Orders of the Day — Solvent Abuse (Scotland) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 6 May 1983.

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered. Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall , Glasgow Shettleston 9:35, 6 May 1983

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is rather unusual, to say the least, for a Bill that started its life as a ten-minute Bill to proceed as far as this stage and to have a good chance of becoming law. Only about 15 such Bills have been successful since 1945. Oddly enough, several of them have dealt with purely Scottish matters, as this Bill does. It has been suggested that because the Bill applies only to Scotland we should wait until suitable legislation covering England, Wales and Scotland can be drafted, but there is no reason for Scotland to wait. Scotland already has separate legislation for its education and legal systems and there is no valid reason for delaying the passage of the Bill on that ground.

If the Bill becomes law, it is to be hoped that before very long England and Wales will see a similar Bill introduced to deal with the problem of solvent abuse in those countries.

It is a privilege and an honour for a Back Bencher to get a Bill through the House. It is fair to say that it can be done only with the good will and support of all hon. Members, and that has certainly been so in this instance. In Committee there was almost unprecedented all-party support and unanimity. I place on record my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) for all the assistance, advice and encouragement that he has given me from the very beginning. I must also compliment the Minister, the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay), on the manner in which he has assisted, co-operated and supported the Bill. I thank all hon. Members who have acted as sponsors, who served in Committee and who are in their places today to support the Bill. I thank the officials in the Table Office and the Clerks, from whom I received invaluable advice.

The problem of solvent abuse is a cause of great public concern. Almost daily instances of the problem appear in the media. There are far too many tragedies as a result of solvent abuse. The problem is not confined to cities or to Scotland alone; it is to be found in rural areas and throughout Great Britain. It has increased greatly since 1981, and I believe that the substantial increase in unemployment and cuts in public spending, leading to lack of provision of amenities and facilities for young people, have been major contributory factors. I admit that those are not the only factors, but they have had a considerable influence in bringing about the increase.

It is a problem which the previous low-key approach adopted by authorities has failed to combat; hence the justifiable need for a much higher level approach and for legislation to tackle the problem.

There has been a great deal of public interest in the Bill and I have received many letters of support from various community organisations and individuals both within my constituency and from many other areas.

Scotland has a unique system of children's panels to which young people under the age of 16 may be referred for, among other things, care, protection, guidance and treatment. Their problems can be discussed in informal surroundings with parents in attendance. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, under which the panels operate, did not include solvent abuse as a ground for referral as at that time it was not a problem. The Bill, as amended in Committee, makes solvent abuse a ground for referral. I do not seek to make solvent abuse a punitive offence. I want to see the introduction of supportive and caring legislation that will encourage parents and youngsters to seek help with their problem.

If the Bill becomes law, it will be the first statutory recognition of solvent abuse as a major problem, and the first step is often the most important one. It will enable us to monitor the scale and extent of the problem. We shall see after a reasonable time what further steps need to be taken.

In a speech to the women's council of the Church of Scotland social responsibility department in Edinburgh on 29 April this year, the Lord Advocate said that the Bill had the Government's active support. As I said, I welcome that support. However, the Government could go much further without legislation — for example, by sponsoring an advertising campaign, similar to the anti-smoking campaign, warning youngsters of the dangers of solvent abuse. Sports personalities and people from the world of entertainment whom youngsters admire and respect could be used successfully to get the message across. Measures of that type would not need legislation.

The Lord Advocate suggested in that speech that groups of parents could influence local shopkeepers to exercise control over the sale of solvents to children. But why cannot the noble and learned Lord be more positive? What about licensing and prohibiting sales to under-16s? Why not the outright prosecution of shopkeepers who knowingly and deliberately sell solvents to youngsters and who, in some cases, for a price, supply plastic bags as well? Let us put those people out of business, or at least out of the business of supplying solvents to youngsters.

I commend the Sunday Post for its recent in-depth series on solvent abuse and for highlighting how easy it is for youngsters to obtain solvents. It is to be hoped that most of the shops mentioned will take steps to tighten up their methods of selling solvents. It would be interesting if the Sunday Post revisited those shops to see whether matters had improved and they had taken steps to deal with the problem.

I am concerned about the difference in figures of the numbers of deaths from solvent abuse, particularly in the Strathclyde region. In a writen reply to the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie) on 1 March this year, the Secretary of State for Scotland listed six deaths in 1981. Yet the official report of the chief constable of Strathclyde listed 11 male persons having died from solvent abuse in 1981. I hope that the Minister will explain why the figures differ and which is the correct one.

I am aware that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate and are keen that the Bill should have a speedy passage, so I will not detain the House. The Bill is not the final answer to the problem. Indeed, it does not even touch on the problem of adults who abuse solvents, and sadly the number of such cases is increasing. I reiterate that the Bill is the first measure in an effort to combat this menace and to do something to help our young people. For that reason alone I commend it to the House.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West 9:43, 6 May 1983

The House should warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) because the Bill is for him a personal triumph and we hope that it will go a long way to helping resolve the problem with which it deals. It is unusual for a Scottish Member to have a ten-minute Bill become law, and I congratulate him warmly on that. I agree with him that this will not be the last measure or the final answer, but it is an important first step in dealing with the problem.

This issue has given rise to concern for a number of years. Indeed, in March 1979, during the closing stages of the previous Parliament, I tabled two new clauses on this subject in the belief that something needed to be done, though I was not certain that the way in which I proposed to tackle it was the appropriate way. At that time, four years ago, it had been confirmed by the Lord Advocate that about 40 cases had been reported in the previous 10 years, of which four involved the deaths of those concerned. He confirmed that there had been an increase in the number of cases reported to the police. Only last week the Daily Telegraph reported another death and, as the hon. Gentleman said, the number of deaths has increased in recent years.

The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing), describing the symptoms, said four years ago that persons intoxicated by solvent sniffing behaved as though they were drunk and that, as with alcohol intoxication, a small proportion of them displayed aggressive tendencies. Similarly, the Lord Advocate confirmed that 14 cases of glue sniffing involving aggression had been reported to him. It was that possibility of aggression which I believed first caused Mr. Jimmy Dempsey to raise the matter in the House; on 6 December 1968, in an Adjournment debate, he spoke about a tragic case in which a young person who had inhaled solvent lit a firework which was thrown at a 14-year-old who subsequently died of his injuries. In that debate Mr. Dempsey called for a prohibition on selling certain commodities to persons under 18.

