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Places For The Care Of Drunken Persons

Volume 78: debated on Thursday 2 May 1985

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'In Section 5 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, at the end, there shall be added—

"(2A) Where a constable has power to arrest a person without warrant for being drunk and disorderly, drunk and incapable drunk and in charge of a child, and drunk and attempting to enter licensed premises, then the constable shall take him to any place designated in Schedule (places designated as suitable for the care of drunken persons) to this Act, unless (a) the person refuses to go to such place, (b) the constable has reason to suspect that he has committed another offence or (c) there is no such designated place reasonably accessible. Where a constable does not take a person to a designated place and charges him with any of the above offences then he must enter on the charge his reasons for failing to take the person to a designated place.
(2B) Where a constable has power to arrest a person without warrant for any other offence and the constable has reasonable grounds for suspecting that that person is drunk, the constable may if he thinks fit, take him to any place designated in Schedule (places designated as suitable for the care of drunken persons) to this Act.".'.—[Mr. Maxton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

With this it will be convenient to take new clause 2—Places designated as suitable for the care of drunken persons

'The following Schedule shall be added to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980— PART I
  • 1. Within six months of the coming into force of this Act each Regional authority in Scotland shall submit to the Secretary of State for Scotland a list of places within each region which they consider suitable for the care of drunken persons.
  • 2. Such places shall be those that having been inspected by the Social Work Department and the Local Health Board, are considered to have met the criteria listed in paragraphs 3 and 4 below.
  • 3. The Social Work Department and the Local Health Board shall be satisfied that the place, whomsoever it is run by, has suitable accommodation for the care of drunken persons and meets the statutory, fire, health and safety standards.
  • 4. The Social Work Department and the Local Health Board shall be satisfied that there is one person on the staff of such places who either is qualified to deal with drunken persons or has considerable experience in dealing with drunken persons.
  • 5. Where a regional authority is of the opinion that there are inadequate numbers of places in the region for the purposes of section 5 of this Act, then they may, if they so wish, establish such places under their own authority.
  • PART II

  • 1. When the Secretary of State has received from each regional authority the list of places considered suitable for the care of drunken persons then he shall designate such places if he is satisfied that they are suitable, and accordingly inform the regional authorities.
  • 2. The Social Work Department and Local Health Board shall inspect the designated places every six months to ensure that the standards as laid down in Part I of this Schedule are maintained.
  • 3. If at any time the regional authority reports that a designated place is no longer suitable then the Secretary of State shall move that place from the list of designated plans.
  • 4. A regional authority may, if it so wishes, make grants to other bodies in order to maintain such places.
  • PART III

    Purposes of places designated as suitable for the care of drunken persons
  • 1. Designated places shall take into care those persons brought to them by a constable and shall offer such treatment as the qualified or experienced person considers appropriate in order to resolve the problems the drunken person has.
  • 2. A drunken person shall be asked to stay for such time as the qualified or experienced person considers necessary for the treatment.".'.
  • Those who served on the Committee may well recognise the words of these new clauses. New clause 2 is, or course, a new schedule to the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. The new clauses are exactly the same as amendments that I tabled in Committee.

    Part 5 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act gives constables certain powers when they arrest drunks for certain specific drunken offences. I believe that there are only three specific offences—drunk and disorderly, drunk and incapable, and drunk in charge of a child. In the case of those offences a constable may take the person in question to a designated place where he will receive treatment, rather than taking him to the police station, charging him with the offence and bringing him before the court. My new clauses require a constable to take a person to a designated place unless quite specific conditions have been met or the person refuses to go. It is not enough to say that constables may take people to a designated place, because the evidence of the past five years shows that they do not.

    New clause 2 provides what designated places are. In 1980, I wanted to ensure that the Secretary of State did not start designating unsuitable places where no treatment was available and which were essentially doss houses. The designated places should be capable of treating offenders and of keeping them there for a specified time. Medical care should be available and health and safety regulations should be met. I thought it necessary to have control over designated places.

