HC Deb 13 December 1996 vol 287 cc561-78

Order for Second Reading read.

12.57 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

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

It is a pleasureߞand something of an ironyߞto have the privilege of moving the Second Reading of this Bill after the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) so deftly took his Bill through its Second Reading. It is ironic, because my wife opposed him when he was first elected for Provan in 1987.

It is nice that we are now working on the same side on law and order, because the House used to give a false impression of what law and order was about. It used to give the impression that the only people who were concerned about it were a small coterie of Conservative Back Benchers who caused grief for Ministers but reflected a wide band of public opinion that was deeply concerned about the matter.

This debate, and the Bill of the hon. Member for Provan, show that concern for law and order exists across the House. It is a great concern of the British people and all politicians in the House are anxious, in our own ways, to bring more peace and tranquillity to our streets, cities and rural areas. The Bill, which I have great pleasure to introduce on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward), who unfortunately cannot be here due to other duties to which he is attending, is presented in the same spirit.

The Prison Service is an integral part of the law and order system. I wholeheartedly agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that our prisons should be decent but austere. I am reminded of an occasion that must be familiar to many right hon. and hon. Members as they ferry their families backwards and forwards from their constituencies to Westminster. My two boys were misbehaving in the back of the car and one of them had failed to put his seat belt on. My good lady wife turned round to him and said, "If you don't put your seat belt on, a policeman will see you and you will go to prison and get nothing but bread and water." It occurred to us then that prison might offer rather an adventure to an energetic seven-year-old, not only because of the decent conditions, but because of the table tennis, the videos, the workshops and the extra-mural activities, not to mention the rather freer environment in some of our prisons than we would expect. We need look no further than some recent incidents, which have finished up being the subject of controversial debates on the Floor of the House about the nature of prisons and the lack of control in them, to understand how important it is that we maintain the objective of a decent but austere prison service. If I said to my seven-year-old son that he would have to suffer decent but austere conditions, I hope that he might, in future, understand that that means a punishment.

I am delighted to have the opportunity to introduce the Bill, which would give the Prison Service the power to test prisoners for alcohol. I may have to seek the forgiveness of the House when I admit that I was somewhat surprised to discover that prison officers did not already have that power. Even though we had previously introduced legislation to introduce mandatory drug testing in prisons, this lack of power represents a gap in the legislation governing England and Wales.

The Bill would enable a prison officer to take a sample of breath, urine, or any non-intimate sample, from a prisoner in any type of prison establishment for the purposes of ascertaining whether there is any alcohol in that prisoner's body. It is a logical extension of the powers already in force for mandatory drug testing, enacted by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The introduction of alcohol testing would support amendments to the prison rules made in September 1996 to include disciplinary offences relating to the consumption of alcohol. Previously, prisoners could be punished only if they were found in possession of alcohol, or offended against good order and discipline after drinking it. Without more objective means of analysis, which would be provided by formal testing, the available evidence would often be insufficient to take disciplinary action. The new power would also enable checks to be made on whether a prisoner was complying with the condition that prohibits the consumption of alcohol in a temporary release licence given to him.

The need for that new power has been identified by Prison Service staff and boards of visitors. Alcohol consumption in custody appears to be a more serious problem in open prisons, where the low level of security and use of temporary release licences facilitate the smuggling of alcohol. In more secure prisons, such smuggling is more difficult because of the physical barriers and the searching of prisoners and visitors. The consumption of alcohol by prisoners released on temporary licence is also a serious cause of concern to communities close to prisons. The powers in the Bill would make a major contribution to tackling those problems.

Clause 1 amends the Prison Act 1952 by inserting a new section 16B. That section gives a prison officer the power, subject to an authorisation from the governor, and subject to the prison rules, to require any prisoner to provide a sample of breath for the purpose of ascertaining whether he or she has alcohol in their body.

The authorisation may require a prisoner to provide a sample of urine, whether instead of or in addition to a sample of breath and a non-intimate sample of any other description, not being a sample of breath or urine. The Bill contains that flexibility so that whatever is the most appropriate technology for the time being, for the prisoner or for the prison, it may be used. The power extends to young offender institutions, remand centres and secure training centres. The circumstances in which the power may be exercised, and ancillary matters, will be set out in the rules.

Clause 2 makes it clear that, in the case of a contracted-out prison, the requisite authorisation is to be given by the director. Clause 3 provides for the short title, commencement and extent of the Bill. The Bill extends only to England and Wales. However, the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, currently before the House, makes similar provision for Scotland.

I hope that I have given the House a fair and accurate description of the aims, principles and content of the Bill. On its own, it will not solve the problems of prisoners drinking while in custody or released on temporary licence, but it will give the Prison Service a method of accurately assessing whether a prisoner has consumed alcohol. There are many facilities available to prisoners who are abusing alcohol. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous detoxification centres are available to help prisoners with an alcohol problem. However, the importance of the Bill is that it gives a means of effective discipline and authority to the prison officers who are responsible for maintaining proper order in prisons. I commend the Bill to the House.

