I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second 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. I also want to thank all those, including Clerks, Whips, officials and the Minister, who helped me to get the Bill to this stage.
I have risen in this House on several occasions to speak about our prison and probation services, and I have paid tribute to the staff working in them, whom I genuinely consider to be the hidden heroes of our public services, but there is an important aspect of our justice system that I have not thus far highlighted: approved premises. Indeed, while many people are familiar with prisons and probation, there is much less awareness of approved premises, yet they provide a critical step in the rehabilitation of offenders. Let us never forget that rehabilitation means there will be less reoffending, and that in turn means fewer victims of crime—something each and every one of us in this House must surely welcome.
Approved premises are essentially hostels which provide temporary accommodation for people who have been released from prison but are considered to present the highest risk to the community. They also house a small number of people on bail as well as high-risk offenders serving community sentences. There are just over 100 APs in England and Wales, with about 2,300 bed spaces between them, and the average stay in them is 12 weeks. The role of approved premises is to ensure that those with the highest risk and most complex needs receive additional, targeted residential supervision and rehabilitative support.
Unfortunately, the number of deaths among approved premises residents has increased over recent years, and many of those deaths are believed to be related to taking drugs. As a result, the independent prisons and probation ombudsman has rightly made repeated recommendations about the urgent need for a comprehensive drugs strategy for the approved premises estate. I am sure that I surprise no one when I say that the use of drugs in approved premises can have a significant impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of residents in both the short and the long term. Of course, drug use also undermines a person’s ability to engage in work or other activities that would help their rehabilitation.
My Bill today is a response to this problem. It would enable approved premises to create a comprehensive framework for drug testing, and it would also bring them in line with the substance testing regime in prisons. This was established by the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021, which was the private Member’s Bill promoted by our greatly missed colleague and my constituency neighbour Dame Cheryl Gillan. I was proud to serve on the Bill Committee for that legislation, and I am delighted to say that it received Royal Assent earlier this year, having been supported by all parties in this House, as I hope my Bill will be.
Currently, residents in approved premises can be tested for drugs only at the request of staff, in accordance with the house rules that are a condition of their residence. Although that provides a basis for drug testing, it does not set out a comprehensive statutory framework for the testing of illicit substances, the scope of substances for which testing can be conducted or the types of sample that may be taken. I submit that that needs to change.
One reason for the need for more formalised and widespread testing is that patterns of drug misuse in both custody and the community are changing. In particular, psychoactive substances have become much more prevalent within the illicit economy in approved premises. These are particularly unpleasant, and one of the most worrying aspects of them is their unpredictable impact on different individuals. Some people become catatonic after taking them. Others suffer convulsions, vomiting or temporary loss of vision. Still others become anxious, aggressive or even engage in extreme behaviours that almost defy the imagination. They can easily pose a serious danger to others and indeed to themselves.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for speaking on this. I well remember the debate we had in Committee, when I picked up that Bill from Dame Cheryl, on prisons testing and substance misuse. I also remember speaking to those from the Prison Officers Association during the passage of that Bill, and they said to me that some of the interactions they were having with prisoners were off the scale, even compared with the issues they had with controlled substances, with prisoners attempting to commit suicide, in absolute rages and totally uncontrollable. Are those the sort of examples he is trying to pin down with this Bill so that things like that in treatment centres in the community can be addressed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those are exactly the types of behaviour that cause real concern. I would like to take the opportunity to thank him for picking up the mantle on that prisons Bill from Dame Cheryl Gillan. He talked about the Prison Officers Association, and it is worth mentioning that, according to a recent staff survey in approved premises, the main substance of choice in those premises is now psychoactive substances, so anything we can do to stamp out their use is bound to be of benefit.
A further challenge comes from prescription and pharmacy medicines, which can also be abused by some residents when medication is brought into the premises from outside. That may have been legally obtained by somebody else or it may have been imported, but it is then taken by residents in an illicit way to get high, and that can at times even prove lethal. Yet the current drugs testing regime in approved premises can test only for four groups of drugs—opioids, cannabis, cocaine and amphetamines. Therefore, first, my Bill will extend the range of substances that can be tested to cover all forms of psychoactive substance as well as prescription and pharmacy medicines, in addition of course to the existing drugs. Alongside that, the Bill also introduces urine testing rather than the currently used oral fluid testing. There are relatively few drugs that can in fact be detected reliably in oral fluid. That means that the current testing regime is unable to identify much of the potential drug use among residents. As a result, it is not possible to tackle the problem.
