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Commons Chamber

Volume 77: debated on Friday 19 April 1985

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House Of Commons

Friday 19 April 1985

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

The Clerk at the Table informed the House of the unavoidable absence, through illness, of MR. SPEAKER from this day's sitting.

Whereupon MR. HAROLD WALKER, THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, proceeded to the Table and, after Prayers, took the Chair, as DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Standing Order,



9.35 am

I have the honour to present a petition which may well be unique of its kind. It bears the common seal of the council of the city of Manchester, in pursuance of an order of the council, and thus expresses the opinion of a major city in petition form. Informed opinion has it that, if the petition is not unique, it is certainly a most unusual and important one.

The petition is about the Government's policies on buses and states that, if implemented, they could endanger concessionary fares for elderly, disabled and other people in special need, including schoolchildren and the young employed. At present these concessions are available to assist over 200,000 people in Manchester.

The policies will also mean, in the words of the petition,
that transport services required for social needs will be threatened. Of all Manchester households, 60 per cent. do not have a car (compared with 39 per cent. of households nationally), and in some parts of the Inner City this figure rises to over 75 per cent. Indeed these figures conceal that the car is not always available to the whole family in one-car owning families. For example, during the working day where the family car is used for the journey to work, the remainder of the family is deprived of the use of the car, and are therefore dependent upon public transport. It is estimated that, during the working day, the percentage of households in Manchester which either do not have a car or in which the car is not available for family use rises to 85 per cent. The impact of this falls particularly on women (who as a group make greater use of public transport than men), young people and those over the age of retirement.
Among other criticisms of the policies, the petition states:
that the strict safety standards needed for public service vehicles will not be upheld;

that continuity, reliability and stability of services will end;

many bus and rail services will vanish;

the few services that are left will no longer connect and services will become less frequent;

passengers will not know which services should run at what times, or what fares are to be charged;

operators will compete with old, unsuitable buses and coaches;

neither Users nor Ratepayers will have any say about their local public transport services;

the vital economic activity of the City Centre in particular and Manchester as a whole will not be maintained.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will reject any legislation to implement the proposals of the White Paper on buses and the Transport Bill.
The message of the petition is one of compelling importance for tens of thousands of my constituents and for hundreds of thousands of the citizens of Manchester as a whole. That is why it bears the common seal of a great city and I most warmly commend it to the House.

To lie upon the Table.

Orders Of The Day

Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

9.37 am

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

The Bill seeks to deal with one of the sickest crazes of the 20th century, colloquially known as glue sniffing, but which is the much wider problem of solvent abuse. It is a youthful form of self-poisoning, and the problem is, as we heard in speeches on Second Reading, found all over the country in urban and rural areas. It has been gratifying to have the support of the House for this measure. There was not one speech against the Bill on Second Reading, and support has come to me from all over the country during the intervening period.

This is the third Bill that I have been fortunate enough to bring to this stage in the House. The other two, the Consumer Safety Bill 1977 and the Licensing (Amendment) Bill 1980, gave rise to many debates and arguments, some controversy and many amendments. I remember myself tabling over 100 amendments to one of those Bills.

There has been no attempt to amend or improve the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Bill since it was first brought before the House, and I find that very gratifying. I thank in particular the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for the assistance and wise counsel that he gave me when the Bill was being drafted. I also thank the sponsors who have supported the Bill throughout, those who took part in the Second Reading debate, and my hon. Friends and Opposition Members who are here today to speak in the debate.

We know that the vast majority of the young people who indulge in solvent abuse do so out of curiosity. In many cases they do it as a group activity. They want to belong to a group in which sniffing is the current craze. The substances are cheap and easy to obtain and are to be found in every broom cupboard in every home.

As well as the large number of people who indulge in the habit as a craze or out of curiosity, there are a smaller number of serious cases of chronic addiction to solvent abuse. The usual background is that they come from unhappy or disturbed families. It is a way of seeking attention or a way of escape, and it is a very serious problem.

Those who engage in solvent abuse or sniffing only as a passing phase can, unfortunately, kill themselves in that short time. One trial sniff can lead to death, and we read about it all too often in the newspapers. They are indeed tragic events. The damage can be to the heart, to the lungs or to the brain. There is not only the problem of organs of the body being seriously or fatally damaged. Frequently accidents are caused by the intoxication resulting from abuse and many are fatal. There is the additional problem of anti-social acts done by people under the influence of solvents.

A wide range of products can be used in solvent abuse. I shall not go into all of them, but I have a table that was produced by one of the bodies concerned with the prevention of solvent abuse. It shows that 24 per cent. of the deaths in a 10 or 12-year period were due to the use not of glue—the substance most often thought of—but to gas fuels, and in particular lighter fuel. The table shows that a further 17 per cent. of the deaths were due to the use of aerosols—a particularly dangerous form of sniffing. They included fire extinguishers, anti-perspirants, air fresheners, cleaners, fly sprays, paint sprays and hair sprays—things in everyday use in every house. Glue of one form of another accounted for 27 per cent. of the deaths, and the remaining 31 per cent. were from a wide variety of products. I should not have thought that chloroform—one of the products listed—was to be found in every broom cupboard. Many others, however, such as petrol, paint thinner, plaster remover and cleaning agents, are all widely available products.

I should like to repeat the warning about aerosols. Anything that can be sprayed from an aerosol can be sniffed, and people can kill themselves by using any of those products. It happens regularly. The message should go out from this debate that aerosols are very dangerous for young people to use in the way that I have described. Many of the tragedies are due to the abuse of aerosols, and that fact is not sufficiently appreciated by parents. Most people believe that glue is the substance to avoid, but the statistics to which I have referred show that, although the sniffing of glue gives rise to death and accident, most accidents are not due to the use of glue. I repeat that aerosols are a particularly dangerous form of abuse, and all parents should be aware of that.

One of the suggestions made to me during the three months since the Second Reading is that there should be dummy containers of the abused products kept in shops. I do not think that that is a practical suggestion. Bearing in mind the wide range of products to which I have referred, it would not be practical for shops to carry on their shelves dummy containers for so many products. I have been in correspondence with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security on the subject, and he is raising the matter with the British Adhesives and Sealants Association and the British Retail Asociation for them to consider. Perhaps some products—glue in particular—might be dealt with in that way, but I do not think it would be practical to treat so many products in the way suggested and to have only dummies on the shelves.

Those at risk are mostly between the ages of 13 and 16. When the Bill was being drafted, it was suggested that perhaps the offence of deliberately supplying substances to youngsters should be limited to those up to 16, but the problem continues beyond the age of 16. Therefore, it seemed to me right that the limit should be 18. There has not been any opposition to that suggestion, and therefore, the age remains in the Bill at 18.

Some young people regard the sniffing of solvents as a kids' craze, but I am told that the fact that it is totally different from what adults do gives it some attraction to young immature people.

How many children take part in solvent abuse? No one really knows the answer. For obvious reasons, it is not practical to have a census, but it is thought by some researchers that as many as 5 per cent. of all children in the age group have sniffed solvents at some time, although in most cases it is a passing phase.

There has been research in Newcastle by Dr. Anthony Thorley, the director of the centre for alcohol and drug studies at St. Nicholas' hospital together with Brenda Davies, the senior registrar in psychiatry, and Mr. Dennis O'Connor at Newcastle university, to whom I referred on Second Reading, who runs a very successful clinic for people suffering from the problem. Those three people have produced a study which suggests that, of the 5 per cent. of 15-year-olds who engage in sniffing, 10 per cent.—one in 200 of those children —continue sniffing beyond that age into young adulthood. That is a serious factor.

In the three months since Second Reading I have been keeping a note of developments in my area in the northeast. I do not think that that area is any different from the rest of the country. There has been a continuation of the distressingly regular series of tragedies and problems caused by solvent abuse. In February, an 18-year-old boy was convicted of indecent behaviour which was brought about by his being under the influence of glue. There have been several cases of burglary. In one of those cases the 19-year-old involved pointed a gun at a policeman. The policeman found himself with a gun at his temple held by someone in a fairly crazed condition. Fortunately, the policeman was able to seize the gun. Although it proved to be a very accurate replica, it was a worrying and terrifying incident for him. Those burglaries and other incidents have been carried out by children in their late teens, not by children in their early teens.

There has been trouble on our splendid Tyneside metro system. A train had to come to an emergency stop because a youth, intoxicated by sniffing, was in front of it. There was a crowd of sniffers around at the time. A 12-year-old sniffer of gas went berserk when his cartridge of gas was removed from him. He ransacked his house, and the police had to be called. In February, an 18-year-old boy was found to have permanent damage to a lung as a result of sniffing. Last month an 18-year-old girl, who had been sniffing all day, collapsed and died three days later from irreparable brain damage. In March, there was a fortunate escape by a 16-year-old girl who had been sniffing for a long time and who collapsed. Fortunately, the ambulance was called speedily. She lived near the ambulance station, and within three minutes of her collapse the ambulance men were there. They saved her with seconds to spare as she was turning blue. I am told by the local ambulance service that there is now about one call a day to deal with serious cases of glue sniffing. The ambulance men find that the young people can be violent and strong as a result of the intoxication to which they have subjected themselves.

One of the particularly worrying factors that has come out of the research by Dr. Thorley and his colleagues is the way in which a small but significant number of those who have become serious addicts of solvent sniffing go on to hard drugs. After four or five years of sniffing glue, they turn to sniffing heroin and end up injecting it. Let me give two examples.

First, there was an 18-year-old girl who had sniffed for seven years since she was 11. At 17 she started taking LSD tablets together with solvents, and spent 12 hours a day on that activity. It is hard for us to understand how young people can spend a whole day doing that, but she did, and she took heroin whenever she could get hold of it.

Secondly, a 20-year-old girl had sniffed for six years from the age of 14. When she was 18 she moved on to LSD and heroin.

To add to the tragedies caused by abuse of solvents there is the danger of the activity extending into hard drugs, with permanent effect. On Second Reading I referred to a young man who told me that he had spent 12 or 14 hours a day consuming a litre of glue. It is terribly hard to understand how anybody could absorb a litre, but it appears to be a regular occurrence for hardened addicts. I am old enough to have difficulty in understanding litres. I am one of those who nowadays never knows how much petrol I am putting into my car except by the price. I tend to think of a litre in terms of the amount of whisky that one can bring back duty free from one's holiday. However, I am not sure whether whisky is a good subject to refer to in a debate on abuse—

As the hon. Gentleman says, more people are addicted to whisky.

I understand that a litre is 1¾ pints, and a pint is something that I do understand. From my earliest days, I have known the size of a pint of milk. Therefore, a litre is getting on for 2 pints. That is the quantity of these substances being consumed daily by some people. ft is a very large amount. The substances are also relatively cheap—much cheaper than whisky.

At present the police are powerless to prevent glue from being deliberately sold to children for sniffing purposes. On the one hand, dollops of glue in old crisp bags are sold in kits tragically known as "happy bags", and, on the other hand, hardened addicts buy and consume a litre of glue. In England and Wales, the police are powerless to do anything about it. As we know, in Scotland, under the different legal system, it has been established that the police have the power to act. The Bill simply seeks to bring into statute law in England and Wales the rules which now exist in Scotland.

I believe that the existence of such a law will act as a powerful and effective deterrent. On Second Reading the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) referred to the clang of gaol doors. I like that expression. I believe that the threat of the clang of gaol doors will deter evil shopkeepers. In the House we argue about the extent to which gaol sentences act as a deterrent to criminals. I believe that that threat will be a successful deterrent against the sort of person who is deliberately selling glue for that dreadful purpose.

Not only those who deliberately sell glue but those who are wilfully blind will be affected. It is in no way my intention to put at risk the ordinary shopkeeper. Some shopkeepers have expressed concern, but no formal representations have been made to me on behalf of shopkeepers. I think that they understand, and I am sure that they all abhor the deliberate sale of poison in that way. The ordinary shopkeeper is appalled by it, as we all are, and understands that he is not being put at risk. I fully understand the problems that shopkeepers face when a child comes in and asks for a product. If they make a genuine mistake they will not be at risk. They should use their discretion and not supply the product if they have any doubt. I hope that they do so now. Shopkeepers in my area tell me that that is their practice. If a boy who they have reason to suppose may want to use the product for sniffing comes into the shop, they do not supply it. I am sure that they are right in not doing so.

For those who deliberately sell glue recklessly and without regard to what it might be used for, the punishment should be gaol or a heavy fine. The Bill provides for a six month gaol sentence or a £2,000 fine. When the Bill was drafted, I wondered whether the House might wish to alter those penalties, but it has not done so. Hon. Members have agreed with my judgment and that of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department that that is the correct level.

We had it in mind that the penalty could be imposed in the magistrates courts. It is widely felt that such an offence should be dealt with speedily before the magistrates. If they felt that an offender had behaved in an appalling and large-scale way, and that more than six months' gaol was called for, I imagine that they could impose consecutive sentences. I cannot conceive that a case would be brought on a single incident of selling glue. We are talking about people who have a record of selling it in large quantities.

I remind the House that in Scotland gallons of glue were sold in small corner shops when in no way could gallons of glue have been needed in the normal course of business.. Some people were buying it a litre at a time and even more were buying those dreadful happy kits, with a few spoonfuls of glue in an old crisp packet. No shopkeeper would sell glue in an old crisp packet without knowing exactly what it was being used for. People doing so will be doing it on a large scale. It is possible for the courts to impose consecutive sentences if they wish. In Scotland, two-year gaol sentences were imposed.

The police know who is involved in and guilty of such activity. The authorities in Tyneside told me that they have been aware that a fish and chip shop has also been selling glue. A hot dog seller is also known to have provided glue. No reasonable person could suppose that the sale of glue with fish and chips or hot dogs was a normal trading activity. It is the people who do such things that the Bill is designed to deal with, not the normal corner shopkeeper who has no wish to engage in this wicked trade.

There has recently been an interesting development on Tyneside. After four years' research, a firm called Plus Products reckons to have produced a solvent-free glue. Glue is not the only problem—most of the serious accidents are caused by other substances—but in the case of casual sniffing glue is the substance most commonly sniffed. If a successful solvent-free glue could be produced, that would be a great achievement. Mr. Perry, who runs Plus Products, tells me that one could sniff the glue for as long as one liked and it would do one no harm, and that the glue performs just as well as normal glue. If that is so, the product has a very good future. The product is called Plustex C3530. That means little to me, but it may mean something to my more technically minded colleagues. It may be more expensive than ordinary glue, but it goes much further. We must follow that development. I shall encourage Mr. Perry to the best of my ability, and I am pleased that this breakthrough is a Tyneside development.

There is a need for education by teachers and by parents, and for education of teachers and of parents. This matter does not fall directly within the scope of the Bill, but it has been suggested to me on Tyneside that all local authorities should be required to prepare a plan to deal with the problem in their area and perhaps to report each year on what they are doing about solvent abuse. There is a precedent in that authorities are already required to prepare such a plan to deal with problems of cruelty to children. I am satisfied that everything possible is being done on Tyneside to deal with the problem, but I am not sure what is being done elsewhere in the country. It may be that other areas are equally aware of the problem. Nevertheless, it might be a good idea if each local authority had to produce an annual report.

The solvent manufacturers are at present represented by the British Adhesives and Sealants Association. The members of that body are good citizens who are very much concerned about the abuse of some of their products. They have gone to considerable lengths to assist in dealing with the problem, and I understand that they have plans for even greater efforts in the future. The subjects to which they are devoting their attention are the alleviation of the suffering arising from abuse, the education of the public about the dangers, the promotion and support of research into the problems and the dissemination and publication of the results of that research for the benefit of the public. There may also be the endowment of scholarships for the support of relevant research work. The association proposes to increase its activities. I believe that it intends to hold an international conference on the subject next year. The House will congratulate the association on its efforts.

The Bill is deliberately short, and I hope that it will be effective. It has a very straightforward aim. I believe that it will lead to the closure of an obvious loophole in the law. It will not eradicate the problem. The substances are too readily available in every broom cupboard, bedroom and bathroom as well as in the shops. It will not deal with the social and family problems that often give rise to serious abuse. However, it will provide a weapon to be used against the evil men who deliberately profit from this sick craze. The Bill will provide a weapon that does not yet exist, and will help to reduce the supply. Each death prevented will make the Bill worth while. The sooner the Bill appears on the statute book, the better.

10.6 am

Once again I congratulate the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on his initiative in bringing forward the Bill, his good sense in restricting it to a narrow and noncontroversial area, and his expertise in steering it so successfully towards the completion of its stages in this House. It is not the Opposition's purpose to delay or obstruct the Bill. We have some qualifications about what it may achieve in practice, and there may be some problems, but we support the Bill and wish to see it on the statute book.

Solvent abuse does not attract as much attention today as it did at the time when the hon. Gentleman first thought of the Bill. It has been overshadowed—certainly in my own area of Merseyside—by the increasing problem of the use of heroin and cocaine. Heroin is now much more readily available, and there are increasing quantities of high-quality cocaine on the streets at relatively low prices. Those much more dangerous drugs are therefore now being used by a larger number and a wider variety of young people, some of whom might otherwise have used solvents. The problem has moved away from the abuse of solvents towards the addiction to heroin and cocaine.

To some extent, the problem of solvent abuse disappears, as the user tends to move on from that form of abuse to other in many ways much more dangerous drugs, or, indeed, to alcohol. Solvent abuse is not, apparently, the problem today that it was 18 months or two or three years ago. The problem is now much more serious, and on a much larger scale. However, we all know from experience in our constituencies that solvent abuse is a considerable problem, not least for the parents of the children concerned.

We have all had letters from, or met at our surgeries, parents who are deeply worried and upset because they have found out that their children have been abusing solvents. They feel themselves to be failures. They feel helpless to confront the problem. They do not know how to deal with it. Quite apart from the problems for the user, solvent abuse certainly creates considerable problems and much distress for his family. There are also the incidental anti-social effects that have been alluded to. Many crimes are committed, not because the person concerned is inherently criminal or would in more lucid moments have embarked on an act of criminality, but because he—or she—is under the influence of some solvent substance. He might commit indecent exposure or burglary, or some more horrendous crime of malicious actual bodily harm. There has been one widely publicised case of murder. Such crimes can occur because of the effect on young people of sniffing glue or other solvents.

More disturbing are the deaths, of which there were 282 from volatile substances between 1971 and 1983—there were 80 in 1983 alone—72 per cent. of which were of people under 20. As the hon. Gentleman said, the addiction tends to be concentrated in the younger age group. When considering how the Bill will work, it is important to note that 31 per cent. of those deaths were accounted for by the use of cleaning agents, 27 per cent. by the sniffing of glues and 24 per cent. by the inhalation of lighter fuels and the like. It is worrying that volatile substances can be the cause of death, but it is even more worrying that there is such a massive and terrible waste of young life in such horrible and disturbing circumstances.

It is a great pity that the Bill and its passage through the House has attracted relatively little attention from hon. Members, many of whom want at other times to make great play of the problems of solvent abuse. They seem not to take a great interest in the subject when it comes to doing something, or attempting to do something about it.

As I have said before, the Bill does not address itself to the real problem of solvent abuse, nor does the hon. Gentleman pretend that it does. It provides no more than that it will be an offence for a retailer to supply solvents to people under 18, knowing that they are likely to be inhaled. That is a perfectly reasonable objective. Nobody should knowingly aid and abet young people in this antisocial, unhealthy and distressing practice. If anyone is prepared to take that responsibility knowingly, he ought to be regarded as having committed a criminal offence and be convicted for it.

Nobody should profit from young people's addiction to or affliction by solvents. In that regard, the Opposition have supported and will continue to support the Bill. However, most retailers do not knowingly aid and abet the purchase of solvents for sniffing. The overwhelming majority—99·9 per cent.—of retailers would not wish in any way to aid or abet such a practice or to profit from it. As the hon. Gentleman said, there are a few evil people who profit, but the vast majority are only too willing to abide by the Government's guidelines. My evidence is that those guidelines are being adhered to conscientiously arid, in many cases, enthusiastically. It is perhaps not amiss that the Bill reinforces those guidelines.

We must ensure that the public are aware that the Bill is limited. They should not have grandiose expectations of it. The Bill is limited simply by the fact that 39 per cent. of those who abuse solvents steal them. They will not be caught as a result of the Bill. A further 33 per cent. get somebody else to buy the solvents. When the Bill becomes law, that percentage will rise because young people will not run the risk of being embarrassed in public by retailers, but will get older and unaware people to buy the solvents. Only 15 per cent. of solvent abusers themselves purchase the product. it is therefore only that 15 per cent. who could be caught. It is obvious that that figure will change.

Some people will be caught by the Bill. Some retailers will be identified as embarking on this evil, vicious and anti-social trade and be prosecuted and convicted. Nevertheless, I suspect that, when in two or three years' time we consider how the Bill has worked, we shall find that it has had little impact. I hope so, because I hope that most retailers are law-abiding. The real need, as the hon. Gentleman began to say, is for comprehensive health and social education of children likely to be at risk, and their parents. As with drug abuse generally, it is essential to give help, counselling and education to the parents of children who might become drug or solvent abusers. It is also important to have a well-thought-out strategy of training for professionals. Many social workers, health officials and teachers are not sufficiently trained in the recognition of symptoms or the type of help that they should give a solvent abuser or a drug misuser. I am aware that much is being done, but nobody will pretend hat it is enough. We should provide far more services for solvent and drug abusers.

The central funding initiative and the £10 million is welcome, but it is not enough, given the increasing scale of the problem. If we are to believe what the Minister is telling every radio and television station—that we are confronted with an epidemic of heroin and cocaine abuse—and if the quantities of those drugs entering the country are increasing as alleged, it is clear that £10 million, significant though that sum is, is a drop in the ocean compared with what is needed to provide additional services for those in need.

