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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : The Opposition welcome the opportunity to discuss the problem of drug misuse and to consider effective ways to tackle this major social problem. I come to the problem fairly freshly in comparison with the Minister, who has returned to it. However, I know something about the problem because I have close contacts with south America, and Peru in particular. As the Minister will know, I also have experience of trying to help an informant who was based near my constituency some years ago. The Minister and I worked together, and realised the limitations of the law then in giving a reward and anonymity to those who help the police with their inquiries. We have some shared experiences. This is an important day, because this is a most remarkable Select Committee report. If I were marking it in my days as a university teacher, I would mark it alpha plus, because it is an excellent report. It covers all the ground. My only caveat is that it could have built a little more on how we help the peasants who live so close to starvation in places such as Peru that they can grow only coca unless someone supplies an alternative. It is no answer to defoliate and ruin their livelihood. There must
Column 594be something else for them, and western nations must not just condemn those people. They must take seriously their
The amount of money in international and bilateral aid is piffling. The whole of our overseas aid to South America is £12 million annually. The amount of money needed to solve the problems of drugs, the growing of coca and the destruction of the rain forests puts into perspective the relationship between the rich countries that are the users of the drugs and the poor countries. The rich countries bear the burden of drug misuse but we also have a responsibility to those parts of the world where people have no alternative to growing this crop. I am talking not about the dealers but about those whose livelihood depends on growing something to make a living. With that slight criticism I welcome the Committee's report.
It is vital not to make cheap party points on this subject. I shall make some points, as one would expect from the Opposition, but I shall try not to make them too party political or too cheap. Often on a Friday morning, with fewer Members in the House, we get a better debate, and I undertake to cover this issue seriously.
It is easy to attract attention with alarmist statements about drug misuse and about crack, but we run the risk of increasing interest in that most dangerous drug. Already, there are worrying signs that media coverage in America has resulted in a bonanza that advertising companies would have been happy to achieve for reputable products. Everyone in public life must try to keep a balance. We must avoid hyping up the interest in a drug which, as yet, has not hit Britain to the extent that it has hit other countries, such as the United States.
We must keep the drug problem in perspective. I agree with the Minister that drugs do not produce anywhere near the number of deaths, illnesses, problems with unemployment and social and legal costs that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco produce.
Several months ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, answering parliamentary questions, said that alcohol-related diseases cost £2 billion a year. Most ordinary British citizens, if they want to preserve life and limb, must avoid not drugs, but our town and city centres on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights because of drunkenness, disorder and violence. We must bear in mind the balance between problems caused by legal and illegal drugs.
Nevertheless, drugs are of great social concern. We have heard a lot about crack, but the real problems at the moment are related to heroin and amphetamines. Heroin was the epidemic of the 1980s, but it has now peaked, and I am glad that the Minister gave figures to substantiate that. The epidemic started in the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s, but it has had a devastating effect on many individuals, families and communities. It is estimated that we now have between 100,000 and 180,000 heroin addicts in Britain. Let us consider the misery that that causes.
Amphetamine abuse is highly dangerous, and we have to find methods to tackle that addiction. Also we have to prepare for dangerous new substances such as crack and ice.
The Minister did not have time to cover all the issues involved but he has visited the United States to talk about the problems, and he mentioned the changed behaviour patterns of people under the influence of some of those new drugs. We must bear those changes in mind.
Column 595Some drugs lead to a docile state of mind, but some of the new drugs seem to lead to a paranoid state or one that induces violence. That is the difference between the drugs that we have become accustomed to in Britain and some of the new drugs that may now come into Britain. Behaviour patterns change when people use some of the new drugs and that may have serious consequences for non-drug users, who may become the victims of violence on the streets.
One aspect of drug addiction that has not been given a great deal of prominence is the link between addiction and crime. I do not mean international crime, but the type of everyday crime that we see increasing in the crime statistics year after year. One of the reasons that we do not know a great deal about that link is that the Government have not published the research that they have commissioned in the past. I am not being partisan, but I believe that all right hon. and hon. Members and experts outside the House would appreciate it if the Home Office published as soon as possible the research that it has conducted. Even if the results are slightly embarrassing, we would like to see the Home Office's evaluation of the research into the link between drug addiction, anti-social and violent behaviour and crime.
All we have had is a tantalisingly brief summary in the Home Office research bulletin. From that we learn that Howard Parker's research in the Wirral estimates that the local heroin market is worth £22 million a year.
Mr. John Greenway : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman and I want to help him. The link between drug addiction and crime was one of the major factors behind our inquiry into drug trafficking. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to paragraph 16 of our report. During evidence, Home Office witnesses told the Committee that the National Drugs Intelligence Unit has assigned a section to examine the link between serious crime and drug abuse and trafficking. It is a serious matter.
Mr. Sheerman : I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that report. People indulge in petty crime in particular, to raise the money to buy drugs on the street. Howard Parker estimates that the local heroin market is worth £22 million, and that is an astonishing figure. Cindy Fazy's research shows that there are more than 1,000 heroin users in Liverpool, and they spend on average £280 a week on illicit drugs, and that they need to raise £7 million a year from the proceeds of acquisition offences.