I am interested in exploring my hon. Friend’s point about the scope of the testing. As Members across the House will know, legislating to proscribe drugs is something of a retrospective game because almost every week more drugs appear on the market and in head shops. We seem to be chasing our tail when it comes to these things, and they can be harmful or they can be innocent. Where would he place the limit on the scope of testing?
That has been addressed recently through legislation to ensure that the appropriate Department can incorporate different types of psychoactive substances so that there does not need to be primary legislation on each and every occasion a new substance is named. It is very easy to tinker with one or two of the chemical elements, thereby taking them out of the scope of what is illegal and what is legal. Thankfully, that has been addressed, so it would apply to this proposed legislation as well, making sure that we were not always chasing our tails. I thank my hon. Friend for making that very important point.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for promoting this Bill. It is clear that he speaks with great authority on the matter. From reading the notes and listening to him speak, it seems to me that the danger is not just to the people taking the drug. In the case of prescription medicine, residents who are trying to go straight are being bullied by residents who are trying to get the drugs off them. Could he set out how the testing regime he envisages would protect people who are desperately trying to be rehabilitated, go straight and become productive members of society again?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. That can indeed be a risk, although having had conversations this week with the staff and management of approved premises, I have been reassured to learn that, for the most part, the staff look after any prescription medicines and issue them to residents at the appropriate time. Therefore, there is a little less concern than one might have thought about residents obtaining those drugs from others through distinctly unhelpful ways such as bullying. In fact, the current concerns seem to be rather more as I have described them—namely, people from outside obtaining substances legally and then sharing them illicitly, or, indeed, substances being obtained from overseas via the internet. My hon. Friend raises an important point and I know that the management of approved premises in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service are keen to tackle it. They believe that they have already taken serious steps through their regime of handing out medication.
Let me turn to the reasons why it is preferable to test via urine. It is very clear that this will enable a wider range of substances to come under a testing regime. It will also, importantly, extend the time period in which testing can identify drug use. That is because some drugs are detectable for only 12 to 24 hours when using oral fluid, whereas when using urine, drugs such as heroin are detectable for up to five days.
The second aspect of my Bill aims to ensure that the Government understand the prevalence and nature of substance abuse in approved premises. It would allow HMPPS to use resident samples to test for the prevalence of various substances on an anonymised basis.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point, although I only half-thank her because I have to say that it is not a measure that I have thus far considered. I will take her up on it and find out more. If the Bill passes its Second Reading, I hope that she will serve on the Committee, so perhaps we could explore her suggestion at that stage. In the meantime I will endeavour to find out more, but I regret that that will probably not happen before I finish speaking today.
Prevalence testing on an anonymised basis would be key to helping HMPPS understand the ever changing drug landscape, and it would allow staff to take appropriate action to tackle the threat of drugs in those premises.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The problem is that we do not know, and that is the reason to introduce prevalence testing. We know about individual cases where people have died, unfortunately, but we do not know the number of people who have taken drugs but it has not been detected. That is the whole purpose of introducing the Bill. If it passes and the measures are implemented, we will, in 12, 24 or 36 months, have a much clearer idea of the prevalence, but I would not want to hazard a guess on something that we do not yet know. My hon. Friend almost underlines the rationale for my Bill.
This is an interesting debate on a subject in which I was not particularly well versed. These premises are in a community. If drugs are being taken, is there a knock-on effect on antisocial behaviour in the community, such as robbery or theft to fund drug taking? If so, would increased testing help to improve the standing and status of approved premises and make them more acceptable?
My hon. Friend raises a very plausible scenario, but I am not aware of any specific evidence to suggest that. There is quite a strict regime in approved premises around the behaviour of residents. For example, they are required to abide by a curfew and their behaviour is very carefully scrutinised. If their behaviour is in breach of the rules, there are possible sanctions that could ultimately lead to a recall to prison. However, he highlighted a danger area. At present, most of the concern is about the wellbeing of individuals in the premises and, once they leave the premises and move into the community more widely, the danger of their continuing a drug habit that would likely lead them to engage in illegal behaviour. But ideally, the further testing that the Bill would introduce would reduce the chance of people succumbing to that temptation.
It is clear that the Bill aims to reduce the number of drug-related deaths on approved premises and help with the rehabilitation of offenders, but in widening the scope of what my hon. Friend wants to test for, what sanctions would be in place for those who possess, supply and use the increased range of substances?