    My fears have been proved utterly unfounded because, with the exception of one place in Aberdeen, none have been designated. Ministers had enormously high hopes during the passage of the 1980 Act. Of course, with the exception of the Secretary of State, none of the Ministers involved with the Act are still on the Front Bench. We were told how the Act would decriminalise drunkenness in Scotland. It was a laudable effort. We all welcomed the principle and agreed that it was time that people with drink problems should stop being treated as criminals.

    Five years later, nothing has happened. Last Friday I spoke to the chief constable of Strathclyde—Sir Patrick Hamill—who, when he heard that I intended to raise the subject, asked me to push it as hard as I could because he wants to decriminalise drink. I can think of no section of the community that disagrees with that. Each year, about 15,000 to 20,000 people are charged with offences caused principally by a drink problem. On the clause 5 stand part debate, my hon. Friends said that unless the Government were prepared to provide resources, nothing would happen. With the honourable exception of Aberdeen, that is what has occurred.

    4.15 pm

    Matters are even worse in England as, far from detoxification units being opened, they are being closed for lack of resources. The Manchester unit is being closed for lack of resources, although I accept that it has problems because it is a little out of the city and not easy for the police to reach. In Glasgow we have an area that could be used as a designated place. It is doing a marvellous job treating people with serious drink problems. Like the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Hirst), I have visited it. I refer to the Department of Health and Social Security resettlement unit at Bishopbriggs. It is doing a tremendous job and treats people with the most serious drink problems—the people whom the voluntary organisations will not touch. Only when the resettlement unit has partially dried people out will the voluntary organisations take them on. In spite of its good work, the unit is being closed. That is not good enough.

    I hope that the House is grateful that I have tabled these new clauses. They give Ministers an opportunity to explain what they have done since 1980. After all, there is no point in enacting legislation, no matter how well intentioned, unless it is put into action. That is what has happened here.

    What will happen to the man who is simply drunk on the odd occasion and is clearly not an alcoholic? Would he be covered by these new clauses?

    To some extent such a man would be benefited by the new clauses. If a man goes out on a blinder, he might be charged with being drunk and incapable and therefore have a criminal record, although he is an honourable man. However, if my new clauses were enacted, he would not be charged and he would therefore have no criminal record. He might be taken to a detoxification unit, but he would be there only one night as the staff would quickly be aware that he had no history of drinking.

    I hope that the Minister will say what the Government have done in the past five years and what they intend to do. Do they realise that passing legislation is not enough on its own, and that they must give local authorities, health boards and voluntary organisations money to ensure that there are places to which police constables can take people who have committed a drink offence?

    As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, these new clauses are identical to amendments that he tabled to the original clause 5 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and which were discussed in the Scottish Standing Committee on 5 June 1980. I appreciate his reasons for retabling them—principally to enable further discussion of a subject that is still worrying. Although we do not think that provision such as this would be helpful, I should like to outline developments since the 1980 Act which have overtaken parts of the new clauses.

    Following the passage of the 1980 Act, the Scottish Office undertook consultation with many bodies and organisations, including the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities and the Association of Directors of Social Work. In April 1982 we produced two sets of guidelines for designated places, covering the caring aspect of setting up and running premises suitable for designation and advice to the police on those who might be suitable for taking to such a place.

    The guidelines represented the detail that we thought it reasonable to lay down. They included the standard of premises, care and supervision in the premises, links with other types of facilities and co-operation with social work, medical and nursing services.

    While the guidelines for the police explain the purpose and scope of section 5 procedures and the degree of discretion which the police might want to exercise, for example, when a person has committed more than one offence, they also cover—I mention this in the context of the new clauses—the action to be taken if a person refuses to go to a designated place or if staff decline to accept him and he may be taken to a police station and charged.

    A specific part of the provisions of the new clauses, regarding the standards of premises and supervision, and the action to be taken by the police, need not and possibly should not be included in primary legislation. Some provisions—for example, specifying that a designated place must take into care all those brought in by the police, or that such persons would be asked to stay as long as the person in charge of the designated place thinks fit—would encroach on the proper use of discretion by those concerned and, possibly, on the liberty of the citizen.

