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House of Commons

Tuesday 14 May 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs Trade

1. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): What role the United Kingdom is playing in combating the international drugs trade. [54368]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane): I want to convey to the House my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary's apologies for the fact that he is not here today. He is attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Foreign Ministers meeting in Reykjavik, a long-standing commitment of which I understand he informed you, Mr. Speaker.

On my hon. Friend's question, it is a key, if unsung, aspect of Foreign and Commonwealth Office work to cut off, disrupt and delay the flow of heroin and cocaine to the United Kingdom. She will be aware that more than 90 per cent. of the heroin reaching the UK originates from the opium poppy grown in Afghanistan. I should like to inform the House that the Interim Administration in Kabul today announced the eradication of 16,000 hectares of opium poppies, which is about half the size of the New Forest, with a street value in Britain of approximately £5 billion. The United Kingdom has taken the lead with the Interim Administration in that task, and work to eradicate opium poppies continues as I speak. I congratulate the Interim Administration on the progress that they have made so far. The details of the eradication programme, maps and a video of what has been done will be placed in the Library of the House.

Mrs. Williams: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, especially the excellent news from Afghanistan. Does he agree that we have a rare opportunity to address the problems that led to the drugs trade flourishing in Afghanistan in the first place? Does he also agree that poverty, law enforcement and education are crucial considerations in achieving that? What will our Government do to address them?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend knows about the investment made in Afghanistan by the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the

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Ministry of Defence. The very good news about the opium poppy eradication programme shows that farmers are ready to turn away from opium poppy production and from drug barons and drug traffickers, to build new lives for themselves and their families, with the help of further investment. That is the next stage of the vital campaign to turn Afghanistan into a normally functioning, albeit poor, state.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Minister spoke about the welcome reduction in poppy production in Afghanistan. What has been the effect of that on the streets in the United Kingdom? Has there been a reduction in the supply of heroin? Has it had an effect on the origin of heroin coming to the UK? What has happened to the price of heroin on the streets?

Mr. MacShane: I think that those are matters for my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office. The Foreign Office is responsible for what happens outside these shores; we are not yet responsible for what happens within the UK.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): In respect of that answer, surely the point of having a policy is to have an effect, which in this case is to reduce the amount of drugs taken in this country. Will the Government and the Minister consider the fact that attempts to affect the supply of drugs have proven singularly ineffective with regard to the amount of drugs being taken? Indeed, this country has the worst heroin record in western Europe. On the other hand, if we affect the demand side by prescribing heroin, we will destroy the market and make many people much happier and much safer. It may not be in the Minister's remit to do that, but it is extremely important that he considers it.

Mr. MacShane: As the father of four school-age children, I worry about those problems. I listened to the debate on the "Today" programme this morning with interest and welcome the initiatives taken by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and, indeed, my hon. Friend to raise many of the issues. My hon. Friend is right that demand has to be tackled, but at the same time let us disrupt, delay and cut off supply where we can. We are dealing with organised networks of crime, and it is not just drugs that are involved. It is right that the Foreign Office works hard overseas to interdict those criminal networks.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome any step that is taken to bring about crop substitution in Afghanistan. However, looking elsewhere on the globe, will the Minister comment on the policing of ships and planes departing the Caribbean that might be involved in the transport of drugs? Newspapers have reported a significant increase in drugs trafficking by air, and we are also informed that the Atlantic patrol task ship, usually positioned in the Caribbean sea, will concentrate far more on hurricane relief than on working with the United States, French and Dutch navies to counter drug movements. What are the facts behind the deployment of that ship?

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Mr. MacShane: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there is concern, which is being taken very seriously by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, about the air transport of so-called drugs mules into this country. I have not been out to sea on my visits to Latin America, but I have talked to our people there about the high level of co-operation between the naval and other elements of Her Majesty's forces and their partners in Latin America. Given the tremendous damage that hurricanes cause in central America and the Caribbean, if one of our ships is on hurricane relief duty, I welcome that. I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman, if he so desires, with a detailed answer to his question.

Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central): No one here would want to undermine the heroic work being done by the Interim Administration in Afghanistan in extraordinarily difficult circumstances, but my hon. Friend will recognise that the amount of the poppy harvest that has been grubbed out under the eradication programme is only a small proportion of the total. What additional efforts are being made to assist the countries that border Afghanistan, such as Iran, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, through which trafficking routes pass, to break the links in the international drugs trade?

Mr. MacShane: My hon. Friend draws attention to important points. The amount that has been eradicated is a substantial part of this year's crop, and the programme is not yet over, so that good work will continue. We have intense discussions with the neighbouring countries. Certainly, I know of work in the Balkans, one of the trafficking routes, where officials from the Foreign Office and other Departments are in place seeking to disrupt, delay or cut off that route and reduce the growth of the criminal networks that cause so much damage through drugs and other activities.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Speaking of the criminal networks, the Minister will be all too well aware that FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, and the ELN, the National Liberation Army, both systematically exploit the drugs trade to gain weapons and resources to prosecute their murderous war against their own people. Can the Government, with their European Union partners, proscribe those organisations in the United Kingdom, so that at the very least they do not have the incentive to continue their activities in this country?

