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Drugs Missuse

Volume 163: debated on Friday 8 December 1989

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Home Affairs Committee in Session 1988–89, Crack: The Threat of Hard Drugs in the Next Decade (House of Commons Paper 536), the Seventh Report, Drug Trafficking and Related Serious Crime (House of Commons Paper 370), the Seventh report from the Social Services Committee, AIDS ( House of Commons Paper 202) and the Government's response to that Report, Cm. 925.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. [Mr. John M. Taylor.]

9.39 am

I am glad to have the opportunity in the early stages of my return to responsibilities at the Home Office to discuss with anxious colleagues the problems of drug misuse.

During my previous incarnation at the Home Office I had the privilege of chairing for four years the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs. One of the best experiences of my time in this House resulted from the genuine goodwill on all sides that we should try to work together to find a common solution. I particularly recall the Opposition's tremendous co-operation in passing the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986. That has been a striking success, but I also take careful note of and welcome the observations of the Select Committee on Home Affairs about the way in which it can be improved.

I do not want to inhibit genuine, legitimate criticism from anyone and I take in good part criticism about the way in which the drug problem is handled. We always need to be stimulated to evaluate what we are doing and to make greater efforts. I hope that this debate will give us an opportunity to renew a shared commitment. We should also recognise the crucial fact that, although it is obviously for Government and elected representatives to give a lead, we alone cannot carry the burden of winning the battle against drugs. We shall succeed only if we galvanise everyone in society into a shared endeavour to deal with the menace of drugs.

I shall be as candid as I can about the present drug situation, informed, I hope, by recollections of my experiences. I shall also say something about the experience of the United States, which is highly relevant to the problem of cocaine about which I have particular concern. I shall also mention the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which by happy chance was published yesterday; we therefore have an early opportunity to discuss it. I cannot give my final view on that report, but because of my previous involvement in these matters I know enough about the thinking behind the report to say some helpful and constructive things about it. I shall also speak about the future development of Government policy. Above all, I welcome this opportunity to listen to what concerned colleagues say and I shall take on board any points that are made.

It is two and a half years since I held any responsibility for drugs policy. As I read myself back into this problem, it is interesting to recollect my fears and hopes during my four years in office. It is interesting to see how things have turned out. Inevitably, if one is realistic, there are good and bad indications.

This year all the figures—I shall give them to the House shortly—show that a greater attempt than ever before is being made by international drug traffickers to bring drugs into this country. That is a sombre and inescapable fact, and it is important that it is ungarnished and is given in the round. It forms an essential background to our debate.

It has not all been gloom during the time I have been away on other matters. I remember the concern felt by everyone in 1983 and 1984 when "chasing the dragon"—smoking heroin—appeared to be on its way to becoming a major activity among mainstream youngsters and not just among the deviant fringe. It appeared that that practice would lead inevitably to a spread of injecting heroin. At that time there was great apprehension about whether that threat to many youngsters would prove to be unstoppable. Although there is no room for complacency in the figures, it is clear that such widespread misuse has not occurred. There is evidence of a much higher level of herion misuse in our society today than any of us can take comfort from, but it has not spread in the way in which some people feared in the early 1980s. We can take some comfort from that.

During the early 1980s I remember saying that there was nothing inevitable about our nation succumbing to the menace of drug misuse. If we can work together on intelligent and sensible policies, it is in our power to prevent that from happening. There is some encouragement from the figures which show that, as a result of the sustained effort made in the Government's anti-heroin campaign, the efforts made by so many hon. Members, by outside elected representatives and by concerned groups in society, a strongly negative message about heroin has come across. Heroin misuse has therefore not become the mainstream youth culture event that many people feared.

When a cross-section of teenagers are asked about heroin, about 95 per cent. regularly say that they would immediately reject an offer of heroin. What is even more important is that that is not a knee-jerk rejection, but is based on informed opinion. When those conducting the survey ask the youngsters why they would not take heroin, their replies are usually based on informed opinion about the known consequences of the drug. That much is good news.

In autumn 1986 I visited Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia and I saw the size of the cocaine problem faced by those countries. I appreciated that what we were dealing with were criminal enterprises of a scale to rival the existing Governments of some of those countries. The insolence of the drug barons of Colombia is such that just yesterday they blew up the headquarters of the anti-drug forces. They did not care that they killed 40 innocent passers-by and seriously injured many others. Therefore, one is dealing not with a state within a state, but with a state that rivals the legitimate state.

Near the border between Peru and Bolivia I remember flying over the fringes of the Amazon by helicopter. I flew ove hillsides from which smoke was coming. It was rather like a scene from "Apocalypse Now" and the aftermath of a particularly bloody encounter in the Vietnam war. The smoke resulted from the hurried burning of wonderful trees of the rain forest, which were being cleared so that more and more slopes could be devoted to the production of cocaine.

I was briefed then on the scale and sophistication of the laboratories, which rivalled pharmaceutical laboratories for legitimate purposes, and on the insidious interrelationship between the drug traffickers, with their massive sums with which to corrupt, and the activities of the guerrilla groups who, in return for money, offered protection. That has spilled out in recent allegations of international mercenaries being involved. I hope that it is clear when one reads newspaper articles or reports, but it was even clearer to me when I went to south America that the scale of the problem was such that, notwithstanding the seemingly boundless commitment in the United States to receiving increasing quantities of cocaine because of the extent of misuse there, there was a glut of cocaine being produced and that Europe would be targeted increasingly. I fear that that has happened.

I shall give the latest Customs figures for as recently as last week, which will confirm the scale of the problem with which we have to deal as we all work together against cocaine. Our feelings need not be all doom and gloom. There must be proper understanding of the scale of the problem, and anybody who holds office or responsibility and who tries to underestimate the scale of the problem does the public no service. I always see it as my task to find out the facts and to tell people clearly about them, not so that people feel overwhelmed by the problem, but so that they will sit up and take notice. I have a profound conviction that we can see off this problem if we work together and devise the necessary strategies.

The latest figures from Customs show that, in the period from 1 January 1989 to 5 December 1989, 309 kg of heroin were seized by Customs compared with 211 kg in the whole of 1988. Although that is a high figure, it is not as high as some of the figures that were reached in the mid-1980s. The figures for cocaine are deeply troubling. Between January 1989 and 5 December 1989, 392 kg of cocaine were seized by Customs compared with 264 kg in the whole of 1988. I want immediately to pay a warm tribute to the work of the police and Customs authorities in seizing those quantities of drugs.

However, we all know—and I want to say this before anyone else can—that there is no escape from the drugs problem down the law and order route. Whether society falls victim to a drugs problem turns on the willingness of individuals within that society to reject offers of drugs. In a free society, however professional the police and Customs officers are, there will always be a way through. In a free society, we should not want the erosion of freedom that would follow if every packet was opened, everyone coming through airports was searched or every container was opened; and heaven knows what scale of human resources would be needed.

We are applying the most modern techniques and working through world-class organisations such as the National Drugs Intelligence Unit. There has been an expansion of resources which hon. Members of all parties have rightly called for over the years and they have ensured that pressure has been put on the Government to increase resources. We have a fully professional police and Customs service which seizes an ever-increasing proportion of the drugs that come into this country, although it by no means seizes all drugs, or even the majority.

While I am troubled by the figures of heroin, it is interesting that, although on the face of the figures it appears, as a result of the increase in the number of seizures, that more heroin must be coming in, at street level—and I asked for this to be studied especially in the past few days—there is no evidence of increased availability of heroin, of a increase in its purity or of a reduction in its price. We must not become complacent about heroin peaking at far too high a level, but there is no evidence of an increased amount of heroin being available on the streets. That may lead us to the conclusion that our police and Customs are seizing a greater proportion of heroin, which is a good and valuable development.

Some people are in danger of underestimating the cocaine problem. We have not as yet seen a great influx of cocaine misusers at the drug clinics, but let no one draw false comfort from that. It is a question of time, and one of my central points today is to reveal some of the American experiences. I have toured some of the inner-city areas of the United States and I know that a number of other hon. Members have done the same. In those areas, crack has become a major habit. Even I have not been prepared for some of the shocking statistics that are now apparent in the United States. I say that not to frighten or shock people, but simply to report the evidence from a developed western society which has more than 20 years' experience of cocaine. That experience warns us what may lie in our path if we do not work together to deal with the problem.

We all realise the marvellous job done by the Customs and police on this problem. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to ask the Prime Minister a question about whether the Customs service had the required manpower to cover the job properly. At that time there had been a serious reduction in manpower. What is the position now? What will be the position in the future?

Those are fair questions. I am happy to say that there has been a tripling of the number of Customs investigators since 1979, and an additional 854 preventive Customs posts, dealing mainly with drugs, were established between 1984 and 1988. I accept that it is a key feature that those numbers should be expanded. They are kept under constant review. We have never said that enough is enough. One cannot expect people to do the job unless we give them the resources to do it.

I should like to remind my hon. and learned Friend of one category of Customs officer that he did not mention in his response to the intervention, and that is the increased number of intelligence officers abroad. I do not want to go into detail, but I must say that they are doing a magnificent job of intelligence gathering without which the interdiction in this country would not be as effective.

When I visited the National Drugs Intelligence Unit a few days ago, I was encouraged enormously to see how much that system had developed, with police officers and Customs officers being stationed overseas. As my hon. Friend says, for obvious security reasons one cannot give great detail, but having experienced personnel working alongside enforcement agencies in the countries concerned and welcoming their representatives here, as we are doing, is a way of building a sense of co-operation on personal rather than abstract principles, which is important.

We know that large quantities of cocaine are coming into the country, and we know that there is a time lag between a misuser's first experimenting with the drug and the development of the problem. That is the present position, and let no one be in error about that. As there is the financial incentive for traffickers to bring drugs into the country, they will use every piece of ingenuity to evade the restrictions. As direct routes from the countries of origin are now assiduously searched, traffickers will bring in drugs through two or three other countries and increasingly complicated routes are now being used. I cannot disguise from the House my continued and increasing concern since I was last at the Home Office about the extent to which drugs are being brought into certain other countries in the European Community and then being shipped across to the United Kingdom.

Customs figures show that in 1988 30 per cent. of the heroin seized in Britain—and, even more disturbing, more than 50 per cent. of the cocaine seized—had been routed through a European Community country. Sometimes people are tempted to say that the British Government are being bolshie, difficult and tiresome about Europe when we say, "Hang on a moment" in response to rhetoric about open frontiers. Apparently, to qualify as a good European, one has to say, "Yes indeed. Me too, me too." But in practice we cannot afford to have open frontiers with countries such as the Netherlands because the consequence would be that an increasing amount of drugs would come into Britain.

I hope that this will not become a partisan matter. I hope that hon. Members throughout the House will understand that, while we work faithfully for the implementation of the open market in 1992, we cannot do away with border controls between EEC countries except at our peril, and it is too high a price to pay.

I agree with most of what the Minister has just said but the Select Committee report underlined the lack of linguistic skills on this side of the Channel, which is most important. We urgently need police and Customs officials with those skills who can co-operate with their counterparts in other countries to ensure that we have the best possible intelligence. For too long Britain has lacked such skills, and the police simply reflect that fact.

That is a helpful practical point. It is true that we rely heavily on others' ability to speak English, and it is fair to argue that one way of helping international co-operation would be to improve our linguistic skills.

My hon. and learned Friend referred to drugs coming from south America direct to Europe. Those of us who went to the National Drugs Intelligence Unit at El Paso, where all 10 law enforcement agencies of the United States are represented, were shocked to discover that the centre is monitoring shipments of cocaine and other drugs from south America direct to Europe—especially to Spain and Portugal, because of the Hispanic link, but also to Holland. As my hon. and learned Friend said, the maintenance of our border control is paramount.

Yes. And it is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of common sense. This is a practical problem. The gap between rhetoric and reality apparent in some people's effusions about Europe always distresses me. We are talking about the practical business of putting up shutters as best we can against the importation of drugs.

I should be failing in my duty if I attempted to find a bit of good news about heroin to persuade people that there was not a problem. Nevertheless, it is worth drawing attention to evidence of policies taking effect. It is good news that our drugs branch inspectorate is reporting that there appears to have been a levelling out, if not a reduction, of the availability of heroin in some areas. That leads me to hope that the problem has reached a plateau, albeit at much too high a level.

As with the AIDS figures, the number of addicts reflects what was happening in society some years ago. People become a little involved with drugs, then a little more involved, then they become hooked and satisfy their cravings on the illicit market, then, at a certain point—some never reach that point, but many do—their dependency reaches such a pitch that they turn themselves in to the authorities in despair.

I pay tribute to the work of our many drugs clinics, which work effectively to try to offer addicts some hope. Although the number of addicts is increasing, there are signs that the addict population is aging. That is most interesting. The proportion of new addicts aged under 25 notifed to the Home Office fell from 54 per cent. in 1985 to 48 per cent. in 1988. That may be an early indication of what I hope will be a trend and evidence that the present generation of teenagers is not falling prey to heroin as the previous generation did.

It is encouraging to think that heroin consumption has reached a plateau and that we have an aging addict population. But there is anecdotal evidence in the inner city to suggest that the pattern of drugs consumption is changing and that communities in which the drug of choice has traditionally been marijuana are now turning to heroin and crack. That is happening on council estates in my constituency, and it is a cause for great concern.

There is much in what the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) says, and I shall be particularly interested to hear her views on cocaine, which I shall be discussing a little later. Sad evidence is emerging that members of the Afro-Caribbean community, who have not previously been involved with hard drugs, are now becoming involved with cocaine, and perhaps that was the trend to which the hon. Lady was referring.

Different drugs are fashionable at different times and we must hope that as heroin consumption reaches a plateau there will not be a tremendous upsurge of interest in cocaine. Nor are we talking about heroin and cocaine alone. The problems of drug misuse in Britain are much more complex than that. Most people's introduction to drugs is via amphetamine-based drugs. If I am not to prevent other hon. Members from speaking, I must be disciplined in what I say and about the length at which I say it. I may not be concentrating on amphetamines, but that does not mean that I underestimate the problem.

There is a problem in key inner-city areas. One cannot generalise. What is true for one area is not true for another, and the balance and extent of drug misuse varies, as does its interaction with other deeply anti-social activities such as alcohol misuse. I regard alcohol misuse among teenagers as every bit as troubling as illicit drug misuse—in some respects, more so. That is why we have devised a system of inner-city drug teams, which we intend to work with the organisations in the community to help to restrict drug taking. We hope to announce the establishment of the first nine of the teams and the central co-ordinating unit in January and to increase the number to 30 over a two year period. We should certainly consider seriously the problems referred to in the constituency of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington.

I am somewhat concerned about a remark that the Minister made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott). He referred to the Afro-Caribbean community and the use of crack. The evidence that members of the Select Committee of Home Affairs saw when they visited America was that crack knew no boundaries of race or gender. Does he agree with me on that?

Oh yes. I hope that that is not the impression that I gave. I was paying a compliment to the Afro-Caribbean community by saying that previously it had not been much involved with hard drugs. As the hon. Gentleman says, cocaine knows no racial boundaries, and it is sad that it seems to have started to affect the Afro-Caribbean community as well as the rest of us. I am not saying that it is a particular problem in that community because it is certainly not, but the increase in its use is a sign of the insidiousness of cocaine, which has attractions that heroin does not have and can involve groups that heroin does not involve. The evidence from America is that 50 per cent. of so-called crack-heads are women. We have never before seen such a large percentage of women being involved in any form of drug misuse.

We must realise that cocaine is not just a different drug posing the same problems as heroin. It is an equally serious drug which, if anything, poses even worse problems the most pernicious way of taking cocaine—smoking it—is also the easiest. One does not have to stick a needle in one's arm—the ultimate turn-off, especially at a time when AIDS is rampant.

It has always been foolish to inject drugs because the drugs themselves cause damage and people inject amphetamines as well as heroin. Impurities in the drugs add to the health hazards, and people injecting themselves without medical supervision and often not knowing how to do so properly run the risk of all manner of infections.

Self injection of drugs was always ill-advised, but it is foolish beyond belief to do it now and especially to share equipment at a time when we know that the AIDS virus is becoming increasingly rampant among the drug-addicted community in Europe. In Spain and Italy 60 per cent. of the AIDS cases were contracted through intravenous drug misuse. So far in the United Kingdom it is only 4 per cent. but we have nothing to be complacent about because in Scotland over 50 per cent. of the HIV-positive people obtained the virus through the sharing of drug-misusing equipment.

While much attention has rightly focused on homosexual activities, and while much has been done by the homosexual community to change their habits in order to minimise the spread of AIDS as I know from my previous responsibility in the Department of Health, we need to focus on the fact that in Europe the number of AIDS cases resulting from homosexual activity is doubling every 14 months. However, the number of cases contracted through intravenous drug misuse in Europe is doubling every nine months. I need hardly add that as most drug addicts are heterosexual, and whatever so-called commentators in the popular press may say, it is clear beyond peradventure that AIDS can be spread by heterosexual activity. No one should be in any doubt about that. A high HIV-positive rating among intravenous drug misusers is an inevitable bridgehead into the hetrosexual community. That is a crucial matter.

