Drug Misuse

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

Alert me about debates like this

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn

Photo of Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk , Knowsley North 11:15 am, 13th July 1984

Before Mr. Maxwell intervened, I was drawing attention to the Government's allocation of £6 million over three years for pump-priming projects dealing with drug addiction. I said that, although the Opposition welcome that allocation, we feel that it is too late and too little. I drew attention to some of the defects in the administration of that money, one of them being that it is allocated to very specific projects. More important, however, is the fact that, if we are to attach the kind of priority that the Government say they attach to dealing with the treatment of those who misuse drugs, there needs to be a system of central Government funding, tied to the delivery of specific facilities and projects. That is the only way to ensure that there is a national and comprehensive system of treatment and after-care for drug addicts. The ad hoc pump-priming mechanisms in which the Government are involving themselves will in no way deal with the long-term problem with which we are confronted.

We now have the Government's response to the advisory council's report on prevention. We welcome the re-establishment of the interdepartmental committee. We should like to know a little more about it than the Home Secretary gave in his written answer of 28 June and a little more than the Under-Secretary of State told us today.

Has the committee met? It is well over a fortnight since it was re-established. That may not seem long but, given the song and dance that the Government have made about the importance and priority they attach to the subject, one would have expected Ministers from the Department to have met by now and determined their initial response to the strategy.

Will Ministers from each Department concerned be represented at each meeting of the committee — not officials or officers but Ministers — and will the Minister, when he replies, assure the House that the committee will meet at least every three months to review progress? Pehaps it will meet and is intended to meet much more frequently, but we should like the assurance that it will meet at least every three months.

Is the Committee to have a permanent staff? How will its recommendations be enforced? The constitution and functions of the interdepartmental committee replicate, or are extremely similar to, the constitution and functions of the advisory council. So how will the committee relate to the council and its recommendations? To what extent will the committee consult the advisory council?

It is important to deal properly with the problem of drug misuse. There is agreement in all parts of the House on the scale and importance of the problem and, to a certain extent, on the way in which we should deal with it. The consequences of failure are too horrendous to contemplate in terms of more and younger addicts, more deaths and illness, greater strain on social, welfare and medical services and greater demands on the police, the courts and the prisons. Evidence from Edinburgh suggests that 30 per cent. of housebreaking in that area is attributable to addicts in search of funds to support their drug habit. We must deal with the import of drugs, with the pushers and traffickers and with the unfortunate addicts.

It must be recognised that many of these people are not ill. Drug abuse is not necessarily an illness or a disease. It is very much a social problem. We must shy away from criminalising many addicts. They need help, sympathy, support and management. They may have been foolish and feckless, but they are not criminals except to the extent that their addiction leads them into criminal acts and propensities. We must deal with their problems sympathetically, but we must also accept that they are a function of the society in which they live and which has bred them and their problems. That is the view of Dr. Griffith Edwards, head of the addiction research unit of the Institute of Psychiatry. In the General Practitioner of 29 June he is reported as follows: In no country that I know of is drug use not related to culture and economics, to the state of the nation. If we don't get society right heroin is going to be rife in the ghettos of our cities. It's going to explode. I'm amazed it hasn't happened already.

One must acknowledge that Dr. Edward's comments relate also to the growing and intractable problem of unemployment. I do not suggest that unemployment is the sole or even the main cause of addiction or drug abuse, but it is a theme which runs through virtually every personal account in national and local papers recently and through all the parents' letters and all the confessions of young people on Merseyside, all of whom seem to have suffered deprivation, poverty and alienation from the community.

The Government cannot escape their responsibilities. They must ensure that there are more customs officers to deal with the import of drugs. They must ensure that the police are effective in catching drug traffickers rather than wasting time stopping people going through Dartford tunnel. The Government are responsible for the paucity of treatment facilities. Above all, the Government stand convicted of the crime of creating the social and economic conditions in which drug abuse can flourish.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. Unless there is restraint in the length of speeches, a number of hon. Members will be disappointed. As 15 or 16 hon. Members wish to catch my eye, I suggest that hon. Members set themselves a target of 10 minutes maximum. We may then get everyone in.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake 11:23 am, 13th July 1984

I shall be as brief as possible, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There is an old saying that opportunity makes the thief, and I believe that opportunity is one of the key factors in the increasing prevalance of drug abuse. It is an oversimplification, but I believe that youngsters are always tempted to do things that they should not. If drugs are available, they are likely to experiment and, sadly, some will become major users and addicts. A key aspect of containing the problem must thus be to reduce the opportunities for obtaining drugs by every possible means, including a major effort to prevent the import of drugs.

I welcome the Government's action in that direction, but it is by no means sufficient. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) was right to say that putting one man in Amsterdam and one in Karachi was tinkering with the problem. We are dealing with big business of the worst kind, with greed at its most revolting, and the scale of resources harnessed to deal with the problem must be commensurate with that. Therefore, I look to the Government for a far greater effort than my hon. Friend suggested earlier.

There is force in the argument that increasing the number of uniformed officers at the ports may not be the most effective way to deal with the problem, but if that is so we expect a considerable increase in the number of people in the special intelligence-gathering sector. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister, but I did not hear nearly enough about that. I hope that there will be a very large increase in the numbers. We do not expect precise details of the way in which they operate—that would play into the hands of the traffickers—but an idea of the number of people involved and the scope of the operation would be most welcome. Now that the interdepartmental group has been set up under the auspices of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, I hope that we shall shortly be told of a major step-up of activities in that direction.

I hope, too, that we shall really crack down on people caught trafficking in drugs. My late father, in most respects a most gentle and kindly man, felt that no punishment was too severe for those engaged in drug trafficking, which he described as peddling death. I believe that it is a crime as serious as murder. In many cases it is more serious, because far more people may die as a result. Therefore, contrary to my usual views about the wisdom of short prison sentences or, preferably, alternatives to imprisonment, I believe that in the absence of capital punishment these people must be kept locked up in great security for a very long time indeed. Above all, neither they nor their families should be able to profit from their grisly achievements in obtaining money through trafficking in drugs. I hope that there will be very early action on the lines described by my hon. Friend the Minister to ensure that such people cannot profit from these the most ill-gotten gains of all.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North, rightly in my view, referred to the increasing problem within prisons. I can confirm, from meetings with the Prison Officers Association, what he said about the anxiety felt by prison officers about the increase in the use of drugs and their feeling of being unable to deal with the problems caused within prisons as a result of the entry of drugs. More interestingly, they told me that one of their anxieties was the failure by the Home Office to recognise the problem publicly and openly. That may well be because, once the problem is openly admitted, there then comes the question of how to deal with it. That is a tricky problem. It is plain that the most effective way to deal with it, in one sense, is to prevent the open visiting of prisoners by friends and families that we have come to expect and to applaud. When the problem is as serious as this one, one needs to think again, even if selectively. By that I mean that, if there appears to be a major problem of drug misuse in a prison at a set time one might consider the withdrawal of certain of the open visiting privileges—where people can communicate by touch.

The Prison Officers Association suggested that it was easy, for example, to hand over a small amount of drugs when a small child or a baby is passed between the prisoner and his wife. I believe that in such circumstances, for a time at least, one might withdraw the privileges. At the very least, the Home Office must come to terms with the problem and consider whether that is a viable option for dealing with it.

My hon. Friend the Minister positively invited us to comment on what one might call the educational side of the matter — whether one should engage in a high-powered advertising, high-profile approach or, alternatively, a low-profile approach to warn young people of the dangers. I am inclined to the view that there are dangers in making the kind of powerful emotional appeal that would be necessary to make people notice the campaign. Many years ago, I was a teacher, and it was always clear that children loved to do what they were forbidden to do. There is a possibility that one might draw their attention to drug taking through such campaigns if they are highly emotional. That does not mean that I do not believe that education is important. It needs to be set in the context of general health and hygiene education —not in the highly emotional terms of the advertising media, television and the like — in the schools were people can be in direct contact with the teachers.

It follows from that that one must have well-educated teachers who know what they are talking about and can put over the case. It can be done effectively. There are hon. Members who have been severely rebuked by their young for engaging in cigarette smoking. The young have been taught effectively about the dangers in schools. They do not like to see their elders, and hopefully their betters, engaging in a damaging practice. There is real scope for education.

There must be much more education of people about the general side effects of drugs. We have that easy feeling that one can swallow medicinal drugs without any side effects. Most doctors nowadays will agree that any medicinal drug powerful enough to effect an improvement is also powerful enough to have side effects. That point must be put over much more widely. I hope that people will not feel that this is irrelevant. It is a matter of changing the climate of opinion about drugs in general. The most powerful drugs are at the extreme end of the scale.

There is an alarming tendency on the part of doctors to prescribe drugs for all manner of what I would call social rather than medicinal ills, to soothe people when they have family problems or are unemployed. I would include among those the drugs which have a tranquilising effect.

I recently paid a visit to a private treatment centre for what it calls chemical dependency. It is just outside my constituency, although still within the city of Plymouth. It is a charitable organisation and I was told that it had considerable difficulties in weaning people off tranquilisers when they have been on them for too long. It was one of the most terrifying pieces of information that I have picked up for a long time. Furthermore, I was told that the withdrawal symptoms are far more difficult to cope with than those of hard drugs such as heroin. I found that difficult to take in, but I was assured that it was the case.

If that is so, it spells out several important implications for public policy with regard to the prescription of drugs for apparently medical purposes by the medical profession. I hope that we will study this matter closely in any future consideration of the use of drugs, whether they be for kicks or for medical use.

I hope that we shall study more closely the methods of treatment. That clinic felt that the Americans had better treatment methods than we had, probably because they have had longer experience of drug addiction. It would be well worth the Department of Health and Social Security and/or the Home Office studying methods of treatment employed in countries such as the United States. We might learn some useful lessons for setting up our own treatment centres.

The Government's major role is to try to prevent drugs from being brought into the country and easily circulated. Treatment must come as a slightly less important part of the programme.

Bearing in mind your strictures about the shortage of time, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall dispense with the other points that I was hoping to make. I hope that we can look to the Government for a far more vigourous approach than we have seen to date.

Photo of Mr Terry Fields Mr Terry Fields , Liverpool Broadgreen 11:27 am, 13th July 1984

The Minister said that it was misguided to look only to the Government for a solution to the problem. I believe that it would be misguided to look to the Government, given the evidence presented by, and the performance of, the Minister and his inability to understand what needs to be done. He was more intent — that has provoked my intervention—on his pomposity, self-justification and verbiage. He was engaging in sixth-form debating techniques, when there are hundreds and thousands of people — parents, addicts, community workers, police and everyone else—studying the problem. To reduce the matter to a kind of farce is an insult to those people.

We need more than exclamations of horror from the Government Front Bench; we need action. We must look at the cold hard facts of the problem facing us and understand why heroin has become such a problem. We must study the effect of heroin abuse in our society.

When one listens to the Government and considers their track record, one must understand that they are accustomed to the decline in social conditions of working people. The Government express things merely in cash terms. They say that they are unable to provide resources because of the lack of finance.

Not so many months ago. my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) tried to introduce his Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill. The Government flooded their Benches to ensure that it did not go through, purely because of the financial implications, although the chronically sick and disabled in our society are crying out for treatment.

The priorities can be matched to class needs. The miners' strike shows that the Government are prepared callously to destroy communities and to provide resources to ensure that miners are beaten into submission. When workers and their families try to defend themselves, although they have no money for other things, the Tory Government will spend billions of pounds to keep working people in their place.

I have read the Home Office report on the prevention and misuse of drugs, and it gives no factual analysis of the problem. It does not even scratch the surface and has no connection with reality. It is all right for Tory Members to stand up and talk about the problem in an academic way. We are living with the problem in places such as Merseyside and Liverpool. Daily, we see the crimes committed against ordinary people, which are allowed to go on because of the inactivity of the agencies set up allegedly to deal with the problem. The Minister's speech showed that the Government are not tackling it with any seriousness.

In the report, no attempt has been made to quantify the amount of resources that are needed. Why? Because the people do not know what is needed. There is no insight into the numbers currently involved in drugs, drug taking and abuse, so they cannot begin to deal with the problem. It is low on the list of Government priorities.

Some three quarters of drug addicts are involved in the heroin trade, which means that it is a problem for all of us to face—it is a community problem. One might ask what the Government have been doing. We have heard today and previously that the source of 80 per cent. of Britain's heroin is Pakistan. One guy was sent out there. I am sure that in his own field he is an expert, but to send one man to Pakistan is an absolute disgrace. One policeman has been sent to Holland, which is the centre of European distribution.

