Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the third time.
First, I declare my interest as a former non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and a magistrate member of the Sentencing Council. Approved premises are an unsung part of a largely unsung service, but just as part of the successful functioning of our society and democracy is a criminal justice system that is fair and fit for purpose, approved premises are a critical element of the continuum between custody and community for a significant number of those who have broken the law.
There are approximately 100 approved premises across England and Wales, with some 2,300 bed spaces between them. Primarily, they provide temporary accommodation for offenders who have been released from prison but are still deemed to pose a high risk, or those who have the most complex needs and so need to receive additional, targeted residential supervision and rehabilitative support.
I make no apology for repeating the point I have made at previous stages of the passage of this Bill: it is rehabilitation that is key. Whatever the views of individual Members or different parties across the House about the causes of crime or harshness of sentencing, we all want to see fewer victims of crime, yet despite the best efforts of skilled, dedicated, committed and caring prison officers and probation staff, to whom I pay tribute, reoffending rates remain stubbornly high. In fact, as hon. and right hon. Members may be aware, around 80% of crime that receives a caution or conviction is committed by a repeat offender.
We know that drugs play a massive role in offending, whether that is committing crimes while the offender is under the influence of drugs or committing crimes to feed the habit. Indeed, Dame Carol Black’s review of drugs estimated that the total cost of harms related to illicit drug use in England was more than £19 billion in 2017-18. Drug-related crime was the main driver of the total costs, with recorded offences committed in England by drug users amounting to £9.3 billion in that period. Action to reduce drug use is an important part of helping people who are newly released from prison and at acute risk of succumbing to the temptation of a return to substance misuse.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his private Member’s Bill. In the Mayor of London’s suggested new policy, he is looking to allow young people who are caught with drugs in Greenwich, Bexley and Lewisham not to face any offence or be brought to justice and to be let off the hook. Does my hon. Friend agree that really small amounts of drugs can lead to greater issues for young people in the long term and may even lead them to go into crime? Surely it is about teaching young people from the very start that drugs are not the answer to anything.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. She is absolutely right that drugs are never the answer, and we need to make sure we tackle the blight that they bring. Thames Valley police, which covers the area of Aylesbury, has a very interesting programme of diversion. Diversion for young people does not mean letting people off the hook, but it does sometimes mean steering them towards help, rather than necessarily taking them to court as a first step. That can sometimes be a very valuable part of the process of helping young people make the right decisions ultimately, and that feeds into the approach that staff in approved premises will take towards people who are tested, if this Bill becomes law. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, and I will build on it a little when we get to the specifics of how it applies to this Bill.
Based on the context I have set out, this legislation is very much needed. Sadly, in recent years the number of deaths among residents in approved premises has increased, and many of those deaths are believed to be related to drugs. As I have highlighted previously, it is an unfortunate fact that patterns of drug misuse both in custody and in the community are changing for the worse. In recent years, psychoactive substances have become much more prevalent in the illicit economy in approved premises—indeed, a recent questionnaire of staff in approved premises suggested that they are now the primary substance of choice.
Psychoactive substances can be especially dangerous, not least because of the unpredictability of their effect. In some cases they appear to have almost no effect and perhaps leave the user just dozing slightly, but it can be much worse and they can be left in a virtually catatonic state. In other cases the use of psychoactive substances can result in convulsions, vomiting, the temporary loss of vision or speech, reduced levels of consciousness and anxiety.
It is more concerning still that the use of psychoactive substances can provoke extreme, volatile or unpredictable behaviour that can often be violent. That poses a serious risk not only to the person who has taken the substance but to people nearby. Members may have seen a recent television documentary that showed prisoners in jail who were thought to have taken psychoactive substances and who behaved as though they were animals: they were literally on the floor, howling and fighting extremely aggressively. It was profoundly disturbing to watch such scenes.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting the Bill to this stage—and further, we hope, later today. He is right to raise the problem with psychoactive substances and the risk of people turning violent or aggressive. Is there not a risk of a domino effect? If people are on the mend and clean in approved premises but then go into an unstable environment, that is more likely to put them back on the path that we are trying to get them off.
My hon. Friend gets to the nub of the challenge we face, and I glad he has highlighted it. I express my appreciation for his work with a similar Bill on substance testing in prisons that he stewarded through the previous Session, inspired by our former colleague, the much-missed former Member for Chesham and Amersham, Dame Cheryl Gillan, about whom I shall say a little more later. He picked up the mantle and speaks with great expertise in this policy area.
I believe that will happen. I defer to the Minister for the expert technical advice, but my understanding is that generally the data that arises will be published. The prime purpose of the collection of the anonymised data is to enable HMPPS staff to ascertain patterns of drug use, to look in particular at what types of drugs or substances are used more widely and then to come up with programmes to tackle the problems. I apologise that I cannot give my right hon. Friend a precise answer; I commit to writing to him with the appropriate response if the Minister is unable to answer him in her speech. I hope he will accept that commitment for the moment.
