HL Deb 23 July 1984 vol 455 cc4-7

2.46 p.m.

Lord Gridley

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many local authorities have reported on the local levels of drug abuse.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, health authorities have been asked, in a circular issued on 6th June, in consultation with local authorities and others, to review the prevalence of drug misuse locally and to report back by 22nd December on the scale of the problem and their plans for tackling it. No reports have been received to date. A copy of the circular has been placed in the Library.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Is it not a fact that between 1982 and 1983 addiction in Britain has increased by over 29 per cent.? I appreciate the efforts of Her Majesty's Government to eradicate this menace, and particularly those of Her Majesty's Customs, who seized £6 million worth of heroin on the black market on 6th June this year. But is that not the tip of the iceberg? Has my noble friend seen the article in last Saturday's Daily Telegraph in which it was reported that a Russian ship, destined for Britain but which was diverted to Hamburg in view of the dock strike, was seized and found to be carrying heroin worth £2 million on the black market —heroin which was destined for this country? Does this not illustrate the menace that is facing us now, and highlight the actions that we must take in order to prevent this type of smuggling continuing?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that this is a very serious matter. But because drug misuse is largely illegal, prevalence is difficult to measure and the main indicators available relate to seizures and to notifications to the Home Office. In 1983 seizures were the highest ever recorded, and, as my noble friend said, notifications were up by 29 per cent. on 1982. I think my noble friend will be aware that both the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security have taken a number of steps to try to meet this very serious problem.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, having seen the statistics of new notifications of drug addicts published by the Home Office, which show a 50 per cent. increase in the number of new addicts in 1983 compared to the figure in 1982, will the Government not agree that they must accept some share of the responsibility for what is now a plague of epidemic proportions: first, by their own decision to cut back on the number of Customs officers, which, happily, they have now rectified; and, secondly, by the totally inadequate financial provisions made available to health authorities for treatment centres? In most parts of the country there is no place where drug addicts can be treated.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as regards the Customs, as the noble Lord will know the uniformed branch was not achieving the results which ought to have been achieved. That is why it has been necessary to re-target these people to the intelligence world, if that is the right word to use, which might meet the problem rather better. But, as it is, the Home Office has doubled our contribution to the United Nations fund for drug abuse control; it has provided another £1 million for rural development programmes and £180,000 to strengthen law enforcement efforts in Pakistan; it has posted a British Customs liaison officer to Karachi; it has posted a senior British police officer to the Netherlands; and it has decided to ratify the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, which, of course, extends controls to synthetic drugs. So far as DHSS work is concerned, much depends, of course, on the responses to the report on treatment and rehabilitation from the advisory council. We get these in December. But we have made over £7 million available for pump-priming grants for drug misuse projects which of course helps to solve the problem to which the noble Lord referred.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, do the Government intend to put guidelines out to local authorities so that education departments can have good and proper information for parents and children on the terrible problems of heroin addiction and other serious drugs?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the purpose of the circular to which I referred was so that the health authorities could liaise with the local authorities on just that type of problem; and so, yes, they will be involved.

Lady Saltoun

My Lords, in view of the fact that some of us would be interested to know whether the levels of drug abuse are higher in areas adjacent to ports, when the answers to the circular come in would it be possible to have a copy of the document placed in the Library?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I am sure that will be possible. That sort of thing will be taken into account and I shall see that that is arranged.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, before the report comes in, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether he would watch for the notional price of drugs on the black market? As he is aware, there is an anxious situation now in which young people appear to be getting drugs at very much reduced prices, and are thus getting hooked early. Would the Minister watch for the notional price which is being charged, especially in the port areas, to see how serious this situation is?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I shall certainly make sure that that is looked into. I was not aware that there was a variation in price in the way that the right reverend Prelate describes; but I shall look into it.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the scale of this problem of the peddling of narcotics is a gigantic, international one? Would he further agree that the efforts made by Her Majesty's Government to pursue it in diplomatic and other means through the agencies concerned are of great importance?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I share my noble friend's view. In response to the prevention report from the advisory council, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has set up an interdepartmental group chaired by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office to develop the Government's overall strategy in the fight against drug abuse, and I am sure this will prove a great success.

Lord Somers

My Lords, the Government have spent a great deal of time in their campaign against smoking. Would the noble Lord agree that drug taking is a far more insidious disease and is likely to be a great deal more dangerous?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree. It is a terrible business, and that is why we are taking the action which we have embarked upon.