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House of Commons

Friday 21 July 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PETITIONS

Roads (Streatham)

9.34 am

Sir William Shelton (Streatham) : It is with great pleasure that I present a petition with more than 15,000 signatures collected in not many weeks in my constituency by an organisation called Streatham Against the Roads, which is also known as STAR. I congratulate that organisation and the people who signed the petition. It demonstrates a vast revulsion against road building. It is a movement by people to protect their homes and environment. As the petition shows, there are better ways of solving the traffic problem.

The petition states :

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will reject any proposals from the Travers Morgan and Mott, Hay and Anderson Stage 26 Road Assessment Study Reports which will involve road-building or road-widening, and consider instead alternative solutions to the traffic problem, with particular emphasis on measures to deal with illegal parking, traffic management schemes and schemes to improve public transport.

To lie upon the Table.

Pensioners

9.36 am

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) : I have the pleasure to present two petitions from Grimsby relating to pensioners and the plight of pensioners. Society owes a fair deal to those who brought us through the hard times. They


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should be rewarded in the better times, but the contrary has happened. The tie between pensions and earnings was cut in 1979, and pensioners have been left behind. Single pensioners are losing £11 a week and a couple are losing £17.50 a week because pensions were not uplifted.

The petitions deal with the other problem under the new social security system that those with quite pathetically small occupational pensions are losing disproportionate amounts of benefit, which makes life a continuous struggle againt debt, something that they are experiencing for the first time and with great dismay. I have a small pile of letters testifying to that.

The first petition was organised by Mrs. Dryden of Grimsby, and it states :

The Humble Petition of the residents of Great Grimsby and District showeth that we the undersigned are concerned about the misery and deprivation forced on pensioners by the alterations in the benefit system which claw back any increase in their income from small occupational pensions.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House relax these rules to give pensioners a fair standard of living and that pensions should also be increased to the same end.

That petition has 1,000 signatures.

The second petition states :

The Humble Petition of the undersigned Retirement Pensioners and others in Great Britain showeth that sections of the community in receipt of the state retirement pension are suffering hardship on account of the increase in the cost of living.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that the link between pensions and average earnings be restored, thus giving pensioners a standard of living sufficient to enable them to meet the full necessities of life.

That petition has 100 signatures.

To lie upon the Table.

BILL PRESENTED

Poll Tax (Illegal Forms)

Mr. Nigel Griffiths, supported by Mr. John McAllion, Mr. Harry Ewing, Mr. John McFall, Mr. Calum Macdonald, Mr. Frank Doran and Mrs. Maria Fyfe, presented a Bill to remove the requirement for community charge registration officers to collect the date of birth of adults registered for the community charge : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 24 July and to be printed. [Bill 192.]


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Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Lightbown.]

9.39 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : It is unusual to be able to begin a debate with a statement that I believe every hon. Member will support : educating our young people to be alert to the dangers of drugs and alcohol, and to be able to resist them, is a necessary and important aspect of what our schools do today. But before addressing myself to the work schools are doing, and the way the Government are supporting them, I should like to take a moment to examine some of the reasons why good health education is so necessary.

That I can do so in no more than a few moments is because the facts speak for themselves. Here are just a few. It has been estimated that three quarters of a million people in the United Kingdom may have a serious drink problem. In 1987, there were more than 40,000 convictions for drunkenness ; nearly a quarter of all road accidents in 1987 involved people whose blood alcohol level was above the legal limit ; it is estimated that more than 100,000 people die each year as a result of smoking tobacco, and that between 75,000 and 150,000 people misused notifiable drugs in 1986-- probably as many again were misusing other drugs--and in 1987, it was estimated that up to 10,000 injecting drug users were infected with the human immunodeficiency virus.

That information relates to people of all ages. Let us look for a moment at some facts about young people. A survey of more than 18,000 young people in 1987 indicated that around 70 per cent. of fifth-year pupils had drunk at least one alcoholic drink during the previous week. The same survey showed that around 13 per cent. of young people reported that they had been offered cannabis or other drugs during their teens.

I do not think that I need go on. That, in outline, is why we need good, effective health education, and why it is important that it should start in schools.

But first, we must be clear on one point--health education alone cannot solve the problem. Schools cannot be expected to put right the ills of society all by themselves. Schools are, after all, a part of society as a whole ; they do not function in isolation. Our young people are sharp enough to spot any conflicts between what they are being taught explicitly in schools and the messages that are tacitly conveyed by the way in which we behave and the actions we condone or admire in others. I am saying clearly that the schools cannot do it all. They have a key role, but it is incumbent on all of us to support them. We are all involved--parents and communities.

