HC Deb 09 June 1989 vol 154 cc470-526 9.34 am
Mr. Chris Butler (Warrington, South)

I beg to move, That this House commends the Government for the high priority it gives to the problem of the misuse of drugs; calls for sustained and properly co-ordinated attempts to reduce supplies of such drugs from abroad, for the maintenance of effective deterrents to drug abuse and of effective controls on availability, and for a developing and monitored programme of prevention and education to minimise potential demand; and calls urgent attention to the problem of intravenous drug abuse aggravating the risk that AIDS presents to the population of the United Kingdom. The founder of the Royal College of Physicians, Thomas Sydenham, said: Bless the Lord for giving opium to the human race. Three hundred years on, a recent opinion poll shows that the British public believe that narcotic drugs are the greatest threat facing the United Kingdom. It is often said that where the United States leads, we follow some years later. The scale of the problem in the United States is truly immense.

There are reckoned to be 38 million illicit drug users in the United States. There are 12 million regular users of cocaine, to the extent that it is now believed that the cocaine market in North America is saturated. Prices are falling there and there is wide availability, despite the fact that 127 tonnes of cocaine were seized by the United States authorities. There are 18 million regular users of marijuana in the United States and 500,000 heroin addicts. This causes immense cost to United States society in terms in crime, policing, the judicial system and medical treatment amounting, it is estimated, to $54 billion a year.

The drug policy review group in this country believes that the equivalent United Kingdom costs annually are £3.8 billion. If we were even to begin to reach United States levels, that figure could easily be doubled. We have not yet begun even to register the costs of crack, which are already inflicting tremendous wounds on United States society, although it has already arrived here, as the recent riots in Wolverhampton showed. The word on the streets in Warrington, my constituency, is that crack is available in the night clubs there, as are many other drugs. Many people travel quite a long way to get their drugs from the Warrington night club scene.

In the first half of the 1980s, new addicts increased at the rate of 25 per cent. a year, so that by 1988 the total number of known addicts was five times that in 1978. In 1986, notifications of new addicts fell, but they rose again in 1988. It is estimated that notification underestimates the total number of addicts by between 5 and 20 times. In 1988, 270 kg of heroin were seized, but it is estimated that only 10 to 15 per cent. of all drugs reaching the population are stopped by such seizures. In 1988, too, 300 kg of cocaine were seized, but the police say that very large quantities of cocaine are reaching our shores.

There were no increases in notifications of cocaine addicts in 1988, but the police and other agencies report widespread availability. That will reflect itself in future notifications of addicts. The police believe that cocaine is the major threat facing this country in the coming years. In some areas, it is already cheaper than heroin.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs estimates that there are between 75,000 and 150,000 opiate users in the United Kingdom. There is a similar number —between 75,000 and 150,000—of non-opiate users. That excludes cannabis. If we were to take the worst scenario—a total of 300,000 regular uses—that would fill our gaols six times over.

The problem is clearly out of hand. It is true to say that we are now staring down the barrel of the gun. Some people write off the drug problem as the problem of "Sin City"—London—or they write it off merely as a problem that affects a section of our society: hippie dinosaurs, perhaps, or the champagne set, or ethnic minorities. It is true that London accounts for some two thirds of the problem, but it is truly now a national problem. There is hardly a city, town or hamlet that is not affected in some way.

The problem is certainly not confined to one section of the community; it affects all social classes. Drug abuse has exploded, and with it crime, as many must finance their habit by dealing in drugs and prostitution. The contribution that that makes to the crime wave is commonly underestimated: Home Office research in 1983 suggested that in the Wirral 15 per cent. of burglars were notified addicts, and further research in 1985 suggested that about 50 per cent. of all burglars in the area were drug misusers. If that is multiplied to give a nationwide figure, the result is truly staggering. I wonder whether the crime wave of recent years could be correlated with the increase in drug abuse. Dr. Tim Harding of the university of Geneva reckons that between 25 and 30 per cent. of all prisoners have been opiate users.

It seems at times a hopeless battle, and there are those who wish to void the field. Some extreme libertarians believe in decriminalisation, feeling that people should be allowed to go to hell in their own way. That, however, ignores the extreme social cost that would accompany even decriminalisation. Families are certainly affected by addicts who are hooked into their habit.

Highly intelligent and respected drug experts also believe in decriminalisation, feeling that the costs of the present regime are so high that it is the only answer. In their view prohibition has failed, as it was doomed to fail, and indeed has aggravated the problem by opening the doors to gangsterism. They cite Amsterdam as an example of a good liberal approach. In that city, possession of cannabis is no longer an offence: it can be freely bought in cafes with a cannabis leaf in the window.

Decriminalisation is not the answer; Amsterdam is not paradise. In fact, drugs have made it a rather seedy and sleazy city. At best, decriminalisation would lead to greater availability of drugs, and—as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has pointed out—increased availability would tend to lead to increased chances for others to be dragged into the habit. At worst decriminalisation would lead to large conglomerates getting in on the scene—as has happened with tobacco and alcohol—and promoting it, subtly and not so subtly. I believe that decriminalisation is a policy of despair.

Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman and I agree that the dangers to which he referred exist. Does he not recognise, however, that in this country only about 10 per cent. of addicts are known by the helping agencies, whereas in Holland the figure is about 75 per cent? Does he not agree that, although decriminalisation has many negative aspects, the other side of the coin would be that massive benefit, which would be a major factor is stamping out drug-taking?

Mr. Butler

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me as I develop my argument, I think that he will see the same way out of the maze as I do.

Until 1960 the policy of controlled availability left us free of the problems faced by the United States. Since the 1920s alcohol and drugs had been strictly prohibited there, and although the prohibition of alcohol collapsed amidst a sea of gangsterism, drug prohibition continues with the result that gangsterism flourishes and 5,000 new heroin users are accumulated every day.

In 1960, the Brain committee said that in the United Kingdom everything was all right—certainly in comparison with the horrors of the position in the United States. The market was effectively undercut by the official supply, and in the 1950s and 1960s, certainly, there were some 500 addicts among a population of about 50 million. The small number of addicts were maintained on unadulterated drugs, and there were few crimes associated with them.

What went wrong? In the early 1960s a large number of north Americans came to this country and exploited some unscrupulous GPs, who prescribed drugs in considerable amounts. Sizeable profits were made by both the doctors and the north Americans engaging in their transatlantic trade. The result was the Dangerous Drugs Act 1967, and the setting up of a number of licensed clinics around the country to replace the GPs. There were too few, however, and it was difficult to recruit psychiatrists prepared to staff the centres and run the risk of encountering the problems of agression associated with drug addicts.

In effect, the clinics retreated from their target market. They became associated with bureaucracy, and with unreasonable attempts to wean addicts off their habit. We had begun to retrace our steps down the American path. The number of addicts rocketed, and in the United Kingdom it was open season for internationally organised crime.

The question I wish to raise, which is connected with the intervention by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) is whether we can now return to the benefits of registration. We have accumulated some 20 years of damage, and we have a vastly greater problem on our hands. I believe that we can return to registration, and that in any event, the pressure of events is taking us there.

Merseyside has a high prevalence of drug abuse: a conservative estimate is that it contains about 15,000 regular heroin users, 40 per cent. of whom inject. A quarter of all 15 to 20-year-olds have tried illicit drugs, and one tenth of them are regular users. Merseyside strikes me as an excellent illustration of how to find the path back to the benefits of registration. Since the mid-1980s it has followed a policy of harm reduction, endorsed by the advisory council. That policy accepts that abstinence is not the only objective of treatment: to concentrate on abstinence is to exclude the large proportion of drug users who are committed to long-term abuse and who will not listen.

If drug abusers will not abstain, the next best step does not involve banishing them to the black market; it involves minimising the consequences to themselves, the community and society. For such a policy to be effective such services need to be accessible, confidential and—that awful term—"user friendly". AIDS prevention must take priority over drug prevention: those who will not abstain must be encouraged not to inject. If they refuse to do that, they must be encouraged not to share needles, and if they will not do that, they must be encouraged at least to use clean equipment.

The methods of the Merseyside policy include long-term maintenance on drugs, the provision of syringe exchanges, information about cleaning syringes, and even free supplies of condoms and associated material. It also involves a large team of outreach workers in the homosexual community, working among rent boys and prostitutes. Generally, the policy has begun to reach the addict population which until now has remained largely submerged.

Does the Merseyside policy work? There is evidence that it does. There has been a reduction in local crime around the centres that provide such services, and there is insignificant leakage of drugs from the clinics into the addict population at large. For six months the local police examined all arrested drug addicts and did not find one with clinic drugs to which he was not authorised. The Merseyside policy attracted an unreached population. At least 1,000 people became involved with the Liverpool exchange scheme and only one third of those people had previously been in contact with any drug service.

If drug equipment is not returned there are grave dangers of re-use and unauthorised disposal, but the Merseyside exchange scheme achieves a fair balance of exchange. There has been a general reduction in needle sharing, but I suppose the ultimate criterion is how far the HIV virus has spread in Merseyside. It is remarkable that the figures are extremely low there. In the Merseyside area only 14 drug addicts are HIV positive and they all acquired their infection from outside the area before 1985. Tests on 105 addicts and prostitutes known to have engaged in risky behaviour showed a 0 per cent. rate of HIV infection. There are no known cases of local infection with HIV from drug abuse.

The policy of outreach, maintenance and user friendliness begins to show us how we can return to the path of making registration work again. Under the threat of AIDS that will increasingly be the pattern. AIDS is a bigger threat to individual health and to the health of our society than drug abuse, but drug abuse involving the sharing of needles can spread the virus at a devastating speed. It spreads it first into the drug population at large and secondly into the heterosexual population.

In Thailand where there are very many herion addicts, three years ago HIV infection rates were 0 per cent. among drug addicts. Two years ago the rate was 1 per cent. and last year it was 50 per cent. That demonstrates the truly explosive spread that can result from needle sharing in a herion-taking community. Tourists contemplating going to Thailand for rest and recreation should think again.

In some parts of the United States up to 70 per cent. of addicts are now HIV positive. Fifty-three per cent. of all AIDS deaths in New York are of drug addicts and 50 per cent., that is 100,000 of New York's 200,000 drug abusers, are already HIV positive. The majority will go on to develop the disease and will die shortly afterwards. Nationally in the United States 30 per cent. of all drug users are estimated to be HIV positive. In the United Kingdom the 1986 equivalent figure was 10 per cent., but it will have increased since then. However, in Scotland the figure reaches up to 60 per cent. especially in the Lothian region. That has caused a heterosexual epidemic in Scotland to the extent that in the Edinburgh region 1 per cent. of the heterosexual male population between the ages of 15 and 45 are now HIV positive.

What is worse is that many drug addicts turn to prostitution to finance their habit. In April 1988 of 35 women in Glasgow known to be HIV positive 26 were working as prostitutes. That is a violent focus of infection. Last year during the debate on the Criminal Justice Bill I argued that deliberate or knowing infection of another person with AIDS should be made a criminal offence. I believe that more strongly than ever. I realise that there is a problem in proving the case, but at least the law would be there as a deterrent as well as to be used. It is not only intravenous drug users who are at risk of AIDS. In 1987 a study of prostitutionin New York showed seropositivity rates among crack users as great as the rate among heroin users and seropositivity rates among crack users in the Bahamas are similarly high.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

All the problems that my hon. Friend describes come together in a horrendous nightmare in the sort of hospital that I saw in Newark, New Jersey. That hospital contained complete wards of babies who were born with AIDS because their mothers were drug addicts who resorted to prostitution to pay for their drug addiction and became AIDS victims. That meant that children born of prostitute mothers were already suffering from AIDS. That is the spectre which awaits this country if we do not tackle the crack problem effectively and now.

Mr. Butler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for filling out the generally bleak picture that I am painting. Fifty per cent. of all HIV positive mothers can expect to give birth to HIV positive children, and that is sad. In Africa about 50 per cent. of all people infected with HIV are young children.

Mr. Randall

The picture that the hon. Gentleman has just painted is very bleak, but does he not agree that a major problem in this country is getting people to come forward? Misusers do not come forward and until we get to grips with that we will fail to provide the crucial helping services.

Mr. Butler

I thought that to some extent I had dealt with that in terms of the outreach programmes in Merseyside where people do not just wait for addicts to come in but send workers out into the various risk communities to find the addicts and offer them services in a user friendly way. It is not only a matter of a carrot but of a stick and I shall shortly deal with that.

Mr. Randall

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that while the Merseyside approach is quite radical, it is not the approach across the country as a whole. The situation is patchy from area to area, and until we spread the notion that people must come forward and provide a safe environment in which people can do that we shall have problems. The prison population is a good example.

Mr. Butler

Once again the hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. I am not defending the Government, because I think that Britain has been going wrong in this field for more than 20 years. In many ways prisons are the key to the spread of HIV infection. Dr. Tim Harding who Js the prison medical officer in Geneva prison and reader in legal medicine in Geneva has carried out a well-conducted study of five European gaols. He estimates that one tenth of all prisoners in those gaols carry HIV. He carried out a study in France among 500 consecutive newcomers to Fresnes prison and found a 12.6 per cent. rate of HIV positivity. He says: In prisons considerable numbers of intravenous drug addicts, a high proportion of whom are probably AIDS carriers, can be expected to have occasional homosexual contacts … induced homosexual behavour provides a `bridge' between a known high risk group of (intravenous drug abusers) and individuals who may later become a source of infection through heterosexual contacts Graham Medley from Imperial college London says that needle-sharing in British prisons produces between 33 and 344 AIDS infections in prison every year. Staff at Risley remand centre tell me of the extreme difficulty that they have in screening visitors and stopping them from bringing in drugs. They also have to engage in the very unpleasant business of cell searches looking for drugs and syringes. Sweden, which is a paragon of human rights, has solved the problem by daily screening of prisoners' urine. Will my hon. Friend the Minister consider such an experiment here? The current methods of control are certainly inadequate. I do not believe that the provision of condoms to prisoners is the answer. They have a high failure rate for such high-risk activities and may cause more damage than they are worth. Information is the only vaccine that we have, and it is especially important to the prison scene. Part of the vital information that is needed by the authorities and prisoners is prisoners' HIV status, by which they can base their behaviour in prison and outside afterwards.

I am talking about regular testing of the prison population. I know that the medical authorities are devising tests using saliva rather than blood, which might make testing easier. Some people would say that testing offends civil rights, but prisoners have already lost most of their civil rights by being in prison, and survival of society must begin to take precedence over individual rights, as it always has in the past when we have faced pandemics of this kind.

The nettle has been grasped elsewhere. Spain screened its prisoners and found an 18.7 per cent. HIV positivity rate. Parts of the Basque country and Catalonia found a 50 to 55 per cent. positivity rate. Bavaria began testing its prison population in 1985. By 1987, it had tested 97.3 per cent. of its prison population voluntarily, and found a 1.48 per cent. positivity rate. Sweden positively encourages testing of new prisoners. Italy positively encouraged testing of new prisoners and found a 16.8 per cent. positivity rate. Testing can be done without a cataclysm for human rights.

I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to say what progress has been made with anonymous testing in prisons, which was promised by the director of the prison medical services in November 1988. The danger is that if we do not grasp the nettle, prisons in the United Kingdom will become a major crossover point to the heterosexual population outside.

Enforcement is the stick that I mentioned to match the carrot. If we are to renew a drive back to making registration work, we shall have to be even tougher on many of the criminals who populate the drug world. We need the stick and the carrot to identify, isolate and control the problem. Merseyside's prescribing and general policy is correct, but I am not so happy about its penal policy. Cheshire police are happy with the support that it receives from the courts, but when it engages in joint operations with Merseyside police both forces hope that the trial will be held in Cheshire because they believe that the Merseyside courts will be soft on pushers. A quarter of marijuana users in the Merseyside area are cautioned, whereas in Greater Manchester the rate is only 5 per cent. The possession of class A drugs can result in a seven-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine, but in May 1988 Merseyside police extended the possibility of a caution to those found in possession of heroin. It is no good taking a harsh public stance on drugs if the actuality is soft beneath. It sends out the wrong message to drug addicts and the population at large. It is not right that there should be differing standards of justice throughout the country. There should be uniform severity for pushers and uniform strictness for those who are found in possession and have not acquired drugs in the proper registered manner.

The Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 is a most valuable piece of legislation. It has enabled the police to track the devious spread of assets which drug traffickers insert into complex banking systems, but it takes up much police time. The police have managed to confiscate £8 million worth of assets, but that has cost them much money and I wonder whether there is a case for the police being able to reclaim the costs that they incur in confiscation. I am aware of the problem with hypothecation of revenue, but I suggest that there is a precedent because in the past the secret services have often flourished with the aid of confiscated assets that the Treasury has not nosed in on.

