HC Deb 12 June 2000 vol 351 cc740-7
Mr. Hawkins

I beg to move amendment No. 130, in page 25, line 16, after "A", insert "or Class B'

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 131, in page 25, line 27, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 132, in page 25, line 31, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 2, in page 25, line 32, at end insert— (c) the court is satisfied that an appropriate programme of drug treatment is available in the relevant area and can be provided for the offender.'. No. 3, in page 26, line 18, at end insert— '(d) where and when the treatment for drug abuse is to be made available to the offender.'. No. 133, in clause 43, page 26, line 41, after "A", insert "or Class B".

Government amendment No. 26.

No. 134, in clause 44, page 27, line 19, after "A" insert "or Class B".

No. 135, in page 27, line 29, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 136, in page 27, line 36, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 137, in page 27, line 38, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 145, in clause 52, page 35, line 17, after "A', insert "or Class B".

No. 146, in page 35, line 26, after "A', insert "or Class B".

No. 147, in page 36, line 23, after "A', insert "or Class B".

No. 148, in page 36, line 25, after "A', insert "or Class B".

No. 161, in clause 57, page 40, line 17, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 162, in clause 58, page 40, line 31, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 163, in clause 59, page 40, line 40, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 164, in page 40, line 42, after "A", insert "or Class B".

No. 165, in page 41, line 6, after "A", insert "or Class B". No. 168, in schedule 5, page 53, line 14, after "A", insert "or Class B".

Mr. Hawkins

Although there is a lengthy list of amendments in the group, the House will realise that they are largely consequential, one on another. There is one principle at stake: we believe that in the new regime that the Government are setting out, which we debated at length in Committee, they are unwise to restrict the operation of the provisions only to class A drugs. We recognise, of course, that class A drugs are the most serious, but we believe that it would be helpful if the Government added class B drugs.

I direct the Minister's attention to research carried out by the Home Office. In 1996 and 1997, the Home Office commissioned a research project at Cambridge university into drug use by arrestees. The project took place in five contrasting areas—Sunderland, Nottingham, Manchester, Cambridge and London. With respect to the recent drug consumption of those arrested, tests showed comparatively high levels—61 per cent. of those arrested had taken at least one illegal drug, and 27 per cent. tested positive for two or more drugs. The drug that was found most often in the tests, with 46 per cent. of arrestees testing positive for it, was cannabis.

10.15 pm

We have referred earlier—not only tonight but in Committee and on Second Reading—to the fact that many hon. Members have had extensive professional dealings with drug offenders. For example, some have prosecuted or defended them, while others have dealt with them through their work as social workers, probation officers or youth workers. However, no one who has been involved professionally can doubt that cannabis is the most prevalent drug.

When considering the causes of and influences on crime, I hope that we can agree that drug use is a major factor.

Jackie Ballard

I would be interested in the hon. Gentleman's answer to two questions. Given the well documented stronger link between alcohol misuse and crimes of violence, why has not the hon. Gentleman included alcohol in the amendment? What is the evidence that cannabis is linked to crime?

Mr. Hawkins

On the hon. Lady's second question, I point to the Home Office research on drug use, which I mentioned earlier. If the hon. Lady talked to police officers who are regularly involved in drugs work, they would say that many crimes are committed by those who have taken cannabis, or in order to raise funds to feed a cannabis habit. The hon. Lady shakes her head. We know that the Liberal Democrats have held some interesting views on the legalisation of cannabis. Liberal Democrat conferences have voted for it several times. I do not know whether the hon. Lady voted for it—perhaps she will tell us.

Jackie Ballard

To set the record straight, the vote in the Liberal Democrat conference was on whether to set up a royal commission to consider drug misuse, including the possible decriminalisation of cannabis. I voted for the establishment of such a royal commission.

Mr. Hawkins

When such matters are debated, we know where the Liberal Democrats are coming from. I note that the Minister smiles. On this occasion, the hon. Lady is being disingenuous; we know the views of many leading members of her party.

Mr. Simon Hughes

At least we vote for what we believe in.

Mr. Hawkins

The hon. Gentleman should do me the courtesy of acknowledging that I also vote for what I believe in. However, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's honesty in indicating his true beliefs on the issue that we are considering. We are holding an useful debate. Often, late at night, the truth will out in the Chamber.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman consider the first point that the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) made, about alcohol? The hon. Gentleman prayed in aid the large number of policemen who would state that there was a close relationship between crime and the use of cannabis. Does he agree that the same number of policemen habitually imbibe alcohol?

Mr. Hawkins

I am sure that, when off duty, many police officers enjoy a drink as much as the next man and certainly as much as this man. In Committee, the hon. Member for Taunton made great play of the fact that she was an abstainer. Through a question from the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall), we discovered that she even abstains from salt. If she is announcing a new Liberal Democrat—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are straying a little too far from the amendment.

Mr. Hawkins

Of course I respect your ruling as always, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However the hon. Lady asked whether alcohol should be included in the amendment. I was simply speculating about whether there was a new Liberal Democrat policy to introduce prohibition. I hope that that is not the case. That would mean that even fewer Liberal Democrats would be elected at the next general election. On current polls, there will be few anyway.

