HC Deb 04 July 1996 vol 280 cc1037-8
3. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to combat the use of drugs in prisons. [34519]

Mr. Howard

Since last April we have introduced mandatory drug testing in all prison establishments. All establishments have also produced local strategies for reducing the supply of and the demand for drugs.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. How successful has that policy been? Does he recall that he received no support in voting for those measures from the Labour party or from the Liberal party? They tried to say one thing in the media but failed to support the policies in the House. Will he confirm that it is absolutely essential that we clean out drugs from our prisons, because a prisoner coming out who is dependent on drugs almost certainly will go back to a life of crime?

Mr. Howard

I agree with my hon. Friend. I think that it is too early in the mandatory drug testing programme to be definitive about its success, although the latest figures for those testing positive—at 27.6 per cent., which, of course, is still far too high—show a welcome reduction on the 37 per cent. who tested positive in the first month of the introduction of the programme in February last year. Although there is more to be done, the signs are encouraging.

Mr. Bermingham

Can the Home Secretary please tell me how he can reconcile, first, an expected expansion of 7,000 in the total prison population by April next year; secondly, an expected 1,200 reduction in the number of prison officers because of the 5 per cent. to 13 per cent. cuts; and, thirdly, a total freeze on recruitment in the Prison Service? When he is reducing the numbers of officers and increasing the numbers of prisoners, how can he ever have an effective drug policy—unless he introduces drug-free wings in prisons, and perhaps uses specialists who can begin to educated prisoners away from the drug habit?

Mr. Howard

We are doing both of the things that the hon. Gentleman suggests. In particular, a significant increase is under way in the number of prisons in which drug treatment programmes are available. The hon. Gentleman is quite right and I entirely accept that, in addition to mandatory drug testing, we need more treatment available in our prisons. That is exactly what we are providing.

Dame Jill Knight

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that the largest proportion of drugs going into prisons come from visitors visiting inmates? Does he accept that there is a very real need to stop that, particularly by stopping visitors and inmates touching, which is so often how drugs are passed?

Mr. Howard

I agree with a good deal of what my hon. Friend says. In particular, we are introducing on a pilot basis closed visits for those who have been found to be in possession of drugs who are suspected of having had those drugs passed to them through visiting, in precisely the way that my hon. Friend has suggests. We are determined to do all that we can to root out the disgraceful state of affairs in which drugs are taken in our prisons, and closed visits may have an important part to play in achieving that objective.