Another problem with that otherwise exellent Act is that the prosecution does not follow its spirit sufficiently. Prosecuting authorities demand that the police prove that assets of drug traffickers were acquired illegally. The Act placed a welcome burden on the defendant to prove that he had acquired his assets legally. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will lean on prosecuting authorities to make them observe the spirit of the Act.

The importation and distribution of drugs are not two separate issues. The relationship between the police and Customs is better, but it could be improved. Customs is a national organisation and the police are not, which in joint operations causes logistical difficulties. It is time that we had a national agency similar to the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drugs Enforcement Agency. I have always been an admirer of Elliot Ness and the "Untouchables". As we already have a national intelligence unit, it is time that we had a national operational unit, pooling the skills of police, Customs and the Home Office's drug branch. Such a group of "Untouchables" would form a national drugs directorate that would co-operate internationally with, perhaps, a European task force that relies on a European intelligence base. There has been much talk recently about integration with Europe. I do not agree with full integration yet, but such integration and co-operation would be sensible and not a symptom of "Bexleyism." International crime must be combated by an international effort.

I applaud the decision that the Government took in October 1983 to restrict parole for drug traffickers sentenced to more than five years' imprisonment because it gives the right message to pushers. Will my hon. Friend the Minister assure me that that restrictive policy will continue? We should not pursue the objective of a lower prison population and be lax with dealers in death and misery. Unfortunately, I disagree with my predecessor, Lord Carlisle. His Committee's report states that we should abandon this restrictive policy. The Committee believes that everyone should be entitled to parole after serving half of a four-year sentence or more. Now is not the time to be soft on drug dealers.

Many drug couriers and dealers imprisoned in Britain are foreign. Local review committees are tempted to deport them before they complete their sentence. The motivation is clear—to get rid of the scum and lessen the burden on the British taxpayer. Many couriers are sad cases who have been manipulated by more malign minds, but sympathy is the wrong attitude because they have often been picked to give that kind of aura. A premature return to their countries of origin would give the message that Britain is a soft touch. Certainly, the possible gains to people coming from Third world countries are immense if we do not make them aware of the potential risks.

I am glad that I concur with my predecessor on this point. He said: for the professional drug trafficker who has a large nest-egg hidden way in some foreign bank, a free ticket back home will not amount to much of a punishment compared with a few years in prison here. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can ensure that the parole board will treat potential deportees in the same way as it treats other inmates of British gaols.

There is also the international aspect of enforcement. The United Kingdom co-operates in the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs and in the Pompidou group, and in that way there is international co-operation in reducing the availability of drugs. The Overseas Development Administration, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office spend millions of pounds a year on drug projects abroad, including crop eradication and crop substitution. No doubt, other hon. Members will wish to explore those international aspects more.

I am particularly concerned about the Caribbean basin. The Caribbean has become much afflicted with the problem, with money laundering and high increases in domestic addiction occurring. It has become a trafficking centre for north America and the consuming countries of Europe. We have a relationship with the dependent territories and Commonwealth countries there. We have a particular responsibility and influence there, too. We have given some assistance, through launches to the Turks and Caicos islands and the British Virgin Islands, and in 1988 we sponsored a Commonwealth drug law enforcement conference in Barbados, but we could do more. I know from personal experience that one can walk down the streets in the Bahamas and be regularly accosted and offered coke. That is a blot on the Caribbean basin. In some areas there is strong evidence of official complicity in the drug trade, to the extent that it raises questions about the governance of those islands. I know that some of these islands are our friends, but friendship implies frankness, and if they are unable to put their houses in order there may be temptation for some international action to be taken to do it for them.

Drug prevention through the medium of education is important. In America, drug-crazed schoolchildren in sink schools in inner cities often make shootings and rapes on stairwells almost unremarkable. There is a great problem of a drug-ridden, ruthless, amoral, often unparented underclass, and it is making the Americans think hard about their social policy. In the United Kingdom, the number of heroin addicts under 21 is rising, but the school population of 6 million is, as yet, almost untainted by narcotics. I hope that cultural pressures and education will keep it that way.

The most important socialising force and force for good in this respect is the family. Families do get it wrong. Prison officers at Risley have told me of parents who bring in drugs for their children on remand. If the family breaks down, we will certainly lose a potential force for much good, because the family is the unit in which children realise that they have responsibilities to people other than themselves. The Conservative party is often said to be the party of the family, but, sadly, since 1979 the illegitimacy rate and the rate of cohabitation without marriage have doubled, which does not say much for the party of the family. Much can be done to reinforce the family as an economic unit and bring home to fathers the responsibilities of parenthood. That should be a major priority for political parties, and I believe that a prize will await those who realise it at the next general election.

Much good work is done in schools by bodies such as TAGADE. The life education centres of the Rev. Ted Noffs offer a promising line of bringing home to children the wonders of the workings of their bodies and giving them a positive feeling of self-respect for their health. The image of sparkling life is presented to them, compared with the automatic turn-off of grisly death and, perhaps, the turn-on of the forbidden. The media often fall into this trap. They often portray drugs as a symptom of the naughtiness of the champagne set, as adventures into the forbidden, or they portray crack as the coming thing for the "in" set. The reality is that drugs are used to bolster the self-esteem of those who take them. They are a grubby, dirty business and are taken by people who are inadequate. Drug taking should be presented as that. The media have a responsibility to evaluate their presentation just as much as the Government do, but I suppose that asking for self-regulation in the media these days is like crying in the wind.

The Government are feeling their way in their anti-drugs propaganda. They spent about £2 million on it last year. In 1987, they engaged in a campaign to persuade misusers not to inject and never to share. The preliminary results of research show that that campaign was ineffective and may even have been counter-productive. We now know that simplistic slogans for mass consumption, such as, "Just say no" or authoritarian approaches to schoolchildren are not the ways to do it. Many preconceived notions about campaigns of such promotions have had to be jettisoned in the light of research. It is vital that, if the Government engage in these promotional campaigns, they do the research to evaluate the effect. There is no point in spending millions of pounds if the result is fruitless or possibly harmful.

Clearly, prevention of drugs is better than cure, especially because a cure of drug addicts is rarely achieved. As with enforcement against crime in general, enforcement in this respect is late in the day. It is far better that children and young people learn from their families, schools and general culture that it is wise never to begin. The challenge is enormous, with some 300,000 regular users of drugs. I hope that we can rise to take the difficult decisions to meet it.

10.17 am
Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)

I am proud to be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on initiating this debate on what must be one of the most important problems—if not the most important—facing society, not just in this country but in the Western world. It is sad that the peculiarities of parliamentary procedure mean that these debates are likely to take place only on Friday mornings, when many hon. Members have constituency engagements or, at this time of year, compaigning engagements. Those who have gathered here are interested in this subject. I should like to embrace the views of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who leads the Government in chairing the inter-ministerial group on this subject.

I fear that I must make one political comment—the only one—and note the paucity of the Opposition's attendance. Apart from the necessary Front-Bench spokesman—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), whom we are glad to see—there are no other members of the Labour party and no members of the Social Democrats, the Social and Liberal Democrats or the Ulster parties. Perhaps most noteworthy of all, there are no hon. Members from Scotland present. Part of the greatest problem we face in this country is, tragically, north of the border.

Mr. Randall

I want to place on record that apart from Front Bench Members, there are only six Conservative Members in the Chamber.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

There are no Labour Members present on the Back Benches.

Mr. Rathbone

Statistics can be used to prove anything.

Mr. Hogg

There are seven Back-Bench Conservative Members present.

Mr. Rathbone

I believe that there is a miscount from my Front Bench.

The truth is that drug misuse is the most horrifying problem. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South said, with one proviso. He mentioned that AIDS was an even more pressing problem than drug abuse. I have to take the opposite point of view on that. Whatever the horrors of AIDS and whatever the greater likelihood of those who suffer from AIDS dying before their time compared to the likelihood of those who take drugs dying before their time—and statistics are not available to prove the matter one way or another—until we get to grips with the problem of drug misuse, we shall be incapable of getting to grips with at least the behavioural activities that lead to the spread of AIDS. AIDS is both a behavioural and a medical problem. With the marvellous innovative spirit that exists in the human race and the scientific knowledge which is discovered so swiftly nowadays, I hope sincerely that we shall see further developments in the study of AIDS which will lead to treatment for it. It is welcome news, which came out only in the past week, that at last the virus has been traced back to its source and that is, perhaps, the start for finding a treatment for it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South will take my criticism in good spirit, because it in no way negates the importance of this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South raised two broad aspects of the problem—trafficking and demand reduction. I was privileged to attend a United Nations-sponsored parliamentary meeting in Vienna just two weeks ago. It was sponsored by the United Nations fund for drug abuse control—UNFDAC—and it was attended by representatives from Italy, including those representing the anti-Mafia commission of the Italian Parliament. It was also attended by representatives from the Federal Republic of Germany and by my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) in his capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I attended in my capacity as chairman of the all-party drug misuse group. The meeting concentrated on the aspect of trafficking. That is, of course, an aspect of drug misuse that falls very much in the international sphere. One of the points made, particularly by the Italian parliamentarians, was the way in which the crime syndicates have assumed such an immensely worrying international dimension because of their ability to penetrate all the most sensitive sectors of the political, economic and social structures of an ever greater number of countries.

That penetration is especially noticeable in south America. However frustrated we may be when looking at the problem from our side of the Atlantic and north of the equator, we should realise how much the problem still exists in the countries of south America. We should commend the immense job the people there do in trying to come to grips with that horrible domestic problem—horrible in every aspect. One cannot look lightly on the problem faced in Colombia, where 18 judges were killed last year, which at one terrorist stroke undercut society's ability to rule itself, and the inclination of judges, who are human beings like ourselves, to implement proper justice in the future. We should seek ways in which we can buoy up their ability to administer justice, as well as their ability to keep law and order.

I want to remind my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that I was a little depressed on that score. When I questioned our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence about whether he had any plans for a meeting with his Colombian counterpart, he said that he had no plans to do so. That may be as a result of the exigencies of his diary and I hope it is no more than that. However we must not overlook ways in which we can help the enforcement of law and order by giving military advice and assistance, which is what is so often required, as well as political advice and aid in the work of drug misuse officers on the ground.

Mr. Randall

I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would give me some clarification. I was interested to hear what he said about buoying up the criminal justice system after the death of the 18 judges. Can he tell the House a little more about how he feels Britain, as an external country, can help to buoy up the criminal justice system in Colombia?

Mr. Rathbone

The hon. Gentleman anticipates what I was about to say. There are three areas in which we could buoy up the criminal justice system in Colombia. One way falls into the ambit of the United Nations. The completion of the United Nations convention on drug misuse and its adoption and ratification can be encouraged by this country. It will provide a yardstick or backdrop against which all other international and domestic activities can be measured and encouraged.

The second area is that of military assistance. The illegal growing, distillation and warehousing of those illegal products is carried out deep in the forests of huge countries in that under-populated continent. It is logistically and militarily an enormous effort to track down wrongdoers and to take action against them. What we would consider to be a police or Customs exercise in this country is a military exercise in Colombia. Military communications are important there. The drug barons who are earning, by the lowest estimates, about £50 billion a year from drugs trafficking—more than the gross national product of some south American countries—have the wherewithal to buy the best communications equipment as well as the best armaments. To get hold of the best communications equipment, they go to the best sources. We must match them with the equipment used by the authorities in those countries.

The traffickers have armaments with which to defend themselves, as they put it, or to push their illegal traffic in a terrorist way, as I would describe it. We must ensure that the powers of law and order in those countries have the necessary armaments. It comes down, in the end, to giving those countries sufficient hard currency, through trade, to buy those armaments, or at least to encouraging them to use loans and grants from international and national sources for the recruitment and training of internal forces of law and order.

Thirdly—and this was perhaps what prompted the question of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West as it is the most difficult aspect—we have a role to play in encouraging, and making it easier for, those countries to pass laws that can be properly applied. They need both adequate internal laws to help them to grapple with the problem and an international framework of laws in which the drug barons can be trapped. The British Government have taken the initiative and have struck bilateral agreements with several countries under which drug trafficking assets can be traced and confiscated and information exchanged. That is a marvellous illustration of the sort of bilateral action that can be taken.

We have enormous experience of constitutional affairs and we could help the countries to draft laws or amend their present laws so that they can be applied more easily. That was one of the matters that arose in our meetings with the German and Italian parliamentarians. The communiqué that all three participating countries agreed said that given the increasingly serious problems of a number of countries and the noted inadequacy of national and international measures adopted so far, is was essential to consider as a matter of urgency new initiatives, giving priority to the delicate areas of criminal investigation, the identifying of international drug traffickers and the bringing of such criminals to justice. I pay tribute to British drug liaison officers. I know from my limited personal experience and from what I have heard that they do a terrific job. I shall not go into great detail: I shall certainly not identify the individual or countries concerned as many of those gentlemen live in fear of their lives. Both those from the police and from Customs and Excise do the most marvellous job, and they have perhaps done more to increase the entrapment of drug traffickers and the capture of drugs being trafficked than any other single well-directed activity could have done.

Mr. Randall

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's three points. Does he agree that because the revenues that can accrue from the production of drugs are so massive, there is a great incentive for certain Governments to do no more than pay lip service to their desire to rid their country of drugs? How can one square the wish to participate in efforts to get rid of drugs with the reduction of revenues which, to some of the poorer countries, are massive?

Mr. Rathbone

That is a tricky question, which was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South. My hon. Friend referred to the Caribbean basin, where evidence emerges all too often of direct links—not only national links, for the benefit of the national treasury but personal links for the benefit of personal treasuries—between drug traffickers and those who stand to gain from their activities.

Let me correct an insinuation that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West made. The moneys that the drug barons earn form at most a very small part of the gross national product of the countries concerned It is true that traffickers may live in those countries and use some of the money that they gain, but in the main, the moneys are part of international funds that swill around the world—from one interest-bearing instrument in one country to another interest-bearing instrument in another. Most of the funds are not used in the homeland, as the traffickers do not have to use much of the money—the huge amounts—that they gain to maintain their factories and armies. A stage further down the line, the growing of drugs is of only marginal benefit to the national economy, although, compared with traditional vegetable crops, it can be of immense benefit to individual incomes. It is tragic that it is not the producers but the barons who benefit.

May I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the Government will continue their efforts to devise ways of improving international liaison by drug liaison officers and providing an international base for their work? A British drug liaison officer in a particular country or city should be in a good position to do work for the German or French police as well as the British police. Conversely, a German, Dutch or French drug liaison officer should be able to work for the benefit of the British police.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South referred to the international position and to the United Nations. I would also draw attention to the activities in Europe, which are equally important to us and to the other countries of western Europe. It was in that context that two weeks ago the Pompidou group of Ministers met in London under the chairmanship of the Home Secretary and under the wing of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The Pompidou group was set up by the Council of Europe, which has taken a considerable interest in the problems of drug misuse through its Legal Committee and through its Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee, of which I am pleased to be a member. It was in the spirit of Council of Europe Assembly recommendation 10.85, calling for genuine political co-ordination and action at European level that the Pompidou Ministers were called together two weeks ago.

My hon. Friend made an important reference to the sense of urgency that we must now feel about the danger to Europe from cocaine and, increasingly, from crack. We must not wait for the effects of that new drug to turn up in the health records before planning preventive action. So often it is not until the medical world feeds back reports of a problem to the social or political worlds that action is taken. I plead with my hon. Friend the Minister—most especially wearing his hat as chairman of the interdepartmental Minister's group—to impress on his colleagues that they should not wait for dramatic and horrifying statistics to be fed in from representatives of the Department of Health before taking action.

The problem is put into more dramatic perspective because of the growth of crack. There is nothing peculiar about that derivative of cocaine. It is easy to make, cheap to buy and therefore cheap to sell. It has two quite horrific properties, the first being its immediate and shortlived effect leading to the propensity to buy again being all that much stronger. Because it is cheap to buy, there is a vicious downward spiral.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household)

Like alcohol.

Mr. Rathbone

It can be like alcohol, as my hon. Friend has suggested from his special knowledge of these matters, but with alcohol one has to consume a considerable amount and get into an alcoholic curve before becoming a truly licensed alcoholic.