1.6 pm

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). This is a useful Bill that will help to determine whether a prisoner has broken the conditions of his licence. Incidentally, drugs tests were recently introduced in prisons. I understand that they are successful and that there have been few difficulties in implementing them.

One benefit of testing is that it can identify prisoners with a drugs or drink problem, and they can then receive treatment. I am very interested in this subject. In fact, I spent a large part of last Friday in my local prisonߞLincoln prison. I was let out without any problem. I received a great deal of local information that I want to share with the House. I have also contacted the Prison Officers Association and other organisations because it is important that we press my right hon. Friend the Minister on several points relating to the Bill, and this is an opportunity so to do.

The Home Office considers that no additional funding will be needed for testing. I want to press my right hon. Friend on that in my few brief remarks. I have seen press reports that an alcometer can cost in excess of £700. Apparently, one was bought by the governor of Hewell Grange, a country house prison in Redditch. That is disclosed in a report by Judge Stephen Tumim, the former chief inspector of prisons. He questioned the legality of making inmates take a test; hence this Bill.

In that report, prisoners are quoted as saying that, if someone is on a four-day leave, the ban on alcohol is virtually unenforceable. They may not drink on the final day, but they will drink as much as they want in the preceding days. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North has a solution to that; he probably does not. It is something that should worry us all.

We could solve some of the problems by taking urine samples, but the POA tells me that, if we insist on them, there could be considerable cost implications. That process also takes much longer. The prisoner has a right of appeal against a breath test. There is a concern that officers would have an additional duty placed on them when they are already under severe pressure. We want more information from my right hon. Friend the Minister about what exactly will be done in the routine procedures when prisoners return to prison and how much additional burden will be placed on prison officers.

There are no data on the number of prisoners found drunk, or on seizures of alcohol in prisons. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has found that there is a significantly higher level of drinking among prisoners prior to imprisonment than is the case in the general population. Indeed, it is four times higher.

I have spoken at length to representatives of the Prison Officers Association, andߞalthough they are representatives of a trade unionߞpresumably they know what they are talking about. They may have an axe to grind, but we should listen carefully to what they have to say about the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Minister should reply to the points that they have made. They say that the Bill's most important provision is for testing prisoners returning from temporary licence, which would help deal with the rules being broken. They told me, however, that no extra resources would be provided to police such provision, and that there would be problems should testing prove to be time-consuming.

In the past 12 months, the number of prison officers has been reduced by 2,200–800 through natural wastage, and 1,400 through voluntary redundancy. New officers are being recruited only when it is vital to make replacements. During the same period, however, the prison population has increased. It has increased by 14,000 since the current Home Secretary assumed his duties, and it is rising by 250 to 300 a week. The effect of the rise on resources should worry us.

We all support what the Home Secretary is doing, and most of our constituents believe very strongly that the only way in which to deal with crimeߞwhich is endemic among younger peopleߞis to put people in prison, but we must provide the necessary resources. If the number of prisoners is rising by 250 to 300 a week, that has very severe resource implications for the Home Office and for the Treasury.

Will prisons soon be at crisis point? The POA thinks that they will, although the Minister would undoubtedly deny it. I do not knowߞbut we need some answers. Some people suggest that prisons will be at saturation level by next March or April; others suggest February. Some action is clearly required, and more officers will have to be recruited. Overcrowding does not affect private prisons, because there is a clause in their contracts stating that they cannot be overcrowded.

Is alcohol or drugs the main cause of disturbance in prisons? Are they the main problem affecting good order? Would the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North make a great deal of difference? On 8 September 1996, The Sunday Times quoted Mark Healey, a national executive member of the POA, as stating: But it must he remembered that a main cause of disturbance in jail is overcrowding. In October 1995, there was a disturbance at Coldingley prison in Surrey. Prisoners fought pitched battles with officers to defend a still in the kitchens, where more than 20 gallons of hooch were discovered.

Alcohol in prisons is a real problem, although it is not perhaps so severe as that of drugs. Drugs are used in prison either by those who are addicted to them or by those who use them as currency. As I observed last week during my visit, there is definitely a black market in drink and drugs in Lincoln prison. Prisoners make illicit drink in, perhaps, most prisons, and they can be very cunning in doing so. Last week, I saw some of the contraptions that they use to make drink and drugs in Lincoln prison.

In January 1996, in Wolds prison in east Yorkshire, stills were found behind panels in the television room. In Ashwell prison in Leicestershire, stills were found in the trunking behind a lavatory. In Leyhill open prison in Gloucestershire, six bottles of whisky, 53 bottles of cider and 40 bottles of beer were found. My hon. Friend's Bill will have some impact on dissuading prisoners from going on a drinking spree in the few hours before they return from licence, but the examples I have given illustrate the main problemߞwhat is happening inside prisonsߞwhich will not be solved by the Bill.