Wagstaff and Maynard have estimated a total expenditure on illicit supplies of heroin in 1984 of between £111.7 million and £237.8 million. That is a lot of money to be raised by people with a drug habit. Even the most conservative estimate would be that more than half is obtained through theft, burglary and shop lifting. The cost to the victim is much higher, because stolen goods are sold at much less than their real value. One can work out what the value of the goods that are stolen must be.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the research will be published in full, because we could learn a great deal from it. Research is vital, and I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree with that.
We do not want simple solutions to a complex problem. We want to know of remedies for this plague so that we can apply them and control the problem. There are many questions about the problem of drug abuse for which we do not have any answers. What sort of education
Column 596campaign works with the young, and with other people? What treatment works? Where should resources be targeted?
The Government have spent very little money on research into drug abuse. I shall table a question today asking how much has been spent on research, apart from on the "Heroin screws you up" campaign and on the evaluation of that work.
Drug abuse is not an easy problem to solve. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers and no instant solutions. One has to be pragmatic, and set priorities to decide where efforts should be maximised and where one can best intervene to break the chain and to tackle abuse. Clearly there are two ways to deal with the problem of drug abuse. The first is to limit supply, and the Select Committee considered that in great depth. I shall not spend much time on that side of the debate. Like the Minister, I prefer to talk about the second way to deal with the problem--how we reduce the demand for drugs in Britain. The former Home Secretary, now the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that more emphasis should be put on reducing demand. The Opposition welcomed that proposal, and I hope that the new Home Secretary and the new Minister of State will continue to support it.
We must learn from American mistakes, but we must also learn from other countries. In an intervention earlier, I mentioned the lack of linguistic skills of most British people. Sometimes it is almost too easy to examine only the American experience. I have seen recent research from Holland which offers some interesting lessons.
Mr. Mellor : I entirely agree. While whittling away four hours of my five-hour speech, I left out the section on the Pompidou group, which is the Council of Ministers group on drugs. That group conducts many exchanges of research and joint research projects. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman some of the evidence. He is right. There is a European aspect which is not the same as the United States experience. We must not link ourselves only with the English-speaking world.
Mr. Sheerman : I am glad that the Minister and I agree on that as well. My mind has been changed by the Select Committee's report. I approached the subject of legalisation with a fresh mind. Research of the Dutch experience changed my mind on that option. I agree with the Select Committee's recommendation--it would be highly dangerous to legalise any of the drugs that we are discussing this morning. I emphatically agree with that. I am attempting to draw conclusions on the basis of research rather than prejudice or badly-researched evidence.
We go to the United States to learn from some of their mistakes. The Reagan Administration poured millions of dollars into attempts to cut the supply of drugs to the United States, but to very little effect. It is not entirely unreasonable to draw the analogy of building a dam to withstand a massive tidal wave. It will never be possible to stop up every means of getting drugs into this or any other country--demand will ensure that supplies get through. It is important not to follow the American line. The United States has been one of the least successful countries when it comes to dealing with drugs. That must be borne in mind. There is growing recognition there that their balance of priorities has been wrong for several years. There are, however, improvements that can be made in our
Column 597attempt to curtail supply. It may be more cost effective for the police to concentrate on middle-market dealers based in Britain who prey on communities and make a fortune out of drugs rather than on the big international dealers who are extremely difficult to catch. Breaking the chain in the middle is important and would be helpful. The Select Committee on Home Affairs this week published its report on drug trafficking. At paragraph 110, the Select Committee comments approvingly on the Broome report and the stratified model there for dealing with traffickers. It describes three levels of
traffickers--local, distributor and importer. Those tiers are dealt with by the local police, the regional police and Customs and Excise respectively. I understand the recommendation, but there has been a survey of more than 400 serving police officers at all levels of the criminal investigation department and the drugs squad. It shows that serving officers feel that the three-tier system does not work, that the market is more flexible and is not organised like that and that it would be better to have one general agency for drug enforcement. I understand that this project report to the Police Foundation for the Association of Chief Police Officers has been withheld from publication. It would be helpful to have that report so that we can make an informed decision. If information has been gathered and research has been done, such is the importance of this basically non- political subject that it can only add to our knowledge and the level of debate.
The Select Committee recommends on page 23 of its report that the proceeds of drug trafficking should be put into a central fund administered by the Home Office. I have already mentioned the bizarre situation in which I found myself when I tried to get an award for an important drug informant. I was told that the authorities would like to reward his useful information but that there was not a budget with which to do so. There was a long struggle to ensure that things turned out right. I campaigned in a general way for just such a recommendation, so I warmly approve of it. I hope that, if the funds are divided between enforcement agencies, the division will not be simply the basis of success at arresting traffickers, but rather on the basis of supplying and sharing good quality information. It would be too easy to give enormous plums to, perhaps, the Metropolitan police or some other force that makes arrests, but it is much more important to encourage all forces to provide all levels of information that add up to a sophisticated operation.
