I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am leading the debate on behalf of my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan. She is unfortunately isolating and so cannot be here, but it is with great pleasure that I am speaking on her behalf. She has a great history of introducing private Members’ Bills. In fact, she took her first private Member’s Bill through over 10 years ago: the Autism Bill, which became the Autism Act 2009. I am hopeful that for the Bill’s later stages she may be able to return to take up the cudgel once more.
The purpose of the Bill is to ensure that our prisons and young offenders institutions are safer, more secure and ultimately better environments for rehabilitation. Although at the moment covid is proving a serious challenge to the prison system, overall in recent decades the misuse of drugs has become probably one of the biggest challenges faced in our prisons. A survey by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons in 2018-19 showed that 45% of female prisoners and 48% of male prisoners found it easy or very easy to get drugs in prison. In 2019-20, 10.5% of random mandatory drug tests in prisons were positive for traditional drugs, such as cannabis or opiates, but when psychoactive substances are included the rate of positive tests rises by around 30% to 14% in all prisons.
Psychoactive drugs, and the misuse of prescription-only medication and pharmacy medicines in particular, is a relatively new problem in our prison system, but it is a growing and dangerous problem, and further action is needed now. The Bill seeks to improve the capability of prisons in England and Wales to test for the use of illicit substances and to take an important step forward in tackling the prevalence of drugs in prisons.
The Prison Service and the Youth Custody Service can currently test only for controlled drugs as defined under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and specified substances listed in schedule 2 of the Prison Rules 1999 and the Young Offender Institution Rules 2000. In order to add a new drug to the list of specified substances, the Government need to manually add each new compound every time. As Members will appreciate, that causes delays, is resource intensive and is inefficient. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Bim Afolami, who tried to introduce this Bill in a previous Session. It is clear that the current process is not working. Despite the Prison Service and Youth Custody Service updating the list at regular intervals, ill-intentioned drug manufacturers and chemical experts can quickly get around the law by producing modified variants of the drugs, meaning that prisoners and young offenders are no longer able to be tested for them and their use goes undetected. They are often made in regimes in other countries around the world without any of the safeguards that we have here.
The scale of the problem with drugs in prisons is demonstrated by the data that is now available. In the year to March 2020 there were almost 22,000 incidents of drug finds in prisons in England and Wales alone—the highest number of incidents over the past decade—with an astonishing 182 kg of illicit drugs recovered from prisons. Drug use drives increased violence. We have seen that in prisons over recent years. Debts are enforced, discharged or avoided through assaults on other prisoners or on staff. Drug use also leads to incidents of self-harm.
Yesterday, I spoke to a prison officer at the Prison Officers Association in County Durham, who said that this was a serious and growing problem, and that psychoactive substances in particular cause real problems because officers often have no idea what is in them or how to treat them. They have had many suicide attempts by people on these drugs, which are very difficult to control. Prison officers are often putting their lives on the line to look after prisoners.
The Bill is a response to that issue. It is straightforward and simple. It allows the generalised definition of psychoactive substances provided by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 to be added to the statute book, which will allow the Prison Service and Youth Custody Service to test prisoners for any and all psychoactive substances, now and in the future. The Bill would, in a similar way, permit the testing of prisoners and young offenders for illicit use of prescription-only pharmacy medicines as defined by the Human Medicines Regulations 2012.
Crucially, the Bill future-proofs drug testing programmes in prisons and young offenders institutions, and it will allow the Prison Service and the Youth Custody Service to take the appropriate action to tackle the threat of drugs, whether that is referring prisoners and young offenders to healthcare treatment programmes or pursuing sanctions against those involved in the distribution and use of drugs.
The House has an opportunity to support provisions that could lead to fewer prisoners and young offenders leaving custody with drug dependency issues and therefore, hopefully, to a reduction in reoffending and safer communities for all our constituents. I hope that the benefits I have laid out are clear for the House to see and that the Bill will gain support from Members on both sides.
I am grateful to you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker—I love Fridays.
I congratulate Dame Cheryl Gillan on bringing forward her Bill. I know that she will have done so because she wants to make a real difference for the most vulnerable in society, just as she did with her Autism Act 2009. This Bill has Labour support. I am looking forward to serving with the right hon. Lady on the Bill Committee, and I hope that the Government will ensure that the Bill has a smooth passage today and through all its parliamentary stages.
As Mr Holden rightly said, substance misuse is an extremely important issue for our criminal justice system, our prisons and our communities. Sadly, this week, drug-related deaths hit an all-time high. Drug dependence and abuse is a massive factor in many people’s offending and, indeed, reoffending. This year, the Black review found that about a third of prisoners are in prison for reasons connected to drug use. Of that third, 40% are actually in prison for drugs offences, so 60% are there for other crimes, such as theft or robbery, which they often commit to pay for the devastating financial cost of an addiction.
