HC Deb 21 January 1986 vol 90 cc241-80

Order for Second Reading read.

7.12 pm
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

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

This Bill offers us a sharp new weapon in the fight against drugs. Before I outline the thrust of the Bill and the advantages which we think that it will bring, I would like to say a few words about how it fits into our general strategy.

Because drugs can degrade and destroy human beings in the most pitiless way, there is no strand of public policy more important than the fight against drugs. Our strategy is effectively overseen and co-ordinated by the interdepartmental ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, chaired by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. It is doing an admirable job.

We have to tackle both supply and demand. Last year we stepped up action on both fronts. On the supply side, the key tasks are international co-operation, effective enforcement and deterrence. The United Kingdom has for many years worked energetically with others to reduce supplies of drugs from abroad. Last October, we announced further grants to help to reduce drug production and trafficking. They were directed particularly at opium poppy cultivation in Pakistan and cocaine production in Latin America. Both customs and the police are targeting substantially increased resources on the drug traffickers. For example, the number of customs specialist investigators has more than doubled since 1979 and is set to increase again. The appointment of a national drugs intelligence co-ordinator, Mr. Colin Hewett, has further enhanced the co-operation between the two services. Our determination to strengthen deterrence is exemplified in the Bill.

On the demand side, up to £8 million has been set aside for our continuing successful national prevention compaigns, which include television advertising, posters, leaflets for parents, videos for professionals and young people, and action in the schools. Extra resources have been provided to expand treatment and rehabilitation services for drug misusers, including a further £5 million a year through the health authorities from April.

It is fair to claim that this strategy is producing results. In 1985 customs seized a record £107 million-worth of drugs and smashed more than 70 drug rings. Police seizures have also risen rapidly, and so have convictions for trafficking offences. An independent evaluation of our prevention publicity suggests that it has made young people more aware of the harmful effects of drugs, such as heroin, and has stiffened their resolve to say no to drugs.

Those are clearly encouraging signs, but the situation remains serious. I would be quite wrong if I did not warn the House that the drugs problem in the United Kingdom could continue for a while to get worse before it gets better. The world is awash with drugs, and we may see an increase in the number of traffickers and misusers. We can reasonably expect price and purity levels to remain fairly static. The number of seizures and arrests are likely to increase as the efforts and effectiveness of the police and customs continue to improve.

Heroin will continue to be our main problem, and there are signs that as Pakistan has more success in cracking down on the traffickers, so the source for smuggling heroin into the United Kingdom shifts to its neighbours in south-west Asia. The cocaine explosion which has been forecast by some commentators has not materialised, but we need to remain especially alert in view of the massive quantities that are being produced in Latin America. We should also worry about the scale of illegal manufacture and import of amphetamines, which are widely available to youngsters on the streets at affordable prices. Fortunately the "designer" and synthetic drugs which have appeared in the United States of America are still almost unknown in the United Kingdom, although LSD is becoming more common.

The Bill fits firmly into our strategy. By attacking the profits made from drug trafficking, we intend to make it much less attractive to enter the trade. We intend to help guard against the possibility that the profits from one trafficking operation will be used to finance others, and, not least, to remove the sense of injury which ordinary people are bound to feel at the idea of traffickers, who may have ruined the lives of children, having the benefit of the profits that they have made from doing so.

Those matters are urgent and imperative—and they stand at the top of our list of legislative priorities. Accordingly, the Bill deals only with drug trafficking offences and not with other profitable types of crime. There is, of course, a case for making corresponding provisions for other sorts of crime. Several hon. Members have already suggested to me that this Bill should do so. The 1984 report of the Howard League committee, chaired by Mr. Justice Hodgson, to which we are indebted for many of the ideas in the Bill, made recommendations —most of which it believed should be generally applied. As a Government, we are committed to the idea of attacking the profits of crime in a way that goes beyond drugs offences, and we shall have to return to the subject. We have, however, judged it best to deal with drugs offences and other offences separately. Perhaps they should also be dealt with differently, but that is a matter for another day. In any case, the Bill has been prepared solely as a basis for dealing with drug traffickers and it should be judged in that light. The Government will want to pause and reconsider before seeking to extend any of the Bill's provisions to other offences.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Hodgson committee recommended that powers should be introduced to enable the courts to confiscate the proceeds of crime, or money representing the proceeds of crime, not in the circumstances which the Bill rightly postulates, but to reduce the prison population? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those constructive proposals in that context should be considered for early legislation?

Mr. Hurd

There is an argument for that, as one would expect with a proposal that came from the Howard League. We will think hard about it, although not necessarily from the point of view which Mr. Justice Hodgson argued. I suggest that we postpone that discussion to another day and concentrate tonight on this Bill, which deals only with drug offences.

We need the legislation, because the forfeiture powers in existing law have proved inadequate. The courts cannot order the forfeiture of the proceeds of an offence once they have been converted into another asset—a house, stocks and shares, or valuables of any sort. The Operation Julie case was the most notorious example of the courts being unable to deprive convicted traffickers, as they wished, of the proceeds of their offences. Let me give an example.

In August last year, a group of five offenders were convicted at the Crown court at Maidstone of the importation of heroin with a street value of £2 million. They were sentenced to a total of 146 years' imprisonment. Before passing sentence, the judge inquired into the assets of one of the principals. It emerged that this offender, while awaiting trial, had transferred all his property to his wife. She had then sold the house, put the money into a building society and left the country. The judge was satisfied that the house had been bought partly from the proceeds of drug smuggling, and said that he would have liked to order the confiscation of the money in the building society; he regretted that he had no power to do so.

The Bill is designed to remedy those defects. It will provide powers for courts to confiscate proceeds even after they have been converted into some other type of asset; it will provide for the restraint of a defendant's property to prevent him from disposing of it before the end of his trial; and in certain circumstances it will allow property placed in other people's names to be confiscated, along with the offender's.

We have only a short time for the debate, and I do not wish to take up too much of it. The proposals in the Bill were described in a statement which we placed in the Library of the House in November, and they have been widely publicised since then. Therefore, I need not go through the Bill clause by clause. Instead, I shall point out some of the new elements in the Bill to show how they will contribute to our aim of stripping traffickers of their illegal gains.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

It would help the House if the Home Secretary mentioned clause 3. What consideration has he given to the protection of innocent dependants when it comes to stripping the convicted trafficker of his assets?

Mr. Hurd

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, I shall deal with that point later. If I do not deal with it to his satisfaction, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will certainly do so.

Under clauses 1 to 4, the Crown court will in future be required to determine, in the case of every person convicted of a drug trafficking offence, whether he has benefited from drug trafficking and, if he has, to impose a confiscation order to deprive him of the entire proceeds of his trafficking in so far as they can be assessed. This will be in addition to his ordinary sentence, and will apply not simply to the proceeds of the offence of which he has just been convicted, but to those of his entire trafficking career. Of course, those proceeds will not always be easy to assess. That is because what his legitimate income has been, and which of his assets have been legitimately acquired, are matters which are especially within his knowledge and which cannot easily be determined by others.

Therefore, we propose in clause 2 that courts should be able to assume that the whole of an offender's property, together with any assets which have passed through his hands in the previous five years, represent the proceeds of trafficking, except in so far as he shows otherwise. That provision has attracted special attention. This reversal of the burden of proof will apply only after conviction: the prosecution will still have to prove the offender's guilt beyond reasonable doubt in the normal way.

We have in addition provided in clause 4 that assets which the defendant has transferred to others for less than full value should also be liable to confiscation, if the transfer took place within the previous five years, or if the property can be shown to represent the proceeds of drug trafficking. It would be an obvious and unacceptable loophole if the trafficker could avoid confiscation by putting the proceeds of his offence into the name of his wife, brother or friend. But such third parties — this should deal with the hon. Gentleman's point — must have a right to put their case, and we have specifically provided in clause 9 for them to make representations to the High Court before confiscation is enforced.

Just as important as provision for a realistic assessment of the trafficker's proceeds will be provision for effective enforcement. We propose in clauses 9 to 11 that all the authority and experience of the High Court should be available for this purpose. If necessary, a receiver will be appointed to realise the available property. I should point out that any of the offender's property will be liable to confiscation, not simply that which is derived from drug trafficking. Thus, if an offender has spent or salted away his drug income, and kept to hand only his legitimate assets, those assets will be seized instead. If an offender is tempted to keep assets beyond the reach of the receiver, he will face up to 10 years' imprisonment in default of payment.

Mr. Alex Carlile

I am worried about the concept of sales for less than full value. One can imagine many circumstances in which a drug trafficker, for reasons of his own, puts his house on the market and tells the estate agent to get as much as he can quickly. That may be a sale for less than full value. In those circumstances, do the provisions of the Bill mean that the purchaser, who will be completely innocent, will have to apply to the court and meet the costs even of a successful application?

Mr. Hurd

I always hesitate to answer the hon. and learned Gentleman off the cuff, because he always poses pertinent and rather difficult questions. If it could be shown—as it could be in the case which the hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned—that there was a bona fide transaction, I think that the purchaser of the house would be in the clear. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will reflect on that during the evening and will deal with it in his reply.

The new powers to confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking are at the heart of the Bill, but they are not all that is required. That is why the Bill includes important new powers to help the police and customs trace the proceeds of drug trafficking, and for the courts to freeze them pending the outcome of the trial.

Under clauses 18 to 20, the police and customs will be able to apply to a circuit judge for authority to examine bank accounts, financial records, and other important material at an early stage of a drug trafficking investigation — indeed, as soon as they can satisfy the judge that there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that a named person is involved in, or has benefited from, drug trafficking and that the material in question is likely to be of substantial value to the investigation. There is a balance to be struck here, which we have spent some time considering, and we are stopping short of random checks or mere fishing expeditions.

We must further help to ensure that proceeds are not disposed of before the end of the trial. Therefore, we are introducing into criminal law procedures already tried and tested in civil law. From about the time of the defendant's arrest, clause 6 gives the High Court the power to make a restraint order—similar to a civil Mareva injunction—freezing property which might later be needed to satisfy a confiscation order. It will also be able to make charging orders in respect of land or securities, to the same end.

Another especially important feature of the Bill is the new offence of assisting another to retain the benefit of drug trafficking—in common parlance, laundering. That is a serious activity, for which we propose a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment. As laundering is defined in the Bill as a drug trafficking offence, those guilty will be subject to its confiscation procedures.

The Bill relates to England and Wales, but we intend shortly to introduce legislation for Scotland and Northern Ireland, and for the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Of course, we must be able to chase proceeds further than that, because they do not stop at the boundaries of the United Kingdom. Therefore, we shall seek the widest possible range of agreements on mutual enforcement with other countries. The Bill will provide the framework in English law for such international agreements.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I understand from the Solicitor-General for Scotland that Scottish judges have some powers to compensate. If those powers are available in Scotland, why is it necessary to introduce such legislation? I do not say that we should not have the legislation, but I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman believes that we need it.

Mr. Hurd

A hasty consultation suggests that in Scotland there is a power to fine but not to confiscate. That matter needs to be further considered among the Scots. Today we are dealing with a Bill which covers England and Wales.

I hope that I have said enough about the Bill to show how we have approached confiscation as a system rather than as an isolated procedure. We have not looked at the moment, at the end of a trafficker's trial, when the judge orders how much the offender must pay. The comprehensive approach set out in the Bill begins with the examination of financial dealings early in the investigation. It moves logically through restraint of property pending the outcome of the trial and provides the basis for a realistic assessment of the amount of the trafficker's proceeds after conviction. It ends with the enforcement of the confiscation order against property in the hands of the offender or his associates, in this country or abroad. In some areas, we have had to break completely new ground. In others, we have been able to draw on procedures established in civil law and harness the experience of the High Court for the purposes of this legislation.

