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Building on the findings of the Halcrow study, my officials are now focusing on two phases of further development work, both of which involve close co-operation with key stakeholders including Network Rail and South West Trains. That work will be in advance of any wider, longer term redevelopment by Network Rail, about which I shall say more later. In summary, there will be two phases of work. First, there will be a short-term solution to convert the international platforms as quickly as possible following Eurostar’s move, providing the capability for some existing South West Trains Windsor line services to use the international platforms and so delivering performance benefits quickly. The intention is that that capability will be available not from 2010 but from December 2008. Secondly, in the medium term we will want to make use of the international platforms as part of a wider strategy to provide crowding relief to some of the busiest trains using Waterloo.

The objective of the work is provide the capacity, through the use of the international platforms, to operate longer mainline suburban trains into Waterloo. That will relieve overcrowding and provide capacity for growth in advance of wider Network Rail redevelopment proposals for the station. Looking beyond the short term, Network Rail is developing a comprehensive redevelopment plan for Waterloo aimed at relieving congestion on the station concourse and allowing longer suburban mainline trains to operate into the station.

We must be aware of the important links between any station redevelopment project and the wider regeneration of the north Lambeth area and the south bank. Network Rail’s scheme is a major project and, if implemented, would require major reconstruction of the existing concourse. A significant amount of work has still to be done by Network Rail to develop a scheme that has a robust business case and is affordable. That means that full implementation is still some way off—we do not expect it before 2015, and it is highly likely that additional mainline suburban capacity will be required before then. That is why the current development study is being used to develop a range of options to address that requirement in the meantime.

Preliminary conclusions from the study suggest that making full use of the international platforms could address the significant crowding now experienced on mainline suburban train services using Waterloo. One option is to use the platforms for Windsor line services. Other trains could then “shuffle” across the remaining platforms at the station, which in turn would allow the current mainline suburban services that are restricted to the eight-carriage platforms—platforms 1 to 4—to move to platforms 5 to 8, which can accommodate 10 carriages. There might then be a case for platforms at stations along the mainline suburban routes from Waterloo to be lengthened. That would make it possible to run longer suburban mainline trains into Waterloo, providing significant crowding relief and capacity for growth.

Such a “shuffle across” would require some changes to the track layout on the approaches to Waterloo. The study is therefore assessing the scope of infrastructure modifications that would be required to improve capacity and operational flexibility. Track and signalling modifications would be required, and the
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scope and cost of the potential modifications is currently being determined.

Mr. Davey rose—

Mr. Harris: I think that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I have been rather generous in allowing interventions so far.

There are other potential works that could provide further capacity on the approaches to Waterloo. An example is removing the flyover at Nine Elms, which the hon. Lady mentioned, providing eight running lines. The benefits of that and other options are still being determined, but we expect that more information will be available in the spring.

Mr. Davey rose—

Mr. Harris: I feel in a generous mood, so I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman one more time.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the Minister. He has given a full report, which shows the benefits of the debate having been secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. Will he undertake to meet myself and my hon. Friends, or allow us to meet some of his officials, so that we can understand in greater detail the plans that he has outlined? They are so important to our constituents.

Mr. Harris: As I said yesterday in another conversation, my door is always open although I may not always be in. Of course I am happy to meet any of my parliamentary colleagues to discuss issues of concern to their constituents. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to my office, we will make an arrangement.

A recommended option for the short-term conversion of the international platforms to domestic use will be selected in the spring. Our aim is to implement the preferred option by December 2008. We hope by the spring also to have identified a range of options for the longer term. That is when we will focus on further capacity improvements to the approaches to Waterloo, including the “shuffle across” that I described earlier, and the ability to run longer trains. If a positive business case can be made and the necessary funds found, further development work will take place to identify a preferred option in close dialogue with Network Rail and Stagecoach South Western Trains. At this stage it is not possible to confirm implementation time scales, but the objective will be to develop a cost-effective and implementable scheme as quickly as possible.

11.30 am

Sitting suspended until half-past Two o’clock.

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Drugs Policy (Prisons)

2.30 pm

Frank Cook (Stockton, North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to be speaking from the Floor of the Chamber under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton. As you know, I frequently occupy the seat that you are currently occupying. May I ask you to convey to Mr. Speaker my gratitude for permitting me the opportunity to raise the issue of drugs policy in prisons?

