Previous Section Home Page

Column 671

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn. 11.22 am

Sir Fergus Montgomery : The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) in replying to the private notice question said that she felt very sorry for the people who had been cut off. I know exactly how they must feel. I was almost at the end of my speech. If the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) had not interrupted the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) on the pretext of making an intervention, when he actually made quite a long speech, I would have been finished by 11 am. Then I discovered that the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey had tabled the private notice question, so he will understand why I am not particularly keen on him this morning.

Before I was interrupted, I was referring to the fact that in America money that is confiscated from drug barons is used in the fight against drugs. Why can we not follow the same line in this country? I have raised the question on many occasions, although I am not sure how much success I have had. However, I promise to persevere. If that can be done in the United States of America, why can it not be done here?

Last year the United States Drug Enforcement Agency urged the Metropolitan police in this country to apply for £32.5 million of drug assets that had been seized with the help of the Metropolitan police's special task force which had been investigating the Brink's-Mat bullion robbery. However, the United States authorities ruled against us. They said that there was no mutual assistance agreement with Britain. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary took prompt action at the time and agreement has now been reached. Did that £32.5 million go straight to the Treasury or was it used in the fight against drugs?

Earlier this year two drug barons went to prison and assets worth £4,300,000 were seized. If that money could be used in the fight against drugs--as I believe it should be--we could do a great deal to provide extra resources to bring home to school children the folly of drug taking. Drug education is a vital programme. All hon. Members would agree that any young person who succumbs to the drug pusher is on a very slippery slope. It is essential that we back the teachers in their fight against the evils of drug and alcohol abuse. I am very glad that there is such agreement between hon. Members on both sides of the House on this very important issue today.

11.24 am

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme) : Alcohol and drug misuse are major social problems which place a massive burden on the Health Service and cause accidents, ill health and death. They are also major contributors to problems of law and order, family breakdown and industrial inefficiency.

If we are considering education in connection with those problems we must consider alcohol and drug abuse as separate problems. There has been little research into the effects of alcohol education, but what research there has been suggests that, although education programmes may have had some success in increasing knowledge about

Column 672

alcohol and harmful drinking, there is little evidence that education has altered attitudes or behaviour. That does not mean that we should not continue a programme of alcohol education in schools. It is necessary to cause young people to reflect on their attitudes towards drink. We should maintain a long-term campaign as part of the usual broad school curriculum. We should use English lessons to show the effects of drink on people's lives as described in novels. We should use health lessons to show the damage that alcohol does to the body. We should use modern studies to show alcohol's influence on the costs to industry, on advertising, the break-up of families, drink-related crime and violence. I strongly believe that we should use films of drunks to show how stupidly they behave and how foolish they look to other people. We should also target different messages in clear and simple language pointing out that it is not necessary to drink excessively to have fun.

We would be naive to expect too great short-term results from alcohol education in schools. The young are always adventurous and they experiment and seize on any oportunity to try something new and to imitate adults. The image that is often presented to young people by television and through their everyday living is that it is grown-up to drink.

Adults are part of children's education. Their image of society reflects strongly what they are taught in schools. If adults cannot maintain a higher standard of responsible drinking, the children's attitude will be that it is another case of, "Do as I say, not as I do." That message will be completely rejected.

I will not deal at length with other issues such as the need to educate adults and I will not explore too far the devastation caused by people drinking or the need to increase the price of drink. Some people believe that it is necessary to label bottles with units per measure so that people understand what they are drinking. There are also issues related to the lack of Government money for education. For example, according to the figures that I have seen, there was a tax yield of £200 a second from alcohol, but only 10p of that was spent on alcohol education.

I want to enter a plea for more and better facilities for 16 and 18-year- olds. That age group is most at risk from excessive and irresponsible drinking. If we provide more facilities for them, we would be better able to keep them out of pubs.

