HC Deb 13 January 1997 vol 288 cc104-14

'.The Powers of Criminal Courts Act 1973 shall be amended in Schedule 1A by adding the following paragraph—

  1. "7.(1) This paragraph applies where a court proposing to make a probation order or a combination order is satisfied—
    1. (a) that the offender is using a Class A drug;
    2. (b) that his use caused or contributed to the offence in respect of which the order is proposed to be made; and
    3. (c) that his use is such as may be susceptible to treatment.
  2. (2) The court shall not form such an opinion as is mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) above unless it has obtained a pre-sentence report and a drugs test.
  3. (3) The probation order or combination order shall, subject to sub-paragraph (6) below, include a requirement that the offender shall submit to drug testing and drug abuse treatment by or under the direction of a person having the necessary qualification or experience with a view to the reduction or elimination of the offender's drug use.
  4. (4) The testing required by such an order and by subparagraph (2) above shall be by provision of a sample of urine for the purpose of ascertaining whether he has any drugs in his body.
  5. (5) The treatment required by any such order shall be such one of the following kinds of treatment as may be specified in the order—
    1. (a) treatment as a resident in such institution or place as may be specified in the order;
    2. (b) treatment as a non-resident in or at such institution or place as may be so specified: or
    3. (c) treatment by or under the direction of such person having the necessary qualifications or experience as may be so specified.
  6. (6) A court shall not by virtue of this paragraph include in a probation or combination order a requirement that the offender shall submit to testing or treatment for his drug use unless it considers that such a requirement is appropriate in all the circumstances and it is satisfied that the arrangements have been made for the testing and treatment intended to be specified in the order.
  7. (7) The court shall review the offender's progress four weeks after making the order, and thereafter at intervals of not more than four weeks and not more than four months.
  8. (8) While the offender is under treatment as a resident in pursuance of a requirement of the probation or combination order, the probation officer responsible for his supervision 105 shall carry out the supervision to such an extent only as may be necessary for the purpose of the revocation or amendment of the order.
  9. (9) Where the person by whom or under whose direction an offender is being treated for dependency is of the opinion that part of the treatment can be better or more conveniently given in or at an institution or place which—
    1. (a) is not specified in the order; and
    2. (b) is one in or at which the treatment of the offender will be given by or under the direction of a person having the necessary qualifications or experience.
    he may make arrangements for him to be treated accordingly.
  10. (10) Where any such arrangements as are mentioned in subparagraph (9) above are made for the treatment of an offender—
    1. (a) the person by whom the arrangements are made shall give notice in writing to the probation officer responsible for the supervision of the offender, specifying the institutions or place in or at which the treatment is to be carried out; and
    2. (b) the treatment provided for by the arrangements shall be deemed to be treatment to which he is required to submit in pursuance of the probation or combination order.".'. — [Mr. George Howarth.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. George Howarth

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

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 13—Court to be aware of provision in custody for certain dependent offenders— 'It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make available to any court passing a custodial sentence upon any offender whom the court believes to be dependent on drugs or alcohol an assessment of the provision available in any prison or other custodial institution to which the offender is liable to be committed of facilities for providing treatment appropriate to his condition.'.

Mr. Howarth

In Committee, we debated a new clause that had a similar effect to new clause 7, which would allow for the rehabilitation and treatment of problem drug users to be recommended as part of a sentence. New clause 13 would be consequential on new clause 7 and would empower the courts to recognise that a treatment and testing order was available in those circumstances.

I suspect that the Minister will argue that the new clause is unnecessary—that is what he said in Committee when he opposed the similar proposal—but evidence suggests that we need treatment and testing orders because the current arrangements do not serve us well. We seek an effective course of action that is permissive rather than prescriptive. The courts should have the option of imposing treatment alongside punishment as an effective way to deal with drug abuse and drug-related crime. We want to present the courts and offenders not with a soft option, but with a means of providing a system that deters and deals with drug abuse and drug-related offending.

