HL Deb 28 November 1967 vol 287 cc6-7

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government—

  1. 1. The total number of persons convicted in 1966 and in 1967 (to date) for the illegal importation of opium and cannabis into the United Kingdom.
  2. 2. The nationality of the persons so convicted.]


My Lords, in 1966 two persons were convicted of illegal importation of opium and 28 of illegal importation of cannabis. In all 1,353 persons were convicted of offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1965. Some of these were prosecuted for unauthorised possession in circumstances directly related to illegal importation, but the number is not readily available. I regret that figures for 1967 are not yet available and that the nationality of persons convicted in 1966 was not recorded.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very full statement. I wonder whether he can help me over this matter. Can he give an idea of the pattern of this illegal traffic in drugs? Is it predominantly by illegal imports, by leakage from licensed premises, or by over-prescription by doctors of certain individual drugs?


My Lords, so far as cannabis is concerned, the traffic is virtually all due to illegal importation. In regard to heroin, it is thought that there is not much illegal importation, but the source of what I might call illicit use is over-prescription by a very small number of doctors. So far as amphetamines are concerned—"purple hearts," and all kinds of things which are known by various names—the source of illegal use is very largely theft. All these matters are dealt with in the Dangerous Drugs Act which your Lordships passed before the end of last Session.


My Lords, could the noble Lord say whether a record of the nationality of people now convicted is to be kept?


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for that question, which is one upon which I thought he might seize. We had arrangements for collecting this sort of information, but they were found to be defective and in 1963 were abandoned. A new system of record-keeping was introduced last July and will, I hope, produce reliable information on the point mentioned by the noble Lord.


My Lords, in addition to the nationality of the persons so convicted, could details be made available of the country of their birth?


My Lords, this is something I will look into. It is a little abstruse, especially when one remembers the kind of characters who are mainly concerned with these matters—in the case of some of them I wonder whether they were ever born at all. But I will certainly consider my noble friend's suggestion. I hope I have made it clear that this very small number of convictions for illegal importation is merely because we are dealing with this narrow matter. I think the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will remember that when we considered the Dangerous Drugs Act, I introduced an Amendment to provide for 10 years imprisonment for Customs infringement. This is because occasionally we hope to catch the spider at the middle of the web and to keep him in custody for a long time. I should not like these small figures in regard to successful prosecutions for importation offences to be regarded as a criterion of the traffic as a whole.