HC Deb 09 December 1970 vol 808 cc549-67 (1) A local authority may, with the consent of the medical officer of health of the county or county borough concerned, authorise medical inspection of pupils in attendance at any school maintained by them. (2) Medical inspections conducted under subsection (1) of this section shall be directed solely to detecting evidence that the pupils inspected have been or are taking any of the drugs to which this Act applies.—[Mr. Dalyell.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

10.01 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker

I remind the House that with this new Clause we are to take new Clause 4—Extension of powers of school medical officers.

Mr. Dalyell

The House has shown me a great deal of indulgence today as, by a coincidence of timing, I moved a Ten Minute Rule Bill on this subject this afternoon. It would be wrong to take up and repeat all that was said this afternoon, but perhaps I can explain to the House why the Clause in the form in which it appears is rather different from the wording of the Bill, in that it subtracts from it the phrase without the consent of the parent or guardian. When this was first conceived, drawing on my own experience as a teacher and former director of studies on the B.I. school-ship "Dunera", having worked with people of this age and, indeed, having consulted the teachers' organisations, one envisaged a classroom situation in which, out of a class of, say, 40, 38 pupils would have to undergo the test, and for some reason two would not. I thought—and, indeed, still think—that that would give rise to some problems which could not lightly be shuffled over.

On the other hand, having spoken to the B.M.A., because of the advice that I have received, particularly from Arnold Beckett, Professor of Pharmacy at the Chelsea College of Techonolgy in the University of London, and as a result of discussions with my right, hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short), the former Minister of Education, with many other hon. Members, and with the Leader of the House, who has been most helpful, and to whom I pay tribute for the help that he has given me, as I do to the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) for his assistance, I know that all these people are emphatic that this kind of measure does not have a chance of getting through the House of Commons, and indeed is not intrinsically right, and that anyone who tries to get this measure through, or even to come to some agreement with the Home Office, which may be the way out of this, would be wise to withdraw such a contentious phrase.

In my dealings with the D.E.S. there has undoubtedly been worry about the parent-teacher relationship, but this is a matter for further discussion in the House of Commons as precisely to whom information about positive testing is given. I personally, rather favour the advice which I have been given by the Maudsley Hospital that the parent must know, that the G.P. must know, and that the school medical authorities must know. It is an open matter whether the headmaster should be told names, and certainly I, in a previous incarnation as a classroom teacher in a comprehensive school, would not have wanted to know the names of any of my pupils who were taking drugs. I should rather not have known them, though I should have wished to know the percentage in the school, to be alert to the problems that arise.

I think that there is some onus on those who suggest this kind of measure to express the seriousness of the problem, and here I take a short way out by referring to a number of articles which have appeared in the Press. A formidable series appeared in the Aberdeen Evening Express and in the Daily Mail of 5th November. I mention the Aberdeen paper, not because it has anything to do with my constituency, but simply to express the view that for the Scots this is a rather alarming circumstance. For some years we have believed that drugs were a problem limited to London and the West Midlands. We were somewhat complacent, and believed that we were free from this problem.

But alas that is not so, and in the summer information became available to many of us which seemed to show that we were dealing with what was the tip of the iceberg, and if it can happen in Stonehaven and Aberdeen, it can happen anywhere in these islands. It is perhaps the spread of the problem amongst schools which leads me to offer to the House this form of new Clause.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharples)

I wish that I were able to follow up the success which the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) had this afternoon by recommending the House to accept his new Clause. I am afraid, however, that I cannot do so.

I recognise the sincerity with which he has put this proposal forward and the large amount of work he has put in to the drafting of the new Clause. Nevertheless, for the reasons which were advanced cogently by the hon Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) this afternoon, exactly the same principles apply.