Some time ago I visited part of my constituency and met some young girls sitting on the pavement so I sat down with them. During our conversation I asked them why they were sitting there and they told me that they had nothing better to do. I said, "Yes, but why are you sitting here?" I was told that if they sat there the policeman would come and move them along. They would go to the other end of the village and sit by the health centre and remain there until the policeman came and moved them again. I said, "But you have a very good centre for young people in the village." They said, "We are over 16. We do not want to associate with kid's stuff. We want somewhere of our own." I said, "What would you like?" They said, " All we want is somewhere to go where we can talk to people and where we are not interfered with, pushed around or told to do this, that or the other. We want a place where we can just talk among ourselves, have some coffee or soft drinks, listen to music and just be on our own." I went to the youth centre and asked whether such a place could be

Column 673

provided. It agreed to look into the problem.

A month later, I went to another part of my constituency and met a gang of boys standing outside a shop which had an off-licence. They had been buying some drinks. Those boys had often caused a nuisance to the local people living nearby. I asked the boys why there were there. Their reply was the same : "We have nowhere else to go." I said, "Do you go into pubs?" they replied, "Oh, yes, but we are under 18 and have been thrown out of every pub in the area." I said, "What do you want?" They said, "We want somewhere to be on our own, a coffee bar, where we can talk with our friends in the warm and where no one will interfere with us." I asked the county authorities whether such a place could be provided under a new scheme that was being set up in my constituency. They replied, "We are making ample provision. There are football grounds and trampolining and flower arranging" and other such things. I thought that there was no way that I could see those lads arranging flowers. They consider themselves young adults, but we do not treat them as such. When we do not treat them in that way, we cause them to go into pubs, cause trouble and drink irresponsibly. I make a strong plea that we consider young people as young adults, not people to be slotted into categories in youth centres.

I turn to the difficulty of educating young people against the problem of drug abuse. Alcohol is a bigger problem than drugs because it is more easily acceptable and accessible. Education against drugs needs to strike a fine balance between warning and exciting young people's curiosity. It needs to consider what kinds of drugs are available in each part of the country. It is not possible to carry out a blanket campaign on drugs, as can be done with alcohol, because different parts of the country have different problems with different drugs.

A shock-horror campaign in the schools could turn away from drugs young people who were unlikely to have experimented with them anyway, but it could excite the interest of those young people who are most at risk and who have already experimented with drugs--those who, as they would say, "mess around" with drugs or solvents once or twice a month but do not see it as a problem. It is something they do out of curiosity and a sense of adventure.

Like many other people, I think that the answer must be a low-key approach, presenting facts, answering questions and saying, "This is what it does. This is how it affects your health and your family." Perhaps that could be done through an educational film that does not preach, by getting young people to talk about it as they watch and consider the problems for themselves in a quiet, responsible way--education by accepting, by saying, "Yes, drugs exist", but also by pointing out reasonably and calmly the dangers and destructive nature of drugs.

The evidence of the national anti-heroin campaign shows that it was unsuccessful in that the people on the posters looked so horrible that young people said, "My friends do not look like that", and could not relate to the warning. I am told that the posters have become collectors' items for young people. There is a need for young people to have someone in their school to whom they can talk, who would help without preaching and tell them about the local drug line and the national needle schemes, such as the one that we run in north Staffordshire. The health authorities there have pinpointed six pharmacies where a pack of five needles, syringes and three condoms can be

Column 674

given out together with advice leaflets. The object is to prevent infection and prevent the spread of AIDS. The youngsters are not asked to give their names but are issued a number on a card and are urged to return all the needles to the chemist for replacement. The campaign costs £15,000 a year--money that is exceedingly well spent. There is no evidence to show that making syringes and needles freely available increases drug use.

The "no names, no questions asked" policy ensures that the idea works because people feel free to make the exchange in safety. A logo in a chemist's window identifies where the scheme operates and prevents young people hanging around outside pharmacies afraid of being picked up by the police. The scheme will provide vital information on how many people use drugs while encouraging them to ring the druglink line for help and advice.

Above all, young people on drugs need help, and so do their families. I have heard of a family with five children one of whom started taking drugs about five years ago. He started with glue sniffing, went on to petrol sniffing and is now on lighter fuel. A few years ago, when glue sniffing was at its height, I went into a major store in my constituency and discovered a large display of glue and I also found a small shop that was selling glue and plastic bags to go with it. That was very irresponsible.