It is worth highlighting that even prescription medicines are abused by some residents in approved premises. Occasionally, that can prove lethal. A recent internal survey of approved premises staff found that more than 50% of them felt that prescription medication was a problem. This merits a few words of explanation, because I am talking not about medicines prescribed to the resident who has been tested but about prescription medicines that have been obtained by the person who takes them without a prescription—for example, from foreign companies via the internet—or that have been given to the resident by somebody else to whom they were prescribed. Prescription medicines are of course appropriate for those to whom they have been prescribed, but they can pose a real danger if they are taken without medical advice or in combination with other medicines. If that happens, the consequence can sometimes be fatal because of the level of toxicity reached in the human body.
My constituency of Bracknell has a drugs problem, and drugs are, of course, endemic across the UK and beyond. I wish, briefly, to commend all those involved in the fight against drugs, including the police, the blue-light services, the NHS, probation services, local councils. However, more needs to be done, which is why I commend my hon. Friend for his Bill and thoroughly support it. Does he agree that the utility of his Bill, when it comes to approved premises, is that it identifies those who are clearly still taking drugs as part of that process but, more importantly, it identifies people who may be taking drugs and are in need of further rehabilitation and support? Can I ask him therefore to commend the very positive aspects of his Bill?
That is exactly the point I raised earlier when I mentioned the key being rehabilitation. I will come on to talk a little about exactly what will happen if somebody fails a drug test once the Bill is implemented, should it end up passing today and making it through the other place.
If my hon. Friend is patient, I will also come on to that point in just a moment. It is all in my speech, I promise.
Returning to the need for this Bill, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, which investigates deaths in custody, has made repeated recommendations on the urgent need for a comprehensive drug strategy for the approved premises estate, including expanding the range of drugs for which tests can take place. The Bill will do exactly that.
Of course, deaths are not commonplace in AP, and we should not imply that they are. However, the impact of drugs on the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals in both the short and long term is profound. Drug use also undermines an offender’s ability to engage in rehabilitation, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (James Sunderland), and potentially hampers an offender’s efforts to turn their back on crime at the very moment they most need to desist and begin a new law-abiding life.
The Bill will enable Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to create a comprehensive framework for drug testing in approved premises. It will bring APs in line with the testing regime that was recently introduced across the prison estate—to which I referred a moment ago, in response to the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell)—and that was established by the Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill, which was introduced in the last Session in the name of the former right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, the late Dame Cheryl Gillan.
Dame Cheryl and I discussed her Bill in some detail; she knew I had experience in this area and was very interested in it. She was very clear on the positive impact that these changes could have on prisoners. The fact that her Bill received no opposition during its passage and received Royal Assent is just one further example of the tremendous legacy left by Dame Cheryl. She is very much missed in this place and, I would like to say, across the whole of Buckinghamshire and more widely across the country.
I recognise that some right hon. and hon. Members might wonder why drug testing does not already exist in approved premises. I would like to reassure them that there is already some provision in place, although it is far from sufficient for today’s landscape of substance misuse. Currently, residents are tested for drugs if they are asked to do so by staff in accordance with the house rules that they accept as a condition of their residence in the approved premises. Although that provides a basis for some drug testing, it does not set out a comprehensive statutory framework for the testing of illicit substances, for the type or scope of substances that may be tested, or for the types of samples that may be taken. What is more, at present, HMPPS tests residents only on a risk and suspicion regime and can test for only four groups: opioids, cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines. In short, the current testing regime is unsatisfactory and insufficient, hence the need for the Bill before the House today.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing his Bill this far, and I wish him well in its further passage. It is an important Bill. He has fluently described the changing patterns of drug use, the different substances and the ever-changing types of drugs used that are a blight on our society. Does he agree that, by bringing forward a robust and regulated drug-testing system, his Bill will provide an effective response to the ever-changing picture of the types of drugs in use? He has mentioned psychoactive substances. Given that ever-changing picture, an approved testing regime will help.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; once again he demonstrates knowledge of the impact of drugs on the human body. He has expertise on animal bodies rather than human bodies, but he demonstrates none the less a profound understanding of pharmacology and the changing pattern of drugs. There has been great news about prescription medication—we have seen real advances in drugs. However, there is a flipside to that, which is that there is an ever-growing group of criminals who seek to exploit scientific development and advances, and use them to prey on the most vulnerable in society. What we need to do is help those who might fall prey to that victimisation. That is why this testing regime will result in help, guidance and support, alongside potentially criminal consequences if the misuse is continued or results in particularly poor behaviour.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. He brings up the point about the different types of drugs that are available. I was not going to bring this up, but he has made the important point that some of the drugs that are misused in society are used in a veterinary setting, perhaps for analgesia and anaesthesia—ketamine, for instance. It is important that legislation is passed that mitigates, reduces and cancels out the inappropriate use of drugs that are so beneficial in human and veterinary medicine, but create such a blight for people if they are misused. They are dangerous and potentially fatal.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for sharing his expertise and contributing to the greater education of Members across this House. By expanding the range of substances that can be tested for, and taking the step to require that testing be done on urine, the Bill will increase HMPPS’s ability to detect and address drug use quickly and efficiently. As I have already indicated, the Bill will extend the range of substances that can be tested for. It makes provision to test all residents in approved premises for controlled drugs, psychoactive substances and prescription-only medicines.