I have already said that the Customs seized 392 kg of cocaine up to last week compared with 264 kg in 1988. Cocaine is a major problem, and we do not just have to look at it in the form of crack to be able to say that. Any form of cocaine abuse is to be deplored. The figures show an increasing problem of crack misuse. There were 12 seizures in 1987, 27 in 1988 and 124 from January to November this year.

Crack is not a magic substance. Any one of us could make it in the kitchen in half an hour if we had cocaine and another readily available ingredient. The greatest buzz, the greatest high and that which causes the greatest chaos afterwards comes from smoking cocaine, and that is because of the immediate impact on the brain. Once cocaine appears in any form in a community, it is inevitable that sooner or later people will turn to the ultimate form of drug misuse—free-basing or crack smoking.

The drug traffickers take a cynical view and as a result cocaine enjoys a spurious reputation as a champagne drug, although we know that many well-known champagne lifestyles have been greatly damaged by its impact. The fact that someone is a well-known champagne-successful chap gives him no immunity from the destructive effects of the drug. It hits people in high society as hard as it hits people anywhere else. Crack is a shrewd marketing ploy by the dealers because it can be sold in much smaller quantities. People do not need to buy a gramme of cocaine powder and the small quantities of crack usually cost more than anything else. But that fact is disguised by the availability of small quantities.

We must expect the drug taker to gravitate towards crack in search, as many drug users are, of a higher and higher buzz. However, the drug dealers will direct all their commercial pressures to getting people into crack because it is the easiest way to market to the widest community. We must gear ourselves to meet that. Thank goodness the Select Committee on Home Affairs had no truck with the people who say that some drugs should be legalised. Such appeasement is pathetic and is no response to anything. How could one legalise such substances when the figures show that in 1983 the United States Drug Enforcement Agency reported 328 cocaine-related deaths while by 1988 the figure had risen to 1,078.

I should like to deal with current American experience, and in that context I am indebted to Mr. Michael Campbell of the Drug Enforcement Agency in London who provided the figures. The latest assessment for the United States shows that there are 5 million to 6 million regular users of cocaine there and that as many as 22 million Americans have tried it. The United States authorities make no bones about the fact that in the 1970s and perhaps for too long cocaine misuse was not a matter of uttermost concern in American society. It was able to gain a hold and in the 1980s there has been a desperate battle to regain control. That proves that when control is lost it is difficult to get it back.

In 1988, 17,000 people appeared in emergency rooms in hospitals in the United States overdosed with cocaine. Infants exposed in the womb are 10 times more likely to die from cot deaths than babies whose mothers do not use the drug. A recent random study of 36 United States hospitals found that at least 11 per cent. of 155,000 women surveyed had exposed their unborn babies to illegal drugs, with cocaine far and away the most common. The impact of drugs is devastating on people who choose to use them. Who can defend the pictures that we have seen of cocaine-addicted babies whose lives are blighted before they have even begun?

Some hon. Members may have visited Dr. Mark Gold's cocaine hotline. I went there when I was in the United States just over four years ago. Dr. Gold's experience of running that hotline illustrates the pace at which the cocaine problem develops in society and who is caught up in it. When he started his cocaine hotline five years ago he thought that he would get about 10,000 callers a year. He has received 1,000 calls a day every day for the past five years. It is interesting to see the spread through society. Initially his callers were people aged 31 or more. They were mostly white, male Americans and mostly people with a substantial education background who were moving ahead in their careers. Today, only five years on, his callers are less well educated, younger, and mainly unemployed. That shows the spread through society. In 1983, only 16 per cent. of Dr. Gold's callers were unemployed, but in 1988 the figure was 61 per cent. In 1983, 50 per cent. were college graduates, but today the figure is 11 per cent. Last year the average age was 26; in 1983 it was 31.

It is interesting to consider the method of taking cocaine. Free-basing is the inhalation of cocaine fumes. In 1983, 21 per cent. of those who called on the hotline were free-basing, but in 1988 it had risen to 64 per cent. That is inevitable, and that is why we have to take the matter seriously.

Some people say that perhaps one should be able to buy it like cigarettes across the counter. They say "What is the difference?" It is interesting that when Gold analysed people's responses to the drug and the impact it has had on their lives, over 70 per cent. of those who called told him and his colleagues that the use of cocaine was more important than his or her own family. Seventy per cent. of callers said that cocaine was more important than friends, and 90 per cent. said that, although they did not consider themselves addicted, they would use every bit of cocaine in their possession as soon as possible. It is a highly addictive drug, and 37 per cent. of callers had reached the conclusion that their only escape from cocaine abuse was suicide.

The legalisers seem to assume that one can go on being dynamic, bouyant and successful whilst just having a sniff or a smoke or sticking a needle in one's arm, just as one would have a cup of coffee to keep one going through the day. It does not work like that. As Dr. Gold said, 79 per cent. of callers said that, because of their cocaine abuse, they were regularly absent from school or work, and 59 per cent. said that they were high at school or at work. Fifty-one per cent. said that they were beginning to be disruptive and 48 per cent. of the students who called said that they were becoming actively involved as cocaine distributors within their school in order to support their addiction. That is part of the insidious drawing in to criminal activity.

The Minister has now been on his feet for 50 minutes. I do not mean to criticise him as I have listened carefully and he has presented some interesting facts. He mentioned Dr. Gold's crack hotline which was mentioned by the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and I have raised it with other Ministers. What is the Government's view of the establishment of such hotlines in Britain to determine the extent of cocaine use and of publicising the telephone number of the hotlines or helplines in schools and colleges?

We have for some time had drugs and AIDs helplines. My mind is open to whether we should have a specially designated cocaine hotline. Currently a number of drugs helpline numbers are readily available. I am open to persuasion as to whether a dedicated cocaine helpline would help or hinder. Poly-drug misuse is a problem that must be acknowledged. Some people abuse only one drug, but many abuse a great number of drugs, depending on what is available.

The Government's energy and money would be better directed to supporting local information services under the local drugs advisory committees. In my area of Sussex there is an excellent drugs advisory information service run by the East Sussex county council. It understands the problems. Rather than a national hotline, as suggested by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), it would be better for the people concerned if there was a build-up of a network of local hotlines.

My hon. Friend knows that a key part of our strategy is to assist financially a range of local efforts. We have substantially increased the sums of money available year after year to such projects.

I do not want to outstay my welcome, and although I have spoken for only 40 minutes, and not 50 minutes as the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) said, he is right to make me keep my eye on the clock.

It is not piety that makes me say that I always find it enormously encouraging to work with the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I do not know of any Department that has had a more constructive—not cosy—relationship with a Select Committee. It is based on mutual respect for the job that we are all trying to do. I hope that that will continue, and it is in that spirit that I looked at the report.

I was glad to see in the report total opposition to the legalisation of drugs. It says what I have stated until I am blue in the face, that measures to reduce the demand for drugs will be the key. That cannot be said too often.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that he is probably uniquely qualified and experienced in the House to be making this speech with his background in the Foreign Office, the Department of Health and the Home Office?

Experience in America suggests that there is in demand reduction a major role for the private sector working by itself and possible in joint venture with Government. I am thinking of such bodies as the Miami coalition and the campaign for a drug free America. Drawing on his experience, does my hon. and learned Friend think that there is a greater role for the private sector and that regional health authorities and his own Department ought to be working, stimulating and pump-priming the voluntary, charitable and commercial sector?

That is an interesting idea. We have kept faith with the idea of putting specialist drugs experts into education authorities to stimulate curriculum development locally.

Having looked at the drugs projects in Australia devised by the Rev. Ted Noffs and his team, I think that there is plenty of scope for voluntary or other bodies to become involved. It is at our peril that we slam the door in the face of any significant element within society that wants to become involved and help. Unless we harness the energies of all, we shall fail to deal with the problem. None of us has ever wanted the Government, local authorities, the Health Service or other parts of the public sector to dominate. They have a duty that they cannot shirk. I should like to see more involvement from the private sector. That is already possible through the wider drug prevention initiatives of the Home Office, and will be possible through the inner city projects that I mentioned earlier.

Because great minds—or even not so great minds—think alike, we are already doing a number of things for which the Committee asked. When I returned to the Home Office it was clear to me that we should use the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill to give us the powers to ratify the United Nations convention. I am glad to say that the Bill has been expanded to contain that. The Bill allows us to ratify the 1957 European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters. I regret the hidebound nature of the legal profession—I admit that I am as guilty as anyone—and the undoubted difficulties of a common law system coming to terms with the rules of a civil law system. It is over 30 years since the 1957 convention and our being able to ratify it. However, it is better late than never as international co-operation is a necessity rather than an option.

We were asked to provide money to meet some of the additional costs of international drugs investigations, including rewards to informants. As a starter, we have made £1 million available.

I looked at what was said about the confiscation powers under the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986. The idea of a working group to look at its operation and to smooth out the difficulties is important. it is good that £22 million worth of restraint orders have been obtained and £13 million worth of confiscation orders have been issued by courts. When taking the Bill through the House, I would have settled for that over two years. However, we still have a long way to go. Plainly, with an innovative piece of legislation, which is what the report called the Act, there will be some problems. The various professional groups involved need to work closely together and, above all, the courts will have to use their powers. I want to look at evidence which shows that some courts are not using their powers as widely as they might.

I shall bring my remarks to a conclusion. Because I know that we are dealing here—

Does the Minister share the criticism of the Select Committee's report that some people may have about his speech? He has spoken for a great deal of time on important matters such as statistics from America. He started to speak at 10.24 about demand reduction. Perhaps the Select Committee and the Minister have not spent enough time looking at this and outlining the schemes that the Government intend to set up. Before he concludes, may we hear a little about that from the Minister?

There was a debate on this matter not long ago, so rather than reiterate the well-known and well-established paths that the Government and others have consistently followed, I felt that it would be better to reflect on the key indicators to stimulate us to greater effort. Demand reduction is crucial. As I have already said, this comes on a number of levels. We are planning a new advertising campaign, which will deal with the problems of poly-drug misuse. The evidence clearly shows that the heroin campaign, which was a challenging campaign, had a key role to play in the number of teenagers who said no to drugs. We were not posturing to them in terms that would appeal to those of us of increasing middle age and saying the things that we wanted to hear about drugs. Instead, we went out and listened to what teenagers wanted to hear about drugs. They did not want to hear, "It is bad for you" or that drugs were illegal and kill. We discovered that we could reach out to them if we said that drugs made one a boring person or ill in a more down to earth way than just killing one off, but equally insidious in terms of one's ability to function as a person. Above all, it made one unattractive to a person of the opposite sex. One may prefer to be able to reach out to people on a different basis, but the evidence shows that that approach works, and we shall build on that with the national campaign.

We also wanted to have regional and local elements because there is no such thing as a British drug problem. There is a whole host of different local problems, which becomes a set of British statistics. Moving down to the regional level, the money should be given to local authorities and other groups to work in their local community. The efforts that we shall make through the Home Office initiative to co-ordinate initiatives more all bear on drug demand reduction. There is also the work being done in schools through curriculum development to ensure that kids, in being taught the parameters of a healthy lifestyle, understand about drugs and understand the problems that they face.

There are international elements in demand reduction. The hon. Member for Leicester, East will know that we have called a world conference on drugs in April, which must be more than a talk shop. It is no good giving people only the opportunity to emote emptily over a problem. It must have a practical outcome. One of the things that we want to do is have a working group on demand reduction looking seriously at the problem with discussions led and stimulated by acknowledged experts. It is no good us all inventing the wheel individually. We must try to reach common strategies on demand reduction.

I may have been long on diagnosis and short on cures to the problem, but that is because I think it is important for us to take stock of where we are. At the outset of the problem the Government identified key approaches to deal with a problem for which there is no one solution—those approaches being to support international action, to reduce the production and trafficking of drugs, to strengthen police and Customs enforcement, to maintain tight domestic controls and effective deterrence, to develop prevention publicity and education and to improve treatment and rehabilitation. As every year, or even as every month, has gone by, a new layer of bricks has been put on the wall. We continue to build the wall. There is no one single answer, but there is a range of useful initiatives that help us to build on. We have no monopoly of insights. We rely on the insights of others—experts in the subject, Members of Parliament, concerned members of the public—to put to us other ways in which we can do this.

I hope that I can take as read that the House will not expect me, although I could do so, to reiterate the many different policy strands under each of those headings. I have had a chance to talk about some of them in reply to interventions. However, I should welcome further suggestions as to how we might refine it. If we are honest, we are all on a steep learning curve with this problem, which has a greater dimension today than it ever has before, in the experience of any of us. We had best work together to get on top of it.

We are a long way from becoming a nation awash with drugs and drug addicts. I hope that we never shall become one. However, it is clear that, although there have been undoubted successes in recent years in the battle against drugs, we are being put to the test even more severely today than ever before. The fact that drugs are not as much in the headlines as they were tells us more about the fashionability of the issues in the press than about the seriousness of the threat. We must not be deterred, because not everybody is hanging on our every word about drugs, from laying down the further strategies that are needed.

We can take some comfort, but not a lot, from the fact that heroin has moved towards its peak; but cocaine will pose the worst threat yet because it is so insidious. I hope that everything that I have said will persuade people of that. When we look at poly-drug misuse and at the range of substances with which some people constantly delight in discovering to abuse their bodies and minds, we must recognise that we must not let our vigilance slip. I hope that the House will join me in renewing our commitment to keep the battle against the drugs problem as a top priority, knowing full well that society will not survive in its present form if we succumb to it.

10.36 am

The Opposition welcome the opportunity to discuss the problem of drug misuse and to consider effective ways to tackle this major social problem. I come to the problem fairly freshly in comparison with the Minister, who has returned to it. However, I know something about the problem because I have close contacts with south America, and Peru in particular. As the Minister will know, I also have experience of trying to help an informant who was based near my constituency some years ago. The Minister and I worked together, and realised the limitations of the law then in giving a reward and anonymity to those who help the police with their inquiries. We have some shared experiences.

This is an important day, because this is a most remarkable Select Committee report. If I were marking it in my days as a university teacher, I would mark it alpha plus, because it is an excellent report. It covers all the ground. My only caveat is that it could have built a little more on how we help the peasants who live so close to starvation in places such as Peru that they can grow only coca unless someone supplies an alternative. It is no answer to defoliate and ruin their livelihood. There must be something else for them, and western nations must not just condemn those people. They must take seriously their responsibilities.

The amount of money in international and bilateral aid is piffling. The whole of our overseas aid to South America is £12 million annually. The amount of money needed to solve the problems of drugs, the growing of coca and the destruction of the rain forests puts into perspective the relationship between the rich countries that are the users of the drugs and the poor countries. The rich countries bear the burden of drug misuse but we also have a responsibility to those parts of the world where people have no alternative to growing this crop. I am talking not about the dealers but about those whose livelihood depends on growing something to make a living. With that slight criticism I welcome the Committee's report.

It is vital not to make cheap party points on this subject. I shall make some points, as one would expect from the Opposition, but I shall try not to make them too party political or too cheap. Often on a Friday morning, with fewer Members in the House, we get a better debate, and I undertake to cover this issue seriously.

It is easy to attract attention with alarmist statements about drug misuse and about crack, but we run the risk of increasing interest in that most dangerous drug. Already, there are worrying signs that media coverage in America has resulted in a bonanza that advertising companies would have been happy to achieve for reputable products. Everyone in public life must try to keep a balance. We must avoid hyping up the interest in a drug which, as yet, has not hit Britain to the extent that it has hit other countries, such as the United States.

We must keep the drug problem in perspective. I agree with the Minister that drugs do not produce anywhere near the number of deaths, illnesses, problems with unemployment and social and legal costs that legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco produce.

Several months ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, answering parliamentary questions, said that alcohol-related diseases cost £2 billion a year. Most ordinary British citizens, if they want to preserve life and limb, must avoid not drugs, but our town and city centres on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights because of drunkenness, disorder and violence. We must bear in mind the balance between problems caused by legal and illegal drugs.

Nevertheless, drugs are of great social concern. We have heard a lot about crack, but the real problems at the moment are related to heroin and amphetamines. Heroin was the epidemic of the 1980s, but it has now peaked, and I am glad that the Minister gave figures to substantiate that. The epidemic started in the 1960s and peaked in the 1980s, but it has had a devastating effect on many individuals, families and communities. It is estimated that we now have between 100,000 and 180,000 heroin addicts in Britain. Let us consider the misery that that causes.

Amphetamine abuse is highly dangerous, and we have to find methods to tackle that addiction. Also we have to prepare for dangerous new substances such as crack and ice.

The Minister did not have time to cover all the issues involved but he has visited the United States to talk about the problems, and he mentioned the changed behaviour patterns of people under the influence of some of those new drugs. We must bear those changes in mind.

Some drugs lead to a docile state of mind, but some of the new drugs seem to lead to a paranoid state or one that induces violence. That is the difference between the drugs that we have become accustomed to in Britain and some of the new drugs that may now come into Britain. Behaviour patterns change when people use some of the new drugs and that may have serious consequences for non-drug users, who may become the victims of violence on the streets.