As we know, the cost of an addiction is not just financial. Many psychoactive drugs, including novel psychoactive substances—I will call them NPS so that I do not have to say those words throughout my speech—such as Spice, can take a terrible toll on physical and mental health. In prison, as in the outside world, many people take drugs to escape the bewildering, scary or miserable circumstances of their lives. Unfortunately, the substances taken to experience fleeting moments of distraction or numbness make the problems of chaotic lives so much worse.
Drug misuse, just like alcoholism, is a medical problem, and healing it requires well funded, long-term, holistic medical and social intervention. We know that substance abuse treatment works to reduce reoffending. Analysis by the Ministry of Justice suggests that being in treatment cuts reoffending by 44%, and that the number of repeat offences committed is cut by about 33%. It is likely that if treatment were better funded, larger reductions would result.
Over the last 10 years, responsibility for drug treatment has been transferred to councils, and the ring-fenced budget has been removed and reduced. Local government grants and public health funding were both cut. Many of those who are in our prisons today might not have been there if they had got help earlier—if society and the state had had the resources to step in and stop a downward spiral before it started—but to quote the American President, we are where we are. Now, we have to do everything in our power with those who are in prison to ensure that the conditions are there for good health, effective treatment, decent living conditions and a seamless transition to treatment in the community upon release. Without those things, I do not believe that somebody who has done wrong and is in prison will get a second chance to turn their life around.
The interventions made in individual prisons, and the policy for prisons across England and Wales a whole, can be made more effective if prison governors and the Prison Service have knowledge of what is happening with drugs inside. This Bill is intended to help with just that, and Labour Members support that essential purpose, just as we supported by Psychoactive Substances Act 2016—I should know, because I was the shadow Minister on that Bill. During its passage I learned lots. In particular, I learned that Spice and other new and initially unregulated psychoactive substances can have a devastating effect on people, and that their use in prison has had some terrible impacts on prison safety and stability.
Spice use can cause prisoners to behave extremely unpredictably and in ways that are out of character, and it has led to violent attacks on prison staff and on other prisoners. That primarily affects prison officers and workers. Like the hon. Member for North West Durham, I have been told by the POA that its people have been faced with the utter horror of someone they have known for a long time—perhaps a young man who has been in the revolving door and been in and out of prison without ever being a problem—taking Spice and being turned into “an utter lunatic who wants to kill you and who feels no pain.”
When a batch of Spice manages to get into a prison and is distributed widely across the population there can be a wave of problems, with people physically collapsing, having a mental health crisis or becoming violent. It is clearly in the interests of vulnerable prisoners, staff and our communities for the system to be able to respond more quickly to changing recipes, new symptoms, new routes in and new users, which is why this Bill is so welcome.
May I gently point out, however, that there is evidence to suggest that a disproportionate number of Spice users may not be in treatment? The Forward Trust has estimated that between 60% and 90% of the prison population have used an NPS at some point, yet in 2018-19 only 11% of prisoners in treatment had NPS use noted as one of their problems, so there is a huge disparity there. Most prisoners on a treatment programme went into it immediately upon entering prison. I know we will agree that picking up on the substance abuse immediately is an important thing, but it does not account for those who start misusing a drug while in custody. Such people may have had no other history of this. So I would be grateful to hear a little from the Government—or they can write to me—about what they are doing to improve treatment provision, alongside getting the more accurate testing that we need and that this Bill provides for. Public Health England estimates that every £1 spent on drug treatment has a fourfold return, and that has to be worth looking into.
I am told that when somebody uses Spice it is obvious, so there is a bit of a concern that the powers in this Bill will be used for the purposes of punishment, rather than for making an effective order of treatment. It would be a great pity if that is all that happens as a result of this Bill, with prisoners subject to greater punishment rather than getting treatment, because then it will not improve rehabilitation, and it will not make our prisons safer or more stable in the way that we want to see. At the end of the day, Spice is used primarily by very vulnerable populations, particularly rough sleepers and those in prisons. It is used by those whose days are filled with a lethal mixture of boredom and despair. Despite the risk of losing all control and having a terrible time, Spice promises an escape from reality, and the uncomfortable truth is that many of the punishments used in prisons, such as taking away TV privileges or limiting time outside cells, can make that boredom and despair deeper.
I am wondering, with Spice, if there is an animal—a dog—that can sniff it, and how the heck do we trace it? There are people in prison who come in with a problem and there are people who are infected, in a way, with drugs in prison, but the key is to try to find where the drug is located. I am sure the hon. Lady knows that much better than I do, not that she has experience.
No, trust me, I have no experience. That is why I found the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 rather an exciting piece of legislation to be responsible for. The hon. Gentleman is right and there are many ways, sadly, that Spice can be taken into a prison. For instance, I was told that Spice can permeate a piece of paper. In a four-page letter, one of those pages might have the substance. It can then be torn into little strips and submerged in water, and the compound can be extracted from that. There are many ways that this can happen, and that is one of the reasons why this is so dangerous and why we really do need to be doing all we can to bring some semblance of control over the substances in our prisons and our prison estates.