The new Clause suggests that there should be a form of random testing for children at school. I believe that there are serious objections even to this, though, like the hon. Member for West Lothian, I recognise the problem and the dangers there are in the spread of drugs to schools. After all, once one accepts the principle of random testing, even recognising the dangers that there may be to children at school, it is difficult to know where to draw the line after that. One could say that there is a problem in the universities. So there is. Are we suggesting that there should be a form of random testing for people at university?

Again, one must recognise the strong objections there would be from, say, the sixth formers—the 17 and 18-year olds—to a form of random testing which was not applied to those who had not remained on at school. There would probably be serious objection from parents as well to a form of random testing of this kind.

The hon. Gentleman rightly wondered what would be done with the information once one had it. This is a real problem. What would one do with it? Should it be passed on to parents, to teachers, to head teachers only, or to the police? Let us be clear about this: very soon there would be a demand for this information to be passed on to the authorities as well.

We spent a long time in Standing Committee, as the hon. Member for West Derby, pointed out, discussing the whole question of search, arrest and random tests. On both sides there was a strong feeling that whatever tests might be imposed in connection with the serious drug problem, there should not be random tests of any kind.

Having considered carefully the forceful arguments which the hon. Gentleman has put forward, both this afternoon and, with commendable brevity, tonight, I am sorry that I cannot recommend the House to accept the new Clause.

Mr. Dalyell

Is it the Home Office view that the treatment that might be accorded to 18 and 19-year-olds should be the same as is accorded to 14, 15 and 16-year-olds? Is there not a qualitative difference in relation to protection?

Mr. Sharples

The new Clause would institute the principle of random testing. The hon. Gentleman may have in mind to confine random testing to a particular age group or, as he does, to a particular section of the community—those who happen to be in school and those who happen to be selected for medical tests, and those do not always come round regularly. Many children may be tested only twice in the whole of their school life. In spite of the fact that there are arguments in favour of the proposal, I would not recommend to the House that they should accept the principle of random testing even for this group.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman that to accept the principle of tests being carried out during the course of school medical examinations would be to accept random testing. Children undergo a certain number of regular medical tests during the whole of their school life. These are laid down by the local health authority, and the education committee responsible. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed the new Clauses because they would give him an opportunity of dealing with the growing problem of addiction among school children. I do not want to give the impression that it is a major problem, because it is not. But it is a growing problem.

The hon. Gentleman will know that his predecessor commissioned research by Dr Wiener, which I think was reported in 1968, and indicated that there was a certain percentage of children who had experience of drug taking, generally involving amphetamines. Undoubtedly the number of children experimenting with drugs has increased since then. We know that the age range of the children has been reduced, and that it is no longer the 16, 17 and 18 year olds. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have been glad to have had this weapon given to him to find out the school age group in which children are experimenting with drugs.

The hon. Gentleman also knows, from his work in the Department, that comment has been made for several years running in the annual reports of borstals, for example, on the numbers of boys of 16 and 17 who have been proved, after urine tests, to have been experimenting with drugs. That is clearly a matter of great concern.

In answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about "Who do we tell, if the tests are carried out during the course of school medical examinations, that a child is experimenting with drugs?", clearly one tells the parents. The medical officer would know, and I should have thought that the child's general practitioner would be told. The police do not come into this. We want a child to have medical care and attention to wean him off his habit. Therefore, I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman cannot accept my hon. Friend's new Clause. I do not know whether his reply to me will be the same as that which he gave to my hon. Friend, but I ask him to consider carefully whether this is not a valuable way of finding which children in the school age range are experimenting with drugs, and, having found them, to give them treatment.

Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)

I rise with hesitation to support the new Clause. I find it difficult to accept what my hon. Friend has said because I have a deep concern about the necessity to find out, if possible, how many school children are taking the drugs concerned in the new Clause, which are set out in Schedule 2, and where they are to be found.

When my hon. Friend was talking about random tests, I did not think that his defence held water. As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) said, it is of paramount importance to find out which children are taking drugs. There is no question of the police being brought in, as both the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman have mentioned. It is a matter of reporting the facts to the doctor concerned.

