HC Deb 23 January 2003 vol 398 cc147-9WH
2. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)

What steps the Government are taking to improve drug education among young people. [91806]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith)

To protect young people from problematic drug use we must make sure that all young people, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to credible drug education and information.

Almost all schools now have a drug education policy in place and Ofsted reports that the quality of drug education in the classroom is improving year on year. Investment in training programmes for teachers and Connexions advisers, and the national healthy school standard are all providing an important boost to drug education. To build on improvements already made, the Government are implementing a five-year evaluation and research programme called Blueprint.

Jim Dobbin

Is the Minister aware of the excellent work that takes place in the voluntary sector on drug awareness in schools? An example of an organisation that does such work is the North-West Life Education Trust, which is funded by Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland. It has put together an interesting programme of visits that take place throughout my constituency and Rochdale's local education authority area.

Jacqui Smith

Yes, my hon. Friend makes an important point. We recognise that the voluntary sector's contribution can be important in developing drug education. When young people are asked what they want from drug education, they often express an interest in using external visitors, for example. We welcome that contribution. We are aware of the work of Life Education Centres and its chief executive is represented on the advisory group for the Blueprint programme that I mentioned earlier. It is up to local schools to determine the extent to which their drug education policies use outside organisations and voluntary organisations. I certainly believe, and research suggests, that effective drug education is best provided by a partnership involving teachers, parents, voluntary organisations and pupils themselves in order to determine the programmes.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Are the Government giving consideration to, or undertaking studies on, cannabis liberalisation and the liberalisation of other so-called "soft" drugs?

Jacqui Smith

As I think the right hon. Gentleman is aware, research is being conducted on the health effects of using cannabis with regard to certain illnesses. The Government's position is now clear. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has proposed the reclassification of cannabis. The message for young people remains clear: cannabis is a harmful drug and taking cannabis is illegal—our drug education programmes are based on that message. We must also recognise that programmes should be credible and honest about relative health problems associated with different drugs. It is important that we continue to focus our attention and targets on ensuring that we reduce the use of class A drugs, which are clearly the most harmful drugs.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

I wonder what role sports stars and sporting clubs could play in the fight for drug education. Could that role be further extended through schools in the future?

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

I think that my hon. Friend knows about the World Anti-Doping Agency. UK Sport signed off a memorandum of understanding supporting the agency in Moscow only a few weeks ago. UK Sport now has information available on its website or by other means. It is doing everything that it can to show the harmful effects of drugs and doping. We are trying to eradicate the use of drugs in competition, because it is cheating. We want to rid sport of cheating.

Mr. David Rendel (Newbury)

The Minister will be aware that one drug kills more people than any other. That drug is tobacco, which kills roughly 300 people a day. Is the Minister aware that one in four young people can become addicted to tobacco after sampling just two or three cigarettes? Would it not improve education in our schools if the message to young people were not so much "Do not smoke" as "Do not even start smoking because you may become addicted very quickly"?

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that is being reflected in guidance and practice. We need to take a broad approach that covers illegal drugs as well as tobacco and alcohol. The Government are concerned about young people taking up smoking because of the problems that that can lead to in later life. That is why many of our education programmes deal with the harm that tobacco can do; it is also why we are taking action on banning tobacco advertising.