HC Deb 24 October 1985 vol 84 cc411-3
5. Mr. Baker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he plans to seek additional powers to confiscate assets obtained as a result of drug-related offences.

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

Yes, Sir. We intend to introduce legislation very shortly to provide new powers for tracing, freezing and confiscating the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Mr. Baker

I am sure that my hon. Friend's proposals will have widespread support from both sides of the House. Is he aware that the flood of drug addiction, abuse and peddling now affects not only inner-city areas but rural areas, such as Dorset? Will my hon. Friend and his colleagues support the setting up of drug rehabilitation centres in areas such as Dorset?

Mr. Mellor

I know that my hon. Friend will have heard my announcement earlier this month that further funds from the DHSS by way of direct intervention to improve treatment facilities are being provided. I know that my hon. Friend will want to pursue that matter with his district and regional health authorities, most of which are funded for growth and should make a fair proportion of that funding available to improve facilities in this important sector.

Mr. J Enoch Powell

However strong and justified the public reprobation of drug offences, will the Government hesitate long before reintroducing the long disused penalty of confiscation in circumstances that bear no relationship to the confiscation of gear and other material that has been used in the commission of an offence?

Mr. Mellor

The House will want to consider these matters with care when the Bill is introduced. However, the reality of drug trafficking is that so vast are the profits to be made by the people at the Lop of the trade that merely sending them to prison is not a sufficient deterrent if, as is the position in a number of celebrated cases, they have millions of pounds stashed away in bank accounts around the world on which to live a life of ease and luxury when they are released from prison. None of us wants to reach for draconian measures, but the scale of the international problem posed by major drug traffickers merits this. That is the case that I shall put before the House in due course.

Mr. Sackville

Will not additional powers for confiscation be rendered less effective in the absence of additional powers for tracing, including the requisition of records of financial institutions, domestically and by agreement with other countries?

Mr. Mellor

My hon. Friend, as always on this subject, is absolutely right. New powers will be brought forward in the context of the Bill.

Mr. Corbett

Will the Minister confirm that the main reason for his consideration of these measures is that there is no proper Customs cover at the ports of entry? Is he aware that four newly-appointed Customs officers at Dover, whose duties specifically related to drugs, have been snatched back for static duties, and that a recent review of training in Customs has reported that training is inadequate at all levels?

Mr. Mellor

There is something rather discreditable about the the way in which the Customs officers' union has put forward a completely false picture of Customs efficiency. It knows only too well that the reduction of 1,000 in the number of staff dealing with Customs is completely inaccurate. The overall reduction in uniformed and preventive staff will be about 350 by the end of the year. That will be matched by more than a doubling of the number of men involved in intelligence work. Customs wish to move away from one readily predictable check in the green and red channels, for which every drug smuggler is prepared, to better ways of getting to the men behind the trade rather than to those who are just running the drugs. They want also to be better able to intercept the drugs at an unpredictable point. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the amount of drugs seized, the number of conspiracies broken up and the number of people who have been brought to book, he will see that Customs and the police, working together, are getting a great deal better. This "knocking" by their union is not in the interests of the men themselves.

Mr. Lawler

I am sure that my hon. Friend will wish to join me in congratulating the BBC on its Radio 1 drug alert initiative, during which 3,500 young people and parents contacted Radio 1. Does that not show that there is a great need for more information at local level about how addicts and their parents can obtain advice and help?

Mr. Mellor

I agree with my hon. Friend. I am glad that the Government were able to make money available for the production of some literature that was associated with the Radio 1 campaign. The reasonable view taken by the media of the campaign against drugs has been of great help in putting drugs high on the agenda in discussions among families throughout the length and breadth of the land. The Government have made 4 million leaflets available for parents. We intend to pursue our campaign of warning people, on the basis that, unless the whole community is mobilised in the campaign against drugs, we cannot succeed.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Will the Under-Secretary of State, with his specialised knowledge of the drugs problem, be a little more forthcoming than the Home Secretary and tell us what the Government propose to do about the problem of the burden of proof, which he knows causes severe difficulty in relation to the confiscation of assets in drugs cases?

Mr. Mellor

I shall happily repeat what I said earlier this month in Blackpool. After conviction, either for drug trafficking or for the new offence of handling the proceeds of drug trafficking, on the normal burden of proof — namely, proof beyond reasonable doubt that the individual is guilty—we propose that all of the property of that individual shall be deemed to be the proceeds of drug trafficking, unless the contrary can be proved. That is quite different from reversing the burden of proof on the principal issue of guilt or innocence. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that it is difficult for the prosecution to demonstrate where the house in Hampstead and the Rolls-Royce came from, but if the trafficker can afford them from the sale of brushes, presumably he can demonstrate it.