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Drunken Offenders (Overnight Facilities)

Volume 987: debated on Thursday 3 July 1980

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1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department which areas he has selected for the provision of overnight facilities for habitual drunken offenders.

18.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in which areas he proposes to establish overnight facilities for habitual drunken offendenrs; and if he will make statement.

22.

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department in which areas he proposes to establish overnight facilities for habitual drunken offenders.

We are not yet in a position to announce precise proposals but we expect one of the intended three experimental shelters to be established in London and another in the Midlands. We are well advanced in discussions to that end, and hope that the first shelter will be available in the autumn. The location of the third shelter is still under consideration. Further financial provision and extension of the scheme will be considered in the light of the success of the experimental projects.

Given the present pressure on prisons and courts, could not a great deal more be done than is represented by these modest proposals? Could not some of the £4 million in licensing compensation funds, which is lying dormant awaiting a decision from the Home Office, be used?

The present proposals are only a beginning. They cannot be judged solely on the financial sums involved, because they are meant to assist existing centres to be used for a different purpose. The future of compensation funds is still under discussion. The idea that they should be used for such a purpose is a constructive proposal that we are considering seriously.

Why has such a derisory sum been allocated for such an important area? Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman accept—as the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) has pointed out—that £4 million is lying idle in the county compensation fund? How can £30,000 provide adequate staff cover for three centres and a counselling service? Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that they will help to alleviate the present situation, in which a third of the deaths which occur in police custody involve alcoholics or drug addicts?

I regard the idea that compensation funds should be used for this purpose as constructive and positive. We are considering that idea most seriously. The hon. Gentleman may regard the amount of money provided as inadequate, but it is being provided for a pilot project involving three experimental centres. One must take into account that one is adapting existing centres for further use. We are advised that such sums are sufficient for that purpose.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the police welcome the development of such centres, particularly as they will obviate the need to process such people through courts and police cells and so on? Will he ensure that when such new centres are put forward, proper advice is made available to those who come into the centres, possibly seeking rehabilitation?

The object of the centres is to divert people from the courts. I confirm that they are being set up in consultation with the police.

Although this is a step in the right direction if we are ultimately to relieve overcrowding in prisons, is the Home Office working in co-ordination with the Department of Health and Social Security as regards the setting up and financing of the centres? Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the success of the experiment depends partly on the Home Office and partly on the DHSS?

The initial sums for financing the project will be derived not from the Department of Health and Social Security, but from the Home Office. We are very conscious of the need to ensure that the centres operate properly as regards medical advice and facilities.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the discussions that his Department has been having about the compensation fund have been continuing for a long time and some people think that they have got bogged down? Certainly it is very difficult to get answers from his Department. Is he also aware that the Brewers Society has suggested that £2 million of that fund should be dedicated to educational and social inquiries into the whole question of alcoholism? Even if that money cannot be used directly, it could certainly liberate some of the resources that the Home Office has for dealing with this problem.

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that the discusions are not bogged down. In fact they are coming on rather well. But the matter requires legislation.

Can the Minister explain the paradox of why his Department suggests that such centres should be opened in London when the DHSS has refused funds for detoxification centres in my area of London? Such centres are not only welcomed by the police but also provide a permanent solution to the problems of alcoholics, rather than the temporary expedient of these wet shelters. Will the Minister co-ordinate the Home Office efforts with those of other Departments in order to ensure that there is an overall Government policy on alcoholism?

There is no paradox and no discrepancy, for the simple reason that the centres that I have described are not detoxification centres. The two detoxification centres that exist in Leeds and Manchester are being reported on next year and the role that such centres can play should be determined in the light of the reports. The cost of extending centres of that kind would be very much greater than the cost of what we are doing, and that is why we think it is sensible to proceed on the present basis until the reports are available.