Sir William Shelton (Streatham) : My hon. Friend mentioned the role of parents. Does he have plans to instruct parents on how they may best identify youngsters who are drinking or taking drugs?

Mr. Butcher : In a few moments I shall be talking about a 10-point plan, which I have put together with the help of officials and advisers from various groups. In the middle of that plan, there is a statement about getting more information to parents. I believe entirely--if I am understanding my hon. Friend correctly--that, when getting awareness of the problem to parents, we have to be


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very subtle and perceptive in how that is done. Getting information to parents is important and I hope that my hon. Friend will be encouraged by the fact that that is incorporated in the 10- point plan.

I make no apology for prefacing my account of what the Department, and the schools, are doing to equip children with the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will need to lead healthy lives with a plea to parents and others in positions of influence. They have a responsibility, too. If that means exercising some self-discipline, they should remember that that is no more than they are expecting of our young people.

How can education help? Education can do a very great deal. Good, positive health education in schools can lay a firm foundation of knowledge, skills and attitudes which can help young people to lead healthier lives. I must stress that all three of those elements are crucial. Of course, young people need to know what the effects of drinking or taking drugs will be. But that is not enough. They also need the skills to enable them to act on that knowledge.

However much young people know about the way drinking or drug taking muddles their thinking and slows down their reactions, and the long-term damage that it will do, they can still find it very hard to resist a skilful sales pitch, or a free offer from someone who may pose as a "friend". They need to know how to stand up to that sort of pressure without losing face among their friends. Of course, they need, too, to see good health in a positive way, not simply as an aggregation of "thou shalt nots". If they understand that staying healthy is something to enjoy, something that can unlock doors to other enjoyable activities, they are much more likely to go for it than if it seems to be nothing more than a series of prohibitions. So the emphasis in good health education is on the promotion of good health. Experience shows that it is very much more productive to stress activities that are beneficial and enjoyable than to issue doom-laden or scary warnings about forbidden ones. Indeed, that sort of approach in the classroom is a pretty effective way of making them that much more attractive.

That, then, put very briefly, is what schools are aiming to do in their programmes of health education. The Government have given, and continue to give, very high priority to providing support and encouragement of good- quality, effective health education. I shall be looking in some detail at the role of the drug education co-ordinators, but I should also like to pay tribute to the many bodies throughout the country which are involved in that campaign. There are such organisations as the Life education centres, which have impressed many of us, and TACADE, which has given immense help to the co-ordinators and to those who are charged with making policy. I hope that, my having made contacts with those two organisations and, indeed, others, such as Re-Solv, they will continue to meet myself and others in the hope that we can continue with what I believe is a strongly developing consensus on the way in which we tackle the drug and alcohol abuse problem.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Those voluntary organisations are, of course, most useful, and there is an organisation funded by the Government called Alcohol Concern, which has also done enormously good work. However, is my hon. Friend aware that, at the end of July, it is still waiting to know what money it will get for this financial year?


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Mr. Butcher : I thank my hon. Friend for putting forward a timely reminder. I can reassure him that Alcohol Concern will have a response shortly.

I shall turn now to the drug education co-ordinators and my Department's support for in-service training. We have, since 1986, provided through the education support grant arrangements funding for local education authorities' activities in relation to education about drugs. That has enabled local education authorities to put in place drugs education co- ordinators--usually seconded teachers--whose task it is to stimulate education about drugs in their areas, to help co-ordinate activities by the various local agencies involved, and to provide advice, training and updating for teachers and youth workers. To support that last activity, the Department has also given priority to providing grant support for in- service training about drugs. Since 1986, my Department has given grant on expenditure of more than £11.6 million under those schemes. We estimate that during that time training will have been provided for approaching 100,000 teachers, advisers and youth workers. An evaluation of the drugs education co-ordinators' work, which was undertaken for the Department by Southampton university, attests to their success in stimulating and supporting local activities and establishing effective local networks.

We are now ready to build on that success. We recognised some time ago that it is unrealistic to limit the drugs education co-ordinators' work to illicit drugs and solvents alone. I have already made it clear that effective health education has, as its starting point, the promotion of generally positive attitudes towards health. The message is the same, whether we are talking about drugs, alcohol, AIDS or whatever. What it boils down to is, "Stay healthy, stay in control."

