Previous Section Home Page

Column 610

The expression of grief that exists in America is reflected in a statement from a senior Congressman, Mr. Ron Dellums, who met my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on a recent visit to Washington. He said that in America babies were having babies, that mothers were crying and children dying. We must not repeat that experience in Britain.

The American mistakes are there for all to see. We mention them not because we want to gloat, but because we want to learn from American experiences and failures. The first point to note is that the Americans underestimated the level of the crack addiction and the speed with which it would spread. The Committee mentions a previous visit to America in 1985 when the use of crack was not prevalent. Within four years, however, that drug has engulfed most young American people.

The Committee was concerned at the lack of co-ordination between the enforcement agencies. Thirty-seven federal agencies 40,000 local forces, the FBI, the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency are involved. That problem of co-ordination resulted in the President appointing a "drug czar" who is responsible for co-ordination, at a crucial executive level, of the war against crack. That appointment, however, came far too late.

Not enough money has been spent on demand reduction. In 1985, $950 million was spent on demand reduction, but $2,936 million was spent on supply reduction. That imbalance has not only affected speeches of hon. Members today, but the way in which the Select Committee report was written. The Committee also noted that America has not spent enough on the treatment and rehabilitation of those with problems. We have seen the future in America and we do not like it. The Minister has already said that the situation here is getting progressively worse. He has already told us that, in 1987, there were 12 crack seizures in Britain. I am grateful to him for giving us the current figures. From information given to me in parliamentary answers it is clear that the crack addiction and supply is worse in certain areas. Up until October there were 48 seizures in the Metropolitan police area and that is a matter for concern. In Greater Manchester, there were seven seizures, in Merseyside, there were five, in the West Midlands, there were nine and in Avon and Somerset, there were nine. Even in places such as Nottinghamshire, there were seizures of crack, although I am happy to say that there were none in my home county of Leicestershire.

The value of the crack that was seized is also of interest. Although the Minister did not give us the latest figures, I know from parliamentary answers that in 1987, the street value of the crack that was seized in Britain was £800, which does not seem much, but by September 1989, the figure had reached £21,000. That may not seem a tremendously high figure, but it represents a 200-fold increase in two years, which is enough to make us feel extremely worried. Similarly, the amount of crack that has been seized by Customs has increased from 35 kg in 1984, to 309 kg, the figure that the Minister kindly gave us today.

I note the work that is being done by the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, and my remarks on this are said in a friendly spirit. The Minister and I have been getting into a relationship that is affecting my political orientation. We seem to be having to agree on many issues.

Ms. Abbott : Shame.

Column 611

Mr. Vaz : It is. We agreed on all the important issues and almost hugged each other during the passage of the Children Bill. I say to the Minister in all friendliness that we want to agree with the initiatives that he has taken. I have looked at the reply that he gave me only yesterday about the number of times that the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs has met. It may be as a result of the fact that the Minister was away from his portfolio at the Home Office and that he was at the Department of Health, that there does not seem to have been a tremendous increase in the number of times that the ministerial group has met. It has met 39 times since 1984. It met four times in 1984, six times in 1988 and six times in 1989. Is it a coincidence that it met previously on 16 October, but met this week only two days before this debate?

It is important that the group, which brings together senior Ministers, meets far more regularly. With the increase in seizures and other figures, I should have thought that there would be a corresponding increase in the number of meetings of the group. I take the Minister's point that there is no point in the group meeting just to have coffee and sandwiches, and to talk about the problems, and that we need effective action. I make the friendly suggestion that the group should meet more regularly.

The Government are not spending enough money on research. I had a reply recently from the Minister for Health who, in response to a question that I had tabled on whether the Home Office or any other Department was hoping to fund research into the patterns of use of cocaine and crack, said that she and the Home Office were "hoping to fund" a study that would cost around £300,000 over a three-year period. I am sorry that, because of constituency commitments, I cannot wait until the end of the debate and I apologise for that. However, I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will tell us that it is not merely a matter of the Minister for Health "hoping" for that research, but that she is promising that there will be research.

There is a problem of co-ordination. The Metropolitan police central drug squad, 52 local police forces, various wings of the regional crime squad, the National Drugs Intelligence Unit and HM Customs and Excise are the principal agencies dealing with the problem. I do not wish to cast aspersions on a report that, in effect, I co-authored, but when I read it again after its publication, I wondered whether we were wrong not to have been more forceful in our suggestion that we should have a national enforcement agency to co-ordinate the various functions. I realise that that is one of the roles of the intelligence unit, in the sense that it gathers information, but I wonder whether we should have taken into account American experience and learnt from American mistakes. The Prime Minister has a long list of consultants. Perhaps we should have a drugs consultant at prime ministerial level, with the same high profile as the "drug czar" in the executive office of the American President.