I have personal experience of this problem among our young people. It is essential to do anything that we can to stop the taking of drugs by children of school age. This is the time when young people become addicted. It may be that they begin on "soft" drugs, but they rapidly become hard-liners.

The new Clause is not offensive and in no way infringes upon the liberty of the individual. I ask my hon. Friend to look at it again in a more sympathetic way.

At the moment, we are suffering from what might almost be called an invasion: many of our school children are taking drugs. The practice is damaging to then-health and to the morale of the country. It is essential to do all that we can to discover who the people are, but not with a view to punishing them, because what they need is treatment as early as possible. If this new Clause can help achieve that end, I ask my hon. Friend to take due consideration of it and change his mind.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Eric Ogden (Liverpool, West Derby)

I hope that the Minister of State will not yield to the pressure being put on him from both sides of the House—

Mrs. Renée Short

Why not?

Mr. Ogden

I hope to explain. The pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) is very strong, especially when it is combined with that of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins). It was started this afternoon, and it is continuing tonight. For that reason, I intend to detail my objections to the Bill that we considered earlier today, which resulted in a pyrrhic victory, and my views about the weaknesses of the new Clauses which we are now considering.

The weaknesses are considerable. New Clause 4 is less objectionable and a little more practical than new Clause 1, but it includes the words to which I objected to earlier: … and shall not be required to obtain parental consent before making such a test. Those are important words to include in any Measure.

A sizeable problem arises in new Clause 1. No one who has any knowledge of the misuse of drugs would deny that. There is a problem in some of our schools, but it does not involve the vast majority of pupils, as has been suggested. The proposals set out in the new Clause are not an effective or fair way of dealing with the problem, and the same applies to new Clause 4.

When new Clause 1 speaks of "a local authority", in practice it means an education committee, a health committee or a watch committee. Such a committee would have to report to the full council, with all the attendant publicity.

The Clause goes on … with the consent of the medical officer of health of the county or county borough. … Presumably that means that the medical officer of health of the county, the county borough or the borough will have a veto. If he does not give consent, he has a veto on any proceedings. That may not be difficult in a county borough like Liverpool, where there are close relationships between the medical officer of health and the committee, but when one comes to consider the county authority of Lancashire and the two-tier authorities in that county, one has to bear in mind relationships between a municipal borough and its watch committee, health committee and advisory committee, and the comparative remoteness of the county medical officer of health who is required to give his consent. How can he know the circumstances of a school? He has to seek the advice of the local people concerned. In the county part of Lancashire, with a population of seven million, his consent could not have any relevance.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would the hon. Gentleman not agree that, even in Lancashire, there is a considerable degree of drug-taking at the moment among school-age pupils? Would he not agree that, this would be under the supervision of the medical officer of health and would have to be with his permission? There would be no reason for this to be publicised; it could be kept very private. Would it not be worth while to stop even a few of these drug takers in Lancashire?

Mr. Ogden

That is an interesting point, but I want to point out an alternative to either of the new Clauses which could be much more effective—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot do it in this debate.

Mr. Ogden

Then I will confine myself to my objections to the Clause. The Clause would authorise a medical inspection of pupils. What sort of examination is this to be—blood samples, urine specimens, syringe marks? Will this apply to pupils at that school on that day, or those on the whole list of pupils who may be at the school on a particular day? These are small points, but some pressure has been applied by hon. Members and it should be answered in detail. What happens about absentees?

An even more objectionable point is the phrase "any school maintained by them", the local authority. Anyone who has been a manager or governor knows that there are many types of schools—Church of England, Methodist, Roman Catholic, grant aided, State owned, not mentioning colleges and polytechnics. This will apply only to a very small percentage of schools.