I will now move on to the manner of testing. Approved premises currently test for drugs using oral fluids. However, relatively few drugs can be detected reliably in oral fluid. That means that the current testing regime has a limited capacity to identify drug use among residents. As a result, residents’ needs are not identified and treatment and care cannot be planned or managed effectively. The move to urine testing will allow HMPPS to both test for a much wider range of substances and, crucially, provide a longer timeframe in which to detect the use of illicit substances. That is because certain drugs are only detectable for a relatively short period of time in oral fluid—12 to 24 hours—but in urine some drugs, such as heroin, are detectable for up to five days. Clearly, this increases the opportunity to detect the use of substances and will provide an additional deterrent to those who might be tempted to abuse them.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again—he is being very generous. I have a question for him, but I do not want him to think that because I am questioning what he is doing I am opposed to it. I am not—I support him. Could this new power fall foul of article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and if so, what would be the consequences of this?
My understanding is that, in the preparation of the detailed proposals for the implementation of this Bill, colleagues at the Ministry of Justice have considered exactly that and do not believe it is of concern. They believe that the proposals all comply with such legislation.
The introduction of prevalence testing in this Bill will enable HMPPS to increase understanding of the ever-changing drug landscape and, in turn, allow staff to take appropriate action to tackle the threat of drugs in approved premises. After all, it is difficult to work out what to do to solve a problem, or how much resource to devote to it, if the extent of the problem is not known in the first place. The provision in the Bill to undertake periodic prevalence testing will entail the use of residents’ samples to test for the prevalence of controlled drugs, psychoactive substances and prescription-only medicines on an anonymised basis, as was indicated earlier.
In sum, the framework provided for by the Bill will enable HMPPS to respond effectively and flexibly to changing patterns of drug misuse. It will enable HMPPS to improve the identification of residents who are misusing substances to enable robust and appropriate referrals into treatment, together with the development of appropriate targeted care planning. It will enable better identification of elevating or decreasing risk of serious harm to the public based on a resident’s drug misuse. Finally, it will support the development of a comprehensive drugs strategy, building a body of evidence on drug misuse within the resident cohort of APs, which will widen understanding and identification of the corresponding and consequential actions that need to take place, either at a practical level by HMPPS or at a policy level in the Ministry of Justice.
I believe that, as a result, the Bill will have a tangible effect. It will enable us to better identify and respond to new and emerging patterns of drug use in approved premises, help provide the necessary care and treatment for individuals and, ultimately, support reductions in reoffending. Throughout the passage of the Bill and, indeed, throughout my speech, I have been grateful for the support of colleagues across the House. Many of them were unfamiliar with the challenge that the legislation attempts to address and, quite understandably, several have raised specific questions, so, as promised, I will take a few moments to give a little more context and detail on the appropriate areas.
In terms of the change in drug testing practice, the new regime will test every resident at least twice during their stay in the approved premise. A typical stay is approximately 12 weeks. For those who have been imprisoned on terrorism offences, it can be up to a year, but the average stay is about 12 weeks. There will potentially be two tests during that 12-week period, and HMPPS anticipates the consequence of that will be around 20,000 tests a year. Colleagues may remember I mentioned the current risk and suspicion-based testing regime. That will continue on top of the enhanced regime: the testing at specified times in the approved premises, which the Bill will establish. If staff are suspicious or risks are identified, there will be testing on top of that.
The consequences for someone failing a drug test are absolutely critical. The initial step would be a discussion between a staff member and the resident, and the primary aim would be to tackle the misuse. At that first stage, an improvement plan is likely to be initiated. That could incorporate referrals to appropriate services to provide the right help for each individual, probably consisting of signposting or the referral of residents to substance misuse services, and liaison with their probation officer. I want to emphasise that, although there needs to be rigour and discipline in approved premises, my aim in the Bill is for it not to be a purely punitive exercise. If, though, the drug use was a direct breach of a licence condition or it resulted in inappropriate behaviour, it could ultimately result in a recall to prison. However, HMPPS does not, as a matter of course, initiate breach or recall based purely on an initial positive drug test.
Consideration has also been given to the possible reaction of residents in approved premises when the new regime is introduced, not least given the vulnerable stage of their progress from prison to the community at that stage. Naturally, neither I nor the MOJ would want to do anything to jeopardise progress towards rehabilitation. Given that residents already sign an induction pack, which includes a number of rules, including the limited drugs testing I explained earlier, it is not expected or foreseen that there will be a significant problem. What is more, for those arriving at APs from prison, they will already have experience of the enhanced testing regime being proposed from their time in custody. Indeed, staff at approved premises to whom I spoke suggested that the change could be regarded positively by residents because it does, after all, signify increased investment in their wellbeing and rehabilitation.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) asked about the consequences if a resident refuses to comply with the terms of the compulsory drug testing regime. In that situation, if they are on conditional bail with testing as a condition and they are not complying with the terms of the regime, they will have breached their condition of bail. There are some people in approved premises who are deemed to be at high risk and are there while still on bail, as opposed to those who are in the approved premises having been released from custody. In that situation, if they have breached their bail, they can be arrested by the police and brought back to court, where the magistrates or judges have three options. They can continue the bail conditions as they are—essentially, reimposing the same conditions. They can make the conditions more stringent. Or they could, ultimately, remand the person in custody. If a resident on licence—someone who has been released from prison and is in approved premises almost as a halfway house between custody and the community—declines to be tested, consideration will be given to their suitability to stay within those approved premises, because there is that contract of engagement as part of going to the approved premises, and that could also result in their recall to prison.