I hope the House will agree that in total we have worked out a machinery which still lies firmly within the boundaries of what we in this counry regard as acceptable and just but which will enable the confiscation of proceeds to play a major part in out continuing crucial battle against the trafficker. I commend the Bill to the House.

7.31 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

The Home Secretary has given his usual accomplished explanation of the need and purpose of the Bill. I make it quite clear to the House that the Opposition do not wish to delay or impede the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and many other Opposition Members have warned for a long time about the growing horrors of rising addiction.

There has been an explosion in drug smuggling and addiction, especially in heroin and cocaine, during the last four or five years. It is putting a generation of young people at risk and it is doing great social damage. It demands draconian action against those who make fortunes out of this vile, destructive trade. I anticipate that the Home Secretary and his colleagues will agree with me when I say that most young people, their parents, voluntary workers, teachers, those in the medical and caring professions, the police and customs officers are among those who insist that a better attempt should be made to stem the tide of cocaine and heroin that is reaching these shores and finding, in my view, too easy access to them. There must be no easy hiding place for either the traffickers, their money or their assets. Every stringent, sensible step needs to be taken to secure this end. This Bill is part of that process.

The Home Secretary referred to the Operation Julie exercise. Assets estimated at £750,000 were identified and converted at that stage into French chateaux, Krugerrands and gold bars in a Swiss vault. That case reached the House of Lords, which had to rule, with considerable regret, that the courts had no powers that would enable them to get their hands on these items which had been purchased with the profits from trafficking.

I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the committee, chaired on behalf of the Howard League for Penal Reform by Mr. Justice Hodgson, which inquired into the profits of crime and their recovery. I pay tribute also to the work on that committee of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) who served with such independent distinction upon it.

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman did not agree with what the committee said.

Mr. Corbett

That is why I said that my hon. Friend served on that committee with independent distinction. That report, and the interim report last year of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, provides the basis for the Bill.

Traffickers take part in this trade because the profits are so gigantic. Great fortunes are to be made from drug dependency. The degradation to which it leads is now openly to be seen on the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol and other big cities. That applies also to glue sniffing and solvent abuse. It is almost as though large parts of our young society are at war with themselves and with society generally. These young, wrecked, hopeless lives bear testimony to where the profits of trafficking come from and what they cost in human terms. The misery, degradation, estrangement from family and home and broken lives result in the walking corpses who provide the luxury life styles for the "Mr. Bigs" in the drugs trade. It is almost, with sustained and severe addiction, as though the just living envy the just dead.

It is not only the profits that attract the traffickers to the fast fortunes that are available. They do it because, like other criminals, they assess the risks and work out the odds on them and others working with them of being caught. It gives me no pleasure to have to say to the Home Secretary that drug smuggling is now Britain's fastest growing industry. In the United Kingdom the odds regrettably favour the drug smugglers because our defences have been dangerously lowered since 1980. Page 141 of the Hodgson report says: Detecting movement of 'dirty money' out of the United Kingdom has become much more difficult since the abolition of exchange control. That must be so. To the extent that the Bill remedies that position and provides powers to raid bank accounts and records of financial institutions, I welcome it. It will put right that deficiency.

Again I have to say to the Home Secretary and his colleagues that, despite any juggling with the figures, there are fewer customs officers now on the front line of our defences. That must almost inevitably mean that more drugs get through. Even impressive seizures by customs —an estimated eight out of every 10 come from cold searches at ports of entry — and drugs seized by the police indicate not so much success in this war but, in my view, failure. I do not put all the responsibility for that upon the Government, but I certainly put part of the responsibility for it upon them.

Even the best estimates claim that only about one fifth of smuggled drugs are detected. Others would put the figure lower than that. However, heavier hauls by Customs and police may also indicate that more drugs are getting into this country. In other words, it could be a rising percentage of a rising amount. Between 1978–79 and 1984–85 there was an increase of one third in the number of passengers arriving at our air and sea ports. The total was about 42 million. There was also a rise of 9.5 per cent. in the number of cars and drivers and a massive rise in the number of container lorries. The Home Secretary mentioned that there is evidence of increased attempts to smuggle drugs into this country on lorries. However, precisely at the time when this was happening there was a net cut of 11.5 per cent. in the strength of Customs and Excise. I accept that not all these cuts are on the drugs enforcement side, but it is indicative of the Government's approach until now. The number of customs officers has fallen from 28,800 in 1978–79 to 25,300 in 1984–85. There is a target of 25,500—that is, an extra 200 officers—by 1 April 1986 and it is planned that a level of 26,000 should be reached by 1 April 1988.

I have to remind the Home Secretary that Mr. Sandy Russell, a customs commissioner, told the Select Committee on Home Affairs on 11 December 1985: next year"— that is, 1986— the position on the preventive uniformed force at the ports and airports will be just a little under the figure it was in 1979. In practice that means there has been a 30 per cent. cut in uniformed officers, and that is against the background of an increase of about 10 times in heroin smuggling and an increase in cocaine smuggling of three times since 1979.

Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House the source of his statistics? Is he certain that he is correct? I ask because on 12 December last year I put down a written question for the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking how many customs officers were employed on drug detection duties over the previous 12 months. I accept that the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he was quoting overall figures and not just the figures for officers engaged in drug detection duties. In my written question I also asked what number the Chancellor of the Exchequer estimated would be so engaged in the coming years. The reply was, 1 April 1985, 2,823; 1 April 1986, 3,000; 1 April 1987, 3,300".—[Official Report, 12 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 771.] Therefore, the number of officers appears to be increasing, not decreasing as the hon. Gentleman appears to claim.

Mr. Corbett

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because he has made the point. I do not want to waste the time of the House by bandying figures about. I say he has made the point because no one can deny that from 1979 until lately—let me put it broadly like that—there has been a decrease in the number of uniformed custom officers on duty at ports of entry. Broadly speaking, that means there has been a lowering of customs cover.

As I said, that has coincided with a 10 times increase in heroin smuggling and an estimated three times increase in cocaine smuggling. I am not trying to make party points about this. I will try to put the point as flatly as I can. I am glad that the customs service seems to have the cash to provide more uniformed officers and more officers on the detection side in order to cope with the increasing amount of drugs, particularly cocaine and heroin, that are being smuggled into the country. That is progress; we can argue in another place about who did what and what they did not do and what they should have done earlier. There will be more officers in place. I welcome that, as I am sure does the whole House.

Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the number of customs officers in the green channel is not necessarily relevant as long as the green channels are manned? What is important is the number of customs investigators, and that has nothing to do with the number of uniformed officers. If the hon. Gentleman knows anything about the way in which large-scale drug importation is detected, that is what he ought to be saying.

Mr. Corbett

The hon. Gentleman ought to have a care about what he is saying, because he is going to tempt me into arguments which would be better put at the Committee stage. It is on the record that eight out of 10 seizures at, for example, Heathrow, are the result of cold stops—people coming through the green channel. On the intelligence and investigative side, the number of uniformed officers able to respond to intelligence is quite critical to the catch rate.

I do not want to start a long discussion about this, because it does not help to get into an argument about whether uniformed people are better than the mobile squads or the investigative officers. I see that the Home Secretary is smiling. I am perfectly prepared to embark on such an argument, but I have an eye on the clock. Both uniformed and investigative officers are important. I sincerely believe—I am trying to put this in a flat way —that the lowering of the uniformed customs presence in red and green channels at ports of entry has not helped in the war against drugs. That statement will probably not satisfy the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that we may pursue the detail in Committee.

There is some evidence, part of which we heard in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, that because of the strength of the defence at airports such as Heathrow more attention by the traffickers is being given to the smaller ports around the east and south coasts as far down as Plymouth. I know the right hon. Gentleman is aware of that but I just want to remind him of it. It must be accepted that customs cover is not at the level we expect for the proper monitoring of the arrival and departure of yachts and other small boats. I do not want to make heavy weather of this point, because I know the Home Secretary is aware of it.

At the moment there is a review of the work of immigration officers. This is a step before the customs officers come into the picture. The immigration service has accepted cuts and I understand that one of the proposals is to downgrade the status of some of the immigration officers, who are now at executive grade level, to clerical grade level. We in the Opposition are also interested in efficiency, but if proper consideration is not given to the move and adequate training provided before the change is made, we run the risk of lowering the quality of the important on-the-spot decisions which immigration officers are called upon to make at ports of entry. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to take that point on board.

Hon. Members will agree that in the war against drugs words are not enough. Actions are needed and some of the actions are contained in the Bill. I should like to deal with three or four specific points. The proposed powers of confiscation are in clause 1. We share the view that the drug trafficker needs to be hit where it hurts most, and that is in his assets. There may be problems about the way in which the Bill is drafted, and the Minister may be able to deal with those when he is winding up.

We are all united in aiming at removing the assets from the "Mr. Bigs" in this game. In that sense we are talking about the wholesaler, but I fear that the Bill will also trap the smaller user-dealer. Many if not most users also deal in drugs. In legal terms they supply drugs to help to finance their addiction, which for an addict is estimated to cost around £9,000 a year. In most cases theirs is a hand-to-mouth existence, and only rarely would the user-dealers have assets of any substantial value. As I read the Bill it is mandatory when someone appears before a Crown court for a sentence for confiscation orders to be made irrespective of the amount of the assets. Is that really the intention? If it is, might it not be more sensible if the Bill were to set a limit below which in relation to the assets, confiscation orders need not be made or, to turn the coin over, a level at which it is mandatory for the court to impose them?

My second point about confiscation orders is that they can be imposed only in the wake of a drug trafficking offence. What is the position where a person sentenced claims that the assets arose from another illegal activity? Let us instance a bank robbery. In the Bill, confiscation orders relate only to drug trafficking offences, and that is for the reasons that the Home Secretary explained. It would appear that the undetected, uncharged and unconvicted bank robber could have those bank robbery assets left untouched. If that is so, it would seem to be unsatisfactory. I am not experienced in these matters, but I am advised that many professional criminals run vertically integrated businesses; in other words, they are involved in a range of criminal activities and it would be difficult to establish with precision which profit had come from which activity. It is unlikely that the villains would voluntarily show the police their profit and loss accounts.

Clause 15, the laundering clause, creates a new offence in which the burden of truth is put upon the accused. Subsection (3) sets out the grounds for defence, which show how the burden of truth is being moved. We are talking here possibly about a whole chain of people, many of them professionals such as accountants, lawyers, bankers, estate agents and so on. As I read the Bill, it is possible that some or all of those people could be convicted of the handling offence and get a sentence of up to 14 years while the trafficker escaped conviction because of lack of evidence. I cannot believe that that is right or is intended. In practice, it would mean that someone would go to jail because of another person's more serious offence.

Mr. Alex Carlile

It happens all the time.

Mr. Corbett

That does not make it right.

Mr. Carlile

Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that a person who has committed a serious crime should not be proceeded against because there is insufficient evidence against someone who has committed a more serious and related crime? That is an absurd suggestion.

Mr. Corbett

I was trying not to say that. Let us stick to the drug trafficker. If people were to be convicted of charges of handling and laundering and were to get a sentence of 14 years while the main offender got off, that would be very difficult for many people to understand. I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's point but, if I may say so with respect, it is a lawyer's point and I am trying to put the point of the man on the Clapham omnibus or the Erdington tram.

Clause 18 deals with the making available of evidence and clause 19 gives authority to search for evidence. The Home Secretary said—in a side comment, I think—that there was no intention of using the powers under these clauses to go on fishing expeditions. The Bill as drafted refers to a constable entering premises and seizing and retaining material. I hope it will be made clear that it will not be any old constable but a constable with enough training and experience to ensure that he knows what he is looking for and that it is strictly related to the suspected offence. In that context there is an obligation upon the Government to ensure that police services have the necessary resources to provide specific training on the handling of financial records. It is not a job that any constable can properly be expected to do.