Mr. MacShane: The hon. Gentleman's knowledge of south America is appreciated in the House, and I associate myself with his definition and description of the two organisations that he mentioned. I would add to those the paramilitary AUC, a third group that causes great harm in Colombia and is linked to the drugs business. It is of course for the Home Office to decide which organisations are proscribed, but I believe that FARC is not an organisation that we can treat other than in terms of its links to drugs criminality and its use of terrorist tactics in Colombia.

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Extremism (Europe)

2. Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): What recent discussions have taken place between his Department and EU partners regarding right-wing extremist political parties in Europe. [54369]

The Minister for Europe (Peter Hain): The European Union rose out of the ashes of a war fought against racism and extreme nationalism, and today Europe must fight extremism and racism with a five-point plan. First, the EU must be the world's biggest job creation factory, with economic reform to create full employment by the end of the decade. Secondly, the mission of the convention on the future of Europe must be to kill off the far right by bridging the gap between Europe's leaders and its citizens. Thirdly, by expanding the membership of the EU eastward we can reunite Europe's citizens and fight the forces seeking to divide us. Fourthly, Europe must be the toughest crime-fighting body in the world. Fifthly, we need a European asylum policy to stop human trafficking by criminal gangs.

Mr. Weir: I thank the Minister for that full answer. I accept the need for relations with other EU Governments, but does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is appropriate for the UK Government to pursue their much-vaunted special relationship with Mr. Berlusconi, whose neo-fascist party is in a governing coalition, especially given the united but short-lived EU action against Austria? Does not that inconsistency in the EU send out the wrong signals about the need for all parties to unite against racism and xenophobia throughout Europe?

Peter Hain: The hon. Gentleman knows all about nationalism. The Prime Minister of Italy is an elected Prime Minister and Italy is an important member of the European Union. Our Prime Minister and Government would be failing in their responsibility if they did not establish a good relationship with that Government and that Prime Minister.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley): While I accept the five points to which my right hon. Friend referred—we certainly do not want right-wing and racist extremists elected anywhere in Europe, including this country—does he agree that we need to look not only at why people on the right vote for those parties but why people on the disenchanted left are sometimes attracted to do so? We should look at the reasons for that and tackle the core problems that sometimes cause people to vote in that extreme and unacceptable way.

Peter Hain: If my hon. Friend is saying that there is wider disenchantment with conventional politics across Europe, I agree; the five-point plan is designed to address that. We need to tackle people's sense of insecurity. It is disturbing that Le Pen, who is a racist and an anti-Semite, has strong support around the borders of France. There is paranoia that he fed on a fear of outsiders. We need to take account of that, and the five-point plan is designed to do so.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): Does the Minister agree that as deplorable as the result was in which the British National party won three council seats

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in this country, there is no comparison between the minuscule support for fascists here and the significant and growing support for fascists and neo-fascist parties on the continent?

While not in any way wishing to write off the prospect of democracy proving triumphant on the continent in the long run, will the Minister at least acknowledge that that is one reason why some of us, at least in the Opposition, have grave doubts about moves towards political unification with the continent when its political system is much more likely to elect extremists than ours?

Peter Hain: I really think that that shows appalling complacency. We have a serious problem with racism in Britain, particularly in certain parts of the country, and with the far right, including the neo-Nazis and the BNP. We must work with our European colleagues across Europe; I think that the hon. Gentleman should be a little more charitable about many of our European partners who have few or no race problems in their communities. We need to learn from each other and tackle the problem together, rather than allow the hon. Gentleman to indulge in his usual point scoring against the European Union.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): I, too, welcome the plan set out by the Minister. However, does he believe that it is important to have a stronger connection between the people of Europe and the EU institutions to dispel the scaremongering of right-wing parties?

Peter Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, which is precisely why the Government and I, as the Government's representative on the convention on the future of Europe, are seeking a set of reforms in Europe to ensure that European leaders are much more accountable to European citizens and that the Council of Ministers provides a strategic political direction on tackling things such as rising crime, threats to security and unemployment. A body composed of Ministers from elected Governments who are accountable to their citizens should drive Europe's strategic direction; the convention's reform objectives have that aim as their priority.

Mr. David Chidgey (Eastleigh): The Minister has a deserved reputation as an active campaigner in the past against discrimination, which we all applaud, but how does he square that with reaction to his recent remarks on isolationism in certain Muslim communities? Does he not agree that the real challenge for him and his colleagues is confronting illiberalism, bigotry and ignorance wherever they occur, in whatever community of whatever faith?

Peter Hain: Of course I agree, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to give me any lessons in fighting racism. The Government and the Labour party have encouraged the appointment of Muslims in all walks of life—we have more councillors in the Labour party from the Muslim faith than ever before and more than any other party; we are proud to have Muslim Members of Parliament and to have helped to appoint Muslims to the House of Lords. However, there is a tiny minority of isolationists in the Muslim community, just as there are tiny minorities of fundamentalists and fanatics in all religions, including, for example, in Northern Ireland. We stand four square against that to build a tolerant anti-racist society.

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