HC Deb 31 May 1968 vol 765 cc2317-39

11.6 a.m.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

I want to raise the question of whether we are doing all that we should be doing by way of guidance in schools about dangerous drugs.

I accept at once that there are some difficult judgments to be made here. It is possible to argue various propositions. It is arguable whether information, particularly wrong information, stimulates curiosity; it is arguable whether it is better to guide teachers and leave them to guide children or better to attempt direct communication with the children; and it is arguable whether guidance given should be limited to areas where drugs are known to be a problem or whether preventive education should be extended to all areas.

All these are matters that we have argued about for a long time, and perhaps it is time to reach decisions. My main purpose today is to suggest that the time has come for some firm conclusions and some action on them.

I think it beyond argument that there is already a very serious problem here. We are not simply talking about young people of under the age of 21 in terms of criminal statistics. A number of the young involved here are of school age— between 13, or occasionally even lower, and 16. It is very difficult to quantify, but we are not without some evidence of the extent of the problem in the schools. Quite apart from the impression that one gets talking to people, certain amount of solid evidence is coming in from the results of a survey carried out last year in 65 districts all outside Central London. It was very thorough, and its findings were very disturbing. As the Minister will probably know, it was a survey undertaken by the Women's Group on Public Welfare associated with the National Council of Social Services.

It is important to stress the responsible status of the group. It consists of representatives of some 50 national women's organisations and other voluntary organisations. It was founded by Miss Margaret Bondfield in 1939. In this instance the inquiry was conducted through the Standing Conferences of Women's Organisations, of which there are 111 in England and Wales. Sixty-five of these conferences took part in the inquiry. They conducted it very thoroughly. They consulted medical officers of health, doctors, police, probation officers, and so on, in their localities. One conclusion that they reached was that drug taking among young people is already a serious problem in this country, and is on the increase.

I have always felt that drug taking among school children is by far the grimmest feature of this epidemic. I have come to learn a little about the whole field and now accept that over much of it we have to reconcile ourselves to a policy of containing the spread as far as we can and maintaining the victims, or at least some of them. Creators and enforcers of the law here have to realise their limitations. But children stand at risk and I think that even the most permissive members of our society would accept that there are clear obligations towards them which we are failing to discharge.

I assume that the hon. Gentleman has had a chance to see the report. It was thorough and disciplined. It is never satisfactory to have to try to convey to the House the contents of a thorough and disciplined report. But I will give the salient facts objectively.

Out of the 65 districts investigated, 37 offered no concrete evidence of drug taking—the survey was completed about nine months ago—while 20 districts submitted positive evidence of drug taking in local schools, which is a proportion of almost one-third. Drug taking by school children was described as not very widespread in nine districts; in 11 districts it was a serious problem. Thus, in one district in six of those investigated, drug taking among children was shown to be a serious problem. If London had been included, I fear that the result proportionately would have been a good deal worse.

Between the lines of the report, there is a good deal of other disturbing evidence. What are we to make of the unnamed county where the head of the drugs squad reported that, after a case involving the death of a girl from drug taking, the incidence of drug offences in her town rose. I quote one main conc-clusion from the report: Four things stand out from the inquiry. The acquiescence of too many parents to teenagers being out all night; the strange anomaly, in a country where premises selling liquor are strictly controlled, that coffee clubs and bars are allowed to stay open all night; the extent to which school teachers have tried to help by learning what they should be on the look out for—symptoms, vulnerable personalities, the dangerous social activities of their pupils out of school hours, and so on. The fourth is not relative to the debate, by the third takes us to the heart of the subject. I am convinced that school teachers are only too anxious to make a contribution here. I hear from many of them that they want to help, but some of them are desperately in need of better informed guidance than they are getting now.

I have come to the conclusion that the right approach is, "Trust the teachers". Give the teachers the facts and the guidance and leave the rest to their discretion. That is the right answer to what I know has been a burning question in the Department, and which is discussed in the report, of how far preventive education should go. I say that we should leave it to the teachers. I am supported in this view by Dr. Anthony Wood, of Bristol, with whom I discussed this and whose booklet, "Drug Dependance", has deservedly become a best seller among organisations and teachers and others concerned with this matter and who want to be informed.

