HC Deb 19 April 1985 vol 77 cc562-82

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

12.23 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Committee Stage of this Bill was not quite so succinct as that of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). Second Reading, however, went through on the nod, so this is the only opportunity to debate this important measure on the Floor of the House and it is right that the debate should be as complete as possible. It will also allow us to impress on the country the severity of the problem of drug trafficking and our readiness to tackle it.

This is not a partisan measure. It belongs to that rare breed which commands support from every corner of the House and I am proud to say that the 11 sponsors include representatives of every political grouping and every shade and faction within those groupings in the House. The Conservative climatic season is fully represented, from bone dry to saturated wet, and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will forgive me for commenting that on this occasion the Labour party is seen not so much in harmony as in unison, with the Healyite Right and the Bennite Left for once united. I am also grateful for the full support of the Government and I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his officials for all their help and encouragement, especially in providing drafting facilities.

The Bill is brief but its potential impact, I hope, will be big. Its purpose is simple and straightforward—to increase to life imprisonment the maximum penalty available to the courts in sentencing people convicted of trafficking in class A drugs, principally heroin and cocaine. The Bill is not directed at addicts who pathetically push hard drugs to finance their habit. It is directed at the big boys—the Mafia-style drug dealers and godfathers of drug trafficking who are not addicts themselves but who are out to exploit addicts for financial gain.

The Metropolitan police estimate that 23 per cent. of targeted criminals in their area are now involved in hard drugs. Ten years ago those people would have stuck to armed robbery, but they now find dealing in heroin and cocaine far more lucrative. The Bill is concerned with that category of dealer—with the most serious offences, involving the most harmful drugs.

Why is the Bill needed? Again, the reasons are simple and straightforward. The existing maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment does not match the seriousness of the crime. Large-scale trafficking in lethal drugs is, in effect, dealing in death. To me, there is absolutely no difference between murder by shotgun in the course of armed robbery and murder by heroin for financial gain. The existing maximum sentence is also insufficient to deter traffickers who may be released after just a few years to enjoy the proceeds of their evil trade. Often a fortune awaits them because seven-figure fortunes can now be made in a relatively short time.

By increasing the maximum penalty to life imprisonment, we hope to achieve two aims—to create a far more effective deterrent, and to ensure that those who persist in trafficking in hard drugs will go to prison for a long time.

Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

Can the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that both he and the Minister were unable to answer in Committee? How many people convicted of trafficking in class A drugs have actually received 14-year sentences?

Mr. Raffan

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall be coming to that point later. It is a small number, and we are aware of that. I shall mention Lord Chief Justice Lane's guidelines in the Aramah case and his comment during that case that, sadly, few of the big fish have been caught. However, rather than break up my remarks and lose the thread, I shall deal with that later.

Sentences of life imprisonment, should the Bill be passed on Third Reading and eventually receive Royal Assent, will be buttressed by the decision of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary severely to restrict parole for drug traffickers sentenced to more than five years. I hope that the sentence will be further reinforced by the effects of legislation in the next Session to deprive drug traffickers of the proceeds of their crimes.

I read with interest of the visit made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to the United States, and the comments that he made about it. He spoke of what he had learnt there and the possibility of introducing into British legislation a reversal of the burden of proof, and requiring the suspect to prove the legitimacy of his or her assets rather than those assets having to be shown to be acquired illegitimately by the legal authorities. This will be a contentious matter, but it is important that moves are made so that drug traffickers can be deprived of their assets and the astronomical amounts they are making from this evil trade. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend when he believes such legislation can come before the House.

The whole point of deterrence is to reduce the supply of drugs and so slow down the increase in the number of addicts. The measure of the problem can be clearly seen in the notified figures of heroine addicts for 1983. It is not melodramatic to say that we now have a heroin epidemic. In 1983, there were 3,550 notified heroin addicts, and that was 400 per cent. up on the figure for 1979. In 1983 there were 1,400 notified new addicts, which was 50 per cent. up on the figure for 1982. It is widely recognised that notified addicts are just the tip of the iceberg, and the number of regular users is much greater. It is estimated to be between 60,000 and 150,000.

The statistics may measure the problem, but they cannot measure the misery that the problem creates. I hope that the House will bear with me if I read some extracts from The Listener of January this year, following an effective programme on BBC 1, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary alluded in Committee. The programme was called "Real Lives—Pushers". In that programme, two pushers were interviewed about the experience and physical effects of heroin addiction, and their feelings about selling heroin. The two pushers were called Chris and John, and when Chris was asked to tell the interviewer about the experience and physical effects, he said: When you first start smoking you vomit a lot—anything you eat you just vomit back up again straightaway and, as John said, you lose your appetite anyway. All you seem to need to get you through the day is your heroin. First thing you think of in the morning is your heroin and the last thing you think of at night is your heroin. There are also changes in your personality. I mean, I'd do things for money for heroin that once I would never have dreamt of doing — stealing, shoplifting, burglary, anything, it doesn't matter what it is. You'll even rob your mother and father. Personally, I haven't stooped that low, but most of my friends have. Then there's the lying. Your whole life's a lie. From the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed you are just telling one lie after another to con people, to get money. Heroin completely changes a person to a totally different person, a bad person. John, when he was asked about his feelings of guilt about selling the drug, said: I always feel guilty. People think you do it by choice. Nobody does it by choice except the dealers who don't smoke it, the ones who are making all the money. I do it because if I didn't do this, I'd be out robbing. I don't want to rob any more because I don't want to go to prison again. But you've got to have it. I've woken up on the morning and I've started crying because from the second you open your eyes it's like someone dropping a ton of bricks on you: 'Where am I going to get the money? I've got to have it, where am I gonna get the money? It is those against whom the Bill is primarily directed.

Heroin addiction knows no barrier of geography, class or age. I came across a recent newspaper headline which read: The primary kids who fix at a fiver a time'. It was sub-titled A glut in the supply of heroin has forced the pushers to seek even younger markets". That headline does not come from some sensational Fleet street tabloid newspaper but from The Times Educational Supplement in an article last year on drug addiction among primary schoolchildren.

