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Drugs (Prisons)

2. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): What estimate he has made of the quantities of drugs taken into prisons by (a) prisoners, (b) visitors, (c) prison officers and (d) other means in the last period for which figures are available. [16778]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): We do not collect information on estimates of quantities centrally. The mandatory drug testing programme, which is the principal means of measuring drug misuse in prisons, shows that the percentage of positive results has halved since 1997.

Recently, the Home Office commissioned qualitative research that identifies supply routes. These were, in order: social visits; mail; newly arrived prisoners; staff; over the perimeter; and after-court appearances. Measures are already in place to target those routes and the report will inform the further development of strategies to reduce the supply of drugs in prisons.

Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister and look forward to that report. May I refer her to a written question that I tabled in July? In her reply, she pointed out that a member of staff at Wandsworth was investigated for drug possession in July—not just a normal member of staff, but a junior governor who was found in possession of drugs. As I understand it he did not even face disciplinary proceedings, which seems strange. Does the Minister agree that the drugs problem in prisons is reaching crisis levels and that there should be a zero-tolerance policy towards members of staff who deal in drugs? Will the Government get a grip on the situation?

Fiona Mactaggart: Any member of prison staff who is found dealing in drugs will be referred to the police for criminal prosecution. That is our policy, and that is how we will always proceed where there is evidence to do so. It is much more important to ensure that people face the full process of the criminal law, rather than other action in relation to their employment, and we do that. I agree that we need to have zero tolerance, and that is why I am pleased that we are in the process of reducing the extent of drug misuse in prison.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Is not it true that, although there has been a reduction, the position remains as it has been for many years now under two Governments? The Minister recently told me that, in the
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past five years, not a single prison in Britain has been free from illegal drug use. Given the consequences of that in terms of the spread of disease in Britain, particularly AIDS and hepatitis, would it not be better if we concentrated our resources on harm reduction, especially on allowing needle exchanges?

Fiona Mactaggart: I visited a prison the other day where mandatory drug testing has produced zero positive test results for a number of months in succession. I am anxious about the fact that that was outcome for just a number of months, but it is possible, as that prison has showed, to seek to achieve drug-free prisons. We should continue to aim for that goal, but we also need to help the very large proportion of people who come into prison with existing drug misuse problems and to reduce the harm that they face, including when they are released. That is part of the work done in prison by the CARATS—counselling, assessment, referral, advice and throughcare—workers.

Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Would the Minister care to comment on a letter from my constituent who wrote that his son

and that his son tells him that things are not getting better, but much worse?

Fiona Mactaggart: An individual prisoner might say that, and indeed that might be his experience. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing his constituent's concerns, but we are working hard and effectively to win the struggle. Any prisoner can go on to a voluntary drug-testing regime, where they are tested at least 18 times a year, and there are drug-free wings in many prisons, so we already put in place the means to support those prisoners who are determined to end their drug abuse.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Will the Minister join me in congratulating the staff and governors at Wakefield prison, where there is a 1 per cent. drug incidence, as revealed by the mandatory testing regime? Will she make time in her ministerial schedule to come to Wakefield to see the very strict checks that are put in place for every visitor to the prison, whether the chief of police, the Member of Parliament or the Minister? It is a really impressive sight.

Fiona Mactaggart: It is indeed, and our prisons put in a lot of effort. We should not forget that they largely deal with a group of people who have massive drug problems—about 80 per cent. of people coming into prisons have used drugs, and 55 per cent. of them say that they have been addicted. That represents a big struggle, and it is right that we should be determined to overcome it. I am always keen to visit prisons to see their hard work to tackle the menace of drug use in prison.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister might like to know that every prison I have visited has admitted to having a problem with illegal drugs being brought in. More than three quarters of all prisoners admit to having taken drugs in prison—now,
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most commonly, heroin and cannabis— and more than half of all our prisoners admit that their offences are related to drug taking. Why then do only half the prisoners who start drug treatment courses complete them in prison and why do only a third of our young offender institutions provide intensive drug treatment programmes? Is that not a disgraceful record for a Government who said that they would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime?

Fiona Mactaggart: It is not. Every prison, of course, has a struggle to deal with drugs. I think I was quite clear about that in what I said earlier. When a prison deals with a population the vast majority of whose offending is drug related, it is inevitable that it will focus on the issue of drugs.

If the hon. Lady stops trying to interrupt me, I will deal with the issue of intensive treatment that she raised. One of the things that we rightly do in prisons is develop particular expertise in particular centres of, for example, intensive treatment programmes or particular education programmes to rehabilitate prisoners. We do not carry out such programmes everywhere, but we offer treatment of some kind in every single prison in the country.

Commission for Racial Equality

3. Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): How many complaints of (a) racial discrimination, (b) sex discrimination and (c) disability discrimination have been made by the staff of the Commission for Racial Equality in the last five years. [16779]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): In the past five years, staff of the Commission for Racial Equality have made one complaint of racial discrimination, two complaints of sex discrimination and one complaint of disability discrimination. In addition, they have made four complaints of discrimination involving both race and sex.

