Prisons (Alcohol Testing) Bill

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 9:36 am on 28 February 1997.

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Not amended, (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

Photo of Mr David Congdon Mr David Congdon , Croydon North East 9:52, 28 February 1997

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I did not expect that we would reach my Bill so early in the morning, but it just goes to show. The Bill was first presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) on 20 November. I am pleased to say that at the time I was—and still am—one of its main supporters. It therefore gives me pleasure to move its Third Reading.

The Bill's Second Reading was most ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) on 13 December. Hansard shows that a full debate was held that morning on this important issue. The Bill's Committee stage on 29 January was somewhat shorter than that of most Bills—I understand that it took a little less than one minute.

The Bill's background is straightforward. It is fair to say that most hon. Members believed that the power to test prisoners for alcohol in prisons already existed, but it did not—hence the Bill. It bridges a gap that exists in the prison rules, bringing them into line with the rules on drug testing that were passed not long ago.

I am sure that we all appreciate how difficult it is to keep control in a prison, and particularly to enforce discipline. The problem must be made greater when drugs or alcohol are present. There is an even bigger problem in open prisons, where prisoners are more frequently placed on temporary release and it is easier for them either to drink off the premises or to get alcohol on to the premises.

There have been some important steps recently to strengthen prison rules. One such rule was passed in 1995, when it was determined that one of the conditions of any prisoner released on licence would be that he must not enter a public house. I am not sure how easy that provision is to enforce, but the condition exists. The power to test prisoners when they come back to prison, having been out on temporary release, will certainly provide a deterrent. The second important change occurred in September 1996, when it was made a proper disciplinary offence to consume alcohol in prisons.

In the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) rightly mentioned another significant impact of having alcohol in prisons. It encourages a prison mafia to use alcohol as a means of controlling other prisoners, a means of exploiting prisoners and, equally importantly, a means of raising money. Those are all reasons for the Bill to be given a Third Reading this morning.

It is difficult to estimate the exact scale of alcohol consumption in prisons. Stills have been discovered in a number of prisons, concealed in remarkable places. They have been discovered in the Wolds prison in East Yorkshire, and in Ashwell prison in Leicestershire.

Equally disturbing is the number of prisoners shown to have an alcohol problem. A survey carried out in 1994 by the National Association of Probation Officers showed that 58 per cent. of prisoners had an alcohol problem.

That should give us all cause for thought, and make us determined to ensure that the Bill receives a Third Reading.

The Bill sends a powerful message to prisoners that drinking alcohol will not be tolerated in prison. That is a power that many hon. Members thought already existed. The Bill is straightforward, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid 9:58, 28 February 1997

I rise in support of the Bill. It is surprising to many hon. Members and to those outside that its provisions are not already law. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) said, there already exists similar legislation to control the abuse of drugs.

Last Friday, I visited a young offenders institution three miles south of Lichfield called Swinfen Hall young offenders institution, where I spoke to the governor, Mrs. Jacqui Francis, and met members of staff and inmates. I told Mrs. Francis that I wanted to take part in this debate, and she kindly gave me her views on the Bill. It is important that people should know the views of those on the ground who actually run our prisons. Mrs. Francis writes: Historically the major form of substance abuse in prisons has been the brewing and consumption of hooch. The visible consequences are aggression, bullying, assaults, fights, resistance to authority and, occasionally, alcohol poisoning. Whilst the resources invested in combating drug use have paid dividends, resources committed to eliminating alcohol abuse would pay more. In many ways, therefore, she feels that the Bill is more important than previous drug-control Bills.

Mrs. Francis points out: Mandatory drug testing has reduced the incidence of recreational drug use. There is every reason to believe that, with appropriate sanctions, alcohol testing would have a similar impact.There is some evidence, most notably in category C and D prisons, that prisoners who have been forced off drugs by MDT (Mandatory Drug Testing) have turned, or returned, to alcohol as a substitute. She says, and I agree: This is an unfortunate substitute since it is more likely to lead to aggressive behaviour and control problems. Surely that must be particularly true in young offenders institutions, where the inmates are between the ages of 16 and 21.

Mrs. Francis continues: The facility to test would be particularly useful after temporary release"— this point is specifically addressed in the Bill— outside work or social visits where prisoners may have the opportunity to access alcohol. At present"— this is extraordinary— whatever suspicion or indication of inebriation there may be, prison staff are impotent to take action, and prisoners know this. She told me that sometimes people have returned to the prison obviously drunk, yet prison officers have been unable to do anything about it.

It is really is extraordinary that it has taken so long for the Bill to be introduced. Mrs. Francis ends her letter thus: Alcohol intake continues to play a very large part in the commission of criminal offences. The Prison Service is not effectively able to fulfil its purpose of confronting offending behaviour if it has no means of identifying and preventing continuing alcohol abuse. I pay tribute to Mrs. Jacqui Francis and to her dedicated staff and motivated auxiliaries. Their work will be helped, and the safety of inmates will be ensured, by the passing of the Bill.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam 10:03, 28 February 1997

I warmly welcome the Bill. For some time, I have taken a considerable interest in the management of prisons. Indeed, I introduced what became the Prisoners (Return to Custody) Act 1995 and when researching and preparing for that legislation, which dealt with the problem of prisoners failing to return to prison on time, I became aware of other discipline problems.

The significance of this Bill is that it is a natural development from tackling the problem of drugs, and I am pleased that we already have on the statute book means whereby prisons can institute mandatory drug testing. That will undoubtedly be part of a wider programme to tackle a modern curse, which destroys people's lives. What people do not realise is that alcohol can do the same.

The problem is not as acute in secure prisons as in open prisons. I have two prisons on the edge of my constituency—Downview for long-term prisoners and Highdown for remand prisoners—and in both there is a rigorous system of searching prisoners and their visitors, so it is difficult to bring in alcohol. In addition, prisoners are not going in and out of the prison.

There is, however, a real problem in open prisons, which, by their very nature, operate a different and more relaxed regime. The purpose is to enable prisoners who have perhaps already served most of a long sentence to prepare themselves for life outside. Many are given temporary releases, which can be for several different reasons. The prisoners may be going out for training or for a job interview; or they may be returning to their families to begin the rehabilitation process of re-entering the community. Sometimes they are away as long as four days.

When they go out, some prisoners go on an alcoholic binge. The difficulty is that, although on a four-day release they might have time to sober up on the final day before returning to prison, they very often do not do so. They can come back having cruised around local pubs and drunk an excess of alcohol, with the result not only that are they intoxicated, which is unpleasant in itself, but that they intimidate local communities.

