HC Deb 01 May 1967 vol 746 cc269-78

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this H6use do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

11.42 p.m.

Sir Charles Taylor (Eastbourne)

I am sincerely sorry for the right hon. Lady the Minister of State, who had to be here very early this morning—which was not my fault—and who again has to be here late this evening, but, in the words of the immortal Lewis Carroll, "Time never meant anything to Alice".

We have to do something to stop the drug pedlar. The situation has become desperate, so much so that a doctor said not very long ago that the medical profession might just as well give up the present generation as hopeless, write them off, and start concentrating on preventing the next generation from going the same way. One can hardly pick up a newspaper today without reading of one or more cases of drug takers being caught and fined. My local newspaper, the Eastbourne Herald Chronicle, reported on the front page last Saturday the case of a 19-year-old warehouseman who was caught and fined £100 for unlawfully possessing drugs. He said that he got them from a local public house.

The News of the World yesterday, told the most dreadful story of a doctor prescribing 120 heroin tablets a day for a drug addict. That addict sold them to young boys and young girls, one of whom was only 15 years of age. The Nigerian who peddled the heroin left behind him a trail of misery and despair. Once his victims were firmly hooked on the pills that he gave them, he cut off their supply and watched them squirm, pleading for him to give them what I believe is called a "fix". Last week an inquest was held in Reigate on an 18-year-old girl who was one of this evil man's victims. The coroner recorded death from heroin addiction.

The story continues, day after day, month after month. It has now reached the most dreadful proportions. On 27th February, there was a television programme on B.B.C.l which showed the backs of three self-confessed drug takers being interviewed by a member of the Twenty-Four Hours' team of interviewers. One of them explained that he had been kept in a 15 guineas a week flat by a drug pedlar for the sole purpose of selling drugs to other people.

Immediately after that programme I got on to Scotland Yard and asked them what they were doing to pick up the people who had been on that programme. Subsequently, I asked a Question in the House and I got a very unsatisfactory Answer from the right hon. Lady the Minister of State. On 6th April I received a letter from the hon. Lady asking if I would give her further particulars. I replied saying: I do not know that I can give you any more information than that in the television interview it was stated that one of the drug pedlers admitted having been kept in a fifteen guineas a week flat by a drug procurer I still cannot understand why, upon my advice, the police did not pick up the three persons interviewed in this B.B.C. programme which could easily have been done. … Were not the B.B.C. guilty of compounding a felony in not giving information to the police in the first place? I got a reply from the right hon. Lady, dated 18th April, thanking me for the information I had given her referring to the complaint I had made about gang warfare and gambling interests. I had not written to the right hon. Lady about gang warfare and gambling interests, but about drug peddling.

Not until 26th April did I get another letter from the right hon. Lady, in which she said: Thank you for your letter about self-confessed drug pedlars on the television programme. The police made inquiries. … One stated that he had no fixed abode and the other two gave a post office address. Efforts to trace them have, however, been without success. You asked whether the B.B.C were guilty of compounding a felony. Apart from the difficulty of proving that anyone had evidence on which action could be taken, drug offences are not felonies. I suppose that the B.B.C. paid these people to appear on television. I should have thought that it was deplorable for the B.B.C. to put on such a programme advertising drug peddling and drug taking. I am not a member of the Flying Squad, but I could have got round to the B.B.C. in two or three minutes and picked up these three men. I cannot see why the police did not pick them up for questioning.

So far, I have concentrated my remarks on the drug pedlars and drug takers, but I now want to consider the question of where these drugs come from. Presumably, they can only be bought on prescription. During the war, Scotland Yard had a list of doctors who were prepared to sell bogus certificates to young men eligible for military service, saying that they suffered from epilepsy. Scotland Yard explained to me that they were unable to take action against these doctors, because if they took action against a particular doctor half a dozen others would confirm that the purchaser of the certificate really did suffer from epilepsy.

These doctors were a disgrace to their profession, a profession which, I believe, is 99.9 per cent. honourable in every way. In the same way, I suppose that there are today doctors who, for their own gain, are prepared to give prescriptions to drug pedlars and addicts. Most of those drugs, as we know only too well, find their way through the sleazy "pubs" and the bad coffee-houses into the pockets of the teen-agers and others in search of a thrill. One has read recently of cases where a whole year's supply of drugs has been prescribed by a doctor, presumably because he does not wish to sign the prescriptions too often, two or three times a week.

It is not right for any doctor to give any patient, drug addict or otherwise, a year's supply of drugs. In any case, I do not believe that any doctor should give a patient more than a week or a few days' supply. This is bound to lead to trouble and abuse.

