HC Deb 09 November 1999 vol 337 cc867-9
2. Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

What measures are being taken by the United Kingdom Government to enhance anti-drugs campaigns in Scotland. [96346]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

Responsibility for drug misuse legislation, covering the UK, rests with Westminster. That ensures a common framework for action. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due shortly to meet the UK's anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell, to discuss how they might work together to help to implement the anti-drugs strategy in Scotland, within the overall UK framework.

Mr. Marshall

Does my hon. Friend agree that it was the Tory Government's decision to cut many hundreds of Customs officers' jobs in the early 1980s that led to the flood of drugs into the UK in the first place? Is he aware of the growing concern among the public that the police are more interested in chasing motorists than in catching criminals and drug dealers, and that some court decisions and sentences are totally incomprehensible and inadequate? Will he convey those points to his colleagues in the Cabinet, and can he give the House an assurance that the Government have no plans to legalise drugs, now or in the future?

Mr. Wilson

I give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that we have no plans to legalise drugs that are currently illegal, to set up a royal commission or to send out any mixed messages on drugs. There is no doubt that the reduction in the level of Customs and Excise presence around the coast was unhelpful in the fight against drugs. I will not criticise the actions of the police, who do much excellent work and achieve many successes, but in all our constituencies the presence of drugs is all too apparent. People who deal in heroin deal in death, and that is how the courts should deal with them.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

Will the Minister consider pressing his colleagues for a greater allocation of resources across the United Kingdom for voluntary youth work organisations? Scotland would get a share of that increase. Those organisations help to get young people away from drugs, and assist those on drugs to get off them. Money is best spent on better prevention systems. Will the Minister press for that?

Mr. Wilson

I have no doubt about the value of voluntary sector and community projects in such roles. For example, I hope that one of the United Kingdom's healthy living centres, funded through the new opportunities fund, will be set up in my constituency. Although it remains to be seen whether that project comes to fruition, that fund is another avenue of funding for initiatives with an anti-drug message. There is no particular shortage of money for voluntary and community organisations, but their place should be respected and recognised in the funding process.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East)

I commend the all-UK anti-drugs policy under Keith Hellawell, to whom I had a chance to speak a couple of weeks ago. However, is my hon. Friend aware that the Colombian cocaine harvest has increased by 50 per cent., and that the amount of pure heroin coming to Europe from Afghanistan through Pakistan has increased from 120 tonnes to 300 tonnes? Will he assure the House that the Government will increase the resources devoted to defending the young people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom against the influx of poisonous drugs, which are now cheaper and more accessible than they have ever been?

Mr. Wilson

I endorse the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend, who is right to emphasise the importance of a UK-wide anti-drugs policy. Drug dealers and the substances that they deal in do not recognise boundaries in the United Kingdom any more than they recognise international boundaries. Action against them must be co-ordinated at UK level and worldwide, to cut off the sources of supply.

Dealing with the sources of supply is a many-faceted challenge. For one thing, cash crop alternatives to drugs must be made more attractive to small agricultural producers in the relevant countries. That must be co-ordinated internationally, which is undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges facing this or any society. The Government can take some credit—without any sense of complacency—for putting in place the instruments needed to combat the evil of drugs.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield)

The Secretary of State will confirm that, in respect of organised crime and of drugs in particular, the powers to authorise telephone tapping in Scotland have been transferred from him to the Home Secretary. Will he explain why that has been done, given that, in Scotland, the Home Secretary historically has had very little involvement in crime prevention? What is the justification for the change, and why was it announced in an extraordinarily underhand way in a written answer? If there is a wider policy justification, why was the change not fully explained?

Mr. Wilson

I must say that I am surprised by what seems to be a very un-Tory point for the hon. Gentleman to make. The calls being dealt with on a UK-wide basis are those that present a threat to the security of the state of the United Kingdom. Power with regard to crime in Scotland continues to reside in Scotland with the First Minister of a devolved Administration. I think that the hon. Gentleman did not understand that, but I realise that he does not have much time to devote to his duties relating to Scotland.

Forward to