Customs officers have seized about 201 kilos of heroin, compared with the estimated 3,500 kilos that entered the country in 1983. That shows that with the lack of resources at the ports of entry, a hopeless task faces Customs and Excise people, good trade unionists attempting to carry out their job on behalf of the population. They are banging their heads against the wall. As has been said, Customs manpower is inadequate. On 9 July, the Minister of State, Treasury said that the number of staff in the Customs and Excise Department had fallen from 28,870 in April 1979 to 25,309 in April 1984. The Government's response was to bring in 60 so-called "experts" in the field. It is an insult to people in the Customs and Excise. The Government have a vested interest; all that they are interested in is putting more bottoms on seats. The Customs and Excise people are doing sterling work and are concerned at the inadequate services.

Much of the heroin enters the country through Heathrow airport. The Society of Civil and Public Servants report claimed that between 1971 and 1983 there was an 80 per cent. increase in passenger traffic at the same time as a 25 per cent. decrease in customs staff. During meal breaks, there is only one officer in the green channel while over 1,000 passengers go through. At Dover, one officer might have to clear 200 to 300 cars or 40 to 50 passenger coaches. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said on 11 April: I do not think that one can look to the Customs and Excise for a reason for the increase." — [Official Report, 11 April 1984; Vol. 58, c. 367.]

In the customs, only one in 100 people is tackled. That source of heroin supply is being disregarded. Ministers bemoan the fact that people will be delayed going through customs if there are more searches. I would rather have delays caused by the presence of 10, 20 or 30 people at the customs carrying out checks if that would save the life of one kid in the Merseyside area. That is where my priorities lie.

On 9 February, the Government responded by saying that they would give £6 million over three years. Less than £200,000 has been allocated to the Mersey area. It will not even scratch the surface. The Government talk about priming the pump, but they are wasting their time throwing that sort of money at us. It is a bit like the rate support grant and the other fiddling that the Government did on the Liverpool city council budget. They will need to find money in time, because the problem will not go away. Unless they tackle it, there will be a major problem.

The police allege that they give high priority to drugs and drug trafficking. They are talking about updating the computer back-up to the Central Drugs Intelligence Unit in Scotland Yard through which nationwide enforcement activities are co-ordinated. I hope that the Government will pay the same attention to that computer as to the computer on miners, strikers and Labour activists, so that we get a good deal out of the money spent on it.

We consider that the resources for the Merseyside police are inadequate. At present, we have one detective chief inspector, one detective inspector, five detective sergeants and five detective constables—a total of 12 drug officers in an area with more than 5,000 addicts, and with pushers, dealers and so on. In Merseyside, in the three and a half years until June 1983, 224 arrests were made for drug trafficking. In three and a half months, the police have locked up over 4,000 miners—one miner every 20 minutes. That shows where the Government's priorities lie.

The Secretary of State for Social Services said that it was a cop-out to blame unemployment for the drug problem. On 15 April, the editorial of The Sunday Times stated: The fact remains that drugs are an especially beckoning temptation if at 16 or 17 you have nothing to do. Paragraph 2.8 in the Home Office report states: The continuing inequality in our society places entire groups of the population at a grave disadvantage. To live in a deprived area, to be poor, to be a member of a minority group subject to discrimination, to struggle against the demoralising effects of long term unemployment, all these situations are seen as a severe test of the ability to survive for long periods without chronic physical, psychological and social disability…it should also be noted that social and economic deprivation is likely to aggravate some of the deleterious effects of drug misuse…We think it essential to recognise the relevance of policies which are directed towards the general wellbeing of society, eg measures for redistributing wealth, for varying the level of provision in areas such as health, education or housing, for reducing unemployment or for providing leisure facilities for the community at large. In other words, the report calls for the exact opposite of the policies that the Government have pursued since 1979. Instead of it being a cop-out to blame unemployment, the facts are that in areas of deprivation and high unemployment, bad housing and so on — places that Opposition Members represent, such as Merseyside and Liverpool — the incidence of drug abuse is on the increase.

At the same time, there is a lack of facilities in the Merseyside area. On 16 November 1983, the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said in reply to a parliamentary question that there were 28 hospital beds in the Mersey regional health authority not only for drug addiction but for alcoholism. On 6 July, we still have 28 beds, although in that period the local police and people in the Labour movement have highlighted in the press a catalogue of increased heroin addiction in the area. Nothing has been done. The Liverpool Echo is carrying out an investigation. The evidence from the inquiry is that the dogs in the street know what is going on, yet no one else, certainly the Government, knows anything about it.

One man quoted in the paper said: I don't think there's anywhere in Liverpool where you could possibly he more than five minutes away from buying heroin. It's that bad. Another man said: It is as easy to buy heroin on the Ford Estate in Birkenhead as it is to buy a loaf if you have the money. A father whose sons are both addicts said: Every friend they have is either an addict or takes drugs. It's so rife in Moreton now we just can't understand why the police don't do something to clean it up.

The inactivity of the police in those areas unfortunately has provoked the setting up of vigilante groups of parents, copying the example of some of the housing estates in Dublin. They themselves have gone into the estates and cleared out the pushers and traffickers. We expect the agencies set up to deal with this problem, including the police, to carry out that role. But it needs beef, and we will join those' people to rid our estates of these dealers in this vile traffic.

Mothers, fathers and children in Merseyside are affected. At one of the first meetings that I called to discuss the drugs problem, a father stood up to me and threatened me. He said that if we did not continue our campaign against drugs he would come looking for me. In tears, the man informed the audience of parents, teachers and working-class organisations on Merseyside that his own son had died in his arms from the effects of drug abuse. In the face of the threat from that man, I feel committed to carry on, especially when I read that in Liverpool a 13-year-old girl gave her 11-year-old sister heroin to pass the time because they had nothing else to do.

We have heard about the need to learn the lessons of what is happening abroad. Apparently, we have sent someone over to Holland. However, we read that babies born in Amsterdam are already heroin addicts before they crawl out of the womb. Last month 200 women in Amsterdam gave birth to babies already addicted. We are breeding a generation of addicts. Every addict is a potential pusher, and the children in our schools are not safe from these people.

There are no treatment centres on Merseyside. There are counselling centres, but counselling is not enough. The majority of people involved in drugs will not go near any form of counselling. They will not go near the probation service, the police or any other form of officialdom because, having read reports in the press of their actions and their own personal experiences on the streets, they are deeply suspicious.

We are told by certain doctors—we were told again in a certain BBC television programme by a member of the Tory party—that it is a self-inflicted injury. "Cure yourself," seems to be the prevailing view. But we do not go down that road. We have more concern and compassion for people.

Some of my constituents and I know the names of pushers and of public houses and clubs where heroin has been freely used and distributed. It is possible to go into some places and be provided with the tinfoil and accoutrements with which to "chase the dragon". But no action is taken. It is almost like a Hollywood B movie. The police say that they are waiting to catch Mr. Big, a shadowy figure wearing a camel hair coat and a trilby and driving a big limousine. The police are allegedly chasing these people. Their success in tracking them down appears to be very poor. At the same time, our kids and families in such places as Liverpool suffer because of police inactivity.

We have got up and are doing something about it. If the Minister will accept it, I shall be pleased to give him a copy of a report that we have submitted to the Merseyside county council. Under the auspices of the Labour movement, we have meetings on estates where drugs activity is prevalent. The Merseyside trade union, community and unemployed resource centre has compiled a report on what we would like to see done.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) mentioned experience in America. We have ex-drug addicts in Liverpool within our circle of friends and associates. They have been down that road. They have been involved in education in America, and they are trying, as we are trying, to get into these voluntary agencies. We know that we are amateurs. We know that we have not the so-called expertise in counselling. But we have the experience of everyday life and of living with these people. We know the pushers. We point them out to the police, but nothing is done and we see the effect on our kids. We have a concern over and above any normal involvement.

We need a whole range of training, with residential rehabilitation. These "crash pads" that we hear about are just a source for drug addiction, where the pushers are involved as well. They are a complete waste of time. I will give the Minister this document. I hope that he will have it published as part of the discussion which is going on about the problem.

We have been told that we should be non-partisan and non-political in our approach. That is a mask for the inadequacies of the Government and those whom they represent. However, we shall still seek to go along with the Government in trying to resolve the problem.

By chance, I picked up in the Tea Room recently a cutting from an Edinburgh newspaper. The chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, an inspector, said: Wealthy business people with impeccable backgrounds, who are apparently pillars of society, are making fortunes from the illicit trade in hard drugs such as heroin. The police know who they are. We know what is going on. We know who the Mr. Bigs are in our communities. We could finger them. Nothing is done about them. Thais is an absolute crime, and attention must be given to it.

I take a different line from that of the Government. Certainly we need action, we need cash, we need more Customs and Excise officers at the ports of entry, and we need the police to listen to the community about what is going on and act on that advice. We need education and not only of those involved in drug taking because we need to be doing it in our schools. The hon. Member for Drake spoke about a powerful and emotional appeal. The kids on the streets of Liverpool could buy and sell you when it comes to information about drugs.

Photo of Mr Harold Walker Mr Harold Walker , Doncaster Central

Order. I hope that the kids in Liverpool would not try to buy and sell me.

Photo of Mr Terry Fields Mr Terry Fields , Liverpool Broadgreen

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We need to set up peripatetic communities with long-stay treatment for people, and we need them under the democratic control of the community. For far too long an elitist group of people with a few letters after their names have thought that they have all the experience. But they are not street-wise. They do not understand what is going on. We demand involvement in the decision making about the treatment of our people. I hope that the document that I pass to the Minister will be read by him and circulated. Opposition Members are fed up with the lack of action. We demand action now. If the Government do not take it, we will take it ourselves on our estates.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Castle Point 11:57 am, 13th July 1984

I must say that I felt a great deal of sympathy for the hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) and I agreed with his very natural reaction to the state of affairs on Merseyside. I do not think that it will be of any comfort to him to know that the situation that he described of distraught parents asking for help and not getting it is unfortunately repeated elsewhere in the country.

When on 13 April I drew the attention of the House to the appalling escalation of the drug problem it was fair to say that up to then very little had been done about it. I said then that my purpose in raising the matter was to shock Parliament and the public into an awareness of what was happening beneath their noses and to obtain from the Government a clear statement on how they viewed the problem and what precisely they were doing about it.

The reality was that while the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs made over 40 recommendations as long ago as December 1982, nothing was done, although it had been clear to those of us who take an interest in these matters that for some years what was once an inner London problem had now spread to every city and town and a good many of our villages from John o'Groats to Land's End.

The hon. Minister for Broadgreen was not exaggerating a situation which many communities up and down the land and even near to my constituency have been experiencing.

Why has there been this escalation? There are a number of reasons. First, heroin and cocaine have become cheaper and therefore more accessible and easier to obtain; second, it has been discovered that the effect of heoin could be obtained in a way other than by injecting it, a method which carries with it enormous health risks and can lead to the amputation of limbs, hepatitis and premature death. Heroin can now be smoked. Many youngsters say openly and believe that that makes it safer. Third, as the number of addicts has increased—this needs to be said—the profits of this evil trade have grown and distribution has become better organised by criminal elements.

Against that background we should not be surprised that the age at which young people become addicted is dropping and that an increasing number of teenagers and schoolchildren are now affected. I do not know about other hon. Members, but for weeks now I have not been able to pick up my local paper without reading about the problem, about the police being baffled, about youngsters being hauled before the courts, about addicts' committing suicide. I am sure that this is occurring throughout the country.

After I raised the matter here in April I received letters from worried parents all over the country saying that it was impossible to find information about where help could be obtained, let alone to secure treatment. I had poignant letters from doctors. One was from a consultant who said that a member of his family had become an addict and could not get help. There is something drastically wrong about such a situation.

It is true that by the end of April the Government had announced approval for 78 projects for the improvement of existing services. As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) said, many parts of the country have no such services. One cannot improve what does not exist. An immediate result of the debate on 13 April was the setting up of an all-party committee on drug misuse, covering both Houses. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary referred to attendance in the House today. Every officer of our committee sitting in the House of Commons is present today. Other officers, of course, sit in the House of Lords. All present here today hope to take part in the debate.

On 6 June my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services issued a circular asking health authorities to take urgent action to improve services. It stated: The problem of drug misuse is growing fast and urgent action is required. Ministers now regard the improvement of services for drug misusers as of the highest priority". That was a direction to health authorities which until then had not been prepared to take much notice of the problem, although there were exceptions. The circular was a year late—but better late than never.