We have to give special consideration to communities in the hinterland of an open prison, and it is right that we should give careful attention to the problem of prisoners and alcohol. When an intoxicated prisoner returns to gaol, he can become aggressive and difficult to handle; and he can create a breakdown in discipline or incite others to misbehave. The good management of a prison means that all inmates must live an orderly life—that is beneficial not only to the management of the prison as a whole, but to the prisoners' long-term rehabilitation programme.

Open prisons have been trying to tackle the problem of alcohol, but have been frustrated in their efforts. Ford open prison was experiencing such an acute problem that it introduced its own programme of alcohol testing. An off-the-shelf meter for measuring alcohol levels was bought, and staff used it, but then, to their amazement, they discovered that the testing was outside the law, and they had to stop. It was interesting that, during that time, the use of testing deterred inmates from returning drunk, trying to smuggle drink in, or trying to create their own secret stills.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

Was the experience of the governor and officers of Ford open prison—with which I am familiar, having originally come from a part of Sussex that is not too far from Ford—similar to that of Swinfen, where the introduction of mandatory drug testing has caused prisoners to switch over to alcohol consumption, with the result that the problem of inebriation has become worse?

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

I thank my hon. Friend for that useful information, of which I had not been aware. It is logical that that could be the result, so it is important that we should block off another avenue of abuse.

At Ford open prison, they had to stop alcohol testing, but it was a deterrent when in use—the alcohol problem went down. When staff from my office spoke to the governor of Ford open prison, he welcomed the Bill very keenly indeed.

If prisoners know, not only that they will be tested for alcohol abuse, but that punishment will follow, it acts as a deterrent. The sanctions open to a prison governor may be loss of privileges or even loss of remission. Those are powerful sanctions, which are an important and effective deterrent.

Not only do we want a deterrent factor—a discipline factor—but if an inmate has an alcohol problem, alcohol testing will reveal the problem and it can be treated. After all, we regard prisons not just as a means of removing unsociable people from the community but as a means of rehabilitating them, to return them to the community in a position in which they can make a contribution rather than create all the social ills that we have been so aware of.

I welcome the Bill, which I believe is very significant. I was amazed that it had not come into being already, but, as in all things in life, we learn through experience where the loopholes are. I have absolutely no doubt that this small Bill is significant and will play its a key role in discipline in prisons.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 10:10, 28 February 1997

As I shall speak in an Adjournment debate on sanctions against Libya and Iraq later, I was interested in the Bill—at first because I wanted to know how long the debate might last—and asked what the issues were. My curiosity was aroused, and I spoke to some prison officers, who said one thing above all others: "There may be abuses, but please don't think that that is the rule." In most prisons, there is a proper regime. There may be mistakes, and the Bill may be a very proper Bill to introduce, but it would be unfortunate if the impression were given that there was great abuse and misuse in all our prisons.

As one who, 25 years ago, introduced under the ten-minute rule Medical Inspection (Evidence of Drug-taking) (School Pupils) Bill in 1971, I know that there are many hazards in this complex subject, but I would not oppose the Bill; I merely caution that the examples that have been cited do not represent the common situation in our prisons.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point 10:12, 28 February 1997

My constituents agree with the Home Secretary that prison should be an austere but decent place, and that the emphasis in prison should be on reform, education and the preparation of prisoners for their return into society as decent members of that society. However, prisons need to be a real deterrent, and that means that they must punish, so that career criminals will not want to return to prisons and repeat burglars and repeat rapists will not accept prison as a mid-career break—a price to be paid for the career they have decided to follow, a period for recovery and relaxation, a period for planning further villainy when they get out, while they take an Open university degree in the relative comfort of their prison cells.

Not to put too fine a point on it, my constituents want more barbed wire in and around prisons. They want glass screens between prison visitors and inmates, so that drugs are not passed. They want fewer television sets in prisons, fewer snooker rooms—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide. This is the Third Reading debate, and he should confine his remarks to the subject of the Bill.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the point of the debate is that people want fewer drugs and less access to and use of alcohol in prisons, and that was the point that I was making.

Prisoners must be kept away from alcohol; that makes sense. It makes sense to close that loophole, which we were all surprised to know existed, by allowing prison staff to test for alcohol. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) on choosing the Bill when he was so fortunate in the ballot for private Member's Bills, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) for doing the hard work on it.

A prison governor said that some inmates returned from home leave or temporary release worse the wear from drink, even though prison rules stated that, while they were on release, they must not enter licensed premises or betting shops or consume alcohol. We need to give prison staff like that governor the ability to do the necessary tests, so that they can control the actions of prisoners when they are away; I shall say more about that later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), the Minister of State, Home Office, is one of the best prisons Ministers ever—indeed, one of the best Members ever. I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would bet that she had visited more prisons each month in her career than any prisons Minister, which shows how very much she cares. She is very keen for this measure to reach the statute book so that prisons can become safer places for their inmates. She cares not only about prison inmates but about the rest of society—the victims and potential victims of the villains who seem too often to languish in the relative comfort of our gaols, and should be prevented from doing so under the influence of alcohol.

Photo of Mr David Congdon Mr David Congdon , Croydon North East

My hon. Friend said an important word just now when he talked about making prisons "safer". Does he agree with the point that I made and that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) made on Second Reading—that a key aspect of making prisons safer for prisoners is to avoid drugs and alcohol being available to be used by some prisoners as a means of exercising control over, and extorting money from, other prisoners?

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, which I shall discuss in detail later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone very much wants the power to test for alcohol in prisons, and I say, let the House give her the tools so she can do the job.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

Very Churchillian. [Interruption.]

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

I am attempting to thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

David Roddan, general secretary of the Prison Governors Association, said that most inmates would welcome the breath tests, because drunken prisoners become troublemakers. He said: We support this initiative because prisoners who consume alcohol or get drunk in the local community damage the relationship of trust between the prison and the community. It is also not in the interest of the rehabilitation of prisoners to allow them to consume alcohol.

The measure will improve the ability of prison staff to control the culture of prisons, which is often negative. It will therefore help prisoners. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East said, it will inhibit the prison mafias from growing, because alcohol is one of the key currencies used in prisons; thus the Bill will make prisons a safer place for inmates. Last year, on a visit to Chelmsford prison, I saw for myself that alcohol is a key factor in the negative prison culture.

