of indefinite expansion. I do not want to use the word "saturation" which has been used by a number of hon. Members, but I accept that there is a limit to the United States market's potential for expansion, so it is inevitable that traffickers will look to Europe.
Column 520Thirdly, the interdiction policies being pursued by the United States Government, although in no sense successfull overall--they interdict only 20 per cent. of the whole--serve as a deterrent. Many traffickers will be looking to Europe as an easier place in which to expand the market. The trends, especially in cocaine, are extremely worrying.
I shall quickly say something about particular classes of drug. There were encouraging signs of decline in the reported misuse of heroin in 1986-87. That was probably more due to supply than to anything else. However, since then there has been a 20 per cent. increase in seizures. That trend is likely to continue.
We do not know the total numbers of misusers--nor can we, because it is an unlawful activity ; but it is estimated that there are 100,000 regular heroin misusers, of whom probably half are regular injectors. Certainly, more than half of the notified addicts are.
For the second year running, volumes of cocaine seized have exceeded those of heroin seized. As I said, crack is a derivative of cocaine, and I have no doubt that when substantial quantities of cocaine are present in a community, there is a high risk that it will be transformed into crack. At the moment the figures are not, in themselves, terribly alarming. There were 27 seizures of crack in the first three months of this year, 13 seizures in 1988 and six in 1987. but if I have to state an opinion, it is that those figures are but the tip of an iceberg. I believe that there is a high risk that a serious problem of crack misuse will develop in this country. I cannot express the level of that risk ; it is not sensible to try. I merely tell the House that there is a high risk which we are duty bound to tackle.
The illicit production of amphetamines in the United Kingdom is now probably the major source of amphetamines available to misusers. As has been rightly said, in particular by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), amphetamines are injected quite as much as heroin is injected. The risks associated with amphetamine injection are just the same.
Cannabis remains the most widely misused drug. It is important to maintain pressure on cannabis misuse, if only because, to do otherwise, would send wholly the wrong signals to misusers and drug traffickers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked me about decriminalisation in general, but particularly about the decriminalisation of marijuana. There is no prospect whatsoever of this Government at any time decriminalising the use of any of the drugs with which we are now concerned. In particular, there is no prospect of the use of marijuana being decriminalised. It will remain subject to the existing criminal law.
That concludes the snapshot that I wanted to take. It is a serious problem which, in many respects, is getting worse, so I shall now try to deal with what we need to do about it. As I do so, I shall attempt to answer points that have been made by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friends. I hope that I shall also have sufficient time in which to answer specific questions that have been raised.
We all agree that there can be no single solution to the problem of drug misuse. If any Government are to stand any hope of success, they must have a broadly-based policy that addresses the various elements of the problem. From time to time the emphasis of that strategy will shift in order to meet particular anxieties or developments. I shall summarise briefly the five elements of the policy and
Column 521then develop them--again briefly. First, we must reduce supplies from abroad. Secondly, we must improve the effectiveness of enforcement. Thirdly, we must tighten up on deterrence and domestic control. Fourthly, we must reduce demand through prevention and education. Fifthly, there must be improvements in treatment and rehabilitation.
That process is supervised and co-ordinated by a ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, which I have the privilege to chair. Ministers and officials from a variety of Departments with an interest in the problem have been brought together in the group. The group's function is to act as a catalyst and as a means of co-ordinating policies across Government because, by the nature of things, the policies span Departments. It has proved to be an extremely useful vehicle for changes in policy.
A number of hon. Members have referred to supply, an issue of very great importance. We have been extremely active in our attempts to reduce the supply of imported drugs. We give supply a high priority in our bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries. We play an important part in the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs. We are active in the Council of Europe's Pompidou group. We chaired the group meeting last month that considered in particular cocaine and other drugs. We have also played a prominent part in the United Nations convention on illicit drug trafficking.
