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Lady Olga Maitland: The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Is he aware that Downview prison, which is on the edge of my constituency, had a very active drug rehabilitation programme? I can safely say that the prison is almost drug free and could be regarded as a pilot and a leader for other prisons to follow.

Mr. Howarth: If the hon. Lady had waited a few minutes, she would have realised that I intended to go on to talk about Downview, which I had the opportunity to visit earlier this year. The hon. Lady is right; the crucial point about Downview is that the staff are very careful about who is allowed into the prison, which is in effect a drug-free prison.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham): A better class of prisoner.

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman should not be so flippant because this is a serious subject.

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For the process to work, one needs to accept in the prisons concerned only people who positively want to come off drugs or who can demonstrate that they are already free of them. I congratulate Downview because it is an excellent prison and its work is first class.

Another important aspect of the solution, of which the Prison Service is aware, is to deal with the families of those who have a drug problem. Someone can go through a drug rehabilitation programme while he is in prison only for him to come out to the same environment and the same family circumstances. His partner may be involved in drug abuse and all the good work can be undone in 24 hours.

Mr. Fabricant: I wish to ask a genuine question, because I do not claim to be an expert on the subject. I and my colleagues do not understand why every visitor to every prison is not thoroughly searched to ensure that drugs are not brought in. There would be no drugs in prison if everyone was carefully searched. Why does that not happen?

Mr. Howarth: I feel like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) must feel at Prime Minister's Question Time when he is asked to answer for the Government.

Mr. Fabricant: It was a genuine question.

Mr. Howarth: I accept that. I have probably visited more prisons as shadow Home Affairs spokesman than anybody in the House--even more, I suspect, than the Home Secretary--and I have raised that very question with the Prison Service. The problem is that the Prison Service would have to carry out highly intrusive searches. It would be difficult for me to explain graphically to the House the extent to which visitors will go to conceal drugs. If the hon. Gentleman cares to use his imagination, he will realise that the nature of the human anatomy means that there are places in which people can conceal drugs that makes it difficult to find them. That is not to say that the Prison Service should not be ever more vigilant and it makes increasing use of sniffer dogs and other methods.

Some months ago, I visited Whitemoor prison, which is probably one of the most security conscious prisons in Britain and possibly in Europe, for reasons that the House will understand. It has elaborate procedures for visitors, so much so that when I visited the prison a group of partners of prisoners lobbied me on my way in to complain about how intrusive the search procedures were. When I met the governor, he showed me some video evidence of how drugs were passed from visitors to prisoners. The House would be amazed at the lengths to which some visitors will go to pass drugs over.

I find it curious that people should want to help their loved ones in prison by providing them with drugs. I do not think that is sensible, but people do it. I understand from the police and the prison authorities that pressures are put on the partners of prisoners by those associated with other inmates, and that they are taking drugs in because they are frightened not to. That problem must be dealt with.

If we had four to five drug-free prisons, we could build on work that has been done already in some prisons which have drug-free wings. I accept that some conditions would

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need to be attached to such prisons. For example, entrance to drug-free prisons should be strictly controlled and those already serving custodial sentences would have to demonstrate, through regular voluntary drug tests, that they were clean. Similarly, those embarking on a custodial sentence who wanted to opt into a drug-free regime would have to demonstrate that they had not previously been involved in drug abuse.

We should make a start and gradually build from four or five drug-free prisons--the Director General of the Prison Service believes that that is a feasible proposal--so that eventually over time we could envisage a totally drug-free prison estate.

The Leader of the House made another important point about supply reduction. I have had the opportunity in the past 12 months, on more than one occasion, to visit Merseyside police and those responsible for dealing with organised crime in the Metropolitan police force. I too pay tribute to the excellent work that they do and to the fact that they are forging partnerships with Customs and Excise, local authorities and other bodies.

The Leader of the House acknowledged that there is still more scope for greater co-operation between the various bodies involved in solving the problem of illegal drugs. I agree that the co-operation between Customs and Excise and the police, which has advanced, needs to be more structured in the future. There is evidence that clashes of culture about methods of work have made those bodies less effective than they might otherwise have been. That is not a criticism, because I accept that it is difficult for two separate organisations to work closely together. They are conscious of the need for greater co-ordination and co-operation and we must consider the sort of structures that might deliver that.