The Home Secretary will recall that one of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs was that both civil and criminal proceedings should be used against assets. The Minister will know directly, as do those of us who were on the Select Committee, of the experience in the United States. The Americans, and I believe the Australians too, set great store by the alternative of civil proceedings against assets where they feel that the evidence for a criminal prosecution is not strong enough to stand a reasonable chance of securing a conviction. If the Government considered that and rejected it, may we be told why they came to that view? The final point is perhaps the most intriguing. What will happen to the seized assets? To bring it up to date, what would happen if, say, Blenheim palace was confiscated? The Bill is strangely silent on that. In regard to financial and manpower effects, the explanatory and financial memorandum assumes that there will be 100 cases a year involving additional costs of £5.5 million, plus £1.1 million extra for customs and excise staff. Reassuringly it coos: This sum is likely to be more than offset, however, by the revenue from confiscated assets.

So, taking the most cautious view, the Government anticipate that at least £6.6 million will be raised each year from the seizure of assets. I hope that they are right and that that amount is exceeded. That is fine, but who will get the loot? I expect Ministers on the Front Bench to remain immobile when I suggest that there are no possible circumstances in which the Treasury can by any stretch of its vast imagination make any legitimate case to grab the loot. Clearly, it will not be revenue. It will be cash raised from the seizure and disposal of assets. It will not be money owing to the Treasury, recouped through the courts in default, as it were. It will be a new source of money. I can see the appeal of this to the Government, but I am trying to put down markers.

The matter becomes important when we consider the victim or the victim's family. There has been a recent prosecution against a convicted dealer. I accept that this is a difficult area because, as I understand the law, it is based on the assumption of an innocent victim. There might be argument about someone who is addicted to drugs being innocent, but what will the position be if a victim or his or her family wants to sue a convicted trafficker? In the event of a successful prosecution, where should the money come from? It would be wrong to suggest that it should come out of the taxpayer's pocket if the Government expect to raise £6.6 million from the seizure and disposal of assets.

I have little doubt that the Home Secretary will need to consult about this. Will he consider the suggestion that all money raised from the seizure and disposal of assets, perhaps after the settlement of any claims against the trafficker on behalf of a victim or his or her family, should go into a trust fund to help pay for the treatment and rehabilitation of addicts? There would be sweet justice and great merit in using the proceeds of this vile trade, properly seized through the courts, to try to rehabilitate those out of whom the trafficker had made part of his fortune. I hope that that idea may commend itself to the House. We shall co-operate to help the Bill reach the statute book, no doubt with amendments, and I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to support it.

8 pm

Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

I agree enthusiastically with much of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said. I shall not identify those parts of his speech with which I disagreed, to avoid being drawn into a subsidary debate.

I hope that I speak for the whole House when I say that this is an admirable Bill with admirable provisions. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues on producing the Bill in its present form —no doubt it will be amended in certain areas—and on the speed with which it has come before the House.

The House will remember that the Home Affairs Select Committee went to America in the early summer of last year to study the drug problem in the United States. Before the Committee left, we saw my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor). He invited us to make such recommendations as we could when we returned and to put them into a report which the Government could consider. As the hon. Member for Erdington rightly said, the Bill is based on that interim report's recommendations. I am sure I speak on behalf of all members of the Home Affairs Select Committee when I say that when we returned to our duties here at Westminster it took a long time to shake off the effects of what we had seen and heard in the United States.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I have still not shaken them off.

Sir Edward Gardner

Indeed. It was a deeply disturbing experience. We saw for ourselves what has happened in the United States and we realised that what has ravished American society could one day, very soon if we are not careful, happen here. We noticed the growth in drug taking. Cocaine—the drug of choice, as it is called—has taken over the American continent. It has 12 million regular users in America and each year claims 5,000 new addicts.

We saw the power of the people who traffick in these drugs. Their economic power is such that they earn between $90 billion and $100 billion a year. Their industry, if one can dignify it with that word, in terms of money, is second only to the motor industry in the United States. The growth of drug taking in America is something of a phenomenon which has happened during little more than five years. The Americans are a deeply alarmed, as we were as observers, at what has happened there.

The United States has introduced into its civil and criminal law an amendment which enables it to get at drug traffickers and strip these evil men of every dollar, every bit of land and all the vehicles and aircraft that they boast they own. Much of the money that is collected by the courts is used for anti-drug measures. The hon. Member for Erdington drew this to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. We were also told that some of the money was being used to build prisons in America to contain people convicted of drug trafficking. That makes sense.

The effect of the American legislation which enables the forfeiture and seizure of the assets of drug traffickers has been salutary and satisfactory. The Committee therefore recommended that our law be amended to allow for the seizure and forfeiture of drug traffickers' assets.

The short time — it is something of a record —between our recommendations, the Bill's being published and its Second Reading today illustrates the acute awareness of the problem as declared by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Government are aware of the perils of the drug problem. The Government's determination to avoid and defeat this terrible threat which is hanging over the country will have the support of the House and of the country.

The Bill is aimed at undermining and ultimately, we hope, ending drug trafficking. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, this Bill introduces the reversal of the onus of proof. I am sensitive about that and could become hostile were it not for my understanding and others' understanding of the gravity of the problem. The Bill will try to solve that problem, so I give it unqualified support. I believe that it will receive support from this House and the country.

The establishment of the guilt of the accused in the criminal court had to be to the standard of proof of putting the matter beyond reasonable doubt. This is not the most up-to-date direction for a jury, but it does for the purpose of discussing and distinguishing between beyond reasonable doubt and the civil standard of proof which is on the "balance of probability". The Bill, as I understand it, although it is not stated—one does not expect to find the standard of proof defined in a Bill—suggests that the standard of proof is on the balance of probability. When the court has made the assumption that clause 2 allows about the identity of the assets, the defendant would have to satisfy the court that there was no connection between his assets and the offences with which he was charged.

I agree with the hon. Member for Erdington, in that I wonder whether we could have an explanation why the Government decided to leave reference to civil proceedings out of the Bill and instead chose to focus exclusively on criminal proceedings. The American model, on which we suggested British legislation, enables the court to deal with forfeiture in civil and criminal proceedings. I shall not go into the technicalities of the distinction between the two except to say that, in criminal proceedings, standard proof is beyond reasonable doubt and, in civil proceedings, the balance of probability is standard proof, which makes it easier for the courts. I should have thought, as the Home Affairs Select Committee decided, that that has an attraction that might have an influence on the Government's thinking. I should be grateful for some comments on that.

I should like to express the Home Affairs Select Committee's gratitude to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for his assistance and, perhaps even more important, his untiring efforts at every conceivable opportunity. He has travelled wherever he can to fulfil his ambition of ensuring that this terrible plague of drug taking is at last brought under control.

8.12 pm
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

I apologise to the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) for appearing to interrupt him. He treated us to a splendid speech which, like all of the best Beethoven works, had two perorations. It was at the end of the first that I rose, thinking that he was about to finish.

Recently, a man called Thomas Comerford, who for years had been the most notorious criminal in the Liverpool area involved in drug trafficking and all manner of other serious crime, was sentenced to many years imprisonment here in London. The more sparsely written newspapers, in their features on the Comerford trial, gave a rather shabby picture of the values of contemporary society. Instead of concentrating, as they might, on the wretched misery which drug traffickers such as Comerford have caused in cities and towns throughout the country, they concentrated their attention on his gains and his life style. It is important that the public should know first that drug addiction brings misery and living death—indeed, even death for some. That is what is really being achieved by the drug pedlars, whose temporary affluence is of less importance.

I do not have the advantage of serving on the Home Affairs Select Committee, but I cannot forget the first time that I met a heroin addict. He was in trouble before the court, which was bad enough; but I remember above all his physical features. I recall his scabby, pockmarked arms, his eyes completely dead like marbles on a solitaire board; and his attitude to life, which to him was indeed nothing more than living death. Young people such as he face that frightful prospect on an increasing scale.

I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for his part in what I believe is the most important part of the fight against drug addiction—the campaign through schools, through parents with children at school, by advertising and all other channels through which we can reach young people, to persuade them that involvement in drug abuse will destroy their lives. I am pleased to be able to tell the Minister that even in my distant constituency in rural mid-Wales, parents of children at local schools are able to attend sessions at which they are taught how to detect the early signs of drug abuse. My wife will go to one of those sessions later this week at the school which one of our children attends. No effort should be spared to ensure the continuation of such campaigns.

I welcome the opportunity to enact legislation that will ensure that the ill-gotten gains of drug pedlars are taken away from them. I am sure that the Home Secretary will understand why I have some instinctive misgivings about parts of the Bill but, on balance, it is obviously right to enact it because of the seriousness of the problem. I too acknowledge the contribution made by the Home Affairs Select Committee's report and that of the Hodgson committee—the report of the Howard League in 1984 under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Hodgson.

I remind the Government that the Hodgson committee considered far more general issues than drug trafficking. It examined the confiscation of the proceeds of crime generally. Because this Bill has distracted us from the broader issues raised by Hodgson, I regret that the report has been misrepresented to some extent in the publicity leading up to the Bill and today's debate. My perception of the thrust of Hodgson is that the law should be expanded with a view to allowing seizure of the profits of all crime with the idea of reducing the incidence and amount of imprisonment, especially at a time of gross overcrowding in prisons, and also with a view to ensuring that people who commit serious crime do not benefit from their ill-gotten gains.

I hope that the Bill will ensure absolutely that the proceeds of drug trafficking can be seized. However, I hope that the Government will tell us that they are satisfied that the Bill covers the many serious cases in which the prosecution choose to present specimen counts only on the indictment before the jury. We must be absolutely sure that, when the Bill becomes law, all the ill-gotten gains can be taken by the court, including those which have not formed part of counts in the indictment, provided that due notice is given to the defence. Hodgson made that point and it is important.

Hodgson emphasised the need for a two-stage process. We are concerned here with the second stage — the power of the court when the defendant has already been arrested. What about the first stage? The Hodgson report put emphasis on empowering the freezing of the assets of offenders before they are even arrested. I draw the Minister's attention to conclusion 29 on page 154 of Hodgson, which said: On the application of the police or prosecuting authority a high court judge should have the power to grant… an order freezing specific assets or the defendant's assets generally, if there is a prima facie case that he has committed an indictable offence. It seems a little illogical that the power to freeze occurs only after the defendant has been arrested. Surely there ought to be a power to freeze in the course of the inquiry so the police can have the full advantage of surprise during that inquiry. It would be no more, after all, than an adaptation of the now well-established powers developed by the civil courts in the use of Mareva injunctions. It seems to me that clause 18 fails to go far enough in making an effective transfer of the power used by the civil courts in Mareva injunctions to the criminal courts in relation to drug trafficking. It still leaves considerable opportunities for assets to be salted away before the police ever reach them. There may be room for amendment of the Bill in this context.

I also urge the Government, as did Hodgson, to look beyond drug offences. Having said that, I urge the Government to restrain themselves before applying these particular powers, far beyond Hodgson in some respects, as the unalterable basis for extension to other offences.

It is worth putting it on the record that there are some mildly, at least, critical views of the Bill. I remind the Minister of the comments in the Justinian column in the Financial Times on 20 January: If the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill passes into law unamended it will represent 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. In the limited scope of drug trafficking it spreads the tentacles of criminal process far beyond those recommended 18 months ago by an independent committee chaired by Mr. Justice Hodgson. In 'Profits of Crime' it proposed more modest powers over the whole range of criminal activity. I share what I think is the Minister's view, that some fearsome legislation is required in this context.

I seek to urge the Minister to extend the philosophy, but using the Hodgson principles rather than those fearsome principles contained in the Bill. The Bill should not be used as the benchmark, in other words, to justify a relativistic approach to the context of other offences; for some of the provisions in the Bill are quite alarming in the powers they give the police and the courts. In my view, they can be justified only by the serious and special nature of the crimes with which we are concerned.

