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That the Beef Special Premium (Protection of Payments) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 574), dated 23rd March 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 31st March, be approved.-- [Mr. Alan Howarth.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[ Mr. Alan Howarth. ]
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : I am most grateful for the opportunity to raise on the Adjournment the subject of chess in inner-city schools. About four years ago, in the first--and until this afternoon only- -chess match played by a team from the House of Commons against non-Members since I was first elected in 1983, a team of hon. Members played a team selected from schools in the Inner London education authority. Half that team consisted of three brothers aged, from memory, eight, nine and 11, whose family had recently arrived from the Indian sub-continent. Between them they had only a few words of English, but they had been fortunate enough to go to a school which, although exhibiting all the other classic symptoms of inner-city deprivation, clearly had on its staff a chess maniac. The result was that those three boys had quickly learnt to use chess as a means of communication and self-expression. They gave us the surprise of our lives over the chessboard.
There is nothing new in all civilised societies in looking to education as a means of overcoming the poverty and the tendencies towards crime and drugs that are too often found in parts of our cities. When I say "our", I am referring to the cities of humanity, because it is a problem that exists thoughout the known world. What is perhaps slightly more new is the growing belief that the game of chess can play a significant part in that educative process. It can do so not by attacking the visible difficulties that too often exist in such schools--such as the lack of pupil motivation, the high levels of truancy, the low expectations among pupils, the poor state of repair of many of the buildings and the lack of parental involvement--but rather it can assist teachers in their schools by providing and additional means of motivation, a demonstration of the ability of the mind to overcome obstacles and an encouragement to the use of thought to create order where none previously existed. Chess is not a panacea and it would be foolish to suggest that it could be. What I am suggesting is that it could be a useful tool. It could be one of many means to the end of improving the life chances of pupils in schools where life chances are all too few.
The emphasis on the game of chess, as a way of broadening the intellect, is not new. It was a slogan at the 1924 All-Union Congress of the Soviet Union that
"chess is a powerful weapon of intellectual culture".
Perhaps closer to home, the last keen chess player known to have lived at No. 10 Downing street--although it should be noted that the immediate predecessor of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was a keen amateur chess player--was Mr. Andrew Bonar Law, who, perhaps echoing the traditional view of the British public school, as satirised by Lindsey Anderson in the film "If", said :
"Chess is a cold bath for the mind."
Whether or not it is either of those, it is certainly not a sport. The British Government are right to separate the game of chess from all other games by allocating responsibility for it to my hon. Friend from the Department of Education and Science, who will be replying to the debate, rather than to our colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment and
Column 440Minister with responsibility for sport. Sports such as football or basketball, or any of their many variants, have frequently acted as agencies for social change, lifting individuals out of a deprived environment and allowing them to act as an inspiration to others. Chess alone offers an intellectual route out, and is therefore much more attuned to the traditional values of education.
In raising this subject on the Adjournment, I am not asking my hon. Friend to plough more money into chess, as the Government already have an excellent record of pump priming in that respect and we as a nation have a proud record of sponsorship by individuals and companies in that area. Nor am I inviting my hon. Friend to put additional pressure on schools for the teaching of chess, simply to encourage more chess players. Our educational system clearly already works in that respect, since, as a nation, we rank an undisputed second to the Soviet Union in the chess world.
What I am suggesting to my hon. Friend is that there already exists across many of the developed nations a movement to begin to use the game of chess as an additional tool of the intellect in a deprived educational environment. I should like an assurance from the Minister that his Department will follow the work that is being carried out across the world with interest and commitment and will ensure that the results of that work, in educational terms, are applied as much in this country as elsewhere.
There is a great deal going on in this area and, in accordance with our tradition, we should be leaders. However, we can also afford to be followers.