We are also important international donors : we are the fourth largest donor to the United Nations fund for drug abuse control. We have contributed to specific projects maintained by the fund ; for instance, £3.4 million is committed to an opium eradication and substitution project in Pakistan, and £2.2 million to drug-related development projects in Bolivia. In 1987 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary secured agreement to an increase from £500,000 a year to some £2 million in the Home Office budget for law enforcement and drug-related assistance in key producing countries from which drugs are reaching the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) raised a helpful point. He is right in saying that a number of countries, particularly in Latin America, look to us for specific enforcement aid. We are willing--within the budgets that we have set ourselves--to assist producer countries, especially those in Latin America. The justification for that is that those countries are assisted to carry out enforcement measures for themselves, and also that it demonstrates our commitment to the policy of co-operation. We look much more favourably on enforcement-related bilateral aid than on eradication measures. Unless supported by huge sums, capable of providing enforcement and income replacement, eradication measures are probably not the most effective policy, and we cannot provide such sums. Moreover, by providing specific enforcement-related assistance we can achieve a perceptible result.
Let me give some examples of the assistance provided for Latin American countries, or those involved with cocaine, in the 1988-89 budget. In Bolivia we have provided equipment for radios. In Peru we have provided a radio support car and aircraft spares. In Colombia we have provided radio and computer equipment. In Jamaica we have provided a United Kingdom-based Customs training course, together with training in computers. In Brazil we have provided radio equipment. In the British Virgin Islands we have provided a drugs squad officer and
Column 522drug surveys. In Venezuela we have provided United Kingdom Customs training courses. I feel that such specific aid, directed at particular needs, is of especial value.
We have also been extending the provision of drug liaison officers. I entirely agree with those of my hon. Friends who have spoken warmly of them. We now have some 15 DLOs throughout the world, posted in the areas that we expect to be most relevant to our internal problems, and we intend to increase their number. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said on that subject.
Let me return to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. I certainly think that there is scope for co-operation between DLOs from this country and those from other friendly countries such as Germany, which I think he mentioned. The work is carried out on a more ad hoc, person-by- person basis at present, if only because we probably have the most sophisticated method of distributing intelligence through the National Drugs Intelligence Unit, which is not matched by the majority of other European countries. I agree with my hon. Friend about emphasising the importance of co-operation. Where DLOs get information that is relevant to a friendly country, I hope that they will take steps to inform their counterparts either through the NDIU or directly through their counterpart DLOs in post. The Council of Europe has been mentioned. We had a meeting in May and focused on several issues, most notably on cocaine and the confiscation of drug traffickers' assets. It was an important conference, not least because it demonstrated to my satisfaction that the United Kingdom policy on combating drug misuse is the most developed of any country in central Europe. I found that rather reassuring.
We have taken several steps but I shall mention just two of them. In reply to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes I can say that we have set up a working party, the object of which, in part, is to analyse the kind of causes that lead people to drug misuse. It will also try to establish a clearer profile of a typical drug misuser, most notably a user of cocaine. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) I can say that many of the problems are associated with boredom- -perhaps that is one way to express it--and certainly with the quality of life and prospects for prosperity that people perceive. There is no doubt that a person living in a deprived area is more at risk than one who does not live in such an area.
The other feature of the conference was our announcement of our intention to host an international conference on demand reduction. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for welcoming that. I regard it as important and we are anxious to see producer nations becoming involved in the process.
Some hon. Members rightly raised the question of 1992 and the single European market. They asked if the single market would result in the dismantling of our controls at ports of entry. The answer is no. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it quite plain by treaty and by statute that we have retained the right to maintain at the ports of entry such controls as we deem necessary to prevent the importation of drugs and other criminal articles such as weapons, and to prevent the passage of terrorists. I hope that that will be of some reassurance to hon. Members.
Column 523I shall now turn to the policies that we are pursuing on the domestic front. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) questioned whether we were dedicating sufficient resources to enforcement. We have dedicated substantial resources to it and I hope that I will be able to satisfy hon. Members about that. In recent years Customs resources have been substantially increased. Since 1979 we have trebled the number of Customs and special investigators. In the four years between 1984 and 1988 we increased preventive posts by 854. In 1988-89, 450 additional staff were assigned to Customs work, mainly in the field of work connected with preventive measures on drugs. I shall not go into the details because of time, but I can say that we are spending substantial amounts on equipment.
