HC Deb 22 July 1982 vol 28 cc516-7
2. Miss Boothroyd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has given advice to local statutory bodies falling within the responsibility of his Department on the subject of solvent sniffing; and whether Her Majesty's Government plan any new initiatives in this area.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Patrick Mayhew)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services intends to consult statutory and voluntary agencies about ways of strengthening and supporting their work on solvent abuse. These will include the local statutory bodies for which we are responsible.

Miss Boothroyd

I accept that legislation is not the complete answer, but if we have a duty to protect the health of young people by restricting the sale of alcohol and tobacco, should we not prevent them from obtaining solvent-based glues? Therefore, should there not be legislation? I am delighted to hear that the DHSS is making some effort towards prevention and detection. However, as a senior Secretary of State, will the Home Secretary bring together all the Departments and take an initiative to provide the finance—which is very important—for the local statutory and voluntary bodies to carry out such work?

Mr. Mayhew

We should do all that we can to solve the problem. However, I cannot accept that the Government have a duty to prevent young people from obtaining access to solvent-based goods, because they are so numerous. For example, nail varnish and nail varnish remover, and I do not know what else, are solvent-based goods. We must help people to learn about the dangers, and the best way is to consult the bodies to which I referred.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is my hon. and learned Friend prepared to try out a law that makes it illegal to sniff solvents in a public place? It is ridiculous that groups of youngsters should be able to sniff glue in public parks and that the authorities can do nothing about it. If the Government will not take action, will my hon. and learned Friend agree to an authority, such as Southend, having a byelaw to that effect?

Mr. Mayhew

I do not think that at present it would be wise to create such a criminal offence. If a person is liable to become violent when intoxicated, it does not make any difference whether his intoxication is due to alcohol or solvent sniffing. However, we must ensure that the police are able to crack down on violent behaviour, so that it is prevented in every sensible and practical way.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman not underestimate the seriousness of solvent sniffing, as it has led to fatalities among young people? Will he ensure that the incidence of solvent sniffing is monitored? If he does not know the extent of it, he cannot assess the seriousness of the problem or decide whether the advice given by the Home Office is effective in its results.

Mr. Mayhew

I agree that the problem is serious, and we take it as such. It is right to say that there have been deaths, but not the least of the objections to making the public sniffing of glue a crime is that sniffing might then be done in secrecy and any resulting accident would probably be out of reach of help. We must take that into account.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Is not the truth of the matter that many things can be abused? Razor blades can be used for cutting throats and electric power points can be used to electrocute people. Whereas tobacco and alcohol are used for smoking and drinking, glue is primarily used for sticking. If the Government accept responsibility for controlling the abuse of everything in the United Kingdom, they will impose an intolerable burden on the nation.

Mr. Mayhew

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, with which I entirely agree. We have a duty to help people to understand that, in certain circumstances, making a mistake and behaving unwisely should not be a criminal offence.