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Drug Trafficking (Seizure Of Assets)

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to provide for the seizure and confiscation of assets acquired through drug trafficking.

I intend to seek an opportunity for legislation of this kind during the life of this Parliament.

I welcome that brief reply. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the current law is unsatisfactory and that urgent action is needed? Is he aware that those who traffick in drugs are prepared to destroy the careers and lives of their fellow human beings in order to make vast fortunes? Is there not a case for doing something radical—for giving the police immediate powers of seizure before conviction, and for shifting the burden of proof so that, in order to avoid forfeiture, drug dealers have to prove that they obtained their assets by legitimate means?

There is a case for doing all those things. We are considering the matter urgently. It is necessary to take action in this area, and we shall do so. The existing powers are inadequate, but it is important that the courts should not feel that they should not be used so far as they go. Although they need to be supplemented, they are quite considerable.

I welcome the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement about the powers. Will he assure the House that any Bill will extend the powers to Northern Ireland?

Are not the major drug traffickers perhaps the most evil and potentially dangerous of all criminals? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this legislation is perhaps the most important single action that his Department can take to combat them and that the sooner it is on the statute book the better?

I would agree with that. However, other action can be and is being taken. I congratuate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on successfully piloting through the House his Bill to enact the Government's pledge to increase the maximum penalty for trafficking in serious drugs to life imprisonment. The support given to that Bill shows how seriously we treat the matter.

The Home Secretary might be aware that the Conservative candidate who opposed me at the 1979 general election was later locked up as a drug trafficker and was well known to have a great fortune in Switzerland, which then could not be touched. Is he aware that this is important legislation, but that it is scraping at the symptoms rather than the cause of the growth of drug use by young people, which is lack of opportunity and work?

The seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter is rendered suspect by his wholly unnecessary opening remarks.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that drug traffickers should be subject to criminal bankruptcy? Does he also agree that the figures of those who are not subject to criminal bankruptcy are far too high at the moment? Is he aware that many people who should properly be subject to criminal bankruptcy are escaping, and that their numbers should be halved?

The arrangements for criminal bankruptcy are not a satisfactory solution to the problem. We must act, and the suggestions in the Hodgson report must be considered. We are considering the matter urgently. I accept my hon. Friend's support for the urgency with which we are approaching legislation on this subject.

As drug addiction, especially heroin addiction, has risen by more than 400 per cent. since the right hon. and learned Gentleman came to office, when will he stop the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gallivanting all over the country and the world making gestures and tell him to start doing something effective? What will be the Government's response to the demand by the chief constable of Preston yesterday that he can deal with the problem only if he has more men, resources, and equipment?

If the hon. Gentleman is so insular as to think that a study of what is going on in other countries, such as the United States, which has had the problem longer and is experiencing it more seriously. will contribute nothing to our handling of the problem, his consideration of the subject is unworthy of him. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State has engaged in a constructive visit to the United States, where he has seen the problems and the solutions to them. The problem must be tackled comprehensively. It is being tackled more comprehensively through legislation such as I mentioned earlier, by tackling the entry of drugs to Britain, by providing treatment and by publicity. Those approaches are more than anything that has been done by any previous Government, and my hon. Friend has spearheaded that comprehensive approach.