HC Deb 18 February 1986 vol 92 cc218-40
Mr. Mellor

As a Minister in that quiet Whitehall backwater, the Home Office, I am a stranger to controversy but it has enlivened my dull old life to be a witness to some controversy, even if I was not a participant. Perhaps I could return to an area in which there is rather more amity on display than in the one that has just been touched on. I hope that I was not dealing with matters at inordinate length, but I was trying to set the seal on the careful consideration the House has given to the Bill.

I was dealing with points that were raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Erdington and by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery who speaks for the Liberal party. I was explaining why it was that in some instances I was not able to come forward with amendments to meet their points as I did on some of the other matters. I was dealing with two drafting points that were raised in Committee on clause 3(2). I have been back to the draftsman to consult him about those.

In clause 3(2)(c) it was suggested that the word "present" should be inserted before "value" to make it clear that the property should not be valued as at the date of acquisition. I am advised by the draftsman that the earlier words in clause 3(2), by reference to the date the statement is made, were enough to put the matter beyond doubt. I hope that is helpful.

Some points arose about clauses 18 and 19. Those clauses provide for a circuit judge to make an order or to grant a warrant allowing access to information that is likely to be of substantial value to a drug trafficking investigation. The hon. Member for Erdington suggested in Committee that a more appropriate test would be "relevance" rather the "value". I know that he was concerned to ensure that the criteria for such orders are sufficiently tightly drawn, and he raised a valuable point. I understand and share his anxiety that the criteria should be sufficiently tightly drawn.

The phrase "substantial value" was taken from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and is intended to be a sufficiently rigorous test to rule out any possibility that the powers would be used in marginal cases. In practice, I doubt whether much is likely to hinge on the distinction between "relevance" and "value". It is difficult to see how something could be of substantial value without also being of substantial relevance. Something could perhaps be relevant without being of value. If anything, on examination value may be the harder test to satisfy.

I have consulted the draftsman and he has advised me that "relevance" could lead to unintended complications because of its technical meaning in relation to evidence. The hon. Gentleman will remember that that was the objection that sprang fully armed from my own brow as a former lawyer who some years ago hung up his wig and joined the human race. For those reasons, I am not proposing any amendment to the original version. [Interruption.] I knew that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) would enjoy that.

Clause 15 contains a matter that we have not resolved, and it is about the formulation of the new laundering offence. The House may recall that that offence lies at the heart of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), who I am glad to see in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) both asked questions in Committee, having been properly consulted by bank employees about their liability. Perhaps I ought to return to that point in order to satisfy hon. Members who have expressed anxiety.

It is important that we get right any criminal offence, and particularly one that carries a maximum of 14 years' imprisonment. We have always accepted that this offence would be one of the more difficult parts of the Bill. From the start, it raised a number of tricky problems about the balance to be struck between effectiveness, on the one hand, and the risk of penalising essentially innocent behaviour, on the other. One of the difficulties about the activity that may give rise to the offence is that participating in a financial transaction will often look the same whether it is innocent or guilty. The mental element is all important. Defining what the mental element in the offence, or the mens rea, as they say in the Temple, should be has been exercising our minds.

Obviously, we do not want a formulation that will pose insuperable problems for ordinary honest bank clerks going about their everyday duties, but we need a formulation that will be effective in enabling any person who assists the drug trafficker by laundering his proceeds to be brought to justice and convicted without placing an impossible burden on the prosecution. We want to send out a warning that those involved in handling other people's money have a duty to satisfy themselves that they are dealing with the sort of person with whom respectable institutions would deal.

We have been looking carefully at the points raised by my hon. Friends, including the use of an objective test for the mental element of the offence, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby, and the use of the word "suspect", which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes. Given the complexities of the laundering concept, we wanted to take further advice from the parliamentary draftsman and the Director of Public Prosecutions. I am not able to announce any conclusion, but, given the importance of this new offence, I hope that the House will agree that it is important to take sufficient time to satisfy ourselves about the best formulation. As soon as I can, I shall write to the hon. Members who have been worried about this aspect. I assure them that if, as a result of our deliberations, we conclude that some change is advisable, any necessary amendment will be tabled in good time in another place.

I am not satisfied that we need to make a change at this stage, but I accept the legitimacy of the concern that has been expressed. We are driving ourselves on to examine the mental element to satisfy ourselves that we have done a precise job in formulating the offence in a way that is fair to those involved in financial deals and to the prosecution, giving it a proper opportunity to make this laundering offence stick. Some unscrupulous people are playing a vital part in facilitating drug trafficking by helping the principal to get away with his funds and to put them into legitimate assets. Does the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery wish me to give way? I see that he does not.

In Committee, a number of Members referred to Scotland. Although the legal systems in Scotland and in England and Wales are complementary, their approaches differ greatly. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has announced that he intends at the earliest opportunity to introduce legislation to provide for the confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking in Scotland. It would not be practicable simply to extend the provisions of the legislation to Scotland in view of the distinctive features of and separate procedures in the Scottish legal system. Until the Scottish legislation comes into force, provision must be made in the Bill to ensure that confiscation orders imposed by courts in England and Wales can be enforced against assets held in Scotland. Clause 14, as drafted, provides an enabling power for this to be done by Order in Council.

Following discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, we propose to table amendments in another place specifying in some detail the procedures by which the Bill will be enforced in Scotland. Those procedures will replace clause 14 altogether. I am sorry that the complexities of drafting have not allowed us to do that in time for this debate.

Essentially, we propose that any order made by the High Court in England and Wales in exercising its functions under the Bill will be automatically recognised and have effect in Scotland. The powers of any receiver appointed under the Bill will be automatically recognised in Scotland. In cases where it is necessary to proceed to measures of enforcement, these powers will be available once the judgment has been registered in the Court of Session.

Police and Customs officers in Scotland will be given similar powers to those available to English and Welsh police under the Bill to ensure effective cross-border enforcement. Further points which occur when considering the Bill in another place might require other amendments or refinements. The provisions we have agreed would enable confiscation of proceeds to play a vital role in the Government's, overall strategy against drug trafficking by removing the major incentive to traffic in drugs and by attacking the funds that are necessary to finance drug trafficking operations.

I come to a point which was specifically raised by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in a private notice question. It concerns the sale in a number of shops in London and elsewhere of cocaine kits. Last Friday week, I undertook to consider as a matter of urgency the adequacy of the present law to prevent such sales and the possibility of introducing a clause to outlaw the sale of these kits—a practice that has caused much offence to so many people. Given the importance of this issue and its relevance to the Bill, I hope that I may take this opportunity to raise it today.

We have looked carefully at the question whether any offence is committed under existing law by the sale of these kits. Although ultimately this is a matter for the courts, I have been advised that the incitement provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 would bite on the sale of cocaine kits only in limited circumstances. To constitute an offence of incitement, there must be an element of persuasion. I understand that the kits are normally displayed and sold without any suggestion being made as to their likely use. Moreover, it is arguable that a person who buys a cocaine kit must either possess the drug or be determined to possess it. Hence, the question of incitement might not arise.