Mr. John Greenway : The Select Committee report recognises the importance of the National Drug Intelligence Unit and its co-ordinator. I think that we went part of the way towards answering the hon. Gentleman's question in our recommendation that the national drugs intelligence co- ordinator should have stronger executive powers to call for intelligence and evidence from other police forces--powers which it does not yet have.

Column 612

Mr. Vaz : The hon. Gentleman is right that we made that recommendation but the Government may wish to go a step further. What is the solution to the problem? How can we learn from experience and reduce demand? The Minister made an able speech which contained a great deal of useful information. My criticism of it is that he spent the vast majority of his time outlining the problems. I believe that the hon. Member for Ryedale also touched on the fact that in a sense the Select Committee has done the same. We have spent far too little time talking about demand reduction and preventive action. We discuss the issue in a positive and constructive way but we do not say how we think the problem should be eliminated. Our primary task should be to take preventive action to eliminate the customer before the customer is eliminated by addiction. If one removes the market, one removes the ability to exploit people. Such action would immediately affect the profit made by those who sell drugs. It is to the victims that we should address ourselves. The bottom line is greed. People sell drugs at a profit because they want to satisfy their lust for money. We must eliminate the method by which people make those profits.

It is essential that the Government consider urgently the establishment of specialist crack lines. The Minister spoke of the crack hotline established by Dr. Gold and made available to the House the useful information to be obtained from the specialist cocaine line. I realise that drug helplines are widely publicised, but we should not wait until the problem reaches epidemic proportions in Britain as it has in America to establish more lines and target schools and colleges with their telephone numbers. It is important that young people in particular should be aware that they can ring up--that they can report to the relevant authorities the fact that they have been approached by people wishing to sell them drugs or seek help and medical assistance anonymously, which they could not if they went to their GP. The Government will then be able, at a stroke, to target where sales of crack are increasing.

We also need a sustained public awareness campaign. I welcome the Minister's commitment that an advertising campaign will be launched. I hope that he will take into account the information given and the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and that he will seek to involve young people in the public awareness campaign. There is a view that if we discuss an illegal activity or one that is seen to be banned there is a risk that young people will automatically engage in it.

A similar argument was put forward by people who suggested that sex should be taught in schools. It was said that if young people were taught about sex they would want to indulge in various activities. The answer to the problem lies in telling young people the exact consequences. If we prepared a video that showed the effects of crack and cocaine that have been described by me and other hon. Members, there would not be many drug-takers among our young people. The Minister will know from the effects of the AIDS awareness campaign that such a campain affects the way in which people behave. I should like to see the Government doubling the amount that is currently spent on research. I know that £300,000 sounds a great deal but when compared to the amount being spent on the privatisation of water and other

Column 613

nationalised industries, it is a small amount. Money spent on researching the health and welfare of our young people is money well spent.

We have to look at four local areas. First, we need to make sure that there is a teacher in every school who is properly trained to deal with drug issues. He should understand the problems arising from crack and be aware of the ways in which they can be dealt with. That could be done in the same way as teachers are designated in schools to deal with other socially- important problems. Secondly, initiatives must be publicised not just in schools and colleges of further education but in sports and leisure centres and youth clubs--places to which young people have ready access. Thirdly, the family is an important weapon in our campaign against crack, and parents should be given the information that they have not been given in the past. The workplace is the fourth area where we can gain by telling employers and by co-operating with trade unions in ensuring that information is readily available.

I should like to see the development of a local drug prevention panel in the same way as we have a crime prevention panel. It would contain the people that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield mentioned--elected councillors, officials, representatives of the local education department and health authority and even people from the recreation and leisure departments of local councils. That is important.

We need more co-ordination. Regional crime squads are far too big to deal with the problem. I commend the statements by the chief constable of Nottinghamshire. Although the figures show that there were only two seizures of crack in the whole of Nottinghamshire in 1989, at least he realises that there is a potential problem. I should like to see county forces working together in a much more localised way. In the midlands I should like to see the chief constable of Leicestershire co-operating with the chief constables of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to try to deal with the problem. At the moment the Government budget for treatment and rehabilitation is £17.5 million. That budget should be increased. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about acid house parties because I do not think that he mentioned them in his opening speech. That form of drug abuse results in our police officers chasing down the M1, and M6 and other motorways to try to head off revellers who are all the children of the revolution that has occurred over the last 10 years and who clutch their mobile phones trying to find the nearest acid house party. Let us hear some positive and constructive proposals from the Minister about the matter. Who knows, some of them may even live in Putney.