We as adults have much to answer for. The youngster who started in that way has caused his family great heartache. He is the quietest of the five children and is a very nice lad, but he gets a terrible urge to sniff those products. He takes money, buys lighter fuel, goes out into a field, where he will sleep rough for a number of days to be away from his family, and then returns to his home looking devastated. His mother is at her wits' end. She does not know how she can help him. If more young people realised what can happen so easily as a result of starting to sniff glue, fewer young people would be encouraged to experiment just once or twice a month.

There should be a national evaluation scheme that considers reports from all education agencies. We should devote much more time, effort and money to the well-being of our children. We should educate them in school for life, for the problems that they will face in the outside grown-up world and for the temptations that will face them. Above all, we should give them the strength of character and the knowledge to make the right choices.

11.37 am

Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes) : I welcome the debate. I do not believe that any other hon. Members have as yet said so specifically. This debate on an extremely important subject is taking place in Government time. No subject bearing on any aspect of life is more important than the prevention of alcohol and drug misuse. I commend the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) on his support for the Government's activities and on his commendable restraint in not falling into the trap, into which we all fall from time to time, of asking indiscriminately for more Government cash. The hon. Gentleman made an important point when he said that alcohol misuse might now be less threatening among the young. I hope that he is right, but I feel from personal observation--which is not like a statistical base-- that he may be over-optimistic.

It is certainly true that smoking is growing among the young. If we have a few contemporaries in for a few drinks

Column 675

or dinner at our home, there is hardly a stub in an ash tray, but if we have young people in for drinks and dinner, there is not an ash tray that is not chock-a-block.

Among the young, there is also the growing threat of drug misuse, which seems to be growing every day.

Mr. Fatchett : I hope that I am not being over-optimistic. I realise that the figures are short term and may be contradicted as time goes on, but there is some evidence of an increase in the consumption of non- alcoholic drinks and good evidence that young people do not feel that it is wrong to consume non-alcoholic drinks in pubs. That is positive. On the down side--and the hon. Gentleman may refer to this later--there is a practice building up, in contradistinction, that young people go out to consume a great amount of beer and get drunk, and they may also get drunk on odd combinations of drink. That is worrying.

Mr. Rathbone : We are in accord on that. The consumption of non- alcoholic drinks is, thank goodness, so often tied to a better appreciation of the dangers of mixing any sort of drinking with driving.

The scale of the threat of the problem of drug misuse cannot be over- emphasised. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the speech given recently by a member of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency at a meeting of the Association of Chief Police Oficers and he extracted some worrying comments and statistics from that speech. I want to refer to it, too, and make two additional comments to illustrate the extent of the threat from that horrible new cocaine derivative, crack. The Drug Enforcement Agency officer said that in the past three and a half years, crack has grown from a drug which was virtually unheard of to the main drug of abuse in the largest cities of the United States. However, it is not confined to the large cities, but affects all kinds of people--black, white, Hispanic, rich and poor. It has moved out of the ghetto and now affects suburban America. Those are the characteristics of the drug which could so easily be found here.

My hon. Friend the Minister quoted part of the speech and it was interesting that he stopped his quotation after making the emphatic point about the threat from cocaine. However, I want to pick up the speech from the end of my hon. Friend's quotation. He ended at the point where the officer said :

"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." The officer went on :

"That leads to a very reasonable example of the difference between two cities near New York, Washington DC and Boston Massachusetts, they are both equal distance from New York, 200 miles, they both have large inner city populations, they both have big cocaine users. Three years ago, the Mayor of Boston came to my office. He said "I'm worried about crack." We talked about it, we went up, we trained their police officers, he increased the size of his drug unit, he set up task forces from which information came from the street to the top immediately. They did away with parochialism, they started drug education in school systems and they started community education across the city and today Boston has a very minor crack problem. They have a problem sure, but a very minor one. At the same time we talked to the people in Washington DC and there the answer was-- Don't bother us we can't worry about this crack stuff.' "

Column 676

We see illustrated vividly how if one takes steps and appreciates the threat early enough, one can intervene in the growth of the use that awful drug. That is a message we must take to heart. Another point to note from that short extract is that of all the actions that the officer identified in Boston, he did not mention any propaganda campaign. The city did not make a self-satisfied, self-gratifying public example of what it was doing. It was precise and targeted its efforts, and tackled the drug menace in that way.

