The Cocaine Trade - Home Affairs Committee Contents


Policy emphasis: supply or demand?

92. Witnesses had different views on whether the balance of policy should lie with tackling supply or demand. John Mann MP argued for supply side emphasis:

    There is a clear evidence base is that cocaine is price sensitive and it is more price sensitive than other illicit drugs, and therefore the concentration of British policy making should be to disrupt the supply and force up the price of cocaine.[124]

93. However Professor McKeganey argued that supply-side enforcement was not succeeding to "anywhere near the degree we need". His calculations had shown that, in Scotland, only around 1% of all heroin and around 10% of all cocaine was seized each year. Steve Rolles agreed that tackling the supply alone could never be successful:

    History shows with crystal clarity that an enforcement response cannot get rid of the illicit drug trade…it is a fundamental reality of the economic dynamics of unregulated illegal markets where demand is huge; the opportunity is created and criminal entrepreneurs will always exploit that opportunity. Every dealer or trafficker you arrest, another one immediately fills the void.[125]

Evan Harris MP argued that "if you restrict supply you will increase the price, but you will also restrict the suppliers in the market—you create a more violent market".

94. The Minister, Alan Campbell MP, was adamant that supply-side enforcement was vital, emphasising that enforcement needed to focus on criminal networks and traffickers, as much as on seizing cocaine:

    It is not the commodity that we should necessarily be focusing on; it is the people. We need to do everything we can to break their networks, preferably in the countries where they are established.[126]

95. Any public policy which aims to reduce the number of cocaine users and the harms associated with cocaine must encompass both supply and demand. Neither supply-side enforcement nor demand reduction can on its own successfully tackle cocaine use.

Co-ordinating policy

96. We took evidence from Keith Hellawell, the Government Drugs Adviser between 1998 and 2002. Mr Hellawell argued that any successful policy needed to address all aspects of supply and demand, and in addition should have a designated body or figure to co-ordinate the work of the different Government departments. He told us:

    When you deal with [drugs] as a strategic issue, you can begin to have success at seizures offshore; diplomatic policy in the [source] countries to try to change attitudes. However, it is important that you have the round. If you do not treat and educate you will not deter young people coming into drugs. If you do not treat those who are addicted it will attract other addicts as part of their group and they will commit crime to support their habit. It has to be a co-ordinated policy therefore, dealing with education, treatment and the criminal justice side of it…Co-ordination of activities needed to be done by someone with the authority although not the power of the Prime Minister in order that that individual could have responsibility and a degree of influence over all the departments.[127]

97. As Government Drugs Advisor Mr Hellawell oversaw the input of 16 departments into drugs policy, and drew up the Government's first drugs strategy.[128] He described some difficulties in the formulation of a role which was "neither, elected, nor a civil servant".[129] He had, however, insisted on having "the independence to speak to all parties, because on appointment I felt that drugs should not be a political issue". Mr Hellawell told us that, when responsibility for drugs policy went to the Home Office and he was given a scaled-down role, "immediately all of the budgets went back to the departments. Immediately, the co-ordinated approach and the reporting process, went—and the departments were left to do their own things".[130] He said that "a number of things that the Government supported never happened because the will was lost when there was not someone who was difficult—and I think I was seen to be difficult—pushing this through".[131]

98. Mr Hellawell considered that the role of an independent drugs co-ordinator was of great value, arguing that it had been seen as a "gold standard" by other European countries.[132] ACC Matthews of ACPO agreed that "it is always useful to have a single point of contact."[133] However, Mr Hellawell warned that the constitutional position of a co-ordinator would need to be clarified, to prevent a repeat of the position he found himself in, where "having an outsider with some influence was disliked intensely, first by the civil servants but, as time went on, by Ministers".[134]

99. We asked the Minister, Alan Campbell MP, whether he considered there to be a need for an independent co-ordinator. He did "not think so, partly because Keith Hellawell was able to put into place the building blocks for the policy which has then been rolled out".[135]

100. We recommend that the Government appoint an Independent Drugs Advisor, using as a model the role carried out by Keith Hellawell between 1998 and 2002. The structure of the drugs strategy which Mr Hellawell initiated remains in place. However we consider that the proliferation of different departments involved in drugs policy from supply-side enforcement through to treatment, necessitates an independent co-ordinator to ensure that policy is fully implemented, and in an integrated manner.

UK Agencies

101. Internationally, the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) leads UK efforts to disrupt the cocaine trade, gathering and sharing intelligence on smugglers and shipments with international partners to prevent cocaine reaching Europe, and working with UK agencies to dislocate the drugs trade within the UK. SOCA agents are embedded in key countries overseas to co-ordinate intelligence exchange. At the borders of, and within, the UK, the UK Border Agency is responsible for detection and seizure of cocaine coming into the country, whether by air or sea. The UKBA also has liaison officers (formerly HM Revenue and Customs officers) based in key partner countries overseas, such as the Netherlands. The police detect and seize quantities of cocaine being dealt or consumed.