If we want to tackle Spice in our prisons, as well as shutting down the routes in and ensuring that those who exploit it are stopped, we have to ensure that fewer people actually want to take it. That requires treatment by professionals, a productive and active prisons regime, and the creation of a therapeutic culture in which it is normal to want to be well, to have opportunities and support to be well, and to see oneself leaving prison and leading a productive life.
I am told that the test for psychoactive substances available currently can identify only six elements within the broad category of NPSs, and that updating that test can take as long as a year. I wonder if the Minister can tell us how many more chemical elements the Government think will need to be added in the near future to make that test more effective. I know she might not have that at her fingertips, and I would be grateful for a letter. I would also be grateful for any estimates she might have made as to how these changes will allow testing revisions to be speeded up and new forms of dangerous drugs identified.
Can I also ask the Minister: who will get access to the studies of the prevalence of different substance misuse in prisons in future? She will know that the Prison Officers Association has requested access to these studies so that its members have basic information about which substances are in circulation in their prisons, but it tells me that it does not get a response. Currently, the contract for prison testing is outsourced and held by just one company, Abbott Toxicology. It would be worth while if, during the progress of the Bill, the Government would make available an assessment of the performance of that contract. Is the service this company is providing adequate and is it value for money? Will there be a new contract to reflect the wider range of substances that need to be tested for?
As hon. Members will know, there are occasionally issues with the interpretation of the definition in the Psychoactive Substances Act, which this Bill would copy into the Prison Act 1952. Are the Government confident that the definition in the Bill is robust enough?
What purpose will be left for section 47(3A) of the Prisons Act 1952 after the Bill has amended it? Currently, the section allows the Government to make special rules enabling samples to be required for tests of substances that are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. However, it now will not be possible, or presumably necessary, to use those powers to enable testing for new psychoactive substances, so what could it be used for? Is there still a point to having that general power in legislation?
The Bill extends the testing regime to cover prescribed and pharmacy medicines, many of which can be misused and cause serious damage in our prisons. They include drugs such as gabapentinoids and prescribed opioids for pain relief, which may be sold or shared with others outside the prescription given by the NHS. This is a welcome change, but close collaboration will be needed to ensure that prisoners who test positive are not mistakenly and unfairly penalised when they have a prescription and a genuine medical need. I note that there are a few points about that in paragraph 40 of the explanatory notes to the Bill, but I ask the Minister to expand on that, either in this debate or when we consider the Bill in Committee, as I hope we will.
It is essential that the testing regime will be the same across each prison and between prisons: from the new entrants in reception, to those in treatment areas, to those in a different prison, to a prison to which the prisoner might be transferred next week or next month. Otherwise, damaging disparities could arise between the results given by a test used in reception and one used by NHS staff in the treatment centre. What reassurances can the Government offer that that will be absolutely guaranteed?
Better testing can do very little when the treatment provision and the healthy rehabilitative regimes and cultures are not there in our prisons. I would be interested to see in the near future an analysis by the Government of how much an expansion of testing would cost. However well intentioned the Bill is—I think it is well intentioned—we need to make a considered assessment of whether additional money might be better spent on more staffing in prison, better access to drug treatment and through-the-gate support, or more rehabilitative prison regimes.
We need to make our prisons free of this poison, which continues to wreck lives. On the face of it, the lockdown in prisons should have made a big difference. There are only a number of possible routes that banned substances can take to get into prisons and two of the main routes have been heavily restricted. Visits to prisons were banned for many months and even now they have restarted they are occurring at a much lower capacity. During that same time, new entrants to the prison system from our courts have slowed to a trickle as a result of court closures and mounting backlogs. I hope the Minister can tell us whether there has, or has not, been a big decrease in access to substances in prisons over the past months, as that should be able to inform us about the routes being used to bring substances in. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what lessons have been learned.
What impact has the lockdown had on the quality and accessibility of treatment in prisons? We know that access to prescriptions has, thankfully, continued with relatively little disruption through the pandemic, but what has happened to the other elements of treatment? Group-based discussions and therapy are always an important part of treatment. Are the Government considering how a wider range of treatment options could be restarted safely, bearing in mind that the risk from the pandemic may continue for many months to come?
I am happy to say that Labour welcomes and supports the Bill, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham again on bringing it to the House. The Bill will create greater consistency across policies and make a change that perhaps should have been made when the Psychoactive Substances Bill went through the House four years ago. I will be delighted to support it today.
I rise to speak in support of this excellent Bill, and I must declare my interest: immediately prior to my election, I was a non-executive director of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and previously spent four and a half years as a member of the Youth Justice Board. In those roles, I visited many prison establishments in England and Wales, and I should add that HMYOI Aylesbury is in my constituency. I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of custodial establishments up and down the country for their work, especially during the coronavirus crisis.