We are considering a serious matter. The official Opposition believe that class B drugs should be included in the orders. We look forward to the Minister's response. The issues that we are discussing should be considered very seriously.

Jackie Ballard

I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 2 and 3, which my hon. Friends and I tabled. I shall try not to rehearse the gist of the detailed arguments that we had in Committee.

Abstinence orders should not be imposed unless the court is satisfied that an appropriate programme of drug treatment is available in the court area and can be provided for offenders. Before making an order, the court should explain the effect of the order and the consequences of failure to abstain and also tell the offender where and when treatment is to be made available to him or her. It is widely accepted among those who work in the drugs field that class. A users will not stop or abstain from using such drugs just because the court tells them to. Indeed, if they have a persistent drug habit, they cannot abstain just because they are told to, and it may be dangerous if they do. Home Office guidance on drug treatment and testing orders states: Simply stopping taking a dependent drug can be serious and even life-threatening. Offenders who are dependent should be warned against sudden cessation of use in such cases. The simple requirement to abstain gives the impression that change can be instant, but we all know that it is not likely to be so. A positive test result would be a breach of the order. In Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, said that a probation officer would keep track of progress by using random drug testing. She said that research from the United States suggests that drug testing alone can deter drug use, but she was not aware of any long-term follow-up studies to see whether that continued beyond the point at which the testing stopped. The Minister of State said in Committee that coercion alone helps people to restore order to drug-abusive lives. Abstinence orders may not be effective in the short term—indeed, they may even be dangerous—and will not be effective in the long term without treatment.

I acknowledge the drink—[Laughter.] Acknowledging the drink and imbibing it are two different things. I meant to say that I acknowledge the link between class A drug abuse, addiction and acquisitive crime. Drug abuse is a chronic relapsing condition and drug treatment can make a positive and significant impact on abusers and addicts. People have to wait between eight weeks and 12 months for treatment in different parts of the country. The Home Office acknowledges the postcode lottery of availability of treatment, as was obvious from the Home Secretary's statement last week.

A few weeks ago, I asked the Home Secretary in this place if he would set a target for the maximum waiting time for drug treatment. None is in place at the moment and the Government still seem to be reluctant to have such a target. However, the report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs entitled "Alternatives to Prison Sentences" recommended that the Government set an objective for all drug misusing offenders who are given community sentences to have access to appropriate treatment. I agree with that recommendation and believe that offenders should be told explicitly by the court how the provision of treatment will help them to comply with an abstinence order.

I do not underestimate the extra resources that will be needed to provide treatment for all drug abusers. Indeed, I wonder whether the Government are reluctant to accept the amendment because they are aware that it will require extra resources.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

Is not one of the problems that there is an almost total absence of abstinence programmes across Britain? I am aware of only one professional programme in Greater Manchester, to which people are referred from the whole of the north-west. We need more abstinence programmes to help people through a period of coming off drugs.

Jackie Ballard

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. The gist of my argument is that imposing an abstinence order alone will not help people to come off drugs: they also need proper programmes to help them. That will also demand the provision of many more drugs advice workers, who will need to be recruited and trained, especially if we are not to end up with the only route to treatment being through the criminal justice system.

Studies in the United Kingdom and the United States show that for every pound spent on treatment of drug users, £3 is saved in the criminal justice system. Although there is certainly a resourcing issue in the short term, the criminal justice system would save money in the long term if the measures were successful.

If the Government really intend to tackle the problems of the link between class. A drug abuse and crime, they must invest more in the provision of treatment and speedier access to it. Without that, abstinence orders will be meaningless and will merely lead to more offenders ending up in the prison system.

Jane Kennedy

Although we had a lighthearted discussion of these issues in Committee, I acknowledge the serious points made by the hon. Member for Taunton (Jackie Ballard) in Committee and on the Floor of the House.

I shall deal first with the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and his colleagues. I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman by inviting my hon. Friends to resist his amendments if I cannot persuade him that there is no need to press them to a vote.

The amendments seek to add class B drugs, which include cannabis and amphetamine, to the specified class A drugs, heroin and cocaine, which will be tested for under our proposals. The Bill offers a comprehensive approach to drug misuse, and the remedy suggested in the amendments is too simplistic. Our proposals are based on sound research evidence. They are a proportionate response to the very serious problem posed to society by drug-related crime. There is no disagreement between hon. Members on the serious nature of that problem.

The hon. Gentleman helpfully drew attention to our drug testing of arrestees research programme. I shall refer to elements of the research that he did not highlight. It showed that property crime funded around 75 per cent. of the total income of arrestees. [Interruption.] "Arrestees" are those arrested. Unfortunately, "drug testing of arrestees" is the name of the research programme. We have been heavily into names during our debates. One third of arrestees' total income was spent buying heroin, crack and/or cocaine.

We have no compelling evidence at present to suggest that a similar link exists between other drugs—in class A or class B—and the commission of crime on a similar scale. If research evidence of a link involving other drugs becomes available, we will consider including those in the testing programme.

