asked Her Majesty's Government:
What steps they are taking to amend Sections 8 (in particular subsections (c) and (d)) and 9 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to include crack cocaine.
My Lords, Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 makes it an offence for the occupier or a person concerned in the management of any premises knowingly to permit controlled drugs to be produced or supplied on the premises. However, it does not extend to the use of controlled drugs such as crack cocaine.The Government are currently examining the scope for extending Section 8 to include the use of all controlled drugs, but are concerned to ensure that any such change proves effective. They are also mindful of the possible consequences for the voluntary sector and treatment services that work with drug misusers. The Government have no plans to make a similar amendment to Section 9 of the Act.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he accept that the police and particularly local housing authorities, such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea—I declare an interest as a member of that authority—are hampered in their efforts to prosecute and evict those involved in the operation of crack houses because crack cocaine is not specifically mentioned in the relevant legislation? Crack cocaine is not mentioned in the 1971 Act because it was not a problem when the Act was enacted. Does he agree that it is absurd that opium dens can be closed on the basis of that Act but that crack houses, which generate violent crime, intimidation and prostitution, cannot be closed? I am glad to hear the Minister say that thought is to be given to amending the Act. I suggest that a simple amendment could be introduced to add crack cocaine to Section 8 and, I hope, Section 9 of the 1971 Act.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her supplementary question. She raises an important issue. As she has no doubt heard, we are giving this matter careful consideration. At the moment the police have the capacity to intervene in a crack house where there is supply and production of drugs. I take her point about the historical nature of the section. It was designed for a time—1971—when opium smoking, in particular, was thought to be an issue. Of course, we need to keep such matters under review and I am grateful to her for drawing this out usefully in this short Question.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that targeting consumption, although important, is only a small endeavour in the war against drugs? What notable achievements have been notched up by the security agencies in taking the fight to the front line of production, distribution and controlling precursor chemicals without which there would be no hard drugs?
My Lords, it goes without saying that to be effective in this area there needs to be intense international co-operation. Of course, Customs and Excise, the police, international policing bodies and security services are all involved in that. Over the past few years there have been a number of stunning successes. It may be worth providing a few statistics. Seizures of cocaine, for instance, have increased from 799 in 1988 to nearly 5,000 in 1998. In 1988 to 1999 seizures of crack in terms of quantity have increased from just 30 to 2,436. There was an increase of 39 per cent in the number of crack seizures between 1997 and 1998. I believe that the international offensive against that dangerous drug is becoming increasingly successful and our law enforcement agencies and bodies are working well to secure those successes.
My Lords, in view of the Minister's sympathetic reply to my noble friend Lady Hanham, perhaps I can press him to say when the Government will deal with this matter. Does he agree that crack is a dangerous drug and that it is widely used by young people? The point raised in the question is a real one. Does the Minister agree that an amendment to the law should not be too difficult and that that would clearly have the support of everybody?
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that amending the law might not be too difficult, but it would be difficult to do so in the way in which she suggested. Her suggestion about use might make landlords of properties in some way responsible.The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, has, like myself, been a landlord of socially-owned premises. There is a problem in that context; for that reason, we are giving the matter careful and detailed consideration. We shall do so for a whole range of drugs, not simply crack. We see the problem as a major menace, and we want to tackle it. We are grateful for the support that we receive from all quarters for taking tough and effective action. The Government will always endeavour to take tough and effective action to deal with drugs.
My Lords, the Minister said that the matter is under consideration. That is precisely the same answer as was given 12 months ago by the Minister of State in another place. The fact is that during the past five years crack-related deaths have gone up by 500 per cent and, we are told, last year in London alone there were 40 attempted murders which were crack-related. Yet crack houses are still treated by the law more leniently than opium dens or houses in which cannabis is involved. That cannot be right. My noble friend rightly said that such a move by the Government would have wide support.
My Lords, the noble Lord returns to the point. However, he was a member of a government which had 18 years in which to make changes to the 1971 Act. I have already explained some of the difficulties associated with the use of Section 8. We are keeping the matter under review.If we are persuaded of the case and agree that the proposed approach will make drug enforcement, so far as crack is concerned, more effective, we shall do everything that we can to secure that. We believe that effective policing on the ground and the use of powers that already exist are the best way forward. Targeted policing initiatives are directed towards that approach, and we have made extra resources available to achieve that end. Many excellent examples of best practice are being adopted by the police, who are taking the war against drug-related, and, in particular, crack-related, crime to those who are abusing the situation.