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The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) is at least consistent. He makes speeches such as that he made tonight on any occasion that he considers to be appropriate. He says what he believes. An increase in ministerial salaries which totals £81,000 is not relevant when we are considering a total social security budget in Britain of £52 billion. That is not the way to deal with the problems he sought to raise.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) did not even pretend to be consistent. I agree with him that the salaries of Members of Parliament are more reasonable than they were when he and I first came to the House. I do not think that his view is shared widely in the House, not even by his own party. The Leader of the Opposition and
Column 418some Opposition Members are office holders who will receive the modest increase if the order is passed by the House. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the draft Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 8th December, be approved.
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : I beg to ask leave to present a petition signed by 5,193 citizens of Truro whose town centre has been devastated twice this year by flooding. The flooding has been caused by inadequate land drainage provision, which could have been alleviated with the proper resources. The flooding threatened lives and caused devastation and distress to individuals and businesses in Truro. In addition, it has threatened future development in the town centre.
The two floods could have been avoided but the South West water authority does not have the funds necessary to deal with the problem. I ask for adequate funding on behalf of the people of Truro before they suffer further damage to persons and possessions. I also ask for compensation for those who have suffered--many of whom have suffered twice--the distress of finding that their personal possessions, including some of great sentimental value, have been reduced to a soggy mess.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your Honourable House ask the Secretaries of State for Agriculture and the Environment to make all necessary funds available for (1) a fully adequate flood alleviation scheme for Truro to ensure that people and properties are properly protected and,
(2) compensation for the victims of inadequate flood alleviation provisions.
To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Garel-Jones.]
Mr. Peter Fry (Wellingborough) : I sincerely welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) to his new post. I do so with added enthusiasm because he represents my neighbouring constituency and is my Member of Parliament. His new appointment has given me considerable pleasure, as it will his other constituents. Last Christmas, my constituent, Darren Robertson--or Barber--was almost 16 years old. He seemed a normal teenager, perhaps subject to the varied moods of many of his age, but not unusually so. His mother had to go into hospital for a while. When she returned home she and her husband noticed a change in Darren's behaviour. His moods became more unpredictable ; he was difficult to talk to ; his parents told me that they could not get through to him ; he did not want to go to school and played truant ; he stayed out at night ; he seemed unhappy.
Naturally, his parents were concerned. They asked Darren whether he was taking drugs. He said that he was not. There were no extra demands for money from them, so they thought that perhaps that was true. However, they were still worried, so they approached his school and his year tutor. They did not know whether Darren had begun any drug-related abuse.
Darren's parents contacted the local police, but as he was under 16 years of age until February and was at school and living at home the police felt that he was no part of their responsibility. The parents tried the NSPCC, which responded that it was concerned with younger children and abuses against them. They tried the county council's social services department, which told them that this was a grey area. Nobody offered constructive advice to them. Wherever they turned, there was no local assistance. No counselling was available. On 17 April Darren was dead as a result of inhaling from an aerosol. His parents were devastated, but they have now become very concerned that his death should not be a complete waste. Mrs. Barber, Darren's mother, is particularly concerned that lessons should be drawn from their dreadful experience and that further action should be taken, somehow, to deter and prevent similar tragedies. A number of aspects relating to this matter are particularly worthy of note. Far too many young people are involved in solvent abuse. The craze--for that is what it is, in the true sense of that word--began with glue sniffing. Legislation made glue sniffing more difficult, so others moved on to Tipp-Ex and other correcting fluids. Stationers became aware of that threat, so more and more youngsters have recently turned to lighter fuels--butane gas--and aerosols. Every home in the land must contain several aerosols. It is impossible to check their sale and use in the family home. The risk of death is therefore standing in every bathroom cabinet and on every dressing table. Inhalation, followed by any violent physical activity, such as dancing, cycling or running, could easily lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.
I had fondly imagined that the new ozone-friendly aerosols, which will have taken over by the end of next year, would remove much of that danger, but a pathologist has told me that that is not correct and that the new
Column 420aerosols can be as deadly as the old. What has become clear is that many young people indulge in solvent abuse, that far too many die as a result--about two every week--and that 25 per cent. die from inhaling aerosols.