One aspect of drug addiction that has not been given a great deal of prominence is the link between addiction and crime. I do not mean international crime, but the type of everyday crime that we see increasing in the crime statistics year after year. One of the reasons that we do not know a great deal about that link is that the Government have not published the research that they have commissioned in the past. I am not being partisan, but I believe that all right hon. and hon. Members and experts outside the House would appreciate it if the Home Office published as soon as possible the research that it has conducted. Even if the results are slightly embarrassing, we would like to see the Home Office's evaluation of the research into the link between drug addiction, anti-social and violent behaviour and crime.

All we have had is a tantalisingly brief summary in the Home Office research bulletin. From that we learn that Howard Parker's research in the Wirral estimates that the local heroin market is worth £22 million a year.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman and I want to help him. The link between drug addiction and crime was one of the major factors behind our inquiry into drug trafficking. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to paragraph 16 of our report. During evidence, Home Office witnesses told the Committee that the National Drugs Intelligence Unit has assigned a section to examine the link between serious crime and drug abuse and trafficking. It is a serious matter.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that report. People indulge in petty crime in particular, to raise the money to buy drugs on the street. Howard Parker estimates that the local heroin market is worth £22 million, and that is an astonishing figure. Cindy Fazy's research shows that there are more than 1,000 heroin users in Liverpool, and they spend on average £280 a week on illicit drugs, and that they need to raise £7 million a year from the proceeds of acquisition offences.

Wagstaff and Maynard have estimated a total expenditure on illicit supplies of heroin in 1984 of between £111·7 million and £237·8 million. That is a lot of money to be raised by people with a drug habit. Even the most conservative estimate would be that more than half is obtained through theft, burglary and shop lifting. The cost to the victim is much higher, because stolen goods are sold at much less than their real value. One can work out what the value of the goods that are stolen must be.

I look forward to hearing from the Minister that the research will be published in full, because we could learn a great deal from it. Research is vital, and I think that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree with that.

We do not want simple solutions to a complex problem. We want to know of remedies for this plague so that we can apply them and control the problem. There are many questions about the problem of drug abuse for which we do not have any answers. What sort of education campaign works with the young, and with other people? What treatment works? Where should resources be targeted?

The Government have spent very little money on research into drug abuse. I shall table a question today asking how much has been spent on research, apart from on the "Heroin screws you up" campaign and on the evaluation of that work.

Drug abuse is not an easy problem to solve. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers and no instant solutions. One has to be pragmatic, and set priorities to decide where efforts should be maximised and where one can best intervene to break the chain and to tackle abuse.

Clearly there are two ways to deal with the problem of drug abuse. The first is to limit supply, and the Select Committee considered that in great depth. I shall not spend much time on that side of the debate. Like the Minister, I prefer to talk about the second way to deal with the problem—how we reduce the demand for drugs in Britain. The former Home Secretary, now the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that more emphasis should be put on reducing demand. The Opposition welcomed that proposal, and I hope that the new Home Secretary and the new Minister of State will continue to support it.

We must learn from American mistakes, but we must also learn from other countries. In an intervention earlier, I mentioned the lack of linguistic skills of most British people. Sometimes it is almost too easy to examine only the American experience. I have seen recent research from Holland which offers some interesting lessons.

I entirely agree. While whittling away four hours of my five-hour speech, I left out the section on the Pompidou group, which is the Council of Ministers group on drugs. That group conducts many exchanges of research and joint research projects. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman some of the evidence. He is right. There is a European aspect which is not the same as the United States experience. We must not link ourselves only with the English-speaking world.

I am glad that the Minister and I agree on that as well. My mind has been changed by the Select Committee's report. I approached the subject of legalisation with a fresh mind. Research of the Dutch experience changed my mind on that option. I agree with the Select Committee's recommendation—it would be highly dangerous to legalise any of the drugs that we are discussing this morning. I emphatically agree with that. I am attempting to draw conclusions on the basis of research rather than prejudice or badly-researched evidence.

We go to the United States to learn from some of their mistakes. The Reagan Administration poured millions of dollars into attempts to cut the supply of drugs to the United States, but to very little effect. It is not entirely unreasonable to draw the analogy of building a dam to withstand a massive tidal wave. It will never be possible to stop up every means of getting drugs into this or any other country—demand will ensure that supplies get through.

It is important not to follow the American line. The United States has been one of the least successful countries when it comes to dealing with drugs. That must be borne in mind. There is growing recognition there that their balance of priorities has been wrong for several years. There are, however, improvements that can be made in our attempt to curtail supply. It may be more cost effective for the police to concentrate on middle-market dealers based in Britain who prey on communities and make a fortune out of drugs rather than on the big international dealers who are extremely difficult to catch. Breaking the chain in the middle is important and would be helpful.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs this week published its report on drug trafficking. At paragraph 110, the Select Committee comments approvingly on the Broome report and the stratified model there for dealing with traffickers. It describes three levels of traffickers—local, distributor and importer. Those tiers are dealt with by the local police, the regional police and Customs and Excise respectively. I understand the recommendation, but there has been a survey of more than 400 serving police officers at all levels of the criminal investigation department and the drugs squad. It shows that serving officers feel that the three-tier system does not work, that the market is more flexible and is not organised like that and that it would be better to have one general agency for drug enforcement. I understand that this project report to the Police Foundation for the Association of Chief Police Officers has been withheld from publication. It would be helpful to have that report so that we can make an informed decision. If information has been gathered and research has been done, such is the importance of this basically non-political subject that it can only add to our knowledge and the level of debate.

The Select Committee recommends on page 23 of its report that the proceeds of drug trafficking should be put into a central fund administered by the Home Office. I have already mentioned the bizarre situation in which I found myself when I tried to get an award for an important drug informant. I was told that the authorities would like to reward his useful information but that there was not a budget with which to do so. There was a long struggle to ensure that things turned out right. I campaigned in a general way for just such a recommendation, so I warmly approve of it. I hope that, if the funds are divided between enforcement agencies, the division will not be simply the basis of success at arresting traffickers, but rather on the basis of supplying and sharing good quality information. It would be too easy to give enormous plums to, perhaps, the Metropolitan police or some other force that makes arrests, but it is much more important to encourage all forces to provide all levels of information that add up to a sophisticated operation.

I would like some of the proceeds—perhaps this is a moral point—to find their way to a fund for treatment facilities so that the profits of drug trafficking help to treat some of those whose lives have been wrecked by buying this disgraceful merchandise.

The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill is to start in another place, and we shall see it some time in the new year. I have some worries about the clauses on precursor chemicals which are used to make illicit drugs. I welcome the clauses, which enable Britain to ratify the Vienna convention, but information has been passed to me about the controls of precursors. This is a good example of how good policies can have disastrous and unforeseen consequences. It is suggested that, as the controls on precursors have begun to bite, manufacturers have started to use other chemicals which are not monitored so tightly. They have moved on from making amphetamine sulphate to metamphetamines, which can be injected and are more dangerous. I hope that that will be investigated as a matter of urgency.

In general, I believe that a system of priorities for precursors should concentrate on chemicals which make class A drugs. It is also important to establish a set of priorities for drug seizures. I believe that effort should be concentrated on class A drugs—those highly damaging drugs such as heroin and cocaine. In the Metropolitan police area, in 1988, 90 per cent. of seizures involved cannabis and 83 per cent. of seizures on the streets involved cannabis. When there are scarce resources and scarce staff, I would like more attention to be directed towards really dangerous drugs. That is not to say that I believe in decriminalisation. I believe that concentration of effort is important against those most dangerous drugs.

The most party-political part of my speech concerns the demand for drugs and ways in which to reduce that demand. I detect a great deal of hypocrisy in the Government's comments about stemming demand. Some of the clearest information to come out of research into drug misuse is the link between drug addiction and poverty. The heroin epidemic of the 1980s has been concentrated in the most deprived inner-city areas. That is not to say that others do not touch drugs, and nor is every inner city affected—the supply lines work in a much more complicated way than that—but where heroin reached, it was concentrated amoung unemployed youth in poor areas.

Research which is to be published in the new year will reinforce that view and show how addiction is concentrated among the most deprived citizens of our country—people who are becoming detached from society. The beginnings, may I say, of an underclass. The Prime Minister has suggested that drug addiction is a problem of prosperity. I believe that her comments are unfortunate and a million miles from reality. For an international comparison, we have to look only at the ghettos of north America.

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest, as I did to the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I am sorry to part company with the hon. Gentleman for the first time this morning, although he admits that this is the only controversial part of his remarks. Surely neither that which he has represented nor his brief and, I suggest, less than wholly accurate description of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is the basic truth. Drug taking is not the result of affluence totally and it is not the result of poverty totally. The hon. Gentleman's approach is hardly consistent with his earlier comment that a habit is likely to cost about 15,000 a year to sustain. Does that square with his assertion that drug taking is likely to be more prevalent among an underclass? Surely drug taking is the result of aimlessness, hopelessness, lack of direction and lack of feeling of a place in society. Surely these are the greatest social causes of drug misuse, and are likely to span the entire economic and social spectrum.

I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right, however, to say that drug addiction touches all parts of society. I suggest that research shows that drug addiction is rooted mainly in deprivation. There is the image of the yuppy sniffing cocaine, for example, but the real problem of heroin addiction is to be found in poverty in the inner cities and in unemployment. When I spoke of the cost of addiction I went on to say that those who are unemployed and living on the margin have to steal or engage in violent crime to sustain the habit.

The Government's proposals for demand reduction is to set up nine drug prevention units. That must be welcome, as every such initiative must be, but the Government have fallen into the same trap as they fell into with the safe city programme. Once again, they have ignored local authorities and opted for a rather gimmicky initiative. As with crime prevention generally, local authorities have a key role to play in the improvement of the environment, housing, education, leisure and recreation for young people and the social services. All these services have a part to play. Local authorities have a unique responsibility and an ability to bring services together. When we consider the way in which the prevention units are set up, the local authorities should be given a key role in the partnership that must be formed. We want a partnership that involves every sector of the community. I believe that the local democratically elected role is a key one and that the Government should not shirk from acknowledging that. Failure to use the skills and the range of work that is undertaken by local authorities is disastrous to effective prevention.

I am interested to know what the units will look like and how they will function. I have not found anyone who is involved in the prevention of drug misuse—I have talked to many about these matters—who has any idea how the units will operate. Everyone is waiting and saying how pleased he or she will be when the Minister says exactly how the units will operate and make their contribution.

The running of education campaigns is part of an agreed policy between the Opposition and the Government. It is important to target campaigns on groups that are especially at risk. I am encouraged by the work of the "fast forward" project in Edinburgh, which will be described in Crime Concern's forthcoming handbook on youth crime prevention projects. I compliment hon. Members on both sides of the House who have a great deal to do with Crime Concern. The "fast forward" project works directly with young people in youth clubs. It uses the peer group approach. Young people aged between 16 and 25 years educate other young people. Similar projects in the United States, such as the one in Boston, have been extremely successful.

It was interesting that the Minister did not say too much about this, but the press has been full of suggestions that he might consider a new scare advertising campaign on crack that will be similar to what we believe to be the rather useless "Heroin screws you up" campaign. In our view, scare advertisements do not work. They do not relate to the experiences of young people who are beginning to experiment with drugs. The rather effete young man in the heroin posters became a pin-up for some young girls. The Home Office commissioned an evaluation of the campaign, and I understand that it concluded that the campaign was a waste of money. It must not be repeated.

The allegation that the young man became a cult figure has never been proved. It was a mere assertion by someone which has never been substantiated. The young man appeared in one of a series of advertisements. I am not afraid of being wrong. When I am in error, I am proud to admit it. When in uncharted seas, there is no shame in having turned the tiller the wrong way. The evaluation confirmed the success of the campaign—I regret that it has been attacked by some—and I shall send the hon. Gentleman a copy of it. It is not a shock-horror approach to show someone looking listless, spotty or run down as a result of being on drugs. It would be a shock-horror approach if we showed a dead person and implied that everyone on drugs would die. We rejected that approach. It will be difficult to decide how best to tackle the cocaine and crack problem through advertising. I stand by the decision of my predecessor that we shall not launch immediately into that advertising. I shall certainly not rule out advertising against crack. I think that it was John Wesley who said, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" If people's minds can be affected by advertising on every other issue, why not on this one?

I take the Minister's point. I understand that when he made his decision he acted with the best of motives and on the best advice. I am saying that time has passed on. The evaluation that I have seen of the success of the campaign would not lead anyone to the conclusion that the Minister has reached. Some time will elapse between the campaign to which I have referred and the next one, and I hope that he learns from the previous campaign. We must all learn from it. I do not want to make cheap party points. I merely say that we must have the right campaign. We are talking about a lot of money. I would rather see millions of pounds being spent on treatment centres, on putting the subject into the curriculum and on getting it into schools. When I am the Minister responsible for these matters after the next general election, I shall be tempted to go home and say, "Look at my television campaign. Isn't it wonderful." That must always be a temptation, but let us not have another campaign unless research tells us that it will be effective. I think that the Minister and I can come to some form of armed truce on this issue.

In the co-operative atmosphere of the debate, I wish to comment on the nature of the message. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that for a long time the Home Office spent a considerable amount of money on crime prevention campaigns. For many years it concentrated on messages such as, "Watch Out, There's a Thief About" and, "Lock It or Lose It". It was pretty standard stuff and it went in one ear and out of the other. When the same amount of money was expended on a campaign that introduced the slogan "Crime—Together We'll Crack It" there was a tremendously greater degree of response. Apparently, there was a measurably different response when crime figures were examined. I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says but I want to know whether he is suggesting that we should lessen the advertising element of our fight against drug trafficking or that the message should be altered.

I am suggesting that both things should happen. We have to learn, and there are sophisticated ways of evaluating what message will get through. We shall have to evaluate advertising campaigns and consider whether it would be better to spend the money on a different approach. I do not rule out the campaigns that the hon. Gentleman suggests, but they must be evaluated carefully.

I have been much involved in transport and safety matters, and I know that it is difficult to get the message right. Drug misuse is a much more difficult area than transport, for example, in many respects.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) says, this is a co-operative debate. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. I do not do so in any spirit of rancour. The campaigns that we have run have been market researched. That research led us to put in the wastepaper basket messages such as, "Heroin Kills" or, "Heroin is Against the Law." A company which is separate from the one which produces the advertising evaluates the campaign. A report from a non-governmental source made a number of criticisms. Our research, which comes from a completely independent company, makes it clear that we have reinforced the anti-heroin message by producing reasons why people should be against heroin. It was not merely a straightforward no, prompting someone to say, "Why?", only to be told, "I don't know." Reasons were given. That is my approach. Had the results been different, I would have changed it.

A relatively low-key—but, I hope effective—campaign will begin on television in a couple of months. There is no monopoly of wisdom in this matter, and if the hon. Gentleman has any ideas about the campaign he might like to let me have them. I do not think of it as the Government's campaign; it is a campaign that the Government are sponsoring on behalf of a whole range of concerned people, of whatever political view.

I shall send my suggestions to the appropriate Minister.

In spending money on campaigns, we must remember that education can take other forms. Many of the delivering agencies have been undermined by the Government. The youth service is decimated and teachers, general practitioners, social workers and probation officers are demoralised by frequent criticism. It is hardly a sound basis for a major educational initiative when so many of those on whom we rely to deliver the message believe that the Government do not think them to be quite the right sort of people and not quite up to the job.

Treatment and rehabilitation are crucial parts of a strategy to tackle drug misuse. I recognise that the Government have increased expenditure in that area—something not often said from this Dispatch Box. Many good projects have been established and are in operation throughout the country. However, expansion has only just kept up with the increased number of users, let alone with the additional worries about AIDS and drug use.

There is also concern that many projects have been financed by pump priming money to regional health authorities, which continually have to find the funds themselves from other parts of their budgets. Pump priming is all right; it is good to have new initiatives. However, when the pump priming runs out, and what to the public eye might appear to be a more attractive proposition arises, the competition is very tough. The Minister must play a positive role in ensuring that that pump priming does not mean that the many schemes that look good on the surface last for only a short time and then disappear, thereby disappointing the staff involved and not delivering the continuing service that is needed. Drug addicts may lose out to more popular groups of patients, especially when hospitals control their own budgets or opt out of regional health authority control.

We need a continuing expansion of treatment facilities to meet the needs of the tens of thousands of young people addicted to drugs. One particular area of concern is that current treatment facilities rarely meet the needs of black addicts. Evidence shows that few people are treated at such centres and that there are very few black staff. The Minister should pay particular attention to that problem.

