Orders of the Day — Drug Abuse (Glasgow)

– in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 22nd October 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart 9:30 pm, 22nd October 1981

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to raise an important issue at rather short notice. I thank the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland for agreeing to reply to the debate. I know that he has had a busy week—not entirely successful, but busy. Rather than thanking him, perhaps I should apologise for dragging him to the House yet again. However, when the business of the House finishes early, it provides an opportunity for Back Benchers to raise issues that they could not otherwise raise.

I wish to discuss a report published last week by the Glasgow university sociology department. It was written by Jason Ditton and Mr. Kevin Speirits on the subject of drug addiction, especially heroin, in Glasgow. I shall return later to the content of the report. To illustrate its importance to Glasgow I wish to describe the reaction to it.

As many hon. Members know, the report was the subject of a lengthy programme on "Nationwide". It was not limited to Scottish television. The whole nation saw it. It received considerable press coverage and comment. It has caused much anxiety among the public in Glasgow and the West of Scotland. As a result, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Queens Park (Mr. McElhone) has arranged a meeting tomorrow with the chief constable of Strathclyde to discuss the issue. He has also arranged a meeting next week with the Secretary of State for Scotland. Those meetings will be useful and important. However, it is right that the issue should be publicly aired on the Floor of the House and that the Minister should be given an opportunity to give the Scottish Office reaction to it in this Chamber and not by way of a later press release.

The major findings of the report are worrying. They have not been denied by the Government, the police authorities in Strathclyde, or the social work department of the Strathclyde region. The report claims that, after a steady but small rise in drug addiction in Glasgow since the early 1970s, it shot up by 388 per cent. in the first six months of this year. The report estimates that there are 1,000 heroin addicts in Glasgow a city that has not previously been seen as a major center for such drug abuse. It has been known as a center for alcoholism and for glue sniffing among youngsters.

Press reaction to the report claimed that the estimate of 1,000 addicts might be conservative. An article in the Sunday Standard last week said that its investigations showed that the figure was probably double that in the report—2,000. Its estimation was borne out by Strathclyde region's principal addiction officer, Geoffrey Isles, who said that he believed the true figure to be double that in the report.

The report's figures are borne out in other respects by other elements. For instance, 30 Glaswegians have been arrested in the first six months of this year. That may not seem many arrests when set against the 1,000 addicts, but that is the same number as for the whole of last year. There has been a large increase.

In his annual report the chief constable of Strathclyde, Mr. Patrick Hamill, said that there were indications that supplies were increasing and that he would ensure that greater efforts would be made by his police force to deal with the criminal fraternity which supplies and encourages this evil trade.

The figures in the report are supported by indications from other areas. In addition, the report states that new addicts are younger than those who were addicted in the past and that drugs are coming from a source different from the usual ones. Of course, they are being bought on the black market.

Mr. Jason Ditton,:

one of the report's authors, has told me in conversation—this is not in the report—that the addicts come largely from working-class backgrounds. In the past this type of addiction has tended to be in university towns where there are large student populations and among children and young people from a more middle class background than Mr. Ditton's report suggests. Mr. Ditton suggests that that is so in Glasgow. In illustration the report gives quite harrowing case histories of heroin addicts. For example, there was a 19-year-old youth who was spending £16 a night on his addiction. He ran into trouble with the criminal fraternity because he owed it about £350. There was another example of a person spending about £200 a week. Again, both the report and the press reporters referred to addicts they had met who were spending up to £350 or £400 a week on their addiction. That created enormous problems for them.

Therefore, it appears that in Glasgow we have a large problem of drug addiction. This has suddenly come to light. It has been highlighted by this report. To many of us, including myself and other Glasgow Members living in or around Glasgow, it is a surprise. We have always been aware of the problems of alcoholism. We have been increasingly aware over the past few years of the problems of glue sniffing and the many difficulties that they are creating in many areas. However, I do not think that many of us have been so aware of the growing problem of heroin addiction.

Those are the major ingredients of the report. However, it also rightly considers why the problem has arisen. It makes recommendations on how the problem should be tackled.

