Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720 - 739)



  720. Do you think that the situation in Afghanistan is going to affect the amount of heroin coming from there? Can you make a real impact?
  (Mr Byrne) Yes. It is an extremely tricky time. Both we and the Americans have recognised that this may well be a golden opportunity to do something about the supply of Afghanistan sourced heroin, recognising that it forms over 95 per cent of heroin consumed in the UK. There is a series of things which we need to put in place and it is not simply about law enforcement. We have first of all to make sure that the post-Taliban regime does not include major drugs traffickers in influential positions in that country.

  721. Is that likely then?
  (Mr Byrne) It is possible.

  722. You must have information to the effect that the post-Taliban regime may well contain such people because you know who they are, do you not?
  (Mr Byrne) No, I do not think that I know who they are. I would want to make a distinction here between the Government and influential positions. The two may be the same, but we are very clear that of course some drug warlords have been opposing the Taliban in recent times and it is possible, it is certainly possible, that they could get into influential positions.

  723. Will our own Government and the United States Government take steps to ensure that such people are not in positions of influence, or can they not do that?
  (Mr Byrne) I am not a diplomat, so I am not sure of the extent to which we can influence. I do know from recent discussions with US counterparts and within the multi-agency activity here in the UK, that the Government and its Foreign Office representatives are aware of the possibility or are aware of the threat and will take that into account.

  724. We ought really to be in a position, should we not, to cut back on the supply of heroin from Afghanistan?
  (Mr Byrne) What has happened in recent times—and this comes from a wide range of pretty reliable although frequently sensitive intelligence is that post-September 11 the smugglers tried to take advantage of the chaos which was created and it is unlikely that we shall see a significant impact on the supply of heroin to Western Europe in the short term; unlikely because stockpiles have already been moved.

  725. From Afghanistan?
  (Mr Byrne) In anticipation of avoiding being bombed or whatever. The next and slightly worrying thing is that we are also aware that a crop is now in the ground. There are issues there which have to be dealt with within the reparation of that country after hostilities have ceased and in the post-Taliban regime.

  726. Could you just expand on that a little bit? Do you mean they have planted the stuff so they have to be paid off if they are not to send it out to other countries? Is that what that means?
  (Mr Byrne) No, I am not sure that it does mean that.

  727. What does it mean?
  (Mr Byrne) Of course that is an option. I doubt very much that it will be a popular option but it is certainly not one I would be involved in.


  728. It does mean that the farmers at the bottom of that chain would starve if they do not get some remuneration for that crop, does it not?
  (Mr Byrne) It has long been true that farmers at the bottom of the food chain in Afghanistan have depended upon the poppy crop to live.

  729. Just on Afghanistan for a moment, when I was a Minister in the Department for International Development earlier this year, I am sure I saw a bit of paper which said that the Taliban had done what we asked them and stopped the heroin export or done their best to.
  (Mr Byrne) No.

  730. I know we are supposed to think the Taliban are wicked and terrible and I am sure they are, but in this respect had they not done what we asked of them?
  (Mr Byrne) I do not think that was what we asked them to do. What we asked them to do was to stop the poppy cultivation and they did do that; there is no doubt that they significantly cut the poppy cultivation. There are different interpretations of what that really meant. It is also known that there was a stockpile in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas the equivalent probably to at least two years' of production. Cynics—and I am not well placed to judge this—would say that this was an opportunity for the Taliban to do two things in one go: one to win international approval for what they were doing and secondly to push up or at least sustain a fairly high price for the commodity they already had in storage. That is the interpretation from others.

Mrs Dean

  731. It was suggested to us by someone who gave evidence to us that bombing the poppy fields would be a bad thing because it would increase the price of heroin on our streets and therefore push up the amount of crime that needed to be done in order to fund the habit. Do you have any comments regarding that?
  (Mr Byrne) Frankly it is not an area where I am well placed to comment. One either accepts that pushing up the price is an inhibitor on consumption or one does not accept that. I am afraid the consequences here in the UK of greater criminality to feed a more expensive habit are well beyond my experience.


  732. One other factual point. Afghanistan accounts for 95 per cent or so of European heroin, is that right?
  (Mr Byrne) I said of UK; it probably does of Europe as well but I am not sure.

  733. America presumably gets it from somewhere else, does it?
  (Mr Byrne) The vast majority of heroin in America now comes out of Colombia. It is a longer-term threat if Afghanistan stops producing.

  734. What has happened to the Golden Triangle?
  (Mr Byrne) It is still there. The most recent figures suggest that in Myanmar in particular production has dropped over recent years. Thailand took considerable steps to stop its produce as well. As I understand it, and it is not an area in which we in the UK have any great experience because we simply do not get hit by very much, there is the odd little dribble of South East Asian heroin. The American market is now heavily dominated by Colombian supply and probably South East Asian is consumed in Asia.

Bridget Prentice

  735. While Colombia supplies the United States with its heroin, it supplies the United Kingdom with its cocaine. In general terms what do you think is the impact of the Government's drug policy on the production of the illicit drugs in Colombia?
  (Sir Keith Morris) Sadly it has had a devastating effect on the country and very little effect on supply; effectively none.

  736. In your submission which is very graphic and very detailed about what has been happening in Colombia in the past 20 years, a generation or so, particularly the role the United States has played, when you say it has had no impact on supply, what do you think, if anything, we should do? Can we as a country do something, or do we have to leave it to the Americans?
  (Sir Keith Morris) I hope that what we can do is change our policy entirely and persuade the Americans to change their policy eventually. I think that is most important.

  737. You say that as someone who 10 or 20 years ago took a very robust policy, very much in line with the Government of the time and indeed the Government today.
  (Sir Keith Morris) Yes.

  738. You have now taken an entirely different line.
  (Sir Keith Morris) That is right.

  739. Could you expand on that and tell us a little bit more about why you have changed your mind so comprehensively?
  (Sir Keith Morris) I have changed my mind comprehensively because at the time the intensive international co-operation which was started in Colombia just before I got there was really very new and there was a general belief that now we were really starting to work together we could make an impact. We made commitments to the Colombians. When I say "we" I mean the international community, the western world. We told them we would help them cut supply and we did; great efforts were made on that. We worked very closely with Customs and Excise who were there very much and some very brave people. We did a lot of training, the Americans did a lot of training, a lot of support was given. The co-operation was excellent on that front. We also said that on our behalf we would reduce the supply of precursor chemicals, we would cut money laundering and in particular we would reduce demand and we have not been able to. In my time we were not able to deliver on those but one thought it would come, one hoped it would come and since then great efforts have continued, but as far as we can see we have been completely unable to deliver on any of those objectives and demand continues very high. As long as demand remains high in our consuming societies, the more we fight the war on drugs at the supply end, the worse the situation will get. It ensures the profitability of the business.

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