Today marked an event in the history of the House when a combined team of hon. Members, Members of another place and Officers of the House--a total of 21--received a thorough and entirely merited drubbing at chess by the reigning world champion, Mr. Gary Kasparov. I hope that today will, in fact, be remembered not just for that event, but for the public start of a process by which the most intellectual of games starts to be used more for the benefit of those in greatest educational need in this country.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who initiated this debate and his colleagues outside the House for their hard work in making it possible. The House usually listens to those who have personal experience. I should like to report to the Minister that in my four years at Bo'ness academy on the Forth, I ran a lunchtime chess club--I also ran football teams--for any boy or girl who wished to play, and usually 20 to 30 volunteered. I was extremely struck by the fact that not only did they enjoy themselves, but that learning to play chess created confidence among the most unlikely pupils. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is an entry into many other things. It is partly for that reason that we should take it seriously and find out what encouragement can be given by the Department of Education and Science.
I do not complain that there is not a Scottish Minister on the Front Bench, but, as a Scottish Member of Parliament, I know that it will be understood that the same things have been said to the Scottish Education Department, which will bear in mind the long correspondence--in which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who is present, was
Column 441also involved--with St. Andrew's house officials regarding help for the Scottish Chess Federation, which has done excellent work. I emphasise that chess is of benefit not only to potentially clever pupils. I cannot refrain however, from saying that hardly anything challenges a clever pupil so much as--it possibly dates me- -going through the games of Alekhline and Capablanca, more latterly the games of Botvinnik and Smyslov or the games of Fischer who appeared after my time at school.
The truth is that, from first hand experience, I believe that chess is valuable and should be encouraged. Encouragement is important because, at school, chess depends on teachers giving up their free time. Now is not the time to discuss the mood of the teachers and their difficulties with the Government. Suffice it to say that any encouragement that can be given to individual teachers to run chess clubs is valuable.
It is important where possible to have chess centres. that is why I greatly welcome the initiative that came to fruition this morning with the re- establishment in the City of London of a chess centre. That is a landmark and we are extremely grateful to the reigning world champion, Gary Kasparov, for taking the trouble to come to Britain to perform that opening. Talking of Gary Kasparov, it would be right to say a big "thank you" to him for coming to play Members of this House, Members of the other place, Clerks of the House and other staff associated with Parliament. It was an education in itself. I have never played anybody who moved P-R6 into my backyard with such effect and then pinned me for the rest of the match. It was a great lesson.
I know that other colleagues play chess repeatedly in the chess room. I do not play as I believe it would become an addiction and Members of Parliament have a few other things to do other than play chess. My chess is confined to playing my wife. I think of Julius Silverman, who educated us all. He was not only an excellent Member of Parliament but an extremely good chess player. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) is also a good chess player. I think of other hon. Members, some of whom have passed on, some of whom have retired, who get great pleasure from playing each other in the chess room under the portrait of Sir Watson Rutherford playing Mr. Bonar Law.
Insofar as an Adjournment debate can do it, let the message go out from the House that we are absolutely behind all those who brought Gary Kasparov here and who are responsible for popularising chess, particularly in the inner cities and in schools where it is most needed.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : First, I thank the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) for securing the Adjournment debate and for focusing the attention of the House, and, I hope, that of the nation, on the value of chess.
In common with the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) I rise bruised and battered having barely survived one round with the world chess champion. I have also profited from discussing with him the value of chess. I am pleased that today he was accompanied by the distinguished impresario
Column 442of chess, himself a great player, Raymond Keene, and also by Mr. Jonathan Speelman, one of the greatest players in the world and a great tribute to British chess.
It is vital that we do not get smug or complacent about the standing of British chess. That we have reached such pre-eminence is largely a tribute to amateurs and the voluntary efforts of so many people.
I disagree with the hon. Member for Bristol, North West about the funding of chess. Frankly, I believe that it is woefully inadequate. It is time that we started--the Government are the Government to do it and today is the day to give that pledge--to fund chess on a proper basis. If such funding is provided, chess will be elevated into a great game for men and women and boys and girls. Those young people will have an opportunity to develop important faculties as well as channelling their energies in such a desirable and productive manner.
The Knights of Caissa, an organisation set up to bring together the youth of Britain, the Soviet Union and America who could take chess into schools and thus drive out the more malevolent influences from them, deserves this House's support and commendation. It deserves to be endorsed by the Minister. I hope that he will be able to give a commitment to consider the excellent programme and prospectus that that organisation has produced and that he will be able to give that project long-term backing.
