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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her supplementary question. She raises an important issue. As she has no doubt heard, we are giving this matter careful consideration. At the moment the police have the capacity to intervene in a crack house where there is supply and production of drugs. I take her point about the historical nature of the section. It was designed for a time--1971--when opium smoking, in particular, was thought to be an issue. Of course, we need to keep such matters under review and I am grateful to her for drawing this out usefully in this short Question.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it goes without saying that to be effective in this area there needs to be intense international co-operation. Of course, Customs and Excise, the police, international policing bodies and security services are all involved in that. Over the past few years there have been a number of stunning successes. It may be worth providing a few statistics. Seizures of cocaine, for instance, have increased from 799 in 1988 to nearly 5,000 in 1998. In 1988 to 1999 seizures of crack in terms of quantity have increased from just 30 to 2,436. There was an increase of 39 per cent in the number of crack seizures between 1997 and 1998. I believe that the international offensive against that dangerous drug is becoming increasingly successful and our law enforcement agencies and bodies are working well to secure those successes.
Baroness Young: My Lords, in view of the Minister's sympathetic reply to my noble friend Lady Hanham, perhaps I can press him to say when the Government will deal with this matter. Does he agree that crack is a dangerous drug and that it is widely used by young people? The point raised in the question is a real one. Does the Minister agree that an amendment to the law should not be too difficult and that that would clearly have the support of everybody?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness said that amending the law might not be too difficult, but it would be difficult to do so in the way in which she suggested. Her suggestion about use might make landlords of properties in some way responsible.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has, like myself, been a landlord of socially-owned premises. There is a problem in that context; for that reason, we are giving the matter careful and detailed consideration. We shall do so for a whole range of drugs, not simply crack. We see the problem as a major menace, and we want to tackle it. We are grateful for the support that we receive from all quarters for taking tough and effective action. The Government will always endeavour to take tough and effective action to deal with drugs.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister said that the matter is under consideration. That is precisely the same answer as was given 12 months ago by the Minister of State in another place. The fact is that during the past five years crack-related deaths have gone up by 500 per cent and, we are told, last year in London alone there were 40 attempted murders which were crack-related. Yet crack houses are still treated by the law more leniently than opium dens or houses in which cannabis is involved. That cannot be right. My noble friend rightly said that such a move by the Government would have wide support.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord returns to the point. However, he was a member of a government which had 18 years in which to make changes to the 1971 Act. I have already explained some of the difficulties associated with the use of Section 8. We are keeping the matter under review.
If we are persuaded of the case and agree that the proposed approach will make drug enforcement, so far as crack is concerned, more effective, we shall do everything that we can to secure that. We believe that effective policing on the ground and the use of powers that already exist are the best way forward. Targeted policing initiatives are directed towards that approach, and we have made extra resources available to achieve that end. Many excellent examples of best practice are being adopted by the police, who are taking the war against drug-related, and, in particular, crack-related, crime to those who are abusing the situation.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the Government share the concern of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney about the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. Our efforts are devoted to the removal of that threat. We have led the way not just in terms of nuclear disarmament but in international efforts to eradicate all weapons of mass destruction and to address the causes of international conflict.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Government have recently committed themselves publicly to securing the end of nuclear weapons. The problem is that that commitment has not been followed up by action. Do the Government have it in mind to take action along the lines suggested, for example, by the noble and gallant Lord, the Field Marshal, not many months ago in Canberra? He has also raised the matter in the House, but has not yet received an affirmative answer.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend that the Government have not taken action. We have made it crystal clear that our goal is the global elimination of nuclear weapons. The United Kingdom is already leading by example. The Government announced significant reductions in Britain's nuclear forces in the Strategic Defence Review. We have only a single weapons system,
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we are all familiar with the theory of deterrence. We surely do not wish to conclude that to eliminate all nuclear weapons would be a bad thing; that, I do not think, could be possible. Some people have doubts about being able to verify the control of nuclear weapons, but we believe that there are ways of doing so. Our Atomic Weapons Research Establishment is examining ways of improving systems of inspection. Our aim remains the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend recollect that in 1995 there was an agreement to begin negotiations for a treaty to ban the production of fissile materials and that that call was renewed last year at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference? While I appreciate that the Government have worked very hard on that matter--that is generally appreciated--will my noble friend say what progress has been made?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we have been deeply frustrated by the lack of progress in Geneva at the Conference on Disarmament. That conference's failure to start negotiations on a cut-off treaty for fissile material thus far has certainly not been for want of effort and flexibility on our part. If there is no progress in the coming year, there will be increasing support for reform of the working practices of the Conference on Disarmament. We will have to be ready to look seriously at any ideas that might help to move the situation forward. As your Lordships may well be aware, the conference resumed yesterday in Geneva. The incoming Canadian chair has been trying to broker a compromise agenda during the break, and we of course support his efforts.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, has the Minister noted the comments of the new American Secretary of State, General Colin Powell? His comments were to the effect that a new strategic framework is required as a context within which to rethink the whole question of nuclear deterrence and the development of anti-ballistic missile defences.
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we look forward to working very closely with the new American Administration. We have always said that we were sympathetic to the concerns of the United States. It would be premature to say how the United States will deal with the various problems that have been outlined. In fact, President Bush made it clear that he is perhaps committed to a national missile defence system as one element of his approach to tackling these problems. However, that Administration have also made it clear, even in the short time that they have been in office, that they have no firm views at this stage on a specific system. They emphasised--this is very important and most welcome--the importance of consulting the allies and the Russians before coming to decisions. We are very much involved with that, and we shall work closely with the Bush Administration. Our defence interests are, and always will be, closely linked with those of the United States.
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