Various organisations, such as Re-Solv, have been established, and they do excellent work. Mr. Barry Liss of Re-Solv has been very helpful to me in providing background information. Unfortunately, however, not just parents but many other bodies--for example, schools--seem to be either unaware of the existence of these organisations or unwilling to ask for the advice that they can give. Also, when action is taken, it is not always as helpful as it might be. The pamphlet issued by the British pharmaceutical industry, entitled "Understanding Drug Abuse", contains many helpful facts and comments, but among them I read, in the paragraph entitled "Dangers" :
"There are risks but death or permanent damage to the body is very unlikely in most cases."
Whatever truth there may be in that statement--and as many thousands of young people are taking part in such abuse there is probably some truth in it--the fact remains that two young people die every week, a loss which I contend is far too great and which we must try to reduce. Furthermore, 20 per cent. of the deaths occur from a first attempt at inhalation. The other 80 per cent. of those who died had indulged in the practice before--often frequently. Bluntly, we are facing a deadly habit which is destroying far too many young people just as their personalities are developing and their lives are becoming richer and opening up opportunities.
What has been the Government's official response? Much good work has been done, but the feeling is growing that it has all been somewhat low profile. For example, it has been decided that aerosols should not have a warning printed on them as it might encourage youngsters to start sniffing them. My response to that is that once a teenager starts sniffing he or she is likely to continue. It seems that the young already know far more than adults about the temptation.
The only sensible advice is : do not start. Just one sniff can mean that a youngster is no longer a rational human being, and addiction can begin. Perhaps the Government should reconsider their attitude to warnings on aerosol cans. As the number of tragedies continues to grow, surely we are obliged to deal with the problem more effectively. After all, many more are dying from solvent abuse than from salmonella poisoning from eggs, and we became concerned enough about that recently.
I am not trying to be alarmist ; that would not help. But it seems that a different and rather stronger approach is now needed. A softly softly approach has not saved the many who have died.
What am I asking the Government to do? One of the main problems seems to be the level of awareness among adults--particularly parents--of how widespread and dangerous such practices have become. First, there is a clear need for a campaign to increase awareness among adults, perhaps through late-night television advertising warning of the dangers and explaining the signs to look for when a teenager is indulging in an abuse.
Even when parents are aware of the problems--as Mr. and Mrs. Barber were-- more information and help are required. It is worth mentioning that Re- Solv, together with the Royal Society of Medicine, has produced a video
Column 421entitled, "Bombshell" dealing with the problem of solvent abuse. I hope that PTAs and other parent bodies will obtain a copy as compulsory viewing.
Secondly, there appears to be a need for an educational programme for the young, particularly in secondary schools. To avoid the possiblility of encouraging teenagers to experiment, perhaps it should cover more than aerosol or solvent abuse and should include other dangers such as the abuse of alcohol. It should be clearly explained but not shockingly presented so that we can help our teenagers to develop a balanced lifestyle and encourage them to take the right decisions of their own accord and not because adults have told them to do so.
Already there is a virtual wall of silence about such abuses and often knowledge is denied. As most of us know, the teenage years are often most difficult when communication between parents and children is at its weakest. Mothers and fathers are often the last to know, even when a fatality occurs.
My third suggestion clearly comes from Darren's case--more information and help should be readily available to parents. Counselling should be on offer. If parents cannot get through to their children, expert advice is essential. We need to put more resources into advertising telling parents what help is available. It is insufficient for local education authorities to be members of organisations such as Re-Solv. Each secondary school should have at least one member of staff to whom all suspected cases can be referred by other teachers and by parents. That staff member should be able to refer to an agency which will give immediate advice. There should be no need for parents such as Darren's to complain that they could not get adequate help and advice. Furthermore, parents should be told that such a local contact exists.
Aerosol sniffing is part of a wider abuse, a deep malaise among our young. The play-it-down, low profile approach has not worked. Most parents feel that it is not their problem, that it happens to other people's children. The time has come to treat this unnecessary destroyer of young lives as the malignant disease that it is. We must devote more resources to try to reduce and eradicate it. Let us have the courage to debate this whole matter more openly in order to encourage parents to be on the alert. The time has come to be more open about the dangers and the possible solutions.
