§ 6. Mr. Tony Lloyd
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives he intends to take with respect to drugs sales and abuse.
§ Mr. John Patten
As I announced last month, we will plough back drugs money confiscated here under international agreements into the fight against drug misuse. We intend to establish more local drug prevention teams, including teams in Salford and Manchester, as part of the drugs prevention initiative. The first priority of the new national criminal intelligence service is to be drugs.
§ Mr. Lloyd
In welcoming that statement, may I add that the ultimate victims of drugs in our society are not only those who use and abuse them, but communities whose areas are blighted by drugs and associated crime? Does the Minister accept that the view of many people in the areas that supply drugs is that drugs are not being given the priority that they should have by the Government and society in general? Even this week, the Secretary of State for Health told the House that drugs were not a priority for health initiatives. Will the Minister assure us that drugs are central to the Government's thinking and that they must have priority not only in the Home Office but throughout the Government, so that the attack on them is consistent and sustained? If drugs are not given such a priority we shall simply not begin to push back the scourge that they are causing in those communities.
§ Mr. Patten
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. I know of his long-standing interest in those issues, which he had the chance to discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department on 30 April. We wish to do all we can to ensure that drugs policy has a proper standing in all Government Departments. I also want people in the Manchester area to be helped, which is why we intend to try to set up in the area one of our new drugs initiative teams concerned with prevention. However, that requires the co-operation of the local community, which I know concerns the hon. Gentleman. Any help that he can give me in working with local people to find the right place to put those drug prevention teams would be welcomed, and I shall be happy to discuss the issue with him.
§ Sir John Wheeler
Does my right hon. Friend recall that the Home Office initiated an international conference on drug prevention which resulted in many initiatives and improved the co-operation of the police and customs, not only within the United Kingdom but outside it? That, in turn, has led to an increase in drug seizures. Will not that welcome development in suppressing that evil trade benefit our residential communities?
§ Mr. Patten
My hon. Friend is quite right. I saw the United Nations drugs commissioner, Signor Giacomelli this morning to discuss precisely these issues. What alarms him as much as it alarms me is the evidence of the increasing amounts of drugs—heroin, for example—coming from the Golden Crescent and reaching western Europe. We are also worried about the development of new routes—notably a Baltic route through the western USSR into the Baltic countries and thence into western Europe. This just shows how important international co-operation is.
§ Mr. Duffy
The Minister will know of my profound concern about drugs misuse, notably in South Yorkshire. I have conveyed that concern to the Home Department over many years and I am corresponding with the right hon. Gentleman about it. He will therefore understand my anxiety about the advance report of Judge Pickles' contribution to the BBC1 "Byline" series this coming Tuesday night, in which he is reported as saying that the struggle against drugs is now futile and has become hopeless. Has the Minister seen an advance report of Judge Pickles' remarks?
§ Mr. Patten
In that case I had better bite my tongue and speak in generalities. Suffice it to say that I and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regard legalising cannabis in this country as entirely wrong. It would be the single most damaging step that we could take to stoke up the fires of drug misuse among our young people and in our cities.