Mandatory drug testing has proved very successful, and has significantly reduced the use of drugs in prison. In 1995, in some prisons, a drugs testing trial was conducted, in which two thirds of prisoners tested positive for drugs. That is a remarkable and disgraceful fact. In 1996, 34,496 prisoners were tested up to July, and only 30 per cent. tested positive, which shows that mandatory testing is working. We must go further, and cut off the supply, not merely of drugs but of alcohol, so the Bill is a most important measure. Importantly, of the 34,496 prisoners tested up to July, not one tried to refuse the test: the House should dwell on that important fact.

The Bill is an excellent measure and I wish it fair wind—it should have been on the statute book many years ago. I trust that the House will vote in favour of it today.

Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield 10:20, 28 February 1997

I am not clear about the extent to which alcohol is a problem in prisons. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) suggested that practice might vary a lot from one prison to another. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department could comment on that.

My impression of the Prison Service is that performance is pretty patchy, certainly when it comes to the quality of management. We have taken great steps forward in the past few years. I was a keen supporter of establishing the service as an executive agency, with its own director general, because I thought that that would help it to focus on the need for good quality management. We sometimes underestimate the problems that managers and prison officers face in trying to control a difficult regime, so I can well understand why the hon. Members who have supported the Bill feel that it is right to give the prison authorities this power. Clearly, discipline is vitally important in a prison, and the power will add to the range of powers that prison governors already have to ensure that there is a sensible disciplinary regime.

As I understand it, the alcohol problem can arise when prisoners are out for a short time and drink too much—or drink at all—in open prisons, where it is easier to introduce alcohol and, in some cases, in closed prisons where there are stills for the illicit production of alcohol. The power should be introduced, but before we give the Bill a Third Reading it would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State gave us an indication of the extent of the problem. I suspect that it varies a lot from one prison to another. The quality of management is improving and it is important that we give prison governors more independence than they have perhaps had. That is what the Director General of the Prison Service, Richard Tilt, is attempting to do.

Secondly, the Bill states that there will be no cost to the public funds. Although I suppose that that must be right, or at any rate that the costs will be minimal, I understand that the meter required for testing can cost £600 or £700, and I do not know how many the service will require. It seems, therefore, that there may be some costs and I wonder whether my hon. Friend can comment on that and on the extent of the problem.

Having said that, it is important for us to support both management and prison officers. Sometimes, we underestimate the difficult task that they have to do—it is a demanding job. We should give them every support, and the Bill certainly does that.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley 10:23, 28 February 1997

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to the debate, as this is an important issue. In the past five years, I have found—on the doorstep and in general—that the public are more concerned about law and order than any other issue. During my time as a Member of Parliament, I have held three public meetings on the issue and each was well attended. Members of the public certainly have left me in no doubt that they want more and stronger Government measures to deal with law and order problems, and that is what they have had in the past five years.

As for Bill, we are talking about people who have committed crimes and are serving sentences in Her Majesty's prisons. The thought that people who have been convicted of a crime, no matter how serious, are able to take alcohol while in prison or on temporary licence, would greatly alarm a number of my constituents.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward), who promoted the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), who introduced it and my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon), who moved the Third Reading. We must get the Bill enacted as quickly as possible, so that we give the authorities that are looking after our prisoners the tools they need to ensure that alcohol does not become a problem while people are in prison. Surveys show that alcohol can be a problem for people before they go into prison. Indeed, for a number, it may well be the cause of their going into prison in the first place. One survey in 1994 revealed that 58 per cent. of prisoners have a severe drink problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) told us what prisons are supposed to be about and his words would strike a chord with many people. As well as education, the role of prisons is to help those who are in prison. We need to see what we can do to assist those who have a severe drink or drug problem while they are in prison.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

Does my hon. Friend agree that we must also help the prisoners who suffer not from inebriation but from the aggression of other prisoners who are drunk? Does he not think it a strange irony that some prison governors have said that the prisoners who used to suffer the effects of drug-taking—who were, at the very least, quiet—have been driven to consume alcohol as a result of mandatory drug testing, which has caused aggression towards innocent prisoners, if any prisoner can be innocent? That is causing a real problem in prisons.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

Yes, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, who said that every prisoner is a volunteer—the fact that prisoners have committed crimes means that they volunteered to enter prison—but prisons can become pressure cookers. There is pressure between the criminals, some of whom can be violent—I am delighted that they are not walking the streets—and can have drug and other problems. Drink will not help them in prison. We have a duty to ensure that prisoners are not the target of other prisoners who are acting under the influence of alcohol.

One other thing disturbs me. Prisoners are one side of the story, but the people who work on our behalf to ensure that the prison population, which is approaching 60,000, is not walking the streets, also need our protection. Prison officers are making our daily lives that much safer and the last thing that we want is for them to be the targets of prisoners who are suffering from taking alcohol. We must make certain that we give prison officers the rightful protection that they deserve.

I find it difficult to believe that one could have hooch and that alcohol could be distilled and circulated in prison—perhaps it happens in prisons with lax regimes. It is difficult to believe that we do not have sufficient security within our prisons to ensure that that does not happen and that, if it does, it is stamped out immediately. I would hope that any prisoners caught distilling their own alcohol would feel the firm hand of the law and be given a further sentence on top of their original sentence.

Another problem is that of prisoners who come out of prison on temporary licence or for some other reason—perhaps because they are approaching the end of their term and we want to rehabilitate them. The temptation for some of those offenders, who may have been locked away for three or four years, particularly when they meet old colleagues and friends, is to make for the nearest pub. They might be out of prison for only a short period and go on a drinking binge. We must ensure that, when they return to prison, prison officers have the power to test them for alcohol, particularly when it is apparent that they have been drinking. Indeed, prison officers should be given the same power as they now have, thanks to the Government, to test for drugs.

Like many other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have spent some of my time over the past five years visiting some of our prisons. I went to Strangeways in Manchester after the riots. Another point on which one might care to reflect is that some of the prison riots in the past few years may have been drink-related. We should take into account the fact that that is how they may have started in the first place.

I have also been to Preston prison just outside my constituency and to a young offenders prison, Lancaster Farms, in Lancaster to look at that regime. Two of the three prisons that I have visited have had large sums spent on them to ensure not that they are the most austere prisons but that they are places where offenders are sent for a period, and where, as well as being punished, they receive the direction, education and discipline that they failed to receive when they were in society.