That debate and the remarks of Mr. Dempsey prompted me to table the first of the two new clauses to which I referred. That stated that it should be an offence for a person deliberately to inhale solvents or other similar substances, it asked the Secretary of State to define certain substances and it said that it should be treated as an offence under class C of the control of drugs under section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. With the knowledge that we now have, it is clear that that would not have been the appropriate way to proceed. The Bill before us is a much better way to move forward because it involves a considerably less harsh approach, one which is likely to be more successful. Parents, teachers and members of the public appreciate what the hon. Gentleman said and will understand that the purpose behind the Bill is to give assistance to those in need of care and attention, and not just to have punitive measures. For that reason I am sure that the Bill will receive strong support from those most concerned.

The problem is how shopkeepers and retailers should deal with the matter. We first became widely aware of the issue when the case of Mr. Mohammed Malik was reported in The Scotsman on 10 February 1978. He had been charged with selling glue to 12 children wilfully, culpably and recklessly, knowing that they would inhale it to the danger of their health and their lives. The sheriff quite properly dismissed the charge on the ground that the complaint disclosed no crime known to the common law of Scotland. He said that either the High Court should deal with it by using declaratory powers or that Parliament should deal with it, and I think that we all agree that Parliament should deal with the matter. With that in mind, I tabled the second new clause, which specified that it should be an offence to supply, whether or not as part of a commercial transaction, to any person under 18 years of age, solvents or similar substances which the supplier has reasonable cause to believe will be inhaled. It became clear that a large number of different forms of legislation had been introduced in North America along those lines, and when speaking to that new clause I stated nine of those different forms. They were: that it had been made illegal intentionally to inhale for purposes of intoxication; that it was an offence to possess for purposes of inhaling; that it was illegal elsewhere to induce another person to inhale; that it was illegal to possess for the purpose of inducing another person to inhale; that it was unlawful knowingly to sell to a person for purposes of inhalation; that it was illegal to sell to a minor for any purpose whatever; that it was unlawful to sell unless a chemical deterrent had been added; that it was illegal to sell certain substances to a minor without the consent of the parent; and that it was illegal openly to display for sale.

There had been considerable problems with the application of those laws in the states of North America in which they were in force. The first was the problem of enforcing the law. Dr. Gellman, an expert on the matter, wrote in an authoritative article: The main problem with this approach is that it is practically impossible to enforce. Determined sniffers will sniff despite the law and others will consider it a challenge to be defied. There is still widespread doubt about how effective that was in North America. However, certain measures were introduced; for example, the Federal Trade Commission gave instructions to manufacturers to place warnings on glass chiller aerosols saying: Do not inhale. Use only as directed. Death may result from inhaling this product. In 1973, the United States Food and Drug Agency required on aerosols with a high percentage of liquefied gas a statement saying: Use only as directed. Intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can cause death. The trouble with both of those measures was that they gave rise to a great deal of publicity and, if anything, caused inhalation to become even more widespread, and thus did not have the intended result. Both the Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay), and the hon.

Member for Stiring, Falkirk and Grangemouth frankly admitted the dilemma which had been facing the Scottish Office under successive Governments in dealing with the matter. The Minister said: If we give too much publicity, we may encourage the abuse. If we do not give enough, neither the parents nor the children will know how dangerous it is or the symptoms to look for. Therefore, there is and will always have to be some ambivalence in our approach. The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth said: Previous Ministers of both parties with responsibility for health have heeded advice that they should play down the problem and not say too much about it publicly as that would glamourise it and encourage more youngsters to take up the practice. We adopted that approach. We did not talk about it, publicise it or glamourise it, but still more people took it up."—[Official Report, Second Scottish Standing Committee, 23 February 1983, c. 14, 20.] I hope that the Minister will consider the suggestion by the hon. Member for Shettleston about advertising in certain circumstances. I hope that he will weigh up all the different factors.

I am glad that a study is now being prepared by two researchers at Edinburgh university. I hope that the Minister will make the facts known fully to the House once the study is complete. The corporate approach adopted by Strathclyde regional council is extremely helpful. It knows at what level to pitch its approach.

I do not believe that any of us can be in any doubt about the serious nature of the problem. The expert for the Department of Health and Social Security, Dr. Dorothy Black, gave an admirable description of the symptoms of inhalation. She said: Mild intoxication is achieved within a few minutes and may last up to 30 minutes… Initial euphoria may continue into a confusional state with disinhibition, disorientation and alteration in perception. These may progress to hallucinatory and delusional experiences, which may give rise to risk-taking or aggressive behaviour… Ultimately, because of the cerebral depressant effect of the organic solvents, there is increasing drowsiness, sometimes leading on to fits or unconsciousness. Vomiting may occur at any stage with the risk of inhalation and asphyxia. In view of the disagreeable symptoms that follow inhalation of certain substances, there is a great deal to be said for retailers doing everything within their power to ensure that these substances are not sold irresponsibly. I hope that the Minister will take this matter up with the retailers' organisations.

During the debate in the Scottish Grand Committee I asked the Minister whether he would consider establishing a voluntary code of conduct. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that he would study the matter seriously. He also expressed gratitude to retailers who had assisted in this matter and had controlled the sale of such products to children.

There has been a certain amount of voluntary restraint by retailers. Mr. William Low in Cumbernauld has decided to sell solvents at cigarette kiosks only and he limits their sale to those people over 16. The Strathkelvin crime prevention panel has followed that initiative by persuading other local traders to co-operate in measures to control sales.

In Dundee, the Federation of Master Ironmongers in conjunction with the chamber of commerce has set out a code of practice for its members. I hope that the Minister will follow this matter up with vigour and ensure, if possible, that the idea of a voluntary code of conduct will be pursued. Retailers can encourage restraint to help contain this evil and the Government should give them every possible encouragement.

Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton 9:53, 6 May 1983

I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on his Bill and the successful way in which he has brought it to this stage. I thank the Minister and all hon. Members who have facilitated its passage.