As the House will know, we have set up 17 drug wings, consisting of 221 police officers. We have doubled the capacity of the national drugs intelligence unit, which we established in 1985, and 50 additional officers have been engaged on drugs work in the metropolitan area. We have increased the number of drug squads by 40 per cent. since 1983.
I know and recognise the interest in using the proceeds of confiscated assets for police work. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes are specifically interested in the subject. There are more powerful arguments against that concept than has been appreciated. I recognise that some people hold different views on hypothecation, but it is difficult in principle to have a policy of hypothecation--of dedicating a particular stream of income to a particular head of expenditure. It is undesirable to give a police force or any enforcement agency a pecuniary interest in an inquiry, and I fear that it would distort policing policies. It is jolly difficult to determine, where a number of police authorities and Customs are working on a case, how to apportion moneys between forces. I attach more importance to the windfall argument than does my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes.
The Home Office is considering the possibility of a central pot, to use jargon, to assist with exceptional expenditure. General drug policing needs should be reflected in bids made by police authorities to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which will be considered by the inspectorate in the normal way. I do not believe that there is a substantial shortfall in our enforcement effort.
There has been wide agreement on deterrence. I am glad to be able to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South that we have substantially increased penalties for trafficking in class A drugs ; the maximum sentence is now life imprisonment. Further, the courts have been imposing ever increasing sentences.
We have been refusing parole to those sentenced to imprisonment for five years or more for class A drug offences. To put the policy more exactly, parole has been extremely restricted. It would be wrong for me to foreshadow, in an ad hoc way, what our response to the recommendations made by Lord Carlisle's committee will be. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South should not draw any adverse inference from that, I am
Column 524merely saying that I do not think that it would be right to respond in an ad hoc way to an extremely important report.
Mr. Hogg : It is a possible Home Office measure, so it will apply to the police forces of England and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman knows, policing in Scotland is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The policy of confiscating drug assets has proved extremely important. We have made confiscation orders to the value of £11 million. I regard that as an extremely important sanction, and it prevents the reinvestment of moneys gained from such activity in future crime. I regard this as a penalty of considerable importance in our strategy. I shall not develop at length how we intend to carry it further, save to say that I attach high importance to the making of reciprocal bilateral agreements. We have made six already and we intend to push forward at all possible speed with further bilateral agreements and to proceed as quickly as we can within the Council of Europe on a multilateral agreement.
I apologise for going faster than I would wish, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South wishes to speak at the end of the debate and I should like to make time for him. The demand side is an extremely important side of our policy. One of the most interesting and disturbing features of my recent visit to the United States was that, although the Coastguard has an effective operation to intercept cocaine run from Latin America to Florida--it surpasses anything that I have seen before, with ships, men, radar and aircraft ; it has an air wing and is like a military operation--it estimates that it interdicts only 20 per cent. at most of the traffic coming into the United States. We must consider questions of demand reduction at the forefront of our policy.
Demand reduction can take various forms. National advertising can be important. I have in mind our heroin and AIDS campaigns. I do not agree with the criticism by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, who suggested that national advertising was not effective. There have been various assessments of the efficacy of our national programmes. There has been a much greater willingness among young people to say no to heroin and we have been successful in portraying heroin as a dirty drug. I agree that there are many limitations with a national scheme. One must somehow get the message across in a credible manner. One must not put across a message that is irrelevant to the experience on the streets. There is a hazard in talking about cocaine when cocaine is not universally available. Partly for that reason, during our last campaign we also had three underpinning local regional campaigns that were addressed to more specific needs in particular areas. I suspect that in future we may look as much to those local regional campaigns as we do to a national one. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made a good point about demand reduction in schools. We need to involve young people in the communication of the message in schools. I recognise that folk such as I are not very credible in a range of schools which one could mention. I am afraid that we must recognise that sad fact.