Our task is to break the necklace of terror that may strangle our society. It links drug abuse with violent crime and the destruction of families and communities and leads eventually to the breakdown of society and those essential services upon which we depend--the police, the Health Service and the education services. If the Minister and people ask, "Where are the resources to be found?", my reply is that they simply must be found. The price that we will have to pay if we do not do enough will be one which the American experience teaches us can neve be paid. I urge the Government to act, and to act now.

Column 614

12.10 pm

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) ; I agree with much of what he said. His plea to the Government to increase the amount of money spent on research bears repeating. I echo to the skies his accent on the need to reduce demand. I shall take up three--I think minor--points in his speech. The hon. Gentleman should be wary about advocating the appointment of a "drugs czar" similar to Mr. Bennett in the United States. The truth is that, sadly, despite all his efforts, Mr. Bennett has not been able to co- ordinate Government policy and he has no co-ordinating function or power within the Cabinet. Newspaper reports say that he is already looking upon it as a lost war. As I said during an intervention in the Minister's speech, I believe that the hon. Gentleman should be wary of advocating national telephone lines. The existence of local lines is more effective, not just because of the locality but because the people answering the calls know more accurately the problems of their area. However, I endorse his suggestion about local drugs panels. Such panels exist in many parts of the country. An excellent example can be found in my area of East Sussex. The East Sussex drugs advisory council is a good blueprint for the hon. Gentleman in setting up such a council in his area.

I welcome back to the Front Bench my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, he is uniquely suited to supervise the co-ordination of the Government's activities. I welcome what must be his initiative in having this debate today. It is remarkable that this is the third major debate on drugs misuse that we have had in as little as four or five months. That shows the Government's and the House's concern about this enormously complicated and horrifyingly threatening problem.

Other hon. Members have identified various aspects of the problem and others were touched upon in recent debates. However, I should like to confine my remarks to three or four areas. I shall start by mentioning Colombia.

I was lucky enough to be a guest of the Colombian Government only a few weeks ago, and I went there specifically to study the problems of drug trafficking. The House and the Government should bear in mind certain factors when planning how to tackle drug trafficking from this part of the world. It is necessary to remind the House that Colombia is not an illegal drug-producing country ; tragically, it is in the forefront of illegal drug production--that is processing--and trafficking. As we are reminded in our newspaper reports day by day and week by week, the violence, bombings, shootings and bribery are a threat to the Government of that extraordinarily beautiful country. It is a country with a proud record of 100 years of democracy, so this production and trafficking are a threat also to the continued proper operation of the judicial system.

I spoke in an intervention of the job being done by our drug liaison officers, and that applies throughout south America. Proper intelligence gathering is essential, both inside and outside countries. Such basic items as proper secure communications networks for the Government and the security forces are imperative. It is good to know that Britain is helping in the supply of such equipment, and that that equipment is much appreciated. I have never visited a country where, in every meeting that I had, with Ministers,

Column 615

officials, politicians and business men, there was greater or more emphatic appreciation of what this country is doing to help that country in the task that it has set itself. Praise was heaped on the hard work and understanding of our ambassador to that country, Mr. Richard Neilson, and his staff. The depth of understanding that he has shown and the warmth of the relationship that he has established with his opposite numbers have helped us to help Colombia. Intelligence is essential not only to helping the operation of the Colombian security forces, but to the international effort to fight narcotic traffickers. We have to bend our endeavours to interdict their drugs and confiscate their earnings along the long line of distribution from Colombia to the United States and into western Europe. There is admirable co-operation between forces. However, I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to confirm that international agreements exist, particularly with all producer and transit countries, for the exchange of intelligence of all kinds as it bears on illegal drug trafficking, and especially of the agreements that exist between the security forces of the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, including the CIA and the NKVD. The accent on the importance of security underlines those agreements, and we cannot re-accent it enough this morning. I was glad of the previous Home Secretary's assurances that border inspections and immigration controls within Europe would continue to the extent needed to meet the drugs menace. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will elaborate on his emphatic mention of this, just to confirm specifically that the position taken by the former Home Secretary still holds. It will become more and more important as the single European market becomes a fact, because sadly some European countries are less committed than others to the gathering of intelligence on drug trafficking and to taking action on the intelligence that is fed to them. They do themselves no service by such attitudes or inaction, but they also put the people of other European countries at risk.

