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Drug Trafficking

Volume 464: debated on Monday 15 October 2007

The Government have delivered a wide range of effective measures to reduce levels of drug trafficking since 1997. They include tough new legislation, an increase in convictions for those caught drug trafficking, investment in global anti-narcotics initiatives, the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency and a dramatic improvement in our performance on recovery of the proceeds of crime. The Government recently published a consultation paper, “Drugs: Our Community, Your Say”, the responses to which will inform our new drugs strategy to be implemented from April 2008 onwards.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Has he seen what the Evening Standard says today about a new form of cannabis called skunk? Does he have plans to reclassify that drug?

I have seen the front page of the Evening Standard, which refers to the increasing strength of cannabis and the prevalence of skunk. As my hon. Friend knows, the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary have asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at the reclassification of cannabis and we await what it has to say.

It is not just drug trafficking that should worry the House; it is human trafficking. Why do the Government not ratify the Council of Europe convention? If they did so, it would become effective legislation. Nine have already done so; one more, and it would become an effective instrument. Why have the Government not done so?

When it comes to trafficking of any sort—drug trafficking or child trafficking, which is an issue of particular interest to the hon. Gentleman—he will know that we must have everything in place to ensure that the ratification of the Council of Europe convention means something. We have measures still to take with respect to law enforcement and victim support. All those services need to be put in place. When they are put in place—we are working towards doing that, as the hon. Gentleman will know—we will be in a position to ratify that Council of Europe convention.

Although I appreciate the concern of the hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) about people trafficking, to return to drug trafficking, may I say that the figures given by my hon. Friend the Minister are replicated by those from Brighton and Hove? Is he aware that, as a direct result of Operation Reduction—a combination of policing and drugs treatment—226 drug users have been referred for drug treatment within the past two years? Can he guarantee that that excellent programme’s funding will be extended for a further year?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has done in Brighton, and all the people involved in the work that has gone on there. The 226 people whom she refers to in Brighton and Hove form part of the record increase in the number of people going into drug treatment. That is, of course, the result of record investment by the Government in tackling the harm that drugs cause. What has happened in my hon. Friend’s constituency should be replicated across the country. A successful drugs strategy needs tough law enforcement and the education of our young people, and we need to ensure that we get more people into treatment, so that those people who have problems with drugs receive the help that they need.

Does the Minister agree that, in combating drug trafficking, the police and the other agencies should rigorously enforce the existing legislation? Does he also agree with the Association of Chief Police Officers when it described calls by the chief constable of North Wales for the decriminalisation of all drugs as a counsel of despair?

We agree with the ACPO statement, and we disagree with the chief constable of North Wales. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which gives me the opportunity to put that on the record. Of course, dealing with the problem of drugs in this country requires tough law enforcement nationally and internationally. He will be interested to hear that, only last week, I visited a new initiative undertaken by the Serious Organised Crime Agency, where a maritime analysis operations centre has been set up, working with other European countries and involving the military, to tackle ships that are bringing drugs, generally cocaine, across the Atlantic ocean, to interdict that movement of those drugs. So the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: tough law enforcement must be a part of any successful drug strategy.

I welcome the reduction in the misuse of any drug, whether legal or illegal, but does my hon. Friend the Minister recognise that enforcement action can have unintended consequences, as evidenced by the shift from the smuggling of low-tetrahydrocannabinol-content cannabis from places such as Morocco to the large-scale farming in rented properties of high-THC-content cannabis all across Britain? I can report that, in the past three or four months, Bolton police alone have captured 20 houses where farming is conducted by Thai and Vietnamese criminal gangs.

I accept my hon. Friend’s point that, at times, when the law is enforced in one area, the crime is displaced to another, but the important issue is surely that we enforce the law. If, as he quite rightly points out, we have seen an increase in home-grown cannabis from so-called cannabis farms in domestic properties, the police need to enforce the law rigorously with respect to that. Indeed, they are doing so. The hon. Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen) will be interested in the important fact that, when the police have taken tough law enforcement action against cannabis farms, they have often in some circumstances found trafficked children, whom they have then referred on to the appropriate agencies.