Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 1:36 pm on 25 March 2022.

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Baroness Sater:

Moved by Baroness Sater

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Baroness Sater Baroness Sater Conservative

My Lords, it is a privilege to move the Second Reading of the Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill, which was introduced by my honourable friend Rob Butler MP in the other place. I am pleased that, to date, the Bill has had a successful passage and received support from all sides.

Noble Lords may remember a Bill that was introduced last year by my noble friend Lady Pidding and my dear friend, the late right honourable Dame Cheryl Gillan, which focused on improving substance testing in prisons. It was welcomed in your Lordships’ House and has now received Royal Assent. I hope that this Bill, which has similar aims but for approved premises, will be similarly supported and gain a smooth passage.

I declare a personal interest in that I was a youth magistrate for over 20 years. I have now retired. I saw first-hand the destruction that drugs can cause and the path they can lead people down. It is a sad fact that many of the children who were before me may have ended up in approved premises at some point in their adult lives, so I know how important it is to help make them safer and more supportive environments for rehabilitation.

Approved premises provide temporary accommodation for the highest-risk individuals in the community, subject to supervision or rehabilitation. They exist to ensure that these high-risk individuals with the most complex needs receive additional, targeted residential supervision and rehabilitative support, following release from custody. They also provide supervision and support for a small number of bailees and high-risk offenders serving community sentences.

Patterns of drug misuse in both custody and the community are changing, and the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman has made repeated recommendations about the urgent need for a comprehensive drugs strategy for the approved premises estate. In recent years, psychoactive substances have become much more prevalent within the illicit economy in approved premises. Prescription medicines are also abused by some residents, sometimes proving lethal. The use of drugs in approved premises can have a significant impact on the physical and mental well-being of individuals in both the short and the long term, and it undermines an offender’s ability to engage in rehabilitation and turn their back on crime.

Currently, to ensure that approved premises are safe and drug-free, residents are drug tested if requested by staff, in accordance with the house rules they are required to accept as a condition of their residence. While this provides a basis for drug testing, it does not set out a comprehensive statutory framework for the testing for illicit substances, the scope of substances that may be tested or the types of samples that may be taken. This Bill is a response to this issue and would enable Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to create a comprehensive framework and bring approved premises in line with the testing regime used in prisons.

I turn to the content of the Bill. First, it extends the range of substances that can be tested for, in order to cover all forms of psychoactive substances, as well as prescription and pharmacy medicines. The Bill will also offer supportive measures that would help probation to combat an issue that we know of, whereby some approved premises residents bully other residents for their genuinely prescribed prescription medication. The Bill will enable offender managers to ensure that only those supposed to be taking such medications are taking them.

The Bill will also introduce urine testing, replacing oral fluid testing which is currently used. There are relatively few drugs that can be reliably detected in oral fluid. This means that the current testing regime has reduced capacity to quickly identify drug use among residents; as a result, residents’ needs are not identified, and care planning cannot be managed effectively. Moving to urine testing will allow probation to test for a wide range of different substances for longer. Although this varies depending on the substance being tested for, as a general rule, substances are detectable for hours in oral fluid, whereas with urine testing they are detectable for days.

Alongside mandatory drug testing, the Bill will provide an express power for the use of prevalence testing in approved premises, using residents’ samples to test for the prevalence of various substances on an anonymised basis. This measure is key in helping HMPPS to understand the ever-changing drug landscape and allow it to tackle the threat of drugs in approved premises. Taking appropriate action will reduce the risks to residents and provide them with appropriate treatment and support, which in turn will help to aid rehabilitation and support the efforts to reduce reoffending.

In conclusion, I hope that your Lordships will recognise the importance of implementing these changes. I believe that this Bill will make a tangible difference. It will enable probation to better identify and respond to new and emerging patterns of drug use in approved premises and, in turn, ensure that it can provide the necessary care and treatment for individuals to support their rehabilitation and prevent reoffending. I also believe that it will create more opportunities for positive interventions on those individuals who really need our help to become mentally and physically healthier and go on to lead crime-free lives.

I look forward to hearing noble Lords’ contributions and hope that the Bill will receive support across the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:42, 25 March 2022

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Sater. She is a former magisterial colleague of mine; we sat in the same youth court together for many years and we have both seen the types of cases to which she referred in the opening part of her speech. We in the Labour Party broadly support the Bill and welcome in particular the attempts to identify substance abuse in approved premises. This will allow the Government to respond effectively and flexibly to the changing patterns of drug misuse.