Perhaps the efforts of our own Customs and police, the new initiatives by the Association of Chief Police Officers to improve co-operation and co- ordination between British police forces, the establishment of the first joint national investigative unit between the police and Customs, and the new Bill which seeks to improve international co-operation, will all help international pan-European action to cope with the threat from drugs in our continent. Recently threats have been made to the Colombian judiciary. There is the threat by fear, so often referred to as the promise of lead, and the threat of bribery, which is referred to as the promise of gold. We provide Colombia with basic security equipment. I hope that we can also draw upon our considerable experience to offer and communicate basic advice to members of the judiciary and their families to help them to minimise their exposure to risk. It was tragic that a member of the judiciary was shot down on a street corner outside his house recently. He stood there at the same time every morning, waiting to be picked up by the same car. A knowledge of the most basic security or counter-terrorist activity might have saved his life.

I wonder whether there will be an opportunity for us to help the Colombian judiciary to do its job as well as possible in the difficult circumstances that it faces. We could offer advice and training in court administration,

Column 616

criminal investigation and in prosecution and preparation. There may be room for initiatives from the Lord Chancellor's Department, from the Bar and from the Law Society. I would like the Minister to bear that in mind, even if he cannot give specific assurances on those matters, because he knows the law infinitely better than I do. I am sure that such help from professionals to professionals would be much appreciated, and represent good value for effort and for money. I suggest that the British Council could provide a ready-made channel for such assistance.

Also, it is crucial that we do all we can to help Colombia in its Herculean task. There is always a risk that the time, effort and cost required may erode its national commitment to deal with the problem. We must minimise the risk of that happening, and we must get other countries to help.

Only yesterday we saw newspaper reports about 50 people who were killed in a bomb explosion in Bogota. It might be appropriate for the House to send a message of condolence to the families of those people who lost their lives, and our good wishes to General Maza Marquez, who is the chief of the Colombian forces who are responsible for fighting drug abuse and drug trafficking.

It is worrying that the cocaine barons feel that they can blackmail the Colombian Government and, at the moment, the Senate, to agree to a referendum on whether extradition should be disallowed, because it is difficult, if not impossible for politicians to stand up and give counter arguments.

Our activities are not confined to Colombia. We must continue to support United Nations' efforts to ratify the United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and to seek ratification from other countries. We must continue to support United Nations' work through various agencies and the United Nations fund for drug abuse control, which is the agency that is most actively involved in the crop substitution programmes which are so important. Those agencies need and deserve extra resources, both from direct national support and through larger allocations from the United Nations budget. I sincerely hope that the Government will support such additional resources being made available, especially during the special General Assembly session on drugs next February.

The House may be interested to learn that, only yesterday, the Western European Union Assembly in Paris resolved unanimously that the supply of arms and industrial goods with military applications must be prevented, that this is essentially a Government responsibility, and that administrative and financial difficulties should not interfere in that responsibility because, as we all accept, internal and external security is the prime task of any Government. In response to an intervention, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister drew attention to the work of the Pompidou group, which is presently under British chairmanship. It continues to work positively, although I have heard worrying reports that there may be dissent in the French Government about its future activities. I wonder whether one might call them jealous disagreements about to whom the Pompidou group and its activities should be reporting in the French Government--the President or the Prime Minister. It is all the sadder to hear such reports when we see in yesterday's The Times a minor headline :

Column 617

"Crack becomes chic on the Paris Me tro circuit".

That should bring back to everybody in France the importance of the Pompidou group's work. I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, in conjunction with his colleagues in the Foreign Office, to wield whatever power and influence they can to ensure that the French Government maintain their commitment to the excellent work that the Pompidou group has done.

We must ensure ever greater vigilance regarding the destination and end use of exported armaments, which all too easily can stray to Narco terrorists, and of precursor chemicals, which are essential to the manufacture of cocaine. I welcome the Government's plans to do both of those things and to change the legislation where necessary. Without arms, the violent rule of drug barons cannot be maintained. Without the chemicals, much of the drugs they peddle cannot be produced.

Whatever we do to improve international controls, countries such as Colombia must still wage their own war. Their economies must be sustained to enable them to do that. By comparison with that of many other countries, Colombia's economy has been buoyant. Historically, it was based on gold, emeralds, rubber and coffee. More recently, it has had coal, a growth of tourism and increasing exports of flowers. It is now the world's second largest flower exporter. Nevertheless, the trading blocs of the developed world must try to expand their trade with Colombia and other developing countries in south America. The European Community and the United States must bend their energies to obtain co-operation from Brazil and other producers for a viable new coffee agreement. Without a strong economy, Colombia and other countries in south America cannot do their best in this war, which is crucial to us all.

These best efforts will not solve the world problem of illegal drugs without even greater energy and money being applied to reduce demand. It is interesting that President Barcos knows that, not least because he recognises a worrying growth of demand in his own country. We should not be tempted into the trap--people still are tempted into it--of dividing countries between producers and consumers, because the producers consume and the consumers produce. We in the developed world must appreciate that all our efforts to tackle the problem will be ineffective unless we can be sure that more people will not be attracted to drug misuse. I fear that President Bush did not show sufficient appreciation of this in his otherwise admirable anti-drug initiatives. It is to be hoped that the first international conference on demand reduction, which is to take place next April as an initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and under the Government's sponsorship, will add greater urgency to prevention everywhere.

