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Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : Hon. Members on both sides of the House listened with interest to the Minister, who rightly recounted his own experiences and told us of his visits to south America and elsewhere. The story that he told was sad and sombre and, unfortunately, true. We wonder whether the problem is getting out of hand in many parts of the world, and we realise that many harsh decisions will have to be made to combat drug misuse. In my view, the situation is very grim in this country as well. I am delighted that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in their determination to try to conquer drug misuse. If we all unite--Government, people and especially parents--we can make a significant effort to put an end to drug misuse by the early 1990s. I shall concentrate on three of the key issues in the United Kingdom, although I know that there are many more. The first is information. In only a very few places are any professional attempts made to collect information about drug misuse. The Government's information comes from convictions and referrals to hospitals, but those figures are only the tip of the iceberg. We need databases in every area so that policy decisions can be based on up -to-date information. We need more schemes whereby general practitioners, voluntary agencies, the police and others combine to provide information to a central source. Where that happens, the provision of services is more cost-effective and more effective in saving lives. Another of the key issues concerns education support grants. We must ensure that young people are given the message that they must say no to drugs. It is vital that local authorities should continue to employ teachers to train others to carry the message into schools and youth clubs. In the past 10 or 15 years we have learnt much from our campaign to persuade youngsters to give up smoking. It would be interesting to find out how many people in Britain do not start smoking at an early age. I believe that eventually youngsters will respond in the same way to the campaign against drugs.
Local authorities are struggling to retain staff that they appointed three years ago because the Department of Education and Science has reduced its grant from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. Although fourth-year funding continues at that reduced rate, no commitment to fifth-year funding has been forthcoming from the Government. That is a danger. If the Government are serious about this matter, proper funding should be given as soon as possible. My third key issue is the National Health Service review. Some of the Government's proposals will lead to a poor deal for drug users. Will general practitioners want to take on drug users? Such people take up much time and form a high HIV risk group. They also cost the National Health Service a gread deal.
If hospitals become self-governing, what will happen to specialised services? Will they be provided in only a few locations or not at all? Drug budgets will be formulated on
Column 626basic list prices, but an addict may need a more effective option because of his addiction. He may not get it if the doctor has to watch the local family practitioner committee's ability to reimburse pharmacists.
I shall now deal with HIV and AIDS. The latest statistics show that a growing number of intravenous drug users are HIV-positive. Department of Health figures show that, of the 11,218 HIV cases, 1, 678 are intravenous drug abusers. In Thailand, in 1987, 1 per cent. of drug users were HIV- positive. Three years on that has risen to 40 per cent. of drug users. I have been told that by many general practitioners that in terms of drug abuse the United Kingdom is sitting on a time bomb and that the biggest problem is in Scotland. The Government must act quickly and get away from representing AIDS as a homosexual problem. They must recognise the link between drug users and the heterosexual community.
All pilot needle exchange schemes have been successful and such schemes reduce the spread of diseases and especially HIV. They also lead to contact between the agencies and drug misusers, uncover hidden problems, and lead to better habits. However, in the United Kingdom, only 1 million needles are exchanged each year and there are 27 million injections. That means that a ninefold increase in needle availability is needed to avoid needle reuse. The Government should increase funding in order to extend needle exchange schemes into every area.
My party recognises the extent of the problem, but the Government do not even begin to comprehend it. I said earlier that we are sitting on a time bomb. I am afraid that the fuse has almost burned out and that the impact is just about to hit us. We need more information and better education for our children. The Government must not go ahead with the National Health Service review. We must recognise that the AIDS crisis will affect everyone. We need a Government who will act, and act now, on the recommendations of the Select Committee. I am grateful to members of the Committee for their recommendations. The Government must give extra funding wherever it is required in order to combat drug misuse.
Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : It is always a pleasure to take part in packed House debates on a Friday morning when the number of hon. Members in the Chamber is exceeded by the number of attendants, never mind the number of visitors in the Strangers' Gallery. The debate has the intimacy of an Adjournment debate, but it is none the worse for that except that we are debating a most important subject. I listened to every word of the debate, and it is a great shame that many other colleagues are not here. I do not blame them for not wanting to make a contribution but they should listen to the debate and get a flavour of the extent and nature of the problem in the United Kingdom. Every speaker, including the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)--but particularly the two Front-Bench spokesmen--have shown a degree of unanimity with just a few understandable differences of view that are to be expected. They have shown one of the few shafts of light in this whole scenario by their willingness to be broad-minded, accept suggestions and agree that this is an issue that will require funding and intensive investment in our community if we are to crack the problem.