Drugs are the scourge of prisons. Indeed, in one that I visited, I was told that drugs now outranked escape as the main threat. We have heard some of the figures on drug testing, but behind numbers, as always, lie human experiences. I well remember being in a workshop of one category B prison and being overwhelmed by the brilliant craftsmanship of the offenders working there each morning. They would carve or sculpt intricate designs. They were doing work that is in great demand in the outside world. They were motivated and skilled. I asked one of the prisoners what he did in the afternoon, once the vocational training had finished. His answer was simple: “Get high to forget—take drugs so the time goes faster.” That is because, as Ms Brown said, in many prisons the main driver of drug use is boredom. Other prisoners take drugs because they cannot cope. Drugs in prison provide escapism, albeit in an extremely dangerous way. That means that drugs in jail are big business. They generate substantial amounts of money for criminals, both inside and outside the prison estate.
Psychoactive substances, or PS, are of particular concern. They are often harder to intercept on the way into prisons, not least because they can be hidden on ordinary sheets of paper. There have even been cases of fake legal letters that are soaked in psychoactive substances being sent to prison, where they are then cut up into tiny pieces and sold on to other criminals to give them a fleeting high. In a category A prison, I was told that one A4-sized piece of paper soaked in PS can be worth £400.
The criminalisation of possession of psychoactive substances in custodial establishments is a very good thing, but there are always unintended consequences, and it has led to a boon for organised crime gangs operating inside the prison estate. PS are still relatively easy to come by outside prison, meaning, as one prison officer put it to me, that “everyone can now become Pablo Escobar.” It is a terrifying thought. One of the biggest dangers of PS is the unpredictable impact on different individuals. Some prisoners become catatonic. Others engage in extreme behaviours that almost defy imagination. Others still are humiliated.
What all this illustrates is the challenge that faces our prison staff day in, day out, and we as parliamentarians should do anything we can to help. However, our current legislative process to update the list of illegal substances is no longer fit for purpose. Making repeated amendments through secondary legislation to add each new formulation of a substance is cumbersome, slow and inefficient. Adopting the generic definition of a psychoactive substance, as proposed in clause 1 of the Bill, will mean that small alterations to the chemical formulation will not provide a loophole such that prisoners can claim they took nothing illegal. I submit that the proposed change is a necessary and sensible step to improve the ability of HMPPS to tackle PS in the estate.
It is important that we provide HMPPS and all its staff with the right tools to stay one step ahead of the criminals. Prevalence testing is one way to do that, enabling staff to identify new substances that are being taken. Creating an express statutory footing to do so, as proposed in the Bill, is therefore not only wise but necessary. There are also, unfortunately, cases where prescription and other pharmacy medicines are abused by prisoners, and I therefore welcome the intention in the Bill to widen the range of such substances that can be tested for, in order to clamp down on the illicit economy that arises from their misuse.
It is absolutely essential that we have a process of testing for drugs in our prisons and our youth offender institutions that is thorough, effective and able to respond to rapid changes in the market in both illicit and legal substances that are abused in our jails. This is a short Bill, which, on the face of it, makes relatively minor changes to the regime of drug testing, but its impact could be profoundly beneficial. I warmly congratulate my constituency neighbour and good friend Dame Cheryl Gillan on her efforts to make it more straightforward to tackle the curse of drugs in prison, and I thank Mr Holden for bringing it to the House on her behalf.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan on bringing forward the Bill; it is a pity that she is unable to be here physically to support it today. This is a good Bill, but I will say a few things about where I think we could make it better.
As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I have been in this House for some time and one of the perpetual challenges that I have put out to successive prisons Minsters is, “I hope that during your time as prisons Minister you will be able to deliver not drug-free prisons, but just one prison in this country that is free of drugs.” The short answer is that none of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have held that position has ever been able to achieve a single drug-free prison as an objective, and likewise, Labour Ministers were unable to deliver that.
One of my concerns is that when one talks to people who have been in prison and know the Prison Service, one finds that a lot of prisons seem to be rather relaxed about the current regime for drug testing. The Bill extends the substances in respect of which there can be testing, but why are we not already testing a lot within prisons? I have constituents who have served time in prison and have come as drug addicts having gone in without having a drug addiction. Too much of that is going on, and I would like to know from the Minister why there is this manifest policy failure. We have been discussing a lot of policy failures in this House recently centred around the Department of Health and Social Care, but there has been, and is, a continuing policy failure on the part of the Home Office not to enable people to stay in prison without being addicted to drugs. The one way of dealing with that is to have regular testing.
I was most concerned to see in the explanatory notes the financial implications of the Bill. Paragraph 29 states that
“the legislation would not significantly affect the practice of drug testing in England and Wales, so any financial impact would be modest.”
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us why she does not believe that the present practice should be changed, because at the moment, a sort of game is being played within prisons. There is a minimalist approach and tokenism in relation to testing for drugs, because many prison officers take the view that it is better to have drug-dependent prisoners because they are less trouble. Why do we still have a situation where we are trying in vain to stop drugs coming across the borders into our country from overseas when we have proved ourselves incapable of preventing a single prison in this country from being infiltrated by illegal drugs?
