HL Deb 22 May 1984 vol 452 cc135-8
Baroness Fisher of Rednal

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 whether they are aware of the rising concern about heroin drug addiction among young people.

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

My Lords, the Government fully share the widespread concern about the misuse of heroin and are determined to take all possible steps to combat it. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services have recently announced a number of measures to strengthen their fight against drug misuse generally and the matter will continue to receive their closest attention.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister consider whether there might be a need for Foreign Office intervention at a very high level and discussions with the Pakistan Government in an effort to stamp out the export of this drug?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we believe that it is proper to help governments concerned in the efforts that they are making already to fight this dangerous, damaging and illicit trade. The United Kingdom makes an annual contribution of £100,000 to the United Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control; we made a special payment of £180,000 in 1983–84 to strengthen law enforcement in Pakistan; we have recently pledged an additional £1 million over five years towards rural development programmes in the opium poppy growing areas of Pakistan and a customs officer has recently been posted to Pakistan to liaise with the authorities there, so matters are in hand.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the real problem lies with the pushers, and that in fact it is quite easy to get heroin? Will he ask the police what particular action they are taking with the pushers?

Lord Elton

My Lords, wherever possible they are identifying and arresting them. The number of persons found guilty or cautioned for drug offences in 1982 was as follows. For unlawful supply, 1,110 (which is 110 more than the year before); for possession with intent to supply, 822 (which is over 100 more cases); and for unlawful possession of drugs other than cannabis, 3,119.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, can the Minister inform us what liaison is taking place between Government departments, especially with the DES, in regard to making teachers aware, because of the large increase in the number of schoolchildren who are now taking these drugs?

Lord Elton

My Lords, there is close interest and close consultation between departments. The report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on the prevention of drug misuse will be published next month. Prevention programmes will be developed in the light of its recommendations and I think that they will touch on that.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept from these Benches that we welcome everything he has said? But will he also accept that there has been a truly dramatic and horrendous increase in the illegal use of heroin in this country? Does he accept the estimates that have come from very responsible circles, that as many as 50,000 people are now regular heroin users, including many thousands of schoolchildren—and I really mean children? Is he aware that facilities for treatment are woefully inadequate, and does he not see this as one of the most urgent problems facing health and social services as well as education and the Home Office?

Lord Elton

My Lords, there has been a dramatic increase. I would not swear to the noble Lord's figures, but the figures are very large. As to treatment, in February and April this year my colleagues in the Department of Health gave details of the central funding of nearly £5 million to support new local initiatives for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug misusers and a further £1 million has yet to be allocated.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, is it not the case that the Customs and Excise have lost 1,000 officers since 1979, and that it is also calculated that heroin smuggling has increased by 400 per cent? May there not be some connection between the two figures?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I think not because they have not been removed from that effort. In fact, the numbers directed against drugs have recently been increased.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, will my noble friend ask his right honourable friend whether it would be possible to have a drug abuse centre in every regional hospital board area because people would then know where to go?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I shall of course take that idea to my right honourable friend. I cannot indicate what reception it will then receive.

Lord Somers

My Lords, is it possible to have rather more efficient and urgent teaching in the schools to warn Young people of the danger of taking drugs?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as I said earlier, we are awaiting the report of the advisory council and that is certainly a matter to which we shall turn our attention.

Lord Hunt

My Lords. in view of the seriousness and the increase in this problem not only in this country but in other countries in Europe and America, can the noble Lord assure the House that there is very close liaison and consultation with our allies and partners in Europe and in the United States?

Lord Elton

My Lords, there is both international concern and international co-operation. As to the particular area to which the noble Lord directs my attention, I am not aware of what the formal arrangements are, but I shall write to him.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, can the Minister say what his advice would be to a parent who discovered that his or her child was a heroin addict and from where that parent should seek advice, and how?

Lord Elton

My Lords, my personal advice would be to start with the local general practitioner and get into the chain there.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, following upon earlier questions relating to the availability of clinics, is the noble Lord aware of an article which appeared in the Sunday Times of 20th May in which, in particular. areas were described which are in, to say the least. a very, very difficult position? Hackney, for example, has to close its doors to the possibility of any new entrants. I shall quote merely one sentence. Has the noble Lord read it? He has requested more staff'— that. is, the administrator, Dr. Mackie— (only the minimum recommended in the Department of Health and Social Security's advisory council's report) hut to no avail". Is the noble Lord the Minister satisfied that there is complete co-operation and liaison between the Customs and Excise and his own department? Such co-operation is obviously essential.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the noble Lord's first question, I am not aware, without notice, of the particular case or the particular article, but I shall certainly have it read. As to the noble Lord's second question, the tenor of my remarks and of a recent speech by my right honourable friend make it clear that the Home Office has this matter very close to its heart and that there is more co-operation than formerly was the case between the departments.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether the penalty is big enough? I believe that no penalty is too big for a drug pusher.

Lord Elton

My Lords, at present the maximum penalty is 14 years' imprisonment or a fine of, I believe, £20,000. Those are the highest determinate penalties that we have, and we believe that they are adequate. It is a question of catching the people involved and applying the penalties to them.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that there is a melancholy sense in which heroin addiction can be regarded as a self-limiting disease but that we should not derive much comfort from the fact that it is self-limiting, because heroin addicts die within a very short number of years? In the light of that fact, would not the noble Lord agree that adults who wish to influence the young, whether we be parents, doctors or policemen, should focus our attention on what really matters; namely, heroin addiction rather than cannabis which, whereas it may matter. matters nothing like so much?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord's thesis that heroin addiction is a deadly killer, which to that extent is self-limiting. However, it is not self-limiting, in that the death of the addict does not break the chain. It is therefore more deadly than the noble Lord suggests. As to the noble Lord's question about whether other forms of addiction are related to it, I hesitate to come to a view. However, there is a view that addiction of one sort predisposes to addiction of a worse sort. Therefore I should be very hesitant to say that we ought to open the door to other sorts of addiction. Finally, may I return to my answer to the previous supplementary question. There is no maximum to the fine. Although I was right about the 14-year maximum term of imprisonment, the fine is without limit. I think that answer ought to satisfy the noble Lord that we have adequate powers.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, in view of the many questions which have been asked this afternoon, may I ask the Minister whether he will give an undertaking that the Government will organise a campaign by voluntary organisations. health authorities and schools, in a great effort to get the public involved in stamping out this evil scourge which is destroying so many young lives in this country?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as I have already stated, £5 million has already been allocated for new initiatives, and a further sum of £1 million is yet to be allocated. There is no doubt about the Government's commitment; nor is there any doubt about the noble Baroness's commitment. This is an effort which has to be made right throughout society, not just from the centre.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that an all-party committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Bernard Braine, was formed recently to investigate all aspects of drug misuse, and that my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton is the vice-chairman of that all-party committee?

Lord Elton

Yes, my Lords. That is a short answer. I was under the impression that the short answers I was giving would tend to curtail the length of the questions. I wonder whether your Lordships feel that the 11 minutes we have spent on this Question is long enough.

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