What about the rights of a child to refuse a test? There is no mention of that in the new Clause, and that is the Clause that we are discussing. Subsection (2) is impracticable when it suggests that this should be directed solely to detecting evidence that the pupils have been or are taking any of these drugs. I do not think that there is a test which can be directed "solely" to this end. Even if there were, what about the other things which might be shown by the test—leukaemia, diabetes or anything else? Is the medical officer to deny them and pretend that they do not exist?

Then there is the point about presumption of guilt by association. We have always said—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This is true. One does not oppose random tests of people just because they have left a particular public house or club and then say that, because a situation is supposed to exist in a particular school, pupils attending it should take these tests.

What are the obligations of a medical officer if he discovers evidence of drug taking? He will have some degree of responsibility, I understand, to report to an authorised person—not necessarily only to the parents—and he might be in some legal dilemma about guilt by association. This is not the way to do it. If this is a practical suggestion and if it is necessary to discover what is happening in any particular school, certainly the parents of any child should know, before any tests take place, what is happening.

Under new Clause 4, if a local authority intends to ask for the inclusion of this in their examinations once a year, there is no objection to the local medical officer writing to the parents to see if they have any objections to a test on these grounds. If any headmaster thought that some of his pupils are taking drugs, what would stop him consulting his governors and the local medical officer and writing to the parents directly, in a registered envelope if necessary—we know that some letters do not always arrive—for the parents' consent to the school making these tests on their children at some time during the next 12 months? This would not take away the responsibilities of the parents or guardians.

We are always arguing that people too often pass on their responsibilities to a headmaster or teachers, and this would be doing the same thing. This is not a practical suggestion but a dangerous one; I hope that the Minister will continue to resist it.

Mr. W. F. Deedes (Ashford)

Random tests are an emotive issue, but I suggest to those who feel strongly about the Clause that they are not the main issue. The main issue is a technical one.

The answer to the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) is that, even if we wished to do what she proposed, we are not scientifically able to do it completely yet.

My main complaint against the Clauses is that both are premature. Although we can at the moment identify certain drugs—I will not name which ones—we cannot necessarily quantify them, and there are some drugs which young people may be taking which can be neither identified nor quantified. It would be dangerous to start a system under which drugs A, B and C could be identified but not quantified and drugs X, Y and Z could not be identified. It might well be that a child on drug X, Y or Z would be in a much more dangerous condition than a child on drug A, B or C.

The Medical Research Council, as is shown by its report, has conducted a close examination of this matter. Those who have seen the scientific evidence will know that this is exactly where we are. We cannot do what some of my hon. Friends would greatly like done. I agree with the sentiment that we should stop at nothing to prevent the spread of drug dependence in schools. The problem is a practical one. In addition to the danger of the random test and the difficulty of knowing what to do with a child when it is ascertained that he is on drugs, the real obstacle to what we want to do is the scientific one.

Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)

I am sure that every hon. Member applauds the motives behind the Clause and appreciates the concern which has moved my hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) to make this proposal. I agree with the Minister of State and the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that there is a paucity of detailed and hard evidence about the material facts. Unfortunately, there is evidence of drug taking among school children in certain areas, but we do not know how extensive the drug taking is and we have little idea of the national pattern.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

If it is known that there is drug taking, let this be reported to the doctor concerned and to the parents. I accept from my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that some drugs cannot be identified or quantified. I regret that. However, let us identify and quantify what can be identified and quantified and report the cases.

Mr. Morgan

In so far as the knowledge is already with the education authority, I know of no rule of law or practice precluding the information from being handed to the appropriate authorities. I am sure that it would be so handed in every case. There is the question that many drugs would not be shown by the type of tests envisaged by those who support the Clause. There is also the point that in many cases knowledge of drug taking would be gained without the necessity of a physical test.