There can be no excuse for regional health authorities continuing with the attitude that the problem has a low priority, that it is a nuisance and a means of diverting scarce resources from other and more pressing areas of health care.

On 28 June, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary published the report by the advisory committee which was concerned primarily with ways of preventing misuse through the provision of information and education. He also announced the setting up of an interdepartmental committee of Ministers and officials presided over by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, with the task of developing an overall strategy for combating drug misuse and for deciding on priorities and the allocation and deployment of resources. That was a year late—but again, better late than never.

Yet the fact remains that the surveillance of ports of entry has been endangered by reductions in the number of customs officers, although that is now being reversed. The fact remains too that some police forces still do not have drug squads, I presume because they cannot obtain the resources to set them up.

Another recent development is the realisation by the medical profession that it must adopt a new and radical approach to the problem. That too is a bit late in the day. One of the most frequent complaints made to me earlier this year was that many doctors did not want to know about the problem. I shall not go into details here, but suffice it to say that there is a division in the medical profession about treatment itself. A fierce debate continues inside the medical profession on that subject which really must be resolved.

One of the saddest features of my correspondence with doctors is that they are baffled by the attitude taken by many of their colleagues in the regions. Perhaps this is changing. The recent British Medical Association conference in Manchester was told: Heroin addiction in Britain is more like a plague than an epidemic…the fabric of society is at risk. One doctor from Rotherham, presumably speaking about the area that he knows, told his colleagues that one third of secondary schools pupils had experimented with drugs at school.

Dr. Akhter, a distinguished psychiatrist who was well known to me when I was chairman of the National Council on Alcololism, and who runs the Birmingham regional drug treatment centre, said: For the first time in this country there is no such place as a drug-free environment. The greatest problem in treating addicts is that heroin is now so much cheaper and so easy to obtain…We could double the facilities we have available and still not be able to cope. That, then, is the extent of the problem. Important gaps remain in the arrangements to deal with this appalling crisis in our society. Moreover, we must recognise that it is not much good stepping up treatment facilities if we cannot stop the inflow of heroin and other drugs.

On 14 November last year, the Home Secretary made a robust speech in which he talked about clamping down on the drug traffickers, by international action. Yet we have still not ratified the international convention. Although we were given an answer about that this morning, I wish to study what was said, so I shall not comment on it now.

I want to see this matter dealt with urgently. We must be told what responses the DHSS expects to receive from the regional health authorities. I ask that because of the recent BBC "Panorama" programme, in which I was privileged to take part. Describing the preparation for the programme, an article in The Guardian of 25 June said: 70 per cent. of the health authorities replied to Panorama's inquiries…from their response it would seem that many of them will have to get their skates on to meet Mr. Fowler's requirements. The message from a large number of these authorities was the same: yes, there was a growing problem, no, they didn't know how big it was, no, they did not have adequate facilities, and no, they had no plans and no money to provide those facilities. Not surprisingly, regions where the problem was "most acute tended to contain major cities: the London region, the Northern, the North West and the West Midlands. The article concluded: The overall picture was one of uncertainty, ignorance and inability to cope— which, from health authorities generally reluctant to admit deficiencies in their service, can only be in itself an underestimate of the crisis. What sort of response will the Government get from these authorities? Are they aware, even now, of the gravity of the crisis? I am beginning to doubt it.

The Government must not hesitate to take the necessary steps to ensure compliance with their directive before the situation gets even further out of control. I should also like to know how determined the Government are in their attitude towards those who distribute drugs in this country. So far, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) will no doubt seek to remind the House, Ministers have resisted the idea of giving suspects body searches. Drugs are brought into the country in many different ways. Some are sent through the post, others are smuggled in people's bodies. In a recent debate in the other place Baroness Masham provided details, which hon. Members should study.

How much weight should we attach to the protests of some members of the medical profession about body searches? The country and Parliament should know that the police have made it clear that, as drafted, the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill has been described as a drug pushers' charter. I shall not pursue that point now, as no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds will make the case in his own way, but the argument has been put with great clarity and force by Baroness Masham and by the noble Lords Plant and Halsbury in the other place, and the Government must really think again. Even if no other part of my message is heard, that must be. Ministers must think seriously about the methods used in this evil traffic.

My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about overseas sources of supply, but he did not say—and it has not so far been said in this debate—that all these are to be found in relatively poor and under-developed countries in the Third world. It is high time that western leaders understood that we are now having to pay the price of an inadequate response to the need for development aid in such countries. For peasant families, mainly in Asia but also elsewhere in the world, who live in remote frontier areas usually beyond the control of their Governments, opium cultivation provides an income that is double or treble that which they would obtain from growing ordinary cash crops. Indeed, that is not even allowing for the enormous profits made by the middlemen who purchase and process the drugs.

Given the West's refusal to provide real economic incentives to Third world farmers to change their agricultural systems, and the high and increasing international demand for opium and its derivatives, there is no reason to believe that production will decline in the foreseeable future. The United States, western Europe and this country must recognise that fact. That said, we must make it increasingly painful for all those who push drugs within our society. Traffickers must know that they will go to prison for very long stretches. I know that the law already provides for a 14-year maximum sentence, but I am not at all sure that that is enough. The bigger fish should go to prison for life.

I share the view expressed in the splendid speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes). I agree with every word that she said, and believe that those who make vast sums out of murdering young people—that is what they are doing—and corrupting our society, should be stripped of all their ill-gotten gains when they are caught. If it rested with me, I would hang them. The crime that they are committing is worse than that of individual murder.

We should step up extradition proceedings and stop this silly pussy-footing over protecting criminals and refusing exchanges of such people, at least with democratic countries. For the life of me I cannot understand why the Government have not agreed to the Spanish offer to extradite suspected British criminals in return for suspected criminals hiding in this country. In this case, we are dealing not with a dictatorship but with a democratic country. Of course I accept that there should be political sanctuary here. It is our proud claim that for years Britain has given shelter to those who have been driven out of their own countries for their opinions. I hope that that splendid tradition will always continue, but what the blazes are we doing sheltering criminals here? On this issue, the Government must not only be tough; but they must be seen to be tough.

I should like to give a warning now, because, if I do not, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who is vice-chairman of the all-party committee, will do so. That committee will watch every move that the Government make from now on. Ministers will be questioned repeatedly, both in this House and in the other place. This debate gives the House the opportunity to demonstrate both its concern and its determination to see that appropriate action is taken. However, that action should be taken by others as well as by Ministers.

I know where the heart of my hon. Friend the Minister who is to conclude the debate lies. I trust him implicitly and know of his sincerity and his intention to do the maximum within his power. Alas, the matter does not entirely rest with him. I expect action with the health authorities, and that means that I expect them to be given the resources to deal with the problem. I expect the Customs to be given the personnel to deal with the problem of surveillance. I expect the view of the police to be listened to. I expect the medical profession to redouble its efforts to find a sensible way of dealing with this dreadful problem, and to co-operate with the authorities to the maximum.

We have, Mr. Speaker, left it very late in the day.

Photo of Mike Hancock Mike Hancock , Portsmouth South 12:17 pm, 13th July 1984

In this debate it would be a mistake for any hon. Member, particularly on this side of the House, to think that we had a monopoly of social conscience. From what the hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) has said, it is obvious that his heart is in the right place. He has made it clear that it is no good Ministers suggesting that they have plenty of sympathy, because it is action that is needed. If ever there was need for actions to speak louder than words, it should be demonstrated in our attitude towards solving the problem of drug abuse.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mr. Fields) made a point about his city. I should like to give some statistics about mine. I shall refer to the words of the consultant psychiatrist in charge of the drug clinic in Portsmouth. A drug clinic has been operating there since 1967, and the problem of drug misuse has involved much long drawn out agony for people in that city. At present we have about 515 people with a major drug problem. The consultant states that that represents one in five of the number of those really involved with hard drugs. Thus, the problem is so enormous that we cannot just cite Liverpool, London and Manchester. As has been said, it is a countrywide problem that affects every major city, and small village and town.

It is interesting to recall—although it now seems a long time ago—that when the Minister introduced the debate he spoke about the way in which doctors had in some ways acted irresponsibly. In some instances, I believe that doctors have acted with criminal intent because of the way in which they have allowed prescriptions to be given out to addicts, willy-nilly, when they call on them. I shall quote some comments that were contained in a recent article in a local Hampshire newspaper. The words are not mine but those of a leading police officer in charge of a regional drugs squad. He said: There are doctors who are at best indiscriminate in the way they prescribe opiates and at worst criminal. There are a number of people in constant possession of such things as methadon and heroin on private prescriptions. They would prefer to kick the habit — that's the very reason in many instances for them going to the doctors in the first place — and yet they get prescriptions that are still being easily dispensed. In Hampshire today, it is as easy to get a fix of heroin as it is to buy a pint of beer. That is a crime against humanity and we have a responsibility to do something about it. The debate gives us the opportunity to insist that the Government eradicate the problem.

Today's drug user does not conform to most people's idea of a junkie. It is not the long-haired hippy of the heady days of the 1960s. It is the middle-aged woman who cannot stop taking tranquillisers prescribed by her family doctor; it is the person who has got into the habit of taking pain killers; it is the person who has got hooked on cough medicine which can be bought from chemists; it is the adolescent who experimented with drugs and got into difficulty. It is the young person who, for any of a number of reasons — perhaps unemployment or lack of opportunity—has turned to drugs.

All parts of society have been caught in the web of evil that has descended over this country. The drug user could be the neighbour, wife, son or daughter of any of us. We have to get to grips with the enormity of the problem.

For eight years, I worked on behalf of a community that had progressed from being funded by local authorities to becoming a charity for the rehabilitation of the users of hard drugs. It is called the Alpha House Community and, after being founded in Portsmouth, it is now based in rural Hampshire. The community struggled for year after year to get funds to continue its work. It staggered, hand to mouth, from one source to another trying to get resources to carry on its work. It is now probably the leading centre for drug rehabilitation in this country and its expertise has been drawn on even by people in America.

Former addicts who have been through the long and demanding treatment at Alpha House—stretching over years—are working in drug centres all over the world and doing marvellous work in bringing home to people the folly of taking drugs.

I became involved with Alpha House after seeing what happened to my closest friend with whom I grew up and went to school. He was a shining example of what our education system can provide for a person who was bright and who had a clear future ahead. He had a glowing school and university career. During a sad time in my friend's life, when his family suffered a tragic loss, he dabbled in drugs. He started to take soft drugs, was picked up by the police, convicted and sent to prison. He went to prison as a user of soft drugs but came out four months later on hard drugs. Six months later he was a heroin addict. Nine months after he came out of prison I found him dead on the floor of a seedy room in Portsmouth. What happened to him was a sad indictment of society.

That experience proved to me that the problem had to be dealt with at all levels of statutory responsibility. I saw a life that was wasted, a person who was not given an opportunity. He tried to get help, but failed miserably. The only solution in those days was to send him to prison, which returned him to society as an addict to hard drugs. That is a sad reflection on us all. That is why I got involved with Alpha House and why I am speaking in the debate.

There should be a concerted effort to provide up-to-date information and counselling for school pupils about the dangers of the misuse of drugs. The campaign needs to be pitched carefully. It must not be over-dramatic, because that might excite youngsters, and it needs to include factual material on the problems that can follow the misuse of drugs.

The best way to get the message across to young people is to ensure that it is delivered by youngsters who have been addicts and have seen their families torn apart by what has happened to them. Thousands of ex-addicts could benefit from being given that job and they would give immeasurable support to the police, school teachers and social workers who are trying to get the message across. No one is more aware than a former addict of the follies of drug abuse. The Under-Secretary said that he would take on board the suggestions made by hon. Members, and I hope that he will pursue that suggestion with enthusiasm and vigour.

I get the impression that the efforts of schools to try to get the message across vary dramatically. Some go into great detail and try desperately to spell out the dangers. Other schools do little or nothing to combat the evil of drug abuse. But, whatever schools do, teachers have not been educated about the misuse of drugs.

There also needs to be a greater awareness of the problems among the health professions and others working with young people. I do not believe that doctors are necessarily the best people to counsel drug abusers or to tell us how money should be spent. Of course more money should be given to health authorities, but doctors are not necessarily the best people to tell us how and where that money should be spent. Many doctors have many questions to answer about the way in which they have treated addicts. Doctors are often misinformed or ill-informed about how people should be treated, and their views are sometimes distorted because of their prejudices about the way in which to handle the problem.