The second horrifying property of crack is that, unlike cocaine or herion, which have to be taken for 12 or 18 months before addiction, if crack is taken only three times it is highly liked to lead to complete addiction. Its availability because it is cheap and the characteristic that makes people want ever more of it are enormously worrying aspects. Unless we get it right, another potentially worrying aspect will be the easing of frontier controls in 1992. We must be sure that as we lower the Customs and immigration barriers in Europe—for the very good reason of making Europe a more coherent and cohesive entity—we do not make it easier for drug traffickers to move drugs around the European Community.

As I have already said, the Government have shown great initiative in dealing with the proceeds from crime. They have, first, introduced legislation into this country; secondly, tracked down the sources of illicitly earned funds; thirdly, struck bilateral agreements with other countries; and, fourthly, encouraged multilateral agreements wherever they can be made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South said, huge amounts of money are involved. I plead with my hon. Friend the Minister, as many of us have pleaded with his colleagues, to use the money seized from tracking down drug traffickers for the encouragement and improvement of the forces of law and order in their good work.

The Treasury is opposed to that suggestion because it wants to avoid hypothecation. One argument is that it would be unfair for the police force that happened to be active—or luckily active, as some would say—and had struck gold then to be given the benefit of that money. Some might say that it is impossible actually to plan those activities on a basis of occasional bunce funds. Those are not worthwhile arguments. We are not suggesting that such money should be built in as part of the regular budget of police forces or drugs intelligence units. However, where certain actions should be taken—for example, the establishment of better computer intelligence networks and better training—it would be criminal of the Government not to make those criminally gained funds available to aid the fight against the drug criminals.

Mr. Anthony Nelson (Chichester)

I am aware of my hon. Friend's close interest in this matter, and also in the police manning of our county of Sussex. Does he agree that the problem of drug abuse and addiction, while especially evident in Metropolitan areas, also extends very much to the provinces? Is it not the case that in areas such as ours there is little prospect of improved manning on the ground, so that the policeman on the beat can deter trafficking, unless there is additional financial provision? Our pleas year after year for a more adequate police complement have not been met. The Government should carefully consider my hon. Friend's proposal as a possible means of tackling this specialist problem, which is one not just of the cities, but of country areas.

Mr. Rathbone

I am enormously grateful to my hon. Friend and political neighbour for drawing attention to that point and for reminding the House and the Minister of the needs of East and West Sussex. It is regrettable that requests for a greater police complement from the police authority and the chief constable—to whom I pay tribute for his work for the communities in East and West Sussex—have not been met.

I am not actually talking about funds from drug trafficking going into the budget for officers on the beat. That is another pressing question that I look forward to pursuing with my hon. Friend both in the House and elsewhere. My suggestion is that those funds should be used, not just for a police force, but for a national force to help the national effort. They could be a cornerstone for the intriguing idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South for a national drugs misuse fighting body. What better way to use those funds than to get such a scheme off the ground?

As I mentioned earlier, there appeared to be an immensely satisfactory outcome from the recent Pompidou group discussions. I commend the Government on their proposal for an international demand reduction conference next year, which will be especially welcome in the specific context of the threat, from cocaine. It is an admirable idea that is being substantiated by the Government's willingness to fund it. In that area, as in many areas of the fight against drugs misuse, the Government are offering support not only in words but in the necessary funding.

That leads me into the second area. I apologise to the House for taking so much time, but I believe that it is an enormously important subject. I hope that I am not repeating what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South has said, nor, indeed, unwinding any of the wise words that my hon. Friends will be adding later on.

In his summing up, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South said that we must make more people aware of how wise it is never to begin. I believe that, whatever we do towards reducing production—there is much more that we can do—however we can better inhibit and overcome, reduce and, perhaps, in some areas even eliminate trafficking, and whatever we do to improve treatment, we will not get to the crux of the drugs misuse problem until we reduce demand.

It is a problem that is no longer confined to big cities, to a social elite or to any particular sub-section of deprived or well-off people in the developed world. In those countries, where hitherto the major problem of drug misuse has been the problem of containing production, we have seen—as everybody forecasted would be the case—a quite horrible increase in drug misuse.

It is worth mentioning in that context that not only are people in the production countries becoming drug-addicted, but the consumption countries are becoming production-orientated. I believe that it is still right to say that the largest cash crop in the ninth largest economy in the world happens to be marijuana; and the ninth largest economy in the world happens to be the state of California in the United States of America. I cite that as an instance of how we can no longer talk about production and consumption countries we are all in this horribly together.

To come to grips with the problem of demand, it is crucial to build a better understanding of what prompts it. I would ask my hon. Friend the Minister to touch on what the Government are doing within our marvellous National Health Service to encourage medical and genetic research into what may underlie drug misuse.

I know that in the United States there are studies into the genetics of those who have become misusers of alcohol as well as of drugs. There are indications, to put it no higher, that whatever a person's social or family background, the most likely cause underlying a person becoming entrapped into drug or any other misuse is a genetic propensity to such misuse. If that is the case and we are finding a new channel of approach—a genetic approach—to the problem, we should carry out more research in that area in this country, so that we will be better able to come to grips with the problem. However, it is not only medical research that is necessary, but social studies and research into the number of addicts and where they are.

In Brighton we have an extraordinarily well set-up drug unit, which is tinder the wing of the East Sussex county council. That unit draws together social, medical and police services. It has a well-conceived well-planned and well-costed research project, so that it can understand the problem of drug misusers on a numerate basis in Brighton, which has a great problem. I was disappointed, however, to discover that it was impossible for that unit to get funding from the district or regional health authorities and that it had to tap other sources for funds. Thank goodness it has been successful in doing so, because that research will make an enormous contribution to all of the other efforts that it applies so manfully—I suppose that I should say "womanfully"—in the battle against drug misuse in that town. It is only after we have a better understanding of the problem that we can ensure that all our activities impinge properly and most effectively in the fight against drug misuse.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South raised queries about the advertising campaigns that have been run so far, and I would add my own question mark to those. We must be certain that in this complex area of human behaviour advertising campaigns, first, communicate and have an immediate effect along the lines for which they were designed, and, secondly, that their effect has some form of longevity which makes them worth while. I feel that, while those advertisements are visible and dramatic because of their visibility, the rather longer-term and more mundane methods of health education and drug advice for the medical profession, for parents, for teachers and for high-risk groups are really the way in which to tackle the problem.

In my area—and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South drew attention to one in Merseyside—we have a first-class drug advice and information service. It is well publicised, it has become very well used and it is a point of reference for those people who are worried about getting tempted into drugs or, having been tempted, are worried about the effect that it is having. Perhaps most importantly, it is a source of information for parents who are concerned that their children may be in the process of being tempted and want to know what they can do to intervene in that process and cut it off.

I commend the Government on their funding for the next three years of drug advisers in schools. They anticipated the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, because they have taken on the additional task of advising on AIDS, and I believe that they might also take on the task of advising on alcohol. It is absolutely essential to have within each school a teacher identified as a source of knowledge about addiction of all sorts and who can recognise those addictions in children.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South did, I draw attention to the life education centre programmes, which were started in Australia by the Rev. Tom Noffs, and which have been started to such good effect in parts of this country. It is a sophisticated but simple device for injecting into young people's minds a greater awareness of the value of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body. It is a simple caravan with a trained teacher inside using displays as extraordinarily dramatic and innovative methods of communication. It visits a school and in two hours can take an entire age group through one of its classes. There are different classes for each age group from five to 15. Therefore, it can cover a normal school in less than a week. The caravans have proved effective in parts of Essex and they are now part of life in the Isle of Man. They have been visited by Ministers from all the Departments within my hon. Friend the Minister's ministerial group. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister participated in one such session in a caravan brought into No. 10 Downing street a few months ago. She was enormously impressed.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) but I shall interrupt his speech for only a moment. We wonder whether there has been a request for a statement to be made this morning. We had expected one on the new and somewhat novel proposal for a carbon tax which emerged yesterday. You will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, that we want to know the status of that announcement from the Secretary of State for the Environment and the amount of the tax.

I intervene at this point because the announcement seems to be based on a completely new principle that goes way beyond the principle accepted by both sides of the House that the polluter pays. It seems to be based on the idea that a tax should deter the use of coal. It is a hidden boost to the preference for nuclear power held by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Prime Minister. If there has been no request for a statement today—since no Minister is present I assume that that is the case—I should like to take this opportunity, through you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to say that we expect a statement on Monday.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I can tell the House and the right hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker has received no such request this morning.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Is it a new point of order?

Mr. Leigh

It is further to the previous point of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I will hear it.

Mr. Leigh

This is a major debate on a serious international and national problem. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has brought in his friends from the press to listen to a totally bogus and dubious point of order which has nothing to do with the—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I have answered the point of order. The hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has endorsed my feelings. This is an important debate and we must proceed with it.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I doubt whether there can be anything to add to that point of order or to my reply.

Mr. Harry Greenway

I wonder whether it was made clear to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the question whether there had been a request for a statement that the Secretary of State had made it clear—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. There can be no debate on this matter.

Mr. Rathbone

There are various types of misuse and we happen to be debating—

Mr. Butler

In my speech I mentioned the media's responsibility in reporting about drugs. It was fascinating to watch the Press Gallery fill up on that spurious point of order and then to empty as soon as the point of order was finished. Does that not underline my point about the media's responsibility in this matter?

Mr. Rathbone

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. Giving the gentlemen of the third estate the benefit of the doubt, I hope that they came in to find out how well the debate was going, to hear the points being made and to see the extremely poor turn-out on the Opposition Benches, except during that spurious point of order. Of course, the point of order did not deal with an unimportant subject but it may be straying far from the subject of the motion to attempt to include the misuse of the environment in a debate on drug misuse rather than to treat it as a separate subject.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman has raised yet again the question of attendance. I deplore low attendance. Is the reason why there is such poor attendance on the Conservative Benches the fact that the party is now seven points behind in the poll or is it because Conservative Members are not interested in drugs?

Mr. Rathbone

We do the important subject of drugs no service by trying to inject into the debate the scoring of cheap political points. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West understands this matter and has expressed concern. It is not in his nature to be prompted into such behaviour by the presence of a Whip on the Opposition Front Bench.

I was describing the operation of the life education centre schemes in this country. That scheme is one, probably the best, of the specific schemes designed to get to the base of the problem of drug misuse by dissuading people from becoming involved in drugs in the first place. If there is a chance that I am right—I believe that I am—the scheme deserves Government support in order to enable it to administer a national expansion of its activities and to help it train teachers as well as to provide the capital cost of equipment so that in the not too distant future we can hope to see such centres operating in every local education authority. Some will require more units than others; that will depend on the size of the education authority. Such schemes should provide for every school in the country an opportunity for the young to participate in the education programme for two hours of each of the 10 formative years of their life. If that is done, in 10 years we will be able to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, in initiating the debate, turned a corner in coming to grips with the horrible problem of drug misuse, and the House and the nation would be indebted to him for that.

11.7 am

Mr. Charles Irving (Cheltenham)

I congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for what we must all agree was a compelling and telling speech. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, who has already done a great deal, will take on board some of the points that he raised.

Awareness is growing rapidly in the community about the horrific dangers of drug misuse. Crack is now easily available on street corners at £5 or £10 a go. It is time we exploded the cornershop cocaine, which is what it is. That cheap and highly addictive cocaine-based drug has brought nightly carnage to the streets of many American states. Profits from the trade in it have drawn youngsters, some scarcely in their teens, into a net of crime, often ending in death, as crazed addicts and dealers settle their grievances with guns.

Crack is smoked, not snorted and goes quickly to the brain. It can be bought for a few pounds and it is cheaper than a gun. It is now starting to show its ugly face in Britain as the drug bosses who set up the deadly trade scent the possibility of big profits. Britain, with a population about a quarter of the size of the United States conveniently concentrated into big cities, has many areas where disaffected and unemployed people become easy prey. The Western Daily Press recently produced a compelling article by Simon Pipe with evidence of the drug abuse problems in the Bristol area. That was an humane expose which is well worth reading.

Already, Wolverhampton and the south west have experienced the disorder that crack brings. It is a drug which brings destruction, despair and death to the addicts and those around them. The spread of crack must be stopped before it brings us the hell on earth which it has visited on America.

Crack is one cigarette puff away from the dirty needle syndrome and the AIDS virus which will cost the economy billions of pounds in medical care and loss of earnings in the next 10 years. Drug abuse runs the parallel risk of sending the AIDS epidemic into a freefall. The HIV virus marches on relentlessly with no vaccine in sight to end sufferers' misery. Prisons are a known breeding ground for it and regional secure units are a myth. The next century approaches with the ominous legacy from the 1900s and the fear that drugs and AIDS, especially in prisons, will become hideously out of control.

Crack is terrible. It is deadly and has a street value running into tens of millions of pounds. It is the purest, most lethal form of cocaine and its users become addicted and dependent. Surely it is essential that even greater efforts should be made to harness the skills and the brilliance of health and education officials, both regional and national. They must wake up to the growing threat before it becomes a horrible reality and turns all of us into victims.

The evil purveyors have targeted Britain and the invasion is already here. Parents in virtually every constituency are crying out for help. All we can suggest is working parties and conferences, the involvement of European sources and even the Home Secretary. As far back as 1983, he warned of the tragedies that lay ahead; six years later we have little to show, and working parties are still talking.

It is simply not enough to punish offenders. The probation service, housing associations such as Stonham, of which I have the privilege of being chairman, and NACRO have much to offer in the way of providing a secure haven for addicts and using the techniques available to wean them off drugs. However, when we want to offer the services of these nationally sponsored bodies we are met with a brick wall: there are no resources.

For many potential victims, the threat of greater punishment will only increase the lure and it will certainly increase tension between the police and those involved. The pushers need heavy punishment, and the addicts and their families need the nation's help.

Crack respects no boundaries and no classes. It traps the vulnerable, desolate and hopeless with the chance of a quick, cheap thrill which rapidly becomes a destructive addiction, leaving users physically damaged and mentally dependent. Cardboard box city will not be confined to the Thames but will spread throughout the country bringing the tragedies that we already see in some of our bigger cities. To combat that, a massive programme of education is needed to alert youngsters and parents to the great social and personal dangers of this drug. The police, social services, local authorities and health services must link together to stop this drug plague. There should be no holds barred or money spared in our efforts to relay the message through schools, clubs, television and doctors' surgeries. There is nothing to be said in favour of crack. It has no mindbender defenders, as had LSD, and there are no arguments in favour of it such as those put forward by people who want legislaton to liberalise the use of marijuana.

I do not underestimate the difficulties that the Home Office faces in trying to resolve the problem. I do not underestimate the sterling efforts of my hon. Friend the Minister. However, we have a unique opportunity which comes rarely in this House, to urge, plead and beg that something be done quickly.

I have stuck to my usual 10-minute speech, Madam Deputy Speaker.

11.16 am
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for giving the House the opportunity to debate what has become a devastating international problem. I hope, like my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), not to detain the House more than a few minutes. In my few remarks I intend to survey the world situation, which has not so far been done in detail, to consider what the Government are trying to do to meet the problem and, in the last few moments of my speech, to offer a few thoughts of my own.

We have heard much about the problem in the United Kingdom. According to the Home Office statistical bulletin of 11 April 1989: The number of new and former drug addicts notified to the Home Office increased by 1,100 between 1987 and 1988, almost reaching the peak number recorded in 1985. Although there had been an apparent levelling off in heroin addiction, that has now proved not to be the case, and there has been an upturn.

As hon. Members have already made clear this morning, cocaine is a much more worrying problem. In London a kilo of cocaine is worth four to five times the price in Miami. This financial incentive, coupled with the apparent saturation of the American market, makes Europe an attractive proposition. The experience of the Bahamas and the United States is that crack will not become readily available until there is a large stockpile of cocaine. Recent events in Wolverhampton may point to the fact that a stockpile has been built up. I can put it no better than my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who said in a press release on 18 May: Crack is the spectre I see hanging over Europe. Prior to 1985 crack was an almost unheard of term in the United States. It is now a major drug in 49 out of the 50 States. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made clear in his pertinent remarks, crack is a devastating phenomenon of which this House should be aware, and it is the more worrying in that dependence on it is far more devastating than dependence on heroin. It seems that Latin American groups are setting up distribution chains in Europe. Put at its simplest, cocaine supply is moving from an individual, entrepreneurial business to a multinational one.

It is important that the House should be aware of what is happening overseas. There is a continuing and worrying growth of addiction. It was recently estimated that in Karachi one in nine young men were heroin addicts. Bolivia, with a population of six million, estimates that it has 250,000 addicts. According to the World Health Organisation—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South—HIV infection among heroin injectors in Thailand has risen from 0 per cent. three years ago, to 1 per cent. two years ago, to a staggering 50 per cent. last year.