When we settle for teachers' discretion we answer another question widely discussed. This is how wide the instruction should go. Few districts can consider themselves totally immune from the problem and, therefore, ignore it. None can be omitted. All are to a greater or lesser degree at risk. It is the natural inclination to suppose that the districts closest to London or the big conurbations are the greatest risk, but surprisingly enough, the evidence shows that the problem arises even in predominantly rural areas, where one might have expected not to find this sort of trouble.

I think that teachers everywhere have to accept that, for the time being—and they already do accept it—this form of instruction has to be added to their burden, for how long we do not know. It is no secret that a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Dangerous Drugs has considered this matter and has made certain recommendations. There is a view, which must be weighed, that, as well as anything else that may be done, teachers' information should be conveyed direct to the young people in some form. I think that this view feels that young people who are not consulted about these things become resentful.

There is more than one way of dealing with the matter. Some of the independent schools have gone about it in this way. They have sessions between the headmaster or master or mistress responsible and perhaps a dozen or 20 leaders of the school, leaving it to those school leaders to do a good deal of the surveillance and help by example. That is quite a good approach.

It is also questionable whether this should be done within the general context of health education, or whether it should be confined to the particular subject. I believe that this, again, could be left to head teachers or teachers themselves. If need be, we could provide material and they could decide whether it should be read by the children direct or not. I recognise and acknowledge one particular difficulty in that Ministers are still awaiting the report, which will come from another subcommittee of the Advisory Committee, about this difficulty in relation to canabis and L.S.D. The hon. Gentleman probably knows the stage which has been reached.

The argument is that, if we mislead the young people now with incomplete information, we shall lose their confidence, and therefore we must wait until we can give full guidance to those responsible. That is not an insuperable barrier to providing some guidance now. It would be more convincing if one big authority, the Inner London Education Authority, had not already demonstrated sensible limited action as being possible. It has given a disguised lead.

I have a copy of the advice it sent out to head teachers at the beginning of last year in a circular with an appendix. What is important about it is that it has since been followed up. In February this year, there were two whole day conferences for heads and other teachers, one for each side of the river in London. These conferences ostensibly were on health education and covered the whole subject but in the morning session half the time was devoted to drugs and the other half to sex.

I understand from the authority that these sensible conferences are to be followed up by divisional conferences. Surely this is a wise approach. If it is, ought not other local education authorities to be doing more and should they not be encouraged to do the same? Perhaps some are. I know of one which is. But what advice are they getting about this from the Department? Ought not conferences on health education, with drugs as an essential feature, to be now part of a national programme?

I am not suggesting that local education authorities all need prodding by the Department but it should by now have acquired a great deal of information as to the right way to set about this. There must be in the Department the experiences of a great many local education authorities and a diversity of means by which the job could be done. I read the role of the Department as being to assimilate all this and to offer guidance in accordance with, as it seems to the Department, the best practices. There are damaging consequences of not offering sensibls guidance. Without it, there is not only a tendency to neglect through ignorance what may be the beginning of an epidemic in the school, or even a developing epidemic, which sometimes has been overlooked. There is also a tendency to panic and do the wrong thing when suddenly taken by surprise.

We had an example of that the other day in Welwyn Garden City. I will not go into the details, because they are not very relevant to what we are talking about. It was serious, because it revealed something that we have been very slow to comprehend. Incidentally, the Welwyn Garden City incident, as the Minister knows, was not about amphetamines or "blues" or "purple hearts". It was about heroin. It emerged that not all young people who destroy themselves with heroin are defective personalities or innocent victims. There was a suggestion of rebellion here, part of a much wider complex, among a tiny minority, but one which we cannot ignore.

This can become a grisly form of protest. It is quite well known; it is recognised by psychiatrists working in this field. As one put it after the Welwyn Garden City episode they are cocking a snook at respectable values—at trying to keep healthy and alive. That is an aspect of the matter which we must not dismiss as nonsense; because it is not. This tiny minority enjoys, in a wider, if somewhat narrow, circle, something akin to hero worship in some places. This is a situation which must be taken in hand. It carries very great dangers indeed. This minority, though it is tiny, is thoroughly dangerous, and it can be infectious. We must treat it as such.

