Drug Misuse

– in the House of Commons at 10:28 am on 13th July 1984.

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Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North 10:28 am, 13th July 1984

I congratulate the Government on initiating a debate on an extremely important subject which is causing considerable anxiety and distress to many thousands of parents throughout the country.

However, I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary spent 53 minutes cataloguing a series of measures that have already been announced and did not deal with the issue in the sensible, objective, statesmanlike manner which he pretends to effect, but instead acted irresponsibly and was full of pomposity and sarcasm in dealing with interventions from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

As the hon. Gentleman said in one of his more sensible moments, this is not a debate only about heroin. The problem is that of multi-drug abuse, not least alcohol abuse, which the Under-Secretary did not mention, but which we may be able to debate one day. Alcohol affects more people and is responsible for more distress and illness and for more deaths. Perhaps when we debate the Government's policy on alcohol abuse, we can also debate the as yet unpublished report on alcohol abuse from the policy services group.

Because the Government have initiated the debate, we expected them to come forward with a programme of new measures and initiatives. All we had was a catalogue of already announced measures, all of which—although individually welcome—are too little and too late, and will not deal with the essential problem. The Minister has offered little hope or assistance to the thousands of extremely anxious parents who are looking to the Government to take a new initiative to stem the flow of heroin into Britain and to help deal with those addicted to it.

There can be no doubt about the scale of the problem. We are confronted with a massive, increasing and widespread problem of drug abuse. As delegates to the recent British Medical Association conference said, it is no longer an epidemic: we are confronting a plague. The scale and extent of the plague is shown by the fact that the seizures of heroin increased fivefold in 1982 over 1980. The amount seized rose from 40-plus kg in 1979 to more than 200 kg in 1983. The number of addicts notified to the Home Office increased by 70 per cent. between 1980 and 1982. Some 4,200 new notifications were made in 1983, and a staggering 4,300 new notifications have been made to 20 June this year. Reliable official estimates show that there are 60,000 drug abusers, with at least 50 per cent. of them regularly using narcotics. It is estimated that there will he about 100,000 potential drug abusers in Britain within the next five years.

There is an enormous problem of detection, treatment and social control. That is shown by the number of offences when people are sentenced merely for unlawful possession or supply, which increased from 11,064 in 1978 to 16,337 in 1982. The police say that their regional crime squad now spends 50 to 60 per cent. of its time on drug-related matters such as crimes that are committed by those either addicted to or in pursuit of drugs.

The number of deaths attributable to drug dependence increased from 71 in 1977 to 132 in 1982. It is just the tip of the iceberg of the official statistics—every one of which shows a staggering and massive increase in recent years, especially during the past two years. That is compounded by the number of people now finding their way into penal establishments for drugs offences—up from 600 in 1982 to 800 in 1983.

There is considerable evidence — to which the Minister did not address himself—of severe and serious problems of drug abuse in prisons. The Prison Officers Association, in its submission to the Minister through the control review committee, said that it was a serious problem to the extent that they believed that the riots in Albany were largely caused by drug abuse or by drug peddlers within the prison system inciting other prisoners to take part in the riots as a way to pay off their debts to the drug pushers. When the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security replies to the debate, can he say something—as the Home Office Minister said nothing—about the scale of drug abuse in prisons? What has been the response of the Home Office, and what will be the Government's response, to the submission from the Prison Officers Association?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this point. Perhaps he could give the House facts and figures to support his remarks.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

I do not have facts and figures. The only evidence I have, which I know is also in the possession of the Home Office Minister, is a written submission from the Prison Officers Association to the committee considering the control and discipline of long-term prisoners. I understand that a report will be published next Thursday. It is not my evidence; it is the evidence of the Prison Officers Association. The prison officers are the people on the ground, at the sharp end, who have experience on an everyday basis. The Minister must judge their evidence for himself, but they say that there is an increase in drug abuse in prisons and that that is causing problems of control.

If that is true, we must take account of it and we must also know the scale of the problem. We want to know what action the Government intend to take to deal with the problem.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting

My hon. Friend will be aware that all prisons have boards of visitors, and that they are required to send annual reports to the Home Office. I believe that those reports show the deep concern of the boards of visitors about the drug problem. I am sure that it strengthens the points being made by my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

My hon. Friend has a deep and long-established interest in and knowledge of these matters. He represents a constituency that contains one of our more important prisons, and he has made an important point.