A fortnight ago, I had discussions with the Scottish Chess Federation, which is perturbed about the precarious level of funding in Scotland. I am sorry that the Minister responsible for Scottish education, the hon. Member for Stirling, (Mr. Forsyth), is unable to be present to hear the pungent criticisms that have been made of Scottish Office funding of chess.
I do not want this debate to be a time for recriminations. Today I believe that we all want to celebrate the fact that the world champion is in Britain promoting chess--he has so many fans here. We should mark that occasion by recognising the need to promote chess in the voluntary sector with hard cash. I hope that the Minister is generous enough to endorse that need.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Membefor Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) on the timely nature of this debate. He has chosen a historic moment in the House's history and I cannot let it pass without entering into the record the results of the chess match between the world champion and hon. Members of the House. I have it on good authority that my hon. Friend lasted for 32 moves with Mr. Kasparov. I am also advised that my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) acquitted themselves well. I believe they are the Members who lasted the longest with their formidable opponent.
I hope that those hon. Members will be duly acknowledged in their constituencies for that particularly cerebral effort. We are not admired for many things, but I hope that, on occasions, we are admired for the type of brain power that was deployed this evening. I shall bring
Column 443to the attention of my colleagues in the Scottish Office the comments made by the hon. Members for Linlithgow and for Edinburgh, South.
I am glad to have this opportunity to respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West who appears here apparently none the worse for wear after taking on, with no more reinforcements than necessary, Grandmaster Kasparov earlier. I admire my hon. Friend's bravura and enthusiasm, if not his nerve, in even contemplating such a task.
We were indeed privileged to have Gary Kasparov here--evidence of the increasing warmth in our relations with his country as well as of the warmth of enthusiasm for that great game, for which he is such a notable ambassador.
As my hon. Friend said, chess is perhaps uniquely placed to cut across not only national and linguistic barriers, but those of sex, age, race, culture and background. The catalogue of social, cultural and intellectual benefits offered by chess is almost endless, and a number of them have been put forward this evening. I am surprised, therefore, and somewhat disappointed, to find that there are so few references to chess in great literature. But they seem to suggest that chess can throw some light on some of the deeper mysteries of human experience.
I do not expect my hon. Friend to agree with Henry James Byron's sharp statement, "Life's too short for chess." It all depends, I suppose, on how one plays the game--of life, or chess, as one likes. Thomas Huxley explored the chess metaphor richly when he said : "The chess-board is the world ; the pieces are the phenomena of the universe ; the rules of the game are what we call the rules of Nature. The player on the other side is hidden from us. We know that his play is always fair, just and patient. But also we know, to our cost, that he never overlooks a mistake, or makes the smallest allowance for ignorance."
Equally intriguing is a quotation from Robert Browning, appropriately from a poem called "Bishop Blougram's Apology" : "And so we stumble at truth's very test!
All we have gained then by our unbelief
Is a life of doubt diversified by faith,
For one of faith diversified by doubt ;
We called the chess-board white, we call it black.
Well', you rejoin, "the end's no worse, at least' ;
We've reason for both colours on the board ;
Why not confess then, where I drop the faith
And you the doubt, that I'm as right as you?"
Intriguing though that thought is, my use of this quotation should not be taken to imply that I do not have as much faith in the value of chess as does my hon. Friend. But let us not forget that this faith will never be universally shared. Some misguided people will reject chess as elitist or over-competitive or, for all its apparent peace and quiet, as too militaristic in its overtones, or too much associated with foibles such as sulks and temper tantrums, or of no more intrinsic educational value than, say, that other popular board game, Scrabble. At bottom, it is all a question of choice, which we prize highly, and there is no danger that people in Britain, in their millions, will not continue to make their choice in favour of chess as a supremely rewarding pastime.
My Department has for many years made an annual grant to the admirable British Chess Federation, and I understand that the federation is seeking to promote chess at all levels and for all ages through the schools and hopes to introduce new award schemes in the near future as well
Column 444as producing a series of leaflets for school chess clubs, which will be in addition to its video on chess for children. So we have not been inactive in this matter.
