Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:18 pm on 29th October 2021.

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Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 2:18 pm, 29th October 2021

It is a privilege to speak in support of this important Bill. I thank my hon. Friend Rob Butler for bringing forward this legislation, which fundamentally supports rehabilitation services across the country. I am proud to support the Bill to update ageing legislation that has left assisted premises staff without the appropriate and necessary legislative support that they need to do their jobs.

Fundamentally, our prison system must focus on the rehabilitation of offenders, as we prepare them for life after they are released. We know, however, that following their release, a minority of individuals deemed to be at high risk of harm or reoffending need the supervision and support that only specialised centres can provide. Each and every assisted premises across the UK is there to protect and support bailees as they transition from their custodial release back into society. Approved premises are rightly in place to ensure that these offenders with the highest risk and most complex needs receive the additional residential supervision and rehabilitative support that they often need following release from custody.

While there are no assisted premises within the boundaries of my constituency, the Tees Valley is served by two premises in Middlesbrough. Nelson House and The Crescent provide the specialised support that a number of individuals locally need to prevent further harm from being caused. They also provide a safe, suitable temporary home, ensuring that these vulnerable offenders do not end up on the street.

These centres provide a range of engaging activities, events and skills classes for their residents to participate in. Over the past year, this has included marking and celebrating awareness days, such as LGBT awareness, mental health awareness and Macmillan coffee mornings, as well as important cultural and religious days of significance. It has also included the provision of skills sessions chiefly focused on supporting residents once they move on from those premises. I read with interest that one such course was Skills 2: Employment Day, where residents were taught real world practical skills to make them more employable and how to make the most of opportunities presented to them.

While staff at the centres across the country continue to support their residents and prepare them for reintegration, we know that the ageing Offender Management Act 2007 is failing to keep pace with changes in the drugs problem and improving drug testing technology. Sadly, that has led to concerns being raised regarding the fact that the number of deaths among approved premises residents has increased in recent years. I understand that many of these deaths are believed to be drug related.

Indeed, we know that psychoactive drugs have become more prevalent in approved premises, hampering the efforts of staff to protect and rehabilitate individuals, while bullying sees the hoarding and abuse of prescription medication. I am glad that this short, yet impactful Bill grants staff the legislative powers that they need to prevent the wider prevalence of drug misuse within their premises and to tackle ever-changing and evolving drug patterns.

At the heart of the Bill, staff at Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service are empowered with the power they need to monitor and control the misuse of controlled psychoactive and prescriptive drugs. Under clause 1, approved premises managers can authorise assisted premises staff to ask for and require a urine sample from any resident rather than an oral fluid test. It was interesting to hear the intervention from my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe with regard to the challenge on hair follicle testing. It is, however, important to highlight that the Bill rightly imposes restrictions on how this sample may be acquired and places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish guidance on the exercise of drug testing in these sites. The sample can then be used to identify a controlled drug, a prescription-only medicine or a psychoactive substance within the resident’s body.

I am glad that the Bill builds on the recommendation of the prisons and probation ombudsman, who, in 2017, called for more effective drug testing practices and better staff guidance to identify and address the risks associated with substance misuse. The Bill places approved premises on a much firmer legislative footing and I am pleased to support it today.