The sequel to all this, as the Minister knows, was a letter sent to 2,000 parents of teenagers in Hertfordshire by six well-intentioned headmasters in Welwyn Garden City. This letter, naturally achieved some prominence in the national Press. I have no doubt that the motives of the head teachers were of the highest. Of course, they were. However, I am not sure whether the methods they adopted were altogether prudent. They acted in default of action by anybody else. They took the initiative because, as it seemed to them, no one else had taken it.

This is something which the Government cannot shrug off. I know all about proper relationships between the Department and local education authorities. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who, I hope, will say a few words, knows much more about it. I know the Whitehall distinctions between guidance, instructions and advice. I know the very delicate balance which must be maintained between Whitehall Departments and authorities such as local education authorities.

However, the time for semantics is over. The Government have a duty first to make up their mind what the right courses of action might be and, given that—I have suggested what courses of action might be followed—then to get on with it. There must be no delay. I hope that the Under-Secretary will not talk today about bringing Pamphlet No. 49 on health education up to date. That was the last offering we had from the Department on this. I think that does not meet the case.

We are not talking here about hundreds of children. We are now talking about thousands. I am afraid that the number involved must be reckoned —I am weighing my words carefully— in thousands; that is to say, those with access to or some experience of "pep" pills and/or "reefers", which means cannabis. The teaching profession, many of whom are deeply troubled by this, has been ready to do what is required, but it is a much more complex business than many of them have yet been able to understand.

When we talk about children who take drugs, we do not talk entirely in terms of miscreants. I wish that we were talking only in terms of miscreants. It would be easy if all those involved were doing it simply for kicks or giggles. A proportion, which is again impossible to quantify, are taking pills because they are under stress at home, under stress from examinations, under stress in some emotional situation, under the sort of stress which is inseparable from certain stages of maturity. Indeed—I know this from the medical profession—there is a small minority who are doing so licitly. Some youngsters at school are having certain drugs prescribed for them.

We ought to try to discover more about this. The Department should discover more. There is no doubt that it could. We should know the relationship between examinations and pills. We have discussed this in terms of the universities. We must realise, too, that O and A levels can lead to this kind of thing.

Whether it is licit or illicit, I do not think that we can treat lightly resort to habit-forming, mind-changing drugs by schoolchildren; because for a proportion, albeit still mercifully a very small one, this is the brink of tragedy. Once they are over the brink, there is rarely a successful recall.

Therefore, I think that we must move into action. I think we ought to move more quickly than we have been doing. There is no doubt about the evidence; that cannot be disputed. In my view, there is no dispute now about what the right course of action is. I ask the Department to act.

11.25 a.m.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

The whole House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), not only for initiating this debate, but also for the action he has been taking over a number of months on this acute problem. The contribution the right hon. Gentleman made this morning is one of the most useful he has made on this subject, because he has tried to get at the start of the problem—what is to to be done for younger people, how they can be educated at school before a habit may be acquired later.

The right hon. Gentleman said that there is a serious increase in this problem among schoolchildren. The various reports he mentioned give chapter and verse of how this is occurring. This is an acute problem. It is not only a problem for schoolchildren. It is one for society as a whole. This is where we are trying to take our responsibility. At the same time as we direct our attention to the problem, we must put it into perspective, because there is a tendency for everybody to believe that every youngster—every teenager, etc.—is a drug addict.

In fact, a greater number of youngsters today are involved in constructive leisure activities than was ever the case. Recently, I went to the Royal Festival Hall for a Bach recital. About 2,000 teenagers were there listening to the music, which is not exactly what one would expect from the "pop" group type of personality.

Having said that the problem must be put into perspective, we must do something to tackle it. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I am very much in the position of asking the questions rather than having many of the answers. There is basically a problem of research. I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to have a further look at the way in which, if we are to have effective influence on children at school, the background of research can be undertaken by those qualified to undertake it.

I was involved a little while ago with the excellent work of Dr. P. A. L. Chappie, who has taken special notice of the way in which one can stop addiction from starting. The difficulty which arose when it came to teaching in schools was that, the moment a research project was started, if care was not taken the school was labelled—"There is a research project going on here into addiction. Therefore, this school is for drug addicts". The Department must examine the way in which the necessary background can be obtained and facilities given without at the same time denigrating a school or raising genuine fears in a neighbourhood.