An education authority which suspects that there is a problem of this nature will in cost cases act in co-operation with the parents of the children concerned. Let us imagine that the case is a very acute one and that the parents refuse consent and will have nothing to do with it. I believe that the local authority could, where necessary, act under the provisions of Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1969. Under Section 1(2) it is possible for the court to make an order for a person up to the age of 17 in circumstances where … his proper development is being avoidably prevented or neglected or his health is being avoidably impaired or neglected. … In other words, where it is convinced that the parents' failure to give such consent does lead to his health being imperilled it could act under the provisions of Section 1. The powers in that Act are sufficient. It may be that the problem will become more acute, but I very much trust and hope that it will not.

10.30 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short

Does my hon. Friend accept that part of the difficulty in dealing with school children is that teachers cannot recognise the signs of addiction, so how would they be able to refer the children as he has suggested? The point of the new Clauses is that there shall be some kind of medical, scientific test to find the children that are experimenting with drugs. I know that the Department of Education and Science has issued guidance to teachers, but this is inadequate and not fully understood by the whole teaching profession.

Mr. Morgan

I am sure that my hon. Friend is making a valid point. But it is somewhat circumscribed by the fact that she is assuming all the time that the way to get evidence is by way of a physical test. Very often that will not be the best way. Indeed, sometimes it means an examination of the totality of a child's or young person's character before that evidence is gained.

10.32 p.m.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

I have listened with great interest to what has been said, particularly as I know what trouble the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has taken. I was at the British Medical Association headquarters this morning, and everyone there was most impressed by all that the hon. Gentleman had to say. He has an impressive argument. Unfortunately, it falls down on one point mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes). It is just not possible to do what is suggested. It is impracticable.

I must go into greater detail, because I understand very fully that the House is anxious about these problems. We all know that drug-taking goes on in schools, and hon. Members want to know how much of it goes on. But they must consider what the proposal would really entail for the school children, some of whom are girls of 15, 16 and 17. It is a criminal offence not to give a specimen of urine if one is suspected of being drunk in charge of a car. But it is not a criminal offence not to give a specimen at a school medical examination. If the girl refuses, what is to be done? If it is taken forcibly, what psychological effect will that have? If it is forcibly collected and it is positive, what is to be done then? Is she to be created a heroine, so that she is the odd one out in the group? Is her perhaps slightly psychopathic character to be given a great boost, enhancing the characteristics we are trying to avoid?

The problem does not end there, because many school children are legitimately taking drugs. They may be epileptics taking barbiturates. When we discover that these children have barbiturates in their urine, are they to be held up to everyone as possible drug addicts, or will everyone know about their epilepsy? The wrong children may be suspected of being addicted. When the information has been collected, what is to be done with it? Are we to tell the parents or the family doctor? The family doctor may be the man whom the child will accept. The fact that the drug addict—if he can be called that, the experimenter—is taking drugs is probably a sign that he feels rejected or is rejecting his parents. He may well turn to the family doctor, and we do not want this relationship spoilt by the doctor having to tell the parents. At present most family doctors will not tell the parents if the child is 16 or 17, which is as it should be. A new adult relationship is growing up, and we do not want it to be destroyed.

The proposal is ethically undesirable. In practice it would be impossible, and it might cause damage, both psychological and physical. It is a good idea, but it just would not work.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

I support what has been said by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) as to the impracticability of this scheme as it has just been outlined by the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford). Quite apart from that, it seems to me that there is one glaring omission from the case presented, very forcibly, by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), in that he gives no very sound reasons—indeed, I heard none at all—for not seeking to obtain parental consent. It seems to me that that omission is very serious.

What we ought to be aiming at is an educational process under which the teachers consult the parents where they feel that there is some prospect that the parents are unaware that their child may be taking drugs. I think that we could have a very humiliating experience for a large number of children. We have to set this in the greater context. I do not think that anyone would argue that a majority of our school children take drugs. Only a relatively small minority do. Would the medical test, for example, to be undertaken be specifically directed to drug addiction or be part of another medical test? This is not spelt out. If it were to be a single test to that particular end, then, for the reasons which have already been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman, a large number of children would be given a very humiliating experience and for no very good reasons. For these reasons, I oppose the proposed new Clause.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West)

I would like to have supported the proposed new Clause because I remind myself of the situation in New York at the moment where, this year, over 50 children under the age of twelve have died from barbiturate and other drug addiction. That situation has arisen over the past three years.

