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14 Mar 2007 : Column 120WH—continued

In August 2006, a Home Office report found that drug use is endemic in prisons. In 2006, the Prison Reform Trust found that no more than 10 per cent. of prisoners with drugs problems were likely to be in intensive rehabilitation in any one year. Only one in 10 prisoners who could usefully be in rehabilitation are receiving that level of assistance.

As is widely reported, we have the highest prison population per head of population in western Europe. That militates against the effective treatment of those in prison. As we heard earlier, ever since responsibility was transferred from the Home Office to the national health service, the NHS budget and the available resources have not necessarily met the expectations that some may have had. I understand that as a result, only 17 prisons are due to benefit from NHS largesse—fewer than one in eight of the major prisons.

Time is short, but before I conclude I wish to make four constructive suggestions. They are more, I confess, to do with reducing demand for drugs than trying to cut supply, which I appreciate is a problem. We all will the end, but getting there is not necessarily that simple.

First, although we can discuss what constitutes drug treatment, it is the availability of drug treatment that is important. Currently, there are only 2,500 residential drug treatment places; such a place costs about £6,000 less per year than a place in prison. The idea that many people find attractive is to use drug treatment centres as an alternative to custody for low-tariff offenders—not just because it saves money, although there is the potential for financial savings, but because it is more likely to have a long-term benefit, such as that mentioned by the hon. Member for Banbury.

Secondly, there should be a presumption in most cases that could result in a very short prison sentence—perhaps of less than three months—that rigorous community punishments might be more effective. It is extremely worrying when people who are not addicted to drugs are sent to prison and leave perhaps two months later having formed an addiction. They have often also been introduced to lots of criminals and their methods, of which they had not previously been aware. That is not in anybody’s long-term interests.

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Thirdly, we should try to improve drug treatment for people who suffer from mental health problems. There is a close correlation between mental illness and drug abuse, and many people with severe mental disorders are languishing in prison when they could be treated far more effectively using different mechanisms.

Finally, coming back to the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury, far more discipline and structure should be put into the lives of prisoners in terms of education, training, and work. We should also enable people to save money when they are in prison, as that would ease their passage back into society when they are released.

I do not pretend that any of those measures are a solution; of course they are not. However, I hope that they will contribute to success in solving a problem with which I am sure politicians from all parties are keen to grapple.

3.41 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): As all previous speakers have said, this is an important debate and the fact that there is a debate on the Floor of the House on Trident, which is important too, does not detract from that. Both debates are of equal, but different national importance.

It is all too easy in a debate such as this to get what I call analysis paralysis. We produce facts, figures and evidence from the various reports that we consider it appropriate to use, but we do not come to any firm conclusion at the end of the debate. That is partly the result of having a debate of only one and a half hours: I suspect that the House could quite usefully have a two-day debate on drugs policy in prisons, and even then a satisfactory conclusion might not be reached. None the less, it would be useful to have such a debate because, having shadowed the Minister and Baroness Scotland for 15 months or so, I have found that prisons are a secret world. It is difficult for those of us who go in and out of prisons on a fairly regular basis for official reasons to gain any purchase that would be of interest to hon. Members.

I was particularly struck by the speech of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I must write to the hon. Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping) because on Friday I am visiting Lowden Grange prison, which is not too far from the Bassetlaw constituency. I was particularly struck by the hard-headed—not hard-hearted—analysis that he provided. It is significant that a hospital—Rampton—is able to prevent drug importation, whereas, according to the figures for 2005, Forest Bank prison had about 405 inside-prison finds of illicit drugs. I do not know the reasons for that difference. In Grendon, which is a therapeutic prison in Buckinghamshire, there was one drug find in 2005, yet in what I would call a bog-standard general-line prison the incidence of drugs finds is much higher.

My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) was kind enough to mention that I had visited Pentonville and Holloway with him last Monday. I wish that more MPs would make a point of visiting prisons, because if they could see what goes on in prisons they would realise, first, the appalling conditions
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in which many prisoners live and, secondly and more importantly, the appalling conditions in which many prison officers work.

We care little and do not talk much about the conditions in which prisoners live. I say that with a degree of guilt because I sentence people to prison as a Crown court recorder. I do so because that is what Parliament requires of me and in the process I separate off my political mind. None the less, we expect irresponsible, illiterate drug addicts who cannot add up and are socially and economically inept to come out of prison after the time that they have served as angels. In fact, we do very little with people when they are in prison that is of purposeful and positive use. As I have said, it is a secret world. Some prison officers work for 20 or 30 years of their adult lives doing their best to look after the most irresponsible and difficult collection of people that one can possibly imagine, yet we pay little attention to the difficult circumstances in which they work.

What are we going to do about the problem? Three interesting reports on the subject have been published in the past two years or so, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) for initiating this debate because it allows us, if only briefly, to highlight some of the facts contained in those reports. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons annual report 2005-06, which was published not long ago, has a section on the problems of drug use and drug dealing and what we do about trying to recover drug addicts in prison. It is well worth reading and, if I had more time, I would take the House through some of the recommendations in that report in greater detail.

