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Children's Hearings (Solvent Inhalation)

Volume 22: debated on Wednesday 28 April 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will seek to amend section 32 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to allow the referral of young persons to a children's hearing following a first detection for inhaling solvents, instead of after a third detection as at present.

The consultative memorandum on solvent abuse and the children's hearings, which was issued in December, invited views on this question. We are now considering the comments made on this memorandum and a further statement will be made as soon as possible.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment, but I cannot congratulate him on his answer. How can he possibly justify refusing to take such action now? Is he not aware that last year, in Strathclyde, 11 young people died as a result of solvent abuse and that the Government's low key approach to this problem is failing? When will the Government stop talking about the problem and take some positive action to deal with this menace?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words at the beginning of his question. We put out the consultative memorandum and we have had many replies, but, unfortunately, some were received later than the February date by which we asked for them to be submitted. We are considering the replies and we hope that we can announce our conclusions in weeks rather than months. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about this difficult and serious problem.

Does my hon. Friend consider that young people accept and realise the damage that can be done by abusing solvents? Does he feel that the time has come for a much more aggressive campaign in schools to show that this practice can cause damage to health and death?

On Monday, as part of my education in my new post, I attended a children's panel hearing in Glasgow. What came through to me, as the panel was dealing with this problem, was that the youngsters knew of the dangers but that that did not seem to influence them. It is very difficult to get through to the youngsters. One must be careful not to be too high key in case other children, who would not think of abusing solvents, have it drawn to their attention.

May I also add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on his elevation? I have known him for about 20 years and I am delighted to see him in the post. Will he consult the chief constable of Strathclyde, who suggests in his report that there is some difficulty about referring children to a children's panel before a third report on them of solvent abuse? That is an administrative rule with no statutory basis, and if it is an inhibition in dealing with the problem it should be removed. I especially note and welcome the Minister's remark about the results from the consultation process being announced in a matter of weeks and not months. I trust that that will turn out to be an accurate prediction.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about me. The practice that has grown up in Strathclyde is not a requirement of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, but the two approaches to the parents and the warnings to the children lay the basis for a referral on the third occasion on the ground that the youngster is beyond the control of the parents. It is not enshrined in the statute. I am well aware of the representations by the chief constable of Strathclyde, and that is clearly one of the possible routes that we are considering seriously.