When I first decided to pick up the baton and run with it, I knew very little about the subject. I had some feelings about drugs, but I had no idea of the problems that they cause in Her Majesty’s prisons. I have learned a good deal more about drugs thanks to Lexington Communications, which sent me an executive summary and a full copy of the report by—let me get the title right—the Royal Society of Arts commission on illegal drugs, which was a two-year study by academics, drug workers and senior police officers on illegal drugs, communities and public policy. I have read some of the report and I shall probably try to read the rest of it, because it is engaging. I was also helped by the Library, which sent me its debate pack, which is also full of relevant material.

What I want to talk about is not really drugs, but the manner in which we try to regulate, manage and control the use of drugs in Her Majesty’s prisons and the difficulties that that presents to the loyal service of prison officers, who are doing their best to cope with an increasingly difficult situation. I should like to touch on a number of the increasingly difficult problems.

The high availability of drugs in prisons has a corrosive effect. I am afraid that anxiety is growing about the inadequacy of current Government policy to combat the supply and distribution of drugs, which are reported to have reached epidemic proportions in the United Kingdom generally. Researchers estimate that the UK has 360,000 problematic drug users. Britain has a higher recorded rate of opiate use than anywhere else in the world, and our consumption rates of cocaine and amphetamines are arguably the highest in Europe. The Home Office has estimated that the social cost of drug abuse in Britain alone is between £10 billion and £17 billion a year. We should therefore be in no doubt about the scale of the problem.

Western attempts to destroy the opium poppy crop in Afghanistan have met with fierce opposition in Helmand province, where British armed forces are currently engaged. The harvest is now 30 times what it was in 2001. The industry is worth $3.1 billion, and the local population depends on it, of course. That cycle of dependency is mirrored in the British drugs trade, which is apparent in our local communities and even in our prisons.

According to the recently published report to which I have referred, the current system is “crude, ineffective” and “riddled with anomalies”. The authors of the report urge a radical overhaul of drugs policy to take account of the criminal, social and health problems that drug misuse causes. Polling evidence indicates that the public are ready to consider an alternative approach to tackle the spiralling drugs culture—an approach that advocates pragmatic reform and addresses the harm inherent in the current system.

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The Prison Service is struggling to cope with the high availability in its prisons of illicit drugs, the prevalence of which is blighting local communities. Cell searches regularly turn up large quantities of drugs. Substantial investment in treatment programmes to wean offenders off addiction is futile without stringent measures and resources to fight the supply and distribution of illegal drugs in prisons.

Selling drugs in prison is a lucrative business because drugs command a large fee when smuggled in. Various methods are deployed to circumvent measures to detect and eradicate the supply, sale and distribution of drugs, the sources of which are numerous. Prisoners’ friends and relatives are often found trying to smuggle drugs into prisons during visiting time. It has been known for prisoners to use children to shield themselves from the view of CCTV while they swallow the drugs or insert them in some quite intimate places. Drugs have been found hidden in clothing or nappies: as prisoners are permitted physical contact with their children, they can retrieve drugs from clothing with relative ease. Prisoners are highly aware that prison staff will not intervene to intercept the passage of drugs, in order to safeguard the child from further risk of harm.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this excellent debate. I tabled a question to the Home Office the other day about the number of prison staff investigated for trafficking drugs or prohibited articles. The reply from the then Minister, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), was that 64 members of staff were investigated last year, but she also stated that it was not possible to determine how many of them were found to have had such items in their possession. Surely the Home Office should know what is going on and be much more open in its replies to hon. Members.

Frank Cook: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He is a very experienced Member and well versed in the legalities of this country. I shall be coming to that very point as I move further into my speech.

Smuggling practices can be difficult for prison staff to detect, owing to the different methods used by male and female smugglers. Female couriers secrete drugs in cling film or balloons, swallowing the items before they are arrested. Visitors are regularly found, or are caught on CCTV, removing illicit items from their person or attempting to pass drugs to the prisoner. Visitors smuggle drugs in their mouths and place them in food items that are available from the visiting hall.

Drugs command a large fee once they are in the prison system. Drugs smugglers are paid between £50 and £100 to bring in illegal substances, with little or no risk to the prisoner concerned. Both prisoners and their visitors flagrantly defy the controls put in place to stem the flow of drugs into prisons. Ex-prisoners who are still heavily involved in the drugs trade carry out visits, as do strangers. Prisoners often ask staff whether visitors have arrived, only to be informed that their visitors are sat at the table waiting for them; the prisoners, not knowing who their visitors are, cannot recognise them. There is a form of discipline involved that is pre-organised.