There is general anxiety about the problems and a willingness by hon. Members to find solutions to them. The Bill deals with an important aspect of the matter, but it is only one aspect. By itself, as my hon. Friend has acknowledged, the Bill will not provide anything like a complete solution. Successive Governments have found this problem extremely difficult to deal with. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) demonstrated that. We must not become paralysed into complete inaction because it is a difficult problem and say that nothing can be done. The Bill is a useful step.

I hope that the Government will try to eliminate abuses at the point of sale. A difficulty arises with the legitimate retailer selling substances that have a legitimate use when he cannot judge whether the substance is to be used legitimately or is to be abused. We know that there are cases of retailers who have behaved in an irresponsible and outrageous fashion. They have sold some of these substances in circumstances where it is plain that they will be abused and where the method of sale is designed to facilitate abuse.

A prosecution is taking place at the moment and I plainly cannot refer to it because it is sub judice, but I am delighted that there is such a prosecution. If we find that existing law does not allow successful prosecutions in cases where the facts are not in dispute but the issue is whether an offence has been committed, I hope that the Government will put that right by legislation that will make it clear that sale in such irresponsible circumstances is an offence. It would be another small step forward which would deal with another aspect of the problem even if it left aside the wider problem of retail sales. There are severe practical problems in that and I have a great deal of sympathy for the Government's view that it is difficult to draft legislation that will deal with the problem generally. Further such legislation would help to reduce the problem, but if we cannot deal with the problem as a whole, Bills of this nature which reduce certain aspects of it are welcome. That is why I am glad to congratulate my hon. Friend and all those who have assisted him with this legislation. I hope that if a general election does not intervene it will be on the statute book shortly.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire 9:58, 6 May 1983

This is an important Bill and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on its success. I believe that all hon. Members present know that when I was responsible for the passage of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) attempted properly to find a formula by which we could deal with the problem as a criminal offence.

As the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Milian) and others have said, it is difficult to legislate about a substance that is so universally used. However, I have now come to the conclusion that the problem is of such an extent that we can no longer permit the concept that if we ignore it or whisper about it it will not magnify. The problem is no longer auto-suggestive by publicity. It is now an ingrained habit, a virility symbol, a chicken challenge and a scourge. I have received some letters this week from constituents of the hon. Member for Shettleston urging us to take some action.

A case in which I was involved only last week in Scotland showed that a large number of children between the ages of 10 and 15 regularly went to a known source which supplied them willingly and with alacrity. Had not that source suddenly closed, the parents might well have taken vengeance into their own hands.

Of all the points to attack, the most important is the point of sale. It is more difficult to attack the source of supply. I do not know whether adding to the list of noxious substances or putting warnings on everything from Brasso to petrol would have much effect. Warnings must therefore take a different form. In the first instance, teachers should warn the children. Parents, too, must warn their children. Parents should also be encouraged to advise the police of the source of any solvent obtained by their children for the purpose of abuse.

I see no reason why large retail outlets such as supermarkets in which goods are simply taken from the shelves and placed in baskets should not put up notices to the effect that certain substances will not be sold to anyone under the age of, say, 21. That procedure is followed by those who wish to remain within the law in relation to the sale of alcohol and cigarettes. It may be difficult to tell whether a 4ft 2in boy is under 18 or a youthful 23, so traders protect themselves by taking an age above which it is safe to sell.

I appreciate that some adults may be willing to buy these substances to supply them to children, but I hope that they will be caught by the next proposal, which I hope will fall on receptive ears. If the Minister cannot act on this, I hope that he will pass the matter on to the Lord Advocate or the Solicitor-General for Scotland.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West mentioned the case of Malik in which Sheriff Ervine Smith held that the offence as charged was not a crime known to the law of Scotland. Scottish common law has been able to adapt itself to the intervention of many forms of assault. It is the great benefit of common law that the common law of assault can be adapted. The common law of breach of the peace, too, can be and has been constantly developed. I hope that the Lord Advocate will use his statutory power to invite the High Court of Justiciary to declare as a crime the supplying of solvent substances to young persons in circumstances in which it is likely that the substances will be misused by deliberate inhalation.

It may be argued that that is a nebulous concept, but it is not in the least nebulous. Under the law of reset if a person has stolen goods in his possession the question for the court is whether the circumstances in which the goods were received — in this case, it would be the circumstances in which the person sold the goods—were such as to give rise to the inference that the person concerned knew that the goods were stolen—or, in this case, intended for an improper purpose. For instance, if a chap comes into an ironmonger's shop and asks for six jemmies, eight screwdrivers and some gelignite, it is unlikely that he wants them to make a bonfire. It is not difficult to draw an inference in the case of seedy suppliers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West, has said, responsible suppliers are already taking action to protect children. We want to stop those who are deliberately profiting from this appalling scourge. To take another example, if children enjoyed drinking paraquat I am sure that speedy action could be taken under common law to prosecute people who sold that substance to children as an act of assault, a breach of the peace or some other manifestation of the common law that the courts could declare.

I refer to the common law rather than to statutute law because statute law pins one to a definition and in a matter as nebulous as this we do not wish to be pinned to formulas and definitions. The court should decide whether the circumstances demonstrate the offence in echo of the concept of reset.

I make those suggestions as a possible way forward to make this a criminal offence. This should be backed by strong and fierce advertising to make it clear that solvent abuse is not clever, grown-up, "with it" or anything like that, but sordid, painful, dangerous and self-destructive.

Several Hon. Members:


Photo of Mr Paul Dean Mr Paul Dean , Somerset North

Order. Before calling the next hon. Member, I remind the House that we are debating Third Reading, so debate should be restricted to what is actually in the Bill. I am deliberately allowing a somewhat wider debate as there was no debate on Second Reading, but we are beginning to stray into a debate on the general subject, and it is my job to protect the other business for the day.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Ayrshire South 10:06, 6 May 1983

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and not just for calling me. As I have a Bill on the Order Paper, I am entirely with you in your wish to protect later business.