There are some very worrying statistics. A 1989 mental health survey found that 8.6 per cent. of prisoners had an alcohol dependency, whereas a 1995 study stated that 15 per cent. of prisoners had such a problem. In 1995, drug-testing trials were conducted and, in some gaols, it was discovered that two thirds of inmates tested positive. That percentage is staggering. Prisons are humane placesߞas I have seen for myselfߞin which prisoners are not put on a diet of bread and water, but people are supposed to be sent away to prison by society. We should pause for a moment and consider those percentages. The 1995 trial found that, in some gaols, two thirds of inmates tested positive for drugs. By the end of July this year, 34,496 prisoners had been tested, of whom 30 per cent. proved positive-23 per cent. for cannabis and 7 per cent. for heroin.

One hesitates to use a word like "crisis", but I do not think that the public know about these problems. They think that prisoners are locked away out of sight, out of mind, but if the statistics are true they should be a cause of great concern.

The Minister of State will rightly argue that funding for the Prison Service has increased, but I want to question him a little more closely about that. The Home Office recently announced its 1997 prison spending plans in the combined Budget and autumn statement, which said that funding for the Prison Service in 1997–98 will increase by £230 million on 1996–97 plans, with provision for 8,600 new prison places by March 2000.

That sounds like a lot of money and, at first sight, we might think that everything was fine, but when I rang the Prison Officers Association I was told that the increase was only £85 million. I therefore checked with the Library to see whether funding had indeed increased by £230 million, or by only £85 million. The Library told me that the true increase is only £111 million on the estimated expenditure for the last financial year. That is a cause for concern, and we need to be reassured that the necessary resources will be available.

Not only resources, but overcrowding, is the problem. New prisonsߞprivate prisonsߞare being built, and I welcome that, but there may be a need for even more. I am worried that the Home Office will decide to use the former RAF base at Scamptonߞin fact, it is still an RAF base, as it is used partly for married quarters, although the actual Air Force base has closedߞas a prison. It might decide to use the Finningley base.

The rumour mill is working at fever pitch in Lincoln, and I am told that Scampton is off the hot list. I have written to my right hon. Friend the Minister about it. We need to know what is happening as soon as possible because the future of RAF Scampton could be blighted. I want to be reassured that, although the Home Office has use of Scampton, it will not persevere with the proposal to use it as a prison.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to answer my questions. I welcome the Bill; it does no harm, but it does not get to the nub of the problem. We should be very concerned about what is happening in our prisons with regard to drugs and drink.

I am immensely impressed by the hard work that prison governors and officers put into running our prisons. From what I have seen, prisons are run humanely. Fundamentally, however, they deal with young men between the ages of 18 and 25ߞat least, they form the bulk of the prison population. If those young people are being corrupted wholesale not only with drinkߞalthough they might get over thatߞbut with drugs, we should be very worried.

1.17 pm
Sir Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I should like to support the Bill and take this opportunity to remind my right hon. Friend the Minister of State of the report issued last year by the all-party group on alcohol misuse, which examined the links between alcohol and crime. Those links take several forms. The obvious one is that of young men having a night out, drinking too much and getting involved in crime. However, alcoholics may commit crime as a feature of their alcoholism or, in some cases, literally to feed their addiction. Evidence given to the group by the National Association of Probation Officers, and which stemmed from a survey it carried out in 1994, revealed that 58 per cent. of prisoners have severe alcohol problems. That is a worrying figure.

Some hon. Members may have heard of a report just issued in the British Medical Journal giving details of a survey on the mental health of remand prisoners. It found that 63 per cent. of them had psychiatric disorders, of whom 38 per cent. were involved in substance abuse. That includes drugs as well as alcohol, but it is certainly a substantial figure.

My hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) have talked about the consequences of the Bill. There is no point in having the facilities suggested in the Bill unless action is taken on what the tests reveal. It is important that there should be treatment for those who are found to have an alcohol problem in prison.

I emphasise the need for such services in prison because the evidence shows that provision is woefully inadequate. Paragraph 9.13 of the all-party report that I have already mentioned says: Several organisations giving evidence stressed that services are currently reaching too few people. Alcohol services may reach 20–30 people in prison populations of 800 and with massive throughputs. The report comments on the desirability of a comprehensive assessment system for potential alcoholics in prisons and of proper services being available to them. In most parts of the country, local voluntary agencies would be able to assist with such work for a relatively modest cost. I sit on the management committee of a local alcohol advisory service that would be willing to co-operate.

Alcoholism is a real problem. It is particularly serious in prison. Where we haveߞliterallyߞa captive audience for treatment, we should ensure that they get it.

1.21 pm
Mr. Piers Merchant (Beckenham)

I, too, strongly support the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) on introducing it today. Like him, I was surprised that the power in question did not exist. We are well past the time when it should have been introduced.

I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and learned from his personal experience of being in prison for a dayߞsome people think that he should be in for longer. He gave us an eloquent description of the extent of the alcohol problem in British prisons. The Bill has been drafted to deal with that. The aim is to have more effective means of controlling alcohol in prisons by making it possible to obtain the necessary evidence to pursue those who have clearly been drinking but cannot be brought to book, and by providing an enforceable deterrent.