It has been suggested that the existing regulatory powers should be used to ban the sale of cocaine kits. I have consulted the Department of Trade and Industry, but am advised that the consumer legislation for which it is responsible is concerned with the intrinsic safety of consumer goods and no existing regulations could be held to apply to cocaine kits. For those reasons, we are inclined to think that the only effective answer will be the creation of a new specific offence. This in itself is not without difficulties because, as I explained last Friday week, the components of a cocaine kit are everyday items which are sold separately for legitimate purposes. Obviously, we would not want to penalise the sale of, for example, handbag mirrors or razor blades which have perfectly normal, straightforward uses. We want to ensure that any formulation of the new offence does not make it more difficult—this is an increasingly important point—for heroin addicts to obtain syringes and needles because of the increased risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis which would be increased by the re-use of such items. We do not want to encourage addicts to go to "shooting galleries," as they are called in New York, where needles are used by a number of addicts, thereby facilitating the spread of these deadly infections.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)


Mr. Mellor

I shall just finish what I was going to say and then give way.

Obviously, we shall want to reflect and consult further with interested parties before reaching a final view on the best formulation of any new provision. Our initial thinking is that it should be made an offence for a person to supply or to offer to supply any combination of articles which, taken together, he knows or believes are likely to be used for the purpose of inhaling a controlled drug. It might be appropriate to provide in addition that a belief by the seller that the articles would be used to inhale a drug for medical purposes should be a defence to such a charge. We shall consider that point further.

We shall pursue this point as a matter of urgency. It is possible that such a provision will be regarded as relevant to the Bill. I shall raise this point with the authorities in another place. If it does not prove to be practicable to include such a provision in the legislation, we shall consider possible alternative vehicles. I know that the House as a whole shares the Government's concern that early action should be taken on the sale of these kits.

Mr. Hanley

I wanted to intervene before my hon. Friend gave that hopeful sign that there will be an end to the sale of drug paraphernalia. Will my hon. Friend and his Department be at pains to investigate how other countries, such as America, manage to rid themselves of certain drug paraphernalia? I believe that there is successful legislation in many American states banning this type of component kit.

Mr. Mellor

What my hon. Friend says about America is true up to a point. There is no federal offence of selling drug paraphernalia because of the same difficulties that we have experienced on this side of the Atlantic. However, there is a model law for application by states, which has been drafted by our good friends in the drug enforcement administration in Washington. Some states have chosen to adopt that approach. We have drawn upon the American experience in our consideration of the provision. I hope that when it is polished up, it will have support from both sides of the House.

Before we part company with the Bill, there are some basic principles that I should like to emphasise. It is offensive to ordinary citizens to see traffickers living in style as a result of the misery that they have brought to others. The likelihood of losing their proceeds will be an important deterrent if we can make clear how effective and sharp-edged the Bill is.

We must ensure that an effective remedy is available to the courts, so that proceeds cannot be used to finance further trafficking. Like a business, the danger is that proceeds from one deal could finance larger deals and allow ever greater quantities of drugs to be brought into Britain and to become freely available on our streets, thus threatening the future of our youngsters.

The money must be removed completely from the drugs arena. Obviously, that is easier said than done, but our efforts during the past six weeks are an advance on the efforts made in the different and simpler era of the early 1970s when the House passed the Misuse of Drugs Act. At that time the House purported to give power to seize assets, which the courts have subsequently found to be too narrow and devoid of the mechanisms that we have introduced today.

We have drawn on the international experience, which has informed the awareness of so many hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. We have especially considered the United States, which has a well-established criminal and civil forfeiture procedure. The United States example has spurred us on, because massive sums of money have been recovered from traffickers. Some significant breakthroughs have been made in the area of what happens to the money. Up to the present we have focused exclusively on what happens to the drugs. However, although the American example provided many insights and gave us a great spur to action, many of the United States provisions are alien to our legal system. The civil forfeiture procedure, though effective in America, is difficult for us to swallow. We have always expected such procedures to be linked to conviction. As links across the Atlantic have proved to be so controversial these days, I hope that we have not taken hook, line and sinker the American model, but that we have used the American experience to spur us on to a truly British answer to our problems. I give way to the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery.

Mr. Alex Carlile

The hon. Gentleman keeps wanting to give way to me. What have I done?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery was leaning forward menacingly. I thought that I had lulled him to sleep or stimulated him to some great thought. He may feel that he is entitled to rest on his laurels having contributed so much to the Bill.

We require a court to impose a confiscation order, because we wish to deprive every trafficker of his proceeds, however large or small. Bearing in mind our experience of forfeiture and confiscation orders in the courts, it is crucial that the confiscation order should not be an optional extra, but should be at the heart of the way in which a court deals with a drug trafficker. That is central to society's response to the problems posed by the drug trafficker.

At an early stage we had to decide whether to go down the forfeiture or the confiscation road. Forfeiture had its attractions in that tainted property could be seized without the need for valuation, which is part of our present legislation. However, for reasons on which I have already dilated to my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan), forfeiture did not give us the flexibility of confiscation. The attraction of confiscation is that, once a sum has been compiled that represents the proceeds of drug trafficking, it can be enforced against any property of the trafficker regardless of the source from which the property might have come. That provides the crucial flexibility that is required in cases such as those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn. When some assets are overseas and some are domestic, we can lay our hands only on the domestic assets with forfeiture, we would be unable to touch non-tainted assets, but with confiscation we can.

We have looked for the loopholes and tried to stop them in advance. The obvious loopholes are putting property in the names of friends and family and disposing of them before the end of the trial. We have not hesitated to lean across the civil law to take provisions that have worked well in that context, on the basis, "Why should the devil have all the good tunes?" If there are other loopholes, it is not too late for us to drive ourselves on to address the crucial points of detail. In the end, it is the small print rather than the large paragraphs that determines our success.

I stress the importance of investigative powers, not simply because they will help us to ensure that we get all the proceeds, but because they will enable us to go further into the complex conspiracies that are involved in major drug trafficking. They will help us to gain information about people who never soil their hands with the drugs, but who rely on others to do so. Those people mastermind the drug-selling operation from a distance, but they are only too anxious to mastermind the spending and investment at close quarters, because they are in business to make money. Those financial dealings will provide the crucial evidence to enable us to smash more conspiracies and to catch even more of the prime movers than we have succeeded in doing up to the present.

Going into the records of the Inland Revenue, banks and financial institutions is sensitive territory, however imperative the need to take action that drives us on. We must recognise that safeguards are applied to ensure that the authorities do not use drug trafficking as a pretext to throw on one side the liberty of the subject or to apply draconian powers to people who, are innocent.

