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Lord Burnham: My Lords, I appreciate that it is difficult for the Minister to be precise. However, my noble friend Lord Luke repeated something that I heard on the BBC radio this morning: that herds were believed to come from Buckinghamshire and the Isle of Wight. I declare an interest. Is it possible for the noble Baroness to be more precise?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, no. Urgent investigations are going on at the farms from which pigs came which had symptoms in the abattoir. As I sought to explain earlier, there is no certainty that the animals were infected on farm. Indeed, the initial veterinary surveillance has shown no symptoms of clinical disease among animals on those farms. That is why we may be dealing with a more complex route of infection than the simple identification of the farm of origin of infected animals in the abattoir.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, it comes as a shock to know that we have foot and mouth disease in this country after some 20 years of freedom from it. I am sure that a number of lessons will be learned from this new outbreak. The Minister will agree that protection of this country against these highly infectious diseases demands eternal vigilance by the surveillance authorities, especially the veterinary profession and the government veterinary services.

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I am confident that the nature of the virus and its origin will be quickly determined by the Pirbright laboratory--the animal virus research laboratory--a foot and mouth reference laboratory which works globally in this respect. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be no further erosion of support for surveillance services for animal disease in this country? My noble friend Lord Luke referred to the potential import of highly infectious exotic diseases. That issue requires continuous surveillance by the surveillance authorities. The noble Baroness mentioned the swine fever of a few months ago, and now foot and mouth diseases; and others of which we need to be aware lurk potentially on the horizon.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. We allow commercial imports only from countries which are guaranteed free from foot and mouth disease. We are considering all the possible routes of entry of illegal imports, including personal imports. We are in discussion with the Association of British Travel Agents and airlines about this, as well as the more conventional routes.

I hope that I can reassure him on the issue of veterinary surveillance. Last year we issued a report for consultation. I was at a meeting yesterday of the board which is steering the drawing up of a new veterinary surveillance strategy. In that strategy, on which we shall consult publicly, we shall take on board the issues to which he referred, including eternal vigilance.

Lord Stodart of Leaston: My Lords, it is devastating news. My sympathy goes to the Minister's department--a department in which I was involved some 40 years ago. First, are veterinary staffing levels adequate? Secondly, will similar methods be used to stamp out the trouble? My noble friend referred to compensation. Will compensation be considered?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, first, we have the laboratory facilities to which the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, referred. We have a great deal of veterinary expertise. If necessary, we can call on veterinary expertise from the private sector in this country and from abroad. We had considerable help from America and other countries during the recent outbreak of classical swine fever. We shall take the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer on this matter. We shall, of course, obtain additional support if needed.

Equally, I recognise the need for a clear and decisive slaughter policy in order to bring the disease under control as swiftly and effectively as we can. We shall be paying compensation at full market value for any animal slaughtered to control disease.

It is only right to pay tribute to the responsible attitude of the farming community in East Anglia during the recent outbreak. I am sure that it will be mirrored nationally among the farming community in recognising the terrible dangers of allowing the spread

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of the disease and the need to co-operate. That has been demonstrated by its early responses to MAFF and veterinary action.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is unnecessary for the British Government to obtain any kind of permission or approval from the European Commission before the Government take what action they consider necessary?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the appropriate way to proceed--as we have done--is in partnership with the EU. We need appropriate action; and we are taking that appropriate action. Equally, we need to be able to guarantee that appropriate action will be taken against other countries in similar circumstances. That is what we would expect and the Community would rightly expect that from us. It is not a question of either/or. We are of one mind.

Lord Geraint: My Lords, can the Minister assure the farmers of this country that the Government will pursue a slaughtering policy? Can the Minister give that assurance to the industry?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have heard no questioning of the need for continuation of the slaughtering policy. How that policy is carried out on outdoor pig units and disposal of pigs when carcasses can be infectious pose technical and practical problems. But the need to slaughter out any potentially dangerous contacts and infected animals is understood and accepted.

Drugs and the Law

2.59 p.m.