We should consider briefly why alcohol and prisons do not mix. It might seem obvious, but the reasons need restating. First, the presence of alcohol in prisons runs against maintaining good order and discipline. For that reason, it should not be permitted. Secondly, prison is, in part, a punishment as well as a means of removing from circulation someone who is a danger to the public and a means of rehabilitation. It is hardly a punishment to put a prisoner behind bars and then allow him to live the life of Riley, replete with provisions of alcohol.

The public have rightly been offended by revelations in newspapers and elsewhere, along the lines described by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, that there is clear evidence of massive alcohol and drug abuse in certain prisons. Any steps that may reduce that abuse are welcome.

A third problem with alcohol in prisons is the way in which the prison mafia uses alcohol as a means of control, and as a means of exploitation and raising money. There are examples of groups of particularly tough criminals in prisons using alcohol to barter and as the basis of extending their influence and control. To that extent too, it is necessary to stamp out alcohol in prisons and the Bill will help us to do that.

I now have a question for my right hon. Friend the Minister. What will be the impact of the Bill running alongside the European convention on human rights? I know that the mandatory drug-testing regime has been questioned under the European convention. No cases have been successful so far, but there have been suggestions that mandatory drug testing runs foul of article 3 of the European convention, which refers to unnecessary and degrading punishment. I find it difficult to see how that argument can be sustained, but I know that there have been attempts to sustain it with respect to the taking of urine samples. Such testing is included in the Bill.

Mr. Leigh

My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which was particularly put to me by the governor of Lincoln prison. Prisoners are immensely cunning about hiding drugs, many of which are received from visitors because it is easy for them to pass drugs over. If mandatory testing is not allowed, we shall not be able to stamp out the problem. If prisons had mandatory testing at regular intervals for drink and drugs, prisoners could be punished by being given extra time and we could thus get a grip on this huge problem.

Mr. Merchant

Yes. I should add that the Bill does not provide for random testing for alcohol. There has to be reasonable suspicion, although grounds for reasonable suspicion could include the smell of alcohol on someone's breath, which is fairly clear. However, that reasonable suspicion would need to be proved, which is what testing is about.

I mentioned article 3 of the European convention. Some may argue that article 8.1 brings into question the powers contained in the Bill. Article 8.1 refers to respect for a person, his family, his home and so on. Although article 8.2 limits the extent to which article 8.1 can be argued, it provides a possible area of contradiction to the Bill and that concerns me. I have some problems with the European convention in any case, especially as it is applied by a court outside this country. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that, as far as he can best judge, there will not be a problem and that the Bill can be used effectively by those charged with responsibility for prisons without them fearing that someone will put a hand on their shoulder and prevent them from using a power that is necessary to maintain good order and the proper purpose of prisons.

1.28 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Maclean)

The Government are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) for introducing the Bill, which will give the Prison Service an additional method of controlling prisoners who consume alcohol in prison or while released on temporary licence.

Alcohol is a serious cause of concern to communities close to prisons, and can be the cause of violence and disorder within prisons. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill so ably this morning. When it is eventually passed, it will give us a better hold over the wrong things prisoners do in prisons or on temporary release.

Many prisoners have a history of alcohol abuse which has caused them to commit a range of criminal offences. Indeed, some are serving sentences for offences committed while under the influence of alcohol, and it is clearly in their interest and in the interest of the public to find some way of controlling their consumption.

Although it is impossible accurately to assess in how many cases an offence was committed because alcohol was consumed, a clear association has been established between alcohol and crimes of violence and disorder. In 1988, in response to a survey of 604 young offenders, 25 per cent. said that they were drunk when committing their current offence, while a further 16 per cent. had been drinking previously. Studies of violent offences and disorderly behaviour consistently show that 20 to 30 per cent. of such incidents take place in or near licensed premises. In the prison population, with its far higher proportion of violent and disorderly individuals, the consumption of alcohol can cause serious problems of order and control.

I should like to set out some of the background and recent events which have led to the introduction of the Bill.

During 1995, representations were received from the boards of visitors at HMP Ford and HMP Stanford Hill, who expressed concern that governors should be able to impose breathalyser tests on prisoners. Advice received at the time made it clear that the imposition of breath tests on prisoners was unlawful. That concern provided the spur for the proposed legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North and I were surprised at the existence of that gap in our legal powers.

Governors were made aware of the legal position and the substantial powers that they already possessed to control the more obvious cases of misuse of alcohol. They included the facility to include in the terms of a licence under which a prisoner may be temporarily released a condition to restrictߞor in some cases, prohibit entirelyߞthe consumption of alcohol.

In imposing such restrictions, each case has to be considered on its own merits as part of the risk assessment procedure that is applied to all such licences. A decision to prohibit all consumption of alcohol for all releases on temporary licence, whatever their purpose, may not be reasonable where there is no sign whatsoever that alcohol or loss of self-control has contributed in the pastߞor may contribute in the futureߞto offending behaviour by the individual. Where a prisoner has as the condition of his licence a condition prohibiting the consumption of alcohol or the excessive consumption of alcohol, he can be charged with breaching that licence if he returns to prison exhibiting signs of use of alcohol.