I shall put the Opposition's anxieties on the record in the hope that they will help to inform those who have to implement the Bill and because they should be on the record for when the other place considers the Bill and what changes might be appopriate. The first concerns the phrase, "reasonable cause to believe". Retailers must refuse to supply solvents to young people if they have reasonable cause to believe that that young person is likely to inhale them. Responsibility is put on the retailer to ensure that he is not committing a crime.

I am not jibbing at that, but the problem is that many retailers might become over-cautious when supplying solvents to those aged under 18. Many young people might be prevented from buying perfectly innocuous substances such as paint strippers, petrol, glues and cleaning fluids which they, or somebody who has sent them, want to use for perfectly legitimate purposes. If there is a great deal of police activity and public concern about solvent abuse in a particular area, individual retailers may be over-timid about selling solvents to anyone under the age of 18. It would be most unfortunate if young people were discriminated against and publicly humiliated in a crowded shop by a retailer refusing to sell an article to them, with the implication that they must be disreputable drug or solvent abusers.

That problem has been compounded by the unfortunate remarks about punks made on many occasions by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), whom I am glad to see present today. On every occasion the hon. Gentleman has identified someone dressed like or otherwise resembling a punk as being ipso facto a solvent or drug abuser.

It is on the record.

Many of the voluntary organisations with which I am associated are staffed by people who adopt bizarre and frightening clothes and hair styles which I should certainly not adopt or wish my children to adopt, yet those people are the most sensitive and hard-working and often the most cautious and timid. To tar them with the brush of solvent or drug abuse, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North has done on three occasions in the House—

It is in Hansard. It is an unwarranted slur and I fear that it will compound the problems that may occur under the Bill. We cannot have retailers automatically refusing to sell glue to anyone with orange hair or studs round his belt. That is unfair to the retailer and to the young person and it will cause great animosity and controversy, which we can well do without. I hope that it will not happen and that most retailers will have a better knowledge of young people than that displayed by the hon. Member for Ealing, North and will use the powers provided by the Bill with far more sense than he would.

I am also concerned about the meaning of the word "substance". How are retailers to interpret that concept? For instance, they may conclude that lighter fuel is a substance which they can refuse to sell, but that a disposable lighter is not. Again, Tipp-Ex thinner is presumably a substance, while Tipp-Ex fluid is not. A host of similar anomalies will arise if retailers are asked to make definitions which no hon. Member would be able to make and which lawyers may find extremely difficult to interpret. It will be no use if the potential abuser merely buys a different product which has the same effect but is not a "substance".

The most important caveat about the effect of the Bill in practice is that it may restrict availability of the less toxic substances. The substance most widely associated in the public mind with solvent abuse is glue. In the House, too, when discussing volatile substances we tend to talk about glue sniffing. Therefore, retailers will tend to be most cautious, nervous and restrictive about the sale of glue. If that happens, young people will turn to aerosols, cleaning products and other substances which are more likely to be supplied but which do the most irreparable damage. Those substances are the killers. No one wants to legislate to ensure that young people switch from glue to even more dangerous substances, but that could be the unfortunate and unintended consequence of the Bill, and we must guard against it. Retailers must be alerted to that risk. For that reason, it will be necessary to monitor the working of the legislation very carefully.

Most important of all, we must not over-sell the likely effect of the Bill. We endorse and support its Third Reading, but we do not want it to raise false hopes or to pretend that it is a major step towards solving the problem of solvent abuse. Solvent abuse will continue on much the same scale the day after the Bill becomes law as the day before. We must also not pretend that the Bill deals with the problem of drug abuse in any real or meaningful way. We must not allow this legislation to distract our attention from the real issue of identifying and dealing with the causes of solvent and drug abuse.

Above all, in the polite, all-party, non-contentious atmosphere that tends to prevail on Fridays in relation to Bills of this kind, when we are all working together as we should in the interests of all our constituents and irrespective of party politics, we must never forget that the major responsibility for dealing with drug and solvent abuse rests with the Minister and the Government. It is their problem, but in many cases they are not living up to their responsibilities in the way that they should.

We must also take into account the social and economic circumstances in which solvent and drug abuse flourish. Whatever the actual causal relationship, we know that there is a major and significant relationship between high unemployment, poverty, social deprivation and inadequate housing and the problems of solvent and drug abuse. Of course, as recent well-publicised instances have shown, some people at the top of the social scale with good job opportunities and large incomes are solvent or drug abusers. We do not deny that. Nevertheless, the largest concentration of solvent and drug abuse is in decaying inner city areas and in the decaying outer estates of areas such as mine. The Government have a great responsibility for having created those conditions, and an even greater moral responsibility to take action to eliminate those social and economic conditions and the abuses to which they give rise.

10.27 am

It is a pity that the reasonably well-informed speech of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) included a totally ill-informed, unwarranted and disgraceful attack on me. The hon. Gentleman had the gall to claim that I classified all punk rockers as glue sniffers because on one occasion —not two or three—I thought it right to bring to the attention of the House a most distressing example that I had witnessed of glue being sold to a punk rocker. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will do his homework properly next time. I remind him of what I said on that occasion, and I stand by it. I said:

"I went into a well-known shop the other day, and as I was being served a punk rocker came in. He asked for glue and was sold glue. A man standing next to me said to the person who had sold the glue, 'You know that glue is going to be abused.' The man behind the counter said, 'Yes, I do, but what is it to me if people choose to kill themselves in that way?' That is disgraceful. The Bill will overcome that and I welcome it in that spirit."—[Official Report, 18 January 1985; Vol. 71, c. 660.]
That is the single example of a punk rocker that I used. I took one instance, and the person buying the glue just happened to be a punk rocker.

When I gave that example, I was not saying that all punk rockers are likely to do the same thing in the same way, just as I would not say that somebody who is dressed in a particularly slick way is a slicker and financially devious, and that all other slickers are the same. I would not bracket all City gents with the actions of one City gent, however sweet and charitable, or whatever. The hon. Gentleman has some knowledge of these matters and he is usually an honest debater, but it was unworthy of him to speak like that.

I join in the hon. Gentleman's congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) on his great success in bringing the Bill before the House and on the fact that it will be the third Bill that he has got on to the statute book. That is no mean achievement for a Back Bencher.

The problem of glue sniffing relates to all ages, from tots to adults, and even people in middle age. We know that on average 10 per cent. of all children in schools sniff glue. In some schools the percentage is as high as 14 per cent. and rising, so it is a serious matter. Between 1971 and 1981 there were 169 deaths from glue sniffing. In 1981, there were 45 deaths, and in 1983, there were 80 deaths, as the hon. Member for Knowsley, North said, and the figure is still rising.

In between the first sniff of glue or solvent and death all sorts of damage can be caused to the individual. We hope that elimination of such problems will be helped by the Bill. From the staggering around of tots who have sniffed glue to the deaths of people of all ages from glue sniffing, people can suffer the most terrible brain damage. I know about one man whose brain was so damaged by glue sniffing that, on release from prison, he was unable to lead a coherent normal life and was soon back in prison because he committed further offences.

I hope that the Bill will go some way, although I know that it will not go all the way, towards overcoming the problem. I have presented two Bills to the House relating to the problem of glue sniffing and solvent abuse because of my long concern over the matter. I have received four petitions in two years from constituents—two from head teachers, one from a parent and another from a classroom teacher—each with hundreds of signatures and in one case with thousands. They have all pleaded for action. Effectively, the Bill is the first action that the House has been able to take since I received those petitions. The fact that they came from parents, teachers and head teachers is a sign of the particular concern felt by those who are involved in bringing up and educating young people.

I should particularly like to see more glues of the type mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth as being produced in his constituency, which are solvent-free and therefore not open to any abuse. Dunlop has produced such a glue as well, as has EVODE. I hope that all manufacturers will bend their minds to the production of such glues, because it has been shown that it can be done.

Education is part of the answer in the long term. However, there is heavy pressure on the school curriculum, so there is not much room for a great deal to be said about the problem of glue sniffing when teachers have also to deal with drugs and so many other problems. We shall be heavily dependent upon what the Bill can do to lessen the difficulties that glue sniffers and their families are facing.

I welcome the Bill for its limited value in making it a committable offence deliberately to supply toxic substances to young people for inhalation. That brings English law into line with Scottish law, and the supply of toxic substances into line with the peddling of drugs to some extent. The two are closely related.

Motivation is obviously an important factor. That needs to be emphasised, so that shopkeepers and shop assistants do not feel too stressed when faced with the consequences of the Bill. From my knowledge of the matter, I know that those addicted to solvent abuse can buy as much as a litre a day. If a shopkeeper or shop assistant is asked for such a quantity of solvent every day by the same youth, such an individual should become suspicious. The Bill will cover such circumstances. Therefore I welcome it.

It is clear that those who are addicted are keen and sometimes desperate to get a regular supply of solvent, with no questions asked. Therefore, they are not likely to go to the same shop every day, once the Bill comes into force. That, perhaps, is one of its weaknesses. Mothers of addicts have written to me about their children's problems and expressed frustration about the Bill. They feel that there are so many different outlets where addicts can purchase solvents—DIY shops, department stores, local shops, Woolworth, and so on—that they need never arouse suspicion. That is especially true of large shops which have frequent staff changes, tea breaks and shifts and many different cash points.

Much depends on where addicts live, but it seems characteristic of addicts that they are devious in pursuit of their addiction, and we need to bear that point in mind as we examine the Bill on Third Reading. Recently, I received the most harrowing letter that I have ever received, from the mother of an addict. Her son, who has indulged in solvent abuse for three years, is now 18 years old. His name is Daniel. He is a Londoner, but he could come from anywhere. The mother argues that his addiction has helped to cause the death of her husband, the loss of her addicted son's job and the break-up of the family.

The worst part of the story is that the mother cannot get any help from anywhere. Everyone has washed their hands of this lad. While he was still legally a juvenile, the police would take him in for his own protection for being drunk and disorderly on glue, which he had been free to purchase, but which he may be less free to purchase as a result of the Bill. Other support aid agencies no longer take an interest. What is almost worse is that he is a social outcast, and unemployed. His mother thinks that he now sniffs glue almost 24 hours a day.

Does any agency exist that can help, if prompted, in this situation? If it does, I should be glad to know of it, because this Third Reading debate gives an opportunity to draw attention to what the Bill is seeking to do and perhaps to relate other curing agencies to it at the same time. There are many such sad cases that desperately need help.

I support the Bill strongly for its limited value. It will end the terrible, wicked situation of which my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth spoke when he moved the Second Reading and again today, whereby people can go into a shop and buy fish and chips and glue at the same time. That is dreadful and wicked. It is an obvious abuse with which the Bill will deal.

I went recently to a church residential centre where a youth high on glue had cut his wrists and run amok one night. The priest in charge told me that that youth always went to the same place and had no difficulty in obtaining glue. The youth received hospital treatment, and with bandaged wrists returned to the centre a day to two later, when again he ran amok. The priest in charge and otters had the terrifying and difficult job of trying to control, help and save him from himself while he was high on glue. It appeared that he had purchased the glue at the same place, even though it must have been obvious to the shopkeeper that he was in an unstable medical condition. The Bill will ensure that that sort of thing does not recur. I felt agonised for those who were attempting to deal with that youth. The law is weak without the amendment that the Bill will introduce. There is no referral agency that the church residential centre can call in aid.

Surely it is right to punish drug pushers and shopkeepers who knowingly sell glues and solvents to would-be sniffers. The Bill is absolutely right in principle. Some shopkeepers have told me that they expect to face considerable pressure and stress as a result of the Bill when they refuse to sell solvents to regular clients. We should not make too much of this, but the House should face the problem and offer some advice to individual shopkeepers who will be obliged to refuse to sell glues and solvents to those who are already high on them. Shopkeepers must not panic. They should try to lecture the youngster or expect very much self-control on his part. No purpose will be served by being critical of him or by giving him lectures. I think that shopkeepers would be well advised, when faced with that situation, to call in the police or the help of social service agencies. The House must accept that difficulties may arise as a result of the Bill's enactment and should offer coherent advice.

In the Daily Express of 18 April, and in one or two other newspapers, there were reports of the deaths recently of two glue-sniffing brothers who died within four weeks of each other while in council care. Their heartbroken mother, Mrs. Angeline Coyne, who is only 37, said:
"If it had not been for glue sniffing, my sons would be alive today, yet no one seems to be able to do anything."
I have spoken to medical people and there is no doubt that glue sniffing is the thin end of the wedge which leads to general drug abuse. We are aware of the seriousness of drug abuse, and the link between that and glue sniffing is clear. One leads to the other. It seems that glue sniffing is part of the general drug abuse scene. That is emphasised by the report that appeared in the Daily Express and in other newspapers.

The chairman of the Leeds social services committee has claimed that the police are turning a blind eye to the problem, but we must recognise that the police do not have the power that they need without the enactment of the Bill. That is why I welcome it with renewed zest and enthusiasm.

I shall conclude by reading a short extract from the letter of the mother of Danny, who, as I have said, has been a glue sniffer for three years. He is now thought by her to be sniffing glue 24 hours a day on some occasions. He has his known sources of procurement. However, he will be limited, to some extent, in that procurement because, when the Bill is enacted, he will not be able to go to the same sources. The shopkeepers know him. They know that if they serve him glue he will sniff it. Once the Bill is enacted, they will be aware that they will be breaking the law if they sell him solvents. They will be aware also of the penalties for doing so.

Danny's mother wrote:
"Danny got on the Youth Training Scheme—he loved it. He also went on work experience to one job learning car mechanics for three months and then to another job to do arc welding for three months. The only time he went glue sniffing was at the week-ends and it looked like we were getting back to being a normal family again. I felt sorry for my younger son Peter, because he is a good boy and he has to live with all the misery of his mother and brother.

The last job Danny did closed down at Christmas, and he hasn't even looked for a job since. He is probably on glue 24 hours a day. He takes it to bed with him and starts sniffing the minute he wakes up, so we have rows every morning and night now. I have told him to go out and not come back, but where can he go? We have no other family or friends. All Danny's mates have grown out of glue and ignore him now. I think he is always on his own. Last week the Careers Office 'phoned him and asked him to go and see them, and he came back and said he had an interview for a job in the Cumberland Hotel in two days' time, but he had to wear black shoes and black trousers, which he didn't have because he always wears jeans and trainers. He was so enthusiastic about getting this job as a bus boy. I went out with him and spent my electric bill money on getting him a pair of black shoes and trousers, which cost me nearly £40, but I was hoping he might get the job. He looked really smart and I was just as disappointed as he was, when he didn't get the job. So we are back to square one again.

A few days ago, Danny came home early and locked himself in the bathroom to glue sniff. He started shouting and swearing and saying he wished he was dead."
Danny is 18. The letter continues:
"He was sick of this life, and me, and this house, and his brother. I tried to speak calmly to him. I was scared he might try and kill himself, when my younger son came in and tried to break the bathroom door down. I 'phoned Carter Street Police Station and asked them if there were any Police passing could they call here, because my son was a glue sniffer and he had locked himself in the bathroom and my other son was trying to break the door down trying to get him out. (No wonder nobody talks to us.) Five minutes later two Officers called and they persuaded him to come out. One of the Officers took him into his bedroom to have a talk and I helped the other to find the tin of glue. He said he would take it away. They said its a shame to see a young boy in such a state, there are so many kids on glue or drugs these days, but Danny wasn't breaking the law, its O.K. to sniff glue. They admired all his boxing trophies in the front room and asked him if he was still boxing. He said 'No', and they went. They also told me to 'phone up anytime we needed help. The next day Danny was back on glue. When I think that there are so many places for drug addicts so much help also for alcoholics and even gamblers, but people don't realise that glue is dangerous. It's only if it is in your own family do you find out all the misery and upset it can cause. We are not a family any more.

It is so easy to buy solvents."
This is where the Bill will help. Danny's mother adds:
"All the DIY shops must know when a boy goes in each day to buy glue what he wants it for? Do they care? Even Woolworths sell it. It is too easy for any child to get started and end up hooked on it, just like a drug, that can cause so much heart break for a victim and his family who have to live through all this with him. We are watching him kill himself with a slow poison.

Please do something before it is too late for my son. I don't want him to be just a memory."
The Bill will help a little.

10.49 am

The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) and I represent neighbouring constituencies. We are both well aware of the scale of the problem in the north-east, especially in the Tyne and Wear area, and we are saddened and concerned about the number of our constituents who have lost children as a result of the problem.

Oddly enough, I first raised the matter some five years ago, and it was referred to the Minister for Consumer Affairs to ascertain whether the chemical industry in particular could make a product with adhesive qualities without being dangerous. I regret that after much research the chemical industry cannnot find the right product and the adhesive manufacturers, who in the main purchase from the large chemical companies, have also admitted defeat. Therefore, I am somewhat heartened to learn that a firm on Tyneside, Plus Products, may be moving towards some solution, or partial solution, of the problem, but it would be foolish to be too optimistic, given the scale of the problem.

I must disagree with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), because the Northumbria and Durham police have involved themselves considerably in this matter. In my constituency the police, in co-operation with councillors, have organised a series of public meetings and have shown the horror films on this subject. They have had good support from teachers, social workers and many youth organisations in the area, but regrettably, the problem continues on the same scale.

In last night's edition of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle there was a report of a public meeting at Consett which was attended by over 400 people who went to hear the experts speak on the dangers of various drugs. A mother, who is not named, told the horror story of her son who is being paralysed as a result of drug abuse. I shall not give details of the particular method that he used because I do not want it to receive too much publicity.

I also want to pay tribute to the provincial press, particularly The Journal and the Evening Chronicle, for their long, sustained and responsible campaign to highlight the scale of the problem. It is noteworthy that in this article Detective Inspector Harvey Harrison of the Durham drugs squad highlights the responsibility of parents in analysing their children's behaviour. He highlights some simple points, which it does not take an expert to observe. He says that parents should look for glazed eyes or slurred speech, tinfoil used for the smoking of heroin, minute scales used for weighing drugs, a general lack of interest in appearance and dress and, above all, whether a normal healthy child has a lack of interest in the opposite sex. Clearly, those basic symptoms should be readily observed.

I should like to see such matters raised more publicly. A long campaign is required. The problem will not go away. I disagree somewhat with my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) when he says that the drug problem is superseding that of solvent abuse. The drug problem is increasing in the United Kingdom and it is causing the Minister much concern. I congratulate the Minister on his visit to America. He used valuable time during his Easter recess, and he did so wisely, obtaining good, responsible publicity thereafter. The BBC helped the Minister to highlight the problem that could arise in Britain, and the House should commend the Minister and his advisers for that initiative.

I concur with the views of the hon. Member for Tynemouth on Newcastle university's academic staff. They have played a prominent part and have been patient and kind and considerate to me, in particular, when I have asked for information.

This is a sombre subject and I cannot envisage any magical solution to the problem. I hope that the Government will continue to publicise the use and abuse of drugs as they have been doing in recent leaflets. I should also like to see another campaign, perhaps in a region such as the north-east, on the narrow subject of solvent abuse. If we can do that, despite the cost, we may be able to bring the question responsibly to the fore.

I have time to make only a short speech and I hope the Minister and other hon. Members will forgive me if I have to leave shortly, but I shall be back soon. The hon. Member for Tynemouth's Bill will receive my support and the wholehearted support of the people in the northern region. It is as far as we can go, bearing in mind the limit of our knowledge on the subject. Therefore, I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading today and that it will have a successful passage in another place.

10.57 am

I speak from a completely different viewpoint from that of every other hon. Member who has spoken so far today. In the first place, let me disclose my financial and personal interests on the Bill. I am a small shopkeeper and a member of several chambers of trade and commerce. I have an honorary role looking after the interests of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents — a host of small shopkeepers. I cannot but support the Bill because its principle is so good, even though it will be almost impossible to implement in practice.

Every hon. Member who has spoken so far has said, "Yes, but". They have all said that the Bill is a good idea, but have asked whether it will work. Some of the quotes that I have jotted down this morning include, "No one knows how many take part in glue sniffing," "the official list is not complete," and "it is a bit hard on the shopkeeper because he may be in court as a result of an incomplete list."

I was amazed to find that my own shops sold many of the substances listed. My business deals with drawing office and art materials. It had never occurred to me that a glue sniffer would come in to one of my shops, but I was told only yesterday that a young man, bearing all the signs of being, as my staff had been advised, a glue sniffer, had come in the previous week to purchase a solvent. It was a well-known proprietary brand of gum which we all use for pasting up our election literature. It must be able to be applied and removed or moved once in place. I suspect that there are many more adhesives than my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) knows about. There are low tack, high tack and many other degrees of stickiness.

The girls in the shop, bright intelligent young ladies, had a quick conflab and agreed not to supply that young man—quite rightly. Unfortunately, it turned out that he was over 18 and the son of a local architect purchasing the glue for a respectable practice. We have lost that customer for ever and the girls have lost their commission. I do not criticise those girls, because they were right to act as they did, and I congratulate them, but that is a perfect example of how an excellently intentioned legal sledgehammer may miss the nut at which it is aimed.

How long will we go on persecuting the small shopkeeper simply because hon. Members feel that what the House is doing may improve things? I do not deny that the Bill should make matters marginally better, but by only a jolly small margin.

Another comment was that there is no magical solution. Of course there is not. The retail trade welcomes and supports the guidelines and principles of the Bill, but we already have voluntary guidelines, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security said some months ago in the House were working reasonably well. I do not doubt that the principle is good, but I doubt the practice. I suspect that the measure may fill the courts with small shopkeepers, but I doubt whether it will stop many round-the-corner glue sniffers.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) that appearance does not matter a pennyworth in terms of what people will do with solvents. There are so many solvents that it cannot be fair to put this legislation on the statute book, although my hon. Friend the Minister has inserted a clause which provides for vendors who have acted reasonably and responsibly.

