HC Deb 13 July 1998 vol 316 cc10-2
10. Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs)

If he will make a statement on the number of prisoners taking drugs. [48404]

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

Although mandatory drug testing cannot be a complete measure of the prevalence of drug misuse in prisons, it gives the best estimate of the number of prisoners using illegal drugs. In 1997–98, 20.8 per cent. of random samples tested positive for drugs.

Mr. Flight

Does the Minister view that as a serious problem, and does he feel that there is a need for more than random sampling? What measures, if any, do the Government have to address the problem?

Mr. Howarth

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that at Ford open prison, which is in his constituency, the figure decreased from 17 per cent. in 1996–97 to 10 per cent. in 1997–98, which reflects a great improvement.

In April, the Prison Service issued a new strategy document, "Tackling Drug Misuse in Prisons", which advocates a new strategy in three areas: first, reducing the supply of drugs into prisons; secondly, reducing the demand for drugs and rehabilitating drug misusers; and thirdly, reducing the potential for damage to health. Drug misuse is a serious problem, which is why we conducted a review that led to the new strategy. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the problem very seriously and will continue to work hard to deal with it.

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

My hon. Friend will be aware, because he is my near neighbour, of the drug problem in north-west prisons. Will he join me in congratulating the officers and nurses at HMP Risley in my constituency on their work in setting up a detox unit in the prison which has finally received funding from the Prison Service? Does he agree that such initiatives are the way to tackle drugs in prisons and drug-related crime because they ensure that prisoners who enter prison addicted to drugs have at least some chance of being drug-free when they leave?

Mr. Howarth

I congratulate the prison staff at Risley on their work. It is important that we understand that the problem is declining. In 1996–97, 24.4 per cent. of mandatory drug tests were positive. That figure fell to 20.8 per cent. in 1997–98. Prisons take a number of different approaches, including detox, and all of them have a part to play. We are determined that, over time, any reasonable approach should be tested and, where appropriate, applied in the prison system.

Sir Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)

Nevertheless, does the Minister agree that we face a massive drugs problem in prisons? What extra measures is he taking to detect drug users and drug pushers in prisons? Above all, what is he doing to implement the chief inspector of prisons' proposals to prevent drugs getting into prisons in the first place?

Mr. Howarth

There are a number of measures. One of the ways of detecting drugs going into prisons is increased use of sniffer dogs. That programme is being developed. There are also good examples of strong warnings being issued to visitors to prisons. Several measures are being taken across the Prison Service, but we are not being complacent. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head without having heard the answer. We recognise that the bulk of drugs that come into prisons are brought in by visitors. The police and the Prison Service work closely together to intercept such visitors and serious action is taken against them. We are doing a great deal, but more can be done and we shall take whatever action is necessary.