We have therefore, decided that from next year we shall extend the coverage of both the education support grant and the LEA training grant scheme funding. In future, all aspects of health promotion activities within schools, colleges and the youth service will be eligible for grant. At the same time, we are increasing very substantially the amount of expenditure that can be supported. In 1990-91, we shall pay education support grant on £4 million of expenditure by LEAs, and a further £3 million of expenditure on in-service training can be supported by grant. That total of £7 million is fully £3.2 million higher--in cash terms--than the figure for the current year.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : Will some of the funds be directed at teachers to help to wean them off their drug dependency, particularly in terms of smoking? If not, it will be difficult for them to act as role models for children in schools and to get the message across.

Mr. Butcher : I would not want to create the impression that the money is simply for supporting the activities of the co-ordinators, their salaries and associated costs or simply just for training. We have stated clearly that we must give more resources for the training of teachers. I shall not barge into the area into which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) invites me about the job of teachers as role models. I do not believe that they need any lecturing about that. We should be extremely satisfied that 99.9 per cent. of our teachers take that part of their job


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seriously. I assure my hon. Friend that within the £7 million there will be room for spending on materials and on other support activities undertaken by the LEAs.

As we receive the bids from the LEAs in the coming months they may well want to do more than simply have a more intensive programme for the training of teachers and support from the ESG. They may want to adopt their own policy regarding the problems in their localities and they may have their own opinions about how their local programmes should proceed. Flexibility is therefore built in. I know that that is not the main point raised by my hon. Friend, but I believe that it meets the central issue behind his question.

I pay tribute to the drug education co-ordinators. I first came in contact with them just before Christmas and I immediately decided--I hope with their positive help and contentment--to chair workshops in which, together, we could examine the database and produce policy. I hope that the co- ordinators have been encouraged by the fact that the implementers of the measures outside are involved in the policy formation process. It is important that those who implement the measures and who seek to achieve the objectives day in, day out should feel that they can come to Whitehall and say directly to a Minister what they see going on outside and what they would like to see by way of policy initiatives.

I met those co-ordinators yesterday, but, unfortunately, I was unable to chair the full meeting because I had to be in the House in the afternoon. They made a number of suggestions, including the need to update some of the curriculum material with reference to particular substances. I readily accepted that suggestion. My officials will brief me at the end of this debate on the further outcomes of that meeting and, if need be, I can report back to the House on them.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : I understand that a report from the cross-curricula working party on health education will be published in the summer and will cover the matters that we are discussing. When is the report likely to be published and what is its relationship to this debate? The Minister may intend to mention that report and I apologise if that is the case.

Mr. Butcher : The hon. Gentleman is anticipating, and rightly so, another major aspect of this debate, which is what we say within the overt and hidden curriculum and across those curricula covering personal and social education. I shall deal with that point in a few moments.

The work of the drug education co-ordinators with schools, and of course the work of the teachers themselves, is at the heart of our strategy on health education, but we are underpinning their activities in a number of ways--the point raised by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). Right at the beginning of the Education Reform Act 1988--in section 1 of chapter 1 of part I--we have made it clear that the curriculum offered by schools must fulfil two basic requirements : it must promote

"the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils"

and it must prepare those pupils

"for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life".

That means that all schools must make sure that, either through the foundation subjects of the national curriculum or, if they so choose, by other means, young


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people are given the knowledge, attitudes and skills they will need to lead healthy lives. The importance that we attach to this was reflected in my right hon. Friend's request to the National Curriculum Council to offer advice on the place of personal and social education, including health education, in the curriculum. In due course, the NCC will offer schools guidance on this. I shall try to answer the question from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey about the timing of that proces later.

Of course, many of the requirements relating to the foundation subjects will also contribute towards those broad objectives. For example, under the science curriculum, which all schools will start to teach this autumn, young people will learn, as appropriate for their age and level of understanding, about the effects of drugs on their bodies and their minds.

The Department has also provided information and help for the schools in relation to particular topics. The booklet, "Drug Misuse and the Young", produced in 1985 as a guide to teachers and youth workers, has proved a valuable source of information and advice and we intend to update it shortly to take account of recent developments.

The resource pack, "Your Choice for Life",--I have an example available-- which incorporated a video and handbook for schools to use in teaching 14 to 16-year-olds about AIDS, was distributed to all schools with students in that age range in December 1987. Its use in schools is currently being evaluated by Bristol polytechnic for the Department. In the light of that evaluation, we shall be considering whether there is further support and help that the Department might provide to help schools get across the important messages that everyone needs to understand about HIV and AIDS.