However, we are not talking only about the problems of crack, although drug pushers who traditionally dealt only in marijuana are switching to coke and crack and, of course are still pushing heroin. There was an example in Wembley only yesterday. The drug ecstasy is a home-produced drug. The drugs squad raided a flat in Wembley and found a factory in the kitchen which had created 10,000 pills worth £300,000. In the Manchester Evening News earlier this week, there was a report of a young girl of 16 who died after taking ecstasy. The same threat comes from amphetamines, which have not been mentioned in the debate so far. There is not only a growing threat from crack, but an existing threat of hard drugs such as heroin, ecstasy and amphetamines.

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) was the first in this debate to mention glue and the sniffing of solvents. I was talking to a nursery school teacher only last week and she explained that she had noticed that a half-dozen or so children in her nursery class had great blisters on their noses. She talked to the children and obtained their co- operation so that she could go home with them and talk to their parents. Believe it or not, not only could she not get co-operation from the parents, but she could not get them to admit that their children were sniffing glue. She was faced with the visible evidence of what was going on and, she went on to explain, it was peculiar to find half a dozen children in a nursery class zonked out because they had been sniffing glue. In 1987, the latest year for which we have statistics, 111 children died from solvent-related abuse. It is a widespread problem.

Drug abuse is an international problem. The last time we discussed the problem, I drew the House's attention to one aspect of its internationality, which is the job being done in the Council of Europe and in particular, through the Pompidou Group of Ministers. I remind the House and the Minister that the Social, Health and Family Affairs committee of the Council of Europe, of which I am pleased to be a member, requested the Committee of Ministers on 4 October 1988 :

"to step up co-operation in prevention efforts between the Council of Europe, WHO and the European Community, in the framework of pilot projects aimed at health education in schools and the community, while keeping the Assembly duly informed on the progress of these projects".

The Committee of Ministers adopted its reaction to the report in December 1988 and reported back to the Assembly on 3 April 1989. It said :

"The Committee of Ministers wishes to inform the Assembly that an interim evaluation report has been established on the education for health pilot projects aimed at preventing dependence, which will continue in 1989. The interim report, which is very positive, shows that the model education for health project prepared by the European Health Committee in 1984 is workable and is welcomed by schools and local authorities."

The Committee is to be informed of the Assembly's interest in these projects and in the follow-up to them. I

Column 677

hope that, in drawing up his 10-point plan as an extension of what is already happening in this country the Minister has drawn on whatever wisdom there may be in that report from the Council of Europe.

Although drug and alcohol misuse are international problems, local activity is needed to come to grips with them. I propose to outline the way in which my local county council has tackled the problem. I shall do so with pride and because, having studied the matter extensively, I believe that its approach provides a good example of how to go about things in the right way. It may, therefore, help other hon. Members in discussing their own worries with their county councils.

In 1985, the East Sussex drugs advisory council was founded. It brought together representatives of health, education, social services, the Churches, the police and key voluntary agencies, and it provided a forum for the agreement on the education principles that should be adopted. That was an immensely important step.

The three principles are as follows :


(substance abuse education should not stand alone but form an integral part of personal, social and health educational programmes"--)

that was a thread that ran through the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme-- "(ii

long-term effectiveness can only come from an encouragement--through this and other educational processes--of self-esteem, respect for self and others, responsible decision making ;


educational programmes must therefore be frank and factual, recognising the counter pressures in society and individuals" (

Following the establishment of the ESDAC, in 1986 East Sussex was one of the first authorities to seek and obtain education support grant assistance for the post of a drugs education co-ordinator. It is always invidious to mention individuals by name when it is so much a group effort, but I must mention Jan Masters, who has been our drugs education co-ordinator for a considerable time and has done the most marvellous job. I am sure that in his meeting with drugs education co-ordinators, my hon. Friend the Minister will have been struck by her character and leadership, as all those in East Sussex have been struck by her qualities.

