Examination of Witnesses (Questions 707
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
707. Welcome and thank you for coming. For the
record, can you first each state who you are and what you do?
(Mr Byrne) Terry Byrne, Commissioner for Law Enforcement
in Customs and Excise.
(Sir Keith Morris) Keith Morris, former
Ambassador to Colombia, retired.
(Dr Dorn) Nicholas Dorn, DrugScope, a criminologist.
Chairman: We are going to start with some questions
on whether existing drug policy is working.
708. Mr Byrne, may I raise a couple of matters
with you about seizures of drugs by Customs which go up and down?
Sometimes it is said that the volume of seizures has no effect
on anything. Could you perhaps comment on whether it is possible
to control the illicit drugs market through Customs and your impact
generally on availability and price?
(Mr Byrne) I do not believe that Customs alone can
tackle the supply problem effectively and deliver alone the Government's
requirements of the 50 per cent
reduction. Law enforcement can only take part within an overall
strategy and I should like to make this point at the very outset.
I totally accept, indeed was party to the drafting of the strategy
by Keith Hellawell and Mike Trace back in 1998, that the strategy
will either succeed or it will fail in whole. There is no prospect
of a one-legged strategy working so that demand side will be overwhelmed
by a limitless supply of cheap drugs from abroad. Similarly, there
will always be the unscrupulous who will supply a profitable market
if there is an insatiable demand here in the UK. Within that,
all of the output indicators at the moment, given that we have
changed the nature of the attack on the supply side, are going
in the right direction. That does not mean that the outcome indicator
is yet going in the right direction; it clearly is not.
709. How do you change the nature of the attack?
(Mr Byrne) In the last 18 months, the groups of agencies
have come together in a much more concerted and harmonised way
under an organisation called CIDA,
which is a group of senior representatives chaired by Customs.
Whilst before it was true for probably at least the last 20 years
that there has been some good ad hoc bilateral partnership activity
between the enforcement agencies, most of what we did frankly
was tactically driven. There were good individual operations,
some management intervention to overcome on healthy competition,
but there was no overall strategy, there was no overall approach
which identified the drug trafficking as a business.
710. For my benefit. What volume of Class A
and Class B drugs do you seize per year?
(Mr Byrne) The figures have changed dramatically.
In the mid-1990s we were roughly taking out in the region of two
to three tonnes of combined cocaine and heroin.
711. Is that round our ports of entry?
(Mr Byrne) With cannabis the figure was in the region
of 70 tonnes a year. Yes, most of that was round our ports of
712. Is that volume of seizure going up?
(Mr Byrne) The volume of seizures of cannabis has
gone downwards in the last year or so; that is not just by ourselves,
we now aggregate the figures. Customs and police together are
taking out less cannabis, as is happening across the rest of Europe,
largely because all countries are focusing on the drugs which
cause harm, essentially cocaine, heroin and to some extent synthetic
drugs. In the heroin and cocaine area, from around two to three
tonnes in the mid-1990s, by the late 1990s we were taking out
in the region of five tonnes a year. The figure for 2000-2001,
which was the first year we had implemented a concerted strategy,
was about 13 tonnes, principally by Customs, although often in
partnership with others.
713. That is quite a lot.
(Mr Byrne) Under the concerted strategy this year
the figure at the half-year stage shows that we are likely to
get nearer to 17 or 18 tonnes.
714. So you seize a lot more. What effect does
that have on the market here though, no effect, some effect, prices
(Mr Byrne) No, the principal outcome indicators of
street price, crude though they are in fairness, show that the
figures are as low as they have ever been here in the UK. There
is no sign at the moment that the overall attack on the supply
side is reducing availability or increasing the price.
715. Effectively you can get hold of all these
drugs just as easily as you ever could, which makes me ask: what
is the point of trying to stop any coming in?
(Mr Byrne) The price of a kilo of cocaine in South
America is around £1,000. There is no reason with the normal
transport rates why it should not cost £1,500 even with profit
here in the UK. The price of a kilo of cocaine in the UK is around
£30,000. The figures are similar for heroin; they fluctuated
slightly wildly recently because of 11 September, but there is
a very clear indication that law enforcement is having an impact
on the level of supply. What it is not doing at the moment is
not reducing the level of supply. What we do not know is what
the level of supply would be were we to take the brakes off completely.
716. Because an awful lot maybe is getting in
that you do not know about. Can you say to yourselves that your
seizure of up to 13 tonnes of cocaine and heroin was terrific
because you are really making a difference to what happens?
(Mr Byrne) Until we see the headline indicators of
availability in the UK going in the right direction, that is prices
going up and availability going down, there is no room for complacency
or self-satisfaction. No, that would be wrong. However, if you
look at the change in the results, the step change which has been
achieved in the last 18 months, there is every reason now to be
less pessimisticthat does not mean I am an optimist at
allin thinking that law enforcement can do nothing about
717. Is it right that you have 61 officers from
Customs scattered around the world?
(Mr Byrne) Yes.
718. More coming along. How many more are coming
(Mr Byrne) I think there is funding for ten currently
in the pipeline, but part of our overall strategic attack significantly,
and we are really only in the first year or so of it, is for Customs
particularly to take its activities further overseas. We will
change the nature of our expenditure so that I would imagine what
we call the upstream attacka bad phrase in some ways
719. Is that placing more people in Afghanistan
(Mr Byrne) Afghanistan is a case in point at the moment
which we are now contemplating. There is a particular opportunity
there to make a significant difference to the heroin trade, but
it actually means principally concentrating in Afghanistan and
the surrounding countries and in different parts of South America
and the Caribbean basin.
1 Note by witness: The Government's Key Performance
Target for the availability strand of the anti-drugs strategy
is "To reduce the availability of class A drugs by 25% by
2005 and by 50 % by 2008". Back
Note by witness: CIDA-The concerted Interagency Drug Action
Group is chaired by HM Customs and Excise and includes representatives
from the Association of Chief Police Officers, National Crime
Squad, National Criminal Intelligence Service, Metropolitan Police,
Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other agencies. Back