We are piloting the new regime to evaluate its effectiveness and to find out what works best before we decide how to roll it out further. Initially, we are concentrating the pilots on property criminals and on the drugs—heroin, crack and/or cocaine—that research tells us are most clearly associated with the drugs-crime cycle. The Bill already contains powers to extend the range of drugs tested and the trigger offences if research evidence justifies that. If the pilots are successful, roll-out will be done when all necessary facilities, including prison places, are available. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman.

Before I deal with the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Taunton, I shall deal quickly with Government amendment No. 26, which is a minor drafting amendment, but none the less important. It will make it clear to the courts that the pre-sentence drug test, along with the other drug-testing provisions, will be piloted in the first instance, as I have just described, and that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will notify the courts when arrangements are in place for the provision to be brought into effect. It mirrors the similar provision already included in respect of drug abstinence orders and requirements.

Let me spell it out again: the purpose of the pilots will be to test our assumptions about the value of drug testing in reducing crime and illegal drug taking. Drug treatment and testing orders were also piloted in the first instance. A preliminary evaluation by researchers from South Bank university informed our decision to roll-out the drug treatment and testing order nationally from next October.

10.30 pm

The hon. Member for Taunton has tabled two amendments that I firmly believe would detract from the effectiveness of the drug abstinence order by making unrealistic and often unnecessary requirements for the availability of treatment services before the court may make such an order. That is not to diminish the importance of the availability of treatment, but a drug abstinence order targets those offenders under probation supervision who do not require immediate treatment, although their drug misuse requires monitoring. Drug abstinence orders are primarily designed for offenders who have a propensity for drug misuse, but who do not need immediate treatment.

Interventions to identify and monitor drug misuse are planned for those on charge, on bail, on community service or under other forms of community supervision, including release from prison on licence. The drug abstinence order is an integral part of that strategy. In particular, it will complement the drug treatment and testing order, which is principally aimed at offenders who commit high-volume acquisitive crime to feed a drug habit, are assessed as requiring treatment for drug misuse and are motivated to enter treatment.

Those offenders who do not require treatment or who are not motivated to enter it may well be suitable for a drug abstinence order, which will enable supervising officers to monitor their progress by using random and mandatory drug tests. There is already evidence from the mandatory drug testing programme in prisons that testing, although not a panacea in itself, can have the deterrent effect on hard drug misuse that we are looking for. A positive test under a drug abstinence order would alert supervising officers to potentially problematic behaviour and the need for remedial action, including provision of treatment where necessary.

Our strategy is to have in place drug interventions at each stage of the criminal justice process to identify drug misusers and, where appropriate, to get them into treatment and monitor their progress.

Jackie Ballard

I want to be absolutely sure that I understand the hon. Lady correctly. Are abstinence orders designed not for class A addicts, but only for occasional class A drug users?

Jane Kennedy

I resist the invitation to specify the groups of offenders for which drug abstinence orders might be appropriate. They will be appropriate for some offenders in some circumstances. Some offenders do not opt for treatment—they resist it—but it may be possible to get them to agree to a drug abstinence order. The mandatory testing that will be part of the order will allow the supervising officers to follow their progress. We would know that such individuals had a drug habit and we would want to monitor their progress in resisting the use of the drug.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I have another question on the same lines. I understand what the Minister says about the difference between monitoring people's continuing abstinence and providing treatment. Following the Home Secretary's statement last week and his speech, can she tell us whether the Government have a target for the maximum time for treatment where it is required as part of the continuing rehabilitation process?

Jane Kennedy

No, we do not have a target, but I say to the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Taunton that we are aware that coverage for the treatment of drug misuse is not yet complete. Considerable resources are being put into treatment—£20 million into arrest and referral schemes and £56 million into drug treatment and testing orders—but we recognise that there is a shortage of capacity. That is being addressed.

Dr. Iddon

Will counselling be applied to an individual who accepts an abstinence order? If it is not available, I cannot see the orders succeeding.

Jane Kennedy

As I understand it, the failure of a drug test by an individual subject to a drug abstinence order would be reported to the court, and it would be for the court to determine what measures should be applied to that individual. It would depend on the circumstances in each case. I do not say that counselling will not form part of the package, but it will be for the court to decide.

I was talking about the shortage of capacity in the overall programme of intervention in drug misuse. We are aware of that shortage, and it is being addressed. One initiative that is in hand is a joint Department of Health and Home Office recruitment campaign for drugs workers. By April 2001, up to 685 drugs workers will be recruited and trained. Those are important steps; this is a major investment in an important part of our work.

Treatment availability will continue to be developed. In the meantime, the existence of any gaps should not constitute a reason for denying the opportunity of identifying drug-misusing offenders at arrest, and monitoring their behaviour on bail or while under probation supervision. That will go a long way towards reducing the damage being done to communities by drug-related crime.

Mr. Hawkins

I am encouraged by the Minister's helpful and serious response. She said that the Government would keep the matter under review. She also said that, at a later stage, they might well consider amendments along the lines that we suggest in relation to class B drugs, and that they will monitor the effects of provisions that the Government have, in fact, drafted very carefully. I shall therefore seek leave to withdraw the amendment, but, once again, with the proviso that the other place may well return to the issue.

I beg to seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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