Following that appointment, the county council agreed a year later to appoint an advisory teacher to work in primary schools, and a third person to work in further education and youth matters. The three staff have worked closely together as a team and have delivered extensive programmes of in- service education for teachers across the whole education spectrum. The programmes have been followed up in schools and colleges by the advisory teacher.

The team has recognised that training programmes and methods need to be tailored to individual schools and colleges, but the consistent message remains that successful personal, social, health and substance abuse education can cross traditional subject boundaries and can enhance the quality of subject teaching. That highlights the need to continue to encourage the crossing of traditional subject boundaries. Some 120 primary schools in the county have enthusiastically revised their teaching programmes on health to incorporate consideration of substance abuse, and the demand from teachers to take part in training workshops cannot even be met. Those

Column 678

schools represent approximately 50 per cent. of primary schools in the county and I believe that that compares pretty well with performance elsewhere in the country.

A development that was welcomed by many secondary schools was the introduction into the early years of the secondary curriculum of the skills for adolescents programme of personal education with an emphasis on self- esteem and responsible decision-making. Every secondary school has taken part, with the financial assistance of Lions Club International--an extremely good example of the valuable interest of the voluntary sector in such activities.

All the county's further education colleges have now established health education programmes and are moving steadily towards making health education, including substance abuse education, part of the curriculum of every student. The team has welcomed its inevitable involvement in personal, social and health education generally rather than attempting to deal with substance abuse in isolation. Concern over AIDS and its links with drugs and the place of alcohol in irresponsible behaviour have also been included. Everyone wholeheartedly welcomes the emphasis that is now being given to personal, social and health education in the planning of the national curriculum.

It is interesting to note--I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of it--that education has contributed to, as well as benefited from, the function. As one might expect, there was a key educational input into the development of the unique multidisciplinary training package on drugs. More than 300 East Sussex people--youth workers, GPs, nurses, social workers, teachers, probation officers, solicitors, midwives, police officers and many others--have already undertaken the two-day course. The education service has been able to integrate its approach to substance abuse to include alcohol. The pump-priming in relation to drugs, especially in health education, has been invaluable and a parallel agency is now being established to deal with alcohol. There has been wide support from the probation service, the police, the health authority and the county, borough and district councils, although the participants cannot bring the pump- priming spur to joint activity that was available when ESDAC was first set up. The need for new impetus in the training of teachers is ever-present. That is why I was delighted to hear the Minister's announcement of his 10- point plan and of the additional funds that are to be made available.

In my remarks about ESDAC I mentioned some voluntary organisations. I must also mention two other groups of people who have made a contribution. The first is the wine and spirits business. I am sure that I am not alone in having received earlier this week an announcement from International Distillers and Vintners Ltd. of a major initiative by British drink companies to promote the concept of responsible drinking and to help to prevent alcohol misuse. That sounds like a worthwhile initiative. A formal body is to be set up this autumn. Dr. John Rae a former headmaster of Westminster school, has been appointed its director and is taking up his position later this year. The aim of the new body will be :

"to work closely with the Government, local authorities, the police, and voluntary bodies to research the complex reasons behind alcohol abuse and to advise on practical measures to encourage sensible and responsible drinking."

That is a worthwhile enterprise. The letter continues :

Column 679

"As a precursor to the formal launch of the new body, we are also announcing a special training initiative for pub licensees and their staff aimed at helping them prevent irresponsible and inappropriate drinking and the problems associated with it, such as rowdy and violent behaviour, under age drinking and drink driving." That is a worthy initiative and a good illustration of how an industry can make a contribution.

Is the pharmaceutical industry making a suitable contribution? It is an open-ended question, and I do not know the answer. If it is making a contribution, I should like to know more about it. If it is not, perhaps this debate will be a spur to it to do so.