This is also a problem involving parents. Because of its high publicity value, because it is the kind of thing which excites newspaper headlines, practically every parent, especially of the teenage generation, is in a state of fairly constant anxiety. Whatever education can be carried out in the schools, there must be some follow-through. That which is done in the home must follow on what is done at school.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the problem in Welwyn Garden City. We have had to provide special hospital facilities to cater for what is going on in that area. I wonder what effect the large factory in that area which is producing amphetamines has had on the teenage group in the area, as well as on other sections.

I visited the factory a few years ago and was satisfied about the precautions taken to prevent a release of "purple hearts". Despite those precautions there is now an increasing problem of addition in the area. The process of teaching has to get away from moral attitudes. We cannot preach to youngsters about this. One of the tragedies about the youngsters who are "hooked" —whether upon amphetamines or on the hard drugs—is that they are usually the best of our community, the nonconformists, someone trying to think for themselves, a little bit different. Usually they are something of a rebel against authority.

This House has a long history of men, who in their youth were rebels, and who later rose to greatness. A lad may start cigarette smoking at 7, 8, or 9, and is the class hero. Soon that becomes stale, and he goes on to the "pep" pills to impress his colleagues, the soft drugs, smoking of "pot," and that becomes part of the classroom mythology.

It is necessary that action should be taken to give teachers the right kind of refresher course, enabling them to diagnose problems among their students. It is one thing to find where the problem is and quite another, having found it, to understand the therapeutic treatment necessary in order to prevent the spreading of this infection. The tragedy about this revolt of the young is that we, their elders, are impotent. One "Rolling Stone" is the equivalent of about 100 Malcolm Muggeridges in his effect on the school generation. From our situation, we can try to be understanding, to put ourselves in the shoes of these youngsters; what we cannot do is to understand the whole of their emotional backgrounds and their developing period, and communicate with them.

In politics, we frequently talk about our failure to communicate. The big barrier, which has found expression in the violent forms of student behaviour here and elsewhere, is the inability to communicate. This debate is about a specific area where communication is of more importance than any other. We have to undertake research to discover how we can prevent youngsters from beginning the habit which will in some way be injurious to themselves and the community. I am sure that this problem can be tackled, and that we will come to think of it as the madnesses of the late 1960s and early 1970s. We must pay more attention to this, and get away from the headline approach. Youngsters have a very real problem. They are meeting a very difficult world. Whether the sins of the fathers are eternally to be visited on the children, I do not know. Once one begins to tackle one part of society which has got out of gear, one is then criticising the whole of society. It is not just the "pushers" who are responsible—we all have a responsibility for the kind of world we have built.

11.35 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Denis Howell)

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), in thanking the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), for giving us the opportunity to discuss this problem rationally. One has to keep an extremely delicate balance here.

I entirely agree with the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman, which was to be found in the phrase, "Trust the teachers". The whole of curricular studies, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), whom I am glad to see here, will know, is based on the premise that one should trust the teachers to teach what they feel to be necessary in the way they wish to do so.

The rôle of central Government and my Department is to stimulate, coordinate and co-operate with teachers to help them by providing thoughts, ideas and pamphlets for discussion, together with teaching techniques. The difficulties of maintaining a balance came out in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I agree about trusting the teacher, but he went on to ask for a rather more authoritarian approach from my Department than the policy of trusting teachers would allow. He particularly asked me not to spend a lot of time talking about pamphlets which the Department intended to publish.

I am sorry if he does not want to hear about this, but if his philosophy is correct most of our influence must arise from the publication of pamphlets, and through the rôles of the medical officers and H.M. Inspectors in the schools. This comes down to issuing guidance and advice in conjunction with educationalists, doctors and others. The school curricula is a very sacred thing, and once a headmaster has been appointed no one can interfere with what he does. One can try to influence him, and bring good things to his attention, but at the end of the day that is as far as one can go.

It is on that basis that my Department issues its pamphlets. One of the criticisms that the right hon. Gentleman might have had is that we have been a long time revising our health education pamphlet, No. 31. I have some sympathy with that point of view and was prepared to admit it to the House. If one is to treat health education as a whole and drug-taking by young people or school children as part of that whole, then it does a good deal of damage to single these things out for special treatment. It is extremely important, having regard to the whole of the school population, to keep the thing in proportion. This may best be done if I tell the House that as far as we know, out of a school population of 7 million there are only two known heroin addicts.