I shall quote from the article, because it illustrates the sheer misery caused by heroin addiction among very young children. Heroin dealers, anxious to dispose of a glut of the drug, began selling to younger and younger teenagers. 'They could see they're an easy market', Carole Woolley, Merseyside Drug Council's full-time advice worker, explained. Ten-year-olds are now offered 'starter packs' of low-grade heroin at £5 a time. 'The technique is usually the same', says Carole Wooley. 'A pusher will give the stuff free to a teenager three or four times running saying that it will make them feel good. When the child has got used to it, suddenly they find that they have got to pay. That is the start of the downhill slope'. As the addiction takes hold, usually over a period of weeks, children find themselves needing more and more of the drug. They may turn to shoplifting, mugging or even teenage prostitution to raise the money. That is the extent of the problem. One of the main reasons for the dramatic increase in recent years is the change in the method of misusing heroin. There are many, especially children, who draw the line at injecting the drug but who are willing to smoke it, which is called chasing the dragon. They do so in the mistaken belief that it is less likely to lead to dependency.

It is important to impress anecdotal evidence upon the House and, I hope, through the House upon the public. I shall quote the most moving description that I have heard, from Detective Constable Brandon Barrow, of the Merseyside drugs squad of a typical routine heroin raid. It exposes the total degradation of heroin addiction and the disintegration of human lives to which it leads. The detective constable said: One case that will live with me for the rest of my life was just a routine raid in a house in search of heroin. I went to an address, together with another detective and a policewoman. I knocked on the front door of the house and I was allowed in by the male occupant. It was approximately 12 noon. I could see from his demeanour that he was under the influence of some drug. Having gained entry, we found his wife in bed, in a similar state to him. After identifying ourselves to them we started to search the premises, which consisted of two bedrooms, a lounge and a bathroom and toilet. Unfortunately for me, I chose one of the bedrooms which appeared to be not in use. I entered the room and was immediately confronted with a smell that cannot be described. The windows had been sealed with tape, in a feeble effort to stop draughts. On the windowledge lay a number of dead flies all of whom at some time had had to suffer in the stench of the filth. The room was so full of rubbish that it was near-impossible to search. I heard a noise coming from one of the corners. In a cot was a baby. Aged eight months, she was lying on her back attempting to position the teat on a sauce bottle, which contained cold tea, into her mouth. She was wearing what I can only describe as a loin cloth over her lower parts. I reached into the cot to pick her up and saw that her little arms appeared to have no strength in them, making me think that they were broken. There was a large bruise on her face. Her nappy, if that's what you could call it, had obviously not been changed for some considerable time and, not surprisingly, there was a dreadful stench in the room. The excuse given for the bruising to her face was that she was a very active child who thrashed about in her cot. I immediately took the child to a local hospital and she was taken into care. The doctors told me that the reason for the lack of strength in the child was lack of love, having rarely been lifted out of the cot or ever received the cuddles that a baby normally receives. That description of heroin addiction is far more effective than any statistical evidence in showing the sheer degradation that the appalling drug brings to its victims and how evil the trade in the drug is.

It is true that the seizure of controlled drugs has increased dramatically. In 1973, only 3.3 kilos of heroin were seized. Forty kilos were seized in 1979 and the estimated provisional total seized in 1984 is 294 kilos. The seizure of increasingly large quantities is a great tribute to Customs and to the police. However, it confirms the severity of the problem. Despite record seizures, the street price for heroin is more or less unchanged, and its purity is still high. A plentiful supply is still available. It is impossible to say how much is still entering the country. When we discussed the issue in Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State rightly said that the total was unquantifiable. It is difficult to know what percentage the amount seized is of the total, but the Minister conceded that it can be only a fraction.

Other evidence of the growing problem is the number of offences involving drugs. In the area covered by the north Wales constabulary, which includes my constituency of Delyn, in 1978 there were 292 drug offences, none of them involving heroin, but in the first eight and a half months of 1984 there were 826 drug offences, half of them involving heroin.

This is no longer an inner city problem. It is no longer restricted to the great metropolitan areas or even to the peripheral suburban areas of cities such as Liverpool. I hope that the hon. Member for Birkenhead will not mind me describing his constituency in that way. The constituency of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) is affected as well. Heroin addiction has spread much further into the countryside and the small towns and, indeed, the small villages of north Wales.

The sentencing of drug offenders shows the courts' awareness of the need for firmer action. The proportion of drug offenders sentenced to more than five years imprisonment has doubled since 1978, from 3 per cent. to 6 per cent. In the guideline judgment in the Aramah case Lord Chief Justice Lane made it clear that heavier sentences should be imposed and to an extent that has been followed by the courts. Lord Lane advised that in cases involving the importation of any amount of class A drugs a sentence should seldom be for less than four years. For trafficking and amounts to the value of £100,000 or more the sentence should be seven years or more. For amounts to the value of £1 million or more the sentence should be 12 to 14 years.

For the actual supply of any amount a sentence should seldom be for less than three years for transactions of any amount. The nearer the source the heavier should he the sentence, up to levels similar to those for importers. But Lord Lane added that unhappily all too seldom the big fish among suppliers would be caught and that most prison sentences would be two years or less. I concede that point. That is why I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), who made this point effectively in Committee, believe that it is important that the powers of the police and customs officers should be increased whenever possible. They have considerably strengthened their efforts to combat drug trafficking.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State mentioned the increase from 125 to 212 in the number of customs officers dealing with heroin alone and he spoke of a further increase of 160 over the next 12 months. We are also grateful for his assurance that he would not hesitate to recommend further increases if he were satisfied that there were still further difficulties in combating the problem.

Since 1 January 1985 every police force in England and Wales has had its specialist drugs squad. There are now 1,000 officers involved in some way in the investigation of drug offences. The regional crime squads are now spending at least half their time dealing with drug conspiracies.

Two other important innovations have been the now regular annual conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers where experience and information on tackling problems of drug misuse can be exchanged. The association has set up a committee to review arrangements for drug operations. There is also in New Scotland Yard a central drugs intelligence unit, drawing officers from all over the country and disseminating information that is gathered to all the police forces. That unit also has five customs officers.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West emphasised in Committee, it is important that liaison between customs officers and police should be improved and increased and that there should be much more coordination of their activities. A further valid point that he made was that, as in the United States, the Inland Revenue should be brought more into drug investigations. Often the only signs of criminal involvement are large unaccounted-for assets. The Inland Revenue could help the police greatly in drug investigations.

There has been and must be an increase in the effectiveness of the police and customs officers, and an improvement in the co-ordination of their investigations. All the improvements that have been made so far are essential and welcome. Fear of detection can be as great a deterrent to crime as fear of punishment.