The report gives two main reasons for the increase. It hints at a third reason why it has happened. The report reveals that the slow but gradual rise in addiction—not only in Glasgow but elsewhere—began with the change in the heroin control policy of Governments in the late 1960s. Until then Britain saw addiction as a medical problem. Doctors were able to prescribe heroin of high purity gradually to bring addicts off it by a process of slowly reducing the doses.

The Government rightly wished to impose some controls and slowly to reduce the amount of drugs that could be prescribed in that way. However, in the end they stopped it altogether. The report states that this is one reason why drug addiction has increased. That is because the addict is pushed on to the black market for his supplies. He is pushed towards criminal elements to obtain his supplies and it is to the benefit of those elements, having encouraged youngsters in the use of cannabis or milder drugs, to push them on to hard drugs, because the profit margins are that much higher.

There are indications in the report and in reports published in the press that in Glasgow the pushers are saying to young people who may be in a circle in which drugs are used by some, "Try it out. You can have it for nothing." They allow them to take it for nothing on two or three occasions. Following that they allow them credit. They say, "You can have it now and you can pay us later." By that stage the young person is hooked and then the pushers begin to demand money.

When that happens, many young people are driven towards crime to find the money to pay for their drugs. There is now no reason why addicts should register themselves as addicts. There is no benefit for them because they will not obtain drugs on registering. Only those who are desperate and feel that they have to be cured are prepared to place themselves on the register. There is no reason why addicts should do so, generally speaking, unless they can get drugs through prescriptions.

The result is that addicts do not register. This is why I said that reports of 1,000 or 2,000 addicts in Glasgow are estimates. We do not know how many there are, because there is no need for them to register. We cannot implement controls or produce solutions until we have hard facts. Addicts are not likely to register unless they feel that there is some point in coming forward.

Secondly, there have been changes in the drug supply on the world market. I shall not spend long discussing that, because I do not think that the Minister has any control over the world supply of opium or heroin. Nevertheless, it is one reason why there has been a great upsurge in the availability of drugs from other countries. In the past, drug dealers could sell all the drugs that they could get. The supply was not limited. In fact, the supply was far too high. It always has been far too high. The dealers could sell all their supplies for high profits in London or to other countries. They can now get enough to expand their operations outwards. There are indications that this is happening in Glasgow. The dealers are supplying to a much larger area, including Glasgow. The expansion has taken place and there is an immense problem in Glasgow.

The third reason, which has been more than hinted at by Mr. Jason Ditton, Mr. Isles the chief addiction officer in Strathclyde and myself, is the despair that is felt by many young people in Glasgow. In some ways this is the major reason. Young people, especially from working-class families, recognise when they leave school, or before they leave school, that there is little or no hope of obtaining employment immediately or for some considerable time. They feel increasing despair. Increasingly their mothers and fathers are unemployed. They live with their Parents in depressed social conditions. The weaker of them turn towards drugs and addiction as a release from what is increasingly a miserable no-hope life. This is where the Government must bear some responsibility for what has happened. The report states that three major steps could lie taken. First, the police must act to ensure that the pushers do not carry out their trade. Despite what some people think, I have a high regard for the police force in Strathclyde, and I hope that the press will publish that fact. The police are now at strength and have worked hard to try to solve the problem. However, the report says that the problem cannot be solved by punitive action. I agree with it. It will not be solved by punitive action alone.

However successful the police are in arresting the pushers, it is difficult for them to reach either the middlemen or the "bankers" as they are called—the people who buy the drugs in London, bring them to Glasgow and distribute them. Those people make sure that there are few connections between them and the pushers, the people whom the police can arrest. Therefore, however many pushers the police arrest, in the end there will always be more pushers available to those top people to use instead. Therefore, while I want the police to continue the work that they are doing, to work as hard as they can, to arrest and to keep the problem under control, it cannot be solved in that way. The report makes that clear.