I hope that as a result of this debate the Home Office will consider reviewing all the rules and regulations applying to drugs prescriptions. I hope that if any doctor is caught in this wicked trade, the penalties will be most severe. I am sorry that the universities seem to be a hot-bed of drug taking. Maybe some of the students, having been crammed at school, are trying to keep up at university. They may have got four or five A levels at school and feel that to make good at university they must take "pep" pills.

I must say a word about the "pop" groups. These seem to be the stars of today. When I was at school and university, people like Jack Hobbs and Sandham and Lionel Tennyson were the schoolboy heroes, as cricketers. Or there were the footballers such as "Wakers", who was until recently a member of this House, and Stanley Matthews—those sort of people were our heroes. Now it seems to be the "pop" groups who are the heroes, and, unfortunately, many of them are drug addicts. They are setting a vicious and beastly example to their fans.

11.54 p.m.

Dr. David Kerr (Wandsworth Central)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene very briefly to deal with one or two of the misconceptions which the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor), in his praiseworthy attempt to draw attention to this dreadful problem, has demonstrated. I refer particularly to those charges against some of my colleagues in the profession.

It is not axiomatically true that the prescription of 120 heroin tablets is necessarily a criminal act, or even an act of misjudgment. It may be an act of kindness on the part of a doctor who, knowing that he is dealing with an addict, and knowing the dreadful consequences which that addict would suffer from withdrawal of the drug, prescribes the drugs deliberately, knowing what is involved.

I hope that the hon. Member will not press the charge which he made, that this was a dreadful thing to do. What was dreadful was that the addict made the drugs available to others. There are two kinds of drug pedlars. There are the addicts who, and this is recognised in the Government's Dangerous Drugs Bill, are suffering from an illness, and the only effective treatment open to them is to take more drugs. This means making drugs available, and perhaps encouraging others to become addicts. For this group of people we should combine censure with a good deal of sympathy and understanding.

The other group are the men and women, who are not addicts and who bring the drugs into this country, or dispose of them here without the excuse of being addicts. Society cannot condemn them sufficiently, or express deeply enough its loathing for these white slugs of society. Those are the people—not the "pop" groups, not the already addicted sufferers, but the cold calculating, money-grabbing, battening pedlars—that we want to catch.

I hope very much that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will be able to say something about the proposals of the Home Office.

11.55 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Miss Alice Bacon)

I am sorry, but in my letters to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Sir C. Taylor) two inquiries which he had made were not confused; he had written about the television broadcast and had telephoned my office about gang warfare.

Sir C. Taylor indicated dissent.

Miss Bacon

My information was that the hon. Member had telephoned. It may be that some other hon. Member had telephoned and the hon. Member had been mistaken for him. My information was that the hon. Member had telephoned about gang warfare. That was the reason for the letter.

Many of the matters which the hon. Member raised at the beginning of his speech have been discussed at great length daring the last few weeks on the Dangerous Drugs Bill, which I introduced on Second Reading and which has just completed its Committee stage. That Bill is designed precisely to do what the hon. Member thinks should be done: that is, to see that drugs are supplied only through special treatment centres, which will do away with individual doctors prescribing drugs for drug addicts.

I do not know whether the hon. Member has been following all our debates, but we had an interesting debate in the House on the whole question of drugs. We then had the Second Reading debate on the Dangerous Drugs Bill. The Bill will shortly come before the House on Report stage and Third Reading. The hon. Member will therefore, I think, agree that many of the things for which he asked at the beginning of his speech are being done.

I come now to the prosecutions which, the hon. Member thought, should have been made as a result of the television programme in February.

Sir C. Taylor


Miss Bacon

Well, interrogation. It was a television programme, whether it is called an interrogation——

Sir C. Taylor

I was not asking for a prosecution. I was asking for an interrogation of the people in the programme.

Miss Bacon

Yes; I will come to that.

The police have been very vigilant indeed in tracking down drug pedlars and people who have drugs in their possession. I am informed by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolitan area that from 1st January to 25th April this year, there were 810 arrests for drug offences within the Metropolitan area alone. If we read the newspapers, every day we can learn of the hard work which is being done by the police, not only in London, but all over the country, in tracking down these people.

The hon. Member has said that he telephoned the B.B.C. after the broadcast——

Sir C. Taylor

No; the police.

Miss Bacon

He said that he telephoned the police and asked why they had not caught up with these people. First——

Sir C. Taylor rose——

Miss Bacon

My time to reply is short.

Sir C. Taylor

I am sorry to interrupt, but the right hon. Lady is misquoting me. I telephoned the police and asked them to go and pick up the three men.

Miss Bacon

Yes, I know. That is what I am coming to. The hon. Member is wasting the time which I have to answer what he has said.

