HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc593-6 3.33 pm
Sir Edward Gardner (Fylde)

I beg to ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to answer the question of which I have given him private notice.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Eggar)

As I told the House on 22 July—

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take the point of order after the private notice question.

Mr. Gow


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have said that I shall take points of order after the private notice question. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat.

Mr. Gow

My hon. and learned Friend has not read out the question.

Mr. Speaker

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. Will the hon. and learned Member for Fylde read his question?

Sir Edward Gardner

Perhaps I may acquaint the House of the question of which I have given private notice: what action is being taken to deal with the refusal by the Government of India to allow the posting of two British drug liaison officers to New Delhi and Bombay?

Mr. Tim Eggar

As I told the House on 22 July, the Government of India have told us that the posting of drug liaison officers should not proceed without their written consent despite their earlier agreement in principle. We have taken this up with the Government of India at the highest level. Most recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a message to Mr. Gandhi. We hope that he will reply in terms which give the Government of India's agreement that the postings should go ahead.

Sir Edward Gardner

Is my hon. Friend aware that large supplies of hard drugs are now passing through India on their way to Britain, and that, without adequate intelligence, which British drug liaison officers could provide, our attempts to stem the flow of this terrible traffic are bound to be seriously impeded? Is it not scandalous and wholly irresponsible of the Indian Government to aid and abet drug traffickers by denying us the means of identifying them and their activities? Last month the Indian Government said that they would allow those officers to be posted. Now they are refusing that posting. What on earth is going on?

Mr. Eggar

I share my hon. and learned Friend's concern about the recent developments, which we regard with great seriousness, not least because we estimate that in the first few months of this year 80 per cent. of heroin that has come into the United Kingdom has come from India. Last year the total amounts of heroin seized that had come via India had a street value of some £53 million. The only people who can possibly benefit from the latest development are the drug traffickers and the only people who will suffer are the drug addicts, both here and in India.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

The Minister has our wholehearted support in his attempt to put drug enforcement officers in place in India. What reasons have the Indian Government given for their refusal, and are there any precedents for this action?

Mr. Eggar

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening remarks. As he knows, we have seven drug liaison officers in different countries throughout the world and in no other country have we had anything like the same difficulties or complications in posting them.

The situation in India perplexes us. The Indian Government gave us a written undertaking which enabled my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary to tell the Select Committee on Home Affairs that the drug liaison officers were to be posted, subject to certain details. We are not clear about the exact reason for the further delays.

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

Are we not constantly getting lectures on moral matters from the Indian Government and are not the Indian Government the biggest humbugs that we know about? I shall excuse my hon. Friend from answering that question.

Mr. Eggar

I note the point that my hon. Friend makes.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

Will the Minister first repudiate the obnoxious, unnecessary and contemptible attack on India's Government that has just been made? Knowing, as he well does, that I have been concerned that drug liaison officers should be installed in India, will he please answer the question that he has already been asked as to why India is refusing, and, in particular, whether it is because, on the basis of reciprocity, they are asking for information and help regarding smuggling which Her Majesty's Government are refusing to give?

Mr. Eggar

I recognise the part that the hon. and learned Gentleman, with others in the House, has played in trying to persuade the Indian Government to agree to the posting of British DLOs in India.

On 24 June the Indians asked us not to send our officers until agreement was reached on unrelated issues about cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Indian revenue authorities. That point was raised by the Indian Government. We responded immediately and said that we would give our full co-operation within our powers under the law. In other words, we would do everything that we could legally do to assist the Indian Government. That assurance appears not to have been accepted so far.

Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

Despite the South African matter, is not the world drugs menace something to which the Commonwealth Heads of Government might turn their attention? Without attacking the Government of India at this moment, should not this be brought before other partner Governments and perhaps Sir "Sonny" Ramphal could do something about it?