It seems to me, as so often happens with private Member’s legislation, particularly when it has the support of the Government, that instead of concentrating on the real issue, which is the prevalence of drugs in prisons—there is already the power to test for that, but testing is not being carried out frequently enough—we are moving into saying that we need to test for other substances as well. I am sure that we do, but the same paragraph of the explanatory notes says that the Prison Service drug testing procurement exercise currently taking place—we heard earlier from Ms Brown that there is a monopoly supplier, which is in itself unhealthy—is not scheduled to conclude until December 2021. Why is that? What is the delay? We seem to be able to get a lot of procurement pretty quickly under the covid-19 emergency legislation, so why can we not deal with the monopoly problem in the Prison Service drug testing system?
The explanatory notes suggest that
“Affordability will depend on achieving much better value for money from the new contract.”
If we are going to get new a new contract, why not get on with it now? Why is the specification for a new contract not being drawn up? Perhaps the Minister would like to place a copy of the draft specification in the Library so that we can see whether it will attract more than one bidder and save a significant amount of money.
It is amazing that so little money is being spent on this drug testing. The explanatory notes say that the current budget for mandatory drug testing is just £4.4 million. The cost to society of illegal drugs and substances being not just within prisoners inside the prison but within drug-dependent people who are released from prison is far in excess of £4.4 million. It almost seems as though the Home Office is giving some sort of perverse incentive to the Prison Service not to do more testing because it will be too expensive. It seems to me that of all the benefits that could come from expenditure of money, few could deliver better rewards for society than higher expenditure and more testing in prisons of those who are suspected of having drugs and other illegal substances. Therefore, although the explanatory notes say that we will have a money resolution for additional expenditure, it is envisaged that it will not be very much. We need a clear explanation from the Minister as to why this very important activity, which is designed to save lives and save public expenditure, has not been funded to a much better extent already within the Prison Service.
One of the great benefits of such a Bill is that it gives us a chance to discuss the policy background. I hope that, if the Bill gets to Committee and we do not get satisfactory answers, we will have a chance to explore it further on Report. I certainly support its Second Reading.
I will be brief. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan. One does not need to be here long to know what a formidable Member of the House she is, and I hope we will see her back here soon. Most of the public are rightly horrified when they hear the stories of drugs and violence in our prisons, but we have to deal with the world as it is and they are a very real and present threat. Drugs affect the physical and mental health of our prisoners and are getting prisoners into debt, which in turn leads to situations of bullying and self-harm. We do not yet have a direct correlation between these psychoactive substances and the violence that we have been seeing, but, given that they make people more aggressive, I think most of us would think that it is at least a factor. Inside prisons, just like the world outside prisons, drugs place huge strain on our medical services and on our education and employment opportunities, too.
Of course, prison is for punishment, but unless we want people to come out, commit another crime and go straight back in, it has to be for rehabilitation, too. Asking our prison staff to rehabilitate people who are misusing psychoactive and other substances in prison is tying at least one hand behind their backs.
We have some stark facts about the problems of drugs in our prisons. Between 2014 and 2019, the proportion of people who said that they got a drug habit in custody doubled. In 2015, Her Majesty’s inspectorate said that psychoactive substances were the most serious threat to having a safe and secure prison system. In 2016, the Mount Prison closed an effective treatment programme due to a massive influx of these psychoactive substances. What we have to do, in my judgment, is support the Government’s prison drugs strategy on controlling those factors of supply and demand, and I welcome the 10 prisons project. However, this Bill is doing a very specific thing to try to update the testing system, because, quite naturally, the production of these drugs and the altering of the chemical compounds in them, far outpaces the system that we have for testing. It is right that we give our prison staff the tools they need to identify both those who are evading punishment but also those avoiding treatment. It surely must be in all our interests that we give prisoners the best chance of a successful life once they have completed their sentences.
We send people to prison for punishment, for public protection, and for rehabilitation. The availability and use of illegal drugs and psychoactive substances undermines all three goals. The possession and use of these substances is a specific criminal offence under a number of pieces of legislation. However, it is only possible for prisons and young offender institutes to test people for those substances if they are specifically named substances within the legislation. That clearly needs to change. It is probably optimistic to imagine, as my hon. Friend Rob Butler suggested, that any legislation may put us a step ahead of the criminals and those who bring substances into prisons, but at the very least, this Bill can make sure that the authorities are able to remain on the same lap as those who would bring these dangerous drugs into our prisons.
It is far too easy for the producers and the suppliers of drugs and psychoactive substances who, with minimal changes to the composition of those substances, can rebrand to stay outside the provisions of existing legislation. Parliament legislated four years ago for the broad generic definitions of psychoactive substances under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016. This Bill would bring that definition into the provisions on testing for drugs in prisons. To that extent, it is a huge step forward, and I congratulate both my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan and my hon. Friend Mr Holden on bringing this Bill forward. It will help to make our prisons safer. It will help them to continue their important work to rehabilitate and reform prisoners, and it has my complete support.