Other organisations such as the Churches are playing a part and are co- operating in organising and operating drug advisory services through boards of social responsibility. I refer to the Jewish Social Workers Association and the Jewish and Christian youth movements. There is a special responsibility to instil traditional values in parents and children in such a way that young people do not feel alienated from society and seek satisfaction in the misuse of legal drugs such as alcohol or illegal drugs across the spectrum from crack to solvents. The Churches are playing a welcome part.

When hon. Members last applied themselves to the subject of drug abuse, I mentioned Life education centres. For the interest of hon. Members, the first Life education centre was established in Australia in 1979. They have more recently come to this country. Life education centres are operating throughout the small area of the Isle of Man, extensively in Essex, and in pilot projects elsewhere in the country. Life education centres offer preventive drug abuse programmes for children from the ages of five to 15. Life education is essentially prevention, not intervention. It is intended to complement existing health educaton in schools. The programme is aimed to educate children in the positive aspects of being alive. Effective drug education cannot be left until adolescence, as children's attitudes are formed long before then.

The programmes relate to all forms of drugs, legal and illegal, and provide children with an awareness of themselves through getting to know the incredible function of the human body, particularly how and why its delicate equilibrium is affected by substances and can quickly be put completely off the rails by them. Life education is a positive approach. Life education centres and others have found that horror tactics are unsuccessful and counterproductive. The Life education philosophy focuses on creating a sensitivity to values and behavour, which leads to an understanding and appreciation of human life. The programmes develop children's decision-making skills, build self-esteem, assist with values clarification, and develop a variety of skills necessary to the promotion of health education and the prevention of drug abuse.

Life education centres provide a progressively graded series of programmes for children from five to 15. Each programme deals with a different theme, the idea being that a trip to the Life education centre is an integral part of each school year, and the programmes work together as a structured series following a child's mental and social development. Life education involves pupils, teachers and parents in a positive approach to drug education at primary and secondary level. Most important and,

Column 680

perhaps, reassuringly for everybody is that the programmes are continually professionally evaluated, and each evaluation has shown exciting and positive results. The evaluations are available for hon. Members who are interested to see them. I will ask the Library staff whether they will store information on Life education centres so that hon. Members can use them as a point of reference.

As my hon. Friend the Minister appreciates, Life education centres can make a dramatic contribution to drug education programmes in this country and most particularly to the carefully targeted programmes that the Government are now planning to meet and counter the threat of crack.

I commend the Government's commitment to the fight against drug misuse, production and trafficking, and their efforts in encouraging prevention and improving treatment. I also commend the Minister's vigorous contribution to that fight in the important battlefield of the health education of our young. I welcome his 10-point plan and the extra moneys that he has announced today. I hope that he will take back to the interdepartmental ministerial meetings that he will attend--I believe that there is to be another meeting next week--the comments that have been made in this debate and the importance that the House attaches to education. Unless we win the battle and reduce and, eventually, eliminate demand for illicit drugs, the fabric of our society, our values, our relationships and even our freedoms will remain at risk. That is the true importance of the debate. 12.6 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie) : My comments will directly follow those of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone). I will talk mainly about crack and other illicit drugs, drawing heavily upon the experience of the Home Affairs Select Committee which recently visited Washington and El Paso to see the American experience, and highlighting the threat that we face.

There is no doubt that the battle against drugs can be won only through education. I am sure that the hon. Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) will also refer to this matter. Our visit to the Mexican border vividly illustrated to us what is happening in America. A strange tourist attraction is to see illegal immigrants crossing the border. It is an admission that there can be no containment. The Americans and the Mexicans have come to an informal agreement that a certain number of holes will be left in the border fence. If the Americans continue to seal the fence where the wire cutters have been, the maintenance costs would become too great. Whatever was in the illegal immigrants' lunch boxes was nothing compared with the container lorry loads parked just across the border. There is no mechanism for adequately checking what is in the containers. The problem in America was illustrated to us also by the head of the United States coast guard which, to my amazement, is the twelfth largest navy in the world. We were told, "All we have is two four-hour planes. When those planes come down, the illicit planes fly in or drop boats. There is nothing that we can do. All we are about is containment-plus. We cannot stop the supply." Nothing adequate can be done in countries such as Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. People talk about getting rid of the coca plant, but there are considerable problems in

Column 681

doing that. Many drug-growing areas are not under the control of Governments. We are talking about valleys the size of Wales producing coca.