A corner newsagent is busy in the early hours of the morning and evening sending out newspapers. The staff will be good people and, probably, part of the family or part-timers. How can they be expected to tell that a person is under 18? Can any hon. Member genuinely tell the age of a boy or girl? A 14-year-old who was 6ft 2in came to see me recently. I knew that, but no shopkeeper could possibly have known that. I suspect that when cases do come to court, the person alleged to have bought the solvent on behalf of the defendant will turn out not to be the buyer, because glue sniffing has almost become a party sport. That sounds horrible, but sniffing tends to be done in groups. The lad or girl who is sent to buy will look 18.

The shopkeeper must first judge a buyer's age, but that person may be buying balsa wood cement for an aircraft kit. Which 10-year-old has not done that, let alone a 17-year-old? The shopkeeper has not made the product that he sells, but has bought it in good faith from the manufacturer. He is no chemist. He may be an expert in art, newsagency or pharmaceutical matters, but these substances are now available in almost every chemist's shop, now that chemists' shops are retail shops, as are garages these days.

We are drawing a net with extremely large holes. I suspect that we shall catch some rather small fish, which will probably not be worth the cost of the net in the first place. That may be an extreme view. Although no hon. Member will vote against the Bill, the measure relies on the shopkeeper to make a judgment which is both onerous and unrealistic, especially regarding age.

Many young people look older than they are, yet the seller must decide on their age. How many retailers of cigarettes, for example, are prosecuted for selling to an under-age buyer? The same applies to obscene publications. It is hard on the shopkeeper if he must make a snap judgment and someone else may be judge and jury in his case at court.

The variety of solvents is legion. I had to write their names down because they mean nothing to me. They include toluene, hexane, acetone, amyl, acetate and benzine. Many of those items are for the home. Ladies need butane refills for the things that they use to curl their hair, and they use hair lacquer sprays. Can we expect a retailer to divine whether a normal-looking person —99.99 per cent. of the time the person will look perfectly ordinary and normal—is under a certain age and that having obtained a butane refill for mother's curling tongs will give it not to mother but to someone else?

We must not forget that most small shopkeepers rely on repeat trade. There are two sides to that. If a genuine customer, or his son or daughter, is refused service, he will not return to the shop. That is fair enough, but not from the shopkeeper's point of view. The ordinary small shopkeeper is probably the most respectable person in society. I say that in full knowledge of the fact that there are only five shopkeepers in Parliament and many more attorneys, accountants, schoolteachers and other folk. A small shopkeeper who finds himself in court will suffer from being taken to court. However, that is nothing to his further suffering, even if he is found innocent, as he almost certainly will be, because the burden of proof under the Bill is hard on the prosecution. He will feel the social stigma of being taken to court. If it is a small newsagent, who will mind the shop while he is in court? Will the person who minds the shop be as vigilant as the shopkeeper in watching to whom he sells the goods? If a shopkeeper misjudges the circumstances, he could literally find himself in gaol, not for criminal intent, but for a misjudgment. That is inequitable.

On Second Reading the Minister congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter), as I do, on the narrowness of the Bill, in that it is intended to get at the pusher. The more that I have considered the Bill since volunteering to serve on the Committee on the Bill and following its passage, the less sure I am that we shall catch pushers. Indeed, what would we do with an under18-year-old pusher if we caught one? Will the result be as sad as that of the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North, in which the user merely got the supply from elsewhere? Supplies are readily available. The only answer is for the substance on the market not to be a substance that can be used. That will involve research and patents. Moreover, glues and solvents are cheap and necessary in every sector of our life. I do not see that solution arriving in the short term.

When the Second Reading of the Bill was announced, the headline of the Evening Chronicle in the north-east, which is not a paper I normally read, stated:
"Police set to Pounce on Evil Dealers — M.P. Tells Commons."
Even bigger headlines referred to "Corner-shop Killers". One may say that that is over the top. The Minister may say that the Bill is loose and narrow and not intended to catch the good shopkeeper, but I wonder whether that will be the case. Following that heady headline, the editorial referred to corner shop owners who sold glue-sniffing kits to children as being evil. The editorial states that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth stunned Parliament—I suspect that the House was as crowded as it is—today with a catalogue of horrors.

The Daily Express questioned whether the proposed punishment was tough enough. The press are selective in pursuing a campaign for a perfectly good principle. None of us could deny that. However, we cannot let our national newspapers see in every corner shop a wicked man intent on making a fortune from selling a small tube of glue, probably at the recommended retail price or 2p off. Thank heaven there is no incentive for corner shop retailers to sell these products to a person who will misuse them. Moreover, the product is generally sold industrially in vast quantities; indeed, hon. Members have referred to tons of glue.

One of the problems is the fact that there are so many types of glue. I have about 18 different types of adhesive in my business, which are used for everything from modelling, to mending bits and pieces, to mounting paper. When people think of glue, they forget that fact. We know that it is extended to hair sprays and butane refills. Who knows to what else it will be extended? I suspect that every office in this building has something which could be sniffed. I understand that even matches can be used in some circumstances.

Without wishing to labour the point or detain the House, I need an assurance from the Minister that the intent of the legislation is to bring down the weight of the law only on those who would make it their business to push intoxicating substances on people under the age of 18, and that it is not intended, and may not become, a charter to victimise small shopkeepers. I know that that is the intention of the House, but we are a long way from, for example, the shopkeeper who has got up the nose of the local environmental health inspector or one from the local trading standards office. It is not difficult to make a case with such blanket legislation.

The Bill has caused great anxiety among small shopkeepers. We shopkeepers feel somewhat naked. We are aware of all the Acts and restrictions, and we try to obey them. I do not suppose that any small shopkeeper, who stands to lose his business only too easily in these days of harsh competition, wishes to promote drug pushing or the awful abuse about which we have heard. I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth that, although I accept the excellent principle of the Bill, I believe that in practice more shopkeepers than pushers will end up in court.

11.10 am

Three months ago, during the Second Reading debate, the Bill was unanimously and rightly supported by the House. The Bill had a short and highly sucessful Committee stage, and has now returned to the Floor of the House. As I suppose is inevitable, several points have been raised now which show less than fullhearted support for the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) spoke with his usual eloquence and sincerity, and the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) also raised one or two points of detail. The hon. Gentleman said in Committee:

"The fact that no one wants to table amendments to it and that no organisation outside the House with a knowledge of, interest in or experience of the Bill whom I have approached over the last weeks has any caveats or qualifications to make about the Bill is again a tribute to the sense of the hon. Member for Tynemouth."
Since then the hon. Gentleman has found a few caveats, and I shall be happy to reply to them on the basis that they were sensibly advanced and not intended as an exercise in nit-picking.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) took an interest in glue sniffing for many months before he was fortunate enough to secure first place in the ballot for private Member's Bills. This enabled him to make this most useful change in the law, and I congratulate him on the skill and moderation with which he has piloted the Bill through the House, and wish it every success in the other place. The care with which my hon. Friend monitors the problem in the north was apparent from the examples that he gave today. I also wish to associate with that observation the speech of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who is the epitome of gentlemanliness and courtesy in the House. I thank him especially for what he said about my efforts to ensure that there is responsible information and comment on these profoundly difficult related social problems of glue sniffing and drug abuse.

Several hon. Members have said that glue sniffing has left the headlines in recent months, but there is no evidence to suggest that glue sniffing is less of a problem now than when it featured largely in the headlines. Although the focus of attention has inevitably shifted towards other drugs, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Services who is responsible for the matter, and myself—I am responsible for the law and order aspects—remain especially troubled by glue sniffing and most anxious that the efforts being made by communities to resist glue sniffing should continue. The effort must not be left to the Government alone.

It was most timely, although a tragic occurrence which one would wish had not happened, that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth was able to tell the House of a coroner's inquest at Leeds this week. Tragically, two brothers aged under 16, in unrelated incidents, probably died from solvent abuse. It certainly appears that both of them were solvent abusers. The problem has not gone away.

On Second Reading I gave the House some details of the number of deaths that can be attributed to solvent abuse. I mentioned the steep increase in recent years, from 29 deaths in 1980, to 45 in 1981, 60 in 1982 and 80 in 1983. I said then that, on the figures available for 1984, it appeared that there might be a reduction, which would be welcome, but I said that all the statistics had not been analysed. It now appears that the figures for 1984 will he broadly similar to those for 1983. That has two lessons for us. First, we might draw some hope from the fact that deaths did not increase in 1984 as they did in the years leading up to 1983. Secondly, it might suggest that glue sniffing is reaching its peak, although one would not wish to draw too many conclusions from one year's statistics.

The fact that nearly 80 youngsters may have died in 1984 from the effects of glue sniffing is not a matter about which any of us can be complacent. It is 80 youngsters too many, and it strengthens the point that I made earlier, which was echoed by many hon. Members, that we must not let the problem of glue sniffing slip out of our minds.

No one makes large claims for the Bill. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North recognises the narrow compass of the Bill, and said in Committee:
"What it does is simply to plug a loophole that none of us realised existed, because none of us thought that there were such evil people around who would deliberately and premeditatively supply so-called glue-sniffing kits to vulnerable young people." —[Official Report, Standing Committee C; 30 January 1985, c. 4.]
It is highly relevant to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North that he should he aware of the dilemma caused to my hon. Friends the Members for Tynemouth and for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), who have taken such a consistent interest in the matter, and indeed to the Government, when the Scottish shopkeepers' case was decided at the end of 1983. Two Glasgow shopkeepers had cynically set out to corrupt children by selling them so-called glue-sniffing kits—glue and paper bags to put over their noses while they were sniffing—in return for receiving stolen goods from those children. They had plainly set out to run a Scottish version of Fagin's den, using glue as the bait with which to attract children. They had stored large quantities of glue in the basement of their shop for that purpose.

Rightly, it was made apparent in the Scottish courts that such activities were not acceptable and were a breach of the criminal law, and those men were sentenced to long periods of imprisonment. Then came the problem. As custodian of the criminal law of England and Wales, the Home Office was obliged to consider the matter, and it discovered that there was no equivalent provision to the Scottish common law which would have permitted those two shopkeepers to be brought before the English courts had they committed the offence in Tynemouth, Bideford, Knowsley, Putney or Ealing. If it had been discovered some months later that an unscrupulous shopkeeper in Ealing, Putney or Tynemouth thought that this seemed a good way of making money, and knew that he could not be prosecuted, the Government and the House would have been condemned by the public for having allowed the loophole to remain open.

Although I agree with the hon. Gentleman, will he remind me about one matter, because I have forgotten? I believe that there was a case in England involving a former policeman. He was convicted of selling glue-sniffing kits to young people. Under what law was he prosecuted and convicted?

We have very few documented cases in England, and they did not result in any penalties being imposed. I believe that the individual referred to by the hon. Gentleman was brought before the court on matters which did not allow the court to impose any substantive penalty. The attraction of my hon. Friend's Bill is that it allows the imposition of a large fine and six months' imprisonment. Whether or not the hon. Member for Knowsley, North is right when he suggests that similar cases have come before the courts in England, our clear advice is that there is no crime known in the English criminal calendar which precisely fits the terms under which the Scottish shopkeepers were prosecuted and sent to prison for a significant period. Obviously, I cannot be expected to know of every case settled in the English criminal courts. It would be of considerable assistance if the hon. Member for Knowsley, North would write to me about the case that he has in mind.

In passing my hon. Friend's Bill, the House is doing the very minimum that could have been expected in the wake of the Scottish case. Not to have acted would have exposed us to real criticism, but now we come to the matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. Once we start to impose criminal sanctions on what hitherto has not been criminal, that cannot always be all gain. Whether an offence has been committed is never at the margins the easiest issue to unravel. I can well understand the apprehensions of shopkeepers, especially in the light of some over-coloured and rather tendentious press comments about the implications of the Bill.

The question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North can be answered in the terms that he wants to hear. This is a long-stop Bill designed to deal with those who knowingly or recklessly become involved in behaviour akin to that of the Scottish shopkeepers. It cannot be used to penalise shopkeepers who make an honest mistake and in good faith sell a substance which is capable of being used to cause intoxication to a youngster who, unbeknown to the shopkeeper, subsequently abuses it. I have to say in categorical terms that no shopkeeper who acts in good faith is placed in any jeopardy as a result of the Bill.

This is very important. Will the Home Office issue guidelines about possible symptoms in the regular glue sniffer which might help shopkeepers? They need some sort of guidance.

I agree, and I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that that has been done already.

I do not know whether it needs to be redone. The information is available. What is important is that shopkeepers who require guidance should know that that guidance is available and should set out to obtain it. I am sure that the various organisations represented by my hon. Friend will play their part in disseminating this information.

As the hon. Member for Knowsley, North knows, we have been pursuing a range of policies to try to ensure that the dangers of glue sniffing are brought to the attention of parents and children by the provision of a leaflet which can be made available. I can tell the hon. Member for Wallsend that about 500,000 copies of the Health Education Council leaflet have been produced. I shall arrange for some to be sent to the hon. Gentleman. Because we attach importance to local counselling and local efforts, one panel of the leaflet has been left blank so that it can be overprinted by local organisations to give details of local counselling groups or individuals who may be contacted. We are extremely gratified to know that 500,000 copies have been distributed, because that is a major achievement.

A video has been produced by the Central Office of Information. It is entitled "Illusions" and is devoted to glue sniffing. In fact, it has won a prize. It is available to be borrowed and it has been borrowed on about 2,000 occasions for the use mainly of professional people, teachers, youth workers, parents and the like who wish to become acquainted with the problem. A number have also been sold. Again, if anyone wishes to make use of that film, it is available. It is regarded as one of the best information films available, and that is why it won the prize that it did. Its success has encouraged us to ask the same people to produce a similar film to help people who are trying to combat the wider implications of drug abuse in their communities.

I have seen the film to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and it is of exceptionally good quality. However, it underplays a very important source of these solvents, which is from industry. There is a lot of petty pilfering of solvents that are used in industry, especially in heavy industry, and it is very difficult to apprehend the pushers. More publicity in this direction would be extremely useful, not necessarily to shopkeepers, but to employers, trade unions and anyone caught taking the stuff away and passing it on to young people.

That is very helpful.

I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North that the Government are well aware of how easy it is to rush into action which proves in the longer term to have been misguided. That is why we took so much trouble, when trying to work out the appropriate steps to be taken, to consult interested organisations. In January 1983 we issued two circulars. The first one was to retailing organisations asking for their assistance in devising a set of guidelines to shopkeepers to help them restrict the sale of solvents to people who should not have them and giving advice on where these products could be located and the range of products that could be abused. The second circular was sent to a wide range of community groups, magistrates' associations and groups involved in the criminal justice system generally to inquire what intervention from the criminal law would be helpful.

I deal with the latter point first because it has turned out to be the least controversial. The almost unanimous opinion of the several dozen groups contacted on the criminal law point was that it would be wrong to make the sale of solvents to anyone under 16 a criminal offence. It would have caused tremendous problems to retailers, and we have never contemplated doing that. We were also advised that glue sniffing should not be made a criminal offence. We want to help children who sniff glue, not punish them. We do not want to drive the problem further under ground by making it a criminal offence, which might even add to its attractions for some youngsters.

The only intervention in the criminal law that we have been minded to make is the limited intervention which, with his customary good sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth has proposed. Rightly, my hon. Friend is making a virtue of the fact that this is such a limited intervention.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North asked for guidance to be given to shopkeepers. That guidance has now been issued. However, guidance is never a once-and-for-all process. If further points should be included and supplementary guidance is required, those are matters about which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Services will want to hear.

I think that the guidance is common sense on this crucial point of how a shop assistant doing his or her best for the business and for the community might identify a potential glue sniffer. I shall read out five or six paragraphs from the guidance to show what common sense it is, because the warning to shopkeepers is cast in these terms:
"Watch out for any or all of the following: groups of teenagers standing around counters or areas where glue or other solvent-based products are normally displayed.

Frequent purchase of solvent-based products and aerosols by the same individuals.

Traces or smell of glue or solvents on the customer's clothes or breath.

A drowsy, vacant or glazed expression in the eyes.

Unsteadiness, slurred speech or other signs similar to drunkenness.

Red eyes, heightened colour and reddening spots around the mouth and nose.

Uncontrolled or excessive giggling and rowdy silly behaviour."
On Second Reading I said that perhaps too many shop assistants should not come into Prime Minister's Question Time on that basis.
"Purchase of plastic bags at the same time as glue or other solvent-based products.

Obvious absence by a child from school."
Those are common-sense points. One is not asking the impossible of shopkeepers, although one recognises the difficulties of their job.

I believe, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North will accept, that it would be wrong, faced with the problem of glue sniffing, which has brought misery to thousands of families and caused the death of perhaps as many as 80 youngsters in the past three months, and 80 in the previous 12 months, to suggest that shopkeepers should be under no obligation to the community to do their best to restrict sales where it is plain that abuse will or may take place. Most socially conscious shopkeepers would not want to be completely free of any moral obligation.

We are trying to keep the criminal law from the outer edges of extreme and unpleasant behaviour, but to put out common-sense, practical guidelines which have been negotiated and hammered out with the retailing organisations so that any prudent shopkeeper can train his staff or himself. The organisations which represent shopkeepers will make them aware of that. That enhances the reputation of the shopkeeper as a socially responsible person.

I am sure that we are not asking shopkeepers to do difficult things. Equally, it would be wrong for us not to recognise that there are youngsters who are plainly sniffing glue. If we could make it more difficult for them to get the substance, even if we will not prevent the problem, we shall be taking a step in the right direction.

I should like my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North to reflect upon what I am saying. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security will be more than willing to hear from hire if he feels, in the light of what I have said, that there is more that we could or should do to assist the responsible shopkeeper to run his business responsibly.

We, as Members of Parliament, know only too well that the world is full of some thoroughly unreasonable people. Many of them write letters to us in red, black and blue ink, heavily underlined and so on, but no one—

Yes—ink which they no doubt buy from the shop of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North.

If a shopkeeper or his assistant is genuinely troubled about a young man purchasing a potentially abusable substance and refuses to sell the item, I should have thought that it was outrageous for his parents to hold that against the shopkeeper. I spend much of my time in the Home Office trying to find ways to persuade people to behave sensibly and understandably in relation to a wide range of matters which go on in the community and in which they could intervene and help. It is sad to me and to all of us that many people hear noises of assaults or criminal acts and do nothing about them. If someone telephones the police and makes an honest mistake about a criminal action, it would be awful if the neighbour involved said, "I was just kicking the cat. You obviously thought that I was being murdered and rang the police." That is a thoroughly objectionable approach. It is equally objectionable—

Of course, I am against kicking cats, but we have a number of cases where people have become aggrieved over what they regard as interference by neighbours who are merely doing their best. If people are to take a responsible attitude towards crime, they must report suspicions to the police. If those suspicions turn out to be wrong, people must understand that that is the only way that people can show good neighbourliness in their communities. The same is true here. If a shopkeeper, acting in good faith, restricts the sale to a youngster, for the parent not to recognise the pressure on the shopkeeper and to hold it against him would seem to be thoroughly irresponsible and unreasonable. I hope that shopkeepers will recognise that even if they lose one customer they will gain much more respect in the community by being ready and willing to stand up in that way.

I know that my hon. Friend is a cat lover. On the point of the guidelines, which are so important, he will know that not all shopkeepers are as assiduous as our hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller). Will the onus be upon them to obtain the guidelines, or will they be sent to them?

The guidelines have already been distributed. I hope that most shopkeepers have them, but it is impossible to send the guidelines, unasked for, to every shop. One of the arrangements entered into with the retailing organisations was that they would participate in the distribution. If my hon. Friend knows of shops which do not have them, part of the common-sense role, which I am aware he plays in his community as a Member of Parliament, is to see that they are available. No doubt Members, as a result of the debate, can put in their local papers the fact that guidelines are available and advise shopkeepers to write for them.

Most of the guidelines are simple, common-sense and straightforward things about which most sensible folk following the glue-sniffing problem will know. The guidelines are merely an attempt to assist those who wish to structure their staff training. We see that as a crucial part of our effort.

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North can never resist a degree of partisanship and, of course, today was no exception. Having made, on the whole, a sensible speech, he sought to blame the Government for glue sniffing by saying that we had created the conditions within which glue sniffing could flourish. That suggestion is wide of the mark. Glue sniffing began in the United States in the 1950s. It came to Scotland in the early 1970s. It has been in England and Wales since the middle and late 1970s. The fact that it has grown in intensity causes us all anxiety, but to reduce the argument to one of narrow partisanship is not helpful and falls below the standards to which I am sure he normally aspires.

The hon. Gentleman's argument was unfair in relation to his area of Merseyside because in so far as the social conditions in Merseyside facilitate glue sniffing by youngsters, I do not know that it is just this Government who need to examine their conscience. What about those who locally have considerable influence over the attractiveness of the region to employment and who have controlled, without exception, local government at metropolitan county and borough level for 20 years or more? Are they to be free of the taint of having assisted glue sniffing to flourish if, as the hon. Gentleman asserts, it is the result of economic decline? I think not. I should have thought that that was the kind of boomerang argument which strikes the hon. Gentleman as firmly on his forehead as it does me on mine.

This has been a helpful debate. I am grateful to those who have sought reassurance, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North. It is crucial that there should be no-misunderstanding about the Bill. It is an important Bill, even though it is limited. It is not intended to make the problems suffered by small shopkeepers any worse. No responsible shopkeeper has anything to fear from the Bill. Those who do are those who, for their own financial reward, trade cynically on the weakness of children. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North will carry back that message to the small shopkeepers whom he represents.

11.38 am

With the leave of the House, I shall deal briefly with some of the points that have been raised.