Parliament must ensure that the efforts of the law enforcement agencies are supported and reinforced wherever possible by making available to the courts, as this Bill does, penalties that will act as a genuine and effective deterrent to drug traffickers, and sentences that match the gravity of the crime of those caught and convicted of trafficking.

12.45 pm
Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk (Knowsley, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on choosing, as the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) did, a subject in a narrow area which has all-party support, and on negotiating it successfully through the labyrinth of Parliament to Third Reading, which it will receive today. He was extremely fortunate in that there was no Second Reading debate and only a small and uncontentious Committee stage, and now we have an interesting but clearly abbreviated Third Reading debate. Nevertheless, he is to be congratulated on having had the foresight to choose a subject which would command all-party support. I am puzzled, however, about the categories into which he fitted my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and myself when he described the Labour Members who supported him.

The hon. Gentleman addresses the serious problem of drug abuse. All hon. Members have attested to that problem in terms of the increase in the availability of both heroin and cocaine. Both substances are now freely and easily available, certainly in all our major cities, and almost certainly in the major urban areas. Moreover, it is available inexpensively.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the number of addicts has increased considerably. We know the number of those notified as addicts to the Home Office. Since 1979, during the lifetime of the Government, there has been a 400 per cent. increase in the number of heroin addicts notified in that way. None of us knows the number of drug abusers. Official and unofficial estimates vary from 50,000 to 100,000. Certainly all hon. Members are experiencing in their constituencies an increasing number of younger addicts of heroin and cocaine.

Three years ago it would have been extremely unusual for me to come across a young person who was a heroin or cocaine addict or a drug abuser in my constituency. It used to be rare for me to receive letters or representations from parents about the paucity of facilities in my area because their children were not drug abusers. Unfortunately, it is now an everyday occurrence to hear of, to know and to meet drug abusers, and to come across the more distressing feature of their anguished parents seeking help. It has even reached the stage when the Liverpool Echo can publish photographs of newborn babies who are addicts suffering from withdrawal symptoms of heroin because their mothers were addicts.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) and his wife foster children. In Committee he gave a graphic account of the way in which he and his wife had to deal with the withdrawal symptoms of a baby whom they fostered, whose mother had been a heroin addict. That is a terrifying picture of the state that we have reached.

The problem is exacerbated by the amount of heroin, cocaine and other drugs that come into the country. The fact that seizures have increased dramatically during the past few years is a tribute to the effectiveness of Customs and Exise officers, but it also suggests that they are seizing a larger amount of a bigger overall volume coming through the ports. The fact that 300 kilos of heroin were seized last year suggests that it is only a fraction of the amount that is entering the country. In Committee the Minister said that that was nearly 20 per cent. of the amount coming in, but even if we take that as a reasonable estimate—I do not know on what it is based—we must not forget that a considerable amount of heroin is still entering the country and is freely available.

That is aided and abetted by the reduction in customs staff. I do not wish to make too much of the point, and the Minister will no doubt say that the number of uniformed staff has been reduced but that there are many more officers engaged in intelligence work. I accept the sense and importance of that. Of course it is much more important to have trained professional officers trying to identify sources and couriers, catch them and convict them, than it is to rely only on untrained uniformed officers at the ports.

However, while acknowledging all that, it is still true that the more a person knows he is likely to be stopped and searched, even on a random basis, the more will he be deterred from bringing in heroin. Of course it will not stop the major pushers and the professional organisations, because enormous amounts of money are involved, but it may stop some of the smaller fry, who are also important in terms of the total volume of drugs entering the country. I regret that the Government have reduced our defences, inadequate as they were in the first place, so dramatically during their period of office. Given our open boundaries and the open nature of our society, we shall never prevent determined, professional, well-organised traffickers from bringing drugs into the country. We should never believe that that is possible, but the Government could have done more than they are now.

It is also true that more small-time pushers as well as addicts are being convicted of drug offences every year, and more of them end up behind bars without the services and facilities that are required. More crimes are also being committed by drug addicts, either as a result of hallucinations or delusions stemming from their addiction, or because they need the wherewithal to purchase drugs. Drug addiction leads not only to the destruction of young and adult lives, to enormous social pressures and family difficulties, but to a great increase in ordinary crime, which affects innocent, law-abiding citizens. There is also a massive increase in the cost to the Health Service, not least in terms of illness and death caused by drug addiction. Several hundred people die each year in the most horrifying and terrible circumstances.

There is a massive and increasing problem of drug abuse. Just as during our debate on the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Bill, so it is relevant to say here that we need more education of youngsters and their families. Therefore, we need more training of social workers, teachers and other professionals, which in turn means that we need many more facilities and services, be they rehabilitation hostels, detoxification units or drop-in advice centres, than are currently available. It is a disgrace that many areas of Britain, including London, the home counties and the north-west of England, are completely bereft of facilities for drug abusers or their families. It is a disgrace that, under all Governments, we have not taken a greater interest in the deep and serious problems of drug abusers and their families and provided the necessary social, medical and rehabilitative services. As we said in the previous debate, the Government are providing about £10 million, but that is not enough. On other occasions, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged that and made representations to the Government about it.

More importantly, the £10 million comes to an end in two years. Whatever that money is pump-priming now runs the risk of dying when that mony from the Government stops in two years. It is clear that we need not just £10 million as a one-off payment, but a continuing Government commitment to central funding for rehabilitative services for drug abusers.

What we really need to do—and this is what the Bill addresses itself to—is to catch those responsible for bringing the substances into the country and for subverting young people into becoming abusers. We need to catch and punish the traffickers. They are evil men and women who are making huge commercial profits out of the destruction of young lives.

In that context, incidentally, it may be relevant to point out that many of us greatly regret that the Minister is not yet able to announce when legislation will be introduced enabling the courts to take the assets of drug traffickers gained in the trafficking of drugs. It is not a new idea. It was put forward a long time ago with all-party acclamation. It was received with enthusiasm by the Minister and his Home Secretary more than 18 months ago. We are still waiting for the legislation to help deal with that problem.