The Department has also supported the development of curriculum materials where a need has been identified. The substantial package tabled today of curriculum materials, entitled "Drugwise", was produced by TACADE and the Health Education Authority with funding from the Department and from the Scottish Health Education Group. The pack provides help for teachers in teaching about drugs, alcohol and other mood-altering substances. It includes learning materials, from which teachers can choose the most suitable approach for their pupils, and suggestions about tackling various issues connected with drugs ; a curriculum guide to help those responsible for co-ordinating and organising curriculum content ; and a training manual which can be used either in a workshop setting or by individuals. I am glad to be able to report that, since its publication at the end of 1986, more than 5,000 of these packs have been issued to secondary schools.

The Department has also taken other opportunities to raise the awareness of schools, and of young people themselves, to issues relating to drug and alcohol abuse. As an example, a conference in February, organised by the Department with the support of the Scotch Whisky Association, brought together students, parents and teachers from 29 secondary schools to examine some of the reasons for alcohol abuse by young people, and to consider what might be done to counteract it. I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness with which the young


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people who were there approached the topic ; we took careful note of what they had to say, and we are looking carefully at some of their suggestions.

So far, I have spoken generally about drug and alcohol misuse ; and I have explained that we believe that the most effective line that schools can take is to approach these issues within the context of an overall programme of health education, emphasising the positive benefits of a healthy lifestyle. Drug-specific, shock-horror approaches in the classroom really do not seem to work. But I do not believe that it is possible to address this general topic at the moment without mentioning one specific drug in particular. As hon. Members may surmise, that drug is, of course, crack.

I do not need to tell this House how much of a problem crack is in the United States. We know all too well that it has spread in less than five years from being a little-used and little-known drug to one which is at the root of major problems in a substantial number of American cities. That must not happen here. We must learn all the lessons we can from the American experience and make sure, as much as we can, that it does not happen here.

The all-party committee on drug misuse has, I understand, received a copy of a paper which has become known as the "Stutman lecture". I understand that in his capacity as chairman of that all-party committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) may wish to make a few observations on that. I emphasise that the lecture was candid and probably off the cuff. It was delivered in London in a positive and helpful frame of mind, which seems typically American in wanting to help the United Kingdom to share the American knowledge of this matter.

Bearing in mind that it is not an academic paper--it is very much about the American experience--and that it is not an official document--I feel that while others outside the House are discussing the document, we in the House should at least be able to refer to some of the observations made in it. Obviously, we have to stay close to our own advisers and produce our own policies. However, if only a fraction of what Mr. Stutman has said is applicable to this country, we should at least take the document seriously, as a part of the input to our policy formation process. I do not know whether hon. Members have seen the document, but if not, under the clear caveat I have given about it, I am perfectly happy to place a copy in the Library, if hon. Members feel that advisable.

I turn now to some of the points made in the Stutman lecture of which we should be aware. Some may not have had much publicity in the context of crack, but, bearing in mind what I said earlier, that what we say and do in the classroom must be non-drug specific, we as legislators, opinion-- formers and policy--makers must have a clear perception of what we are dealing with if we are to help those in the classroom in the best way possible and if we are to help the co-ordinators and the voluntary bodies and to act on the advice that they are giving us about the English approach to the American experience.

Among other things, Mr. Stutman stated :

"Crack is a drug that affects females as much as males. In the United States of America about 80 per cent. of our heroin addicts are males and it has traditionally been that way. We are now finding in the United States that of all the crack addicts we have seen, about 50 per cent. of them are female. Now what does that mean if you live in a big city. It means very simply the following--that at least in the United States most inner cities families are matriarchal in nature--


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they are run by women. These are the same women who here, before, had been fairly oblivious, not touched by the heroin epidemic. They are today becoming crack addicts. And, therefore, the last vestiges of family life in the inner city, certainly in New York and in most other major cities in the United States are beginning to disappear." Mr. Stutman then deals with child abuse and states :

"child abuse cases in New York City have gone in 1986 from 2,200 reported cases to 1988, 8,000 reported cases. It has almost gone up by 400 per cent., almost all of them are the children of cocaine-crack-using parents in New York City all of the children who died because of battering, child abuse, where parents literally beat their kids to death 73 per cent. were the children of cocaine-crack-using parents. It is a drug that produces violence In a survey of 17,000 crack users in the United States the Cocaine Hotline' is going to point out that :-- 47 per cent. of those crack users had actually been involved, this is all under the influence of crack, in a physical fight : 35 per cent. had been involved in assaults with weapons, 12 per cent. had been involved in child abuse and 1 per cent. had actually been involved in murders. That is a drug that, unlike any other drug that we have ever seen, produces those kind of numbers."