Hon. Members have repeatedly spelt out the need to give the customs authorities the manpower to deal with the problem. On a visit to Morocco last year, I was offered any amounts of any type of drug—as, I imagine, were the majority of people on that holiday. When I returned to Gatwick from Morocco, which is renowned for its problems of drug abuse and its ability to export drugs, there was not one Customs officer at the barrier. Drugs can almost literally be picked up in the street in Morocco and I understand from frequent visitors to that country that the absence of Customs officers at Gatwick is not uncommon. Presumably the same could be true when people return from Pakistan or Amsterdam.

The cases are too numerous for us to ignore. The Government should not be complacent about the problem and suggest that body searches are the only way to deal with it. The possibility of being stopped must be a deterrent. If carriers see that no one is standing at the Customs barrier time after time, it lends credence to the belief that they will never be caught. It is not good enough to suggest that increasing the numbers of staff would not solve the problem—it would go some way towards it.

We have to provide more staff for the police and their regional drugs squads. I was horrified to read not only in my local newspapers but in other newspapers that police forces and their drug squads are being reduced, which means that their effectiveness is being reduced. It is nonsense for hon. Members to say that the police should take more action while we restrict their ability to do what we want them to do by reducing their staff, or by forcing them to take on other responsibilities that do not allow them to work effectively against drug abuse.

There is also a role for drug dependency clinics. I have spoken about Alpha House, which is an after-care organisation dealing with those who have been in hospital. There is a need to bring clinics into the community. We do not want the community to be hostile. Such clinics must be located sensibly and they must have sympathy with what is happening in the community. Many people in the community who do not have daily contact with drug abuse are worried, if not scared, by the thought of a drug dependency clinic in their community. They are justifiably afraid, and those fears need to be allayed if the clinics are to be placed in the communities. The clinics must not set one community against another.

We must consider the problem, deal with it and come up with action that spells out what we want. The hon. Member for Castle Point spoke about the debate in another place. During a similar debate, the Bishop of Protsmouth made a telling contribution. He said that there was a need for improved treatment within the Health Service, but that it was surely not a matter for the Health Service alone. To put it crudely, the problem of drug abuse is fundamentally a people problem. No matter how much we learn about substances and the pattern of abusage, in the end it is the person who uses it and abuses it. The evil person involved in organised crime pushing this is an evil person. The thoughtless person canvassing the advantages of this or that tranquilliser and writing it up in the newspaper is a person. The pop star or film star experimenting with drugs and treated as a hero in the newspaper once again is a person.

The problem is about people. This place, above all others, should reflect the needs of people. There is a growing demand that this House should react to the problem of drug abuse. It is no good our expressing sympathy but leaving it on our coat sleeves so that, when our jackets are removed, the sympathy goes. We need action.

I implore both the Ministries concerned with the problem to act positively and quickly, and to take on board, as the Minister promised when he opened the debate, all the points made by hon. Members about this vexed issue of drug abuse.

Photo of Mr Dudley Smith Mr Dudley Smith , Warwick and Leamington 12:33 pm, 13th July 1984

Although I intend to be brief, I want to protest about the over-long speeches from the Government and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen at the beginning of the debate, and especially about the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office, who spoke for almost an hour. We are constantly being sensibly advised by the Chair—and, indeed, by our party managers—to keep contributions brief and to play the game so that we have better debates in which more people can participate. The whole spirit of that goes when Front Bench spokesmen make such long contributions. It means that hon. Members have to truncate their remarks, and that prevents the interflow and exchange between the two sides of the House. The time is coming when something must be done about over-long Front Bench speeches. Only the most important speeches need take more than half an hour.

It is not original to say that without pushers and suppliers there would be no drug problem. However, it is the key to the whole quesion, and it needs to be said time and time again. I was a little disappointed in the latest publication from the Home Office Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs called "Prevention", which was published not long ago. The starkness and menace of the position did not come through to me when I read it. The Minister gave the official figures of drug addicts, but even he will agree that they are on the low side. We are well aware that the numbers are much higher and it is obvious that many addicts are not detected. Apart from that, I am worried by the supposition, as it were, in that report that, apart from the hard drugs of which we are aware, there are other addictive commodities and that the problem involves, for example, alcohol, tobacco and even the wrong foods. That is not the case.

I regret that the Home Office report refers to medicines and the advertising of medicines. There is rigorous supervision of that advertising. As many hon. Members will be aware, I have an interest to declare. Apart from a spell of four years in government, I have been associated with the pharmaceutical industry for the past 18 years. Today we are not discussing that industry.

Unfortunately, there is sometimes confusion over the use of the word "drug". The pharmaceutical industry produces life-saving medicines. The word "drug" should be restricted to the hard narcotics of the type that we are discussing. If there is an abuse involving ordinary medicines, the fault lies with the doctors who do the prescribing and with a lack of security by wholesalers and retail pharmacists, particularly if criminals break in and get hold of these substances.

Medicines are well regulated in Britain by the Medicines Commission. They include over-the-counter medicines, some of which are mentioned in the Home Office report. Banned narcotics, however, are in a league of their own. We are talking about heroin, cocaine, cannabis and opium. We are not, in considering the totality of the problem, talking even about valium and sleeping tablets, which are a separate problem but which, if prescribed properly are valuable medicines for many people. It is a matter of the right prescribing habits of doctors.

We must adopt a more realistic and abrasive approach to the whole problem of drug abuse. Although the Home Office report, and even this debate, are concerned with the misuse of drugs, the subject is not as anodyne as that. We are, in fact, talking about the menace of narcotics which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) pointed out, is threatening society.

Before the debate, I noted four measures which I intended to impress on the Minister. Having listened to the debate, I still feel that I should draw them to his attention. First, there should be exemplary punishment for the guilty —the hard-line pushers and suppliers—because they are beyond the pale, even in the criminal context. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point that the more serious of them should receive life sentences. They are even move guilty than the ordinary, straightforward murderer. Legislation must be introduced for the confiscation of ill-gotten gains. The Minister spoke about legislation being introduced during the lifetime of this Parliament. That should be a front-runner Bill, and I hope that it will be introduced in the next Session.

Secondly, world action should be taken against countries which tolerate the cultivation of the plants from which the drugs about which we are speaking are derived, and against countries which are inefficient in suppressing the illegal cultivation of those plants.

The United Nations has an enormous role to play and it is one that should be played. I am not confident that the right measures are being taken internationally. I welcome what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said about the action that is being taken in Pakistan but, as the others have said, it is a drop in the ocean. It is a token gesture and we must get far more people involved if we are to get to grips with the problem and eventually conquer it.

We need to do a great deal more in educating young people on the dangers of drugs. I do not favour the softly-softly approach that some hon. Members have mentioned. Great emphasis must be placed on the devastating effect on the individual if he or she becomes a hard drug taker. The consequences must be spelt out strongly. My hon. Friend used the phrase "the misery of addiction". There is no doubt that hard drugs cause the greatest misery of all the addictive substances in the world.

The Government cannot do everything and there is enormous responsibility on parents, but all too often that responsibility is neglected. The sloppy, uncaring attitude of recent decades does not enable children to distinguish between right and wrong. If ever there was a need to know that difference, it is in connection with hard drugs.

A controversial issue is whether travellers at ports of entry should be stopped more frequently. I have in mind Dover and Heathrow and other airports and ports. We could make a significant impact on the problem if lightning searches were carried out from time to time in which everyone was searched. There would be complaints and a certain amount of chaos, but the price would be worth paying. It would be far clearer to those entering the country with drugs that they might be caught. Those of us who do a great deal of travelling have experience of being stopped by a Customs officer once every six months or a year. He usually takes a cursory look to see whether an extra bottle of spirit or wine is being carried, but underneath the other items there could be tucked away half a pound of heroin.

I know that the men and women of the Customs service are experts. They act on tips and they have a shrewd idea who the villains might be. But they are not always right. Thousands of people are passing through our ports of entry every day, sometimes from places where it is known that drugs are easily available. They pass through the various channels and sometimes there is no one on duty to stop anyone. The Home Office must take this issue on board. The problem of the importation of hard drugs is growing at airports and at docks through which travellers pass either on foot or by car from the Continent. The problem will continue to grow unless positive action is taken. It could become as great a problem as the diseases that we have conquered in the past. Society itself could be undermined.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting 12:43 pm, 13th July 1984

This is a debate in which many of us, irrespective of the side of the House on which we sit, can find agreement. We are discussing what has sadly become an ever-increasing problem. It extends throughout the country and is not confined to our large cities.

I think that we all agree that those who traffic in or supply drugs in any form should expect no leniency from the courts when they are found guilty. The Minister has told us that in the near future the Government will introduce legislation to give the courts the power to confiscate the fortunes that have been made by those who deal in drugs. We should take note of what a judge said at Swansea this week when sentencing certain people.

Many of us will wish the Minister well, but he must involve himself in the closest scrutiny. Money is moved from country to country in this highly organised trade. We know that there are enormous fortunes to be made. Fines of £150,000 of the sort imposed this week at Swansea will not affect the fortune that an individual has made over the years from drug trafficking. About 18 months ago an Australian was sent to prison for drug trafficking. He proudly claimed that he was a millionaire, but he was one because of the money that he had made from drug trafficking. We can send drug traffickers to prison, but they will not be there very long. When they come out they will still have the fortunes that they made from people of all ages, who have suffered the tragic consequences. The problem is that those trafficking in drugs can get away with it.

Many hon. Members have touched on the terrible effects that young people experience from taking drugs. Not so long ago we in this country held up our hands in horror when we read about what was occurring in large cities in the United States. As youngsters were going into school, pushers were outside selling drugs. That is now happening in this country. Last week, a report appeared in the Wandsworth Borough News of a meeting at a school in my constituency. The meeting was called because of the growing worry of parents and teachers, not so much of drugs in the school as in the locality. The school's head said: Heroin is being sold in the road right by the school. There was a drugs raid not far from the school recently. It is all around us and we don't want the problem at this school. I believe that we all applaud the action of that head of staff and the response by parents. I am deeply worried about the lack of help given to schools by education authorities or Government Departments to make not only youngsters but their parents aware of the problem.

One leaflet handed out by the school—it is the type that local organisations hand-produce—asked: Would you know if your child was using DRUGS? That is a problem, because, without a doubt, many parents are unaware of the first signs that their youngsters have started to take drugs. The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security is in the Chamber, and the debate was opened by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, but I believe that the Department of Education and Science should be involved in this discussion as well. I hope that that Department will take note of the comments made in the debate. There is a clear sign that insufficient information is available to schools wishing to tackle the problem.

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

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Department of Education and Science will be represented on the interdepartmental working group chaired by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science——

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

—by a Minister—my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). He will consider all the points made by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting

I note and welcome the Minister's comment. I refer again to the press report. It refers to what was said by the lady who chaired the parent-teacher meeting a week ago, and says that when she first became worried about drugs, she had been disgusted by the lack of education in schools on drugs and the lack of facilities for teenage drug addicts. She added that it had been very difficult to get hold of any education material". Unfortunately, there is little support for the efforts being made by schools in London. I am sure that the Inner London Education Authority would want to try to resolve that problem.

The problem does not exist only in London. Other hon. Members have referred to the same problem in their own areas. I do not want to bring politics into the debate but Labour Members have constantly warned that the problem of drug abuse will be adversely affected by the rate-capping legislation. In London, many schools are faced with reductions in staff. Teachers should be involved in projects related to drug abuse. If teaching staffs are reduced, together with funding of education, how can we possibly expect schools to tackle the problem effectively?

Ministers may say, "We know what the problem is and we are doing all that we can about it." We do not believe that the Government are doing all that they can about it. From what has been said by hon. Members in the debate, it is clear that there is agreement that much more action must be taken by the Government specifically with regard to the education of young children within the schools, and also with regard to the education of parents.

Several hon. Members have referred to the growth of drug abuse in prisons. I wonder whether the Home Office has any idea of the extent of drug trafficking that now takes place in prisons. When my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) referred to the problem, the Home Office Minister asked, "Where is the evidence?" If the Home Office will enter into consultation with the Prison Officers Association it will be left in no doubt about the problem. I suggested in an intervention that the Home Office should study the annual reports of the boards of prison visitors, which show clearly the extent of the growth in drug trafficking in prisons. The tobacco barons in our prisons are becoming a thing of the past. The drug barons are now all-powerful in prisons. Debts are now being paid in drugs and not, as in the past, in tobacco.

In recent years there have been many changes improving the day-to-day life of prisoners, and I welcome them. The last thing I would want to see is any restriction placed on closed visits, but we have to be realistic and admit that it is possible that a certain quantity of drugs may go into prisons because of such visits. What kinds of checks are made? Wandsworth prison is in my constituency, and I sit on the board of Wormwood Scrubs prison, so I have some idea of the problem. What kinds of checks are made on visitors to men in prison?