We must remember that some people who are not guilty of these offences will always excite suspicion. That is why we have been at pains to build into the provisions safeguards to ensure that, while they are hard-hitting, they will not put at risk the rights and welfare of ordinary citizens. That is why we have stressed the role of senior judges of the High Court at the restraint and enforcement stage. That is why we have considered even the singular matter of the investigative part of the Government machine going to court to ask another part of the Government machine to provide information that may be relevant to an inquiry. That is not to be done through cosy telephone calls, but through a judge deciding that it would be appropriate for the Inland Revenue to give records of suspects. That gives independence to the decision for access.

Restraint will be available only in closely defined circumstances. We scoured that provision this afternoon and made some changes. We have taken particular pains to ensure that the rights of third parties are protected by specific provision for them to put their case to the High Court before enforcement. We cannot leave third parties out of the matter. That would be to fail in our duty because we know that someone will always pass to third parties tainted money which must be recovered. Third parties have rights, which the Bill protects.

We insist that there must be reasonable grounds for orders and warrants requiring the disclosure of information by banks and others, and that the bank or financial institution may be heard about whether or not it is appropriate that disclosure should be made. We recognised that that might lead to the leakage of information which could, if it were relayed back to the central figure, be damaging to the investigation, and we have not hesitated to create a criminal offence of leaking information. I hope that that will deter people from doing so.

We are not an island in these matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn, who has taken a great interest and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for having taken through the House the increase in penalties for class A drugs, has been at pains to stress the significance of the international aspects. I have had the opportunity to travel and visit some of the other key countries involved. I know that if the international community is to resist the drugs menace, it must break down the barriers to effective co-operation and action against drug traffickers. The trafficker is a man of the world who exploits national boundaries to give him the freedom to operate and the confidence to feel that, while he and his henchmen are united in their endeavours, the authorities are fragmented and do not work together. The international elements of intelligence and law enforcement have been improved dramatically. I speak in the presence of members of the Home Affairs Select Committee who have travelled the world and seen that for themselves.

We have asked the House for powers, and it has been minded to grant us power to seek like-minded countries to enter into arrangements whereby any order made by their courts against a drug trafficker whose assets are located in the United Kingdom will be enforced as if that order were made in our Central Criminal Court. We expect them to do the same. That is the least we can expect as an international community if we mean what we say and are not merely gesturing about dealing with drug trafficking.

I do not want to underestimate the problems and difficulties. It is time-consuming to negotiate these arrangements painfully and country by country, as those with any experience of negotiating extradition arrangements will know. We shall try to do so, assisted by the clear impetus for change evidenced in our European partners who work with us in the Pompidou group—the Council of Ministers concerned with drugs—which we chair and in which we have played an active role.

The will exists, but it would be much better to draft a treaty with all countries with goodwill to deal with the whole of drug trafficking, to allow for mutual enforcement and for drug traffickers arrested in one jurisdiction to be shifted to another, and to make drug trafficking an international offence so that, wherever a trafficker commits an offence and wherever he is caught, the evidence is admissible against him. The fact that a man makes a drugs deal on the north-west frontier of Pakistan, intending to sell the drugs at a huge profit in Birmingham, Manchester or Liverpool, should not make it less of an offence against the people of those cities than if he had robbed a high street bank in one of those cities. Before much longer I hope to give an account of the efforts being made today in Vienna at the meeting of the United Nations Commission, at which 35 countries are represented, and of their positive responses to a new United Nations convention on drugs trafficking. They are thrashing out the various arrangements that need to be made.

We are not defenceless against the failure to negotiate international arrangements. We must not be starry-eyed. Just as some countries stand outside the battle against international terrorism, others will be ready to seize the chance of becoming a banking haven for tainted money, and we must recognise that. That is why we have given ourselves great flexibility through the structure of the order, and why we shall give a trafficker with assets overseas the choice of either bringing them within our jurisdiction or of serving a longer period imprisonment.

We were driven on this difficult journey by the feeling that, although we had increased the penalty to life imprisonment for drug trafficking, when a trafficker came out of prison he could live a life of ease and luxury on the proceeds. That was not enough to deter a ruthless or reckless person from becoming involved in the business. That spurred us on, and that is why we have worked so effectively together on the legislation. I urge the House to give the Bill a Third Reading.

5.48 pm
Mr. Corbett

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), I welcome the Minister's remarks about cocaine kits. Welcome as they were, we continue to look to the Government to take urgent effective action against this new menace. Parents and most young people are horrified at developments involving glue sniffing and other solvent abuse.

The Bill is an important new weapon in our national fight against drug abuse, which puts a generation of young people at deadly risk. However, it is only one weapon. By raising sharply the penalty for people who get caught taking part in the deadly trade, it may deter some people. The Bill might encourage others to get out of the drugs trade. When traffickers are caught and convicted, they will know for certain that all their assets will be taken unless they can prove that the assets were not bought or acquired with the proceeds of drugs trafficking.

We all know that to win this war against drug abuse, which we are all determined to do, we need a multi-agency approach. Clobbering the convicted trafficker hits and hurts but only after the damage has been done. More action needs to be taken on the supply and demand sides.

The Bill, as the Minister said, needs backing by the international community. Drug traffickers must be treated in the same way as acts of piracy or terrorism are treated by the responsible international community. The illicit drugs trade knows no international boundaries. Measures to chase and catch the traffickers and seize their assets need also to know no international boundaries. It is also important that every sensible step is taken to detect and prevent supplies of heroin and cocaine from coming into Britain in the present large quantities.

The Government know that the Opposition have been critical about the cut of 11.5 per cent. in the strength of Customs and Excise officers since 1979, although we well understand that there is more to combating trafficking than the proper manning of red and green channels at ports of entry. Nonetheless, effective manning at the ports of entry is essential.

The number of Customs officers has fallen since 1978–79, although we are now pleased to see that it is planned to raise numbers to 26,000 by 1 April 1988. Just so that we all know where we all are on this matter, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) —will recall that when he gave evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs on 22 January 1986 it was put to him in question 520 in the minutes of evidence that the numbers of preventive uniformed staff at ports of entry would be back to where it was in 1979 by the end of the 1986–87 financial year. The Minister replied: At the end of the financial year 1986–87 in terms of absolute numbers. It is a question of how they are used, of course, but that is right, yes. The House will welcome the hon. Gentleman's further statement that— what we have to say is that given the scale of the threat we now face, and the way it is manifesting itself, do we need additional cover here? If the answer to that is 'Yes', I certainly can assure this Committee that there is no arbitrary economic reason as to why those resources should not be provided. We welcome that and I know that Customs and Excise staff and their trade unions will echo that welcome. The Customs and Excise staff are professional men and women anxious to do a professional job and ask only that they get the manpower, tools and training to do that.