I shall be very brief. First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan on bringing this private Member’s Bill to the House. I worked with her when she was the Secretary of State for Wales, before I came into Parliament. Obviously, this Bill is of great importance. It applies not only to England, but to Wales, and I know that she is a great champion of everything to do with Wales.
Secondly, HMP Berwyn in Wrexham is next door to my constituency of Clwyd South. I have had a lot of contact with people who work there, people who have family members who are inmates there, and people who make products with the prisoners’ help in their workshops. As a local MP to a large prison, I gather a great deal of information, albeit anecdotally, about how the prison is operating and so on.
Berwyn is a new prison and has got off to a good start, but it has been brought home to me as a Member of Parliament how complex life is for people in prison and for people trying to help them such as prison officers and others who are involved in rehabilitation. That brings me to my third and final point, which has been made by several speakers. The Bill is absolutely vital. It is not just a matter of detecting where the drugs are, which is extremely important, particularly given the psychoactive substances that have been discussed; it is about rehabilitation. Testing provides a greater understanding of the extent and nature of drug abuse in each facility, which allows prison governors and staff to target their efforts. As I say, from personal experience, I know that every prison is a complex place, so anything that we can do that makes the lives of prison officers and inmates easier—I believe that that would be achieved by the Bill—has my wholehearted support.
I support the Bill. Any measure to drive down drug use in our prisons merits serious discussion and should command cross-party support. I thank my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan for the opportunity to speak on the subject.
The Bill will improve drug testing across the prison estate, both state prisons and those operated privately, and will help with the long, hard fight to support prisoners in tackling their drug abuse. It will allow prisons to become proactive both in supporting prisoners and in curbing drug use, as it will eliminate the delay and bureaucracy inherent in the current system. There are no prisons in the Dudley borough, but there are in nearby Wolverhampton and Birmingham, where more drugs have been uncovered in recent years, according to the most recent statistics, which were published only a few months ago. In the west midlands, more than 1,000 searches uncovered drugs in the year up to March, with the worst figures at HMP Featherstone, where 364 searches uncovered drugs—an increase of more than a third on the previous years. Those drugs included psychoactive substances.
Those figures do not necessarily mean that there are more drugs in our prisons. It could reflect—and this is what I believe—the huge investment that the Government have made in prison security. However, more needs to be done. We always need to be one step ahead of the ever-changing drugs landscape. The current system makes it hard to do that. Whenever a new psychoactive substance comes into play, it must be added to existing legislation in what is, as we might expect, an extremely slow process. We cannot afford to be inanimate when fighting drugs. The Bill means that the generic definition of psychoactive substances in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 could be used by prison authorities. If criminals alter the composition of a drug slightly, we would no longer need to amend the law to detect those drugs effectively.
In conclusion, a similar Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend Bim Afolami in 2018. In the conclusion of his speech on First Reading, he spoke powerfully about reducing reoffending rates and about social mobility:
“If hon. Members are serious about prisons being drug-free, they should support this Bill. If they are serious about rehabilitation of offenders, they should support this Bill. If they are serious about social mobility, by which I mean the ability of men and women to leave prison without the burden of drug addiction, so that they can get on and make the most of their lives, they should support this Bill.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 639, c. 191.]
I echo those words, and I hope that, given that there is Government support, the Bill will eventually make its way on to the statute book.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Suzanne Webb. The Bill is a common-sense approach to drugs testing in prisons and young offenders institutes. It seeks to close the loophole of new versions of psychoactive substances needing to be individually added to the legally required list in order to test prisoners. The issue is important; drugs create a system of currency in our prisons and young offenders institutes, and this puts prison staff and other prisoners at risk. We heard from Ms Brown about some of the awful effects of spice and similar psychoactive drugs.
We should consider what we want a spell in prison to achieve. I would like to think that it can be not only a punishment for a crime committed, of course, but a circuit breaker. We hear that term a lot at the moment, but for someone who has fallen into a life of crime and feels that they have little prospect of a decent job or a secure future, a spell in prison can be a reset button or a circuit breaker to get their lives back on track. That is especially important in young offenders institutes.
It is important that time in an institution is used constructively, to learn new skills and build the self-confidence that rehabilitation can bring. Many in the prison system will enter with a level of drug dependency and for many it will have been a contributing factor to their ending up in prison. For others, prison will sadly be a gateway into drug use and a lifetime of dependency. Drug use in prisons can lock people in a cycle, and it is important to legislate to do all we can to enhance drug testing and bring down levels of drug use. I commend my hon. Friend Mr Holden for presenting the Bill today and my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan for ensuring that this very necessary Bill has come before the House.