I met a number of people who work within those prisons and I want to ensure that, particularly in young offenders institutions, they are given the tools to let offenders know that, if they take alcohol, they will be tested and will face punishment if they are found guilty of taking it.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

Does my hon. Friend agree that the positive environment of education, training, development and changing prisoners' attitudes cannot take place successfully within a prison if prisoners have access to alcohol? Removing prisoners' ability to have access to alcohol by introducing a testing power will help the reforming ability of prisons and thereby help society as well as individual prisoners.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

I agree with my hon. Friend. Some prisoners might never have gone a day without drinking alcohol when they were out in society, and their severe alcoholic problem might have led to a life of crime. We must ensure that, while such offenders are in prison, they are immersed in a regime whereby they do not have access to one of the elements that led to the problem in the first place. We must help to clean up some of our prisons. We have done so on the drugs front; if we can do it on the alcohol front as well, that will be extremely important.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

My hon. Friend tempts me to intervene again by mentioning drugs. He will be aware, as we all are, that a high proportion of the first use of drugs takes place under the influence of alcohol. If we cut off the supply of alcohol through the power to test for it in prisons, we can stop prisoners coming under the influence of alcohol, making misjudgments and becoming involved in drugs. In that way, we can help both prisoners and society at large.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The problem of creating a mafia within prisons was mentioned earlier. Some individuals within prisons are not the sort of people with whom one would wish to mix ordinarily, so for some prisoners to have to mix with such people, particularly if they have the power of alcohol and drugs, adds to the problem within prisons. I return to the point that I made earlier: why should our prisoner officers have to put up with that pressure when they already have all sorts of other pressures to put up with?

I do not want my speech to be regarded simply as negative or Victorian, in the sense that prisoners are to be punished at every turn while they are in prison. I do not accept that view for a second, although others may think that I do. We should ensure that we assist prisoners as much as possible. I understand that Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, provides support to prisoners to help them overcome their problem.

Prisoners with an alcohol problem who, even while in prison, are prepared to go that extra mile to get their hands on alcohol, need more help than anybody else. It is not just a case of punishment and ensuring that they do not have access to alcohol from relatives or friends who visit them and somehow pass alcohol to them. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) that, if it is apparent that a prisoner is using his visitors as a means of getting alcohol and drugs and then circulating them to a wider group of people within the prison, we must take harsh action against him. It may mean that, for a period—perhaps even for the remainder of his sentence—he is separated from his visitors by glass or some other means so that objects cannot be passed to him from his relatives or friends. We should look seriously at that idea.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

My hon. Friend touches on an important point and I wonder whether he will explain it a little further. It is about alcohol being passed to inmates from visitors. Did my hon. Friend have the chance when he visited prisons to observe the procedure whereby bags are passed through an X-ray machine? On the whole, it is not customary for prison officers personally to search visitors, and that is a difficulty. They have the power to do so but tend not to use it. Should we not consider encouraging prison officers to make greater use of the power to search visitors when they fear that there is a problem of that nature?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

My hon. Friend hits the point with the words "when they fear that there is a problem of that nature". I am sure that guilty visitors are known to the prison authorities. May I stress, however, that every visitor who enters the prison to visit an inmate should not be made to feel like a criminal. We must make absolutely certain that everyone is not tarred by the same brush. We must also be careful not to deter people from visiting friends and relatives in prison.

After all, part of our prison regime is rehabilitation, and the last thing we want to do is to leave prisoners in solitary isolation so that the only people they mix with are other prisoners and prison officers. We want to ensure that they have as many visitors as possible so we must be careful in choosing whose bags to search or who to put through an intimate search.

I take my hon. Friend's point seriously. When prison officers know that certain individuals may be guilty of passing alcohol or drugs to prisoners, a greater use of closed circuit television cameras within meeting rooms should be encouraged. I understand from my hon. Friend the Minister that some videotapes from those cameras have proved to be extremely interesting. Perhaps we should learn more of what goes on in meeting rooms between prisoners and their visitors.

When the Bill becomes an Act, I hope that prisoners who have problems will be given help, guidance and the opportunity to serve the rest of their sentence in prison without the temptation to turn to alcohol whenever problems arise, or just when they feel like drinking.

It is clear that the Bill has resource implications for prisons throughout the country. It has been estimated that the testing equipment would cost around £700. I support the prison building and reform programme that has been going on for the past 18 years, and I do not flinch when people say that we have more people in prison per head of the population than any other country in Europe. So be it. If people do the crime, they deserve to do the time.

We must ensure that that carries on, but we must also ensure that prisons get the resources that they need to implement the fresh obligations that we have placed on them, as in the case of drugs. Prisons must have the money to buy the best equipment and to arrange training for prison officers, so that they know what they are doing.

I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point say that when prison officers have told prisoners that they would be tested, the prisoners have not refused. Presumably, they complied because they want to live in an atmosphere that is not repressive or oppressive, as might be the case if the regime was lax and fellow prisoners could get access to alcohol. That is where the trouble would begin. Far better for prisoners to allow themselves to be tested. If they have nothing to hide—if they have taken no alcohol—they will have no problems. To protect themselves, they would surely want their fellow prisoners, who may have had access to alcohol and could cause them problems in the future, to be tested.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

On the question how best to help prisoners, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea to follow the experiences that I have seen at Downview prison, where the Addictive Diseases Trust helps prisoners to overcome their drug addiction? That is largely a self-help programme, although led by professionals.

Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be useful to encourage prison governors to set up similar programmes to counteract alcohol abuse? So successful has the programme been at Downview prison that prisoners are seeking transfer to Downview from other prisons so that they can take part in the programme. Would it not be of enormous benefit to the prison population if such a programme were available for alcohol addiction?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We must examine various methods, including the one that she described. We must ensure that prisons have the resources to implement testing. We must also ensure that sufficient research is carried out. Several organisations must have good research to show how people suffering from alcohol dependency could be helped. Such programmes could be introduced into certain prisons—perhaps even test piloted—to see how effective they would be in helping prisoners before their release back into society.

Ultimately, that must be the goal for the vast majority of people locked away in prison. We all know of certain individuals whom I would wish to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives, but the vast majority of prisoners will eventually be released back into the community. If they have had an alcohol problem in the past, surely we should ensure that we give them as much assistance as possible.