Secondly, the report says that more money must be available to establish clinics with specially trained staff, so that the addicts feel that there is a place where they can go where they will receive genuine help. At present, Strathclyde region, along with most other local government areas, is having to cut back on its social work programmes. This is a social work job. I hope that the Minister will give a commitment that he sees the need for clinics with trained staff to be established in Glasgow as the first step towards solving the drug problem.

The third cure that is given is the most controversial. I am not sure that I wholly go along with the report. That is the return to free prescriptions of heroin for registered addicts. I do not go along with that the whole way because it can be, and was in the past, open to abuse by some doctors. Therefore, that return must be carefully controlled if we are to use it.

However, the effects of not returning to free prescriptions of heroin are there to be seen. I have highlighted one of them. Until addicts feel that they can go to an authority and obtain their drug, they will not register. Therefore, it is impossible for us to know the size of the problem. If we do not know who the addicts are, we cannot help them and try to cure them. Some addicts go because they feel desperate, or their families feel so desperate that they advise them to go, but large numbers do not.

"While the supply of heroin is in the control of the black market where high prices are being charged for low quality heroin, according to the report—the heroin is adulterated by substances such as talcum powder, and £15 and £16 is being paid for small amounts—the problem of unemployed youngsters obtaining the money to buy it is extremely worrying. They have not the money so what do they do? They turn to crime in order to obtain the money with which to buy their drug. That results in an increase in the number of cases of breaking into chemists' shops and other places where drugs can be found. It also means that there is an increase in muggings and other violent crimes through which people concerned hope to obtain money to buy their drugs.

The link between crime and addiction will grow stronger unless somehow or other we can get the addict out of the hands of the pusher and into the hands of the authorities, who can begin to deal with the problem. Unless that can be done, the major criminals will have a yet bigger market for their product and a bigger opportunity to exploit the drug addicts, who in turn will find it increasingly difficult to break away.

In addition to the major health problem which results from addiction, if the addict is not taking proper heroin, administered by medically trained people in controlled circumstances, other risks to his health may arise.

For the reasons that I have given, there is a case for the Government to look very seriously at the report. I said that I had reservations about it. I should like to see a reintroduction of the prescription of these drugs of addiction, but within drug clinics alone. I am not sure that I would want to see prescription returned to general practitioners, because there are risks in that. I would prefer a return to a system under which addicts can register at clinics, have their drugs administered by properly qualified medical people, and have their dependence gradually reduced. The aim must always be to get them away from their addiction. That is the main purpose, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

I hope that the Minister will be able to convince his colleagues within the Scottish Office and at the Home Office that there must be a change in policy concerning drugs if we are to cure what has become a very difficult problem, particularly in Glasgow. But I should like to emphasise that there is in Glasgow not only a problem of heroin addiction; we have the alcoholics, the glue sniffers, and the people who are on softer drugs. I have no knowledge that drug addiction of this type is a great problem in my constituency, but glue sniffing is an enormous problem.

I do not believe that these forms of addiction and the rise in them is due to some fatal weakness in the character of the Glaswegian. I think it is due to the social conditions in which people are living. The Government's real responsibility is not just to change the law on addiction and to give Strathclyde region more police. The Government must change their economic and social policies to ensure that young people can once again feel that they have a place and a part to play in the society in which they live. They must be given hope. Unless they have hope, some of them will continue to turn to the various forms of drug abuse.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride 9:54 pm, 22nd October 1981

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) on raising such an important subject. It is a pity that more hon. Members were not here to listen to his speech.

In Glasgow we used to think that problems associated with addiction to hard drugs such as heroin and morphine occurred only in New York, Los Angeles, and to a small extent in London. But now we find that the problem is not confined to those cities. We have the problem in our own city of Glasgow. In particular, we have addiction to heroin—a substance which causes a human being to become completely dehumanised, eventually resulting in death.

I am glad that my hon. Friend mentioned the registration system. In more than 22 years' practice in Glasgow I never had to prescribe for one person in that respect, so small a problem was it in my native city. We now have not only heroin addiction but, as my hon. Friend has said, glue sniffing and other problems.

Glue sniffing is indeed a serious problem. The sniffing of these vapours which immediately affect the brain causes hallucinations, making young people imagine that they can fly like Batman. It is thus the cause of a number of deaths in Glasgow and in other areas and of enormous problems for the families involved.