New conditions governing the release of prisoners on temporary licence were introduced in 1995. It is now a standard condition of all such licences that a prisoner must not enter a public house while he is subject to that licence. That condition was introduced as part of a number of measures to discourage inappropriate behaviour by prisoners released on temporary licence.

In addition, governors have existing powers for disciplinary action to be taken against prisoners if they are observed by a member of staff to be showing signs of being under the influence of alcohol. Those signs include slurred speech, loss of balance and breath smelling of alcoholic drink. Historically, prisoners showing signs of being under the influence of alcohol have always been subject to a charge if they commit a disciplinary offence while under the influence of alcohol.

The most common alcohol-related examples relate to prisoners who are clearly rowdy or disorderly. I such cases, paragraph 21 of the disciplinary code, which relates to offending against good order and discipline", can be used, provided that it can be demonstrated exactly how the prisoner offended against good order and discipline, introducing the consumption of alcohol as an aggravating factor in such a charge.

Prison establishments also had the authority to introduce a local rule prohibiting the consumption of alcohol within the establishment. In those circumstances, prisoners who exhibited signs of being under the influence of alcohol and were known to have been subject to prison or young offenders institution rules when the alcohol was consumed could then be charged under paragraph 20 with failing to comply with any rule or regulation.

In response to the concerns that had been raised, and pending the provision of primary legislation for the purpose of testing prisoners for alcohol, in September 1996 we introduced new disciplinary offences relating to alcohol consumption into the prison discipline manual. The new paragraph 8B provides a charge that a prisoner is intoxicated wholly or partly as a consequence of knowingly consuming any alcoholic beverage. That is the more serious of the two new disciplinary charges. It concerns the prisoner who is clearly intoxicated, in contrast to the one who may merely have consumed a small amount of alcohol.

In order to be satisfied of guilt, the adjudicator would have to be convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was intoxicated. Presently, if, after hearing the evidence, the adjudicator is convinced that the accused's behaviour was elated beyond the point of self-control, that will satisfy the test of intoxication. It is not sufficient evidence for a finding of guilt if it is demonstrated that the behaviour was caused merely by sky-larking or an excess of high spirits.

Paragraph 8C of the new disciplinary manual cites the second, less serious new disciplinary offence. It provides a charge for a prisoner who knowingly consumes alcohol other than any prescribed to him pursuant to a written order of the medical officer under prison rule 22 or YOI rule 18. That charge concerns the prisoner who, although not intoxicated, has knowingly consumed alcohol that had not been prescribed for him or her.

For the charge to be proven, the adjudicator has to be satisfied, among other things, that the observed behaviour was the consequence of consuming alcoholic beverage. It is not necessary to prove intoxication, and the evidence should be such that it would lead a reasonable and right-thinking person to conclude that the accused had consumed alcohol.

I make no apologies for describing the present disciplinary rules, becauseߞmy hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North said that it came as some surprise to himߞthere appeared to be a lacuna of not being able to force prisoners to undertake alcohol tests. I wanted to show the House that the Prison Service has done all that it possibly can to draw to the attention of prisoners the fact that the consumption of alcohol will not be permitted, and they will face serious disciplinary charges if they are caught drinking alcohol. It is absolutely right that we have taken those powers to try to plug the gap until we can take the new statutory powers to give the Prison Service a right to test prisoners for alcohol.

I hope that I have given the House sufficient background to make clear the context in which the powers to enable prison officers to require a prisoner to provide a sample for the purposes of testing for alcohol will have real value.

The introduction of two new prison rules specifically concerning charges relating to the consumption of alcohol has already assisted in enabling prison staff to lay charges appropriate to the offending behaviour that they have observed. Formal testing, enabled through the powers to be conferred by the Bill, will provide objective evidence that will greatly assist the proving of charges through the adjudication process in any case where there is a suspicion that alcohol has been misused.

It will be as good a breakthrough in the Prison Service as the breathalyser was in improving police methods of testing motorists. Previously, motorists had to walk along white lines or try to touch their nose with their finger, and all such stuff.

The Bill will enable a prison officer to require a prisoner to provide a sample of breath for the purposes of ascertaining whether they have any alcohol in their body. In addition, a prison officer will also be enabled to require a prisoner to provide a sample of urine or any non-intimate sampleߞsuch as sweat or non-pubic hairߞfor the same purpose. The power is defined in that manner so that the most cost-effective use can be made of technological advances that may assist the testing process and are consistent with our needs.

Mr. Leigh

The governor of Lincoln prison told me that the problem with drugs arises from not being able to conduct intimate searches. Prisoners often swallow drugs in condoms and by one or two other means. Until prison officers and governors can make intimate searches, we shall never deal with the problem; yet, if we were to introduce such a power through a Bill or a new regulation, the European Court of Justice would immediately intervene. How does my right hon. Friend think that we can make progress on that front?