Mr. Dalyell : I am not trying to catch the Minister out, but I put it to him that £37,000 is tiny compared with the potential good that could be done throughout the United Kingdom. Will he, after this debate, reflect whether a substantial increase could be made? It really would be value for money.
Mr. Butcher : I will deal with the question of funding and what has been called an endorsement of the game of chess, and I must be careful, as I shall explain, not to make it a sort of official Department of Education and Science programme. There are some aspects of chess in our schools, of which the hon. Member for Linlithgow will be aware, which would not be helped by an atmosphere of officialdom or of compulsion somehow creeping into it. The joy of chess is its voluntary nature and the fact that it becomes a pastime that develops into an exceedingly rewarding intellectual challenge.
Having explained that we have made a grant, the question is whether the Government should be doing more to encourage chess, particularly in inner- city schools, as implied by my hon. Friend. We must recognise that in schools chess is an extra-curricular activity, and many schools have active chess clubs. But some people might wonder whether it would be right for the Government to go any way towards promoting in schools specific initiatives in chess, thereby taking the risk of stifling the very essence of what makes pastimes most rewarding--its voluntary nature and the enthusiasm of individual motivation and commitment : indeed, the element of choice itself. I know that my hon. Friend--and, I suspect, Labour Members--are far from suggesting a "state takeover" of chess. Anything that smacked of that would be anathema to us. Chess is fun, and intellectual fun. It is taken up by children voluntarily. Their interest may have been stimulated by a friend, a relative or a teacher. Chess is thriving, and those who are deeply committed to it and play it well--and those who may play it but infrequently and badly--regard it as a personal matter of choice and do not need official encouragement from the Department. The last thing we want to do--for those who may not have taken it up yet but have not closed their minds to it--is go any way towards suggesting that they should take it up because the Department thinks it would be good for them.
I hope that hon. Members do not think I am being negative. I am being positive by paying tribute to the vitality of the game, which has thrived and survived for centuries, and to the commitment of individuals who can inspire others with enthusiasm for the game and hence keep it alive in a way that no official edicts would hope to do.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow hinted at that very process in his involvement in chess at the academy of which he spoke. Surely, that atmosphere, the spark and enthusiasm that came from that process, did not come
Column 445from an official programme designed to encourage him or to get youngsters to be interested in chess. They enjoyed the joy of discovery and they did so with great enthusiasm.
Mr. Dalyell : Is the Minister aware that in chess tournaments, inter -school matches and particularly inter-area matches, somebody must pay for the minibuses, the heating and lighting and all the other logistics that are involved? Can the Minister give a breakdown of the grant of £37,000?
Mr. Butcher : I explained the sort of activities that are supported. I cannot at this hour give the hon. Gentleman an account of how much went towards which kind of activity. I thought it would be helpful to indicate the range of activities that were supported. I will write to him with the detail he has requested.
My hon. Friend rightly refrained from putting forward chess as a panacea for the social and educational problems perceived to exist in the inner cities. I will mention some of the measures that my Department is taking to improve the standards of education and the quality of life for young people in the inner cities.
I need not dwell at length at the question of city technology colleges, but they are targeted precisely on inner-city school children to improve their life chances. Anyone who has any doubts about the ethos of CTCs should talk to the people where they are currently in operation. Indeed, the principal of the Nottingham city technology college is clear on the identification of the cohort of young people in inner cities who should receive the benefits of this form of education.
My hon. Friend will be aware that business has pledged over £34 million in sponsorship, an unprecedented response to an education initiative. We have also increased the educational building allocations for inner city areas. We are funding a project providing intensive management training for teachers in 45 inner-city schools. An education support grant programme has been running for a number of years with a view to improving urban primary schools. Many such programmes are taking place and the Government are aware that they must secure the best possible return, not merely in terms of cash but in terms of changing the life chances of young people and school-children in inner cities. That is what this is all about. My hon. Friend vividly and entertainingly used the chess metaphor and the example of the disciplines of chess and what they bring to young people, by illustrating their benefit to young people in inner cities. Some people who are unfamiliar with the game may have regarded chess with some apprehension, because 32 pieces moving around 64 squares in a manner designed to confuse and confound all but a few may have mystified them. However, I am hoping that that mystification will be eroded and reduced in our society. Attitudes are changing. Chess is now seen by many, and rightly so, as a means of promoting logical, disciplined and independent thought among children.