As the prevention effort increases, I draw the attention of the House to the uses that can be put of the assets that are confiscated as a result of preventive actions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, there is an early-day motion on this matter which has 129 signatories to date. It suggests, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs endorses, that confiscated assets that were gained as a result of drug trafficking should be used to establish a central fund specifically to help finance schemes to reduce the demand for and the supply of illicit drugs. The motion requests Ministers to

Column 618

make the necessary arrangements urgently. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, as the co-ordinator of all of the Government's activities in this area, will bend his energies to that.

Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said, some see the task of fighting the drugs misuse battle as so great that they have lapsed into the argument for legislation, to the consternation of many. It seems that the legalisation campaign has two main arguments. The first is economic in nature and was outlined in an excellently written but, I believe, completely falsely based article in The Economist recently. Broadly speaking, it is that drugs are dangerous and so is the illegality that surrounds them. In legitimate commerce their sale could be controlled, taxed and supervised. The dangers could be proclaimed on every packet. In this way drugs would poison fewer customers, kill fewer dealers, bribe fewer policemen and raise more public revenue. In summary, it is said that the cost of legalisation is less than that of prohibition. The second argument is advanced by some producer countries and by some who are concerned with reaching addicts for treatment. According to this argument, our political, judicial and medical systems are being undermined by the illegal activities of the drug traffickers, who are merely meeting demand. I fear that these people have accepted the use of drugs as a permanent feature of society, with legalisation or decriminalisation as an alternative to prohibition, which they consider to be costly, ineffective and an obstacle to demand reduction.

The Select Committee's report and the tenor of comments made in the House this morning correctly argue in the opposite direction. The frustration of legalisation proponents, especially those dealing with the effects of drugs in the United States and countries such as Colombia, is understandable but their proposal is not. Aside from the array of legal questions which would accompany, if not prevent, implementation--the questions are myriad--the arguments are based on poorly founded assumptions. In consumer countries, for instance, users and addicts will continue to rob and steal to fund their habits. They will continue to depend on illicit dealers for the supply of drugs of higher potency than those administered in legal doses. In producer countries, neither price nor terrorism is likely to decrease. With their monopoly of production and distribution and the $6 billion profit that it brings yearly, the cartels will use their resources to maintain their control of the market and their profits as well.

I believe that legalisation would undermine the education efforts that are now under way to prevent drug misuse and would make drugs more attractive by removing the legal inhibition on those who do not like acting illegally.

The Home Affairs Committee report correctly states in paragraph 22 :

"Even if legalisation were to affect at the margin the extent of criminal activity surrounding the drugs trade, it would almost certainly increase drug addiction and the social evils attendant upon it."

We should, as a House, this morning endorse one aspect, even if we endorse no other, of that report, and it is paragraph 28 which states :

"We therefore see effective law enforcement as a basic weapon in the reduction of supplies of drugs available on the streets and as an essential disincentive to those likely to trade in, sell and misuse drugs."

Column 619

I endorse the report almost 100 per cent. My only rider is on the section relating to demand reduction and rehabilitation. Paragraph 169 states that

"it became clear that demand reduction and treatment and rehabilitation are of vital importance to the fight against drug misuse."

I endorse that 100 per cent. However, paragraph 175 refers to President Bush giving

"some indication of the requirements of the sort of comprehensive and co- ordinated demand reduction policy which we believe is urgently needed in the United Kingdom."

The report has it wrong.

The Bush Administration, in an attempt to contain the horrifying growth of drug misuse in that country, have launched a mammoth programme that is almost entirely concentrated on interdiction of drug trafficking. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, it pays far too little attention to the reduction of demand. It should be noted that the Bush Administration have replaced the Reagan Administration cuts in the Federal budget to fight drug misuse, but they have not yet replaced the Carter Administration cuts, so they are a long way removed from establishing the same sort of accent and financial support for the fight against drug misuse that were established by the Nixon Administration. We should not give a wrong impression, either to the United States or to ourselves, that we believe that sufficient is being done on either that side or this side of the Atlantic to reduce demand.

Mr. Nelson : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done so much as chairman of the all-party drug misuse group to tackle these problems. Does he agree that one of the problems with demand reduction, both in the States and in this country, it that there is not wide enough understanding of what works? What is desperately needed, and it was recognised by the Home Affairs Committee, is more research. Perhaps that is something that the international drugs conference next April could start quickly. It should devote urgent funds and impose a short time scale for really good empirical and analytical studies of what works, so that the necessary funds can be applied in the most effective way.