I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) that one of the most worrying issues has been the reversal of the burden of proof as particularly set out in clause 2(3). However, I support the Home Secretary in the point that this is not a reversal of burden of proof relating to guilt; it is a reversal of burden of proof relating to a procedural and sentencing matter, and in that context in my view it can be justified. It is of course worth bearing in mind, when we are discussing our judgment on the question of reversing the burden of proof, the fact that the Hodgson committee did indeed divide on the issue even though it was considering far lesser powers than are before us in the Bill.

We have to be a little cautious about these powers because, whenever a court convicts of a drug trafficking offence, the court will be empowered—indeed will have —to assume that the whole of the defendant's assets together with any property that has passed through his hands during the five years prior to conviction are the proceeds of drug trafficking.

With that in mind, I am concerned about the position of what may very well be innocent third parties who may have bought a house, a car, jewellery or whatever at less than full value but in good faith. It is very important that we should ensure that, if they have to apply to the court in effect to keep property which they have bought in good faith, they should not have to be faced with legal costs in making such an application.

Mr. Greg Knight

Can the hon. and learned Gentleman give us an example of an occasion when a person could buy property at less than a full value in good faith?

Mr. Carlile

I think I gave an example a little earlier. A drug trafficker who suspects that the police are on his heels may have a property to sell—a house, for example—which he will hand to an estate agent and order him to sell very quickly and for whatever he can get. It may be sold very quickly to a purchaser who will be acting completely in good faith and without the slightest idea of who the drug trafficker is, let alone that he is a drug trafficker. It is important that a person in that position should not be faced with having to fund legal proceedings. There are many other examples of which I can readily think.

For the entirely laudable purpose of protecting young people from the dreadful ravages of drug addiction, we have embarked on what is actually a rather unenticing legislative path. Some of us have had to wrestle with the argument that these are laws which change substantially and to very great disadvantage the position of a defendant before a court. Generally, I do not welcome laws which do that. I do not generally welcome laws which place upon a defendant, outside the broad philosophy of our system, both an evidential and a legal burden which it may often be extremely difficult to discharge.

I suspect that, as a result of our eventually enacting these provisions, there may be some injustices, especially to third parties, and of course we all know the truism "hard cases make bad law." But the crisis caused by burgeoning drug offences is such that I am persuaded to support the Bill, albeit in the belief that it is somewhat imperfect and may well be capable of some improvement.

8.27 pm
Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

This is an unusual evening, in that hon. Members in all parts of the House are in wide agreement with the measure proposed by the Government.

I am delighted to speak after the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) because I share many of his concerns as, indeed, did the Select Committee on Home Affairs when it considered its report on the issue. As the House has heard so eloquently and magnificently from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner), we were in no doubt, following our investigations of the drugs issue both at home and overseas, that the quite exceptional circumstances justified the measures which we proposed and which the House is now considering.

I do not propose to repeat what has already been said, save to draw on one or two more points. I recall, in company with my colleagues on the Home Affairs Committee, going to a secret storehouse in Miami and looking at a relatively small room which was crammed from floor to ceiling with cocaine and heroin and other drugs in smaller quantity which had been seized by the authorities. There was at least £10 billion-worth of drugs in street value in one small room. It represented a small amount of the drug traffic that was entering the United States from central and south America. It represented awesome financial power.

When afterwards we went on in Miami to see the customs, coastguard and revenue authorities and we saw the extent of the wealth, particularly in the vessels, the buildings, the property and the assets that the people who managed drugs were making out of this evil crime, we were in no doubt at all about the seriousness of the problem and the terrible risks that we in the United Kingdom and, indeed, in the other western countries run unless we can unite in our efforts and ensure that our defences and our law are up to defeating these evil people. As a result of those experiences, we made the recommendations that go to the heart of our legal proceedings, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery has said, and hesitatingly seek to reverse what is normally regarded as proper in our legal system.

In discussing this subject in the United States, I learned from the police there that about 60 per cent. of all property crime is committed as a result of the need of the drug user to fund his or her drug taking. Thank goodness, we do not appear to have reached anywhere near that level of drug-related crime in the United Kingdom, but there is growing evidence that some crime, and some serious crime, is being committed by those who wish to fuel their addiction to drugs.

Therefore, it is right that we should support the Bill. In the Home Affairs Committee interim report on drugs, we set out a strategy that the Government are determinedly following. We suggested four basic ways to deal with the growing threat of the international drug traffic. First, we suggested that they include stopping, as far as possible, the importation of drugs—first by the physical interception of supplies, secondly by the prosecution and punishment of those engaged in this traffic and thirdly by eliminating all drug crops.

I share the enthusiasm of the House for the work that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary has done in his globe-trotting activities to achieve the third of those points. It is no good merely looking to the defence of the United Kingdom. We have to involve the international community—those countries where drugs may be grown and produced and those through which the drugs may pass in the course of their journey to the United Kingdom and other western countries.

Secondly, we suggested attacking the profits of the traffickers, a measure set out in the Bill. Thirdly, we suggested stopping the disposal of drug profits through the laundering of money, which is again set out in the Bill. Finally, and in some ways most importantly, we suggested reducing the long-term demand by education. That is a most complicated subject, which requires the wholehearted commitment of the community and all the institutions within the community, particularly those engaged in education. I hope that, in the inner cities in particular, the local authorities and those responsible for education will take this subject seriously. Sometimes I think that in the inner cities there is complacency about drug-related crime that we must resist. We must turn back to a determination to tackle this subject with immense enthusiasm.

There is no doubt that in some ways the first line of defence is our customs and police services. The Home Affairs Committee looked at both those services carefully. Whatever may have been the case in the past, today they work together with a dedication and courage that is a joy to behold. The Committee was most satisfied about that part of the institution.

It is important to have customs officers on duty at air and sea ports, but, as we heard both from the evidence in the United States and from our customs officers, to pretend that one can stop all the drugs coming into the country at air and sea ports is nonsense. It was reckoned in the United States that only about 10 per cent. —even that was a generous estimate—of all drugs approaching the United States would be detained by the authorities, even with an enormous amount of money and expertise and vast services, including the armed services, engaged in the exercise to beat the importer.

In the case of the United Kingdom, what matters is not the number of customs officers but the extent of their training to stop the person who is carrying. The so-called cold stops, 80 per cent. of the spot checks, are not random spot checks but stops carried out because the customs officer identifies the profile of the individual coming through the port and is resolved to investigate.

I place immense importance on the investigation services. I am delighted that the Government have increased the number of specialised customs officers—those who do the hard-core investigation—from 121 to 212, with a further 50 to be appointed to new preventive posts. That is important, just as the gathering of intelligence for the more sophisticated exercises is vital. I am pleased that the Government are extending the number of overseas posts for customs officers engaging in the intelligence gathering operation. Through a variety of strategies involving all our resources, and above all through our determination in education, we shall contain and defeat the threat that faces the people of the United Kingdom.

8.37 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State clarified the point about legislation in Scotland, and I look forward to the Bill's provisions being extended into Scotland and Wales. I have been assured by the Solicitor-General that any criminal trying to evade the law by putting assets into Scotland would not succeed. I welcome the legislation. It is a step in the right direction. I recognise the excellent work that the Minister has done in the past year.

My constituency was changed to include another area by the Boundary Commission at the last general election. The area was well known to me because it was a part of Glasgow where I had served my apprenticeship and I had made many lifelong friends. It was the area from which my wife came, and she had lived there since she was a child. It was a typical Glasgow housing estate with tenemental property—what was known in Glasgow as intermediate housing. I am not saying that every part of the estate was attractive and that it did not have its problems of vandalism and crime. However, I was shocked when constituents started telling me that they wanted out of it because they were fed up with the drug addiction in the estate. Despite those complaints, there was not a cheep in the newspapers about the situation and no statistics to show that the problem was so serious.

One woman brought the situation home to me. In one of the unusually good summers recently, she lifted the window in her flat to get some fresh air. She had lived in this part of Glasgow for 30 years. She looked across the street and there was a young addict in another tenement property injecting heroin into himself without even bothering to draw the curtains. I was absolutely horrified. When I tackled particular officials in the Health Service, they denied that the problem was any worse than in any other part of Glasgow. They tried to play the affair down. I did not publicly mention the area because I did not feel that it was fair to do so, but I did mention it to them and they told me that it was nonsense.

It is sad that, when officials are faced with a problem, they try to cover the matter up. When I confronted them at a meeting with my colleagues, they then produced a map which showed drug addiction problems in every postal district of Glasgow. Lo and behold, the very area that I had complained about had the biggest addiction problem known to the Health Service—and that was only the tip of the iceberg.

I know that this legislation does not cover the Health Service, but I want to suggest that the Minister looks at the problems faced by Health Service staff in general hospitals. Consultants in my local hospitals tell me that they have to carry out heart bypass operations on people who are only 22 or 23—certainly less than 30. This creates a problem in a general hospital ward.

I do not want to give the impression that I think that drug addicts should not be treated under the Health Service; I simply want to show the problems that they cause. As a consultant explained, his medical and nursing staff are not trained to look after drug addicts; they are trained to do surgery and to nurse post-operative patients. The trouble is that the addict still has the craving. The staff need eyes in the back of their heads to look after these patients and to make sure that the other patients are also looked after.

I know that we need more resources for education and for the police, but I hope that proper resources are put into our hospitals to make sure that both addicts and other patients are looked after properly.

I was born and bred in Glasgow and am proud of my native city. It is a very friendly place. But one of the things about being brought up in a city like that is that from early childhood we got to know the names of the criminal element on the Glasgow scene—what we call the hard men, the heavy men, the loan sharks. I know them all by name. These people are no longer into doing the collecting for moneylenders; they are no longer into bank robberies; they are no longer the first people to be served in the queue at the post office because they happen to have a double-barrelled shotgun. These people are now into the drug scene and are making a great deal of money.

Good luck to the Home Secretary. All I can say is that he will have a tough job, because these people have had their ill-gotten gains transferred into property in Spain and in Ireland. The money has gone into pubs, garages and various legitimate businesses. Possibly because of their background, these people also seek the cloak of respectibility: when a charity function is being held, they are there. They try to gain acceptance in the respectable parts of the community by giving to charity and so on. It will be a difficult job to get these assets into the public purse where they belong, but I certainly wish the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland well in trying to tackle the problem.

I also ask the Home Secretary to look at the situation in council estates. I have the highest number of multistorey dwellings of any constituency in the United Kingdom. On the estate that I mentioned earlier, there are serious difficulties in keeping the peace, because these drug peddlers are operating from council houses. Next to pubs, the main places for selling drugs are council houses. The houses have double-security doors. The drags are passed through a letterbox. If the police come to the door, by the time that they get the door down, the stuff is washed down the WC. In addition, addicts are coming to the wrong door and are waking people up at 2 o'clock and 3 o'clock in the morning.

This is known to the housing department but meets with a great deal of complacency: "Unless the police take action, we can't do anything about it." In one case, in the Balgrayhill flats in my constituency, the police managed to take action. The pusher has been tried, sentenced and gaoled. Now his common law wife has moved into the flat, which means that the flat will become available for that person when he comes out of prison. He could start pushing drugs from that house. Even if he does not, this kind of incident fills the neighbours with fear. The fear among the elderly in that multi-storey block is shocking. Decent men and women, who have fought to keep a good community together, are sitting wondering whether, when he comes out of prison, he will go back there.

I do not like to see anyone left homeless. I spend long and weary hours at my surgeries, where 90 per cent. of the problems brought to me are related to housing. But I have no hesitation in saying that, if a house has been used for pushing drugs, the tenant should be evicted and a decent tenant put in, to give people the quiet life they deserve and to which they are entitled.