In one highly important area of the system, treatment is woefully and dangerously inadequate, and that is in the prisons. I know that it is a shared responsibility between two Ministers, but I hope that they get together on this problem. An increasing number of addicts are finding their way into prison as a result of their offending, yet only minimal treatment facilities are available inside prisons. Drug addicts in prison take part in the most dangerous form of drug misuse—intravenous injection with dirty needles. It is well known that some young people, who have not previously experimented with drugs, become addicted while inside. Many young drug-takers will go straight back to offending to finance their addiction on release. It is of great concern that our prisons do not have the right level of treatment for young people and others who go to prison because of drug addiction, which has led to crime, which means going to prison and so the cycle goes on.

Society must tackle that, and we need a two-pronged policy to do so. First, we need to divert as many young drug takers, as safely as we can, from prison and into alternatives to custody schemes specialising in dealing with drug addiction. The Government acknowledge that in their Green Paper "Punishment, Custody and the Community". It states:
"The chances of dealing effectively with a drug problem are much greater if the offender can remain in the community and undertakes to co-operate in a sensibly planned programme to help him or her come off drugs."
If that is to be achieved, we need a radical expansion of such programmes.

Indeed, it would be useful if, at every stage of the criminal justice process, major agencies were aware of the need to get drug offenders into treatment. In Southwark, for example, when the police caution drug users they give advice on referral to treatment projects. By next year, it is hoped that six to eight of these schemes will be operating throughout the country, with the support of the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence.

Secondly, we must improve treatment facilities within prisons for those who must be imprisoned to protect the public. That links to the major health risk already mentioned by the Minister—that of AIDS. It is no exaggeration to say that prisons may be a bridgehead to the spread of AIDS into the heterosexual community. That is because of the high-risk behaviour that takes place within prison such as injecting drugs and homosexuality. Drug users who are injecting while in prison will have to share dirty syringes among many inmates, with a great risk of spreading the HIV virus.

Homosexual activity is more widespread in prison than in the outside community because some men who are usually heterosexual take part in homosexual activities in prison. Those men are then released and can spread the virus. The Home Office, having developed a training package for prison officers and prisoners, has become remarkably complacent about AIDS. We need research to discover the extent of high-risk activity in prisons and ways to tackle the problem. It is no good burying one's head in sand because homosexuality is deemed to be illegal inside prison and because drugs should not be getting in. That is nonsense. One has only to talk to prison governors and officers to learn the reality.

I have visited prisons while carrying out my responsibilities and I have been told that drugs are a very real problem. Indeed, a prison officer who recently took me around a prison said, "How do you think we could keep the lid on this place if it were not for drugs?" That statement shook me, but it is one that will be made by any candid and honest prison officer. If there is a danger of prisons being a bridgehead to the spread of AIDS in the community, what happens in prison cannot be forgotten. We cannot pretend that it does not exist. High standard treatment facilities for drug addicts would be highly beneficial to minimise illicit use.

I want to conclude by dwelling on the real problem of AIDS, which has a profound effect on the way that the drugs problem is perceived in this country because of the link between AIDS and shared syringes. It is now widely accepted by bodies such as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that the threat from AIDS is greater than the threat from drugs. It has become vital to stop drug-users injecting. The advisory council produced two important reports on AIDS and drugs in 1988 and 1989. So far, the Government have failed to act on its proposals. Indeed, they are yet again displaying remarkably complacent attitudes to that major threat.

The Health Education Authority's AIDS education unit has been closed and research on sexual behaviour has been halted. We understand that that was at the personal direction of the Prime Minister. We cannot, as a society, afford such a negligent approach. The threat of AIDS means that we must act urgently to provide effective treatment for drug-users to minimise the risk of their behaviour and to co-ordinate the work of all agencies and all Ministers to deal with the HIV virus. The need for action to tackle drug misuse has never been more pressing.

The Minister emphasised the importance of the problem across parties, organisations, sections of society and indeed nations. Opposition Members concur with that, and hope that we shall see action to deliver the necessary policies in the coming year.

11.19 am

I welcome the opportunity to draw attention so early to the seventh report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, which was published yesterday. As my hon. and learned Friend the Minister said in his opening remarks, the debate is very timely. I have no doubt, however, that he instigated it, which is, I think, a tribute to his commitment to the fight against drug trafficking and drug abuse.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler), the Select Committee's Chairman, is unable to be present today. He sends his apologies, for, having considered the problem in such a close and detailed fashion, he too welcomes today's debate. Let me also pay tribute to the Clerk of our Committee, Mr. Colin Lee, who, I believe, is listening to this discussion. He has contributed some sterling work to the preparation of not only yesterday's report, but our earlier report on crack.

The Select Committee report follows several months of investigation, including a visit to the United States in June. It makes no fewer than 49 recommendations, but I shall have time to highlight only some of the more important. An essential question posed in the report is, "How serious is the drug problem in the United Kingdom?". Quantifying the extent of any illicit activity is difficult, but quantifying that of drug abuse and drug trafficking is notoriously so, as we point out in our report. Section II details recent evidence of seizures, which my hon. and learned Friend has brought up to date this morning; it also describes police intelligence work and money-laundering activities. That information convinced the Committee that there could be no doubt of the seriousness of the drug problem in the United Kingdom, both actual and potential.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) spoke of the link between drug abuse and AIDS. That is undoubtedly a serious problem, especially in prisons, but what is so frightening about the use of crack and free-based cocaine is that it is not associated with the use of needles. Research suggests that young women who smoke, particularly in the United States, are more likely to smoke free-based cocaine and to use crack.

There is no doubt that law enforcement has a major role to play in countering the problems of drug abuse and drug trafficking. In recent months it has again become fashionable to suggest the legalisation of drugs as an answer, but that idea must be strenuously resisted. In section III of our report we advanced some of the many arguments against decriminalisation, and the Committee's interim report—the sixth report, entitled "Crack: the Threat of Hard Drugs in the Next Decade" and published in July—drew attention to the horrific and deeply disturbing effects of drug abuse on social behaviour in the major cities of the United States. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned some of those effects, and I should like to mention others; there may be some overlap.

There has been a 400 per cent. increase in reported cases of child abuse in the United States over the past two years, and three quarters of the children who were battered to death last year had cocaine or crack-using parents. It is estimated the last year in the United States 375,000 babies were born to mothers with drug-related problems: that is 10 per cent. of all births in that country. Drug related emergency admissions to American hospitals have increased by 120 per cent. in three years, with crack addicts especially experiencing chronic chest pains, brain seizures, eating disorders such as anorexia, heart attacks, strokes and even death. That is the horror of cocaine—in a country where in 1976, just 13 years ago, President Carter's drugs adviser told the people that cocaine was a harmless middle-class drug. What irresponsible stupidity; what stupendous madness. That cannot be what we want for this country.

Many serious drug-related crimes of violence are a direct consequence of the effects of drugs. We have already heard today about the different effects created by some of the new amphetamine-based drugs—feelings of paranoia and irritability, a false sense of physical strength leading to violence and assults with weapons, child abuse and even murder. Those crimes have nothing to do with sustaining a habit, and everything to do with the debilitating influence of drug taking: they would clearly continue if drugs were legalised.

Another argument is that, as drug law enforcement is costly and difficult, it would be better to spend the money on health care for addicts and on preventive and educative measures for everyone else. It seems a colossal contradiction, however, to say that we could persuade youngsters of the evils of drug-taking if we had just legalised drugs. As I mentioned in an intervention on the speech of my hon. and learned Friend, we have evidence from surveys done in South America; and we know through intelligence that there is no shortage of drugs—particularly cocaine—being supplied to Europe by those countries. If those drugs were more freely available, there could be only one consequence: there would be more drug users, and drugs would be used more frequently.

Our report advances a further argument, which I found to be increasingly held in the United States. It was succinctly presented in the recently published "National Drug Control Strategy" from President Bush. That argument is that health considerations would undoubtedly necessitate heavy regulation of any legalised drugs to restrict availability. Substantial excise duties are already imposed on alcohol and tobacco, and they are supported increasingly on health grounds. Legalised drugs would be subject to a massive tax addition in an effort to reduce and restrict consumption.

Habitual addicts, robbed of personal dignity and social stability by the degrading influence of drug-taking, would thus be unable to pay for their drugs, and would be just as likely to commit petty crime as they are now. Legal drugs would be expensive, and links between drugs and crime would not be severed, whether those links were forged by the habitual addict funding his addiction or by trafficking in the black market. Certainly we could not countenance the sale of drugs so cheap that children could buy them with their pocket money.

I shall quote directly from our report only once. Paragraph 25 states:
"The tragic social consequences and the enormous costs of the misuse of addictive drugs are so damaging that to risk increasing their misuse by legalising them would be the greatest folly. On health grounds alone, we cannot support the wider availability of addictive drugs or other illicit drugs. We therefore restate our outright opposition to any proposal to legalise the use of any currently illicit drugs."
I speak so forcefully not because hon. Members on both sides of the House do not agree about this matter, but simply because I am worried about a growing trend. I thought that that was an argument for decriminalisation. The debate provides us with an opportunity to answer those suggestions.

What should be the Government's strategy for tackling drug abuse and drug trafficking? Drug trafficking is an international problem and demands international action. The Committee examined several aspects of international co-operation. They are detailed in part IV of the report. The Committee concluded that the 1988 United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances represents an important milestone in international co-operation. Ratification of the treaty is a priority. It will require amendment of section 24 of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 so that United Kingdom law on money-laundering complies with article 3 of the convention. I am pleased that the Government intend to include the necessary amendments in the recently published Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support the Bill when it comes to this House from the other place.

The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill will also enable the United Kingdom to ratify the European convention on mutual assistance in criminal matters, thereby pre-empting another of the report's recommendations. During our inquiry a number of witnesses drew attention to difficulties in conducting international investigations into drug trafficking. Attempts to gain evidence from abroad for prosecutions in Britain reply upon obtaining commissions rogatoires under a statute of 1873. The delays that result from this antiquated procedure are unacceptable in today's world of international drug barons and the action we need to take against them. I welcome the Government's prompt response to the clear need that emerged during evidence for urgent changes to be made.

My hon. and learned Friend paid tribute in his speech to the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He seemed to suggest that the Committee co-operated with the Home Department more readily than with some other Select Committees. One reason why I believe that is so is that the Committee always seems to be able to find a subject where clear Government policy and additional effort are required. We inquire into what needs to be done and find during our deliberations that the Government recognise that more needs to be done. On the basis of the evidence that we have gathered, changes are made. For example, before we had published our forensic science report about a year ago, the Government gave a clear response to it. As two of our reports are being discussed in the debate, that is a trend that other Select Committees might follow. That would be greatly to the benefit of Government policy and would lead to action being taken on important social issues, on which the country rightly demands action.

Further changes to the law relating to money-laundering must also be considered. Part V of the report shows how the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 has proved to be a successful weapon in the war against drug trafficking. That Act followed the Home Affairs Select Committee report on drugs in 1985.

To gain further successes in tracing and confiscating the assets of drug traffickers, it is essential that police efforts to seek restraint orders are not thwarted by suspects being able to remove funds from their banks before those orders are granted. The issue of restraint orders needs to be speeded up. The Committee believes that that would happen if the police were able to obtain restraint orders from the district registries of the High Court.

A further important change to the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986 would be to allow a confiscation order to be varied to cover interest earned, or any appreciation in value, between the time the order was made and the time that it was ultimately satisfied.

Urgent consideration must also be given to the significant threat to the well-being of Britain's financial institutions from the sheer scale of money-laundering activities. The national drugs intelligence co-ordinator at Scotland Yard estimates that there could be at least £1·8 billion of illicitly obtained laundered money in the United Kingdom banking system. That is a frightening statistic.

There have been remarkably few prosecutions for money laundering offences under the 1986 Act. Despite consultations between the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service, which also involved the National Drugs Intelligence Unit coordinator, the Bank of England and the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers, no clear consensus as to how the law could be strengthened has emerged, yet the threat to Britain's financial institutions is of such magnitude that the United Kingdom is regarded in the United States as an offshore banking system. At the very least, the Government and the Bank of England should undertake an urgent inquiry into the scale of the threat to the banking community that is posed by money-laundering, with a view to establishing what legislative or other changes are needed to counter it. I urge the Minister to look at that as a matter of priority.

As to the use that is made of money and assets that are seized from drug traffickers, the Committee strongly believes that the proceeds from drug profit confiscation should go to a central fund to be administered by the Home Office. That would allow additional money to be allocated to specific aspects of enforcement. The idea has the support of more than 100 right hon. and hon. Members, and it is the subject of an early-day motion. If the money were to be used by the Home Office, it would overcome objections to the direct use of such funds by police and Customs. It would enable the money to be spent where it is most needed, in the fight against drug abuse. Apart from law enforcement, that would involve education, prevention of drug taking and rehabilitation.

I shall refer briefly to the other three parts of our report. Amendments to reinforce the law will be successful only if they are supported by effective law enforcement. We spend over £4 billion each year on the fight against crime. Customs is spending another £200 million. It is essential that the organisation of enforcement should ensure that the money is well spent. A national drugs enforcement agency is not required, but urgent improvements need to be made to the co-ordination and coherence of law enforcement by strengthening, for example, the drugs wings of regional crime squads. I welcome the Home Secretary's recent announcement that 51 additional officers will be appointed to regional crime squads next year to reinforce their drugs wings.

The report also recommends the setting up of joint task forces by regional crime squads and drugs officers. Professional language training for police and drugs squad officers is needed. We need better resourcing of payments to informants.

Perhaps the most provocative recommendation in our report affecting the criminal justice system is that we need a review of the guidance issued to police officers on the law of incitement and matters relating to unconventional operations against drug traffickers. There is no doubt that the use of sting-type operations in the United States has proved extremely successful in tackling the problem of drug trafficking, especially at street level, but there is a major case for saying that in terms of international drug traffickers we need to ensure that our rules and regulations on the use of incitement are brought up to date so that the police can operate under cover. Drug trafficking involves sophisticated criminals and we need sophisticated techniques to deal with them.

The report also stresses the importance of intelligence to effective law enforcement. We should like to see an enhancement of the role of the National Drugs Intelligence Unit at Scotland Yard. We should also welcome an increase in the number of drugs liaison officers, some from police forces and some from Customs, who do such invaluable work abroad to ensure that our police forces have the most up-to-date intelligence available.

The Governments of the countries in which the drugs are produced rightly emphasise the importance of reducing the demand for drugs. That is one area of the fight against drugs abuse on which we did not spend a great deal of time in our report because, as the title of the report makes clear, we were concerned to look at drug trafficking on an international scale and its relationship with serious crime. Nevertheless, it is clear to all hon. Members who served on the Committee—I believe that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) wishes to speak on that point later—that major demand reduction programmes need to be put in place. A dinner was held in our embassy in Washington to advise the Committee on what to do., at which were gathered all the best drugs enforcement brains in the United States. In that informal setting, I posed the question, "What constitutes an effective demand reduction programme?" That sparked the most intense debate and argument. Suffice it to say that no one really knew the answer. This is an area in which we have to learn and to research. We must look at all sensible suggestions, but reducing demand for drugs must be the key.

The United States authorities admit to having paid too little attention in the past to education and prevention, so we must not repeat that mistake. Therefore, as I have said, proper emphasis must be given to a demand reduction programme and to rehabilitation and treatment. General practitioners should be given more advice about how to spot and deal with the problems of drug abuse.

In the war against crime, there can be no greater prize than the defeat of drug trafficking and the scourge of drug abuse. Only a wide-ranging, comprehensive and balanced strategy has any chance of success. Our report sets out clear and precise ways in which that strategy can be improved. I commend it to the Government and the House.

11.43 am

Drugs are the menace of today and the monster of tomorrow. The evil that they represent is so clear that we as legislators would be failing in our duty if we urged caution in dealing with this agonising problem that already causes misery to millions of people throughout the world and to thousands of our fellow citizens.

Like the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), I, too, have the privilege of serving on the Select Committee on Home Affairs and I, too, commend its sixth and seventh reports to the House. The facts revealed at the publication of the report yesterday, that just under £2 billion from the profits of drugs is laundered through the banking system of our country, shows the enormous scale of the problem.

In all the work that I have done as a Member of Parliament, nothing has been as worthwhile as serving on the Committee and looking at the way in which drugs have engulfed American society. If we want to know what life will be like in Britain in a few years time if we do nothing in the war against drugs, we need only look at America.

I listened carefully to the account given by the Minister of State and have little to disagree with on the facts and figures that he gave. The Americans themselves estimate that 70·4 million people—37 per cent. of the population—have tried an illicit drug at least twice in their lifetimes. The report notes that there are now 9 million regular drugs-users and 10 million heavy users—that is, people who use drugs over 200 times per year.

The crack problem is clearly an epidemic in America. It knows no racial, class or gender distinctions in terms of those who use it. However, the Minister is right to say that of all drugs perhaps this is the one most used by women. Crack is five to 10 times more addictive than other forms of cocaine. The worrying thing that we noted was that crack is almost instantly addictive. In all the reports that we read and in all the evidence we considered, we have yet to discover a single case of a person who has recovered from being a crack addict. Although millions of pounds are spent on treatment and rehabilitation, there is no known researched treatment that actually works. That is the terrifying consequence of the crack epidemic.

