HC Deb 09 February 1995 vol 254 cc444-6
6. Mr. Miller

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to increase resources to fight drug-related crime.

Mr. Maclean

Police forces will receive an extra £180 million in 1995–96. The allocation of those resources within each force is a matter for the chief constable. He must decide on the most effective use of his resources, taking account of local priorities and needs.

Mr. Miller

I wonder whether the Minister has seen the letter sent to the Home Secretary by the local section of Parents Against Drug Abuse in my constituency in which those parents expressed their concern at the closure of the Customs and Excise operations at Ellesmere Port and the fact that no police officers are dedicated solely to the task of policing the drugs problem. Does he not understand that that failure to monitor that port leaves the door wide open for drugs? Does he not believe that children in my constituency and right across the country deserve better protection than that?

Mr. Maclean

They are getting it. The Government's comprehensive drugs strategy commands expenditure of more than £500 million throughout Departments. The hon. Gentleman should not misrepresent the proposed changes to Customs and Excise. They will not detract from the effectiveness of the customs response to drug smuggling. The proposals are designed to enhance and develop existing strategies, and to provide better flexibility and better targeting for customs operations against drug smuggling. Customs and Excise assures me that there will be no customs-free port or airport in the United Kingdom. It will be able to make flexible use of regionally based, mobile, anti-smuggling teams and that represents a good response to the problem.

Mrs. Peacock

Will my hon. Friend confirm to the House that the Government have no plans to legalise any drugs that are currently banned in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Maclean

I can give my hon. Friend that categorical assurance. I do not think that those who advocate the legalisation of so-called "soft" drugs understand the nature of the problem with which we are dealing. The signal that would be given to our young people, to the effect that some drugs are okay to mess about with while others are not, would be disastrous. That is the view of the police force and Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister aware of newspaper reports that the Security Service, MI5, is seeking a role in dealing with drug-related crime? Although it may have the capacity to assist in dealing with drug trafficking and money laundering, will Ministers bear it in mind that much of the work to combat drug-related crime depends on working closely with communities? Many police forces are doing just that and are accountable for that work to local communities in a way that the Security Service cannot be.

Mr. Maclean

Although I agree with the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's question that, of course, there is a role for various agencies, the 43 police forces in England and Wales and those in Scotland have a continuing and complete role to carry out in relation to drugs. I was slightly surprised that when we are discussing the legalisation of drugs the right hon. Gentleman from the Liberal party should rise on cue, as the Liberal party is one of those ridiculous organisations that believe in the liberalisation of some soft drugs.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fight against drug-related crime can be enhanced by a proper public understanding of drugs? Is he aware that there are now certain varieties of cannabis which cause hallucinations and can exacerbate conditions such as phobias and even schizophrenia? In those circumstances, does my hon. Friend share my view that those who regard some drugs as only recreational and safe send out entirely the wrong signal in the fight against drug-related crime?

Mr. Maclean

I have read some articles in some trendy newspapers which were given to me suggesting that some champagne socialists can pass the pot around at dinner parties quite safely. No doubt, some people can safely handle some drugs and know when to stop, but many more do not. The signal that legalisation would give young people in particular—that it is safe and trendy to participate in drugs—would be absolutely disastrous. It would lead to the use of harder drugs and would make the task of the police infinitely worse. The police are totally opposed to it, as are all right-thinking people. The Government remain totally opposed to legalisation.

Mr. Straw

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) made clear to the Minister our opposition to the legalisation of cannabis, and that remains the case. On the alarming decision this morning by the European Court of Human Rights to declare unlawful certain aspects of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986, let me make it clear to the Minister that we fully supported those provisions—including the retrospective provisions—when they came before the House in January 1986, and that remains our position. I believe that the court made a bad decision that the British public will find almost impossible to understand. It is entirely right that those who profit from drugs should be hit in their pockets.

Does the Minister also accept the view of the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, that the problem might have been avoided had the European convention been incorporated into English and Scots law? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] That was the hon. and learned Gentleman's view on television at lunchtime, and it is what the Opposition have consistently argued.

Mr. Maclean

I fail to see the consistency. The hon. Gentleman has just pointed out the incorrectness or daftness of the decision which has come from a European organisation on legislation which was passed with the full support of the House. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that there should be an attempt to make us remove those powers. We shall need to reflect carefully on the judgment.

The hon. Gentleman then said that the problem could be solved by incorporating the European convention into British law, but I do not see how that could be achieved. I shall debate it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The hon. Gentleman has lifted what my right hon. and learned Friend said and is apparently proposing it as Labour party policy. It does not make sense of the judgment to attempt to incorporate it into English law. We shall look carefully at the judgment, but the whole House shares the indignation at the decision that those jurists have reached. It is not the view of the British Government. We have robustly defended our corner; we shall reflect on it, but we remain convinced that the laws are appropriate for dealing with drug dealers.