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

There is abundant evidence that drugs are carried into prisons, including those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, in the bodies of visitors. In the past, the police could, on proper suspicion, conduct searches. Legislation now going through the House wall, for the first time, prevent that. We are not getting on top of the problem. We are making it worse.

Photo of Mr Tom Cox Mr Tom Cox , Tooting

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) has made that point several times today. No doubt if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will make it again. I should like to know what kind of checks take place, not outside, but inside the prisons. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that there is a difference. How many women prison officers are available to carry out checks inside the prisons? The fines imposed by local magistrates on people caught taking drugs into prisons are pathetic. Magistrates should be made aware of the seriousness of what these people are trying to do. Drugs are now a flourishing trade. They form the prison currency. Everything possible must be done to stamp this traffic out.

I favour a liberal regime in the prisons, but there must be rules. If it becomes known to the authorities that drugs are circulating in a particular prison, there should be no complaints if strict controls and searches are instituted. But are there enough officers to carry out this very specialised work? As I have said, the Government must consult the people who really know how the system works and co-operate with them to eradicate the problem because the last thing that I want is restrictions on visits, although that would undoubtedly stamp out the problem.

I believe that there is general agreement that something must be done and that time is not on our side. We know that the problem is growing fast. Drugs can be found virtually anywhere in south London. Members from other parts of the country have described a similar situation. The problem already exists. The question is whether we can contain it or whether it will get out of hand. The test will be the Government's action. The Government can no longer claim that drug abuse is a small, isolated problem in one city or another. Tragically, it has spread throughout the country.

In the next few months, the Government must make it clear that they appreciate the gravity of the situation and that sufficient funds will be made available to tackle it through searches at airports, increased numbers of customs officials, improved facilities for treatment of addicts and assistance for schools and parents seeking to tackle the problem at that level. The real responsibility for action rests with the Government. They cannot deny the extent and seriousness of the problem. The test is for them and many Members of Parliament will be watching to see how they respond.

Photo of Mr Tim Rathbone Mr Tim Rathbone , Lewes 12:59 pm, 13th July 1984

I shall not recite yet again the horrors of the problem; they have been illustrated often, and not least by the newest Member of the House, the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) when he recounted the story of his friend.

The media have done their job. On Wednesday evening, TVS ran a review of the drug problem in Hampshire and Sussex on its "Coast-to-Coast" programme, and a further dramatic illustrationration of the problem was brought to the notice of even more people.

Thank goodness the Government are among the people who seem to be more aware of the hideous problem. They have expressed their anxiety by several positive actions. I genuinely welcome—I do not believe that one hon. Member has mentioned this—the establishment of the ministerial group. For the first time, one Minister will be responsible for the panoply of activities to try to solve the problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House will be watching to see what happens, because something must happen. I should like to ask questions about three aspects of Government activity. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Security has given special encouragement and has promised special help to district health authorities in their efforts to tackle the problem, but I look forward to a more detailed description of what has been achieved. If my hon. Friend the Minister does not have the facts this afternoon, perhaps we could have another opportunity to hear them.

My second question relates to the special activities of the Association of Chief Police Officers. At the moment that organisation is examining the feasibility and the operation of a regional organisation to investigate drug traffickers. I wonder when that report will be ready and what it will contain, because we want to know what is happening.

The third question relates to the Customs. This matter was mentioned by various hon. Members. Unlike some other hon. Members, I believe that there must be a discipline, although with minimal personal and commercial disruption. From visiting the Customs operations in Sussex and in my constituency, I have found that spot checks would have no credibility if they were done only now and again against the passengers of this ship or that aeroplane. Customs officers must be more visible.

I therefore welcome the greater use of the mobile force which is radio linked and co-operates with the police and other agencies. Even with better co-operation, I wonder whether we should draw together the various disparate services, including the Special Branch, to create one all-embracing service to deal with and keep an eye on people moving to and from this country.

Are we spending sufficient on investment in modern technological machinery and people in the Customs, bearing in mind the European Commission guideline that 10 per cent. of Customs revenue, excluding excise taxes and VAT should be spent in such a way?

Even with a new group, will there be sufficient coordination and communication between Departments and agencies to provide enough of the interwoven and cohesive information which is so crucial to the success of monitoring and battling against the wave of new crimes associated with the upsurge of drug misuse? Linked with that, is there a sufficient framework for international cooperation through the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Customs Co-operation Council, Interpol, and so on? The British Government have a special ability to influence beneficially such co-operation from their own standpoint and as a member of the Commonwealth.

I welcome the recent report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. There is much to be digested in it. Actions must be planned and considered for the future, but I believe that many can be taken quickly. Before I comment on some aspects of the report, I should like to ask the Minister one general question: when will he require comments on the report to be made to him? I emphasise that because it has a special importance. It is crucial that action should be taken to strengthen the Medicines Acts. It is unlikely to be put in hand before the Government have finished considering comments submitted to them. I hope that that process will start speedily and be completed soon. I hope that the Minister can give us information on that matter when he replies.

One general comment on the report has not yet featured strongly in the debate. Much drug abuse starts with and continues to grow through prescribed drugs. Therefore, as a necessary part of any prevention there must be a campaign to encourage healthier living habits. Much more needs to be done to reduce the general level of drug prescribing. That is less dependent on prescribing safeguards, although I welcome the Government's actions on that, than on more sensible prescribing generally. It must be asked whether the subject of prescribing is sufficiently covered in teaching of doctors during their years of medical education. They should be better prepared to meet the problems when they become practitioners.

Most certainly, more needs to be done to help young people who have experimented with drugs. The awful truth is that these days that may mean most young people. They experiment usually on the instigation of one of their friends. We must encourage them away from the threat of continuing to use drugs regularly thereafter.

The report makes a special point on that matter. It identifies correctly the need for more nationally produced drug education material to support and enhance local education with specialised efforts. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) referred to that. It could and should be put in hand immediately because, from what I have been able to find out, the present material is insufficient and of too low quality.

The report also advocates better informed and more responsible media coverage of drug matters. Much done by the media to heighten awareness and to help to detect those capitalising on this horrible trade and on other people's tragic weakness is immensely valuable. However, I wonder whether it is a service to the community to have on almost any television programme on drugs detailed descriptions of how best to take heroin. I should mention that that was not a feature in the TVS programme to which I referred. Such detailed attention on how to use drugs seems to be tipping the balance in a way that is directly against the interests of the community, away from the freedom of the media to report what they see to reporting that becomes irresponsible because of its effect on the public. I wonder whether the Government could be a catalyst for a series of seminars with representatives of the media to discuss such a proposition, and perhaps also the pharmaceutical companies themselves should sponsor such an educational campaign. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) would be an ideal person to encourage that being put in hand.

When speaking of educational campaigns, perhaps the most important of all is one directed to parents, who all too often, because of a lack of knowledge and awareness, unwittingly contribute to their children's problems and then find themselves unprepared to help their children tackle them. Parents do not receive sufficient mention or emphasis in this report, and that is its major deficiency.

Such campaigns of information material should be planned and executed in two ways: first, through such channels as citizens advice bureaux and community health councils, which are particularly important as patients' watchdogs, to illustrate and explain the threat of drug misuse; secondly, through district health authorities for every library, every doctor's surgery and every point of medical resource to inform concerned parents and young people alike about what services are available and where to help treat anyone with a drug problem.

As for education and information for young people through schools, a subject touched upon by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes), I wonder whether the report has it right when it leaves to local education authorities and schools the decision whether to include drug education in the curricula and, if so, how to include it. Surely whether they should include it should not be open to question—only how they go about including it. There is a crying need and, if that is not already apparent to all, it must be made apparent very quickly. It might be made all the more apparent if the Department of Education and Science instructed the schools inspectorate to police drug education activities so that the best methods might be identified. Since its reports are now to be published, those best methods would be promulgated.

I make just one comment on treatment. As facilities for treatment improve and increase, I wonder whether the law is really well drawn now to make the best use of these facilities. Under the influence of drugs, individuals are often not aware of the full extent of their own problem. I wonder whether we do not need to reassess the law and see whether we should not have legal powers to retain for treatment in acute treatment facilities. I hope that the Home Office Minister's group will consider that carefully at the earliest opportunity.

There are a multitude of other areas of action identified and advocated in the report on prevention, but I shall not take any more of the time of the House now. It is certain that each of them requires speedy consideration with effective, vigorous action planned as quickly as possible. As other hon. Members have pointed out, the problem is no longer a narrow one. It is widespread and spreading wider. No longer is it confined to the artistic world, to people in their late teens and early twenties, or to deprived youth in deteriorating city centres. It is everywhere. Even in my home county of Sussex arrests for drug misuse or abuse have doubled year by year for the past three years. There are no quick and easy solutions. I hope that the Government work quickly and vigorously to meet this problem right now.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham

. Order. Perhaps it would help the House if I said that the Opposition Front Bench spokesman hopes to catch my eye at 2 o'clock.

Photo of Mr Chris Smith Mr Chris Smith , Islington South and Finsbury 1:14 pm, 13th July 1984

The Home Office Minister said that the problem was not just one of heroin and heroin addiction. He was absolutely right. There is the additional major problem in areas such as the one that I represent of solvent abuse, and the line of progression from glue-sniffing to heroin-taking is all too common amongst many people in my constituency and other parts of inner London.

I shall confine my remarks to the heroin problem because it has a major impact and its use has been increasing explosively in our inner cities in the past few years. The reasons for the explosive increase are numerous. The underlying problems of unemployment and the lack of alternative activity or recreation for young people is one reason. Heroin is widely available on council estates in such places as Islington. We must regret what is happening. The presence of pushers on estates is one reason why heroin is now available to working people and their children in my constituency.

The ease of sniffing heroin rather than injecting it is another reason, along with the lack of fear of doing that. Price also plays its part. Its price is no longer beyond the reach of many people who can now obtain initial small quantities of heroin. Heroin is widely available on council estates in working class areas of inner London. The use and abuse of heroin, and the horrible consequences are becoming extremely widespread.

A few weeks ago a mother from one of the council estates in my constituency broke down and wept in my weekly advice surgery because of what had happened to her teenage daughter. She told me of what has also happened to the teenage daughters and sons of, not a handful, but of 20 or even 40 parents of her acquaintance. They were suffering from the same distress and were equally distraught about what had happened to their children. When that happens the House must start to try to do something. I hope that the Government will begin to take action.

The Under-Secretary is mistaken about one reason why so many young people in so many areas are turning to heroin. He said that they were rebelling against society. I do not believe that. Young people want to escape from society and the impact that society has on them. There is a crucial difference between those reasons in relation to the psychology and pressures which lead people to heroin. Heroin does not cause people anger or to become active. It gives people a pleasant feeling of listlessness which leads them to enjoy heroin in the current environment.

I am glad that the Government are beginning to realise the urgency of the problem, although I do not think that they realise it strongly enough. We need a co-ordinated approach across a series of Departments at both Government and local level. It is not a question of the number of customs officers, although that is important. In addition, we must examine the way in which the police operate, the attention that they appear to give to soft drugs compared with their lack of attention to the pushing of hard drugs, and the priority that they should have in relation to their performance.

We must also look at the education service. Indeed, I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock) when he said that young people should be educated about drugs, not by teachers, who are part of the normal society that they may find rather frightening and oppressive, but by those who have been through the experience of drug use and rehabilitation, and who know what it is like to become dependent on drugs and to struggle out of that experience. Those are the people who should be doing the educating and who should be telling our young people about the dangers of heroin and hard drug addiction.

We must also look at what the Health Service is doing. The facilities that are provided are totally inadequate both in nature and number. As has been said, we must consider the whole way in which drugs are prescribed by doctors and hospitals, and the ease with which a drug or potion becomes the answer to a particular illness. In that connection, we must also consider the activities of drug companies, and the way in which they push and encourage doctors to prescribe more and newer drugs. All of those parts of the governmental machine are involved, and they must be co-ordinated in their approach to the problem.

There is also the role that local authorities and, in particular, voluntary organisations can play. I shall turn shortly to an agency which is based in my constituency. I have already spoken—unfortunately rather briefly—to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short), who chairs the Select Committee on Social Services, about the need to co-ordinate the activities of Government. I hope that the Select Committee will take up the whole issue of drug misuse and will consider the way in which our health and social services should respond, the facilities that should be made available and the way in which the Government are approaching the problem. I hope that the Select Committee will be able to take that up as an issue for detailed discussion and consideration, and that it will put some concrete proposals before the House.