The Minister asked me about evidence. Apart from the evidence submitted by the Prison Officers Association, there is evidence in numerous reports not only from the boards of visitors mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) but in the annual reports on the work of the prison department. The Minister should not have to ask me for evidence.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, and I promise not to interrupt him again. Is he saying that he would favour very much stronger and deeper restrictions on visits to and association between prisoners and visitors? That would be the most effective immediate way to bring about the changes that he desires. However, that would run rather against his usual line on these matters.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

The Minister is being silly. He should not be led on by his hon. Friend the Home Office Minister in his whispered interventions. The hon. Gentleman should not attempt to catch me out in such an obvious and silly way. The Home Office is responsible for the discipline and control of prisoners. It has been given evidence of widespread drug abuse within the prison system and the breakdown of discipline and control. I want to know what has been the response of the Home Office to the report—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

Oh, so the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene now. He spent 53 minutes abusing the Opposition. I shall not take anywhere like that time, unless the hon. Gentleman continues to heckle before departing for other pastures. The problem is one for theHome Office. The Prison Officers Association has supplied the evidence and has asked for action. I am asking for the response of the Home Office to that submission. We will then decide our attitude on the basis of the Home Office response.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

The hon. Gentleman is trying to be tendentious and provocative. He knows that there are ways of stopping any substance getting into prisons, but that would have consequences for freedom of association, freedom of visits and for what the hon. Gentleman would call the civil rights of prisoners involved in constant searches. If that is what he is asking us to do, let him say so.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

It is no good the hon. Gentleman saying, "Come on," in a pained way. He aspires to be on the Government's side of the House. He cannot only ask questions—he must give answers.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

The Minister is being more simpleminded than usual. One must weigh it in the balance. If there is evidence of widespread drug abuse and if the stuff is getting in through visitors and other channels—let us be clear that not just visitors are to blame; I am sure that other hon. Members have had the sort of evidence that has been presented to me—we must consider whether there should be further restrictions on the movement of visitors, staff or anyone else. Nobody has ever denied that. As I say, a balance must be struck, and we should be sensitive to the need to balance the liberties of those who visit prisoners with the need to control the alleged import of drugs into prisons.

In considering the scale of the problem, the bald facts do not give the real picture; the anecdotal evidence of doctors, police, journalists and parents is even worse. That evidence paints a picture of all parts of the country, all social classes and all ages now using drugs as a part of their normal lives, with harrowing accounts of under-resourced doctors and social and welfare services and seemingly inefficient police.

That particularly applies on Merseyside, which is said to be one of the fastest growing areas for drug abuse. A BBC Merseyside programme broadcast last April said that about 50 per cent. of people between 14 and 25 were regular drug users, and nobody has dissented from that assertion. Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the position is much worse.

The Merseyside drugs council, for example, reported a 600 per cent. increase in referrals in 1983. It reported that 107 were aged under 18, that 80 were between 16 and 18, that 37 were under 16 and that 11 were only 12. One 10-year-old was referred to the council last year. The council reports that about 1,600 teenagers in the Wirral and 1,000 teenagers in Liverpool are addicted to heroin. Those figures have been confirmed by Dr. Spencer Madden, who runs a clinic in Chester. The chief constable there in his annual report, published recently, referred to heroin remaining a severe problem and if one examines some of the police activity on Merseyside one sees, for example, that the number of stops under the Misuse of Drugs Act increased from 260 in 1981 to 1,857 last year. The number of arrests for drug misuse went up from 57 in 1981 to 579 last year, and the number of addicts increased from 140 in 1982 to 207 in 1983. This, by any standards, is a terrifying problem and it is clear that it exists on a frightening scale.

Perhaps the best indication of the scale of the problem is provided not by the figures but by a few notes that have been sent to me about a meeting of an organisation called the Sefton advisory committee on drug and solvent abuse held in Liverpool on 3 April 1984. The minutes of that meeting report that a Police Constable Povey spoke of a meeting held at Lydiate on 27 March attended by 95 parents. Lydiate used to be a part of my old constituency of Ormskirk, so I know it well. It is a well-contained, tree-lined area of semi-detached houses which traditionally has been Conservative, with a stable and hard-working community. One anxious parent contacted the Sefton advisory committee and asked what he could do about his daughter, who had a problem with drugs. That call led to a public meeting which, as I say, was attended by 95 parents. The minutes report: It was a long discussion and we made three attempts to end the meeting… we did not succeed in ending it until 11.35 pm. There are not many hon. Members who could call a public meeting on a wet April night and get 95 people to come along. There, however, 95 concerned parents in an area of no social deprivation, decay, poverty or distress — though, it must be said, with an increasing level of unemployment—were sufficiently concerned about the scale of the problem and its effect on their children that they came to look for assistance.