Mr. Mellor

I welcome the way in which the hon. Gentleman is putting that case. As one who has tried very hard to establish a climate of shared endeavour, it has pained me that there has been a great difference between us and the Customs officers' unions on these matters. Since my ministrial group was formed, substantial additional resources have been announced for Customs and Excise. I appreciate that it will always be a bone of contention as to whether reductions that were made in the pursuance of the Government's overall objectives were proper. That is probably a matter that is best left alone as different people will draw different conclusions.

It is crucial that the resources are being made available. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear in the strongest possible terms that we support the Customs and Excise in its battle and reasonable requests will be considered in that spirit. I hope that we may go ahead on that basis. I am anxious to make it clear that we should lay to one side the sometimes rather harsh exchanges that we have had on these issues. I hope that we can pay full-hearted compliments to the way in which the Customs, in co-operation with the police, are trying to intercept as many narcotics smugglers as possible.

Mr. Corbett

I am grateful for the Minister's remarks but, more important, I anticipate that those trade unions with members in Customs and Excise will take his remarks as an encouraging sign and try to build on them.

The new investigative powers to track down the proceeds of trafficking in the Bill will demand a high degree of competence and skill from the police officers involved. Training is very much the key to the successful way in which the Bill's provisions can be effective. I hope that the Minister can give an unqualified assurance tonight that any necessary training in relation to the Bill will get urgent priority and will not have to wait at the back of a queue because of a lack of staff or cash.

Parliament is providing an important new weapon in the battle against trafficking and will have no patience if the use of these powers is in any way delayed or blunted because of inadequate training. The developing specialist drugs squads, aided by fraud squad members, will have to make the detailed and complicated financial searches. Traffickers will not usually leave a fully sign-posted route to where their converted assets are stored.

My one disappointment with the Bill, and this will come as no surprise to the Minister, is that the novel step of turning the seized assets back against the traffickers has not been taken. I know the argument that the estimated £6.6 million a year will help to offset Government spending on drug abuse. I believe, however, that there has been a lack of imagination. The public would have understood and applauded the use of the assets to set up a trust to help to understand and combat addiction, to help to rehabilitate, treat and encourage people to come off and stay off drugs and aid the victims of abuse and their families. That was meant to be more than a mere public relations exercise. It was an idea to use the extra funds from such a sour source for such sweet and serious purposes, to supplement, not to substitute, what the Government are doing with taxpayers' money. Alas, that is not to be but I hope that when we consider confiscation of the proceeds of other profitable types of crime, we might debate the idea again.

At the start of my speech I said that the fight against drug abuse and trafficking is a national fight. That is why the Opposition have been as insistent as the Government over the Bill and why we shall continue to call for and support every sensible measure to combat drug addiction and its sad and savage consequences.

To underline our concern and approach, I now want to make the Government an offer. The Labour Opposition are ready to consider appropriate ways in which we might join in the work of the interdepartmental group on drug misuse, chaired by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, or in any other appropriate work. Fighting and winning the war against drug abuse is a job for all of us here and in all parts of the country at every level. It involves young people, parents, employers, voluntary groups, trade unions and everyone who cares about the nation's tomorrow. We are ready to play our part and discuss with the Secretary of State for the Home Department the offer that I have just made. We wish the Bill a speedy passage to the statute book and success when it comes into operation.

5.58 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I was going to begin my speech by saying what a pleasant surprise it was to come into the Chamber in mid-week and find so much accord and so little argument. However, barely had the Third Reading commenced than the House was invaded by a rabble of synthetically angry Labour supporters who sought to raise, rudely and discourteously to those hon. Members who were concerned with this important Bill, a matter which was puny by comparison. The only object of the exercise could have been to try to get the maximum publicity for a mischief-making sordid manoeuvre.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who has tried so hard to present a united, sensible and constructive front, should have been embarrassed by the activity of his colleagues. If the Labour party felt so strongly about the Bill, that might have been more evident if we had seen more of its members in the empty ranks behind the hon. Gentleman whom I have so greatly praised.

I wish to congratulate the Government, in general, and my hon. Friend the Minister, in particular, on a Bill which will strike a substantial blow against the contemptible drug trafficker and the truly horrifying drug trade. and on moving so quickly to put the Bill on the statute book. I was not privileged to take part in the discussions which resulted in changes and improvements to the Bill during its passage since Second Reading. Improvements have been made to the mechanism through which the Bill's framework will operate.

At the beginning of the discussions on the Bill, anxieties were expressed about safeguards. I hope that those have been ironed out. If they have not, they can, of course, be further considered in another place. There was anxiety about the laundering provisions. The issue is difficult, but it has been dealt with by the Government with great good sense.

Anxiety has arisen about cocaine kits which are on sale in Soho. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for offering to consider the matter further. The public would not expect the Government to say—I do not suppose, in the light of what my hon. Friend said, that they will—that there is nothing that can be done. Of course something can be done if we have the will. I am encouraged to know that my hon. Friend is determined to ensure that something is done. I am optimistic that that problem will be solved before the Bill reaches the statute book.

Alarm greeted the announcement of this measure at the Conservative party conference. It was thought by some that it was contrary to all the principles of justice that the burden of proof might be placed upon the defendant. That fear has been shown to be baseless. There never has been a need for the strict canons of evidence to be applied in the sentencing process. When a man has been convicted of a crime, the burden of proof that the proceeds of crime were present and identifiable will still have to be discharged in court in the normal way.

It is astonishing, when one thinks about it, that the removal of the benefits of crime seems to have become such a novel concept. We talk about not allowing anyone to benefit from his crime, but confiscation has hardly been the basis of punishment for serious crime in this country since the forfeiture of property on conviction for felony was abolished. That was brutal and involved the complete extinction of all the rights and interests of persons who were convicted of felony. In the days long before the welfare state, the entire family suffered complete deprivation. It was necessary that the rules of a harsh and unfair age should have been corrected. But we seem to have swung too far in the opposite direction. It is only with legislation such as this that we return to the principle that everyone will uphold —that a man should not benefit from the proceeds of his crime.

The first response of the law-abiding citizen when someone commits a crime is, "Let him not benefit from it." Only afterwards do we consider to what extent the offender should be further punished.

We have still not confidently grasped that principle. We have not, for example, seriously considered using the precedent of this Bill to deal with the most serious of fraud cases. I advocated as much the other day when we were debating the Roskill proposals. I hope that if the principles contained in this Bill are seen to be successful and helpful in deterring crime, we shall be able to extend them so that the substantial benefits which result from some of the frauds that are committed today can likewise be taken from the offender.

To remove the enjoyment of the proceeds of crime when a person is sentenced must be a further deterrent. Previously drug offenders could say, "I may have to go to prison, but my wife and children will benefit." Prison might not be so great a deterrent. Prison was sometimes not considered important by offenders who had not previously done much to benefit their wives and children. Or the offender may have said, "I shall have a lot of money to enjoy when I come out."