Available widely in almost all the states of the United States, it is a drug that affects people of all social demeanours. A year ago I visited Milwaukee, a state in the mid-west which is known as the "dairy" state. It is not the kind of state that one would identify as having a great number of drug users. I had dinner there with a middle American family—in that mid-western state in the middle of America—and spoke with the son of the family, a young man with great promise. He had a brilliant career ahead of him, but the money that his professional parents had allocated for his future education at school and university was having to be used to help him get rid of his drug habit. The family have switched their resources from education to social services and to health to save their child from death.

The Minister was right when he said that the striking feature about crack is that it is so cheap. When the Committee visited America we saw crack changing hands for about $2 or $3 a piece. The hon. Member for Ryedale has already mentioned the effects of using crack—the chest congestion, brain seizures and the other illnesses that eventually lead to death. It is also right to point out the connection between crack and petty and violent crime. Last year 50 per cent. of all arrests in New York city related in some way to the crack epidemic, and 60 per cent. of those arrested in Washington DC were tested positively for the drug. Violent crime in Washington DC is closely connected with the drug and there is strong evidence to connect all 400 or so homicides in that city with the problem. Statistics show that 47 per cent. all users of the drug have been involved in a physical fight.

Hon. Members are right to draw attention to the link between the use of that drug and child abuse. The Committee's report mentions that we saw a young man aged about 12 being arrested because of crack. We have all read in the newspapers the harrowing story of the mother in Los Angeles who sold her daughter for the purpose of sexual abuse to satisfy her craving for the drug. Last year in America 375,000 babies were born with drug-related problems. The crack babies are causing massive problems to the American health service. The Committee mentions that $500,000 has been spent in trying to protect and to treat 11 babies suffering from crack.

The expression of grief that exists in America is reflected in a statement from a senior Congressman, Mr. Ron Dellums, who met my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) on a recent visit to Washington. He said that in America babies were having babies, that mothers were crying and children dying. We must not repeat that experience in Britain.

The American mistakes are there for all to see. We mention them not because we want to gloat, but because we want to learn from American experiences and failures. The first point to note is that the Americans underestimated the level of the crack addiction and the speed with which it would spread. The Committee mentions a previous visit to America in 1985 when the use of crack was not prevalent. Within four years, however, that drug has engulfed most young American people.

The Committee was concerned at the lack of co-ordination between the enforcement agencies. Thirty-seven federal agencies 40,000 local forces, the FBI, the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency are involved. That problem of co-ordination resulted in the President appointing a "drug czar" who is responsible for co-ordination, at a crucial executive level, of the war against crack. That appointment, however, came far too late.

Not enough money has been spent on demand reduction. In 1985, $950 million was spent on demand reduction, but $2,936 million was spent on supply reduction. That imbalance has not only affected speeches of hon. Members today, but the way in which the Select Committee report was written. The Committee also noted that America has not spent enough on the treatment and rehabilitation of those with problems.

We have seen the future in America and we do not like it. The Minister has already said that the situation here is getting progressively worse. He has already told us that, in 1987, there were 12 crack seizures in Britain. I am grateful to him for giving us the current figures. From information given to me in parliamentary answers it is clear that the crack addiction and supply is worse in certain areas. Up until October there were 48 seizures in the Metropolitan police area and that is a matter for concern. In Greater Manchester, there were seven seizures, in Merseyside, there were five, in the West Midlands, there were nine and in Avon and Somerset, there were nine. Even in places such as Nottinghamshire, there were seizures of crack, although I am happy to say that there were none in my home county of Leicestershire.

The value of the crack that was seized is also of interest. Although the Minister did not give us the latest figures, I know from parliamentary answers that in 1987, the street value of the crack that was seized in Britain was £800, which does not seem much, but by September 1989, the figure had reached £21,000. That may not seem a tremendously high figure, but it represents a 200-fold increase in two years, which is enough to make us feel extremely worried. Similarly, the amount of crack that has been seized by Customs has increased from 35 kg in 1984, to 309 kg, the figure that the Minister kindly gave us today.

I note the work that is being done by the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs, and my remarks on this are said in a friendly spirit. The Minister and I have been getting into a relationship that is affecting my political orientation. We seem to be having to agree on many issues.

It is. We agreed on all the important issues and almost hugged each other during the passage of the Children Bill. I say to the Minister in all friendliness that we want to agree with the initiatives that he has taken. I have looked at the reply that he gave me only yesterday about the number of times that the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs has met. It may be as a result of the fact that the Minister was away from his portfolio at the Home Office and that he was at the Department of Health, that there does not seem to have been a tremendous increase in the number of times that the ministerial group has met. It has met 39 times since 1984. It met four times in 1984, six times in 1988 and six times in 1989. Is it a coincidence that it met previously on 16 October, but met this week only two days before this debate?

It is important that the group, which brings together senior Ministers, meets far more regularly. With the increase in seizures and other figures, I should have thought that there would be a corresponding increase in the number of meetings of the group. I take the Minister's point that there is no point in the group meeting just to have coffee and sandwiches, and to talk about the problems, and that we need effective action. I make the friendly suggestion that the group should meet more regularly.

The Government are not spending enough money on research. I had a reply recently from the Minister for Health who, in response to a question that I had tabled on whether the Home Office or any other Department was hoping to fund research into the patterns of use of cocaine and crack, said that she and the Home Office were "hoping to fund" a study that would cost around £300,000 over a three-year period. I am sorry that, because of constituency commitments, I cannot wait until the end of the debate and I apologise for that. However, I hope that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will tell us that it is not merely a matter of the Minister for Health "hoping" for that research, but that she is promising that there will be research.

There is a problem of co-ordination. The Metropolitan police central drug squad, 52 local police forces, various wings of the regional crime squad, the National Drugs Intelligence Unit and HM Customs and Excise are the principal agencies dealing with the problem. I do not wish to cast aspersions on a report that, in effect, I co-authored, but when I read it again after its publication, I wondered whether we were wrong not to have been more forceful in our suggestion that we should have a national enforcement agency to co-ordinate the various functions. I realise that that is one of the roles of the intelligence unit, in the sense that it gathers information, but I wonder whether we should have taken into account American experience and learnt from American mistakes. The Prime Minister has a long list of consultants. Perhaps we should have a drugs consultant at prime ministerial level, with the same high profile as the "drug czar" in the executive office of the American President.

The Select Committee report recognises the importance of the National Drug Intelligence Unit and its co-ordinator. I think that we went part of the way towards answering the hon. Gentleman's question in our recommendation that the national drugs intelligence co-ordinator should have stronger executive powers to call for intelligence and evidence from other police forces—powers which it does not yet have.

The hon. Gentleman is right that we made that recommendation but the Government may wish to go a step further.

What is the solution to the problem? How can we learn from experience and reduce demand? The Minister made an able speech which contained a great deal of useful information. My criticism of it is that he spent the vast majority of his time outlining the problems. I believe that the hon. Member for Ryedale also touched on the fact that in a sense the Select Committee has done the same. We have spent far too little time talking about demand reduction and preventive action. We discuss the issue in a positive and constructive way but we do not say how we think the problem should be eliminated. Our primary task should be to take preventive action to eliminate the customer before the customer is eliminated by addiction. If one removes the market, one removes the ability to exploit people. Such action would immediately affect the profit made by those who sell drugs. It is to the victims that we should address ourselves. The bottom line is greed. People sell drugs at a profit because they want to satisfy their lust for money. We must eliminate the method by which people make those profits.

It is essential that the Government consider urgently the establishment of specialist crack lines. The Minister spoke of the crack hotline established by Dr. Gold and made available to the House the useful information to be obtained from the specialist cocaine line. I realise that drug helplines are widely publicised, but we should not wait until the problem reaches epidemic proportions in Britain as it has in America to establish more lines and target schools and colleges with their telephone numbers. It is important that young people in particular should be aware that they can ring up—that they can report to the relevant authorities the fact that they have been approached by people wishing to sell them drugs or seek help and medical assistance anonymously, which they could not if they went to their GP. The Government will then be able, at a stroke, to target where sales of crack are increasing.

We also need a sustained public awareness campaign. I welcome the Minister's commitment that an advertising campaign will be launched. I hope that he will take into account the information given and the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and that he will seek to involve young people in the public awareness campaign. There is a view that if we discuss an illegal activity or one that is seen to be banned there is a risk that young people will automatically engage in it.

A similar argument was put forward by people who suggested that sex should be taught in schools. It was said that if young people were taught about sex they would want to indulge in various activities. The answer to the problem lies in telling young people the exact consequences. If we prepared a video that show'td the effects of crack and cocaine that have been described by me and other hon. Members, there would not be many drug-takers among our young people. The Minister will know from the effects of the AIDS awareness campaign that such a campain affects the way in which people behave.

I should like to see the Government doubling the amount that is currently spent on research. I know that £300,000 sounds a great deal but when compared to the amount being spent on the privatisation of water and other nationalised industries, it is a small amount. Money spent on researching the health and welfare of our young people is money well spent.

We have to look at four local areas. First, we need to make sure that there is a teacher in every school who is properly trained to deal with drug issues. He should understand the problems arising from crack and be aware of the ways in which they can be dealt with. That could be done in the same way as teachers are designated in schools to deal with other socially-important problems. Secondly, initiatives must be publicised not just in schools and colleges of further education but in sports and leisure centres and youth clubs—places to which young people have ready access. Thirdly, the family is an important weapon in our campaign against crack, and parents should be given the information that they have not been given in the past. The workplace is the fourth area where we can gain by telling employers and by co-operating with trade unions in ensuring that information is readily available.

I should like to see the development of a local drug prevention panel in the same way as we have a crime prevention panel. It would contain the people that my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield mentioned—elected councillors, officials, representatives of the local education department and health authority and even people from the recreation and leisure departments of local councils. That is important.

We need more co-ordination. Regional crime squads are far too big to deal with the problem. I commend the statements by the chief constable of Nottinghamshire. Although the figures show that there were only two seizures of crack in the whole of Nottinghamshire in 1989, at least he realises that there is a potential problem. I should like to see county forces working together in a much more localised way. In the midlands I should like to see the chief constable of Leicestershire co-operating with the chief constables of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to try to deal with the problem.

At the moment the Government budget for treatment and rehabilitation is £17·5 million. That budget should be increased. I should like to hear what the Minister has to say about acid house parties because I do not think that he mentioned them in his opening speech. That form of drug abuse results in our police officers chasing down the M1, and M6 and other motorways to try to head off revellers who are all the children of the revolution that has occurred over the last 10 years and who clutch their mobile phones trying to find the nearest acid house party. Let us hear some positive and constructive proposals from the Minister about the matter. Who knows, some of them may even live in Putney.

Our task is to break the necklace of terror that may strangle our society. It links drug abuse with violent crime and the destruction of families and communities and leads eventually to the breakdown of society and those essential services upon which we depend—the police, the Health Service and the education services. If the Minister and people ask, "Where are the resources to be found?", my reply is that they simply must be found. The price that we will have to pay if we do not do enough will be one which the American experience teaches us can neve be paid. I urge the Government to act, and to act now.

12.10 pm

I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz); I agree with much of what he said. His plea to the Government to increase the amount of money spent on research bears repeating. I echo to the skies his accent on the need to reduce demand. I shall take up three—I think minor—points in his speech. The hon. Gentleman should be wary about advocating the appointment of a "drugs czar" similar to Mr. Bennett in the United States. The truth is that, sadly, despite all his efforts, Mr. Bennett has not been able to co-ordinate Government policy and he has no co-ordinating function or power within the Cabinet. Newspaper reports say that he is already looking upon it as a lost war.

As I said during an intervention in the Minister's speech, I believe that the hon. Gentleman should be wary of advocating national telephone lines. The existence of local lines is more effective, not just because of the locality but because the people answering the calls know more accurately the problems of their area. However, I endorse his suggestion about local drugs panels. Such panels exist in many parts of the country. An excellent example can be found in my area of East Sussex. The East Sussex drugs advisory council is a good blueprint for the hon. Gentleman in setting up such a council in his area.

I welcome back to the Front Bench my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, he is uniquely suited to supervise the co-ordination of the Government's activities. I welcome what must be his initiative in having this debate today. It is remarkable that this is the third major debate on drugs misuse that we have had in as little as four or five months. That shows the Government's and the House's concern about this enormously complicated and horrifyingly threatening problem.

Other hon. Members have identified various aspects of the problem and others were touched upon in recent debates. However, I should like to confine my remarks to three or four areas. I shall start by mentioning Colombia.

I was lucky enough to be a guest of the Colombian Government only a few weeks ago, and I went there specifically to study the problems of drug trafficking. The House and the Government should bear in mind certain factors when planning how to tackle drug trafficking from this part of the world. It is necessary to remind the House that Colombia is not an illegal drug-producing country; tragically, it is in the forefront of illegal drug production —that is processing—and trafficking. As we are reminded in our newspaper reports day by day and week by week, the violence, bombings, shootings and bribery are a threat to the Government of that extraordinarily beautiful country. It is a country with a proud record of 100 years of democracy, so this production and trafficking are a threat also to the continued proper operation of the judicial system.

I spoke in an intervention of the job being done by our drug liaison officers, and that applies throughout south America. Proper intelligence gathering is essential, both inside and outside countries. Such basic items as proper secure communications networks for the Government and the security forces are imperative. It is good to know that Britain is helping in the supply of such equipment, and that that equipment is much appreciated. I have never visited a country where, in every meeting that I had, with Ministers, officials, politicians and business men, there was greater or more emphatic appreciation of what this country is doing to help that country in the task that it has set itself. Praise was heaped on the hard work and understanding of our ambassador to that country, Mr. Richard Neilson, and his staff. The depth of understanding that he has shown and the warmth of the relationship that he has established with his opposite numbers have helped us to help Colombia.

Intelligence is essential not only to helping the operation of the Colombian security forces, but to the international effort to fight narcotic traffickers. We have to bend our endeavours to interdict their drugs and confiscate their earnings along the long line of distribution from Colombia to the United States and into western Europe. There is admirable co-operation between forces. However, I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister to confirm that international agreements exist, particularly with all producer and transit countries, for the exchange of intelligence of all kinds as it bears on illegal drug trafficking, and especially of the agreements that exist between the security forces of the United States, the United Kingdom and Russia, including the CIA and the NKVD. The accent on the importance of security underlines those agreements, and we cannot re-accent it enough this morning.

I was glad of the previous Home Secretary's assurances that border inspections and immigration controls within Europe would continue to the extent needed to meet the drugs menace. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister will elaborate on his emphatic mention of this, just to confirm specifically that the position taken by the former Home Secretary still holds. It will become more and more important as the single European market becomes a fact, because sadly some European countries are less committed than others to the gathering of intelligence on drug trafficking and to taking action on the intelligence that is fed to them. They do themselves no service by such attitudes or inaction, but they also put the people of other European countries at risk.

Perhaps the efforts of our own Customs and police, the new initiatives by the Association of Chief Police Officers to improve co-operation and co-ordination between British police forces, the establishment of the first joint national investigative unit between the police and Customs, and the new Bill which seeks to improve international co-operation, will all help international pan-European action to cope with the threat from drugs in our continent.

Recently threats have been made to the Colombian judiciary. There is the threat by fear, so often referred to as the promise of lead, and the threat of bribery, which is referred to as the promise of gold. We provide Colombia with basic security equipment. I hope that we can also draw upon our considerable experience to offer and communicate basic advice to members of the judiciary and their families to help them to minimise their exposure to risk. It was tragic that a member of the judiciary was shot down on a street corner outside his house recently. He stood there at the same time every morning, waiting to be picked up by the same car. A knowledge of the most basic security or counter-terrorist activity might have saved his life.

I wonder whether there will be an opportunity for us to help the Colombian judiciary to do its job as well as possible in the difficult circumstances that it faces. We could offer advice and training in court administration, criminal investigation and in prosecution and preparation. There may be room for initiatives from the Lord Chancellor's Department, from the Bar and from the Law Society. I would like the Minister to bear that in mind, even if he cannot give specific assurances on those matters, because he knows the law infinitely better than I do.

I am sure that such help from professionals to professionals would be much appreciated, and represent good value for effort and for money. I suggest that the British Council could provide a ready-made channel for such assistance.

Also, it is crucial that we do all we can to help Colombia in its Herculean task. There is always a risk that the time, effort and cost required may erode its national commitment to deal with the problem. We must minimise the risk of that happening, and we must get other countries to help.

Only yesterday we saw newspaper reports about 50 people who were killed in a bomb explosion in Bogota. It might be appropriate for the House to send a message of condolence to the families of those people who lost their lives, and our good wishes to General Maza Marquez, who is the chief of the Colombian forces who are responsible for fighting drug abuse and drug trafficking.

It is worrying that the cocaine barons feel that they can blackmail the Colombian Government and, at the moment, the Senate, to agree to a referendum on whether extradition should be disallowed, because it is difficult, if not impossible for politicians to stand up and give counter arguments.