Mr. Maclean

I was going to deal later in my speech with the points my hon. Friend raises, but since he mentions drugs, I will talk about them now. We have introduced the mandatory drug testing regime. It is giving us useful information that we did not have before, and has identified the scale of the problem.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend that the solution to the problem necessarily lies in giving prison officers the power to conduct intimate searches for drugs. That takes the defeatist view, although I am sure my hon. Friend did not mean to do so, that drugs will inevitably get to prisoners, and that the only way to stop it is by having intimate searches.

We can stop more drugs getting to prisoners as a first step, and that has been done through the use of sniffer dogs. While the Prison Service is not my area of ministerial responsibility, I think I am right in saying that nearly every prison now has a sniffer dog at its doorstep to discourage people from bringing in drugs. If not all prisons have such dogs yet, the vast majority do. A civil servant told me that they had an amazing effect, because, when relatives visited their loved ones in prison and saw the sniffer dog, many suddenly decided they had to go back to their cars. Perhaps they had left some important item there, or the "present" they were bringing their loved one was no longer thought appropriate.

Measures to stop drugs getting into prisons are crucial. They may include more closed visits, more restrictions on loved ones meeting in prisons, or treatment of those prisoners identified as having drug problems. Many prisoners are voluntarily keen to dry out, and the drug-free wings are having considerable success. At the moment, I do not see that the lack of a power of intimate search is defeating our objectives on the prison drug problem.

Mr. Leigh

If, after all the measures are fully implemented, they are found not to be effective, will my right hon. Friend consider reopening the issue of intimate searches? Incidentally, in my earlier intervention I mentioned the European Court of Justice, but I meant, of course, the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr. Maclean

I was not going to pick up my hon. Friend on that point, because I know that he holds both courts in equally high esteemߞas do I, of course. I can assure my hon. Friend that, once we have implemented all the measures on drugs, we will keep the possible need for further measures under constant review.

The restrictions on intimate searching apply not only to prison officers, but to police officers. Most police and prison officers do not want the power of intimate searching, because they are not skilled at it. It should be left to medical practitioners or skilled nurses, and they regard it as essential to their oath of practice that they have the consent of the person who is being intimately searched. Such powers would have ECHR implications, and I do not wish to go into those today. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) is right to flag up the issue as a potential problem, but I believe that we can avoid it.

In testing for alcohol, the marvellous advantage of the breathalyser is that it cannot have any ECHR implicationsߞa point about which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) expressed concern. The Bill will allow not only testing via the breathalyser, but various other types of sample to be taken.

We have put that provision in the Bill because, although the breathalyser now seems the best, easiest and cheapest bet, technologies change rapidly, and urine testing may turn out to be a cheaper method in the future. In the future, we may be able to take an alcohol analysis accurately and cheaply from a sample of hair, although that is not possible now. If it becomes possible, we will have the appropriate powers in the Bill.

There may be ECHR implications in taking urine samples, but we have checked carefully, and we believe that the Bill does not flout any ECHR rules. We shall monitor carefully the implementation rules for prisoners giving urine samples to ensure that they do not fall foul of the ECHR, and also to ensure that the urine sample is not substituted by some other liquid and the purpose of the test defeated. Recently, the courts have been robust on that. They have ruled that there is no invasion of personal privacy if a prison officer is present and scrutinises the delivery of such a sample. I do not think the House would wish me to go into any more detailߞI certainly do not particularly want to.

I want to correct a slight misapprehension that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham had. He said that the testing in the Bill will take place only where there is reasonable suspicion. That is not true. The Bill gives a general power to take samples and to carry out testing in general.

When the Bill is passed, however, it will be our intention to keep the random testing powers for use in prisons where there may be a particular problem, and therefore where random testing may be appropriate. In the main, however, random testing will take place in the 13 open prisons where there is a greater alcohol misuse problem. In those circumstances, we will be targeting it and using the test of reasonable suspicion in the prison rules.

I think that I have dealt with most of the points that my hon. Friends have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle asked about the funding position. He is right. Alcometers or testing machines cost about £600 apiece, and the breathalyser sample bags, or whatever, are about £2 each; but we are not talking about installing this equipment overnight in 130 prisons and testing 50,000 prisoners.

The problem exists not in all but in some of the 13 open prisons. We will consider them first. We will need to invest £600 in the machine and £2 in each breathalyser in some of those prisons, to deal with some of the prisoners who may be causing the problem. The resource implications, therefore, are not great, and they can be dealt with within the Prison Service's overall budget.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

My right hon. Friend is talking about the use of breathalysers as the normal method for testing for alcohol. Does he agree with the advice that I have taken, that there is no question of the use of a breathalyser falling foul of the European Court of Human Rights? Even if the prisoner initially refuses to give a breath sample, he can be compelled to give one, without any possibility of it being used as an invasion of his privacy or degrading treatment in a state institution.

Mr. Maclean

I happily confirm that. The ECHR could be called in only in relation to taking urine samples from prisoners and the prisoner being watched by a prison officer while the sample was taken. A breath test could in no way fall foul of any of the ECHR's provisions in relation to rights to privacy.