It is not so much the size of the problem which is the concern at the moment, but the rate of increase that is worrying us, and the educational authorities and doctors. I would like to talk about the figures for heroin addicts as known to the Home Office until 1966, to show the growth.

In 1960, there was one such known addict. In 1961 there were two, then three, then 17, then 40, and in 1965 there was a great jump to 145. The last known figure, that for 1966, is 329. Those figures are for the under-20s, which age includes both the school and the youth populations. That figure of 329 out of the whole of the youth population is an insignificant one, but the point made by the right hon. Gentleman is well taken, that the rate of growth is worrying.

Mr. Deedes

It is not that which bothers me. The hon. Gentleman is dealing with figures for narcotics. I was talking about those who took "pep" pills, smoked "reefers", and were on a wide range of what are miscalled "soft" drugs.

Mr. Howell

I shall come to soft drugs in a few moments. I am not basing all my arguments on the taking of heroin. Cannabis does not come into either category. It is an intoxicant rather than a narcotic. One of the difficulties, particularly in respect of the controversy about cannabis, is that we are awaiting the advice of people who are considering the matter. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has a more intimate knowledge of what they are doing than I have, because he is a member of the appropriate committee.

We ought to do all that we can to make the dangers of each of these drugs and addiction to them known throughout the country, because there is clear evidence that the first stage, which might be thought to be caused through experimentation, and which some people say is not dangerous, can lead people on to the harder drugs. That is the danger, and it was to get the figures in proportion that I listed the number of heroin addicts among children under 20.

The pamphlet "Health Education" which the Department publishes, is designed specifically to show teachers the whole range of health education subjects which ought to be tackled in a healthy school curriculum, and drug taking and the dangers of drugs are one part of the whole. It is my view, that of my advisors, and of the inspectorate, that it is of the utmost importance, when talking about drug taking, to keep it as part of the whole of health education. Many local education authorities feel that there is a considerable danger in omitting drug taking from a comprehensive book on health education and concentrating special attention on it in a separate pamphlet. I think that the figures which I have given, and the other figures for soft drugs, bear out that contention.

We started to revise the pamphlet on health education about two or three years ago, but, because it covers every subject, and because it is written by a joint panel of Her Majesty's Inspectorate, school medical officers and other medical advisers, it has largely been rewritten. There has been a much greater delay than I should have liked, but I am sure that our advisers were right to try to get it accurate and to settle the various degrees of emphasis which should be placed on various problems and not concentrate entirely on drugs. The pamphlet is now at the printers, and will be avail- able for publication in July, that is, in a month's time.

Mr. Deedes

Can one produce a pamphlet such as that which will be the last word for any length of time? Surely this kind of thing has to be revised fairly constantly? What has been the difficulty about the revision over the last three years?

Mr. Howell

It is not only drug-taking which has caused the delay. It deals with all aspects of health education, with everything from the toes to the head. It represents a fundamental rethink, which I consider is necessary from time to time. The difficulty about the drug-taking section is that certain drugs become fashionable at different times. If one waits too long to make sure that one has all the right answers to one set of drug-taking habits, one is overtaken by events. A new drug becomes the "in" thing and the pamphlet is never sent out.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

How far has the experience of the I.L.E.A., to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) referred, been taken into account in the new edition of the pamphlet?

Mr. Howell

That is a fair question, with which I shall deal later.

I cannot read to the House the chapter on drugs, but perhaps I might list the headings with which it deals. First, there is the nature and extent of the drug abuse. Secondly, there is the problem of definition, an attempt to define the terms, including addiction, so that we can help teachers to meet the problems.

Next, there is an attempt to summarise the properties of all the drugs which are being misused, and especially to define the symptoms produced. This is what most education authorities are concerned about. They want to give teachers practical help in the classroom so that, at an early stage, they can detect the symptoms and call in help from school medical officers and others.

Next, it tries to give general advice to authorities and teachers about what has been done, and what can be done. Finally, it tries to encourage a sympathetic but clear-sighted view of the problem as a whole. I believe that this new thinking and new look will be of great value to teachers who are likely to be confronted with the problems of drug-taking, and will help them to deal with the problems in the context of health education.