If and when that legislation comes, presumably it will shift the onus of proof to the alleged drug offender to show that his assets were not obtained during the course of his trafficking in drugs, and I am not sure that that will receive the support of the Opposition. That is a matter to which we shall have to come back on another occasion, but it may be useful to point out now that the Minister should not assume that such a fundamental change in our criminal justice system and in the principle of an individual being innocent until proved guilty will obtain the support of the Opposition.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we already have the concept of the shift of proof in taxation matters, where the man is put to proof that the money that he has received has come from legitimate and earned income sources? This is not such a fundamental shift in our principles.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

That may be so, but because a precedent exists in one area, that does not mean that it would be appropriate in another area. However, I do not propose to get involved in an argument about the merits of our fiscal system. We are discussing a Bill dealing with a very specific area. In any event, I have no doubt that we shall have that debate across party lines, and I am sure that there will be many hon. Members on the Government Benches who will take a different view from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). But that is for another occasion, and it looks like being an interesting debate.

When I mentioned, incidentally, an area that seemed to arouse controversy, I was saying that we needed to do a great deal more in terms of prevention and of detecting and catching those responsible for trafficking in drugs. There is no doubt that we need more police working full time on this problem. I know that every police authority now has a full-time drugs squad. However, the number of police officers in each police authority area actually working full time in the drugs squad varies enormously. Given the size of my own county of Merseyside and of its drug problem, there seems to be a relatively small number of officers working full time on drugs inquiries when compared with other areas of the country. Perhaps more guidance should be given by the Home Office to ensure that the priority that the Government and Parliament accord to catching those who traffic in drugs is recognised by our chief constables and acknowledged in terms of the resources that they put at the disposal of their drugs squads. In that context, I should like to see more liaison between police forces arid Customs and Excise investigative officers.

The Opposition do not oppose the Bill. We endorse its principle and wish to see it on the statute book as quickly as possible, though I am not convinced that it will make a major impact on the drug scene. First, I do not believe that many of those who come before the courts will receive life instead of 14 years' imprisonment. Many of those who are caught at the moment do not receive 14 years. The hon. Member for Delyn could not tell me, despite my repeated requests, how many drug traffickers had been sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment or less. The Minister could not answer that question in Committee. As he has been put on notice, he will no doubt have the answer, or an adequate reason as to why he does not have one. It is important. I do not suspect that many individuals will come into that category. Not many will receive life imprisonment, because not many receive 14 years at the moment.

Mr. Raffan

The hon. Gentleman's logic is somewhat astray—the intervention of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) may have somewhat thrown him — because the fact that few maximum sentences of 14 years' imprisonment are not given at the moment does not mean that that will be the position in the future.

As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in Committee, he expects that the Lord Chief Justice, should the Bill become law, will produce further guidelines. There is evidence that the guidelines that he produced in the Aramah case have been observed. The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat negative. He should wait and see how effective the Bill will be, rather than dismiss it before there has been a chance to implement it.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I am not dismissing it. If I were, I should be opposing it, and I am not. The Bill has gone through largely undebated, let alone opposed. It will go through unopposed today. It is reasonable in that context to make the point that if Parliament is saying that it wants to increase penalties it has to show that the penalties presently available are insufficient and not effective or strong enough. The only way to demonstrate that is to show that many people who should have been given life have not been so sentenced. We cannot show how many people have been given the maximum of 14 years, which is available to the courts at present. We should consider that point.

I accept what the hon. Member for Delyn says, with his convoluted logic. If we make the maximum life, it may act as a greater deterrent to drug traffickers. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about catching more people or providing extra resources for the police and Customs and Excise. We are not doing any more on the ground. We are saying that when we have caught the drug traffickers, they may get life instead of 14 years. I do not dissent from that for the evil people about whom we are talking.

The only effect of the change of law might be to deter from drug trafficking because of the threat of life imprisonment some people who would otherwise have trafficked in drugs because the threat was a mere 14 years. That is not a deterrent, but it is a matter of judgment and I hope that I am proved wrong. If the Bill saves one life, or the destruction of one family, it will have been worth while. I hope that it does more than that, but I do not believe that it will.

1.3 pm

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has called into question the Government's determination to confront the drugs problem. I dissent from what he has said on that point, but only on that point.

I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I am sure that the introduction of draconian penalties for those who indulge in the filthy but lucrative trade of producing and supplying class A drugs will accord with the wishes of the public. I am sure that that will find a great deal of sympathy in the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on introducing the Bill.

Everyone in the House must agree with the Bill in so far as it seeks to confront the enormous growth in the supply of hard drugs. As a Member of the House and as the parent of two teenage children I am worried about the possibility that my children might be dragged into that foul trade. The habit cannot be acquired or sustained without the production, supply and distribution of drugs. The dramatic increase in the supply in recent years was confirmed by the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee this year by the customs and excise group of the Society of Civil and Public Servants.

Almost daily we read in the newspapers of dramatic seizures by the customs and excise and by the police. I pay tribute to the vigilance and success of those enforcement agencies—particularly to those dedicated and diligent officers quartered overseas who are pursuing inquiries in the countries of supply. However, I fear that the startling successes of the customs and excise merely highlight the growth of the trade.

Only yesterday customs officers at Heathrow seized 14 kilos of cocaine, valued at £2.5 million. That is thought to be the largest ever single seizure of cocaine intended for supply and sale in Britain. It is interesting that two foreign nationals—Brazilians—were arrested in connection with those offences. I shall say no more about it because it is now sub judice.

The highlighting of the big seizures merely demonstrates the extent of the problem. I understand that there are now major fears on the part of police and customs officers that cocaine abuse in Britain will explode, as it has in the United States. The latest seizure figure for cocaine in the United States, in the most recent year for which figures are available, is 33,000 lb — a growth from under 1,000 lb in a very few years. Last year customs officers in Britain seized 77 lb of cocaine, valued at £7.25 million. Yesterday's seizure tends to demonstrate that the growth in the supply of the drug is explosive.

There seems to be a view that cocaine—which has a following among those who might broadly be called the prominent people of the café society—is in some way more acceptable than the established heroin abuse. There is nothing to choose between them. The appalling growth of heroin abuse merely serves as a pointer to the potential growth of cocaine abuse. An increasing number of addicts are known to the police; there is an increasing amount of seizure.

Another extremely worrying factor is the apparent drop in street prices. That tends to confirm the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North that there is a dramatic increase in the availability of the drugs. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regret that the Bill does not include any measures to allow the seizure and forfeiture of the assets of those convicted of drugs offences. There is now a very sophisticated laundering of the illicit gains of those convicted of supplying and producing drugs, and only by seizing their assets shall we spike the laundering process.

