HC Deb 07 December 1994 vol 251 cc305-6
10. Mr. Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people in Scotland have died as a result of solvent abuse in each of the last five years for which figures are available.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The General Register Office for Scotland recorded 12 deaths from solvent abuse in 1989, 10 in 1990, 19 in 1991, seven in 1992 and seven in 1993.

Mr. Bruce

Does the Minister acknowledge that solvent abuse is killing more young people than all other forms of drug abuse combined? More serious than that is evidence that the abuse of solvents is much more widespread than is generally known. The Minister will be aware that the Secretary of State received a letter from me following representations from my constituent Lorraine Morrice, whose son Colin tragically died after inhaling lighter fuel. Can the Minister assure the House that he will be making representations to increase awareness among young people of the risks of solvent abuse? Will he ensure that lighter fuel manufacturers put a proper warning on cans, and that shopkeepers are properly prosecuted if they sell solvents when they know that they are to be used for abusive purposes?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

First, let me assure the hon. Gentleman that we send our deepest sympathy to his constituent who sustained that tragic loss.

The hon. Gentleman has a considerable constituency interest in the charity Re-Solv. Meetings have taken place with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about the possibility of its receiving a grant; a statement will be made soon, and the matter is being viewed sympathetically.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's aim in regard to warning labels. There is, however, a danger that an interest in solvents could be aroused in young persons. We are considering the issue, and a report will be published by the prevention working group of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, whose recommendations we shall examine immediately and carefully. We also have many educational programmes, including videos, to increase awareness of the problem. "Solvents: A Parent's Guide" was published earlier this year, along with "Drugs and Solvents: You and Your Child". We are doing all that we can to get the dangers across to those concerned through the medium of education.

Mr. David Marshall

Can the Minister say how successful the Solvent Abuse (Scotland) Act 1983—taken through the House by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston—has been in dealing with the serious problem of solvent abuse among young people? How much priority does his office give that worrying problem?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on taking the Bill through the House. I believe that it has had an effect: the figures are clearly much too high, but they have fallen in recent years. We must build on that with a strong programme of educational measures. The "Drugwise 2" educational package for 10 to 14-year-olds has been distributed free of charge to all primary and secondary schools in Scotland.

Lady Olga Maitland

Does my hon. Friend agree that solvent abuse is not unique to Scotland? Nationally, two children a week die from it, and three quarters of a million are known to be experimenting with solvents. Does my hon. Friend agree that industry too has a role to play, and that it should be encouraged to carry out research into suitable solvent substitutes that are safe?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

It is certainly very desirable for industries that make solvents that could be misused to conduct research, and to act as responsibly as possible. If the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce)—or anyone else— has any information about shopkeepers who sell youngsters substances for which they can have no legitimate use, he should bring that information to the attention of the police so that the appropriate steps can be taken.