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Drug Testing (Schools)

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 22 May 1990

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3.33 pm

I beg to move,

That leave to given to bring in a Bill to allow random—[Interruption.]

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that I get injury time for that.

I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to allow random drug testing of schoolchildren; and for connected purposes.
The opportunity to introduce this Bill would not have been afforded to me had it not been for the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), who spent most of the early hours one morning patiently waiting to reserve this spot, for which I record my gracious thanks.

The Bill aims to assist the many people who, over the years, have vainly attempted to stop children and others ruining their lives, and, more often, the lives of their families, by taking drugs. We are thankful for all the efforts to fight this curse in society, but while consoling some, those efforts cannot resolve the problem. Something more positive must be done, and that is what my Bill aims to do.

Over the years many attempts have been made to introduce similar Bills. On 9 December 1970, my hon. Friend the then Member for West Lothian, now Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) introduced his bill, Medical Inspection (Evidence of Drug-Taking) (School Pupils) Bill, as reported in the Official Report at column 429. That Bill was introduced 20 years ago, but Parliament has not yet legislated to solve a problem that is a menace to our children and a tremendous strain on our teachers and headmasters—the educationists—medical officers, doctors, the Health Service and many others. Above all, that menace is a strain on the sick society that allows our young to be trapped in the drug nightmare.

The Serjeant at Arms is interested in this subject and in recent discussions with me he referred to an ode, "The Old Dope Peddlar". I shall quote one verse that is particularly relevant to the Bill:
"He gives the kids free samples because he knows full well
That today's young innocent children arc tomorrow's clientele".
That highlights the problem. That ode was no doubt written many years ago, yet we still have that old dope peddlar, and he is a greater menace in 1990 because of the harder and more dangerous drugs that he peddles. Please let us make efforts to stamp out the menace.

In April the Princess of Wales spoke at a conference on drug abuse among children. She said:
"we should catch them in the classrooms before the dealers catch them at the school gates".
The problem is how to catch them and how to stop children taking drugs before they are hooked. I am sure that the Bill will have all-party support in its efforts to license legally agreed random testing to diagnose the source of the problem. The children, once identified, would be treated with care and compassion. The Bill is a further attempt to eliminate drug abuse from among our children and our grandchildren.

Britain now has a major problem because of drug taking in schools. Drug abuse is increasing despite the best efforts of our police forces, doctors and customs officers. How many more ruined young lives are we prepared to accept before action is taken? The cost to our nation of drug-related crime and violence is enormous.

Something practical and reasonable can be done to prevent drug abuse. I propose to tackle the problem of drug abuse where it starts, in the schools. There are almost insurmountable problems in treating established addicts, so why not prevent and deter the addict to begin with? There is hardly a secondary school that has not had a drug problem. Because most addicts start on drugs while at school, the introduction of random drug testing is essential. If schoolchildren knew that they were likely to be tested at any time, they would be less likely to experiment with drugs. It is important to identify the children already on the drug train, and to offer them early help to minimise future problems.

Prevention cannot be left to schools and teachers. Their role is primarily to educate and not to police. Existing anti-drug, and indeed alcohol and tobacco, policies within schools are not working. Parents are often the last to know that their child has been abusing drugs.

Drug testing in sport has been established for years. Most of us recall the fight against it, based on the freedom and liberty of the individual, for which I have a high regard and which I support. The fine balance between protecting people's rights and freedoms and protecting them from a life of misery from drugs is a balance of conflicting freedoms, but with a full knowledge of the horrendous harm done by drugs, without hesitation I ask those who might want to oppose the Bill on civil liberty grounds to give the matter further thought or Parliament will still be trying to resolve the drug problem in schools, and perhaps quoting the Bill, in 20 years' time, with all the further drug misery that will have been caused.

I do not claim to be an expert. For information on research and dedication to fighting drugs in schools, I have relied on Dr. Hugh McCollum of Lynton, Staffordshire, who rightly claims that the problem can be reduced by certain methods, random drug testing being one. Random drug testing would involve only the collection of a urine sample. It would not involve asking private or personal questions or a medical examination, a body search, a belongings search or a blood test. Objection was voiced to testing in sports, but the principle is now fully accepted, without objection, by sports men, women and children. Let us remember that testing within sports is not limited to adults or the elite.

Testing would be done on the whole school or on sections, such as the fourth form upwards or those aged 14 upwards. There would be at least one test per school year. It is anticipated that a complete house would be tested at one go, together with an alternative group such as fourth year mathematics pupils, so that no one would be sure of not being tested at any time.

Testing would be done in such a way as to guarantee no errors. Pupils and parents should be convinced that there could be no errors. Samples would be split, with half being retained for parents and schools to double check the preliminary result. Samples would be tested only to a level where 100 per cent. concentration of the drug found could be assumed. Procedures would be such as to exclude any possibility of spiking or contamination.

The method that we would use in schools is highly effective, 100 per cent. accurate and reasonably cheap. It can detect whether a child has been taking cannabis, cocaine, crack, heroin, morphine, LSD, ecstasy, barbiturates, some hypnotic drugs and pain killers. We must all be aware of the huge threat of crack, a relatively new drug to the United Kingdom. Fortunately, it is not yet widely available and is hardly used so far. Crack is so addictive that most people become absolutely hooked, often after only trying the drug once or twice. Crack is commonplace in New York and its terrible effect can be seen in some areas of the city. In the Bronx, for example, the life expectancy of a male born today is only 38 years. The reason is drugs and related problems, such as murder, violence, AIDS, suicide, hepatitis and overdoses.

I hope that the House will support me and agree that this policy must be introduced on a wide basis within schools for the good of society. We have not only an obligation to educate our children, but a duty of care and responsibility. To carry out those responsibilities, we must do everything reasonable and practical, especially where drugs are involved.

Drugs may not always cause death, but they destroy lives. I ask for sympathetic support in the light of the overwhelming positive response I have received from parents and the media. Therefore, if there is any step, however bold, radical or innovative, that we in the House can take to reduce the risk of anyone's child succumbing to the lure of drugs, we should grasp the opportunity and take the necessary steps now.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ray Powell, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Frank Haynes, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Ken Eastham, Mr. Allen McKay, Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse. Mr. Stuart Bell, Mr. Tam Dalyell, Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. John McFall and Mr. Donald Coleman.

Drug Testing (Schools)

Mr. Ray Powell accordingly presented a Bill to allow random drug testing of schoolchildren; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 145.]