HC Deb 12 July 2004 vol 423 cc1119-21
13. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab)

What steps she is taking to ensure that offenders receive adequate treatment for drug misuse. [183096]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)

Drug misusing offenders damage communities, their families and themselves. We are committed to breaking the cycle of offending and drug misuse. We are investing £447 million through the criminal justice interventions programme to get offenders out of crime and into treatment. That includes drug testing on charge for some offences, placing drugs workers in police custody suites, increasing treatment places in prisons and putting in place comprehensive through-care and after-care packages.

Mr. Chapman

Although I agree that weaning offenders off drugs, including methadone, is important in tackling drug-related crime, does my hon. Friend agree that tackling alcohol abuse is equally important? Alcohol causes half of all violent crimes in this country and probably most incidences of antisocial behaviour in Wirral, South. The issue must be tackled. and I hope that the Home Office will take all possible steps to address alcoholism as well as drug addiction among offenders.

Caroline Flint

My hon. Friend makes an important point. This summer, we are targeting enforcement and tackling the underlying drinking problems associated with binge drinking in 70 basic command unit areas. We agree with the alcohol harm reduction strategy that drug action teams should become drug and alcohol action teams, and we are considering how we can support pilots to examine alcohol arrest referral, and are examining two pilot areas. In a recent speech at the Turning Point conference, the Home Secretary announced that we will examine the interventions for those for whom misusing alcohol becomes a criminal problem.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

The restriction on bail project is already under way in some of our cities, and the Government are ever so reluctantly inching towards the policy that we announced two years ago. What are the Government doing to increase the number of places for drug treatment outside prison? Does the Minister agree with the chief executive of DrugScope, Mr. Martin Barnes, who said that unless the initiative is matched by investment in places and in skilled drugs workers, there is a risk that already stretched services will be inundated and unable cope.

Caroline Flint

I have crossed swords with the hon. Gentleman before, and it is a bit of a cheek to ask that question. The Government have put more money than ever before into both enforcement and drug treatment. The proof is that 140,900 people were in treatment in 2002–03, which is a 41 per cent. increase from the 100,000 baseline in 1998–99. The number of people starting treatment has increased by 47 per cent. in areas covered by criminal justice interventions programmes, and waiting times are falling across the piece. More needs to be done, but the Government are tackling the problem because we recognise that drug addiction fuels a huge amount of crime in this country. The issue involves growing capacity, which we intend to carry on doing.

Mr. Paice

So the Minister does not agree with the chief executive of DrugScope and believes that the resources are sufficient. [Interruption.] Will she explain to the House why only 28 per cent. of drug treatment and testing orders were completed last year, and why recidivism occurred within two years in 80 per cent. of cases in the three pilot areas? That demonstrates that the system is still not right. The Minister may laud the extra resources, but they are inadequate. How many residential places—proper places—are needed to ensure that all young, hard drug abusers receive the same treatment as that provided in the best countries in the world, such as Sweden?

Caroline Flint

I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that drug services have increased to approximately 750—up a third since 1997—and treatment for young people has increased by 69 per cent. In addition, we have pooled the young people's budget to ensure that money can be spent better and more wisely locally.

I have never said that we are doing enough. More needs to be done. However, we have prioritised and ring-fenced the resources and I am pleased to say that, as of last week, residential rehabilitation is being used.

Mr. Paice

As of last week?

Caroline Flint

As of last week, approximately 90 per cent. of beds in residential rehabilitation were being used. However, that is only one part of treating drug users and, as I have told the hon. Gentleman several times, one has to deal with people before they go into residential treatment and when they leave. The only way to achieve that is through a sustained policy, which means putting your money where your mouth is. The Government are doing that.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab)

I welcome the Government's substantial investment in drug treatment. Will my hon. Friend confirm my impression that, in the past year or so, we have probably made more impact on speeding up access to treatment for those who are newly arrested than on improving services for those who come out of prison? Given the importance of ensuring that those who clean up in prison do not go back on drugs, will my hon. Friend make sure that the investment is applied evenly across every part of the criminal justice system?

Caroline Flint

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. As Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, he knows the importance not only of identifying people through drug testing on charge—we are expanding the number of offences to which that will apply—but of getting people into treatment even before they go to court, whatever subsequently happens. Whether they go to prison or have a community-based sentence, they should be supported. That is why I am pleased to be working with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary responsible for correctional services to ensure through-care and after-care. That is an important aspect of making the policy work and making it sustainable.