I would like some of the proceeds--perhaps this is a moral point--to find their way to a fund for treatment facilities so that the profits of drug trafficking help to treat some of those whose lives have been wrecked by buying this disgraceful merchandise.
The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill is to start in another place, and we shall see it some time in the new year. I have some worries about the clauses on precursor chemicals which are used to make illicit drugs. I welcome the clauses, which enable Britain to ratify the Vienna convention, but information has been passed to me about the controls of precursors. This is a good example of how good policies can have disastrous and unforeseen consequences. It is suggested that, as the controls on precursors have begun to bite, manufacturers have started to use other chemicals which are not monitored so tightly.
Column 598They have moved on from making amphetamine sulphate to metamphetamines, which can be injected and are more dangerous. I hope that that will be investigated as a matter of urgency.
In general, I believe that a system of priorities for precursors should concentrate on chemicals which make class A drugs. It is also important to establish a set of priorities for drug seizures. I believe that effort should be concentrated on class A drugs--those highly damaging drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In the Metropolitan police area, in 1988, 90 per cent. of seizures involved cannabis and 83 per cent. of seizures on the streets involved cannabis. When there are scarce resources and scarce staff, I would like more attention to be directed towards really dangerous drugs. That is not to say that I believe in decriminalisation. I believe that concentration of effort is important against those most dangerous drugs.
The most party-political part of my speech concerns the demand for drugs and ways in which to reduce that demand. I detect a great deal of hypocrisy in the Government's comments about stemming demand. Some of the clearest information to come out of research into drug misuse is the link between drug addiction and poverty. The heroin epidemic of the 1980s has been concentrated in the most deprived inner-city areas. That is not to say that others do not touch drugs, and nor is every inner city affected--the supply lines work in a much more complicated way than that--but where heroin reached, it was concentrated amoung unemployed youth in poor areas.
Research which is to be published in the new year will reinforce that view and show how addiction is concentrated among the most deprived citizens of our country--people who are becoming detached from society. The beginnings, may I say, of an underclass. The Prime Minister has suggested that drug addiction is a problem of prosperity. I believe that her comments are unfortunate and a million miles from reality. For an international comparison, we have to look only at the ghettos of north America.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest, as I did to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I am sorry to part company with the hon. Gentleman for the first time this morning, although he admits that this is the only controversial part of his remarks. Surely neither that which he has represented nor his brief and, I suggest, less than wholly accurate description of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the basic truth. Drug taking is not the result of affluence totally and it is not the result of poverty totally. The hon. Gentleman's approach is hardly consistent with his earlier comment that a habit is likely to cost about £15,000 a year to sustain. Does that square with his assertion that drug taking is likely to be more prevalent among an underclass? Surely drug taking is the result of aimlessness, hopelessness, lack of direction and lack of feeling of a place in society. Surely these are the greatest social causes of drug misuse, and are likely to span the entire economic and social spectrum.
Mr. Sheerman : I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right, however, to say that drug addiction touches all parts of society. I suggest that research shows that drug addiction is rooted mainly in deprivation. There is the image of the yuppy sniffing
Column 599cocaine, for example, but the real problem of heroin addiction is to be found in poverty in the inner cities and in unemployment. When I spoke of the cost of addiction I went on to say that those who are unemployed and living on the margin have to steal or engage in violent crime to sustain the habit.
The Government's proposals for demand reduction is to set up nine drug prevention units. That must be welcome, as every such initiative must be, but the Government have fallen into the same trap as they fell into with the safe city programme. Once again, they have ignored local authorities and opted for a rather gimmicky initiative. As with crime prevention generally, local authorities have a key role to play in the improvement of the environment, housing, education, leisure and recreation for young people and the social services. All these services have a part to play. Local authorities have a unique responsibility and an ability to bring services together. When we consider the way in which the prevention units are set up, the local authorities should be given a key role in the partnership that must be formed. We want a partnership that involves every sector of the community. I believe that the local democratically elected role is a key one and that the Government should not shirk from acknowledging that. Failure to use the skills and the range of work that is undertaken by local authorities is disastrous to effective prevention.
I am interested to know what the units will look like and how they will function. I have not found anyone who is involved in the prevention of drug misuse--I have talked to many about these matters--who has any idea how the units will operate. Everyone is waiting and saying how pleased he or she will be when the Minister says exactly how the units will operate and make their contribution. The running of education campaigns is part of an agreed policy between the Opposition and the Government. It is important to target campaigns on groups that are especially at risk. I am encouraged by the work of the "fast forward" project in Edinburgh, which will be described in Crime Concern's forthcoming handbook on youth crime prevention projects. I compliment hon. Members on both sides of the House who have a great deal to do with Crime Concern. The "fast forward" project works directly with young people in youth clubs. It uses the peer group approach. Young people aged between 16 and 25 years educate other young people. Similar projects in the United States, such as the one in Boston, have been extremely successful. It was interesting that the Minister did not say too much about this, but the press has been full of suggestions that he might consider a new scare advertising campaign on crack that will be similar to what we believe to be the rather useless "Heroin screws you up" campaign. In our view, scare advertisements do not work. They do not relate to the experiences of young people who are beginning to experiment with drugs. The rather effete young man in the heroin posters became a pin-up for some young girls. The Home Office commissioned an evaluation of the campaign, and I understand that it concluded that the campaign was a waste of money. It must not be repeated.