It is unlikely that there will be any significant reduction of production. The golden triangle is even more lawless, and the golden crescent is unlikely to be contained until the situation in Afghanistan is resolved. There has been some success in dealing with cocaine in Bolivia, but there was an upward trend in Brazil, although cocaine production there is relatively low grade. The United States Drugs Enforcement Agency estimates that there has been a 25 per cent. increase in production in Peru. All this shows the problems that we face.

I am indebted to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who recently addressed the parliamentary all-party drug misuse group to which he gave an interesting analysis of what is happening in Peru, which he recently visited. His experiences there make grim reading: To get to a first stage laboratory took one hour by helicopter and required the protection of two other, heavily armed helicopters. It took considerable time to find the laboratory, which was under the canopy of the jungle. The site had three to four huts for production, a power house, dormitory and cooking facilities. In the course of that journey, four more factories were spotted, three of which were still in production. In a small area there were estimated to be 100 factories. The scale of production was massive and the whole of the Peruvian army could not seriously impede the scale of cultivation and production. The physical act of manually eradicating the crops was extremely difficult and yet if substitute crops were to be produced, chemical eradication was not possible. Colombia was doing a tremendous job, but the problems were immense. The Head of the Drug Squad had a $2 million price tag on his head. There was considerable corruption. The judiciary was increasingly unlikely to convict for drug offences. Despite these impediments, Colombia was becoming more sophisticated and successful in tracking planes. It seems from this report that the authorities are only scratching the surface of the problem.

That is the international epidemic that we face and the source of the spectre that my right hon. Friend described as hanging over Europe, and it is why this debate is timely. What are we doing in this country? The new convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and substances which was signed in Vienna in December 1988 provides an international framework for co-operation against trafficking. More training continues to be provided, with the exchange of enforcement officers and an increase in the number of United Kingdom Customs and police officers.

A number of problems remain to be dealt with, not least the under-resourcing of the United Nations drugs bodies. Despite the best efforts of the Government to promote international co-operation, at best we are only holding our own.

Hon. Members have mentioned what the Government are doing domestically in terms of detection and enforcement. In an interesting Adjournment debate on 2 May, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office said: The strength of the police force drug squads in England is more than 40 per cent. greater than it was at the end of 1983" .—[Official Report, 2 May 1989; Vol. 152, c. 156] It is easy for us armchair analysts to claim that the Government are not doing enough, but that quotation shows that there has been a big increase in police drug squads.

The interesting Home Office document, "Tackling Drug Misuse: A Summary of the Government's Strategy", makes it clear that the Government take this problem seriously and have increased the penalties. I refer the House to paragraph 5.7. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us in detail what the Government have been doing and intend to do.

I end with my personal thoughts on this problem. The Government are doing a great deal, but is it enough? I am reminded of a block of flats. On the ground floor live people who are producing substances with the potential to kill our children. What do we do? First, we politely complain. Secondly, we ask them to set their house in order. Thirdly, we might give them the resources with which to do that. All that is good and it has been happening. Ministers have visited South America and have attempted to increase international co-operation. They have talked of giving more resources. That is all very well, but is it enough?

As I have said, the situation in South America is getting out of control. Can the Western world go on accepting what may be an attack on the very nature of our society? I do not think so. Unless certain countries, such as Bolivia, can get to grips with this problem it may become necessary for the-international community to take action.

Mr. Randall

Such as?

Mr. Leigh

I do not want to speculate at this stage; neither do I want to underestimate the appalling spectre that hangs over us. Those countries do not have the resources to tackle the problem and it may be necessary to adopt other methods.

We have talked about deterrence. The document to which I referred shows that the Government have increased penalties.

Mr. Randall

I should like to press the hon. Gentleman on this. I know that he is sincere about this, as are we all. Earlier, I pressed the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) on the same point. The problem is immense. We are talking of independent sovereign countries, and I am at a loss to know exactly what we can do to overcome the massive forces at work in them. An enormous amount of money is being made. What action is the hon. Gentleman specifically recommending?

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman must draw his own conclusions. I speak as a Back Bencher. Even so, this is a sensitive area and I would prefer to hint rather than to make concrete statements. I drew the analogy with the block of fiats for a good reason, and I stick to it. We ask for the police to be brought in if what is happening on the ground floor endangers our children. These are sensitive matters and our debate may well be heard in other places.

We have spoken of deterrence. The problem is enormous and the potential gains are vast. The international trade is worth £50 billion. Deterrence may not be enough. No hon. Member is asking for the death penalty to be imposed for international drug traffickers or smugglers, but this is not just a moral issue. There have been many debates on the rightness or wrongness of imposing the death penalty. The House has taken a decision. Some hon. Members take the view that to impose the death penalty would always be wrong in any circumstances. Others believe that because most murders are committed within the family, the death penalty should not be imposed. What will happen, though, if the international control of drugs breaks down, resulting in a breakdown of law and order on our streets to the extent that has occurred in Washington? I have lived for most of my life in this capital city and have never been afraid to go out at any time of night. I am a big chap, but I would not walk at night on the streets of Philadelphia or New York.

The response of the United States Government to the problem has been grotesquely insufficient. There has been a major breakdown of society in many inner city areas in the United States. The problem is not wholly drug related. Some of it relates to the breakdown of the family unit. Some of it relates to certain welfare concepts, but that is another issue. If, however, there were a breakdown of law and order in inner city areas in this country and the police started to lose control, it would no longer be a moral issue. Society—not individuals—would be under attack. In the past, society has taken the decision that it has the right to defend itself from foreign aggression by the use of force or violence. If society is placed under that kind of pressure, hon. Members might say that we ought to follow the example of other countries and impose the ultimate deterrent to deal with the problem. I know that the problem cannot be solved by deterrence alone and that the Minister will tell us that prevention is very important and that international co-operation is vital.

I have tried to explain the seriousness of the problem. Unless other measures are successful, we may have to consider using more extreme measures. I would not want to use them, but eventually they may prove to be necessary.

11.32 am
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

I shall follow the example of the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and will make a short contribution to the debate. I welcome the opportunity that the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr Butler) has given us to debate this important issue, on which there is a great deal of unanimity on both sides of the House. We all recognise the need to combat the evil of bringing drugs into this country and the consequent evil of pushing drugs, with all its implications. To push drugs is one of the most evil crimes, and we must take the strongest possible action to combat it. The taking of drugs can ultimately lead to death. Drug pushers commit an act that is tantamount to murder by making drugs available to people, some of whom become hooked on them and ultimately die.

The families of those who take drugs are also affected. Drug-taking can destroy family life. A person can become so obsessed with taking drugs that he resorts to crime to get money to pay for them. I have met many constituents who need a great deal of support during extremely difficult periods in their family life. When people get into debt and resort to crime, one often finds that drugs are involved, but that is not so in all cases.

The problem is not confined to big cities or to certain classes of people. It affects small towns throughout the country, including Burnley. There is a tendency to ignore the drugs problem. We shall be unable to tackle it unless we recognise that it is a problem. A press campaign in my constituency is being led by a local reporter, Ian Pilkington, of the Burnley Express and News. The campaign is called "Drug Alert". Every week the Burnley Express and News draws attention to the problem and tries to ensure that at local level it is being tackled. A local solicitor, Mr. Dearing, is also trying to make people aware of the fact that there is a drugs problem in Burnley and that it is not confined to Liverpool and Manchester.

We must provide additional resources for hospital units that are trying to get people off drugs. There is a unit in Prestwich that serves a large area, but only a very small number of beds are reserved for drug addicts. Additional facilities are needed in Lancashire and elsewhere in the north-west. The Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale district health authority has authorised an increase in the number of people who are helping drug addicts, but we are only tinkering with the problem. Far more people are needed to tackle it. The National Health Service is under pressure, but provision for dealing with the drugs problem should be treated as a priority. It should not have to compete with other hospital services. If adequate provision is made to tackle the drugs problem, it must not lead to money being taken away from other services. That would be wrong.

Far more must be done to educate young people. Somebody in every school should be responsible for doing that job. Young people should also be educated about the dangers of AIDS. The sharing of needles is one of the major causes of the spread of AIDS. We have underestimated how much money will be needed by the National Health Service, the social services and the education authorities to tackle the AIDS and the drugs problem. The sooner we wake up to that fact, the sooner we shall be able to overcome these issues. The cheapest and most effective way to tackle the drugs and the AIDS problems is to spend money on the education service so that young people are made fully aware of what might happen.

We must make every effort to stop drugs from being brought into the country. Hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise the difficulty of doing that, but we must ensure that the resources are there. Many of the Government's actions over the past few years have received the support of hon. Members—for instance, the confiscation of money made from the sale of drugs. A prison term will not be a sufficient penalty if the offender can later benefit from the profits that he made before his imprisonment.

Resources are needed for education, the Health Service and the social services: full support is needed for the family which might otherwise be destroyed by the drug problem of one of its members. Many such families do not know where to turn.

There is considerable unanimity on this problem We must devote resources to ensuring that it does not increase, in the hope that we may ultimately see a reduction.

11.41 am
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I join those who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on initiating one of the most important debates that I have heard in the House. The drug problem affects the survival of our land and our society, and is a no less important subject for debate than war. This is, indeed, a war of a fundamental nature.

First, let me ask my hon. Friend the Minister to address his mind to the growing number of individuals and small groups now pressing for the legalisation of soft drugs such as marijuana. I should like his assurance that, as long as the present Government remain in power, such drugs will not be legalised. Professor Francis Camps, Home Office pathologist for some 20 years and an outstanding man, said that soft drugs always led to hard drugs and hard drugs to death. To legalise marijuana, therefore, is to put people on the road to hard drugs and thence to death. Francis Camps, than whom few people can have had more experience of drugs—he observed their effects when performing autopsies on those who had died of their addiction—observed that the average length of the cycle from the first soft drug to death was seven years, although people often lasted for a shorter time than that.

Mr. Rathbone

I may be anticipating what my hon. Friend is about to say. I hope, however, that he is not implying that the only threat of soft drugs is the fact that they lead to hard drugs. Although some years ago there was a school of thought that held that marijuana, for instance, did not do any great harm, there is now almost incontrovertible evidence that it is physically debilitating for the taker. Soft drugs of themselves are bad for people.

Mr. Greenway

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made my next point for me. Soft drugs are indeed highly damaging, and can lead to prolonged illness and death. My initial point was merely that if soft drugs lead to hard drugs the progress towards death is accelerated. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give me the assurance for which I have asked—and also that he will forgive me for leaving the Chamber for some time after my speech to undertake a school engagement.

In his admirable speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South referred to the spread of AIDS through the multiple use of needles by drug addicts and others. We all know of the tragic consequences of that practice, which continues despite the Government's excellent record in making more needles available to those who require them for medical purposes. There is now no need for any needle to be used twice.

A friend of mine, a Church of England clergyman, in addition to his parish work, has dedicated his life to taking into his home AIDS sufferers of all ages, particularly younger people. He told me the other day that there were always about four in his home, and that about two died each year: if I may use a crude term, he has a "throughput". He spoke movingly and disturbingly of a 17-year-old suffering not only from AIDS but from senile dementia induced by his condition. Think of the devastating effect on that young life.

I want to trumpet my friend's achievement. The world needs to know what he is doing, to gain an even greater appreciation of the horrors of AIDS and the suffering of patients and those who care for them. Those who devote their lives to nursing AIDS sufferers are doing a wonderful thing, but what they must watch imposes on them extreme emotional distress.

My hon. Friend did not mention a drug problem of considerable and, I fear, growing proportions: glue-sniffing. It is as much a drug problem as any other, and is increasing particularly in schools, in some of which one in 10 children is said to be sniffing glue. The number of deaths is rising steadily each year, as is the suffering involved, despite an Act passed about two years ago under which those selling glue kits to known would-be sniffers can receive severe punishments, including imprisonment.

The problem is most common in deprived areas. It occurs among children of all ages, including tiny tots who find it interesting and fun and who stagger about after sniffing. A few months ago I heard of a teenager who, having sniffed glue, believed himself to have superhuman strength and kicked down a hard wooden fence when wearing pumps, knocking it to the ground and causing great damage. Violence is induced by glue sniffing.

We are not solving the problem, and, although it has not been mentioned much lately, it is still there and growing. While everyone is anxious to see substances that glue sniffers are keen to use removed, it is not always possible to remove such substances, or other things such as boot polish from the shops, glue sniffers like to abuse boot polish. I ask the Minister to step up prevention through education and to combine that with stiffer penalties for pushers of glue kits, wherever they are found. In particular we must concentrate on the education of children and families to prevent glue sniffing.

When it is not curbed, glue sniffing leads to soft and hard drugs and can take away a person's mind. A few weeks ago I heard about a prisoner of 24 whose mind had completely gone as a result of glue sniffing over several years. He was not able to respond even to simple instructions and simply sits and stares into space. His life is effectively ended even though he is only 24. That is not an imported problem because it is within our own society and continues to grow.

Mr. Pike

Glue sniffing can be started when people are very young. Does the hon. Gentleman think that there has been sufficient research about the progress from glue sniffing to soft and hard drugs? Perhaps there should be more research to see how that type of problem emerges.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Much more research into how it starts should be undertaken and we should find out more about how it may be cured. It starts most simply by one child influencing another. As I know from my long experience of teaching, little children get a great kick out of being with older children. If the older children smoke, the younger ones soon want to do the same, even if they are only about the age of three. The same is true of glue sniffing. When older children glamorise it, as they regrettably do, younger children become interested in it, partake of it and become addicted. Much more research would be valuable and is urgently required.

The broad question of drugs coming into Britain was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and developed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) who said that the international trade in drugs is about £50 billion. We need to think again about our Customs procedures. We are now employing fewer Customs officers than ever before in relation to the number of people travelling. Examining the baggage of the millions of people who travel each year is an enormous problem. We now have a system which is common in the European Community and in many parts of the world. The system has been a failure.

When people declare what they have bought, as I did a few months ago, they have to join a queue of 20 or 30 people. The people in that queue will be handled by two or three Customs officers, one of whom seems to leave the moment that the queue appears while another goes off for a cup of tea. That leaves one Customs officer to deal with a queue that grows quite quickly. By definition, each person in the queue has much to discuss and almost certainly will have to open bags to show what is in them. That is a lengthy process and people may have to wait for several hours, having gone to the trouble of being honest and declaring what they have bought. They then discover that they are free to go through, as I discovered on the occasion that I mentioned.

Because of that cumbersome system many people go for the "nothing-to-declare" booth even though they have items that should be declared. They do that not because they are dishonest, but for personal convenience and to save time. There is no guantlet to be run in the "nothing-to-declare" section and large numbers of people go through it. Many of them know that they have much to declare and many must have hard and soft drugs because a large quantity of such drugs is still known to be coming into the country. That is serious and unsatisfactory.

I appreciate the worry that the Customs process imposes upon the Home Office, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider whether the time has come to revert to the former process in which everyone was automatically expected to declare rather than having the choice of opting for the green or red channel. That would lead to a greater chance of people being apprehended, and people who need to be seen could do so through a process that is not as lengthy as the present red channel process.

I commend the Home Office on the policy enacted in legislation of confiscating the profits of those who gain from the sale of drugs. I know that that legislation has been highly effective and is one of the great improvements in the law of the 1980s. As the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) said, we need more education on the subject in schools. Those who say that there is no drug problem in schools cannot substantiate the assertion. I have shown that glue sniffing is certainly a problem in schools and the same may be true of other drugs. However, the problem is still much smaller than it might be. The system of an efficient education officer per local authority which was initiated by the Government is vital, and will help to keep the problem at bay. I hope that it will eliminate the problem altogether.

11.48 am
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

I join my hon. Friends in welcoming the opportunity to debate the subject of drugs. I should like to address one specific aspect of drug abuse, and that is the use of drugs in sport. Sportsmen and sportswomen in all sports, especially those who reach high levels, are role models and peer groups who set examples to youngsters. Youngsters feel that if senior sportsmen can take drugs they might as well do the same. I commend sportsmen from around the world, such as Carl Lewis, who have gone out of their way to make it clear that they do not take drugs and to discourage others from doing so.

It is relevant to talk about drug abuse in sport about nine months after the events at the last Olympics, which received enormous worldwide publicity, because it allows us to consider the progress that is—or in some cases, tragically is not—being made. In Reykjavik last week, my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport presented, on behalf of European Ministers, a draft anti-doping convention, which is to be commended. Page 5 of the convention mentions the association between general drug abuse in society and drug abuse in sport. It says that the object of the convention is to emphasise the dangers to health and the harm to ethical values inherent in doping in sport. That succinctly shows the influence that sportsmen can have on our values.