Our activities are not confined to Colombia. We must continue to support United Nations' efforts to ratify the United Nations convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and to seek ratification from other countries. We must continue to support United Nations' work through various agencies and the United Nations fund for drug abuse control, which is the agency that is most actively involved in the crop substitution programmes which are so important. Those agencies need and deserve extra resources, both from direct national support and through larger allocations from the United Nations budget. I sincerely hope that the Government will support such additional resources being made available, especially during the special General Assembly session on drugs next February.

The House may be interested to learn that, only yesterday, the Western European Union Assembly in Paris resolved unanimously that the supply of arms and industrial goods with military applications must he prevented, that this is essentially a Government responsibility, and that administrative and financial difficulties should not interfere in that responsibility because, as we all accept, internal and external security is the prime task of any Government.

In response to an intervention, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister drew attention to the work of the Pompidou group, which is presently under British chairmanship. It continues to work positively, although I have heard worrying reports that there may be dissent in the French Government about its future activities. I wonder whether one might call them jealous disagreements about to whom the Pompidou group and its activities should be reporting in the French Government—the President or the Prime Minister. It is all the sadder to hear such reports when we see in yesterday's The Times a minor headline:
"Crack becomes chic on the Paris Métro circuit".
That should bring back to everybody in France the importance of the Pompidou group's work. I ask my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, in conjunction with his colleagues in the Foreign Office, to wield whatever power and influence they can to ensure that the French Government maintain their commitment to the excellent work that the Pompidou group has done.

We must ensure ever greater vigilance regarding the destination and end use of exported armaments, which all too easily can stray to Narco terrorists, and of precursor chemicals, which are essential to the manufacture of cocaine. I welcome the Government's plans to do both of those things and to change the legislation where necessary. Without arms, the violent rule of drug barons cannot be maintained. Without the chemicals, much of the drugs they peddle cannot be produced.

Whatever we do to improve international controls, countries such as Colombia must still wage their own war. Their economies must be sustained to enable them to do that. By comparison with that of many other countries, Colombia's economy has been buoyant. Historically, it was based on gold, emeralds, rubber and coffee. More recently, it has had coal, a growth of tourism and increasing exports of flowers. It is now the world's second largest flower exporter. Nevertheless, the trading blocs of the developed world must try to expand their trade with Colombia and other developing countries in south America. The European Community and the United States must bend their energies to obtain co-operation from Brazil and other producers for a viable new coffee agreement. Without a strong economy, Colombia and other countries in south America cannot do their best in this war, which is crucial to us all.

These best efforts will not solve the world problem of illegal drugs without even greater energy and money being applied to reduce demand. It is interesting that President Barcos knows that, not least because he recognises a worrying growth of demand in his own country. We should not be tempted into the trap—people still are tempted into it—of dividing countries between producers and consumers, because the producers consume and the consumers produce. We in the developed world must appreciate that all our efforts to tackle the problem will be ineffective unless we can be sure that more people will not be attracted to drug misuse. I fear that President Bush did not show sufficient appreciation of this in his otherwise admirable anti-drug initiatives. It is to be hoped that the first international conference on demand reduction, which is to take place next April as an initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and under the Government's sponsorship, will add greater urgency to prevention everywhere.

As the prevention effort increases, I draw the attention of the House to the uses that can be put of the assets that are confiscated as a result of preventive actions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said, there is an early-day motion on this matter which has 129 signatories to date. It suggests, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs endorses, that confiscated assets that were gained as a result of drug trafficking should be used to establish a central fund specifically to help finance schemes to reduce the demand for and the supply of illicit drugs. The motion requests Ministers to make the necessary arrangements urgently. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend the Minister, as the co-ordinator of all of the Government's activities in this area, will bend his energies to that.

Unfortunately, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said, some see the task of fighting the drugs misuse battle as so great that they have lapsed into the argument for legislation, to the consternation of many. It seems that the legalisation campaign has two main arguments. The first is economic in nature and was outlined in an excellently written but, I believe, completely falsely based article in The Economist recently. Broadly speaking, it is that drugs are dangerous and so is the illegality that surrounds them. In legitimate commerce their sale could be controlled, taxed and supervised. The dangers could be proclaimed on every packet. In this way drugs would poison fewer customers, kill fewer dealers, bribe fewer policemen and raise more public revenue. In summary, it is said that the cost of legalisation is less than that of prohibition.

The second argument is advanced by some producer countries and by some who are concerned with reaching addicts for treatment. According to this argument, our political, judicial and medical systems are being undermined by the illegal activities of the drug traffickers, who are merely meeting demand. I fear that these people have accepted the use of drugs as a permanent feature of society, with legalisation or decriminalisation as an alternative to prohibition, which they consider to be costly, ineffective and an obstacle to demand reduction.

The Select Committee's report and the tenor of comments made in the House this morning correctly argue in the opposite direction. The frustration of legalisation proponents, especially those dealing with the effects of drugs in the United States and countries such as Colombia, is understandable but their proposal is not. Aside from the array of legal questions which would accompany, if not prevent, implementation—the questions are myriad—the arguments are based on poorly founded assumptions. In consumer countries, for instance, users and addicts will continue to rob and steal to fund their habits. They will continue to depend on illicit dealers for the supply of drugs of higher potency than those administered in legal doses. In producer countries, neither price nor terrorism is likely to decrease. With their monopoly of production and distribution and the $6 billion profit that it brings yearly, the cartels will use their resources to maintain their control of the market and their profits as well.

I believe that legalisation would undermine the education efforts that are now under way to prevent drug misuse and would make drugs more attractive by removing the legal inhibition on those who do not like acting illegally.

The Home Affairs Committee report correctly states in paragraph 22:
"Even if legalisation were to affect at the margin the extent of criminal activity surrounding the drugs trade, it would almost certainly increase drug addiction and the social evils attendant upon it."
We should, as a House, this morning endorse one aspect, even if we endorse no other, of that report, and it is paragraph 28 which states:
"We therefore see effective law enforcement as a basic weapon in the reduction of supplies of drugs available on the streets and as an essential disincentive to those likely to trade in, sell and misuse drugs."
I endorse the report almost 100 per cent. My only rider is on the section relating to demand reduction and rehabilitation. Paragraph 169 states that
"it became clear that demand reduction and treatment and rehabilitation are of vital importance to the fight against drug misuse."
I endorse that 100 per cent. However, paragraph 175 refers to President Bush giving
"some indication of the requirements of the sort of comprehensive and co-ordinated demand reduction policy which we believe is urgently needed in the United Kingdom."
The report has it wrong.

The Bush Administration, in an attempt to contain the horrifying growth of drug misuse in that country, have launched a mammoth programme that is almost entirely concentrated on interdiction of drug trafficking. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, it pays far too little attention to the reduction of demand. It should be noted that the Bush Administration have replaced the Reagan Administration cuts in the Federal budget to fight drug misuse, but they have not yet replaced the Carter Administration cuts, so they are a long way removed from establishing the same sort of accent and financial support for the fight against drug misuse that were established by the Nixon Administration. We should not give a wrong impression, either to the United States or to ourselves, that we believe that sufficient is being done on either that side or this side of the Atlantic to reduce demand.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has done so much as chairman of the all-party drug misuse group to tackle these problems. Does he agree that one of the problems with demand reduction, both in the States and in this country, it that there is not wide enough understanding of what works? What is desperately needed, and it was recognised by the Home Affairs Committee, is more research. Perhaps that is something that the international drugs conference next April could start quickly. It should devote urgent funds and impose a short time scale for really good empirical and analytical studies of what works, so that the necessary funds can be applied in the most effective way.

I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend and neighbour, who, with his normal perspicacity, has anticipated one of my closing remarks. It is essential that we build a better body of knowledge and understanding of what goes on in the minds of people who are tempted into drug misuse—through, among other things, more fundamental, frontier-breaking research into the genetic influences that bring about a propensity to misuse not only drugs but alcohol and other substances.

My hon. and learned Friend the Minister mentioned the life education centres established in Australia by the Rev. Noffs. Those centres have been emulated in various parts of this country, and, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, I have urged the Government to give far more support to this marvellous method of instilling—especially in young people—a better understanding of the values of good health. I refer hon. Members to our previous debate on this subject, in which I developed that view.

I fear that, whatever we do to try to stop drug trafficking and production, the continually changing patterns of drug misuse will circumvent any rules that we draw up. Misdirected human ingenuity will invent new drugs; misdeveloped natural resources will provide the raw materials. The development of cannabis, heroin, valium and LSD will no doubt continue, as will the processing of crack from cocaine and—in a roughly equivalent process —the processing of amphetamines into ice, the newest drug from the west coast of the United States. In any event, we require a better understanding of the problem through better research and better health education, particularly among the young. We also need improved treatment, because we want to stop people from returning to the world of drug misues.

I have described an aspect of the battle against drug misuse that is neither glamorous nor the stuff of party political points. It is not likely to imbue members of any Government with a warm and successful feeling, but it is none the less the most essential part of our continuing task, and even our own Government must give it increasing emphasis. I am certain that, under the guiding hand of the new Minister in charge of Government co-ordination, they will do so.

12.42 pm

I intend to adopt a somewhat different approach from that of other hon. Members. First, I shall direct my remarks towards the possible legalisation of certain drugs; secondly, I shall make an exceedingly brief speech. While the former may not commend itself to hon. Members, perhaps the latter will.

I do not accept the implication by the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) that the legalislation of certain drugs would necessarily lead to a progression to more dangerous drugs, any more than I believe that someone who drinks a glass of sherry at lunchtime ends up as an alcoholic. The central question is just how damaging drug taking is to health—and, of course, that depends very much on the drug that is taken.

Many—perhaps most—drugs are about as damaging to health as alcohol or nicotine, and it is probably indisputable that more people die of smoking-related diseases than of diseases related to the use, at least, of drugs. It could probably be argued that more die from the effects of criminal activities associated with the supply of and demand for drugs than from drug-taking itself.

Not all drugs are destructive of health. Marijuana cannot be classified with heroin, and cocaine derived from coca has been taken by Andean Indians for generations as a protection against cold and famine. The materials that are mixed with cocaine—for example, baking soda to produce crack—are the most dangerous element.

It is not desirable to use drugs. It is not particularly desirable, either, to over-use alcohol or to smoke. However, people do all three. Controls are needed, but at different levels. Control over demand as well as control over supply must be strict.

What concerns and alarms most people on both sides of the Atlantic is the criminal activity surrounding the use and supply of drugs rather than the damage that certain drugs can do to health. To treat all drugs in the same way is rather like treating low-alcohol beer as though it were neat alcohol. The Dutch have adopted a different approach. They deal with different drugs in a different way. They are selective. According to the statistics, few youngsters in Holland die of drug abuse, and hardly any of them contract AIDS after using infected needles.

No. I said that I would make a short speech, and that is exactly what I intend to do.

I do not say that drug-taking should be made legal because I do not know enough about the subject. I read the article in The Economist and a previous series of articles that it carried. There have been articles on the subject in The Sunday Times, which I have also read. Neither of those newspapers is popular with hippies. The reports did not reflect a rabid, Left-wing, Socialist point of view. The case was well argued and the articles were written by responsible journalists. I ask the Government to consider some of the arguments that they advanced and to acknowledge the growing concern that we are not dealing effectively with the problem.

I hope that the Minister will consult scientists, psychiatrists social workers, the police and doctors and obtain their views about the problem. If we are not tackling it succesfully, should there not be an objective, impartial assessment of drug taking, especially of soft drugs? The case should be put before Parliament when all the facts can be given. If the evidence clearly suggested that we must prohibit the use of all drugs and criminalise the supply and use of all drugs, I should be prepared to accept the evidence. We should not adopt the single approach that has been advocated so far in the debate. There should be a broader assessment of the problem so that the evidence can be put before those of us who still remain to be convinced.

12.48 pm

I apologise in advance for the fact that I shall have to leave the House before the end of the debate in order to keep an important constituency engagement. Unfortunately, the Government have not yet spent the money that they have announced they intend to spend on the improvements to the M1 and M6, which would have enabled me to reach my constituency in good time after the debate had ended.

Once upon a time the United Kingdom suffered a severe balance of payments problem and resorted to skulduggery of a dubious moral nature to cure it. That problem concerned China. In 1729, the Emperor of China, in an early attempt at narcotics control, banned the sale and smoking of opium. In 1729 the British merchants were importing about 200 chests of opium into China a year. After that date the British, aided by the United States, drove the opium trade until 1860, when opium imports reached 60,000 chests per year.

At about that time the balance of payments began to swing back in favour of the United Kingdom. Inscrutably, the Chinese complained about that because in return for their silks they were getting a drug-addicted population. We retaliated by engaging in two wars against them, killing as many of them as we could, beating them and forcing them to legalise the trade in and consumption of opium. We also forced them to discontinue the use of the word "barbarian" to label those blessed western people who had introduced the trade to them and addicted such a large proportion of their population.

The interesting thing about this is that for 30 years after the legalisation of opium in China, opium imports rose rapidly. Legalisation did not undercut the market. Since then the United States and the United Kingdom have been reaping the whirlwind of their misdeeds. We heard earlier about how the countries that we used to regard as supplying countries have become consuming countries themselves, feeding on their own poison. The potted history that I have given shows that legalisation, argued for so seductively by experts of both the Left and the Right, does not work. In my view, it would lead only to an increase in drugs abuse, and the state having to pick up the cost of broken lives and broken families. If one country legalised drugs before others, there would be a massive increase in drug abuse in that country as seedy junkies from all over the world congregated like flies to a honeypot—

The current debate about drug abuse seems to divide people into two factions—the decriminalisers and the enforcers. However, enforcement alone is not the answer because of the enormous numbers of people who are already taking drugs and because of the enormous profits that are made from the drugs trade. Those profits would increase if the drug was made more scarce.

Even in the USSR, with all the totalitarian instruments at its disposal, there are 40,000 registered drug addicts in Moscow alone. It is estimated that there are 300,000 drug abusers in the United Kingdom. If we were to arrest them all tomorrow, they would fill our gaols six times over. The drug enforcement agencies in New York last year arrested 90,000 people. Goodness knows how the criminal justice system there deals with all of them.

Enforcement alone cannot be the only answer and legalisation does not work. However, as I tried to develop in the debate on 9 June this year, there may be a third possibility. If complete prohibition and liberal availability do not work, the controlled availability that we had with heroin until the 1960s might be made to work again, at least for heroin. Until the 1960s there were only 500 heroin addicts in this country, compared with what was already a complete disaster in the United States in terms of the number of heroin addicts.

However, if controlled availability is to work, it will need both carrots and sticks. The carrot would be a positive offer of controlled unadulterated drugs for those addicts currently using the illicit market and alienated from the drugs agencies that already exist. The stick would be even more rigorous enforcement of those users—and even more, the pushers—who still remain in the illicit market. The law and the community would need to be persuaded of the advantage of forcing drug users into a controlled space.

When we tried that in the late 1950s there was a haemorrhage of drugs from the so-called licit market —those who had the drugs prescribed to them by doctors —on to the illicit market. That is the inevitable consequence of making drugs available under such circumstances.

My hon. and learned Friend was unable to be present on 9 June when I dealt with that particular point. I do not want to be diverted on to that argument now. There was an illicit supply of drugs to the United States when some dubious doctors over-prescribed. I do not believe that my suggestion would necessarily lead to such dubious doctors behaving as they did in the 1950s. That problem could have been solved, but it was decided that many of the drug services available at that time should be withdrawn. That decision forced the drug-using community into the black market. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend could look at my contribution on 9 June.

In 1987 a drug watch centre was founded in Chester by a young barrister, Brendan Anderson. It has proved to be extremely successful. The police admit that Chester has a deep-rooted heroin problem. The aid from a spectrum of voluntary organisations and the backing from local industry has enabled the drug watch team to act as a warning beacon to the community of the dangers of drug use and of pushing. It encourages public assistance to the authorities in detaining those who push drugs in the community. That centre is almost an extension of the neighbourhood watch concept. It makes the community alert to the dangers of drugs and it makes it more difficult for pushers to operate. It has raised a lot of money and has recycled it into educational projects against drugs. It has also opened a telephone line through which information can be passed confidentially on a 24-hour basis to the drug squad.

The drug watch concept is slowly spreading. I initiated one in Warrington, which is under the chairmanship of Mrs. Lucy Morris. I hope that those centres will spread further and I hope that the Home Office will encourage that trend by giving guidance to those new organisations and perhaps a small amount of seed-corn money to help them set up.

Drug watch effectively means that the problem cannot be swept under the carpet. That must not happen because the problem, already horrifying, is getting worse. There are already 300,000 drug abusers in Britain. Seizures of cannabis by weight went up by a factor of three last year although I accept that that might be due to more rigorous enforcement. Heroin addiction seems to have reached a plateau, although a distressing one. We have all heard of the large increases in the seizures of cocaine by Customs and Excise, but that must be related to the increased imports that are getting through. We have also heard of the great increases in the number of crack seizures, a large number of them in my general region of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. Those areas, apart from metropolitan London, are particularly badly affected.