Lord McNally rose to call attention to the case for a Royal Commission on the misuse of drugs in the light of the Police Foundation Report: Drugs and the Law (the Runciman Report); and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a number of people have thought that it was reckless of the Liberal Democrats to call for a debate on drug policy in the shadow of a general election. All the pundits tell us that there are no votes to be had from drugs except by making the most macho of condemnatory noises. We have some experience of that. Seven and a half years ago, in 1994, the Liberal Democrat conference passed a resolution calling for a Royal Commission on drug policy--a call that we echo again today. The result of us raising the issue was an attack by the popular press and political opponents, who suggested that we were soft on drugs.

That was seven and a half years ago. We have still not had a Royal Commission, yet the report before us makes the damning finding that,

    "We have been forcibly struck by the lack of research and the weakness of the information base about drug use in the United Kingdom".

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My first duty is to pay tribute to the Police Foundation and to Lady Runciman and her colleagues for going where successive Home Secretaries have feared to tread in producing an excellent and thought-provoking report on drugs and the law. As in 1994, our aim is not to provide flip answers, but to promote an informed debate. We share with Lady Runciman and her committee the hope that such an informed debate will produce law that is less intrusive, less detrimental to the individual and more enforceable. We also share the committee's ambition for laws that are more effective in targeting the most dangerous drugs and the activities related to them.

I hope to initiate a rational debate, free from gesture politics. Our initial call has been for a response from the Government--I look forward to that later today--although sometimes gesture politics has a role. For example, no icons of the drug culture should cross the threshold of No. 10 or feature in the honours list. In the early 1960s, the then British Government sent a message to organised crime about how we intended to police our gaming industry by banning the film star George Raft. The Home Secretary could send a similar strong message to Britain's young people about the seriousness of our drugs law by refusing entry to Britain for the American pop star Eminem, when he attempts to return for the Brit awards next week. At a time when the latest research shows British teenagers at the head of the league table of drug users among 30 European countries, it is not acceptable for those who so influence the young to promote the message that drug taking is cool, when so many wrecked lives and ruined bodies and minds show the contrary to be true.

In the totality of the issue, that would be gesture politics, but it is a gesture worth making, because we are in a war, with our own children in the front line. I do not doubt the Government's sincerity or determination. Like Lady Runciman and her committee, I welcome the 10-year strategy put in place by Keith Hellawell and the work of his unit. I must confess to having some doubts about bandying about the title "drugs tsar". Appointing a tough, no-nonsense copper with a nice macho title and an Elliot Ness image seems the kind of response tailored to the fears of the focus groups of middle England, where all too often the Prime Minister's political courage resides. Yet one is bound to ask whether, under the current legal framework, we are simply asking Mr Hellawell and the authorities to run up the down escalator. Does our present legislation reflect the reality of the statement in the Runciman report that:

    "eradication of drug use is not achievable and is not therefore either a realistic or a sensible goal of public policy"?

Are we on course to win the drugs war with a 10-year strategy, or are we going to fail because we are asking law enforcement to carry out tasks for which there is no popular consent? I do not know. All that one can say is that all the evidence shows that things are getting worse, not better.

Two chilling statistics from the report concern heroin addiction. First, it says that in the late 1960s,

    "the difficulty was almost entirely confined to certain sections of London and involved not more than 1,000 known addicts".

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The report goes on to say:

    "Between 1973 and 1996, the total of new and re-notified addicts increased by over 1,000 per cent".

The Runciman report tells us that we have 200,000 problem drug users, of whom the majority are heroin users. The largest increase in problem drug use over the past five years has been among those under 21.

In the past 30 years, drug abuse has moved from being an isolated fringe issue to being a major public health issue, a major cause of crime and a major threat to our social stability. The issue impacts on two distinct levels. At the individual level, drugs damage health and are a major cause of delinquency, including the dramatic rise in juvenile crime and more general crimes of theft and violence. At the macro level, drugs provide the financial engine room for organised crime. Drugs are thus a twin menace that can simultaneously destroy individual lives and destabilise whole societies.

I have already referred to the recent research that shows that 36 per cent of boys and girls in Britain aged 15 and 16 have taken drugs. Dr Martin Plant, director of the Alcohol and Health Research Council, is quoted as saying:

    "One of the problems we have is that drug taking has now become so commonplace that it is widely regarded as socially acceptable".