Mr. Mellor : The allegation that the young man became a cult figure has never been proved. It was a mere assertion by someone which has never been substantiated. The young man appeared in one of a series of advertisements. I am not afraid of being wrong. When I am in error, I am
Column 600proud to admit it. When in uncharted seas, there is no shame in having turned the tiller the wrong way. The evaluation confirmed the success of the campaign--I regret that it has been attacked by some--and I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of it. It is not a shock-horror approach to show someone looking listless, spotty or run down as a result of being on drugs. It would be a shock-horror approach if we showed a dead person and implied that everyone on drugs would die. We rejected that approach. It will be difficult to decide how best to tackle the cocaine and crack problem through advertising. I stand by the decision of my predecessor that we shall not launch immediately into that advertising. I shall certainly not rule out advertising against crack. I think that it was John Wesley who said, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" If people's minds can be affected by advertising on every other issue, why not on this one?
Mr. Sheerman : I take the Minister's point. I understand that when he made his decision he acted with the best of motives and on the best advice. I am saying that time has passed on. The evaluation that I have seen of the success of the campaign would not lead anyone to the conclusion that the Minister has reached. Some time will elapse between the campaign to which I have referred and the next one, and I hope that he learns from the previous campaign. We must all learn from it. I do not want to make cheap party points. I merely say that we must have the right campaign. We are talking about a lot of money. I would rather see millions of pounds being spent on treatment centres, on putting the subject into the curriculum and on getting it into schools. When I am the Minister responsible for these matters after the next general election, I shall be tempted to go home and say, "Look at my television campaign. Isn't it wonderful." That must always be a temptation, but let us not have another campaign unless research tells us that it will be effective. I think that the Minister and I can come to some form of armed truce on this issue.
Mr. Norris : In the co-operative atmosphere of the debate, I wish to comment on the nature of the message. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that for a long time the Home Office spent a considerable amount of money on crime prevention campaigns. For many years it concentrated on messages such as, "Watch Out, There's a Thief About" and, "Lock It or Lose It". It was pretty standard stuff and it went in one ear and out of the other. When the same amount of money was expended on a campaign that introduced the slogan "Crime--Together We'll Crack It" there was a tremendously greater degree of response. Apparently, there was a measurably different response when crime figures were examined. I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says but I want to know whether he is suggesting that we should lessen the advertising element of our fight against drug trafficking or that the message should be altered.
Mr. Sheerman : I am suggesting that both things should happen. We have to learn, and there are sophisticated ways of evaluating what message will get through. We shall have to evaluate advertising campaigns and consider whether it would be better to spend the money on a different approach. I do not rule out the campaigns that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but they must be evaluated carefully.
Column 601I have been much involved in transport and safety matters, and I know that it is difficult to get the message right. Drug misuse is a much more difficult area than transport, for example, in many respects.
Mr. Mellor : As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) says, this is a co-operative debate. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I do not do so in any spirit of rancour. The campaigns that we have run have been market researched. That research led us to put in the wastepaper basket messages such as, "Heroin Kills" or, "Heroin is Against the Law." A company which is separate from the one which produces the advertising evaluates the campaign. A report from a non-governmental source made a number of criticisms. Our research, which comes from a completely independent company, makes it clear that we have reinforced the anti-heroin message by producing reasons why people should be against heroin. It was not merely a straightforward no, prompting someone to say, "Why?", only to be told, "I don't know." Reasons were given. That is my approach. Had the results been different, I would have changed it.
A relatively low-key--but, I hope effective--campaign will begin on television in a couple of months. There is no monopoly of wisdom in this matter, and if the hon. Gentleman has any ideas about the campaign he might like to let me have them. I do not think of it as the Government's campaign ; it is a campaign that the Government are sponsoring on behalf of a whole range of concerned people, of whatever political view.
In spending money on campaigns, we must remember that education can take other forms. Many of the delivering agencies have been undermined by the Government. The youth service is decimated and teachers, general practitioners, social workers and probation officers are demoralised by frequent criticism. It is hardly a sound basis for a major educational initiative when so many of those on whom we rely to deliver the message believe that the Government do not think them to be quite the right sort of people and not quite up to the job.
Treatment and rehabilitation are crucial parts of a strategy to tackle drug misuse. I recognise that the Government have increased expenditure in that area--something not often said from this Dispatch Box. Many good projects have been established and are in operation throughout the country. However, expansion has only just kept up with the increased number of users, let alone with the additional worries about AIDS and drug use.