I can understand the British Aerosol Manufacturers Association writing to me and wanting to play down any warning on its cans. Has this been the right decision? Surely the matter needs to be re-examined. I ask the Government to do more to publicise the dangers to parents, teachers and the young. They should do more to encourage and assist bodies trying to cope with the problem, and we should make sure that practical assistance is available to those who need help. If the Government will do that and accept that a higher profile is needed, there will be much greater public awareness. Perhaps then we shall not have so many grief-stricken parents saying despairingly, "We did not know." If we make progress in combating this evil, our short debate will have been wonderfully worthwhile and Darren Robertson's death will not be the complete waste that it appeared to be at the time.
Column 42212.46 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Roger Freeman) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr.Fry) for his kind opening remarks and congratulate him on securing this Adjournment debate on this important subject. As a Back Bencher, I was interested in the subject on behalf of my constituents in the neighbouring constituency of Kettering.
The Government are very concerned about the harm caused by solvent misuse. We have all been saddened and shocked at the deaths of nine-year-old Sally Hodge of Bristol and of Mark Ashmore of Killingworth, and my hon. Friend has told the House about the death of Darren Robertson. Solvent misuse can have tragic consequences even for the curious experimenter as well as for someone who has a chronic problem, as the death of Sally Hodge illustrates.
Solvent misuse is a means of achieving intoxication by the deliberate inhalation of fumes given off by volatile substances. Substances misused are many and varied and usually include common household items such as glues, aerosol sprays, nail varnish remover, and lighter fuel. We are aware of a trend in recent years towards the misuse of aerosols in particular. Misuse is generally among the 10 to 19-year-old age group with a peak in the mid teens. For most of those young people who are tempted to try it, thank goodness it is a short-lived activity of experimentation often conducted in peer groups. However, for some, misuse may become prolonged.
In the short term health risks may arise through accidents while the sniffer is intoxicated, from suffocation where large plastic bags may be used, or from the direct toxic effects of the chemical inhaled. Some products, notably aerosol gases, sensitise the heart and can cause heart failure, especially if sniffers exert themselves at the same time. Gas squirted directly into the mouth can cause death from suffocation. Very prolonged misuse, over years, may lead to organ damage or psychological difficulties. However, despite these possibilities, lasting damage appears to be rare. Although tolerance develops with long-term use, physical dependence is not a significant problem. Where psychological dependence develops it is usually in a minority of susceptible youngsters with underlying family or personality problems.
I strongly join my hon. Friend in underlining the point that solvent abuse can kill and that misuse of aerosol cans can cause death at the first misuse. It is difficult to estimate the extent of solvent misuse. It seems to become common in a small area, such as an estate or school, and may quickly disappear, perhaps leaving a residue of prolonged misusers.
The Government rely on St. George's hospital medical school for comprehensive data on solvent-related deaths, which are gleaned from press accounts and followed up with coroners and other authorities. The figures may underestimate the numbers involved. In the latest year for which figures are available--1987--there were 108 deaths compared with 98 in 1986 and 116 in 1985. Although we appear to be on something of a plateau, they are horrifying figures, representing on average two deaths a week. Of those deaths, 31 were attributable to aerosols in 1987 compared with 21 in 1986 and 20 in 1985. Those figures are deeply saddening.
Column 423The harm caused by solvent misuse has led us to take a number of measures to make solvents less readily available to young people ; to help parents and professionals respond to the problem ; and to educate young people about the dangers. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough made a number of suggestions, with which I will deal as I cover the present range of measures.
What steps have the Government taken? In co-operation with retailers, backed by the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Act 1985, we are making lighter fuel, aerosols and solvent-based products harder to obtain for the purpose of misuse. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in underlining the fact that we cannot prevent dangerous products from reaching the hands of determined youngsters directly, or perhaps through their older brothers, sisters or friends. Since 1985 we have tried to ensure that retailers understand the dangers and try to control the misuse of products purchased in shops.