Those of us who have been engaged in the criminal process in the courts for a number of years know that men convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to four, five or six years' imprisonment have happily served the sentence confident in the knowledge that when they came out they would be able to enjoy £250,000 of ill-gotten gains accumulated from the offence. If the Bill is as efficient as we hope it will be, that will not be allowed to happen. There will be less temptation for offenders to commit crime. Crime might reduce rather than increase.

The law-abiding citizen will think it right that an effort is being made to stop the criminal enjoying the benefits of the most horrifying of all crimes—drug trafficking. It is a crime of multiple murder, because many people die when they are led into drug addiction and drug dependence. The horror of drugs in our society is not a figment of our imagination; it is happening. There has been a great deal of criticism of television recently in this place, but one of television's great achievements has been the portrayal of how horrifying are the effects of drug addiction on young people.

We have the record of what has happened in the United States to show how much worse the problem could become. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), who has led the Home Affairs Select Committee, has recently returned from observing the scene in the United States. He warned us that in the United States the industry is second only to the motor industry in its size and turnover, which runs at perhaps $100 billion a year. It is almost too frightening to contemplate something like that here in the coming months and years.

The United States has taken measures upon which this Bill is based. The money confiscated is spent on anti-drug measures and the building of prisons in the United States. I hope that the money which is seized from those terrible criminals will be put to constructive use in the prevention of crime and the deterrence of further crime in this country. Again, to deprive drug gangs of the finance on which they would found future drug activity is so sensible and desirable that one can only be surprised that we did not think it right to take such action long ago.

I hope that the Government will not rest on their laurels when they have put the Bill on the statute book. This important measure is long overdue. It will not solve all our drug problems. More effort must be devoted to stopping the production of drugs. That requires determined international effort. I congratulate my hon. Friend and the Government on initiating activities internationally which will help to reduce that evil.

More effort must be devoted to the education of young people in our society to warn them of the appalling dangers of drug addiction. I compliment my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government on the steps they have taken in this regard. The broadcasting authorities should be praised for bringing the dangers of drug addiction so closely into our homes so that we and our children understand the miserable and appalling consequences of addiction.

More effort must be directed towards stopping the importation of drugs through an adequate Customs and Excise body and with properly trained officers. The Government must be congratulated on changing their policy on the reduction of Custom and Excise officers which will strengthen the barriers against this evil. We must devote more effort to catching offenders through more and properly trained police officers. The guilty must be convicted and in that regard we can take pride in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and other legislation which make the conviction of the guilty more likely while at the same time protecting society against the risks of conviction of the innocent.

There must be more effort to treat the afflicted victims. I have a great deal of sympathy with the final words of the hon. Member for Erdington. All of us must be concerned with the victim. This type of legislation stops future victims or reduces the number of future victims and this is the most positive action we can take. We must, however, concern ourselves with the treatment of those who have unfortunately already fallen foul of addiction.

At the end of the day the whole community must turn itself, not into a neighbourhood watch force, but a community watch force to identify the victims and the traffickers and to be prepared to report them to the police and to support the police in their activities to stamp out this evil. It is only by action on all these fronts that we shall have a chance of controlling the horrifying scourge of drug addiction and diminishing and hopefully destroying the potentiality of its grip upon our society.

6.12 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile

I shall not detain the House long because several hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

I congratulate the Minister on the fair passage through which he has captained the Bill. The fair passage of the Bill has been especially remarkable because it is not one of those anodyne Bills which raise no issues of principle. This is not a Bill which avoids tackling head on some troubling civil liberty implications. There are those of us on both sides of the House who have had to examine our consciences and to judge carefully whether we were prepared to countenance breaches of what we would sometimes regard as almost sanctified civil liberty principles in order to meet the needs of the public interest.

I agree with the Minister on the need for international co-operation. Unless true international co-operation can be achieved, many of the aims of the Bill will fail. Such co-operation could prevent the cultivation of dangerous drugs, in many countries. The Minister is right in saying that there is absolutely no use in this Parliament introducing what some may regard as draconian measures if elsewhere in the world there is no let-up in the effort to prevent the pushing of drugs grown in those areas to people in the towns and cities of Britain.

We have sadly reached the stage when the drugs with which we are principally concerned, heroin and cocaine, are not only available in cities such as London, Manchester and Liverpool. I have been told by police officers that such drugs are available even in remote rural areas such as in my own constituency of Montgomery. They are available in the small towns and villages of rural Wales and rural England.

Against that background, I have decided that the Bill, despite some of its more worrying implications, must be supported. However, without seeking to sound a note of dissent, I am aware that there are many outside the House and many in the other place—not shackled by electoral constraint or by the sounds of clanking electoral chains—who still have some reservations about parts of the Bill.

The discussions on the Bill have not adequately tackled the implications for third parties. I hope that those matters will be considered in another place and that the Bill will emerge from there with an assurance for us that third parties will never run the risk of losing property which they have purchased or acquired in good faith. I believe that that can be achieved.

I have already exchanged letters with the Minister on the question of the use of powers similar to these in the much broader range of criminal offences. I look forward to the day when we can see the Hodgson report—not just a carefully chosen part of that report—expanded in applicability to a much wider area of criminal law.

I welcome what the Minister has said concerning the examination undertaken by the Government of the sale of cocaine kits. The sale of such kits is a wicked activity. I was privileged to be one of the sponsors of a Bill which dealt with the prohibition on the sale of glue sniffing kits. I believe that that was the first of what may end up as a series of statutory provisions which will ensure that profit is not made by the criminally greedy out of the misery of others. We must take steps to close the loopholes which enable, for example, unprincipled newsagents to hang, inside the door of their shops, the equipment which causes misery and death. I hope that the Government will ensure that adequate provisions are put on the statute book.

I fear that the Minister may have a false sense of security due to the assent from all parties to the Bill. I suspect that the aplomb and the dispassion with which he viewed the discourteous chaos which broke about around him during the debate will not have passed unnoticed. We may find that he is shortly translated, by promotion, to that graveyard of political ambitions, the Department of Trade and Industry. I hope not.

6.18 pm
Mr. Hanley

The members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs on their visit to the United States to investigate the terribly serious state of cocaine taking in that country discovered that there are three major areas involved in the drug trade. There is the supply, the demand and the profit. If one cuts off one of those three legs of the stool, there is a good chance of the other two dwindling by themselves.

The Bill deals with one of those areas. It does little to deal with the supply of drugs or the demand for drugs. Separate measures must be taken by the Government and successive Governments to deal with those areas. It deals for the first time with the profit elements in drug trafficking and the House should not only be grateful for but proud of that. Within a short time, the House has got to the bottom of this part of the triangle of drug trafficking and, in a scene of supreme co-operation, has managed to produce a Bill that is not only effective but has attracted agreement from both sides of the House. The House will be ennobled by the passage of this legislation.