Column 627Unlike the Select Committee, I did not go the United States in the summer to look particularly at drugs. However, I did go because, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) mentioned in his speech, between being the hon. Member for Oxford, East and then the hon. Member for Epping Forest--in the period that we actors call resting--I formed an organisation called Crime Concern which is the national crime prevention body that specialises in trying to encourage voluntary crime prevention. We invited the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) to become a member of the advisory board, and I am delighted that he accepted. Conservative Members have a special affection for the hon. Gentleman for reasons unassociated with any of his parliamentary qualities.
The Crime Concern study involved visiting the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington with which we went on visits in Washington, Baltimore and elsewhere to see how the United States is combating crime by crime prevention initiatives in the community. Incidentally, this is now an even lonelier debate than an Adjournment debate.
Mr. Norris : I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I do not know whether it is a rule in the House that the quality of the speech must always be in inverse proportion to the number of people listening to it. That may be the case.
In the United Kingdom we are worried about shoplifting and theft from vehicles, but in the United States people are worried about death from drugs and guns. Their prevention activity is devoted to trying to stem a wave that seems--as many hon. Members have pointed out--to have got completely out of control. In America there is a vivid poster showing a family of young black children taking a coffin down the church steps after they have been to a funeral service. The banner underneath says, "This poster is brought to you by a young drug abuser with a gun". That sums up the terror and hopelessness of the position there.
Drugs are a problem not merely of abuse by individuals, but because of their relationship to crime and criminality. In the great trinity of supply, demand and price, the greatest is demand. The need to do something about supply is important, and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the need to police borders reinforces the need to regard with caution some of the more optimistic assumptions about 1992 and the abolition of frontiers. There may be a place for grower subsidies in south America, but I am cynical about anything that we can do in that area. In view of the scale of the economy of drug production in south America, anything that we could do would be dwarfed by the vast national budget-style scale of the economy there. We have to concentrate on what flows from restricting demand --a reduction in the price, to drive the coca farmer to look for a more suitable form of agricultural lifestyle.
If reducing demand is the key to our success, how do we do it? I do not believe--and this stems from the experience that we have had in looking with Crime Concern at work with young people--that we have had anything like enough investment in the young people who are the vulnerable audience for drugs and crime. The peak age of offending was, until recently, 14 for females and 15 for
Column 628males. That is not among youth offenders but among all offenders. It is a tragedy that, because of the changes in the cautioning system, the figure has risen to 18 for both sexes.
That statistic shows where the pressure has to go. Simply to talk in numbers of policemen, courts, sentencing and all the traditional vocabulary --often uttered stridently by my hon. Friends--is to have an inadequate picture of the solution. We have to do a great deal of work with young people to change their attitudes, and to do something about their approach to each other. Both my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Huddersfield spoke about the importance of trying to engender an atmosphere in which young people simply see drugs as past--not hip, not funny, not clever and not smart any more. That is the kind of image of drugs that we shall have to create if we are to do something about the problem.
I am concerned by the comment of the hon. Member for Huddersfield that it is merely a problem of poverty. I may be doing him an injustice because he did not say quite that, but he did try to establish a link between income and social poverty. Sadly, the truth is closer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) adduced, which is that drug crime spans all of the economic spectrum. It is perhaps identified by an absence of parental interest and involvement in the family, whether that is at the level of the very rich--the brats taking cocaine--or the very poor over whom there is little parental influence.
We need a partnership not just with the conventional social agencies and the Department of Education and Science but, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, with the local authorities. We cannot deal with this without the help of the local authorities. They are a vital force, and we should be engaging them directly, as we engaged them in preventing crime, to do something about the problem in their communities. There must be an immense collaborative effort, and I should like to see a great deal more effort and money being put into stimulating measures for young people, in the community and by the community, to do something about the problem.
We have not said much about alcohol misuse, but that is clearly germane to the subject. That, drug misuse and football violence are not capable of solution by situational means. It is not a question of locks, bars, bolts or policemen at every corner. The problems can be resolved only by social intervention, by social change that brings about different attitudes in the minds of the young and the potential drug abuser and offender.