We must always be aware of the financial implications of new policies. HMPPS estimates that when it implements the change in testing, it will cost approximately £1.2 million per year to carry out the enhanced testing regime with residents of approved premises. The current annual budget for drug testing in approved premises is £350,000, so the implementation of this Bill would see an increase of some £850,000. However, it is worth bearing it in mind that the Ministry of Justice has indicated that it has evidence that shows that drug treatment provides a return to society of £4 for every £1 that is invested, and that increases to a return to society of £21 over a period of 10 years. I would therefore suggest that the testing proposed in the Bill and the subsequent treatment in fact represent very sound spending, which I am sure will be music to the ears of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I hope that I have addressed as fully as possible the aims of the Bill and the potential impact that it could have. In many ways, it is a small step, a minor change, but having spent well over a decade in various roles in the criminal justice system, I am all too aware that the path to rehabilitation can be slow, painstaking and full of setbacks, but every little step can make a difference. Every day without drugs is a good day for someone who has previously been dependent on them. Every opportunity to increase the prospect of someone living a crime-free life is an opportunity that we should seize, and I am proud to do so today with the Third Reading of this Bill.
After what has been a difficult week for many of us, it is absolutely lovely to be here in the Chamber with so many colleagues, and so many Conservative colleagues, working together and doing important business in this place—scrutinising Bills and getting Bills passed. I briefly offer my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on the successful passage of his Bill a half-hour or so ago. I fervently hope that in half an hour’s time, I will be offering the same congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler).
I congratulate my hon. Friend on everything that he has achieved with this Bill. From his declaration of interest, it is clear that he literally fits the bill in this instance, given his experience as a magistrate and with the Sentencing Council and everything that he talked about. I was pleased to be able to attend the Chamber and intervene on him on Second Reading. I was disappointed that I was unavailable for his Public Bill Committee, but I have read through the good debate that took place in that Committee as well.
As my hon. Friend said in his speech today, 80% of crime that involves cautions or convictions involves repeat offences. Anything that we can do to support rehabilitation, in both the criminal sense and the health sense, we should do, and approved premises, as he has rightly identified, are a huge part of that. They are of course undermined, as he said, if residents are accessing drugs—in particular, psychoactive substances such as Spice, or Skunk. As I said in my intervention, there is the problem of the domino effect: if drugs are in a place, it makes more people likely to use drugs because they realise that there is not a regime that takes that seriously, and it is more likely to put them in an unstable position that sends them back to the place they have come from.
As my hon. Friend said, the existing regime is now inadequate for the challenge that we face. His Bill is very much part of the answer to that. It is only part of the answer; Government investment and Government strategy are absolutely key on drugs, too. Therefore, I was glad that in Committee, the Policing Minister outlined the Government’s strategy and their investment into tackling the scourge of drugs, which he said is happening on three levels: first, trying to cut off the supply of drugs and preventing drugs getting into the country through tighter control of our borders and airports; and thirdly—I will come to his second point in a moment—there is a generational shift in the appropriateness of drugs. More teenagers probably took drugs when I was a teenager than now. We are winning the war on drugs. For a long time, it has been fashionable to say that we are not winning, but it is a winnable war. What my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury is doing today will be a huge part of that.
The Minister’s second point in Committee was that we are creating a world-class treatment and recovery system, which is germane to the Bill. There is also money going into tackling drugs. Good intentions and strategies need to be backed up by Government investment, and nearly £900 million of additional funding is being put in over the next three years, which brings the total up to £3 billion.
I will be brief, because I know that several hon. Members wish to speak. With that investment and the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury, I am greatly reassured that the Government—unlike the Labour Mayor of London, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) said—are determined to tackle the scourge not just of drugs and the damage that they do to people’s health, but of crime that is associated with drugs that ruins other innocent people’s lives. Once again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury on his efforts to get to this point and I look forward to voting for the Bill in the near future.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) on successfully bringing the Bill forward to this stage. I welcome the fact that it is concise and precise legislation. Indeed, it is probably short enough for the former right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Kenneth Clarke), who did not have time to read the Maastricht treaty, to skim.
The Bill is about public safety in approved premises—hostels in communities—that provide temporary accommodation for people who have been released from prison but are considered to present the highest risk to the community, so that they can get additional residential supervision, rehabilitation and support. As has been said, such premises also support people on bail as well as high-risk offenders serving community sentences.
I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury that, regrettably, the number of deaths among approved premises residents has increased in recent years, with much of that driven by the scourge of drugs. With more than 2,000 bed spaces, it is important for there to be a comprehensive drugs strategy for the approved premises estate.
Aside from being illegal and damaging for individuals’ health, taking drugs also undermines rehabilitation efforts, which may therefore lead to more offending. My North West Norfolk constituents want action to be taken to deal with that. I welcome the Bill and the proposals to put in place a comprehensive framework for testing. Importantly, it is consistent with the one that operates in prisons.
It is a sad fact that the Bill has needed to ensure that a much wider range of drugs is included, so it covers prescription drugs, medicines and psychoactive substance. I welcome the fact that by including prevalence testing, and putting it on a firmer statutory footing, we will be able to track emerging trends so that they are identified and to react more quickly to changes in drugs use.