There is a considerable debate in the United States and in this country about the methodology of addiction to that substance. I appreciate that the debate is intense and I offer no view of my own at this stage about who is correct. I should simply like to report the view of Mr. Stutman, who is a drug enforcement agency officer. He stated :

"of all those people who try crack three times or more, 75 per cent. will become physically addicted at the end of the third time. It is pointed out now that in most treatment centres in New York City the average crack addict is addicted within five weeks of first use."

More chillingly, the drug enforcement agency officer continues : "Right now in the United States of America every major treatment centre will agree with the following statement and, in fact, the New York Times recently did a survey in which they talked to the head of every major treatment centre in the United States. Right now in the United States crack is considered a virtually incurable addiction. Statistically, there are no treatment centres that will show any long-term remission of any statistically significant number of crack addicts So it is considered an incurable addiction in our country and yet it is a drug that of those people who try it three times, 75 per cent. become addicted. You don't have to be a mathematician to figure out you've a hell of a problem when you've got a drug like that."

I now come to the point about the lessons for us. Mr. Stutman states :

"The New York City Police Department has 29,000 police officers, about the same as the Metropolitan Police of London. When crack first started, they had about 600 officers working full time on drugs. The New York City Police Department now has 2,700 full time drug officers, just in New York City. Last year the New York Police Department and DEA, in New York City made 90,000 drug arrests. Last year in New York City our office, just the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York City seized 9,000 kilos of cocaine Now the next question is, did all of those seizures and all of those arrests make one bit of difference, and the answer is absolutely not. There is not one single corner in New York where you can't purchase crack or cocaine. Our mistake, in New York, was very simply the following. We didn't see the problem early enough and we didn't get a jump on it."

So, with the generosity and candour that I referred to earlier, Mr. Stutman said to a British audience :

"The only thing I would ask you is the following : learn from our mistakes. We have screwed up enough times to write 10,000 books, but I would hope all of you don't have to go through the same thing that we went through. Don't be like the people in Kansas, in Texas and california who said, It can't happen here.' I will make a prediction and as you all know about predictions in this business, you have got to be crazy to make them. I will personally guarantee you that two


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years from now you will have a serious crack problem, because as the gentleman before me said, we are so saturated in the United States with cocaine, there ain't enough noses left to use the cocaine that's coming in I repeat, the only thing I would ask you is the following, learn from our mistakes."

I hope that we will do so. I look forward to hearing the remarks of my hon. Friends, and I believe that we still have an opportunity that the New Yorkers no longer have--an opportunity that may also have been lost in other parts of the United States that felt that they would never have a problem.

I hope that this debate will join with the growing national consensus on our methods of ensuring that our young people do not go through misery.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : I thank my hon. Friend for reporting so fully on first-hand experience, but his remarks perhaps do not sufficiently illuminate one important aspect. Much of America's crack problem originated in New York's black community, from the West Indies, and so on. We should acknowledge that not all communities are from the start equally vulnerable. Perhaps people in Kansas and Texas, and in other states, were lulled into the belief that crack was a problem of the inner cities only. Therefore, we must ensure that the most vulnerable of our communities are those best prepared to deal with the problem at the earliest possible moment. That will involve us all in difficult work. We must ensure that it is not thought that because the crack problem is tackled in black communities, they are the cause of it.

Mr. Butcher : Earlier, I remarked that we must be cautious in interpreting and examining the American experience. Almost any generalisation is dangerous, and we should not debate the question in terms of particular sections of the community. As the Americans so openly comment, one may start with the belief that it is an inner-city problem, but in truth it rapidly affects the whole cross-section of society. I shall refer shortly to the means by which we shall stay true to our approach in the schools--the non-drug specific, stay healthy, stay in control approach. However, for the past three weeks I have been talking about the intensification of messages that we know work as the kind of defence mechanisms that our young people need.

The work already under way in our schools will provide a firm foundation for the further efforts we must make to keep crack at bay. We shall build on that foundation to ensure that schools are fully aware of the threat and are fully prepared to equip young people with the skills that they need to resist the lure of crack.