I am pleased to follow the helpful and intelligent contribution of the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn). I am pleased, too, to add my congratulations to those already showered upon my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). I hope that this legislation will not be lost if a general election is called and that my hon. Friend and the Government will be able to facilitate its passage through the other House. When elections are called, emergency Finance Bills and the like can be passed extremely expeditiously. Given the unanimous and overwhelming support for my hon. Friend's Bill, I am sure that we all wish the same to apply in this case.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston is the first to admit that the Bill does not go far enough. In saying that, I do not underestimate its importance. As my hon. Friend said, the first step is the most difficult and in many ways the most important. Nevertheless, we must go further. As my hon. Friend and all who have spoken have stated, the statistics greatly underestimate the problem because they relate only to those cases brought to our attention or to the attention of the police. There are many more. I cite a startling instance. Last time we discussed this in the Scottish Grand Committee, when I went to take the underground home from Westminster station the same day I saw within 100 yards of this Chamber two youngsters in a terrible state sniffing glue. That coincidence, so close to the House, brought the matter home to me. I was struck by the fact that no one seemed to be doing anything about it, although it took place in public and in the open so close to this place. I am sure that other people could cite many more cases.

The latest edition of SCOLAG, the bulletin of the Scottish legal action group, which hon. Members will have had circulated to them, says in an editorial on the Bill: Mr. David Marshall MP deserves credit for enlisting through his Solvent Abuse Bill the expertise of Children's Hearings in combating the pernicious habit of inhaling 'volatile substances'. The Government too did well to assist the passage of the Bill. That is only a start, however. Reporters will soon be faced with the question whether 'compulsory measures of care' are likely to improve the situation of the child, or whether a warning letter to the child and parents will suffice. That will be a difficult decision. Social workers will have to work out a line of persuasion to change the habits of those who are placed on supervision. The outlook is not promising, for it seems that even when a child is in whole-time residential care those in charge either cannot or will not break the habit. A List D school headmaster recently admitted that 60 per cent. of his pupils were solvent abusers. That is a startling and amazing figure. A survey reported in the press on 14 April showed that 10 per cent. of children in residential care in Strathclyde were solvent abusers, the highest proportion in List D schools. It is an enormous problem and it is to the credit of hon. Members here that we are beginning to realise it, perhaps a little belatedly.

Outside this House, in spite of my hon. Friend's efforts — and in spite of the efforts of the Sunday Post and others — to publicise the problem, many parents, teachers and social warkers still do not realise the extent of it. I have seen people shrugging their shoulders and asking, "Why is Parliament wasting its time on something as irrelevant as glue sniffing?" People do not appreciate that death can result and has resulted from glue sniffing and the sniffing of other solvents.

Without, I hope, straying from the substance of the Bill, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say that I agree with what other hon. Members have said about the need for further education on the question. I hope that you will allow the Minister to say something, if he wishes to, about the way in which the Scottish health education group can mount some kind of intensive campaign to bring home to parents the true facts about glue sniffing. If it cannot be done directly to the children, as the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire suggested, it should be brought home to parents and teachers, so that they can pass on the message, together with youth club leaders, social workers and anyone in touch with young people, because there is still a lack of awareness of the extent of the problem.

I agree that further legislation should be considered, and I accept the arguments from the Conservative Benches as to the need for control at the point of sale. I know that it is difficult because of the large variety of substances involved. They are not all used for improper purposes and ought to be available to those who will not misuse them. It is extremely difficult to know whether they are likely to be misused.

I place a little more faith than the hon. and learned Member does in the use of the words "noxious substances". One of the new clauses discussed during the proceedings on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill covered that aspect and it still merits some consideration. I am sure that it is possible, with such a large amount of chemical and other research being done, to produce a substance that could be added to most of the inhalants so that they would either be impossible to inhale or so awful that people would be physicllly repelled by them.

I hope that the measures in the Bill, and any further legislation, will be applied to the whole of the United Kingdom, because it is not merely a Scottish problem. We are dealing with it in a peculiarly Scottish way because we already have children's panels and hearings, but the problem should be dealt with in a parallel manner in the rest of the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston was very generous to the Minister, and so was SCOLAG in its editorial. I agree that the Government have clone a good job in supporting my hon. Friend's Bill. However, I should like to break the consensus slightly for a moment and say that perhaps it is a guilty conscience that makes some Conservative Members so eager to support the Bill.

The cause of glue sniffing should be examined. Why do people turn to glue sniffing? I accept that glue sniffing has an effect which people find pleasing initially, and that they are unaware of the long-term damage—not always so long term—of glue sniffing, but many young people are turning to glue sniffing and other kinds of distraction because of their despair and despondency. They are aware of the impossibility of finding a job, with the very high rate of youth unemployment. That is the truth; that is what is happening. When I talk to young people I see their despondency and despair about the future, and particularly about jobs. Those feelings are spreading like wildfire among young people.

The imposition of public expenditure cuts means that alternative facilities such as sport and recreation are not being expanded and developed to provide much more healthy alternative attractions for young people. The editorial in SCOLAG says: A graffiti artist in Dundee's Hilltown has inscribed the chilling message `Sniff glue and die happy'. To the writer there is nothing to linger for in Mrs. Thatcher's Britain. An express route out of it—destination unknown—is a more appealing prospect. That is what our young people are saying and writing. It is a terrible indictment of Britain in 1983 that young people are turning to glue, to lighter fuel and other kinds of inhalation for their kicks. It is a terrible indictment of our adult society. Above all, it is a terrible indictment of the Conservative Government—

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire

To what Government and set of circumstances does the hon. Gentleman attribute the phrase, "See Venice and die"?

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Ayrshire South

I am sure that if I were to stray down that road, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you would rule me out of order. It would also put the Second Reading of the Age Discrimination Bill in great jeopardy. I have made my point. It is a very serious one, and nearly 4 million people outside will echo my assertion that despair and despondency exist.

I should like to end on a generous note. The Government are to be congratulated on at least recognising that something should be done urgently, and on supporting my hon. Friend's Bill.

Photo of Mr Russell Fairgrieve Mr Russell Fairgrieve , Aberdeenshire West 10:18, 6 May 1983

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) but I am sorry that he spoiled a good speech by introducing a totally spurious political point. He knows perfectly well that the subject is far too serious to be made a party political issue. On the question of care, he also knows that the Government, in every year since they have been in office, have spent more money in real terms than the Labour Government in the areas of health and social work, which are closely connected with the purposes of the Bill.