There is also concern that many projects have been financed by pump priming money to regional health authorities, which continually have to find the funds themselves from other parts of their budgets. Pump priming is all right ; it is good to have new initiatives. However, when the pump priming runs out, and what to the public eye might appear to be a more attractive proposition arises, the competition is very tough. The Minister must play a positive role in ensuring that that pump priming does not mean that the many schemes that look good on the surface last for only a short time and then disappear, thereby disappointing the staff involved and
Column 602not delivering the continuing service that is needed. Drug addicts may lose out to more popular groups of patients, especially when hospitals control their own budgets or opt out of regional health authority control.
We need a continuing expansion of treatment facilities to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of young people addicted to drugs. One particular area of concern is that current treatment facilities rarely meet the needs of black addicts. Evidence shows that few people are treated at such centres and that there are very few black staff. The Minister should pay particular attention to that problem. In one highly important area of the system, treatment is woefully and dangerously inadequate, and that is in the prisons. I know that it is a shared responsibility between two Ministers, but I hope that they get together on this problem. An increasing number of addicts are finding their way into prison as a result of their offending, yet only minimal treatment facilities are available inside prisons. Drug addicts in prison take part in the most dangerous form of drug misuse--intravenous injection with dirty needles. It is well known that some young people, who have not previously experimented with drugs, become addicted while inside. Many young drug-takers will go straight back to offending to finance their addiction on release. It is of great concern that our prisons do not have the right level of treatment for young people and others who go to prison because of drug addiction, which has led to crime, which means going to prison and so the cycle goes on.
Society must tackle that, and we need a two-pronged policy to do so. First, we need to divert as many young drug takers, as safely as we can, from prison and into alternatives to custody schemes specialising in dealing with drug addiction. The Government acknowledge that in their Green Paper "Punishment, Custody and the Community". It states :
"The chances of dealing effectively with a drug problem are much greater if the offender can remain in the community and undertakes to co-operate in a sensibly planned programme to help him or her come off drugs."
If that is to be achieved, we need a radical expansion of such programmes.
Indeed, it would be useful if, at every stage of the criminal justice process, major agencies were aware of the need to get drug offenders into treatment. In Southwark, for example, when the police caution drug users they give advice on referral to treatment projects. By next year, it is hoped that six to eight of these schemes will be operating throughout the country, with the support of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence.
Secondly, we must improve treatment facilities within prisons for those who must be imprisoned to protect the public. That links to the major health risk already mentioned by the Minister--that of AIDS. It is no exaggeration to say that prisons may be a bridgehead to the spread of AIDS into the heterosexual community. That is because of the high-risk behaviour that takes place within prison such as injecting drugs and homosexuality. Drug users who are injecting while in prison will have to share dirty syringes among many inmates, with a great risk of spreading the HIV virus.
Homosexual activity is more widespread in prison than in the outside community because some men who are usually heterosexual take part in homosexual activities in prison. Those men are then released and can spread the virus. The Home Office, having developed a training
Column 603package for prison officers and prisoners, has become remarkably complacent about AIDS. We need research to discover the extent of high-risk activity in prisons and ways to tackle the problem. It is no good burying one's head in sand because homosexuality is deemed to be illegal inside prison and because drugs should not be getting in. That is nonsense. One has only to talk to prison governors and officers to learn the reality.
I have visited prisons while carrying out my responsibilities and I have been told that drugs are a very real problem. Indeed, a prison officer who recently took me around a prison said, "How do you think we could keep the lid on this place if it were not for drugs?" That statement shook me, but it is one that will be made by any candid and honest prison officer. If there is a danger of prisons being a bridgehead to the spread of AIDS in the community, what happens in prison cannot be forgotten. We cannot pretend that it does not exist. High standard treatment facilities for drug addicts would be highly beneficial to minimise illicit use.
I want to conclude by dwelling on the real problem of AIDS, which has a profound effect on the way that the drugs problem is perceived in this country because of the link between AIDS and shared syringes. It is now widely accepted by bodies such as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that the threat from AIDS is greater than the threat from drugs. It has become vital to stop drug-users injecting. The advisory council produced two important reports on AIDS and drugs in 1988 and 1989. So far, the Government have failed to act on its proposals. Indeed, they are yet again displaying remarkably complacent attitudes to that major threat.
The Health Education Authority's AIDS education unit has been closed and research on sexual behaviour has been halted. We understand that that was at the personal direction of the Prime Minister. We cannot, as a society, afford such a negligent approach. The threat of AIDS means that we must act urgently to provide effective treatment for drug-users to minimise the risk of their behaviour and to co-ordinate the work of all agencies and all Ministers to deal with the HIV virus. The need for action to tackle drug misuse has never been more pressing.
The Minister emphasised the importance of the problem across parties, organisations, sections of society and indeed nations. Opposition Members concur with that, and hope that we shall see action to deliver the necessary policies in the coming year. 11.19 am
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : I welcome the opportunity to draw attention so early to the seventh report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which was published yesterday. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister said in his opening remarks, the debate is very timely. I have no doubt, however, that he instigated it, which is, I think, a tribute to his commitment to the fight against drug trafficking and drug abuse.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), the Select Committee's Chairman, is unable to be present today. He sends his apologies, for, having considered the problem in such a close and detailed fashion, he too welcomes today's debate. Let me also pay tribute to the Clerk of our Committee, Mr. Colin Lee, who, I believe, is listening to
Column 604this discussion. He has contributed some sterling work to the preparation of not only yesterday's report, but our earlier report on crack.