I am a trustee of the Broadway Foundation, which runs a treatment centre for those who are victims of drug and alcohol abuse. As such, it receives almost no funding from the health authorities or the Government. It receives a little, but remarkably little, and that is a lacuna in our provision. In 1986, the Social Services Committee examined not the criminal background to drug misuse but the medical impact of it. With that Select Committee I went to a number of hospitals and spoke to a number of experts. I found it
extraordinarily moving that it is very easy to get off drugs. It is simply not the dreadful, appalling year-long experience of banging one's head against a padded wall in a cell that it is sometimes portrayed as being.
Detoxification, even after years of heroin abuse, can take weeks and sometimes days. However, if one simply
Column 629returns people to the same environment after taking the drugs from their bodies, to the same friends, pubs and life of inactivity, they will be abusing drugs again within days. One has done nothing for them other than perhaps giving them a temporary respite-- prolonging their life but precious little else.
Clearly we need to invest more heavily in genuinely detoxifying abusers and making a permanent alteration in their lifestyle. There are some simple ways in which we can do that--for example, by providing housing, good social conditions, and finding them jobs. Those are all important, but high on the list must be a recognition of the importance of in-depth treatment centres, such as the Broadway Foundation. Then we can give people, regardless of income, therapy over a period of months, which will give them back their self-respect and make them realise that they can be individuals within the community and that they do not need the crutch of drugs. If we bear that in mind, we will do a great service in the community. In his opening speech, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said that he was willing to listen to almost any initiatives and that he acknowledged the scale and extent of the problem. It is impossible to underestimate the scale of the problem in society. I know that my hon. and learned Friend meant what he said, and I hope that he will bear in mind the importance of intensive therapy in the rehabilitation of drug abusers. Then we will be able to assist in the process of converting a whole section of the community away from a regard for drugs and towards a more healthy attitude to life. 1.32 pm
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : Few subjects are more frightening or more emotive than drug abuse. Those hon. Members who have had the opportunity to travel to America, and to talk to community leaders, legislators and politicians there, know that drugs, and the social problems that they cause, have forced themselves to the top of the political agenda. In New York, Washington and other inner cities, drug abuse and the associated criminal problems are threatening a mini holocaust to those communities.
Earlier contributors to the debate have mentioned the problems of violence, crime and the particular threat that drugs pose to young people as consumers and mini entrepreneurs. The most upsetting and frightening feature of the current wave of drug abuse in the United States is the way that drugs are eating away at, and destroying, the family and the social structure. One lesson that we can learn from the American experience is that the Government and the politicians should not leave their actions too late. The clock is ticking away. However, there is also a danger of arousing too much hysteria or of myth-making, and that stops people getting to grips with the real issue.
British cities will not face the same problems of guns and shootings in five or 10 years' time, as American cities do, simply because Britain has different gun controls and laws. However, the economic devastation wrought by drugs is a threat to Britain. No group of people are more fearful about the problem, or more anxious to know what the Government intend to do, than those who live and work in the inner
Column 630cities. If drugs and drug abuse is a rifle pointed at society, it is pointed directly at inner-city communities. Such communities have a vested interest in effective Government action against this scourge. I think, therefore, that I speak for everybody in the community that I represent, and many others in inner cities elsewhere in the country, when I say that we need a war on drugs that enlists and involves the community, not one which leaves the community feeling that it is under threat and being alienated. It must be recognised that an effective war has to move away from the myths and deal with the often frightening realities.
We have had much sensational coverage in the newspapers during the past couple of years of yardies, the so-called black mafia who control the drug trade in Britain. There is no doubt that there are people of Jamaican origin who are involved, just as there are people of all other communities involved in the trade. I speak on behalf of the whole Jamaican community here and abroad when I say that we resent strongly the sensationalist and exaggerated reports which imply that there is a Jamaican mafia which provided the key actors in the drug trade. That is a slur on millions of law-abiding Jamaicans here and abroad. Most are law abiding and want to be involved in the fight against drugs. We resent the smears against our community. In the debate on drug misuse, there is often a suggestion or inference that the problem is to do with race and involves black communities. Crack knows no colour. It and other drugs are equal opportunities scourges. They hit high and low, regardless of colour, gender or class.
My community wants an effective war on drugs. We have to put the issue in its social and economic context. If the American experience has shown only one thing, it is that a way against drugs should not be solely a matter of law enforcement. Law enforcement plays a key role, but any war on drugs that is perceived solely as a law enforcement exercise cannot succeed. Rather it will lead to escalation, money and men being poured in to solve the problem, but still families and communities being devastated.