I do not accept that drugs have taken over from glue sniffing as a problem. They are an additional problem. The glue sniffing problem will be with us for some time. To deal with it we must have a continuing campaign by Government, local authorities, industry and, as the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) said, the media. The hon. Gentleman referred to the efforts of the police on Tyneside, and I wholly support what he said. They are playing a very constructive role in the front line of the campaign because they come across the incidents day by day as they occur on the streets.

There has been reference to the problem of supplies of glue from industry. Glue is used not only in mechanical industries but also in the building industry, and much of it is stolen and used by glue sniffers. I draw the attention of builders to the need to keep under safe control the large stocks of glue that they use in woodworking, in particular.

I should like particularly to dispel the worry of my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) that the ordinary shopkeeper will be at risk as a result of the Bill. It is perfectly understandable that such a view should be put forward. I would not have wished to introduce a Bill which would penalise in any way the ordinary shopkeeper, whether on a corner site or anywhere else. I do not believe that any honest mistake made in good faith will lead to a prosecution.

I have found the attitude of my local Northumbria police very sensible. I suggest that chambers of trade or commerce in every part of the country, if they are still worried after what the Minister and I have said on the subject, should talk to their local police forces. I do not believe that they will find any intention by the police to harass or attack the ordinary honest shopkeeper.

If it had not been for the prosecutions that were brought in Scotland, many of us would have thought it beyond belief that there were people who deliberately set out to make profits from selling glue to young people to be sniffed on a large scale. However, there are such people. People are in gaol in Scotland for having done it. I have no doubt that there is a small number of such people in other parts of Britain.

I referred earlier to the information given to me on Tyneside that it has been possible to be supplied with fish and chips and glue or hot dogs and glue. That is not the practice of an honourable trader. It is a disgraceful activity, and I do not believe for a moment that the people that my hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North represents could be included in that category.

If the hon. Member has been given information that retailers, carrying out an otherwise lawful business, are supplying children with glue along with hamburgers or fish and chips, what did he do about it? It is a very serious and important allegation. Were those retailers identified? Was the information followed up? If they were identified, what happened?

I was advised of it by the authorities themselves, who are powerless to deal with if for the reasons that have been debated now for three months. There is no law in Britain—apart from the odd case of the policeman to which the hon. Gentleman referred—under which prosecutions can be brought.

Surely a great deal could have been done. It would have been possible to publicise the names of the retailers concerned. That kind of publicity, in a decent law-abiding community, would itself be a deterrent. The retailers could have been reported to their own professional trade associations. There are clearly other legal sanctions that could be taken against such people. I believe that someone was found to be supplying glue sniffing kits and was prosecuted under the procedures dealing with breaches of the peace. I am sure that in those cases, with enough will-power and ingenuity, action could have been taken.

I understand that one of the traders concerned operated from a tricycle. I very much doubt whether he was a member of any trade body.

There are at present no laws to deal with the problem. The whole aim of the Bill is to close this loophole. I anticipate that when the Bill becomes law the police will visit those who are regularly supplying the substances and knowing what they are doing. They will be warned that if they do not desist they will be prosecuted. I believe that that will stop the trade. If, however, they continue with the practice after they have been warned, they will be prosecuted and they will go to gaol, as happened in Scotland.

Those who were prosecuted and gaoled under the Scottish law had been warned at a time when it was thought that the law also did not apply in Scotland. They took no notice of the warning. When told that they were carrying out anti-social, dangerous and wicked behaviour, they said, "We have not broken the law and there is nothing you can do." They continued to trade, but when it was found that under Scottish law an offence had in fact been committed, they were prosecuted and gaoled.

I believe that the police will not abuse the statute. They will warn those who are regularly, recklessly and deliberately supplying poison. If those people do not desist, they will be prosecuted and gaoled. The ordinary corner shopkeeper has nothing to fear from this necessary measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Copyright (Computer Software) Amendment Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.— [Mr. William Powell.]

11.46 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry
(Mr. John Butcher)

May I begin by observing one of the usual courtesies of this House and explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) that I have a pressing engagement in the midlands and therefore will not be present to hear his comments in summing up the debate. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will occupy the Front Bench and will take note of any new ideas and new issues that may emerge in the debate in order to feed that information back to the Department of Trade and Industry and to the Home Office.

I thought that it might be helpful to place before the House for the first time the results of the first comprehensive survey which has been undertaken by statisticians in the DTI into the size and performance of the computer software industry. On Second Reading, we all recognised the crucial and growing importance of the industry, but I thought it might be helpful to put that information before hon. Members so that we may have a framework against which to judge the economic implications as well as the implications for fair play and for proper protection for authors of software as proceedings are conducted through this House and the Upper Chamber.

The first survey of the computer services industry, including small as well as larger firms, shows a 20 per cent. increase in turnover in 1984, and that provisional estimate suggests that the industry—which is concerned with the development and application of software—increased its turnover from £1,750 million in 1983 to £2,120 million in 1984. The industry consists of approximately 15,000 firms, but 200 larger companies accounted for more than half its total sales. The statistics were collected from the DTI's regular quarterly survey of larger firms in the computer services industry, but during 1984 it was supplemented by a sample survey, including the smaller firms, taken from the Business Statistics Office's register.

It is interesting to note that about 30 per cent. of the firms regarded manufacturing as their primary market, 20 per cent. were mainly concerned with the distributive trades, and 20 per cent. with financial services. Of the remaining 30 per cent., about half saw the public sector as the main market for their services. A further £180 million-worth of software is also produced by companies whose main activity is in another branch of the economy —computer manufacture, computer games or computer-aided design machinery.

The combined output of computer services inside and outside the industry is therefore about £2,300 million. About £1,000 million is attributable to what can be broadly described as systems analysis, software and software maintenance. Data processing and database services represent rather more than a quarter of the total, and the balance includes consultancy, hardware maintenance and training.

I am delighted that that information came forward only this week. This debate has provided an excellent opportunity to place it before the House, not least because there are among hon. Members, including my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), several enthusiasts who favour the industry as one of the growth points in the British economy.

Needless to say, the Bill has no enemies in the House, to the best of my knowledge. The only enemies it may have are among the pirates themselves who, no doubt, if the Bill is passed, will not be looking forward to the implementation of measures similar to those that have been so effective for video piracy.

Can the Under-Secretary tell us where the detailed results of the survey will be published? Can he assure us that they will be published in full? His Department has an extraordinarily bad record of publishing summary reports—for example, in January after a report on research and development—whereupon there is a two-year lag before the publication of the full report.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. Obviously he cannot expect me to agree with the import of what he has said. However, I hope that he will recognise that this information, as a result of an internal survey by Department of Trade and Industry statisticians, has been placed before the House before anyone else has had a chance to see or comment upon it. That is proper, and should be the case. Of course, we are prepared to provide the background to the survey, the headlines of which I have given the House this morning. A copy will be put in the House of Commons Library so that hon. Members can check its validity, the basis on which the statistics were collected, and so on. I am happy to discharge that obligation as a believer, in the case of statistical analysis, in the principles of open government.

Will the survey be published in British Business in the ordinary way and, if so, when?

I should be surprised if it were not published in British Businessin the usual way. It is a survey of major importance and significance. I do not think that I am on weak ground in predicting that the survey could figure in British Business at the earliest opportunity. However, I hope that the best way of proceeding is to make it available to hon. Members who have an interest in the industry.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) for introducing a Bill of major importance. It is of major economic importance, and is important to those who hitherto have been penalised for deploying their ingenuity and brain power in this growth industry. I repeat that, to the best of my knowledge, the Bill has no enemies other than among the pirates.

11.52 am

I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary who, I know, must depart, and my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) and his supporters on piloting the Bill so successfully towards its Third Reading.

I was interested to hear the up-to-date figures on the size of the computer industry and the fact that the computer software portion is now at or approaching a billion-dollar industry. Copying in breach of copyright—as it will be — of computer software by electronic means is extraordinarily easy and profitable. It has attracted to itself the same type of wide boy and fast buck operator who, in the past, has been attracted to the video nasty and video piracy. The Bill makes it clear beyond doubt that computer software will be covered by the Copyright Act 1956 and provides for adequate criminal provisions so that pirates who indulge in that nefarious activity get their deserts. Their pirated material can be searched, they can be brought before the courts, and adequate punishments will be available.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, computer software itself, whether for business purposes or computer games, is the result of a great deal of time, trouble, investment and ingenuity by those who take part in this important and fast-growing industry. It is quite wrong that their efforts should be stolen by those who, for example, equipped with a twin-disc drive mini-computer, can run off a copy of a floppy disc on to a blank costing £1 or £1·50 for word processing purposes, which retails at about £300. They can sell it off cheap for £100, £150 or £175 and make a fast buck for themselves. It is equally wrong that some people in legitimate activities in the computer industry should use that pirated software as loss leaders for their hardware. I am sure that the moral effects of the Bill will help to stamp that out. If it continues, they too can be brought to book under the new provisions.

I congratulate once again the Federation Against Software Theft on the careful way in which it has marshalled the evidence that has convinced my colleagues—my hon. Friend the Member for Corby and my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade and Industry and the Home Office—and myself that this is another example of where Parliament should act swiftly. It has acted swiftly. I hope that within minutes the Bill will obtain its Third Reading. I wish it a speedy passage in another place and on to the statute book.

11.56 am

If I recall correctly, two or three of the four or five of us now present in the Chamber sat through the heat of the debate on Second Reading on 22 February. My further recollection, which the Minister has just borne out, is that there was an all-pervading spirit of unanimity in our dealings that day. As my hon. Friend said, there was unanimous acceptance of the dire problem of software theft. There was a unanimous welcome for the Bill and congratulations, I must confess that I am somewhat tainted by personal envy of the powerful and persuasive way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) presented his case. There was unanimous hope that the Bill would enjoy a speedy passage through Parliament. The reality of that hope exceeded my expectations. Delayed by the London traffic, I arrived for the Committee four minutes late to find that the proceedings had been completed.

Just as the Bill meets with widespread approval in the House so, not surprisingly, as we have heard, it meets with widespread and general support in the industry itself. On Second Reading we heard much about how software theft is a serious and immediate problem to the industry. In the intervening weeks, fresh evidence has come my way from the industry in my constituency which underlines the necessity for urgent and speedy action.

In the computer industry throughout the United Kingdom, software theft threatens innovation, jobs and investment. On Second Reading we heard how the phenomenal sum of nearly £150 million was lost by the industry last year—a breathtaking statistic that demands an instant and urgent response. During that debate we heard much about the various forms that the theft takes. To the Jay mind, it is hard to distinguish between the terminology of that theft. There is counterfeiting, replication without permission, production of look-alike copies and so on. However, the basic point is that every aspect, area and category of a software business is affected by theft — games and micro-business software and commercial software packages. We were left in no doubt that there is a very serious problem that must be dealt with, and dealt with effectively.

In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby set it in the context of the computer software market in western Europe and Britain. He analysed the development of Government and public policy over the past decade or so to show why it is necessary to deal with the problem on its own rather than wait for more general Government legislation. Of equal if not greater significance was my hon. Friend's analysis of some of the difficulties under the present law. He spoke at length of the consequences for the industry of the present state of the law. It is that legal uncertainty that makes the present situation unacceptable and provides the justification for the Bill.

However, we must not delude ourselves that legal action on its own will solve the entire problem. Legal change is perhaps the most essential step, but there is also the whole area of technical deterrents to illicit copying. Perhaps we heard less about that on Second Reading than we should have done. I take up what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell) said, partly because it gives me another opportunity to praise the work of the Federation Against Software Theft. FAST has made much of the need for technical deterrents. I quote from one of its publications:
"No technical protection method, of itself, will prevent a determined thief from copying computer programmes and then selling them copyright-unpaid for his own profit. As the law stands there is small risk in this criminal activity. Instead, all the risk is borne by the Author and Publisher, who have made a substantial investment of skill, time and money. Unlike the thief, the Author and Publisher are potential sources of future software for the Consumer... FAST will not recommend an industry standard in this field, partly because that would concentrate the attention of would-be 'code-breakers'. However FAST is urging Authors and Publishers to investigate whether a technical protection system could reduce the vulnerability of their products, without causing an unacceptable reduction in user value or unacceptable increase in cost."
An industry that takes self-help seriously is doubly entitled to ask for the normal legal protection accorded to other forms of intellectual property. Technical deterrents clearly have a part to play, but all hon. Members who took part in the Second Reading debate acknowledged the urgent need for clarification and strengthening of the law.

The serious problem of software theft will be reduced significantly by the proposed amendments to the 1956 Act, and the effectiveness of the remedies will be increased. That is why we need the legislation. It is straightforward and not contentious, and I am sure that the House will accept it.

Clause 1 contains the simple assertion:
"The Copyright Act 1956 shall apply in relation to a computer program …as it applies in relation to a literary work".
Nothing could be much more direct than that. In one fell swoop the clause removes all doubt, uncertainty and ambiguity. It is what the industry wants. It provides the legal protection that will help to save the industry the £150 million a year that it is currently losing. In essence, clause 1 seeks to protect the software business in the same way as the Copyright (Amendment) Act 1983 sought to protect the video business. There is evidence that the video amendment legislation has provided considerable protection.

Clauses 2 and 3 bring into effect the provision of the 1956 Act for computer software programmes. Under the legislation it will be possible to apply to magistrates for a search warrant. That is a crucial power of law enforcement. It is the same as the power now available to deal with video piracy under the video amendment legislation. That legislation appears to have been immensely successful. It is estimated that two thirds of video piracy has been eliminated. If that statistic can he duplicated in computer software, there will be many smiling faces except among the pirates, and there is every reason to hope that the Bill will have a comparable impact on computer software theft.

Clause 3 provides for the penalties. I understand that at the moment there are no criminal penalties for computer software theft. Under the Bill, the penalties will be the same as those for any other breach of the Copyright Act — imprisonment for a maximum of two years and unlimited fines. Those are substantial deterrents. We are moving a long way from the days of the £40 fine under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. I apologise in his absence to my hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) for referring by implication or innuendo to one of his constituents without giving him prior notice.

I am still as fervent in my support of the Bill as I was on Second Reading. Reduced to the barest essentials, it provides the industry with the legal protection that it wants. It is our job to give the industry that protection. On Second Reading, I made much of the importance of the computer industry to Basingstoke. It is partly because the computer industry features so prominently in my constituency that I wish it to flourish. The Bill will help the industry to flourish, and it has my total support.

12.7 pm

I, too, should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) on his introduction and handling of a Bill that seems likely to receive the early agreement of the House. It will make a useful contribution to tackling the problems of copyright and software theft. Simply by doing so, however, it will highlight the remaining software problems.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) was right to draw attention to the question of technical deterrents, but I would be sceptical about how far that will contribute to the solution of the problem. It is only likely to have an effect at a somewhat low technical level. High-grade protection of systems will be extremely difficult to provide. We shall need to seek a change in practice and organisation within the software field much more akin to the openness of the results of scientific research which is an acceptable and necessary part of technical progress in other areas. We have found that, in the patent system, much of the problem lies in getting at information, not in locking it up. Thinking that the software solution lies in locking it all up so that it is not accessible is probably the wrong direction.

As for the size and growth of the industry, I think that the Minister was anxious to help by referring to the statistical survey, but he has probably thrown in a great deal of confusion by infringing what seems to me to be the best practice of Ministers when handling the results of statistical surveys. Guidelines were set out by Sir John Boreham, the head of the Government's statistical service, in a recent issue of Statistical News. They firmly advise separation of the first announcement of a survey's results, which should be done by officials without any comment from Ministers, any comment by Ministers should be the subject of a separate press release. That separation is intended to prevent Ministers from picking up the plums which suit them politically and because the information is in danger of being misunderstood and misrepresented if not presented properly as a professional statistician would do. The key importance of this particular information is in planning manpower policy in the computer industry, especially manpower for the software industry.

I shall examine the figures that the Minister gave more carefully, but it seems that as he presented them they offered no guide by which it would be possible to judge the adequacy of the plans that the Government have announced for the production of qualified scientists and engineers in software. The supply has been miserably inadequate. So far, the increases in expenditure have been achieved by bleeding Department of Trade and Industry Votes, and others, to support the Department of Education and Science spend on the training of computer staff. I hope that the Minister will write to me and ensure that the full results of the survey are published as soon as possible so that we have better information on which to judge Government policy, especially on the supply of manpower to the software industry.

There will have to be a substantially increased effort by the Government in the development of major software systems and standards which are freely available publicly for common use as the framework in which application areas can develop. The Government rightly turned down the proposal of British Telecom and IBM to develop their own value added network.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is getting wide of the Bill. I have allowed a little latitude because I realise that the Minister wished to make a statement which was relevant to the background to the Bill. I therefore allowed the hon. Gentleman to comment as well. Strictly speaking, however, a Third Reading speech should deal with the contents of the Bill.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to make the link with the problem of copyright in common user systems. The problem with the common user systems is to maintain their integrity in a form in which they can be properly described, developed and applied by a wide variety and level of user. Copyright has a part to play in that in maintaining the consistency of the different standards as they are produced. If a standard is offered by different manufacturers in their equipment, a necessary part of ensuring that software will run on different types of equipment is that it operates precisely, to the nearest bit of information, the same system that others use so that common additional software will operate reliably. I am not sure that we shall get from this Government a coherent scheme for the development of software which will provide those wider standards which can be used in value added systems and common user systems of the future.

I hope that the industry will turn its attention to the positive aspects of copyright—means by which unwise conformity to standards can be observed in the rapid spread of computer applications.

I hope that the Bill will not run into any problems in another place and that it will provide a foundation on which the wider problem of intellectual property in computers will be tackled by the Government. I hope, however, that it will not get too lost in the general problems of intellectual property, because computers will deserve continuing attention. It is right to tackle a problem with a private Member's Bill in this case, but I suspect that when the subject next comes up in the House it will have to be dealt with in a Government Bill. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill on behalf of the Opposition and wish it a speedy passage.

12.16 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to comment on what has been said. I thank those who have spoken on what has turned out to be an easy passage for the Bill so far. I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) for giving the Bill the wholehearted support of the official Opposition and for what he has said in our debates. I listened with interest to and agreed with a great deal of what he said today about the future of the software industry and the developments that must occur.

I should like to thank the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who was kind enough to tell me that he would be unable to attend this morning, for wishing the Bill rapid progress to the statute book. I thank my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lyell), who was the first Member to take up the cause of extending copyright law to cover computer software in his ten-minute Bill in July last year, which initiated the parliamentary process which has led to this Third Reading.

I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter), who made a major speech today, as he did on Second Reading, and whose interest in and knowledge of the computer industry and its ramifications is second to none.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, whose assistance and co-operation has enabled the Bill to be produced in a widely acceptable form. He, my hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology and officials in their Department have been of major assistance.

None of this would have been possible without contributions from many quarters in the House and, as has been stressed, from within the industry. There has been unanimous agreement in the industry that such a Bill is necessary to secure its survival and prosperity.

This is, of course, an interim measure because in due course it will have to take its place within the context of the wider revision of copyright law which is now being contemplated and which we analysed on Second Reading. It is also an interim measure because in itself it will not be sufficient to deal with all the many problems facing the industry as it develops.

One of the most important tasks is to educate the public to respect copyright. In an age in which the copying of materials is so easy, it is all the more important to ensure that authorship and the legitimate proceeds of authorship should be respected in computer software as much as in literary authorship and in video, to which the law was extended two years ago.

We had a very full Second Reading debate, which no doubt assisted the Bill's progress in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke was, alas, all too right when he said that, due to unavoidable circumstances, he was late, but it never occurred to him that just a few moments delay would rule him out of the Committee stage which lasted all of seven seconds.

If the Bill receives a Third Reading today it will go to another place and, all being well, it will become law. But it is only a beginning. No one in the House or in the country should imagine that this is the end of the problem. I hope that the message will go forth from both Houses to pirates here and abroad that their behaviour will not be tolerated any longer. They have done immense damage to the industry and they are causing immense damage to our economy. They are doing immense damage to firms with a future that will be felt throughout the world.

This is a short, private Member's Bill, but it is surely also a major Bill which demands the approbation of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

12.23 pm

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

The Committee Stage of this Bill was not quite so succinct as that of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). Second Reading, however, went through on the nod, so this is the only opportunity to debate this important measure on the Floor of the House and it is right that the debate should be as complete as possible. It will also allow us to impress on the country the severity of the problem of drug trafficking and our readiness to tackle it.

This is not a partisan measure. It belongs to that rare breed which commands support from every corner of the House and I am proud to say that the 11 sponsors include representatives of every political grouping and every shade and faction within those groupings in the House. The Conservative climatic season is fully represented, from bone dry to saturated wet, and the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) will forgive me for commenting that on this occasion the Labour party is seen not so much in harmony as in unison, with the Healyite Right and the Bennite Left for once united. I am also grateful for the full support of the Government and I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and his officials for all their help and encouragement, especially in providing drafting facilities.

The Bill is brief but its potential impact, I hope, will be big. Its purpose is simple and straightforward—to increase to life imprisonment the maximum penalty available to the courts in sentencing people convicted of trafficking in class A drugs, principally heroin and cocaine. The Bill is not directed at addicts who pathetically push hard drugs to finance their habit. It is directed at the big boys—the Mafia-style drug dealers and godfathers of drug trafficking who are not addicts themselves but who are out to exploit addicts for financial gain.

The Metropolitan police estimate that 23 per cent. of targeted criminals in their area are now involved in hard drugs. Ten years ago those people would have stuck to armed robbery, but they now find dealing in heroin and cocaine far more lucrative. The Bill is concerned with that category of dealer—with the most serious offences, involving the most harmful drugs.