I know from debates on Second Reading and in Committee, and from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury earlier today, that the critical issue of the consequences of failing a drugs test has been considered. In the first instance, it is important that the staff talk to the individual, point them to substance misuse organisations and make a plan to help them to stop taking drugs. He may have some current data on how successful those efforts are after failed drugs tests, but ultimately, if they are unsuccessful, there should rightly be consequences, as he said, with police involvement or recall to prison if they have breached licence conditions.
Once again, I turn eagerly to the commencement clause. The Act will come into force only when regulations are laid, rather than on the day on which it passes. I am sure that the Minister will assure me that those regulations are well developed and will be brought forward rapidly once the Bill is on the statute book.
It is a modestly sized Bill, but drug use is a major problem that drives crime in our communities, whether that is theft to fund a habit or violence or other criminal behaviour when people are off their heads on Spice or other substances. It will help to deliver our commitment to the people who put us here to make their streets and communities safer, so I am pleased to support it today.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for introducing the Bill. As others have said, it is a concise and precise piece of legislation which will hopefully give Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and others associated with approved premises a broader understanding of the needs of people in such premises.
The prevalence of drugs is of great concern to all of us, as is the huge—indeed, worldwide—business that continues to promote it. In my own constituency, I am concerned about the pain that people must be going through to want to take drugs in order to remove themselves from real life, when there are so many valuable things we can do when we are fully focused on real life.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and heartfelt speech. I know that, given her experience in her constituency and what she did before she came to the House, she is aware of the risk that drugs pose to young people; perhaps she could say a little about that. As I said in my own speech, I believe we are seeing a generational shift, and I think the Bill will be part of it.
My hon. Friend has alluded to my career in education and working with young people, including children and teenagers. I believe that, thankfully, we are seeing a cultural shift as people start wanting to be healthier and live longer. The progress with vaccination in the last couple of years has shown that people want to lead healthier lives, and to be more careful about what they consume. We know that in criminal circles drugs provide a way of coercing and controlling people, especially young people, who, even if they are not starting to take the drugs, are delivering them. The clampdown on county lines is making a huge difference in towns such as Great Grimsby, where, at various communication and travel points, youngsters on bicycles can be seen meeting people with carrier bags or rucksacks.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury will be able to respond to this point, but obviously the biggest concern is that if people in residential approved premises are being tested regularly, presumably they are able to get hold of and take drugs while they are in such premises. Perhaps the Minister will be able to say whether it will be possible for that to be pinpointed in the Bill. It is not just a question of rehabilitating offenders, ex-offenders, or people going through the various stages of a sentence or post sentence; what about those who are clearly getting hold of illegal substances while they are in those premises? Will this or other legislation allow for us to find out what is happening with the supply and where it is coming from—whether it is coming from people who are visiting, whether people are going out into the community to get it, or whether, sadly, it is coming from people who are employed in the system?
Although this is a tight and concise piece of legislation, it is vital in our fight against drug use, and hopefully it will help us not only to rehabilitate people, but to pinpoint where those supplies are coming from.
Like other hon. Members, I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for his efforts to enhance the capability of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to detect illegal drug use. The Bill will be an important tool to enable HMPPS to understand the prevalence and nature of substance abuse in approved premises.
I am particularly encouraged by the Bill’s holistic approach to tackling drugs misuse. It will work well with a number of the Government’s key priorities; it chimes with the beating crime plan, complements the prisons strategy White Paper and adds to the focus on transparency in the new drugs strategy. One thing that struck me on reading the Bill was that its provisions are very much targeted towards help and guidance for those in approved premises, rather than towards prosecution. I think we all agree that if somebody has a drugs problem, it is better to help than prosecute them.
I accept that the Mayor of London is trying to do his best about drug use among young people, particularly in Bexley, Lewisham and Greenwich, by not prosecuting under-25s caught in possession of a small amount of drugs. However, I think that that policy will give a very clear steer to the gangs peddling drugs that they can persuade young people that a small amount of cannabis will be okay and that they will get away with it. I do not think that that is the right message to send our young people.
I particularly praise the Bill for giving agencies the ability to understand and respond to new and emerging patterns in drug use in approved premises, ultimately aiming to reduce it and support reductions in reoffending. I also welcome the fact that it will support the development of effective practice in tackling substance misuse, supporting recovery and building a body of evidence on drug misuse among the offender cohort. My concern, however, is that people living in approved premises are not typical offenders; they often have complex problems. Keeping that in mind, our approach to drugs and dependency in approved premises must always be underpinned by assessment and empathy.
Overall, consistency of testing and treatment from prison to the community can and will be vital in ensuring that approved premises, which we are expanding on, are safe and drug-free, and that the risk of serious harm is reduced for the individual, for other residents and for the wider public. I am therefore delighted to support my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill today.
It is a privilege to speak in this debate and to further support my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), who has expertly guided the Bill through its early stages. He and I know what a rollercoaster ride the stewardship of a private Member’s Bill is; I pay tribute to his hard work and tenacity. Having spoken on Second Reading and in Committee, I am delighted to have the opportunity of completing the set, as it were. As I outlined at the earlier stages, the Bill is warmly welcome: it is vital to protecting our nation’s rehabilitation services and staff members in approved premises up and down the country. I am proud to support its progress and glad that it has reached Third Reading unamended.