There is no doubt that, if we are to have a serious war on drugs, we must attack it on several fronts. We must tackle money laundering, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs has done so ably in its report. I was in the United States a few months ago talking to bankers about many subjects, and money laundering by drug barons arose. The regulatory authorities there said that, when they were first asked to seek records and interfere with the workings of the banking system, they were reluctant. One said that, when he spent time living and working in Florida near Miami, which is one of the centres of the drug trade, and he saw the devastation being wrought by the drug trade, especially among young people, black and white, and he walked into banks where they could not close the safe doors because so much money which could not be accounted for was piled into them, he saw in moral and community terms that the banks had to involve themselves in regulation to stop laundering. If the drug traders cannot bank their profits or use them, that must be an important component of the war against drugs. I urge swift and effective action by the Government and regulatory bodies on money laundering.
We need also real research into patterns of drug abuse and the changes that take place. It is not enough to peddle myths or anecdotes. It is not sufficient to talk of where the
Column 631problems might be or where those involved might be found. Much more research is needed. I join those of my hon. Friends who have called for a considerable increase in the moneys that are devoted to research. We must obtain the necessary information if we are to move effectively against drug trafficking and drug misuse. At present, the information is incomplete, patchy and distorted. It does not provide the base for effective political and social action. We need better co- ordination and an end to the rivalry between the police and the Customs and Excise.
Above all, we must improve education. Education must not be confined to glossy and expensive poster campaigns. If we want effective education against drug abuse, we must consider who is best placed to provide it. There is no doubt that young people throughout the world in all strata of society are somewhat opposed to suggestions. Education from some quarters can be rather less acceptable to them than from others. If we are serious about producing information, educating our young people and thereby changing the opinion of young people towards drugs, we must be clear and creative when considering the way in which education programmes are organised and who we use to reach young people.
We must bear in mind the role of the youth service generally. There is the role of the Churches, and not only the Anglican and the Catholic Churches. Some of the smaller Churches, such as the Pentecostal Church, have tremendous force for good in the inner cities. If the Government are serious about dealing with drug abuse and providing education, they should be thinking of the education and information packages which can be made available beyond formal avenues to community organisations. These will include the Churches, local groups, tenants' associations, community groups, domino clubs and youth clubs. As I have said, an education programme needs to be more than an expensive poster campaign. It must begin at the grass roots and work upwards. People whom young people respect, must be used and they must give them the information that they need. It is necessary to work with local authorities in the housing sector. There is no doubt that boarded-up flats and derelict accommodation in estates are being used by some of those who are involved in the drugs trade. Only if we have the closest co-operation with local authorities and housing associations can we make a co-ordinated attempt to root out some of the activity that is going on in estates.
There must be support for clinics and rehabilitation centres, and financial support for the clinics, voluntary groups and rehabilitation centres that are working with drug abusers to rehabilitate them and bring them back into the community. A strategy against drugs must not be restricted to law enforcement and detoxifying the individual. It must detoxify the community and take away the structures, attitudes and ignorance on which drug abuse feeds. A genuine war against drugs would not merely detoxify individuals.
The issue must be seen in the broadest possible context. No one pretends that poverty causes drug abuse. There are millions of poor people who do not touch drugs and who would not dream of doing so. Undoubtedly where there is drug abuse, poverty and despair, there is the recipe for a particular type of social and cultural holocaust. The importance of dealing with the wider issues of poverty and unemployment in our community cannot be overstressed if we are serious about fighting drugs.
Column 632We have read about sending arms and money into Colombia and other countries. If we are serious about stopping Third world countries such as Colombia in central America and the Caribbean from growing drugs as a cash crop, whether they be cocaine or marijuana, we must examine generally our relations with these countries and the terms of trade. How can we say to a Colombian peasant, when the price of coffee has dropped through the floor, that we intend to take his livelihood from him? If we are serious about discouraging such countries from trading illegally in drugs, we must study our terms of trade, commodity prices and how we can help to support their economic infrastructures. It is not enough to go in with arms and threats. The inner cities want and would welcome a war against drugs. However, we also want a war against poverty and a war against hopelessness. Drugs, poverty and hopelessness are the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We want a war against drugs somewhat different from that suggested by Conservative Members, who merely talk about law enforcement and more police. We want a war against drugs in which the grandparents are the guerillas, the churchgoers the commandos and the whole community the ground troops. We want an effective war against drugs that enlists the help of the community in the interests of the community. We do not want a Government who engage in rhetoric and will not make available the necessary resources. We do not want a Government who isolate the law enforcement problem and refuse to consider the wider social problem.