The new clause is based on Labour's treatment and testing programmes in a document entitled "Breaking the Vicious Circle", launched by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) during our conference in October. A number of arguments can be used to support the proposals. First, treatment is a humanitarian imperative, not in the sense that it lets people off or gives them a way out of proper punishment but because it takes effective action to deal with the causes of other kinds of offending behaviour.

Secondly, a great deal of crime is drug driven. If we can remove the incentive to steal and get involved in crime because people are no longer dependent on drugs, we shall make an important contribution. Good empirical evidence suggests that approximately half of all property crime—burglary and other acquisitive crime—is committed by people seeking to feed their drug habit. The Metropolitan police commissioner recently estimated that, in his police area, the true figure is more like 60 per cent. —so in our capital city and elsewhere there is a powerful incentive to deal more coherently with the cause as well as the effect of drug-related crime and drug offences.

Another important argument in this context is that drugs in prisons are closely associated with prison disturbances. Drug treatment would reduce demand in prison. I shall talk later about the effects of mandatory drug testing, but there can be no doubt, not least on the basis of the reports of Her Majesty's inspector of prisons, that there are far too many drugs in our prison system and that drugs can lead to disorderly behaviour. They lead to offences within the prison system and can lead to serious disturbances. We may deal later with the statistics that underpin those arguments.

Mandatory drug testing has revealed a steady increase in hard drugs—opiate-based drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine—during 1996. In other words, drug abuse in prisons has shifted away from cannabis to harder drugs.

The Government seem to have no information on the amount of time that prisoners spend in drug rehabilitation. The source for that observation is the Official Report of 29 November 1996, columns 450–52. The Government cannot evaluate how much of a prisoner's period of incarceration might be devoted to drug rehabilitation in appropriate cases. It is important for us to understand the relationship between treatment, offending and drug abuse.

There is a significant amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the time spent in rehabilitation in prison is decreasing. That might result from the reductions in expenditure that have recently taken place in the Prison Service, but we would need to study a great deal more evidence before arriving at that conclusion.

There are two additional reasons why the new clause merits support. Before I deal with those, it is important to make the point that all drug abuse, whether it takes place in prisons, in nightclubs, in the streets or in people's homes, is wrong. It is right and proper for us to maintain that position whether we are dealing with cannabis or with harder drugs. It is right that those who are apprehended for trading in drugs or using them are properly punished; it is also right that where drug abuse is a habitual part of people's lives, treatment should be available, as well as punishment. The siren voices calling for decriminalisation or a more permissive attitude towards drug abuse will in the long run serve neither those who are caught up in the vicious cycle of drug abuse, nor society in the wider context. They may believe that there is a humanitarian aspect to their argument, but it dissolves on closer examination.

I mentioned two other reasons for supporting the new clause. The first is the point made by Justice—not an organisation with which I always agree—that drug rehabilitation and treatment may no longer be an option under the Bill. If that argument can be sustained, the new clause would rectify such an omission by setting out in detail where the House stands.

Secondly, if direction on treatment were available in guidance issued by the Home Office, judicial discretion through the courts could be maintained, at least in part. That would mean that the courts could make clear judgments about the most appropriate way of dealing with individual cases.

The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile), speaking from his experience as a recorder at Hereford Crown court, said that in some cases the courts find it difficult to deal with drug-related offences because of the many complicating factors involved. Home Office direction would make life easier for those in the courts who deal with such cases.

Since March 1996, when mandatory drug testing was introduced in all prisons—we agreed with that move—the scale of drug abuse in prisons has become clear. Initial conclusions show a disturbing shift away from cannabis use—which is wrong and unacceptable—to harder forms of drugs, particularly opiates. That shift is evidenced by a number of factors. Since the introduction of mandatory drug testing in prisons—I shall cite the statistics in a moment—there has been a shift from cannabis interceptions to interceptions of various forms of opiate.

The Minister and I have disagreed about the figures in the past, but I hope that we shall agree on a conclusion tonight. One of the reasons for the shift is that cannabis remains detectable in the blood for up to 28 days, whereas opiates remain detectable for only two to four days. It has been claimed that prisoners are switching from cannabis to opiates to evade detection. Statistics bear out that claim, and there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that that is occurring in the prison system. In the normal course of my duties as a shadow home affairs spokesman, I visit many prisons where people tell me about that trend.