I will say a bit more about sanctions later, but first, and most importantly, the aim in approved premises is to help people on their journey to rehabilitation. If somebody fails a drugs test, the first step will be for the staff to engage in conversation with them, try to work out what the causes are and direct them towards the appropriate substance misuse organisation. Every single approved premises in the country—there are approximately 100—has a link with a substance misuse premises that can do that. However, if that behaviour were to continue, as I mentioned, more punitive sanctions are possible and could be implemented. If people were caught in possession of drugs of whatever type—let alone if there was a fear of supply—they would, of course, be subject to normal police intervention. If necessary, that would lead to a prosecution, but that would be beyond the scope of my Bill and in the normal course of the law, as it stands.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s fantastic campaigning on all matters of criminal justice since he got into the House. He is a true champion of this cause and I am grateful to him for bringing in the Bill. I am reassured to hear that early intervention is in place for those who fail drugs tests, but does he agree that we are sometimes too quick to recriminalise people who are really trying to rebuild their lives and that a more restorative approach is the right way forward?
My hon. Friend’s point is absolutely spot on. That is why the first step will be to try to encourage people to help themselves. The answer to stopping people reoffending is not always to come down incredibly harshly the first time that people make a mistake. I remember that when I was involved with the Youth Justice Board I asked some young people, “What would you really like me to take away from my conversation with you, given that you have committed an offence?” They said, “That one mistake does not define your entire life.”
It is important to get the balance right: not letting people off if they commit offences time after time, but adopting a progressive approach. That is what the Bill seeks to do, and it is, I think, what the Government’s approach to criminal justice is all about. We need to be very tough at the hard end, but we also need to give people the opportunity to live a crime-free life if they can be helped to do that through positive interventions, rather than criminalising them.
Let me now say a little more about the consequences if someone tests positive, to make sure that I have it on the record. The first step is a discussion with the resident, which should lead to a plan to help them tackle the problem and stop using drugs with the support of the substance misuse services to which I referred earlier. The aim, as I have said repeatedly, is rehabilitation. Of course, if the drug use continued or resulted in wider problems—as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Tom Randall)—that could lead to breach proceedings or, in extremis, a recall to prison.
I know that my hon. Friend shares my concern that, during the pandemic, prisons were largely shut down, with training, education and skills, as well as drug support and other medical interventions, no longer available to prisoners. Is it not vital for the Government to take urgent steps to support prisoners in the way that my hon. Friend has described, so that when they come out, they can move forward in their lives?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Throughout the pandemic, Ministers have frequently come to the Justice Committee to talk to us and account for what is going on in prisons.
At the beginning of the pandemic, given the presence of so many people in such close and confined circumstances, it was feared that prisons could easily become super-spreader locations, and it is a huge tribute to the staff in our prisons, at all levels, that that did not happen. In fact, the number of people who succumbed to covid-19 on the custodial estate was very small indeed. Achieving that required restrictions of their normal activities, on the rehabilitation programmes and so on, and of course we want to overcome that as quickly as possible, but I think that the key aim has been to save lives, and I pay tribute to HMPPS for achieving that.
I have had the opportunity to talk to staff involved in running approved premises, and they believe that their colleagues—and, importantly, residents—would welcome these proposals. My final word—
I was a special adviser in the House of Lords during the passage of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. That Act specifically excluded caffeine, which is by far the most broadly used psychoactive substance available. I note that the Bill does not currently refer to the exclusions in the Act, but merely mentions psychoactive substances. Will my hon. Friend assure me that at a later stage—perhaps in Committee, if his Bill makes it that far—caffeine will be excluded, so that I shall be able to support the Bill’s Second Reading?
I hope that my hon. Friend will support the Bill today, and that sounded like a very good effort at volunteering to be a member of the Bill Committee. I am now drawing to a conclusion, and I beg the indulgence of my hon. Friends in not making further interventions for the moment.
The Bill may seem fairly insignificant or even trivial to some, but drug use is pervasive. It is so often the major driver in the commission of crimes. In the 12 years that I spent as a magistrate, I lost count of the number of defendants who appeared in front of me either because they were stealing to feed their habit, or because they had committed the offence when they were high. Anything we can do to help people steer clear of drugs, including psychoactive substances and illicit medication, has the potential to cut crime.
The House has the opportunity today to support provisions that would enable us to better identify and respond to new and emerging patterns of drug use in approved premises, which would help to reduce the number of drug-related deaths and, ultimately, support reductions in reoffending. I hope that the benefits I have laid out in some detail are clear and that the Bill will gain support from Members on both sides.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) on bringing the Bill forward. I know that he has tremendous experience in the area, and he is a great asset to this place in that respect, but I was a bit concerned that he would talk out his own Bill.
