Drugs Policy

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 2:59 pm on 18th July 2017.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Conservative, Louth and Horncastle 2:59 pm, 18th July 2017

I commend Mr Dhesi—or, should I say, for the silicon valley of Europe?—on his excellent maiden speech. It was thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I am sure that I am joined by colleagues on both sides of the House in looking forward to his contributions in the future.

I must first declare an interest, because my husband works for a company that has a Home Office licence to grow non-psychoactive versions of cannabis to treat epileptic conditions in children. It is groundbreaking work, but I thought I should declare it, given that I will be talking about the psychoactive version of cannabis in due course—a very different substance.

I welcome the new strategy and the joined-up approach by Government to tackling the problem of drugs in our local communities and on a national and international scale. Although my hon. Friend the Minister and others were good enough to take interventions from me about my experience in the criminal courts, I share with them the hope that we can find more international solutions to tackling the problem of drugs. It is not just a problem in the United Kingdom: sadly, it is a problem that pretty much every country faces. We will have to improve our relations internationally if we are to have any chance to tackle the growers and dealers on an international scale.

As I have mentioned, before my election I worked as a criminal barrister. In my early days, that meant that I often used to defend young people afflicted with drug addictions in youth courts and magistrates courts. As I rose up the ranks, I began to prosecute high-level drug cases—the sorts of cases that are stories in the newspapers, with international drug barons who supply the first tier of the market in this country, which then disseminates the drugs regionally and eventually down to the street. It goes without saying that the tonnes of cocaine, heroin and cannabis that featured in the cases on which I worked were of a very different purity from the substances that would be bought on the street. Like any efficient—I hesitate to use that word—business model, criminals diversify. They pad out the product as much as they can to try to increase their profits.

One of the most fascinating witnesses I have ever called in a criminal trial was the Metropolitan police’s expert witness on the business of drugs. The idea that the drugs industry is run by anything other than consummate professionals—ruthless and evil, but none the less professionals—cannot be gainsaid. Like legitimate companies, these people have branding, and send out testers to their best purchasers. They are utterly ruthless in the way they sell their product, and that is why I do not share the optimism of others about tackling the problem through regulation—I will say more on that later.

The high-level criminal gangs that operate in these markets do not only import drugs. Having a method of importing drugs means having a way of importing guns and ammunition and, sadly, smuggling people in. Those drug gangs have a host of criminal behaviours to try to spot flaws in law enforcement across the European Union. They find the holes and they exploit them to make huge profits.

Other hon. Members have talked about alcohol, which creates its own harms, and I understand that. However, I urge a note of caution when comparing class A drugs to alcohol. When a drinks company legally makes an alcoholic drink, it is an efficient process with factories, licensing and so on. The reality of the drugs market—and one I fear cannot be changed—is that by definition the drugs that cause the most harm, heroin and cocaine, cannot be grown in this country, which means that they must be grown overseas in nations that tend to be poorer, such as Mexico, Colombia and Iraq.

Those drugs then have to get into this country. That happens in a variety of ways, but the most distressing for me—and it is one we should perhaps educate our young people more about—is the use of swallowers. There are various drug routes from Colombia and Mexico, and they usually pass through the Caribbean. Young people, and sometimes children, are persuaded or forced to swallow condoms full of cocaine or heroin. They are sent by air to major airports in Europe and then bounced into the United Kingdom. One has to hope beyond hope that those young people are caught by customs officials at Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton or wherever they end up, because that is their best chance. If they are caught by customs, they are taken to a customs facility with special—I am phrasing this carefully, because I am conscious this is a public sitting—lavatory facilities to enable the condoms of cocaine to leave the human body. They are watched as that happens by customs officials because, for evidential reasons, we need to know which evidence came which person. Obviously, they are in great pain as the condoms leave their bodies, because the human body is not made to pass such objects.

The lucky swallowers are caught by customs and dealt with officially—protected, I have to say—by customs officials. The worst-case scenario for the swallowers is to pass customs, meet the dealers and be taken to their headquarters. In unsanitary and unpleasant conditions, they are forced to try to pass the condoms. If they do not pass them, the dealers have a decision to make. They have as much as £50,000 of profit in a swallower’s stomach—how are they to get it out? It is not pretty. They are ruthless and violent, so they use a knife to get the profit out of that person’s stomach. That fact is not often reported, which surprises me because if we could communicate to people who use cocaine that that is how it ends up in that wrap in their club or wherever they buy it, they might pause for a moment.

I know that some hon. Members will say that is why we need to regulate and take the criminals out of that market. I can understand that view, but my experience from the courts means that I do not see how we will persuade people who are ruthless enough to gut another human being like a fish to follow a law-abiding existence. Forgive me for being a beacon of pessimism, but I just do not see how we can do it.