Discussion in Reykjavik was useful. Unfortunately, it occurred many months after the events in Seoul, and it may he several months before the convention is ratified by one country. Even countries regarded as being in the lead in tackling drug abuse, such as Norway, Australia and Britain—who we hope will be joined by Canada when the Dublin commission has completed its report—are moving slowly.

I welcome the recommendations of the convention, but, unfortunately, it makes no suggestions about the length of bans for those found to have taken drugs. It makes no recommendations about sponsorship, which one might reasonably have expected. I hope that, the convention having been ratified, anyone who is found guilty of taking any of the major banned drugs—I accept that some drugs are taken in error or in association with medicine—will be banned for at least three years, and possibly four, for a first offence and for life for a second. International sport cannot accept what occurred with Slopaniek and others who, having been banned for two years, were allowed to return to the world athletics championships and Olympics to win a gold medal and set what are classified as world records. It is laughing in the faces of any efforts to ban drugs if such people are allowed to return so soon. We need—and this is suggested in the convention—random and unannounced testing in all sports, with independent collection. Without such policies there will be no major drive against drug abuse in sport.

I am pleased to say that 19 governing bodies of sport in the United Kingdom have either adopted policies that meet the convention's requirements or are in the process of doing so. Beyond the 19 listed, amateur tennis is making substantial efforts to catch up, and I hope that it will be able to join the list soon.

In addition to signing the draft convention, each country should adopt a policy for individual competitions, whereby anyone who is in the list of top 10 competitors according to the previous season's performances is a prime target for random and unannounced testing. I welcome the willingness of the Sports Council and other sports councils in Europe to fund tests, not only in the United Kingdom but other parts of the world, of individuals who are recognised as leading competitors. The Sports Council regularly visits the Canary Islands to test competitors who are training out of season, which is a welcome development.

It is interesting to consider the scale of drug abuse in sport, given that we are talking about role models. Daley Thompson, who should know about world competition, not only because of his phenomenal achievements but because he trains in the Canaries and Los Angeles and therefore mixes with leading world athletes in Europe and the United States, estimated that while 30 per cent. of Britons had used drugs to improve their performance 80 per cent. of American athletes had used drugs to improve their performance. Those are quite staggering statistics.

I said that we are making progress, and last year the Sports Council funded 3,400 tests, of which 14 were found to be positive. The cost of carrying out those tests in the United Kingdom and abroad was £478,000, showing that testing can have an enormous effect for a relatively small outlay. Britain is fortunate in being able to bring pressure on some sports because they receive funds from the Sports Council. If those sports do not adhere to a policy similar to that which the Government are advocating, they will lose their grants.

Major sponsors, as I suggested in relation to the anti-doping convention, should look carefully at the sports that they support. They participate in not only amateur but professional sports. Regrettably, there will be no testing at Henley, Wimbledon or the British Open golf championship this year. While we are making progress, some of which is very slow, some of the major British sporting events, only nine or 10 months after the events in Seoul, do not recognise the importance of dope testing. It costs little to prove to sponsors that sports are clean. if they can show that they are clean, it will give a clear message to our youth.

I referred to the difference that Daley Thompson identified between the number of British atheletes who had used drugs, as he estimated it, and the number of American athletes who had done so, as he estimated it. He is in a good position to know what is going on in sport. I should like to dwell on American sport, because it is generally believed in America that it is making progress in tackling drugs in society and sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) referred to that belief. Unfortunately, it is not so. I raised the subject with my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on an Adjournment debate about five and a half years ago. I said that in 1982 there had been no drug tests at 51 major European sporting events or at any of the major sporting events in the United States. What progress has been made? The track athletes club in the United States said that it was willing to accept short notice testing, but it has not done so yet. Weightlifting authorities in the United States announced two years ago that they were prepared to accept testing, but not one test has been carried out in a weightlifting contest in the United States. The United States reached agreement with Russia to have an exchange on testing, but no document has been produced that could be signed, let alone any test being carried out in the United States.

It is a sad comment on American sport that, only this week, the chief medical adviser to the United States Olympic Committee, Dr. Robert Voy, resigned because of the total lack of progress in the United States on dope testing. Yesterday, I took the opportunity to speak to him. I asked him to clarify why he had resigned. He made it clear that one of the prime reasons was the total lack of commitment—to use his phrase, "The USOC has put dope testing on the back burner." There is no evidence that the USOC will act on the report of the Dubin commission. It is clear that Canadian sports of all forms will take urgent, clear and positive action.

No American sport, with one exception, is willing to take the same steps. The one exception in the United States is cycling which, having been confronted by the embarrassment of having competitors return home from competitions for fear of being dope tested, has decided to throw everything open and is willing to have dope testing in any circumstances. Despite the embarrassment of having had American competitors leave in droves from the Pan-American games a year before the Olympics, not one other American sport has made any progress. In competitions last year in Europe, track athletes from America, including discus throwers and pole vaulters, withdrew because they suddenly discovered that there would be dope testing, carried out with the assiduity pursued in Europe but not in the United States.

It is interesting to note why so many sports in the United States are not willing to take action. Echoing Dr. Robert Voy's words, they are hiding behind the veil of the legal system. Before the last Olympics, the director of sport sciences for the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Mr. Frank Uryasv, said: the legal system makes it almost impossible to drug test.

It is interesting that cycling in the United States does not face that problem although it has opened up its doors, but other sports are willing to continue along those lines.

Mr. Rathbone

I draw the attention of the House to the extraordinary comparison between those statements and the readiness in the horseracing world to spot-test horses. Is it not peculiar that we can do this for animals but not for human beings?

Mr. Haywood

As my hon. Friend says, there are many anomalies. We are making progress in horse racing, although I admit that it is not a matter about which I know much. There have been disqualifications this season in this country. It is important that all sports adopt policies similar to that outlined in the doping convention.

Mr. Harry Greenway

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) rightly said that there is regular dope testing of all horses at all race meetings. The same is true of all other aspects of equestrian sports. For example, in event riding the horses are severely tested because their performance can be enhanced by drugs. The same is true of greyhound racing in this country.

Mr. Haywood

I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) pointed out, not just the human sports need to be tested to ensure that victory is clean and honest.

Five sports in the United States, along with cycling, were willing to open their doors, but they gave up because of the lack of positive action by the USOC. Yesterday, the Sports Council told me that, as far as it was aware, United States professional golf just did not want to know about testing. We are talking not purely about Olympic sports or sports involving humans; a range of professional sports is involved. It cannot be presumed that performance in any sport does not improve with the use of drugs. It should be assumed that every sporting performance improves with the taking of some form of drugs.

I recognise that in the United States sport is in a different form. There is no equivalent to the Sports Council, so one must consider alternative means of making progress. I have referred to golf. More than any other sport, American football and American basketball are probably riddled with drug-taking. In 1986 the collegiate football teams had 40 teams Bowl-bound, to use their expression—they were about to play in one college bowl or another—and they announced that there was to be random testing. We are talking about 40 teams and between 2,000 and 2,500 footballers. Random testing was carried out on about 10 per cent., so let us assume that between 200 and 250 people were tested. Despite the fact that the tests were announced in advance and people could take masking agents, there were 21 positive tests. The NCAA announced that, because it had found that only 10 per cent. of all those tested were positive, there was no evidence of drug-taking so it would discontinue such a policy. That is a tragedy and it fills me with disbelief.

Collegiate football argues that it cannot afford testing. I have already said that the total cost for testing in all the sports in Britain that are involved so far was only £487,000. I have suggested that British sports should test individuals who appear in the top 10 rankings of their competitions. In American collegiate football it would be easy to say that the top 10 colleges involved—Notre Dame, the universities of Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Michigan, the university of South Carolina and the like—would be the prime targets for random tests. What a message would be sent out to American youth if it were announced that the prime athletic achievers in collegiate football were to be tested.

The criticism of costs beggars belief. Most of those universities that I identified have major medical schools attached to them. They could ask their students, as part of their research, to carry out dope testing of their sportsmen. That would be the best way of making progress in collegiate football and then making progress in professional sport.

I suggest, as I did in relation to European sports, that the major sponsors in American, British, European and worldwide sport give serious consideration to withdrawing sponsorship unless they are certain that the sporting event is clean. I am not suggesting that the sports are not clean. I said that golf in the United States did not want to know. Perhaps drugs are not used, but we do not know because there have not been any tests.

I am not suggesting that any of the sponsors that I have mentioned sponsor drug-ridden events, but they do not know whether they do. They should be able to say, "We know that these events are clean." The major banking institutions, such as Citicorp and Chase Manhattan, companies such as Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola, the NBC and ABC, which buy the sporting rights, and Texaco and other big oil companies should ask the sports events that they sponsor, "Can you make a categoric assertion that this event is clean?" Without such a policy on sport, everything that the American Government say that they are attempting to do can be laughed at.

How can William Bennett, the head of the American drug task force, say, "We are taking this issue seriously" when the President of the United States welcomes and congratulates teams that have won major bowls, major sporting events, but which cannot stand up and say that they are clean? It should be an embarrassment not only to Mr. Bennett but to President Bush and other members of the American Administration that the most public aspects of American society are not clean of drugs, and that apparently little effort is made to make them clean. I should like to see in the United States major progress not in words but in action.

Although I have criticised America for its marked failure to make progress, I hope that, worldwide, we shall not sit back and say that it is only like that in the United States. It is not. We have a long way to go in Britain and in Europe. It was only last year that Birgit Dressel, a German heptathlete, died as a result of drug overdoses in an attempt to lift herself from being between 30th and 40th in the world's heptathletes into the top 10. That is a sad commentary on drug abuse in sport. We must make massive progress in this country because, as I said earlier, only by making progress in sport shall we be able to set an example to the youngsters in society as a whole. By setting that example, we shall have taken one step—and only one step—in making progress towards eradicating the drug problem within society today.

12.20 pm
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for having introduced this important debate. It has enabled hon. Members to speak with some insight on a subject that concerns us all. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) was a classic example of an ideal speech in this House. My hon. Friend has deep knowledge of a particular aspect of this subject. He has carried out research and looked into the matter, and has shared his findings with the rest of the House to the enhanced benefit of us all.

The Guardian on 19 May, in its first editorial, said: Drug addiction is already perceived as the single biggest threat facing Britain. A survey of parents published yesterday, puts drug abuse far ahead of all other risks threatening the future of their children: well ahead of Aids, pollution, mugging, drink, tobacco, unhealthy foods and accidents. But serious though the present drug problem has become, an even more serious threat looms on the horizon: crack. Speaking as the parent of two young children—I know that many other hon. Members are also parents—I suspect that one of the spectres that haunts us all is drugs.

All of us, from time to time, have had a glimpse of hell. For our grandfathers, it was probably the trenches of the first world war and the carnage there. For our fathers, it was the hell of Auschwitz and Belsen and the destruction of that time. By comparison, my glimpses of hell have been less horrific, though none the less frightening. I am thinking of the feeding camps of Ethiopia and the mass starvation there. I also think of a day that will stick in my mind for a long time and to which I alluded earlier. I visited a children's hospital in Newark, New Jersey, which was largely full of young babies who had contracted AIDS in the womb. Their mothers, by and large, were women who had become drug addicts for a variety of reasons. They had taken to a life of prostitution to pay for their drug addiction and a vicious circle of prostitution, drug addiction and prostitution had led them in an ever downward spiral. When they became pregnant, their babies become infected with AIDS.

It is difficult to look at such a large number of children who, through no fault of their own, have been born with the most terrible illness and for whom life will be short and fraught. Fortunately, as yet, there are no hospital wards in this country where one can see similar scenes, but, unless we get to grips with the drug problem in this country, such a spectre awaits us.

Crack is a cocaine-based narcotic and will make the drugs problem worse, as the United States experience clearly demonstrates. As the House will probably know, it is produced by cooking cocaine hydrochloride with baking soda and water. When the mixture cools, it crystallises and can be cut into squares, commonly known as rocks. It is consumed by heating the rocks and inhaling the vapour. The rush reaches the brain within seconds and addiction is acquired far more quickly than with other drugs. Worse still, there is no substitute drug which can be offered to addicts in rehabilitation. That has made them more reluctant to seek help than opiate users, such as heroin addicts. I speak as a member of the Bar who, from time to time, has had to defend addicts to heroin and other drugs. Heaven knows, it is hard enough to persuade heroin addicts to seek proper help and support. There are 100,000 heroin addicts in this country.

More alarming still is the increasing level of violence associated with the dealing in and use of crack. Those who smoke it are said to experience a feeling of omnipotence and paranoia which, in the United States, has led to an increasing number of shootings of police officers as well as other crimes of violence.

In the past four years, there has been a six-fold increase in the seizure of cocaine in Europe. In Britain, Customs and Excise seized about 220 kg in the first three months of this year alone, compared with 35 kg in the whole of 1984. It is worth dwelling on those figures. Of course, 35 kg of a drug such as cocaine is, in itself, a pretty substantial problem. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Home Office by their actions have already acknowledged that the seizures represent only a fraction of the illegal drugs being smuggled into this country.

Three or four years ago, even in the United States, crack would not have been seen as a problem. Yet in three years it has gone from being a minor problem in the United States to one that is reaching epidemic proportion. We, at least, have the advantage of being forewarned. We know the spectre that could face us. Clearly, Europe is increasingly in the sights of the drug barons in south American countries such as Colombia and Bolivia. It seems that production in south America has increased to the point where the north American market is saturated, so the south American traffickers are now targeting the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe as additional outlets. It is horrific to think of drug trafficking as akin to the export trade, but that is certainly how the drug traffickers of south America look at it. One has only to recall the activities of ex-President Noriega of Panama, who made drugs one of that country's major exports to realise the problems that we face in Europe.

Crack is extremely addictive. Smokers seem to become hooked after smoking it as few as three or four times. By contrast, even cocaine can be smoked for 13 to 14 months without addiction. Already, the introduction of crack into this country is having an impact on the behaviour of pushers, who appear to have slashed the price of cocaine so as to widen the market. The street price has fallen from about £100 per gramme 18 months ago to as little as £40 in the east midlands and even £30 in parts of London. It seems almost obscene to allude to drug dealing as akin to business but clearly the drug pushers want to persuade people to switch brands—to go up market and change to crack. The reason is that it doubly benefits the pushers, who boost their income with each gramme of powder that is turned into crack and increase their revenue because crack produces such as intense and short-lived high that the user's craving and consumption far outstrips the craving and consumption of the cocaine snorter.

There is a strategy operating in some parts of Britain whereby cannabis is deliberately withheld from the streets and cocaine offered in its place. In some parts in Britain crack is on sale for as little as £20 a hit. That is terrifying because many youngsters can lay their hands on £20 with a bit of petty thieving, whereas in the past drugs such as heroin may have been more expensive.

Mr. Rathbone

My hon. Friend may not be painting a gloomy enough picture. One can get a hit or fix of crack for as little as £2 or £3.

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. That is even more horrifying because many youngsters can acquire £2 or £3 by way of pocket money these days.

Last September police raided a flat on an estate in south London and discovered large quantities of drugs in a crack factory fortified with steel doors. Armed police had to use oxyacetylene torches and a hydraulic ram to force their way in. That estate, which houses about 3,000 people is, alas, already known by locals as "crack city". Customers come from all over the country to buy crack in the centre of that estate. One local resident said: There are times when it's like Waterloo station in the rush hour … Sometimes you can get 15 street dealers outside the pub. We get really big teams, from all over the place. Sometimes a dealer will arrive with four or five blokes minding him. The police have taken to wearing bullet-proof vests when raiding the estate. That is horrific. We are talking about a housing estate not more than 15 minutes away from the Palace of Westminster, and it is only a matter of months since armed police wearing bullet-proof vests had to raid it. Hon. Members have referred to Elliot Ness and "The Untouchables", but we are already seeing horrific signs of things happening here that hitherto have been associated with the United States.

Mr. Randall

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's vivid description of the possible consequences of the arrival of crack. A number of hon. Members have suggested that we are just about holding our own in the containment of drug misuse, but does the hon. Gentleman not agree that some radical changes in our drugs policy may be needed if we are to contain this new drug which he has described in such strong terms?

Mr. Baldry

Yes, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister will outline some of the initiatives that the Government have been taking. All the evidence suggests that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has clearly understood the spectre of crack. After all, it was he who made it clear to the Pompidou group of the Council of Ministers exactly the spectre that Europe faces from the introduction of crack.