The hon. Gentleman outlined clearly the context for the Bill. As we are content to support Second Reading, I will be brief. As we have heard, residents who are supervised in approved premises are not typical offenders. Often, they are high-risk individuals with previous additional problems and troubled pasts. For that reason, it is crucial that those who are housed in that type of premises can access a safe and secure environment that will support their rehabilitation and promote their wellbeing. Critical to that is ensuring that residents are protected from the supply of illicit drugs, which may have led many of them to offend in the first place.
Substance abuse ruins the lives not only of the people who become dependent on drugs, but of their friends, families and loved ones, as is very clearly the case when I talk to affected families in my constituency. Moreover, it plays a huge factor in offending and reoffending. Labour supports the principle of the Bill, which would give offender managers the powers they need to clamp down on illicit drugs in approved premises and, by doing so, to protect those in their care and prevent their reoffending.
Under the Offender Management Act 2007, residents of approved premises are required to submit to drugs tests if requested by members of staff, but we accept that the current testing framework is far from perfect. In particular, we share the concerns that, in the 14 years since the Act was enacted, patterns of drug misuse in custody, and in the community for that matter, have changed considerably. That is particularly evident in the huge number of new psychoactive substances available that are constantly evolving and becoming harder to detect and combat.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill would allow offender managers to use urine testing rather than oral fluid testing to allow them to detect a far wider range of drugs over a longer period than currently, and then tackle their misuse. As Members will be aware, in recent years, psychoactive substances have become far more prevalent across approved premises and prisons. Similarly, there has been an alarming rise in the number of offenders abusing prescription drugs that have been prescribed for genuine medical purposes.
This is not just about further criminalising offenders. Giving offender managers the tools to better understand the types of drugs that are being abused in approved premises will allow them to better support those in their care. Not only will that improve the rehabilitation of individual residents, but it will decrease the risk to members of the wider public.
The misuse of drugs, prescription drugs and psychoactive substances is a growing problem within our prisons and youth offending institutions. It is also a problem in our approved premises, as we have heard. If we are to have any hope of breaking the cycle between offending and reoffending, we need to take action. We look forward to discussing the Bill in Committee.
It is a privilege to speak in support of this important Bill. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) for bringing forward this legislation, which fundamentally supports rehabilitation services across the country. I am proud to support the Bill to update ageing legislation that has left assisted premises staff without the appropriate and necessary legislative support that they need to do their jobs.
Fundamentally, our prison system must focus on the rehabilitation of offenders, as we prepare them for life after they are released. We know, however, that following their release, a minority of individuals deemed to be at high risk of harm or reoffending need the supervision and support that only specialised centres can provide. Each and every assisted premises across the UK is there to protect and support bailees as they transition from their custodial release back into society. Approved premises are rightly in place to ensure that these offenders with the highest risk and most complex needs receive the additional residential supervision and rehabilitative support that they often need following release from custody.
While there are no assisted premises within the boundaries of my constituency, the Tees Valley is served by two premises in Middlesbrough. Nelson House and The Crescent provide the specialised support that a number of individuals locally need to prevent further harm from being caused. They also provide a safe, suitable temporary home, ensuring that these vulnerable offenders do not end up on the street.
These centres provide a range of engaging activities, events and skills classes for their residents to participate in. Over the past year, this has included marking and celebrating awareness days, such as LGBT awareness, mental health awareness and Macmillan coffee mornings, as well as important cultural and religious days of significance. It has also included the provision of skills sessions chiefly focused on supporting residents once they move on from those premises. I read with interest that one such course was Skills 2: Employment Day, where residents were taught real world practical skills to make them more employable and how to make the most of opportunities presented to them.
While staff at the centres across the country continue to support their residents and prepare them for reintegration, we know that the ageing Offender Management Act 2007 is failing to keep pace with changes in the drugs problem and improving drug testing technology. Sadly, that has led to concerns being raised regarding the fact that the number of deaths among approved premises residents has increased in recent years. I understand that many of these deaths are believed to be drug related.
Indeed, we know that psychoactive drugs have become more prevalent in approved premises, hampering the efforts of staff to protect and rehabilitate individuals, while bullying sees the hoarding and abuse of prescription medication. I am glad that this short, yet impactful Bill grants staff the legislative powers that they need to prevent the wider prevalence of drug misuse within their premises and to tackle ever-changing and evolving drug patterns.
At the heart of the Bill, staff at Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service are empowered with the power they need to monitor and control the misuse of controlled psychoactive and prescriptive drugs. Under clause 1, approved premises managers can authorise assisted premises staff to ask for and require a urine sample from any resident rather than an oral fluid test. It was interesting to hear the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) with regard to the challenge on hair follicle testing. It is, however, important to highlight that the Bill rightly imposes restrictions on how this sample may be acquired and places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the exercise of drug testing in these sites. The sample can then be used to identify a controlled drug, a prescription-only medicine or a psychoactive substance within the resident’s body.
