HC Deb 02 February 1998 vol 305 cc701-2
1. Mr. Corbett

What recent estimate he has made of the amount of drug-related crime. [24612]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

My hon. Friend may be aware that the Home Office is conducting research into this phenomenon. We hope to publish the results in the next few months. The research shows, as we suspected, a strong link between drug use and crime.

Mr. Corbett

Given that the criminal activities of drug offenders are estimated to cost £1.5 billion, will my hon. Friend ensure that the Home Office works closely with the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health so that there is a combined attempt to tackle the causes of drug abuse, rather than merely its symptoms? Will he confirm that personal responsibility is a better antidote to drug abuse than are chemical substances?

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend is right. It is necessary for all Departments to work together on the matter. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister established a high-powered committee, chaired by the President of the Council, with exactly that objective. The United Kingdom anti-drugs co-ordinator, Keith Hellawell, was appointed for that purpose. He is examining those links, where money is spent and where it could be better spent in the future. Of course, personal responsibility is an important concept which, if taken seriously, leads people away from, rather than towards, drug abuse.

Sir Brian Mawhinney

Bearing in mind the fact that supplying drugs to prisoners is a crime, can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many people were charged with supplying drugs to prisoners in the past year? In an attempt to bring that number down, will he undertake to make available to each prison ring-fenced money so that each may have a trained drug detection dog available for prison visits?

Mr. Howarth

I do not have to hand information on the number of visitors who have been caught taking drugs into prisons, but I shall write to the right hon. Gentleman. It is important to stress that that is a prominent way in which drugs are getting into prisons. The right hon. Gentleman is right; it is an offence to take drugs into prisons. There is an increasing tendency to use sniffer dogs, passively or actively. The Prison Service and individual prisons are considering that.

We are concerned about the prevalence of drug abuse in prisons. The Prison Service is conducting research into precisely what is going on. We hope to report the findings in due course. Many useful drug initiatives are taking place in the Prison Service, ranging from counselling to detoxification. We are committed to such programmes as well as to the extension of a voluntary drug testing unit in each prison, as resources permit and over time.

Ms Abbott

Is my hon. Friend aware that in prisons such as Holloway many women go in drug-free and come out with a serious drug habit because of the easy availability of drugs? Is he aware that many people in the voluntary sector who work in prisons believe that some prison officers are bringing drugs into prisons? Is he prepared to see them tested, as well as visitors?

Mr. Howarth

On my hon. Friend's last point, it is often asserted that that is the case, although unfortunately—perhaps I should say fortunately—there is no evidence that prison officers are responsible for bringing drugs into prisons. If there were, we would have to consider introducing voluntary testing. My hon. Friend points out that it is not unknown for people to go into prison—a women's prison or a male establishment—drug-free and to acquire a habit in prison. There is concern about that and it is why we have programmes to deal with it: counselling, detoxification, or voluntary testing regimes. Mandatory drug testing is already done randomly in each prison.