HL Deb 22 May 1990 vol 519 cc830-5

7.44 p.m.

Viscount Ullswater rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd May be approved [18th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we are all saddened by the suffering and destruction that drug misuse inflicts on the individual and on society. The causes of drug misuse are complex. At the root of its evil is the financial motive. This draft order, which has been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, will help us to deprive the drug trafficker of the vast pr of its by which he is motivated. Drug traffickers are developing ever more sophisticated ways to conceal their illicit earnings and escape detection. The draft order will be a significant addition to the range of counter-measures at our disposal.

We are all becoming more internationalist in outlook. The trafficker is no exception. For him, the aim is to exploit modern international banking methods and to make the most of differences in national laws and procedures. Weaknesses will be turned to his advantage. We must seek to unite with our partners in the civilised world to drive the trafficker from our doors and to make sure there are no safe havens for him to hide his funds.

The United Kingdom has taken a lead in striking at the financial base of drug trafficking. The Drug Trafficking of fences Act 1986 gave our enforcement agencies strong powers to trace, freeze and confiscate the proceeds of drug trafficking. These powers have been used to good effect. We have made it known abroad that we are ready and willing to offer these powers on a reciprocal basis to other countries. Indeed, under a similar Order in Council which this House approved last year, we have already restrained more than £5 million on behalf of the United States authorities.

We have had some considerable success in securing agreements on international co-operation in depriving drug traffickers of their proceeds. Agreements or arrangements have been concluded with 12 further countries and territories. These are Australia, Anguilla, the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Gibraltar, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. A further agreement with Italy was signed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in Rome on Wednesday. An agreement with Saudi Arabia, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister recently announced, will be signed in the near future. And earlier this week my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and the Bahraini interior Minister signed a declaration of intent to complete a similar agreement at the earliest possible date.

This draft Order in Council, if approved and made, will enable us to fulfil the obligations placed on us by the agreements we have made. It will fulfil a simple legal requirement—that the countries to which we wish to offer reciprocal judicial co-operation be designated under the Drug Trafficking of fences Act 1986. This procedure was contemplated and established under Section 26 of the 1986 Act which provides for the making of an Order in Council to apply the Act on behalf of other countries. In other words, this order brings to fruition Parliament's intentions in regard to international co-operation in this field.

Although the order may at first consideration seem a formidable document, its aims are straightforward. The order will enable the High Court to order the restraint in England and Wales of property which may be required to enforce a confiscation order made in another country or territory. At the same time it will permit the High Court to register and enforce the confiscation orders of a court in another jurisdiction. Applications for restraint and for the registration of confiscation orders will be made by our own enforcement authorities on behalf of the government of the country or territory concerned. This will ensure that the appropriate procedures are observed. In addition, a central authority which has been established with the Home office will oversee requests and co-ordinate activity under the Order in Council.

Tough measures are called for in dealing with the drugs trade. But it is equally important that they are balanced by checks and safeguards. The Order in Council incorporates a number of such safeguards. Before registering and enforcing a confiscation order, the High Court must be satisfied that it is in force, that it is not subject to appeal, and that the person against whom it was made has either appeared in the proceedings or been given the opportunity to contest the order. In the case of restraint orders the High Court will want to be sure that proceedings have been or are to be instituted in the foreign jurisdiction. The point at which proceedings are instituted in the countries to be designated is set out at Section 38(11) of the Act as modified on page 18 and in the appendix to the order on page 19.

A restraint or charging order must be notified to any person affected by it, and all those affected have a right to apply at any time for the order to be varied or discharged. No property may be realised in satisfaction of a confiscation order unless people with an interest in it have had an opportunity to make representations to the court. The High Court and any receiver it appoints must exercise their powers strictly with a view to recovering property which is liable to be recovered under order and so as to enable other parties who may become caught up in the proceedings to retain their interest.

Our agreements with other countries and territories are designed to harmonise their different legal systems with our own. There are a number of subtle differences in the confiscation procedures followed by other countries and flexibility is needed. Schedule 3 of the Order in Council, on pages 8 and following, sets out a modified version of the Drug Trafficking of fences Act which will apply in our dealings with the countries and territories affected by the Order in Council. The modifications do not change the substance of the Act. They merely reflect the different ways in which the restraint and confiscation orders are sought and made in the various countries and territories. For example, provision will be made to allow for the making of confiscation orders in terms of specified items of property, rather than sums of money, which is the practice in some countries.

I am sure that your Lordships will welcome this important contribution to the international effort against drug trafficking. It demonstrates the United Kingdom's determination to stamp out the sickening drugs trade. It will be the beginning of a network of partnerships which we hope to build on. We expect to bring before your Lordships further orders in coming months through which we can add to the list of countries with which we are able to co-operate on this practical level. I beg to move that the order be approved.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 3rd May be approved [18th report from the Joint Committee].— (Viscount Ullswater.)

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Viscount for the clarity with which he has explained the raison d'≖ tre of the order. I say at once that not only Labour Members of this House but noble Lords throughout the House will be behind what the Government intend to achieve through this order. To that extent I want the noble Viscount and his colleagues to understand that there can be very few issues on which there is complete unanimity not just in British politics but in British life and in the international sphere where the international enforcement agencies collaborate to do what the order seeks to do; that is to say, to punish as far as possible whose who seek to pr of it from this filthy habit. Therefore, the Minister can rest assured that we wish him well.

There are one or two questions which I am sure that the noble Viscount will be able to answer. I refer to the list of countries, the international aspect of enforcement and the arrangement of agreements with other countries. Can the Minister say how these countries were selected? Is it because there are ongoing attempts to reach the kinds of agreements which are contained in the order? I refer to pages 18 and 19 of the order and to the appendix.