Many hon. Members may recall that a few weeks ago there was a debate on the inner cities on an Opposition Supply day. It was, perhaps ominous that on that very night there was a riot in Wolverhampton. It did not involve lager louts. it was not an alcohol-related riot—it was a riot following the discovery of a quantity of crack. The incident began with a drugs raid on a public house suspected of being the focus of drug dealing. It degenerated into a fight between local youths and the police officers, who were quickly backed up by properly equipped riot squads. There was looting, vandalism and arson, but it was clear that much of that was inspired by the drug pushers trying to protect their interests.

I have no hesitation in saying that the police, both in Wolverhampton and in south London, were right to go in hard and pursue the matter to the end. It must be fully understood that those who deal in crack will be dealt with heavily. I am sure that the courts will also make that quite clear. It is a telling point that on this very day The Times reports that a young person aged 22 was yesterday remanded in custody charged with possessing crack. It is the first case of its kind in Britain, so it is appropriate that we should have this debate today.

During recent years police throughout Britain have become professional and sophisticated in their war against drugs and they have responded positively to the new threat of crack. Scotland Yard has set up a 17-man intelligence unit to study links between the crack market and certain sections of the population. There is a difficult problem, which the House and the country must face honestly but with a degree of sensitivity. One of the areas where crack appears to have become prevalent most quickly is the inner city, which houses large numbers of black and West Indian youths. A senior police officer is reported as saying that a great deal of the crack trade is imitative of what is happening in certain sections of Washington and new York and that much of it is Jamaican inspired. The incidence of crack among a minority in the Afro-Caribbean community in inner London creates a difficult problem which, although it must be handled positively, must also be handled with sensitivity if it is not to look as though we are somehow asserting that crack is a black problem. Crack poses a problem that affects us all, but it appears to be easier for crack pushers to penetrate the Afro-Caribbean communities rather faster than other communities.

I have no doubt that many black community leaders will be highly apprehensive that if we as a community do not act together, crack here will become a focus in the same way as it has devastated numbers of black communities in American cities. It is a tragic comment that in some precincts in the United States half the young people are crack addicts and there are daily street battles between drug groups.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has referred to crack as a plague. It is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of the lines written at the time of the black death: We see death coming into our midst like black smoke, a plague which cuts off the young and has no mercy". That is certainly the effect of crack. It is a plague which cuts off the young and has no mercy. The drug has spread like a plague across the United States, especially the poorer inner cities. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was right to say: If crack ever becomes deeply rooted in Europe the outlook will indeed be bleak. Our job must be to work together urgently to ensure that the United States experience is not repeated here. As many of my hon. Friends have said today, crack and similar drugs must be tackled on two fronts—supply and demand. I know that Home Office Ministers have been active in both areas, with initiatives such as more money for the United Nations anti-drugs programmes and, beginning next April, programmes to train Customs officers from the producer and transit countries. It is, of course, an international problem. We might be the recipient, but drugs go through a number of other countries. It is therefore important to work together. The British Government have given £2 million to help to improve the equipment of the law enforcement agencies in countries along the supply route. I am sure that Ministers will be working towards persuading our partners in the European Community that there should be an effective European convention which makes it possible to confiscate traffickers' profits and to tackle the problem as a community.

There may be limits to the success of controls over supply, because the rewards are so high and the potential loopholes so large. After all, the product is not difficult to transport. I have been involved in cases, as I am sure have other hon. Members who are also members of the Bar, where drugs have simply been sent through the post. Try as it may, the international sorting office of the post office cannot examine every parcel that comes into the United Kingdom. We must, therefore, not only tackle supply, but also seek ways of controlling demand.

In recent years, we have seen that controlling demand can be effective by means of, for example, media campaigns, school education programmes on such things as drug abuse, and an increase in funds for treatment and drug rehabilitation projects. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who is to respond to the debate, is chairing a ministerial group on the misuse of drugs. I believe that such groups are beginning to become effective—not only the one dealing with the misuse of drugs but also the one dealing with alcohol abuse, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is chairing.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has already called for initiatives to tackle crack and to step up education programmes to warn young people of the highly addictive effects of the drug and to stress the concern among doctors that, sadly, there is no way to wean addicts off the drug. I hope that at some time it might be possible to send a straightforward leaflet on crack and its dangers to every parent in the country. After all, we are becoming increasingly used to schools sending out information to parents. This is a challenge to every parent and something about which everybody should be concerned.

There are one or two important ramifications of the crack problem which it is important to take on hoard, particularly with the European elections taking place next Thursday. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends wish to see a Europe sans frontiers. Metaphorically, we all understand what that means—a Europe with no trade barriers. That has been translated into a belief that we should also have a European Community in which there are no frontier posts or border controls. Therefore, if an illegal substance entered the European Community in southern Greece, it could reach northern Scotland without having to pass another border control or frontier check. That would be lunacy because it would be much easier for drug traffickers to move drugs around the Community. I hope that Home Office Ministers will resist attempts to dismantle border controls. Some checks should be retained and there should continue to be increasing co-operation between the police and drug enforcement authorities throughout Europe in exchanging intelligence with Customs officers, police officers, drug officers and others, so that there is a Community effort, in which border controls form a useful part.

In the next few months the fight against crack will be crucial. The actions within the next few months of Parliament, my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Home Office and those in the European Community will determine whether we succeed in that fight. From the actions that Home Office Ministers have already taken, there is every indication that they are determined that we should succeed. The rest of us in the House must play our part in awakening public opinion with sense of alarm about what may take place. We must persuade vulnerable communities that crack represents the most serious threat that they face. By the time they find out for themselves, it may be too late.

The House owes a debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South for having introduced the debate. This is one of the most horrific threats to face the country for a long time. No words that we can utter in the Chamber are sufficient to stress to every parent and every community leader in the country that crack has to be defeated quickly.

12.48 pm
Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on his motion. We have had a valuable debate. It has been comprehensive and it is good to see the House united on matters such as this. Apart from a slight flurry on the Conservative Back Benches, no party points have been made today. The House appreciates the seriousness of the problem and the way in which crack, in particular, could affect our society.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) made such an emphatic speech about crack because I was going to take a similar attitude towards it. I raised the matter with the Home Secretary during the last Home Office questions and asked what initiatives the Government would take to combat the threat to our society. Even if the Parliamentary Under-Secretary does not answer any of my questions I hope that he will today take the opportunity to tell us precisely what initiatives the Government plan to take to combat crack.

We have had a constructive debate today and I intend to continue it. Conservative Members have said that we are just about holding our own in the drugs battle and have referred to the activities of yet another working party. That demonstrates that there is concern that the Government's policy is not getting to grips with the problem. Crack threatens our society and our democracy. If we are only holding our own in the battle with other drugs, what on earth can we do to contain this new drug which is so addictive, has spread throughout the United States over a three year period and is now used in massive proportions. A person can be addicted to crack after using it only three times.

I hope that the parliamentary Under-Secretary will say a little more and be a little more constructive than the Home Secretary was during the last Home Office questions when he merely highlighted the problem. The speech of the hon. Member for Banbury was admirably constructive. Experience in the United States has shown many of us that this is a huge problem and we urgently need some solutions from the Government. That will involve a review of resources including money, manpower, technology, and medical research. It is not enough merely to have another meeting of the Pompidou group but there must be action to prevent the spread of this horrifying drug.

As the hon. Member for Banbury said, the use of the drug throughout the United States has devastated communities and has resulted in violence which we have also seen in Wolverhampton. The drug has a great effect on those who take it, become high and behave in an extraordinary fashion. As the hon. Gentleman also said, Ministers have been active. They have put forward money to try to solve the problem. It would be unfair to dispute that. But is the policy working? I can put my hand on my heart and say that I am not confident that the Government's existing drugs policy is working. I say that in the most constructive way because the subject is too serious for one to be flippant.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Warrington, South. He made a progressive speech and injected into the debate a number of new ideas which must be given serious consideration when tackling the problem of drugs.

Three tests should be applied when assessing the Government's success in tackling drug abuse. First, how successful has Government policy been in discouraging people from taking drugs? Secondly, how successful have the Government been in discovering the sources of drugs and reducing their supply? That is an international as well as a national problem. Thirdly, how successful are the help and services provided to encourage drug addicts to give up drugs and to stay off them indefinitely?

We have heard in the debate that many factors are involved in assessing the success of Government policy. The third edition of the Home Office document entitled "Tackling Drug Misuse"—I compliment the Minister on the quality of the document: it is very readable—shows in figure 1 that, after a period of relative stability in the 1970s, the misuse of drugs greatly increased in the first half of the 1980s. The number of drug addicts notified to the Home Office increased in that time from about 2,500 to about 9,000. However, addicts notified to the Home Office constitute only a small proportion of the total number of chronic misusers of drugs.

The upshot is that since 1980 we have experienced a worrying increase in the numbers of chronic misusers. The Government will argue that what has happened here is but part of an international phenomenon which has affected many western countries. There may well be an element of truth in that. Nevertheless, the Government are responsible for limiting the demand for drugs and restricting their supply to this country, and Government policy is at least partly responsible for the alarming increase in drug misuse.

It is clear from today's debate that the House shares my reservations about Government policy and believes that we are only just holding our own. We are creating too many committees, as hon. Members have pointed out in their constructive speeches.

I do not believe that the Government have done all that they could to reduce the supply of drugs to the United Kingdom. There is a vast number of different ways in which drugs can be brought into this country, and it is clear that it is impossible to prevent all drugs from entering. However, if we are really determined to restrict the supply, more manpower, money and technology are needed. Is the Minister satisfied that enough staff have been employed to reduce the supply of drugs to the United Kingdom? Do we still have enough Customs and Excise officers to tackle this massive job? In the end, it comes down to Government priorities.

In an intervention during the speech of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) said that in his county the resources that have been made available for drugs research are limited and that it was sad that requests are not being met for additional police officers to carry out drugs-related work.

The third test of Government policy is how successful they are in encouraging drug addicts to give up using drugs and stay off them. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems, which has a very successful track record, believes that the Government's attitude, and that of the medical profession, has had a deleterious effect on the treatment of chronic drug misusers. The Government's Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs recommended in its two-part report on AIDS and drugs misuse that specific action should he taken to stop the spread of the HIV virus in prisons through the use of condoms. That recommendation was rejected by the Government. The matter was raised by the hon. Member for Warrington, South. I hope that the Minister will explain why the Government decided not to accept that recommendation.

The report also proposed that there should be comfortable withdrawal from drugs for prisoners. It would involve the use of methadone as an alternative drug. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems has advised me that the Government have rejected that approach. Their general view is that prisoners should not be provided with the alternative approach to drug withdrawal that was recommended by the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs. In other words, prisoners should experience cold turkey. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems believes that a safe environment is needed so that prisoners with a drugs problem feel confident enough to go to the prison authorities and admit it. Then they could be properly treated.

It is estimated that the helping agencies in the United Kingdom know about 10 per cent. of the drug users in their communities. That has to be contrasted with about 75 per cent. in Holland. I have already raised the matter with the hon. Member for Warrington, South. It demonstrates the different approach and attitude to drugs between the two countries. I should be grateful if the Minister would comment on that.

I have been advised that drug addicts in the United Kingdom come forward only when they have no money and cannot therefore buy drugs. We must encourage more people who use drugs to make themselves known to the helping agencies so that help can be given to them.

The helping agencies have also advised me that the attitude of the medical profession does not always help drug addicts. The general feeling is that people should stop using drugs. In practice, doctors prescribe methadone only if they believe that people will come off drugs quickly. The Hull and East Yorkshire council for drug problems also believes that regimes are usually set up for doctors rather than for drug users. Consequently, most drug users start to take drugs again. The helping agencies believe that the medical profession needs to listen more than it does to what drug users say so that they can be helped to reduce their dependency on drugs. At the moment, almost all drug addicts fail to do so.

The inconsistency of the medical profession seems to be a matter of concern to the helping agencies. Some parts of the country have a good range of services designed to help addicts—the hon. Member for Warrington, South described the services in Merseyside—but in other parts such services can be described only as poor or non-existent. 1 should welcome the Minister's comments on that fourth point.

In Holland "methadone buses" are used to encourage drug addicts to break the habit, and I understand that such services also exist in Merseyside. Those at the grass roots in the helping agencies believe that they should be more comprehensively available. Needle exchanges, which are vital to a reduction in the transmission of HIV through the use of dirty and shared needles, are only now being organised in some cities.

The helping agencies have also expressed concern about the Government's attitude to women drug users. I am told that few rehabilitation units take in children along with their mothers. As a result fewer women come forward, fearing that their children may be taken away if they admit to their drug problem. This is my fifth point: it is important to recognise that women addicts can care just as much for their children as those with no addictions.

The helping agencies feel that the Government are concentrating too much on the injection of heroin and other opiates: clearly the risk of contracting AIDS arises from infected needles irrespective of the drugs that are used. They believe that the Government should also emphasise that users of amphetamines—including "recreational" users who may inject themselves on Saturday evenings—are just as vulnerable to AIDS, if they are using contaminated needles. I should like the Minister to comment on that as well.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South began his excellent speech by talking about the lack of a registration scheme for crack. I agree that such a scheme is needed, especially as the availability of crack seems far greater than I had thought. Press statistics suggest that it is not widely available, but hon. Members on both sides of the House have said today that it can be obtained for as little as £2 —or, according to one hon. Member, for between £5 and £10.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South said that the probable number of addicts in this country is between five and 20 times the number of registered addicts. Home Office statistics in the report to which I referred earlier show that drug seizures have generally increased, with a slight turndown in recent years. However, the amount of drugs seized is a small proportion of the total amount brought into the country. That is worrying and if the same thing applies to crack we are in danger. Crack is a manufactured drug and I understand that it is made from cocaine. Movements of such drugs will take place throughout the European continent from various parts of the world.

The statistics produced by the Home Office suggest that our fears about the extension of the use of crack are well-founded. If one assumes that the amount of crack that will not be seized is in the same proportion as the amount of other drugs that are not seized one realises that we have a big problem. We have a drugs crisis on the horizon—I hope that I am not overstating the case—that will affect many parts of the country, especially the inner cities, the areas of deprivation and the ethnic communities. I cannot stress enough that we are on the verge of a serious problem.

The police think that cocaine will pose a major problem in future and, as we know, crack is a derivative. In some parts of the country there is an extraordinary correlation between drug taking and crime. Not unreasonably we can expect far more crime if the use of crack increases. The Government parade statistics, as one would expect them to do, that crime is decreasing. However, violent crime is increasing at an alarming rate. The Government's policies could lead to a greater circulation of crack and that could lead to an increase in violent crime. I do not say that in a negative way but simply because I am extremely worried.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South spoke about Amsterdam and the Dutch situation. He did not fully develop that argument nor shall I because I do not know all the details. One of the arguments—which I do not advocate—for legalising drugs is that one can prevent or to some extent control, overdosing. Overdosing usually occurs when somebody who is taking an impure drug comes across a pure drug and does not know the difference and overdoses himself. There are many threats to the argument about legalising drugs but my intuitive reaction is to say, "No way." However, we must take into account the failure of our policy on primary care.

Mr. Butler

I think that the terms that we use in the debate must be more precise. Is there a difference between decriminalisation, which makes it totally legal for anybody to possess drugs in any circumstances, and a system of registration? One needs to distinguish between decriminalisation and the legal availability of drugs within a registered framework surrounded by a tight criminal framework of the type that I developed in my speech.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point. We must have a registration scheme to ensure that we know who is who, which is important in the fight against drugs. We must ensure that the problem of over dosing is controlled as much as possible. Britain's helping agencies are aware of only 10 per cent. of addicts whereas in Holland the figure is 75 per cent.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South described the Merseyside case in some detail. It is important that the argument, which has been described by some people as, "just say no", is considered. It is a specialised subject, but I fear that, as politicians, our first reaction is to say no to any form of drug taking. As policy on primary prevention so far has been fairly ineffectual, alternatives must be considered.

I am glad to hear that the Merseyside policy is working and reaching the addict population. I am especially glad —I cannot emphasise this enough—that the AIDS virus seems to be under some sort of control. We must consider the Merseyside experience carefully and gain knowledge from it. The threat of AIDS is greater among drug users. The sharing of needles can spread the HIV virus, with staggering results. The use of heroin has had a massive effect.

The hon. Member for Warrington, South referred to prostitutes. I share his view that it verges on evil for a prostitute who is HIV positive to carry out her trade, thereby placing anyone who goes with her at risk of catching the virus.