Powers to test prisoners for alcohol are a logical extension of the powers already in force for mandatory drug testing enacted by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The MDT insertion into the Prison Act 1952 has been invaluable in helping the service to identify the size of the problem of drug taking in prisons. As I have said, it has gone some way to help reduce the misuse of drugs in prison, as part of the overall strategy to reduce drug misuse there. I hope that this Bill will in its turn go some way towards reducing alcohol misuse in prisons.

The need for this new power and to curb the problems mentioned earlier has, as I have already said, been identified by Prison Service staff and by boards of visitors at prisons, especially open prisons and others that may have prisoners released on temporary licence. It is in the open prisons where it is relatively easy to bring alcohol into the prison. That is because the low level of security and the use of temporary release facilitate the smuggling of alcohol.

It is much more difficult in closed prisons, owing to their higher level of security, stronger physical barriers and greater emphasis on searching and related procedures. Sometimes, however, there are finds of illicitly brewed alcohol, or hooch, at establishments with higher security.

Final decisions have yet to be made about the process through which these powers will be implemented in Prison Service establishments. It may be sensible to commence that process at those open and lower-security establishments where a clear need has already been identified. The Bill will provide powers for samples to be taken in any Prison Service establishment in England and Wales. The circumstances under which the powers will be used, together with ancillary matters, will be set out in the prison rules.

The consumption of alcohol by prisoners who are released on temporary licence has in the past caused problems for innocent people in the community, friends and families of prisoners who are released on temporary licence, other prisoners in open prisons who are trying to get off alcohol and who may be pushed into temptation, and the prison staff who have to deal with prisoners who are under the influence of alcohol. The introduction of formal testing will send a clear message to prisoners that the consumption of alcohol within prisonsߞor whilst released on a temporary licence with the condition of not consuming alcoholߞwill not be tolerated.

The Bill will make it less likely that prisoners will succumb to the excessive consumption of alcohol when they are released on temporary licence. This in turn should provide reassurance to the public, and will send a signal that, while prisons should be decent but austere, prisoners are not there to get ready access to alcohol. If they are released on licence to do good work in the community and to participate in employment before being released properly into the community, we do not want them coming back to prison under the influence of alcohol.

Unfortunately, there are examples of that happening, and there are tales that one could tell about prisoners returning to prison the worse for wear. That is unfortunate, and prison officers use all their power to try to stop it.

I have described the rules and disciplinary charges that will be in force. By bringing in a simple and easy method of measuring whether prisoners have been on the booze or not, the Bill will immensely help the Prison Service to crack down on the problem. The Bill will provide excellent measures in addition to those already taken by the Prison Service to tackle the problems which can arise from the consumption of alcohol by prisoners.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North gave a full description of the main contents of the Bill, and I shall not repeat them. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle referred to RAF Scampton, but I cannot give him a reply today. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who will deal with them in due course in the nicest possible way. The Government warmly welcome the Bill and wish it well during the remainder of its passage through the House and another place.

1.51 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) on introducing the Bill. I believe that he acts as a sort of stepfather for the legislationߞperhaps he is a godfather, I am not sure. He will have been pleased by the response of the Minister, and I am glad that I can also respond positively to the Bill.

The hon. Member argued persuasively that prisons should be austere but well-ordered places, but I do not recognise the picture he painted as the atmosphere of all the prisons that I have visited. There is a considerable variety in atmosphere and regime in prisons, and some prisons are neither decent nor austere. The reduction of education in prisons, the limits of probation service involvement, the failure to prepare prisoners for release under the pressure of overcrowding and cuts in cash are having an impact on the effectiveness of some prisons in the key objective of returning prisoners to the community, having served their sentence, less likely to offend again. There is always the danger that prisons may turn out ex-offenders who are more likely to re-offend, and to reoffend more seriously. That is not an argument for being soft, but it is an argument for being effective.

The Bill will help in one area of organisation and discipline. It is a small but important step, rather than the solution to the problemߞas, I am sure, the hon. Member for Colchester, North will acknowledge. It has been difficult to be sure about the extent of the problem, although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is serious. In trying to find out the extent of the problem, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones), asked the Home Secretary in 1994 to give the number of those with drug or alcohol problems currently being held in prison in the United Kingdom. The responsibility for answering was diverted to the Director General of the Prison Service, who answered in this way: During 1993 the Home Office Addicts Index was notified of 3,764 drug addicts identified by prison medical officers within the United Kingdom. Prisoners addicted to alcohol are not reflected within this figure. There are currently no central records of the number of alcohol addicted prisoners in England and Wales."ߞ[Official Report, 29 November 1994; Vol. 250, c. 558–59.] In his speech, the Minister of State said that the picture of drug dependency in prisons is now known a great deal more accurately as a result of the testing allowed under recent legislation, but the situation in relation to alcohol remains unclear.