I stress that I am not advocating a different approach to crack. I am convinced that if one were to launch a specific anti-crack campaign in the classroom, one could simply be doing the pushers' job for them. Rather, we must intensify all our existing messages in the areas where young people are at risk, and ensure that schools play their part in the efforts of the community as a whole to stop crack gaining a foothold in this country.

Having briefly summarised the Government's action so far in stimulating, encouraging and supporting the development of effective drug and alcohol education in our schools, I turn to the future.

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to intervene before he leaves that point. It may have been just his delivery, but I detected in his remarks an accent on the word "classroom", in relation to


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there not being crack-specific campaigns. I hope that he accepts that there should not be crack-specific campaigns of any sort in the classroom or elsewhere.

Mr. Butcher : Yes, I do accept that. My hon. Friend was right to interpret my remarks as emphasising the work done in the classroom in particular, but when dealing with the attitudes of young people, one must bear in mind also the youth and community service--which is, in my view, a very underestimated resource. Many of our advisers and others dealing with drug policy acknowledge that one cannot reach some people through the classroom or even through the youth and community service. Those who are not visible in that way may be members of the groups most at risk. However, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we are talking about a non-drug specific message, whatever the nature of the young or youngish group of people involved.

There is reason for us to be proud of our achievements. Of course there will always be exceptions, and they hit the headlines. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that the majority of young people take a sensible and responsible attitude to alcohol and drugs. In my preliminary remarks to outline the scale of the problem, I quoted figures suggesting that perhaps 13 per cent. of young people are offered illicit drugs at some time during their teens. The good news is that the majority of that 13 per cent. are able to turn down that offer. I am convinced that that encouraging fact owes greatly to the work that is now under way in our schools.

I repeat that 100,000 practitioners of one form or another have received awareness or training programmes and know more or less what they are doing. However, we must not be complacent. They need more assistance, and we must learn from new data as they arrive. But that is not a bad record for a western European country to have achieved.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Can the Minister give an assurance that data will be kept up to date? Earlier this week, in our debate on teacher shortages it was accepted by his Department that until very recently, data on that issue were lagging considerably behind. Given the frequently changing pattern of drug use and abuse, it is vital that up-to-date data are available to make social policy judgments. How can other Departments help to ensure that such information is kept as up to date as possible?

Mr. Butcher : We have various sources of information. My colleagues at the Department of Health sponsor a major survey of the attitudes of school children that is undertaken through the Health Education Authority and Mr. John Balding in Exeter, covering about 17,000 young people a year. It monitors their changing attitudes on an annual basis, and therefore represents a very large and useful database for spotting trends and developments. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the situation can change very rapidly.

The hon. Gentleman implies that we should make available as much information as possible to the House. We all have our own sources of information, but, given that we are all united in the objective and that the only question remaining is how it can be achieved, the availability of that up-to-date database to right hon. and


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hon. Members is also important. I give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that I shall do my best to ensure that it is made available.

As many hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate, I shall briefly report to the House the existence of a 10-point plan that the Department devised. I commented that we must maintain the momentum and do everything we can to equip our young people with a mature understanding of the importance of taking a responsible approach to their own health and well- being. Therefore, our future work will be just as important as the action that we have already taken. Our 10-point plan will serve as the framework for the Department's activities over the coming year.

We shall examine, with a number of interested organisations, the possibility of providing information for parents, with the aim of engaging their interest in and support for the work undertaken by schools.

We want to look closely at the effectiveness of health education, to see whether the right messages are getting across.

We shall ensure that appropriate health education messages are integrated into the national curriculum.

We shall look closely at what has happened in other countries and see what lessons we can learn from others' successes and, indeed, their failures.

We shall look into the possibility of mobilising the private sector in support of our efforts.

We shall consider means of incorporating health education issues in courses of initial teacher training.

We shall consider whether teachers need further curriculum materials.

We shall consider how to get better information on the health-related behaviour of young people.

We shall consider, with the Department of Health, whether we can define clearer messages for young people, taking account of their varying levels of risk. For example, a different approach may be necessary for those who are known already to drink alcohol to excess.

The final point is the one on which I would like to end, although I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We owe it to our young people to make sure that they understand both the why and the how of a positive, healthy outlook on life. We must all do everything that we can and take every opportunity to get across to young people the vital message that if they are to get the most out of life, they must stay healthy and stay in control.

10.21 am


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