On behalf of the House, I thank both my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). Twice in less than a day we have seen what co-operation between the two great parties can bring to matters of tremendous importance and concern. Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member were in the Chamber just before 2 o'clock this morning co-operating on the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill. Again, just over 12 hours later, the two of them are constructively introducing a Bill that brings us far closer to an answer to this awful problem. My hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman have shown such co-operation that any future coalition, if we were to have one, would have to look to them both. I just wonder who would be the Home Secretary.

The Bill creates three new powers. The first is the power to trace, freeze and confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking; the second is the new offence of assisting another to retain the proceeds of drug trafficking; and the third is the new offence of disclosing information that might prejudice a drug trafficking investigation. Only last Christmas, my hon. Friend the Minister said: The prospects of vast profits is a powerful lure, and a major reason why criminals are drawn into the evil trade of illicit drugs. Even the risk of long prison sentences is acceptable to some if a life of affluence awaits them on release. We have to ensure that drug traffickers simply will not have a chance of enjoying the proceeds of their contemptible activities and, just as important, that they and their associates have nothing left to finance further crimes. I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing to the House legislation that will leave the House achieving exactly what he intended such a short while ago.

Let us look at the background. The Government's proposals for tracing and confiscating all the proceeds of the drug trafficking were developed in consultation with those directly involved not only in the operation of the new powers, including the police, Customs and representatives of the banks, but with representatives of other nations that have experienced this evil. The recommendations in the Bill can clearly be placed on three sources. The first is the fifth report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, on which I am proud to serve, and which has been led so honourably and conscientiously by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), and upon which the hon. Member for Erdington served. The second source is the publication "The Profits of Crime and their Recovery", the report of the Howard League working party chaired by Sir Derek Hodgson.

The third source is evidence from my hon. Friend the Minister. It is rare in Select Committee experience that wherever the Committee has travelled, whatever it has seen, whatever the evidence that it has studied, the Minister has been there before it. It is so often the experience of a Select Committee that it recommends that a Minister should go and see what it has seen. In this case, my hon. Friend had seen it before the Committee and it is gratifying that the Minister and the Committee came to the same conclusions in the same spirit of co-operation that we have seen today. It is also gratifying that the Select Committee, in its unanimous report, made several recommendations, some of which have been included in the Bill.

The need for the proposed new powers was illustrated by Operation Julie in 1978. Those convicted after that investigation had manufactured and sold LSD on a vast scale. Huge profits had been made and the prosecution was able to trace £750 million worth of profits to assets in the hands of the defendants. In addition to long-term imprisonment, the court made an order for the forfeiture of the profits, but on appeal to the other place it was held that Parliament had never meant for the forefeiture orders to be used as a means of stripping traffickers of the profits of their unlawful enterprise.

Members of the Select Committee and my hon. Friend the Minister, having seen the assets on display in Florida, know full well that we have to seize assets. The law as it stood after Operation Julie said that the power could be used only to forefeit property directly related to the offence, such as drugs themselves, but not to the equipment for making, the vehicles used for carrying, and the cash that was about to be used or had been handed for them. In Miami, the Select Committee saw the houses, aeroplanes and vast boats—almost ships—that had been financed out of the proceeds of drug trafficking. It is obscene to see the wealth that the profits from drugs have bought.

It is frightening to envisage the power that drugs could buy. The Committee members stood in a small room, 10 ft by 15 ft, among $10 billion worth of cocaine and marijuana. That showed what wealth can be accumulated in a small space. I have been a chartered accountant for some years and have been privy to many stock takings. I have never stood in such a small space and been confronted by such vast wealth in assets. One could hire an army ready to die for the gold of that money. I am told that in Africa mercenaries are bought for less than that, and if they knew where that room was, the money could be multiplied 10 times over.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the industry is worth $100 billion a year and is second only to the motor car industry. It is bigger than the gross domestic product of 15 out of 25 OECD nations. Therefore, it is an industry bigger than many independent democratic nations. One can imagine the damage it could do if put into the wrong hands. It is vital that we have the powers given by the Bill to ensure that people think again before taking to crime.

Confiscation orders are only part of the Bill's powers, but they are harsh. If a person has been convicted in the Crown court of drug trafficking offences, the court is required to make a confiscation order that deprives the offender of the value of the proceeds of his trafficking. That will be in addition to whatever sentence the court otherwise feels is appropriate to the offence. That is not just getting down to bedrock; it is moving further.

The confiscation order will not be limited to the proceeds of the offences for which the defendant is being sentenced, but takes into account all trafficking generally, and will do so by reversing the burden of proof. No hon. Member would take such a step lightly — one has to consider it carefully. The Select Committee considered it hard, and still recommended this step. To reverse the burden of proof may be seen to be completely against the civil liberties of most of our citizens. It runs against British justice, which we have come to know and respect.

In these cases, the court will be able to assume, unless the contrary is shown, that all the defendant's assets, together with any profits that have passed through his hands in the previous six years, represent the proceeds of drug trafficking. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for the amendment which clarified that period, not only increasing it from five to six years but clarifying the period over which the assets might be calculated. In the original Bill, I believe that it was unclear and could have led to delays in court procedure, but the Bill is now absolutely clear.

Some people have expressed concern about the reversal of the burden of proof. I think it should be known outside the House that the prosecution must still prove that a person is guilty of the offence with which he has been charged. Having done so, it is easier for the defendant, rather than the prosecution, to explain how he acquired the money. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to ask the defence to establish what part of the offender's assets has been legally acquired. If he is unable or unwilling to answer, then, following a drug conviction, it is quite legitimate for the court to assume that it was obtained illegally.

On the matter of the realisation of assets, once the confiscation order has been made the High Court will have power to appoint a receiver to legalise any of the offender's assets to satisfy the order. Assets which have been in the hands of the offender but have since been transferred to a third party for less than full value may also be included as long as the transfer has taken place within the previous six years or the assets can be shown to represent the proceeds of drug trafficking.

In Washington, New York and Florida we saw that imprisonment often has no effect. We heard of agents in the drug enforcement administration being murdered, and in the past few days we have even heard of many employees of an airline being persuaded and bribed to carry drugs. We travelled by that airline. We know how the Customs officers are trained to spot the profile of those who are likely to be carrying drugs. We know that proper training for Customs officers is vital and keeping them up to date with modern techniques is expenive but important.

I do not believe that the Customs officer we met in Atlanta, Georgia, was aware that between 50 and 100 employees of the airline who passed information to him about those who were likely to be trafficking in drugs were trafficking in drugs themselves. I have no idea whether he had any contact with them, but I know what a difficult task it is to spot such individuals who will go to any lengths to make what can be millions of pounds through their evil trade.

However, imprisonment is important. I am glad that if the confiscation order is not satisfied in full the Bill will provide for increased maximum periods of imprisonment for default. The confiscation order may not be satisfied perhaps because some of the offender's property has been placed outside the jurisdication of the court, put away in some other country or given to another individual who cannot be traced. I am glad that the current maximum of 12 months' imprisonment will be increased dramatically. The Bill provides for a new progressive scale for the non-payment of the confiscation order with a maximum of 10 years for default of sums over £1 million. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will consistently increase that period in the light of experience so that it will be effective as time passes. Those periods of imprisonment for default will be in excess of any other prison sentence imposed by the court.