Why is the Bill needed? Again, the reasons are simple and straightforward. The existing maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment does not match the seriousness of the crime. Large-scale trafficking in lethal drugs is, in effect, dealing in death. To me, there is absolutely no difference between murder by shotgun in the course of armed robbery and murder by heroin for financial gain. The existing maximum sentence is also insufficient to deter traffickers who may be released after just a few years to enjoy the proceeds of their evil trade. Often a fortune awaits them because seven-figure fortunes can now be made in a relatively short time.

By increasing the maximum penalty to life imprisonment, we hope to achieve two aims—to create a far more effective deterrent, and to ensure that those who persist in trafficking in hard drugs will go to prison for a long time.

Can the hon. Gentleman now answer the question that both he and the Minister were unable to answer in Committee? How many people convicted of trafficking in class A drugs have actually received 14-year sentences?

If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall be coming to that point later. It is a small number, and we are aware of that. I shall mention Lord Chief Justice Lane's guidelines in the Aramah case and his comment during that case that, sadly, few of the big fish have been caught. However, rather than break up my remarks and lose the thread, I shall deal with that later.

Sentences of life imprisonment, should the Bill be passed on Third Reading and eventually receive Royal Assent, will be buttressed by the decision of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary severely to restrict parole for drug traffickers sentenced to more than five years. I hope that the sentence will be further reinforced by the effects of legislation in the next Session to deprive drug traffickers of the proceeds of their crimes.

I read with interest of the visit made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to the United States, and the comments that he made about it. He spoke of what he had learnt there and the possibility of introducing into British legislation a reversal of the burden of proof, and requiring the suspect to prove the legitimacy of his or her assets rather than those assets having to be shown to be acquired illegitimately by the legal authorities. This will be a contentious matter, but it is important that moves are made so that drug traffickers can be deprived of their assets and the astronomical amounts they are making from this evil trade. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend when he believes such legislation can come before the House.

The whole point of deterrence is to reduce the supply of drugs and so slow down the increase in the number of addicts. The measure of the problem can be clearly seen in the notified figures of heroine addicts for 1983. It is not melodramatic to say that we now have a heroin epidemic. In 1983, there were 3,550 notified heroin addicts, and that was 400 per cent. up on the figure for 1979. In 1983 there were 1,400 notified new addicts, which was 50 per cent. up on the figure for 1982. It is widely recognised that notified addicts are just the tip of the iceberg, and the number of regular users is much greater. It is estimated to be between 60,000 and 150,000.

The statistics may measure the problem, but they cannot measure the misery that the problem creates. I hope that the House will bear with me if I read some extracts from The Listener of January this year, following an effective programme on BBC 1, to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary alluded in Committee. The programme was called "Real Lives—Pushers". In that programme, two pushers were interviewed about the experience and physical effects of heroin addiction, and their feelings about selling heroin. The two pushers were called Chris and John, and when Chris was asked to tell the interviewer about the experience and physical effects, he said:
"When you first start smoking you vomit a lot—anything you eat you just vomit back up again straightaway and, as John said, you lose your appetite anyway. All you seem to need to get you through the day is your heroin. First thing you think of in the morning is your heroin and the last thing you think of at night is your heroin. There are also changes in your personality. I mean, I'd do things for money for heroin that once I would never have dreamt of doing — stealing, shoplifting, burglary, anything, it doesn't matter what it is. You'll even rob your mother and father. Personally, I haven't stooped that low, but most of my friends have. Then there's the lying. Your whole life's a lie. From the time you wake up in the morning until you go to bed you are just telling one lie after another to con people, to get money. Heroin completely changes a person to a totally different person, a bad person."
John, when he was asked about his feelings of guilt about selling the drug, said:
"I always feel guilty. People think you do it by choice. Nobody does it by choice except the dealers who don't smoke it, the ones who are making all the money. I do it because if I didn't do this, I'd be out robbing. I don't want to rob any more because I don't want to go to prison again. But you've got to have it. I've woken up on the morning and I've started crying because from the second you open your eyes it's like someone dropping a ton of bricks on you: 'Where am I going to get the money? I've got to have it, where am I gonna get the money?"
It is those against whom the Bill is primarily directed.

Heroin addiction knows no barrier of geography, class or age. I came across a recent newspaper headline which read:
"The primary kids who fix at a fiver a time'.
It was sub-titled
"A glut in the supply of heroin has forced the pushers to seek even younger markets".
That headline does not come from some sensational Fleet street tabloid newspaper but from The Times Educational Supplement in an article last year on drug addiction among primary schoolchildren.

I shall quote from the article, because it illustrates the sheer misery caused by heroin addiction among very young children.
"Heroin dealers, anxious to dispose of a glut of the drug, began selling to younger and younger teenagers. 'They could see they're an easy market', Carole Woolley, Merseyside Drug Council's full-time advice worker, explained. Ten-year-olds are now offered 'starter packs' of low-grade heroin at £5 a time. 'The technique is usually the same', says Carole Wooley. 'A pusher will give the stuff free to a teenager three or four times running saying that it will make them feel good. When the child has got used to it, suddenly they find that they have got to pay. That is the start of the downhill slope'. As the addiction takes hold, usually over a period of weeks, children find themselves needing more and more of the drug. They may turn to shoplifting, mugging or even teenage prostitution to raise the money."
That is the extent of the problem. One of the main reasons for the dramatic increase in recent years is the change in the method of misusing heroin. There are many, especially children, who draw the line at injecting the drug but who are willing to smoke it, which is called chasing the dragon. They do so in the mistaken belief that it is less likely to lead to dependency.

It is important to impress anecdotal evidence upon the House and, I hope, through the House upon the public. I shall quote the most moving description that I have heard, from Detective Constable Brandon Barrow, of the Merseyside drugs squad of a typical routine heroin raid. It exposes the total degradation of heroin addiction and the disintegration of human lives to which it leads. The detective constable said:
"One case that will live with me for the rest of my life was just a routine raid in a house in search of heroin. I went to an address, together with another detective and a policewoman. I knocked on the front door of the house and I was allowed in by the male occupant. It was approximately 12 noon. I could see from his demeanour that he was under the influence of some drug. Having gained entry, we found his wife in bed, in a similar state to him. After identifying ourselves to them we started to search the premises, which consisted of two bedrooms, a lounge and a bathroom and toilet. Unfortunately for me, I chose one of the bedrooms which appeared to be not in use. I entered the room and was immediately confronted with a smell that cannot be described. The windows had been sealed with tape, in a feeble effort to stop draughts. On the windowledge lay a number of dead flies all of whom at some time had had to suffer in the stench of the filth. The room was so full of rubbish that it was near-impossible to search. I heard a noise coming from one of the corners. In a cot was a baby. Aged eight months, she was lying on her back attempting to position the teat on a sauce bottle, which contained cold tea, into her mouth. She was wearing what I can only describe as a loin cloth over her lower parts. I reached into the cot to pick her up and saw that her little arms appeared to have no strength in them, making me think that they were broken. There was a large bruise on her face. Her nappy, if that's what you could call it, had obviously not been changed for some considerable time and, not surprisingly, there was a dreadful stench in the room. The excuse given for the bruising to her face was that she was a very active child who thrashed about in her cot. I immediately took the child to a local hospital and she was taken into care. The doctors told me that the reason for the lack of strength in the child was lack of love, having rarely been lifted out of the cot or ever received the cuddles that a baby normally receives."
That description of heroin addiction is far more effective than any statistical evidence in showing the sheer degradation that the appalling drug brings to its victims and how evil the trade in the drug is.

It is true that the seizure of controlled drugs has increased dramatically. In 1973, only 3·3 kilos of heroin were seized. Forty kilos were seized in 1979 and the estimated provisional total seized in 1984 is 294 kilos. The seizure of increasingly large quantities is a great tribute to Customs and to the police. However, it confirms the severity of the problem. Despite record seizures, the street price for heroin is more or less unchanged, and its purity is still high. A plentiful supply is still available. It is impossible to say how much is still entering the country. When we discussed the issue in Committee, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State rightly said that the total was unquantifiable. It is difficult to know what percentage the amount seized is of the total, but the Minister conceded that it can be only a fraction.

Other evidence of the growing problem is the number of offences involving drugs. In the area covered by the north Wales constabulary, which includes my constituency of Delyn, in 1978 there were 292 drug offences, none of them involving heroin, but in the first eight and a half months of 1984 there were 826 drug offences, half of them involving heroin.

This is no longer an inner city problem. It is no longer restricted to the great metropolitan areas or even to the peripheral suburban areas of cities such as Liverpool. I hope that the hon. Member for Birkenhead will not mind me describing his constituency in that way. The constituency of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) is affected as well. Heroin addiction has spread much further into the countryside and the small towns and, indeed, the small villages of north Wales.

The sentencing of drug offenders shows the courts' awareness of the need for firmer action. The proportion of drug offenders sentenced to more than five years imprisonment has doubled since 1978, from 3 per cent. to 6 per cent. In the guideline judgment in the Aramah case Lord Chief Justice Lane made it clear that heavier sentences should be imposed and to an extent that has been followed by the courts. Lord Lane advised that in cases involving the importation of any amount of class A drugs a sentence should seldom be for less than four years. For trafficking and amounts to the value of £100,000 or more the sentence should be seven years or more. For amounts to the value of £1 million or more the sentence should be 12 to 14 years.

For the actual supply of any amount a sentence should seldom be for less than three years for transactions of any amount. The nearer the source the heavier should he the sentence, up to levels similar to those for importers. But Lord Lane added that unhappily all too seldom the big fish among suppliers would be caught and that most prison sentences would be two years or less. I concede that point. That is why I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), who made this point effectively in Committee, believe that it is important that the powers of the police and customs officers should be increased whenever possible. They have considerably strengthened their efforts to combat drug trafficking.

In Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State mentioned the increase from 125 to 212 in the number of customs officers dealing with heroin alone and he spoke of a further increase of 160 over the next 12 months. We are also grateful for his assurance that he would not hesitate to recommend further increases if he were satisfied that there were still further difficulties in combating the problem.

Since 1 January 1985 every police force in England and Wales has had its specialist drugs squad. There are now 1,000 officers involved in some way in the investigation of drug offences. The regional crime squads are now spending at least half their time dealing with drug conspiracies.

Two other important innovations have been the now regular annual conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers where experience and information on tackling problems of drug misuse can be exchanged. The association has set up a committee to review arrangements for drug operations. There is also in New Scotland Yard a central drugs intelligence unit, drawing officers from all over the country and disseminating information that is gathered to all the police forces. That unit also has five customs officers.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West emphasised in Committee, it is important that liaison between customs officers and police should be improved and increased and that there should be much more coordination of their activities. A further valid point that he made was that, as in the United States, the Inland Revenue should be brought more into drug investigations. Often the only signs of criminal involvement are large unaccounted-for assets. The Inland Revenue could help the police greatly in drug investigations.

There has been and must be an increase in the effectiveness of the police and customs officers, and an improvement in the co-ordination of their investigations. All the improvements that have been made so far are essential and welcome. Fear of detection can be as great a deterrent to crime as fear of punishment.

Parliament must ensure that the efforts of the law enforcement agencies are supported and reinforced wherever possible by making available to the courts, as this Bill does, penalties that will act as a genuine and effective deterrent to drug traffickers, and sentences that match the gravity of the crime of those caught and convicted of trafficking.

12.45 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on choosing, as the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) did, a subject in a narrow area which has all-party support, and on negotiating it successfully through the labyrinth of Parliament to Third Reading, which it will receive today. He was extremely fortunate in that there was no Second Reading debate and only a small and uncontentious Committee stage, and now we have an interesting but clearly abbreviated Third Reading debate. Nevertheless, he is to be congratulated on having had the foresight to choose a subject which would command all-party support. I am puzzled, however, about the categories into which he fitted my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and myself when he described the Labour Members who supported him.

The hon. Gentleman addresses the serious problem of drug abuse. All hon. Members have attested to that problem in terms of the increase in the availability of both heroin and cocaine. Both substances are now freely and easily available, certainly in all our major cities, and almost certainly in the major urban areas. Moreover, it is available inexpensively.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the number of addicts has increased considerably. We know the number of those notified as addicts to the Home Office. Since 1979, during the lifetime of the Government, there has been a 400 per cent. increase in the number of heroin addicts notified in that way. None of us knows the number of drug abusers. Official and unofficial estimates vary from 50,000 to 100,000. Certainly all hon. Members are experiencing in their constituencies an increasing number of younger addicts of heroin and cocaine.

Three years ago it would have been extremely unusual for me to come across a young person who was a heroin or cocaine addict or a drug abuser in my constituency. It used to be rare for me to receive letters or representations from parents about the paucity of facilities in my area because their children were not drug abusers. Unfortunately, it is now an everyday occurrence to hear of, to know and to meet drug abusers, and to come across the more distressing feature of their anguished parents seeking help. It has even reached the stage when the Liverpool Echo can publish photographs of newborn babies who are addicts suffering from withdrawal symptoms of heroin because their mothers were addicts.

The hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) and his wife foster children. In Committee he gave a graphic account of the way in which he and his wife had to deal with the withdrawal symptoms of a baby whom they fostered, whose mother had been a heroin addict. That is a terrifying picture of the state that we have reached.

The problem is exacerbated by the amount of heroin, cocaine and other drugs that come into the country. The fact that seizures have increased dramatically during the past few years is a tribute to the effectiveness of Customs and Exise officers, but it also suggests that they are seizing a larger amount of a bigger overall volume coming through the ports. The fact that 300 kilos of heroin were seized last year suggests that it is only a fraction of the amount that is entering the country. In Committee the Minister said that that was nearly 20 per cent. of the amount coming in, but even if we take that as a reasonable estimate—I do not know on what it is based—we must not forget that a considerable amount of heroin is still entering the country and is freely available.

That is aided and abetted by the reduction in customs staff. I do not wish to make too much of the point, and the Minister will no doubt say that the number of uniformed staff has been reduced but that there are many more officers engaged in intelligence work. I accept the sense and importance of that. Of course it is much more important to have trained professional officers trying to identify sources and couriers, catch them and convict them, than it is to rely only on untrained uniformed officers at the ports.

However, while acknowledging all that, it is still true that the more a person knows he is likely to be stopped and searched, even on a random basis, the more will he be deterred from bringing in heroin. Of course it will not stop the major pushers and the professional organisations, because enormous amounts of money are involved, but it may stop some of the smaller fry, who are also important in terms of the total volume of drugs entering the country. I regret that the Government have reduced our defences, inadequate as they were in the first place, so dramatically during their period of office. Given our open boundaries and the open nature of our society, we shall never prevent determined, professional, well-organised traffickers from bringing drugs into the country. We should never believe that that is possible, but the Government could have done more than they are now.

It is also true that more small-time pushers as well as addicts are being convicted of drug offences every year, and more of them end up behind bars without the services and facilities that are required. More crimes are also being committed by drug addicts, either as a result of hallucinations or delusions stemming from their addiction, or because they need the wherewithal to purchase drugs. Drug addiction leads not only to the destruction of young and adult lives, to enormous social pressures and family difficulties, but to a great increase in ordinary crime, which affects innocent, law-abiding citizens. There is also a massive increase in the cost to the Health Service, not least in terms of illness and death caused by drug addiction. Several hundred people die each year in the most horrifying and terrible circumstances.

There is a massive and increasing problem of drug abuse. Just as during our debate on the Intoxicating Substances (Supply) Bill, so it is relevant to say here that we need more education of youngsters and their families. Therefore, we need more training of social workers, teachers and other professionals, which in turn means that we need many more facilities and services, be they rehabilitation hostels, detoxification units or drop-in advice centres, than are currently available. It is a disgrace that many areas of Britain, including London, the home counties and the north-west of England, are completely bereft of facilities for drug abusers or their families. It is a disgrace that, under all Governments, we have not taken a greater interest in the deep and serious problems of drug abusers and their families and provided the necessary social, medical and rehabilitative services. As we said in the previous debate, the Government are providing about £10 million, but that is not enough. On other occasions, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have acknowledged that and made representations to the Government about it.

More importantly, the £10 million comes to an end in two years. Whatever that money is pump-priming now runs the risk of dying when that mony from the Government stops in two years. It is clear that we need not just £10 million as a one-off payment, but a continuing Government commitment to central funding for rehabilitative services for drug abusers.

What we really need to do—and this is what the Bill addresses itself to—is to catch those responsible for bringing the substances into the country and for subverting young people into becoming abusers. We need to catch and punish the traffickers. They are evil men and women who are making huge commercial profits out of the destruction of young lives.

In that context, incidentally, it may be relevant to point out that many of us greatly regret that the Minister is not yet able to announce when legislation will be introduced enabling the courts to take the assets of drug traffickers gained in the trafficking of drugs. It is not a new idea. It was put forward a long time ago with all-party acclamation. It was received with enthusiasm by the Minister and his Home Secretary more than 18 months ago. We are still waiting for the legislation to help deal with that problem.

If and when that legislation comes, presumably it will shift the onus of proof to the alleged drug offender to show that his assets were not obtained during the course of his trafficking in drugs, and I am not sure that that will receive the support of the Opposition. That is a matter to which we shall have to come back on another occasion, but it may be useful to point out now that the Minister should not assume that such a fundamental change in our criminal justice system and in the principle of an individual being innocent until proved guilty will obtain the support of the Opposition.

Does my hon. Friend agree that we already have the concept of the shift of proof in taxation matters, where the man is put to proof that the money that he has received has come from legitimate and earned income sources? This is not such a fundamental shift in our principles.

That may be so, but because a precedent exists in one area, that does not mean that it would be appropriate in another area. However, I do not propose to get involved in an argument about the merits of our fiscal system. We are discussing a Bill dealing with a very specific area. In any event, I have no doubt that we shall have that debate across party lines, and I am sure that there will be many hon. Members on the Government Benches who will take a different view from my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). But that is for another occasion, and it looks like being an interesting debate.

When I mentioned, incidentally, an area that seemed to arouse controversy, I was saying that we needed to do a great deal more in terms of prevention and of detecting and catching those responsible for trafficking in drugs. There is no doubt that we need more police working full time on this problem. I know that every police authority now has a full-time drugs squad. However, the number of police officers in each police authority area actually working full time in the drugs squad varies enormously. Given the size of my own county of Merseyside and of its drug problem, there seems to be a relatively small number of officers working full time on drugs inquiries when compared with other areas of the country. Perhaps more guidance should be given by the Home Office to ensure that the priority that the Government and Parliament accord to catching those who traffic in drugs is recognised by our chief constables and acknowledged in terms of the resources that they put at the disposal of their drugs squads. In that context, I should like to see more liaison between police forces arid Customs and Excise investigative officers.

The Opposition do not oppose the Bill. We endorse its principle and wish to see it on the statute book as quickly as possible, though I am not convinced that it will make a major impact on the drug scene. First, I do not believe that many of those who come before the courts will receive life instead of 14 years' imprisonment. Many of those who are caught at the moment do not receive 14 years. The hon. Member for Delyn could not tell me, despite my repeated requests, how many drug traffickers had been sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment or less. The Minister could not answer that question in Committee. As he has been put on notice, he will no doubt have the answer, or an adequate reason as to why he does not have one. It is important. I do not suspect that many individuals will come into that category. Not many will receive life imprisonment, because not many receive 14 years at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman's logic is somewhat astray—the intervention of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) may have somewhat thrown him — because the fact that few maximum sentences of 14 years' imprisonment are not given at the moment does not mean that that will be the position in the future.

As my hon. Friend the Minister made clear in Committee, he expects that the Lord Chief Justice, should the Bill become law, will produce further guidelines. There is evidence that the guidelines that he produced in the Aramah case have been observed. The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat negative. He should wait and see how effective the Bill will be, rather than dismiss it before there has been a chance to implement it.

I am not dismissing it. If I were, I should be opposing it, and I am not. The Bill has gone through largely undebated, let alone opposed. It will go through unopposed today. It is reasonable in that context to make the point that if Parliament is saying that it wants to increase penalties it has to show that the penalties presently available are insufficient and not effective or strong enough. The only way to demonstrate that is to show that many people who should have been given life have not been so sentenced. We cannot show how many people have been given the maximum of 14 years, which is available to the courts at present. We should consider that point.

I accept what the hon. Member for Delyn says, with his convoluted logic. If we make the maximum life, it may act as a greater deterrent to drug traffickers. That is what we are talking about. We are not talking about catching more people or providing extra resources for the police and Customs and Excise. We are not doing any more on the ground. We are saying that when we have caught the drug traffickers, they may get life instead of 14 years. I do not dissent from that for the evil people about whom we are talking.

The only effect of the change of law might be to deter from drug trafficking because of the threat of life imprisonment some people who would otherwise have trafficked in drugs because the threat was a mere 14 years. That is not a deterrent, but it is a matter of judgment and I hope that I am proved wrong. If the Bill saves one life, or the destruction of one family, it will have been worth while. I hope that it does more than that, but I do not believe that it will.

1.3 pm

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) has called into question the Government's determination to confront the drugs problem. I dissent from what he has said on that point, but only on that point.

I support the Bill wholeheartedly. I am sure that the introduction of draconian penalties for those who indulge in the filthy but lucrative trade of producing and supplying class A drugs will accord with the wishes of the public. I am sure that that will find a great deal of sympathy in the country. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on introducing the Bill.

Everyone in the House must agree with the Bill in so far as it seeks to confront the enormous growth in the supply of hard drugs. As a Member of the House and as the parent of two teenage children I am worried about the possibility that my children might be dragged into that foul trade. The habit cannot be acquired or sustained without the production, supply and distribution of drugs. The dramatic increase in the supply in recent years was confirmed by the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee this year by the customs and excise group of the Society of Civil and Public Servants.