When Questions first started to be asked in the House by the right hon. Gentleman and others, we gave a good deal of thought to what we in the Department ought to do to gain as much information as possible about the problem The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that one of our difficulties is a lack of information about its extent. We contacted every local education authority in the country, all 162 of them, something which the Department rarely does, and asked for specific information about the taking of both hard and soft drugs in their areas. I am glad to tell the House that 156 of the 162 authorities have replied. We also wrote to each school medical officer for those authorities. I think, therefore, that the last charge which can be made against the Department is one of complacency.

Simultaneously with that action we appointed within the Department a medical officer with special responsibility for dealing with this problem of drug-taking. This meant within the school medical service the Government had one officer with special responsibility for coordinating arrangements with school medical officers, to work in close relationship with the Home Office, the police, and so on. I think that that happy arrangement largely meets the fears expressed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Although the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that more concern is expressed about hard drugs than about soft ones, taking the two categories together, an extremely small number of education authorities and school medical officers thought that they had much of a problem in their areas. A few thought that there could be more of a problem than they were able to substantiate in writing. Lancashire, for example, in a survey which we took in July, 1967, reported a few cases but added the view that the size of the problem was unknown. Seven education authorities thought that they had a slight problem in their areas.

Therefore, certainly less than 10 per cent. of the education authorities thought that they had a problem of any magnitude, although it is true to say that most of them really did not know but had done their best to find out in reply to the Department's circulars.

I am, however, glad to say that although the local education authorities thought that they did not have much of a problem, they did not regard this as a reason for complacency. A great number of them, on the instigation of the Department's circular, at once undertook to give specific attention to the problem. Sixty-two such education authorities, for example, have organised special conferences of head teachers, past teachers, principals of further education colleges, youth club leaders, health service staff, parent-teacher associations and the like. Fifty-eight education authorities have made use of film materials and circulars to ensure that these responsible bodies give some of their attention to the matter.

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to draw attention to the excellent pamphlet "Drug Dependence" issued by the Bristol education authority. The right hon. Gentleman described it as a best-seller. Twenty thousand copies have already been sold and it has gone to four issues. It is a pamphlet for which my advisers have nothing but the highest praise. They feel that in the absence of more specific guidance, it provided extremely helpful advice to local authorities and my Department commended it to all the education authorities.

In addition, we drew upon the experience of I.L.E.A., which was another specific question I was asked. One of the medical officers in my Department has attended meetings of teachers from I.L.E.A. and has kept in close co-operation with head teachers.

The policy of the Department as a whole can, therefore, be best summed up by my saying that we now have a medical officer specially charged with this question. We have revised the whole of our health education pamphlet and, in addition, we have commended the Bristol and other pamphlets to the education authorities. Over 140,000 leaflets and 4,000 posters have been issued throughout the country as a result of this activity.

We are working in the closest cooperation with the Home Office and other authorities, the Ministry of Health and the hospitals We are ready at a moment's notice, whenever a problem arises, to take the initiative within the Department. This is most important. We are trying to keep our finger on the pulse. This was specifically true of the Welwyn Garden City case, of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke and which, as he said, is mainly a problem of soft drugs.

It is rather difficult, for reasons which the House will understand, for me to go too closely—

Mr. Deedes

They were not only soft drugs at Welwyn. There was heroin among them.

Mr. Howell

Yes—there were soft drugs in parts of Surrey and elsewhere.

The House may like to know that at Welwyn Garden City there seems to be a much greater problem than has emerged elsewhere. In the whole of Hertfordshire, 137 cases have been uncovered, of which 71 are in the Welwyn Garden City and Hatfield areas. These are extremely disturbing figures although I am glad to say that only three of the 137 cases concern schoolchildren. All the rest are in the youth age range between 16 and 20.

One of the reasons why such numbers have been uncovered at Welwyn Garden City is that the new co-operative machine between the police in particular, the local authority and the local education authority, with the consequent concentration of attention, has produced this information. It would be quite wrong, particularly today, in view of what we have read in the papers, for us to go into the special reasons except to say that the source of the drugs supplied in Hertfordshire was always thought to be in London. This is a matter which has considerably engaged the attention of the appropriate authorities.

The final thing I wish to say is again to make a plea that this is a matter which we should keep in proportion and on which, to use the right hon. Gentleman's words, we should maintain a sense of balance. There is no doubt that even when one considers the amount of experimentation that is going on in soft drugs, which is, perhaps, a matter of greater concern than the hard drug addiction, although that position is bad enough, it is extremely important to get the matter in proportion.

