HL Deb 18 May 1990 vol 519 cc474-6

11.24 a.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

To what extent the armed forces in the United Kingdom are taking part in international action against the trade in drugs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (The Earl of Arran)

My Lords, international action against drug trafficking is a matter for the appropriate civil authorities. The services provide assistance when requested in UK territorial waters and elsewhere, including joint patrols with the US Coastguard in the Caribbean, and training assistance to Colombia.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. As the armed services of most countries are in a good position to carry out monitoring and surveillance in relevant areas without significant additions to their normal functions, can he say what are the prospects for fruitful co-operation, especially now, with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe against this worldwide menace?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, my noble friend asks a very interesting question. I am happy to say that co-operation between the law enforcement agencies of Eastern and Western Europe in this field is very good. I have no doubt that with the greatly improved relationships between East and West there will be scope for improving it still further.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the Minister referred to law enforcement agencies. The Question is expressed in terms of the armed forces. Can the Minister confirm whether there has been any collaboration between the armed forces of various countries? For instance, have British armed forces personnel with special experience in the drug field given advice to other countries or taken advice from them? Will he bear in mind that while we are deeply concerned about the international aspect, there is evidence to show that in this country drug taking in general is on the increase? In our prisons drug taking is a major problem. And from time to time evidence comes forward that in the armed forces drug taking is on the increase. Can he reassure the public on that point?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the second question put by the noble Lord goes somewhat wide of the Question on the Order Paper. Of course I agree with him that drug trafficking of any form, whether in this country or abroad, is a vile and abhorrent form of trade. With regard to his first question perhaps I can take as an example the Caribbean where the Royal Navy West Indies guard ship and other Royal Navy vessels in the area provide assistance, when they are available, in co-ordinated anti-drug patrols for the US Coastguard. Their role is limited to surveillance and monitoring. It has made a significant contribution in deterring and apprehending drug traffickers. We have the warm appreciation of the United States for that.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend take note of the success of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore in dealing with drug trafficking by making it a capital offence and enforcing sentence?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, with respect to my noble friend, his question goes slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I believe that it would be better answered by someone else.

Lord Carver

My Lords, can the Minister tell us the legal basis for using armed forces of the United Kingdom in support of the United States Coastguard in this affair?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, perhaps I may first say that the services most frequently involved are the Navy and, to a less extent, the RAF. The legal basis relies on the Customs and Excise and the police as the law enforcement agencies.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we fully support all the measures taken by Her Majesty's Government in the fight against the drug traffic. We appreciate that the United States is deeply involved in the struggle in Colombia. Can the Minister say what part we play? What contribution do we make in the fight against the substantial and well organised drug traffickers in Colombia?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that, at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as part of Her Majesty's Government's package of assistance to the Colombian Government, we have been providing training to the Colombian law enforcement authorities in a number of areas, including bomb disposal and close protection of VIPs. Furthermore, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister on 9th April announced further assistance to the extent of £4.5 million for Colombia. The details of the package are still being worked upon.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, can the noble Earl expand on his answer to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver? It seemed to me that he did not tell us under what law British forces are used in support of American coastguards or whatever other drug enforcement officers there are.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I am sorry. I thought that I had well explained that fact. Apprehension and arrest are the responsibilities of the law enforcement agencies in those countries.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is, and has been for many years, part of the function of our armed forces to support the civil power of this country? Does not the help that is being given in these matters come within that definition?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, I have tried to outline the responsibilities of the armed forces with regard to international drug trafficking. I do not think that I can add more.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, it is good that there should be international co-operation. However, I should like to raise a matter referred to by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver. As regards our forces, are the Government satisfied with some of the intricate legal aspects of such co-operation that may arise from time to time, some aspects of which may embarrass our own armed forces?

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, the legal aspects and the particular role that they play are well defined. In this form of drug trafficking the lead is taken by the law enforcement agencies.