Philip Davies: I thank the Minister for that reply. Is it not incredible that the body that is given taxpayers' money to stamp out race discrimination in this country actually suffers from complaints of race discrimination itself and uses taxpayers' money to settle some of these cases out of court? Is this not a grotesque waste of money, and is it not time that this politically correct body was abolished before it does any more damage to race relations in this country?

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman is right in one respect: the Commission for Racial Equality has a very important job to do in working towards the elimination of racial discrimination in our country. It does a very good job too.

I might add to the hon. Gentleman that, of the eight complaints received over the five-year period, only six went to employment tribunals and, of those, none was upheld.
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Young Offenders (Deaths)

4. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): How many children and young people have died in (a) prison, (b) young offender institutions, (c) secure training centres and (d) local authority secure children's homes in each of the past 15 years. [16780]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): In summary, the number of deaths between 1 January 1990 and 3 October 2005 of those aged 20 and under was 84 in prisons; 96 in young offender institutions; and two in secure training centres, the first of which opened in April 1998. Total figures in respect of local authority secure children's homes are not available. I shall provide the full detailed figures to my hon. Friend and place them in the House Library.

Chris Ruane: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Joseph Scholes is one of the statistics that he has just quoted, and he was a 16-year-old boy from my constituency who committed suicide in a lonely prison cell in Stoke Heath prison. I have been working with his mother, Yvonne Scholes, for the past 18 months to highlight the issue, and I simply wish to relay the concern that she and others have that no parent should have to go through what she has been through. When will proper accommodation be made available for these young vulnerable people?

Mr. Clarke: First, may I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend in working on Mr. Scholes's tragic case, which he has been doing in the year and a half since the tragedy took place? My hon. Friend will be aware of the action being taken through the Sentencing Guidelines Council, the chief inspector of the social services inspectorate and the Youth Justice Board to try to ensure that similar deaths do not occur in the future. The Youth Justice Board's draft strategy was published in November 2004 as a consultation document reflecting the lessons from Joseph's case. That strategy has now been approved by Ministers and the full outcome will be published shortly. I hope that it will go at least some way to meeting the concerns that my hon. Friend has expressed.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) (Con): I have a women's prison in my constituency. As the Home Secretary will know, some women give birth while serving a prison sentence, although their children are not born in prison. When he is giving answers to such questions in which statistics are produced about numbers of child deaths, will he assure us that infants who die due to medical tragedies that have absolutely nothing to do with prisons will be excluded from the political debate, or alternatively that such statistics will be marked with some asterisk to show that that was the case?

Mr. Clarke: As I said, I am putting full, detailed figures in the House of Commons Library. I shall ensure that specific reference is made to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman reasonably expresses.
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Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the figures are chilling, whichever way one tries to interpret them? Is he aware that the sensitivity of support for young people in prison must be examined? Has he read the report by the Education and Skills Committee on prison education, and how soon will we get a revolution in the way in which we meet the needs of young people in prison?

Mr. Clarke: The adjective "chilling" is a fair one to use, as my hon. Friend did. I have seen the report by his Select Committee. My colleagues and I have had detailed meetings with the Youth Justice Board to decide the best action to deal with the issues that he raises. I can commit the Government wholeheartedly to reducing the figures. The situation is a tragedy, so we will look at all possible sources, including his Select Committee's report, when deciding the best thing to do.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) (LD): But as well as these appalling deaths, is the Home Secretary aware that the number of children in secure centres who have self-harmed has doubled—last year the figure was 456? At the same time, 10 people working in such centres who should have been caring for those children have been dismissed for inappropriate action and sexual activity towards children and falsifying suicide watch figures? Is that not an appalling indictment of the way in which the Government are looking after children in such centres?

Mr. Clarke: I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's point. The truth is that we are considering immensely disturbed people with whom it is very difficult to deal in the most effective way, which was why I supported what my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said about the need to examine carefully evidence about the best way in which to proceed. I shall not join a witch hunt of specific members of staff who are dealing with difficult circumstances, but I am ready to acknowledge the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman's question and the need for us to be able to take steps to ensure that such tragedies are minimised.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the incidents of deaths are really the tip of the iceberg? Each of us who know constituents whose children have been sent to any of the four categories of institution reckon that the children will find it extremely difficult to have a decent and successful life afterwards. Will he consider setting up a committee to investigate the best way forward, with international comparisons, to deal with vulnerable children in such a way that we can reduce the impact for them and society?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend that the situation is the tip of a very frightening iceberg, but we are taking urgent action now. The Youth Justice Board is examining the matter in great detail and listening to advice, such as that from the Select Committee. I would be happy if anyone would like to offer positive proposals about the way in which we could better deal with the matter, but no one should walk away—I know that my hon. Friend does not—from the difficult and problematic issues that must be addressed.
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