9.30 pm

Between 1 March 1996 and 30 September 1996, the percentage of random drug tests showing positive for opiates increased from 5.94 per cent. to 6.35 per cent. If my mathematics have not let me down, that represents an increase of about 7 per cent. in the number of prisoners testing positive for opiates. If we project that figure on to the entire prison population, the number of prisoners regularly using opiates has increased from 3,192 to 3,595.

The fact that prisoners change to hard drugs to escape detection suggests that the figures underestimate the extent of opiate use. I received a letter today from Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, who said: Like so many things connected with the drugs scene, I am suspicious of all statistics … I expect that it"— he is referring to the use of heroin in prisons— is considerably higher than the figures disclosed. That is an authoritative source in support of my argument, and it is a view based on evidence gathered during recent prison inspections. During an interview for the journal Focus, the Minister of State who has responsibility for the Prison Service refused to acknowledge the problem of a shift in usage from cannabis to harder drugs in prisons. She said: there is precious little evidence that this shift to opiate use is happening. I do not wish to be disrespectful to the hon. Lady—perhaps I shall be if I am pushed hard enough—but I would rather accept the evidence of the chief inspector of prisons, who speaks to the relevant people and has more experience and greater exposure to what is occurring in the prison system, than the hon. Lady's comments during an interview.

We are concerned about the perceived move from abuse of cannabis—which is bad enough-to harder drugs. We must face the fact that many prisoners—particularly younger inmates—who at present take no drugs, or who use cannabis, may begin to take harder drugs during their period of incarceration. If that is what is going on, we should be very concerned indeed. One reason why the new clause should be given a fair wind and accepted is that such factors, and the ability to treat people while they are in the prison system, should be given greater prominence.

Apart from the cost of administering mandatory drugs testing in the Prison Service, each positive test results in an additional number of days in prison. There was a total of 7,618 such punishments between March and September of last year, which led to an extra 112,354 days in prison. There is nothing wrong with that. That was the system that was introduced, we supported it, and if people are going to get involved in drug abuse, they must be prepared to accept the consequences. If we could treat them and stop them from abusing drugs while in the prison system, however, that would prevent their serving extra days in prison. It would also yield savings to the Treasury.

I estimate that, at an average cost of about £400 per prisoner per week, the expenditure arising from extra days in prison has amounted to more than £864,000 since March 1996. It is a very large amount. If that is added to the initial start-up costs, which were assessed at £948,840, we realise that the amounts involved are substantial. In addition, each test costs, on average, £45.52—and between March and September there were 47,425 tests. The running costs of the tests alone are £2,158,786. The costs of the problem are enormous and it is in everybody's interest, not least the Exchequer, that we get to grips with it.

We have consistently argued the case for rehabilitation of drug users. There are examples of good practice, not least of which is the excellent scheme at Her Majesty's prison Downview, of which I shall say a little more later. I have had the opportunity to visit it. If the Under-Secretary has not been there to see what goes on, I suggest that he does so. One thing that is abundantly clear is that if we deal with those who are convicted of drugs or drug-related offences by treating them, there is a strong possibility that that takes away the incentive to get involved in drug abuse in future. That has to be worth while.

The Government, however, appear to have little if any knowledge of the amount of drug rehabilitation that occurs in the Prison Service. When we ask them questions about it, they seemed to confuse rehabilitation and detoxification and have information only about detoxification which, although worth while, is not the whole answer to the problem. It is clear that we need a system that does not encourage prisoners who use soft drugs to take harder drugs, or lead those who take no drugs to start taking harder drugs.

If we are to make progress, mandatory drugs testing, although welcome and necessary, is inadequate to deal with the problem. Under the current system, there is a danger that we will send the small-time cannabis user and dealer to prison and release him seven years later as a confirmed heroin addict. The need for an option to include mandatory treatment is therefore obvious.