Above all, the inner cities want a war against drugs because, by looking across the Atlantic to the United States, we recognise that the survival of our inner-city communities depends on an effective war being waged now. The time to start that war is not a minute too soon.
Mr. Leigh : Yes, indeed I have. I also listened with great care to the opening speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I attended the whole of our debate in June on the subject. They are important matters and all hon. Members should be prepared to take an interest in them and speak in our debates. As the previous Home Secretary said, we are facing an epidemic of drugs. The Government must be prepared to take urgent action. There is no more important threat to our society than that posed by drugs.
As I said during our debate in June-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) would just sit and listen rather than murmur from a sedentary position--and he has just come into the Chamber--he might hear something. I have taken an interest in these matters for some time. It is too important a matter for mere party politics. We should take these matters seriously.
As I said during our debate in June, we canot consider the problem from an isolated viewpoint. The drugs barons have wielded such power in the economies of south America that they are almost as powerful as the Government agencies. We are indebted to my hon. and
Column 633learned Friend for his work in alerting this House and the nation to the threat to western society posed by the enormous power wielded by the drugs barons. There is a message for us all. Why is that power wielded? Why is there an impetus towards drugs traffic? Is it because there is just an appalling imbalance in terms of poverty--
Ms. Abbott : I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but there is an interesting Adjournment debate to follow this debate. As we have already had a very good debate on this issue, we do not want to be unduly delayed in reaching the Adjournment debate.
Mr. Leigh : I am sure that the hon. Lady would like to speak on many issues, but our present debate is due to continue until 2.30 pm, and it is the right of every hon. Member to take part in it. We must establish what resources we in the western democracies are prepared to give Latin-American Governments, for there is ample evidence that they have not the resources to deal with the problem unaided. As relatively wealthy nations, we must be prepared to make sacrifices to help them.
Mr. Sheerman : Early in my own speech, I said that it was the responsibility of western nations to provide concrete help for South American peasants who have no alternative to coca-growing, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) agreed. Dramatic action is needed, over and above what the Select Committee recommended. We put only £200,000 into the United Nations fund for international aid, and the entire overseas aid budget for South America consists of some £12 million for bilateral aid. Is it not about time that the Government took the matter seriously, and did something to help the South American peasants?
Mr. Leigh : The hon. Gentleman, who probably considers me to be on the Centre-Right of my party, may be surprised to learn that I have long been an enthusiast for overseas aid. I am prepared to accept that the Government could perhaps do more on that immensely important front, although I do not think that we should be ashamed of our record in any respect : Governments must always balance resources and priorities, and there are urgent priorities in our own country. I do not believe that the problem of drug misuse can be dealt with simply by law and order methods. We must view it in two fundamental ways. First, we must ask ourselves what economic impetus has allowed this trade to grow up in relatively under- developed countries. Are we prepared to help those countries to meet the threat, as I believe we must--and as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) recommended in what I considered a fair and worthwhile intervention? Secondly, we cannot bury the problem in our own minds, assuming that tougher deterrent sentences will deal with the relatively small minority who have been misled by drug pushers. Although tougher sentences may well play a part in solving the problem, I feel that it goes far deeper than that : it involves society as a whole. I strongly believe that the way in which our welfare system has sometimes been constructed-- with the best of
Column 634intentions--has sometimes given impetus to a mechanism that has broken down certain parts of society and created the conditions in which drugs can be introduced. The problem is much more serious in America, where the gearing of the social security system has destroyed society's ability to resist the appalling pressures exerted by the drug trade--which is itself based on the economic imbalance between the developed and the under-developed worlds.
We cannot think of this as a Government problem. It is a problem for all of us. Nor can we see it as a south American problem, for it is a world problem. Our approach must be three-pronged : we can consider both the possibility of tougher deterrent sentences and the help that we may be able to give south American countries, but we must also look to our social security system and ask ourselves whether, now and in the past, we have made the right decisions to ensure that society has the strength to resist such a major threat. 1.49 pm
Mr. Mellor rose --
Mr. Mellor : I am grateful to the House for giving me leave to respond to some of the points that have been made in the debate. I have sat through all but a few minutes of what I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable debate. Inevitably, and rightly, there has been some sharp criticism. Hon. Members have suggested that there is room for improvement in the Government's response to the problem. However, the interesting and significant factor in the debate has been the broad measure of agreement on how to tackle it.
