HC Deb 14 January 1987 vol 108 cc253-4
8. Sir Russell Johnston

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will provide specific financial resources to enable local authorities to make provision for alcohol rehabilitation centres.

Mr. Mackay

No, Sir. It is for local authorities to decide their own spending priorities within the available resources. Government grants are made to voluntary bodies which provide designated places under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980.

Sir Russell Johnston

It is now seven years since the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 was introduced and we have still only one rehabilitation centre in Scotland. Does the Minister agree that the reason for this is that the Government are unwilling to make any financial commitment beyond three years, and for that reason local authorities are unwilling to take on something for which they feel they will not be able to pay? That policy was again enunciated by the Government in a letter to Highland region in November last year about the proposed centre at Inverness. Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider it there and elsewhere in Scotland?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman ought to understand what pump-priming is about. It is an exercise to encourage the voluntary sector to set up these projects. We have put a lot of money into them, in capital terms, and we have helped them in the first three years in revenue terms. Indeed, in the case of Albyn House, we have gone on to help it for a fourth year. But these matters are the responsibility of local authorities. We are prepared to back voluntary projects to get them off the ground, and then local authorities will have to take over the main line funding. It is a method of encouraging projects, and I am keen to see more of them. I just wish that more projects would be brought forward.

Mr. Hirst

Is my hon. Friend aware that Low Moss prison and Bishopbriggs have been doing valuable work in the treatment of alcohol offenders? Nevertheless, does my hon. Friend agree that alcohol treatment centres such as Albyn House in Aberdeen are far more appropriate places in which to treat offenders who are guilty of drunken and disorderly offences? Does he agree that if such a change were to come about it would help to reduce prison overcrowding?

Mr. MacKay

I agree that Albyn House has been successful. As I have already said, we are keen to help voluntary projects, if they are brought forward. We have one in Dundee, but we are having an awful lot of trouble with it. It is in trouble with Tayside regional council, which has refused a certificate of registration under the Act to the Dundee proposal. This is very discouraging.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does the Minister not realise that alcohol is a very intractable problem and that what is required is not merely a local aspect to the treatment and rehabilitation of the people affected but a national aspect? Money needs to be spent on centres to help these people. Sometimes a one-to-one approach is required.

Mr. Mackay

The hon. Gentleman has widened the question a little from designated centres. He is right to say that it is a difficult and intractable problem. The health boards try to play their part by providing facilities and resources and advice to people who have an alcohol problem. Help is also given by some of the voluntary bodies, which do excellent work.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I accept that the Albyn House experiment has been highly successful and is consistent with the objectives of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, but does the Minister accept that it is both unhelpful and hypocritical of the Government to endorse the principle without supplying resources so that local authorities are able to make such establishments available? Will resources be made available, or will local authorities be rate-capped if they pursue the Government's objectives?

Mr. MacKay

That kind of resource is part and parcel of local authorities' social work resources. As for providing money for social work to local authorities, since the financial year 1982–83 to the one that we are just entering we have increased resources in real terms by about 12 per cent. That is a very significant increase in resources. Local authorities have to look to their priorities. If the hon. Gentleman were to suggest to his friends in COSLA that they should give this group a little higher priority, I might be able to agree with him.