I congratulate the police on their efforts in Glasgow; they have no easy task. I understand from speaking to police officers that when they are searching a house they have to keep a close watch, even when they are going round a settee or a chair, because if they get a jab from a needle they may catch AIDS or a serious form of hepatitis. I do not envy them their jobs.

Mention has been made of the programme about Operation Julie. I do not know what licence the producers of that programme had—television sometimes changes events in some respects—but it seemed a very accurate record of what actually happened. I gathered from the programme that the officer involved was not always given the help that he required from his senior officers. Sometimes he was hindered. If that happened, I hope that it will not happen again. When the officer concerned was interviewed in a subsequent programme, he said that a national drugs squad was needed to co-ordinate the efforts of customs officers, policemen and everyone the length and breadth of the country in tackling the problem.

When I visited the United States—not with a Select Committee—I spoke to Congressmen who told me that cocaine pushers were prepared to see boats and aeroplanes shot down — assets which cost millions of pounds—because they have so much money that they can put another one into operation straightaway. Those pushers are now looking at Europe as a market and are attempting to push cocaine in the United Kingdom.

It would not be correct or proper for me to say that I have studied the advantages of having a national drugs squad, but if a police officer who has been involved in one of our biggest operations suggests such a squad, it is worth considering that suggestion. Will the Minister consider it?

My final point is related, although perhaps only indirectly, to the legislation, but as the Scottish Office Minister is present I have a chance to put the matter on the record. In my area, genuine and decent people are attempting to tackle the drug problem by counselling and helping young addicts. At a public meeting held, unusually, in a church, I noted that the different voluntary groups seemed to be arguing with one another, and saying that one group was better than another and that some groups were not doing such a good job. I said to myself, "It is shameful, when we are dealing with the lives of young people with a serious disease—drug addiction—that we leave tackling that problem in the hands of amateurs." I do not want to stifle amateurs or volunteers, but we must consider the present circumstances in various communities where small groups take over a flat in a tenement and create problems for the neighbours. Moreover, we do not know the credentials of the volunteers. Some could be of dubious character, and sometimes they are taken on at face value by the project leader.

It is sad that young men and women who, because of their drug addiction, could be dead this time next year are left in the hands of such groups, which cannot cope. We need the help of the National Health Service in tackling the problem. It is shameful that in Scotland we do not have even one facility where we can take an addict from his or her environment and treat him or her in isolation and away from the community that tempted him or her to take drugs.

I hope that those matters are taken on board. I am grateful that some steps are being taken to attack the people who are making massive profits form ill-gotten gains.

8.54 pm
Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

It is right for the House to congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister, who has done a splendid job. He has seen parts of the world where drug traffickers are sentenced to death, and the opium trails and poppy fields of India, Afghanistan and Turkey. All those trails end up in the vast continent of America, and they are beginning to be directed to the United Kingdom. Nobody could find much to fault in the Bill. The Committee stage should be remarkably friendly, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his excellent Bill.

First, Mr. Big must be traced, and the Bill is aimed particularly at the Mr. Bigs. There are small pushers who live in council houses and who have no assets, but the Mr. Bigs are around. There are no two ways about it. Moreover, the organisation is extremely big. It may be difficult to freeze and confiscate funds because the Mr. Bigs will try to act even quicker than the courts. The few days between tracing Mr. Big and Mr. Big getting the alarm and the court accepting a confiscation certificate application will have to be narrow.

In the Legal Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe I have already criticised the Swiss banking system, with its numbered accounts, and the completely and utterly secure banking facility it offers for those with vast sums which they do not wish to disclose. Switzerland is a well organised country and the Swiss are extremely law abiding, but it has kept open an Aladdin's cave for master criminals. As my hon. Friend will know, it will be extremely difficult to get the numbered accounts to disgorge their assets. Although some international agreement may be reached, I doubt it.

The Customs and Excise is to receive 35 more investigation officers. In Southampton the collector of Customs and Excise, Mr. Jones, has been under severe pressure for some time because of the shortage of staff. Whether they are uniformed or working under cover, it does not matter. I am sure that the collector of Customs and Excise in my area will be pleased to see provisions made for extra staff. The difficulty is that all the yachting harbours and marinas that are being built now on the south coast are almost a complete open door. A Customs and Excise dinghy cannot be expected on a weekend to catch up with all the powerful yachts that are steaming in and out. This must be dealt with drastically by additional staff who make it a point almost to swamp certain marinas on certain dates to pluck out those using the channel as the easy means of entrance.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State wants to know how far the Bill should be expanded in the future. I have already written to my hon. Friend because I feel that all those who profit by vice should be included. I think particularly of the massive amounts earned from prostitution in my area. There is a small number of organisers. Proceeds from the soliciting trade are such that a fine of £10,000 is almost a joke.

Sometimes, the vice barons, as they have been called by my local newspaper, may well own a whole parade of houses and be housing all their "staff". They may be making enormous profits and, even if they go inside for a year or two, the business may carry on as usual. We must stop that. We have to show that these criminals are prepared to live by vice, and that there is no profit at the end of the day, and certainly no moneys waiting for them when they come out. The difficulty will be in tracing the amounts. This is another part of the Bill which is practical, which means that anyone laundering illicit money will be subject to a prison sentence.

I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you are not a gambler, but most of this money seems to be laundered through practically every gaming house, every race course, greyhound course, motor racing track —practically everywhere that large sums of money change hands through gambling. In the United Kingdom, legitimate business use of this money is not quite as apparent as it is in the United States. The dealers do not have large legitimate businesses at the moment, but I am sure that if organised drug trafficking gets a real foothold in Europe they will have identical businesses for laundering money. That will be a very difficult problem, but I am pleased to see the provision in the Bill.

Anyone who gives information when Mr. Big has been traced and either prevents the seizure of assets or alarms the criminal can be sentenced — once again, I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State — to a maximum of five years for disclosing information. It may be only a whispered message over the telephone but it does irreparable harm. Naturally, it allows the criminal to take all necessary precautions with his assets. He could easily leave the country at short notice.

If confiscation amounts to more than £1 million and the criminal evades the confiscation order, up to a maximum of 10 years will be added to his prison sentence. That is worth while. We must take the profit out of criminal activities. It is as simple as that. Although we cannot legislate for every detail—I am sure that in Committee it will become even more apparent that it is impossible to do so—nevertheless, the Bill is a round picture showing how to deal with those who live by vice or criminal activities. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will comment on the increased number of criminal activities that can be included in this assets confiscation.

This measure will put a chill on the master criminal. It is no good him working for nothing. If we make it hot enough for him, he may try another country or decide to turn to legal work, although I doubt it.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Lawful work.

Mr. Hill


The report of the Howard League on the profits of crime and their recovery puts this succinctly. During the past 20 years, liberalisation has crept in so that the victim is given less consideration than the criminal. I am pleased that we are reversing that trend. I wish Ministers every success in Committee.

9.6 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

It makes a change to be able to join forces with all hon. Members in supporting a Bill. I commend the work of the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor)—on this aspect of what should be a multi-pronged attack on the vile drug pushers and those who wish to inflict even more social ills on an ailing society.

In some respects, my constituency is similar to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). My constituency does not include the same number of multi-storey blocks as my hon. Friend's constituency, but there are some. They give cover to some drug pushers who use binoculars to look for miles around at strangers coming on foot or by vehicle. The Bill does not do enough.

Although the Bill attempts to deny the evil drug pushers their ill-gotten gains—my constituents would back me to the hilt in whole-heartedly commending that provision, although they do not by any means favour the Government's other policies—I am bound to ask myself whether this measure meets the problem in areas such as the Croxteth housing estate in my constituency.

On 31 July 1984, I wrote to the Prime Minister about the case of Jason Fitzsimmons, the 14-year-old youngster who died from the effects of a drug cocktail he had taken because he had been a heroin addict for some time and was attempting to find an antidote. My letter called for urgent action to designate areas such as Croxteth and the Ford estate in Birkenhead as special priority areas—not just in terms of policing, although that is a problem in itself. The measures that have bitten into the drugs problem have come solely from the Home Office. Unfortunately, the Government have not produced a sufficiently coherent policy.

I am pleased that on Merseyside the drugs squad has been increased by 18 officers and that it is concentrating on areas such as Croxteth. We need more than that. There is a need for the establishment of local treatment centres on the estate to treat the victims of the drug problem. There is a need for the funding of local bodies. Unfortunately, because of other Government legislation to abolish Merseyside county council and other metropolitan counties, one of the sources of funding for voluntary bodies attempting to tackle the problem is being removed. Councils such as Liverpool. no matter what controversy there might be about the measures that the city council has taken, have been under great pressure as a result of the reduction of rate support grant.

Mr. Mellor

I want the hon. Gentleman to know that we take the problems of Liverpool seriously. I opened the Hope street clinic last year. When I visited Liverpool we were able to estimate that in the previous year almost £l million had been devoted by central Government resources to the alleviation of Liverpool's problems. I had food for thought when I visited the Merseyside drug centre because, of the full-time workers employed there, six of them were paid for by the Wirral borough council, which is less of a large spender than Liverpool council. At that time, Liverpool city council was funding only one centre. Spending priorities come into this issue. The Government have certainly not forgotten the problems of Liverpool.

Mr. Wareing

I am pleased to hear that, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. There are many areas that I think the Government should be dealing with. I noted the comments of the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) about reducing the long-term demand for drugs. He talked about the need for education. Nobody would argue with that. However, although I would not over-emphasise unemployment as a factor, I insist, because I know Croxteth and Norris Green as I was brought up in the area, that the problem of drugs has appeared only recently. It coincides with the enormous increase in youth unemployment which, on those two estates, is now over 90 per cent. Unemployment is not the only factor but we cannot argue that a reduction in unemployment in those areas would not help to destroy the market for the evil products. The Government must look at that issue in working-class housing estates such as Croxteth.

One must remember that there have to be local outlets for the energy of young people. Perhaps when the Minister visits Liverpool again he will look at the sports centre provided by the local city council. Although the council may be abused, it provides an outlet for the people of a socially ravaged estate.

The Under-Secretary of State has mentioned the Hope street clinic. Most of those who are afflicted by the drug disease are not living in the centre of Liverpool in the area in which the Hope street clinic is to be found. Instead, they live in the outlying areas, in Birkenhead or in Croxteth in my constituency. Clinical advice and treatment should be available on the spot where drug takers are to be found.

I fear that good accountants will save some of the drug pushers from the full punishment that is set out in the Bill. However, as I am neither an accountant nor a lawyer, I shall await advice on that issue. I reinforce the argument which was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) on the need for more surveillance at ports of entry. I know that the hon. Member for Westminster, North has doubts on this score and has some evidence from the United States to support them, but the figures speak for themselves. In the letter that I received from the Prime Minister, the right hon. Lady mentioned the 160 customs officers who have been appointed, but 60 of them are merely redeployed officials. The other 100 have been appointed only because planned cuts have not been implemented. Thousands of general officers in the customs service have been lost to us since 1979.

I understand that 93 per cent. of the drug seizures at Heathrow have been the result of cold finds following spot checks. Out of 97 detections, only seven were the result of information received. That shows that more uniformed officers are required irrespective of the doubts that some might have about their efficiency falling short of 100 per cent.

Dover is one of the main ports of entry, and many of those entering the country do so by car. If others have their way, even more will come by that route via the Channel link. That factor can be thrown into the general argument about the Channel tunnel. There are 23 car bays at Dover but only seven are being used, because of staff shortages. We know that 75 per cent. of those entering Britain do so through Dover or Heathrow. Yet, according to the Civil and Public Services Association, the union which represents the officials concerned, only one in 400 are stopped as they pass through the green clearway. Despite the comments of the hon. Member for Westminster, North, there must be something to be said for remedying that deficiency.

