HL Deb 14 December 1981 vol 426 cc2-5

2.41 p.m.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce regulations to control the sale of "glue-sniffing" solvents to young people.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, there are no powers under consumer safety legislation to control the sale of glue-sniffing solvents to young people, but even if there were the Government would consider their use unjustified. There is a very wide range of products containing what we call "sniffable" solvents, and of shops that sell them. Enforcement of a ban or other controls would probably prove ineffective, and it would be hard to justify any particular age limit.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that reply, I would like to point out to him—or rather to ask whether he is aware—that the regulations on the sale of alcohol and cigarettes, and indeed the sale of fireworks, have contributed greatly, in the case of fireworks, to the prevention of accidents, and, in the case of alcohol and cigarettes, to preventing young people buying them. It cannot be beyond the wit of the Government to devise some way in which regulations can control this very serious matter, from which young people have suffered not only brain damage but other ill effects.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, the noble Baroness is perfectly right to point out that fireworks, alcohol and cigarettes are all readily identifiable. But, as I am sure she and noble Lords will appreciate, the solvents which give rise to these sniffable products are, I understand—not having tried the practice myself yet—from the Government's inquiries very widely distributed indeed. We believe that it would not be in the best interests of the young people, first of all, to publicise the dangers of solvent sniffing, and, secondly, to try to make sniffing illegal.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, bearing in mind that other forms of medicine have eliminated the noxious contents of the medicine, is it not possible for glue to be made without containing the troublesome constituent, if that is the right word?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I, too, was interested in this proposition, but I was informed that so wide is the band of products which can give rise to sniffing or other forms of inhalation that even if foul-smelling or other noxious additives were added to these products the substitution effect would be readily in evidence.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that if the Government were to seek to control this practice of glue sniffing young people would only turn to sniffing something else?

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to suggest to the noble Lord that perhaps that is the discipline of despair. I would ask the Minister whether he is aware that, despite the information he has received, there are in fact certain very popular solvents, and, while the range may be great, it cannot be impossible at least to limit it.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we believe that any limitation upon the sale of what the noble Baroness describes as popular solvents is best left to the individual trader, or, far better, education by police, parents, teachers and others taking a much more personal line with the possible young sniffers.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, when the Minister takes some steps to control sniffing, by order, will he leave people free, as they are now, to sniff at the present Government?

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, is it not possible to give some warning notice as regards those sniffable substances which may have adverse effects?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, we believe that that would tend to exacerbate the problem, since to young and fertile minds it would indicate, first, a form of dare and, secondly, the products which put them most at risk.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, although recognising that there are problems in terms of administering any controls that might be introduced, there is grave anxiety among many chief officers of police about the misuse of glue in the circumstances outlined in the noble Baroness's Question? Is the Home Office involved in discussions within Government on this matter?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, while accepting that there may be and, indeed, is grave anxiety on the part of many others besides chief officers of police as regards this problem, I would stress to the noble Lord and, indeed, to the House, that we take the problem very seriously, and, as a first step, the Government have been a co-sponsor of a recent seminar and conference of researchers and practitioners into this very problem at Guy's Hospital.

Lord Balfour of Inchrye

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the best way of dealing with this problem is not by prohibition but by parental example and education showing the results of glue sniffing and making the young realise the evils of the substance which they are tempted to use?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, my noble friend has encapsulated everything that the Government would wish to see. Quite apart from parental example, I hope that the noble Lord and parents around your Lordships will not be seen sniffing the solvents themselves, because it can have a deleterious effect upon adults as well.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that young people do not necessarily have to purchase the glue that they sniff? In my experience of being involved with this matter when I was in another place —and I am bound to say to the noble Lord that if he has seen young people who have been glue sniffing he will realise that it is hardly a laughing matter—the trouble is that far too often we never arrive at the frontiers of understanding until we ourselves are personally involved and can see these things. However, is the noble Lord aware that young people can get hold of industrial glue from tips and such areas near large industry where the stuff is dumped? They do not even have to purchase it. I should have thought that perhaps an appeal could be sent to industrialists asking them not to tip used glue containers but to destroy them in another way.

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I would stress again that the Government believe that the sniffing of these solvents is best dealt with throughout the community by education and by the persuasion of parents and teachers and health, youth and social workers and, indeed, the police.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that it would be a fair summary of his replies to my noble friend Baroness Phillips that the Government are not going to do anything about it?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, one day in the very distant future perhaps the noble Lord may have an opportunity to express a view on behalf of a Government, but until then I would hope that he would be able to read what I have said and allow me to answer the Question.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, would my noble friend consider the possibility of controlling the sale of instant glues to small children, because they also are extremely dangerous?

Lord Lyell

My Lords, I shall have to take advice on the question of instant glue and the purposes to which instant glue is put. I just wonder whether it is definitely connected with the Question on the Order Paper.