Dr. Stuttaford

The barbiturates being taken by injection and not by mouth, I assume.

Mr. Gummer

That is largely true. One of the problems is that many of the cases which have been highlighted are unable to be tested by urine sampling. The new Clause has been put forward with an extremely good purpose and for good reasons but, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said, it does not provide the answer.

I hope that the very fact that this proposal has been before the House will emphasise the very grave dangers which are facing our school children. They are dangers we should not forget. One of the problems of parental choice and freedom is that very often parents are unwilling to face the fact that there is drug-taking in our schools, that it is very widespread, and that, if we follow, as we have in the past, the situation in the United States, we are in grave danger of finding ourselves with a very major national problem creeping upon us without any adequate means of forestalling it.

I hope that, although we should not agree to the new Clause, we will not thereby forget that, if we can find ways of testing children effectively, we should be prepared to go much further than the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden) is in this case and, unlike in other issues such as fluoridisation, take the issue of life and death and say that we are prepared to take rather extreme measures if those measures could be effective.

My only reason for not opposing the new Clause is because I believe that it would not be effective and not because I believe that there is any principle which is greater than that of trying to protect our school children from the great dangers which await them if we are to take the comparison of the United States.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

Until the last sentence of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer), I was content to leave the matter, but I am not prepared to go along with that last sentence which spoke of the life and death of children and taking from parents the ultimate responsibility.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) mentioned that random tests were somewhat emotive issue, and in my view none the worse for that. I should not be prepared at any price to say that these or similar tests could or should be conducted without the express permission of the parents. It is only on that point that I differ from my hon. Friend.

Mr. William Wilson (Coventry, South)

The issue of parental knowledge and consent goes to the root of the matter. I have known cases in my own experience when tests for drug taking have been carried out in schools without the knowledge of the parents, and always the response of the parents has been not to complain that the examination was carried out, but that it was carried out without their knowledge. If we have the consent and knowledge of the parents we have gone a long way to solving the problem raised by the new Clause.

Parents have often said to me in my professional capacity, "If only we had known". It is clear that the unspoken fear of many parents is that their children will take drugs without their knowledge. If some system can be devised which would take the parents along with the local authority in this matter, we should have not the opposition but the co-operation of parents. What has upset me tonight has been that the Government's response to the new Clause has not been to suggest a practical alternative to combat the difficulty which the new Clause raises. I had hoped to hear something to measure up to the size of the problem.

Mr. Dalyell

By leave of the House; it is my fault that we have got bogged down in the issue of parental consent. I warn hon. Members about some of the rules of the House. I had arranged to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), the former Home Secretary, on Wednesday about my Ten Minute Rule Bill. I immediately telephoned the Public Bill Office, which I do not blame in any way, but by the time I wanted to make the change, there were only not five, but 4¾ sitting days left and—

Mr. Speaker

We may not now discuss the Ten Minute Rule Bill which the hon. Member wishes to introduce.

Mr. Dalyell

I only wished to warn hon. Members of some of the more obscure rules of the House. Anyhow, what happened was my fault.

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer). Together with his hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Kenneth Clarke), we were in America with Senator Muskie during the earlier part of the month and Senator Muskie and his staff told me in graphic terms how bad was the situation not so much in Maine, but certainly in some of the industrial cities in the United States. No one looking across the Atlantic at what happens among school pupils in the United States can be complacent, for too often this country imports bad habits from America five or ten years later. Narcotics can be detected; amphetamines—incidentally, easily the most important—can be detected; heroin can with some difficulty be detected; and barbiturates can be detected. We are really left with two major categories, one of which is cannabis.

10.45 p.m.