Mr. Rathbone : I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour, who, with his normal perspicacity, has anticipated one of my closing remarks. It is essential that we build a better body of knowledge and understanding of what goes on in the minds of people who are tempted into drug misuse--through, among other things, more fundamental, frontier- breaking research into the genetic influences that bring about a propensity to misuse not only drugs but alcohol and other substances.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister mentioned the life education centres established in Australia by the Rev. Noffs. Those centres have been emulated in various parts of this country, and, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, I have urged the Government to give far more support to this marvellous method of instilling--especially in young people--a better understanding of the values of good health. I refer hon. Members to our previous debate on this subject, in which I developed that view.

I fear that, whatever we do to try to stop drug trafficking and production, the continually changing patterns of drug misuse will circumvent any rules that we draw up. Misdirected human ingenuity will invent new drugs ; misdeveloped natural resources will provide the raw materials. The development of cannabis, heroin, valium

Column 620

and LSD will no doubt continue, as will the processing of crack from cocaine and--in a roughly equivalent process--the processing of amphetamines into ice, the newest drug from the west coast of the United States. In any event, we require a better understanding of the problem through better research and better health education, particularly among the young. We also need improved treatment, because we want to stop people from returning to the world of drug misues.

I have described an aspect of the battle against drug misuse that is neither glamorous nor the stuff of party political points. It is not likely to imbue members of any Government with a warm and successful feeling, but it is none the less the most essential part of our continuing task, and even our own Government must give it increasing emphasis. I am certain that, under the guiding hand of the new Minister in charge of Government co -ordination, they will do so. 12.42 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : I intend to adopt a somewhat different approach from that of other hon. Members. First, I shall direct my remarks towards the possible legalisation of certain drugs ; secondly, I shall make an exceedingly brief speech. While the former may not commend itself to hon. Members, perhaps the latter will.

I do not accept the implication by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that the legalislation of certain drugs would necessarily lead to a progression to more dangerous drugs, any more than I believe that someone who drinks a glass of sherry at lunchtime ends up as an alcoholic. The central question is just how damaging drug taking is to health--and, of course, that depends very much on the drug that is taken.

Many--perhaps most--drugs are about as damaging to health as alcohol or nicotine, and it is probably indisputable that more people die of smoking- related diseases than of diseases related to the use, at least, of drugs. It could probably be argued that more die from the effects of criminal activities associated with the supply of and demand for drugs than from drug-taking itself.

Not all drugs are destructive of health. Marijuana cannot be classified with heroin, and cocaine derived from coca has been taken by Andean Indians for generations as a protection against cold and famine. The materials that are mixed with cocaine--for example, baking soda to produce crack--are the most dangerous element.

It is not desirable to use drugs. It is not particularly desirable, either, to over-use alcohol or to smoke. However, people do all three. Controls are needed, but at different levels. Control over demand as well as control over supply must be strict.

What concerns and alarms most people on both sides of the Atlantic is the criminal activity surrounding the use and supply of drugs rather than the damage that certain drugs can do to health. To treat all drugs in the same way is rather like treating low-alcohol beer as though it were neat alcohol. The Dutch have adopted a different approach. They deal with different drugs in a different way. They are selective. According to the statistics, few youngsters in Holland die of drug abuse, and hardly any of them contract AIDS after using infected needles.

Mr. Rathbone : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Column 621

Mr. Banks : No. I said that I would make a short speech, and that is exactly what I intend to do.

I do not say that drug-taking should be made legal because I do not know enough about the subject. I read the article in The Economist and a previous series of articles that it carried. There have been articles on the subject in The Sunday Times , which I have also read. Neither of those newspapers is popular with hippies. The reports did not reflect a rabid, Left-wing, Socialist point of view. The case was well argued and the articles were written by responsible journalists. I ask the Government to consider some of the arguments that they advanced and to acknowledge the growing concern that we are not dealing effectively with the problem.

I hope that the Minister will consult scientists, psychiatrists social workers, the police and doctors and obtain their views about the problem. If we are not tackling it succesfully, should there not be an objective, impartial assessment of drug taking, especially of soft drugs? The case should be put before Parliament when all the facts can be given. If the evidence clearly suggested that we must prohibit the use of all drugs and criminalise the supply and use of all drugs, I should be prepared to accept the evidence. We should not adopt the single approach that has been advocated so far in the debate. There should be a broader assessment of the problem so that the evidence can be put before those of us who still remain to be convinced.