I apologise for the delay in getting to my feet, Mr Deputy Speaker—I was distracted by looking at the call list. It is an honour to be called earlier than expected in this debate, and I wholeheartedly congratulate my colleagues, especially my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan, on introducing the Bill. My hon. Friend Mr Holden did a sterling job in her place, although he has a long way to go until he can fully replicate and impersonate my right hon. Friend.
This is not just a good Bill but a necessary Bill. One of the great things about Friday sittings is that we get a chance to speak about incredibly important issues that we do not get the time to debate in detail on a Monday to Thursday. As a Member of Parliament for Scotland, this is even more important. This is an England and Wales Bill, as prisons are fully devolved in Scotland, but this issue is quite clearly facing the Prison Service wherever in the United Kingdom we happen to be. Just two weeks ago, in a report in the Daily Record, a whistleblower from the Scottish Prison Service was quoted as saying that drugs in Scottish prisons are “worse than ever”, complaining that the high-tech scanners are not effective, and that it was a result of “New Psychotic Substances” flooding the prison estate. The Scottish Prison Service has said:
Despite the fact that this is an England and Wales Bill, this is not just an England and Wales issue. It is very important that in this Parliament of the United Kingdom we debate and discuss the issue at length, and debate and discuss this fantastic Bill, which, if agreed, will do a lot to combat the growing problem we have in our prison estate in England and Wales.
In the excellent letter to colleagues from the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, who is sitting on the Front Bench, she states that outside the current covid-19 pandemic, the misuse of drugs is one of the biggest challenges facing the Prison Service. In 2019-20, 10.5% of random mandatory drug tests in prisons were positive for traditional drugs such as cannabis and opiates. When psychoactive substances are included, the rate of positive tests rises to 14%.
I will not detain the House any longer. I know that a lot of people want to speak and that we are relatively pressed for time. I just wanted to place on record my support for the Bill proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham. It is a good and necessary Bill and we must get on top of this issue if we are to beat the rise of vicious drugs in our prison estate.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Bowie.
I rise to speak in support of the Bill. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan. I am so sorry she is not here with us to debate this very important matter. I know many of us feel strongly that the measures in the Bill should already be in law and we are very pleased to be able to do our bit today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Holden for progressing the Bill in place of my right hon. Friend.
I am deeply saddened that for a matter of such national importance there are so few Members on the Opposition Benches. There is no one here from the Scottish National party or the Liberal Democrats, and so few Members from the Opposition. I say that because I greatly value the input from Ms Brown, who speaks with such passion. It is always a pleasure to listen to her contributions to these debates, which are made with such heartfelt integrity and genuine care. I think that is an important point to make.
The proportion of inmates who developed a drug-related problem increased by 100% from 2014 to 2019. Almost 15% of the prison population now has a drug problem. That is of considerable concern to me and to my constituents. There were almost 47,000 incidents of self-harm recorded in prisons in England and Wales in the year 2017-18. That is, on average, 128 incidents a day. The misuse of drugs is a key driver of debt, violence, vulnerability and self-harm among the prison population. It is also a matter of concern when it comes to the safety and security of staff. There were 31,000 assaults in prisons and state-run immigration centres to the year from March 2018. Some 22,500 were prisoner-on-prisoner assaults, which means that some 9,000 staff members were affected by assaults—an enormous number.
There are no prisons in my constituency, but I have constituents who work in the neighbouring prisons of Guys Marsh, Portland and The Verne. I know that this matter is of great concern to them and to those from neighbouring constituencies. It is high time that Parliament acts, as we are doing, and that we pass the Bill. I warmly commend it and I encourage all hon. Members to enable it to progress.
This is an important and necessary Bill, as our Government and prison services continue to tackle the scourge of drugs in an ever-changing landscape. It is a sad fact—I hate to use the word “evolve”—that drugs appear to evolve. Our prison services in England and Wales must therefore have the capability to test for illegal substances. The Bill will simplify that process, adding newly identified psychoactive substances to existing powers for officers to carry out mandatory tests.
In my constituency, I have HMP Bure, a category C men’s prison located in the parish of Scottow. I have paid tribute before to the sterling work, particularly throughout the pandemic, of the many prison officers and staff. HMP Bure is often described as a model example. Many of the prisoners are over 50 and, in comparison, drug abuse is relatively low at 13%. As we heard earlier from Ms Brown, I find it incredible that Spice is impregnated into paper and that sniffer dogs are unable to detect it. What an incredibly difficult situation we find ourselves in. Anything we can do to help to improve that situation and try to tackle the scourge of drugs is welcome.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan on taking the initial steps in bringing forward this important Bill. She has done a great deal in her political career, and this is only one of the many measures that I hope she will put on the statute book. I am so disappointed that she is not with us today to take the Bill forward, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Holden for taking it forward on her behalf and making the case so articulately. I hope to see the Bill complete its journey so that we can put this law on the statute book.