There is international evidence to support the claims that I am making. In California, an evaluation of the FIRST—fast, intensive, report, supervision and treatment—programme, which reviewed the work of the drug court programme in Oakland, showed impressive savings in terms of custody costs to the Alameda county sheriff's department. Last October,I visited Alameda county, which has a drug court programme. We could replicate elements of that interesting experiment in our system. The evaluation showed that the average number of arrests per defendant during the three-year period following the arraignment was reduced by about 40 per cent. if they had been through the drug court process. A cost-benefit analysis from the same report showed that those who had been diverted from custody into treatment spent approximately 34,000 fewer days in custody.

I also saw what was being done in Miami. An evaluation of the drug court in Dade county suggested that closely monitored drug treatment had extremely positive results. A comparison of defendants who had been in the programme with similar defendants who had not drew some interesting and useful conclusions. Defendants in the programme had lower incarceration rates, less frequent re-arrests and longer times before re-arrest—about three times as long. Clearly, the experiments in diversion are working in the state of Miami.

A study of the intensive, 18-month programme that is run by Osteraker prison in Sweden showed significantly reduced rates of recidivism and drug relapse since 1979, when the scheme was introduced. A 1992 study showed that recidivism over a six-year period was 58 per cent. higher in a control group than it was in a group of people participating in the programme.

Her Majesty's prison Downview provides a more local example. The chief inspector of prisons said: We are particularly impressed by the"— drug rehabilitation— scheme at Downview which has developed a special residential programme for drug users in conjunction with the Addictive Diseases Trust". The evidence for that conclusion is in a report produced in March 1996—which the Home Office has received—entitled "The ADT Drug Treatment Programme at HMP Downview". That study found that applicants had been dependent on drugs for an average of nine years, so they were well-established drug users of one kind or another. It also found that the overwhelming majority of applicants identified their habit as the main cause of their offending, whatever its precise nature. All but one of the sample studied had stayed drug-free since joining the programme's pre-admission group. That finding was supported by the use of drug tests, which I think were voluntary. Moreover, 21 of the 23 graduates of the programme had not used drugs since completing the programme.

The evidence in support of the new clause is overwhelming. When we debated this matter in Committee, the Minister said that such provision was unnecessary, and cited Downview as evidence that such schemes already exist. The existing programmes and the action that is being taken, welcome though they are, are merely nibbling at the edges. An increasing number of drug-dependent criminals find their way into the prison system and end up in a worse state by the time they finish their sentences. That is unacceptable, it is certainly not cost-effective, and it is not the way in which the general public expect the prison system to work.

We offer an option for—not a compulsion on—the courts. Courts should take into account the fact that drug abuse is part of the crime, and that the offender is involved in crime because he is also involved in drug abuse. In suitable cases, defendants could be diverted into treatment programmes either within the prison system or outside it if appropriate. That has to be a good move. The Minister will have to produce some powerful arguments to convince me—and, I hope, the House—that new clause 7 is not worthy of support.It represents a better way forward and if he has no solid arguments against it, I hope that the House will support it.

9.45 pm
Mr. Sackville

The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) is absolutely right to sing the praises of drug treatment as an alternative to prison and to say that there should be such treatment in prison, for all the reasons that he set out. However, he was also right to predict that I would say that the new clause was unnecessary, for the very simple reason that schedule 1A to the Powers of the Criminal Courts Act 1973, supported by the Criminal Justice Act 1991, provides all the necessary legislation to give courts the power to pass community sentences that are conditional upon following drug treatment. It is all there and nothing more needs to be added to the statute book.

There are many examples. The most significant is in Plymouth, where the Devon probation service is running a drug assessment and stabilisation programme. If the hon. Gentleman has not already done so, I recommend that he should see it. The probation service has purchased 100 places on a drug treatment programme. When I visited it, 94 of those places were taken up by individuals who had not gone to prison, but who had been given a community sentence, with drug treatment provided immediately—hence the necessity to purchase those places—by the local community drug service.

The scheme has proved successful. Very few have dropped out and breached their community sentence. It appeared that all those who were on the programme were not simply avoiding prison, but wanted to get off drugs and had been offered an opportunity to do so. Therefore, they had a dual motive.

