Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill

Baroness Sater Excerpts
Moved by
Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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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.

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Baroness Sater Portrait Baroness Sater (Con)
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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.