Mr. Eggar

I shall ensure that my hon. Friend's points are drawn to the attention of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The fight against drugs is worldwide. Every country has a major part to play in that fight and that is why we are so distressed at the stance taken by the Government of India.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Does the Minister appreciate that the excellent resolution passed by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Ottawa last year received the assent of all Commonwealth countries and instructed Governments to improve their position? Is he aware that, although heroin is a terrible drug, the greatest growth in imports is in cocaine? Rather than trying to give off-the-cuff answers to the House, he should have much closer relations with Dr. Alexander, the High Commissioner at India house, in Aldwych.

Mr. Eggar

I recognise the role that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members played in the fight against drugs and we are all grateful for that. He spoke about cocaine. The largest threat at present is from heroin and, as I have said, we believe that some 80 per cent. of heroin comes through from India. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about contacts with His Excellency the Indian High Commissioner. I saw His Excellency on Saturday 28 June and on Friday 11 July to discuss this issue. In the past year there have been 30 or more contacts at either ministerial or senior official level on the question of sending drugs liaison officers to India.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the House will be extremely disturbed by the news about the lack of co-operation by the Indian Government in this small effort to control the international trade in drugs? Can he reassure the House that he has had talks with the Indian High Commissioner in London since the decision by the Indian Government was taken and that the Prime Minister has been in contact with the Prime Minister of India since that time? Can he also reassure the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) has suggested, that the subject will feature on the agenda for discussion by the Commonwealth leaders when they next meet?

Mr. Eggar

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister sent a message to Mr. Gandhi and we are still waiting for a response to it. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary felt it right to inform the Select Committee on Home Affairs before the House rose about the difficulties we are encountering. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others will take the opportunity on Mr. Gandhi's visit to London in August to raise this question with him.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

We all hope that the Indian Government will co-operate in these matters, but does the Minister accept that his own Government's record might have been more impressive if they had not considerably reduced the number of customs officers since 1979? Can the Minister explain the deterioration in relations not just with the Government of India but with almost every Commonwealth country, especially in recent weeks?

Mr. Eggar

In reply to the implied point made by the hon. Gentleman, I have to tell him that there is no indication from the Indian Government that there is any connection between developments in the Commonwealth and this issue. We certainly do not see any such connection. There are two officers from the Indian customs service in London, and they receive different forms of co-operation from the Government.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Does my hon. Friend recall that some members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs visited the Indian sub-continent last November, and that alone among the three countries the Government of India declined to receive them? The Governments of Pakistan and Bangladesh co-operate fully with the United Kingdom to suppress this odious drug trafficking trade. Will he again urge upon the Government of India the necessity to rejoin the humanitarian members of the Commonwealth and other countries in doing something about this problem?

Mr. Eggar

Because we believe that this is a worldwide fight, during the past year we have often been in close touch with the Indian Government. We shall certainly draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Indian High Commissioner.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)

Will the Minister dare to repudiate some of the interventions from senior Back Benchers who should know better and whose remarks seemed designed to sour a delicate situation? Is he aware of the helpful visit to India by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in May this year when there was every sign that the matter would be resolved speedily? Is he further aware that we share my right hon. Friend's puzzlement and his desire to get things moving?

What in the Minister's view is the new factor which has intervened since May? Is it the sikhs in Khalistan, although that problem was apparent in May? Is it something to do with sanctions and South Africa? What is the key factor? Will the Minister seek to clarify with the Indian Government the precise reason why they are now delaying? Will he make it clear to them that hon. Members on both sides of the House want progress to be made in ending this vile drug trade and that the only people who can benefit from further delays are the drug barons?

Mr. Eggar

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and particularly welcome the support that he and the Leader of the Opposition have given to our efforts to post drugs liaison officers in India. Of course, I cannot speak for my right hon. and hon. Friends or for their views, but we seek to ensure that our relations with India are good and excellent. Obviously, one must take into account the fact that right hon. and hon. Members and people outside the House feel very strongly about the drugs liaison officers issue. It is bound to have an effect on the way in which Her Majesty's Government's relations with India are viewed.