HC Deb 01 February 1983 vol 36 cc155-6 4.18 pm
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to add solvent abuse to the conditions indicating the need for a compulsory care order. In 1981 11 young persons died in Strathclyde as a result of solvent abuse and 1,725 young persons were found inhaling solvents, according to the official report of the chief constable for Strathclyde region. I also understand that 33 youngsters died in Britain in 1981 because of that ever-growing practice, and that 14 of those deaths were in Scotland.

Although the number of deaths is recorded, one of the difficulties in assessing the extent of the problem is that no one has any idea of the numbers of young people involved. Even the Scottish Education Department in its consultative memorandum issued in late 1981 states that the numbers of young people concerned are a matter of conjecture and that it is safe to assume that most incidents of solvent abuse go undetected.

The Bill would help inasmuch as it would enable authorities to refer youngsters to a children's panel on a first detection of abusing solvents, whereas at present they are powerless to act and often, because of that, do not do so. Apart from helping these youngsters sooner, we would be building up a record of the true extent of the problem facing us. It is a sad fact that many instances of youngsters abusing solvents are ignored because of the prevailing attitude that there is nothing that one can do about it.

Let us change all that. Let us not find reasons for doing nothing. Just for once let us take some action to help reduce the scale of this menace in present-day society. The low-key approach adopted and recommended by the Government has failed, so much so that only last week Strathclyde regional council decided to adopt a high-level attack on the problem before it reached epidemic proportions in that area.

At this stage I should like to pay tribute to Strathclyde regional council, in particular to Councillor William Perry and to Mr. Geoffrey Isles, the principal officer on addiction, and to Glasgow district council, for their respective campaigns. I pay tribute also to the Glasgow Evening Times and the Daily Record for all their efforts.

However, neither the local authorities nor the media can take the necessary action, only the Government or Parliament can. Apart from legislation, if the Government have a million pounds to spend on an advertising and publicity campaign extolling the fatal virtues of nuclear weapons, why can they not spend money on an advertising campaign similar to that mounted against smoking, warning parents and youngsters against the dangers and evils of solvent abuse?

I do not intend to describe the symptoms, causes and effects of solvent abuse. That has been done here many times. My hon. Friend, the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) did so most graphically as recently as 21 December 1982. There is, however, an air of frustration and hopelessness in many areas and among many parents as to how to cope with the problem. Their pleas for help go largely unanswered, mainly because of the absence of any encouraging or supportive legislation. Perhaps eventually Parliament will recognise the need to clamp down hard on shopkeepers who knowingly and deliberately sell solvents to youngsters for the purpose of solvent abuse, but in the meantime we have a responsibility to do what we can to reduce the scale of the problem.

I do not seek to make solvent abuse a punitive offence. That would only drive it underground and discourage people from seeking help. I prefer to see caring legislation introduced. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 came into being before solvent abuse became a problem. Section 32 (2) lays down the conditions that indicate when a child may need compulsory measures or care within the meaning of the Act and may therefore be referred to a children's panel. My Bill simply seeks to add to these a new condition—a child's indulgence in solvent abuse. My definition of the term solvent abuse is inhalation, for the purposes of intoxication or hallucination, of glue, adhesive, the contents of aerosols or any product containing volatile substances.

The children's hearing system is a uniquely Scottish one which enables the problems of a child up to the age of 16 to be discussed in the presence, and with the participation, of the parents in an informal setting. The legislation which created the children's hearing system and which governs practice within it applies, of course, only to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland told me in a written reply on Thursday 16 December 1982 that he would take action along the lines I am suggesting, that this would require only a small change to the legislation and that he would seek to arrange that when a suitable opportunity arose.

Surely there is no more suitable opportunity than the present. The Bill will not eliminate the problem of solvent abuse in Scotland but, by means of a very simple addition, sooner rather than later, to the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 it may help to save some young people and parents untold misery, and it might even save some lives.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Marshall, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Neil Carmichael, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. John Come, Mr. Donald Dewar, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mrs Helen McElhone, Mr. Albert McQuarrie, Mr. Michael Martin and Mr. John Maxton.