Almost daily we read in the newspapers of dramatic seizures by the customs and excise and by the police. I pay tribute to the vigilance and success of those enforcement agencies—particularly to those dedicated and diligent officers quartered overseas who are pursuing inquiries in the countries of supply. However, I fear that the startling successes of the customs and excise merely highlight the growth of the trade.

Only yesterday customs officers at Heathrow seized 14 kilos of cocaine, valued at £2·5 million. That is thought to be the largest ever single seizure of cocaine intended for supply and sale in Britain. It is interesting that two foreign nationals—Brazilians—were arrested in connection with those offences. I shall say no more about it because it is now sub judice.

The highlighting of the big seizures merely demonstrates the extent of the problem. I understand that there are now major fears on the part of police and customs officers that cocaine abuse in Britain will explode, as it has in the United States. The latest seizure figure for cocaine in the United States, in the most recent year for which figures are available, is 33,000 lb — a growth from under 1,000 lb in a very few years. Last year customs officers in Britain seized 77 lb of cocaine, valued at £7·25 million. Yesterday's seizure tends to demonstrate that the growth in the supply of the drug is explosive.

There seems to be a view that cocaine—which has a following among those who might broadly be called the prominent people of the café society—is in some way more acceptable than the established heroin abuse. There is nothing to choose between them. The appalling growth of heroin abuse merely serves as a pointer to the potential growth of cocaine abuse. An increasing number of addicts are known to the police; there is an increasing amount of seizure.

Another extremely worrying factor is the apparent drop in street prices. That tends to confirm the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North that there is a dramatic increase in the availability of the drugs. Like the hon. Gentleman, I regret that the Bill does not include any measures to allow the seizure and forfeiture of the assets of those convicted of drugs offences. There is now a very sophisticated laundering of the illicit gains of those convicted of supplying and producing drugs, and only by seizing their assets shall we spike the laundering process.

I am also worried about the number of convictions of foreign nationals. There should be automatic deportation of anyone from another country who is convicted of the supply and distribution of class A drugs, and there should be no right of appeal.

Notwithstanding those reservations, I give the Bill my complete support. I am sure that we all worry about the drugs problem. It has no respect for social class, from the café society people that I mentioned to those in the public bars of working class pubs, this pernicious and evil trade is making its impact. I speak with some limited experience in that respect. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on introducing the Bill. I shall have absolutely no qualms about giving it my full support.

1.10 pm

Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on bringing forward the Bill. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) made that point, but he was unfair to go on to say how limited the Bill's impact would be. No one who supports the Bill pretends anything other than that it is one small measure in attempting to deal with a grave problem. When we have had the chance to debate it before, we have pressed the Government on how comprehensive their policy is to try to beat the evil disease that is racking our society. Speeches have concentrated on the need to break up the centres of production, the supply routes and gates into this country, the pushing and the need to help those who are addicted.

However, today we are dealing with one small area, which is the penalty for those who are liable to make most out of the trade. I wish to give the Bill wholehearted support because it is a matter about which many of my constituents feel strongly. It is interesting that in meetings around the constituency, drugs is now the number one issue that people wish to discuss. Constituents are worried about the level of sentencing. They have another worry, on which the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) touched. If people who make considerable profit out of the trade are given light sentences, they come out of prison to rich pickings. I point out that it is significant that three quarters of the Opposition Members present are from Merseyside constituencies. That shows the importance that we attach to the matter.

I ask the Under-Secretary to give us an idea about his proposals for dealing with the assets of those who have made considerable fortunes out of the drug trade. I should like to draw his attention to the fact that one does not have to be what is typically described as one of the big boys or girls in the trade to make a fortune. Let me illustrate that point. A couple of weeks ago I had a meeting in the north end of Birkenhead at which the residents' association told me that one of the ordinary pushers had been given a good beating up five times by local people because they were so horrified at the role that that person was playing in pushing drugs in the area. To ordinary people like me, the threat of one beating up from the north end of Birkenhead would bring about a change in my behaviour. To risk not one but five such beatings and still push that trade tells us something about the gains that those people are making.

When I reported back on the Bill in the constituency, there was overwhelming support for it. Equally, however, people have suggested that if we are going to hand out tough sentences, we should also take measures to make sure that those who are little more than merchants of death in that trade do not profit by the horrors that they inflict on others. Therefore, my one contribution to the debate is to ask the Minister to tell us something more about his proposals and the experience that he gained in the United States, which we learnt about in The Guardian and The Times earlier this week.

1.13 pm

As a practising lawyer, I have come across the merchants of death in one capacity or another on several occasions. An anecdote was told to me by a friend, who is also a practising lawyer, which illustrates the moneys involved in that dirty and despicable trade. One of his clients received a sentence of five years for supplying a class A drug. The only thing that concerned that man after sentence was how he would safeguard his investments while he was in prison. It is wrong that people should make a vast amount of money—vast amounts of money are involved in the trade—cause other people misery, go to prison, and know that while they are in prison their money is being utilised, earning more and growing in size so that they come out to a fat little nest egg. I take the view—I hope that the Minister will reassure us on the matter—that those who are involved in the drugs trade, make money out of the misery and suffering of others, and are convicted for doing so, should be put to the test of having to explain where their assets come from. I refer, of course, only to those who have been convicted.

I would take issue with anyone who argued that we would be shifting the burden of proof and contravening the natural principles of justice. Do we allow the burglar, after conviction, to retain his stolen property? We do not. It is taken back. The equivalent of the proceeds of a burglary in the case of dealing in class A or class B drugs is the money received. There is no logical distinction between the drug pedlar and the burglar or car thief who has taken property that he should not have taken.

I stress that the Bill is concerned with the drug dealer, not the user, who belongs in a quite different category. We are talking about those who make money out of the sale of class A and class B drugs. If legislation were brought in to take away the proceeds of crime from the dealer after conviction, I would support it. There is no distinction in my mind between the position of a convicted drug dealer and that of a burglar, thief or fraudster who gains the property of others through criminal activity. The dealer gains the property of others—their money—by criminal activity. We should not deny the courts the right to take that money back, by putting the dealer to the test of having to reveal where his assets have come from. I suspect that a vast number of members of the Labour party share my attitude towards the convicted criminal and the proceeds of his crime.

Belatedly, I congratulate the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on the content of his Bill. I welcome the availability of the life sentence for those convicted of class A drugs offences. For certain dealers a life sentence is the only justifiable punishment. Life sentences are available for manslaughter. They are rarely used but they are part of the armoury of the court. The Bill adds the life sentence to the armoury of the courts in the case of class A drugs. I do not expect that many people will receive a life sentence. Very few cases would merit such a sentence. However, the possibility should be there.

I welcome, too, the increase to 14 years as the maximum sentence in the case of class B drug offences. Recently I read with horror an article in Police Review advocating the legalisation of cannabis. Few people in this country would support that attitude. Cannabis is as insidious and as open to manipulation as any other drug. There seems to be an attitude of mind that cannabis is not very harmful. I invite anyone who takes that view to spend a day in Amsterdam to see what happened there when a relaxed attitude was adopted towards the drug trade. It got so completely out of hand that the police were unable to cope, and there was the spin-off effect of people experimenting with quick pleasure and rapidly turning to hard drugs. Amsterdam is now an absolute mess, as anybody who has been there knows.

People who deal in cannabis also make vast fortunes. When we hear of shiploads of £2 million or even £3 million-worth of cannabis being intercepted, we should ask why people are importing the stuff. It is because there is a market for it, and a quick profit is readily available. That profit is not taxed and it is not, at the moment, seized. If a Bill to legalise cannabis were ever introduced, I should resist it all the way, and I am sure that many other hon. Members would, too.

Drugs are addictive, manipulative and damaging, and ultimately they destroy those who use them. Drug dealers are evil and cunning and should be incarcerated for a long time. If I had my way—I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance on this—when they came out of prison they would be bankrupt. There should be no profit in the sale of substances which cause such misery.

1.20 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. David Mellor)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) on bringing forward the Bill, on securing such widespread support for it, and on the eloquent way in which he proposed its acceptance in Committee and again today. He has done an excellent job.

The problem of drug abuse is a matter of increasing concern and is central to my work at the moment. I have recently returned from the United States, where I learnt a great deal about their problems. It would be instructive for the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-S ilk) to make such a pilgrimage, as I am sure that his understanding of the problem would deepen if he went there.

It has been noted that the Americans are as interested in how we are tackling our drugs problem as we are in knowing how they are tackling theirs. I was told more than once that they are surprised, not that we have a bad problem, but at how long it has taken us to get one. America has had a serious problem with drug misuse for several decades, but it has intensified as cocaine has entered parts of the community which previous drug habits did not. The problem in some other western European countries, such as the Netherlands, Italy and West Germany, started before ours and is worse than ours. I say that not out of complacency but to put our problems in perspective.

One of the lessons to be learnt from the United States is that there is no one lever on the wall which can be pulled to resolve the drug abuse problem. The matter must therefore be addressed in many ways. There must be interventions at each link in the long chain that leads, in the case of cocaine, from South America or, with heroin, for the most part from Pakistan, to the user. We have to disrupt the supply in the country of origin, at ports and airports and as it is distributed.

Although the Americans are spending between $1·5 billion and $2 billion at federal level on dealing with drug abuse this year, 20 per cent. was the best estimate that I could get from the Drug Enforcement Agency of the amount of cocaine that it is intercepting. We must all keep trying as hard as we can to disrupt the flow of drugs, but we can never take all drugs away from customers. In a free society there will always be some people who can get around the inevitably limited restrictions on the importation of a product.

Unless one is prepared to erect the barriers of totalitarianism, one cannot check every individual entering the country, intercept every package and search every container. No free society can do that, so we must give increasing attention to taking the customers away from the drugs. That is why we have been anxious to expand facilities for the treatment and rehabilitation of long-term addicts and have made direct funds available for that purpose. [Interruption.] I am trying to answer questions put to me by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North. No doubt he put them merely for the record and is not particularly interested in the answers, but it would be a good deal easier for me to make my speech if I could have his attention.

We have sought to give impetus to treatment and rehabilitation in two ways: first, funds are available through the DHSS central funding initiative; secondly, we have sought to apply proper pressure to health authorities to ensure that in carrying out their duty to provide comprehensive health care for their communities a fair proportion of funding is directed to the treatment of drug misuse. The Department is making efforts in that regard. About £700 million in increased cash is being made available to the Health Service this year, of which some £60 million to £70 million is actual growth money, and it is right that a fair proportion of that should go to improve these facilities.

I appreciate the gravity of the problem on Merseyside, where I shall be spending all day Monday. I do not have my programme with me, but I believe that I shall be visiting the constituency of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I shall be opening a new facility provided by Merseyside regional health authority, and I know from my friendship with the chairman that that authority is deeply concerned about the situation.

Both we and the Americans are also using prevention campaigns and trying to educate people to recognise the misery of drug abuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn quoted tellingly from the extremely helpful BBC television programme and the article in The Listener. Who could read about the misery of that addict's life without feeling that no one should have to go through that, and that even a teenager feeling rebellious and disenchanted with society should not willingly put himself at that kind of risk.

However much Governments may do, as both we and the Americans recognise in the forewords to our statements of strategy—it is Government's duty to set the framework—the drug menace will be turned back only when the energies of the whole community are directed towards eradicating it. That can be done in many ways. There is a need to build better relationships between parents and teenagers so that teenagers can talk candidly to their parents about the pressures to which they are subjected. People should be prepared to co-operate to the maximum extent with the police and the authorities in making it clear that drug pushers will not be tolerated in their communities. There is far more knowledge in the community about what is happening on the drugs scene than is ever revealed to the authorities.

If we are to defeat the pushers, I believe that even the user-pusher, for whom one may have some sneaking sympathy, must go to prison, along with the more cynical pusher who is in it purely for the money. Whether the motive for spreading the habit be cynical greed or the need to feed one's own habit, anyone who is prepared to try to interest others in drug taking deserves to be taken out of the community. That is the only defence mechanism that the community has.

I wished to put our efforts in context because I believe that we are evolving a comprehensive policy. In recent months we have intervened in all those ways, and more is to come. We have expanded the capability of the customs, and we will not hesitate to increase the numbers of customs officers if the threat from heroin and cocaine continues to grow. The value of intelligence and the impetus that is put on knowing what is happening is clearly evidenced by Operation Rattlesnake, which was concluded yesterday, when 14 kilos of cocaine were seized as a result of many months of effort.

There will always be room for the random stopping of people coming through customs, because experienced customs officers, pooling information with drug enforcement authorities in other countries, will be aware of what is going on. I was delighted to learn of the high level of co-operation between the United Kingdom and the United States in these matters. Any experienced officer on duty in the green channel will have an idea of the profile of the potential drug pusher. He will always make a large find by having the experience to say that someone is behaving suspiciously.

However, in the end, if we are to get more of the people organising this, and not just the mules, who are literally two a penny and will run the stuff through an airport for a fee, we shall have to rely on intelligence. There has to be the maximum transparency between police and customs. We have not only to lay down a database from which careful exploration of these conspiracies can be made, but we must have experienced analysts able to analyse what is happening, what that tells us and how that enables us to get down to the heart of the practical job of smashing these conspiracies.

The police role against drugs needs always to be enhanced. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North took a somewhat one-dimensional view of the police role in talking only about drugs squads. Drugs squads have an important role to play at individual force level, including some of the specific work on the distribution network of drugs within the community, but the size of the drugs squad should not be taken as evidence of the commitment of the police force to the eradication of drugs, because that ignores two dimensions.

The first is the extent to which, on the instigation of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, and the Association of Chief Police Officers, so much attention is being given to educating every policeman, and not just those who are in the drugs squad. This is particularly directed to the officers on the beat so that they are able to intervene helpfully in the drugs problem in their neighbourhood. It is not good enough to say that the drugs squad is the expert part of the force, and that the rest of the force gets on with other work. We all know that drugs are not a problem on their own. People involved in drugs are often involved in crime either because they are criminals or because they become criminals to feed their habit.

Secondly, major criminals who have hitherto earned their living from counterfeiting or robbing banks have moved into major drugs distribution as a way of making even richer pickings. That is why it is crucial for the House to recognise that up to 50 per cent. of the time of regional crime squads is spent investigating major drugs distribution networks. That is the way it should be. Drugs should be treated as a mainstream police activity, because it is certain that mainstream criminals are involved.

If there is to be an answer to the drugs problem, it can come about only by the will of the whole community to resist it, and the ability of people to say no. In the end, that is the key to it. It is the willingness at all levels of society — inexplicable to those of us outside — to become involved in drugs that is so frightening. The hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) will find how desperately frightening it is when he goes to America next week. I wish him and his colleagues on the Home Affairs Select Committee all success on that visit. He will be as horrified as I was to learn of the extent to which cocaine has penetrated not just to the deprived ghetto areas, where one can argue, as the hon. Member for Knowsley, North did, that deprivation causes drug addiction, but to the achievers in society. These are successful people with a high income—the yuppies as I think they are sometimes called. The influence of such people—often bankers and executives, who go to the smart consulting rooms of the leading cocaine specialists whom I saw in New York—on the drug scene is causing the problem.

I was told that one of the leading groups telephoning the cocaine hotline consisted of airline personnel, and that makes one realise how serious is the threat to the community. That crucial personnel, whose spot-on behaviour is vital for the mechanisms of a sophisticated society, are robbed of their energies, abilities and concentration by drugs is one of the most frightening things. It is even more frightening in many ways than the fact that unsuccessful people escape from their misery into drugs, although that is troubling enough.

In erecting barriers against drugs, it is essential to have a framework of law and penalties which enable sentences of imprisonment to be visited on drug dealers which are commensurate with the gravity of the offence and enable a warning to be sent to those who might become involved that the courts will not overlook such behaviour and that it will be visited with severe sentences of imprisonment.

We know, as my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn has told us, that, within the existing range of penalties, the Lord Chief Justice has constructed a careful set of guidelines for the courts, which were promulgated in September 1982. I believe that the guidelines have been highly successful. In 1978, 15 people were sentenced to over seven years' imprisonment for drug offences. In 1979, the figure was 20. It was 16 in 1980 and 31 in 981, of whom three were sentenced to 14 years. There were 28 in 1982, of whom one was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment.

In the first year after the Aramah judgment, 61 people were sentenced to more than seven years' imprisonment, of whom two fitted into the Lord Chief Justice's principal category of 12 to 14 years in prison for trafficking in class A drugs to the value of more than £1 million. However, neither of those persons received 14 years' imprisonment. One was sentenced to 13 years and the other to 12.

I do not have the figures for 1984, as they' will not be available until the summer. However, I have taken a sample of some of the cases which have been heard this year, and those who believe in stiff penalties for these offences will be encouraged to learn that this very month at the Inner London Crown court three people who were involved in one importation of 12.78 kg of heroin were each sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. In February, at Maidstone Crown court, three principals in a heroin smuggling syndicate were dealt with following a 6 kg seizure last year. They were sentenced to 12 years, 12 years and 10 years respectively.

As recently as yesterday, an American woman who sought to import cocaine to the value of about £250,000 received eight years' imprisonment and an experienced High Court judge, Mr. Justice Kenneth Jones, made it clear that that was precisely the sort of sentence which those running drugs in from America could expect. On the same day, at Reading Crown court, an Indian involved in heroin smuggling was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. When a circuit judge said the other day that the courts had declared war on the drug smuggler, there was much evidence — we read it in our newspapers every day — to show that he was right. I warmly congratulate the Lord Chief Justice on giving a lead, as I do the judiciary on so faithfully following it.

We are bound to make value judgments on gravity in the criminal justice system, but it is wrong that individual acts of murder, for example, or some offences not involving murder, should merit life imprisonment if drug trafficking, which involves death and misery on a large scale, does not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn said, that must be the underpinning case for introducing life imprisonment for trafficking in class A drugs.

Within the 14-year tariff, the Lord Chief Justice is compelled to have a wide bracket when dealing with offences involving drugs to the value of £1 million or more. We know from the Rattlesnake operation that amounts that are worth more than £1 million are being intercepted. We know, too, that the tariffs for bank robbery and armed robbery are often higher than those for drug offences. That is because there is no restriction of 14 years for those offences. When the Bill becomes law, as I hope and pray it will speedily, those involved in offences in which a large quantity of drugs has been discovered will merit life imprisonment. In many instances a lot of money will be lying around and it will be clear that the Crown will not be able to take possession of it whatever effort is made to do so. Those who are now sentenced to the maximum term will be released within 10 years even without parole. A decade of one's life may seem worth while in the judgment of some if one has millions of pounds, dollars, Swiss francs or another currency stashed away to live on.

The penalty of life imprisonment and the determination of successive Home Secretaries to make that stick, enables the courts to deal for the first time with people who have cleverly salted away assets which, however hard we try, will be difficult to get hold of. It will also allow the tariff all the way down the scale to be lifted up. It is not for me to offer advice to the Lord Chief Justice, but I imagine, knowing of his identification of drugs as one of his principal worries in exercising his criminal jurisdiction, that as soon as the Bill becomes law he will take the opportunity of another case such as that of Aramah to lay down fresh guidelines. I am equally sure that his colleagues will, with equal vigour, ensure that those guidelines stick as well as they have made the Aramah guidelines stick.

This is an area in which it is crucial to make clear the good and bad aspects of the situation. If we are to get on top of the drugs problem, we shall only do so by candour and by recognising the scale of the difficulties that we face. It is clear that sending people to prison is important if they are major dealers, but that it is not the end of the exercise while we do not have the most effective way of confiscating assets.

There might be some misunderstanding about what can be done at the moment. It would be wrong, just because we are focusing on finding a new and more effective way of confiscating assets, to think that ways do not exist to deprive people of the profits of their crime. They do. As recently as the Criminal Justice Act 1972 a mechanism to make serious offenders criminally bankrupt was introduced. That was carefully thought out and went through the House, to a great deal of acclaim. It is regrettable that for one reason or another it is not much use and is regarded as a rather blunt instrument, but it is there and can be used.

The courts also now have the option of imposing unlimited fines. The confiscation of assets does not need to be by way of a confiscation order. If it is known that someone has £1 million stashed away, there is no reason not to fine him that amount and rely on the enforcement procedures. That can be done by the courts today, so it must not be thought that the courts are impotent to deal with assets.

Equally, the Inland Revenue has a role to play. Although it took a long time, it was almost certainly worth while, in the judgment of us all, that some years of pursuit of the principals in the Operation Julie case led, as I understand it, to the Inland Revenue recovering almost £500,000.

All those steps can be taken by the court today. What cannot be done as effectively as we would want is to deal with the fact that the sophisticated international criminal does not have a large deposit account in his name in a high street bank so that anybody on a moment's investigation can find it. He is involved in a sophisticated enterprise and the money may be in a country unaffected by the conspiracy. It may be in assets, passed to other criminals or laundered through a multiplicity of accounts, as the Americans will tell the hon. Member for Knowsley, North when he goes to the United States. We must find more sophisticated ways of tracing assets, and that is what we are directing our attention to.

In the world of fantasy which the hon. Gentleman will occupy at a moment's provocation, he seems to think that all this is easy. It is interesting to note that in goading us to find the answer he was rather short on solutions himself. Having latched on to one possible solution which appeared in the press yesterday as a result of my debriefing on my American trip—that there might be some utility in reversing the burden of proof—the hon. Gentleman, having called for effective measures, was quick to say that if that were introduced it might be too effective for the liking of the Opposition. Happily, there are independent spirits on the Back Benches in the shape of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South and others who, I dare say, will give that a fair wind.

The business of tracing assets requires a number of things. It requires the ability to find mechanisms to go through and uncover a complicated system of dealing in which the successful Mr. Big will have become involved, and a high level of co-operation between various countries. That is why we are working so hard with the Americans and through the Pompidou group—the Council of Ministers' group on the misuse of drugs, which we now chair—to find mechanisms to ensure that our orders are given effect in other jurisdictions.