The Select Committee report follows several months of investigation, including a visit to the United States in June. It makes no fewer than 49 recommendations, but I shall have time to highlight only some of the more important. An essential question posed in the report is, "How serious is the drug problem in the United Kingdom?". Quantifying the extent of any illicit activity is difficult, but quantifying that of drug abuse and drug trafficking is notoriously so, as we point out in our report. Section II details recent evidence of seizures, which my hon. and learned Friend has brought up to date this morning ; it also describes police intelligence work and money-laundering activities. That information convinced the Committee that there could be no doubt of the seriousness of the drug problem in the United Kingdom, both actual and potential.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) spoke of the link between drug abuse and AIDS. That is undoubtedly a serious problem, especially in prisons, but what is so frightening about the use of crack and free-based cocaine is that it is not associated with the use of needles. Research suggests that young women who smoke, particularly in the United States, are more likely to smoke free-based cocaine and to use crack.
There is no doubt that law enforcement has a major role to play in countering the problems of drug abuse and drug trafficking. In recent months it has again become fashionable to suggest the legalisation of drugs as an answer, but that idea must be strenuously resisted. In section III of our report we advanced some of the many arguments against decriminalisation, and the Committee's interim report--the sixth report, entitled "Crack : the Threat of Hard Drugs in the Next Decade" and published in July--drew attention to the horrific and deeply disturbing effects of drug abuse on social behaviour in the major cities of the United States. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned some of those effects, and I should like to mention others ; there may be some overlap.
There has been a 400 per cent. increase in reported cases of child abuse in the United States over the past two years, and three quarters of the children who were battered to death last year had cocaine or crack-using parents. It is estimated the last year in the United States 375,000 babies were born to mothers with drug-related problems : that is 10 per cent. of all births in that country. Drug related emergency admissions to American hospitals have increased by 120 per cent. in three years, with crack addicts especially experiencing chronic chest pains, brain seizures, eating disorders such as anorexia, heart attacks, strokes and even death. That is the horror of cocaine--in a country where in 1976, just 13 years ago, President Carter's drugs adviser told the people that cocaine was a harmless middle-class drug. What irresponsible stupidity ; what stupendous madness. That cannot be what we want for this country. Many serious drug- related crimes of violence are a direct consequence of the effects of drugs. We have already heard today about the different effects created by some of the new
amphetamine-based drugs--feelings of paranoia and irritability, a false sense of physical strength leading to violence and assults with weapons, child abuse and even murder. Those crimes have nothing to do with sustaining
Column 605a habit, and everything to do with the debilitating influence of drug taking : they would clearly continue if drugs were legalised. Another argument is that, as drug law enforcement is costly and difficult, it would be better to spend the money on health care for addicts and on preventive and educative measures for everyone else. It seems a colossal contradiction, however, to say that we could persuade youngsters of the evils of drug-taking if we had just legalised drugs. As I mentioned in an intervention on the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, we have evidence from surveys done in South America ; and we know through intelligence that there is no shortage of drugs--particularly cocaine-- being supplied to Europe by those countries. If those drugs were more freely available, there could be only one consequence : there would be more drug users, and drugs would be used more frequently.
Our report advances a further argument, which I found to be increasingly held in the United States. It was succinctly presented in the recently published "National Drug Control Strategy" from President Bush. That argument is that health considerations would undoubtedly necessitate heavy regulation of any legalised drugs to restrict availability. Substantial excise duties are already imposed on alcohol and tobacco, and they are supported increasingly on health grounds. Legalised drugs would be subject to a massive tax addition in an effort to reduce and restrict consumption.
Habitual addicts, robbed of personal dignity and social stability by the degrading influence of drug-taking, would thus be unable to pay for their drugs, and would be just as likely to commit petty crime as they are now. Legal drugs would be expensive, and links between drugs and crime would not be severed, whether those links were forged by the habitual addict funding his addiction or by trafficking in the black market. Certainly we could not countenance the sale of drugs so cheap that children could buy them with their pocket money.
I shall quote directly from our report only once. Paragraph 25 states :
"The tragic social consequences and the enormous costs of the misuse of addictive drugs are so damaging that to risk increasing their misuse by legalising them would be the greatest folly. On health grounds alone, we cannot support the wider availability of addictive drugs or other illicit drugs. We therefore restate our outright opposition to any proposal to legalise the use of any currently illicit drugs."
I speak so forcefully not because hon. Members on both sides of the House do not agree about this matter, but simply because I am worried about a growing trend. I thought that that was an argument for decriminalisation. The debate provides us with an opportunity to answer those suggestions.