Although that might cost a little extra, in the long term it will save money. If prisoners come out of prison without having received any help or treatment, they will fall back into their old ways. Before long, they will be back on a career of crime and back in prison. We all know how expensive it is to keep prisoners in prison. It would be more intelligent for us to prioritise resources to help people while they are in prison if they have an alcohol problem, even if that is expensive in the short term. We must give them the support they need so that they do not reoffend or return to a life of alcohol abuse once they leave prison.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

Does my hon. Friend agree that the precedent has been established? We already have the policy of spend to save. That was announced in the Budget. Would not such programmes be a good example of spending to save?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

Of course. We know that Governments around the western world have problems prioritising resources. If we believe what we have been hearing from the Opposition, even they have a new sense of realism about spending pledges in the future, although of course no one believes that.

We should try to reprioritise money in the current budgets of the Prison Service. My hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point spoke of pool tables, colour television and goodness knows what. Resources that are going into leisure activities should in the long term go into more constructive and positive elements, such as a regime that gave treatment to prisoners who had a problem with alcohol.

I hope that we will use as much research as possible and the expertise that is available, not only in Alcoholics Anonymous but in the universities and abroad, to find out about new research.

I am an executive member of the all-party beer group—I should have said that at the beginning of my speech. We spoke earlier about temporary releases, the pubs dotted around our prisons, and the temptation for prisoners to go into those pubs, possibly on their way back to the prison. We have a duty to assist the landlords, landladies and people who work in pubs. If prisoners think that if they nip into the Dog and Duck

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) speaks of his local.

If prisoners nip into the pub, whatever it may be called, for four or five pints before they go back into prison, we have an obligation to the 900,000 people who work in the drinks industry, including the wholesale, distribution and retail aspects. We have a duty towards them, some of whom are young ladies. If they are doing the afternoon shift, they may be the only people in the bar. A prisoner about to go back into prison for another few months, faced with the temptation of going into the pub for a few pints, will not be helpful to people working in pubs.

If prisoners know that they are going to be tested when they go into prison, they may be deterred from going into the pub. That will offer protection. There is too much violence associated with alcohol. The last thing we want is fights breaking out or crime taking place in pubs in the vicinity of prisons. Pubs are social places where people go to enjoy themselves. They do not want any threat of violence to themselves when they are sitting in a pub.

I am delighted to have participated in this debate. My constituents in the Ribble Valley, who may be somewhat surprised that the measure is not already law, will cheer when the Bill is passed. We are giving prison officers the protection they deserve and the tools they need to protect prisoners and society at large. We are also offering some assistance to those prisoners who suffer from alcohol dependency, so that they will be better people when they are released back into society.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson , Newcastle upon Tyne North 10:49, 28 February 1997

As we made clear on Second Reading, the Opposition support the Bill. It was introduced originally by the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward), whom I have known for 10 years. Although I do not agree with all his views, he presents them in a measured way.

That tradition was continued by the hon. Member for Croydon, Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin), who moved Second Reading. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was correct to say that the people of this country put law and order at the top of the political agenda. We all know that crime in this country has doubled in the past 18 years under the Conservatives, and public concern was expressed by 23,000 electors in Wirral yesterday.

The contribution by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley began well. I realise that he was on an errand this morning, and, unfortunately, his remarks tended to wander a little. While I was convinced by the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Colchester, North, I stumbled over some of those that emerged from the wanderings of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. As the Opposition have accepted the Bill in principle, I have little to say about it. However, the contributions of Conservative Members have tempted me to make several comments.

The tradition of measured argument, as embodied in the speeches of the hon. Members for Colchester, North and for Poole, was not repeated in the contributions of the hon. Members for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) and for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who took a rather censorious view of some of the goings-on in our prisons. I wondered whether the concern of prison authorities and the welfare and punishment of prisoners was their primary concern—I suspect that they have a hidden agenda.

I was a little amused by a remark from the hon. Member for Castle Point. He repeated the comments of a prison governor who had reported that some prisoners returned from temporary release somewhat the worse for drink. I could not help but think that perhaps the Serjeant at Arms could also complain of a similar phenomenon on occasion. The hon. Gentleman went on to say that drunken prisoners become troublesome. Again, the Serjeant at Arms could draw a parallel with the behaviour of some right hon. and hon. Members in the House.

There is a danger that we may be a little too condemnatory, and fail to recognise the real problems that exist in our prisons.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

I quoted Prison Governor David Bamber, who said that prisoners were returning from temporary release the worse for drink. His remarks were reported widely. I admit to having another agenda besides caring for prisoners: caring for society at large, and for innocent people.

Photo of Doug Henderson Doug Henderson , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that, at the end of the day, we are concerned about what occurs in society and how to improve it. An authoritarian regime in prison may be necessary for a certain period. However, I have talked to prison authorities—although it is not my primary area of responsibility—who acknowledge that prisons cannot be run in that way.

Sometimes the prison regime must be tough and authoritarian, but at other times it must be relaxed a little in order to reward improvements in discipline, contributions to rehabilitation programmes and so on. We cannot have a rigid regime in prison all the time. We must recognise that, when people are incarcerated hour after hour, day after day, month after month and year after year—and rightly so—all sorts of pressures build up.

I fully support the Bill, but it is completely naive to believe that it will halt all mafia operations in prison. That is not the real world that prison authorities recognise. I visited Rochester prison three or four weeks ago. Prison authorities at that prison deal differently with four categories of prisoners within one management structure. That is necessary, as some prisoners may co-operate more fully when there is a relaxed regime. In other circumstances, the prison authorities recognise that prisoners would abuse such a regime, and that it is necessary to be tough. We must take a measured view of these issues.

I feel strongly that it is far too easy for hon. Members to jump up and make outrageous statements about social issues, based on ideology that is appropriate to 17-year-old Trotskyites or fascists, rather than examining the real problems in prisons and how best to deal with them. A principal reason for the Bill is that currently there are no statistics on the level of alcohol abuse in prisons. As with drug testing, the regime will require some co-operation from prisoners if we are to identify the level of alcohol abuse in prisons—without such co-operation, it will be extremely difficult to test effectively.

We must also remember that alcohol abuse occurs in many other areas of society—it does not happen only in prisons. The problems that such abuse causes in prisons are similar to those that it causes in other walks of life—whether it be indiscipline, failure to deal with details or to work effectively, or breakdown in social relationships. Those problems are caused by alcohol abuse, and they are made worse when people are incarcerated for long periods.