There are enormous environmental problems about a herbicide war on the coca plant. Some economies learnt to depend on illicit drugs, and one simply cannot abolish those economies by diktat of the CIA. One must face up to the fact also that, even if the will is there, the law enforcement agencies do not have the techniques to get rid of the product of the coca plant. We saw a body which was trying to train the Colombians and the Peruvians in a criminal justice system. One section of the course was entitled "Creating alternatives to confession". There is no tradition of collecting evidence to bring people to trial.

In the United States a huge amount of the steam has gone out of supply-side solutions. The Americans, especially the police forces, are saying that the answer is not to have more police, but must be in demand reduction. They know that they are losing the battle. No matter what they do, the potential is there for the people controlling drugs to ensure that as much of a drug gets into the country as is demanded. We are deluding ourselves if we think that the situation is any different in this country. If the decision is made by those controlling the drugs that this country will receive drugs, this country will receive them. That can be stopped only if our people are educated enough and sensible enough in the widest sense not to create a demand and a price for the drugs.

The extent of the horror of the situation in the United States has been referred to by other hon. Members. The statistic that most appalled me was the fact that in the United States last year 375,000 babies were born addicted to drugs. It was difficult to get people to be specific about what that meant, but it basically meant that 375, 000 children that year were born with long-term physical and mental defects. The cost of that to the state, apart from the humanitarian issues, is colossal.

Mr. Baldry : One can go to children's wards in hospitals in the United States, as the Select Committee did, and can find a whole ward that is full of children who have been born to drug-addicted parents and who have serious drug problems from birth.

Mr. Worthington : Absolutely, because the horrifying significance of crack is the extent to which a small majority of the users are women. While they are addicted to crack, as they will probably continue to be, there is no way in which they can look after their babies. So there is the phenomenon of what they call boarder babies--those who will have to be maintained by the state or private agencies for the foreseeable future.

There are changing attitudes in the United States about how to deal with that enormous problem. One of the major changes is that they used to be much softer on the user as against the pusher of drugs. The emphasis is now changing, because they are saying that the user is the motor of the system ; the user is the one who creates the demand. Also, the ludicrous idea that drug-taking is a victimless crime has been abandoned. What one did with one's own body was a matter of civil liberties and one should not, for the sake of civil liberties, intervene in that. It is certainly not a victimless crime, and I shall return to that subject later.

All over the United States we were warned that a second front was to be opened up in Europe, because of

Column 682

the soft entry points into Europe, such as through Spain, Italy and Holland. The sums of money that can be used to promote the market are astronomical. United States customs officers talked in terms of literally hundreds of millions of dollars being moved around in Britain. We must defend our physical borders as well as possible, however many drugs the traffickers want--not just crack, but other drugs.

A striking menu of drugs is now available. One should not forget that other events are occurring. The conflicting events of peace in Afghanistan and war in Burma have increased the amount of opium being produced in the world. We should not, therefore, get obsessed with crack.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : It is a long haul from the coca-producing valleys in the central American republics to the Clyde. Is it not the case that, while all forms of drug abuse are serious, crack is not a serious problem in our constituencies and that a much more serious problem is that of alcohol abuse?

Mr. Worthington : I am sure that my hon. Friend will make that point at greater length later. I am not denying that an infinitely greater problem than crack in the areas that we both represent is alcohol abuse. One reason for my concern is that we are coping so appallingly at present with our current addictions that the last thing that we want is another major addiction in this country. We are rightly being warned to bear in mind that the capacity for crack to get into the country is almost limitless. We will not be able to stop it if there is a demand for it.