Can the Minister confirm that we are being presented with the first tranche of about a dozen countries which are involved? There will be dozens and dozens of other countries concerned as well. Can the Minister tell us the raison d'≖ tre for this list? We have: no objection to it. We understand that the Government and their officers will not be able to reach agreement on procedures and other matters with every country at the same time. I shall be interested to know that these countries have made agreements.

Can the Minister say if there are any countries where, according to the experience of the officers, it will be exceedingly difficult to reach agreement? Perhaps the Minister and his advisers can tell us what the problems are. Some countries may not be as energetic as we want to be but that is no reason why we should not seek to reach agreement.

As the Minister well knows, loopholes, gaps and spaces will be used by the drug traffickers to find means of access for travel and trafficking. Therefore, the more comprehensive and all-embracing the arrangements the better it will be. Will the Minister say something about the list that we have and why there are not other countries included? Can he say what the prospects are for making the list all-embracing?

Can the noble Viscount also say something concerning the resources the Government are devoting to catching drug traffickers in this country? Obviously, we wish to stop drugs coming into this country and that is the purpose of the order. The Minister knows, because he follows these matters, that the re are terrible circumstances in many of our major cities which are due to the misuse of drugs. For example, as the House knows—and I declare my interest again—I represent the interests of prison officers in this place.

The Minister speaks as the Home office spokesman and therefore he does not need telling that drug taking is rife in Her Majesty's prisons. I do not make that statement lightly. I recently visited a certain prison. I shall not mention its name, though the Minister can have it. The governor and the men were very depressed at the growth of drug taking in their prison.

Later this week I shall attend the prison officers' annual conference. I know that when I speak to people there drug taking will be a major cause of concern. I hope that the Minister will say something about the successes which have been flagged up against drug traffickers, or drug barons as they are called, in places such as prisons but also in other walks of life. One has only to be involved in the community to realise that one sees in pubs, in clubs and on concourses evidence that drugs are being taken.

The statistics published by the noble Viscount and his colleagues at the Home office make one realise that drug taking is on the increase. I hope that the Minister can tell us more about the success that the Government can claim in dealing with drug trafficking in our prisons. However, I know that he has not received notice of this inquiry and it may not be possible for him to give an answer. I know that he will take on board the desire not only to stop drugs coming into the country but the fact that we are very concerned about the people who are making fat pr of its from circulating drugs in this country.

I know that the Minister will be on my side over that matter. I am asking him, in the best sense of the word, to be helpful and to take this opportunity of parading what he and his colleagues are doing in this field. We on these Benches give a very warm welcome to the order and wish it a speedy passage. We wish for an extension of it by the inclusion of other countries.

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, for his welcome for the order. I am glad that he views it in the same light as do we on this side of the House. It will form a very effective part of our armoury for the confiscation of the property of drug traders.

He asked me two questions. He asked why the list of countries is as it is and what we are doing about further countries. I sought to indicate that we are able to conclude agreements only with countries which have legislation comparable to our own. A number of European partners have not advanced as quickly as we have in respect of confiscation legislation. I have already mentioned the position in Italy and Saudi Arabia. Further agreements are being pursued with a number of countries, including the main financial centres on the drug transit routes. If the noble Lord cares to look at the list of countries with which agreements have so far been made, he will see that the intention is to try to block those financial routes.

We are equally active in encouraging other nations to co-operate with each other more generally. We have played a leading part in drawing up the 1988 United Nations convention against illicit trafficking in narcotic drugs and psychotrophic substances. We have taken early action through the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Act 1990, which has just gone through your Lordships' House, to enable us to ratify the convention.

I appreciate the noble Lord's deep concern about the misuse of drugs in society. He mentioned in particular the use of drugs in prison. It appears that drugs are available in prison. I know that the enforcement agencies in this country—the Customs and Excise and the police—take very seriously the tracking down and bringing to justice of all those involved in the drugs trade. Customs officials seek to prevent the importation of drugs and the police authorities are extremely keen to make certain that the passing of drugs between individuals does not take place. It is a worry that drugs find their way into prison. I know that the Home office is deeply concerned by the fact that they are passed from visitors to prisoners.

8 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, the Minister said that we are able to conclude agreements only with countries which have legislation comparable to our own. Can he say with which countries the Government would like to make arrangements but cannot because of the problem? Where there is a will, there is a way. I can understand that there are inhibitions, barriers, problems and difficulties. Are there countries which are as anxious as we are to try to deal with these evil men and women but which find that incompatibility of legislation inhibits an agreement? Are we working on ways to make amendments to each other's legislation to enable it to happen? I am not asking the Minister to rise again to make further points. Perhaps he will write to me on that matter.

In regard to prisons, sometimes the Customs and Excise authorities are unable to stop drugs coming in, and the police face difficulties in dealing with drug dealers outside prisons. Our greatest concern must be to stop them circulating inside prisons. Resources of men, sniffer dogs and other equipment are in short supply. We need to have a closer look at the shortfalls of resources in the prison estate. The prison service has a sniffer dog section. When I visit a prison I ask when last the sniffer dogs came in. On one occasion I was told, "It was last September and they caught nothing. But we know that drugs are there because we saw all the evidence". Are the Government serious about stopping drugs? Some people have said to me that sometimes governors and others are not too unhappy because the drugs help to sedate many of the prisoners who otherwise could be a nuisance. That should not be tolerated. The Minister can do a service by re-examining the extent to which government resources are directed to dealing with drug trafficking inside our prisons.

That is all I wish to say. I am grateful to the Minister. If he cares to write to me, I shall be happy to have his letter. I repeat that we are fully behind the Government's intention in this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Reay

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.6 to 8.30 p.m.]