As I said, the legislation is already in place. We have to persuade the courts, the police, probation and health services and other drug treatment providers to get together in such a way that the courts would have the confidence to say that although certain individuals would normally be sent to prison, because they appeared willing to follow a drug treatment programme, society would be better served if they stayed out of prison. Those individuals would probably reduce their offending or eradicate it altogether and have a good chance of remaining off drugs. We want to encourage that. All the drug action teams around the country should be encouraging exactly those arrangements between the courts, the probation service and local drag treatment, perhaps through local health authorities. I make that point whenever I visit drug action teams.

I do not entirely understand a number of points in the new clause. For example, the hon. Gentleman proposes that only those who have been involved with class A drugs should receive the sentence envisaged in the new clause. However, when not injected, amphetamines are class B drugs, so an entire category of drug users who, according to some surveys, account for some 30 per cent. of local offenders, would be excluded. There are a number of reasons why the new clause is unsatisfactory, but it is particularly unsatisfactory because the relevant legislation is already on the statute book.

The hon. Gentleman rightly says that drug treatment should be available in prisons and proposes that courts should be able to demand some assessment of what drug treatment is available. That certainly should not be a major part of sentencing policy. Sentencing should be performed on the basis of the seriousness of the crime. It is up to the Prison Service to decide how to allocate prisoners and where they should be treated.

The hon. Gentleman may think that the new clause would stimulate the provision of more drug treatment in prisons, but there has already been great progress. There are now between 50 and 60 schemes in prisons. He mentioned one of the schemes, at Downview. I visited one of its sister schemes, at Pentonville, which is also run on the 12-steps basis by the Rehabilitation of Addicted Prisoners Trust—although, as he said, it was previously known as the Addictive Diseases Trust. Those prisoners—some of whom have been taking drugs for years, literally in and out of prison—seem to have the expectation of getting off drugs. Such schemes should be encouraged.

As I said, there has been an enormous growth in the number and variety of drug treatment schemes offered in prisons. Treatment has been stimulated further by mandatory drug testing in prisons. However, it is not necessarily possible to accelerate further the process. We must find drug treatment schemes that are accepted by staff and, ultimately, by prisoners—because prisoners who have drug treatment or who enter drug-free wings are essentially volunteers. That process is already happening.

I do not want to sound complacent, because for years there was very little progress on drug treatment in prisons. We witnessed the ridiculous spectacle of people who may not have been drug users entering prison, but who came out, typically, as heroin addicts. The growth in treatment schemes is welcome.

In his speech, the hon. Gentleman made a point that he has already made in Committee and elsewhere, about the apparent switch from cannabis use to heroin and other opiate use in prisons. As he said, according to the best figures available, opiate use is now at 7 or 8 per cent. Some of the increase may be due—I believe that it is a misconception—to prisoners' belief that it is easier to get away with opiate use. The figures are skewed also because one would have to be an extremely heavy cannabis user to reach the 28-day mark mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. It is likely that the trend has been affected more by the unfortunate fact that there is a great deal of cheap heroin around.

Mr. George Howarth

The Minister has made that point before, and I know that he has received medical advice to support it. I have taken a fairly broad range of medical advice on the matter, and I should tell him that the issue is contentious. He may have received such advice, but many experts would disagree strongly with it.

Mr. Sackville

I agree that a switch from one drug to any other drug in prisons—particularly a switch from cannabis to opiates—is worrying. Drug use is a health matter that greatly concerns the Government, and much is being done to reduce such use in prisons. However, drug use is a matter not only of treatment but of stopping drugs from getting into prisons—by supervising visits, by imposing sanctions against those found to be bringing drugs into prisons and by using a series of new disciplinary offences and practices, which is already happening in prisons.

Although the hon. Member for Knowsley, North and I do not disagree on the basics, I think that new clause 7 is mainly a device to make some virtuous-sounding remarks on the problem of drugs in prisons. I agree with those remarks, but I do not believe that his new clause adds anything to action that is already being taken. Therefore, I cannot advise the House to accept it.

