HC Deb 23 January 1986 vol 90 cc432-3
1. Mr. Alex Carlile

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people have been convicted of supplying heroin or the possession of heroin with intention to supply in each of the years 1982 to 1985; and if he will make a statement.

8. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the number of drug-related offences during the most recent period of 12 months for which figures are available, compared with the number for the previous 12 months.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (Mr. 4David Mellor)

The available information relates to persons found guilty of or cautioned for offences involving controlled drugs. The total numbers found guilty or cautioned for such offences in the United Kingdom in the years 1982 to 1984 were 20,300 in 1982, 23,300 in 1983 and 25,000 in 1984. Within those totals, the numbers who were found guilty of supplying. or of possession with intent to supply, heroin were 210 in 1982, 260 in 1983 and 570 in 1984. Corresponding figures for 1985 are not yet available.

Mr. Carlile

As convictions largely depend upon the importation of drugs, will the Minister assure the House that, while the Government are rightly considering precautions against the importation of rabies through the Channel tunnel, they will also seriously consider the level of precautions to be taken against the importation of drugs through the tunnel? Will the Government be prepared to come to the House in due course and make a statement about the level of security against the importation of drugs?

Mr. Mellor

That is a fair point. Work on the matter is already in hand. There is no reason to think that security for the Channel tunnel will pose any greater difficulties than in the case of the other methods of getting into the United Kingdom. However, that is a matter worthy of consideration and it will receive it.

Mr. Fraser

Does the Minister realise that most of the people convicted of supplying heroin are addicts and that the police have success only when they catch a dealer who is rich, ostensibly respectable, and is not an addict? The real problem is that the drug squads in London do not have enough manpower to follow the leads up to the higher levels of supply. What is the point of banning overtime for policemen when one is trying to stamp out the serious drug trade in London? Will there be any change in manning procedures for drug squads?

Mr. Mellor

The Metropolitan police drug squad has already been increased in size, and authority has been given for a further 50 officers to be recruited. Mainstream officers are also engaged in work on drugs. It is no longer left solely to drug squads. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the strength of the Metropolitan police has increased by about 4,800 officers while the Government have been in office. When one adds to that the creation and increased resources of the national drugs intelligence unit and the creation in regional crime squads of designated drugs wings, involving an increase of 20 per cent. in the strength of regional crime squads, I think we are taking the steps that the hon. Gentleman wants. Perhaps he will appreciate that in due course.

Sir Edward Gardner

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the importation and possession of heroin is a great problem, there is an equally serious, if not worse, problem looming up behind it and threatening to overtake it—the possession and importation of cocaine? Will he assure the House that every step will be taken to ensure that that traffic is stamped on as quickly and severely as possible?

Mr. Mellor

Yes. I know that my hon. and learned Friend has had the same experience as me in seeing what is happening in America. An additional squad has been formed in Customs to deal with investigations into cocaine. We and others have warned about the problems of cocaine and the dangers that the United States experience reveals. So far, I am happy to say, there has been no sign of the great explosion in cocaine that some predicted. The seizure figure by Customs of 73 kilos in 1983 and of 79 kilos in 1985 does not show a great increase. But we are not complacent about the matter.

Mr. Martin

Has the Minister contacted his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State north of the border about the fact that, after public houses, council houses are being used to push drugs, which is causing a great nuisance, particularly in my constituency and, no doubt, in council estates throughout the country, to tenants who want a quiet life? Will the hon. Gentleman take steps to advise local authorities on what action should be taken?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman made an effective speech on that point two nights ago. I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is aware of what he said. He sits on the committee that I chair. The hon. Gentleman's point is important and will be treated as such by my colleagues in the Scottish Office.