Orders of the Day — Drugs (Wales)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 15th January 1987.

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Photo of Mr Keith Raffan Mr Keith Raffan , Delyn 9:09 pm, 15th January 1987

I welcome the opportunity of this Adjournment debate to discuss the drugs crisis and particularly its Welsh dimension, a crisis which the Select Committee on Home Affairs has rightly described as the most serious peace-time threat to our national well being. The number of drug addicts registered with the Home Office is currently rising at the rate of 25 per cent. a year, and the figure currently stands at more than 9,000. In north Wales in 1978 there were 292 offences relating to drugs, none of which involved heroin. In 1984 there were 956 such offences, half of which involved heroin.

Even the Home Office admits that the figures for registered addicts must be multiplied by five to give an accurate and real picture. Others working in the field go as far as to claim that the figures must be mutliplied by a factor of 10 to get close to the mark. Mr. Dave Turner, the co-ordinator of the Standing Committee on Drug Abuse, estimates the total to be between 60,000 and 70,000.

The serious problem in north Wales is worsened by the fact that the heroin epidemic has raged for five years in the Wirral area, adjacent to my constituency. The heroin problem there is second only to that in Glasgow and it is three times worse than the average for a United Kingdom borough.

In Birkenhead—known locally as "smack city"—a quarter of 16 to 24-year-olds have some involvement with heroin, with "chasing the dragon". Other areas in Merseyside may be as little as 18 months behind the Wirral and parts of north Wales not far behind that.

The scale of the problem is also revealed by the record number of 30,500 drug seizures by Customs and police in 1985. That figure was 8 per cent. higher than the 1984 figure, which, in its turn, was 9 per cent. up on the 1983 figure. However, and this is an extremely important point, the continuing low price and high quality of heroin shows that the available supply on the street has not been dented to any considerable extent. The rule of thumb is that for every seizure nine go undetected. The incentive for traffickers is huge in spite of the passing in the last Session of the Drug Trafficking Offences Act 1986.

A kilo of cocaine worth £5,000 in Bolivia is worth as much as £180,000 on the streets of the United Kingdom. As if the situation is not already serious enough, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has warned of the new threat approaching our islands, namely, the threat of cocaine. The lucrative American market for that drug is already reaching saturation point. The danger of cocaine is multiplied many fold through the use of "crack", the cheaper, more immediately powerful and more addictive form of pure cocaine.

The drugs problem cannot be narrowly defined. It affects many Whitehall Departments: the Home Office, with its responsibility for the police, the Treasury, with its responsibility for Customs, the Department of Health and Social Security, with its responsibility for treatment, and the Department of Education and Science, with its responsibility for education. Of course, in addition, it affects the two territorial Departments, the Scottish Office and the Welsh Office.

Two years ago the ministerial group on the misuse of drugs was set up to co-ordinate Government strategy and action. That was an eminently wise decision. The Government have taken strong action to deal with the two dimensions of the problem, supply and demand. I pay tribute to the Government for their efforts to stem the supply of drugs into this country through their contribution of £3·4 million to the United Nations scheme aimed at the eradication of opium in Pakistan and its contribution of £1·5 million to reduce coca production in South America. Although there has been a sharp fall in the amount of heroin coming from Pakistan, large quantities are still coming through India.

After the eradication at source, the second block is at our borders, first through the Customs and Excise. The Government have acted here—although they have come in for much unjustified criticism. The number of customs officers whose main priority is drug detection will by April this year be 500 up on the April 1985 figure. The number of specialist intelligence investigators in the same period will have risen from 121 to 297.

Last year, we saw the clear success of the Government's actions with the breaking up of more than 80 trafficking gangs, most recently and perhaps most dramatically, with Operation Fulman, which broke up the Dye drug ring.

But despite the increase in customs officers, heroin is still coming in in large quantities, mainly through freight imports rather than personal luggage, and that makes it particularly difficult to detect. Organised crime syndicates are estimated to be making more than £500 million a year from drug trafficking. With the cocaine threat looming, the Government will have to consider putting more resources into the customs service. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office has given reassurances that he is keeping a close watch on the number of customs officers and will not hesitate to decide to increase them if necessary.

The block at our borders depends not only on customs but on the police. There are only 60 on the drugs wing within the regional crime squad covering the whole of the north-west and only 10 covering North Wales. In London, where half of the country's hard drug problems are concentrated, there are only 57 officers specialising in drug offences, although that is 19 up on the 1985 total. More resources are needed. This would be an investment in the health of the nation, and we would do well to follow the example of the President of the United States and his anti-abuse programme.

A further way to try to stem the supply of drugs is through deterrence. In the Session before last I was able to steer through the House the Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Act as a private Member's measure. It was supported by all parties, indeed by all factions within parties, including hon. Members from the Militants to the moderates in the Labour Party and from the arid dries to the saturated Wets in our party. It had universal support. That measure increased the maximum sentence for trafficking in hard drugs from 14 years to life. That was followed in the last Session by the Drug Trafficking Offences Act, which will enable the confiscation of assets of those convicted of drug trafficking.

The effectiveness of that measure in the face of the sophistication and professionalism of the criminals trafficking in drugs, particularly in the laundering of the assets of their evil trade, depends on international co-operation. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office emphasised that point when he chaired the meeting of Community Ministers on drugs misuse on 20 October 1986. I believe that there is a need for international co-operation beyond the confines of Europe, and I look forward to further progress on a United Nations convention.