As I am sure the House knows, at one time the taking of opium was quite commonplace in this country. In Victorian times, it was indulged in by a great many people and did not seem to cause any great problems. At least, there is no tabulation of statistical evidence to suggest that problems were caused. I am not making a plea for the taking of opium; I merely make that observation in passing. If there is a lesson to be learned from that, it is perhaps that it is the pushing of the drug which causes many of the problems, and the crime syndicates which arise as a result.

Of course young people take drugs for a number of reasons—for kicks, for relief from the kind of monotony to which my hon. Friend referred. I do not know whether any hon. Member present has experienced the effects of an injection of morphine. Many years ago, when on holiday in Italy, I had a pretty serious gastro-intestinal bug, which caused excruciating pain. I therefore had to have an injection of morphine from the local doctor, who gave me a large dose—about three times the amount that I used to prescribe to patients. Within about 10 minutes I would not have cared if the hotel had caught fire. If somebody had come in and said that the whole place was in flames, I should simply have laughed. That is the kind of euphoria that the drug induces in the recipient.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

Is not it a fact that a good deal of the arson that we have suffered recently has been directly or indirectly related to drug taking?

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride

Yes, I agree. It causes all sorts of problems, and arson is one. That is perhaps one of the manifestations of drug taking which shows itself in the victims.

My hon. Friend mentioned an addiction which is prevalent in Glasgow, in all our big cities and, I think, in most parts of the world—addiction to alcohol. Alcohol is also a poison. If the statistics can be validly compared, alcohol addiction or the excess taking of alcohol is probably the cause of more crime and difficulty than any other drug. We therefore have to bear the charge of a great deal of hypocrisy in allowing alcohol but not other drugs.

At this point, while I am entirely on the side of my hon. Friend in believing that there should be close scrutiny of hard drug taking and a clamp-down on the pedlars—on the bankers, the people who make vast fortunes out of this trade—I am perhaps treading on more difficult ground in wishing to dwell for a few moments on the cannabis problem.

My attitude towards cannabis—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Brooke.]

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride

When I am approached by constituents, who take advantage of the fact that I am a medical practitioner, asking why I do not push for the legalisation of cannabis when alcohol is allowed, my stock answer has been that alcohol has been with the human race for thousands of years. We know all its difficulties and manifestations. We are aware of everything that can happen as a result of alcohol taking, but we do not know the same about cannabis.

Although some people argue that cannabis causes no problems, there may well be problems. However, I am beginning to have doubts about whether I should continue to adopt this adamant stand on cannabis. I say that because there is the possibility that by not allowing access to cannabis we may be pushing young people to the point where they say, "Well, if cannabis is illegal we might as well go for the big one and try heroin". I am not saying that we should legalise cannabis. All I am suggesting is that perhaps we should delve a little deeper into the question to discover whether, if there were a relaxation of the cannabis laws, there would be an equivalent reduction in the taking of hard drugs.

I know of the argument that it is by starting on soft drugs that some young people progress to hard ones. I do not believe we shall stop that in any case. There could well be an argument at least for re-examining the cannabis laws.

Once again, I hasten to stress that I am not suggesting that there should be any immediate relaxation in the cannabis laws. I am merely saying that the situation should be examined in case there is a relationship between cannabis and a reduction in the taking of the real, dangerous and serious drugs.

This report from Glasgow university, which identifies heroin as the most dangerous culprit, is a serious indictment of our society. Heroin is the most dangerous culprit in the whole spectrum of drug taking. I wholeheartedly support the three propositions put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart.

I would not be quite as reticent about the third. We should reconstitute this register. As he said, it might be a good idea to bring it under greater control rather than give the responsibility, as previously, to the general practitioner, because from time to time there have been gross infringements of the doctor's privilege of prescribing for registered addicts.