With help from the Government, Re-Solv, which is the Society for the Prevention of Solvent and Volatile Substance Abuse, has issued clear guidelines to retailers on the sale of sniffable products to children and young people. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to its valuable work under the direction of Mr. Barry Liss. The guidelines are based on those agreed generally with trade representatives and include full details of the 1985 Act ; 300,000 copies have been issued to date. I am pleased to say that this year the Government have contributed a further £15,000 to Re -Solv to make further copies available. We have also contributed to the production of Re-Solv's staff training video, which advises retailers about the 1985 Act. I understand that in 1987 there were 11 successful prosecutions under the Act.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough raised the subject of the labelling of aerosol cans. I shall reflect on that possibility and write to him, but the label on an aerosol can is unlikely in most cases to prevent a youngster who is experimenting, and who perhaps has been introduced to solvent abuse, from obtaining and using an aerosol. I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there are 30 household products capable of misuse. Unfortunately, aerosol cans are only one of a number of such products.
My hon. Friend is rightly concerned about emphasising to parents the dangers of solvent abuse. Helping parents to respond to solvent misuse must be a key factor in dealing with the problem. I am pleased that the Government were able to make a contribution to the Re-Solv video that was launched earlier this year, which aims to raise adult awareness of the problem and show ways to prevent it. I am told that approximately 300 copies have been distributed. I have seen it and it is entitled "A Bombshell? What every Parent should know about Solvent Abuse." It may be helpful if I place a copy in the Library. I will discuss early in the new year with colleagues of other Departments assistance with the cost of its distribution. The production of the video is a costly exercise, but the Government have assisted with it, and we must ensure that it is properly distributed. I am seized of the point that my hon. Friend has made, and I will pursue it. By implication, my hon. Friend suggested that the Government should go further in helping with the supply
Column 424of educational videos. He talked about late- night
television--obviously directed at parents. I have noted his comments and will reflect on his advice.
We have sought also to ensure that professional workers have the fullest and most up-to-date information available to them. My Department funded a post at the National Children's Bureau for three years, ending last year, to collate, interpret and disseminate to interested workers advice and information on solvent misuse. Following that, we funded training seminars for residential care workers organised by the bureau, and we are currently funding an information officer post at the bureau. We hope that that post will be filled in the new year and that the officer will be able to reach professional workers such as youth workers, social service workers and those involved in residential care.
The Department of Education and Science has also funded a research project by the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependence to produce high-profile curriculum and consultation materials about drugs. Those materials are designed to help youth and community workers respond positively to the problems that young people face with solvents, alcohol and illegal drugs. In 1986, Her Majesty's inspectorate also produced guidance for teachers in dealing with suspected cases of solvent misuse and mounting health education.
Finally, but by no means of least importance, we are taking steps to educate young people about the dangers of solvent misuse. There is widespread agreement among teachers and those concerned with education that teaching about solvents is best tackled in the wider context of all forms of substance misuse. We do not want to dramatise it, glamourise it or isolate it. It must be seen as part of wider education, including obviously alcohol and drugs.
The Department of Education and Science currently funds annual expenditure by local education authorities of over £4 million for in-service teacher training on drugs issues, including solvents, and to employ drug education co-ordinators in every local authority. Most drug co-ordinators now see issues to do with solvents as an inseparable part of their drug education activities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) is present. He, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and I, representing Northamptonshire constituencies, share concern for the problem. In our county, the education authority set up a team of a youth worker, a teacher, and an education welfare officer to train teachers in what is called personal and social educational techniques. That includes solvent abuse.
My hon. Friend has raised some important and specific suggestions about how to ensure that the message reaches children and about how to advise parents on who to turn to at schools to discuss solvent abuse problems. My hon. Friend has referred to the case of Darren Robertson and the problems that his parents encountered about knowing who to turn to. I am sure that my colleagues at the Department of Education and Science are aware of his thoughts. My hon. Friend will appreciate that this problem is not for the Department of Health alone.
The recent, well publicised cases serve to remind us of the potentially tragic consequences of solvent misuse. However, we must keep the problem in perspective. Mercifully, most young people never try it, and, for the great majority of those who do, it is a passing phase. But that must not lead us to be complacent. We must continue to work hard to ensure that children know the dangers,
Column 425that shopkeepers and parents reduce the chances of aerosols and solvent-based products getting into the wrong hands, and that those who work with young people can respond to the problem.
Column 426My hon. Friend has done the House a valuable service by raising this subject. I share his concern and will give it the serious attention that it deserves.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to One o'clock.
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