    New clause 2 would require local authorities, within a limited period, to submit to the Secretary of State lists of premises which are suitable for designation to receive drunken offenders with suitable staff to run them, with the implication that, following designation, they should be operated either by the local authority or by other bodies with a local authority grant.

    I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's aim of making such a provision to accelerate the provision of designated places, of which, as he said, only one operates at present. Apparently, that one operates with considerable success. There are, however, two points that I should like to make. First, several parts of the new clause are unnecessary. For example, local authorities already have the power under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to provide funds to voluntary bodies for the purposes of the Act, and to inspect and register residential and other establishments, taking into account the suitability of staff, premises and conduct of the establishment.

    More important, while we welcome the implicit suggestion in the new clauses that the responsibility for providing facilities and services for people with an alcohol problem is primarily for local authorities and health boards, the Secretary of State would not think it appropriate to impose a duty on local authorities, which have many other demands to meet, to devote their resources to a single programme in this way against a specific time limit. It is open to local authorities to take an active role in the provision and promotion of designated places.

    I commend in particular the example of Grampian authority, which bought the premises at Albyn house for the Albyn House Association, and which is taking a share in the running costs together with the Scottish Office. That shows that local authorities can give assistance and support as necessary. However, we do not believe that the Secretary of State should impose a duty on local authorities to provide such facilities or to take away the discretion of local authorities as the new clause would.

    As I have made clear on more than one occasion, I remain ready to examine any project which comes to me, and to fund it in exactly the same way as the Albyn house project. Anyone who doubts whether projects in his local area may be successful, should look at the success of that project in Aberdeen. I stressed that in a visit to Aberdeen only a fortnight ago. I made it clear in some interviews that other voluntary organisations and local authorities should look at the good example in Aberdeen and be prepared to come to me with projects. I would be extremely sympathetic about funding such projects.

    I wish to emphasise my hon. Friend's point. I remind him that, as a result of the project in Aberdeen, the number of offences of drunkenness in the city last year dropped to five. The project decriminalised the offence of drunkenness. More important, it saves substantial money and police time, and allows Grampian police to devote themselves to other activities. I hope that my hon. Friend will always bear that cost-effective argument in mind.

    It may put the figure of five drunkenness offences in an even more dramatic context, if I say that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General for Scotland pointed out that there were 235 offences of drunkenness in 1983 in Aberdeen. Therefore, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of cases of drunkenness in Aberdeen.

    If the new clauses have done nothing else, they have allowed us to stress to local authorities and voluntary organisations how successful Albyn house has been, and allowed me to say if projects come before me, I shall certainly look at them as sympathetically as possible with a view to funding them.

    I welcome the fact that the Minister will be sympathetic to cash funding such projects. However, he should go further. Does he agree that if he applied the same pressure and propaganda as he did when he tried to privatise certain elements in the National Health Service, and if he brought it to the attention of authorities that money was available, some authorities may accept his offer?

    I shall not go down the highways of the National Health Service, but use the opportunity to say that I hope that if authorities have not considered the matter—I believe that they will have considered it—they should look at the example of Albyn house in Aberdeen and be prepared, either themselves or with voluntary organisations, to devise projects to undertake the same sort of work in other parts of Scotland.

    Although I am extremely sympathetic to the aims of the hon. Member for Cathcart, I consider that the prescriptions in the new clauses would not be helpful. I ask the House to reject the new clauses. However, I stress that we stand ready to help with projects that come to us from the voluntary sector and local government.

    I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for tabling the two new clauses and for giving the Under-Secretary of State the opportunity to tell the House and, through it, the people of Scotland, that no Scottish local authority, apart from Grampian region, has submitted a scheme and had it considered. I take it that the only scheme to be submitted was the Aberdeen one, which was approved, and that no other scheme has been submitted and turned down by the Minister. It is important that we have that on the record.

