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Mr. Bruce: Does the Minister acknowledge that solvent abuse is killing more young people than all other forms of drug abuse combined? More serious than that is evidence that the abuse of solvents is much more widespread than is generally known. The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State received a letter from me following representations from my constituent Lorraine Morrice, whose son Colin tragically died after
Column 306inhaling lighter fuel. Can the Minister assure the House that he will be making representations to increase awareness among young people of the risks of solvent abuse? Will he ensure that lighter fuel manufacturers put a proper warning on cans, and that shopkeepers are properly prosecuted if they sell solvents when they know that they are to be used for abusive purposes?
The hon. Gentleman has a considerable constituency interest in the charity Re-Solv. Meetings have taken place with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about the possibility of its receiving a grant; a statement will be made soon, and the matter is being viewed sympathetically.
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's aim in regard to warning labels. There is, however, a danger that an interest in solvents could be aroused in young persons. We are considering the issue, and a report will be published by the prevention working group of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, whose recommendations we shall examine immediately and carefully. We also have many educational programmes, including videos, to increase awareness of the problem. "Solvents: A Parent's Guide" was published earlier this year, along with "Drugs and Solvents: You and Your Child". We are doing all that we can to get the dangers across to those concerned through the medium of education.
Mr. David Marshall: Can the Minister say how successful the Solvent Abuse (Scotland) Act 1983--taken through the House by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston--has been in dealing with the serious problem of solvent abuse among young people? How much priority does his office give that worrying problem?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on taking the Bill through the House. I believe that it has had an effect: the figures are clearly much too high, but they have fallen in recent years. We must build on that with a strong programme of educational measures. The "Drugwise 2" educational package for 10 to 14-year-olds has been distributed free of charge to all primary and secondary schools in Scotland.
Lady Olga Maitland: Does my hon. Friend agree that solvent abuse is not unique to Scotland? Nationally, two children a week die from it, and three quarters of a million are known to be experimenting with solvents. Does my hon. Friend agree that industry too has a role to play, and that it should be encouraged to carry out research into suitable solvent substitutes that are safe?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: It is certainly very desirable for industries that make solvents that could be misused to conduct research, and to act as responsibly as possible. If the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce)--or anyone else--has any information about shopkeepers who sell youngsters substances for which they can have no legitimate use, he should bring that information to the attention of the police so that the appropriate steps can be taken.
Mr. Stewart: Methods of charging for water and sewerage services will be a matter for the new authorities. Their charges schemes will need to be approved by the Customers Council or, failing that, by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
Mr. Worthington: That is simply not good enough. At present, ability to pay is taken into account by reference to reduced council taxes and the size of people's houses. In England and Wales, by Government diktat, it is not possible to take council tax information into account in setting charge levels. Unless the new water authorities are given access to such information, they will not be able to take ability to pay into account. That will mean that the water charges of the lowest-paid workers--the worst off in the country--will double. What will the Secretary of State do to prevent that from happening?
Mr. Stewart: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that subject. Where the new councils are required to collect household charges in Scotland, as is proposed in the first year, the arrangements will mirror those for council tax, including the single-person discount. I believe that that makes practical and administrative sense and will ensure an easy and efficient form of collection, and I am glad to be able to reassure not only the hon. Gentleman but the whole House on that important point.
Mr. Graham: Is the Secretary of State aware of a recent university research study that shows that Inverclyde has one of the worst poverty rates and is one of the worst deprivation areas? Will he ensure that none of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) and myself is cut off from the life-giving supply of water or the ability to clean with water?
Mr. Stewart: I can make it absolutely clear yet again to the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, has made clear, that water and sewerage authorities in Scotland have no power to disconnect water supplies because of non-payment. The new legislation, which has been passed by the House, affirms that position in relation to the new water and sewerage authorities.
Mr. Gallie: Is my hon. Friend aware that, in the past 30 years, Strathclyde regional council has failed to supply my constituents in Ayr with adequate sewerage facilities? If, at this late stage, the council proposes new capital schemes, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that those schemes are called in by the Scottish Office pending the taking over of the water authorities by the new water and sewerage boards?
Mr. Stewart: My hon. Friend anticipates the answer to his question No. 20, and he will receive that in writing later this afternoon. I say to him at this stage that, first, I entirely appreciate his anxiety on that issue, which I think is absolutely genuine. However, it is, in the first instance,
Column 308for Kyle and Carrick district council, as planning authority, to determine Strathclyde regional council's application.
Mr. George Robertson: Is the Minister aware that his refusal to guarantee that Scottish water bills will not climb to the astronomic levels being experienced in England and Wales is a revealing giveaway of the real agenda involved in quangoising Scotland's water? Given that the Chancellor has not yet said how he will fill the humiliating hole in his finances caused by the Government's defeat last night on VAT on fuel, and given that the Prime Minister himself would not rule out, in a letter to me in June, the possibility of putting VAT on water bills, will the Minister, this afternoon, give an absolute guarantee that VAT will not be put on Scottish water bills--or will that be yet another of the new Tory taxes from which we are already suffering?
Mr. Stewart: I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, as I have made clear on many occasions, that, as a result of the need for new investment in water and sewerage--which was widely recognised as necessary--in Scotland water bills will have to increase.
In general terms, however, I must say to the hon. Gentleman, in relation to the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994, that he told the public that the Bill would be stopped because he was the master of the Maastricht rebels; he was wrong in that. He said that the Bill would not get through; he was wrong about that. He said that implementation of the Bill would be delayed; he was wrong about that.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong again. In fact, the only difference between the hon. Gentleman and the grand old Duke of York is that the grand old Duke of York led his men up to the top of the hill before marching them down. The hon. Gentleman could not get his team half way up the hill before they slipped down.
12. Mr. Bellingham: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received in respect of driftnet fishing for salmon off the east coast; and if he will make a statement.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro): Representations from angling and conservation interests continue to be received against the salmon driftnet fishery off the north- east coast of England.
Mr. Bellingham: When the Minister leaves the Chamber will he go to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and tell his colleagues that they are procrastinating? Surely the time has come to ban, with compensation, the north-east driftnet fishery and all driftnetting in European waters. That is the only way to stop illegal Irish netting off the west coast of Scotland. Surely salmon that migrate into Scottish rivers should be allowed to go through to those rivers to benefit the local communities.
Sir Hector Monro: I appreciate the strength of my hon. Friend's feeling--he ensures that he makes it known every Question Time. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is aware of the strong views held by Scottish Office Ministers because of the effect of salmon returning to Scottish rivers to spawn and the economic
Column 309impact on Scottish towns where angling is carried out. That is why we are so concerned that the right decision--with the scientific evidence to back it up--should be taken. The number of licences has been reduced to 114 through the net limitation order, and we are having continuing discussions. The driftnet fishery in the Bay of Biscay and off the south-west approaches is being discussed by the European Union fishing committee and will be a matter for discussion at the next meeting later this month.
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