I join those hon. Members who have complimented the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on introducing a very necessary measure. We are grateful to him for the work that he has done individually and in Committee to get the measure on the statute book. I hope that it will get on the statute book, whatever the election timing may be. I also pay tribute to the late Jimmy Dempsey for the work that he did in this House year after year on this and allied subjects. It is a great pity that he is not here today.

I am not too sure about the matter of warnings and notices and how that aspect of the problem can be dealt with. After all, there is almost nothing that one can buy that is not capable of causing harm. For example, will knives have warnings saying that if they are stuck into a neighbour he is liable to get hurt? The list of substances that one can abuse is almost limitless. One could publicise a great list of products that children might never think of. There is almost nothing that one cannot vaporise, from boot polish to other substances that I shall not mention, because there is so little that I could leave out of the list. So we must be careful about warnings and publicity.

I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire and others who have said that this is a far more serious business than we realise. May I add that there is a minor redeeming feature—although it, too, has a bad side—and it is that the evidence shows that it is non-addictive. It is not something that adults do. It seems to be confined entirely to youngsters, and they give it up. Nevertheless, one must remember that, although the solvent abuse may happen only with youngsters, it is clear that a certain number of people go on to far more serious drugs, having started on solvent abuse. I stress that aspect of the non-addictive nature of this problem.

The Bill underlines the beauty of a system that we have in Scotland. The hon. Member for Shettleston said that he hoped that the lead we give here would spread to England and Wales. Unfortunately, it cannot do so. In fact, it cannot spread to western Europe, where the same problems exist, because no one else has Scotland's unique system of children's hearings.

The system of children's hearings is 12 years old, and is unique to Scotland. I was Minister with responsibilities for health when the system was reviewed after its tenth anniversary. This unique system takes children away from the legal trappings and puts them into an environment of social work where something can be done to help. I have the privilege of being a member of the Council of Europe, and as a rapporteur I hope to introduce the subject of children's hearings, so that other countries in western Europe may know what we have done in Scotland. Although I agree that it would be a good idea for the thinking behind the Bill to spread, I regret that there is no mechanism in England or Wales that is in any way similar to the children's hearings. That is why it is so important and unique and why we in Scotland can lead the whole of western Europe, as well as England, Wales and Ireland, in this method of dealing with the problem.

I conclude by again paying tribute to the hon. Member for Shettleston. I am glad that the Government are supporting the Bill. Let us again give another lead from Scotland.

Photo of Mr Albert McQuarrie Mr Albert McQuarrie , Aberdeenshire East 10:22, 6 May 1983

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) on bringing the Bill to the House, and I am very pleased to be one of its sponsors.

I was somewhat disappointed at the disgraceful exhibition by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) who, with his usual desire for sensationalism—

Photo of Mr Albert McQuarrie Mr Albert McQuarrie , Aberdeenshire East

I shall not give way—made most disreputable comments. However, he did not say that the problem of solvent abuse existed under the Labour Government. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) tabled two amendments to a Bill that was going through the House during the period of that Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Albert McQuarrie Mr Albert McQuarrie , Aberdeenshire East

No, I shall not give way. The fact that my hon. Friend's two amendments were not accepted at that time was unfortunate and the hon. Gentleman's remarks have soured the Third Reading of a commendable Bill, which the hon. Member for Shettleston brought forward as a private Member's Bill.

Solvent abuse has become a major social ailment in Scotland. The public in general, and parents of young children in particular, are becoming increasingly concerned at its growth. In my constituency, I have received many representations from my constituents saying that the Government should do something urgently to halt the appalling situation. So far, not enough controls have been placed on the distribution and sales of the substances that have such disastrous effects on the people who take to what is called glue sniffing, although many other substances apart from glue are being used, which has resulted in the tragic deaths of the young people who have taken to this practice.

The whole subject of solvent abuse requires much more investigation, to seek out not only those who indulge in its use but the methods by which these materials are so easily obtained. It would be impossible to ban everything that could be used as an inhalant, causing such damage to the users, but we must identify some method of control if we are to arrest the damage that these people do to themselves.

I do not believe that the source of the problem is linked to social deprivation or unemployment. Horrific stories are told of elderly persons claiming that they are being terrorised by glue-sniffing children from all grades of schools. In one case, the situation is so bad that a fence is being erected beside the elderly persons' homes to protect them from intimidation. On many occasions the young people have been so high on glue sniffing that they have had to be taken away for their own safety.

Teenagers sniff glue for kicks. They do not seem to realise that the minute they put their noses to the bottle or canister they are in grave danger. Only last week, we had the example of two respectable schoolboys of 15 who died after sniffing fuel from a decorative lamp. They were lively boys from a good family, and their parents had no idea that they were involved in such a dangerous practice.

Then there was the case in Glasgow last week of a 13-year-old girl who had a great future as a swimmer, but who died 23 minutes after she inhaled lighter fuel. Those are but three examples of the seriousness of the problem, and it is a problem that social investigators and sociologists will have to consider seriously.

In addition, curbs on the sale of these substances must be found. All such substances should be clearly labelled as to the grave danger of misuse. If possible, the manufacturers should study ways and means of producing substances that will remove the danger when there is abuse by young persons. In Scotland we have started to tighten up the controls in the amendment to the Social Work (Scotland) Act. I am also pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has commissioned a study of solvent abuse and the measures that will be necessary to deal with the problem. I hope that the study will be carried out with the utmost urgency, as more young people are dying every year in Scotland from the effects of inhaling these solvents.

This is a short Bill, and it is one of the few private Member's Bills ever to reach this stage. The hon. Member for Shettleston has gone to great lengths to promote it in the House, and I know that he welcomes the all-party support that it has. Incidentally, I am disappointed that there are no representatives here today of the Liberal-Social Democratic alliance or the Scottish nationalists to give him additional support, especially from Scotland.

When the Bill was in Committee, the hon. Member paid tribute to the late James Dempsey, the former Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, who started this campaign during his period in the House. I add my tribute to the late Member, because we often discussed the matter at length in the Lobby, and he was anxious that legislation should he brought in to try to solve this tragic problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve) said, it is a great tragedy that Jimmy is not with us today to see this Bill go through the House. However, the hon. Member for Shettleston has carried on Jimmy's dedicated work, and the whole House will give him the support that he deserves.