The use of drugs seems to correlate with the crime wave that we have recently experienced. Of the drug addicts and offenders arrested in Cheshire 79 per cent. of them already had a conviction for some other offence. One third of prisoners on remand are cocaine and heroin users. If crack takes off we must beware. This year parts of Miami experienced a 30 per cent. increase in robberies. The local police blamed crack and the "rob till you drop" syndrome. Some of those guys are so desperate that they will engage in 15 or more robberies and will then race back in between to get more crack.

Given that general situation it is remarkable that people still say that it cannot happen here. Nothing is more conducive to the spread of the problem than the attitude, "Sweep it under the carpet. Don't talk to the children about it." How wrong can one be!

Experts in the United States and in the United Kingdom now agree that preventive education must play an important role, but education is not the responsibility only of the state. The most important vehicle for education is the family. Dr. Maura Daly, senior policy analyst on the drug abuse prevention staff of the United States Department of Education says that the number one factor preventing drug abuse are familial, community and religious values. The Hazelden Foundation has found that one of the most important factors in keeping children off drugs is the amount of concern that they believe that their parents would feel if they were taking drugs. That is a comfort to those parents who believe that all their words go in one ear and out the other. Their words do sink in and do make a difference. The genteel approach of believing that we must not talk about something nasty to the children simply does not help.

We have as a warning the experience of the United States where it was believed for many years, "It can't happen here." In 1982, the Scientific American said:
"Use of cocaine is probably no more addicting than eating peanuts or potato chips."
Americans told themselves that and many of them believed their own garbage. The problem was that it takes a relatively long time to become addicted to cocaine—up to 18 months—and by the time that the Americans found that out, there were 12 million regular users of cocaine in the United States who had a bit of a problem, to say the least.

Crack was unknown four years ago. It is far more addictive than cocaine; 75 per cent. of users become addicted after the third smoke and there is no known cure. In 1986, many Americans outside New York were saying, "Those crazy New Yorkers with their funny accents are all nuts. Crack will never come out of the ghetto." It is now the major drug of abuse in 49 out of 50 American states.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) took the line that drug abuse can be correlated with deprivation, but that is not true of crack. Bob Stutman of the drug enforcement agency, when speaking to the Association of Chief Police Officers, emphasised that crack was now a major drug of abuse in the heart of conservative middle America. He said that it affected rich, poor and in-between, that it had left the ghetto in the United States and that it had gone on to suburban America.

Road blocks were set up in the inner city and cars were stopped when going in. Last year, 1,000 cars were seized in seven months. Bob Stutman said that 80 per cent. of the 1,000 cars were driven by white kids from the nice suburbs who were coming in to buy crack and who had taken their daddy's car. Crack is the equal opportunity drug which affects all classes, all races and, as we have heard, women as much as men. That is sad because one of the last vestiges of family life in the American inner cities depends on the matriarchal element and Americans are now finding that those last vestiges are disappearing as a result of the violence and the personality changes that crack causes to its victims.

My mathematics is not very good, but I made a quick calculation. I reckon that seizures of crack in this country increased by 450 to 500 per cent. this year compared with last. I heard experts for whom I had considerable regard say recently on television that we should not sensationalise the issue of crack because we might add glamour to it and therefore, increase usage. However, the history of the United States shows that the Americans severely underplayed the issue.

Bob Stutman gave a ringing end to this story in his speech to the chief police officers. I must add, incidentally, that I found it hard to obtain a copy of his speech because the Association of Chief Police Officers wanted to sweep it under the carpet, but I managed eventually to arrange for a copy to be placed in the Library and I urge all hon. Members to read it. Stutman warns:
"I will personally guarantee you that two years from now you will have a serious drug problem because we are so saturated in the United States with cocaine, there ain't enough noses left to use the cocaine that's coming in. It's got to go somewhere and where it's coming is right here."

1.5 pm

Hon. Members on both sides of the House listened with interest to the Minister, who rightly recounted his own experiences and told us of his visits to south America and elsewhere. The story that he told was sad and sombre and, unfortunately, true. We wonder whether the problem is getting out of hand in many parts of the world, and we realise that many harsh decisions will have to be made to combat drug misuse.

In my view, the situation is very grim in this country as well. I am delighted that hon. Members on both sides of the House are united in their determination to try to conquer drug misuse. If we all unite—Government, people and especially parents—we can make a significant effort to put an end to drug misuse by the early 1990s.

I shall concentrate on three of the key issues in the United Kingdom, although I know that there are many more. The first is information. In only a very few places are any professional attempts made to collect information about drug misuse. The Government's information comes from convictions and referrals to hospitals, but those figures are only the tip of the iceberg. We need databases in every area so that policy decisions can be based on up-to-date information. We need more schemes whereby general practitioners, voluntary agencies, the police and others combine to provide information to a central source. Where that happens, the provision of services is more cost-effective and more effective in saving lives.

Another of the key issues concerns education support grants. We must ensure that young people are given the message that they must say no to drugs. It is vital that local authorities should continue to employ teachers to train others to carry the message into schools and youth clubs. In the past 10 or 15 years we have learnt much from our campaign to persuade youngsters to give up smoking. It would be interesting to find out how many people in Britain do not start smoking at an early age. I believe that eventually youngsters will respond in the same way to the campaign against drugs.

Local authorities are struggling to retain staff that they appointed three years ago because the Department of Education and Science has reduced its grant from 75 per cent. to 50 per cent. Although fourth-year funding continues at that reduced rate, no commitment to fifth-year funding has been forthcoming from the Government. That is a danger. If the Government are serious about this matter, proper funding should be given as soon as possible.

My third key issue is the National Health Service review. Some of the Government's proposals will lead to a poor deal for drug users. Will general practitioners want to take on drug users? Such people take up much time and form a high HIV risk group. They also cost the National Health Service a gread deal.

If hospitals become self-governing, what will happen to specialised services? Will they be provided in only a few locations or not at all? Drug budgets will be formulated on basic list prices, but an addict may need a more effective option because of his addiction. He may not get it if the doctor has to watch the local family practitioner committee's ability to reimburse pharmacists.

I shall now deal with HIV and AIDS. The latest statistics show that a growing number of intravenous drug users are HIV-positive. Department of Health figures show that, of the 11,218 HIV cases, 1,678 are intravenous drug abusers. In Thailand, in 1987, 1 per cent. of drug users were HIV-positive. Three years on that has risen to 40 per cent. of drug users. I have been told that by many general practitioners that in terms of drug abuse the United Kingdom is sitting on a time bomb and that the biggest problem is in Scotland. The Government must act quickly and get away from representing AIDS as a homosexual problem. They must recognise the link between drug users and the heterosexual community.

All pilot needle exchange schemes have been successful and such schemes reduce the spread of diseases and especially HIV. They also lead to contact between the agencies and drug misusers, uncover hidden problems, and lead to better habits. However, in the United Kingdom, only 1 million needles are exchanged each year and there are 27 million injections. That means that a ninefold increase in needle availability is needed to avoid needle reuse. The Government should increase funding in order to extend needle exchange schemes into every area.

My party recognises the extent of the problem, but the Government do not even begin to comprehend it. I said earlier that we are sitting on a time bomb. I am afraid that the fuse has almost burned out and that the impact is just about to hit us. We need more information and better education for our children. The Government must not go ahead with the National Health Service review. We must recognise that the AIDS crisis will affect everyone. We need a Government who will act, and act now, on the recommendations of the Select Committee. I am grateful to members of the Committee for their recommendations. The Government must give extra funding wherever it is required in order to combat drug misuse.

1.13 pm

It is always a pleasure to take part in packed House debates on a Friday morning when the number of hon. Members in the Chamber is exceeded by the number of attendants, never mind the number of visitors in the Strangers' Gallery. The debate has the intimacy of an Adjournment debate, but it is none the worse for that except that we are debating a most important subject. I listened to every word of the debate, and it is a great shame that many other colleagues are not here. I do not blame them for not wanting to make a contribution but they should listen to the debate and get a flavour of the extent and nature of the problem in the United Kingdom. Every speaker, including the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells)—but particularly the two Front-Bench spokesmen—have shown a degree of unanimity with just a few understandable differences of view that are to be expected. They have shown one of the few shafts of light in this whole scenario by their willingness to be broad-minded, accept suggestions and agree that this is an issue that will require funding and intensive investment in our community if we are to crack the problem.

Unlike the Select Committee, I did not go the United States in the summer to look particularly at drugs. However, I did go because, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) mentioned in his speech, between being the hon. Member for Oxford, East and then the hon. Member for Epping Forest—in the period that we actors call resting—I formed an organisation called Crime Concern which is the national crime prevention body that specialises in trying to encourage voluntary crime prevention. We invited the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) to become a member of the advisory board, and I am delighted that he accepted. Conservative Members have a special affection for the hon. Gentleman for reasons unassociated with any of his parliamentary qualities.

The Crime Concern study involved visiting the National Crime Prevention Council in Washington with which we went on visits in Washington, Baltimore and elsewhere to see how the United States is combating crime by crime prevention initiatives in the community. Incidentally, this is now an even lonelier debate than an Adjournment debate.

That is no reflection on the quality of the speech.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I do not know whether it is a rule in the House that the quality of the speech must always be in inverse proportion to the number of people listening to it. That may be the case.

In the United Kingdom we are worried about shoplifting and theft from vehicles, but in the United States people are worried about death from drugs and guns. Their prevention activity is devoted to trying to stem a wave that seems–as many hon. Members have pointed out—to have got completely out of control. In America there is a vivid poster showing a family of young black children taking a coffin down the church steps after they have been to a funeral service. The banner underneath says, "This poster is brought to you by a young drug abuser with a gun". That sums up the terror and hopelessness of the position there.

Drugs are a problem not merely of abuse by individuals, but because of their relationship to crime and criminality. In the great trinity of supply, demand and price, the greatest is demand. The need to do something about supply is important, and I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that the need to police borders reinforces the need to regard with caution some of the more optimistic assumptions about 1992 and the abolition of frontiers. There may be a place for grower subsidies in south America, but I am cynical about anything that we can do in that area. In view of the scale of the economy of drug production in south America, anything that we could do would be dwarfed by the vast national budget-style scale of the economy there. We have to concentrate on what flows from restricting demand—a reduction in the price, to drive the coca farmer to look for a more suitable form of agricultural lifestyle.

If reducing demand is the key to our success, how do we do it? I do not believe—and this stems from the experience that we have had in looking with Crime Concern at work with young people—that we have had anything like enough investment in the young people who are the vulnerable audience for drugs and crime. The peak age of offending was, until recently, 14 for females and 15 for males. That is not among youth offenders but among all offenders. It is a tragedy that, because of the changes in the cautioning system, the figure has risen to 18 for both sexes.

That statistic shows where the pressure has to go. Simply to talk in numbers of policemen, courts, sentencing and all the traditional vocabulary—often uttered stridently by my hon. Friends—is to have an inadequate picture of the solution. We have to do a great deal of work with young people to change their attitudes, and to do something about their approach to each other. Both my hon. and learned Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Huddersfield spoke about the importance of trying to engender an atmosphere in which young people simply see drugs as past—not hip, not funny, not clever and not smart any more. That is the kind of image of drugs that we shall have to create if we are to do something about the problem.

I am concerned by the comment of the hon. Member for Huddersfield that it is merely a problem of poverty. I may be doing him an injustice because he did not say quite that, but he did try to establish a link between income and social poverty. Sadly, the truth is closer to what my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Butler) adduced, which is that drug crime spans all of the economic spectrum. It is perhaps identified by an absence of parental interest and involvement in the family, whether that is at the level of the very rich—the brats taking cocaine—or the very poor over whom there is little parental influence.

We need a partnership not just with the conventional social agencies and the Department of Education and Science but, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, with the local authorities. We cannot deal with this without the help of the local authorities. They are a vital force, and we should be engaging them directly, as we engaged them in preventing crime, to do something about the problem in their communities. There must be an immense collaborative effort, and I should like to see a great deal more effort and money being put into stimulating measures for young people, in the community and by the community, to do something about the problem.

We have not said much about alcohol misuse, but that is clearly germane to the subject. That, drug misuse and football violence are not capable of solution by situational means. It is not a question of locks, bars, bolts or policemen at every corner. The problems can be resolved only by social intervention, by social change that brings about different attitudes in the minds of the young and the potential drug abuser and offender.

I am a trustee of the Broadway Foundation, which runs a treatment centre for those who are victims of drug and alcohol abuse. As such, it receives almost no funding from the health authorities or the Government. It receives a little, but remarkably little, and that is a lacuna in our provision. In 1986, the Social Services Committee examined not the criminal background to drug misuse but the medical impact of it. With that Select Committee I went to a number of hospitals and spoke to a number of experts. I found it extraordinarily moving that it is very easy to get off drugs. It is simply not the dreadful, appalling year-long experience of banging one's head against a padded wall in a cell that it is sometimes portrayed as being.

Detoxification, even after years of heroin abuse, can take weeks and sometimes days. However, if one simply returns people to the same environment after taking the drugs from their bodies, to the same friends, pubs and life of inactivity, they will be abusing drugs again within days. One has done nothing for them other than perhaps giving them a temporary respite—prolonging their life but precious little else.

Clearly we need to invest more heavily in genuinely detoxifying abusers and making a permanent alteration in their lifestyle. There are some simple ways in which we can do that—for example, by providing housing, good social conditions, and finding them jobs. Those are all important, but high on the list must be a recognition of the importance of in-depth treatment centres, such as the Broadway Foundation. Then we can give people, regardless of income, therapy over a period of months, which will give them back their self-respect and make them realise that they can be individuals within the community and that they do not need the crutch of drugs. If we bear that in mind, we will do a great service in the community.

In his opening speech, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said that he was willing to listen to almost any initiatives and that he acknowledged the scale and extent of the problem. It is impossible to underestimate the scale of the problem in society. I know that my hon. and learned Friend meant what he said, and I hope that he will bear in mind the importance of intensive therapy in the rehabilitation of drug abusers. Then we will be able to assist in the process of converting a whole section of the community away from a regard for drugs and towards a more healthy attitude to life.

1.32 pm

Few subjects are more frightening or more emotive than drug abuse. Those hon. Members who have had the opportunity to travel to America, and to talk to community leaders, legislators and politicians there, know that drugs, and the social problems that they cause, have forced themselves to the top of the political agenda. In New York, Washington and other inner cities, drug abuse and the associated criminal problems are threatening a mini holocaust to those communities.

Earlier contributors to the debate have mentioned the problems of violence, crime and the particular threat that drugs pose to young people as consumers and mini entrepreneurs. The most upsetting and frightening feature of the current wave of drug abuse in the United States is the way that drugs are eating away at, and destroying, the family and the social structure. One lesson that we can learn from the American experience is that the Government and the politicians should not leave their actions too late. The clock is ticking away.

However, there is also a danger of arousing too much hysteria or of myth-making, and that stops people getting to grips with the real issue.

British cities will not face the same problems of guns and shootings in five or 10 years' time, as American cities do, simply because Britain has different gun controls and laws. However, the economic devastation wrought by drugs is a threat to Britain.

No group of people are more fearful about the problem, or more anxious to know what the Government intend to do, than those who live and work in the inner cities. If drugs and drug abuse is a rifle pointed at society, it is pointed directly at inner-city communities. Such communities have a vested interest in effective Government action against this scourge. I think, therefore, that I speak for everybody in the community that I represent, and many others in inner cities elsewhere in the country, when I say that we need a war on drugs that enlists and involves the community, not one which leaves the community feeling that it is under threat and being alienated. It must be recognised that an effective war has to move away from the myths and deal with the often frightening realities.

We have had much sensational coverage in the newspapers during the past couple of years of yardies, the so-called black mafia who control the drug trade in Britain. There is no doubt that there are people of Jamaican origin who are involved, just as there are people of all other communities involved in the trade. I speak on behalf of the whole Jamaican community here and abroad when I say that we resent strongly the sensationalist and exaggerated reports which imply that there is a Jamaican mafia which provided the key actors in the drug trade. That is a slur on millions of law-abiding Jamaicans here and abroad. Most are law abiding and want to be involved in the fight against drugs. We resent the smears against our community.

In the debate on drug misuse, there is often a suggestion or inference that the problem is to do with race and involves black communities. Crack knows no colour. It and other drugs are equal opportunities scourges. They hit high and low, regardless of colour, gender or class.

My community wants an effective war on drugs. We have to put the issue in its social and economic context. If the American experience has shown only one thing, it is that a way against drugs should not be solely a matter of law enforcement. Law enforcement plays a key role, but any war on drugs that is perceived solely as a law enforcement exercise cannot succeed. Rather it will lead to escalation, money and men being poured in to solve the problem, but still families and communities being devastated.