I am worried that within the closed community of prisons—Hull prison is experiencing the problem—needle sharing is occurring, resulting in many reported infections. I was interested by the comments of the hon. Member for Warrington, South about prisons in Sweden, where prisoners are screened daily so that the authorities know who is vulnerable. I think that lessons could be learned from that experience.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

The hon. Gentleman referred to increasing evidence of infections within the prison system. There is no evidence of a person becoming HIV positive as a result of any act in a prison.

Mr. Randall

Did the Minister say "as a result of any action in a prison?"

Mr. Douglas Hogg

There is no evidence that anyone has become HIV positive as a result of any action in a prison by way of homosexual activity or drug taking.

Mr. Randall

I am grateful to the Minister for correcting me on that.

Mr. Butler

The reason why evidence is not available is that it has not been looked for.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman believes that there is a problem, but I accept what the Minister says. Even if no one in prison has contracted the AIDS virus, we should consider carrying out the kind of tests that are undertaken elsewhere. To tackle the AIDS problem, we must be persistent in ensuring that tests are carried out. It is interesting that the Swedish authorities feel that it is necessary to have these tests in prisons. It is interesting also that we feel that there is no need for such tests because we believe that no one has picked up AIDS in our prisons. I accept what the Minister says—he is responsible for prisons.

It is crucial that we do all that we can to prevent pushers from earning profits from drugs. We must persist with the confiscation of assets. I hope that, through the European ministerial groups and working parties, we will pursue this matter as strongly as possible. The Pompidou group of the Council of Europe and the Government have spent money in certain countries where it has been deemed desirable to grow alternative crops to drug-based crops. We seem to be making little headway in the Caribbean islands. I do not know whether other hon. Members share my view, but I cannot grasp whether we are winning, losing or standing still. Perhaps it is an impossible question to answer. I feel from reading reports on what is happening in the Caribbean that there are immense problems.

I hope that the Minister will let us know the Government's policy on harm reduction and primary prevention. I shall quote an article in the May/June edition of Drug link which impinges directly on the Government's policy. Under the heading "Beyond 'Just Say No." it contends: drug education should go beyond primary prevention". The article refers to the attempt to stop people taking drugs and says: Most of the kinds who don't use drugs are not influenced by drugs education. It has, at best, a neutral effect. Drug education should encompass the best aspects of primary prevention programmes. It should give information, it should get kids to examine their attitudes, to examine social, legal, political, historical, cultural and health issues. Most importantly, it should look at secondary prevention strategies, ie how to prevent kids harming themselves from drug use. To paraphrase, the article also says that, in general, primary prevention of whatever kind, seems to be ineffective. It seems to lack a social, cultural and political dimension and to focus instead on the individuals, adopting a victim-blaming approach. It deals with stereotypes and isolates and castigates drug users as deviants. It is negative and does not address the problems of young people who reject the message. Any outcome other than not taking drugs must be seen as a failure. Primary prevention is based on flawed assumptions about behaviour change. It focuses on the expertise of the educator, as opposed to the young people's experience and it does not take into account a period in everyone's life called adolescence, during which people like to take risks. That is strong criticism. The article suggests that primary prevention, which is at the core of the Government's policy, does not work. The people who wrote that article are at the grass roots, dealing with the helping services for drug addicts.

Mr. Rathbone

The hon. Gentleman has not identified the author of that article and my memory does not serve me well enough to identify him. I believe that the article is referring to propaganda and advertising, but not to the activities of teachers responsible for drugs problems in schools. Whatever the article is referring to, the problems could be overcome at a stroke if the Government gave support to the life education centres to which I referred in my own speech.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The authors of the article are Ian Clements, Julian Cohen and Pat O'Hare. The article begins by saying: Drug education in schools seems to be up a blind alley —approaches aimed at preventing drug use are ineffective and those aimed at reducing harm are unacceptable. The article reflects an alternative approach to the issue and goes on to say: Our underlying assumptions are that drug use is part of normal behaviour and will take place. The moral high ground has in the past been claimed by the 'just say no' lobby who, while accepting that some young people will ignore their advice, see these as inevitable casualties in their attemps to prevent drug use to the exclusion of other aims. Our view is that the moral high ground lies with developing strategies aimed at minimising harm to individuals and communities. I felt that it was worth putting that alternative on the record, so we can consider it later on.

The hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) made an interesting speech. I know that he has been active in the all-party drug misuse group, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith).

Mr. Rathbone

And my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler).

Mr. Randall

Yes, the hon. Member for Warrington, South is also a member of that group. I welcomed what the hon. Member for Lewes said. However, the way in which he referred to his three measures for restoring some sort of criminal justice system in Colombia made me slightly bemused, although I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's expert knowledge on these matters. Indeed, I tackled him on those measures in one of my interventions. I am not sure that Governments can he bought off. The hon. Gentleman suggested that there should be help in buying communications equipment and in providing intelligence information and, possibly, weapons. I believe that although the exchequers of those countries may not, on paper, be receiving anything from the drugs crops, the opportunities for them to be bought off with very large sums of money must make it possible that they are benefiting from the drugs. The hon. Gentleman advances a high risk strategy, which raises doubts and questions in my mind, although I am not sure that I have an alternative.

The hon. Member for Lewes also talked about drug liaison officers. I agree that drug liaison officers in different countries should co-operate and use common information systems—especially in the EEC countries because of the special relationship that we share.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) referred to the provision of police for drugs work in rural areas. He was absolutely right that our rural areas encounter problems; it is not just London or the inner cities. The hon. Gentleman said that it was sad that requests to the Government for additional police officers for drugs work had not been met. I cannot understand why the Government are not making resources available.

The hon. Member for Lewes said that California was the ninth largest economy in the world and that the largest part of its economy derived from drugs.

Mr. Rathbone

The largest cash crop.

Mr. Randall

Yes, the largest cash crop. The matter arose in the American presidential elections and President Bush made great play of it. I hope that the American Government will take a much tougher line than they have taken in the past. The problem lies not only outside but within the boundaries of the United States. The Americans say that they are going to tackle the problem in Colombia or in other south American countries yet at the same time drugs are a massive cash crop in their own country.

Medical research in also important, in addition to social research, and we must spend more on it. Hon. Members have referred to advertising campaigns. The people to whom I have spoken at grass roots level—in the helping agencies—believe that a number of campaigns, including those encouraging the use of clean needles and discouraging the sharing of needles, have been ineffective. Our schools display an element of rigidity on the question of drugs. Especially now that crack is firmly on the scene, we need to review our methods of promulgating our message about drugs. If we are not succeeding, the money is not being well spent and the Government should reconsider. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether the money that is being spent is being spent effectively and whether he feels that the reports that I have received are not as accurate as I have been led to believe.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving) made an excellent point about crack. he said that one could buy it for £5 to £10 a go. He told us of parents crying out for help, while we hold conferences on European co-operation. That as a telling point. The working parties are still talking three years later, but the parents still have problems.

Today's debate has been excellent and has shown the great concern of hon. Members on both sides of the House. We have widely discussed the problem of crack and the crisis that we now face. We know that that and other drugs debilitate our society. I hope that the Minister will answer the very many questions that have been raised today.

1.35 am
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

Drug use and abuse has a long history. It goes back hundreds of years, to the time of the Crusades, when the Assassins of Palestine were one of the great powers in that area. They were all doped up to the eyeballs by the Old Man of the Mountains and they did terrible things to our men in Palestine. That was some time ago, but over the centuries there have been many other incidences of drug abuse. In London, during the time of Sherlock Holmes, there were the famous opium dens on the river. I am sure that the House will recall one famous scene where Holmes was found by Dr. Watson lying on a bunk puffing away at an opium pipe.

Drugs have been used for various reasons, such as to ensnare people's minds, and for pleasure. I suspect that today many drugs are abused simply because people are bored. The reason is clear to those who visit many council estates, with their high-rise blocks and terrible staircases that people always have to use because the lifts are broken down for the umpteenth time. No one ever parks his car in the underground spaces because the cars are vandalised or burnt and the car parks are used by the criminal fraternity for stripping stolen cars. There is evidence of drug abuse in such areas because the young people living there say, "What else can we do? We are fed up with watching television. We do not want to watch Sky, with its promise of 100 new channels because they will be even more boring." Those youngsters feel that in drugs they have something new, something exciting and something dangerous because it is against the law.

My first plea is for a little more life to be injected into such areas. A good start would be pulling down some of the tower blocks and sending those living in them to more civilised and sensible surroundings. They want little houses with gardens. That would strike at the heart of those who use the soullessness of the decay of council estates to push their lethal products on those who have the misfortune to live there.

I went to Washington D.C. last year for a conference and found the rate of killings among drug dealers quite terrifying. More than 300 people died violently last year in Washington, mainly because of shoot-outs between rival drug gangs. One of the worst aspects was that Capitol Hill itself was one of the most dangerous places in the capital of the United States of America. Everyone on our trip was warned not to go anywhere near Capitol Hill after dark because of the serious dangers there. I ask the House to imagine what it would be like if drugs got such a grip on this country that Parliament square itself became dangerous for our people and for the tourists. That is what has happened in the United States, and I only hope and pray that it does not happen here.

Another worrying aspect is the copycat tendency. Many people look up to those in the pop scene or who are media figures; they look on them as gods. They do not realise that those gods are made of base material and have feet of clay.

All too often, people on the pop scene use drugs. They have an enormous influence on society. The young will look to them and say, "So and so uses drugs. It is obviously the in thing to do, so I shall do the same." There have been instances, too, of well-known media figures using drugs.

We can sit in the House and talk about the matter but all that the young people will think is, "Oh well, they are only blimpsih, old fuddy-duddies". They will not pay any attention to us, but they will pay attention to those to whom they look up—people in the media, on the pop scene and, perhaps, even footballers. Let us see if we can get some of those people on our side to put the message across —those to whom potential drug abusers will look and to whom they will listen.

I listened to the hon. Member for Kingston Upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) with great interest. He certainly described in immense detail exactly what he thought about the problem. I defer to him, a man of his years and experience, and I have therefore, cut my speech. I would have said more, but the hon. Gentleman's words of wisdom have made up for my shortened speech.

I fully applaud the Government's efforts to date. I am sure that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that the Government intend to do even more not only to root out this vile trade and the vile use of drugs in our country, but to prevent it spreading any further.

1.41 pm
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Listening to the hon. Member for Kingston Upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) who spoke at great length, one could not help thinking that they also serve who only sit and wait. Unlike him I shall show that brevity is the spice of wit.

How often have we heard during the debate the question, "what are the Government doing about drugs?". While the Government have a responsibility to stem and staunch the supply of drugs, the responsibility for effecting the demand for drugs goes much wider than the Government. It is one shared by us all as parents, teachers, religious leaders, doctors and social workers. We must ask ourselves the basic question: why is it that at a time of unprecedented prosperity, so many feel the need for the artificial stimulus provided by drugs?

I believe that we are reaping the whirlwind from the permissiveness of the 1960s. At that time, leaders in our society were willing to sign letters to The Times suggesting that soft drugs should be legalised and people were willing to suggest that soft drugs were chic. Those who created a climate of opinion then are responsible for what is happening today. Those, such as the authors of TW3— "That Was the Week that Was"—who were willing to destroy traditional values and who were able to sneer and to destroy, but were able to produce nothing positive to put to society, are responsible for what is happening today.

We have a society that is better educated and more prosperous, but still more anxious to indulge in drugs. That is because, as a society, too many lack a faith and a vision for the future. I believe that, if we are to cure that problem, the churches should be taking more of a role. We all know the views of the churches on the community charge. We all know the views of the Bishop of Durham on the resurrection, but I would like to hear his views on drugs, and some of the major problems facing us as a country.

I cannot conceal the contempt, the anger and, indeed, the hatred that I feel for drug traffickers, because they are willing to sell drugs to others, oblivious of the consequences that those individuals will suffer. They are willing to trade in misery and in degradation. I believe that no penalty can be too great for any drug trafficker. I welcome the fact that the Government have been responsible for substantially increasing the penalties for drug trafficking.

The drug barons of the world know no boundaries. The chains of command spread over many countries and pass through many frontiers. The Government are right to ensure that the corrective action and the campaign against drug barons are also international. However, does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that stationing merely 12 drug liaison officers in the principal producing and transit areas is enough?

Mr. Douglas Hogg

There are 15.

Mr. Marshall

Is that enough? I have my doubts. On that note, I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) who has been patient this morning.

1.46 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) on securing the debate. I do so in that brief sentence because I have been driven to undue truncation of my speech due to the verbosity—or rather, the eloquence —of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall). I congratulate the Government on the considerable initiatives and spending that they have undertaken in connection with drug misuse and on the wholly correct priority that they have given to it.

The establishment in 1984 of the interdepartmental ministerial committee on the misuse of drugs has been extremely productive, as have the mass media publicity campaign undertaken, promoted and funded by the Government, and the Government's participation in international initiatives such as the 1988 United Nations convention. All of that proves that the Government are committed to tackling the problem. We welcome the support of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West for those initiatives.

The secret of reducing the demand for drugs is the education of the young. It is crucial that we produce a generation of young people who will despise the use of drugs as stupid and ridiculous, even if they are not prepared to regard them as immoral. That is the argument that we have to win. We should be asking why young people experiment with drugs. Well, why do they smoke and drink? Even though smoking is declining within the population as a whole, there is a rise in teenage smoking, particularly among young girls, and the increase in drink-related offences among teenagers is ample testimony to our failure to convince them of the dangers of alcohol. For the young, prohibition is often the equivalent of a dare and death is remote and unreal—unless, tragically, it happens to one of their peers when the shock can be salutary and thought-provoking.

It is not only the young who suffer from the malaise of "It can't happen to me." Many people of mature years do not moderate their sexual behaviour despite the chilling message of the campaign against AIDS. It is a piece of conventional wisdom that most people will believe in the reality of AIDS only when someone they know dies from it, but I suspect that even then some will hear the splash of the ferryman's oars for only a short time before convincing themselves that everything is all right and that that person was simply unlucky.

Our social climate is a product of the decade of delusion— the 1960s—and people are not expected to bear the consequences of or take responsibility for their actions. If someone commits a premeditated crime, their background was deprived; if they cheat to obtain credit, it is the fault of the finance company for making credit available; if there are difficulties in marriage, people get a divorce, even if the marriage has lasted only a year; if someone is inconveniently pregnant, they have an abortion; if people do not want to work even if work is available, they claim social security; and if they smoke, or drink to danger point, they believe that the NHS will make them better.

A natural conclusion of all that is that people will think that there is no real danger and that they have no responsibility to consider the question of drugs. That is the result of the mentality of those brought up by 1960s parents. We have to eradicate that mentality, which will take as long as it did to inculcate it. We have to look for some short-term measures and ask ourselves what will convince the young.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) suggested that youngsters are convinced by words of wisdom from those whom they respect. Peer group pressure, the hatred of being the odd one out and the views of their own age group also convince the young, and that is important. It is time we made much more use of young people in helping and educating young people with the drugs problem. Where the didactic approach does not work, the shared experience approach may. We could successfully use the young who have had, and overcome, drug problems to teach other young people of the dangers involved. They will listen more carefully to those of their own age.

We must strip the glamour image of drugs, touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Earlier, I asked why young people drink and smoke. It is because grown-tips do so and because they see their heroes and favourite characters in glamorous TV series doing so. Every time a well-known personality is convicted of a drug offence, that is seen by the young as an endorsement of drug use, which we call abuse. We must come down with extremely tough penalties on those in positions of influence and in the public eye who use drugs and set a deplorable example.

I shall particularly welcome an answer from my hon. Friend the Minister on the use of young people in the education campaign.

1.51 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

It is extraordinary that we should have had so few debates in recent years on an issue which is so important to the nation and involves a substance so destructive to individuals. That is true of drug misuse and individual drugs, which have rarely been the subject of debate in this House. Therefore, the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) for giving us the opportunity to discuss and consider such an important issue. I say that not least because it gives me the opportunity to emphasise the high priority that the Government give to problems associated with drug misuse, and to outline in broad terms, the nature of our present policies and those that we are likely to pursue.

Before I set about that, may I say how much I agree with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) when she reminded the House that this is not exclusively a Government matter. Of course, they have an important role to play, but so do individuals. It is jolly good to remind individuals that they, and society as a collection of individuals, have a moral responsibility for their actions, those of their neighbours and the consequences which so often ensue.

I shall begin by giving a snap-shot picture of the drug scene as I see it both in general and in particular. I shall then outline in broad terms the nature of our present policies and answer more extensively the points made by hon. Members during this important debate.

