HC Deb 20 February 1992 vol 204 cc450-2
5. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current annual budget of the national drugs intelligence unit.

Mr. John Patten

The annual budget for 1991–92 is £5.2 million.

Mr. Steen

Does the Minister agree that something must be done to control imports of the drug known as Ecstasy, which is not merely creeping into schools in London but has reached teenagers in my constituency in south Devon? Is he aware that that drug is not grown on some poppy field in South America but that 98 per cent. of it is manufactured in Holland, which is one of our EC partners? The Dutch have been very lax in dealing with that. What does my right hon. Friend think that we could do to stop the drug being imported into this country, or arranging some reciprocal arrangement whereby we would stop importing Dutch cheese or some such thing?

Mr. Patten

I do not know about that kind of radical suggestion, but the police were very successful last year in closing down four domestic manufacturers of Ecstasy—hence the fact that most of the drug being sold on our streets comes from abroad, some from continental Europe. That is why it is so important that, as one of the conclusions of the Maastricht settlement, it was agreed that the 12 countries should set up an organisation loosely known as Europol whose first job would be to set up a Europeanwide drugs intelligence unit among the Twelve, which should lead to a greater level of co-operation with our continental partners to stop Ecstasy and other drugs coming into the country.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

How do we know that the drugs enforcement authorities are doing their job when there is no point at which they are democratically accountable to elected people? Is that not a pertinent question in the context of the millions of pounds worth of drugs on the streets throughout the United Kingdom? Where is the process of accountability whereby elected people can ask questions such as, "What are you doing to stop it?"

Mr. Patten

There are thousands of police officers in the 17 drugs wings who are accountable to the police authorities, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I come to this place to answer questions about them. Also we have democratic accountability for the customs service, which is deeply involved. Occasionally it is important to ensure that people are protected, such as the brave police officers, both men and women—I am sorry that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has not time to listen—who serve abroad as drugs liaison officers on difficult and dangerous work. We should support them and not seek to undermine them.

Mr. Gerald Howarth

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have lost a young constituent to one Ecstasy tablet? It is a killer drug. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the charity Release is putting out the leaflet that I have here, which dupes young people into the belief that Ecstasy is somehow not a harmful drug? Will my right hon. Friend undertake to withdraw all Government funding for that organisation until it sends a clear message to young people about drugs—"No, no, and no"?

Mr. Patten

I shall read carefully the evidence that my hon. Friend will probably wish to send me about the document to which he referred. I agree entirely that Ecstasy is a drug which can kill. The first reported death was in 1989 and there were five deaths last year. Ecstasy kills because it affects the respiratory system and causes lung failure and hence death. Also clear evidence is emerging that, unfortunately, long-term psychotic effects may be involved. That is why we are absolutely determined to make sure that the advice that reaches young people is correct. My hon. Friend is right to put his finger on advice that he thinks is wrong. That is why I give a clear undertaking that our answer to pleas to legalise the use of soft drugs will be no, no, and no again.

Miss Lestor

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not accuse me of ranting and raving as I am always the sweet face of reason.

I agree with the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) about the dangers of Ecstasy. There is not a parent of teenage children who is not worried out of their life about the use of cocaine, Ecstasy and heroin, especially when our children can obtain them almost without question anywhere in the country, even in the constituency of South Hams. The Minister has few suggestions on how to combat that problem and the Government have cut the number of customs officers by 400. I believe that all parents would rather pay increased taxes or not receive tax cuts if that would deal with the problem. Why has the number of customs officers been cut when only recently an amount of Ecstasy was seized at Sheerness and cocaine is periodically seized in various parts of the country? Such a cut is a false economy and it is killing our children.

Mr. Patten

I enjoyed the hon. Lady's charmed offensive and I would never in any circumstances dream of comparing her with her hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East.

I have two things to say in response. First, customs have been extremely successful this year with record seizures of Ecstasy. Secondly, the hon. Lady does not seem to be aware that 17 drug prevention teams have been established in areas where Ecstasy and other drugs are being consumed in large amounts and sold on the streets. I visited the drug prevention team in Newham only last week. I have also seen the excellent work being done on prevention in schools and with young people to get across the message, which must be repeated year after year as children come into the consuming group, about the dangers of drug abuse. The work of the drug prevention teams deserves the support of the whole House.