Above all, there may need to be changes in banking arrangements so that there is transparency in appropriate cases. The Inland Revenue may need to be more greatly involved in the police work to uncover drug conspiracies. Those are major points. I know that when the hon. Member for Knowsley, North tries hard he is capable of being fair. He will recognise that these matters cannot be carried out at the drop of a hat. They merit careful thought. The worst step that we could take would be to rush into arrangements which we think will be successful, but which are only half thought out.

I am determined that we shall make progress on this matter. I do not regard my hon. Friend's Bill as the last word on the matter, but it is a crucial contribution to the efforts that we are all making to get on top of the drugs menace. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.45 pm

I should like to make some brief comments on the speeches that have been made today. I wish in all good humour to apologise to the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) if I upset him by my description of the Labour party. I admit that it was a gross over-simplification to suggest that there were only two factions. I did not intend to do that.

I agree with most of the hon. Gentleman's comments. He made a valid point when he referred to the increased amount of heroin seized being as much a reflection of the fact that increasing amounts are entering the country as of the increasing effectiveness of the police force. There is no room for complacency. We must be eternally vigilant and do all that we can to improve the effectiveness and the co-ordination of the police and customs officers. The Bill is no substitute for that.

It is unfortunate to play the old numbers game about customs officers. There is no doubt that my figures and the Minister's answer show that an increased number of customs officers, whatever their overall total number, are directing their efforts solely towards drug trafficking. All hon. Members must be extremely careful and responsible in their comments about customs officers. It is important that we do not say or do anything that could possibly lower their morale or raise the morale of drug traffickers. I hope that hon. Members will be responsible in that respect, because the House must give those officers every support.

I agree, as, did the Minister, with the remarks of the hon. Member for Knowsley, North about random stopping. In Committee, the hon. Gentleman referred to the three hours that it took to search a Boeing 737 and its passengers. If every plane coming into Heathrow or Gatwick were stopped and searched, there would be tiers of aircraft up to 50,000 ft. waiting to land. That would be impossible. By its nature, random stopping cannot be highly effective in the sense that it cannot stop the trade dead.

There are many other aspects of the problem, including the medical and educational aspects. Last month the Minister produced a pamphlet on tackling drug misuse, which has been most valuable and which brings everything together. He is leading a co-ordinating team of Ministers from different Departments who are considering all the different ways of tackling drug misuse. I am only sorry that the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is not mentioned, although the name of one of the Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland is. Perhaps we can bring that matter up at Welsh Question Time and find out whether he has been attending those meetings. I hope that he has.

Another important aspect raised by the hon. Member for Knowsley, North is that of sentencing and Lord Chief Justice Lane's guidelines. The hon. Gentleman is being unfair in harping on about the numbers who receive the maximum sentence. The guidelines have proved effective. Although not as many drug traffickers have received the existing maximum sentence as he would have wished, as the Lord Chief Justice said, there are great difficulties in catching the big fish. Obviously, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville) said in Committee, we cannot sentence them until we catch them. It is a valid point, but I do not believe that sentencing is at fault.

We must detect the major dealers, and my hon. Friend the Minister made an effective point about the sophisticated methods of detection in the United States, which I have no doubt are duplicated here. The major drug dealers—the merchants of death, as the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) rightly called them—are sophisticated operators. They are not running sweetie shops. We need highly sophisticated operations and legislation to deal with them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) was disappointed that there is no clause in the Bill relating to the forfeiture of assets. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) also believed that it might have been useful to include such a clause. We had discussions about it, but the feeling was that it would be sad to endanger the Bill by including a clause that might he contentious and inadequate.

My hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham mentioned sophisticated laundering operations. In order to deal with them, we need highly effective legislation, which should not be drawn up hurriedly, although I hope that it will be introduced in the next Session. That Bill will obviously be much longer than this one, and it must be sophisticated if it is to work. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the present bankruptcy legislation, which is rather a blunt weapon. It would be sad if any legislation on the forfeiture of assets were also blunt.

There was an omission in my opening speech, which I wish to correct now. It might be invidious to single out any of my supporters for the help and encouragement that they have given me, but I shall do so, because the hon. Member for Birkenhead has give me considerable support and help, and I wish to pay tribute to him. His commitment to the problem is well known in the House, and he was the instigator of an important early-day motion that was tabled last autumn. I am extremely grateful to him for his assistance.

The Bill is no magic cure, as the hon. Member for Birkenhead said. The problem of drug misuse is highly complex, extremely serious and ever-growing. There would be no point in the Bill if it were seen simply as the Tory Right on a rampage of retribution. The fact that I introduced it shows that it is not a Tory Right measure anyway. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North was right to say that there are many aspects to the problem, including prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. However, as my hon. Friend the Minister said, no lever can be pulled which will suddenly, miraculously and at a stroke resolve the problem. The Bill covers just one aspect of deterrence, which in itself is just one part of prevention.

I hope that the hon. Member for Knowsley, North's suggestion that the Bill will have no impact will be proved wrong. It is unduly negative to say that now. It is a modest Bill, but it can do something, and surely we should do anything that we can.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Prohibition Of Female Circumcision Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

1.53 pm

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

I am delighted that we have reached this stage of the Bill's progress because there has been pressure for such a measure for several years. I am grateful to all those who have assisted me. The purpose of the Bill is to make it clear beyond doubt that the practice of female circumcision should be illegal in Britain. Although, as the law stands, it might be argued that to perform such an operation constituted an act of actual bodily harm, there is no precedent detailing this. The degree of abhorrence of these procedures felt by all can leave no room for uncertainty. The Bill, though short, is both concise and exact and achieves that purpose.

Female circumcision is an act of mutilation performed upon young girls and women. The Bill seeks to include all the various methods adopted, from the most simple, known as sunna, to the most radical, infibulation. To achieve this, the working of the Bill, as set out in clause 1(1), has had to be of a catch-all nature. Obviously there is no desire so to leave the Bill that it interferes with legitimate medical operations, and clause 2 makes this clear. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall return to that shortly.

Accordingly, any act of mutilation is included in clause 1, which creates the offence itself. This is then extended to include the aiding and abetting of another in self-mutilation. As I mentioned in Committee, this is a direct analogy with the Suicide Act 1960. No offence is committed by a person performing such a violent act upon herself. In our society, such prohibitions, echoing faintly the notion of burying suicides in unconsecrated ground, are not felt to be appropriate. But the weak need the protection of the law from those who would exploit their weakness. If these practices are to cease in this country, the law prohibiting them cannot have potential loopholes.

In accordance with the basic principle of the criminal law, the Bill therefore provides that to aid and abet the offence is also itself an offence.

The penalties envisaged underline the detestation of female circumcision in this country. The Bill does not regard the offence as one to be treated lightly.

Since the discussion of the Bill in Committee, I have received a letter from Professor Macnaughton, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. In it he sets out the views of the college:
"Firstly, we are at one with you in seeking to prohibit female circumcision of any kind being performed in this country. However, there are a variety of surgical operations that are necessary for the physical and mental health of women, which have nothing whatever to do with circumcisions performed for traditonal or cultural reasons. I wish to make it clear that the College would be opposed to any statutory limitations on these legitimate procedures."
The operations to which Professor Macnaughton refers can be divided into two categories—those dealing with physical health, of which cancer is an example, and those dealing with mental health.

The Bill does not seek to interfere with a patient's right to receive legitimate or ethical surgery, and therefore clause 2 excludes such operations from the scope of the Bill.

There has been some discussion of the nature of exclusions for reasons of mental health. In a very small number of cases surgery is required for reasons other than physical illness. Obviously these fall into a category which is a form of cosmetic surgery, often resulting from the distress caused by a perception of abnormality.

The problem in a previous incarnation of the Bill proved insurmountable, as the word "abnormality" was used without real regard to its definition. In practice it must be right to leave that to the judgment of the individual doctor. This consideration is essential.

There is no doubt that if a woman was deluded or imagined that there was something wrong with her, it would be good professional practice not to offer surgery but to persuade her to accept psychiatric treatment. This is a view that could adopted with all forms of cosmetic surgery, but is surely best left to the professional judgment of a doctor. Such cosmetic surgery is a long way, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from female circumcision.

The purpose of the Bill is to prevent the custom of female circumcision, not legitimate, ethical and surgical procedures. The exclusion therefore of reasons of mental health needed careful drafting. There was no point in passing a Bill that created an offence if, in a later clause, it was so poorly drafted that it allowed unlimited exemptions. Accordingly, it is worth examining precisely the offence and the practice that we find so abhorrent.

The Bill seeks to prevent the ritual mutilation of the female genitalis, hence the deliberate inclusion of the words "custom or ritual" in clause 2. We cannot create an offence and then say that the act constituting that offence is exempt from the Bill. Such legislation would be nonsense. The provisions for exemptions for reasons of mental health must ensure that reasons of custom or ritual are not justified.

We cannot allow female circumcision to occur on the ground that a woman's health would suffer if she did not conform with the prevailing custom of her community. Such an argument knows no bounds—we would have allowed suttee in this country a century ago. Would we allow it now were it still the prevailing custom in India?

The Bill has its roots in the protection of children. It stands four square behind the United Nations declaration on the rights of children of 1959, which asserts that children should have the possibility to develop physically in a healthy and normal way in conditions of liberty and dignity.

The Bill seeks to prevent an appalling practice which leads to no physical benefits and is associated with a number of health hazards, including haemorrhage, pain, shock, infection, septicaemia and long-term obstetrical problems.

We in Britain are not alone in our desire to act. Other European countries, including Sweden, have banned the practice. In Kenya, it is illegal, as are all but the simplest procedures in the Sudan.

There is no doubt that at the same time as legislation there must be a process of health education among those people who still perform the acts. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister, who confirmed in Committee that his Department would consider sympathetically any applications for grants for that purpose, but we cannot allow that consideration to prevent the Bill from becoming law. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

2.2 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on her luck in the ballot and on bringing forward this important Bill. May I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for not being able to remain until the end of the proceedings.

I want to give the Bill my support because it concerns an issue that came across my desk when I was in the Department. It is one that I viewed with the greatest sympathy, but there were then, as my hon. Friend said, many difficulties. The medical profession was not perhaps as helpful as it has now turned out to be. The Department tried to get the matter working, but it was not possible. I am delighted that, clearly with the aid of my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health, that has now been possible.

I congratulate my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Bill will rapidly become law.

2.3 pm

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on her Bill, of which I am a sponsor. She has done a good service by introducing it. I hope that today we shall see the completion of its stages in this House. As she said, the subject has had a somewhat chequered legislative career. In many respects, we all understand the problems which gave rise to the complexities of legislating on this difficult subject

There is no doubt that there is enormous abhorrence of and anxiety about the practice. At the same time, as hon. Members will know, some black women feel that clause 2(2) could be considered to have racial overtones as it forbids the use of mental stress as a reason for those who wish to have female circumcision for ritual or custom as against those who use mental stress as a reason because of difficulties with deformed or enlarged genitalia. I hope that we have been able to convince them that there is no such intention behind the Bill.

It must be put on record that even now the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is not, as far as I am aware, 100 per cent. satisfied with the formulation of the Bill. Indeed, it gave me a revised amendment which I tabled unsuccessfully in Committee. The Commission for Racial Equality also has some reservations about this portion of the Bill. However, I have been unable to find any other way of changing it. Perhaps the noble Lords will have a look at it.

I underline the hon. Lady's hope that the Minister of Health will confirm what his colleague the Under-Secretary of State said in Committee two weeks ago. He said that he recognised that black women face very serious pressures in all sorts of ways because of the practice in their own community, and that they needed health counselling and health education. He undertook to look at that aspect with sympathy.

It was only by chance that before coming into the Chamber this morning I saw a letter to me from the director of the Foundation for Women's Health research and development—the organisation called FORWARD. It is a very reputable organisation with distinguished sponsors, including Dame Josephine Barnes, Lord Kennet and Baroness Lockwood. The director, Mrs. Stella Efua Graham — who, in her correspondence with me, has welcomed the Bill—sent me a copy of the letter that she sent to the Under-Secretary of State on 18 April picking up the point that he made in Committee, when he said that he would look sympathetically at accepting
"applications from any organisations for funding to cover such activities."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3 April 1985; c. 16.]
She points out that, in the name of FORWARD she asked for support from the DHSS in late 1983, but received no response.

Mrs. Graham is putting forward—as she has in the letter—three projects which could very well receive funding and support from the Department. It would help in terms of health education and health counselling, and would be seen by those who may be worried about the matter as a sensible way of having a public health programme alongside the legislation that we are discussing today.

Although I am not trying to bounce the Minister into an answer on the project, I hope that, when he has an opportunity, he will discuss the application with his hon. Friend. It would go a great way towards reassuring people who would genuinely like to outlaw the practice altogether but who see the difficulties of women, of their mothers and of their prospective husbands in dealing with a problem which has been so much a part of their culture and practice.

I reiterate my congratulations to the hon. Lady and hope that, when the legislation becomes law, the Department will deal with it in the most sensitive possible way and not in a nasty, draconian way, because the Bill will cause some problems and one would not want legislation to drive the practice underground in a way that none of us would welcome.

2.9 pm

I happily join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) on the way in which she has so skilfully steered the Bill through the House to its present stage. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), who was a colleague of mine in the Department until recently, that it proved an intractable and difficult problem when it came to drafting legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne has come close to leading us to a solution.

I am sure that the Bill will be welcomed by the public because publicity about those operations has aroused general indignation. Although we believe that female circumcision has been carried out in only a handful of cases in this country, it does not mean that there are not compelling reasons for legislation to make sure that there are no more such operations here. The mutilation and impairment of young girls and women have no part in our way of life. I am glad to know that that view is shared by representatives of the ethnic minorities who live here. That is why the Government warmly welcome the Bill, and have, indeed, welcomed it throughout its passage.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne that it is arguable that the procedures known as female circumcision are already against the criminal law in this country, but that is by no means certain. We have not had a case to provide a precedent. I am sure that the House would prefer that we had definite legislation making it clear in statute that it is contrary to criminal law.

The problem that arose in the early stages of the Bill was to make sure that one discriminated between female circumcision and other legitimate surgery, because in straight anatomical terms there is little difference between the operation known as circumcision, or some forms of it, and other desirable medical practices. The present drafting of the Bill, as a result of work in Committee, meets that aim and will proscribe the activities that we wish to proscribe without damaging the decision of those who wish to carry out legitimate surgery on their patients.

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) mentioned the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. A copy of the latest letter sent by the president to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne has been given to me. It may not have reached the hon. Member for Barking yet. My hon. Friend quoted a passage from Professor Macnaughton's letter. He concludes by saying:
"The College will be happy to comment on any amendments that are suggested and I can confirm that the College would approve of your Bill as amended by the Standing Committee."
That may mean that the college is now satisfied that any possible problems have been sorted out. While I am sure that their Lordships will wish to look at the Bill, I hope that they do not embark on amateur draftsmanship of their own and get the Bill back into complications that might run the risk of frustrating its purpose.

Like all those who have spoken so far, particularly the two hon. Ladies, I share their view that there is no question of racism in the Bill or anything of that sort. I am satisfied that it is necessary to make the references to custom and ritual for the reasons explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne. All the sponsors of the Bill and all those associated with it are plainly not only not guilty of any racialist views, but many of them, including the hon. Member for Barking, play a prominent part in combating racism and trying to make sure that no elements of racial segregation find their way into our law. It is the need for careful drafting that caused those references, and there is no need for people to be suspicious of them.

I agree that the Bill should be seen only as a necessary part of a wider health education campaign to eradicate that practice in this country and abroad. We do not underestimate the importance of education and counselling among the communities in which female circumcision has been a custom for millennia. Groups are now at work among those communities providing just such counselling and information services. We share their aims and commend the work that they do.

The hon. Member for Barking is ahead of me in reading copies of correspondence addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He made a helpful offer in Committee that we would look at any applications for grants. We shall do so as quickly and sympathetically as possible.

I conclude by renewing my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne on her success in having brought the Bill this far. I commend the Bill to the House, and hope that its passage through another place will be equally successful.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Charter Trustees Bill

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading) and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Hill Farming Bill

Considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

2.17 pm

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

This is a simple Bill. It is a Bill to save the bilberry. Farmers in upland areas need to be able to burn heather and grass so that their livestock are able to benefit from fresh heather and grass. That procedure creates difficulties for wildlife in the upland areas, and it has therefore been necessary, since the passage of the Hill Farming Act 1946, to regulate the burning of heather and grass. It has been found that in practice other species may be damaged by the burning, especially bracken, vaccinium and gorse, and it has therefore been thought necessary to introduce a Bill to enable the Minister to control the burning of those species. The Bill is widely welcomed by those concerned, and I hope that hon. Members will give it their support.

2.18 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John MacGregor)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) and thank him for introducing the Bill. As he said, the Bill will extend the powers available to Ministers to make regulations controlling moorland burning, which is very important for agricultural management.

The Bill will bring three new plant species—gorse, bracken and vaccinium, or the bilberry—into the same category as heather and grass. The need to make this change was another profit of the discussions held by the heather and grass burning working party, which observed that the burning of moorland vegetation affects adventitiously a number of other plant species which grow in close association with heather and grass. Chief among these are gorse, bracken and vaccinium.

In addition, some farmers choose deliberately to burn certain of these species either to control or to eradicate them. As the potential risks and consequences of the burning of these species are similar to those of the burning of heather and grass, the working party argued that a loophole in the present controls needed to be closed. I am persuaded by this argument and am delighted that the Bill gives us the opportunity to bring about the necessary changes. It therefore has the support of the Government.

Any system of control is meaningless unless it is backed by some sort of penalty. The Hill Farming Act already includes a fine of up to £400 for a breach of the present regulations, and my officials in the regions are under instruction to follow up reports of illegal burning. Last year there were only two such reports. We have also written recently to chief constables asking for their cooperation, by making sure that police officers in rural areas are aware of the legal requirements. We therefore have a mechanism for enforcement which, I am pleased to say, has rarely to be applied to the full, but which provides an appropriate back-up to our main aim, which is to encourage sensible burning through sound advice. This year, as in previous ones, our publicity campaign will include radio announcements and press notices, issued at regular intervals throughout the year and designed to achieve this end.

It is perhaps premature to talk of the type of controls that we might apply once the Bill becomes law, but we would want to use these new enabling powers as soon as the necessary subordinate legislation can be drawn up. I see here a further opportunity for consultation with the working party, since subtle differences might exist in the growing charactristics of the three new species and in how they are best dealt with. I believe that it will also be important to extend the heather and grass burning code which the working party has produced and which is widely circulated, so that suitably fuller advice on moorland burning is available. However, I do not regard these as protracted matters and I hope that subordinate legislation might be laid before the House fairly quickly once the Bill becomes law.

I am delighted to be able to commend this Bill to the House, because, although it is short and simple, it marks yet another important step towards achieving a balance between the needs of conservation and the needs of agriculture, which the Government have already done much to further.

Question put and agreed to

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Agricultural Training Board Bill

Considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

2.22 pm

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

This is a modest Bill which I hope will enable the Agricultural Training Board to offer its unique training expertise overseas to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

As many hon. Members know, the Agricultural Training Board, which was established in 1966, provides training for the commercial agriculture and horticulture industries in Great Britain. Many of the board's activities centre on short craft skills courses for agricultural workers. It has great expertise in the development of those courses and the training of instructors. It also undertakes management training and organises farming apprenticeships and other youth training. Its skills are highly regarded by the farming industry in the United Kingdom.

The board has powers under section 5 of the Agricultural Training Board Act 1982 to teach workers from overseas the methods of agriculture in the United Kingdom, but those powers do not enable the board to carry its expertise overseas. Its ability to do so would be especially useful in the involvement in major export contracts in the agricultural sector such as the installation of irrigation schemes and the setting up of other agricultural businesses, such as complete dairy units, in areas like the middle east. The training of local staff to run such new systems is a vital part of the total export package, and the participation of the board could improve the United Kingdom's chances of gaining contracts and materially helping employment in the United Kingdom.

I hope that the board will be able to operate profitably overseas and that its involvement in such work will be of great benefit to the United Kingdom. There are safeguards to that effect in the Bill. I hope also that the board will he able to use its commercial expertise and to maximise its revenue so that any profits that are generated can be used for the material benefit of training in the United Kingdom.

The Bill also has the subsidiary purpose of strengthening Ministers' formal rights of access to the board's books and records. There is already an agreement that such access will be given, but this power will bring the Agricultural Training Board into line with the current guidelines for public bodies.

The Agricultural Training Board is outstandingly effective in promoting training techniques in agriculture. I hope that this modest measure will enable the board to help to promote British agricultural expertise and business worldwide. I commend the Bill to the House.

2.25 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. John MacGregor)

It is most gratifying that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Torney) has been able to progress this useful Bill so fast. I congratulate him on introducing it and on the speed with which he has got it through the various stages so far.

As the House knows, the Agricultural Training Board was established in 1966 under the Industrial Training Act 1964, together with many other training boards in ether industries. Subsequently, the board was transferred to the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and its powers were consolidated in the Agricultural Training Board Act 1982.

The board provides a vital training role for the commercial agriculture and horticulture industries in Great Britain. It is largely funded by a grant in aid from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, amounting to more than £7 million in 1984–85. The development of short craft skills courses and the training of instructors is undertaken by the board, while the organisation of most individual training courses is carried out by a network of 600 farmers' training groups. The strength of this group activity, and the board's expertise in organising them, is of particular interest to developing overseas countries, as the hon. Gentleman has emphasised. In addition, the board undertakes management training and organises farm apprenticeships and other youth training. The board's skills are highly regarded by the farming industry.