This is an important measure, which can provide prison authorities with an extra tool. It is also a way of calculating the extent of alcohol abuse in our prisons, so that prevention measures may be implemented. We must introduce rehabilitation exercises if they are needed to improve the climate within our prisons. Rehabilitations programmes to assist prisoners upon their release are also important. The measure has considerable merit, and I hope that hon. Members will support it.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:58, 28 February 1997

At first glance, this appears to be a fairly straightforward measure. However, some answers are required from me—even on Third Reading.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked valid questions and identified several caveats. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Poole (Mr. Ward), for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) on the extremely effective way in which they have piloted the measure through the House. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) and for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on their useful comments and on the issues that they have raised, which we need to consider before the Bill leaves the House.

Before taking up the general points that have been made on Third Reading, I shall refer to the matters that have been raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and, to some extent, the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who are interested in and concerned about the information and evidence available to us about the nature and size of the problem of alcohol consumption.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow specifically began by saying that he thought that, by agreeing to this measure, we might give the impression that this is a much greater problem than in fact it is. I may have misconstrued or misinterpreted the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

How widespread is it?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall refer to the practical evidence that prison governors have collected. It is important, of course, that we consider the report produced by the health advisory committee for the Prison Service, which appeared in October 1996. The report confirmed a number of matters, which in turn show that there is a problem and that the Bill would be helpful in dealing with it.

To put things in perspective, it is estimated generally that about 7.6 million people over the age of 16 in England and Wales drink more than the limit advocated by the Department of Health in 1979–21 units a week for men and 14 for women. It appears that 6 per cent. of men and 1 per cent. of women have consumption levels of more than 50 and 35 units respectively. Those are levels considered damaging to health.

A survey of the physical health of prisoners, which was carried out by Bridgwood and Malbon in 1995, revealed that 93 per cent. of the male prisoners surveyed had consumed alcohol in the 12 months before imprisonment. That figure is similar to that found in the general population. However, prisoners were four times as likely as men aged 16 and over in the general population to describe themselves as either drinking quite a lot or drinking heavily. Two studies of mental disorder in the prison population have produced diagnostic data on the harmful or dependent use of alcohol. In 1989, Maden, Taylor Brook and Gunn found that, in a sample of 1,365 sentenced adult males, 118 had a primary diagnosis of alcohol dependence or abuse.

I shall not detain the House too long, but there is a great amount of information of the sort to which I have referred. I merely wish to take up the points raised by the hon. Members for Linlithgow and for Newcastle upon Tyne, North before—

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

I am wondering whether my hon. Friend or the Home Office generally has any view on those statistics in terms of causality. Do they believe that it is alcohol that causes crime, or that maybe criminals just happen to drink a great deal?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not want to stray into territory that is obviously not of concern to us on Third Reading of an important Bill.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

If we are to test prisoners to ascertain whether they have consumed alcohol and we find that some prisoners have an alcohol problem, is it not important that we deal with that problem and assist those prisoners to overcome it? Will my hon. Friend confirm that a letter written by Derek Lewis on 16 March 1995 stated: All prisons within England and Wales provide prisoners with access to education, treatment and counselling services for substance misuse via the prison health care centre, the probation service or outside agencies and visiting self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous."?—[Official Report, 16 March 1995; Vol. 256, c. 675.] Is that not a good thing, and does it not show how seriously the Government view creating reforming regimes within prisons?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sure that that is correct. I can confirm that. My hon. Friend is right.

We are concerned with the prison population. It is sometimes put around, however, that perhaps there is not as much concern shown as there might be. The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North seemed to be trying to suggest that the Government had a certain approach. We feel that it is important to ensure that the prison population is, where possible, reformed, that the circumstances in which the prison population lives while in prison are ordered and that the activities that we are discussing are limited, because of their adverse effect on the chances of reforming prisoners.

I wished to make it clear to the hon. Members for Linlithgow and for Newcastle upon Tyne, North, as well as to others, that there is much statistical information, apart from the information to which I hope turn in a moment, which is very much anecdotal. There is also hard evidence of a need for action.

Photo of Lady Olga Maitland Lady Olga Maitland , Sutton and Cheam

What representations has my hon. Friend received from prison governors on the sanctions that they would like to apply in the event of an alcohol test showing positive results? There are, of course, a range of available options. Is such a result to be regarded as deeply serious and one that could lead to loss of remission, or would there be some form of loss of privileges? Which privileges does my hon. Friend think are likely to be considered to be withdrawn and at what level would sanctions be applied—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. The hon. Lady is straying rather wide of the Bill in talking about possible consequences following testing. I have been tolerant this morning, given that some hon. Members have strayed from time to time. I have heard reference to the House of Commons beer group, for example. In fact, we are talking about alcohol testing in prisons. It may be that in future a Bill will come before the House that will enable hon. Members to consider the problems of the beer group. This morning, however, we are talking about alcohol testing in prisons.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not want to stray into pastures that perhaps are not related to the Bill, including possible offences and remission for Members of this honourable House. I think, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam has a point when she asks what is likely to happen as a result of testing. It is a valid point—it has been taken up by other hon. Members—and I shall take it up later when dealing with procedural matters. I shall try, Mr. Deputy Speaker, not to stray too far.

The Bill would enable a prison officer or a prisoner custody officer in a contracted-out prison to take a sample of breath, urine or any non-intimate sample from a prisoner in any prison establishment for the purposes of ascertaining whether he or she has any alcohol in the body. The Bill is a logical extension of the powers already in force for drug testing—hon. Members have referred to drugs and their relationship with other matters, and I shall try to respond briefly to those comments—enacted by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The power to test for drugs has been extremely valuable. It has helped the service to identify the size of the problem of drug taking in prisons. It has gone some way to help in reducing the misuse of drugs in prisons, as part of the overall strategy to reduce such. It is to be hoped that the Bill will in its turn go some way towards reducing the misuse of alcohol in our prisons.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

May I ask my hon. Friend a slightly less philosophical question than my earlier one? Does he agree with the governor of Swinfen Hall young offenders institution, who said that, since the introduction of mandatory drug testing, which he welcomes, there has been a switch to prisoners drinking alcohol?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I accept that that may be the case. Young offenders institutions are relevant to these discussions. The consumption of alcohol by young people is a matter of the greatest concern, in relation not only to these proceedings but to other proceedings before us, and to hon. Members.

Alcohol testing will support amendments to the prison rules. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire has hinted, young offender institution rules that were made in September last year included two new disciplinary offences for the consumption of alcohol. Previously, prisoners could be punished only if they were found in possession of alcohol, or if they offended against good order and discipline after drinking it. It is probably a matter of some surprise to the public that we have been comparatively limited in what we could do in the past to deal with this problem.

