|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass: I had not intended to speak on this issue until I heard the previous two contributions. While I have tremendous sympathy for the objectives of the noble Baroness in seeking treatment facilities for drug offenders, I remind the Committee that drug users are among those with the highest rate of offending against elderly people. In my own constituency, two elderly peopleone, an 87 year-old widowwere recently attacked physically by drug users in pursuit of money to finance their habit.
However lacking we are in treatment facilities, I believe it is wrong to use the human rights argument solely to defend the person who has infringed the law. We forget about the multitude of elderly and vulnerable people who are victims of drug users. They also have human rights, and those rights should be taken into consideration.
The question as to what makes a person a drug user concerns a different issue and one that can be addressed at a different time. But it is wrong to try to ensure that the provision relating to drug users who offend is such that they are not removed from society when it is apparent that they are a danger to society. Therefore, I support this part of the Bill and, if the Committee divides, I shall support the Government on this issue.
Lord Hylton: My noble friend may have probability on his side in relation to attacks by drug users on elderly people. However, I am surprised that he does not want to see bail decided on a case-by-case basis rather than being pre-empted by government legislation.
I say that that is a presumption because the clause is quite clear, whether in the formulation in which it stands or in the formulation in which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, would have it. It is for the court to be concerned with the case on a case-by-case basis but, in the context of this type of defendant, it must decide whether there is a significant risk of his committing an offence while on bail. If there no such significant risk, then the provisions will not apply. As I had cause to note on the previous day in Committee, it is entirely accepted within the human rights legislation that one good ground for refusing bail will be that there is a risk of re-offending while on bail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, rightly saidI am grateful to her for thisthat there is a demonstrated connection between drug abuse and offending. She cited one statistic; I shall cite another, from Home Office findings 148, which links the use of heroin and crack/cocaine with acquisitive crime. The use of heroin or crack/cocaine is associated with levels of offending which are nearly 10 times higher than those of non-drug-users. The reason is not hard to find: in many cases, it is acquisitive crime which funds the offenders' habit. While at liberty, in need of their drugs, such people will commit crime time and again in order to obtain those drugs. As the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, said, the victims of those crimes may well include the vulnerable, the poor and, in particular, the elderly in our society, who may be most susceptible to attacks.
Notwithstanding that statistical strong link, if, in the case of a particular individual, there is no significant risk that he will re-offend, then the provisions do not apply. Otherwise, in the Government's view, it is legitimate to say that there should be a presumption against court bail for such a person.
In the Government's view, the provision has the additional benefit of helping to divert drug-misusing defendants into assessment and into whatever follow-up assistance or treatment is appropriate to help them to deal with their habit. I do not dissent from the view expressed by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that dealing with addiction is a difficult task. But, as I am sure they both agree, it is a very important task.
The Government are doing what they can to improve the availability of treatment. Perhaps I may identify what I am told were the average times reported in DAT treatment plans as of April 2003. They ranged, for example, from five weeks for in- patient detoxification to 4.1 weeks for residential rehabilitation. I can provide more details of that. I am afraid that I cannot answer specifically the question asked by the noble Baroness concerning whether the
But, of course, the provision in the clause recognises that it would not be right to impose obligations relating to assessment and treatment in places where assessment and treatment are not available. That is made clear in subsection (6C), which provides for the new provisions to be introduced on a pilot basis by providing for the presumption against bail to apply in areas where the court has been notified that arrangements for conducting assessments and for providing suitable follow-up, which may include medical intervention, have been made, and have not been withdrawn, in the area in which the person would reside if granted bail. Therefore, there are pilot opportunities for these new provisions to be operated.
I should add a word about new subsection (6D). It imposes an obligation on the court to attach a condition of bail, if granted, to the bail of a person who is aged 18 or over, who has tested positive for a specified class A drug and who is charged with either possession or possession with intent to supply in relation to a specified class A drug, or where the court is satisfied that use of a class A drug caused or contributed to the offence or that the offence was motivated by the intended use of such a drug. The condition to be attached to bail in these circumstances is that the person must undergo an assessment of his or her dependency on, or propensity to misuse, any specified class A drug, and must participate in any relevant follow-up proposed to him or her, consequent on that assessment.
Having regard to what the noble Baroness said about different forms of treatment, treatment will be assessed by those who understand the nature of the particular condition and what is appropriate for the particular offender. That is what is intended by the clause.
Baroness Walmsley: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for his support, and I am very much in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, about the fact that everybody's human rights have to be respected. It is because of concern for the old person who may be mugged for her purse that I want drug treatment to be effective.
I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. However, an habitual shoplifter is also liable to commit an offence while on bail. There is no presumption in that case. Two wrongs do not make a right. Infringing the human rights of a defendant to try to put something right is not the solution. I do not think that I have had full answers to my questions on the Human Rights Act. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to write to me.
The clause is not the solution to the problem, which is to provide good quality treatment, and to leave the decisions on bail to the court. The Minister said that professional assessors will make an assessment and recommend the treatment to be given. But, in the current situation, if professional assessors are to say what sort of treatment is to be given, the clause will not be implemented almost anywhere in the country, as the services are simply not there.
Lord Mayhew of Twysden: In considering Amendment No. 73, the word "simply" is not the word that most immediately comes to mind. Perhaps in a triumph of hope over expectation, I touchingly hold on to the belief that one day Home Office legislation may clearly reveal what it means and what it seeks to achieve.
Legislation ought not to set exercises that would be appropriate for an examination for senior wranglers. It should provide a clear guide for what the public will experience and for those who advise themnever more so than when the liberty of the citizen is at stake.
That seems to represent legislation by reference to earlier statutes at its most obnoxious. It is small wonder that the Explanatory Notes offer no guide. The author has obviously been defeated and preferred to ignore this clause, even before amendment was sought.
I mention this with a topical allusion. Probably, quite prominent among people who will be affected by legislation for which such amendment is sought will be those who are alleged to have fallen foul of one or more aspects of immigration law. It is at this stage that we note that the 30 year-old grant to the Immigration
I urge the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General, who was not responsible for this amendment, to take it away and look at it again before Report to see whether we cannot have recourse to something called the English language in seeking to put forward to the public, and those who advise them, what the legislation actually means and what it is meant to do.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page