102. The UN Office for Drugs and Crime's World Drug Report 2009 urged that "law enforcement should shift its focus from drug users to drug traffickers".[136] This shift in emphasis has already begun in the UK, with an increasing emphasis being placed on the international roles of SOCA and UKBA in taking a strategic approach to drug trafficking, disrupting networks and making seizures before they reach UK shores.

Disrupting production

103. SOCA's UK Threat Assessment 2009/10 states that "an estimated 65-70% of the UK's identified cocaine supply is believed to be produced in Colombia. Peru and Bolivia account for the vast majority of the remaining 30-35% of cocaine imported into the UK".[137]

104. According to UNODC figures[138] in 2008 the total worldwide area under coca cultivation decreased by 8% to 167,000 ha: this was despite small increases in Bolivia (6%) and Peru (4%), which were offset by a significant decrease in Colombia (18%).[139] Despite this progress, Colombia remained the world's largest cultivator of coca bush, with 81,000 ha, followed by Peru (56,100 ha) and Bolivia (30,500 ha). Estimated global cocaine production decreased by 15% from 994 metric tons in 2006 to 845 mt in 2008—largely due to a strong reduction in cocaine production in Colombia (28%) which was not offset by increases in Bolivia and Peru.[140]

Figure 4: Global cocaine production (metric tonnes), 1994-2008[141]

105. In terms of seizures, in 2008 some 200 tons of cocaine were seized in Colombia, a 57% increase over 2007. More than 3,200 laboratories were destroyed, an increase of 36%. In Bolivia there was a 45% increase in seizures of cocaine base and a 145% increase in seizures of cocaine hydrochloride; in Peru an 86% increase in seizures of cocaine base and 100% increase in cocaine hydrochloride.[142]


106. Since the 1980s Colombia has implemented a policy of aerial spraying of herbicides to suppress coca cultivation, alongside a ground eradication campaign to uproot drugs plants. Since 1998 Colombia has eradicated 1.5 million hectares of illicit crops through crop eradication schemes.[143]

107. In addition to crop eradication, the Colombians, with aid from other countries, in particular the United States, have invested in alternative development programmes, which aim to give farmers a viable livelihood growing licit alternative crops such as cocoa and coffee. Most coca crops are grown by poor farmers on small holdings in areas which lack the infrastructure for licit crops to be profitable. Organised drugs gangs own large swathes of the land, thereby controlling much crop farming. The Colombian Ambassador told us that "if given an alternative, [peasants] will move into another crop. For them it is just a matter of subsistence".[144]

108. Bill Hughes, Director-General of SOCA told us that his organisation had a "very strong working relationship" with the Colombian Government, counter-narcotics and fiscal officers, and that it provided a lot of technical support to the Colombians, including having SOCA officers embedded in their agencies.[145] He added that it also had a "very good working relationship" with Venezuela, although Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador were "more difficult".[146]

109. Alan Campbell MP told us that the UK spent about £1million (per annum) on anti-cocaine co-operation with Colombia, not counting the cost of the SOCA officers based there.[147] At the end of 2005 the EU was also spending €140 million supporting 37 alternative development initiatives in Latin America, 14 in Colombia.[148] The US invests heavily in counter-narcotics programmes: USAid's Alternative Development Programme had a budget for Latin America of $492 million for 2010.[149]

110. The Colombian Ambassador, HE Mr Mauricio Rodriguez Munera, told us that the Colombian Government was "permanently talking to the UK Government and we appreciate that co-operation and support".[150] However he added that "the Colombian Government would like to see the UK supporting Colombia in the fight against production of cocaine as much as the US in proportion to the size of the impact that it has in the UK".[151] He also called for the establishment of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the EU, saying that it would "give the Colombian economy an opportunity to generate employment, to produce goods and services that can be exported".[152]

111. We were very encouraged by the political will evidenced by the Colombian Government to work with international partners to tackle the cultivation and production of cocaine. The substantial reductions in the last year in Colombia of 18% in cultivation and 28% in production, and a 57% increase in Colombian seizures, are impressive, and point to the implementation of more aggressive anti-cocaine policies.

