All 1 Lord German contributions to the Prisons (Substance Testing) Act 2021

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Fri 16th Apr 2021

Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Prisons (Substance Testing) Bill

Lord German Excerpts
Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, start with a short tribute to the late Dame Cheryl Gillan, in whose name this Bill was taken through the House of Commons. Cheryl and I were both brought up in Cardiff and, although her politics are not mine, we shared a deep love of music. We have been deeply involved in the work of the choir of this Parliament—she as a founder member and former treasurer and I as the present chair. In a book soon to be published charting the 20-year history of this great parliamentary institution, Cheryl wrote that the Parliament choir shows a gentler side of our democratic institution, which has proved itself to be capable of producing great beauty and harmony. Her work in bringing our Parliament and the German Bundestag closer together is a tribute to her. I am sure that we all appreciate this as part of her legacy to this institution.

In the sense of the great harmony of which Dame Cheryl wrote, I welcome the intention of this Bill, narrow in scope as it is. Managing drug abuse is a complex matter. The Prison Drugs Strategy splits its first of three aims, “Restricting Supply”, into 18 action areas, one of which is drug testing. If it is one of 18 actions in meeting the first of the three aims of that drug strategy, it demonstrates the complexity of this issue. The Bill seeks, first, to future-proof the myriad drug variations that continually appear and, secondly, to properly assess the prevalence of drug use on the prison estate. These are narrow but important ambitions.

I will raise three consequences of the Bill. First, in getting a true picture of drug misuse on the prison estate, what do the Government do with this information? Is it to broaden understanding, to test assumptions, to influence policy change or all three of these? If so, then it is legitimate to know how Parliament will be informed of these outcomes and in what timescale. So, in replying, can the Minister tell the House how the Government propose to publish these outcomes in a form that Parliament can analyse and discuss?

Secondly, testing will undoubtedly demonstrate more drug use than at present. The consequence of this increase in the number of prisoners misusing drugs is that there will also be an increase in demand for drug treatments. The Government’s Explanatory Notes state that the Bill will have few direct financial consequences, but they only refer to the increased costs of testing. This misses the importance of the growth in demand for adequate drug therapeutic support for substance misuse treatment. So will the Minister explain how increased demand for drug-misuse treatment will work without additional funding? From the Explanatory Notes, it would appear that these services will be spread more thinly across a wider cohort of prisoners.

Finally, the new knowledge gleaned from the prevalence of drug testing will require research and analysis—so, in replying, can the Minister tell the House what provision has been made for research and analysis and who will carry this out? With these three questions, I welcome the Bill, and I hope that it has a speedy passage.