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House of Lords

Tuesday, 10 June 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Prisons: Drugs

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, on average 55 per cent of people come into prison with a serious drug problem. Drug misuse in prison, as measured by random mandatory drug tests, has, however, dropped by 63 per cent since 1997. Drug misuse is a chronic relapsing condition that can take many years to address successfully. The time spent in prison often represents only a small part of the treatment process, so there are no measures in place to determine levels of drug dependency for prison leavers.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, although it is rather disappointing. Given that drug dependency lies at the root of so much crime and so much reoffending, is he aware of the constant transfer of prisoners within the system undermining the effective treatment of prisoners? Will he undertake to consult the prison doctors in the British Medical Association on how to co-ordinate the better treatment of prisoners in prison with the treatment of prisoners on release back into the community?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. I understand the concern about prison transfers. When the prison population is under pressure, there is concern about the impact that it can have on drug treatment programmes. Clearly, the Prison Service does all it can to ensure that that does not happen, but the integration of services and the collaboration between the health service, the Prison Service and through care services is very important indeed. As far as the BMA is concerned, I am ever eager to talk to that organisation.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord can tell us how many people are drug dependent when they go into prison, but he is not prepared to tell us how many are drug dependent when they come out of prison. Is not the obvious implication of that that the Government do not want to know and do not care about this issue?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the answer to that is no and no. As I have already said, the average length of stay in prison is about nine months. But to

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determine that someone is completely free of drugs when there has been chronic dependency cannot be done in that time. The mandatory drug testing regime shows that over the past 10 years there has been a big reduction in the amount of drugs taken by prisoners, which shows some measure of the success of the programmes.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I should declare an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse and I have just come straight from a prison where I was looking at substance misuse in prison. Does my noble friend agree that treatment services outside prison in the community have improved dramatically in the past few years due to the hard work of professionals and that in prisons, with the integrated treatment services that are now in place, those services can be expected to improve dramatically? Key to all this is the resettlement of prisoners outside prison. In other words, we need through-care and after-care to be successful.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords, and I pay tribute to my noble friend and to the NTA. There is no doubt that it is very important that the kinds of programmes that have been developed are developed in parallel in prisons, which is happening in a number of prisons. We expect to see expansion of that in the future. Through care and proper integration between prison drug treatment services and care after the person leaves prison are critical.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: My Lords, are the problems in prisons not inevitable when both the Government and some senior police officers appear to have an ambivalent attitude to drugs on our streets? Do the Government not consider that it is now time for much longer and much more severe sentences for drug barons and pedlars in a dedicated secure prison where they cannot influence supply and corrupt other inmates?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to the dreadful harm that the pedlars of drugs can cause to individuals and to our society as a whole. I certainly agree that the case for vigorous sentencing is very clear. There is no ambivalence from the Government in relation to their attitudes towards drugs. We have made it consistently clear that these drugs are illegal and should not be taken.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said about the reluctance of the Government to share statistics, perhaps I may be helpful and give some statistics to the Minister. Drugs worth £100 million are estimated to be traded from prison cells and SOCA estimates that up to 30 high profile prisoners run their empires from behind bars. We know that the Government have commissioned a report from David Blakey, which apparently was given to Phil Wheatley, the director-general of the Prison Service, last month. When will the Minister agree to share the contents of that report with the rest of us so that we can see the true scale of the problem?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is no hard evidence behind the £100 million on which there has been speculation. Because it is an attempt to quantify illicit dealing, it is very hard to come to an accurate figure. My understanding is that research undertaken in 2001 estimated that the sum was up to £24 million. This House should not ignore the major efforts made by the Prison Service to improve security. Ministers received Mr Blakey’s report about three weeks ago. Understandably, we wish to consider it before we make known our recommendations in due course.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, of the 55 per cent who are drug dependent when they enter prison, how many are in prison because of drug-related offences?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is not as easy to answer as the noble Lord might think, but my understanding is that on 30 April 2008, the prison population in England and Wales included 10,817 offenders serving sentences for drug offences and a further 1,947 remanded in custody for such offences. There is of course a wider relationship between drug use and crime, but those are the figures I have.

Transport: Overseas Lorries

2.45 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, traffic regulations must apply equally to all road users, regardless of nationality. The onus is on individuals to familiarise themselves with the law of the state in which they are driving. The Vehicle and Operator Services Agency will be provided with an extra £24 million over three years to enforce the rules on roadworthiness and driver hours. This will fund 97 additional examiners, a rollout of 24/7 work, more sites and an additional 30,000 checks per annum.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and I am glad that there is to be increased investment. I live on the A55 in north Wales, and each day around four foreign drivers are arrested for breaching regulations. The situation has been described as a catastrophe waiting to happen. When will the UK road traffic Acts be applicable to foreign-registered vehicles?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I made clear, they already are applicable. Perhaps the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that part of the £24 million funding that I described means that there will be two additional checking sites, one on the M6 and, more particularly, one in north Wales.