    It is equally important that we have on the record the Minister's commitment that if local authorities submit schemes, whether joint-funded schemes through the health boards and the social work departments of regional councils or otherwise, he will agree to part-fund those schemes. I am fairly certain that one of the inhibitions on the regional authorities during the past four years has been the distinct suggestion from New St. Andrew's house that, no matter what is suggested, no money will be made available for it. That position has been slightly changed today by the Minister's commitment to fund such schemes.

    I shall do my best to encourage the regional social work departments and the area health boards because they also have a part to play. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) pointed out that there were savings to be made in police and court time. I am absolutely certain that there will also be savings to be made in the Health Service. They may be more long-term, but there will be savings. I shall certainly want to do all that I can to encourage Scottish local authorities and health boards to submit schemes on the understanding that the Minister gave today, that the schemes will be part-funded by the Scottish Office.

    4.30 pm

    My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) may say that, but the Minister is shaking his head in disagreement. I am disappointed that no other schemes have been submitted. The Minister said that we were talking about a local problem. I was interested in the intervention of the right hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and in his reference to occasional drunks. That reminded me of one of the great stories about the Western Isles. A boy said that he got drunk once a year—from February until October. I suppose that that is just occasionally drunk.

    However, it is important that we should have the Minister's commitments on the record.

    The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Western Isles, but is he aware that, judging by the new clause, the Isles authorities are not expected to assume the statutory responsibility that would be imposed on the other areas? Was that a drafting error, or does the hon. Gentleman think that drunkenness does not exist in the Isles?

    I should prefer my hon. Friend the Member for Cathcart to answer for his own drafting. However, I do not want to delay the House, so I shall be brief. It is important to emphasise the points that the Minister has made and to put them on the record. We can then go ahead and encourage local authorities and health boards to submit joint-funded schemes. We are discussing a major and growing problem in Scotland. It is a problem all over western Europe and I do not single out Scotland for special attention. Nevertheless, today we are dealing with Scotland, and the problem is becoming more serious. We should try to do something about it.

    Because of my duties in Edinburgh in connection with the Parliamentary Commission, I was denied the opportunity to speak very often in Committee. Accordingly, I welcome this opportunity to make a short speech today and, in particular, to respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart, (Mr. Maxton) about the DHSS resettlement unit at Bishopbriggs, in my constituency. That unit is under threat of closure.

    I welcome the perhaps accidental presence of the Minister responsible for health and social work, as I have made urgent and vigorous representations to him on this issue. I hope that he will be able to deal with my remarks. It must be right that special centres are made available to those who suffer from chronic alcoholism. It cannot be a sensible use of police resources to have policemen locking up drunks and taking them to court in the morning, or to have justices having to send them to gaol for 14 days or imposing a small fine.

    The decriminalisation of alcoholism must surely be one of the social advances that the 1980s will see, and detoxification centres along the lines of the successful experiment at Albyn house in Aberdeen are clearly the answer. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, (Mr. Malone) has already mentioned that. But what distinguishes Conservative Members from Opposition Members is that we recognise that resources are limited. Given that that is so, I make a powerful plea in support of the principle of detoxification centres. But until they can be put into place, I should like to see the facility at Bishopbriggs retained. Its premature closure would undoubtedly be folly, and it would deny the west of Scotland an essential safety net for those who suffer from chronic alcoholism.

    That facility fulfils a vital role. Not all of those who use it are alcoholics, although many have alcohol-related problems. On my first visit to the resettlement unit, the staff were engaged in nursing one of the inmates through an alcoholic stupor. It is a tribute to their skills that the inmate did not need to be taken to hospital for that rather specialised medical treatment.

    Although the resettlement unit does not have as its basic purpose the role of a detoxification centre, it provides a facility in the community where the chronic alcoholic can be given a chance to try to beat the problem. At present, it is highly questionable whether alternative facilities exist within the community in west central Scotland, and it would be a retrograde step if that important facility at Bishopbriggs in my constituency—whose work was greatly praised during a recent visit by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—closed.

