HL Deb 07 December 1983 vol 445 cc1082-5

2.41 p.m.

Lord Boothby

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to combat the rising level of drug addiction in the country, particularly among young people.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the Government are taking steps to prevent the illegal importation and supply of controlled drugs within the United Kingdom by improved enforcement action by H.M Customs and Excise and the police. We are seeking to reduce supplies at source by increasing our contribution to the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control and by offering additional aid for law enforcement activities in Pakistan. We are making a further £6 million available over the next three years for new initiatives in the treatment and rehabilitation services for drugs misusers. In addition, we are looking at ways of dissuading young people in particular from misusing drugs, following the recent completion of a report on prevention by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Lord Boothby

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging reply. May I ask him whether the Government realise that the bumper crops of the opium poppy all over the Far East, but particularly in Pakistan, have made it increasingly difficult to control the import of drugs to the West, and that the traffic has increased three-fold in the past three or four years—particularly, for example, in the Irish Republic and in Scotland where it is now reaching dangerous proportions? May I further ask the noble Lord whether Her Majesty's Government will strengthen the anti-drug forces in this country as well as making contributions abroad, including Customs controls? Will they restrict prescriptions for certain drugs under the NHS, and within that to a limited number of doctors, so that a sharp eye can be kept on the number of prescriptions? In conclusion, may I ask the noble Lord whether he realises that the number of drug pushers in this country is really getting frightening? I do not know what steps can be taken, such as more police, but the number of pushers is increasing. A new lot have landed just close to where I live and I sometimes go down to look at them—not to purchase, but to watch their activities.

Lord Elton

My Lords, if I may begin with the end of my noble friend's supplementary question, may I encourage him to inform the police of the activities that he watches. I am sure that that would be helpful. As to his wider questions, I can tell him that the Goverment of Pakistan are already well aware of the problems resulting from the illicit importation of heroin, which has been illicitly produced in their country. They are making substantial efforts with the support of many countries in the world, including ourselves, to stop the manufacture and export of illicit heroin. We have offered £180,000 in the first instance as aid for law enforement activities in that country. We are very much seized of the threat of this evil trade and the best reply I can add to what I have already said to the noble Lord is that the number of officers in Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, who are specifically allocated to the investigation of drug trafficking, has been increased by 40 per cent. over the past five years.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether there is much difference now in the street prices of heroin and cannabis?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the figures that my noble friend wants, though I will try to do so. But I can tell her that the street value of heroin seized in 1982 was £33.3million. Regrettably, I cannot tell her the equivalent price of cannabis.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I thank my noble friend the Minister very sincerely for giving us a very helpful and encouraging reply to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby. May I ask him whether the £6 million, which will be enormously helpful to all those who are trying to help in this field, is likely to be given to helping, via hostels, those people who are now drug addicts? If so, that would be of great assistance.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think I had best write to my noble friend, because it will be employed in a number of ways which can best be described by my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Security.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, are the Government taking any steps to gather any further information on the tragic effects of glue sniffing?

Lord Elton

My Lords, earlier this year the Government consulted statutory professional and voluntary bodies on the scope for additional Government initiatives on solvent abuse and on whether legislative controls would assist the work of local agencies. This month the Government will announce the outcome of that consultation. The Government also consulted retailers in November on the question of voluntary restraint in the sale of solvents. We are pursuing further the possibility of drawing up guidelines for use by the retail trade.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that throughout the country many parents are worried that their young people may be involved with drugs, and can he give some advice on what they should do and from whom they should seek help?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the anxiety is shared by Her Majesty's Government. The first thing that parents should do, in my view, is to keep in close touch and communication with their children, so that they can notice any changes in their characteristic behaviour. If parents are worried, and if the children are of school age, they should consult with the school and, in any case, with the medical authorities. I should add that that is a personal contribution. but I think it is sound.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on this side fully support him when he talks about the menace of this evil trade, and that we will support the Government in any measures that they may take to fight this evil trade? In the light of the questions that have been asked in the House this afternoon, does he think there is a case for a full inquiry into all the implications of this trade and its growth and into the need to disseminate information about it throughout the country, especially in the schools? Does he not believe that such an inquiry—although we are aware that the Minister and his colleagues have a great deal of information—would be helpful at this stage, before things get worse?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the whole area of illicit drug trafficking and its results is a matter of close personal concern to my right honourable and learned friend, who is well seized of the problems. Nonetheless, I will bring the noble Lord's suggestions to his attention.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, while it is good that there is a 40 per cent. increase in those Customs and Excise officers who are specifically dealing with drugs, the officers themselves are very concerned about the general drop in the numbers? Because they are scattered throughout the ports and other entries to this country, there can be loopholes for drugs to come in out with the places where there are anti-drug officers.

Lord Elton

My Lords, the question is specifically about the Customs and Excise effort against drugs, which has increased by 40 per cent. If the noble Lord wishes to address himself to the wider implications of Customs and Excise policy, that, I am afraid, is another question.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, in view of the case heard before the General Medical Council in the past 10 days or so, would it not be relatively easy for the Government to tighten up on the abuse of drug prescriptions, particularly in the health service?

Lord Elton

My Lords, doctors who prescribe controlled drugs irresponsibly may be made subject to direction by the Home Secretary restricting their ability to prescribe such drugs. The Home Secretary has issued recently three such directions.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, in his reply to me the Minister said that parents should go to the teachers; but a great deal of drug abuse happens after the children have left school. If it is to the teachers that parents must go, to whom must the teachers go?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not being of much help to my noble friend. The important point is that children's lives should not fall into two or three separate parts but that the people who are pastorally concerned with them should know the whole child, which means close consultation between the parent and the teacher. There is another area of activity, but how that is pursued must be a matter for every family to resolve itself. If, however, there is a drug abuse problem, medical and other resources are available to parents. I shall certainly give to my noble friend in correspondence closer directions as to these resources, and if she cares to put down a Question for Written Answer, your Lordships will be able to share the information with her.