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Illegal Drugs

Volume 571: debated on Monday 2 December 2013

We are committed to tackling the supply of illegal drugs in the UK and overseas. Action to restrict drug supply is a priority for the police and the new National Crime Agency. The coalition Government’s new serious and organised crime strategy emphasises the importance of tackling the organised crime that is associated with the drugs trade.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he agree that it is vital that the police target resources to crack down on the supply of drugs and will he therefore welcome the success of Operation Silence, recently launched by West Mercia police to target drugs in Worcester? Would he agree with the local police officer who said:

“To be as determined and tenacious as our drug dealers is morally the right thing to do”?

Yes, I do agree with that. I am pleased to hear that robust action is being taken to damage that trade in my hon. Friend’s area and elsewhere in the country. I agree that visible law enforcement activity can be effective in restricting the supply of drugs and I am pleased to see the partnership in West Mercia and Warwickshire to steer drug misusers into treatment.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Border Force and the National Crime Agency on their recent seizure of 850 kg of cocaine and does he agree that that shows that our approach to securing borders and tackling organised crime is paying dividends?

I congratulate the National Crime Agency and Border Force on that seizure, which is believed to be the largest cocaine seizure in Britain for more than two years. It is a good example of the benefits that intelligence sharing and partnerships between law enforcement agencies can bring about in disrupting drug traffickers and other criminals. That is a key element in our efforts to tackle organised and serious crime.

If tackling illegal drugs is a priority for his Government, can the Minister explain to the House why police seizures of drugs fell by 9% in the past year to the lowest level since 2005?

The hon. Gentleman might also reflect on the fact that drug use is at its lowest level since 1996. The number of drug offences in 2012-13 was also down by 9%, so we are clearly making significant progress in these matters.

Are not the Government adding to the supply of illegal drugs by criminalising a relatively low-harm drug, khat? That action will drive a wedge of antagonism between the police and two already marginalised communities. Is not the experience that every drug that is banned has an increase in its use and supply?

No, that last point is not true at all. Some of the action we have taken on so-called legal highs, for example, has been very successful in driving down the use of those substances. As for khat, the hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to exchange views with me at great length in the Select Committee on Home Affairs last week and I refer him to the comments I made on that occasion.

24. Can the Minister assure me that when new drugs or legal highs are discovered, he will take swift action? We do not want inordinate delay due to research, because of the harm done to people. (901356)

I agree. We have a very good early warning system in this country, which is perhaps further ahead than those elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that as a consequence of the action we have been keen to see occur, last week we saw a week of action from the police, the National Crime Agency, Border Force and others that led to 39 arrests and the seizure of thousands of pounds of cash, a firearm and 9 kg of substances from a head shop in Kent.

Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), does the Minister personally agree that khat should be reclassified as an illegal drug?

I am tempted to say that I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago and at great length in the Home Affairs Committee. I went through the careful procedure that led the Home Secretary to conclude that the matter should be dealt with in the way that she dealt with it. That matter was decided long before I was a Minister in this office.