For too long, staff members of assisted premises have been left without the appropriate and necessary support from lawmakers here in Westminster, so they have had to rely on antiquated legislation that has not evolved to match new challenges. Their important but often unrecognised part of our criminal justice system is vital in assisting with rehabilitation; approved premises are important in supporting the minority of individuals who are deemed at high risk of harm or of reoffending. Their work ensures that those at the highest risk and with the most complex needs receive additional, targeted residential supervision and rehabilitative support. At the sites, their needs are supported and they are protected and supervised as they are gently reintroduced into society, in the hope that they can become productive and effective members once again.
As I set out on Second Reading, Darlington is served by Nelson House and the Crescent in Middlesbrough, and it is clear that staff there have gone above and beyond to provide the necessary specialised support. Under clause 1 of the Bill, approved premises managers can authorised assisted premises staff to ask for and require a urine sample from any resident, rather than an oral fluid test—a provision already in place elsewhere in the system. This is achieved by allowing Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to create a comprehensive yet fair drug testing framework in approved premises. Importantly, it allows the drug testing framework to respond flexibly as managers and staff adapt to patterns of drug misuse and improve the identification of their residents misusing substances, ensuring that appropriate care planning and referrals to specialist treatments are in place.
The Bill seeks to capitalise on improving technology by using the definitions of those substances and medicines already set out in legislation, including in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 and the Human Medicines Regulations 2012. I was glad to hear reassurances during the Bill Committee that clause 1 also ensures that the first step will be to provide guidance and assistance for those found to have drugs or other illicit substances in their bodies. I am glad that this short yet impactful Bill grants staff the legislative powers that they need to prevent wider prevalence of drug misuse within their premises and tackle ever-changing and evolving patterns. It builds on the recommendations of the prisons and probation ombudsman, which in 2017 called for more effective drug testing practices and better staff guidance to identify and address the risks associated with substance misuse.
The Bill places approved premises on a much firmer legislative footing when it comes to protecting residents. I fully support my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury in his efforts to guide the Bill on to the statute book. I look forward to the Bill’s completing its remaining stages.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for bringing the Bill before the House. I believe it is not only a fantastic piece of legislation but fits perfectly within wider Government strategies to deal with the influence and issue of drugs in our communities. It will set a comprehensive statutory framework for the testing of illicit substances in approved premises and will enable an increase in testing, thereby hopefully reducing the number of drug-related deaths in approved premises. For that reason, I strongly support it.
I appreciate my hon. Friend’s comments on the focus of the Bill being guidance and help rather than just prosecution. We need this sort of balanced and compassionate approach when dealing with this complex and multifaceted issue. The more humane we are as a society and in our approach, the better chance we have of actually helping those in need to break the cycle of drug abuse and reoffending, giving people another chance in life.
What is so important about the Bill is that it will help us tackle drug use in approved premises, where residents are most at risk, and will empower those staffing these premises to respond effectively to residents, with staff enabled to apply the relevant treatment, guidance and support. Prevention is better than punishment. The Bill’s enlightened approach will support the Government’s continued commitment to the general rehabilitation of offenders, help reduce reoffending and assist in getting vulnerable people’s lives back on track. Breaking the cycle of drug use and reoffending will clean up our streets and protect our communities. The Bill provides a robust response to the ever-changing means and methods of drug use.
It is important that we expand the methods of testing. The Bill will introduce urine testing rather than oral fluid testing. Few drugs can be detected reliably in oral fluid. Moving to urine testing allows a laboratory to test reliably for a range of illicitly used drugs. The Bill will also extend the range of substances that can be tested to cover all forms of psychoactive substance, as well as prescription and pharmacy medicines. It will allow the Prison and Probation service to respond effectively and flexibly to changing patterns of drug misuse and to improve the identification of residents misusing substances to enable appropriate referrals to treatment, together with the development of appropriate targeted care planning.
Back in 2017, the prisons and probation ombudsman outlined that approved premises need a more effective focus on drug testing and on managing the risks of substance abuse. The Bill will do just that; I am delighted to support it.
I commend the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for bringing forward this extremely important Bill. I want to start by thanking those who work in the criminal justice system in approved premises, prisons and the probation service. They do an incredibly challenging job and deserve our thanks.
As we have heard today, residents who are supervised in approved premises are not typical offenders. Often, they are high-risk individuals with additional problems and troubled pasts. They mainly house people released from prison with strict licence conditions in place. Approved premises play an incredibly important role in the rehabilitation of those who are there. Ensuring they are housed in safe and secure drug-free premises that support their rehabilitation and prevent reoffending is crucial not just for those who are placed there, but for the public at large, so everything must be done to protect residents from the supply of drugs, which in some cases has led to them offending in the first place.
I am deeply concerned, like other Members across the House, that drug deaths in approved premises have risen in recent years, and that the abuse of prescription drugs and new psychoactive substances is increasing. Psychoactive substances in particular are constantly evolving and becoming harder to detect and combat, and the hon. Member highlighted the profound effect such drugs can have on those who take them.