This change in attitude has been reflected in the advances in the state of British chess. Twenty years ago the United Kingdom did not have a single grandmaster. We now have more than 10, and the figure is rising every year. In 1984, the English men's squad came second to the Soviet Union at the chess olympiad in Greece and went on
Column 446to confirm its No. 2 ranking by again winning silver medals at the 1986 olympiad in Dubai and the 1988 olympiad in Thessalonika. There have also been numerous significant individual performances and several world titles in youth events. So we have come a long way in a relatively short space of time and the time is surely not far away when we will be challenging for the number one spot in the world. I appreciate that there is also a Scottish dimension to this debate. I hope that Opposition Members will not mind if I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, although I am sure that he needs no reminding, of the immense progress that has been made in British chess over the past 20 years.
I know that there are many people whom we must thank for their sponsorship and encouragement that has enabled this dramatic improvement to take place, and I am pleased that my own Department has played its own part by providing support for the British Chess Federation through its annual grant to assist with administrative costs and the expense of sending British players to international tournaments. I am glad that my hon. Friend has emphasised the scope for further developments in chess, particularly with young people.
Mr. Dalyell : I should like to ask the Minister about the question of sending players on journeys to international tournaments. Will the Minister pass on the concern felt about that to the Scottish Office in the hope that it will reply by letter as to whether anything constructive can be done to help our promising chess players to travel?
Mr. Butcher : I am coming to that point in my penultimate observations. I said at the beginning of my comments tonight that I would draw to the attention of my Scottish colleagues the record of this debate. I shall do so and shall, of course, include the comment that the hon. Member for Linlithgow has just made.
I shall return to the reasons why we all endorse the lessons, disciplines and messages that come from chess. Chess players use their memory and their reasoning powers. They are strategists. It is of benefit to young people to develop and use those skills in the competition of an ancient game. I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that we shall look with great interest at the work to which he refers which is being done across the world to see what lessons can be learned and how they might best be promoted in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend said that there was nothing wrong with occasionally being a follower. We should like to learn from other countries' experiences, and I give an undertaking that my Department will keep an eye on matters to see whether any of the lessons learned abroad can be applied to the United Kingdom.
We also need to learn from the early experience of the chess centre in London, which could be a useful teacher for those who see education as a means of, at least, encouraging chess, in the various ways that we have tried to describe this evening. I mentioned the caveat earlier that, if chess became a state or DES-inducted exercise, it would lose something precious.
Mr. Dalyell : Can we receive an undertaking from the Department that it will monitor and take a sustained interest in the London centre initiative? It is terribly important to look at the benefits that may, and I believe will, come from having a centre where people can go, at almost any time of the day or evening, in order to play
Column 447chess. All I am asking for is a sustained interest in this experiment, and to see whether it could be transferred to other cities if it was considered valuable.
Mr. Butcher : I thought that was more or less what I had said. We have here on our doorstep a facility that will be part chess workshop, part competition venue. It will, if you like, be a laboratory of intensive chess playing. Therefore, I have no doubt that the lessons that we may learn from that about ensuring the popularity of chess will be duly noted.
I shall also mention the comments made about the Knights of Caissa initiative of which I have received notification. I have looked at the paperwork that has come though so far. My understanding is that the initiative is to be pursued for two or three years and then the DES and presumably other organisations will be invited to meet those involved in the initiative and judge the lessons of that exercise. If that is to be their policy and phasing, I am pleased to endorse that initiative, given that those involved are clear that they are conducting a testing, piloting and trial exercise from which lessons will be learned. Therefore, that initiative will be followed up. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend not just for what he has done tonight for the whole House through his arrangement of this historic competition, but in initiating a debate on a subject that attracts the most vehement and affectionate support from hundreds of thousands of people in this country.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I am grateful for this opportunity of the Adjournment debate to speak on the subject of drugs and alcohol problems in our schools. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for being present to reply. Normally when we debate, we nearly always talk about problems of engineering, skill shortages and so on. However, this topic, which I am sure my hon. Friend would agree is in many ways just as important, will produce a slightly different debate from the ones that we are used to.
