§ 9. Mr. Raffan
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the increase in the quantity of hard drugs seized by the police in each of the last five years for which figures are available.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Mellor)
Between 1979 and 1983 the quantity of heroin seized by the police increased by more than 12 times, and the amount of cocaine by two and a half times. The increase in the quantities of drugs seized by the police over the past five years, especially heroin, confirms the seriousness of the problem of drug misuse. The police are responding by giving increased priority to the investigation of drug and 456 drug-related offences: the Government are equally determined to follow a firm and coherent strategy to tackle all aspects of drug misuse.
§ Mr. Raffan
As my hon. Friend says, while those figures are a great credit to the police, they reflect the serious increase in drug trafficking. When is the committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, which is currently reviewing arrangements for drug operations, expected to report, and how regularly does that association hold a national drugs conference?
§ Mr. Mellor
The Association of Chief Police Officers holds a drugs conference every year. That is a most helpful innovation. The committee will report in due course, but I cannot say precisely when. However, I can tell my hon. Friend that considerable changes have been made by the police in their operations, to reflect the increasing involvement of major criminals in drug-related offences, and it is estimated that up to half the time of regional crime squads is now being spent in dealing with serious drug conspiracies.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts
Is the Minister aware that at my advice bureau last Saturday five different groups of people came to me complaining about teenagers taking heroin in their communities, and that the problem in Merseyside is growing, and reaching epidemic proportions? Is he further aware that, while we welcome the Government's campaign to inform parents about the problems of drug taking, the parents of Merseyside are already well informed? The Liverpool Echo, if nobody else, has told them in its campaign what the problems are. Is the Minister aware that the problem is that, having identifed the problem, parents have difficulty in getting their son or daughter to a rehabilitation unit or a hospital, because there are no places?
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman seems to misunderstand the central problem of drug taking today, which is not that most people have reached the stage that they are so severely dependent on drugs that they need rehabilitation centres — although they are being established in increasing numbers up and down the country—but that they need advice, counselling and assistance. It is the purpose of the Government and the Merseyside regional health authority, working in collaboration with the local authorities, to provide this. That range of services is being developed, and I dare say that in his usual constructive way the hon. Gentleman is helping that process.
§ Mr. Greenway
When my hon. Friend talks of providing rehabilitation services, will he accept that there needs to be adequate servicing for heroin addicts 24 hours a day in suitable places throughout the country?
§ Mr. Mellor
It is plain that the Government are committed to developing a system of rehabilitation for hard drug addicts, and about £10 million has been produced in the past 12 months to facilitate that. It is also the case that the primary responsibility for providing health care services of this kind lies with the regional and district health authorities, and it is the purpose of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to ensure that that provision is made.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes
Will the Minister accept that, while people are happy to see the increased police success, the increased publicity and the increased amount of money 457 for health funding, the missing link is the increased investment in Customs officers, sufficient to make sure that we do not have drugs in the country in the first place? Not until the numbers of Customs officers are satisfactory will we get to grips with this severe problem.
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman is repeating the fallacy of his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). He should look at the figures. A further 160 Customs officers have been recruited specifically to deal with drugs matters this year. The number of specialist intelligence officers employed to deal with heroin in the Customs service has nearly doubled and success of the Customs in seizing nearly 300 kilos of heroin last year is good evidence of the considerable success that they are achieving.