HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc772-4
9. Mr. Peter Ainsworth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what measures he is taking to combat drug abuse in schools.

Mr. Forth

Education is an important element of the Government's strategy for tackling drug abuse. The national curriculum requires teaching about the harmful effects of drugs, and helps to develop pupils' capacity to resist pressure to misuse drugs. My Department has published guidance for schools and has funded projects, materials and national bodies working in this field.

Mr. Ainsworth

May I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and ask him to continue to provide as much reassurance as possible to parents throughout the country who are rightly worried about this important matter? Will he extend education about drug abuse from the higher stages in children's careers to the youngest sensible age?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I believe that the content of the curriculum covering this important matter is about right at present. We start at a very early stage and build up the information about drugs imparted in the classroom to our young people, the effect that they have on the body, the effects of misuse and so on. That is surely one of the most important contributions that education can make to informing young people about drugs and their harmful effects. I believe that as we see the effect of the national curriculum accumulating over the generations of young people, the beneficial effects of education on drugs will become ever more clear.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

If drug education in schools is so important, as the Opposition as well as parents know why have Government cuts reduced the number of drug education co-ordinators from 135 this time last year to a mere 75 today? What kind of message does the Minister think that that sends to parents and young people alike?

Mr. Forth

I think that the hon. Lady is referring to decisions by local education authorities throughout the country and their prioritisation for expenditure. It was indeed the case that some years ago my Department initiated a pump-priming grant, for a specific period only, to allow local education authorities to assess the value of the co-ordinators. The pump priming was extended not once but twice. It then came to an end. Local education authorities, correctly in my view, are now making their own decisions about their priorities.

Mr. Whittingdale

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Daily Express, which reported its investigation into drug abuse in schools over three days last week? Does he accept that the problem afflicts not only schools in the inner cities but schools everywhere in the country, including in my constituency? Does he agree that it is essential that staff and teachers maintain the utmost vigilance if we are to eradicate the menace?

Mr. Forth

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Of course, truancy is another element. It must surely be the case that when young people are not in school where they should be, they are vulnerable in shopping centres or wherever, to drug pushers and others who seek to abuse or mislead the children. Therefore, our strong emphasis on tackling truancy is an important part of the overall strategy to reduce the vulnerability to drugs of our young people.