Mr. Newton: I seek to intervene in the same constructive way as the hon. Gentleman has approached the subject, for which I am grateful. While there is always scope for improved co-operation, recent events have been encouraging. For example, a couple of months ago, Customs and Excise and the police held a joint press conference--they asked me to take the chair--to announce their drug seizure figures. I believe that they intend to do the same next year. The fact that they are holding joint press conferences on a subject on which, frankly speaking, they used to compete with each other is encouraging. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to join me in paying tribute to two people who have been especially involved in that improved co-operation--Keith Hellawell of the Association of Chief Police Officers and Dick Kellaway of Customs and Excise.

Mr. Howarth: I certainly join the Leader of the House to pay tribute to those two gentlemen. I was not seeking to criticise, but there is always scope for greater co-operation between the police and Customs and Excise. The development of the national criminal intelligence service should be added to the equation, because it does useful work collating and disseminating information. NCIS is already built into the structure to a great extent, but more could be done.

I have talked to senior police officers who are involved in the fight against drugs and they are frustrated. It is easy and sometimes effective to target local drug dealers on the streets, but it is difficult to go after the drug barons,

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for want of a better word, and those who control the whole enterprise. The problem is that the trail that leads to the drug barons includes money, but it often does not include drugs. It is difficult--hence the need for co-ordination and co-operation--to target the people who are ultimately responsible for the organisation of huge drug operations. To illustrate that, I can give an example. I had the opportunity last summer to spend some time with the Merseyside police drugs squad. It carried out a successful operation at a nightclub, which took about three months, and involved the use of off-duty uniformed police officers, in civilian clothes so that they would be less likely to be recognised. The squad collected a huge amount of evidence in that nightclub where Ecstasy and other substances were being sold. Eventually, the operation was closed down, and the dealers were arrested inside the club, convicted and sent to prison. Within two weeks, the dealing operation in that club was back in business. The local authority and the police co-operated in relation to licensing in an attempt to deal with the problem. I have used that example to illustrate how structured an industry it is--within a week or two, it totally replaced the network that it had to sell its product. We should never under-estimate just how organised it is.

There are other examples of how drug dealers use otherwise innocent people to rent mobile phones for them, so that they cannot easily be traced; and of how they pay people for a bit of space under some stairs, so that a hold-all can be stored and picked up by someone at a certain time. A lot of money is involved in the industry, and the dealers are willing to spread it around to protect themselves. It is difficult to target them. Co-operation is needed to close down, as far as is possible, people who are dealing at a high level.

At some point in the future, it may be necessary to give some fairly draconian powers to the police and to Customs and Excise to deal with the phenomenon. I shall not make any specific suggestions today. I realise the scale of the problem. If we need fresh approaches to dealing with, for example, money laundering, organised crime, and the way in which violence is often used to underpin the operations, we shall be willing to co-operate, subject to what is contained in the proposals. The closing down of one big operation is more likely to have an effect on the industry than 30 or 40 arrests on the street--important and necessary though they may be.

Finally, like the Leader of the House, I refer to the various treatment programmes--whether they be in prisons such as Downview or in the wider community. It is important to pay tribute to the many and varied programmes that are available, the many organisations that run them and the many ways in which people are helped to come off drugs. However, there is almost an echo of Mao Tse-tung--let a thousand flowers bloom--in this regard.

We have got to the point where almost anyone who says, "I have got a drug rehabilitation programme" is encouraged and welcomed--not necessarily by the Government, but perhaps by local government or by charitable funding. However, we do not seem to evaluate what works and what does not work. I know that the Department of Health does some work in this regard,

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and I am sure that it will continue. I believe that a major study, at national level, is required so that we can evaluate every kind of programme and see how successful they are.

For example, while I do not condemn the use of methadone, some people are beginning to believe that there must be a cut-off point at which people can be removed from methadone and have no dependency whatsoever. We should constantly evaluate and re-evaluate the success of the programmes. I am sure that that is a point in common among all hon. Members, and I am sure that it will happen.


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