Since 1979, there has been a 236 per cent. increase in the number of notified drug addicts. Residents in parts of my constituency suffer many of the drug-related crimes of burglary and mugging. Indeed, in some areas of my constituency people are loth to leave their premises even during the day. Some of the few who have employment have even been deterred from going to their places of work because of the prospect of their homes being burgled in their absence. The burglaries are all too often the result of young people who are unemployed and who are looking for kicks. They get their kicks by taking the drugs which the evil men are pushing. They have nothing more to do with their time.

The hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) has made a number of impassioned pleas for action. He made one tonight, and as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs he was responsible for that Committee's report. I offer no excuses for repeating to the House part of what that report states: We believe, from all that we saw and heard, that as the American market becomes saturated the flood of hard drugs will cross the Atlantic. We fear that unless immediate and effective action is taken Britain and Europe stand to inherit the American drug problem in less than five years. We see this as the most serious peacetime threat to our national well-being.

The Bill, commendable though it is, is a inadequate response to that challenge. It is only a step on the way. Piecemeal approaches, even if they are prefaced by the Home Secretary's admission earlier today that a much more coherent policy is necessary, deny the House the chance of a full-scale debate on all the social problems relating to the drug addiction problem. We need a comprehensive and coherent policy that will examine unemployment and deal with surveillance at the ports of entry, as well as merely dealing with policing and the ill-gotten gains of the drug pushers.

Tonight the Opposition will give their approval to the Bill which, on this occasion, will have the support not only of myself and the majority who support me politically in my constituency, but of all my constituents.

9.23 pm
Mr. Tom Sackville (Bolton, West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene in the debate as the Bill represents a major and radical step forward in deterrence and prosecution of drug traffickers. In particular, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State on his efforts in bringing the legislation before the House.

There is agreement on all sides of the House that the people who perpetrate large-scale drug trafficking are as evil as any other category of criminal. Amendments to the law have already been made making sentences more suitable to the scale of their crimes. But the profits that are made from drugs make even these risks look negligible. The possibility of a spell in prison seems acceptable to many criminals if that is to be followed by access to a considerable fortune on leaving prison.

From the point of view of many more organised criminal groups which may be involved or which may be thinking of becoming involved in drug trafficking as an additional dimension to their normal sphere of operations, the additional legal risks and complications to which they will be exposed as a result of this legislation would pose a real disincentive.

Some aspects of the Bill do not go far enough. In particular, I am concerned that the assessments of the proceeds for confiscation should be limited only to those assets which can be shown to be in the possession of the defendant or held on his behalf. There will often be cases where he or she has been convicted of trafficking which will have yielded profits vastly in excess of the visible assets. It should be open to the courts to take that into account in assessing proceeds so that convicted drug traffickers will be forced to repatriate funds, if necessary, to avoid the further sentences provided by the Bill for nonpayment.

My other main area of concern about the Bill has been referred to by other hon. Members. Given the sophistication of financial markets and of many of those involved in drug trafficking today, it is not inconceivable that a suspected trafficker could arrange, through a single telephone call, to have substantial assets moved out of the country between the moment of arrest and the obtaining of a restraint or freezing order. There can be no clearer case for amending the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to delay notification and keep a suspect incommunicado in such cases to avoid that possibility.

Another area of concern is how to recruit the necessary expertise to carry out the financial operations envisaged by the Bill. As with the growing problem of financial fraud, it may be too much to expect officers with purely police training to carry out such work. I suggest that Ministers consider recruiting from the areas of finance, paying the salaries necessary to recruit such people. We may also need some kind of central multi-agency unit to take full advantage of the provisions in the Bill. This would cover specialists in various areas, including the Inland Revenue, but I believe that it would be improper if the people concerned were not ultimately under the control of the criminal investigators. I understand that experience abroad, especially in Canada, shows that in some cases financial investigations have run ahead of criminal investigations and the persons under investigation have been warned off and thus escaped arrest.

The arrangements for the seizure of assets and the provision of evidence from other countries are also relevant. If the trail ends when assets leave this country, many of the benefits of the Bill will be wasted. I hope that in winding up the debate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will report on negotiations with other countries on this important aspect.

Finally, to put the Bill into the context of the drug problem as a whole, there is a huge and, I fear, still growing demand for hard drugs in this country and so long as that demand exists it will be met in one way or another. With 40 million passengers and millions of vehicles and cargo shipments coming into this country, drugs are bound to arrive here. Efforts at education, I fear, are still in their infancy, but until children realise that involvement with drugs puts them in the greatest physical and mental danger and until parents realise that it is up to them to see what their children are up to and with whom they consort I do not believe that any real progress will be made.

Unfortunately, the Bill is not about demand but only about supply, which might be thought easier to control, although not much easier. If one shipment of drugs is intercepted there is no doubt that there will be others to replace it. Nevertheless, it is vital that supply is disrupted as often and as widely as possible so that the street price of) drugs is kept high and life is made more difficult and dangerous for the major drug traffickers.

The Bill is a radical measure, and I am certain that it will contribute to those aims. Even if its effects make only a small dent in the problem, in view of the gravity of the problem it is a major step in the right direction; and for that reason I unreservedly welcome it.

9.29 pm
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

It is a pleasure to be among friends with whom I have served during the past two years on the various Home Affairs Committees. However, I hope that the Whips do not take that as an offer to serve on the Committee stage of the Bill. My intervention shall be short and, I hope, cogent. Several hon. Members have remarked on the work carried out by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. He has had a series of peripatetic journeys round the world and the hon. Member has made the word "ubiquitous" sound pleasant. I am not on the Home Affairs Committee at present, but I have followed with great interest the work of the Under-Secretary of State. I have read the various documents produced by him and I have followed the progress of his initiatives, one of which is the Bill, which gives new powers for tracing and freezing the proceeds of drug trafficking. The Bill is welcomed by my constituents and I add my congratulations to the Under-Secretary of State.

The issues that I wish to raise relate to my constituency of Middlesbrough. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) and for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), we have several problems on Teesside, but none as grave as those that we have heard about tonight from my colleagues. The problems on Teesside are of solvent abuse and prescribed drug dependancy, rather than hard drugs. For that reason, I participate in the debate to show the determination of an elected representative of Teesside to ensure that the position does not worsen. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) mentioned the threat, or even the forecast, that our drug problem might be as great as that of the United States within five years. My hon. Friend called for a comprehensive and cohesive policy and a whole range of Government action to deal with the problem. My remarks relate to that Government action.

Recently on Teesside the local customs and excise took the decision to redeploy a rummage crew working on Teesside. The duties of that crew were to search vessels and to seek out drugs and other illicit cargo. It was decided that those men should be redeployed to other duties. The appropriate unions, the Minister of State, Treasury, and I intervened. As a consequence, the redeployment, decided upon by the collector of customs in Newcastle upon Tyne, is deferred until 30 September 1986. The Minister of State, Treasury, was kind enough to explain to me the background to that decision. The proposed deployment was in accordance with customs policy to allocate resources to the best possible use. He pointed out that in the interim, local management will reappraise the need for the rummage crew, taking account of local and national priorities and any resources for customs preventive work that are allocated to the region. We follow with interest the future of that crew.

The hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), in a speech to which I listened with great interest, referred to the work of the customs service as being the first line of defence. He rightly pointed out that we cannot stop all the drugs that come into the United Kingdom through sea ports and airports. He noted that only 10 per cent. of the drugs entering the United States can be detained by the authorities, despite the enormous amount of money and the vast resources at their disposal. However, that does not mean that there should be no attempt at the ports to prevent drugs from entering. The hon. Member also made the point that the number of specialist customs officers has been increased from 121 to 212, with a further 50 being appointed. My hon. Friend the Member for West Derby mentioned redeployment and said that those figures show some redeployment.

The concept that there is an attempt at the ports to prevent drugs from entering and the concept that not all drugs can be stopped are not mutually exclusive. It would be wrong for would-be traffickers in drugs to get the impression that we shall be lax at our ports of entry and that they are an easy target for the importation of illicit drugs. We must accept that our island position is somewhat different from that of the United States, which has a long border with Mexico. Therefore, we can curtail the illicit importation of drugs, notwithstanding the fact that, in a few years time, we may have a Channel tunnel. The rummage crew on Teesside and the customs and excise officers at the ports of Glasgow, Liverpool and Southampton should be maintained so that the threat of apprehension might at least be a deterrent.

The South Tees district drug advisory committee, established in July 1984, wished to fund a resource centre on Teesside that could set up a professional action committee to treat drug addicts and possibly to counsel them. It also considered the appointment of a full-time worker who would work under the direction of the action committee. It asked the DHSS for £86,000 over three years to fund the resource centre. It was a multi-discipline committee of health authority, local authority, the police, the probation service and voluntary organisations.

Unfortunately for Teesside, that request for funding was rejected. The Under-Secretary of State will recall that he was kind enough to advise me that the Phoenix house residential rehabilitation centre, which is established in London and Sheffield, proposed the opening of a residential rehabilitation facility in south Tyneside, for which it received a grant of £273,419 over three years from the DHSS. Its 30 places were meant to cover the north of England. My constituents are worried by the fact that there is no provision between Newcastle and York or Leeds, and it is a matter of some concern to us that the application was rejected.

However, during the past few days, Middlesbrough has heard the good news from the Department of Education and Science that it will fund an advisory teacher to fight drug abuse. The teacher will liaise with schools and colleges in an attempt to stamp out drug abuse in the county. He or she will liaise with Health Service workers and voluntary agencies. This relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) about the involvement of parents in the attempt to curb drug abuse. Perhaps the advisory teacher can help in that area.

My constituents welcome the Bill. I accept that it is part and parcel of a broad frontal attack by the Government on drug addiction and abuse and illicit importation. I urge the Government to seek better co-ordination among the resources of the DHSS, the Department of Education and Science and the Home Office so that the attack on this heinous problem—we listened with great interest to the hon. and learned Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) recount his visits to the United States with the Select Committee—can be given greater force. We welcome the Bill and the Government's broad frontal attack on the problem. Teesside, which has the third largest port in the country, must not be missed out of that broad attack.

9.39 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

When my private Member's Bill, now the Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Act 1985, was debated in Standing Committee I said: The Bill does not provide a magical miracle cure for the highly complex, extremely serious and ever-growing problem of drug misuse. There are various aspects of that problem, including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. The Bill covers just one aspect of deterrence, which is only one part of prevention. Anything we can do we must do."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 27 March 1985; c. 5.]

This Bill covers a further crucial aspect of deterrence. My Bill was supported by all of the political groupings in the House and by every shade and faction within those groupings. This Bill deserves equal non-partisan support.

There is, to me, no distinction between convicted drug dealers and those who are convicted of burglary or fraud. All gain financially from criminal activity. There is no difference between murder by heroin for financial gain and murder by shotgun in the course of a bank robbery. Neither the burglar nor the person who is convicted of fraud is allowed to keep the proceeds of his crime; nor should a drug trafficker be allowed to do so.

The whole point of deterrence is to reduce the supply of drugs and thereby slow down the dramatic increase in the number of addicts. The measure of the problem can be shown by referring to the notified figures of heroin addicts in 1984. The number was 6,611, a 324 per cent. increase on the figure for 1979, and notified addicts are just the tip of the iceberg. The number of regular users is much greater. The lowest estimate is about 60,000, rising, according to some estimates, to as many as 150,000.Recently in another place Lord Lane said: Let us take even the lowest figure of 10,000 addicts in the country. It requires, at the lowest, £20 a day per addict to feed their addiction. That is £7,000 a year per addict. If one multiplies that by 10,000, that totals £70 million. Those figures can probably be multiplied by four. But whether it is £70 million or £280 million, that money has to come from crime."—[0fficial Report, House of Lords, 30 January 1985; Vol. 459, c. 660-1.] And that money goes, of course, to criminals.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Metropolitan police estimate that 23 per cent. of its targeted criminals are now involved in hard drugs. Ten years ago they would have confined themselves to armed robbery, but now they find that hard drugs are much more lucrative. Indeed, it has been shown that some of them profit by as much as seven-figure sums over a very limited period from the importation of drugs. It is clear that they will continue to do so unless they are deterred by the toughest possible system of penalties.