As someone who was a schoolmaster for 23 years and who ran a chess team, I was also interested in the previous debate and I was tempted to intervene, but thought better of it. However, I support the general theme that ran through it. I listened to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) and to the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths). The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South referred to chess replacing other malevolent influences in schools. I do not know what he had in mind, but it certainly made me feel that this debate follows on naturally from the previous one. If drug abuse is not one of the malevolent influences that can creep into our schools, I do not know what is. There seems to be a link between trying to create good extra-curricular activities in good schools and considering the problems that our children can come up against in and out of school. I have not come to this debate armed with statistics. However, there is no doubt about the social and physical harm that can, and is, done to young people by drug addiction, particularly if we consider the link between drug addiction and the AIDS virus, and the problems that that can bring to young lives. Therefore, we have a duty to protect our young people from becoming involved in any serious addiction.
It is perhaps appropriate that tomorrow the Bill that I have presented, the Amusement Machines (Protection of Children) Bill should, I hope, receive its Second Reading. That Bill deals with protecting young people from addiction. There is a link between the problems that exist in the amusement arcades and drug addiction. Therefore, it is appropriate that I should have the opportunity to mention that tonight in the Adjournment debate.
In Norwich, as in so many parts of the country, there are continuing drug problems. While we are talking about young people, I want to pay a particular tribute to organisations in Norwich which deal with the rehabilitation of young people who have become involved in drug addiction.
The Matthew project runs a helpline, and I have spoken about its good work in previous Adjournment debates. There is also the Life of the World Trust, which has now been established for some 20 years and has operated from centres in various parts of Britain to help in the rehabilitation of young people with drug problems. Its aim is to prepare those young people for a return to a normal lifestyle, free from their dependency on drugs. Over the past 20 years, the Life of the World Trust has been successful with hundreds of young people who have become involved in drug addiction. Hebron house has recently been established in Norwich, and it is doing continuing good work with ex-drug dependants.
Column 449Although drug abuse has not been so much in the news recently, the problem has not gone away from our schools or from among adults. All the evidence is that the problem remains serious, not only in Norwich, but throughout Britain. The only up-to-date figures that I have been able to obtain this week refer to drug seizures for 1988. Customs and Excise officers seized a record £185 million worth of illegal drugs during 1988--an increase of almost 60 per cent. by street value on the previous year. I accept that taking seizure figures may not be the best way to try to determine a trend. After all, that can depend on the size of the haul and the circumstances in which the Customs officers were able to achieve it.
My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who is responsible for Customs matters, said recently that that 60 per cent. increase in the value of drugs seized during the past year reflects the increasing effectiveness of Customs and Excise efforts and--this is important--the growing scale of the threat. Therefore, although the problem has not been publicised a great deal recently, it would be wrong for any hon. Member to think that it has gone away. The trend is still adverse and that is why it is appropriate that we are having this debate tonight.
I am aware that the Government and the Department of Education and Science have been contemplating further initiatives to deal with drug and alcohol abuse in schools. Everyone has a role to play--families, schools, Churches and other leading figures and organisations in society.
At this stage, it is important to say bluntly that, just as illness is a sign of some sort of weakness within the individual involved--that is in no way to lay blame on that individual--so drug abuse is a sign of weakness, or even, to use stronger language, of decadence in some sections of society. After all, we can link the problems of drug and alcohol abuse with the problems of boredom, psychological disturbance, and so on. Therefore, wider issues are raised when we debate this topic.
It is not easy for any hon. Member to come up with a way to deal with these serious problems, but that does not mean that we have no responsibility-- quite the reverse. We have a great responsibility, and the Department of Education and Science, with its responsibility for schools, also has a great responsibility. That is why I am looking forward to my hon. Friend's reply, bringing us up to date with the initiatives that the Department is preparing.