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am not surprised by it, particularly as I am a Member of Parliament representing Lewisham. I do not agree with the premise that it is the decriminalisation of drugs in our borough. Let us look at what the Mayor of London is doing: an extra 1,300 police officers and £70 million for opportunities for disadvantaged young people. The reoffending rate for people using the London Women’s Diversion Service, which the Mayor of London funds, is just 7% versus the national average of, I think, 23.3%. It is really important to look at what works, but it certainly is not the decriminalisation of drugs that the hon. Lady refers to.
Under the Offender Management Act 2007, residents of approved premises are required to submit to drug tests if requested by members of staff in some circumstances, but it is not a comprehensive scheme. The detection of prescription drugs and psychoactive substances in particular can be evaded. It is therefore clear that the current testing framework is far from perfect and we welcome the Bill, which would help to build a more comprehensive framework that enables approved premises to conduct drug testing in line with the regime used in prisons. Not only would that allow for the testing of a greater range of substances; it would allow offender managers to use urine testing, rather than oral fluid testing, which detects a far wider range of drugs over a longer period of time. The measures would also allow for anonymous sample testing to help to understand the extent of substance use and to help to identify any new substances.
It is absolutely right that managers of an approved premises should have the tools to identify drug misuse and better understand the types of drugs that are being used, but we are also pleased to see that the Bill provides assistance and rehabilitation. I welcome the points the hon. Member for Aylesbury made in relation to that not just today, but on Second Reading and in Committee. Residents who test positive for drugs will be directed to appropriate substance misuse organisations first, with punitive sanctions not the primary purpose of the new regime. That is something we very much welcome. All these measures will help offender managers to better support those in their care. That will not only improve the rehabilitation of residents but decrease the risk to members of the public.
However, to truly tackle drug use in approved premises we also have to look at what is happening in our prisons. Following over a decade of Tory Government, drug use in prisons has increased by 500%. Our overcrowded prisons are in crisis—failing to rehabilitate, failing to stem the tide of drugs flowing into them and failing to keep us safe. The Government hailed their prisons White Paper as a great success but it was merely a sticking plaster over the deep wounds caused by 12 years of Conservative neglect. The statistics speak for themselves. There has been a 12% drop in inmates enrolling in drug and alcohol courses over the last four years, with fewer offenders taking these programmes. That simply leads to greater addiction and inmates learning nothing but more criminality. And what of the Justice Secretary’s flagship programme of introducing £1 million X-ray scanners in all men’s prisons? They are detecting only a quarter of the number of contraband items being found in manual checks by prison officers. This is a Government that is high on tax but soft on crime. The perilous state of our prisons means that a third of adults released from custody go on to reoffend within a year, costing the taxpayer £18 billion and meaning that we are less safe on our streets.
We welcome the Bill, but unless the Government get to grips with the fundamental problems across our justice system they will be condemning many to a cycle of reoffending. I commend the hon. Member for Aylesbury for his determination in bringing the Bill before the House and I wish him every success as it passage continues.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for the excellent work he has conducted over the last few months in introducing this important Bill and for navigating it to this stage. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) said based on his own experiences—I congratulate him too on his success this morning—getting a private Member’s Bill through can be a bit of a rollercoaster. It is great credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury that there is such warmth and support for his efforts and for this legislation in the House today. I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friends across the House for speaking so well and for giving such support to this important piece of discrete legislation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) gently reflected on the fact that it is good to be in this place talking about issues that really matter for our constituencies, and I echo his feelings on that. This legislation, coupled with the Government’s work across our drugs strategy and our prisons strategy, will really make a difference to our constituents across the country.
The Bill will play an important role in helping us to tackle illegal drug use, cut crime and save lives. I thank members of staff across the country, who work day in, day out to assist prisoners and offenders in getting back on to the straight and narrow and, importantly, to protect the public. Individual officers and members of staff do this work often without the public quite realising what they have to do or their enormous personal commitment to helping protect the public. I put on record my thanks to everyone doing this work day in, day out in approved premises, in probation and in our Prison Service.
The hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves) had a little pop from the Opposition Front Bench about X-ray scanners. I read with great interest the Opposition’s press release today about how X-ray scanners do not work. I do struggle to understand how the Opposition propose that prison officers are to detect concealed items in a person’s body. I have looked at the photographs and, believe you me, it would be quite difficult for a prison officer to reach down somebody’s throat, or another way, and remove something from their intestines, but who knows? The Labour party seems to be against X-ray body scanners. We are very firmly in favour of them. We are also in favour of drugs dogs and of members of staff doing manual searches. These things are just one tool in the Government’s determination to have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prison and in our society.
In December, we published our cross-Government drugs strategy, which represents an ambitious 10-year generational commitment to work across Government to address illegal drug use, including increased and enhanced testing in prisons and approved premises. We know the detrimental impact that drugs have on both the individual taking them and the wider community. Our strategy sets out three core priorities, which are: cutting off drugs supply; creating a world-class treatment and recovery service; and achieving a generational shift in the demand for drugs. I was particularly interested in the contributions on that from my hon. Friends the Members for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici) and for Newcastle-under-Lyme. They are right that such work must sit hand in hand with greater education—particularly of our young people—so that people understand the enormous costs involved in taking drugs both for themselves personally and for wider society.
