Examination of Witnesses (Questions 720
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
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 timesand
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
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. Cynicsand I am not
well placed to judge thiswould 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.
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
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
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
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
(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.