The mass of the young people, certainly the overwhelming mass of the school population, are good, wholesome youngsters who are not taking drugs, are not thinking of taking them and are not experimenting with them. One of the aims of our policy—and this is why it is so difficult to discuss these matters fully in debate—is not to put ideas into the heads of youngsters where these evil ideas are not at present to be found. The majority of people are good and wholesome.

It is extremely interesting to note the reaction of some schoolchildren at Welwyn, in Hertfordshire. I have a cutting from the Welwyn Times of 17th May this year showing that the over-concentration of attention, as the schoolchildren see it, on the problem in their town caused them, and particularly the schoolgirls, to hit back at the slur of having their town called a "junkie-town".

The problem in Welwyn is difficult and serious and it should not be underestimated, but once dramatic publicity of this sort has inevitably concentrated attention on a town and its schools the great danger is that the 99 per cent. of good, wholesome youngsters in the town will all be labelled in the same category as the 1 per cent. who are the legitimate object of our concern.

I hope very much that the right hon. Gentleman and the House will at least acquit the Department of Education and Science of any complacency in this matter. The last thing we wish to be is complacent. We have taken the steps which we see to be desirable. We have the matter constantly under attention. We work in close co-operation with the Ministries, the teaching profession and the medical profession.

The right hon. Gentleman has done a service by enabling the House to discuss this matter and by enabling the teaching profession, as a result of this debate, to understand the problem perhaps a little more readily than in the past and, above all, to get the right balance, which, as he rightly said, is the key to any sensible discussion of the problem.

12 noon.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I, too, would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) on raising this topic today, and I am sure that the whole House appreciates the amount of work which my right hon. Friend has done on this subject, on which he is particularly well informed.

I thought that my right hon. Friend made two points of particular importance. He said that the teachers need facts and guidance on this subject and I think that this is appreciated particularly by anyone who has read the report, to which my right hon. Friend referred, by the Women's Group on Public Welfare.

One point I do not think that my right hon. Friend specifically mentioned, and which struck me when looking at that report, is that although a number of teachers are alert to the problems involved, a number, as they are quite ready to admit, are not as well informed as they would like to be on this subject —and for one perfectly simple reason. I always think that it is easy when we discuss any topic such as this to forget the fact that the overwhelming majority of the children are at day schools, and that drug-taking takes place at weekend parties—that is to say, outside normal school hours. I think that is a very special reason for teachers to be well informed.

My right hon. Friend's second point which I want specifically to refer to concerns the guidance which local authorities are receiving from the Department of Education and Science. Here I must say I do agree with one basic point which my right hon. Friend made when he said that the D.E.S. will surely have a great deal of information on this topic, a great deal of information about the diversity of means whereby local authorities can tackle this problem. I find myself a little bit doubtful whether it is quite right for Ministers of the Department solely to be confined to successive editions of the General Document on Health Education. I have always believed that, over a wide range of problems, one of the most valuable things the Department can do is to pool-together all the experience of individual and particularly of the most progressive local authorities, to find the best way to promote progress by spreading around knowledge of the best existing ideas which are already being carried out.

The Under-Secretary of State, in his helpful speech, pointed out that it does take a long time to revise the General Document on Health Education, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider, on this important subject of drugs, on which new evidence is coming forward all the time, that it may be possible at rather more frequent intervals to make the experience of the I.L.E.A.s and some of the largest authorities as widely available as possible to other local authorities. After all, as he will well know, this is the way we got progress in school building. It was not just the result of the work of architects, whose work was outstanding, and personal ideas, but the result of spreading around knowledge of existing practices.

Local authorities are not, as it were, all equal all over the country; they have not equal experience, resources and population. It is certainly true—I shall not name any names, although we know that London is always one—that there is a certain number of pace-setting authorities which do the important job of path-finding and testing and applying new ideas. I would not, if I were the Under-Secretary, set too much store by the number of very small authorities which think they have not much of a problem, because, after all, as we all know, there is a certain number—I would say, too many—of small education authorities which really have not got the resources to tackle or even to identify the problem.