The problems of co-ordination can be clearly identified in the case of a rehabilitation agency called City Roads. It is based in my constituency and is in the front line when it comes to tackling the drug problem. It deals with those who are on drugs, but who have not yet had the courage to approach any official agency. They have not gone into hospital or gone to the health services seeking help. They are still addicted to drugs, but they realise that as a result they are suffering pain and face problems. They go voluntarily to City Roads for the beginnings of rehabilitation. That agency's work is quite invaluable. It services many people from all over London and it also, of course, helps people from my constituency. Official agencies can be extremely frightening and remote to addicts who have come to regard the apparatus of society as something that they have nothing to do with, and City Roads demonstrates how a voluntary agency that is not part of officialdom can have contact with addicts and can provide some sort of supportive help that official agencies often cannot do. The work of such voluntary agencies is crucial if we are to begin to tackle the problem and to help those who have become addicts.

That agency is funded largely by the NHS—and all credit to the health authorities—but also by the GLC. It is desperately worried about what will happen to its funding and its work, not only because of the proposals for the abolition of the GLC, but because of the rate-capping measures that are likely to be announced to the House in the next two weeks. The Secretary of State for the Environment will probably rate-cap the GLC, the Inner London education authority and the London borough of Islington, all of which are involved with the drugs problem.

The Government must look at what is happening in the voluntary sector and at its reliance on local authority funds. I hope that, while appreciating the horror of the problem and the fact that it has grown, the Government will give us not only sympathetic words, but concrete action. The most important action required is the devotion of sufficient resources to the NHS and to local authorities for the funding of voluntary agencies such as City Roads, so that they may tackle the problem effectively.

Words are not enough. The Government must put some cash where their mouth is. The Prime Minister always tells us that we cannot solve problems by throwing money at them, but the Government must realise that we cannot solve problems by withdrawing resources. They must have a co-ordinated approach to the problem and it is important that the necessary resources are available. That is vital for those outside in the real world who are suffering enormous pain and anxiety and the tragic loss of far too much in their lives.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West 1:27 pm, 13th July 1984

I welcome the debate, which appears to presage a belated awareness by the Government that we face a crisis of drug addiction.

I was encouraged by the speech of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, because it convinced me that he understands the problem and what needs to be done. He must now make sure that he obtains the resources from the Treasury to do what needs to be done. I shall be active in reminding him of that need.

Reference has been made to the work of Customs officers. I visited the Customs at Heathrow and at Manchester airport, which is near my constituency. I was armed with details given to me by the Society of Civil and Public Servants and I came away believing that the union had seriously overstated the case in its document "Heroin" and had failed to realise that it is an increase in intelligence activities which is needed.

The union's document also fails to take account of the effectiveness of mobile squads. It is not true to say that there is never a mass rummage of planes, even jumbo jets, at Heathrow. That has happened, but the Customs is selective about where the planes come from and they act on intelligence. An element of surprise is needed if they are to be effective.

Apparently, people are becoming aware that the Customs at Heathrow is particularly effective and as one route is closed, drugs will come in by different methods, including such abstruse routings as couriers flying to Madrid and linking up with the homeward half of a package tour from Tenerife, so that they arrive at Luton and pretend that they are not typical drugs carriers. We must never underestimate the skill and the deviousness of those involved in the trade.

I pay tribute to the activities of the Customs officers who have to carry out some pretty unpleasant tasks, including sitting in a cell, day after day, with someone suspected of swallowing drugs and carrying them internally. Those officers are not always paid in accordance with the nature of their work. During the past few years their salary scales have slipped behind those of other people involved in law enforcement. I hope that the Government will take on board the need to boost the morale and motivation of Customs officers.

I agree with what was said earlier about forfeiture of the rewards of crime, especially in relation to drug crimes. It is extremely important, and I hope that it will be introduced in the near future. The Home Office may regret not having introduced body searches on suspicion of people carrying drugs. I fear that that will provide a loophole in the law that will be used frequently by those involved——

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

The power of the police to search already exists; the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill will remove it.

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

I was not aware of that. I think that the Home Office will regret removing that power.

The problem of prescribing has already been mentioned. Why has only dipipanone been banned from prescriptions? Surely other drugs such as palfium will continue to be prescribed by doctors to addicts. We must think carefully about restricting the drugs that the doctors can prescribe to methadone linctus. Why are doctors prescribing injectable methadone? I realise that some doctors will take it amiss if their skills are criticised, but I believe that there is a certain amount of ignorance and mental laziness among doctors. We may have to think seriously about which drugs can be prescribed.

Public awareness of the problem is extremely low. I became aware of it when I lived in New York in the early 1970s. Even then, in some parts of the city 20 per cent. of the adult male population were addicted to drugs—notably in the south Bronx area. The problem was especially serious among the ethnic and linguistic minorities. Everyone, both in the city and outside it, was aware that the enormous number of muggings and other crimes in New York City were drug-related. That awareness of the connection between crime and drugs has not hit the British public. Until it does, chief constables cannot divert the resources needed to deal with the problem. Essentially, they react to what the public demand of them.

There has been a large increase in the number of policemen since the Government took office. We must be aware of the need to divert more resources to the drug problem. I understand that in 1978 there were 500 officers in drug squads, and that currently there are about 550—a 10 per cent. increase which, I am afraid, is almost certainly insufficient.

The Home Office should not hide behind the fact that there are no official statistics on drug abuse in prisons. It is evident that a large number of drug-dependent people enter prison and that drugs have become a currency in prisons. No doubt some prisons are worse than others, but the Home Office should urgently consider what should be done to stop drugs coming into prisons. If it is a question of restricting visits, so be it, but I am convinced that prison officers will lose control of the situation unless something is done in the near future.

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

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) for acting this morning as a part-time ad hoc Parliamentary Private Secretary, and I congratulate him on the way in which he has made the switch from that role to that of a constructive critic of the Government.

Does he agree — following my visit to Bolton on Wednesday and my visit to the Bolton general infirmary —that the members of the National Health Service often come in right at the end and have to deal with the aftereffects of drug cases, such as that of the young man I saw at the Bolton infirmary suffering from the after-effects of respiratory failure? Does he agree that those who work in the NHS on such cases deserve praise?

Photo of Mr Tom Sackville Mr Tom Sackville , Bolton West

I agree with my hon. Friend. The case of that young man should have been detected much sooner. There are no drug treatment facilities in Bolton, so there was no centre where he could have gone. That was a particularly tragic case.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on taking the role of chairman of the working group, a brave move on his part and a tremendous task. To avoid himself fighting a losing battle, he should, for example, read "Prevention", the report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and check that he is acting on its recommendations. The previous report, "Treatment and Rehabilitation", sat on the shelf for about 18 months while little was done. I am glad that there is apparently Government awareness of the problem.

I also recommend the Under-Secretary to keep in mind the fact that drug treatment facilities in the voluntary sector are extremely important. He should visit as many drug treatment and advice centres as possible, including the one which I visited yesterday, the Hungerford project, which is only a few hundred yards from this place. He should listen to what the people there have to say about their role and the difficulties that are faced by those who are trying to be of assistance. There is no point controlling the supply of drugs unless, for those who want to come off them, treatment facilities are available.

Photo of Mr David Alton Mr David Alton , Liverpool Mossley Hill 1:38 pm, 13th July 1984

During the debate we have been given a catalogue of chilling statistics, figures which have been matched only by the reports given by hon. Members of the dearth of facilities available for treating drug abusers, particularly heroin addicts. It is clear from what hon. Members have said in this four and a half hour debate that heroin abuse is one of the chief maladies of our time.

I welcome the report that the House is debating. I agree with many of its conclusions, but I am concerned because, in the light of the escalation of drug abuse, on an unprecedented scale, a more urgent official response might have been expected. In its opening paragraphs, the advisory council confirms that the misuse of drugs is no longer simply a capital city problem. It says that it is a problem which knows no class barriers and is now as common in the ordinary towns as it is in the great cities of Britain.

Research conducted by the DHSS confirms that the number of people addicted has been growing at an alarming rate. The number of addicts has risen from 3,000 in the so-called drug-crazed 1960s to probably 100,000 in the heroin-hooked 1980s.

Heroin constitutes a powerful pressure for crime. It represents a deadly peril for the young who use it. It is a wrecker of families, friendships and communities. It leaves worried parents devastated as they watch helplessly the drifting wreckage and the flotsam and jetsam of their children's lives. For as little as £5, two young people can buy sufficient heroin for a night. It is cheaper than watching a film at the cinema or spending a night at the local pub. But the price that the user can pay is often the ultimate one.

I shall divide my remarks into two parts. First, I shall outline the scale and the origins of the problem, and comment briefly on the remedies that are set out in the report.

I draw the Minister's attention to a programme which was broadcast on BBC Radio Merseyside in April. It was claimed in that programme that the scale of heroin abuse on Merseyside had reached epidemic proportions, with 50 per cent. of young people aged between 14 and 25 years regularly using the drug. I telephoned the radio station yesterday and I was told that the producers of the programme stood by that staggering claim. Although the claim seems unbelievable, the producers say that it has been confirmed by the Merseyside drugs council. If the claim is true— and I have no reason to doubt it—it means that every other young person on Merseyside has embarked on a course which entails degeneration and disintegration of the body, mind and spirit. It means that every other young person on Merseyside will all too easily slip into a life of crime and prostitution to pay for his or her addiction. It means also that every other young person on Merseyside faces enslavement by the pushers and the prospect of a squalid and premature death. In the face of all this, the Government have been more concerned by the intimidatory tactics of a few unrepresentative councils than with a social catastrophe.

The problem is not confined to a few large and faceless housing estates in the Wirral or in rundown inner city areas. In an interview entitled "Smack City" which appeared in The Observer two weeks ago, one young Merseysider commented: Smack's everywhere; it's easier to get than bubblegum." A young girl said: it's hard to come off it, really hard. There's nothing else to do. Everone else I know is on it. These are not representatives of a small group of deviant characters, for very ordinary young people are involved. From being a backwater, Merseyside is awash with hard drugs.

In a letter which I sent to the Prime Minister, which still remains unanswered, I spelt out the seriousness of the scale of drug abuse. I mentioned that last year Customs and Excise officials seized over 200 kilos of heroin throughout the United Kingdom and that that was estimated to be only 15 per cent. of the amount that is smuggled into the country.

This has led to unprecedented levels of addiction. The BMA claims that one in three of secondary school pupils has experimented either with drugs or glue sniffing. The scale of the problem is increasing daily. In 1982, 238 young people died as a result of drug misuse.

In answer to one of my questions two years ago the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security admitted that on the latest figures that were available—perhaps he will consider making more up-to-date figures available to Parliament more frequently — there were 425 and 880 registered drug addicts at the Royal Liverpool hospital and the Sefton general hospital respectively, which are both in my constituency. Those figures have soared in the intervening period. I hope that the Government will consider making available recent figures at regular intervals.

The report makes it clear—this is confirmed by all the evidence—that there is a substantial and continuing increase in the number of individuals using drugs The report cannot be so clear in identifying the causes and origins and it gives a host of reasons for heroin addiction. The advisory committee wisely says that there is no single cause. However, it offers some useful pointers. In page 9 of the report, the committee states: The continuing inequality in our society places entire groups of the population at a grave disadvantage. It adds that drug abuse may be a way of trying to cope with the stresses and strains experienced in grappling with the complex demands of modern Britain. To assert, as the Prime Minister so often does, that there is no relationship between the futility, rejection, isolation and hopelessness of so many young people and the growing menace of drug abuse and rising crime is to eschew reality and to indulge in an act of monstrous self-deception. When Prince Charles recently recognised that link, the Prime Minister described his remarks as anodyne. His perception, sensitivity, compassion and genuine concern contrast starkly with the right hon. Lady's callous indifference and lofty condescension. The evidence and reality of life on the ground is clearly against her.

Recently, Doctor Martin Plant, one of Britain's leading authorities on drug addiction, said that the new breed of heroin users are young and often unemployed. He said: I feel very pessimistic. Until recently the UK was a drug backwater. I used to think that it would continue to be so while we had low unemployment. Now that there is no indication that unemployment is falling there is little hope of solving the drug problem. If the Prime Minister has little use for academics, perhaps she will at least bear in mind the common sense of the old adage that the devil will always find mischief for idle hands. In areas of mass unemployment, the devil has clearly been having a field day.