I am glad that the Bill builds on the recommendation of the prisons and probation ombudsman, who, 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 and I am pleased to support it today.
It is great to rise to speak on this very important Bill, which has been introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler).
I just want to make a few brief points in the limited time that I have. I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot answer the question on the prevalence of different types of drugs, but, clearly, drug use in prisons and approved premises is rife. It is responsible for a lot of misery, delaying people and causing them problems in their rehabilitation process. The more that we can do on drug testing and offering drug testing, the better, particularly in terms of being able to offer proper treatment, packages and pathways for people going through the criminal justice system.
It is worth reflecting on the harms that drug use causes to people. We talk a lot about the harms to society, but there are also harms to people themselves. The most dangerous time to be a heroin user when a person is going through the judicial system is when they leave prison. When they leave prison, they get access to heroin again, take far more than they are used to and have heroin overdoses. It is important we make sure that people are detected and we get them on proper treatment plans so they can be rehabilitated back into society.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury again for tabling the Bill, which will hopefully make a huge difference in protecting our society and, importantly, helping people on the path to rehabilitation.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler), who gave a comprehensive speech that is difficult to top. He was obviously rehearsing for being a Minister, given the number of interventions he took. I hope he will excuse me if I do not take any.
This Bill is very important, and we look forward to it completing its passage. As my hon. Friend said, it continues from the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021, which was another private Member’s Bill that received Royal Assent with support from both sides of the House. I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham), too.
As a number of Members have said, this Bill makes sure we can understand and react quickly to the changing patterns of drug misuse in approved premises, as drug misuse often hampers individuals’ chances of rehabilitation. As Members may be aware, around 80% of crime that receives a caution or conviction is committed by a repeat offender, and around 62% of prisoners have either an alcohol or drugs need, or both.
Combating drug misuse is a priority for the Government. In January this year we announced £148 million to institute a system-wide approach to the problem of illegal drugs, with £80 million of new money being invested in treatment and recovery services beyond the prison gate.
One of the projects I am proud to have founded is Project ADDER, a joint Home Office, Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England initiative that combines targeted and tougher policing with enhanced treatment and recovery services. Through Project ADDER, work is under way to improve outcomes for offenders with substance misuse needs in prison and within the ADDER geographies.
It is also important that work to tackle substance misuse continues outside prison. We know the detrimental impact that drugs can have on an individual, both physically and mentally. Having a comprehensive framework of substance testing in place will be vital in ensuring that approved premises are safe and drug free, and that the risk of serious harm is reduced for the individual, other residents and, most importantly, the wider public. This Bill does two things. It enables us to implement a rigorous drug-testing framework, enabling mandatory drug testing for psychoactive substances and prescription and pharmacy medicines. Supported by the change to urine testing, we can reliably test for a wider number of substances for longer. Urine testing gives us a date when drugs were taken, whereas I am afraid that follicle testing does not. A positive follicle test could mean that drugs were taken months before. The Bill will also put prevalence testing on a firmer statutory footing that allows us to better identify emerging trends and ensure we are able to react quickly.
The combined measures set out in the Bill are intended to help us to tackle the use of drugs in approved premises and ensure that staff can respond effectively and put the necessary care planning in place. This will in turn support our commitment to rehabilitate offenders and, as a number of Members said, get them on to the straight and narrow and give them a second chance, not least because that is one of the key planks of reducing crime overall.
Everyone who has taken part in this debate has my gratitude, not least for their brevity and their commitment to this issue.
With the leave of the House, I thank Members on both sides of the House for their support for my Bill. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Darlington (Peter Gibson) and for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) for their speeches, and to many other colleagues for their thoughtful interventions.
I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) for his words of support, and I take all his comments on board. I look forward to working together if this Bill progresses.
I also repeat my appreciation to those who have assisted me on the Bill’s progress so far. I feel sure that if the Bill eventually reaches the statute book, it will bring real benefits to society. Everybody present here today will have contributed to that. All our communities are touched by crime, and we all know that drugs play a major part. We will all have shared in clamping down on that crime and reducing the number of victims.
I am very grateful to the Minister for his expert knowledge of follicle testing, which I hope answered the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe).
I have no more to say other than, “Thank you very much indeed.” I look forward to continuing to work with all my colleagues to get this Bill on to the statute book.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).