I am also worried about the number of convictions of foreign nationals. There should be automatic deportation of anyone from another country who is convicted of the supply and distribution of class A drugs, and there should be no right of appeal.

Notwithstanding those reservations, I give the Bill my complete support. I am sure that we all worry about the drugs problem. It has no respect for social class, from the café society people that I mentioned to those in the public bars of working class pubs, this pernicious and evil trade is making its impact. I speak with some limited experience in that respect. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on introducing the Bill. I shall have absolutely no qualms about giving it my full support.

1.10 pm
Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on bringing forward the Bill. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) made that point, but he was unfair to go on to say how limited the Bill's impact would be. No one who supports the Bill pretends anything other than that it is one small measure in attempting to deal with a grave problem. When we have had the chance to debate it before, we have pressed the Government on how comprehensive their policy is to try to beat the evil disease that is racking our society. Speeches have concentrated on the need to break up the centres of production, the supply routes and gates into this country, the pushing and the need to help those who are addicted.

However, today we are dealing with one small area, which is the penalty for those who are liable to make most out of the trade. I wish to give the Bill wholehearted support because it is a matter about which many of my constituents feel strongly. It is interesting that in meetings around the constituency, drugs is now the number one issue that people wish to discuss. Constituents are worried about the level of sentencing. They have another worry, on which the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) touched. If people who make considerable profit out of the trade are given light sentences, they come out of prison to rich pickings. I point out that it is significant that three quarters of the Opposition Members present are from Merseyside constituencies. That shows the importance that we attach to the matter.

I ask the Under-Secretary to give us an idea about his proposals for dealing with the assets of those who have made considerable fortunes out of the drug trade. I should like to draw his attention to the fact that one does not have to be what is typically described as one of the big boys or girls in the trade to make a fortune. Let me illustrate that point. A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting in the north end of Birkenhead at which the residents' association told me that one of the ordinary pushers had been given a good beating up five times by local people because they were so horrified at the role that that person was playing in pushing drugs in the area. To ordinary people like me, the threat of one beating up from the north end of Birkenhead would bring about a change in my behaviour. To risk not one but five such beatings and still push that trade tells us something about the gains that those people are making.

When I reported back on the Bill in the constituency, there was overwhelming support for it. Equally, however, people have suggested that if we are going to hand out tough sentences, we should also take measures to make sure that those who are little more than merchants of death in that trade do not profit by the horrors that they inflict on others. Therefore, my one contribution to the debate is to ask the Minister to tell us something more about his proposals and the experience that he gained in the United States, which we learnt about in The Guardian and The Times earlier this week.

1.13 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

As a practising lawyer, I have come across the merchants of death in one capacity or another on several occasions. An anecdote was told to me by a friend, who is also a practising lawyer, which illustrates the moneys involved in that dirty and despicable trade. One of his clients received a sentence of five years for supplying a class A drug. The only thing that concerned that man after sentence was how he would safeguard his investments while he was in prison. It is wrong that people should make a vast amount of money—vast amounts of money are involved in the trade—cause other people misery, go to prison, and know that while they are in prison their money is being utilised, earning more and growing in size so that they come out to a fat little nest egg. I take the view—I hope that the Minister will reassure us on the matter—that those who are involved in the drugs trade, make money out of the misery and suffering of others, and are convicted for doing so, should be put to the test of having to explain where their assets come from. I refer, of course, only to those who have been convicted.

I would take issue with anyone who argued that we would be shifting the burden of proof and contravening the natural principles of justice. Do we allow the burglar, after conviction, to retain his stolen property? We do not. It is taken back. The equivalent of the proceeds of a burglary in the case of dealing in class A or class B drugs is the money received. There is no logical distinction between the drug pedlar and the burglar or car thief who has taken property that he should not have taken.

I stress that the Bill is concerned with the drug dealer, not the user, who belongs in a quite different category. We are talking about those who make money out of the sale of class A and class B drugs. If legislation were brought in to take away the proceeds of crime from the dealer after conviction, I would support it. There is no distinction in my mind between the position of a convicted drug dealer and that of a burglar, thief or fraudster who gains the property of others through criminal activity. The dealer gains the property of others—their money—by criminal activity. We should not deny the courts the right to take that money back, by putting the dealer to the test of having to reveal where his assets have come from. I suspect that a vast number of members of the Labour party share my attitude towards the convicted criminal and the proceeds of his crime.

Belatedly, I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on the content of his Bill. I welcome the availability of the life sentence for those convicted of class A drugs offences. For certain dealers a life sentence is the only justifiable punishment. Life sentences are available for manslaughter. They are rarely used but they are part of the armoury of the court. The Bill adds the life sentence to the armoury of the courts in the case of class A drugs. I do not expect that many people will receive a life sentence. Very few cases would merit such a sentence. However, the possibility should be there.

I welcome, too, the increase to 14 years as the maximum sentence in the case of class B drug offences. Recently I read with horror an article in Police Review advocating the legalisation of cannabis. Few people in this country would support that attitude. Cannabis is as insidious and as open to manipulation as any other drug. There seems to be an attitude of mind that cannabis is not very harmful. I invite anyone who takes that view to spend a day in Amsterdam to see what happened there when a relaxed attitude was adopted towards the drug trade. It got so completely out of hand that the police were unable to cope, and there was the spin-off effect of people experimenting with quick pleasure and rapidly turning to hard drugs. Amsterdam is now an absolute mess, as anybody who has been there knows.

People who deal in cannabis also make vast fortunes. When we hear of shiploads of £2 million or even £3 million-worth of cannabis being intercepted, we should ask why people are importing the stuff. It is because there is a market for it, and a quick profit is readily available. That profit is not taxed and it is not, at the moment, seized. If a Bill to legalise cannabis were ever introduced, I should resist it all the way, and I am sure that many other hon. Members would, too.

Drugs are addictive, manipulative and damaging, and ultimately they destroy those who use them. Drug dealers are evil and cunning and should be incarcerated for a long time. If I had my way—I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance on this—when they came out of prison they would be bankrupt. There should be no profit in the sale of substances which cause such misery.

1.20 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on bringing forward the Bill, on securing such widespread support for it, and on the eloquent way in which he proposed its acceptance in Committee and again today. He has done an excellent job.