It would be a good idea to reinstitute the register, perhaps with greater safeguards, in addition to the two other measures suggested by my hon. Friend. This will be an increasingly difficult problem, and I cannot, in all conscience, be optimistic about it, either in Glasgow or elsewhere. First, there is too much money to be made by unscrupulous people for them to let go of such a lucrative trade. Secondly, with mental and physical strains becoming more common in our society, it is likely that the drive towards taking these dangerous drugs will increase. There are also other dangerous drugs that people take in large quantities. Barbiturates are prescribed only exceptionally, but there was a day when they were prescribed freely. I used to do so myself, and I did not have any problems. Valium is prescribed with great regularity and in enormous quantities, and many other drugs have hallucinatory and other deleterious effects on the human frame. We should institute a high-powered investigation into the whole problem of drug taking, covering every aspect and including all drugs—from the softest drugs that are acceptable, such as alcohol and Valium, to those that are not acceptable, such as morphine and heroin.

It has been a privilege to support my hon. Friend and I am glad that he raised this subject tonight.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian 10:07 pm, 22nd October 1981

The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for grasping the opportunity to raise this subject.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) knows the problem well at first hand as a medical practitioner. My credential for speaking on the subject is that I attempted twice under the Ten-Minute Bill procedure to introduce a Bill on the testing of drug addiction. It did not get very far. My concern arose from my experience when I was the late Richard Crossman's Parliamentary Private Secretary of going with him to the heroin addicts center in East London. It was the most appalling sight—including death itself in various forms—that I have ever seen. I saw 13, 14 and 15-year-olds mooning around, incontinent, and without proper control over their limbs. It even shocked so hardened a man as Sir George Godber, who was then the chief medical officer at the Department of Health. Were I in favour of capital punishment—which I am not—the first group for which I would advocate it would be the pushers of heroin for profit—people who wreak absolute destruction in families simply for profit.

Well briefed by Professor Arnold Beckett of the Chelsea college, and supported not only by three former Secretaries of State for Health and Social Security—Mrs. Castle, Mr. Crossman and Mr. Douglas Houghton—but by distinguished Conservatives, the late Dr. Colonel Sir Malcolm Stoddart Scott, Miss Mervyn Pyke and other colleagues, I put forward a Bill. It is true that it proposed a limitation of freedom that was considered to be unacceptable. On consideration, it was clear that at that time the House would not have it.

However, I return to the central question. It is unreasonable to ask the Minister to give a view on such a delicate subject at this time of night on the second Adjournment, but, after consideration, will he write to us about random testing? Unless there is early indentification, the addiction can go too far. The professional qualifications of my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride are greater than mine, and I believe that he would confirm that unless one identifies a heroin addict at an early stage the individual is lost.

My second point concerns glue sniffing. Under the leadership of Nigel Fordyce, the West Lothian district council formally approached me about its considerable concern. It arises not only out of such cases as a miserable teenager killing his grandmother while under the influence of glue. In our district, as in many others especially around Glasgow, glue sniffing is becoming ever more serious. My hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart gave the reasons and I shall not repeat them.

Six months ago my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey)—we greatly regret that he is ill and is unable to be with us—who has a longstanding interest in the subject, raised the matter as a central issue when many of us believed that it was only peripheral. The Secretary of State told us that research was being carried out into additives to glue or the effectiveness of taking more rigorous measures at the point of sale.

Mistakes can be made, but it beggars belief that on occasions youngsters can buy glue and the person serving them does not have a fairly shrewd idea of the purpose. If there is any suspicion, it is deeply irresponsible of adults to sell teenagers glue that can do them great harm. I know of the hallucinations that can result. From work in the Manpower Services Commission I know of a boy sent to the National Trust. With all the good will in the world, employers cannot take on glue sniffers. One does not know what they will do next. How can one be reassured about such things as fire-raising when these people are not in control of their senses? That is why in West Lothian we believe that the need to deal with the subject is urgent and important.

Mr. Nigel Fordyce,:

on behalf of the West Lothian district council, is writing to the Scottish Office. We hope to have discussion in the first instance with Scottish Office officials who are concerned about and sensitive to the issue. We shall see where we go from there. In the meantime, we await the Minister's reply with interest.

Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh North

): I, too, am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for the opportunity to discuss this important matter. I am also grateful to him for his consideration of my position, Having had a successful week so far, I see no reason why I should not respond on behalf of the Government.

The report by Dr. Ditton and Mr. Speirits was published last Thursday. It was featured on BBC television and in the newspapers. I am bound to say that this in itself is not a measure of the significance of the report. With all due respect to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Sunday Standard, the Glasgow Evening Times and other newspapers that have featured it, the report did not produce any significant new information that was not already known to the authorities and to the Scottish Office about the position in Glasgow,

I would refer in particular to the report on 1980 of the chief constable of Strathclyde published in May this year which said, on drugs: The large reduction of 26.9 per cent. in cases of drug abuse and 31.1 per cent. in the number of persons arrested for drug offences hides what police and medical authorities believe to be disturbing trends. Firstly, heroin abuse doubled over the year and although the 1980 figure of thirty is still comparatively small, the situation is being monitored with concern. Secondly, while the price of heroin and cannabis has risen dramatically there are indications that the market is expanding and supplies increasing. The chief constable goes on to say: My policy will continue to be that of concentrating our efforts to deal with the criminal fraternity behind this expansion who supply and encourage this evil trade. I have read that section of the chief constable's report because I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House will wish to be reassured of the seriousness with which the authorities in Strathclyde—not only the police but also the health authorities and the social work department—are playing their part to try to come to grips and deal with the problem. They have also set up a co-ordinating body to make sure that this work continues as effectively as possible.

In the report Dr. Ditton and Mr, Speirits note that the two drug clinics in the Glasgow area experienced a 388 per cent. rise in new cases of heroin addiction in the first six months of 1981. In effect this represents a total of 66 cases which they extrapolate for the whole of 1981 to produce the figure of a 388 per cent. increase over 1980. These figures must be interpreted with caution. It is easy to produce large and alarming percentage figures when the absolute number used as a basis is very small. The number of new cases registered in 1980 was 21.

The figures must also be interpreted with caution because even the dramatic rise in reported cases of heroin addiction may not be due to a real increase. It is possible that sources of illicit supply have diminished, thus making it necessary for addicts to register at the clinics in order to obtain a methadone substitute. In other words, there may be an increase in self-notifying addicts, but only more detailed study could ascertain whether this is the case.

The report comments on procedures that have been followed in this country since 1968 and tends to blame these procedures, at least to some extent, for the increase in the number of addicts and the number of criminals or pushers who take the most wicked advantage of the unfortunate addict. The hon. Member for Cathcart was critical of the present procedure, although he qualified his criticism by saying that he had not gone overboard for the recommendations made in the report. I think that he was perhaps critical of the procedures relating to registration.

The report's most significant proposal for the NHS is the recommendation that pure heroin should be freely supplied to addicts on demand by means of an NHS prescription issued by any doctor. As I am sure the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller) is aware, that suggestion contradicts informed medical opinion on the subject and is put forward without any basis of evidence that such a course might be successful in controlling the level of heroin addiction.

The treatment regimes being carried out at the two Glasgow drug clinics at the Eastern district hospital and the Southern general hospital, are fully in accord with well-established medical practice in other parts of the United Kingdom, particularly London where there is a much greater number of heroin addicts.

I do not pretend that the present procedures are perfect, but I repeat that the police, the NHS and the social work departments in Glasgow co-ordinate their activities and share a deep concern and the common objective to help addicts and to hound pushers.

Perhaps at this hour I should excuse the hon. Member for Cathcart for feeling obliged to relate any deprivation or criminal offence in any part of the country to the Government's policies. However, I suggest that that is a little too easy from a political point of view and that it can be dangerous to seek to make excuses for those who are victims of misfortune or are at the mercy of others, such as drug pushers, who are taking advantage of them for personal profit.

The problems to which the hon. Member for Cathcart rightly drew attention are not peculiar to Glasgow, Scotland or the United Kingdom or to any particular set of economic circumstances or any political creed. I hope that he will appreciate that the matter had a much broader perspective and that the problems should not be narrowly judged or confused with the situation in the country at large.