112. However, the persistence of a high overall area under cultivation in Colombia, at 81,000 ha in 2008, shows that the battle has only just been joined. It seems to us that the key to further success lies as much in alternative development programmes as in crop and laboratory eradication schemes. Given the unenviable position of the UK as one of the largest consumers of cocaine worldwide, the UK has a compelling duty to support Colombia in tackling cocaine production. In this context the £1million a year spent by the UK on anti-cocaine operations in Colombia does not seem very substantial, particularly when compared to the amounts invested by the EU and US. We therefore urge the UK Government to re-examine its development budgets to see whether more could be contributed to Colombian alternative developments schemes.


113. Whilst Peru and Bolivia both made substantial increases in cocaine seizures last year, both countries also saw increases in the amount of coca cultivation and production. The Government told us that "Peruvian political commitment to tackle the drugs trade is strong and has yielded some positive results" but that the situation in Bolivia was less clear: "in November 2008 President Morales expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration from Bolivia, accusing them of conspiring against the government".[153] The Government told us that it funds UK projects with the UNODC in Peru totalling around £180,000.[154]

114. We regret to note that progress in coca crop eradication and cocaine seizures made in Colombia do not appear to have been replicated in Peru and Bolivia, reflecting SOCA's assessment that relations with those countries were "more difficult". The UK should use all diplomatic routes at its disposal to engage with the Bolivian Government on cocaine production, and seek to increase development of alternative crop programmes in Peru and Bolivia.

Trafficking into the EU


115. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) there are three key trafficking routes to Europe from South American countries, as depicted in Figure 5. The Northern route departs from South America and reaches Europe via the Caribbean. The International Narcotics Control Board estimates that 40% of cocaine entering Europe passes through the Caribbean, reaching the Caribbean either by ship or air. From the Caribbean to Europe the most common route is maritime: either 'go-fast' vessels, pleasure boats and container ships, but drugs mules are also used on aircraft. The Caribbean has a prominent position due to its historic links with certain European countries, for example Netherlands Antilles with the Netherlands and Jamaica with the UK.

116. The Central route runs from South America more or less direct to Europe, entering at the Iberian peninsula with possible transits in Cape Verde, the Azores, Madeira or the Canary Islands, with small vessels and speedboats predominantly used to run shipments from the transit points to the Iberian peninsula.[155] Bulk maritime shipments are also used for transportation direct to the UK or to mainland Europe, particularly the Netherlands and Spain.[156]

117. Via the African route cocaine reaches west Africa via Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil by sea in large cargo or fishing boats, or by air in specially modified aircraft. SOCA told us that "until mid June 2008 small twin propeller aircraft and jets flew from Venezuela to the west Africa coastline (Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ghana and Togo)" but that "since June 2008 the airbridge has been disrupted".[157] Cocaine is moved on using fishing boats to land on the north-west coast of the Iberian peninsula, or drugs mules on commercial flights. The route has been a cause of growing concern in recent years as its role in transit, storage and repacking has expanded rapidly.

124   Q 205 Back

125   Q 162 Back

126   Q 608 Back

127   Q 570 Back

128   Q 572 Back

129   Q 570 Back

130   Q 571 Back

131   Q 577 Back

132   Q 579 Back

133   Q 407  Back

134   Q 582 Back

135   Q 626 Back

136   United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2009, Executive Summary, p.2 Back

137   SOCA, UK Threat Assessment of Organised Crime 2009/10, p.7 Back

138   Two different estimates of coca cultivation and production exist: the UNODC and the Interagency Assessment of Cocaine Movements (IACM). They differ slightly on estimates. The figures cited here are taken from UNODC estimates. Back

139   United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2009, Executive Summary, p.11 Back

140   Ibid., p.11. UNODC estimates are based on the UNODC Crop Monitoring Programme. The other source of data on cultivation and production is the annual production surveys carried out by the UK Central Intelligence Agency and published by the Office of National drug Control Policy (ONDCP). The data cited here are taken from UNODC estimates. Back

141   United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2009, Executive Summary, p.11 Back

142   United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime Press Notice, UNODC Reports Steep Decline in Cocaine Production in Colombia (19 June 2009): Trend analysis isbased on coca surveys of the Andean countries.  Back

143   Ev 176 [Letter from HE Mr Mauricio Rodriguez Munera, Colombian Ambassador to the UK, 10 November 2009]  Back

144   Q 334 Back

145   Q 553 Back

146   Q 555 Back

147   Q 614 Back

148   EMCDDA, Monitoring the supply of cocaine to Europe (October 2008), p.21 Back

149   USAid website:  Back

150   Q 348 Back

151   Q371  Back

152   Q 374 Back

153   Ev 94 Back

154   Ev 94  Back

155   EMCDDA, Monitoring the supply of cocaine to Europe, (October 2008), p.14 Back

156   SOCA, UK Threat Assessment of Organised Crime 2009/10, p.30 Back

157   Ibid., p.30 Back

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