There is no doubt that, if we are to have a serious war on drugs, we must attack it on several fronts. We must tackle money laundering, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs has done so ably in its report. I was in the United States a few months ago talking to bankers about many subjects, and money laundering by drug barons arose. The regulatory authorities there said that, when they were first asked to seek records and interfere with the workings of the banking system, they were reluctant. One said that, when he spent time living and working in Florida near Miami, which is one of the centres of the drug trade, and he saw the devastation being wrought by the drug trade, especially among young people, black and white, and he walked into banks where they could not close the safe doors because so much money which could not be accounted for was piled into them, he saw in moral and community terms that the banks had to involve themselves in regulation to stop laundering. If the drug traders cannot bank their profits or use them, that must be an important component of the war against drugs. I urge swift and effective action by the Government and regulatory bodies on money laundering.

We need also real research into patterns of drug abuse and the changes that take place. It is not enough to peddle myths or anecdotes. It is not sufficient to talk of where the problems might be or where those involved might be found. Much more research is needed. I join those of my hon. Friends who have called for a considerable increase in the moneys that are devoted to research. We must obtain the necessary information if we are to move effectively against drug trafficking and drug misuse. At present, the information is incomplete, patchy and distorted. It does not provide the base for effective political and social action. We need better co-ordination and an end to the rivalry between the police and the Customs and Excise.

Above all, we must improve education. Education must not be confined to glossy and expensive poster campaigns. If we want effective education against drug abuse, we must consider who is best placed to provide it. There is no doubt that young people throughout the world in all strata of society are somewhat opposed to suggestions. Education from some quarters can be rather less acceptable to them than from others. If we are serious about producing information, educating our young people and thereby changing the opinion of young people towards drugs, we must be clear and creative when considering the way in which education programmes are organised and who we use to reach young people.

We must bear in mind the role of the youth service generally. There is the role of the Churches, and not only the Anglican and the Catholic Churches. Some of the smaller Churches, such as the Pentecostal Church, have tremendous force for good in the inner cities. If the Government are serious about dealing with drug abuse and providing education, they should be thinking of the education and information packages which can be made available beyond formal avenues to community organisations. These will include the Churches, local groups, tenants' associations, community groups, domino clubs and youth clubs. As I have said, an education programme needs to be more than an expensive poster campaign. It must begin at the grass roots and work upwards. People whom young people respect, must be used and they must give them the information that they need.

It is necessary to work with local authorities in the housing sector. There is no doubt that boarded-up flats and derelict accommodation in estates are being used by some of those who are involved in the drugs trade. Only if we have the closest co-operation with local authorities and housing associations can we make a co-ordinated attempt to root out some of the activity that is going on in estates.

There must be support for clinics and rehabilitation centres, and financial support for the clinics, voluntary groups and rehabilitation centres that are working with drug abusers to rehabilitate them and bring them back into the community. A strategy against drugs must not he restricted to law enforcement and detoxifying the individual. It must detoxify the community and take away the structures, attitudes and ignorance on which drug abuse feeds. A genuine war against drugs would not merely detoxify individuals.

The issue must be seen in the broadest possible context. No one pretends that poverty causes drug abuse. There are millions of poor people who do not touch drugs and who would not dream of doing so. Undoubtedly where there is drug abuse, poverty and despair, there is the recipe for a particular type of social and cultural holocaust. The importance of dealing with the wider issues of poverty and unemployment in our community cannot be overstressed if we are serious about fighting drugs.

We have read about sending arms and money into Colombia and other countries. If we are serious about stopping Third world countries such as Colombia in central America and the Caribbean from growing drugs as a cash crop, whether they be cocaine or marijuana, we must examine generally our relations with these countries and the terms of trade. How can we say to a Colombian peasant, when the price of coffee has dropped through the floor, that we intend to take his livelihood from him? If we are serious about discouraging such countries from trading illegally in drugs, we must study our terms of trade, commodity prices and how we can help to support their economic infrastructures. It is not enough to go in with arms and threats.

The inner cities want and would welcome a war against drugs. However, we also want a war against poverty and a war against hopelessness. Drugs, poverty arid hopelessness are the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We want a war against drugs somewhat different from that suggested by Conservative Members, who merely talk about law enforcement and more police. We want a war against drugs in which the grandparents are the guerillas, the churchgoers the commandos and the whole community the ground troops. We want an effective war against drugs that enlists the help of the community in the interests of the community. We do not want a Government who engage in rhetoric and will not make available the necessary resources. We do not want a Government who isolate the law enforcement problem and refuse to consider the wider social problem.

Above all, the inner cities want a war against drugs because, by looking across the Atlantic to the United States, we recognise that the survival of our inner-city communities depends on an effective war being waged now. The time to start that war is not a minute too soon.

1.42 pm

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in this debate.

Order. Has the hon. Gentleman read the motion before the House?

Yes, indeed I have. I also listened with great care to the opening speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Minister. I attended the whole of our debate in June on the subject. They are important matters and all hon. Members should be prepared to take an interest in them and speak in our debates. As the previous Home Secretary said, we are facing an epidemic of drugs. The Government must be prepared to take urgent action. There is no more important threat to our society than that posed by drugs.

As I said during our debate in June—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) would just sit and listen rather than murmur from a sedentary position—and he has just come into the Chamber—he might hear something. I have taken an interest in these matters for some time. It is too important a matter for mere party politics. We should take these matters seriously.

As I said during our debate in June, we canot consider the problem from an isolated viewpoint. The drugs barons have wielded such power in the economies of south America that they are almost as powerful as the Government agencies. We are indebted to my hon. and learned Friend for his work in alerting this House and the nation to the threat to western society posed by the enormous power wielded by the drugs barons. There is a message for us all. Why is that power wielded? Why is there an impetus towards drugs traffic? Is it because there is just an appalling imbalance in terms of poverty—

I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but there is an interesting Adjournment debate to follow this debate. As we have already had a very good debate on this issue, we do not want to be unduly delayed in reaching the Adjournment debate.

I am sure that the hon. Lady would like to speak on many issues, but our present debate is due to continue until 2.30 pm, and it is the right of every hon. Member to take part in it.

We must establish what resources we in the western democracies are prepared to give Latin-American Governments, for there is ample evidence that they have not the resources to deal with the problem unaided. As relatively wealthy nations, we must be prepared to make sacrifices to help them.

Early in my own speech, I said that it was the responsibility of western nations to provide concrete help for South American peasants who have no alternative to coca-growing, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) agreed. Dramatic action is needed, over and above what the Select Committee recommended. We put only £200,000 into the United Nations fund for international aid, and the entire overseas aid budget for South America consists of some £12 million for bilateral aid. Is it not about time that the Government took the matter seriously, and did something to help the South American peasants?

The hon. Gentleman, who probably considers me to be on the Centre-Right of my party, may be surprised to learn that I have long been an enthusiast for overseas aid. I am prepared to accept that the Government could perhaps do more on that immensely important front, although I do not think that we should be ashamed of our record in any respect: Governments must always balance resources and priorities, and there are urgent priorities in our own country.

I do not believe that the problem of drug misuse can be dealt with simply by law and order methods. We must view it in two fundamental ways. First, we must ask ourselves what economic impetus has allowed this trade to grow up in relatively under-developed countries. Are we prepared to help those countries to meet the threat, as I believe we must—and as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) recommended in what I considered a fair and worthwhile intervention? Secondly, we cannot bury the problem in our own minds, assuming that tougher deterrent sentences will deal with the relatively small minority who have been misled by drug pushers. Although tougher sentences may well play a part in solving the problem, I feel that it goes far deeper than that: it involves society as a whole.

I strongly believe that the way in which our welfare system has sometimes been constructed—with the best of intentions—has sometimes given impetus to a mechanism that has broken down certain parts of society and created the conditions in which drugs can be introduced. The problem is much more serious in America, where the gearing of the social security system has destroyed society's ability to resist the appalling pressures exerted by the drug trade—which is itself based on the economic imbalance between the developed and the underdeveloped worlds.

We cannot think of this as a Government problem. It is a problem for all of us. Nor can we see it as a south American problem, for it is a world problem. Our approach must be three-pronged: we can consider both the possibility of tougher deterrent sentences and the help that we may be able to give south American countries, but we must also look to our social security system and ask ourselves whether, now and in the past, we have made the right decisions to ensure that society has the strength to resist such a major threat.

1.49 pm

Does the Minister have the leave of the House to speak again? Mr. Mellor.

I am grateful to the House for giving me leave to respond to some of the points that have been made in the debate. I have sat through all but a few minutes of what I found to be a thoroughly enjoyable debate. Inevitably, and rightly, there has been some sharp criticism. Hon. Members have suggested that there is room for improvement in the Government's response to the problem. However, the interesting and significant factor in the debate has been the broad measure of agreement on how to tackle it.

There was nothing in the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) with which I could not wholeheartedly agree. I do not know whether that shocks and dismays the hon. Lady, but she was absolutely right about the threat that drug-taking poses for the inner cities and to say that there is no escape from the problem in the law and order route. There have to be strict law and order policies to deal with drugs, as the hon. Lady acknowledged, but if we are to beat the problem we have to educate people and build up people's resistance to the seductive appeal of the drug peddler. It is important to help people who, through no fault of their own, live in areas where the problem is particularly acute. I acknowledge that the taking of drugs affects all sections of society and all racial groups. It is no part of my case that any particular group is more greatly involved in drug taking than others.

The speech by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) provides an important starting point for my reply. He suggested, perfectly properly, that we should question the need to prohibit all drug-taking. I would object, having considered the evidence, to making legal the taking of certain drugs that cannot be taken legally. People say that it is all right to smoke or to drink alcohol, but I wonder whether we would permit the use of those drugs if they had been invented yesterday. Most people can drink alcohol and not become dependent upon it, but we know that many hundreds of thousands of people depend on alcohol and that many crimes are alcohol-related. The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, quite properly, that the best way to put oneself at risk late on a Saturday night is to be outside a pub or other place of entertainment in which certain youngsters have drunk too much and have become violent.

We do not underestimate the impact of alcohol abuse. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was absolutely right when he said that many more people die from smoking and drinking than from illicit drug-taking. However, this generation inherited drinking and smoking from previous generations. We are trying to do something about it by asking people to drink sensibly and to stop smoking. We must not wish on succeeding generations the problems caused by drug-taking, should we be foolish enough to legalise the taking of certain drugs.

An interesting parallel can be drawn between alcohol and drug-taking. Part of the law of the land for a very long time has been a legal minimum age for drinking. The Opposition have long been saying that it is high time that the Government enforced the law regarding the availability of alcohol to people under 18. Advertisements are directed at young people in which they are cajoled to drink well before the age of 18. They are drinking at 14, 15 and 16, which is well below the age at which they should be drinking alcohol. The law should be strictly enforced.

I agree with all that. It is important that under-age drinking should be stamped out as far as possible. Whatever the protestations however, one cannot help thinking that there are far too many advertisements for alcohol and, whatever is said in their defence, they are aimed at a particular category of 17 to 24-year-old young drinkers. On either side of the legal age for drinking, there is a real problem group. It is worth pointing out that the strong beers available now did not exist 20 years ago. If we have a generation of lager louts, to a considerable extent we have wished that problem on ourselves. I am glad that there is agreement across the Floor of the House on the importance of those facts.

I turn now to the question of the legalislation of illicit drugs. Heroin and cocaine have a much higher basic addictability than any of the so-called "legitimate" drugs, and there is clear evidence that when cocaine is smoked in the form of crack, it is highly addictive. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) said that some American research has suggested that three out of every four people who have abused crack have become addicted to it. The hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has had to leave for a constituency engagement and I understand why he cannot be here. He, too, used his experience in the United States to portray the problems caused by crack. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West was wrong to say that they are caused only by pollutants—they are caused by the drug itself.

We have had a test of what happens if one turns a blind eye to cocaine abuse. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said, an adviser to President Carter suggested that cocaine was a recreational drug of no particular significance, which allowed cocaine to become much more widespread without enforcement in the United States in the 1970s than it might otherwise have been. America has now reaped the whirlwind. With the greatest respect to the House. I must point out that there is no compromise with these substances, but that does not mean that a solution can be found only by stamping out drug abuse oppressively. We need a range of policies across the spectrum, including law and order policies and prohibition, but also including a whole host of policies for demand reduction. I hope that the debate has established that the Government take that point seriously.

The hon. Members for Huddersfield and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, among others, mentioned help for specific inner-city areas and our drug prevention initiative. I want to make it absolutely clear that it is not rhetoric but a fundamental principle when I say that there is no point in having a drugs policy if one seeks to keep out of it those people who have a great deal to contribute. A drugs policy that is to work in society must embrace all, so I welcome the enthusiastic involvement of the local authorities and the local authority associations. In our new drugs prevention initiative, which will start in nine inner-city areas and spread to 30, we want the full-hearted co-operation of the local authorities. We shall shortly be consulting the local authority associations about how best our initiative can blend in with what is already happening.

The hon. Member for Leicester, East talked about local co-ordinating groups. As a result of action taken several years ago, every area should have multi-disciplinary groups, bringing together experts to talk about the particular problems of that locality. The aim of our initiative is that an additional three or four people will be engaged in each area to co-ordinate that area's response to its drug problem, having regard to the fact that there is no common base for the drugs problem. It has different manifestations in different areas. For those groups to be effective, a keen awareness of local circumstances will be required. I want the local authorities to be involved. It would be sad if every initiative did not have the full-hearted approval of local authorities. We want them to participate as the groups are not intended to be a substitute for local authority action, but part of the ongoing work.

We are committed to research. I assure the hon. Member for Huddersfield that there is no question of the Home office suppressing any research. As far as we are concerned, all research should be made available, but it is not always up to us to publish it. Publication often depends on the researchers. We have no interest in suppressing such research. Although no one would suggest that research alone, especially over a long period, is a substitute for action, it is an essential part of our policy. The Government have decided to commission a major prevalence study starting early next year to investigate and report on the extent of cocaine misuse, its pattern and its effect on individuals. It will be a three-year study which will generate a great deal of valuable information. The House will appreciate, however, that we cannot wait three years for the outcome before we start to make decisions about cocaine.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) has been a constant assistance to me in all the years I have been involved in this matter. By his chairmanship of the all-party committee on drugs he has done a tremendous amount to promote the basic consensus approach that we have adopted. My hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Huddersfield mentioned south America. When I visited Pakistan in 1985 it was clear that we in the affluent West could not simply tell the subsistence farmers of the north-west frontier to stop growing opium, especially as that was the only crop for which anyone was prepared to pay them and the only way in which they could try to maintain their families. It was clear that we had to help them find an alternative crop. We have put a lot of money into crop substitution schemes and, when coupled with enforcement, those schemes have been strikingly effective. The success was due to favourable economic circumstances as the differential between one cash crop and another made it possible to operate an effective crop substitution policy.

Alas and alack—would that it were otherwise—the scale of the problem in south America and the amount of money to be gained from growing coca compared with any alternative crop is such that it would be unrealistic to think that crop substitution schemes could be effective. I regret that, but it is just another sign of the magnitude of the cocaine problem. There is no easy alternative. I visited a United Nations fund for drug abuse control—UNFDAC—crop substitution scheme in Bolivia, and I should like to believe that such schemes are the answer. However, although we must continue to experiment, I doubt whether they are.

Those advocating crop substitution schemes should remember that the crop production element in the street price of drugs is small. Even if crop substitution schemes were operating it would be all too easy for the drug barons to up the price to the producer. That is the problem with attempting to introduce such schemes.

A piece of information which has most troubled me since my return to the Home Office is that the opium poppy has now been grown in south America. One of President Carter's wiser advisers—not the chap who underestimated the addictive qualities of cocaine—said that the trouble was that the opium poppy could be grown almost anywhere. It is important to remember that demand generates supply. The fact that one can move cultivation from one part of the world to another shows how difficult it is to regard crop substitution as the answer, although I do not reject the suggestion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes asked what we were doing with Colombia. I should make it clear that we are trying to give practical assistance by making use of what we know about policing, security and intelligence techniques because for a variety of reasons, we have as much expertise on those matters as any other country. The United Kingdom's package of assistance consists of training and equipment. Items include protective clothing for security forces, judiciary surveillance and computer equipment, inflatable boats to assist in access to some of the more remote areas, training in bomb disposal—in which, for our own tragic reasons, we have considerable expertise—scene of crime investigations and Customs techniques. I shall not repeat what we are doing in various other countries.

We try to be concerned with output and not just with input. In these debates, it is easy to say that we should double the money. We have doubled, trebled and quadrupled the money in a range of research projects on drugs, but I beg the House always to be concerned with output and not just input. We are concerned to ensure that the money we spend is useful and helpful, and that it deals with the important points.

This has been a useful debate. It might have been helpful if more hon. Members has been present because this is a major social issue, but those who have been present and who come to this debate with a range of experiences, have shown a spread across the political spectrum. I can think of some issues that we could have debated on which we should have had a fair old set-to. I am not being pious when I say that it is a valuable feature, which we lose at our peril, that whatever our disagreements, we can come together as a House and continue to talk in a civilised way, which is to the advantage of Parliament's reputation, about a fundamental social problem. Whatever our differences, they were as nothing compared with the consensus. I hope that we can continue to work together effectively on the problem. I assure the House that we shall develop our policies and carry them out with all the more vigour as a result of the quality of advice that we receive on occasions such as this.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.