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Children of Drug Abusers

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:28 pm on 16th September 2004.

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Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 5:28 pm, 16th September 2004

I put on record my thanks to Trish Godman for securing this debate.

It is appropriate both that we should debate this subject and that it should be a members' business debate. With some issues that we discuss and are required to address in the chamber, there is a clear and specific problem to which we know the solution. For example, with the Tenements (Scotland) Bill that we passed earlier, we were aware of the problem and have now introduced legislation that will deal with, if not all of it, then the bulk of it.

However, other problems in our society do not have such clear-cut solutions. In these cases, we know that there is a significant problem and that the ground is changing around our feet, but much of what we require to do does not simply involve legislating against drug use or dealing effectively with those who are peddling drugs. Instead, we need to address the fact that there must be a cultural change. That said, it is much more difficult, if not impossible, to legislate for a cultural change. Anyone of any political party or none who says that they know the solution to the drugs problem in our society—no matter whether we are talking about alcohol or narcotics—is either a fool or a liar. Although we must acknowledge that the problem is multifaceted, we also need a cultural change in our society in order to address it. After all, matters have moved on.

Many others have given anecdotal evidence. I live quite close to the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration headquarters in Edinburgh and I know one of the major safeguarders in the administration, who told me that in the decade or so in which they have been practising, matters have moved on. For example, whereas children would come before the administration as victims of neglect or abusive parents, now they are coming as victims of parents with drug problems.

The problem has changed our whole society and we must address it. There is no magic bullet. We will have to address matters and take on board the points made by members about rehab and resources, but we have to tackle the problem.

We also have to move on from stating that it is simply a question of going to war against those who are dealing in drugs. We can go to war against drugs, but it is a war that we are losing. Nor is it simply a matter of addressing those who are part of a criminal fraternity; it goes beyond that. I am always minded of reading what Chomsky wrote about the composition of the cocaine that is sold on the streets of the United States of America. Something like 97 per cent of the ingredients of the cocaine that is sold on the streets of America are manufactured in the United States, trans-shipped to Columbia, reassembled into cocaine and sent back. The problem is not with Columbian campesinos; the problem is a societal matter within the United States.

We can go to war with Afghanis growing poppies or with Columbian campesinos doing the same, or we can address the fact that there is a societal problem that we need to tackle. It is quite correct to say that there is not just a problem with narcotics; there is also a problem with alcohol. Scotland has to take social responsibility for many of its problems. Some of those we will be able to deal with by legislation and some we will have to deal with by introducing welfare provision, whether through rehab or otherwise, but others need to be addressed by a cultural change that recognises that it is a problem that we face as a community and as individuals. We must recognise that individuals, too, have to take responsibility for their actions.

It is also important that we address the question of children. In any war there are non-combatant casualties and, in the war on drugs, the non-combatant casualties are clearly the children of those who are drug dependent or who are alcohol abusers. They did not wage war in any shape or form, but they fundamentally pay the price, either through their parents' neglect or through what happens to their parents as a result of what we as a society do to deal with their problem, whether by incarcerating them or otherwise. Unless we are prepared to address a cycle of despair, we must tackle that problem. As many have said, those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Unless we address the problems of children from families that are drug or alcohol dependent, we will simply continue the cycle of delinquency and despair, and that is why the matter has to be addressed.

Some areas will no doubt be dealt with by the legislative action that the minister will comment on, but Scotland, all its politicians and all its people have to start thinking anew and start addressing a cultural malaise in our society.