Photo of Mr John Maxton Mr John Maxton , Glasgow Cathcart

I hope that the Minister will appreciate that social problems inevitably create such difficulties. They may not be the only reason for drug addiction, alcoholism and glue sniffing, but if we put those three problems together we see that Glasgow has a problem which, if not unique, is certainly worse than is faced in any comparable city in Western Europe.

I hope that the Minister will not dismiss these problems and say that they have nothing to do with economic and social conditions, which are made considerably worse by Government policies. I hope that he will not be too easily dismissive of that aspect.

Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh North

I have gone out of my way not to dismiss the problem lightly, but I cannot accept the narrow criticism that the problems of Glasgow have sprung up suddenly in the past couple of years. If one wishes to analyse the political connection with the social problems in Glasgow one must consider how the city has been governed over the past quarter of a century.

The report suggests that changes should be made in the procedures that have operated since 1968, but I remind the House that the report was no more than a pilot study over two or three months and, by nature, the contents, although important, must be of limited value.

Ministers are considering the matters seriously, but not in a panic, because, as I suggested earlier, the report has received a great deal of publicity—perhaps more than the depth of the study, though not the problem, may have deserved. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend and my colleagues in the Scottish Office are taking the matter seriously. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, the Secretary of State is meeting him and various other Glasgow Members of Parliament next week to consider in more detail the report and, more importantly, the current situation in Glasgow, taking into account the latest views of the chief constable, the director of social work, the health board and others who are dealing with this problem daily as part of their duties. As I have already said, they are dealing with the matter most earnestly and with considerable effect.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride has much experience of the problems and the difficulties that we are discussing—I do not mean in a personal way, of course, but professionally. He rightly drew attention to the dangers of soft drugs and glue sniffing, as well as the drink problem. He will be the first to recognise that drink, not least in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, causes many difficulties, not just of a social nature, but affecting industry.

It is true that the drink problem and all the related problems are well recognised in Glasgow. Thanks to a move initiated by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) when he was Secretary of State and continued by my right hon. Friend, we have now apparently solved one drink problem, and that was the regular Saturday afternoon punch-up at Parkhead, Ibrox and elsewhere in Scotland, which has been proved to be due, more than anything else, to the drink that was carried in, either in people's pockets or in their stomachs, and that affected them during the course of what was supposed to be a Saturday afternoon's sports entertainment.

Photo of Dr Maurice Miller Dr Maurice Miller , East Kilbride

For the benefit of the foreign press, I suggest that the Minister makes quite clear that by drink he means alcohol. Drink could be anything.

Photo of Mr Alexander Fletcher Mr Alexander Fletcher , Edinburgh North

This may be a Scottish peculiarity, but to me a drink certainly does not mean a cup of tea. If anyone invited me in for a drink and offered me a cup of tea, I should be rather disgusted.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the pushers and the crime syndicates that are at the root of the problem. I am sure that he and his hon. Friends would be the first to agree that the police are ably and energetically pursuing these criminals to the best of their ability and, as we have seen from the chief constable's report, with continuing success, backed up by the important work that is done by the health department and social work departments in helping the addicts themselves.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whom I am pleased to hear in voice this evening—I said that we had not heard him for some time in the House, and that is a great shame—made several points, including one about random testing. I assume that he means random testing of addicts in clinics. I do not know for sure, but I guess that that might take place, but, as he suggests, I shall make sure that my hon. Friend who is responsible for such matters will write to him and give him the latest position. The hon. Gentleman then mentioned the matter raised by the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) in a debate about six months ago, when my right hon. Friend undertook to advise him about research in adding additives to glue to reduce the damage that glue sniffing causes and taking steps to control the sales of glue.

I agree, at least on the face of it, that it seems strange that youngsters are still able to go into shops and freely avail themselves of this dangerous product, as a result of which they find themselves suffering hallucinations and other effects of that kind. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said, and I give him an undertaking that my right hon. Friend or my hon. Friend will write to him on these matters and try to reassure him, not just on the essential point raised-—

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.