It is true that the seizure of controlled drugs has increased dramatically—in the case of heroin from only 3.3 kilos in 1973 to 312 kilos in 1984. The seizure of increasingly large quantities of heroin is a tribute to the work and the efforts of customs and excise and the police. But the seizures only confirm the severity of the problem. Heroin purity is still high—47 per cent., on average, in this country, compared to only 7 per cent. in the United States. And the price of heroin is cheap. It is one of the very few commodities whose price has fallen in the last few years, by one fifth between 1980 and 1983. The combination of high purity and low price means a plentiful supply of the drug.

The need for action is urgent. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, for the Home Department said when the Bill was published last month: even the risk of long prison sentences is acceptable to some if a life of affluence awaits them on release.

We must ensure that it does not do so. We must not be diverted by legalistic controversy over the concept of the reversal of the burden of proof. It is not a novel concept; nor is it, as some have suggested, such a fundamental change in our criminal justice system. As we are all aware, it already exists in taxation matters. And Lord Denning has pointed out in another place that it is already established in English law, in the case of the chief constable of Kent and another in the Court of Appeal in 1983.

Of greater concern to me is the implementation of the Bill and how effective it will be when it becomes law. When attempting to trace offenders' assets we will be dependent on close co-operation with foreign countries. Drugs are not only big business; they are international business. A major drug trafficker does not tend to have a large deposit account in the National Westminster bank down the road. He is among the most sophisticated of criminals and his money is laundered through a multiplicity of accounts in a multiplicity of countries, many of them far away.

The Bill allows for reciprocal enforcement agreements with other countries so that an order by a British court can be enforceable against assets held overseas. I hope that during his closing speech the Minister will tell us how quickly he expects such agreements to be reached after the Bill becomes law. Perhaps he can also tell us the current position on proposals for the new United Nations convention to deal with all aspects of international drug trafficking, and what progress is being made through the Pompidou group of the Council of Ministers on drug misuse. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister raised the issue of drug trafficking at two recent internatinal conferences and I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could tell the House about the follow-through on those discussions. International co-operation is vital if the Bill is to be effective.

I should also like to ask about the public service manpower effects of the Bill. As my hon. Friend knows, I welcomed the increase last year of 150 Customs officers specialising in drugs. I remember, as he will, that during the debate in Standing Committee on my private Member's Bill he said he would not hesitate to recommend a further increase if he thought it was necessary. This Bill allows for some 35 new customs and excise investigative staff which, it says, are necessary to exploit the opportunities presented by the new legislation. I am well aware, as we said earlier in the debate, that the main thrust of customs effort is in intelligence, and that leads to some of the more spectacular seizures. However, I believe that there is a need for more random searches. Of the 36 million visitors to this country from abroad each year, only one in 100 can expect to be searched. Major drug traffickers are also becoming more adept at using the cover of commercial freight to ply their evil trade. I believe that customs policy at the moment is that only 2 per cent. of EEC goods coming into this country are examined, and that in terms of the total of all freight the figure is only 6 per cent.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) spoke about private yachts. That is a serious problem, especially when in Chichester there are 6,000 in harbour, on the Hamble 4,000, and at Lymington another 4,000. The Society of Civil and Public Servants has said in a survey on the Hamble that an average of 60 yachts come in on Sunday nights and request Customs inspection. About the same number come in and do not bother to request it, but there are not even enough Customs officers at the moment to inspect the 60 that request inspection. Perhaps my hon. Friend could tell us how the figure of 35 extra Customs officers in intelligence was arrived at and why the Bill does not advocate more officers for random searches. After all, the additional cost of staff is likely to be offset by higher income from confiscation.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs described drugs as the most serious peacetime threat to our national well-being. It is indeed an insidious, all-pervasive threat that knows no boundaries of class or geography. It is no longer an inner city, a city, an urban or even a suburban problem. It is prevalent throughout our villages and our countryside. I represent a partly urban, partly rural constituency in north Wales. It is covered by the north Wales constabulary, and in that area we have seen a dramatic increase in drugs offences—from 292 in 1978, none involving heroin, to 956 in 1984, 522 of them, more than half, involving heroin.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) quoted Justinian's article in the Financial Times which said that the Bill, if passed, will be 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. That should greatly satisfy Ministers and officials in the Home Office. To me such a response is only too appropriate to such a serious threat to our national wellbeing.

9.50 pm
Mr. Greg Knight (Derby, North)

We are dealing with an international problem which shows all the signs of approaching and remaining at epidemic proportions during the 1980s and the 1990s unless fairly drastic action is taken. Between 1974 and 1984, the number of reported drug addicts increased fivefold. The number of those receiving medical treatment trebled. The figures show that heroin imports have increased by some 640 per cent.

The most frightening aspect of all is that the size of the problem, as illustrated by the figures, is only the tip of the iceberg, as my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) said, because the official statistics show only reported instances. Those who have tried to estimate the scale of heroin addiction have suggested that the number of addicts is over 60,000.

I will not be as rash as the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and claim to speak for every one of my constituents, but I am sure that the majority of them are behind the measure, as are the Derby Christian Trade Unionists who have shown a commendable interest in the subject.

I thought the hon. Gentleman was a little ungenerous in his reference to customs officials. The emphasis of detection has changed somewhat and, as I understand it, increasing importance is being given to long-term intelligence work. While I agree with some of the points he made about the desire to increase the number of customs officers, it is fair not to overlook this other point.

Britain can learn from the experience of the United States of America. America has been a dumping ground for drugs for a number of years and comparatively its problem is a lot worse than ours. I note that America has proceeded along the path that we are being invited to follow.

I should like the Minister, when replying, to comment on one point. I understand that in America not only is it lawful for drug proceeds and the assets achieved from drug dealing to be forfeited but that that can be achieved by civil proceedings before a criminal conviction. Has my right hon. Friend given further thought to whether or not we should introduce a similar measure?

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) asked what will happen to assets confiscated by the courts. In America, a percentage of the assets seized goes to the general fund of the Treasury. However, the recent crackdown on drugs there has also proved profitable for the police because, as I understand it, some states in America offer an inducement to police authorities whereby a successful drug detection unit is sometimes allowed to keep a percentage of the assets for whose confiscation it has been responsible. I should like my hon. Friend to deal with that point.

It seems that to some degree the success of the American legislation is based upon the motivation factor. That is a good Conservative principle—the principle of self-interest. If police squads are successful, they should be able to have some share of the confiscated assets in terms of new equipment or perhaps an expansion of their departments. Will this happen, even to a small extent, in Britain when the Bill becomes law?

Some hon. Members have expressed concern about the shift in the burden of proof. I know that the former right hon. Member for South Down, Mr. Enoch Powell, also expressed concern about this aspect of the Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn—I do not have any misgivings about this provision of the Bill. First, it applies only after conviction. I think that the successful business man, the successful pop singer or even the unsuccessful working man who has won a bonanza from a newspaper bingo game or has won money from any other source would have no difficulty in showing the actual source of the money.

Secondly, it is not creating a precedent because—in areas of law which are substantially less serious, such as commercial law and some traffic offences — the principle does exist. When a motorist is stopped by the police, the burden is on him to show that he holds a licence, that his vehicle has an MOT test certificate and that he is insured. We are not creating a new principle although we may be extending the principle. This should be done, in view of the horrors of the drug problem, if we are to bring the guilty to justice and take the profit out of their crime.

The drug problem, rather like the economy, has two sides to it—supply and demand. Some people suggest that all the Government can do is attack the supply side and try to prevent drugs from coming into the country. I disagree. Although it is important to see that drug hauls are intercepted, the demand side does need to be tackled. It is vital that the public, especially the young, are educated about the effects of drugs. There is a tendency—not just for the reasons of unemployment or social deprivation suggested by the hon. Member for West Derby —among some young people to experiment and a desire to try something out that is fashionable. They may hear of a pop singer admitting to taking drugs and think it is something to try.

I must add my voice to the praise which has been given to my hon. Friend the Minister, the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor)—much praise has been given to him this evening and earlier, I thought, from the look on his face, that he was getting rather worried about it. However, the praise is welcome and deserved. It is worth underlining the fact that the Government have made £8 million available to try to drive home to young people the dangers of drug abuse.

It is not often that there is such consensus in the House as we see today. I hope that all Members will agree with the Prime Minister who, on 9 August last year, addressing her remarks to drug traffickers said: We are after you. The pursuit will be relentless. The effort will get greater and greater until we have beaten you. The penalty will be long prison sentences. The penalty will be confiscation of everything you have ever gotten from drug smuggling. Let us all say "Hear, hear" to that.

9.59 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I hope that brevity will not be taken for lack of concern about this vital issue. The co-operation shown by both sides of the House, which I hope will be demonstrated by suspension of the Ten o'clock rule, shows that the House is determined to support one of the most effective weapons in the fight against drug taking and peddling. It is a world war against drugs. We are in the middle of world war three, and it is as important and probably as costly in terms of lives as previous world wars.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Ordered, That, at this day's sitting, the Drug Trafficking Offences Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour. —[Mr. Lang.]

Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Mr. Hanley

My confidence in the House is fully justified, and I am grateful for the unanimous vote.

I was honoured to be a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee that went to America. We had seen the depths to which people can sink through addiction to heroin in Hong Kong and Amsterdam and we saw the same with regard to cocaine in the United States. We have seen exactly what our future will be, or is likely to be, unless the Bill is supported fully by the British public. It is supported by the House. It is now up to the public to ensure that it works. On our return from America, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said: I fear I have seen the future, and I do not like it. That is exactly the mood of the Select Committee.

I well remember going on the visit. Most of us went with smiling faces, looking forward to our visit to a foreign country. Our smiles were very quickly wiped off our faces when we saw the evidence of drug taking, what it can do to people, the extent of drug taking and the amount of money that can be made from this pernicious habit.

I went with prejudices. I believed that marijuana, or cannabis, was possibly harmless and that perhaps it should be legalised—that at least we should consider that. I came away believing that marijuana is as dangerous as any other drug. It can lead to the harder drugs. It can lead to a mentality that accepts drug taking. Scientific evidence shows that, when mixed with tobacco, it can be as dangerous as any other cancer-inducing product.

I believed that cocaine was relatively harmless, that it was bearable and that one might be able to kick the habit. I have now seen that that is not at all the case. Although, unlike heroin, it can be put aside for a month or two, the feeling of euphoria, great power, ease and confidence that comes with cocaine is addictive and eventually the drug itself becomes addictive. The physical signs of taking cocaine are even more horrible. It can destroy the nasal passages and cause people to have metal implants in their noses because it has burnt the inside away. I remember, as my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) said, being in that small room in Miami surrounded by $10 billion-worth of drugs. That is almost twice as much as the budget for the Home Office, almost twice as much as the United Kingdom budget to the EEC and more than the budgets of the Department of Employment and the Department of Transport put together. It represents staggering power.

Anybody could spend $1 billion on a small army and multiply the profits 10 times. That is why the place is so secret and so heavily armed. However, that $10 billion was the product of only six months of seizures in the Miami area. It represents one tenth of the drug industry in America worth $100 billion. That is bigger than the gross domestic product of 14 out of 25 OECD countries.

I learned a hard lesson in America. I learned that cocaine cannot be regarded as the champagne drug, as it is often called. I learned that it is the norm to take it at parties, especially among show business people. However, industry is also tainted by it. We even discovered that one of the representatives of the people, a Congressman, had been addicted to it but, now cured, tours the country telling of its evils. Anybody can be addicted to this drug once they have tasted it. In Pakistan, it has been discovered that two children of Cabinet Ministers are suffering from heroin addiction, and the authorities are clamping down effectively on the production of drugs, with the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor).