The social justice policy group—which was not of my party, although it was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith)—also produced a report. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate is on the addictions working group, and it was in that guise that I went with him last Monday to Pentonville and Holloway. He is quite right to describe the marked differences between the regimes for dealing with drug addiction in Pentonville and in Holloway. As he said, Holloway is like a women’s hospital—at least the part of the prison dealing with substance abuse and addiction is. Pentonville was a bolt-on bit to a Victorian prison where—I repeat this because it is important—there are some fantastically dedicated prison officers and health staff doing a terribly difficult job, in appallingly cramped conditions, dealing with an appalling turnover of prisoners.

Last October, I spoke to a prison officer from Pentonville who said that in the nine months from January to September 2006, they had already had 50,000 prisoner movements through the reception area. How can a stable resettlement and rehabilitation process be run in such conditions? How can someone be taught to read and write, and to deal with their anger and inability to express themselves in a coherent fashion rather than use violence? How can damaged and damaging individuals, such as those I have seen in the Crown court before I sent them off, be turned around? How can prisoners be drawn back from drug addiction and substance abuse in those conditions? They cannot.

Within a few months, many such short-term prisoners—inadequate, damaged and damaging
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people—go back out on to the street. There, they have no contact with the primary health care system—they are not the kind of people who would have that. They do not have doctors, or a regular job; they live hand to mouth in a chaotic way. Yet we expect them to appear at the probation office at a given time on a given date to take part in some drug rehabilitation or recovery course. It is simply unthinkable that they will do so.

Essentially, at the end of their prison sentence, we throw such people out of the back of an aeroplane without a parachute. We expect them to land safely back in the community and behave themselves. We do not teach people responsibility in prison—in prison people have responsibility removed from them, and afterwards they are put back out on to the street—irresponsible once more—to go back on the carousel. I see them again in the Crown court, JPs see them again in the magistrates courts, and prison officers and health staff see them back again on the prison estate.

I think of our visit to Holloway the other day. It was particularly true of some especially vulnerable women prisoners there, who are drug addicts, that prison is the only place where they feel safe. It is the only place where they are not preyed upon by pimps or drug dealers. It is the only place where they feel that there is some order in their lives.

If I could translate the regime at Rampton into the wider male and female prison estate, something might be achieved. I am a Conservative, and I do not want to see endless use of public money without a proper underlying planning system. When I was at Grendon, however, I asked the prison governor, “Are you a hospital with bars, or a prison with doctors?” He said, “I am a prison with doctors, but if I was a hospital with bars my budget would be about five times as much.”

We have a choice. We can brush the problem under the carpet and say that prisons and prisoners do not matter, or we can apply our minds sensibly and coherently to dealing in a civilised and humane way with a vast social problem. That problem is to be found outside prisons and inside prisons. The people who take drugs outside prison end up in prison, and the people who take drugs inside prison end up outside prison.

I appreciate that I am trespassing on the Minister’s time, but I am really quite passionate about this subject. I want the Government, not to feel that they are being bashed by the Opposition because they are not doing enough—although they are not—but really to grasp the problem and deal with it in a sensible way. Progress will be slow, and it will take a lot of work, political capital and bravery on the part of Ministers. If the Government do take up the challenge, however, it might be that the reoffending problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) is dealt with. It might be that we can deal with the disgusting practice of 15-year old children being used as drug mules to take drugs into prison. It might be that we can also reduce the problems that the hon. Members for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Taunton (Mr. Browne) described.

I have said enough. Actually, I have not said half enough, but I must stop. I urge the Government to take some serious steps. They must not simply brush the problem under the carpet. It is too important.

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3.53 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Frank Cook) for securing the debate. He focused on the problem of drugs in prisons from the perspective of the Prison Service. I fully appreciate that, and I am grateful to him for putting on the record, as shall I, our thanks for the work of prison officers and of the Prison Officers Association.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) has said that the work is difficult, and I wholeheartedly agree with his comments about the world of prisons being a secret one. The quality of the debate today is the result of hon. Members’ experiences with prisons in their constituencies or of professional involvement over many years. I certainly do not see the debate as one that has focused on party political points, except for some of the comments of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne), and they were only incidental.

There is clearly a major problem to face. I have been the prisons Minister since May 2006. When I was appointed, I reflected on my experience and my opinion of the criminal justice system as an elected MP and before that as a councillor. I have to say that previously I had put offenders in somebody else’s box—they were something that the criminal justice system dealt with. They were not my responsibility. I had to concentrate on education, health, regeneration and the variety of things that we wanted for our communities. The reality, however, is that offenders are from those very communities. As such, although they have to be punished if necessary, they must afterwards be reintegrated into those communities. That is what needs to happen, and I agree with the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) that the task is one of tackling reoffending. Whatever the issues around the supply side, we all agree that the prison population is too high and that we need to drill down and discover the reasons for reoffending. In economic terms, reoffending costs the country £11 billion.