In my 15 years as a magistrate, I have seen the types of drugs coming to both youth courts and adult courts change multiple times. I understand that there is a constantly changing landscape and that testing regimes need to change to reflect that reality. We are happy to see that this Bill is about providing assistance with rehabilitation first, and prosecution second. Residents who test positive for drugs will be directed to appropriate substance misuse organisations first; if their behaviour continues, punitive sanctions could be implemented. However, this should not be seen as a substitute for what the Government must do: namely, invest in treatments, harm-reduction initiatives and supportive policies to reduce the prevalence of substance misuse in the community.

The noble Baroness—I might say “my noble friend” in this context—talked about urine testing. We welcome the introduction of urine testing alongside oral fluid testing. She spoke also about the greater range of substances that need to be tested. I have certainly been on a number of prison visits over the years where we have been told of the ever more imaginative ways of getting psychoactive substances into the prison. It is a constant battle for prison officers to try to reduce the number of these substances getting into the premises. She also spoke about anonymous sample testing. This is a reality of the situation, if I can put it like that. I have certainly heard the argument that, if the sample testing is anonymised, it is more likely to give a realistic reflection of the drug use in the institution being tested.

I shall say something about the background statistics, as I know the Minister is very keen on his statistics. The figures that I have are that, between September 2012 and August 2017, there were 46 deaths in approved premises and 29 of those were linked to drugs. In 2018-19, there were 20 deaths and, in 2019-20, there were 21. It is unclear how many of those are linked to drugs, but those were deaths in approved premises.

In 2017-18, the annual report by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and the Probation Service said the use of synthetic drugs and psychoactive substances was getting out of control and that the problem was spreading to removal centres as well as approved premises, so it is a widespread problem. I think testing is part of the solution to that, but the real key is that the ministry has a realistic understanding of the extent of the problem. I support the noble Baroness’s Bill.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 1:46, 25 March 2022

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sater for introducing this important Bill today, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for his contribution to this short debate. As the only non-magistrate speaking in this debate, I will say that it has been a pleasure working with my noble friend on this issue. I am grateful for the broad support from the Labour Benches. The Government fully support the Bill. As with the complementary Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill that received Royal Assent last year, I hope this Bill receives unequivocal support across the House.

This Government are committed to tackling the causes of reoffending to keep our communities safe. We have heard some statistics; I shall add a couple more that I think underpin the need for the Bill. About 80% of crimes for which a caution or a conviction ensues are committed by repeat offenders, while around 62% of prisoners have either an alcohol or drugs need, or both. If you put those two statistics together, the case for the Bill is essentially made out.

We know that maintaining treatment for prison leavers is crucial to reducing reoffending. In December last year, we published our landmark cross-government drugs strategy, which represents an ambitious 10-year commitment to work across government to address illegal drug use, including increased and enhanced testing in prisons and approved premises. The strategy is underpinned by a record investment of nearly £900 million of additional funding over the next three-year spending review period. That will take the total investment in combating drugs over the next three years to £3 billion.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, noted, the commitment has to go beyond only treatment. We know that people who suffer from addiction also have multiple and complex needs for which they also need support, and we are leading the world in delivering a joined-up package across treatment, accommodation and employment. The Bill will allow us to deliver further on the commitments set out in the Government’s drugs strategy and ensure that every offender has access to treatment and support, enabling them to turn their backs on crime. It will ensure that we can understand and react quickly to the changing patterns of drug use that exist in approved premises and hamper an individual’s chances of rehabilitation.

As my noble friend set out, the Bill will implement a comprehensive drug-testing framework, enabling mandatory drug testing for psychoactive substances together with prescription and pharmacy medicines. Supported by the change to urine testing, this will enable us to test reliably for a wide number of different substances and for longer.

In addition, as the House has heard, the Bill also puts prevalence testing on a firmer statutory basis. That will improve our ability to identify emerging trends and ensure that we are able to react quickly. These combined measures will help us to tackle the use of drugs in approved premises and ensure that staff can respond effectively and implement the necessary treatment but also care planning.

The Bill will ensure consistency of testing and treatment from prison to the community, and will be vital in ensuring that approved premises are safe and drug-free, and that the risk of serious harm is reduced for the individual as well as for other residents and the wider public.

I conclude by again thanking my noble friend Lady Sater for introducing the Bill. The benefits of this legislation are clear to see, and I very much hope that this House will endorse and support the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Sater Baroness Sater Conservative 1:50, 25 March 2022

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his support and his comments on the importance of follow-up with treatment and support for the residents in approved premises. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, from the Opposition Front Bench, whom I would also call my friend.

The Bill will enable approved premises better to identify and respond to drug use and, in turn, help provide the appropriate care and treatment for individuals on their path to rehabilitation and efforts to reduce reoffending.

Finally, I thank the clerks and the officials at the MoJ for their excellent guidance and advice on procedure during the preparation of the Bill.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.