Mr. Soley

That was one of the most incredibly complacent speeches that I have heard for many years from a Home Office Minister. Any visitor from outer space who examined the Home Office's own research would know without a shadow of a doubt that most offences committed in the United Kingdom are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is high time that we started taking the matter more seriously.

Mr. Sackville

Nothing that I have said contradicts that proposition.

Mr. Soley

Precisely. Then let us do something about it. That is what I am arguing for.

The Minister should focus on new clause 13, because it is very important. With so many offences being committed by people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, why do we not have a range of treatments available in every prison in Britain? The Minister must know as well as I do that, often, people with a history of drug or alcohol abuse are discharged from prison with nowhere to go. The first decision that they have to make is whether to turn left or right when they get outside the prison gate.

I shall tell the Minister a true story drawn from my experience as a probation officer. I know that similar situations occur today. John Healey wrote a book on alcohol abuse, called "The Grass Arena", which was then made into a BBC 2 film that won an award at the Edinburgh festival. He was in and out of prison over and over. At that time—the 1970s—only limited alcohol abuse programmes were available in prison, but at least we had a significant number of programmes outside prison. Those programmes—or at least those funded by public expenditure—have been reduced by the Government. We tried to fit an offender coming out of prison into one of those programmes so that, even if they had accommodation and job problems, they had somewhere to go.

On one of the occasions related in his book, which is one of the most powerful books written about a vagrant alcoholic and how to get off drink—perhaps the Minister ought to read it to understand the problem—John Healey wrote to me from prison. I had spoken in court, suggesting that he should have a prison sentence to keep him there until the new year so that I could then get him into the Lee clinic in Oxfordshire, which provided one of the best treatment programmes for alcoholics.

However, the court and I had miscalculated the remission period. The result was that I suddenly got a desperate letter from Mr. Healey, saying that he would be released on Christmas eve. We had nowhere to put him and no treatment facilities. He had had no treatment for alcohol abuse during his three months in prison. At that time, the best that a prisoner could get was an offer of a place on the alcohol abuse programme.

I went to see the prison governor, who rightly pointed out that he could not keep Mr. Healey in prison until the new year. The only way to get round the problem, as the governor suggested, was for Mr. Healey to commit a minor offence in prison, so that the governor could give him an extra seven days and keep him in until the new year. Mr. Healey wanted to be kept in so that he could take advantage of the Lee clinic programme.

That was a deeply unsatisfactory solution, so we trawled through Mr. Healey's many previous convictions, among which was an unpaid fine. I went back to the court and asked the magistrate to give seven days in lieu of that unpaid fine. The magistrate did so and we kept John Healey in prison until 2 January.

Such situations still occur. I am not asking for a grand scheme to keep people in prison beyond the court's sentence, but if the appropriate treatment facilities were available in prison, we would be able to spot the problem long before it arose, not a week or two before the discharge date.

There is no coherent overall strategy on drug or alcohol treatment in prison, but drugs and alcohol are two of the major causes—if not the major causes—of crime in Britain. For the Minister to say that we already have enough programmes in place is unadulterated nonsense. Those programmes are not there. People are being discharged without any treatment.

Drug abuse and alcohol abuse are notoriously difficult to treat in or out of prison. It is no good just saying that we know that a particular offender has a drug or alcohol problem, so we should encourage them to join Alcoholics Anonymous or another programme. The problem needs to be worked on over a long period, perhaps over several prison sentences.

The Minister ought to recognise that new clause 13 offers an opportunity to rethink the way in which we address problems concerning addiction in our prisons—indeed, the way in which we address an abuse of a substance, be it alcohol or drugs, which leads to repeated patterns of offending. We ought to consider the matter again, so that we can direct a person to an appropriate treatment regime in prison.

Until we reach the stage where, after the sentencing procedure and after a person has been sentenced to imprisonment, we are able to try one type of regime for one person and recognise that we might have to try a number of different treatment programmes or patterns for a particular individual—instead of relying on one and giving up if it fails—nobody, but nobody, can say that we are taking the problem seriously.

The Government are yet again about pretending that they are doing something about crime while literally ignoring all its causes. As long as they go on doing that, they will continue to preside over a disastrous increase in crime—

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.