The effect of alcohol abuse among the young is also well known and serious. Longer-term health problems can arise as a result of alcohol abuse and behavioural problems are very much in the news at present. There are the lager lout phenomenon and the riot and crowd control problems. Without being too specific, many of the recent incidents in football stadiums and so forth are alcohol related. In addition, there is the problem of drink- driving and I want to pay tribute to the good work done by my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Transport for their successful campaigns in tackling that problem.
I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say more this evening about the initiatives that he has in mind, perhaps through the schools and the education system, for the prevention of alcohol, drug and solvent abuse. All those
Column 450forms of addiction are linked. They cannot be separated one from the other. In addition, as I said earlier, we must link all those with the problem of AIDS.
The Education Reform Act 1988 introduced the national curriculum, which says that it is our duty to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical developments of pupils at school and of society, and also to prepare pupils for opportunities,
responsibilities and experiences in adult life. If that is the aim within our schools, it must be right to consider ways in which we can prevent drug abuse and help our young people to have a better spiritual, moral and cultural preparation for life.
I hope not just that my hon. Friend will recognise the ways in which the Department of Education and Science, through administrative initiatives, can deal with those problems--I am sure that we shall hear a lot about that when my hon. Friend replies--but that he will recognise and confirm that the tone and quality of schools is of great importance in dealing with such problems. That is not to say that, when dealing with individual human beings, there will not be difficulties in the best of schools, but my general point, is that the tone of the school, the leadership of the head teacher, the quality of the teachers and the general way in which the school is run, are relevant when we are considering the malevolent problems that come into schools and affect young people. The old-fashioned term "discipline" is relevant to the quality, tone and success of our schools, and the way in which young people leave them prepared for life in every possible way.
It is important to recognise that, in addition to any initiatives that we shall be debating tonight, the organisation of schools, which we shall not have time to debate tonight, and the morale of schools and teachers are relevant to this subject. An extra-curricular activity such as chess, which we debated earlier, can be linked with other sporting activities to show how important that aspect of school life is in preventing the type of problems to which I am drawing attention.
Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the good work done by so many teachers. In particular, I want to identify those in my constituency of Norwich, North and in Norwich and Norfolk generally. They are doing good work in social and health education, about which we are particularly thinking this evening, and they are doing a great deal generally to help to improve the quality of education in schools in Norwich and Norfolk at a time of rapid change. I welcome those changes and the speed with which the Government have addressed themselves to educational problems recently, and I pay tribute to the teachers in Norwich and Norfolk for the way in which they are responding to them.
A ministerial group has recently dealt with alcohol abuse and during the past few days I had a chance to see the circular that has resulted from that initiative. Again, through my hon. Friend the Minister, I want to pay tribute to Ministers for that work. The circular and the results flowing from it must be good news. However, let me inject a cautionary note. When I finish reading a circular I find that I am not imbued with the kind of enthusiasm with which I would like to be imbued. Even after six years as a Member of Parliament I only have to read a Civil Service circular to find that all my enthusiasm and interest in a subject has somehow waned. That does not necessarily mean--in case my hon. Friend should misunderstand me-- that the circular is wrong or that there is a better way of doing it. It means that the circular and
Column 451the administrative initiatives, excellent though I am sure they are, by the Department of Education and Science must be followed up with enthusiasm at local authority level, school level and so forth. I congratulate the Department of Education and Science on the work it has been doing in this area and I look forward to hearing more about recent initiatives very shortly. We have the booklet on drug misuse and the young, which I know has had very wide circulation in my constituency and throughout the country. We have had the initiatives on teaching materials to help with problems of drug abuse and so on. More recently, we have had the largest education support grant ever, which includes sums of money particularly targeted on dealing with the misuse of drugs. I gather that in my own county, Norfolk, over £21,800 will be put to that particular use in the coming year. This must all be good news, because it will help local authorities to develop a strategy for dealing with drug abuse through the mechanisms which they have available.
All this is part of the Government's imaginative and vigorous approach to education and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his part in that. I look forward very much to his reply and in particular to what he has to say about up-to-date initiatives to help with the very serious problems of drug and alcohol abuse in our schools.