The trouble is that, the problem having been identified in that way, with the children and parents seeking assistance, there is little medical, social and welfare help available for them. There is little medical treatment available in most areas. While my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) will deal with this aspect when he winds up for the Opposition, it is pertinent for me to point out at this stage that there are only 100 NHS clinics, with a small number of beds, and the majority of those are commandeered by people with alcohol problems. Large areas of the country have no medical treatment facilities whatever. That applies to Cumbria, the whole of the north midlands, parts of the home counties and two boroughs of cental London. The clinics which exist are under considerable pressure.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, in its 1982 report entitled "Treatment and Rehabilitation", pointed to the fact that one clinic had 60 patients receiving treatment, that it had another 150 on the waiting list and that there were 12 new referrals each week. We have a clinic on Merseyside which has 80 people waiting for treatment in the six beds available for the purpose.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) has been kind enough to make available to me a letter written by a doctor from University College hospital to one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Dated 25 May 1984, the letter said: this clinic has had a 600 per cent. increase in workload in terms of new patients over the last five years and virtually no increase in staff. We have a lengthening waiting list, which means that we can never respond immediately to people asking us for help, and I believe it is very important to be able to respond promptly at that moment when a patient has taken the decision to seek help, rather than to callously fob them off with a waiting list. The same type of evidence comes to us from every area — of clinics under-resourced, under-staffed and considerably over-pressured as a result of the number of people on their waiting lists and new referrals. That is happening on such a scale that many people are now not seeking medical and other assistance.

The same paucity of resources applies to the hospitals, which still have only about 250 beds in 14 rehabilitative hostels throughout the country. There are many areas of the nation with no hostel provision whatever; for example, there is not one hostel place throughout Scotland. The same inadequacy of resources applies to day care centres and the advisory and counselling services. Day care centres are available in only five major cities.

What has been the Government's response to all this? There have been some measures, most of which were reiterated by the Minister this morning. We welcome those initiatives, but each one of them—indeed, the whole lot catalogued together— has been too little and too late. We accept that the Government cannot do everything. They do not have responsibility for the way in which families are organised and people deal with their children. However, they are responsible for stopping drugs coming in. It is their job to deter and catch the pushers and peddlers and to provide for the prevention and treatment of addiction.

The Government report that they have increased to 60 the number of specialist Customs and Excise officers dealing with the gathering of intelligence on the importation of drugs. We welcome that, but we must set alongside it the decrease of 900 in the number of uniformed officers in the last year. As the Society of Civil and Public Servants rightly points out, if we are serious in wanting to stop the increasing volume of heroin —reckoned to be coming in at the rate of £600 million-worth a week through Dover and Heathrow alone, at a cheaper price and of a higher purity — we must have more uniformed officers at the points of entry. It is not suggested —it was absurd for the Minister to suggest it—that that would solve the problem. However, we believe, as the union asserts, that it would help to stem some of the tide that is currently washing over our shores. The Government have acted irresponsibly in reducing the number of officers in that area, given the scale of the problem, which they acknowledge and which we all know confronts us.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I do not necessarily go along with the hon. Gentleman's support of the Civil and Public Servants Association's proposals, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman knows that stopping drug trafficking requires intelligence, and a great deal of intelligence arises from the activities of the Special Branch. That being so, why is he in favour of reducing the activities of the Special Branch?

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

I do not know that I have ever been on record as advocating a reduction in the activities of the Special Branch. However, the Opposition want the Special Branch to be more accountable and subject to more democratic control. That is not incompatible with also wanting increased intelligence, as we do. We do not derogate from the responsibility to catch and punish criminals, especially those who are trafficking in drugs. The hon. Gentleman is misleading himself, the House and the country if he suggests otherwise.

The Under-Secretary of State became prickly when I asked him what the Customs officer was achieving in Karachi and what the police officer was achieving in Amsterdam. Is it not a significant measure of the Government's response, when £600 million-worth of heroin a week is coming through Dover and Heathrow, to have a man in Karachi and another in Amsterdam? The United States has officers in all the countries that are producing drugs and through which they pass. Those officers suggest that the Goverment's response does not achieve the so-called important results to which the Minister alluded.

