HC Deb 01 November 1994 vol 248 cc1339-41
11. Mr. Whittingdale

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

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

The Department is playing a full part in the Government's strategy for drug prevention.

Mr. Whittingdale

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to eliminate drug abuse, it must be tackled at the earliest opportunity —through education in the classroom? Does she further agree that the worst possible message that we could send to our young people would be to legalise soft drugs, as the Liberal Democrat party would do?

Mrs. Shephard

I agree with my hon. Friend. Education on drugs is part of the national curriculum from five to 16. Indeed, references to drugs have been maintained in the new slimmed-down curriculum. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) began his question this afternoon by asking for consensus. I assure him that there will be never be consensus from the Conservative party on legalising drugs of any kind.

Mr. Miller

Does the Secretary of State share my concern at the advice given by a spokesperson for the Liberal and Conservative-controlled Cheshire county council, who told one of my staff this week that there is no drugs problem in our local schools? Does she agree that it is a problem which affects all schools throughout the United Kingdom and that our education representatives locally and nationally should be taking an active interest in it?

Mrs. Shephard

Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The recently announced Government initiative in the Green Paper made education a matter of key concern in the battle against drugs. Drugs are an educational issue as well as a social evil. It is important to remove the stigma from those schools that make a stand against drugs. Drugs are an issue for all schools and for all of us.

Mr. Rowe

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the most effective instruments for improving supervision in schools would be to welcome volunteers into schools to assist teachers in a wide variety of different functions? Apart from anything else, there would be two pairs of eyes in the classroom rather than just one.

Mrs. Shephard

Next week, I shall be launching a draft circular as a basis for consultation on teaching about drugs and the handling of drugs-related incidents. We expect the consultation to result in many excellent ideas for good practice from across the country, some of which may include those put forward by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I applaud the Government's attempts to control drugs in schools and urge them to do more, but why are the Government at the same time cutting by 25 per cent. the number of customs officers dealing with drug enforcement? Is it inconsistency or hypocrisy?

Mrs. Shephard

I think that what it could be is a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the total Government programme on drugs prevention amounts to £500 million. Her Majesty's Customs and Excise is involved in the recent initiative, as are the Education and Health Departments, the Department of Social Security and other Government Departments.

Mr. Brazier

As a former schools inspector, does my right hon. Friend agree that much of the initiative must be taken at county level? Does she further agree that it is outrageous that, nine months after a call in February from Conservative county councillors for a tougher policy on discipline in schools in Kent, the Lib-Lab ruling coalition has still not agreed to take action?

Mrs. Shephard

I always believe the comments of my hon. Friend and what he describes is lamentable.