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House of Lords

Wednesday, 19 November 2008.

The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Exeter.

Prisons: Drugs

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

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, since late 2002, officials in the Prison Service (pre-2005), the National Offender Management Service and the Department of Health have chaired regular meetings with the British Medical Association to discuss the implementation of prison doctors’ and pharmacists’ working party reports. These meetings have allowed discussion on a broad range of subjects including the management of substance misuse. I myself will be speaking at the BMA’s prison health conference on 1 December.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I also welcome the fact that, despite the budget cuts to the Prison Service, the Government will be trebling the amount of money spent on drug programmes in the next three years. However, can he update the House on the progress of the integrated drug treatment system, which is an absolutely integral intervention in dealing with drug abuse in prisons?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate; since he became Bishop for prisons last year he has become a powerful advocate, both inside this House and outside it, for more and better drug treatment in prisons and elsewhere. The integrated drug treatment scheme, as he knows, draws together drug treatment systems which have hitherto been commissioned and delivered quite separately, involving the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice and several regional and local organisations. So far in 2008-09 the scheme has been rolled out in 91 prisons. It is in its second year and certainly has increased funding this year. It has already been shown that it will bring considerable improvements to the quality of prison treatment, allowing treatment to be better targeted at individuals’ needs.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the last time this subject was discussed the noble Lord’s predecessor assured the House that inmates were tested for drug use when they went into prison but not when they came out. Why are the Government continuing to try to hide the increase in drug use in prison by refusing to test prisoners when they come out?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, we are not trying to hide anything. The amount of money that the Government have spent on drug treatment in prison—ranging from £7 million when we took office to £92 million now, a 12-fold increase—should make the noble Lord consider, first, whether his Government did enough in this field and, secondly, whether what he suggests is very sensible. When people go into prison they are of course tested for drugs. A large amount of money, and the time and effort of very dedicated people, is spent trying to wean them off drugs in various ways. You cannot be sure when they leave prison—I think that this is the question which the noble Lord asked last time—whether they have finally been taken off drugs. You cannot be sure until they have been in the community for some time.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, will the Government meet the minimum staffing needs for their Titan prison programme of two whole-time equivalent general practitioners plus community psychiatric nurses, given the complex diverse health and other needs of the population that will be in those prisons and the multiple opportunities that the Titan prisons will pose for illicit drug sharing?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the staff that the noble Baroness mentions and can answer her question in the affirmative.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Baroness Corston: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, why do we not let my noble friend go first and then the noble Lord?

Baroness Corston: My Lords, would the Minister be surprised to know that during the course of my review of women in prisons I came across almost universal appreciation of the fact that drug detoxification treatment in women’s prisons has improved so dramatically under this Government from what was previously a pretty poor programme? Indeed, this treatment allows some women coming out of prison to remain drug-free. The tragedy, of course, is that so many women prisoners are drug-dependent, but at least they get good detoxification now.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. What she says is true: there has, thankfully, been some improvement; but that there is still a huge problem with men and women prisoners, and with young persons in prison, is clear. Too many people go into prison with a huge drug problem and too many still come out with one as well. This is a complicated and difficult issue, but the Government are doing their very best to deal with it. The problem was here before this Government and it will be here after this Government. If the party opposite ever regains power, it will have to deal with this problem, so its members should be quite careful what they ask.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I welcome the Government’s acceptance of all 10 major recommendations of the Blakey review as well as their suggestions on good practice regarding different methods of entry of drugs into prisons, but why have they decided to postpone the introduction of the BOSS chair for non-invasive searching of body orifices for drugs and mobile phones? Have they done a comparative study of the effectiveness of the BOSS chair as compared with passive drugs searches by dogs?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to answer the noble Lord’s fairly specific question but I will write to him.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords—

Baroness Coussins: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I think it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, what progress has been made with the various initiatives for prisoners with alcohol dependency problems, as flagged up in the review of the national alcohol strategy in June 2007?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we know that many prisoners have alcohol as well as drug problems. We have made it a priority to tackle the harms caused to the public by acquisitive crime that is committed to fund drug and alcohol misuse. Consequently, funding for addressing drug misuse has grown at a greater pace than that for alcohol misuse. The needs of prisoners with an alcohol problem are important. As the noble Baroness will know, the alcohol strategy for prisoners was introduced four years ago. It provides a framework for addressing prisoners’ alcohol-related problems and balances treatment and support with supply reduction, but I have to say that we have a long way to go.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords—

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, let us hear from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, would the Minister be kind enough to answer the question that my noble friend Lord Henley asked? Why do the Government not test people on leaving prison so that they can see the effects of prison on people’s drug-taking habits?

Lord Bach: My Lords, getting people off drugs is not something that happens just in prison. It happens in prison, but it continues when they are in the community.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords—

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we are now in the ninth minute and we ought to move on.