The report published in the British Medical Journal today shows that a high proportion of prisoners with psychiatric problems also have alcohol and drug problems. Sir David Ramsbotham told the "Today" programme, which seems to have received a remarkable amount of attention from the House this morning, that many prisoners in the categories covered in the report were made worse by prison. I hope that that gives a greater impetus for hon. Members on both sides of the House to tackle the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak asked in February 1995: how many finds of illicit alcohol were made in gaols in England and Wales for each year since 1990. Again, the reply was delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who responded: This information is not routinely kept by the Prison Service."ߞ[Official Report, 27 February 1995; Vol. 255, c. 408.] The hon. Member for Chislehurst (Sir R. Sims) referred to the report of the all-party group on alcohol misuse, in which he has played a leading part since we re-formed it a few years ago. As a former chairman of that group, I thought the report an excellent initiative by the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), who now chairs the group. The hearings were an education in themselves, the report was excellent and I commend the hon. Member for Chislehurst for his involvement and for the fact that he highlighted that valuable report in his contribution today.

The report is one of a number of serious and thoughtful analyses of the relationship between alcohol and crime, to which we need to give far greater attention. Much attention is rightly paid to the problem of drugs and drug-related crime, and we need to be much more focused in our attention to alcohol-related crime.

The report published today in the British Medical Journal refers to some 63 per cent. of remand prisoners having psychiatric problems of one sort or another, 9 per cent. being people who ought to be in special hospitals and a high proportion of all of those prisoners having drug and alcohol problems. That finding was based on an extensive piece of work involving three young offenders' institutions and 13 men's prisons.

The basic conclusion of the report was: Mental disorder was common among male unconvicted prisoners. Psychosis was present at four or five times the level found in the general population. Extrapolation of our results suggests that remand population as a whole probably contains about 680 men who need transfer to hospital for psychiatric treatment, including about 380 prisoners with serious mental illness. The British Medical Journal also referred to an article in the publication "Medical Science Law", entitled "Alcohol-related offending in male special hospital patients", which said: Alcohol abusers were responsible for a disproportionately high number of offences of murder and manslaughter. That underlines the fact that the issue that we are dealing with is important, although the legislation is narrow and extremely targeted.

Reference has already been made to the governor of an open prison who purchased equipment because prisoners were returning from temporary release the worse for drink, and to the fact that the chief inspector of prisons questioned the legality of making inmates take a test. It is welcome that the Bill deals with that question of legality.

Many other steps need to be taken to deal satisfactorily with the problem. Organisations such as the Prison Reform Trust have argued that work with young problem drinkers and drug users should be oriented towards their release from prison and that a release package including a stay at a detoxification unit may be suitable in some cases.

When I spoke to the chief constable in Edinburgh last year, expecting to concentrate mainly on drug-related crime, I was impressed by the way in which he and his colleagues strongly underlined the impact of drink and drink-related offences on their work.

In addition to the findings of organisations such as the all-party group, which was referred to earlier, the Home Office has produced its own findings. In 1987, the working group on young people and alcohol said: Studies of violent offences, and of disorderly behaviour falling short of serious violence, coming to the notice of the police, consistently show that 20–30 per cent of the incidents take place in or near licensed premises. Studies in several city centres in England and Wales have showed that almost half the incidents of disorderly behaviour dealt with by the police occur shortly after the end of permitted drinking hours". Against that background, the way in which offenders are dealt with in prison becomes important. We must make it more likely that people on leaving prison do not behave in a way that takes them back into offending.

The Bill is important and helpful, but I want to underline the fact that the report in the British Medical Journal shows in stark terms that a great deal needs to be done on treatment and rehabilitation of offenders, and that much more of that should be done in prisons. There is a particular need to do a great deal more in respect of the psychiatric treatment of prisoners but, as the parliamentary questions to which I referred earlier demonstrate, not enough attention has been given to research, collation of information and monitoring of the problems of alcohol misuse among the prison population.

I commend and support the Bill, but I hope that it will be used, as the Minister said that testing for drug misuse had been used, to ensure that in the future we have a clear and accurate picture of what is happening in our prisons, so that Governments can develop policies to target the real problems inside and outside prison.

2.2 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin

I thank all those who have contributed to the debate and supported the Bill, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), for Chislehurst (Sir R. Sims) and for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), my right hon. Friend the Minister, and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). I look forward to the Bill going to Committee. I intend to visit Chelmsford prison, the nearest prison to my constituency, next week, and I hope that we shall have an informed debate.

I offer the House one further thought about how the powers of the Bill might be circumscribed by the obligations that we feel towards the European convention on human rights. Article 8, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham referred, states: Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. That is an invocation with which nobody in a civilised democracy could conceivably disagree. That is why, under the late Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, we subscribed to that convention. He would be turning in his grave if he thought that the convention, which was meant to stop Nazis and communists persecuting people in dictatorships, was being used to prevent legitimate authorities from imposing order and discipline on criminals in prisons. To describe that as a breach of fundamental human rights would stretch the imagination even of judges.

I am surprised that so many legal brains are taken in by such distortions. If such restrictions on our laws, on discipline in prisons, on how police act in police stations and on how teachers are allowed to act in schools continues, the growing scepticism that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has expressed towards the European Commission on Human Rights will be justified. We should not allow the Bill's powers to be circumscribed in the way that some people have advised.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).