Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760 - 780)



  760. I know there are some experiments, but in general do other countries have a greater use of prescribing heroin for instance?
  (Dr Dorn) I agree with what was said. Prescribing heroin is something which is more familiar in this country than it is in most other European countries where it is quite a new thing and quite a big deal.

  761. To what extent do international treaties control UK drugs policies and if the Government wished to change UK law how much room for manoeuvre is there.
  (Dr Dorn) The conventions make it clear that trafficking has to be criminalised not only formally speaking but also in practice. The conventions make it clear that serious offences, which many trafficking offences would be, must have as an option imprisonment, must attract imprisonment. The conventions since the 1998 convention, make it clear that possession must be criminalised, but subject to the constitutional arrangements and legal systems of each state. You have to do an exercise to see to what extent a particular state interprets that as being compatible. Spain decided it did not stop them doing what they wanted to do. Britain might or might not take another view. Use is not criminalised per se. There is no requirement for use to be criminalised in the conventions. There is then this difficult middle ground of self-supply, whether it is by cultivation or sharing, which some people take one end and say it is part of use and falls right outside and other say no, it is part of trafficking. To finish the reply, any state can ask for a review of the convention on a focus point and that would normally be done within two years. Any state can denounce the convention.

  762. So you are talking about two years to renegotiate.
  (Dr Dorn) You would have to have a very focused and limited objective to have any likelihood of really drawing other states in in any number.


  763. Where would we start?
  (Dr Dorn) I am not sure that it is necessary either to denounce or to review the conventions. It is definitely not necessary to do it for the Home Secretary's present recommendation because that is within criminalisation. It is not necessary to do it in terms of the introduction of civil penalties, it is not necessary to do it in order to reach any conclusion about how you want to enforce laws against.

  764. We could go down the road you are advocating without having to change the convention.
  (Dr Dorn) Yes.

  765. We would only run into trouble if we were to go down the road that Sir Keith is advocating, is that right?
  (Dr Dorn) Big trouble.

  766. Supposing all the European countries, or most of them, got together, the United States could still impose a veto, could it not?
  (Dr Dorn) I am not sure about whether or not one Member State can have a veto over the renegotiation of the treaties. One would have to look at that in more detail. It is not actually in the text of the treaty and is outside my background knowledge.

  767. Is it feasible that Europe could go one way and the United States another way, given that we are not likely to persuade them?

  (Dr Dorn) Europe is going one way and the United States another way in practice. A lot is going on in practice in Europe that goes beyond what some in the US would support. I would not like to polarise Europe and the US too far on this. Just speaking of the user, there are many activities at state level and city level in the United States which we would find quite familiar. We are very close on anti-trafficking measures.

  768. Name a city or a state.
  (Dr Dorn) New York. Although New York is the home of zero tolerance it also has a number of projects which are essentially harm reduction projects.

  769. Going back to the start of your evidence, you favour a relaxation as regards use and possession, but continuing to hammer the suppliers. What do you say to Sir Keith who is saying that by continuing to hammer the suppliers we are sponsoring an enormous criminal conspiracy?
  (Dr Dorn) I do not think the enormous criminal conspiracy is going to collapse by the removal of drugs from it. If you look at your average UK drug trafficker or European-based drug trafficker, they are likely to be involved not exclusively in drugs trafficking but also in some other activities. They vary. We can mention just a few: terrorism and protection rackets in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK; certain political groups; duty fraud; VAT; alcohol evasion; also other forms of organised crime; money laundering, obviously not only drug money laundering but other money laundering. We are not going to have a clean house and get rid of organised crime.

  770. I do not think Sir Keith was arguing that, were you?
  (Sir Keith Morris) No, but it is such a profitable business; it is so much more lucrative than any other form of crime.
  (Dr Dorn) With respect, I do no think I would be able to find any evidence for that statement. There are many forms of crime which are unfortunately also highly profitable. For example, something which has been reported very recently, VAT evasion on mobile phones, carousel fraud as it is sometimes called, is highly profitable.

  771. Do you think that would attract the same level of violence as the drugs trade?
  (Dr Dorn) Violence in organised criminality is something which is bought as a certain service, when it is considered to be needed by the organisers. There is nothing intrinsic to the drugs trade that attracts violence. It is when people fall out or when people think they have been double-crossed or there is a misunderstanding.

  772. Do you not acknowledge Sir Keith's point that really the root of Colombia's problems is the drugs trade?

  (Dr Dorn) I would be getting beyond my capability but my understanding of Colombia is that there are problems of land reform, there are problems with a very weak state, there is a problem of there never having been a Colombian state as such, but different entities and different communities within Colombia. It is a failure of state building. There are also problems in economic management. These all need to be addressed in the round. This particular thing by itself may indeed be a factor, but it is not the basis of Colombia's problems. I do not think the FARC, the left-wing guerillas, the problems Colombia has had since the lack of land reform in the nineteenth century, can be reduced to this.

