HL Deb 20 May 1971 vol 319 cc526-30

3.26 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 what evidence there is to support the contention in reports of a speech by the U.S. Attorney-General that the British method of treating narcotic addicts is wrong, and that in particular it has led to the influx into this country of large numbers of traffickers in narcotic drugs.]


My Lords, it would not be right to comment on reports of the speech made by a member of the United States Administration. As regards the substance of the Question, my right honourable friend has no evidence to suggest that the present arrangements for treating addicts to heroin and similar drugs has led to an influx of large numbers of traffickers in those drugs. The Government fully appreciate the importance of action against illicit trafficking and the House will recall that the Misuse of Drugs Bill provides for new trafficking offences with increased penalties.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his very encouraging reply. May I ask him whether he wil1 take any steps to inform the authorities in Washington that stories which I know to be circulating there that heroin is freely prescribed to addicts by general practitioners in this country are totally untrue, since only a restricted number of specially licensed doctors arc entitled by law so to prescribe? Could he add a delicate hint that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones?


My Lords, I do not think this is a matter on which it would be right for the Government to make formal representations. I am sure that what is said by the noble Baroness and others will be widely noted. Let me reaffirm that heroin for drug addicts can be provided only by specially licensed doctors in hospital treatment centres.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord why it is improper for Her Majesty's Government to comment on an American view when they have commented upon our opinions?


My Lords, we have had quite an interesting discussion on this subject, but a formal comment to a member of the United States administration would not be appropriate.


My Lords, has the noble Lord seen the resolutions which were passed at the recent meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and is he in a position to comment on the proposals made then?


My Lords, the noble Lord leaves me in the dark as to what these were, and I think he must be going a little wide of the Question on the Order Paper.


My Lords, is it not possible for Her Majesty's Government, through the Solicitor General, to comment on the drug situation in America?


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that at the NATO Assembly next week an American Congressman is presenting a report—of which I have a copy in my hand—in which he makes the statement that under the British system many thousands of private physicians are allowed to prescribe heroin, and that there is no real supervision in Britain of heroin distribution? It seems to me that this is serious. Would not the noble Lord agree that some reply ought to be made to statements of this sort?


My Lords, with a subject that is of such wide interest as drug abuse, it is legitimate for comment to be made as to the best methods of treatment. We are faced with a subject that raises difficult issues. Drug addiction is both a crime and a disease. It is because of this that there are so many differing attitudes towards the way in which it should be handled. We became aware of this during the debates in this House on the Misuse of Drugs Bill.


My Lords, if totally untrue statements are going to be made by American Congressmen to a NATO conference about the practice and the law in this country, surely some steps ought to be taken to see that they are contradicted?


My Lords, should we not appoint an Ambassador to the United States?


My Lords, I wanted to make a similar point to that of my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger. While accepting the noble Lord's point about differing views on the treatment of drug dependency, all of us in this House are aware that certain major policy decisions were taken by the previous Government in this field. Would the Minister not agree with my noble friend that where incorrect statements of fact are made about the law in this country they should be corrected by Her Majesty's Government?


My Lords, I do not know how many noble Lords have seen the full report of the speech referred to, or whether they are basing their remarks on Press reports. We have taken note of what has been said, and I am clearly on record as endorsing what the noble Baroness who put the question said herself.


My Lords, on the substance behind this Question, would the noble Lord not agree that there is much more likelihood of trafficking in drugs if genuine heroin addicts cannot receive drugs from proper treatment centres?


My Lords, I agree with that point of view. In the United States the situation is different: they do not allow heroin to be prescribed to any addict in any circumstances. In this country we have a different policy, and I agree entirely with what the noble Baroness has said.


My Lords, the noble Lord seems a little tired, no doubt as a result of the Industrial Relations Bill. The noble Lord knows perfectly well that I mean nothing personally offensive to him, but this is a matter on which the House is expressing great concern, and I was about to ask the noble Lord whether he will look again at the questions that have been put to him and consider seriously whether or not some further Government statement is called for.


My Lords, I am sorry; this Question was put down at very short notice. The noble Baroness was kind enough to speak to me about it and to say that she was seeking an assurance as to the policy of Her Majesty's Government. I have given that assurance.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that the useful Question of the noble Baroness and his Answer certainly gave the desired information? May ask the further question whether, so far as he knows, the United States has had some great success in this field of which the rest of the world is ignorant?


My Lords, I agree that we have not heard or read the whole Statement. We have read statements in the Press which have been a tissue of lies. It must be within the —


Order, order!


It must be within the knowledge—


My Lords: I think it would be helpful to the House if the noble Lord could put his statement in the form at least of a question.


Is the noble Lord aware that the policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the treatment of drug offenders has not materially changed from the policy of the previous Administration, and therefore the statement which was made by the United States Minister is completely false? Is it beyond the wit of the Home Office to publish a statement which sets out categorically the present position? And is it not beyond doubt that we do not give encouragement to drug traffickers in this country?


My Lords, we have had a long debate on this Question; noble Lords may have forgotten what my original Answer was. It was intended to give just that assurance.