There is a relationship between mass unemployment and drug abuses and increasing crime, although it would be simplistic to attribute the entire origins of drug abuse to high unemployment. Hon Members who have dismissed the connection as fatuous should consider the position on Merseyside. One in five of the population are unemployed, and half of the local dole queue is under 30. In answer to questions 1 put last week, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment confirmed that more than 8,500 people — many young—registered at two of my local employment offices, many of whom have been out of work for four or five years. In fact, 2,000 have been out of work for more than five years.

In Liverpool there is a whole hopeless generation who face a lifetime on the dole, and they desperately need the help and stability that employment can bring. As the Liverpool dole queue has soared, the Merseyside chief constable reports a corresponding increase in crime. Last year, 31,000 homes were broken into. That is an average of one every 20 minutes. Burglaries on Merseyside increased by 15 per cent. last year, 16 per cent. in 1982, 17 per cent. in 1981, and 18 per cent. in 1980. Ever since the Government were elected on a platform of law and order, burglaries, break-ins and muggings have increased by unprecedented numbers—and the Conservative party has the neck to call itself a party of law and order.

Against that background, it is no coincidence that heroin abuse and drug addiction are increasing. Crime and addiction feed one another. It costs £200 a week for some addicts to stay on heroin, and they obtain that money by theft and petty fraud or by becoming dealers. The Sunday Times said that, within a half-mile radius of the Old Kent road, 40 dealers operate. Most of those, like the pushers on Merseyside, probably began as drug addicts.

Drug abuse can originate in communities where boredom and frustration have replaced the work ethic and personal opportunities. It can be connected also with curiosity, bravado and a desire to follow the herd. It used to be the fag behind the bicycle sheds; these days it is more likely to be a fix.

That is a description of the scale and the origins of the problem. I should like to comment on the remedies in the advisory council's report. On page 12 the council argues that tighter controls are not in themselves the complete answer. That may well be true. Heroin smuggling has increased by 400 per cent. since 1979, yet cuts in the Civil Service during the same period have decimated the Customs Service. As a direct result of Government policies, 3,561 officials have been shed. On average, Customs officials stop only one out of every 100 passengers arriving in the United Kingdom. It is true that more Customs officials will not detect all abuse, but the massive scale of importation could be reduced.

Two months ago, Liverpool Customs officials discovered 14 kilos of heroin on board one ship from Pakistan. Inevitably that begs the question: how much more escapes detection? Closer port scrutiny is vital if drug imports are to be reduced. Similarly, the hard-pressed drugs squads should be strengthened as a matter of urgency. On Merseyside, a highly effective but hopelessly overstretched team of people is fighting the drug war. The police must not be distracted on to the side issue of marijuana. The House should urgently consider whether cannabis should be decriminalised. In 1968 the advisory council said: the association of cannabis with opiates such as heroin in legislation is entirely inappropriate. Many people in the field believe that the illegality of cannabis is one of the most important factors in drug escalation. Purchasers have to deal with pushers and hard-pressed dealers to get it, and the purchasers will often pressurise people to try harder and more profitable drugs. In looking at the problem in the United States, a Congress select committee reported that repressive and punitive laws cannot be defended as a solution to the marijuana problem … A major need in relation to marijuana is to make the penalties in relation to violations rational".

The real fight in which our police should be involved is in pursuing the Mafia-style figures who organise the import of heroin, and not in dealing with the softer drugs.

In Liverpool, there is a new and sinister development in the underworld, with clear indications that hot drugs money is being laundered in various ways through club ownership, night spots and other such enterprises. Some controllers are laundering their squalid profits by investing the proceeds in residential and other properties. Even in Liverpool's deepest depression, there is a growth industry in those outlets. Similarly, some incidents of internecine gang warfare between rival factions have led to violent scenes. The increasing use of firearms on Merseyside, which is becoming far too prevalent, cannot be divorced from the drug scene. Those are the issues to which Merseysiders will be expecting their police, who serve our community well, to turn their attention.

I welcome the news that regional squads are to be established to co-ordinate the fight against hard drug abuse, and I welcome what the Minister said earlier about attempts to co-ordinate Government activities. But clearly additional resources and manpower will have to he made available for that important work.

Apart from the need for tighter controls, the report argues that a wide variety of potential preventive measures could also be taken. One that is mentioned is the greater control of irresponsible prescribing of controlled drugs. In that context I refer the Minister to the annual report of the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Lawrence Byford, published this week. He told the Home Secretary that in many cases it was all too easy for abusers to approach some doctors who, he claimed, are prepared, with the minimum of inquiry or suspicion, to prescribe drugs in such quantities that the surpluses could be sold on the illicit market.

The advisory council rightly recognises the dangers of encouraging what it calls the acceptance of drug taking as a normal way of life. Although doctors must reserve the right to prescribe drugs where appropriate, we must move away from an over-dependence on drug taking. The British Medical Association should carry out more research into the problem, and the pharmaceutical companies might well help to bear the cost.

The report also calls for a variety of approaches through education, which I welcome. It calls for a more responsible attitude to be adopted by the media, and I welcome that, too. It also calls for a more realistic approach from the regional and the district health authorities.

In 1982, the drugs advisory council recommended that all 14 regional health authorities should set up drug problem teams to co-ordinate their response. Only two have done that so far, and Merseyside is not one of them. The council also recommended that district health authorities should set up drug advisory committees. Only one third of the 193 districts have done that so far, and again Liverpool is not one of them. The council's latest report reiterates the need to take those initiatives. The Minister should say in his reply why we have waited for so long.

The voluntary organisations have an important role to play, and I refer briefly to the work of the Merseyside drugs council. At the moment it has insufficient resources. It must be said that it and groups like it all over the country must be looked at more sympathetically, and additional funds must be provided.

I welcome the limited proposals contained in the report, but the House should be looking for a more concerted and determined attempt to combat the growing menace of heroin. Liberals will be looking to tougher sentencing against the wicked, evil men who organise the drug rings. They will be looking for a sensitive and compassionate response to those who become addicted. They will be looking for policies for our youth which will strengthen their self-esteem and self-respect, and enhance their prospects.

We shall expect far more pressure to be exerted on producer countries. We shall look for a restoration of personnel to customs posts and an increase in the number of police in drug squads. We shall be watching to see whether the Government, in the face of a major crisis, will simply allow this useful report to collect so much dust.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds 1:54 pm, 13th July 1984

The police service has been mentioned frequently. With its help, I have assembled a great deal of factual material that I imagine that the House would nave liked to consider. Due to the way in which the debate has moved, however, I regret very much that it will not be possible for those judgments by the police service to be made known to the House. I shall do my best to allow the Front Bench winding-up speeches to begin shortly after 2 pm, although when earlier Front Bench speeches are too long the only way in which Back Benchers can protect their rights is by refusing to accept the arrangements made through the usual channels.

With the possible exception of political and industrial violence, drug pushing is now the most virulent and rapidly growing threat to the rule of law. It is the source of appalling human suffering and degradation, but it is also the centre of a labyrinth of corruption and crime with which the police have to deal on an ever-increasing scale. The police experience is that drugs are the cause of tens of thousands of violent assaults— first, to get at the money to buy drugs and, secondly, under their influence. Drugs are also the source of thousands of burglaries, especially of chemist shops and wholesale warehouses. A very large number of those burglaries are carried out by armed criminals. That is one of the reasons why the police have had to respond with arms in such cases. Carrying drugs into Britain is also one of the ways in which terrorists finance their activities here. Unfortunately, I have not sufficient time to go into the abundant evidence to support that contention. Drugs, too, are the cause of a great deal of prostitution. Those crimes, too, make things difficult for the police.

I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is doing and I wish my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State well with his new committee. As the House knows, I have an interest in the Police Federation. If there is anything that we can do to help, we shall be glad to do so. I should point out in very broad terms, however, that it is not enough to will the end. We must also provide the means. Those means are not necessarily resources. Often, they are determination and the necessary powers.

I have not time to go into the factual material supplied to me save to mention a couple of incidents to illustrate the general problem.

Mr. Hisiyoshi Matsuyama, secretary of the High Commission for Scouting in Karachi and a much travelled man, was arrested at Schiphol airport last year carrying 17 kg of heroin in his hand baggage. Between 1 January and 25 May last year he made several runs into Britain, bringing in 31 kg of heroin with a street value of £2.5 million and taking the cash back to his contact in Lahore. I am glad that Scotland Yard succeeded in breaking that case.

In recent years, drugs have been found not just on holidaymakers coming home through Heathrow and Gatwick but in gutted car batteries, hollowed-out fruit and even tucked behind an elaborate hair-do. In one of the most celebrated cases, a suspicious looking suitcase was sent for chemical analysis and turned out to be of heroin-coated fibre.

Two matters concern me in the context of airports. The first is the import of drugs to finance terror. Customs officials will retain the power to carry out intimate searches. Unfortunately, however, the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill will, for the first time, deprive the police of that power. In practice, this will mean that if the Royal Ulster Constabulary advises London that two men coming through London airport are suspected of carrying drugs for the purpose of financing terror and the telex arrives in time for customs officials to stop and search the men, so much the better, but, if the telex is delayed and the men have gone through the green channel the police will have no power to conduct an intimate search. It is a step backwards. It is a case of the Government willing the end but denying the means to the police.

The House is worried about the use by diplomats of diplomatic baggage to bring drugs into this country. I have no time to set out the evidence. I wish that I had. There is overwhelming reason to believe that diplomatic baggage —not the small bags carrying the cipher, but the crates —is used to bring into this country heroin, cocaine and other drugs which are sold by members of the diplomatic staff for large sums of money. It is imperative that the Government take action on that matter.

It is worth considering a number of the things that the police would like to see from the Government. First, the police must have the power to stop and search in the street those who are suspected of carrying drugs. Under an amendment passed in another place, they will be able to do that only if they are in uniform, but one tenth of the force is in the plain clothes. They are detectives. The absurd position arises that if a police officer is going off duty, having taken off his uniform, and he sees a person in the street suspected of carrying drugs, but he does not have firm evidence, he will have to stop that man and say, "Do you mind if I go back to the police station and put on my uniform so that I can carry out a legitimate stop and search?" That is manifestly absurd.

The police will no longer be able, in the street, to search under a hat for drugs. The Bill has been organised so that if the drug pusher puts the drugs under his hat, the police cannot search him in the street: they can only arrest him and take him to the police station. Worst of all, however, is the complete ending of intimate search where people are suspected of taking drugs into prisons. The evidence is all there. Drugs are carried into prisons with the terrifying results described by the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock). We must not deny the police those powers.

I welcome the debate. I regret the lack of time to present to the House the factual material that the police service would have liked it to have before arriving at any conclusions. Ministers are often not aware of the detailed information that is available to the police. They try to obtain it, but they do not always succeed.

I welcome what the Home Secretary is doing. His commitment is beyond all doubt. I hope to assist in any way possible with what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is doing. The problem is a rot in our society. It generates crime. It will not go away. The debate has made a useful start in energising the Government into further action.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health) 2:03 pm, 13th July 1984

I shall confine my remarks to matters that I think might be described as the health side of the drug problem. I welcome back the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department who, during his long and pompous speech, suggested that my speech might be ill-prepared. That I freely acknowledge, but the Government have been rather more ill-prepared in dealing with the massive increase in heroin addiction.

The Government's commitment to doing something about the problem of addiction and semi-addiction and the horrors that go with them, will not be measured by the speeches or press releases which have poured from Departments over the past year or so; they will be measured by the adequacy of the resources made available to do something about the problem at all levels and by all Departments.

I shall not go on at length about the damage to our society and our young people that the present drug epidemic or plague causes, because other hon. Members have eloquently described the problems. But I will take no lessons from the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and neither will any other hon. Member, about whether we take this matter seriously. I am familiar with young people in the area where I live and which I represent. Cheery little eight-year-olds whom I remember at primary school are now heroin addicts of 15 and 16. I do not need any lessons from anybody about the seriousness of the problem.

The basis of my approach to dealing with the problem is that it is a false idea that a well-heeled man in a white mac sidles up to children and says, "Here, sonny boy, try some of this." That is not the way in which people get into drug use and addiction. Fellow users involve other young people in taking drugs.

The Home Office must put great emphasis on preventing drugs from getting into the country. Equally, if we are to make any progress in stopping the spread, the thing to do is to reduce the number of existing users. The more we do that, the more there will be a reduction in the outlets that lead to the increase in users and the spread of drug abuse.