The problem of drug abuse is a matter of increasing concern and is central to my work at the moment. I have recently returned from the United States, where I learnt a great deal about their problems. It would be instructive for the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-S ilk) to make such a pilgrimage, as I am sure that his understanding of the problem would deepen if he went there.

It has been noted that the Americans are as interested in how we are tackling our drugs problem as we are in knowing how they are tackling theirs. I was told more than once that they are surprised, not that we have a bad problem, but at how long it has taken us to get one. America has had a serious problem with drug misuse for several decades, but it has intensified as cocaine has entered parts of the community which previous drug habits did not. The problem in some other western European countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy and West Germany, started before ours and is worse than ours. I say that not out of complacency but to put our problems in perspective.

One of the lessons to be learnt from the United States is that there is no one lever on the wall which can be pulled to resolve the drug abuse problem. The matter must therefore be addressed in many ways. There must be interventions at each link in the long chain that leads, in the case of cocaine, from South America or, with heroin, for the most part from Pakistan, to the user. We have to disrupt the supply in the country of origin, at ports and airports and as it is distributed.

Although the Americans are spending between $1.5 billion and $2 billion at federal level on dealing with drug abuse this year, 20 per cent. was the best estimate that I could get from the Drug Enforcement Agency of the amount of cocaine that it is intercepting. We must all keep trying as hard as we can to disrupt the flow of drugs, but we can never take all drugs away from customers. In a free society there will always be some people who can get around the inevitably limited restrictions on the importation of a product.

Unless one is prepared to erect the barriers of totalitarianism, one cannot check every individual entering the country, intercept every package and search every container. No free society can do that, so we must give increasing attention to taking the customers away from the drugs. That is why we have been anxious to expand facilities for the treatment and rehabilitation of long-term addicts and have made direct funds available for that purpose. [Interruption.] I am trying to answer questions put to me by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North. No doubt he put them merely for the record and is not particularly interested in the answers, but it would be a good deal easier for me to make my speech if I could have his attention.

We have sought to give impetus to treatment and rehabilitation in two ways: first, funds are available through the DHSS central funding initiative; secondly, we have sought to apply proper pressure to health authorities to ensure that in carrying out their duty to provide comprehensive health care for their communities a fair proportion of funding is directed to the treatment of drug misuse. The Department is making efforts in that regard. About £700 million in increased cash is being made available to the Health Service this year, of which some £60 million to £70 million is actual growth money, and it is right that a fair proportion of that should go to improve these facilities.

I appreciate the gravity of the problem on Merseyside, where I shall be spending all day Monday. I do not have my programme with me, but I believe that I shall be visiting the constituency of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I shall be opening a new facility provided by Merseyside regional health authority, and I know from my friendship with the chairman that that authority is deeply concerned about the situation.

Both we and the Americans are also using prevention campaigns and trying to educate people to recognise the misery of drug abuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn quoted tellingly from the extremely helpful BBC television programme and the article in The Listener. Who could read about the misery of that addict's life without feeling that no one should have to go through that, and that even a teenager feeling rebellious and disenchanted with society should not willingly put himself at that kind of risk.

However much Governments may do, as both we and the Americans recognise in the forewords to our statements of strategy—it is Government's duty to set the framework—the drug menace will be turned back only when the energies of the whole community are directed towards eradicating it. That can be done in many ways. There is a need to build better relationships between parents and teenagers so that teenagers can talk candidly to their parents about the pressures to which they are subjected. People should be prepared to co-operate to the maximum extent with the police and the authorities in making it clear that drug pushers will not be tolerated in their communities. There is far more knowledge in the community about what is happening on the drugs scene than is ever revealed to the authorities.

If we are to defeat the pushers, I believe that even the user-pusher, for whom one may have some sneaking sympathy, must go to prison, along with the more cynical pusher who is in it purely for the money. Whether the motive for spreading the habit be cynical greed or the need to feed one's own habit, anyone who is prepared to try to interest others in drug taking deserves to be taken out of the community. That is the only defence mechanism that the community has.

I wished to put our efforts in context because I believe that we are evolving a comprehensive policy. In recent months we have intervened in all those ways, and more is to come. We have expanded the capability of the customs, and we will not hesitate to increase the numbers of customs officers if the threat from heroin and cocaine continues to grow. The value of intelligence and the impetus that is put on knowing what is happening is clearly evidenced by Operation Rattlesnake, which was concluded yesterday, when 14 kilos of cocaine were seized as a result of many months of effort.

There will always be room for the random stopping of people coming through customs, because experienced customs officers, pooling information with drug enforcement authorities in other countries, will be aware of what is going on. I was delighted to learn of the high level of co-operation between the United Kingdom and the United States in these matters. Any experienced officer on duty in the green channel will have an idea of the profile of the potential drug pusher. He will always make a large find by having the experience to say that someone is behaving suspiciously.

However, in the end, if we are to get more of the people organising this, and not just the mules, who are literally two a penny and will run the stuff through an airport for a fee, we shall have to rely on intelligence. There has to be the maximum transparency between police and customs. We have not only to lay down a database from which careful exploration of these conspiracies can be made, but we must have experienced analysts able to analyse what is happening, what that tells us and how that enables us to get down to the heart of the practical job of smashing these conspiracies.

The police role against drugs needs always to be enhanced. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North took a somewhat one-dimensional view of the police role in talking only about drugs squads. Drugs squads have an important role to play at individual force level, including some of the specific work on the distribution network of drugs within the community, but the size of the drugs squad should not be taken as evidence of the commitment of the police force to the eradication of drugs, because that ignores two dimensions.

The first is the extent to which, on the instigation of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and the Association of Chief Police Officers, so much attention is being given to educating every policeman, and not just those who are in the drugs squad. This is particularly directed to the officers on the beat so that they are able to intervene helpfully in the drugs problem in their neighbourhood. It is not good enough to say that the drugs squad is the expert part of the force, and that the rest of the force gets on with other work. We all know that drugs are not a problem on their own. People involved in drugs are often involved in crime either because they are criminals or because they become criminals to feed their habit.

Secondly, major criminals who have hitherto earned their living from counterfeiting or robbing banks have moved into major drugs distribution as a way of making even richer pickings. That is why it is crucial for the House to recognise that up to 50 per cent. of the time of regional crime squads is spent investigating major drugs distribution networks. That is the way it should be. Drugs should be treated as a mainstream police activity, because it is certain that mainstream criminals are involved.