I have discussed in some detail past efforts and current measures by the Government to stem the supply of hard drugs, but we have to face the fact that they are still coming into the country in large quantities. The Government are also rightly trying to remove demand—this is the second dimension, after supply—and to dissuade young people from experimenting with drugs through their advertising campaign. Some £2 million was spent in 1985 on anti-heroin publicity and a further £2 million is being spent in the current financial year on the second phase of that campagn, aimed particularly at parents. I know that £200,000 of that campaign publicity money has been devoted specifically to Wales. Market research shows that the campaign is being successful. Before the campaign was started, 83 per cent. of youngsters said that they would reject an offer of heroin and now that has risen by 10 per cent. to 93 per cent.

All this is encouraging, but there is still a need for more localised advertising campaigns. Professor Geoffrey Pearson, the professor of social work at Middlesex polytechnic, has compiled a report on drugs in the north of England, and he has questioned whether "a blanket advertising campaign" is the best way to deal with the problem. He feels that the Government's campaign should be more geared to local needs, and this has been endorsed by Dr. Howard Parker of Liverpool university, following his work in the Wirral area. I believe that there is room for a distinctly Welsh initiative to put us in the vanguard of education on drug misuse.

During the debate on AIDS on 21 November my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced the strengthening of the Health Education Council by reconstituting it as a special health authority with increased resources. This special authority will assume the current responsibilities of the Health Education Council and will be given the major executive responsibility for public education on AIDS. It will be an integral part of the National Health Service within England.

During that debate my right hon. Friend said that the exact relationship of the new agency to health education arrangements in Wales had yet to be settled and he indicated that arrangements may vary in different parts of the United Kingdom. This gives us a great opportunity. The increased resources, the flexibility of the new health education arrangements and the tragic connection between the injection of drugs and AIDS gives us the opportunity, which I hope my hon. Friend the Minister will take, for further health education measures on drug misuse in Wales.

Such an initiative should start in our schools with formalised drug education classes on the harmful effects of drug misuse and on the techniques of resisting what is called "peer pressure"—the pressure from older pupils who say to younger ones, "Come on, try it." That initiative must involve teachers, parent-teacher associations and the police.

I believe that it is worth looking at the example of the United States Department of Education's campaign, "What works: schools without drugs".

In the United States, 72 per cent. of primary and secondary pupils now receive some sort of drugs education. One of the more comprehensive programmes is DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education, which was begun in Los Angeles three years ago and has since been copied in 62 school districts in the United States. The programme allows for police officers to go into schools on a regular basis for a period of 45 minutes to one hour. They go into a class, with the teacher still there, perhaps up to 17 or 18 times in the academic year.

The education programme must be central to any attack on drug misuse. As Tom Adams, the national director of the "Just Say No" programme in the United States, has put it: The kids under 10 in the States are the only group in which non-use of drugs and alcohol and tobacco is the norm. We, too, in Britain, must grasp the opportunity to keep that age group free of drugs as they enter the temptation-ridden teens.

When dissuasion and prevention tragically fail, we have to fall back on treatment and rehabilitation. An extra £5 million has been allocated by the DHSS to health authorities in England from 1986 to expand the treatment of drug misuse. That is on top of the £17 million already available for local projects such as telephone help lines and counselling services.

I hope that when the Minister replies he can give the comparable figures for Wales. I must confess to being unhappy about the way in which the Government are funding treatment and rehabilitation in Wales at present. In England and Scotland, short-term pump-priming funds have been established, but not in Wales. Instead, the Welsh Office has extended the scope of existing funds for developments in mental health care provided through the NHS to embrace schemes to combat misuse of drugs.

That has aroused the suspicion of health authorities that it is not new money which is being made available but diverted money. I know that the Government have taken the extra scope into consideration and increased the fund from £1 million to £1·5 million, but only £215,000 of that has been specifically allocated for drug misuse. In 1985 in England and Scotland the figures were significantly higher—£6 million and £2 million respectively.

I agree strongly with the Government that primary responsibility for the provision and development of treatment and rehabilitation services must remain at local level. Health authorities will be willing to develop such services if they are given central funding, but they are less willing, almost unwilling, to give priority to combating drug misuse in competition with other local priorities. The Welsh Office should reconsider the funding of drug treatment within the Principality.

In conclusion, William Jones once said: The deadliest enemies of nations are not their foreign foes; they always dwell within their own borders. Drug misuse is the most insidious, all-pervasive, of enemies. It knows no boundaries of class or geography. It is no longer an inner city, a city, an urban, or even a suburban problem; it is prevalent throughout our villages and countryside.

As Brian Arbery, chief executive of the charity Turning Point which runs the Hungerford drug project, says: The current Government has done far more than any other in giving money and high priority to dealing with drug abuse". This debate follows on from yesterday afternoon's debate and it is worth pointing out, sadly in the absence of any Opposition Members, that the Government have once again been in the vanguard of dealing with this national crisis, just as they have been in the vanguard of helping old-age pensioners in the severely cold weather that we have experienced of late. That has already proved that this Government is a caring Government.

Sadly—the Minister may agree with me—the Government sometimes fall short on presentation of what they are doing. That is an understandable mistake because we are doing so much, but we must broadcast what we have done even more. I hope that I can count on the Minister's support in doing that, particularly in the Principality. If we can get the message across, we shall show, as Lord Woolton once said of another Conservative Government: "We not only cope; we care." I know that the Minister may follow that last point in his opening sentence, but I hope that he will also acknowledge, perhaps as a conditional clause of that opening sentence, that he recognises, as I recognise, that if we are to defeat this deadliest of enemies still more must be done.