The Bill is critical to ensuring that we can react quickly to stop the distribution of drugs in our prisons, because we know that the trafficking and use of drugs in prisons and young offenders institutions can have a significant impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals in both the short and long term, and it undermines an offender’s ability to engage in rehabilitation. It is not restricted to the harm of the use of drugs; we have also heard about the violence that it can cause. My hon. Friends the Members for North West Durham and for West Dorset (Chris Loder) talked about the scale of the problem.
The Bill does two things: it will enable us to have a robust drug testing framework that will be responsive as new drugs emerge, and it will also put prevalence testing on a firmer statutory footing. That will allow us to gather information to better identify new and emerging trends, so that we can react to them quickly. These measures, combined with others, will help us to tackle the use of drugs in prison. It is a pleasure to see Ms Brown in her place.
Indeed. We have had many opportunities to correspond digitally, so it is delightful to see the hon. Lady in person. She rightly referred to the importance of substance treatment and the fact that it works. I am delighted to tell her that 53,193 adults accessed drug and alcohol treatment services within prisons and the secure estate between April 2018 and March 2019. We continue to see those services as a beneficial source of treatment. She will have seen in our sentencing White Paper that we want to further use community treatment orders, so that people do not go to prison at all, and we can treat them in the community.
The hon. Lady referred to the importance of decent living conditions. She will know that we, too, are committed to ensuring that prisoners can live in decent conditions. That is why we have a £2.5 billion prison building programme, with £156 million spent on maintenance this year. She asked what else the Government are doing. As my hon. Friend Suzanne Webb mentioned, the Government are putting extensive funds into tackling drugs.
My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope talked about the importance of expenditure in this area. I hope Members will be pleased to know that we are spending £100 million on boosting security to crack down on crime behind bars. That is not just about testing. It is about introducing airport-style security—in fact, it is better than that—with X-ray body scanners at 50 sites. It is about stopping devices such as illicit mobile phones working through phone-blocking technology. It is about strengthening staff resilience by enhancing our counter-corruption unit, and it is about increased disruptions against high-harm, serious and organised crime through a multi-agency team and enhanced intelligence capabilities.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend mentions that. I was just about to say that, as he may be aware, there is a pilot drug recovery prison at HMP Holme House, which helps prisoners improve their chance of recovery, so we are testing a dedicated prison to try to improve the issue of drugs. It has been in operation for a short period, and the evaluation of the pilot is due shortly. We are not just focused on one drug recovery prison, though; we have enhanced units or wings at many of our prisons, and we would like to expand them in due course.
The hon. Member for West Ham asked whether it might be better to spend money on more staff, better access to drug treatment and through-the-gate services. In addition to the money that I have identified, we are already spending money on all those things. She will know that, since 2016, we have had a net increase in our prison officer numbers by more than 4,000. Notwithstanding the pandemic, we are continuing to recruit into our prison service, and we are doing so at a good rate. We recently increased the moneys to our community rehabilitation companies for through-the-gate services by something in the region of £22 million.
The hon. Lady also identified the fantastic work that prison officers have been doing throughout the covid pandemic. Like other hon. Members, I pay tribute to their ongoing work in very challenging circumstances over the past few months. She is right to identify the importance of continued programmes. We are looking at how we can maintain safety and security during the pandemic so that we do not have too many prisoners meeting other prisoners and therefore seeding and feeding the infection. At the same time, we are continuing with individual work.
A number of hon. Members referred to prisons in their areas. Like my hon. Friend Simon Baynes, I pay tribute to the work that is being done at Berwyn. I had the opportunity to speak to the governor of Berwyn recently; he has done a remarkable job through the covid period. I also pay tribute to the work at HMP Bure, which my hon. Friend Duncan Baker referred to.
Hon. Members made a number of points about the importance of this legislation. My hon. Friend Rob Butler, who always speaks with such knowledge on these issues, said that it could be profoundly beneficial. My hon. Friends the Members for Wolverhampton North East (Jane Stevenson) and for Wantage (David Johnston) both said that this legislation will give people a further chance of turning around their lives. My hon. Friend Mike Wood said that it may help make prisons safer. My hon. Friend Andrew Bowie said that the Bill is not just good but necessary. For all those reasons, I confirm with great pleasure that the Government support this important Bill, and I look forward to its passage through this House.
Before I call Richard Holden, I want to say that Dame Cheryl Gillan has been in touch. She has watched the debate throughout, and she wants everybody to know that she is grateful for all the support that she has had today. On behalf of the House, let me say that we look forward to you coming back as soon as possible, Dame Cheryl. We miss you.
With the leave of the House, I would like to make a very brief final remark. I know that my right hon. Friend Dame Cheryl Gillan has been watching because she has not only been messaging you, Mr Deputy Speaker; she has also been messaging me. She would like to say that she is very grateful to the entire House for its support for the Bill. She hopes to be able to take it back up in Committee, and she desperately hopes that it will end up on the statute book, as it will help save lives in prisons across our country.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No 63).