This Bill is only the start of a process to find the answers to the problem. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on giving it Government acceptance and on providing money from Government funds for any expenses that may be incurred in ensuring that the Bill is properly operated by those concerned in local authorities, the children's panels and the police authorities.

Solvent abuse is not a problem only in urban areas. It causes as many difficulties in rural areas, such as my constituency, as I have seen time and again. It is, therefore, a matter of concern for all people in Scotland and one which we cannot duck.

The Government have given full backing to the Bill. I trust that it will have a safe passage through its remaining stages and that the media will highlight the fact that the Government. through the Bill, are taking the matter seriously. I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Mr John Mackay Mr John Mackay , Argyll 10:30, 6 May 1983

It gives me great pleasure to confirm the Government's support for the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall). I also offer him my sincere congratulations on the action that he has taken, but I shall not labour that point, because he was so thoroughly commended by both sides in Committee that it might be embarrassing for him to get too many other credits from the Government side.

In many ways, it is appropriate that a Glasgow Member should take such a Bill through the House. Although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) pointed out, solvent abuse is not solely an urban problem, it reaches its most horrific dimensions in some parts of Glasgow. I spent a morning at the Acorn street clinic close to the Shettleston constituency talking to children under 16 and young people aged between 17 and 19 who were hooked on glue and other substances and attended the clinic in an attempt to break the habit and to stop the downward spiral that could result in the sort of tragedy that we read about this week in the reports of a fatal accident inquiry in Glasgow.

The problem of solvent abuse does not arise in great numbers in my constituency, but the subject was brought to my attention long before I was elected to the House. A campaign was conducted here and in Scotland by the late Jimmy Dempsey and I echo the tributes that have been paid to him for his work in bringing the problem in his constituency and in the west of Scotland to the attention of hon. Members and the public.

I will not describe in detail the nature and scale of the problem of solvent abuse. It has been dealt with by hon. Members, and most people who are in the least interested are aware of the manifestations of the problem and the fact that it has a cyclical nature. For unexplained reasons, it blossoms in an area and, for equally unexplained reasons, it fades away, though that process is more prevalent in rural areas than in cities where the cycle is not so apparent. If children think that they have to be into the game because otherwise they will be out of the group, the problem takes off. If the young people find something else to do, the habit dies.

There is no doubt that solvent abuse causes great alarm to others in the community. On my visit to Glasgow I heard of housing schemes where old people in particular were almost frightened to go out at night because of the way that children behave under the influence of solvents.

I shall describe the action taken by the Government during the lifetime of this Parliament. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Sir R. Fairgrieve) took part in the debate, because if events occur as the press tell us that they may over the next week this may be the last occasion on which my hon. Friend addresses the House. It is appropriate that he should have spoken in a debate that is closely related to children's panels and the caring society. My hon. Friend held my job for two years and during all his time as an hon. Member he has been interested and involved in that aspect of the work of a Minister and Member.

As my hon. Friend said, in April 1980, in fulfilment of a commitment in the Conservative manifesto, he issued a consultative memorandum on the powers and procedures of children's hearings. It was a major exercise which resulted in many comments from a wide range of bodies and individuals.

Among the numerous issues raised by the memorandum was whether solvent abuse, either on its own or as part of a wider ground of self-inflicted injury, should be made a ground on which a child might be referred to the reporter to a children's panel as being in need of compulsory measures of care. That suggestion, which reflected the level of public concern at that time, attracted a considerable response. A substantial majority of the 170 respondents to the memorandum favoured making solvent abuse, or self-inflicted injury generally, a ground of referral. However, because those views were, for the most part, expressed in broad general terms which did not take into account the practical difficulties which might arise — something which was given less attention than it should have been given—we decided that more detailed consultations should be carried out.

In December 1981, therefore, a consultative document on solvent abuse was issued to directors of social work, health boards, the police associations and a range of other interests concerned with education, the law and social work. The paper spelt out the problems to be faced and the possible options for dealing with them in some detail so as to encourage the submission of considered views on what was generally recognised to be a particularly intractable problem, and one to which there are no easy answers.

A total of 51 replies were received. They showed nearly unanimous opposition to the idea that solvent abuse should be made an offence, and very few of those who replied supported the creation of an offence of selling or supplying solvents to children—something to which I shall return later. There was, however, no unanimity on whether and how a child identified as being involved in solvent abuse might be referred to a children's hearing, although a clear majority agreed that the hearings could play a valuable role.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), who was Secretary of State for Scotland in the previous Government, recognised the difficulties that Ministers face in dealing with the problem. I tell the House frankly that I spent a considerable time in discussions with my officials before concluding that the best way forward lay in making solvent abuse a specific ground for referral to the reporter. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agreed with that view, and in his statement on 16 December last year in answer to a question tabled by the hon. Member for Shettleston he stated our intention to seek the legislative changes necessary for that purpose. That is why we have been happy to support the initiative taken by the hon. Member in introducing his Bill.

I should mention in passing that our consultative memorandum looked at two alternative approaches to the problem. The first was that a child found abusing solvents might be referred to the reporter, after a series of police warnings, on the ground of being beyond parental control. That system was in operation in Strathclyde where the police authority used it as a method of taking habitual glue sniffers before the children's panel. The disadvantage was, of course, that the child might have been inhaling solvents for a considerable period before being detected on the two or three occasions. It could also be argued that parents could not reasonably be expected to control the behaviour of a child some way from home.

The decision that we made in December and the law that will be made by the Bill will get round those two problems and will ensure that a child can be referred sooner to the reporter to a panel.

A second possibility was to amend existing legislation to enable a child to be referred to the reporter on the ground that he or she was engaging in conduct that could be injurious to health. We were, however, against creating a broad general ground of this kind, which would introduce a broad element of discretion and would be open to reinterpretation in the light of society's prevailing atitudes in the future, so that it might be used in circumstances that Parliament had never envisaged. We also thought that it would be a questionable approach to create so wide a ground when it is only solvent abuse that we are concerned with.