12.48 pm

Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South) : I apologise in advance for the fact that I shall have to leave the House before the end of the debate in order to keep an important constituency engagement. Unfortunately, the Government have not yet spent the money that they have announced they intend to spend on the improvements to the M1 and M6, which would have enabled me to reach my constituency in good time after the debate had ended.

Once upon a time the United Kingdom suffered a severe balance of payments problem and resorted to skulduggery of a dubious moral nature to cure it. That problem concerned China. In 1729, the Emperor of China, in an early attempt at narcotics control, banned the sale and smoking of opium. In 1729 the British merchants were importing about 200 chests of opium into China a year. After that date the British, aided by the United States, drove the opium trade until 1860, when opium imports reached 60,000 chests per year.

At about that time the balance of payments began to swing back in favour of the United Kingdom. Inscrutably, the Chinese complained about that because in return for their silks they were getting a drug-addicted population. We retaliated by engaging in two wars against them, killing as many of them as we could, beating them and forcing them to legalise the trade in and consumption of opium. We also forced them to discontinue the use of the word "barbarian" to label those blessed western people who had introduced the trade to them and addicted such a large proportion of their population. The interesting thing about this is that for 30 years after the legalisation of opium in China, opium imports rose rapidly. Legalisation did not undercut the market. Since then the United States and the United Kingdom have been reaping the whirlwind of their misdeeds. We heard earlier about how the countries that we used to regard as

Column 622

supplying countries have become consuming countries themselves, feeding on their own poison. The potted history that I have given shows that legalisation, argued for so seductively by experts of both the Left and the Right, does not work. In my view, it would lead only to an increase in drugs abuse, and the state having to pick up the cost of broken lives and broken families. If one country legalised drugs before others, there would be a massive increase in drug abuse in that country as seedy junkies from all over the world congregated like flies to a honeypot

Mr. Tony Banks : Or like Members of Parliament.

Mr. Butler : The current debate about drug abuse seems to divide people into two factions--the decriminalisers and the enforcers. However, enforcement alone is not the answer because of the enormous numbers of people who are already taking drugs and because of the enormous profits that are made from the drugs trade. Those profits would increase if the drug was made more scarce.

Even in the USSR, with all the totalitarian instruments at its disposal, there are 40,000 registered drug addicts in Moscow alone. It is estimated that there are 300,000 drug abusers in the United Kingdom. If we were to arrest them all tomorrow, they would fill our gaols six times over. The drug enforcement agencies in New York last year arrested 90,000 people. Goodness knows how the criminal justice system there deals with all of them.

Enforcement alone cannot be the only answer and legalisation does not work. However, as I tried to develop in the debate on 9 June this year, there may be a third possibility. If complete prohibition and liberal availability do not work, the controlled availability that we had with heroin until the 1960s might be made to work again, at least for heroin. Until the 1960s there were only 500 heroin addicts in this country, compared with what was already a complete disaster in the United States in terms of the number of heroin addicts. However, if controlled availability is to work, it will need both carrots and sticks. The carrot would be a positive offer of controlled unadulterated drugs for those addicts currently using the illicit market and alienated from the drugs agencies that already exist. The stick would be even more rigorous enforcement of those users--and even more, the pushers--who still remain in the illicit market. The law and the community would need to be persuaded of the advantage of forcing drug users into a controlled space.

Mr. Mellor : When we tried that in the late 1950s there was a haemorrhage of drugs from the so-called licit market--those who had the drugs prescribed to them by doctors--on to the illicit market. That is the inevitable consequence of making drugs available under such circumstances.

Mr. Butler : My hon. and learned Friend was unable to be present on 9 June when I dealt with that particular point. I do not want to be diverted on to that argument now. There was an illicit supply of drugs to the United States when some dubious doctors over-prescribed. I do not believe that my suggestion would necessarily lead to such dubious doctors behaving as they did in the 1950s. That problem could have been solved, but it was decided that many of the drug services available at that time should

Column 623

be withdrawn. That decision forced the drug- using community into the black market. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend could look at my contribution on 9 June.

In 1987 a drug watch centre was founded in Chester by a young barrister, Brendan Anderson. It has proved to be extremely successful. The police admit that Chester has a deep-rooted heroin problem. The aid from a spectrum of voluntary organisations and the backing from local industry has enabled the drug watch team to act as a warning beacon to the community of the dangers of drug use and of pushing. It encourages public assistance to the authorities in detaining those who push drugs in the community. That centre is almost an extension of the neighbourhood watch concept. It makes the community alert to the dangers of drugs and it makes it more difficult for pushers to operate. It has raised a lot of money and has recycled it into educational projects against drugs. It has also opened a telephone line through which information can be passed confidentially on a 24-hour basis to the drug squad.