It is now an offence for a prisoner to be intoxicated wholly or partly as a consequence of knowingly consuming any alcoholic beverage. That is the more serious of the two new disciplinary charges. It applies to the prisoner who, it appears, is seriously intoxicated, in contrast to a prisoner who may have consumed only a small quantity of alcohol. To be satisfied of guilt, an adjudicator will have to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was intoxicated.

Presently, if the adjudicator is satisfied after hearing evidence that the accused's behaviour was elated beyond the point of self-control—I am sure that many of us could put it in slightly different jargon, but that is the way it is described—the accused will satisfy the test of intoxication. It is not sufficient evidence for a guilty verdict to show that the behaviour was caused by skylarking or an excess of high spirits.

It is also an offence for a prisoner knowingly to consume alcoholic beverages other than any prescribed to him pursuant to a written order of the medical officer. I am sure that some hon. Members will find that interesting when they visit their medical practitioner. That charge is directed at the prisoner who, although not intoxicated, has knowingly consumed alcohol that has not been prescribed to him or her. The evidence should be such that it would lead a reasonable and right-thinking person to conclude that the accused had consumed alcohol.

Without a more objective means of analysis, which would be provided by formal testing, the available evidence is often insufficient to take any disciplinary action. That leaves governors of our institutions in considerable difficulty. Hon. Members must agree that the most important consideration is the position of the governor of the institution. He is responsible—

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Or she, indeed. Governors are responsible for discipline within the institution. If they are unable to deal with a problem properly and to maintain discipline, their status may be questioned.

Photo of Mr Tim Smith Mr Tim Smith , Beaconsfield

Objective testing will be a great step forward. Will the Prison Service as a whole issue guidance to prison governors on appropriate levels—we know, for instance, what the level is for drink driving—or will that be a matter for prison governors? Will governors decide above what level it will be deemed to be a breach of the rules in their prison, so that everyone knows the position?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is an important point. There is concern about the procedures in the Bill. The Government support the measure, but we want to ensure that it works in practice. I shall deal with my hon. Friend's point shortly.

The Bill is logical and straightforward. Its three clauses encompass matters of concern. Clause 1 amends the Prison Act 1952 by inserting new section 16B. That section gives prison officers the power, subject to the governor's authorisation and to prison rules, to require any prisoner to provide a sample of breath for the purpose of ascertaining whether he has alcohol in his body. The authorisation may require a prisoner to provide a sample of urine instead of or in addition to a sample of breath and a non-intimate sample of any other description, not being a sample of breath or urine.

The Bill must provide flexibility, because it may ultimately be more cost-effective to use another system when technology is sufficiently developed in this area. An alternative system may have to be used because of the physical incapacity of a prisoner, or if the prisoner challenges the result of the breath test. To some extent, that mirrors the arrangements for people who drive while under the influence of drink and have to be tested by police officers.

The power is extended to young offender institutions, remand centres and secure training centres. It is also extended to prisoner custody officers in contracted-out prisons. The circumstances in which the power may be exercised will be set out in the prison rules. Clause 2 merely makes it clear that the requisite authorisation is given by the director in the case of contracted-out prisons.

Clause 3 makes provision for the short title, commencement and extent of the Bill. The Bill applies to England and Wales only. However, the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Bill, which is currently before the House, will make similar provision for Scotland. It is important for Scotland to have the same facilities available.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Are there any substantial differences? I think not, but will the Minister confirm that?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand that there are not, but I shall check that point with officials, and if there is a difference I shall mention it later in my speech or write to the hon. Gentleman.

The Bill will assist the Prison Service to manage prisoners who drink alcohol in prison or when released on temporary licence. The consumption of alcohol by prisoners is a cause of serious concern, not only in the context of the prison society but in communities near prisons. It can be the cause of violence and disorder within the institution or around it. Many prisoners have a history of alcohol abuse: that is a sad fact. It often causes them to commit criminal offences: my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire was concerned about that. There is considerable evidence that, far too often, crimes are committed while persons are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

The governor of Swinfen Hall young offenders institution says that, as well as prisoners becoming intoxicated when they leave the prison and later return, there are sometimes stills in prisons where hooch is prepared. What provisions are there to search prisoners' visitors who are obviously smuggling in alcohol or the equipment required to manufacture alcohol in prisons?

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is a good point. Powers are available to the governor outside the usual security checks. The prison governor can limit the interview or meeting between a prisoner and his or her visitors and make it more restrictive if there is evidence that items are being brought in. Under the governor's authorisation, any person who enters or leaves a prison may be subject to being examined, and bags and other items are checked carefully.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

This is a very sensitive issue and an extremely difficult one for governors. The hon. Gentleman talks about evidence; some of us might wonder what happens when there is no evidence but strong suspicion. Suspicion may sometimes not be enough, and it can create great offence to outraged relatives who come to the surgeries of Members of Parliament. This is one of the most difficult subjects of which we hear at surgeries.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I fully agree. It is a sensitive area, but such powers must be available to governors to use when necessary. I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about causing offence. When perfectly innocent people visit an establishment with a particular need for security, or enter one of our airports from abroad, there is always a problem in terms of checking and searching them.

I am not certain, but I think that, in practice, the governors of our institutions will try to use the powers available to them in a reasonable manner. They are, of course, liable if they use them in a totally unreasonable manner, but they must have the authority available to them. So-called "closed visits", where a visitor is behind glass and separated from a prisoner so that items cannot be handed over, are important in that regard. An incident must have occurred if such a tight visiting regime is introduced by a governor.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans , Ribble Valley

It is important not to dissuade people from visiting friends and relatives, and we must be careful. The point that disturbs me is the incidence of alcohol being distilled on the premises. I find that somewhat difficult to imagine, as the prisons I have visited have strict regimes. I cannot envisage circumstances—other than with the compliance of the authorities within a prison—in which alcohol can be distilled on the premises. Surely there is a constant security regime to look for devices—not just those used for the distillation of alcohol, but drugs, explosives and goodness knows what else.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sure that that is the case, and I agree that it would be wrong to deter visitors from going to prisons. The fact that prisoners can receive visitors can sometimes have a positive effect on their reform, and we would not want to go out of our way to be difficult in that sense.