The nature and extent of drug use varies from year to year, drug to drug and area to area. Those variations are caused by a variety of factors including availability, fashion, tradition, price, and quality. It is a mistake to suppose that a particular sort of drug misuse which might be prevalent in central London is also prevalent in Lincolnshire. They may well be different, and, therefore, we should be careful when analysing a drug problem to keep in mind the fact that, though present throughout the country, it is not the same throughout the country.

Trends are worrying, whether measured in terms of seizures or in terms of the rising number of addicts. Both records show that the trend is increasing, which is worrying. In part, one could say that increasing numbers of seizures are signs of greater efficiency on the part of Customs and the police. The increase in the number of registered addicts points at least in part to a closer compliance with the law on registration, but I do not take undue consolation from these facts because the underlying trend, which is reflected at least in part in those increases, is worrying.

In this context, I shall mention cocaine, of which crack is a derivative. For the second year running, seizures of cocaine have exceeded those of heroin in volume terms. I acknowledge that that is partly the result of increased police and customs efficiency, but it also tells us that Europe in general and the United Kingdom in particular are being made the subject of the importation of cocaine by Latin American traffickers.

For this, there are a number of reasons, of which three are worth mentioning, First, hon. Members have mentioned the difference in price in the United States and the United Kingdom where a much higher return is to be secured. Secondly, the United States market is not capable of indefinite expansion. I do not want to use the word "saturation" which has been used by a number of hon. Members, but I accept that there is a limit to the United States market's potential for expansion, so it is inevitable that traffickers will look to Europe.

Thirdly, the interdiction policies being pursued by the United States Government, although in no sense successfull overall—they interdict only 20 per cent. of the whole—serve as a deterrent. Many traffickers will be looking to Europe as an easier place in which to expand the market. The trends, especially in cocaine, are extremely worrying.

I shall quickly say something about particular classes of drug. There were encouraging signs of decline in the reported misuse of heroin in 1986–87. That was probably more due to supply than to anything else. However, since then there has been a 20 per cent. increase in seizures. That trend is likely to continue.

We do not know the total numbers of misusers—nor can we, because it is an unlawful activity; but it is estimated that there are 100,000 regular heroin misusers, of whom probably half are regular injectors. Certainly, more than half of the notified addicts are.

For the second year running, volumes of cocaine seized have exceeded those of heroin seized. As I said, crack is a derivative of cocaine, and I have no doubt that when substantial quantities of cocaine are present in a community, there is a high risk that it will be transformed into crack. At the moment the figures are not, in themselves, terribly alarming. There were 27 seizures of crack in the first three months of this year, 13 seizures in 1988 and six in 1987. but if I have to state an opinion, it is that those figures are but the tip of an iceberg. I believe that there is a high risk that a serious problem of crack misuse will develop in this country. I cannot express the level of that risk; it is not sensible to try. I merely tell the House that there is a high risk which we are duty bound to tackle.

The illicit production of amphetamines in the United Kingdom is now probably the major source of amphetamines available to misusers. As has been rightly said, in particular by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), amphetamines are injected quite as much as heroin is injected. The risks associated with amphetamine injection are just the same.

Cannabis remains the most widely misused drug. It is important to maintain pressure on cannabis misuse, if only because, to do otherwise, would send wholly the wrong signals to misusers and drug traffickers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) asked me about decriminalisation in general, but particularly about the decriminalisation of marijuana. There is no prospect whatsoever of this Government at any time decriminalising the use of any of the drugs with which we are now concerned. In particular, there is no prospect of the use of marijuana being decriminalised. It will remain subject to the existing criminal law.

That concludes the snapshot that I wanted to take. It is a serious problem which, in many respects, is getting worse, so I shall now try to deal with what we need to do about it. As I do so, I shall attempt to answer points that have been made by Opposition Members and by my hon. Friends. I hope that I shall also have sufficient time in which to answer specific questions that have been raised.

We all agree that there can be no single solution to the problem of drug misuse. If any Government are to stand any hope of success, they must have a broadly-based policy that addresses the various elements of the problem. From time to time the emphasis of that strategy will shift in order to meet particular anxieties or developments. I shall summarise briefly the five elements of the policy and then develop them—again briefly. First, we must reduce supplies from abroad. Secondly, we must improve the effectiveness of enforcement. Thirdly, we must tighten up on deterrence and domestic control. Fourthly, we must reduce demand through prevention and education. Fifthly, there must be improvements in treatment and rehabilitation.

That process is supervised and co-ordinated by a ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, which I have the privilege to chair. Ministers and officials from a variety of Departments with an interest in the problem have been brought together in the group. The group's function is to act as a catalyst and as a means of co-ordinating policies across Government because, by the nature of things, the policies span Departments. It has proved to be an extremely useful vehicle for changes in policy.

A number of hon. Members have referred to supply, an issue of very great importance. We have been extremely active in our attempts to reduce the supply of imported drugs. We give supply a high priority in our bilateral and multilateral relations with other countries. We play an important part in the United Nations commission on narcotic drugs. We are active in the Council of Europe's Pompidou group. We chaired the group meeting last month that considered in particular cocaine and other drugs. We have also played a prominent part in the United Nations convention on illicit drug trafficking.

We are also important international donors: we are the fourth largest donor to the United Nations fund for drug abuse control. We have contributed to specific projects maintained by the fund; for instance, £3.4 million is committed to an opium eradication and substitution project in Pakistan, and £2.2 million to drug-related development projects in Bolivia. In 1987 my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary secured agreement to an increase from £500,000 a year to some £2 million in the Home Office budget for law enforcement and drug-related assistance in key producing countries from which drugs are reaching the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) raised a helpful point. He is right in saying that a number of countries, particularly in Latin America, look to us for specific enforcement aid. We are willing—within the budgets that we have set ourselves—to assist producer countries, especially those in Latin America. The justification for that is that those countries are assisted to carry out enforcement measures for themselves, and also that it demonstrates our commitment to the policy of co-operation. We look much more favourably on enforcement-related bilateral aid than on eradication measures. Unless supported by huge sums, capable of providing enforcement and income replacement, eradication measures are probably not the most effective policy, and we cannot provide such sums. Moreover, by providing specific enforcement-related assistance we can achieve a perceptible result.

Let me give some examples of the assistance provided for Latin American countries, or those involved with cocaine, in the 1988–89 budget. In Bolivia we have provided equipment for radios. In Peru we have provided a radio support car and aircraft spares. In Colombia we have provided radio and computer equipment. In Jamaica we have provided a United Kingdom-based Customs training course, together with training in computers. In Brazil we have provided radio equipment. In the British Virgin Islands we have provided a drugs squad officer and drug surveys. In Venezuela we have provided United Kingdom Customs training courses. I feel that such specific aid, directed at particular needs, is of especial value.

We have also been extending the provision of drug liaison officers. I entirely agree with those of my hon. Friends who have spoken warmly of them. We now have some 15 DLOs throughout the world, posted in the areas that we expect to be most relevant to our internal problems, and we intend to increase their number. I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) said on that subject.

Let me return to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. I certainly think that there is scope for co-operation between DLOs from this country and those from other friendly countries such as Germany, which I think he mentioned. The work is carried out on a more ad hoc, person-by-person basis at present, if only because we probably have the most sophisticated method of distributing intelligence through the National Drugs Intelligence Unit, which is not matched by the majority of other European countries. I agree with my hon. Friend about emphasising the importance of co-operation. Where DLOs get information that is relevant to a friendly country, I hope that they will take steps to inform their counterparts either through the N DIU or directly through their counterpart DLOs in post.

The Council of Europe has been mentioned. We had a meeting in May and focused on several issues, most notably on cocaine and the confiscation of drug traffickers' assets. It was an important conference, not least because it demonstrated to my satisfaction that the United Kingdom policy on combating drug misuse is the most developed of any country in central Europe. I found that rather reassuring.

We have taken several steps but I shall mention just two of them. In reply to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes I can say that we have set up a working party, the object of which, in part, is to analyse the kind of causes that lead people to drug misuse. It will also try to establish a clearer profile of a typical drug misuser, most notably a user of cocaine. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson) I can say that many of the problems are associated with boredom —perhaps that is one way to express it—and certainly with the quality of life and prospects for prosperity that people perceive. There is no doubt that a person living in a deprived area is more at risk than one who does not live in such an area.

The other feature of the conference was our announcement of our intention to host an international conference on demand reduction. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for welcoming that. I regard it as important and we are anxious to see producer nations becoming involved in the process.

Some hon. Members rightly raised the question of 1992 and the single European market. They asked if the single market would result in the dismantling of our controls at ports of entry. The answer is no. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it quite plain by treaty and by statute that we have retained the right to maintain at the ports of entry such controls as we deem necessary to prevent the importation of drugs and other criminal articles such as weapons, and to prevent the passage of terrorists. I hope that that will he of some reassurance to hon. Members.

I shall now turn to the policies that we are pursuing on the domestic front. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) questioned whether we were dedicating sufficient resources to enforcement. We have dedicated substantial resources to it and I hope that I will be able to satisfy hon. Members about that. In recent years Customs resources have been substantially increased. Since 1979 we have trebled the number of Customs and special investigators. In the four years between 1984 and 1988 we increased preventive posts by 854. In 1988–89, 450 additional staff were assigned to Customs work, mainly in the field of work connected with preventive measures on drugs. I shall not go into the details because of time, but I can say that we are spending substantial amounts on equipment.

As the House will know, we have set up 17 drug wings, consisting of 221 police officers. We have doubled the capacity of the national drugs intelligence unit, which we established in 1985, and 50 additional officers have been engaged on drugs work in the metropolitan area. We have increased the number of drug squads by 40 per cent. since 1983.

I know and recognise the interest in using the proceeds of confiscated assets for police work. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes are specifically interested in the subject. There are more powerful arguments against that concept than has been appreciated. I recognise that some people hold different views on hypothecation, but it is difficult in principle to have a policy of hypothecation—of dedicating a particular stream of income to a particular head of expenditure. It is undesirable to give a police force or any enforcement agency a pecuniary interest in an inquiry, and I fear that it would distort policing policies. It is jolly difficult to determine, where a number of police authorities and Customs are working on a case, how to apportion moneys between forces. I attach more importance to the windfall argument than does my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes.

The Home Office is considering the possibility of a central pot, to use jargon, to assist with exceptional expenditure. General drug policing needs should be reflected in bids made by police authorities to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, which will be considered by the inspectorate in the normal way. I do not believe that there is a substantial shortfall in our enforcement effort.

There has been wide agreement on deterrence. I am glad to be able to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South that we have substantially increased penalties for trafficking in class A drugs; the maximum sentence is now life imprisonment. Further, the courts have been imposing ever increasing sentences.

We have been refusing parole to those sentenced to imprisonment for five years or more for class A drug offences. To put the policy more exactly, parole has been extremely restricted. It would be wrong for me to foreshadow, in an ad hoc way, what our response to the recommendations made by Lord Carlisle's committee will be. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South should not draw any adverse inference from that, I am merely saying that I do not think that it would be right to respond in an ad hoc way to an extremely important report.

Mr. Randall

Does the central pot to which the Minister referred apply only to England and Wales or to Scotland and Northern Ireland as well?

Mr. Hogg

It is a possible Home Office measure, so it will apply to the police forces of England and Wales. As the hon. Gentleman knows, policing in Scotland is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The policy of confiscating drug assets has proved extremely important. We have made confiscation orders to the value of £11 million. I regard that as an extremely important sanction, and it prevents the reinvestment of moneys gained from such activity in future crime. I regard this as a penalty of considerable importance in our strategy. I shall not develop at length how we intend to carry it further, save to say that I attach high importance to the making of reciprocal bilateral agreements. We have made six already and we intend to push forward at all possible speed with further bilateral agreements and to proceed as quickly as we can within the Council of Europe on a multilateral agreement.

I apologise for going faster than I would wish, but I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South wishes to speak at the end of the debate and I should like to make time for him. The demand side is an extremely important side of our policy. One of the most interesting and disturbing features of my recent visit to the United States was that, although the Coastguard has an effective operation to intercept cocaine run from Latin America to Florida—it surpasses anything that I have seen before, with ships, men, radar and aircraft; it has an air wing and is like a military operation—it estimates that it interdicts only 20 per cent. at most of the traffic coming into the United States. We must consider questions of demand reduction at the forefront of our policy.

Demand reduction can take various forms. National advertising can be important. I have in mind our heroin and AIDS campaigns. I do not agree with the criticism by my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South, who suggested that national advertising was not effective. There have been various assessments of the efficacy of our national programmes. There has been a much greater willingness among young people to say no to heroin and we have been successful in portraying heroin as a dirty drug. I agree that there are many limitations with a national scheme. One must somehow get the message across in a credible manner. One must not put across a message that is irrelevant to the experience on the streets. There is a hazard in talking about cocaine when cocaine is not universally available. Partly for that reason, during our last campaign we also had three underpinning local regional campaigns that were addressed to more specific needs in particular areas. I suspect that in future we may look as much to those local regional campaigns as we do to a national one.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone made a good point about demand reduction in schools. We need to involve young people in the communication of the message in schools. I recognise that folk such as I are not very credible in a range of schools which one could mention. I am afraid that we must recognise that sad fact.

We need to tailor the message to the community in which it is delivered. We have been acting through education co-ordinators. We have created in every education area education co-ordinators whom we have funded through central resources. That is extremely important. We have assisted also with in-school training and the preparation of training packages. Against a background of crack, we will have to ask ourselves whether we need to do more to deliver locally messages of demand reduction. That must go wider than the schools. It is one matter that I want to consider closely following my return from the United States.

I should like to answer a number of points that I have not so far covered. My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South requires the thanks of the House for having raised this matter. He has introduced a variety of important issues. I am glad that he supported us on the issue of condoms. I have been asked by the hon. Member for Kingston upon West to say why we are opposed to the issue of condoms in prisons. The main reason is that we believe that the issue of condoms would be likely to result in a greater prevalence of homosexual activity. Because of the failure rates associated with condoms, we fear that the result would be to increase and not to diminish the risk of HIV being present in prisons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South was right about training. As he knows, we have created a video training package for prisoners and staff and we are anxious that those video packages and training materials should he available throughout our prisons.

The question of the treatment of prisoners who are suffering from drugs was raised. It is not right to say that periods of cold turkey are a part of prison service department policy. It is right to say that it is a clinical matter for medical officers. To express a non-clinical opinion—my own—it seems right that where a person's treatment requires maintenance, if necessary by methadone, that, subject to the medical officer's clinical view, would be appropriate. If somebody is already on a treatment programme when he comes into the prison system, I would hope that medical staff would identify that fact and continue with the maintenance programme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South also touched on the question of compulsory testing. As he knows, it is not our policy because there is no cure. It also would impose grave social and economic sanctions, and we do not have such testing outside the prison system. It would, in any case, require legislation. Our policy, therefore, on testing in the prison system is to make it voluntary. Broadly speaking, prisoners should be treated in the same way as persons outside prisons.

We were also asked about what we were doing to eliminate drugs in the prison system. As the House knows, we have abolished the right of remand prisoners to receive food from outside during the remand period. That was done simply to prevent remand prisoners having drugs brought in. We have also increased searches and the use of sniffer dogs.

Ninety per cent. of the finds of drugs in prisons are cannabis. I cannot remember the exact figure for the finds of syringes and needles, but I know that the figure is less than 100. Although one can become disturbed about it and although it is right to watch the situation, the suggestion that the injecting of drugs is commonplace in prisons is wrong. There is no evidence to support that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South also raised the matter of anonymous screening. The prison service department will hope to take part in the scheme and the policies that are being put in place by the Department of Health and which will rely on the project put forward by the Medical Research Council for a programme of anonymous testing.

The House will want to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South to have a brief word at the conclusion of our debate, so I will summarise my remarks by saying that I have tried to give some idea of Government strategy in this matter. I have tried to respond to particular points and I apologise for not dealing with them all. We have committed substantial resources to this matter to the extent that if we see that there is a further requirement or an additional risk, we shall act as positively as we have done in the past.

2.28 pm
Mr. Butler

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me an opportunity to speak again. It is important for me to emphasise that we have had a constructive debate today about a subject that is important to the future of our nation. We have heard contributions from various parties, and the debate has shown the House in a good light as it has shown all of us contributing constructively and with a degree of unity that I find rare. That makes me a little prouder to be a Member of this institution at the moment.

My hon. Friends the Members for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) referred to the international aspects of drug abuse. It is a global problem which needs to be tackled by global co-operation, but unfortunately we do not even achieve adequate co-ordination between our national agencies to tackle the problem. My hon. Friends the Members for Lewes, for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) and for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving)—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.