To my certain knowledge one authority —I shall not name it, though its future existence was at one time a matter of controversy—has never identified a single educationally subnormal child. I do not want to make too much of this, but I think that it is common ground in the House, wherever we stand in relation to the impending Maude Report, that we do not expect in future to have 162 local authorities indefinitely and, of course, there are a number of authorities who will not have much of a problem because they are not capable of identifying it. I think that this emphasises the importance of spreading around as quickly as possible knowledge of the best existing practices.

I would mention two other matters in this connection to which my right hon. Friend did not refer. The first is the importance of in-service training of teachers. Opportunity should be given by in-service courses for teachers to be brought into touch with the most recent developments. On such matters as the problem of drug-taking and of secondary school reorganisation the teachers want to know what developments there are, where they are working successfully, and they would welcome being brought into touch with experiments which are working successfully and into touch with teachers who have had experience of them and with the best existing practices.

I was a little surprised that my right hon. Friend did not, I think, mention parents at all, because surely that is at the heart of the problem of co-operation. The co-operation of parents is of the very highest importance. I was greatly impressed by what one heard at the youth conference in Birmingham which bore out the point which I think is sometimes made by Lady Wootton, in another place, that in large families it can happen that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. The co-operation of parents is one very important aspect of this problem and one which we should never forget.

I agree with those who have said that we must put this problem into perspective. I agree with the approach of wanting to define drugs by summarising their properties. I have always believed that it is specially important not just to generalise and to lay down the law for young people, but to try to understand sympathetically what are the strains and particular problems which young people face at the present time. I hope that no one in the House is less inclined than I am to, as it were, beat the young over the head, and to generalise. I agree that the overwhelming majority of the young people are very sound indeed. We ought not to blame them for faults which are really the faults of society.

It seems to me that there are several reasons why this problem of drugs is greater today than it used to be in the old days. I am afraid that what my right hon. Friend said, to use his own phrase, that drug-taking has become a grisly form of protest, is true. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt), in his speech, referred to nonconformists, and how, conspicuously, children are attracted to courses which may prove dangerous. I was struck rather particularly by a comment of the Women's Group on Public Welfare which talked of the prevalence amongst the young of talking and boasting of drug-taking as being the in thing to do. I think that is true.

One of the main reasons young people are genuinely attracted to the idea of meditation, to the idea of searching for religion by unorthodox means, is that they perhaps have not been brought up in orthodox religious opinions or orthodox non-religious opinions. My right hon. Friend referred to the young taking drugs because they are under stress, but it is not only those taking examinations who genuinely feel under strong emotional strain in the modern world. I think anyone who has read the life of Vicki and its tragic end must have been struck by the fact that throughout his life he seemed to find life literally almost intolerable.

This is a mood that with a minority of people can start at an earlier age than we sometimes realise. Here we are dealing with a subject where critical and sympathetic thinking is of the greatest importance. At the same time, it is a very real problem; we should not underrate it and we should not underrate the teachers. There is a responsibility on the Department for the sake of teachers, parents, the school and all those concerned in the education service, to spread as widely as possible information on the best existing practice.

I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he would consider that this matter should not just be confined to successive issues of the Department's well-known pamphlet on health education. I have the greatest admiration for the work of the medical advisers of the Department. I once had the pleasure of defending in the House my Chief Medical Adviser. I had every satisfaction in doing so because he had a knowledgeable, informed and sympathetic approach to these matters. I am the last person to cast doubt on the value of the work of medical advisers in the past.

A great deal of new evidence is coming forward which will prove to be important. The professionalism, skill and experience of the large local authorities with the most resources are becoming more relevant all the time. I ask the hon. Gentleman to take note of what has been said in the debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, and to do his best to see that the experience gained by new discoveries and approaches is made as widely available as possible to teachers at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Denis Howell rose

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman needs the leave of the House to speak a second time.

Mr. Denis Howell

I had hoped that during my speech I had said that this was a matter of continuing examination within the Department. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) has just said. I can assure him that the pamphlets which are sent out and the new thinking which goes on continually, and needs to go on continually, will be a matter of concern to the Minister as well as to the administrators within the Department.

We shall take all possible steps to promote this thinking and to make the knowledge as widely available as possible throughout the country. I am happy to give that assurance.

Mr. Speaker

Might I remind the House that we are keeping close to a timetable. The debate which is about to begin will end at 1.15 p.m. It is starting a little early so there is some extra time, but a number of hon. Members wish to speak.

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