Frank Cook: The Minister is right about focusing attention on the inmate and the offender. However, does he agree that we need also to empower the staff and give them the sort of regime and forms of regulation that enable them to focus on inmates as we want them to?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. However, the hon. and learned Member for Harborough has referred to the fact that only a short time remains for the debate, and getting to the core of all the important points that hon. Members raised will be difficult. I do, however, give a commitment to reflect on the debate and read the Hansard report, because there have been some good ideas and proposals that merit consideration, particularly in relation to stopping drugs entering prisons by the routes that have been described, some of which are ingenious.

It would be wrong not to set the context as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough did. Hon. Members present in the debate are experienced in the problems that are faced by prison officers and inmates, but many of our colleagues in the House and in our wider communities are not au fait with what is happening in prisons. They see the banner headlines that say that
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sentences are too long or do not fit the crime, but we need to try to get people to understand what is really going on in our prisons. As the hon. Member for Banbury said, prisons are not comfort zones. Anybody who has been in a prison knows that the regime is a difficult one, including for the people who work in prisons—officers and governors and the like.

It appears that hon. Members have not appreciated the increase in spending on drug treatment. Spending has gone up from £7.2 million in 1997 to £78 million, which is a 974 per cent. increase. However, I agree that it is still not enough to tackle the difficulties that must be faced. We must look at how to improve the situation. Part of that must be stopping illegal drugs entering prisons, but I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who faced the drugs issue head on in his own constituency, on his own initiative. He gathered evidence and made recommendations on drug treatment and on how to deal with drugs in our society.

We will consider what has been said about Rampton. If it is so successful, we should learn the lessons that it has to offer. As has been said, Rampton is a hospital. The money that is coming in from the health service is key. I understand the point that was made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes) and I acknowledge the work that he has been doing in connection with his local prisons—Holloway and Pentonville—and the visits that he has made in a professional capacity. The money is additional money. I accept that it was not as much as was anticipated, and had the money not arrived that could have been seen as a cut. However, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that Wandsworth has now received its full year’s worth of money. Deaths in custody had nothing to do with it. The relevant considerations were actually geographical spread and geographical need. As I have said, however, the money is additional spending, and it embodies what the hon. and learned Member for Harborough has asked of the Government—that we consider the detail of what can be done in our prisons.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North mentioned the RSA report, which was published only the other day. We have some concerns about the data that were used in that report, and I would be happy to speak to him about that after the debate.

As ever, there is not enough time to respond to the points that have been made by those who have contributed to the debate. If there are specific points on which I need to get back to hon. Members, I shall do that. I give a commitment that the Government will consider what has been said, including suggestions on how we can stop illicit drugs getting into prisons. Lots of effective work has already been carried out by prison officers and prison governors. The leadership of our prisons is a major issue, and I was grateful for the comments about Holloway and Pentonville. However, leadership is not about one person; it is about the whole management team and the whole prison arena. I believe that we will be able to work together and I hope that we have many more debates such as this one.

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Dairy Farming (South Derbyshire)

4 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): It would be easy to make a debate on this subject a tale of woe, because there is certainly woe to tell. Nearly half the people with dairy holdings in Derbyshire have left the industry in the past 10 years, and they have left for good reasons: it simply has not been possible to sustain a business with the prices that they are able to obtain for their product. However, I do not want to make the debate a tale of woe. I want to set out why I believe that after, sadly, a further period of pain—a period of pain that the Government can assist with—we have the makings of a highly successful industry, which will both provide solid employment for farmers and their staff and be an important contributor to environmental quality in our countryside.

The UK has many natural advantages in this respect. We have high-quality grassland in abundance. It is far easier to produce milk in this country than it is in, for example, southern Europe, and we have relatively large farm units—that was the case even before the consolidation process of the past few years—where it is possible to obtain economies of scale.

We have some disadvantages as well. We have what is essentially a large bulk commodity marketplace. Half the milk produced in our country is consumed at its most minimally processed level—as liquid milk. Not surprisingly, therefore, that is priced by supermarkets at a bulk commodity rate as a shopping bag filler and nothing more. It is always a shock to me when I visit a supermarket and pick up the mineral water that it is more expensive than an equivalent volume of milk produced by local farmers.

The story goes on, because a significant additional proportion of milk production is processed further but is still of very low quality. I am referring to waste cream, which we do not consume in liquid milk and which is largely exported to the continent, and to powder products, which are of relatively low value. Only a very small proportion—about a quarter—of our production goes into higher added value product of one kind or another. That is one of the core reasons why there is a problem with the dairy industry in our country.

Why is the debate about dairy farming in south Derbyshire and not dairy farming anywhere? Well, south Derbyshire is a bit different. It is a lowland area of the country and, by and large, dairy farms are larger in south Derbyshire than they are elsewhere. For example, the farmer with whom I have been talking about this subject over the years has a 350-head herd, which is, by UK standards, large. The average herd size is a bit over 100 now, so that farmer has a very large farm unit. He is not particularly unusual. His herd is large in south Derbyshire terms, but herds comfortably over 100 are not particularly unusual in the area, so we already have relatively efficient large-scale units. We also have a reasonably good road infrastructure, whereby it is possible to collect the milk economically for processing. In some parts of the country, just the logistics of getting the milk to the processor are tough.

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