Clause 10 - Follow-up assessment

Drugs Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 3rd February 2005.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

Obviously, this clause deals with the follow-up assessment. The way this Bill is drafted, one has to keep going back to the attendance at the initial assessment, and forward to arrangements for the follow-up assessment.

There seems to be rather a lot of administrative detail on the face of this Bill. The way I read it—and I need this confirmed by the Minister—is that, although the two assessments are compulsory and contain sanctions, the important provision of the care plan, and its implementation, has no element of compulsion whatsoever. If that is the case, I must ask whether this provision is really going to help. If we are going to go to the lengths of having two assessments—initial and follow-up—but there is no inducement for assistance or treatment after that, does this not fall short of what is required?

I will listen to what the Minister has to say on this with interest, and I hope that she will let me intervene. It seems to me that there is a huge lacuna between the compulsion of the assessments—finding out what is wrong with the individual—and the substance of the treatment, which is not subject to any sanctions.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 10:30 am, 3rd February 2005

The hon. Lady's remarks are of particular relevance to new clause 2 on compulsory drug treatment. A debate on that new clause is included in our agenda, so I will not take up the Committee's time with discussing it now.

Clause 10 applies if

''a police officer requires someone to attend an initial assessment'' under clause 9. There is also a requirement for that

''person to attend a follow-up assessment and remain for its duration''.

We hope that that will not be necessary in most circumstances, but this measure is intended to give an additional chance to get a person to engage. It is a requirement that can be imposed only where the relevant chief officer of police has been notified that the   arrangements for conducting follow-up assessments have been made. We recognise that some drug misusers who might benefit from treatment or assistance may not readily or sufficiently engage with the drugs worker at the initial assessment, and they may therefore benefit from a further opportunity to do so. The measure is a safeguard or safety net. It is necessary because of the nature of the individuals we are dealing with; they are often chaotic.

I will not be drawn on the compulsory issue, because new clause 2 is on the agenda, and we should debate that in the round.

Photo of Dame Cheryl Gillan Dame Cheryl Gillan Shadow Minister of State (Home Office)

With respect, I am not talking about new clause 2. I am talking about the purpose of drawing up a care plan. Subsection (4) defines the care plan as

''a plan which sets out the nature of the assistance or treatment''.

This is an example of the train stopping short of the station; the two assessments carry the penalty, but the vehicle that will have a real effect on the individual has not arrived. Is there any point in having the care plan?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

The assessments are part of developing the care plan, and making the assessments mandatory is about addressing and trying to engage individuals.

There is a debate to be had about making care plans that include clinical interventions as a compulsory element, and I am sure that we will have it when we address new clause 2. The issue of compulsory treatment should also be discussed when we debate new clause 2.

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Therefore, we can probe the matter later, in the debate on it.

The point is that the assessment should and will lead to a care plan. We are pleased that under the current voluntary system, many of those who get to the point of assessment then agree a care plan and enter treatment. That is worth while. The quality of the engagement by the arrest referral worker is high, as is the assessment that follows and the care plan that is put together to motivate that person to engage. When those people finally come to court, that is taken into account.

Photo of Michael Clapham Michael Clapham Labour, Barnsley West and Penistone

Are my hon. Friend's remarks on the care plan related to an earlier statement that she made on PCTs? PCTs have now been encouraged to come on board. Might a PCT be involved in the drawing up of a care plan?

Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office)

Probably, in an indirect way, because where we have the drug intervention programmes, PCTs will be involved, as will people working for them through drug action teams; often, people who are part of the drug intervention programme team will be heavily involved in helping to develop that care plan.

As was said in an earlier debate, a care plan might deal with a number of different issues that need to be attended to, such as clinical interventions, or housing, or counselling. There is a range of possible issues, and I hope that when care plans are developed, appropriate   health contributions will be a part of them. We are saying in the Bill that to refuse to take part in having the assessment that leads to the formation of the care plan should be an offence. There is another debate about whether someone should have a clinical intervention compulsorily forced on them. We will probably need to have a debate—I hope that we will have one—on proposed new clause 2 about compulsory drug treatment, because it raises a number of issues.

On the positive side, I can say to hon. Members that, so far, we are pleased that the numbers who voluntarily agree to have an assessment and then not only agree to a care plan, but agree to take up the treatment, including clinical interventions, are very positive and are growing. That is one reason why we felt that if we made the assessment mandatory, we could get to people, put before them what is on offer and engage them in a positive way to take up treatment.

This is a mixture of carrots and sticks. There are issues on bail restrictions. The fact that when someone finally comes before a court it will take into account whether they have engaged in a positive way in their treatment can work to the individual's benefit. We have talked in the Department about discussing that with defence lawyers as well, because we want them to know what is available for their clients who have drug problems.

I am sure that we all share a common goal of enabling people, getting them committed to being involved in drug treatment and to making it work. That is what we are trying to do. I think that we are doing it well at the moment, but the shift to the assessment as a mandatory part of the process allows us to have more people going to treatment and to recognise individual human rights, of which we must be mindful. We had a discussion about that when we talked about testing on arrest and the mandatory side of the assessment. Although I probably have not done so to the hon. Lady's satisfaction, I hope that I have covered the points that she raised.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.