Examination of Witnesses (Questions 760
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
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
770. I do not think Sir Keith was arguing that,
(Sir Keith Morris) No, but it is such a profitable
business; it is so much more lucrative than any other form of
(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
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
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, isI
was a second-time-rounder in Colombia; I was there in 1967-71
so saw Communist insurgencies in their early stagesthat
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
marketand I am not sure how you can have heroin and cocaine
unless you do have a hugely regulated marketthere 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