What should be the Government's strategy for tackling drug abuse and drug trafficking? Drug trafficking is an international problem and demands international action. The Committee examined several aspects of international co-operation. They are detailed in part IV of the report. The Committee concluded that the 1988 United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances represents an important milestone in international co-operation. Ratification of the treaty is a priority. It will require amendment of section 24 of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 so that United Kingdom law on money- laundering complies with article
Column 6063 of the convention. I am pleased that the Government intend to include the necessary amendments in the recently published Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the Bill when it comes to this House from the other place.
The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill will also enable the United Kingdom to ratify the European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, thereby pre-empting another of the report's recommendations. During our inquiry a number of witnesses drew attention to difficulties in conducting international investigations into drug trafficking. Attempts to gain evidence from abroad for prosecutions in Britain reply upon obtaining commissions rogatoires under a statute of 1873. The delays that result from this antiquated procedure are unacceptable in today's world of international drug barons and the action we need to take against them. I welcome the Government's prompt response to the clear need that emerged during evidence for urgent changes to be made. My hon. and learned Friend paid tribute in his speech to the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He seemed to suggest that the Committee co- operated with the Home Department more readily than with some other Select Committees. One reason why I believe that is so is that the Committee always seems to be able to find a subject where clear Government policy and additional effort are required. We inquire into what needs to be done and find during our deliberations that the Government recognise that more needs to be done. On the basis of the evidence that we have gathered, changes are made. For example, before we had published our forensic science report about a year ago, the Government gave a clear response to it. As two of our reports are being discussed in the debate, that is a trend that other Select Committees might follow. That would be greatly to the benefit of Government policy and would lead to action being taken on important social issues, on which the country rightly demands action.
Further changes to the law relating to money-laundering must also be considered. Part V of the report shows how the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 has proved to be a successful weapon in the war against drug trafficking. That Act followed the Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs in 1985.
To gain further successes in tracing and confiscating the assets of drug traffickers, it is essential that police efforts to seek restraint orders are not thwarted by suspects being able to remove funds from their banks before those orders are granted. The issue of restraint orders needs to be speeded up. The Committee believes that that would happen if the police were able to obtain restraint orders from the district registries of the High Court.
A further important change to the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 would be to allow a confiscation order to be varied to cover interest earned, or any appreciation in value, between the time the order was made and the time that it was ultimately satisfied. Urgent consideration must also be given to the significant threat to the well-being of Britain's financial institutions from the sheer scale of money-laundering activities. The national drugs intelligence co-ordinator at Scotland Yard estimates that there could be at least £1.8 billion of illicitly obtained laundered money in the United Kingdom banking system. That is a frightening statistic.
Column 607There have been remarkably few prosecutions for money laundering offences under the 1986 Act. Despite consultations between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service, which also involved the National Drugs Intelligence Unit co- ordinator, the Bank of England and the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers, no clear consensus as to how the law could be strengthened has emerged, yet the threat to Britain's financial institutions is of such magnitude that the United Kingdom is regarded in the United States as an offshore banking system. At the very least, the Government and the Bank of England should undertake an urgent inquiry into the scale of the threat to the banking community that is posed by money-laundering, with a view to establishing what legislative or other changes are needed to counter it. I urge the Minister to look at that as a matter of priority.
As to the use that is made of money and assets that are seized from drug traffickers, the Committee strongly believes that the proceeds from drug profit confiscation should go to a central fund to be administered by the Home Office. That would allow additional money to be allocated to specific aspects of enforcement. The idea has the support of more than 100 right hon. and hon. Members, and it is the subject of an early-day motion. If the money were to be used by the Home Office, it would overcome objections to the direct use of such funds by police and Customs. It would enable the money to be spent where it is most needed, in the fight against drug abuse. Apart from law enforcement, that would involve education, prevention of drug taking and rehabilitation.
I shall refer briefly to the other three parts of our report. Amendments to reinforce the law will be successful only if they are supported by effective law enforcement. We spend over £4 billion each year on the fight against crime. Customs is spending another £200 million. It is essential that the organisation of enforcement should ensure that the money is well spent. A national drugs enforcement agency is not required, but urgent improvements need to be made to the co-ordination and coherence of law enforcement by strengthening, for example, the drugs wings of regional crime squads. I welcome the Home Secretary's recent announcement that 51 additional officers will be appointed to regional crime squads next year to reinforce their drugs wings.
The report also recommends the setting up of joint task forces by regional crime squads and drugs officers. Professional language training for police and drugs squad officers is needed. We need better resourcing of payments to informants.
Perhaps the most provocative recommendation in our report affecting the criminal justice system is that we need a review of the guidance issued to police officers on the law of incitement and matters relating to unconventional operations against drug traffickers. There is no doubt that the use of sting-type operations in the United States has proved extremely successful in tackling the problem of drug trafficking, especially at street level, but there is a major case for saying that in terms of international drug traffickers we need to ensure that our rules and regulations on the use of incitement are brought up to date so that the police can operate under cover. Drug trafficking involves sophisticated criminals and we need sophisticated techniques to deal with them.