There was nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) with which I could not wholeheartedly agree. I do not know whether that shocks and dismays the hon. Lady, but she was absolutely right about the threat that drug-taking poses for the inner cities and to say that there is no escape from the problem in the law and order route. There have to be strict law and order policies to deal with drugs, as the hon. Lady acknowledged, but if we are to beat the problem we have to educate people and build up people's resistance to the seductive appeal of the drug peddler. It is important to help people who, through no fault of their own, live in areas where the problem is particularly acute. I acknowledge that the taking of drugs affects all sections of society and all racial groups. It is no part of my case that any particular group is more greatly involved in drug taking than others.
The speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) provides an important starting point for my reply. He suggested, perfectly properly, that we should question the need to prohibit all drug-taking. I would object, having considered the evidence, to making legal the taking of certain drugs that cannot be taken legally. People say that it is all right to smoke or to drink alcohol, but I wonder whether we would permit the use of those drugs if they had been invented yesterday. Most people can drink alcohol and not become dependent upon it, but we know that many hundreds of thousands of people depend on alcohol and that many crimes are
Column 635alcohol-related. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, quite properly, that the best way to put oneself at risk late on a Saturday night is to be outside a pub or other place of entertainment in which certain youngsters have drunk too much and have become violent.
We do not underestimate the impact of alcohol abuse. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was absolutely right when he said that many more people die from smoking and drinking than from illicit drug-taking. However, this generation inherited drinking and smoking from previous generations. We are trying to do something about it by asking people to drink sensibly and to stop smoking. We must not wish on succeeding generations the problems caused by drug-taking, should we be foolish enough to legalise the taking of certain drugs.
Mr. Sheerman : An interesting parallel can be drawn between alcohol and drug-taking. Part of the law of the land for a very long time has been a legal minimum age for drinking. The Opposition have long been saying that it is high time that the Government enforced the law regarding the availability of alcohol to people under 18. Advertisements are directed at young people in which they are cajoled to drink well before the age of 18. They are drinking at 14, 15 and 16, which is well below the age at which they should be drinking alcohol. The law should be strictly enforced.
Mr. Mellor : I agree with all that. It is important that under-age drinking should be stamped out as far as possible. Whatever the protestations however, one cannot help thinking that there are far too many advertisements for alcohol and, whatever is said in their defence, they are aimed at a particular category of 17 to 24-year-old young drinkers. On either side of the legal age for drinking, there is a real problem group. It is worth pointing out that the strong beers available now did not exist 20 years ago. If we have a generation of lager louts, to a considerable extent we have wished that problem on ourselves. I am glad that there is agreement across the Floor of the House on the importance of those facts.
I turn now to the question of the legalislation of illicit drugs. Heroin and cocaine have a much higher basic addictability than any of the so- called "legitimate" drugs, and there is clear evidence that when cocaine is smoked in the form of crack, it is highly addictive. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said that some American research has suggested that three out of every four people who have abused crack have become addicted to it. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has had to leave for a constituency engagement and I understand why he cannot be here. He, too, used his experience in the United States to portray the problems caused by crack. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was wrong to say that they are caused only by pollutants--they are caused by the drug itself.
We have had a test of what happens if one turns a blind eye to cocaine abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said, an adviser to President Carter suggested that cocaine was a recreational drug of no particular significance, which allowed cocaine to become much more widespread without enforcement in the United States in the 1970s than it might otherwise have been. America has now reaped the whirlwind. With the greatest respect to the House. I must point out that there is no compromise with these substances, but that does not mean that a solution
Column 636can be found only by stamping out drug abuse oppressively. We need a range of policies across the spectrum, including law and order policies and prohibition, but also including a whole host of policies for demand reduction. I hope that the debate has established that the Government take that point seriously.
The hon. Members for Huddersfield and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, among others, mentioned help for specific inner-city areas and our drug prevention initiative. I want to make it absolutely clear that it is not rhetoric but a fundamental principle when I say that there is no point in having a drugs policy if one seeks to keep out of it those people who have a great deal to contribute. A drugs policy that is to work in society must embrace all, so I welcome the enthusiastic involvement of the local authorities and the local authority associations. In our new drugs prevention initiative, which will start in nine inner-city areas and spread to 30, we want the full-hearted co-operation of the local authorities. We shall shortly be consulting the local authority associations about how best our initiative can blend in with what is already happening.