  773. Is Mr Byrne agreeing with that? I can see you nodding. Sir Keith, would you like to comment.
  (Sir Keith Morris) I do not. Obviously Colombia has a lot of other problems and the Communist insurgency started in the 1960s and was backed by foreign Communist powers and it never took off, it never became a very serious threat to the state, despite the relative weakness of the state, until the 1980s when particularly the cocaine trade took off and they started extorting the cocaine trade. At the end of the 1980s/beginning of the 1990s several of the other Colombian guerilla movements which were not well funded made peace with the state just as the Communist guerilla movements in Central America did when their support fell. My view, which I hold very strongly and other people disagree, is—I was a second-time-rounder in Colombia; I was there in 1967-71 so saw Communist insurgencies in their early stages—that it was extremely likely that a settlement would have been reached in the early 1990s in Colombia as elsewhere when the Cold War ended, if it had not been for the fact that the FARC in particular had become the best funded guerilla movement in the world.

  774. Mr Byrne, if we were to follow the same road as Sir Keith and other witnesses at the beginning of this inquiry who argued for total legalisation and regulation, what do you think the impact would be in the United Kingdom?
  (Mr Byrne) That is the central problem of Sir Keith's argument. I am not sure you can have the benefits of a free market and at the same time have a hugely regulated one. Tobacco in this country, not because we closely regulate it but because we highly tax it, causes almost as much criminality and serious criminality as the drugs trade at the moment and that is quite conclusive. The VAT missing trader fraud which was mentioned by Nicholas has been another bane in my life. It is capable of losing the country billions of pounds a year and serious criminals, including the para-militaries in Northern Ireland, have been involved in some of that activity. If you are going to have a hugely regulated market—and I am not sure how you can have heroin and cocaine unless you do have a hugely regulated market—there will remain profits for those who want to bypass the regulations. I do not wish to get involved in the overall argument; it is not a matter for a law enforcement officer at all. I would make the point, however, that legalisation will not reduce mis-use, it is likely to lead to an increase in it. I do not believe there is any evidence anywhere at any time that decriminalisation of serious topics like this will lead to reduced criminality; that is certainly not the American experience when bootlegging was replaced by all sorts of other crime.

  775. There are two types. One accepts that the core criminals are simply going to diversify to some other business, because criminal activity is their business. Then there is a second type of crime, which is for example acquisitive property crime in this country, which is hugely sponsored by the need; it is alleged that 60 per cent of it is drug related. That would collapse, would it not?
  (Mr Byrne) That is well outside my area of expertise. It is a street level and policing activity in the UK and as a Customs official I can certainly accept—

  776. You can see the logic of it though.
  (Mr Byrne) Of course I can see the logic, yes.

  777. You wanted to make one other point.
  (Mr Byrne) It is quite an important point on the legalisation issue. I recently spoke to the Attorney General who was visiting here from Colombia. I also spoke to the senior naval officer involved in this activity and this was shortly after the Home Secretary had taken the position on considering re-classification of cannabis. Again not a matter for me at all, but they pressed me on what I saw as the implications for UK law enforcement in relation to cocaine and potentially heroin in the longer run, because Colombia is a producer of heroin. They were extremely concerned3 that anything we did would seriously undermine any prospects that a beleaguered Government has in addressing a problem. They know that they need partnership to tackle the problems. They do not want to surrender to the drugs trade and to the people who are funded behind it. Indeed it is very difficult to see how we could move forward from today where the world at large renounces at least heroin and cocaine to a situation where we could lead the pack by encouraging a different attitude without seriously undermining governments like the one in Colombia, the one in Venezuela, those in small Caribbean islands and potentially a new Government in Afghanistan.

  778. Those who take Sir Keith's view would say that it would certainly come as a shock to those governments, but it would considerably reduce the amount of violent criminality they have to put up with.

3 See also note below from Sir Keith Morris.

  (Mr Byrne) If it were a wholly unregulated market, yes, but not if it were a regulated market.

  779. I take your point about tobacco, but of course the reason for the tobacco smuggling in this country is because there is a gross differential between the taxation rates here and on the continent, is it not?
  (Mr Byrne) No.

  780. Put me right about that.
  (Mr Byrne) Forgive me, that is another one of the modern myths. It is not true. If you are a tobacco smuggler wanting to make as much profit as you can out of it you do not want to pay any tax, never mind the reduced rates in France. The contribution of the cross-Channel smuggling of tobacco to the cigarette problem here in the UK is well under 20 per cent of the overall problem. Those who smuggle in container fulls and organise criminality, including para-militaries in Northern Ireland, do not want to pay European tax rates, they do not want to pay any tax rate.

  Chairman: Thank you for that point. Gentlemen, it has been a very interesting session. Thank you very much for coming.

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