The report also stresses the importance of intelligence to effective law enforcement. We should like to see an
Column 608enhancement of the role of the National Drugs Intelligence Unit at Scotland Yard. We should also welcome an increase in the number of drugs liaison officers, some from police forces and some from Customs, who do such invaluable work abroad to ensure that our police forces have the most up-to-date intelligence available.
The Governments of the countries in which the drugs are produced rightly emphasise the importance of reducing the demand for drugs. That is one area of the fight against drugs abuse on which we did not spend a great deal of time in our report because, as the title of the report makes clear, we were concerned to look at drug trafficking on an international scale and its relationship with serious crime. Nevertheless, it is clear to all hon. Members who served on the Committee--I believe that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) wishes to speak on that point later--that major demand reduction programmes need to be put in place. A dinner was held in our embassy in Washington to advise the Committee on what to do, at which were gathered all the best drugs enforcement brains in the United States. In that informal setting, I posed the question, "What constitutes an effective demand reduction programme?" That sparked the most intense debate and argument. Suffice it to say that no one really knew the answer. This is an area in which we have to learn and to research. We must look at all sensible suggestions, but reducing demand for drugs must be the key.
The United States authorities admit to having paid too little attention in the past to education and prevention, so we must not repeat that mistake. Therefore, as I have said, proper emphasis must be given to a demand reduction programme and to rehabilitation and treatment. General practitioners should be given more advice about how to spot and deal with the problems of drug abuse.
In the war against crime, there can be no greater prize than the defeat of drug trafficking and the scourge of drug abuse. Only a wide-ranging, comprehensive and balanced strategy has any chance of success. Our report sets out clear and precise ways in which that strategy can be improved. I commend it to the Government and the House.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : Drugs are the menace of today and the monster of tomorrow. The evil that they represent is so clear that we as legislators would be failing in our duty if we urged caution in dealing with this agonising problem that already causes misery to millions of people throughout the world and to thousands of our fellow citizens.
Like the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I, too, have the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Home Affairs and I, too, commend its sixth and seventh reports to the House. The facts revealed at the publication of the report yesterday, that just under £2 billion from the profits of drugs is laundered through the banking system of our country, shows the enormous scale of the problem. In all the work that I have done as a Member of Parliament, nothing has been as worthwhile as serving on the Committee and looking at the way in which drugs have engulfed American society. If we want to know what life will be like in Britain in a few years time if we do nothing in the war against drugs, we need only look at America. I listened carefully to the account given by the Minister of State and have little to disagree with on the facts and
Column 609figures that he gave. The Americans themselves estimate that 70.4 million people--37 per cent. of the population--have tried an illicit drug at least twice in their lifetimes. The report notes that there are now 9 million regular drugs-users and 10 million heavy users--that is, people who use drugs over 200 times per year.
The crack problem is clearly an epidemic in America. It knows no racial, class or gender distinctions in terms of those who use it. However, the Minister is right to say that of all drugs perhaps this is the one most used by women. Crack is five to 10 times more addictive than other forms of cocaine. The worrying thing that we noted was that crack is almost instantly addictive. In all the reports that we read and in all the evidence we considered, we have yet to discover a single case of a person who has recovered from being a crack addict. Although millions of pounds are spent on treatment and rehabilitation, there is no known researched treatment that actually works. That is the terrifying consequence of the crack epidemic.
Available widely in almost all the states of the United States, it is a drug that affects people of all social demeanours. A year ago I visited Milwaukee, a state in the mid-west which is known as the "dairy" state. It is not the kind of state that one would identify as having a great number of drug users. I had dinner there with a middle American family--in that mid-western state in the middle of America--and spoke with the son of the family, a young man with great promise. He had a brilliant career ahead of him, but the money that his professional parents had allocated for his future education at school and university was having to be used to help him get rid of his drug habit. The family have switched their resources from education to social services and to health to save their child from death.
The Minister was right when he said that the striking feature about crack is that it is so cheap. When the Committee visited America we saw crack changing hands for about $2 or $3 a piece. The hon. Member for Ryedale has already mentioned the effects of using crack--the chest congestion, brain seizures and the other illnesses that eventually lead to death. It is also right to point out the connection between crack and petty and violent crime. Last year 50 per cent. of all arrests in New York city related in some way to the crack epidemic, and 60 per cent. of those arrested in Washington DC were tested positively for the drug. Violent crime in Washington DC is closely connected with the drug and there is strong evidence to connect all 400 or so homicides in that city with the problem. Statistics show that 47 per cent. all users of the drug have been involved in a physical fight.
Hon. Members are right to draw attention to the link between the use of that drug and child abuse. The Committee's report mentions that we saw a young man aged about 12 being arrested because of crack. We have all read in the newspapers the harrowing story of the mother in Los Angeles who sold her daughter for the purpose of sexual abuse to satisfy her craving for the drug. Last year in America 375, 000 babies were born with drug-related problems. The crack babies are causing massive problems to the American health service. The Committee mentions that $500,000 has been spent in trying to protect and to treat 11 babies suffering from crack.