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People are encouraged to breach their bail conditions by entering prisons packed with drugs. Vulnerable prisoners are bullied, usually by drug dealers, to persuade friends or members of their families to smuggle drugs into prisons. In many cases violence is used to intimidate and frighten prisoners. Assaults on prisoners and staff have dramatically increased as a result of greater vigilance to stop the influx of drugs on prison visits. At present, staff intervention offers the only means of halting the supply of drugs on prison visits, but that endangers both the staff and others.

Prisoners suffer assaults if they fail during a visit to acquire drugs intended for another prisoner. Slashings across the face and scalding with hot water or hot sugar to intensify the pain and scarring are common brutalities. Addicts in prison acquiring drugs on tick, with no money to pay the dealer, are threatened and their immediate families are intimated to recover the debt owed.

To avoid the pressure to smuggle, visitors have pleaded with officers to be banned from prisons or have admitted that they have made attempts to introduce drugs. However, prisons do not act on such information or seek to establish the reasons why visitors smuggle drugs. When denied access to family visitors, prisoners may begin to self-harm and it is thought inadvisable to provoke that kind of reaction.

For every drug capture in the visitors’ hall, it is thought that 20 successful passes go undetected by staff or CCTV. Staff can monitor only prisoners identified as a problem. Desperate to fight an escalating drugs trade, the Prison Service resorted to using sniffer dogs to detect drugs on prisoners and their visitors, which proved to be extremely effective. However, the regular training that the dogs require to maintain successful detection rates is not adequately resourced. When the dogs are retrained, no contingency measures are put in place. As a result, the drugs trade within regains its foothold on the system and starts again.

Prisons are seeing an increase in drug smuggling through prisoner correspondence. Letters in and out of prison are censored by correspondence departments, which find on average 10 to 12 items containing drugs a day. Another ruse used by prisoners and smugglers to evade detection is falsified legal correspondence. Letters from solicitors are privileged and officers are prohibited from opening them. Drugs are usually detected by a manual check of the mail, an X-ray or sniffer dogs, yet vast quantities still get through to the inmates.

Prisoners are permitted to receive items of clothing and although X-ray machines screen items sent into prison, drugs are found stitched into the labels of garments.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the subject of his debate. Does he agree that drugs can enter by less sophisticated routes? At Pentonville, my local prison, cannabis and other drugs are simply being thrown over the wall.

Frank Cook: The hon. Gentleman must have read my script; I am coming to just that issue.

CCTV cameras are not fit for purpose. People brazenly throw drugs or firearms components over prison walls,
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safe in the knowledge that although they can be seen doing so, the cameras are not sharp enough to distinguish features. Criminals can therefore escape easily without fear of detection. The problem is compounded by a shortage of cameras and broken-down equipment that waits months for repair, the cost of which is prohibitive to the Prison Service. New CCTV operators require formal training, which, not unlike the cameras, is in short supply. When evidence of drug smuggling is gathered, prisons are unable to prosecute offenders because the evidence is not sufficiently robust to substantiate a charge and punitive action.

At present, the Prison Service carries out mandatory drug tests on only 10 per cent. of the prison population, yet figures show that more than half the prison population are using drugs. That means that drug testing is four and a half times below the level required to tackle substance misuse—and that does not take into account the many addicts on our streets and in our local communities. Unsurprisingly, prisoners on drugs go to great lengths to avoid giving samples for testing. They carry non-drug users’ urine in phials about their persons to obtain clean test results if they are subjected to a random test.

Of course, non-drug users are quick to realise that there is money in selling samples of drug-free urine to addicted prisoners. Despite the best efforts of staff to search prisoners before they are required to provide a sample, prisoners still manage to cheat the system. Prison officers’ powers are limited because they are forbidden to carry out intimate searches that would expose that illicit practice. However, even that deterrent would be unlikely to be of consequence to a determined user, who faces no retribution on failing to produce an unadulterated sample. If he is caught with drugs in his urine, nothing happens. Officers carrying out the tests are unable to conclude with any certainty which prisoners are on drugs.

The Prison Service is to be commended on its commitment to assist offenders to overcome addiction. It has invested heavily in drug treatment programmes. Prisoners who sign up to such schemes must consent to compulsory drugs testing, but that condition is proving to be no hardship, as prisoners can choose when to be tested and commonly falsify the results. If they have signed up to be tested occasionally, they can simply go to prison officers and say, “I’m ready to do my test now.” That takes them out of the system until their next turn around. Treatment programmes evoke sympathy, but are all too often labelled as the definitive solution in the war on drugs. They are not a panacea, or why would prisoners who enter prison without a drug problem be discharged from prison with one? The problem is growing because of our inability and the ineffective system within prisons.

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