Such results are not achieved, either, by doubling the derisory £50,000 a year grant to the United Nations fund for drug abuse control, by the increase of £180,000 to strengthen law enforcement in Pakistan, or by the provision of £1 million over five years for development programmes in the opium and poppy-growing areas. None of that funding will reduce substantially the volume of opium that is grown or the amount that comes into Britain.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

If the Minister wishes to intervene, I shall give way, but I must say to him and the House——

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. The hon. Gentleman seems to be encouraging interventions. Many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye and time is passing quickly.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

Precisely, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the point that I wish to make. The Minister, who will not be present for the whole of the debate, spoke for 53 minutes. He and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security have already intervened three times in my speech. I shall not refuse a Minister's intervention but, to reinforce what you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he is only extending the length of my speech and taking time from my hon. Friends and his hon. Friends. If he still wishes me to give way to allow him to intervene, I shall do so, but I hope that he has a substantial point. He has not had one so far this morning.

Photo of Mr David Mellor Mr David Mellor , Putney

The hon. Gentleman is being needlessly provocative and when he says something particularly grotesque he must expect someone to intervene to correct him. Where does he get his figure of £60 million-worth of heroin a week? I hope that it was a slip of the tongue. the hon. Gentleman said £60 million on one occasion and £600 million on another. Let us have the right figure. Secondly, if it is the right figure, I should like to know its source.

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North

I intended to say £6 million a week. If I did not say that, the Minister was right to correct me. I know what I intended to say, which was £6 million a week. That figure comes from the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency. It is an official and published figure.

What is the Government's attitude towards police enforcement? We support the Home Secretary's proposals to take measures to get at the profits of crime that are made by those who are engaged in and convicted of drug trafficking. We support, too, with reservations, his changes in the parole scheme for those who have been convicted of serious offences of drug trafficking. Those measures may help to deter those who are pushing and trafficking in drugs.

What is the police role? It seems that there is little evidence that they are effective in dealing with drug abuse and drug pushers. There are still two police forces that do not have drug squads. The police tell us that the squads that do exist are under-manned and under-resourced and do not have the proper facilities to catch suppliers. In many areas the activities of the police are still too heavily concentrated on the abuse of cannabis. I welcome the response of the Merseyside police force and the South Yorkshire force, which have initiated a policy of not prosecuting those who are found in possession of small amounts of cannabis. They have decided to caution those offenders, and that is the right way to deal with the problem. If more police forces were to adopt that policy and concentrate their resources on those involved in hard drugs, they might be more effective and society might be better protected.

The Government's failure lies in their treatment of drug addicts as well as in enforcement, and this is something for which the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security will have to answer when he replies. We can have little confidence in the Government's response to the new report on prevention, given their response to the report on treatment and rehabilitation from the advisory council that was published in December 1982. A proper response to that report came only in February 1984. Although the Secretary of State for Social Services says that the treatment of drug addicts is a high priority, he is still asking local health authorities for their plans, their actions and their activities 18 months after the publication of a report calling for more rehabilitative treatment. They want to know about the Government's policies, and so do we. I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security to tell us when the multi-disciplinary drug problem teams are to be established. The teams were supposed to be established in each of the 14 regional health authorities 18 months ago. The Government were supposed to attach high priority to their establishment, but my evidence is that only two of the 14 authorities have these teams.

Perhaps the Minister will tell us when the district drug advisory committees, which are to monitor drug abuse, are to be established. I am told that only a third of the 193 districts have such teams. Only now is the body being established that is to determine good medical practice. Only recently has it been decided to provide £6 million over three years as the advisory council suggested, although the council said that the funding should continue over five years. We welcome the £6 million that the Government have made available for the priming of projects, but anyone who is aware of the depth and extent of drug abuse will not accept that that sum is sufficient. Over two thirds of the £6 million was allocated in the first year and the entire amount was spoken for in bids that came in the first few months. That demonstrates clearly the scale of need throughout the country for more treatment facilities and the paucity and inadequacy of the Government's response.

There are serious drawbacks and failings in the way in which the money is allocated by the Government. The £6 million has to be bid for by statutory bodies and statutory organisations, which are required to be sponsors if voluntary organisations are requesting money. That means that, if there are no drug services and no voluntary organisations in an area, there will be no bid and no future money. That is one of the drawbacks of the Government's policy and of the much-vaunted and applauded £6 million which the Government have made available. It is clear that new money will follow old money. The areas which have drug facilities, inadequate though they may be, will get the new money and the new facilities and the areas that are without medical treatment or voluntary organisations will continue to be bereft of any means of dealing and coping with the problem of drug addiction.

The minimal, derisory amount of £6 million, which the Government are making available to deal with this "plague"—that is their word as well as everyone else's —of drug abuse which they say has a high priority must be set in the context of the fact that the rate capping of local authorities and the abolition of the metropolitan councils will mean that less money is available to voluntary organisations to deal with drug abuse than has been made available in the past. On top of that——

It being Eleven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 5 (Friday sittings).