I should like to read out the relevant part of the Advisory Committee's Report: Tetyahydrocannabinal (THC), which is believed to be the principal active constituent, cannot at present be detected in body fluids, although it is readily detectable in the raw material or in air samples of cannabis smoke. It is likely, however"— this is the crucial part— that this position will change since unpublished work indicates that a metabolite appears in the urine in reasonable amounts. Further, THC has now been synthesized and pure reference material is available. Briefly, does this not add up to the fact that by the time legislation gets through this House, it is more than likely that cannabis will be traceable?

Then there is the question of LSD. Here, in the foreseeable future, there is no chance of detection. On the other hand, I put it to hon. Members that numerically, the LSD problem among schoolchildren is much less than that of cannabis, and very greatly less than that of amphetamines. I have no quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden), except that I would not have dismissed an hon. Friend quite as lightly as he did. I certainly would not have the impertinence to tell him that he knew nothing about the mining industry. After all, before I came here I had to deal with precisely these problems in a previous incarnation. Furthermore, I could not believe my ears when he asked, "What would happen if they detected something else? What would happen if they detected leukaemia?" I should be very grateful if in any relation of mine leukaemia was detected at an early stage. I really find that argument impossible to believe.

Finally, there is the issue of the parental relationship. Here I am a bit of an optimist, albeit a naïve one. One of the reasons why I would not dream of dividing the House is because I know perfectly well that there are hon. Friends of mine—my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) is one—who are extremely doubtful that even if the parents knew they would be able to do much about it. Here I am an optimist. If parents knew at an early stage, I should hope that in a large number of cases they would at least be able to do something. I should have thought pretty poorly of myself as a school teacher, if I had not been able to make at least some impression on my pupils. I am sure that that is the view of the N.U.T.

Although I had not intended to do so, I should like to conclude by reading a letter not from one of my constituents, but from the Pimlico district of London. It is from a lady who, among a fairly vast mail, has written to me. She wrote: May I wish you luck and success with the Bill you are trying to introduce into Parliament. I have eight children, three of which are still at school, one at Grammar, one Comprehensive, one Primary, and I am all in favour of spot checks being done to children in school with or without parents' consent, as I fear for my children's safety where drugs are concerned. This is not an untypical letter. Perhaps if I explain why I feel the way I do. I have a son who will be nineteen years old in December. Until such time as he left primary school to go to Secondary Modern he was a well liked child. He was by no means an angel. He was just a typical boy. After he started in Secondary school he changed so much that I finally suspected he was taking drugs, so I took steps to have him treated. But as the time between my asking for help and getting it took some time, there was no positive proof. So I did everything I could to help the boy. He left school at fifteen and worked locally until I again suspected drugs. First, I took him to our own doctor who listened and advised. I then took him to the hospital who referred one to the drug addiction centre, where, after tests and a wait of two weeks, I was told my son was a heroin addict. I do not believe in being an alarmist and I will not read the rest.

With my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) I visited a number of drug addict centres in the east of this city and including death itself, including pot taking, including all the awful sights I have seen in my life, the sight of 15- to 25-year-olds just mooning around, some unable to control their own limbs, was the most horrifying and harrowing sight I have ever seen.

I am sure that in his Ministerial capacity the Minister has also been to these centres. I have not the least wish to divide the House tonight. It would be thoroughly inappropriate to do so, especially after the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Ogden). All I say is: let us talk and reason together about this issue and if there is any undertaking from the Home Office that we could go and talk to senior officials and ministers, in depth, that would certainly satisfy my purpose in seeking to introduce my Bill under the Ten Minute Rule and this new Clause.

Mr. Sharples

By leave of the House. I want to respond warmly to the generous invitation of the hon. Member. Certainly this is a matter we should discuss. For practical reasons we are not able to accept the new Clause but if this debate has done nothing else it has brought home to the House, and I hope those outside it, the seriousness of this problem among young people. It is certainly a matter which I would be very willing to discuss with him and others who are interested in it.

Question put and negatived.

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