HC Deb 19 January 1984 vol 52 cc434-5
7. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has any evidence of inmates who have abused solvents needing treatment in prisons and other custodial institutions: and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Mellor

There are indications from a number of young offender establishments that a substantial proportion of inmates may have a history of solvent abuse. Some establishments are taking specific initiatives aimed at this problem. We are considering how to encourage and coordinate those initiatives.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. Friend aware that at Ashford remand centre and some other penal establishments for people under the age of 18 some of the inmates are beyond all psychiatric and medical help— indeed, beyond coherent life outside— as a result of glue sniffing? Will he seek powers to prosecute people who sell solvents to youngsters under the age of 18, as it is vital that something should be done?

Mr. Mellor


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Greville Janner.

Mr. Mellor

I am quite happy not to answer the last question, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I may let you know the next time a question gives me difficulty.

We are aware of the problem of glue-sniffing in penal establishments and a great deal of work is being done to deal with it, especially in establishments for young persons. As for making the sale of solvents unlawful, in the large consultation exercise carried out by the Department of Health and Social Security, very few of the 130 groups responding favoured that solution. Solvents are contained in a wide range of domestic products, so such a move would not be practicable, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, in consultation with retailers, is bringing out a set of guidelines to help shop staff to identify solvent abusers so that the substances are not sold to them.

Mr. Janner

Is the Minister aware that his delayed answer is thoroughly unsatisfactory and that the terrifying spread of solvent abuse and glue-sniffing cannot be dealt with by a voluntary code? Will he introduce legislation at once to impose heavy fines and prison sentences on people who push glue and solvents in the knowledge that they will be abused, whether to people under 18 or to anyone else?

Mr. Mellor

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we are considering the state of English law in relation to the case in Scotland where it was alleged that glue-sniffing kits were being sold. There is, however no evidence to suggest that that is the problem in England, where the problem is far more likely to be the sale in good faith of items which can be abused, which include a wide range of household items, to people who then abuse them. We take the problem very seriously, but we believe that education and offering assistance to those who sniff solvents, together with the police power to take young people found sniffing glue to a place of safety, is far more likely to deal with the situation than the imposition of criminal penalties as suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman.