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2 February 2006

(S2F-2103) Drug Use (Children)

5. Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To ask the First Minister what action the Scottish Executive has undertaken in response to the findings published in 2003 by Professor McKeganey, which examined the extent of drug use and exposure in 10 to 12-year-olds. (S2F-2103)

The First Minister (Mr Jack McConnell): I have every sympathy with Stewart Stevenson. He has a record of raising these issues and today he has had to follow on from earlier questions. I acknowledge the particular problem in his constituency and his interest in the issues. I hope that we can continue to work together on them.

As I said earlier, we are taking action on a number of fronts. We are ensuring that there is drugs education available in all schools; a national public information campaign; early intervention and diversionary programmes for youngsters and families; and improved treatment for those with acute problems.

Stewart Stevenson: I take the opportunity of saying that the First Minister will have a faithful friend for any sensible initiatives to which we can all sign up. However, the signs are not encouraging. I have been asking questions for around three months about what we know of these issues. The First Minister will know that Professor McKeganey's report was commissioned not in Scotland but by the Home Office—it was not a Scottish report.

In written answers on 3 November and 18 November, I was told that we do not know the size of the drugs trade and that we do not work with the Home Office. We do not have a report such as the one produced annually in London that gives information on the size of the drugs trade south of the border, on how many people are using different drugs, and on what the impact of those drugs is. Is it not time that we had quality research into factual ways of determining policy in Scotland—research that is at least as good as what is available south of the border?

The First Minister: It is vital that our approach covers all the different areas in which we must have an impact through policy, funding and the other decisions that we make. We do that not by reference to the Home Office but by reference to what is happening here in Scotland.

If Mr Stevenson indeed watches the matter carefully, he will see that in certain areas the Home Office and the United Kingdom Government are learning from what is happening in Scotland. That is good, and such an approach helps us because drug dealers do not exist in either Scotland or England but move across the border.

Aside from Professor McKeganey's report, the report entitled "Hidden Harm: Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users", on which an action plan will be published this spring, was also produced in 2003. We know from that report, and from the widespread consultations that are important if we want to bring together everyone who works in the drugs field, that we need to improve drugs education in every school in Scotland and that not only the police but—critically—our Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency must take certain educational and enforcement measures. Indeed, the Parliament will debate this afternoon the creation of an agency with wider powers, among other issues. Furthermore, we need to ensure that the money that we retrieve from dealers through convictions is reinvested in the community to tackle any damage that has been caused.

Evidence has shown that those actions must be taken, and the changes and adaptations in policy, the new laws that have been created and the new funding that has been allocated in recent years have all been based on that reality. We will continue to do those things and more.

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