HC Deb 05 June 1980 vol 985 cc1663-5
11. Mr. Best

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the treatment of alcoholic offenders.

Mr. Brittan

Treatment facilities for alcoholic offenders not in custody are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. For those received in prison suffering from alcoholism, prison medical officers supervise treatment. In many prisons psychiatrically qualified medical officers and visiting consultant psychiatrists are available to offer psychotherapy if this is indicated. A few prisons have specialist units. Most others have an Alcoholics Anonymous group or a group offering counselling about drink-related problems.

Mr. Best

My hon. and learned Friend knows that many prisoners are alcoholics and should not be in prison at all. It is now nine years since we had a Home Office report recommending the setting up of detoxification centres round the country. I know that there have been experiments in Leeds and Manchester. When will my hon. and learned Friend come forward to the House with recommendations? Is not the period of assessment of those two centres nearing completion? We must have an answer soon as to what will happen to these people.

Mr. Brittan

As far as those two centres are concerned, the result of the assessments will be for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to consider. I understand that the outcome of the assessments is likely to be available next year.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, as his hon. Friend said, it is inappropriate to put drunken offenders in prison? Does he agree that the £30,000 that the Home Secretary has given to the wet shelters, though welcome, is too small for the needs that are evident, particularly as a large proportion of the deaths in police custody occur as a result of alcoholic poisoning? Will the hon. and learned Gentleman now answer his hon. Friend and say when the proposals and the recommendations of the 1971 report will be implemented by his Department?

Mr. Brittan

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that imprisonment is an inappropriate penalty for drunkenness. Nobody doubts that. The people to whom the hon. Gentleman refers are, on the whole, fine defaulters. The measure referred to by the hon. Gentleman relating to wet shelters is designed to prevent alcoholics from going through the criminal justice system at all. The £30,000 is meant to start the project off. I hope that other money will be available. Consultations about that are taking place. This is only the beginning.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Is my hon. and learned Friend able to say what the average sentence is for an alcoholic offender and what is the recidivism rate among such people?

Mr. Brittan

It is impossible to give an average sentence for alcoholic offenders because the term " alcoholism " is not a specific one. There is a large number of people in prison who are there for ordinary offences but who also have alcoholic problems. But the specific problem of people going to prison because the have not paid fines imposed for drunkenness is one which we are approaching in the way that I have described.

Mrs. Renée Short

If the Minister accepts that it is absolutely pointless to put alcoholics in our overcrowded old prisons, what proposals does he have to increase the facilities for treating alcoholics properly in places such as Grendon Underwood?

Mr. Brittan

I mentioned the existence of facilities in my opening answer. In addition to Grendon there are Wormwood Scrubs, Holloway and Feltham borstal which provide facilities of this kind. We are now examining them to ascertain the extent to which they can be extended.

Mr. Barry Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible to have a wet shelter for No. 10 Downing Street?

Mr. Speaker

That does not arise out of that question.