The Minister mentioned investigative powers which are so important. The Bill provides new powers to investigate the financial dealings of drug traffickers. We need to investigate those financial dealings, but it is not easy. We know how difficult it is to investigate the financial affairs of those involved in fraud in the City but, with respect, these sums of money are even bigger. They can mean, as we saw in America, multi-billion pound organisations with money laundering so clever that it is almost impossible to trace the funds through to the businesses—some often legitimate — set up by the traffickers. It costs a great deal of money to investigate fraud; and to investigate fraud on the scale of multi-billion pound organisations would be even more difficult.

In the Bill, when there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a person is engaged in drug trafficking the police or Customs officers will be able to apply to a circuit judge for an order requiring the disclosure of information which could be of substantial value to the investigation. The powers will be available in respect of information held by banks and other financial institutions and also information held by the Inland Revenue and other Government Departments. We need that co-operation.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Minister has said that he will look again at the powers in respect of people such as bank clerks. In Committee I said that the legal committee of the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers shared a real concern that the effect of the present wording would be to imperil the ordinary lowly bank clerk who might be said to have had grounds for suspicion about a particular transaction. All of the clerk's training will have been based on the bank's duty of confidentiality to its customers, which is enshrined in law by the decision in the case of Tournier and the National Provincial and Union Bank of England." — [Official Report, Standing Committee H, 30 January 1986; c. 5.] My hon. Friend is right to look at that matter again. In fact, the change of words which I suggested in Committee seems to have attracted careful research. I believe that eventually it will be shown that it needs some amendment, or an announcement in another place as to how the legislation will work.

I am a little worried that suspicion, for example, by a police officer, is not enough upon which to make an arrest or charge an offender in any other type of legislation. It is commonplace in our law that no jury feels it can convict on suspicion alone. To raise the suggestion that mere suspicion by a bank employee who is taking part in otherwise routine bank transactions could result in a person being found guilty of an offence carrying 14 years' imprisonment—which, as my hon. Friend the Minister said in Committee, is the second highest penalty —shows how serious the matter is. It is still an extremely high penalty for suspicion. I do not want my hon. Friend to believe that in mentioning that I am trying to weaken the Bill. I want to ensure that juries convict but that they convict more often than they release those who, were it not for that provision, might get off.

Another part of the Bill concerns the restraint order. Once proceedings have been instituted the prosecution will be able to apply to the High Court for an order freezing any assets which may subsequently be needed to satisfy a confiscation order imposed on a defendant. We need restraint orders because they are another weapon in the armoury. As I mentioned before, two new offences are created by the Bill which facilitate the retention, control or investment of the proceeds of trafficking by another person, knowing or having reason to suspect that the person is a trafficker. I believe that that penalty is valid. As I have mentioned, I do not wish anybody to think that I want to water it down.

The other offence is prejudicing a drug traffic investigation. That has been directed at those who, learning that police or Customs officers have obtained or applied to a circuit judge for an order requiring disclosure of information, tell the suspect that his affairs are being investigated. I am glad that that will be punishable by a sentence of at least five years.

The Government's record which culminates with the Bill and which will continue is vital. The United Kingdom is spearheading a campaign to cut production in the source countries. Already nearly £4 million has been given to Pakistan. I visited Pakistan with the Sub-Committee on Race Relations and Immigration. We looked into the drug problem there and the question of international co-operation. I am glad that opium crop production has been cut. I am also glad that £1 million is being used to combat the illicit production of cocaine in south America, that during the past five years the number of Customs and Excise officers has more than doubled and that 150 additional officers are to be appointed this year.

I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has taken on board the words of the hon. Member for Erdington, that if it is to be an effective deterrent the force must have sufficient means with which to provide the deterrent. A national information and education campaign has been launched. Parole for drug traffickers has been severely restricted. Full Government support has been given to private Members' Bills such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) who last year so brilliantly steered through Parliament his Bill. The strength of the regional crime squads has been increased by 20 per cent. and a national drugs intelligence unit has been established.

The Bill will be an effective weapon, but we must not forget those who are the victims of drug abuse. Education is vital if we are to cut down the demand for drugs, and international co-operation is absolutely vital if we are to cut down the supply of drugs. By legislation we can help to cut the triangle of drugs: the supply, the demand and the profit. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department and the hon. Member for Erdington and all right hon. and hon. Members who have joined together to help to protect the millions of people who might otherwise not only be injured by but die from the drugs menace.

6.41 pm
Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

The Bill addresses the most serious problem that can affect young people. I was actutely aware that this problem would arise. During the early 1970s I lived in the United States where I became aware of the fact that a huge proportion of New York city's population was affected by drug addiction and that it caused social and criminal problems. They were so significant that they dominated New York city. Everybody was aware that muggings, street crime generally and gang warfare in the city were largely caused by drugs. This continues to be a problem in many parts of the United States. I am afraid that it is now becoming a very large problem in the United Kingdom.

No one should underestimate, however, the difficulty faced by the Government in trying to do something about it. Drug addiction causes immense difficulties. It is a form of affliction that has many causes but whose cures are not obvious. The Government undertake various forms of activity. It is extraordinarily difficult, with 40 million people arriving in this country, to detect the importation of drugs, even when Customs and Excise and the police become very good at detection in a particular area—for example, at Heathrow. Drugs enter this country in various ways—for instance, in cargo containers—but when the gap is plugged in one area it opens up somewhere else.

Our police forces are not equipped to deal with the detection and distribution of drugs. The manpower that this would involve and the degree of co-operation from the public that would be required are not attainable. It is very difficult to find the places where dealings in drugs take place and to bring to book the people who are involved.

There is much controversy over the method of treating addicts and the cost of providing treatment on the National Health Service. However, if we can cure 30 per cent., 50 per cent. or 70 per cent. of those addicts who present themselves for treatment, we shall remove them from the streets where they do harm to themselves and to others by selling drugs and involving others in drug abuse.

We have been trying to establish a drug treatment centre in my Bolton constituency. The problems involved in trying to do so within our highly decentralised National Health Service are enormous. The agreement of the professionals has to be obtained. Furthermore, the public has to agree to expenditure of this kind, because that money would otherwise be spent on other forms of treatment. Fortunately, some progress has at last been made.

We are also trying to educate children not to become involved with drugs. This is another highly contentious area. Many people feel that it could be counter-productive even to mention the subject to children. I am glad that the Home Office's interdepartmental committee is attempting to co-ordinate the efforts to educate children, adults and professionals about how to stop the spread of drug abuse. But it is not easy. Anything that can be done to attack the problem at its core is vital. The Bill falls very much into that category.