If there is to be an answer to the drugs problem, it can come about only by the will of the whole community to resist it, and the ability of people to say no. In the end, that is the key to it. It is the willingness at all levels of society — inexplicable to those of us outside — to become involved in drugs that is so frightening. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) will find how desperately frightening it is when he goes to America next week. I wish him and his colleagues on the Home Affairs Select Committee all success on that visit. He will be as horrified as I was to learn of the extent to which cocaine has penetrated not just to the deprived ghetto areas, where one can argue, as the hon. Member for Knowsley, North did, that deprivation causes drug addiction, but to the achievers in society. These are successful people with a high income—the yuppies as I think they are sometimes called. The influence of such people—often bankers and executives, who go to the smart consulting rooms of the leading cocaine specialists whom I saw in New York—on the drug scene is causing the problem.

I was told that one of the leading groups telephoning the cocaine hotline consisted of airline personnel, and that makes one realise how serious is the threat to the community. That crucial personnel, whose spot-on behaviour is vital for the mechanisms of a sophisticated society, are robbed of their energies, abilities and concentration by drugs is one of the most frightening things. It is even more frightening in many ways than the fact that unsuccessful people escape from their misery into drugs, although that is troubling enough.

In erecting barriers against drugs, it is essential to have a framework of law and penalties which enable sentences of imprisonment to be visited on drug dealers which are commensurate with the gravity of the offence and enable a warning to be sent to those who might become involved that the courts will not overlook such behaviour and that it will be visited with severe sentences of imprisonment.

We know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn has told us, that, within the existing range of penalties, the Lord Chief Justice has constructed a careful set of guidelines for the courts, which were promulgated in September 1982. I believe that the guidelines have been highly successful. In 1978, 15 people were sentenced to over seven years' imprisonment for drug offences. In 1979, the figure was 20. It was 16 in 1980 and 31 in 981, of whom three were sentenced to 14 years. There were 28 in 1982, of whom one was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

In the first year after the Aramah judgment, 61 people were sentenced to more than seven years' imprisonment, of whom two fitted into the Lord Chief Justice's principal category of 12 to 14 years in prison for trafficking in class A drugs to the value of more than £1 million. However, neither of those persons received 14 years' imprisonment. One was sentenced to 13 years and the other to 12.

I do not have the figures for 1984, as they' will not be available until the summer. However, I have taken a sample of some of the cases which have been heard this year, and those who believe in stiff penalties for these offences will be encouraged to learn that this very month at the Inner London Crown court three people who were involved in one importation of 12.78 kg of heroin were each sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. In February, at Maidstone Crown court, three principals in a heroin smuggling syndicate were dealt with following a 6 kg seizure last year. They were sentenced to 12 years, 12 years and 10 years respectively.

As recently as yesterday, an American woman who sought to import cocaine to the value of about £250,000 received eight years' imprisonment and an experienced High Court judge, Mr. Justice Kenneth Jones, made it clear that that was precisely the sort of sentence which those running drugs in from America could expect. On the same day, at Reading Crown court, an Indian involved in heroin smuggling was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. When a circuit judge said the other day that the courts had declared war on the drug smuggler, there was much evidence — we read it in our newspapers every day — to show that he was right. I warmly congratulate the Lord Chief Justice on giving a lead, as I do the judiciary on so faithfully following it.

We are bound to make value judgments on gravity in the criminal justice system, but it is wrong that individual acts of murder, for example, or some offences not involving murder, should merit life imprisonment if drug trafficking, which involves death and misery on a large scale, does not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn said, that must be the underpinning case for introducing life imprisonment for trafficking in class A drugs.

Within the 14-year tariff, the Lord Chief Justice is compelled to have a wide bracket when dealing with offences involving drugs to the value of £1 million or more. We know from the Rattlesnake operation that amounts that are worth more than £1 million are being intercepted. We know, too, that the tariffs for bank robbery and armed robbery are often higher than those for drug offences. That is because there is no restriction of 14 years for those offences. When the Bill becomes law, as I hope and pray it will speedily, those involved in offences in which a large quantity of drugs has been discovered will merit life imprisonment. In many instances a lot of money will be lying around and it will be clear that the Crown will not be able to take possession of it whatever effort is made to do so. Those who are now sentenced to the maximum term will be released within 10 years even without parole. A decade of one's life may seem worth while in the judgment of some if one has millions of pounds, dollars, Swiss francs or another currency stashed away to live on.

The penalty of life imprisonment and the determination of successive Home Secretaries to make that stick, enables the courts to deal for the first time with people who have cleverly salted away assets which, however hard we try, will be difficult to get hold of. It will also allow the tariff all the way down the scale to be lifted up. It is not for me to offer advice to the Lord Chief Justice, but I imagine, knowing of his identification of drugs as one of his principal worries in exercising his criminal jurisdiction, that as soon as the Bill becomes law he will take the opportunity of another case such as that of Aramah to lay down fresh guidelines. I am equally sure that his colleagues will, with equal vigour, ensure that those guidelines stick as well as they have made the Aramah guidelines stick.

This is an area in which it is crucial to make clear the good and bad aspects of the situation. If we are to get on top of the drugs problem, we shall only do so by candour and by recognising the scale of the difficulties that we face. It is clear that sending people to prison is important if they are major dealers, but that it is not the end of the exercise while we do not have the most effective way of confiscating assets.

There might be some misunderstanding about what can be done at the moment. It would be wrong, just because we are focusing on finding a new and more effective way of confiscating assets, to think that ways do not exist to deprive people of the profits of their crime. They do. As recently as the Criminal Justice Act 1972 a mechanism to make serious offenders criminally bankrupt was introduced. That was carefully thought out and went through the House, to a great deal of acclaim. It is regrettable that for one reason or another it is not much use and is regarded as a rather blunt instrument, but it is there and can be used.

The courts also now have the option of imposing unlimited fines. The confiscation of assets does not need to be by way of a confiscation order. If it is known that someone has £1 million stashed away, there is no reason not to fine him that amount and rely on the enforcement procedures. That can be done by the courts today, so it must not be thought that the courts are impotent to deal with assets.

Equally, the Inland Revenue has a role to play. Although it took a long time, it was almost certainly worth while, in the judgment of us all, that some years of pursuit of the principals in the Operation Julie case led, as I understand it, to the Inland Revenue recovering almost £500,000.