The increasing availability and use of illegal drugs and large-scale alcohol abuse are related to crime in our society. In particular, there is a strong link between illegal drug abuse and acquisitive crime to pay for those drugs. There is also a strong link between alcohol abuse and the level of violent crime in society. Although drug and alcohol abuse may themselves be related to wider social problems faced by individuals, there is a clear and direct relationship to crime.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs estimated that in 1996, 25 per cent of those on probation had drug misuse problems associated with their offending and 70 per cent of those said that they had taken drugs of some kind, with 23 per cent saying that their offending had sometimes been influenced by the need to take drugs.

I could take a lot of time going through the various Home Office reports, but it is beyond peradventure that there is a clear link between drugs and crime. There is also a strong connection between drug use and unemployment and other social deprivation.

We have a problem. The question is whether we have moved on since 1994 in our capacity to answer three questions: Can the Government strategy work within the framework of existing laws? Do some of the laws need strengthening? Do some of them need relaxing?

My response to the first question is that those are exactly the terms that I would give to a Royal Commission. It is ironic that the Minister probably has in his brief the stock Home Office response that a Royal Commission would take too long, yet if one had been appointed in 1994, when the Liberal Democrats first called for it, or even when this Government came to office in 1997, it would have reported already. One of the advantages of the Runciman report is that it has

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done a lot of the ground-clearing work for a Royal Commission. There is no reason that a Royal Commission could not build on Runciman and report very quickly.

The answer to the second question--whether some laws need strengthening--is also undoubtedly yes. We need to turn the full might and power of all our law enforcement agencies, including our secret services and financial regulators, on attacking drug trafficking and the oil that lubricates the wheels of the drug trade--money laundering. The 1998 UN drug convention, the European Council's drug strategy and the UK's Drug Trafficking Act 1994 are all applicable. Quite simply, if we want to stop the drugs supply, we must cut off its blood supply--hard currency. Is it unreasonable for banks and other businesses to identify a source of capital, especially when a large sum of money is involved that falls outside typical business accounts? The first crime committed in any drugs transaction is not the creation of a drug but the financing of materials and people to create the drug. The pressing question becomes: when will it be more expensive to pay for treating the symptoms of drugs use than to spend money on stopping the causes of the disease?

The Professor of International Criminal Law at the University of Notre Dame, and the former Assistant Attorney-General in the United States, Jimmy Gurule, discussed the problem and said:

    "In order to apprehend and prosecute these international drug offenders successfully, law enforcement officials must abandon traditional techniques in favour of bold and innovative counter-narcotic strategies. Any such initiative must include two principal components. First, this new law enforcement strategy must be international in scope. Second, it has been long recognised that 'if law enforcement efforts (directed at international organised crime) are to be successful, they must include an attack on the economic aspects' of drug trafficking and other related crimes".

Thus, any effective strategy must criminalise money laundering and deprive drug traffickers of their illicit drugs profits through enforcement of tough asset-forfeiture laws. Furthermore, both of those objectives must be aggressively pursued on an international scale; otherwise, without co-operation among all nations that are affected by illegal traffic, traffickers can defeat domestic forfeiture simply by removing all of their illicit wealth from the jurisdiction in which it is generated.

Runciman states:

    "We have concluded that the most serious deficiency in the law against drug trafficking is a pragmatic rather than a legislative one. It lies in the current ineffectiveness of the procedures by which the assets of drug traffickers are confiscated under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1994".

I hope that the Minister will address that point. Our current laws and international agreements are not being pursued vigorously enough, perhaps because 80 per cent of the resources that are available for attacking the drugs culture is aimed at attacking the use of cannabis.

Runciman asked the big question, and it is worth pressing the Minister for an answer today: are we really using the resources that are available in the anti-drugs war in the right way? The Runciman report calls

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for cannabis to be downgraded to a Class C drug with an appropriate change in guidelines about how enforcement agencies should treat possession for personal use. That recommendation deserves careful study. That does not involve going soft on drugs--not even on soft drugs. It is merely to ask--to adapt a phrase that is used in another context--if we are serious about our war on hard drugs, whether we need to replace the present day blunderbuss of legislation with Armalite.

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