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Lord Berkeley: My Lords, while welcoming my noble friend’s statement about law enforcement, two sites for the whole of the UK is hardly going to solve the problem. Does he not agree that at the moment action against foreign lorries is effectively not being enforced in respect of speed cameras, vehicle weight, driver hours or mechanical problems? Surely a much more comprehensive and nationwide enforcement policy is needed to ensure that these vehicles and their drivers obey the law in all respects?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we do have enforcement and, as I have described, we are putting a great deal more resource into that. I do not think that my noble friend should be distracted by two additional sites I referred to. We are taking powers in the Local Transport Bill to enable us to enforce more rigorously action against foreign drivers. I just hope that noble Lords will support that, and certainly the statistics indicate that we are being vigorous in our efforts.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, some 12,000 foreign lorries are on our roads every day, and of the 30,000 lorries that were tested a couple of years ago, around 12,000 were found to be defective in some way. The Government have said that they might introduce a system of fixed penalties, but we have not heard any more about it. Surely something needs to be done to protect our own haulage industry.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are indeed introducing fixed penalties. However, it would help greatly if the party opposite were to support the Local Transport Bill in another place; as I understand it, there appears to be strong opposition to it. An important part of that legislation will aid us in our enforcement work.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, while we are on the subject of the foreign drivers of heavy vehicles, one of the problems at the moment is the prolific use of satnav systems by these drivers, who often get stuck in inappropriate places. Because they do not have English, they cannot get unstuck. Does the noble Lord agree that a solution might be for his department to erect easily identifiable signs making it clear that such and such a route is unsuitable for certain types of heavy vehicle?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is interesting that the noble Viscount raises this issue. I am not unfamiliar with it. The department has recently designed a new sign to advise large and heavy vehicles not to take unsuitable routes. The issue of satnavs relates to that. The new design uses a truck pictogram with a red diagonal line through it to indicate “not for heavy goods vehicles”. I think that it is clear enough.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, what further thought has been given to the European proposal for better cross-border enforcement? Also, has any thought been given to a bonding system that would apply to foreign vehicles, whether lorries or cars, arriving in this country?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I suppose there is some joy here for Eurosceptics and Europhobes alike. EC Council directive—2006/126/EC—will be implemented next year. This will greatly assist enforcement. I think there should be some joy in that.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister read the Daily Telegraph yesterday. I doubt that he did. There was a very good letter from the Freight Transport Association, saying that the proposals from Europe are that we should allow foreign lorries not just to go backwards and forwards, but to do business here. Does the Minister have any proposals to extend cabotage? Also, will he do it before he implements the arrangements for foreign lorries to pay for the use of British roads, which they do not?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, discussions on cabotage are going on. I know that this is an area of concern and controversy. As I understand it, a consultation is being conducted and discussions and negotiations are continuing in Brussels. No doubt the noble Lord will make known his views on them. I shall certainly ensure that they are.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, my noble friend will not be aware that I wrote a letter to the then Secretary of State about nine years ago, drawing attention to foreign vehicles on our roads. The Minister replied by saying, “I am not aware that there is a problem”. This problem has now increased dramatically. I am pleased to hear that there will be more VOSA inspectors. Can my noble friend advise the House how many will be available throughout the country when the additional ones are in post?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I gave statistics at the outset. I will repeat some of them. There will be two new enforcement sites, in addition to the current ones, in high-volume areas. There will be a 50 per cent increase in the number of HGV checks. There will be a doubling of prohibitions. There will be 97 additional enforcement staff and this will guarantee a 24/7 service. That is a pretty good record.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I confess that I am not familiar with the 2006 EU directive. However, my understanding from working with Transport for London is that there is a problem with enforcement—first, in getting information about foreign drivers and, secondly, in enforcing traffic and parking penalties, because the offences are neither civil nor criminal. There are administrative penalties for both of those in the EU. What are the Government doing to advance the enforcement of parking and traffic fines on other European drivers?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, because of her experience, knows much more about this than I do. I accept that there is an issue here. We are trying to work with our colleagues in the EU to ensure that we bring people to book. We recognise the importance of these things. Fixed penalty payments are an issue. We need to ensure that we can

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enforce criminal penalties. Of course, when a crime has been committed, the driver is taken out of circulation immediately. However, there is more to be done, and it requires a high level of European co-operation.

House of Lords: Oral Questions

2.53 pm

Lord Denham asked the Leader of the House:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, Ministers and departments are fully aware of the helpful advice contained in the Companion. However, I am always happy to remind them of it. It helps Ministers to adhere to this guidance when noble Lords also follow it and ask no more than two supplementary questions at a time.

Lord Denham: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that my Question was partly aimed at noble Lords who ask supplementary questions and who are strictly limited by Standing Order to two points but all too often offend? However, if Ministers, who are not so limited and are only excused from answering more than two points, would stick voluntarily to that limit, questioners themselves would be more selective and therefore shorter.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was indeed well aware of what the noble Lord was getting at with his Question. However, Ministers often try to be extremely helpful to your Lordships. Where we are able to give answers to lots of questions, we try to do so. It is more helpful to us if noble Lords adhere to the Companion and merely ask the two.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as one who has answered my fair share of Questions in my time, may I ask the Leader of the House whether she will remind Members of the House asking supplementary questions that, if they ask more than two, the Minister responding has the opportunity to pick and choose, which makes it easier for the Minister? I heard what she said about being helpful, but will Ministers refrain from answering questions that bear no relation to the Question on the Order Paper?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Indeed, my Lords. My noble friend attempts to be helpful, but I am not sure that my colleagues on the Front Bench thought that reminding noble Lords of the ability to pick and choose was necessarily the best thing. Of course, I agree with him: if a question is wide of the mark, noble Lords must accept that we will not be answering it.

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