The hon. Member for Leicester, East talked about local co-ordinating groups. As a result of action taken several years ago, every area should have multi-disciplinary groups, bringing together experts to talk about the particular problems of that locality. The aim of our initiative is that an additional three or four people will be engaged in each area to co-ordinate that area's response to its drug problem, having regard to the fact that there is no common base for the drugs problem. It has different manifestations in different areas. For those groups to be effective, a keen awareness of local circumstances will be required. I want the local authorities to be involved. It would be sad if every initiative did not have the full-hearted approval of local authorities. We want them to participate as the groups are not intended to be a substitute for local authority action, but part of the ongoing work.
We are committed to research. I assure the hon. Member for Huddersfield that there is no question of the Home office suppressing any research. As far as we are concerned, all research should be made available, but it is not always up to us to publish it. Publication often depends on the researchers. We have no interest in suppressing such research. Although no one would suggest that research alone, especially over a long period, is a substitute for action, it is an essential part of our policy. The Government have decided to commission a major prevalence study starting early next year to investigate and report on the extent of cocaine misuse, its pattern and its effect on individuals. It will be a three-year study which will generate a great deal of valuable information. The House will appreciate, however, that we cannot wait three years for the outcome before we start to make decisions about cocaine.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) has been a constant assistance to me in all the years I have been involved in this matter. By his chairmanship of the all-party committee on drugs he has done a tremendous amount to promote the basic consensus approach that we have adopted. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned south America. When I visited Pakistan in 1985 it was clear that we in the affluent West could not simply tell the subsistence farmers of the north- west frontier to stop growing opium, especially as that was the only crop for which anyone was prepared to
Column 637pay them and the only way in which they could try to maintain their families. It was clear that we had to help them find an alternative crop. We have put a lot of money into crop substitution schemes and, when coupled with enforcement, those schemes have been strikingly effective. The success was due to favourable economic circumstances as the differential between one cash crop and another made it possible to operate an effective crop substitution policy. Alas and alack-- would that it were otherwise--the scale of the problem in south America and the amount of money to be gained from growing coca compared with any alternative crop is such that it would be unrealistic to think that crop substitution schemes could be effective. I regret that, but it is just another sign of the magnitude of the cocaine problem. There is no easy alternative. I visited a United Nations fund for drug abuse control--UNFDAC --crop substitution scheme in Bolivia, and I should like to believe that such schemes are the answer. However, although we must continue to experiment, I doubt whether they are.
Mr. John Greenway : Those advocating crop substitution schemes should remember that the crop production element in the street price of drugs is small. Even if crop substitution schemes were operating it would be all too easy for the drug barons to up the price to the producer. That is the problem with attempting to introduce such schemes.
Mr. Mellor : A piece of information which has most troubled me since my return to the Home Office is that the opium poppy has now been grown in south America. One of President Carter's wiser advisers--not the chap who underestimated the addictive qualities of cocaine--said that the trouble was that the opium poppy could be grown almost anywhere. It is important to remember that demand generates supply. The fact that one can move cultivation from one part of the world to another shows how difficult it is to regard crop substitution as the answer, although I do not reject the suggestion. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes asked what we were doing with Colombia. I should make it clear that we are trying to give practical assistance by making use of what we know about policing, security and intelligence techniques because for a variety of reasons, we have as much expertise on those matters as any other country. The United Kingdom's package of assistance consists of training and equipment. Items include protective clothing for security forces, judiciary surveillance and computer equipment, inflatable boats to assist in access to some of the more remote areas, training in bomb disposal--in which, for our own tragic reasons, we have considerable expertise--scene of crime investigations and Customs techniques. I shall not repeat what we are doing in various other countries. We try to be concerned with output and not just with input. In these debates, it is easy to say that we should double the money. We have doubled, trebled and quadrupled the money in a range of research projects on drugs, but I beg the House always to be concerned with output and not just input. We are concerned to ensure that the money we spend is useful and helpful, and that it deals with the important points.
Column 638This has been a useful debate. It might have been helpful if more hon. Members has been present because this is a major social issue, but those who have been present and who come to this debate with a range of experiences, have shown a spread across the political spectrum. I can think of some issues that we could have debated on which we should have had a fair old set-to. I am not being pious when I say that it is a valuable feature, which we lose at our peril, that whatever our disagreements, we can come together as a House and continue to talk in a civilised way, which is to the advantage of Parliament's reputation, about a fundamental social problem. Whatever our differences, they were as nothing compared with the consensus. I hope that we can continue to work together effectively on the problem. I assure the House that we shall develop our policies and carry them out with all the more vigour as a result of the quality of advice that we receive on occasions such as this.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn .
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 12th December--
(1) the Motion in the name of Sir Bernard Braine relating to War Crimes may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after it has been entered upon ; and, if those proceedings have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall, at the expiration of that period, put any Questions necessary to dispose of them ;
(2) if proceedings on the above motion have not been completed before Seven o'clock, the Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration at that hour shall stand over until the conclusion of such proceedings ; and (3) the Private Business may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after it has been entered upon.
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 13th December, Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Brooke relating to Education Reform (Northern Ireland) as if in line 18 for the words one and a half hours' there were substituted the words three hours'.
That, at the sitting on Thursday 14th December, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders Nos. 14 (Exempted business) and 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)),-- (1) the Motions in the names of the Prime Minister relating to Community Fisheries Arrangements for 1990 or Mr. Paddy Ashdown relating to Sea Fisheries may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after the first of them has been entered upon ; and, if proceedings on the first Motion have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall, at the expiration of that period, put any Questions necessary to dispose of them ; and no further such Motion shall then be made ;
(2) the Motions in the names of Mr. Secretary Ridley and Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Monopolies and Mergers may be proceeded with, though opposed, for one and a half hours after the first of them has been entered upon ; and, if proceedings thereon have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall, at the expiration of that period, put the Question already proposed from the Chair.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
(1) this House do meet on Thursday 21st December, at half-past Nine o'clock;
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 17 (Questions to Members), no Questions shall be taken, provided that at Eleven o'clock Mr. Speaker may interrupt the proceedings in order to permit Questions to be asked which are in his opinion of an urgent character and relate either to matters of public importance or to the arrangement of business, statements to be made by Ministers, or personal explanations to be made by Members ; and (
(3) at half-past Three o'clock Mr. Speaker do adjourn the House without putting any Question, provided that this House shall not adjourn until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts agreed upon by both Houses.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
That Mrs. Margaret Ewing be added to the Select Committee on European Legislation.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
That Mr. Stan Crowther be discharged from the Procedure Committee and Mr. Graham Allen be added to the Committee.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Nicholas Baker.]
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Sapper Kirk Sancto died in a boating accident in Port Stanley harbour in the early hours of 9 June 1985. He was 19 years of age. It is with great reluctance that I have sought to bring the facts of this sad case to the attention of the House this afternoon, but after nearly two years of correspondence and meetings with Ministers I have failed to resolve to the satisfaction of my constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Sancto, two matters that have exacerbated their sadness at the loss of their son Kirk. The facts of the case are that Sapper Sancto was operating a kind of waterborne taxi service, on a voluntary basis, across Port Stanley harbour on a dark night, using a fairly fast motor launch called a dory. He was operating the boat throughout the evening with his friend Private Catherall and most of the trips across the water were between the coastels, the floating hotels where our garrison was then housed, and Navy point, where a party was being held in the diving section bar. During the middle part of the evening, Sapper Sancto and Fusilier Catherall attended the party for part of the time and there is conflicting evidence on what, if anything, they drank. When the party ended they resumed their voluntary taxi duties, which had been sanctioned by the bosun of the joint services water sports club who was responsible for the water launches and who had previously tested both soldiers to see that they were competent to carry out those duties.
Soon after midnight, on one of its journeys back to coastel 3 with five passengers the dory collided with a much larger vessel known as a Kiwi or K3 New Zealand class launch made of steel and weighing about 30 tonnes. After the impact, the passengers of the dory, which was being driven by Fusilier Catherall, discovered that Sancto had received severe head injuries. They returned quickly to coastel 2, from which Kirk Sancto was transferred to the British military hospital where, sadly, he was found to have died.
My constituents were visited later that day by the padre from sapper headquarters in my constituency and a major, also from headquarters, who informed them that their son had died from head injuries received in an accident at about 1 am that day but that they had no further details.
Then followed a period of months during which my constituents received no further information about the circumstances of their son's death. The administration of his affairs was carried out quite properly by those charged with such matters at the Ministry of Defence. That included the distribution of his modest estate and the return of his personal effects to the family. The Army properly held a board of inquiry into the circumstances of the accident but the family were asked neither to attend it nor to contribute any information. Nor were they told of the outcome. The information was forwarded with the report of the post-mortem carried out by the professor of military pathology, Lieutenant Colonel Menzies, to the Oxford coroner. Because the remains of service men are brought back to the United Kingdom and landed at Brize Norton or Lyneham, inquests on service men killed while overseas are carried out by coroners in Oxford and