Of course, the problem is that drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco and especially cannabis, are gateway drugs. When people use mood-altering drugs of any kind, their receptiveness to other drugs is much greater. It is relatively rare for drug takers to be non-smokers or non-drinkers. There are boundaries there that have been broken down in terms of mood alteration, of which we should be aware. I should mention our response to those people who become addicted. Here I would want to break the cross- party friendliness, which has so far characterised the debate, because I believe that the Government are in danger of going down the wrong road in terms of their emphasis on punishment within the community. Reference has been made to the sheer difficulty of dealing with people who are addicted, whether it be to crack, to cocaine, or to alcohol. However, it is absolutely certain that the answer is not punishment. All research has shown that punishment for users is counter-productive. It intensifies their lack of self-esteem and even their self-woe.

One of the few encouraging signs in Washington was the second Genesis project, which has survived now for 20 years. We saw there some element of success in its work, which was essentially on the basis of trying to help people to realise that they were not victims of the world--they were not people who simply had things happen to them--and to help them to become favourable change agents. It helps them to realise that their lives and their actions can be worthwhile. We are not even at first base in the provision of such facilities. If the emphasis in our criminal justice system is simply on punishment, we are deluding ourselves if we think that that will deal with the victims of drugs.

Because of the failure of the supply-side mechanisms, we need to put the emphasis on education in the widest sense. It is not good enough for the Government to lock

Column 683

themselves into bureaucratic departmental categories when they say that they are doing something in the schools. Many of our schools, particularly large secondary schools, are not part of communities. The catchment areas for such schools are large and students go home to a completely different area. We must ensure that our education work continues in those areas rather than just in the schools. As other hon. Members have said, education must not only be directed at particular drugs in our society, but must recognise that our society is drug-ridden. Many people are dependent upon sleeping pills, amphetamines and other means to obtain the illusion of contented life. Those drugs, as well as the more dramatic drugs, are part of the same phenomenon.

We must face up to the illusion that drug-taking is a victimless crime. The user, or abuser, through his demand for the drug, is the motor and the cause of a drug trafficking system. The demand for drugs acts as a stimulant for organised crime on a scale that we simply cannot comprehend. The Select Committee on Home Affairs is extremely worried about the extent to which drug money has got into the orthodox banking system and has not been stopped.

The cost of enforcing the drug laws is considerable. The link between drugs and AIDS is becoming ever more clear. We have already heard about the cost of the health care of children born addicted to drugs. There is evidence to suggest that when drugs get into a community child abuse escalates. We must appreciate the scale of the problem, and we must appreciate that the attitude of the user is the cause of that problem. If people are taking drugs, we must avoid simple punitive measures, and we must encourage methods by which they can recover.

Much more emphasis must be put on long-term, community development work. I have no doubt that the areas in which drugs become entrenched are those where the people feel rootless and do not feel accountable for each other's actions. My hon Friend the Member for

Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) has already referred to ineffective youth work. She spoke of the basic demand to provide simple accommodation where young people could rest and meet rather than being treated as nuisances and asked to move on. In recent years there has been far too little emphasis on the need for good community development and good youth work. In Strathclyde areas have managed to pull themselves up by their boot straps because of such community work. The work was not described as "anti- drug" ; to highlight the issue in such a way is often counter-productive. A byproduct of stimulating the tenants' organisations, good youth work and ensuring that support is given to single parents is that the people in those areas feel valued and involved rather than distanced from mainstream life. Those areas, therefore, have been able to defend themselves against the incursion of drugs.

I accept that the work done in schools is valued and valuable, but I appeal to the Minister to stress the importance of long-term, intensive community development work in his dealings with the interdepartmental unit on drugs, chaired, I believe, by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department. Such work should not be headlined as "anti-drug". It should be about accepting

Column 684

that many of our communities and their people have become rootless. In such areas people feel that they do not have a contribution to make.

In Washington one appreciated that for many of the young blacks the choice was between working for $3 an hour as a burger boy or becoming a small- scale pusher. The material rewards of such work dwarf what is available in the orthodox system. In too many areas of Britain it is difficult to convince young people that there is an orthodox, legal, licit way to obtain satisfaction from life. They do not believe that because of their poor living conditions and lack of job opportunities. We must, therefore, put the emphasis not just on school-based work, but on community-based work. I hope that the Minister will take that on board.

12.26 pm

Next Section

  Home Page