When one sees the activities of the drug traffickers and the couriers who bring drugs through Heathrow and other ports, one realises just what this can lead to. Drugs couriers carry drugs not only for money; they do it because they are threatened and blackmailed. There was the recent case involving the Nigerian lady who died when one of the 32 contraceptives containing heroin which she had been forced to take into her stomach exploded. That illustrates what people are forced to do. We know that she was forced to do it, because on her back were 32 razor cuts so that she would have to account for every one of the packages she had been forced to smuggle through. If that is the pressure under which people are put, it shows the evil of the drug for the world.

With regard to the funds which are seized —admittedly very effectively in America, in the fight against drug traffickers — I do not believe that in the United Kingdom context they should be used specifically for prisons, for rehabilitation, for education or against the drug trafficker. I believe that every penny that is seized should be taken and put into the coffers of the Treasury. However, I believe that it is undeniable that we need to spend sufficient—or even more—on building prisons to house the traffickers, on rehabilitating those who have fallen prey to the drugs, on educating children so that they never go to drugs and against drugs traffickers in every way possible.

The fact that the document "Tackling Drugs Misuse" was signed by seven Secretaries of State is an almost unique example of co-operation in Government in modern times. It is a document to be remembered, for the simple reason that one of those Secretaries of State was the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. The Chancellor of the Exchequer should remember that, in signing that document, he signed a whole-hearted commitment to provide the funds to fight drugs. We need more than the proceeds of seizure of drugs to use against drug traffickers, and this money must be found.

Some people say that the police have gone soft on drugs. From evidence put before the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I do not believe that to be so. I believe that they are waging an intelligent and effective war and are being more constructive and effective in their approach. I can say, after four meetings with Scotland Yard, that I have never seen a body of men and women so concerned about one issue.

With regard to customs officers, of course numbers matter. If the numbers fall below what is needed to do the job effectively, then obviously drugs will come in. If customs officers go on strike, as they have done in recent years, that is when drugs can flood into the country. This is particularly so when they announce that they are going to go on strike in advance, to gain extra industrial pressure. I wish that they would not go on strike because they play a vital part in stopping drugs coming into the country.

Of course numbers matter, but I believe that the present numbers are about adequate. It is not numbers ultimately that make the difference; it is the intelligence that Customs officers receive, the training they have in drug-related matters, the co-operation with the police force, which I am glad to say is now better than it has ever been, and the cooperation with other services that are so important. It is being able to identify the drug trafficker, the courier and the transport that brings drugs into the country. I am glad that the customs service has, in Pakistan, a man who is doing such excellent work in passing intelligence back to this country, and about the spread of this service to other countries. Given the contacts that we have—both police and customs officers—diplomatic status is a tremendous benefit, and helps co-operation with other countries.

This is one of the best and most interesting Bills that has ever been introduced in an attempt to stop one particular crime. I was proud that I was on the Committee and that all members of the Committee agreed to the seven parts of the interim report. I was pleased, and I hope that the Government would take notice. The Government have done more than that—independently, they have come to the same conclusions. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney has worked tirelessly. It is known that he is probably one of the hardest-worked Ministers in the Government, and this co-operation role is particularly difficult. Wherever the Select Committee went, he had been before. Instead of saying that we wished that the Government would see what we had seen, we knew that my hon. Friend the Minister had seen it first. He has learnt what we have and has come to the same conclusion.

This is an excellent Bill. I wish that it were tougher on civil remedies, but that is my only criticism of it. I wish it fair speed.

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

It is a pleasure to be able to respond to such an interesting and absorbing debate, which has shown such a wide-ranging accord across the Floor of the House. I thank those who paid warm tributes to my efforts. I am touched by what has been said. It is a privilege for me to be engaged in this issue, which we all know to be of such profound significance to future generations. My right hon. Friends and I are glad that the Bill has achieved such wide-ranging support and that the points that have been made have been so constructive. We shall have the opportunity to look at them in Committee, where I am looking forward to playing a part in the proceedings.

I am also glad that it has been possible to broaden the debate and to make some more general points about the overall problem and the work that we are doing to combat it. It is clear that, although this is a significant Bill, which represents a further major brick in the wall that we are building against the trafficker, the Bill alone cannot resolve the drugs problem.

In a typically wise speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) made abundantly clear his view that there is no excape from the drug problem down the law and order route, although we must make those services more effective in their battle against traffickers. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) pointed out that escape comes through education and widespread recognition by the community that there exists no problem that drugs do anything but make matters worse. We must get more people to say no to drugs. The willingness of people to pay for and take drugs puts the pressure on, and creates the incentive for, the drug trafficker to find other, more complicated ways of avoiding authority. We must face the fact that in a free society there will always be ways to do that. We can never block off every route into the country.

We have to make the law and order services ever more effective. The police and customs are now working together in the closest way — unparalleled in their history. They have never been better resourced to do this and the other jobs that they are asked to do. We talk in terms of raising several million pounds from the Bill, but we should not begrudge the Treasury that money, as expenditure on the police under this Government has gone up from £1.1 billion to £2.8 billion a year. The police service at every level— from the drug squads to the copper on the beat to the regional crime squads, increased by 20 per cent. as a result of announcements made in the summer, to the national drugs intelligence unit, headed by one of our most experienced policemen—is playing a full part in this with the customs.

I do not want to get into detailed discussion at this hour about the customs position, but I should like to pay tribute to the work of the customs, as I did the other day when their seizure figures for 1985 were announced, showing just what a rich harvest their professionalism is reaping. The fact that they smashed 70 drug rings last year is a major achievement; and the fact that 1,500 people were arrested is also something for which we are all very grateful.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) raised the point of uniformed preventive staff. I appreciate that there has been controversy about this matter. Certainly since my ministerial group was formed there has been a steady increase in the number of uniformed preventive officers, and there are more to come. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) must not think that we are talking of only 35 extra officers in this context. Thirty-five extra intelligence officers relate to the work of this Bill. But I am happy to tell him, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Knight) well knows, because this information was given in answer to his question, that in the two years from April 1985 to April 1987 it is proposed that the number of uniformed preventive officers, whose main priority is drugs detection, be increased from 2,823, as at 1 April 1985, to 3,300 by 1 April 1987—almost 500 more over a two-year period. By the same token, the number of specialist intelligence investigators dealing with the careful tracking of drugs conspiracies, the careful targeting of flights and of individuals, the profiling of suspects—which is such a help to uniformed officers — has increased already from some 121 to 262 and, as a result of reconsideration of the implications of this Bill, is scheduled to increase to some 297 by April 1987.

We have also seen, in parallel with those increases, a great change in the sophistication with which customs are able to tackle the drugs problem, in particular by being able to concentrate more not on the predictable checks —the red and green channels—but on the unpredictable checks. Anyone who has visited Heathrow as I have knows how much goes on apart from what one sees in the red and green channels; and rightly so.

The greatest tribute to the customs, to the efforts that they are making, and the success that they are achieving, is what was reported by Mr. Lawrence, the chief investigation officer, a few weeks ago, when he said that smugglers were no longer generally bringing their drugs on the direct route into the country; they recognised that that was now very well targeted and they were taking ever more complicated and tortuous routes around Europe. There are, of course, the particular problems of other continental countries where the law and order services are perhaps less effective, particularly the Netherlands, where drugs can be warehoused and run into the United Kingdom in containers, lorries and cars. This poses, however many men there are and however well disciplined they may be, an almost insuperable problem.

Some points of detail have been raised to which I really ought to refer. Some of them reminded me a little of what Richard Strauss said about conductors: "There are those who take the music too fast and there are others who take the music too slow." Some hon. Members think that some provisions go too far; others think that some do not go far enough. We have tried to strike a balance between the two extremes.

Our friend Justinian says that it is a ferocious piece of legislation. I gather that "Justinian" masks a well-known progressive thinker whose lines of thought are not always in keeping with those of the man on the top of the Clapham omnibus. If we have offended him, I do not suppose that it is for the first time. I do not think that there is anything particularly ferocious about the Bill in the sense that we are taking unprecedented powers. What we are doing is trying to take from other areas of the law, particularly the civil law, things that have worked well, like the Mareva injunctions and the vigorous investigations by the high Court masters. We have tried to ensure that they are put at the service of the criminal law so that we do not repeat the mistake that parliament made in 1971. At that time section 27 appeared to the layman to give a clear power to seize assets. However, because it was not sufficiently thought through and did not have a mechanism to make it enforceable, it led to the Operation Julie case, and the present hopeless distinctions between the man with the drug money hot in his pocket which can be confiscated, and the man who has invested money on the stock exchange in Westland shares, or whatever takes his fancy, which cannot be seized under the law. If in 1971 someone had suggested that that would be the effect of the legislation, no one would have believed it. That was the effect, and that is why we have worked so hard to get the right answer, stimulated by the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee to whose chairman and members I pay tribute.

The reason why we decided not to adopt the American example of civil proceedings was that we did not think that it could fit readily into the British system. The power is draconian and would have appeared out of sorts with anything that we have hitherto done, because it gives authorities the power to seize property, if they have reasonable suspicion that it has been acquired illegally. Then the individual who claims to be the owner is put to proof. Without having been convicted of anything, it is up to him to establish that the property was lawfully acquired. If we had proposed that, I suspect that more than Justinian would have spoken of ferocity, and they might have been right.

Mr. Alex Carlile


Mr. Mellor

I am receiving some instructions suggesting that I should not give way, but I shall.

Mr. Carlile

Before the Minister leaves the question of applications to freeze assets altogether, will he explain why the Government have not decided to introduce provisions which would enable the police to apply ex parte for the freezing of assets before arrest? That would be an effective power in their hands. Moreover, it was recommended by Hodgson.

Mr. Mellor

We provide for that in the sense that once a warrant for arrest is issued, it does not have to be executed. At that point the police can go to the High Court judge, before the individual knows that he is about to be arrested, and persuade that judge to grant the injunction. We have sought to balance every power that has been given with a safeguard, because that is the proper way to proceed. If the Committee takes the view that it would be better if the power to freeze were not linked to arrest, we would be receptive to that point.

It is important that we seek a balance. In striking it we reached the conclusion that this was the proper way to proceed. This major innovation in criminal law had to be balanced by evidence on which an arrest warrant had been issued, or on which an arrest without a warrant had taken place, and by the approval of a High Court judge.

Regarding the receipt of funds, a large sum has been invested in our campaign against drugs, and the extent of it is well set out in the publication, "Tackling Drug Misuse". I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not be begrudged the money that will be received as a result of this measure considering the Government's large expenditure on combating the problem.

I am grateful to colleagues who have taken part in the debate. I hope that those who have spoken so eloquently with such an obviously detailed knowledge of the problem and such a commitment to its eradication will join us in Committee. We have tried to think the Bill through, and to ensure that we give the courts a readily understandable, workable power which will result in drug traffickers losing the proceeds of their evil activities. This proposal, like all the others that come before the House, must be looked at rigorously. No doubt, it can be improved. I hope that those who have spoken so well tonight will join in improving it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) was right to remind me about the problem of others who are making money out of crime. My hon. Friend is particularly concerned about those involved in vice. He believes that they should be subject to the rigours of these proposals. We have a commitment which we intend to carry through in the Criminal Justice Bill, which we hope will find a place in the Government's legislative programme next Session, to legislate more widely on the subject of the seizure of the assets of the criminal fraternity. It is a matter for judgment on which we welcome comments, as to how far the principles in the Bill should be carried across into the law more generally I accept the warning that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fylde (Sir E. Gardner) issued, but I know the pressure that colleagues like my hon. Friend the Member for Test are under from their constituents who are troubled by the amount of money to be made out of vice. I can assure hon. Members that their message has not fallen on deaf ears.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of Bills).