First, before the police can pick up the men, they must find them. Even if they had been waiting outside the television studios when the broadcast was made, it would have been impossible to pick up those men because, as is frequently the case, this was a recorded television broadcast, which had been recorded some days previously. Therefore, even if the police had known what was coming on television and if they had been waiting outside the doors of the television studio, they would not have been able to pick up the men.

I agree with the hon. Member that it is to be deplored that criminals should be able to talk openly or even to boast about their crimes without being apprehended. The fact that something is said on television, however, is not necessarily an indication that it is true. I do not know what the truth was in this programme. But men who talk about their alleged crimes are unlikely to be the most truthful of people. Even if they happen to be criminals and to have committed the offences which they allege, a confession on television is unlikely to carry much weight in a court of law if the person denies it when confronted by the police.

As far as drugs are concerned, it is the experience of the police that any legal action is only likely to be successful if people are found in possession of drugs which can be used as evidence. As I have said, the police are very vigilant in looking for those who are in possession of drugs.

The hon. Member suggested that the peddlers in the television programme on peddlers should have been apprehended, but, as I have explained, this was a recorded programme; so they could not have been apprehended immediately. On the following morning, however, the police approached the B.B.C. who, in due course, supplied a script of the programme and information about the three men who had been interviewed as drug peddlers. Two gave names which could not be traced by the police and the third one gave only a Christian name. One said that he was of no fixed abode and the other two gave as an address a post office in Brighton. Further inquiries have been made by the police in Brighton but it has not been possible to trace these men.

The hon. Gentleman has said that one of the alleged drug pedlars on the programme said that he had been kept in a 15-guinea a week flat by a drug procurer. That is so; I have read the script of the television programme. But later in the programme the same person said that he had been convicted for drug offences, had served a term in prison and that subsequently he had had no dealings with drugs. If that is so—I am not saying that it is true—it would have been impossible for the police to have arrested this man a second time if he had already served a period in prison for that offence. If this aspect of the interview is accepted, there would appear to be little likelihood that, even if the men could be identified, the police would be able to obtain sufficient evidence to gain a conviction.

I have already given the figures for the number of drug offences between January and April in the Metropolitan area. In 1966, there were more convictions for drug offences than in any previous year. Convictions under the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1965, were 1,174, an increase of over 50 per cent. in one year. Last year, there were 1,261 convictions under the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1964. I think these figures leave no doubt that the police have been acting energetically. We are studying ways in which the police effort against drug peddling can be helped and encouraged.

In many areas police organisation to give attention to drug problems is being reviewed. A number of forces are drawing upon the special experience of the Drug Squad at Scotland Yard, and a closer liaison is being fostered with the Drugs Branch at the Home Office. We at the Home Office are in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers about the adequacy of police powers of search.

I have mentioned in recent debates our concern to secure improved standards in the safe keeping of drugs. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has put certain proposals before the representative associations of pharmacists, drug manufacturers and wholesalers and it may be that he will propose some strengthening of the law at a later stage of the proceedings of the Dangerous Drugs Bill, now before Parliament. The Bill itself, as I have said, will pave the way to closer control over supplies of drugs to addicts. We have also been giving close attention to the question of teen-age clubs where drug traficking is a problem. As the hon. Member will know, the Bill which was introduced in another place by the Lord Chief Justice has now gone through all its stages in this House.

Recent debates have shown general sympathy with the plight of drug addicts and their need for treatment. However, prevention is better than cure. The Government fully accept the hon. Member's concern for effective enforcement of controls, but we do not underestimate the task facing police and Customs officers in detecting and stopping illicit traffic. The challenge of drug peddling is complex and formidable, but I assure the hon. Member that we shall continue to meet it with vigour and enterprise.

I also assure the hon. Member that he is wrong in thinking that the police could just have picked up these people——

Sir C. Taylor

So they could.

Miss Bacon

—who had given this interview on television. It just was not possible for the police to do that. They did what they could, but, in the absence of their names and addresses, they could do no more. Indeed, even if the police had found their names and addresses it might not have been easy to prove that an offence had taken place, since what was described might have occurred some years previously; that is, even if what these people had been saying on television was true.

As I have pointed out, I think that the hon. Member is under the impression that if he had telephoned the B.B.C. immediately——

Sir C. Taylor

Within minutes.

Miss Bacon

—or within minutes, the police could have rushed to the Television Centre, waited outside and caught these people. That would not have been possible, because this programme, like most programmes of this kind, was recorded, and that was probably done some days earlier. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will recognise that we and the police did all we could and that he is really asking us to do the impossible.

Sir C. Taylor

Before the right hon. Lady sits down, would she at least utter one word of condemnation against the B.B.C. for putting on such a disgraceful programme?

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Twelve o'clock.