All those steps can be taken by the court today. What cannot be done as effectively as we would want is to deal with the fact that the sophisticated international criminal does not have a large deposit account in his name in a high street bank so that anybody on a moment's investigation can find it. He is involved in a sophisticated enterprise and the money may be in a country unaffected by the conspiracy. It may be in assets, passed to other criminals or laundered through a multiplicity of accounts, as the Americans will tell the hon. Member for Knowsley, North when he goes to the United States. We must find more sophisticated ways of tracing assets, and that is what we are directing our attention to.

In the world of fantasy which the hon. Gentleman will occupy at a moment's provocation, he seems to think that all this is easy. It is interesting to note that in goading us to find the answer he was rather short on solutions himself. Having latched on to one possible solution which appeared in the press yesterday as a result of my debriefing on my American trip—that there might be some utility in reversing the burden of proof—the hon. Gentleman, having called for effective measures, was quick to say that if that were introduced it might be too effective for the liking of the Opposition. Happily, there are independent spirits on the Back Benches in the shape of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South and others who, I dare say, will give that a fair wind.

The business of tracing assets requires a number of things. It requires the ability to find mechanisms to go through and uncover a complicated system of dealing in which the successful Mr. Big will have become involved, and a high level of co-operation between various countries. That is why we are working so hard with the Americans and through the Pompidou group—the Council of Ministers' group on the misuse of drugs, which we now chair—to find mechanisms to ensure that our orders are given effect in other jurisdictions.

Above all, there may need to be changes in banking arrangements so that there is transparency in appropriate cases. The Inland Revenue may need to be more greatly involved in the police work to uncover drug conspiracies. Those are major points. I know that when the hon. Member for Knowsley, North tries hard he is capable of being fair. He will recognise that these matters cannot be carried out at the drop of a hat. They merit careful thought. The worst step that we could take would be to rush into arrangements which we think will be successful, but which are only half thought out.

I am determined that we shall make progress on this matter. I do not regard my hon. Friend's Bill as the last word on the matter, but it is a crucial contribution to the efforts that we are all making to get on top of the drugs menace. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.45 pm
Mr. Raffan

I should like to make some brief comments on the speeches that have been made today. I wish in all good humour to apologise to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) if I upset him by my description of the Labour party. I admit that it was a gross over-simplification to suggest that there were only two factions. I did not intend to do that.

I agree with most of the hon. Gentleman's comments. He made a valid point when he referred to the increased amount of heroin seized being as much a reflection of the fact that increasing amounts are entering the country as of the increasing effectiveness of the police force. There is no room for complacency. We must be eternally vigilant and do all that we can to improve the effectiveness and the co-ordination of the police and customs officers. The Bill is no substitute for that.

It is unfortunate to play the old numbers game about customs officers. There is no doubt that my figures and the Minister's answer show that an increased number of customs officers, whatever their overall total number, are directing their efforts solely towards drug trafficking. All hon. Members must be extremely careful and responsible in their comments about customs officers. It is important that we do not say or do anything that could possibly lower their morale or raise the morale of drug traffickers. I hope that hon. Members will be responsible in that respect, because the House must give those officers every support.

I agree, as, did the Minister, with the remarks of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North about random stopping. In Committee, the hon. Gentleman referred to the three hours that it took to search a Boeing 737 and its passengers. If every plane coming into Heathrow or Gatwick were stopped and searched, there would be tiers of aircraft up to 50,000 ft. waiting to land. That would be impossible. By its nature, random stopping cannot be highly effective in the sense that it cannot stop the trade dead.

There are many other aspects of the problem, including the medical and educational aspects. Last month the Minister produced a pamphlet on tackling drug misuse, which has been most valuable and which brings everything together. He is leading a co-ordinating team of Ministers from different Departments who are considering all the different ways of tackling drug misuse. I am only sorry that the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is not mentioned, although the name of one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland is. Perhaps we can bring that matter up at Welsh Question Time and find out whether he has been attending those meetings. I hope that he has.

Another important aspect raised by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North is that of sentencing and Lord Chief Justice Lane's guidelines. The hon. Gentleman is being unfair in harping on about the numbers who receive the maximum sentence. The guidelines have proved effective. Although not as many drug traffickers have received the existing maximum sentence as he would have wished, as the Lord Chief Justice said, there are great difficulties in catching the big fish. Obviously, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) said in Committee, we cannot sentence them until we catch them. It is a valid point, but I do not believe that sentencing is at fault.

We must detect the major dealers, and my hon. Friend the Minister made an effective point about the sophisticated methods of detection in the United States, which I have no doubt are duplicated here. The major drug dealers—the merchants of death, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) rightly called them—are sophisticated operators. They are not running sweetie shops. We need highly sophisticated operations and legislation to deal with them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was disappointed that there is no clause in the Bill relating to the forfeiture of assets. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) also believed that it might have been useful to include such a clause. We had discussions about it, but the feeling was that it would be sad to endanger the Bill by including a clause that might he contentious and inadequate.

My hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham mentioned sophisticated laundering operations. In order to deal with them, we need highly effective legislation, which should not be drawn up hurriedly, although I hope that it will be introduced in the next Session. That Bill will obviously be much longer than this one, and it must be sophisticated if it is to work. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the present bankruptcy legislation, which is rather a blunt weapon. It would be sad if any legislation on the forfeiture of assets were also blunt.

There was an omission in my opening speech, which I wish to correct now. It might be invidious to single out any of my supporters for the help and encouragement that they have given me, but I shall do so, because the hon. Member for Birkenhead has give me considerable support and help, and I wish to pay tribute to him. His commitment to the problem is well known in the House, and he was the instigator of an important early-day motion that was tabled last autumn. I am extremely grateful to him for his assistance.

The Bill is no magic cure, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead said. The problem of drug misuse is highly complex, extremely serious and ever-growing. There would be no point in the Bill if it were seen simply as the Tory Right on a rampage of retribution. The fact that I introduced it shows that it is not a Tory Right measure anyway. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North was right to say that there are many aspects to the problem, including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, no lever can be pulled which will suddenly, miraculously and at a stroke resolve the problem. The Bill covers just one aspect of deterrence, which in itself is just one part of prevention.

I hope that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North's suggestion that the Bill will have no impact will be proved wrong. It is unduly negative to say that now. It is a modest Bill, but it can do something, and surely we should do anything that we can.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.