HC Deb 20 November 1985 vol 87 cc167-8W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the outcome of experimental schemes designed to divert drunkenness offenders from the courts; what further plans he has for such schemes; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Hurd

Successive Governments have sought ways of relieving the criminal justice system of the burden of dealing with drunkenness offenders, and doing so in ways which might lead to rehabilitation rather than punishment. The most promising options in the last decade, detoxification centres and wet shelters, have both received Government support on an experimental basis. An evaluation published earlier this year of two detoxification centres set up in 1976 with the help of a DHSS grant suggested that, in practice, admissions involved fewer homeless habitual drunks than had been expected and few of those admitted needed or would respond to the sophisticated services provided. DHSS funding was withdrawn at the end of the experimental period, and the Home Office grant to the Leeds detoxification centre will not continue beyond the end of the current financial year.

In 1981 an experimental overnight shelter was set up in Birmingham with financial support from the Home Office with the aim of providing a simple sobering-up service for drunkenness offenders outside the criminal justice system. Evaluation of this project showed that, while it had had some success in reducing prosecutions for drunkenness, it was usually under-occupied and had had little success in referring its clients to other agencies for longer term help. Any financial savings to the police and the courts have been difficult to identify separately. Costs have been higher than had been expected, in part because of under-use. The Government doubt whether overnight shelters are likely to prove a cost-effective means of dealing with drunkenness offenders outside the criminal justice system. Government funding was made available to enable the experiment to go ahead and will cease at the end of the current financial year.

The Government remain committed to the policy of diverting drunkenness offenders from the criminal justice system. They are encouraged by the development of police cautioning schemes under which offenders are arrested, kept in police cells until they have sobered up and then cautioned, rather than prosecuted. It is, of course, for chief officers of police to decide whether they wish to adopt such cautioning schemes, but the Government take the view that they have considerable potential for diverting drunkenness offenders from the courts.

Outside the criminal justice system, the Government will continue to provide a range of advice, treatment and rehabilitation services for those with drinking problems, either directly or in conjunction with grant-aided voluntary organisations. The emphasis in future is expected to be on community based services involving statutory and voluntary bodies, for all problem drinkers, and the health and social needs of drunkenness offenders should be seen in this context.