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Mr. George Howarth: I am grateful to the Minister both for giving way and for giving me that assurance. Can he also assure me that he will engage in thorough consultation with local authority organisations so that their views can be taken into account when the guidelines are drawn up?

Mr. Sackville: Yes. It goes without saying that we would want the views of those who would have to administer the proposed legislation, which is not only the police but local authority licensing committees. It would be contradictory to write guidelines without knowing exactly how they felt about them.

This country faces a difficult and dangerous situation over drugs for a number of reasons. One reason--perhaps it is subsidiary, but it is one about which I am increasingly concerned--is the underlying campaign for legalisation that bubbles within parts of the media, and which comes out occasionally on television programmes that purport to be debates but which I rather consider as campaigns for legalisation.

Within the media, a number of people would like to see an alteration in the law. We see that occasionally break out among members of the entertainment industry.

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We have already discussed the member of East 17 and his absurd remarks yesterday. Coupled with that are certain attitudes among some senior professionals, whether in the social work sector or elsewhere, and particularly among those working with drugs, who I find have especially permissive attitudes towards drug use. The more we condone drug use among those already using drugs, the more we confuse the message to what I would hope to be the majority of young people who are not using drugs, and probably never will.

We run great risks if we allow those who purport to be the experts on drugs to adopt an agenda that is based on the needs and attitudes of those who are already involved in drugs. We should think about those whom we are trying to steer away from drugs, especially the very young. We are hampered because there are many people in quite influential posts who are soft towards drug policy. I am glad that the Bill cannot be described in any way as soft. It is a draconian measure that confronts the problem full on.

The police and customs, in trying to deal with drug distribution and drug dealing generally, find themselves up against some extremely dangerous and well-organised people who form the opposition. It is apparent that drug dealers, and those who finance them, are extremely well off. Those who stay out of gaol and who remain in business have enormous profits at their disposal, which allow them to buy themselves protection. They generally have people working for them who are armed and able to frighten others. They have good communications.

It must be said that the advent of mobile telephones, especially digital telephones, while being a great boon in many ways, has made life much easier for many criminals, including drug dealers. It is now much more difficult for their communications to be detected and for the police, customs and others to follow them up, to gather evidence of the sort that would be necessary for a trial and to bring them to justice.

Drug dealers generally have good financial organisation. Anyone who deals in drugs in a big way has to dispose of a great deal of cash, which then comes back to him. There are too many ways in our deregulated international financial markets to launder money. That is why we have gone to great lengths in the United Kingdom--our endeavours have been mirrored in most other countries in Europe and beyond--to check on deposits made at banks. We invite all financial institutions to report suspicious deposits. I am glad to say that we have a sophisticated mechanism that is designed to try to stop dealers being able to dispose of the proceeds of their crimes.

There is evidence that some lawyers are aiding and abetting organised criminals, including drug dealers, in a way that is contrary to the law. That is unsatisfactory. It has happened often in other countries and I believe that it is beginning to happen here. We are up against a well-organised opposition. Some large-scale British drug dealers, including those involved in Ecstasy and those who have made large profits out of clubs, live abroad, in Holland and, typically, in Spain, which has become something of a haven not because of any deficiency on the part of the Spanish Government but because of difficulties with extradition and different legal systems. Those people organise the importation of drugs, including Ecstasy, into this country from Spanish territory. We cannot collect evidence against them. We can liaise with

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those other countries, but it is up to their police forces and customs to collect evidence that would enable us to extradite those people and bring them to trial.

Paradoxically, the other disadvantage that we face is the high standards of evidence that our legal system requires before we can obtain a conviction. People involved in the large-scale importation of drugs--whether it be heroin, cocaine or Ecstasy--often stay a long way away from the drugs in which they are trading, and from the physical currency that they are making from that trade. It is hard to get at them so as to obtain evidence that is good enough to convict them. They know that, so in order to get at them we must look more and more to an intelligence-based system for the police and customs.

Various measures have been introduced in the past--the Bill is another one of them--to tighten the law so as to free the hands of the forces of law and order and help them to get to criminals who trade drugs on a large scale. We introduced confiscation of assets legislation under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986.

Mr. George Howarth: I was able to make all the points that I was concerned to make on the Bill in a 22-minute speech. I concentrated my remarks on the provisions of the Bill. Interesting though the Minister's speech is--on another occasion I would like to debate this matter with him--it is not entirely relevant to the Bill. Will he make progress, so as to give my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) a chance to present her Bill?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. The Minister has been entirely in order so far.

Mr. Sackville: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman found my speech interesting. I shall continue for a little longer if I may.

Financial institutions make disclosures to the police about transactions that imply money laundering. A series of laws has been put on the statute book that has changed the burden of evidence, so that it is more difficult for people who deal in large quantities of drugs and make large quantities of cash from it to hide those profits from the authorities. People who are brought to trial for drug offences are made to prove that the assets that they have at their disposal are not the proceeds of crime. That has helped us to pursue such criminals. No one should underestimate the difficulties of finding evidence against them.

We have recently proposed much stronger penalties for drug traffickers. Under the Crime (Sentences) Bill--which has just completed its passage through the House--we have proposed that persistent traffickers in class A drugs should receive a minimum seven-year sentence. That policy has found favour on both sides of the House and among public opinion.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that no one has spoken against the measure proposed by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Mr. Legg). We recently debated the Finance Bill. As on many occasions, the House was divided on controversial issues and the Treasury Minister who replied to the debate spoke for 20 or 30 minutes. Today, the Minister has already spoken

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for 45 minutes about a measure that has not been opposed. Is it not clear that the Minister is trying to stop the Cold Weather Payments (Wind Chill Factor) Bill getting on to the statute book and he will stand accused by every old-age pensioner in Britain?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That was not a point of order for the Chair, but a point of debate.

Mr. Sackville: Many parents of children who have been in trouble with drugs, particularly as a result of having attended clubs, will have heard the remarks of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and will know how dismissive he is of the legislation.

Rev. William McCrea (Mid-Ulster): I have listened with care and no one could disagree with the Minister. In fact, no one has disagreed. Surely he is pushing the issue over the top and although he is properly in order, he should bear it in mind that he is sending a message to the community. As drugs certainly kill, the Bill, which appears to have unanimous support, should be allowed to progress and we should move on to something else that kills and let people have proper cold weather payments.

Mr. Flynn: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Is it a new point of order?

Mr. Flynn: Yes. There will be opposition to the Bill as I have criticised it, but let me make it clear that I have no intention of opposing the Bill and nor has any other hon. Member.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is not for the hon. Gentleman to judge what any other hon. Member will do.

Mr. Sackville: Various points of order have further delayed the debate, but I shall proceed towards my conclusion.

The Bill provides for confiscation and changes the burden of proof. A Bill is currently before the House to increase sentences for large-scale drug traffickers. In addition, the Police Bill contains proposals to give the police more flexible powers to gather evidence against major organised criminals and drug traffickers. I very much hope that that Bill, which also addresses the issue of bringing large-scale drug traffickers to book, will not be impeded by Parliament. The problem is now so serious that we need new measures to deal with it directly.


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