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Prisoners: Indeterminate Sentences

3.15 pm

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, we welcome the thematic review, although we note that the fieldwork for the report was undertaken before a number of important initiatives were introduced that have significantly improved the management of prisoners serving an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment for public protection. We believe that many of the criticisms contained in the report have been addressed, but there are some outstanding issues of importance in relation to parole, risk assessment and access to interventions, on which we continue to work.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and for his recognition of the trenchant criticisms made by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons of IPPs. Given that the legislation introduced earlier this year to raise the minimum tariff for people on IPPs to two years is not retrospective, are the Government prepared to review the sentences of those thousands of prisoners who were already on IPPs, in particular the 800 or so who had already gone beyond their tariff? Many of those prisoners have been unable to complete the required courses designed to prove that they are safe to be released because those courses are simply not available, creating a situation that the Court of Appeal has found to be unlawful.

Lord Bach: My Lords, some outstanding cases are to be heard very shortly and I do not want to comment on them. We do not intend retrospectively to change the sentence, because that would be wrong, but we accept that there are problems in exactly the field that the noble Baroness suggested. Among the changes that we have made, including that to the law, we have undertaken the complete redesign of the processes and procedures for assessing and managing such prisoners. The noble Baroness will understand that the resultant changes run concurrently with the rollout of phase III of offender management. That means that it will be easier for these prisoners to gain access to courses and other work to address their offending. We also need to do something about the parole position.

Lord Elton: My Lords, should there not be a moratorium on these sentences until all the disquiet expressed has been addressed?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we do not think so. The prime task of any Government is to protect the public. We need to have that in mind at all times. It is important to learn lessons from the past and to make sure that this system works better in the interests both of the public and of those who are sentenced.

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Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, has the Minister read the disturbing report by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, In the Dark, which describes the serious amount of mental disorder among prisoners awarded IPPs and the implications for increased mental health disorder on prisoners so sentenced? What action are the Government taking to improve and increase the amount of mental health treatment available to prisoners on this sentence?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is clear that many of those who receive this sentence have mental health problems. The changes that we are making to the way in which the sentence is carried out will undoubtedly include an element of looking after those with mental health problems and making sure that such problems, as part of the way in which we consider the risk involved in a prisoner’s release and its timing, are seen to be of great importance.

The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, will the Minister say what is being done to ensure that clear information about the operation of IPP sentences is given both to prisoners and to their families? Will he also indicate what support is given to interventions that are aimed at strengthening family relationships? That was touched on in the thematic report and can be important in helping prisoners to address their offending behaviour.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point. It may well be that sometimes prisoners do not understand exactly what they have been sentenced to. Having read the report, I can see case histories in which that has occurred. More effort must be made to ensure that what he suggests happens. It is also essential that courses of varying kinds, under the generic title of dealing with offences, are available to these prisoners better than they have been in the past. Among the courses will be those assisting them in their relationships afterwards.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the disproportionate number of female IPP prisoners suffering from mental health problems. The report flagged up something like 75 per cent of the sample. Have adequate measures been put in place since then to address these needs, particularly formal in-reach programmes on the estate?

Lord Bach: I note that the report suggests that a large number of the women prisoners under these sentences—it should be said that 97 per cent of the total are men and 3 per cent are women—have considerable mental health problems. That is one matter that we are looking at in response to the report.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it was of interest that on the DPP side for the younger generation there was a recommendation that these young offenders should be kept in a separate establishment. Is it the Government’s intention to follow that pattern? Would they like then to apply the same Corston-like approach to women in this position?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, I am not in a position to say whether that is the policy that we will adopt as a consequence of the report, but I shall certainly take back that idea and write to the noble Baroness with our response.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we are in the 16th minute, so perhaps we could move on.

Higher Education: Student Funding

3.22 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, the funding arrangements incentivise institutions to recruit more of the millions of adults without a higher education qualification. The ELQ policy unlocks talent and widens participation. While the details might be fine-tuned over time, if we are convinced by new evidence that changes are needed, the principle behind the policy that first-time students should come first is the right one.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very disappointing reply. At a time of very high unemployment, when many of the people now being made unemployed are professionally qualified or graduates, it will be vital for them to be able to retrain in new skills. Universities are being discouraged, not encouraged, with that particular group, who are very important in their contribution to the economy. Is it not time that the Government rethought this policy?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are putting in place other measures to help people who have been made redundant, including special funds for retraining and reskilling. I return to the original point, however: this policy is about social mobility, fairness and increasing higher-level skills in the workforce to internationally competitive standards. We still believe that our policy is right. We are not taking away from the point on whether we need to review it. There are a number of exemptions to the policy, such as foundation degrees, employer co-funded courses and strategically important subjects such as medicine and stem science. We are going to review that exemptions list in December.

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