The drug watch concept is slowly spreading. I initiated one in Warrington, which is under the chairmanship of Mrs. Lucy Morris. I hope that those centres will spread further and I hope that the Home Office will encourage that trend by giving guidance to those new organisations and perhaps a small amount of seed-corn money to help them set up.

Drug watch effectively means that the problem cannot be swept under the carpet. That must not happen because the problem, already horrifying, is getting worse. There are already 300,000 drug abusers in Britain. Seizures of cannabis by weight went up by a factor of three last year although I accept that that might be due to more rigorous enforcement. Heroin addiction seems to have reached a plateau, although a distressing one. We have all heard of the large increases in the seizures of cocaine by Customs and Excise, but that must be related to the increased imports that are getting through. We have also heard of the great increases in the number of crack seizures, a large number of them in my general region of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Those areas, apart from metropolitan London, are particularly badly affected.

The use of drugs seems to correlate with the crime wave that we have recently experienced. Of the drug addicts and offenders arrested in Cheshire 79 per cent. of them already had a conviction for some other offence. One third of prisoners on remand are cocaine and heroin users. If crack takes off we must beware. This year parts of Miami experienced a 30 per cent. increase in robberies. The local police blamed crack and the "rob till you drop" syndrome. Some of those guys are so desperate that they will engage in 15 or more robberies and will then race back in between to get more crack. Given that general situation it is remarkable that people still say that it cannot happen here. Nothing is more conducive to the spread of the problem than the attitude, "Sweep it under the carpet. Don't talk to the children about it." How wrong can one be!

Experts in the United States and in the United Kingdom now agree that preventive education must play an important role, but education is not the responsibility only of the state. The most important vehicle for education is the family. Dr. Maura Daly, senior policy analyst on the drug abuse prevention staff of the United States Department of Education says that the number one factor preventing drug abuse are familial, community and

Column 624

religious values. The Hazelden Foundation has found that one of the most important factors in keeping children off drugs is the amount of concern that they believe that their parents would feel if they were taking drugs. That is a comfort to those parents who believe that all their words go in one ear and out the other. Their words do sink in and do make a difference. The genteel approach of believing that we must not talk about something nasty to the children simply does not help.

We have as a warning the experience of the United States where it was believed for many years, "It can't happen here." In 1982, the Scientific American said :

"Use of cocaine is probably no more addicting than eating peanuts or potato chips."

Americans told themselves that and many of them believed their own garbage. The problem was that it takes a relatively long time to become addicted to cocaine--up to 18 months--and by the time that the Americans found that out, there were 12 million regular users of cocaine in the United States who had a bit of a problem, to say the least.

Crack was unknown four years ago. It is far more addictive than cocaine ; 75 per cent. of users become addicted after the third smoke and there is no known cure. In 1986, many Americans outside New York were saying, "Those crazy New Yorkers with their funny accents are all nuts. Crack will never come out of the ghetto." It is now the major drug of abuse in 49 out of 50 American states.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) took the line that drug abuse can be correlated with deprivation, but that is not true of crack. Bob Stutman of the drug enforcement agency, when speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers, emphasised that crack was now a major drug of abuse in the heart of conservative middle America. He said that it affected rich, poor and in- between, that it had left the ghetto in the United States and that it had gone on to suburban America.

Road blocks were set up in the inner city and cars were stopped when going in. Last year, 1,000 cars were seized in seven months. Bob Stutman said that 80 per cent. of the 1,000 cars were driven by white kids from the nice suburbs who were coming in to buy crack and who had taken their daddy's car. Crack is the equal opportunity drug which affects all classes, all races and, as we have heard, women as much as men. That is sad because one of the last vestiges of family life in the American inner cities depends on the matriarchal element and Americans are now finding that those last vestiges are disappearing as a result of the violence and the personality changes that crack causes to its victims.

My mathematics is not very good, but I made a quick calculation. I reckon that seizures of crack in this country increased by 450 to 500 per cent. this year compared with last. I heard experts for whom I had considerable regard say recently on television that we should not sensationalise the issue of crack because we might add glamour to it and, therefore, increase usage. However, the history of the United States shows that the Americans severely underplayed the issue. Bob Stutman gave a ringing end to this story in his speech to the chief police officers. I must add, incidentally, that I found it hard to obtain a copy of his speech because the Association of Chief Police Officers wanted to sweep it under the carpet, but I managed eventually to arrange for a copy to be placed in the Library and I urge all hon. Members to read it. Stutman warns :

Column 625

"I will personally guarantee you that two years from now you will have a serious drug problem because we are so saturated in the United States with cocaine, there ain't enough noses left to use the cocaine that's coming in. It's got to go somewhere and where it's coming is right here."

1.5 pm

Next Section

  Home Page