    I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Minister say that he would do his best to try to make facilities and resources available to provide detoxification centres. Perhaps he will turn his attention next to west central Scotland where we traditionally have a serious alcohol problem. The community's resources might be best employed in providing a detoxification centre.

    The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) has served a very useful purpose in raising this important issue again. The Minister did not dispose of his argument by saying that the Government had issued circulars since amendments were first moved in 1980. Whatever circulars may have been issued, we do not have the sort of institutions that the hon. Member for Cathcart wants, and which are supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    It is quite plain that it is not enough for central Government to exhort local authorities to do something. Local authorities and social work departmens are hard pressed to meet existing commitments, and they will not feel able to embark upon expenditure on new institutions, regardless of whether they are backing the initiatives of private organisations or trusts or backing their own projects, unless the Government can go much further than the Minister went today. He said only that he would look sympathetically at applications for assistance.

    Can the Minister be more specific and precise? He shook his head negatively when the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) suggested that the Government should meet 100 per cent. of the expenditure of such institutions. However, the Minister has not clarified what he means by looking sympathetically. Can he go further than that? If he is genuinely trying to signal to local authorities a change of direction, and if he is saying that the Government are prepared to give higher priority to expenditure on such centres, we welcome that and will do our best to persuade our local authorities about the importance of the issue. However, it is not good enough for the Minister to say that he will look at the matter sympathetically and will wait for these initiatives to be taken. We have waited too long.

    I must say that I found the Minister's reply disappointing. In the past five years, what has happened about the decriminalisation of drunkenness? Everybody admits that the experiment in Aberdeen has been a great success and has worked marvellously. Only five people have been charged with drunkenness in the past 12 months. That is a marvellous record and shows that such facilities work. But why do we not have them in the rest of Scotland? It is not good enough for the Minister to say that he is encouraging local authorities. Does that mean that he has not been encouraging them during the past five years and that he has not made it clear to them that he is prepared to give them resources? On the other hand, if he has been encouraging local authorities, what response has he had from them?

    I know that Fred Edwards, the social work director for Strathclyde region, is as committed to this idea as the chief constable of Strathclyde, Sir Patrick Hamill. If both they and Strathclyde regional council are committed to the idea, why has nothing been done? The answer is, as the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) has said, that local authorities are already so strapped for money that they are having to cut existing facilities. Therefore, unless the Minister is prepared to finance such schemes 100 per cent., and to place a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide them, they will not be provided. Local authorities simply do not have the resources.

    We all know that this issue does not necessarily arouse great sympathy among the general public. Many people do not have much sympathy for those who have serious drinking problems or for the down-and-outs of our society. Consequently, it is not always easy for local authorities to switch resources from one area—such as children's homes, old folks' homes or sheltered housing—into another. A new commitment and 100 per cent. funding by the Government are needed.

    Despite the fact that it is difficult to provide funds for this purpose, Grampian regional council has managed to do it, yet it has one of the lowest regional rates in Scotland. Might the fact that this council has been able to provide such funds have something to do with the fact that it is Conservative-controlled?

    Before giving way to my hon. Friend, I shall give a simple answer to that question: no.

    I very much regret that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone) has introduced a purely partisan political note into the debate. I pay tribute to what is being done by the Grampian regional council, but there are many other things that the council ought to be doing. The fact that it has set a low rate does not excuse it, just because on this occasion it has done something good, from doing other things.

    Grampian regional council is to be congratulated, but I do not believe that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South can deny that Strathclyde regional council has to deal with far greater problems, caused by multiple deprivation, than those which have to be dealt with by the Grampian regional council. Owing to limited and declining Government grants, Strathclyde regional council faces great difficulties. New resources must be provided by the Government. If they genuinely believe in the decriminalisation of cases involving people who are drunk and disorderly, there must be a much greater Government commitment to dealing with the problem.

    I accept that, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, (Mr. Wallace), the new clause is faulty. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.