Drug trafficking involves large sums of money, and very sophisticated criminals and criminal techniques have come to the fore. It is necessary therefore to remove the incentive for criminals to become involved in this trade. We shall then be able to interrupt the supply of drugs. This legislation, for which many right hon. and hon. Members have been asking for a long time and which was foreshadowed in the United States and elsewhere, will make a considerable contribution. If semi-organised criminals who have been involved in other forms of crime begin to dabble in the drugs trade but then find that they are subject to a new range of legal penalties because their assets are seized and because they are put under surveillance by financial institutions as suspected drugs traffickers, it will act as a considerable disincentive to them.

If it is not possible immediately to seize the assets of a suspect who is arrested because he is suspected of trafficking in drugs, is my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department satisfied that it will be impossible for that individual to exercise his right to contact his lawyer or somebody else, who may then be able very quickly to move his financial assets out of the country and thus defeat the objectives of the Bill? I ask him to look at the possibility of introducing an amendment to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 so that criminals in this category can be held incommunicado for long enough to obtain a restraint order, thereby ensuring that this cannot happen.

Drug addiction is a disease that affects society. However, unlike other diseases, many people are making money out of it. They are cynically exploiting young people for gain. The Bill will make only a small dent in the drugs problem, but is it not morally right that these horrific criminals who exploit young people for enormous financial gain should be brought to book and stripped of all their assets? In this way, even if they are imprisoned, they will be unable to enjoy the proceeds of their crime at a later date, which is what is happening now. What good is it locking up a person for a crime if a year later, or even four or five years later, because the sums are so large in some cases, he knows that, having served the prison sentence, he has a fortune awaiting him outside? What good is it if we cannot ensure that that person is stripped not only of his liberty but of the proceeds of his heinous crimes?

6.50 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

I wish briefly to give my particular and personal welcome to the smooth passage of the Bill through the House, following as it does my private Member's Bill, the Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Act. This, too, has been a non-partisan measure which has been given wholehearted support from every quarter of the House. For my Bill, I managed to get 11 sponsors representative not only of every party in the House but of every faction within each party—from saturated wet to bone dry on my own side and from militant moderate to immoderate militant in the Labour party. Indeed, I was glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) even though he thought that I would never get it through the House. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who was so cagey about becoming a sponsor of my Bill eventually refusing to do so, has redeemed himself by the admirable way he has responded to the Bill on behalf of the Opposition during its various stages through the House.

There is no difference between murder by heroin for financial gain and murder by shotgun in the course of armed robbery. If those found guilty of burglary and fraud are not allowed to retain their ill-gotten assets, why should drug traffickers be allowed to do so?

The Bill, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, is potentially "a sharp new weapon" against major drug traffickers. How sharp it proves to be depends largely upon the implementation of the legislation.

As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary knows, I am most concerned about international co-operation, which is vital. How sharp this weapon is depends to a great extent on that. We are dealing with highly sophisticated criminals. They are used to laundering the assets of their crimes through a multiplicity of bank accounts and properties in a multiplicity of countries. I know that there are ways in which we can proceed against them. As my hon. Friend said on Report, we can proceed against legitimate assets here in this country to the value of the tainted assets abroad. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) made clear, we can add an additional custodial sentence if a major drug trafficker found guilty does not know his financial obligation and pay the full value of his tainted assets to the court. An additional sentence can be added to any other sentence he receives.

But progress in international co-operation is vital. Bilateral agreements with other countries are time-consuming and difficult to conclude effectively. The alternative is by conventions initiated through the Council of Europe or the United Nations.

The 35 member states of the United Nations most intimately involved in the problem are putting forward a draft convention but that is only 35 out of 150 members of the United Nations. If we do not proceed from the stage of a draft convention following the meeting in Vienna we must consider the question of a Council of Europe convention, as my hon. Friend has suggested. Indeed, he is on record as saying that that is not a second rate option. I hope that he will follow though on this should the meeting in Vienna prove to be not satisfactory.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has proposed that in 1987 there should be a world conference at ministerial level to consider the whole question of drug trafficking. I hope that we will take the initiative at that world conference to ensure that the measures we have taken can be implemented effectively. Their effectiveness depends upon international co-operation. As my right hon. Friend said, it can be a sharp new weapon. Indeed, "Justinian" in the Financial Times, as quoted in Committee by myself and the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) on Second Reading, described the Bill as one of the most fearsome pieces of legislation in modern times, both in the investigative powers it gives to public authorities and in its penal sanctions". I do not think that I can pay any greater tribute to the Minister and his officials than that. We are dealing with one of the most evil criminal trades in the world. Our response to that trade should be an extremely fearsome piece of legislation. If in Standing Committee and on Report we have made it more fearsome, we have improved on the original.

The Bill now moves to another place. I hope that we shall see it enacted before the summer. Meanwhile I look forward to hearing from the Minister what he anticipates will then happen, what progress he believes we can make towards achieving vital international co-operation through bilateral agreements with other countries, through a United Nations convention or through a Council of Europe convention on drug trafficking.

6.56 pm
Mr. Mellor

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate on Third Reading for their kind remarks about the measure and my contribution to it. I assure those who spoke of the overall context into which the proposal has to be set that in no sense will the Bill's passage through the House and the other place represent any slackening in the Government efforts. Indeed, we shall be spurred on to greater achievements.

As I have said before, all of us who have studied the problem know that there is no escape from the drugs problem down the law and order route; success will come only because people reject drugs. As long as there is a market for drugs, there will always be ruthless people ready to meet that demand. What we have done today, I hope, will help to make the path of the drug trafficker a much less attractive one, and one fraught with many more perils than hitherto.

I thank particularly the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) for some of the points he made. Dealing first with what he said about Customs officers, I should like to draw a line under some of the controversy that has raged in that respect. We now see a clear way forward. When I went to Heathrow, I was impressed by their work. One had only to go into the frightful room where they have to wait for people to pass motions to see whether they have a swallower on their hands to realise that it is a difficult job we ask our Customs officers to do, and we are lucky to have men of such talent and capability to carry out the work.

I welcome too what the hon. Gentleman said about closer co-operation. If I may say so, I take that in the spirit in which it was offered, and I should like to follow it through. In dealing with an issue as important as this, we should focus on what we can do together and should not regard this as another opportunity for partisan dispute.

I thank those hon. Members who commented on the proposal I canvassed about dealing with the menace of cocaine kits. From what has been said, I gather that my proposals meet with approval. I shall therefore continue with the efforts we are making to put them into final form and to examine whether they can be included in the Bill in the other place or whether some other way may be found. Given the amount of co-operation that exists, I am sure that this can be taken forward.

The Bill now leaves the House and goes to the other place. I hope that it does so with the good wishes of all those present and that in the other place it will be dealt: with in the same spirit that it has been dealt with here, as a necessary part of the battle against drugs on which we are all embarked.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Mr. Speaker

We now come to the private business set down for consideration this day.