asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prosecutions were brought in 1979 against shopkeepers for selling cigarettes or tobacco products to young persons under 16 years of age.
Information for 1979 is not yet available. In 1978, 11 persons were prosecuted for offences of selling tobacco to juveniles.
Is the Minister satisfied with that low figure of prosecutions, given that evidence suggests that smoking among those under 16 is widespread and that the law is being totally ignored? Given the number of deaths from smoking every year, will the hon. and learned Gentleman take action to see that the law is enforced?
It is a difficult law to enforce, for the simple reason that neither those who sell nor those who buy are likely to report the matter to the police. One could significantly increase the number of prosecutions only by a major diversion of police resources from other crimes.
While I accept the horror of this story, does my hon. and learned Friend accept that far more terrible is the easy access that young people of 16 and under have to other drugs? Is he satisfied with the steps that are being taken to stop that?
That is a wider, and possibly more serious, question. I do not think that one can be satisfied when young people have access to drugs to the extent that they do. Any practical suggestions for dealing with that will certainly receive sympathetic consideration.
Reverting to the Minister's original reply, may I ask whether he is aware that we have been told from January to July that nearly every report from 1979 is not available? Those reports were supposed to be due at the end of last year and it takes seven or eight months before we get them. Will the Minister try to get his Department to see that those people give us their reports within two or three months, and not seven or eight months?
I do not think that it is absolutely fantastic that we do not have the information for 1979 on all the offences that are committed and on the one that is the subject of the question. I do not think that we should be justified in diverting more resources in the public sector to getting reports out faster.