I take very seriously indeed the threat posed by cocaine and its derivative crack, not only to this country but to the whole of Europe. That is why I called the meeting last month of the Council of Europe's drug co-operation group, the Pompidou group.
The initiatives we have taken include the provision of £1·8 million of drug-related help to Latin American countries over the past three years; posting drug liaison officers to countries on the cocaine trafficking routes; working hard to develop international agreements and bilateral agreements to confiscate the assets of convicted drug traffickers; setting up Customs teams to combat cocaine smuggling; and calling an international conference next year to look at reducing the demand for drugs and, in particular, for cocaine.
I welcome that reply. Does my right hon. Friend agree that fighting organised crime before it gets a grip on Britain, particularly from the point of veiw of crack, is of the highest possible priority and that we may have to invest now to avoid serious outbreaks of crime in the future? Is he aware that hon. Members who were in Newark, New Jersey last year during the presidential election campaign were told that they should not leave the hotel for fear of being attacked by crack-crazed youngsters aged under 16?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The Under-Secretary, who is chairman of the ministerial group on drug misuse, has visited the United States even more recently. All the information that he has come back with and everything that we have heard directly from the enforcement agencies in America confirms the anxiety that my hon. Friend voices. That is why we are taking such energetic action in time.
Is the Home Secretary aware that this is yet another example of seeing what was happening in the United States five years ago and projecting it on here? I asked a parliamentary question about crack some four years ago—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members seem to think that this is a flippant subject. The Home Secretary must make sure that far more study of the problem takes place in the United States to anticipate what will happen in this country. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that instead of making cuts in the number of Customs and Excise officers, he should increase the numbers of enforcement officers at the ports of entry to try to intercept this evil drug before it takes over our youth?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Home Affairs Committee will be visiting Washington and the United States next week to investigate this very subject. The members of that committee dare to go where others fear to tread, to see for themselves how the drugs menace has impacted on American society. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our defences in this country are well prepared at airports and seaports, that our police and Customs are working well together and that while so far the seizures of crack have been low, we are preparing a plan to deal with the future?
That is exactly the position. We must, and we do, keep in touch with experience in the United States. Our defences must be in advance, beyond our shores, in America and in Europe on the cocaine and heroin smuggling routes. They must be at our ports and airports, and that is important in the discussion of 1992. They must be in our cities, with our police, and they must be in our schools and in our homes in persuading parents and children that these are routes not to happiness and power but to disgrace and misery.