Our vision goes beyond just treatment. We know that people who suffer from addiction also have multiple and complex needs for which they need support. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) used the word “empathy” about such approaches. She is right, and in a characteristically informed and knowledgeable way she showed how that requires not just our ambitious efforts to crack down on drugs supply but a little understanding of why people may find themselves addicts in the first place. We want to deliver a joined-up package across treatment, accommodation and employment. The strategy is underpinned with total investment of £3 billion in combating drugs over the next three years.
The prisons strategy White Paper, which sits alongside the drugs strategy and this discrete piece of legislation, sets out our ambitious plans to reduce reoffending and protect the public. It defines our goal for prisons to have a culture of zero tolerance to drugs and an approach that ensures meaningful and lasting recovery for all prisoners. Prisoners will be supported to use their time in prison to become free from drugs. On release, accommodation and employment support will help them to stay away from drugs and crime.
It is important, however, that work to tackle substance misuse continues outside prison. The Bill will ensure that we can understand and react quickly to the changing patterns of drugs misuse that exist in approved premises and hamper an individual’s chances of rehabilitation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury set out, the Bill will implement a rigorous drug testing framework, enabling mandatory drug testing for psychoactive substances together with prescription and pharmacy medicines. It will enable us to test for a wide number of substances for longer and will help to identify prevalence trends so that we can focus our preventive and, indeed, investigative work.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) asked a perfectly fair question about the consequences for someone who fails a drugs test. We very much want to incorporate the empathy referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, but we also want there to be consequences. If a resident fails a drugs test, there will be discussions with them, and an improvement plan may be initiated with referrals to appropriate services. We are conscious that although there needs to be rigour and discipline in approved premises, we do not want the exercise to be purely punitive. We therefore aim to signpost and refer residents to substance misuse services, liaising with probation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) emphasised the vital role played by staff. He is right to pay tribute to them, because the staff in approved premises will be leading the work in helping residents make the changes that we all want them to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk also asked about regulations. I am told that no further legislation is required—it is more that guidance and authorisations will be required. Officials aim to implement that as swiftly as possible, because we want this work to continue. In closing, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury again for all his hard work in getting the Bill to this stage. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, this is also a rare opportunity for Ministers to thank at the Dispatch Box the unsung heroes who exist in every single Government Department, drafting legislation and providing assistance to Back Benchers when they are navigating a private Member’s Bill through the House. As such, I thank the Bill manager, Alice Harrison, and other officials including Graham Mackenzie, Alisha Hubert, Shelley Smith, Janet Thomas, Adam Hartley, Janet Cowdrey, and parliamentary counsel Justin Leslie and Amy Perkins for all the work they have done quietly from backstage, making sure that my hon. Friend is able to achieve what he wants to achieve.
I am pleased to reiterate the Government’s support for this important, discrete piece of legislation, and I wish it well in its progress in the other place.
With the leave of the House, I would like to thank all those who have assisted me in getting the Bill this far. First, though, I must apologise that in the heat of the moment, I inadvertently misled the House when I suggested that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell) who stewarded the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021 through the House on behalf of Dame Cheryl Gillan, when it was in fact my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden). I cannot think how I possibly mistook the two; I leave that to others.
I thank my hon. Friend for his generous apology. I suspect that as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham is five years younger than me, he may be getting an angry text from him, rather than me. [Laughter.] I understand that he has a similar problem with my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild): perhaps he could address that.
I do indeed: it is my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk who is often angry, because he is, I think, 10 years younger than I. I will move on, but I beg the indulgence of the House and apologise profusely for inadvertently misleading the House and Members.
First, I thank the Ministers in the Ministry of Justice. My right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) has been alongside me throughout much of this process, but today, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) has picked up the mantle with her normal expertise on the brief. I am very grateful to her for stepping in today, and to both Ministers for their help, assistance and advice. I echo my hon. Friend’s words and extend my thanks to the Ministry of Justice civil servants whom she has just named. They have worked incredibly diligently on this Bill, devoting many hours of work to its progress, and have been a constant source of information, advice and—at times—just calm reassurance. I also thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker, and the other Deputy Speakers for your guidance and for ensuring that there was always a firm hand on the tiller.
On the parliamentary side, my thanks go to the Chairman of the Bill Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), and all the Members who served under his chairmanship. If I may beg the House’s indulgence, for his expert knowledge of procedure, his willingness to answer even the most basic questions, and his warm, reassuring approach to a new MP potentially overwhelmed by the complexities of legislation, I record especial thanks to the Clerk of Private Member’s Bills, who sits at the table today. This would not have been possible without him, so I am deeply grateful to Adam Mellows-Facer. If I have broken protocol by naming him, I apologise, but I hope that all will understand the circumstances of doing so.
I thank my Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson). I also thank the Whip in charge of private Member’s Bills, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris) for her military-like precision and firm guidance, which right now extends to waving me to sit down. I will do so in 15 seconds after I finally, and most importantly, pay tribute to the staff working in approved premises, working alongside people at an incredibly sensitive moment in their lives. As the Minister has summed up so well, we owe a great deal of gratitude to them.
Occupants of the Chair have great sympathy when Members are confused with other Members. It is particularly difficult when the largest part of a person’s physiognomy is hidden: it can sometimes be very difficult, especially when people hide themselves at the far ends of the Chamber, but the hon. Gentleman got through.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.