HL Deb 29 June 1982 vol 432 cc147-9

2.50 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

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 the total amount of heroin seized by Customs and Excise in 1980 and 1981 respectively and the amount seized up to 18th June 1982, and the estimated street value of these drugs.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in 1980, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise seized 38.124 kilograms of heroin worth an estimated £5,273,179 at street prices; in 1981, 87.150 kilograms worth an estimated £19,729,235 were seized and in the current year, up until 18th June, seizures amounted to 79.534 kilograms worth an estimated £16,558,315.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for that reply, may I congratulate him on behalf of the House on the occasion of his first appearance at the Front Bench? I should like to put to him one or two questions arising from his Answer. First, does he agree that what he has disclosed is an extremely menacing situation, whereby heroin seizures in 1981 were more than double those of 1980 and it appears, at the moment, that we are running at double the rate of last year? Secondly, is he aware that it is accepted by the authorities concerned that only 15 or 20 per cent. of the heroin entering this country is intercepted and that therefore, we are facing a situation in which the illicit heroin trade is increasing at a very dangerous level indeed? That being so, what steps do the Government propose to take to deal with this in terms of strengthening both the investigative branch of the Customs and Excise and also the uniformed staff, so that they can be targeted to deal with this very serious situation?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. So far as heroin is concerned, yes, it is entirely true that it is a very menacing situation. But perhaps it is also true to say that, although a very large increase in heroin seizures has taken place over the last year, that does, to some extent, reflect the success which Her Majesty's Customs and Excise have achieved in actually picking it up. It is difficult to say whether only 20 per cent. of the total amount of heroin coming into the country is being intercepted.

But I can say, so far as the Customs and Excise effort is concerned, that, following a comprehensive review in 1977 of the preventive measures employed in containing the risk of smuggling, revised control procedures have been introduced. Notably, more efficient use of resources was achieved by reducing the number of staff employed on routine duties, particularly in areas where the weight of traffic was modest. But more attention was directed to identifiable risk areas, by means of mobile teams designed to carry out non-routine operational checks; in other words, more of an emphasis on flexibility. This emphasis was also placed on intelligence, local expertise and initiative, and less on routine controls. In addition, the investigative division of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise has been strengthened by 70 officers in the past 18 months, with over half the increase going on drugs work.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend can help the House. As I think my noble friend told the House that these drugs are in transit and mostly at Heathrow, is he able to say from which countries the drugs come and where, on the whole, they are likely to be going when they are intercepted at Heathrow?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Indian sub-continent has emerged as a new and major source of illicit heroin destined for the United Kingdom. In 1981, well over 50 per cent. of the heroin seized here originated from this area. That represents a considerable increase over previous years and this trend has continued in 1982. As regards where it is going, it is going all over Europe, and other countries in Europe have had considerable success, in parallel with our own people, in picking it up.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, since it is known that a very high percentage of seizures of heroin take place in consequence of information that emanates from abroad, is the Minister satisfied that the Custom and Excise are getting all the support and assistance which could be expected from foreign police bodies and agencies?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that there is a considerable tie-up between our own Customs and Excise and similar authorities abroad, and that they are perfectly satisfied with the amount of information that they are getting.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, can my noble friend say what average prison sentence these men receive when they are caught?

Lord Glenarthur

No, my Lords, I cannot answer that question without notice.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, while we appreciate that stopping the heroin trade is of supreme importance, what happens to the £19 million worth of heroin that is seized? Can it be made use of by the pharmaceutical industry when suitably refined, or is it merely destroyed?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, heroin which is seized is destroyed by burning.