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Doug Smuggling

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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10.

What joint actions have been put in place with their EU counterparts to prevent drugs from entering the UK through the enlarged EU.

The UK works closely with other member states to deliver the EU drug strategy, and works closely with countries joining the EU.

The EU drug strategy includes a commitment to ensure that candidate countries develop and implement drug policies that are in line with existing EU standards. To that end, the Union is providing pre-accession assistance to candidate countries, which includes locally-based accession advisers and twinning projects.

I am conscious of the fact that the existing EU 12 have many direct access points for drugs. With my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon), I visited Europol and the Amsterdam drugs team as part of the police parliamentary scheme. On one aeroplane, the Schipol team found 48 people, each of whom had swallowed a kilo of cocaine to bring it to Amsterdam. There are already lots of routes.

When I visited Colombia, I saw the coca fields being sprayed. The person in charge of the police there named a number of countries which were soon to be members of the enlarged EU, but were then outside the Union, that provided routes for Colombian cocaine into Europe and through Europe back to the USA, because it is more difficult to bring it in through Mexico or similar countries.

The problem is huge, so are we giving the resources to the border police and drugs squads that will be necessary in an enlarged EU to prevent a flood of cocaine and heroin from entering the EU and, eventually, the UK once enlargement takes away the existing barriers?

My hon. Friend raises a genuine concern. I emphasise that, in joining the EU, candidate countries are required to sign up to closer co-operation with other member states on such matters.

Fighting drugs and organised crime is not only a matter of controlling access points, which my hon. Friend is rightly worried about, or of frontier controls. In any event, the UK would retain its essential checks for drugs crossing our frontiers. Enlargement will allow new levels of cross-border co-operation in the fight against drugs and organised crime, and most major drug investigations are already carried out jointly or with the help of European partners. EU enlargement should be seen as the chance for a significant increase in cross-border co-operation, which will allow our law enforcement agencies to work much better when dealing with the problem that he is rightly concerned about.

It is clear from what the Minister says that eastern Europe, including a number of entrant nations, is an increasingly important source of illegal drugs. Given that, and given the importance of secure borders in the fight against drugs, can he tell us why Customs and Excise is planning to withdraw 40 per cent. of its officers in ports such as Holyhead, Pembroke and Swansea?

Over the next three years, Customs will increase resources on frontier controls and combating organised smuggling. That will involve staff from some low-volume, low-risk entry points being deployed in intelligence-led mobile teams, which will allow us to deal with the methods of modern smugglers.

The hon. Gentleman, in the context of his question, is right: 95 per cent. of British heroin originates in Afghanistan. The supply routes come through some EU candidate countries, which emphasises the importance of the work that we are already doing, and increasingly so, with countries such as Turkey to intercept those drugs before they reach United Kingdom borders and the United Kingdom's streets.