Frankly, the response on the Health Service side is inadequate. There are 50,000 to 60,000 addicts or serious users, by a conservative estimate. The figures showing the latest big increase among young people have not even appeared yet. They are not even in the poor statistics that we have. The figures will become much worse. To face that level of 50,000 or 60,000, NHS outpatient capacity for drug treatment in the whole country totals 2,000. Even the clinics that provide that service are characterised by staff shortages, the freezing of vacancies and lack of continuity. That means that only from 1,000 to as few as 600 people can make use of those 2,000 notional places. The Government's idea that that can be dealt with by Government funding that is pump-priming and for a limited period is absurd, because that makes it extremely difficult for the units to organise themselves most efficiently.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Shadow Minister (Health)

I am sorry, but I do not have time to give way. I shall try to do so at the end.

The NHS inpatient capacity to cope with the problem is at the princely total of about 110 beds, and many of them are used for those suffering from alcohol addiction. Therefore, we are not doing very well. There are 450 places in what is described as the non-statutory sector. In response, what are the Government doing? In the London area they provide £273,000 a year. Over the past weeks I have talked to some of the people in London who are expert in this matter. They are concerned and bothered, and have tried to do someting about it. They estimate that the four London health regions alone need £8 million a year to cope with the problem and believe that other health regions may need over £1 million each to be able to start to cope with the increasing problems they face.

Therefore, when the Minister announces his latest new initiative, let us measure it against the need. Let us not put up with government by press release. If the money is anywhere short of £20 million a year, it will be totally inadequate in the eyes of those involved, who think that massive increases are necessary.

Other hon. Members who represent my area have taken part in the debate. It is estimated that in Camden and Islington there are 2,000 addicts and probably 2,000 occasional users of heroin. There is no NHS residential provision in the whole region. One of the most important units there is the University College hospital drug dependence clinic. Between 1977 and 1983, that outpatient unit has seen an increase in demand, expressed by people coming to the door, of 600 per cent. Now there is a six-week wait. If any of us in the chamber were addicts and went to that clinic to see those sympathetic people, they would have to say, "I am sorry. Come back in six weeks."

One of the most crucial factors in getting anyone off drugs is establishing his commitment even to start the process. Despite all the sympathetic efforts of the people at that unit, a person who has plucked up courage and finally started to do something about the problem goes to the unit only to be told to come back in six weeks. That is more damaging than if that person had never gone at all. The Government are doing little about it.

The unit proposed to its district management in the spring of 1983 that it should have a 40-place day programme, extend its outpatient care and have a new clinic in Soho where, surprisingly, there is none. All this would have cost £360,000, which is chickenfeed compared with the problem that it faces. To be fair, the Government have supplied £100,000 towards aspects of that scheme. The proposal put forward in the spring of 1983, which was inadequate to meet the task required of it, was not proceeded with, and the unit is now putting forward a revised proposal for less.

Far more resources are needed. The idea that health authorities already crippled by the shortage of funds will respond positively to this belated circular asking them what is going on and what they propose is quite absurd. If we are to beat this catastrophic plague facing the country, the Government must act centrally. We cannot rely on the regional or district health authorities to do the job properly because they will not gear their priorities to meet these needs.

We need more doctors involved and more training of doctors. We need more nurses involved and more training of nurses in matters to do with drugs. We need to involve vast numbers of teachers, social workers, community workers and others in more expertise in dealing with the drug problems of young people. We need more premises; for example, we need bail hostels. If we got all those, we might start making some progress. At the moment we are running backwards fast.

The problem is that the areas most affected by the drugs plague are those health regions which are losing most resources. The towns and cities most affected by the plague are those most likely to be rate capped, as the Minister will have to admit. If rate capping goes through, it will be mere frippery for the Government to suggest that they are doing anything about the drugs problem, because at the same time they will be taking away resources from education and social services in the areas most in need of additional resources.

I cite as an example the GLC. The Government's spiteful campaign against the council continues apace, even in the House of Lords. The GLC, which is not providing enough money to try to deal with the drugs problem, is providing about half as much as the Government themselves in the Greater London area by their vaunted £2 million a year programme. The Government are simply not taking the problem seriously.

I invite hon. Members to look at what happened in the past; then they will be able to measure how far behind the problem resources have fallen. In 1968 there were about 2,800 addicts or heavy users of drugs. That was regarded as an epidemic, and the Government provided £2.8 million. Today, we have between 60,000 and 80,000 people in the same category and, until the Minister announces his increases in a moment or two, the Government have proposed coping with that by providing £2 million a year. We have fallen back dramatically in matching resources to the problem, and it is a major problem.

Other hon. Members have reminded us already that the Prime Minister says constantly that problems cannot be resolved by throwing money at them. No one suggests doing that. But, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) pointed out, the drug abuse industry is a multi-million pound international outfit. We shall only fight it by setting up a multi-million pound campaign. The Government are not proposing to do that. We have to match official resources for good against the unofficial resources that the evil people in the drug trade are deploying.

One of the ways of getting people off drugs is to place them somewhere they feel secure; where they will not be bothered and will not lapse into the circumstances which led to their addiction. Hostels are very important. The DHSS, with its social security hat on, operates a system which makes it difficult for people to receive sufficient social security benefits to be cared for in a drug hostel.

In Oldham, for example, the supplementary benefit rate for somebody on drugs entering a hostel is £63 a week. A person going into a hostel or nursing home for any other health reason receives £100. In Middleton, Manchester, the drug addict would receive a basic rate of £50, but £110 if they suffered from anything else. In Kensington, which is more expensive, the benefit is £90 for the drug addict and £175 for a person suffering from anything else. The Government are letting the country down in all sorts of ways. This problem was raised as long ago as last November with the Minister for Social Security, but nothing has been done. The problem has been wrapped up in long social security reviews which seem to go on for ever.

We want action now. The Government's response to the increasing problem has not been satisfactory. Millions of our young people are at risk. I say that millions are involved because millions are affected by the whole rotten, stinking drug scene, by the violence, the profiteering and the undermining of decent values that go with it. All our children are at risk. Our whole society is at risk. The Government's response has been inadequate, as all hon. Members have said today, with the exception of the Under-Secretary of State.

When the Minister announces an initiative today—as he is almost bound to do since it has been so trumpeted abroad—let us measure it against this: those involved directly in trying to fight the increase in drug addiction say that anything less than £20 million extra per year will be inadequate.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 2:17 pm, 13th July 1984

I have been much encouraged by the high level of interest expressed in the debate about the rapidly escalating problem of drug misuse. The problem is of great concern to the Government, to individuals, to families and to society as a whole.

I hope that I might be forgiven for speaking so rapidly, but in the short time available I have to make one confession and one announcment. During both my confession and my announcement I shall refer mostly to my DHSS responsibilities, not least because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has already given an excellent exposition of this very detailed and complex problem. Hon. Members would have been the first to criticise him if, in the first debate of its kind for some time, he had not gone through the problem in close detail. That was much appreciated by hon. Members.

I shall make one departure from that self-denying ordinance t6 assure the House that the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have also taken steps to ascertain the current extent of the drug misuse problems in their countries. Where necessary they will encourage the improvement of services to respond to the problem. That concern is demonstrated today by the presence on the Treasury Bench of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram).

First, I shall make my confession. In the five years that I have observed the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) in the House, I have admired the way that he has taken up unpopular and difficult issues and dealt with them in great detail. I mean that.

That may not have been much appreciated by Conservative Members or, necessarily, always by Opposition Members, but he has dealt with them. I appreciate the way in which he said, during his long and interesting speech, that he was prepared to accept and welcome some of the recommendations put forward by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. I was interested to hear him say that he recognised that we needed a balanced approach to, for example, greater policing by the Prison Officers Association of prison visits, where necessary, in order to prevent drugs from getting into prisons. Indeed, that was mentioned in great detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) in his excellent and penetrating speech.

I also welcome the support of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North—understandably qualified as it was—for some of the measures that my right hon. and learned Friend has announced about parole for those convicted of drug offences. He asked me a substantial number of questions about the NHS, and some of them were repeated by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). In the time available, I shall try to answer as many as I can, but I shall write to both hon. Members as soon as possible about those that I cannot answer now.

I turn first to the questions that were asked about health authorities and the circular that we have issued to them. As has been said, we issued in June, in order to take early action in conjunction with local authorities, voluntary bodies, the police and the probation service, asking the health authorities to assess the prevalence of drug misuse in their areas. When the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras reads what he said in Hansard—if he does, with the vanity that we all, from time to time, suffer from—I hope that he will reflect on his comments about the fact that the problem should be treated nationally and that local health authorities were not up to the job of dealing with it.

Health authorities up and down the land are supplied and staffed by a substantial number of members of the Labour party, who do a very good job. They know very well what the parameters of the problem are locally. We have asked for these reports by the end of the year. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) asked me, in his most powerful and pentrating speech, to pledge that we would chase up district health authorities for the answers to the questions that we have asked. We shall certainly do that by the end of the year.

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

I shall, of course, give way, as the hon. Gentleman did not have a chance to speak in the debate.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

The hon. Gentleman may care to reflect on the rather unfortunate connotations of what he has just said. The health authority in the area covered by the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and my own has a very active drugs unit and works hard on it, yet there are 2,000 people in Camden and Islington who are heavy users of heroin and there is a three-month waiting list merely to obtain an appointment of a consultation about drug dependency, never mind admission to hospital.

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

We look forward to receiving the report from that district health authority, and from the other 191 around the country as soon as possible, so that we can learn from them. I welcome what the hon. Gentleman had to say about the vigour with which his own district health authority—on which I am sure that some of his political friends serve with distinction — is dealing with such problems.

The circulation of the request to health authorities to get on with the job of reporting back to the DHSS about the size of the problem in their areas parallels exactly what chief officers of police are doing in looking at the way in which the police can deal with the problem as reported to the House by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. We certainly expect that information in December.

I was asked about the ministerial working group on drugs. It has not yet met, but it is to meet on 23 July. There will be Ministers from the Home Office, the DHSS and the Department of Education and Science—as I said in my intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox)—and from other territorial Departments, as necessary, at each of the meetings. In addition, that inter-ministerial working group will be properly serviced by additional staff who are being made available in the Home Office drugs branch.

In the short time available, I cannot pay anything like due attention to the many points raised by, for example, my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for Castle Point and for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith). My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) suggested that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for the Home Department and I should convene a meeting with representatives of the media to see how the drugs issue can be treated responsibly and reasonably. That was a positive suggestion which my hon. Friend and I will consider. I understand the anxiety of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) and I note what he said about how the police can help by providing information.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) made an interesting speech—I am sorry that he is not present to receive my plaudits—and said that the NHS did not have enough resources to deal with the drugs problem. That view was echoed by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

There has been a considerable increase in the resources provided for the NHS by the Government—not just a doubling of expenditure since 1979 and an 18 per cent. increase in resources. This year alone, we have given an extra £85 million to help authorities in England. The authorities are adding £100 million from cost improvement programmes and we have so far made £6 million available, over three years, in an initiative to improve services for drug misusers.

We received more valuable and worthwhile applications under that initiative than we were originally able to cover, so I am pleased to report to the House that my ministerial colleagues and I have decided to make at least a further £100 million available. I am sorry; that should be an extra £1 million. I like to test my civil servants, to see whether they are awake. They often give the appearance of sleeping through my speeches.

My ministerial colleagues and I decided to make up to £1 million extra available, with at least £750,000 being spent in the current year. That increases the sum available over the three years to £7 million.

I am pleased to have been able to announce the additional money which is being made available for additional improvements to services for drug misusers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Derisory."] I am sorry that Labour Members say that that sum is derisory. The evidence demonstrates that, five years after treatment in clinics, fewer than one third of drug misusers are still abstaining from the use of drugs. The solution does not necessarily involve treatment in expensive clinics. The way to deal with the problem is within the structure of society as a whole, with a range of small advice centres and with offices that people can telephone for advice.

The Mail on Sunday got it right last week when it said: The fact is this: it is no good demanding that the Government should spend money on clinics and the like if we in the community are not prepared to shoulder our own responsibilities in an attempt to rid this country of the terrible curse of drug addiction. I agree wholeheartedly with those words. Drug misusers can be the cause of misery, not just to themselves, but to friends, relatives and others affected. The community as a whole suffers if drug misuse leads to an increase in crime. Any response by just some sectors of society to the problem of drug abuse will inevitably be limited in its effectiveness, whether those efforts are made by groups of professional workers, parents or the Government. The effective approach to drug misuse and drug misusers depends on all sections of society working together to coordinate their efforts to increase their awareness of the complex problem and to tackle it comprehensively. The Government are encouraging a comprehensive approach in co-operation with the National Health Service and police forces throughout the land, which we believe to be the best way forward.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.