Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:14 pm on 29th October 2021.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:14 pm, 29th October 2021

I congratulate Rob Butler on bringing the Bill forward. I know that he has tremendous experience in the area, and he is a great asset to this place in that respect, but I was a bit concerned that he would talk out his own Bill.

The hon. Gentleman outlined clearly the context for the Bill. As we are content to support Second Reading, I will be brief. As we have heard, residents who are supervised in approved premises are not typical offenders. Often, they are high-risk individuals with previous additional problems and troubled pasts. For that reason, it is crucial that those who are housed in that type of premises can access a safe and secure environment that will support their rehabilitation and promote their wellbeing. Critical to that is ensuring that residents are protected from the supply of illicit drugs, which may have led many of them to offend in the first place.

Substance abuse ruins the lives not only of the people who become dependent on drugs, but of their friends, families and loved ones, as is very clearly the case when I talk to affected families in my constituency. Moreover, it plays a huge factor in offending and reoffending. Labour supports the principle of the Bill, which would give offender managers the powers they need to clamp down on illicit drugs in approved premises and, by doing so, to protect those in their care and prevent their reoffending.

Under the Offender Management Act 2007, residents of approved premises are required to submit to drugs tests if requested by members of staff, but we accept that the current testing framework is far from perfect. In particular, we share the concerns that, in the 14 years since the Act was enacted, patterns of drug misuse in custody, and in the community for that matter, have changed considerably. That is particularly evident in the huge number of new psychoactive substances available that are constantly evolving and becoming harder to detect and combat.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill would allow offender managers to use urine testing rather than oral fluid testing to allow them to detect a far wider range of drugs over a longer period than currently, and then tackle their misuse. As Members will be aware, in recent years, psychoactive substances have become far more prevalent across approved premises and prisons. Similarly, there has been an alarming rise in the number of offenders abusing prescription drugs that have been prescribed for genuine medical purposes.

This is not just about further criminalising offenders. Giving offender managers the tools to better understand the types of drugs that are being abused in approved premises will allow them to better support those in their care. Not only will that improve the rehabilitation of individual residents, but it will decrease the risk to members of the wider public.

The misuse of drugs, prescription drugs and psychoactive substances is a growing problem within our prisons and youth offending institutions. It is also a problem in our approved premises, as we have heard. If we are to have any hope of breaking the cycle between offending and reoffending, we need to take action. We look forward to discussing the Bill in Committee.