The Government remain of the view that solvent abuse is, of its nature, a foolish and potentially dangerous practice, which we are concerned to discourage by whatever action is likely to prove effective. I need not stress the potential dangers. Hon. Members will be aware of the tragic case that came before a fatal accident inquiry in Glasgow last week. It concerned a young girl who died after inhaling propane and butane gas. I should like to express my sympathy and the sympathy of the House to her parents. Such a tragedy naturally brings with it public concern that action should be taken to prevent it from recurring—for example, that shops should be regulated or prevented from selling products which can be sniffed to persons under a certain age.

We have been considering this issue carefully in particular in the light of remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) who asked me in Committee to consider the possibility of controlling by statute the sale or supply of solvents to children. I must tell my hon. Friend, who cannot be present today, and other hon. Members who have mentioned the matter this morning that we were by no means convinced that such legislation could effectively contribute to dealing with the problem. At first sight, of course, banning the sale of solvents to children appears an attractive proposition. There are, as hon. Members will know, statutory restrictions already on the sale of some substances to children — for example, tobacco and alcohol. But a number of difficulties arise when one considers the matter more carefully.

First, which substances should be regulated? Almost any volatile substance can be abused, although the most common product employed for this purpose is toluene-based glue. The range of household products containing substances which might be abused is very large indeed. Some of those are more dangerous than the glues—for example, the substance used in the Glasgow case to which I referred. It would be difficult to draw up a list of all the chemical substances which might be misused in this way, and even more difficult to compile a list of the products on sale which might contain them. Any list of "restricted" products would almost certainly be incomplete, and would have to be constantly updated as new products and new chemical constituents became available. If the list were confined to the more commonly abused substances, there would be the worrying danger that abusers would be found substituting other, and perhaps potentially more harmful, substances for the forbidden ones. Hon. Members will agree that it would be distressing to discover that legislation designed to safeguard children and young people from the effects of solvent abuse in fact caused them to employ other and more dangerous substances.

There would also be the great practical difficulties for shopkeepers.

Mr. Milian:

I apologise for intervening, as I missed the earlier part of the Minister's speech. A bewildering variety of substances come under the food and drugs regulations. Powers exist to deal with a wide variety of substances.

Photo of Mr John Mackay Mr John Mackay , Argyll

I am aware of the complexity and welter of substances which are dealt with under the Food and Drugs Acts. We are dealing with products a little further away from foods and drugs. We are dealing with commonly used household products. Interestingly enough, in an article in today's Glasgow Herald, I noticed one of the problems that would arise. Mr. Geoffrey Isles of Strathclyde region said that his reservation about— in this case—marking some glue products as hazardous might make them more identifiable to potential abusers. The problem is not as easy as I would wish. If it were an easy problem to resolve, I can assure the House that I would have been here long since with all the i's dotted and t's crossed. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Craigton would have beaten me to it.

The number of shops affected would be large because of the number of products. Such a law would be difficult for the police to enforce. While it is true, as I have said, that there are already statutory restrictions on the sale of tobacco and alcohol, whose nature and uses are very much easier to define than those of solvents, the law is not exactly completely obeyed with regard to selling cigarettes to children under 16 or alcohol to youngsters under 18. We all recognise the worrying problem of under-age drinking. The law forbids the sale of alcohol to people under 18. While that may—and I hope does—keep the problem under control, it does not prevent it from being a real problem.

There are obvious practical difficulties for shopkeepers in telling the age of their customers. For example it is difficult to tell whether some youngsters are 14, 15, 16 or, indeed 17, 18 or 19. Another problem I came across when visiting the Acorn street clinic was that many of the under-16s who were already being pushed out of the shops by the ironmongers' own code of practice were using over-16s to buy the materials. The cut for the over-16 was a share in the glue that he had gone into the shop to buy. So one would not even be closing the door in that regard.

There would be considerable difficulty in formulating a criminal offence of sale or supply of solvent in terms that could be enforced and proved in court if necessary without making it bear unduly harshly on shopkeepers who might be accused of a crime. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) will appreciate from their practical legal experience how undesirable it is to seek to subject to a criminal sanction behaviour which may be perfectly innocent, or the entirely legitimate action of selling to an under-16-year-old a substance which, though capable of abuse, was to be used for a safe and straightforward purpose — perhaps the solvent for constructing a model kit or the gas for a camping stove. Thus, in fairness to the shopkeeper, it would appear necessary at least to make the crime one of knowingly supplying an abusable substance to someone appearing to be under 16, and perhaps also requiring it to be demonstrated that the shopkeeper knew that the substance was to be abused.

We have considered this closely and have found it extremely difficult to frame an offence which would be effective in regulating any abuse, sufficiently well defined to render proof of the offence possible and enforceable by the court, and at the same time not so oppressive that it would make many completely innocent actions the subject of criminal sanctions. During the proceedings on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill I argued from the Back Benches that we might try to walk along that road. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire explained the difficulties of such a course. That highlights the problem. Even if one changes places, the difficulty remains.

Photo of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn Sir Nicholas Fairbairn , Kinross and West Perthshire

The difficulty with a statutory offence is that it is locked into definitions. But in common law there is no difficulty with regard to buying something which is likely to be stolen or selling something which is likely to be abused. I think that the common law provides the best hope.

Photo of Mr John Mackay Mr John Mackay , Argyll

I listen to my hon. and learned Friend with interest. What I have said does not deny that the criminal law is not entirely irrelevant to solvent abuse. We have been discussing the possibility of a specific criminal offence. The common law, on the other hand, is a rather more flexible instrument, as my hon. and learned Friend mentioned both in his intervention and in his speech.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to a case currently before the courts in Glasgow. Two Glasgow shopkeepers have been charged at common law with culpably, wilfully and recklessly supplying solvents to children for the purposes of abuse. I cannot comment on the circumstances of the case, because it is at the moment sub judice, but I am sure hon. Members will wish to take note of it and to learn in due course of the outcome of the prosecution. Leaving that case aside, I am sure we would all agree that the deliberate sale of solvents to children in the knowledge that they are for the purposes of abuse is an activity which would rightly arouse indignation in the House and in the community at large and I certainly join hon. Members in condemning the practice wherever it happens.

