HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc415-6
13. Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he proposes to take to encourage the public to use the new telephone lines to Customs drugs investigators.

Mr. Mellor

Customs and Excise has already taken steps to encourage the public to use the new Freefone facilities. There was a press launch on 7 April, posters and leaflets have been distributed; and all Customs regional offices have instructions to publicise the facilities. In the first 11 days of operation 353 calls were received, and some very good leads have been established.

Mr. McCrindle

I thank my hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. Are there any plans to publicise the scheme by using posters in post offices? Many members of the public go into post offices, and the use of such posters might contribute even more to the success of the scheme.

Mr. Mellor

There have been negotiations between Customs and the Post Office. At first they appeared unpromising, because the Post Office initially seemed to want to impose a fee to display the posters. This morning I discussed the matter with the chairman of the Post Office. I hope that more positive counsel will be given to those conducting the negotiations.

Mr. Haynes

It is all right for the Under-Secretary of State to talk about involving the general public with a special telephone line, but when will the Government reinstate the Customs officers they have sacked since 1979 and really do something about that problem?

Mr. Mellor

The hon. Gentleman will have to find another basis for his outrage, because some 500 extra preventive staff—[Interruption.] That was not an invitation to show further outrage. A further 500 preventive staff are to be recruited in the period April 1985 to April 1987.

Mr. Rathbone

Although I welcome the scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that it will come to nothing if Customs officers are not placed where they can track down the places from which drugs are smuggled, especially in Bombay? Will my hon. Friend report on the Government's efforts to get Customs inspectors there?

Mr. Mellor

It is troubling that so much of the heroin arriving in this country has been dispatched from India. The proportion last year was 49.1 per cent. of all heroin seized. The trends in the first three months of this year show that perhaps as much as two thirds of the heroin seized by Customs has been dispatched from India. I understand that my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary discussed those matters with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of India during his recent visit. I hope that the good level of co-operation that has been established between the law and order services in Britain and those in India will be furthered by the placement of drug liaison officers, who have done so much to cut the trade in heroin between Pakistan and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Frank Cook

What controls of that kind have applied at United States military bases in Britain?

Mr. Mellor

United States military bases are under the control of internal United States security services, which take action against personnel on bases who are found dealing with drugs.

Mr. Spencer

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a foreign element in an increasing number of cases coming before the courts, which shows the importance of the Government liaising with foreign Governments to stamp out the supply of drugs at its source?

Mr. Mellor

That is absolutely right. That is why we take so seriously the bilateral relations that we have with a wide range of countries which produce drugs which are exported to the United Kingdom. That is also why we take seriously Britain's role as chairman of the Pompidou group of Ministers in Europe, which is concerned with drugs. International co-operation on drugs is not an option, but a necessity.