The prison environment is very unusual, and some people in prison are extremely clever in their behaviour. They can sometimes secrete substances about themselves, and can get involved in certain undesirable activities. Most prisons would claim that their discipline is balanced and appropriate—no more, no less.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant , Staffordshire Mid

I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, and I am also sorry to quote the governor of Swinfen Hall prison again; but, honestly, I would rather listen to the governor of Swinfen Hall prison than my greatly respected and decent hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on these matters. The governor points out that, when prisoners have time on their hands—even with the education and training available in prisons—great ingenuity goes into stealing from other prisoners or, in some instances, creating stills in prison. These do exist, and we need mechanisms to ensure that those devices are not made in prisons or smuggled in by visitors.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. We have learnt a lot from the experiences of those concerned with this matter. Many prisoners have histories of alcohol abuse which have caused them to commit a range of criminal offences. Many are serving sentences for offences committed while under the influence of alcohol. It is clearly in their interests and those of the public that they have some way of controlling their alcohol consumption. Frankly, it is impossible to assess how many offences are committed because of alcohol consumption, but there is evidence that the figure is worryingly high.

Clear associations have been established between alcohol and crimes of violence and disorder in particular. In the prison population as a whole—with its far higher proportion of violent and disorderly individuals than the outside community—the consumption of alcohol can cause serious problems of order and control. I am sure that it is not necessary for me to emphasise that to the House.

Consumption of alcohol by prisoners in breach of their release on temporary licence has caused problems for innocent people in the community, and friends and families of prisoners may also be affected. Other prisoners in open prisons who are trying to come off alcohol may be pushed into temptation if alcohol is available, and prison staff have to deal with prisoners under the influence of alcohol.

The introduction of formal testing will send a clear message to prisoners that the consumption of alcohol within prisons or while released on a temporary licence with the condition of not consuming alcohol will not be tolerated. The Bill makes it less likely that prisoners will succumb to the excessive consumption of alcohol while on release on temporary licence. This, in turn, should provide the necessary reassurance to the public.

I should like to outline the background to the introduction of the Bill. Having complimented colleagues on the way in which they have spoken on the matter, it is important to see why we are where we are. During 1995, representations were received from the boards of visitors of some open prisons. The boards asked if governors were able to impose breathalyser tests on prisoners. Advice received at that time made it clear that the imposition of breath tests on prisoners was unlawful.

That concern provided the incentive for the measure that is now proposed. The governors were made aware of the legal position at that time, and of their significant powers to control the more obvious cases of alcohol misuse. Among them is the facility to include in the terms of a licence under which a prisoner may be temporarily released conditions to restrict or sometimes prohibit the consumption of alcohol. In imposing such restrictions, each case must be considered individually as part of a risk assessment procedure applied to all releases on temporary licence.

Decisions to prohibit alcohol consumption for all releases on temporary licence for any purpose may not be reasonable where there is no suggestion that alcohol has contributed in the past or might in the future to offending behaviour by an individual. When a prisoner has a condition of his licence prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, he can be charged with breaching the licence if he returns to prison exhibiting signs of the use of alcohol. The number of prisoners who have returned to establishments suffering from the worst effects of alcohol is worrying—whether from the Duck and Drake, as has been mentioned, or from anywhere else.

New conditions governing the release of prisoners on temporary licence were introduced in 1995, and it is now a standard condition of such licences that a prisoner must not enter a public house during the period in which he is subject to the licence. That might give comfort to my hon. Friends and their constituents. The condition was introduced to assist in discouraging improper behaviour by prisoners who were released on temporary licence.

In addition, governors already had certain powers to take disciplinary action against prisoners if they were seen by a member of staff to exhibit signs of being under the influence of alcohol. Those signs include slurred speech, loss of balance and breath smelling of alcohol drink. Such a rough-and-ready approach to these matters is less than satisfactory. Prisoners who are clearly rowdy or disorderly can be charged under paragraph 21 of the disciplinary code for offending against good order and discipline", provided it can be shown exactly how the prisoner offended against the good order, with the consumption of alcohol being introduced as an aggravating factor in such a charge.

Establishments also have the authority to introduce a local rule prohibiting the consumption of alcohol within the establishment. In those circumstances, prisoners exhibiting symptoms of being under the influence, and who are known to have been subject to prison or young offenders institution rules when the alcohol was consumed, could be charged with failing to comply with any rule or regulation.

It is, of course, relatively easy to bring alcohol into open prisons. That is because the lower level of security and the use of temporary release facilitate the smuggling of alcohol. It is more difficult in closed prisons, because of their higher level of security, stronger physical barriers and greater emphasis on searching and related procedures. However, there are sometimes finds of illicitly brewed alcohol at establishments with higher security. My hon. Friends have raised particular concerns about the fact that there is still some evidence of illicit brewing.

I hope that the information that I have given has helped to satisfy some of the points raised and shown clearly the context in which the powers to enable prison officers to require a prisoner to provide a sample will have real value.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

It is right that I should say that I have been greatly impressed and rather surprised by the figures that the Minister gave. I should like to thank him for his answer.

Photo of Mr Timothy Kirkhope Mr Timothy Kirkhope The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I do not want to go back over old ground, but my officials have confirmed that the Scottish provisions will be, if not identical, then very similar to the provisions that we are considering.

The introduction of two new prison rules specifically concerning charges relating to alcohol consumption has already assisted prison staff, as I have said, in laying charges appropriate to the offending behaviour that they observe. Formal testing, enabled through the powers to be conferred by the Bill, will provide objective evidence, which will greatly assist in the proving of charges through the adjudication process in any case where there is a suspicion that alcohol has been misused.

Hon. Members have asked what, in effect, will be the basis of the introduction following the passage of the Bill. The Prison Service intends to embark on pilot studies to find out what will be the best methods of testing. I have already referred to the most well-known forms of testing—by means of a breathalyser or by testing urine—but there are now other ways in which such tests can be carried out. Sometimes that is done on the basis of a sample of saliva, which can be taken in such a way that it is less intrusive and less likely to be objected to by any prisoner who is obliged to be tested.

Before we introduce the measures more generally, we will also want to check the effect of the pilots' operation on the incidence of alcoholism and alcohol consumption in our establishments. It is, however—it would be wrong of me to suggest otherwise—the Government's intention to ensure that these powers and provisions are introduced widely, because we believe that they make a lot of sense and that the way in which they have been promoted by my hon. Friends has shown the great importance that the public attach to our establishments being able to take care of these matters for themselves.

Alcohol will always be a problem if it is abused. It is a particular problem in a closed establishment such as a prison. Allowing the governor to have the necessary powers available and to act on the results of those powers seems to the Government to be very important.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.