I listened with interest to my hon. and learned Friend's view that might teach us something when it comes to considering this as a criminal activity. One of the encouraging things—hon. Members on both sides of the House mentioned this — is that the majority of shopkeepers have a thoroughly responsible attitude to this problem. In the Glasgow Herald this morning one big multiple store in Scotland announced that it will restrict the sale of solvent-based glues to customers under 18—or rather it will restrict their sale to over-l8-year-olds and will make it difficult for under-18-year-olds to buy the products. I know that many shops in the city and throughout Scotland have notices saying that they will not sell solvents to under 16 or 18-year-olds.

I am not saying that referral of a child to the reporter, and possibly by him to the children's hearing, will solve the problem overnight. It would be unfair to impose on children's panel members the expectation that they can so deal with children appearing before them that we can confidently look forward to the disappearance of solvent abuse. That would be to misunderstand the complex character of solvent abuse.

The appearance of a child at a hearing, while it may assist and supplement, cannot replace work that has been developing for some years in counselling and education, involving the health professionals, the police, the schools and the social workers. It should rather be viewed as a unique opportunity to explore constructively in an informal setting the personal problems that a child may have, and may be seeking to escape from by persistent solvent abuse. There may be wider family problems. The children's panel—either the reporter or the members of the panel — will help to reinforce the parents by emphasising to them the need for them to discipline and look after their children. Parents must ensure that their children do not fall into the habit of solvent abuse by being out late at night.

The hearing can bring an element of compulsion where that seems necessary, but there is no connotation of punishment. One of the advantages of the children's panel system, which only Scotland has, is that solvent abuse is not an offence ground but a care ground for referral to the panel.

Some regional authorities have treated solvent abuse seriously and carefully. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) mentioned the work being done in Grampian. The chief constable there reported two years ago his concern at the upsurge of solvent abuse in the region. The matter was debated by the regional committees responsible. As a result, a working group of officials, chaired by the chief executive, was established to consider the best way of dealing with the problem. Their conclusion was that to set up a specialist unit in any one part of the region would not be the best approach. Instead, they supported the development of expertise by strengthening the existing network of services so that parents whose children became involved would have access to a discreet private handling of their problems. The working party reported that a multidisciplinary team had already been set up by the council at official level, including representatives of education, social work, children's panel, reporter, police and health board, and that a leaflet had been produced for guidance to the police.

In considering what further steps were required, the working party recommended that a specialist senior social worker should be appointed for a set period of time and that Voluntary Service Aberdeen should pursue that development.

The aim was that the person appointed should first of all try to identify those who are abusing solvents; that he should examine the level of advice that needs to be given to police and children to assist the prevention of solvent abuse and its early detection; and that he should determine the service that might be offered to those children after they had been identified. At the end of the project, which is aimed essentially at developing a practical response to solvent abuse within the Grampian region, the senior social worker would provide a report to the region and to the Scottish Office. The Government agreed to fund that pilot project with a grant of £50,000 from the Scottish Education Department, and a senior social worker was appointed to the post at the beginning of March 1983. We shall be keeping closely in touch with developments.

Strathclyde has also carried out a great deal of work. It has produced literature on the subject for those most closely involved—parents, teachers, social workers and the police. It has selected some schools for pilot projects in education. It is desperately important that the teaching profession should realise the nature of the problem and recognise the tell-tale signs of children who abuse solvents. They must be prepared inside schools to help the children in danger.

The publicity that Strathclyde has given to the problem brings me to the question of the Scottish health education group, and whether there should be Scottish publicity about the problem. My mind is not closed to that possibility. For some years the House has taken the view that if the matter is publicised too much that may encourage its spread. It has spread despite that. We may now be at the stage where we must be more positive. It is a matter not simply of educating the children, but of alerting parents to the problem and to their responsibilities.

This reference to the opportunity for fully involving the parents in the problem leads me naturally to emphasise that, as my right hon. Friend stated on 16 December, parents have the primary responsibility and concern for their children. Professional help and advice is available for parents who discover that their child is a solvent abuser, and local agencies should encourage them to seek it and to ensure that it is readily available to them. But parents have a basic responsibility to know where their children are at any given time and what they are doing. They cannot abdicate that responsibility and then look to other agencies — statutory or voluntary—to deal with any resulting problems.

I exempt from that criticism parents who have tried, often over long periods, to help their children who have been persistent solvent abusers. They have experienced much heartbreak and disruption of family life. Nevertheless, all of us who are parents may need to look carefully at the strength of our relationships with our children, especially as they enter the difficult period of adolescence.

One of the most depressing things that I hear when I talk to parents of young children who have misbehaved—and I am referring to 8, 9, 10 and 11-year-olds—is, "I cannot control them." If parents cannot control children of that age, something is very wrong. I hope that the emphasis that we place on the problem today will help to get it through to parents that they have a responsibility for their children until they are 16, and indeed beyond that. My mother still thinks that she has responsibility for me. It is essential that we underline the fact that parents cannot simply say that Parliament, police and social workers should deal with the problem. We are there to help if parents fail in their efforts, but they must make those efforts.

Parents must look after their children and be involved with them. They must share in their activities and not simply think that because the child is out of the house they can do whatever they want and forget about what the child is doing. Unfortunately, that attitude prevails and society has a duty to counter it. That attitude is wrong and misdirected. While I do not minimise the risk to life and health that is associated with solvent abuse, the saddest aspect is that many children have nothing else to do in the evenings because no one, not even their parents, is interested in them. They sit in a cold, draughty corner and sniff glue.

The Bill recognises the problem, as have the Government. As the hon. Member for Shettleston said, it shows society's disapproval of the habit. It is the first time that the House has done that through legislation. It gives youngsters and their parents the help and support of the reporter to the panel and, if necessary, the children's panel itself. It allows the House to underline the responsibility of every adult. Parents have a primary responsibility for the well-being of their children, but we all have responsibility for the well-being of all children.

All of us, whether or not we are parents, must face the responsibility and not pass by on the other side. We must bring abuse to the attention of the authorities, the police or social workers. If we have the courage, we should intervene ourselves and try to stop it if we see it happening before our eyes.

I welcome the Bill. I know that the House will give it a Third Reading. I hope that it is a sign to the public at large of the seriousness with which we view the matter. The hon. Member for Shettleston has achieved the rare distinction of having a ten-minute Bill passed into law. I hope that the Bill will help to counter the appalling problem of solvent abuse in our society.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.