In 1982, the then board chairman suggested that the board's training expertise could with advantage be made available overseas. Ministers agreed in principle on the understanding that such activities would be undertaken by the Agricultural Training Board in collaboration with the private training sector and that this would not lead to any dilution of domestic training effort. That is most important. As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, clause 1(2) of the Bill imposes on the board a requirement to act commercially in the exercise of its overseas functions so that at an early date it can show that expenditure on overseas work can be met from revenues received. That is a most important provision, as we do not wish the United Kingdom agriculture industry to suffer any diversion of funds from its training in order to meet the needs of others, however deserving, outside the United Kingdom. The board has had substantive discussions with private sector consultants through the British Consultants Bureau on this basis, and I understand that a good understanding has been reached.

The 1982 Act does not, however, enable the board to engage fully in overseas activities. The hon. Gentleman's Bill would therefore empower the board to undertake work which Ministers have agreed is desirable. It would remove the restraint on providing training for employment overseas to permit the board to provide training courses and teaching and advisory personnel as well as advice and to charge for those services. Through the requirement to keep separate accounts under clause 1(3), the Bill also provides an assurance for agriculture that there is to be no diversion of funds from the United Kingdom to overseas activities.

Although the board has not yet been authorised to do work overseas, there is considerable evidence that there would be a demand for its services. It has received requests for consultancy and training advice and activities, and there is a steady flow of orders for its publications.

I was also pleased to see that the opportunity had been taken in the Bill to incorporate a further amendment to the Agricultural Training Board Act 1982 to give the Government a formal right of access to the board's books and records. As has already been said, there is already an agreement between Ministers and the board, and it is reaffirmed every year when grant in aid is given that such access should be given.

The Bill is welcome. The ATB has great expertise in the sector within which it operates. As a public sector body, it must first provide a high service and value for money for its customers in the United Kingdom. It is most important that the public and private sectors collaborate in a positive fashion to promote our interests abroad. Agricultural expertise in this country is second to none and many areas of the world would benefit from it.

I highly commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Solicitors (Independent Complaints Procedure) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 May.

Minimum Wages Etc Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 May.

Sports Fields And Recreational Facilities Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question —[25 January]—That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Question again proposed.

Northern Ireland (Termination Of Jurisdiction) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 3 May.

Working Conditions Of Government Trainees Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 26 April.

Protection Of The Rights Of The Elderly In Home Ownership Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 26 April.

Highlands And Islands Development Board Boundaries Amendment Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Recreational Gardening Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading read.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 26 April.

Betting, Gaming And Lotteries (Amendment) Bill Lords:

Read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the whole House.— [Mr. Greenway.]

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that it is unusual to take the Committee stage without notice. Is there any objection?

Question put and agreed to.

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, withour amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without amendment.

Political Parties (Income And Expenditure) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

With the leave of the hon. Member concerned, Friday 5 July.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 5 July.

Business Of The House


That, at the sitting on Tuesday 23rd April, proeedings on the business selected in pursuance of paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 6 (Arrangment of public business) shall, if not previously concluded, lapse at Seven o'clock and shall be counted as a half day as provided by that Order.—[Mr. Nubert]

Soccer Violence

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

2.34 pm

I shall declare my interest in this matter while the shed end is vacating the Chamber. I have been a regular football supporter for about 30 years. The first full season that I spent watching Chelsea was the 1954–55 championship year. Under the inspired chairmanship of Ken Bates, I look forward to a repeat performance of that division one championship in the near future. As I have since moved myself to Newham, I go to watch West Ham as well as Chelsea. I am the vice-president of Clapton football club in my constituency, which is one of the oldest and most distinguished amateur football clubs in the country.

The subject of British soccer generally is of sufficient interest to merit a full parliamentary debate. When the Government produce their report, I hope that we shall get just such an opportunity.

Crowd trouble inside and outside football grounds is not a recent development and is not confined to Britain. The problem should not be overdramatised by politicians and the media. However, more people have become aware of the problem and it has increased in seriousness. The Prime Minister is far from being the first politician to express concern. The right hon. Lady's instant-response approach could create almost as many problems as it solves. If the Prime Minister had not seen the hooliganism at the Luton Millwall match on television, I doubt whether we would have had so many Ministers running around trying to find immediate solutions to deep-seated and complex problems.

I hope that the Minister has studied the report of Norman Chester's committee, which was produced in 1968, the White Paper on sport and recreation, which was produced by the previous Labour Government, the 19'76 report of the working group on football crowd behaviour, a committee chaired by the late and much-lamented Frank McElhone, and the 1984 report on football violence from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. If the Minister can find the time to add to that reading list, he might like to read my own paper on the subject, which was written when I was chairman of the GLC's general purposes committee in 1975. This is a way of showing that the problem of crowd violence at football grounds has been analysed to death over the past 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, successive Governments, the football authorities and the clubs have failed comprehensively to deal with it properly. There have been too many knee-jerk reactions and far too little real action.

I do not believe that there is any one identifiable cause for football violence. Different outbreaks occur for differing reasons. Local solutions based on local knowledge but with Government support are far more likely to be successful.

The problem should be confronted at two distinct levels. The long-term approach should be aimed at dealing with the decades of neglect within the sport itself. The short-term approach should be designed to contain the immediate menace of increasing crowd violence that is created by a small and unrepresentative element. There is disturbing evidence coming to light which shows that the most serious violence in football is being efficiently organised.

It is only comparatively recently that professional football has become aware that it is in competition with other forms of mass entertainment and, in comparison, is losing out pretty badly. Those who go regularly to football matches know that terraces open to the weather, insufficient seating and primitive refreshment and sanitary arrangements remain the rule rather than the exception. Any serious supporter knows just how appalling conditions remain in most of the 92 league clubs.

Since 1979 the Prime Minister has been to just two matches, and they were both cup finals. She was lucky to get the tickets. Perhaps she will tell me her source. I do not know how many league clubs the Minister has been to, but it is important that politicians who will be making decisions and recommendations should base those on some element of personal experience.

Virtually all football league clubs need to be modernised. That is best done through partnership arrangements between clubs, local authorities and Government agencies, together providing the large-scale funds that are needed to establish sports and social complexes based on the individual grounds.

Local authorities already give grants to a wide range of cultural bodies. I can speak as a past chairman of the arts and recreation committee of the GLC. I have never been able to see any rational argument for excluding footboll clubs, which represent a major working-class cultural activity, from receiving local authority grants. When I argued that particular case in 1975, it was caricatured as soccer on the rates. We have opera, theatre, ballet and recreation on the rates, so why not professional football?

Much could be achieved in terms of general ground improvements and the more intensive use by commuities of football grounds, but it requires imagination as well as resources. None of that is original, because closer working between local authorities and football clubs is already well under way. In Manchester, both Manchester city football club and the city of Manchester recreation department have been involved in the past five years in a football and community programme. It is probably the most highly developed scheme in the country and shows the positive benefits of a long-term relationship between football clubs and local authorities. In that particular scheme, I understand that something in excess of 100,000 people have taken part, 70 per cent. of the courses and competitions that are organised are aimed at the 8 to 18 age group and 85 per cent. of the people taking part have come from the local communities.

In London the GLC has been pushing ahead, as one would expect from a well-run Socialist and progressive authority. In the past two years we have developed several major initiatives with football league clubs. The provision of the all-weather pitch at Fulham was in exchange for the club guaranteeing a minimum of 500 hours of community use of the pitch for six years. A programme of community use is already well developed and it is used by school children, the unemployed, and people with disabilities, and there is a highly imaginative programme involving a senior citizens' club. In a short time that club has become an important resource for the local community instead of a woefully under-used facility.

A recent scheme announced by the GLC involves close co-operation with Arsenal football club, using the club's indoor training facilities for the benefit of the local community. Such things can be done and the Government should encourage local authorities to work on those partnership arrangements with clubs. Their grounds represent an under-utilised asset within our communities where such assets are badly needed.

Public funds should not be used to reinforce private gain. Therefore, I would look for radical changes in the way in which clubs are presently owned and organised. If football clubs were owned and run by a more representative section of supporters, the problem of crowd trouble would disappear in the long run. Football should look to the way in which cricket and rugby union organise themselves. That is the way that professional football should go. It is only in football that directors can act like 19th century mill owners. Regrettably, it is the worst elements of Victorian attitudes that survive in the way that our premier national sport is run.

Those are some of the long-term problems. Let me now deal briefly with the immediate problems we face. No one can doubt that soccer crowd violence is on the increase. The bad publicity that the sport gets is clearly affecting the gates and therefore the economic ability of the game to deal with its problems. It is a reinforcing cycle. The violence is partly a reflection of our increasingly violent society. Therefore, it is nonsense to single out football violence.

I shall make some brief suggestions because I wish to give the Minister plenty of time to reply. As it is a short debate I shall make out a list and if the Minister cannot respond to them all when he replies, perhaps he will respond to me in the usual way, as he has done in the past.

First, all football league matches should be played on Sunday mornings. That would undoubtedly upset some people, but it would do much to eliminate the problems of alcohol inside the grounds. Secondly, ground, should be all seating, covered and divided into small secure sections with closed circuit television. I know that it is easy to say that, but such ground improvements and security measures would cost the game millions. If the Government are not prepared to provide the cash, they should make low or no-interest loans available to professional football clubs through a national funding agency.

Thirdly, if, as I hope, we move towards the concept of football clubs organised as social clubs, admission by club membership card would be compulsory without any erosion of civil rights, which straightforward identification cards at present represent. I read today in The Standard that the chairman of Luton football club is pushing such an idea.

Fourthly, where clubs have singularly failed to minimise the dangers, they should be penalised in a much more draconian fashion. League points should be deducted. Clubs should face compulsory relegation or even expulsion from the league if they persistently fail to deal with problems when help is being offered to them to deal with such problems.

Fifthly, I should like to see courts giving more custodial sentences and community work orders on match days for offenders. The sort of thing that gets right up the nose of the average football supporter is having to weed someone's garden when an FA cup match is being played.

Sixthly, increased policing inside the ground should not be a charge on the clubs. Many people are not aware that in London clubs must pay the Metropolitan police for their presence inside the ground. That should not be the case. The charge should fall on the public purse. Clubs could encourage many more of their supporters to act as voluntary stewards as a form of self-policing.

Seventhly, in London the Commissioner should set up on a trial basis football community policing teams. These would be specialised police teams which would travel regularly to away games to brief the local police force and attend the game with their supporters. If the Commissioner ever gets the scheme off the ground, he may wish to enrol me as a special constable, it seems to be a good job. That would assist the police greatly in maintaining effective policing inside the grounds. Those police teams would soon get to know the regular fans and, therefore, could identify those who were attending only to cause trouble.

In conclusion, if the Government genuinely wish to eliminate soccer violence and to help restore the image of this important international sport, they must show political will and financial commitment. The Government take a lot of revenue from the game. Pools promoters, television, and Fleet street all make big money from football. As a football supporter, I believe that the clubs have a right to expect much more of the wealth that their sport creates to come back into the game for the benefit of the much-abused and vilified football supporter.

2.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment
(Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

I am grateful for the constructive way in which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has approached this important subject. I am at one with him on many of the points that he raised. I only hope that, when Hansard is published, he will circularise his speech to as many of those who are responsible for running our great national games as possible. His comments were extremely helpful in the overall context of this national problem.

I confirm that I have read all the documents which the hon. Gentleman enumerated at the beginning of his speech. However, I am oblivious of his report, which I shall certainly read if he would kindly send my office a copy. I shall sit down and study it. There is much to be read on this important topic.

I can also confirm that since I started watching football in the early 1950s—as an Essex dweller, I began at Leyton Orient—I have visited about four fifths of all first and second division football grounds at some stage or another during the past 30 years.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, disorder at football matches is by no means a new or recent phenomenon. The problem has been with us for many decades and it affects many countries. It is interesting to note, for example, that Millwall's ground was first closed as a disciplinary measure in 1934, and suffered the same fate in 1947, 1950 and 1978. If he were here, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) would acknowledge that the problem was prevalent during his two terms as Minister with responsibility for sport. He will remember some of the more serious incidents that took place during that period. In 1975, in Paris, when Leeds was playing Bayern, and in 1977, when St. Etienne was playing Manchester United, thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused inside and outside the grounds, and many people required hospital treatment. Again in 1977, England fans in Luxembourg caused £15,000 worth of damage to the stadium and went on a rampage through the city. All this, unhappily, is familiar reading for us.

In their book, "Hooligans Abroad", the Leicester university researchers gave some vivid examples of crowd disorders abroad not involving British fans in support of the argument that football hooliganism is not purely a British disease. In Lima, in 1964, when, in a match between Peru and Argentina, the referee refused to allow a goal to the home side, a riot followed in which 318 people were killed and more than 500 were injured. In Turkey, in 1974, fans of two club sides fought with pistols, knives and broken bottles for days after the end of a match between the two teams. Before troops restored order, cars were burnt out, 600 spectators were injured and 44 were killed. We have seen more recent examples in South America. In Argentina, the national association had to implement a nine-day ban on prfessional football.

Of course, that the problem is not new does not mean that there is an excuse for inaction. It is worth highlighting what the Government have done so far. On law and order, we have strengthened the powers of magistrates through the Criminal Justice Act 1982. The courts can now require parents and guardians to pay fines, costs and compensation for offences committed by young persons and children. The Act has also given the courts greater flexibility in the sentencing of young offenders, providing a new sentence of youth custody and doing away with the limitations on custodial sentences on young offenders. The power to impose community service orders was amended to bring offenders aged 16 or over within the scope of the scheme. We have introduced new custodial measures to deal with young offenders convicted of violent crimes, and doubled the maximum fines available to magistrates. We have also considerably increased the number of attendance centres.

I established a liaison group involving all the concerned agencies and authorities, and four Government Departments, to prepare for the three home countries' participation in the World Cup finals in Spain in 1982. A s we were successful in eliminating incidents of hooliganism through close co-operation in all the regions of Spain, I extended the remit of the liaison group, led by the Football Association chairman, to co-ordinate policy and precautions for domestic and international matches. Officials from my Department serve on that liaison group, as do officials from the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We have ensured that embassies and consulates support the Football Association and clubs in planning matches abroad. Consular staff attend meetings with the Football Association's liaison officer, together with stadium authorities, clubs' staff and the local authorities to ensure, so far as possible, that the necessary security precautions are taken. We have, through the Football League, focused league clubs' attention on the need to take precautions, highlighting the segregation of opposing supporters and the importance of pre-match planning, especially if the clubs are known to have problems.

We have agreed with the liaison group a "blueprint" listing the precautions which should be taken for domestic matches. This was circulated to league clubs last August in time for the new season. It revised existing recommendations, and for the first time ensured that recommendations on segregation and the movement of crowds became mandatory under the Football Association's guidelines.

Following serious incidents of violence towards the end of the 1983–84 season, the Government established a working group of officials from the Departments concerned to review what further options were available to tackle the problem. The group's report was published last August as a consultation document. With ministerial colleagues and the Football Association I have since met 17 representative organisations to discuss the report and its recommendations. The organisations, together with many other bodies and individuals, have also submitted a mass of written evidence for our consideration. The report and the consultation on it formed the basis for our most recent considerations following the serious violence at Luton and Chelsea.

Although the recent violence has focused our attention on the domestic scene, the aspect of the problem which has perhaps troubled me most since my appointment in 1981 is the effect that violence by English supporters abroad has on the good name of this country. Clearly there is more than just national pride at stake. The hon. Gentleman touched upon this. There are more tangible economic casualties both in loss of exports and contracts for British companies to carry out work abroad, and particularly if any club is banned or invited to play behind closed doors by the governing body of European football, in which case there could be serious economic loss to the club.

To help tackle this problem, the Government, through the Council of Europe, promoted the recommendation on the' reduction of football violence. In my visits to many European footballing capitals and my discussions with Ministers over the past two years I have found that all accept that this is not purely an English problem.

The recommendation calls for joint action among European countries and sets out the precautions, based on the European Football Association's ground rules, to be taken by the clubs and the authorities.

I first called for the recommendation at the informal working party of sports Ministers in Paris in January 1983, following which a working group chaired by one of my officials was set up to draft these recommendations. I also attended the informal working party of sports Ministers meeting in Rotterdam later in 1983 at which the recommendation was discussed fully and agreed. The recommendation was adopted formally by the Committee of Foreign Ministers in March 1984.

The Government have since taken the lead in the implementation of the agreement. At their fourth conference, held in Malta in May 1984, the European Ministers responsible for sport passed a resolution which I proposed in which they undertook to do all in their power to ensure the full implementation of the recommendation and to draw it to the attention of their respective national football authorities and the European Football Association.

I have also written to my ministerial colleagues abroad in advance of matches involving English clubs pointing out the potential dangers and drawing their attention to the recommendation. On the whole, efforts since have met with co-operation and constructive responses. We shall continue to take the lead on the international front in efforts to build on what has been achieved so far.

I have mentioned briefly the most recent developments following the serious violence at Luton and Chelsea. I was present on 1 April when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, together with other colleagues, met representatives from both the Football Association and the Football League to discuss soccer spectator violence. I have already informed the House that it became clear from that meeting that the football authorities shared the Government's commitment vigorously to combat violence at football matches.

They agreed to re-examine urgently the Football Association rules governing discipline and the responsibility of clubs with a view to changing and strengthening them. They agreed to accelerate the introduction of closed circuit television, especially at grounds where problem matches are played. They agreed to ensure that perimeter fencing was in place and effective in those grounds. They agreed to investigate a practical scheme of membership cards for Football League, Football Association and European and international matches, in discussion with the European Football Association as necessary, reporting back to me within six weeks. They agreed to consider the introduction of more restrictions on the issue of tickets for problem matches—which should be ticket only. Should there be more flexibility, such as Sunday morning kickoffs? I am convinced that such arrangements should be considered by all those clubs. They also agreed to encourage more and better family enclosures at League grounds. They agreed to deal severely with any bad example set to supporters by players' behaviour on the pitch. They agreed, in advance of the Government's proposed legislation, to take action under existing powers to deal with the problem of alcohol at matches.

The Government will give the strongest possible support to the football authorities, and we are prepared to take action in many ways. It is clear that the Football Association and the Football League are the governing bodies of football in this country. They have to run their own sport, as all sports are run through the 140 governing bodies which we support in one way or another. They are responsible for generating their rules and for setting standards of behaviour both on the pitch and elsewhere. They must put their house in order, but we shall do all we can to help. We shall ensure that we take action in the following ways. Legislation will be introduced in England and Wales to control the sale of alcohol at grounds and on transport to grounds along the lines that have been successful in Scotland. I pay tribute to the report of the late Frank McElhone in 1976 which has become the guiding light for legislation in Scotland and for us.

Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 designation will be extended to clubs in divisions three and four of the Football League. Initially, it will be to grounds with a record of crowd violence. The guidelines and the green code will be reviewed.

The public order White Paper based on our conclusions following the review is to be published shortly, and our proposals for legislation in the autumn. Some new proposals will assist in preventing and controlling football hooliganism.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be discussing with the police what improvement can be made to their effectiveness in dealing with football violence—in particular, in obtaining evidence to bring more serious charges where appropriate.

My right hon. and learned Friend is encouraging magistrates to make full use of their powers, including detention and attendance centre sentences. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of young people, who have nothing to do with watching and enjoying football—our national sport—but who seek to disrupt games. I am convinced that it would be an effective deterrent if they were certain that they would be put away on a Saturday afternoon at an attendance centre when a match was on. Many other people would perceive it to be an effective deterrent.

We shall do all that we can to ensure that everyone understands the full range of legal sentencing available. We shall encourage bail conditions forbidding attendance at matches and we are drawing attention to the Court of Appeal guidelines on sentencing violent offenders.

Is the Minister prepared to recommend to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary some examination of the idea of specialised police teams to deal with the problem of soccer violence?

I shall draw that important point to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention. It is something that he would have to consider, but it may well have a part to play.

I have not heard from the Opposition parties on our spectator violence report despite my suggestion that they might make comments and observations. I told the House some months ago that 17 organisations and authorities had provided evidence and opinions. I should welcome any contribution or commitment that the hon. Gentleman could give and I would convey it to my right hon. and learned Friend.

For matches abroad, we shall consult other Governments about giving better publicity to and perhaps strengthening last year's Council of Europe recommendation on football violence which I have already mentioned. We shall review how the diplomatic service can help in identifying troublemakers. We are considering arrangements for people convicted overseas to serve their sentences in this country. We shall seek to discourage travel agents from setting up special schemes for problem matches.

The hon. Gentleman made several points that 1 shall cover in correspondence with him. Our football clubs could become the focal point of many communities They could develop and generate facilities. The Sports Council has helped in many cases. The urban aid programme and the derelict land grants scheme, in addition to normal local authority expenditure, have helped many football clubs to develop as the focal point for young people in the community.

When I consider the number of people who attended professional football matches in the 1950s compared with the present time, I believe that the time is long overdue for urgent action. The great weight of public opinion is behind everything that we do. We must approach the problem in many ways.

I pay tribute to the tremendous contribution made by the Football Trust, which is financed by the pools promoters and the spot-the-ball competition. It has provided the better part of £20 million for ground improvements, not just under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, but for all-weather pitches for youngsters, not just for the club members but for the people within the community. Football must now somehow compete with the ever-increasing demand of public attention and competition from alternative sports.

What we are seeking to do represents a substantial package of new measures from the Government to support the new tough line that the Football Association and Football League have agreed to take. We must take urgent action with a package of measures as we approach the close season.

Those people involved in professional football and those responsible for clubs must sit down and rigorously examine what they want to do to see how they can save our great national game domestically and internationally—

The Question having been proposed after half-past Two 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 four minutes past Three o'clock.