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Prison Communications Inquiry

Volume 598: debated on Thursday 16 July 2015

On 11 November 2014, the previous Justice Secretary made a statement about the apparent recording and monitoring of confidential communications between a prisoner and their Member of Parliament (MP). It was thought that the communications between prisoners and 32 MPs had been monitored by prison staff. Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, was therefore asked to conduct an independent investigation into this issue.

Today, the final investigation report is published. The report concludes that there is no evidence of deliberate or widespread attempts to monitor confidential communications with MPs. The monitoring which is believed to have taken place was in the main conducted in error and in ignorance of the rules. Concerns highlighted by HMCIP about failure to follow correct procedures in specific cases are being investigated by NOMS.

I wish to apologise to the House on behalf of the Ministry of Justice for the monitoring which is believed to have taken place. Prisoners and hon. Members should rightly expect these conversations to be confidential.

While I am content that the recording of these communications was done in error rather than by intent, it is unacceptable that this issue was not identified sooner. Since discovering this, we have taken urgent steps to ensure that prison officers have the correct training and processes in place to make sure this will not happen in future.

HMCIP makes 19 recommendations, which have all been accepted. These are aimed at improving levels of understanding among staff and prisoners, ensuring greater consistency in procedures across the whole prison estate, and better systems of governance so that problems are identified sooner.

Since the issue first came to light, NOMS has taken effective steps to ensure that there can be no recording of telephone calls from prisoners to their MP. This was an important first step to provide reassurance both to prisoners and MPs that their communications were confidential.

In response to this report, NOMS will now undertake further work to introduce revised policy and training for staff. NOMS will also revise the information provided to prisoners so that they better understand their responsibilities to identify phone numbers, including their MPs, which are confidential. Checks will be introduced to ensure that any human error is picked up sooner and dealt with promptly.

Recommendations to improve the prisoner telephone system are reflected in the plans for a new prisoner telephony contract, which is due to be let next year. In the meantime, NOMS will work with the current telephone provider to see if any further short terms solutions can be introduced.

NOMS meets regularly with the Interception of Communications Commissioner’s Office (IOCCO), who carry out an inspection process and work will be undertaken to see if more can be done to identify errors through the inspection process.

I want to assure Members that NOMS will learn from the criticism and past mistakes to ensure that there is absolute confidence in the future that confidential communications are guaranteed.