HC Deb 02 February 1989 vol 146 cc417-8
7. Mr. Pawsey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress he has made in securing greater international co-operation against the illegal drug trade.

Mr. Hurd

Effective international action is crucial to our efforts against this trade. In December, with 42 other countries, we signed a new United Nations convention providing a comprehensive framework for international co-operation against illicit trafficking. In the past year we have signed eight important bilateral drug co-operation agreements, and more are under negotiation. I exchanged the negotiated text of an agreement with the Spanish Minister of the Interior on Tuesday, dealing in particular with the confiscation of assets. Under our chairmanship, a ministerial meeting of the Council of Europe's Pompidou drug co-operation group will take place in London in May. I believe it will underline our strong commitment to combat drug misuse throughout western Europe.

Mr. Pawsey

I thank my right hon. Friend for that typically helpful and comprehensive reply. Does he feel that the international community could do even more to curb drug abuse? My right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues in the United Kingdom have tackled the problem with substantial vigour. I am thinking particularly of the way in which we can now confiscate the profits that come from drug abuse. Will my right hon. Friend again pursue other countries to try to bring them more on side to adopt some United Kingdom practices?

Mr. Hurd

We are certainly setting the pace on this with the agreements that I mentioned. Confiscating the assets of convicted drug traffickers, alongside long terms of imprisonment, is just about the most effective means of enforcement. With the Pompidou group, when the European Ministers meet under my chairmanship here in May, we shall ram home that point.

Mr. Maclennan

Will the Home Secretary take the earliest opportunity to discuss this matter with the Administration of President Bush and their new appointee in charge of drugs, bearing in mind the necessity to combat drug traffic from Latin America, in particular, through the United States?

Mr. Hurd

I have written to Dr. Bennett, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, and I have already had a talk with the new United States Attorney-General. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct.

Mr. Soames

Will my right hon. Friend try a scheme that has been effectively used by the Americans? Passengers flying from countries that are designated by Customs as at risk from drug trafficking should be given a piece of paper warning them quite clearly that, upon entry into the United Kingdom, they are likely to be searched from top to bottom and that if they are carrying drugs they had better get rid of them at once.

Mr. Hurd

The phrasing of the notice suggested to my hon. Friend might need a little attention, but I will look at his helpful suggestion.

Mr. Darling

When does the Home Secretary expect to share with the House the outcome of his ministerial discussions? In particular, he is discussing not only the international drug trade but freedom of entry into this country and freedom of movement in this country and in European Community states. When will he make a statement about his discussions with the Trevi group of Ministers, rather than keeping his thoughts to a cosy little group without answerability to the House?

Mr. Hurd

The cosy little group includes all readers of Hansard, as the hon. Gentleman would perceive if he looked at the record. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has written to me about the matter. I have no objection to discussing it further. I am pleased with the way co-operation is going both on immigration and on drug matters.

Mr. Gow

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the number of specialist Customs officers at ports and airports is sufficient to meet the growing drugs menace?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend knows that the number of Customs officers is not a matter for me. I believe that the view of the Customs is that by concentrating their efforts more narrowly on drug trafficking, they can do what is necessary with the resources that they have. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's implication to Ministers in the Treasury.