That the Bill be now read a second time.
My Lords, it is my privilege to move the Second Reading of the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill. The Bill had a speedy and uncontroversial passage through the other place, which I interpret as reflecting the widespread support for the Bill and its important provisions. I am hopeful of a similar reception and swift passage through this House.
I begin by thanking all the Members in the other place who spoke in support of the Bill, particularly Maria Caulfield MP, who sponsored the Bill, taking over from Esther McVey MP, who originally brought the Bill forward and Sir Paul Beresford MP, who sponsored the original legislation that the Bill seeks to amend.
The legislation that Sir Paul sponsored, the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012, made an important contribution to improving the effectiveness of action against illicit mobile phone use in our prisons. It provided the power for the Secretary of State to authorise the governor of a public sector prison or the director of a privately run prison to deliberately interfere with wireless telegraphy in their institution to prevent the use of illicit mobile phones or detect or investigate the use of such devices.
In practice, the existing power means that governors are able to purchase and deploy equipment to detect, block and investigate illicit phones in their prisons. Without this authority, deliberate interference with wireless telegraphy in this way would be an offence under Section 68 of the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006. The powers are necessary given the role that mobile phones play in the illicit economy in prisons and the violence, self-harm and crime in the wider community that they drive.
On a recent visit to HMP Brixton, I heard at first hand about the serious problems and significant challenges that are caused by illicit mobile phones. There is increased ingenuity and sophistication in attempts to smuggle mobile phones into prison, taking advantage of the fact that phones are becoming thinner and smaller. They can be no larger than your thumb and made nearly entirely of plastic. Illicit mobile phones are a major facilitator in enabling ongoing criminality such as smuggling drugs and other contraband into prisons; for example, co-ordinating throw-overs or drone drops. They can be used for malicious communication such as harassment of victims and witnesses, blackmail and intimidation. In more extreme circumstances, they could be used for orchestrating escape, child sexual exploitation or extremism. Illicit mobile phones are a valuable and profitable prison commodity that prisoners will get into debt over, driving up the risk of violence against themselves or families in the community if they cannot repay it.
Noble Lords may wonder why it is necessary to amend legislation passed as recently as 2012. It should not be interpreted as meaning that the 2012 Act was in any way deficient or flawed. Rather, it clearly illustrates just how rapidly mobile technology has developed, is still developing and how quickly it changes. We need to help governors and directors to keep up with this pace of change. Therefore, the Bill seeks to future-proof the provisions of the 2012 Act by making a small but crucial change to enlist the direct support of the acknowledged experts in the field of mobile technology, the public communications providers, to combat the serious problems caused by illicit mobile use in prison. It is a small but important Bill of two clauses and one schedule.
Clause 1 allows the Secretary of State to authorise public communications providers to interfere with wireless telegraphy in prisons in England and Wales, in addition to the existing authority that can be given directly to governors and directors. Authorisation can be given for the same purposes as in the 2012 Act—namely, to prevent the use of a device such as a mobile phone or to detect or investigate the use of such a device. Authority can be given to a public communications provider to interfere with wireless telegraphy in one or more institutions in England and Wales, one or more kinds of relevant institution in England and Wales or relevant institutions in England and Wales generally.
Clause 2 sets out the Title of the Bill if passed, provisions for coming into force and deals with territorial extent. On the question of territorial extent, in line with convention, it mirrors the Act that it amends, extending to England, Wales and Scotland. However, if passed, the Bill will apply only in England and Wales. The 2012 Act gave powers to Scottish Ministers to grant authorisations to governors or directors of prisons enabling them to interfere with wireless telegraphy, and the Scottish Parliament passed a legislative consent Motion to this effect. I understand that the Ministry of Justice has discussed the Bill with Scottish counterparts, but the Scottish Government do not want the additional proposed powers in this Bill.
The Schedule to the Bill contains further amendments on two important matters: the safeguards for using the powers, and retention and disclosure of information. Under Section 2 of the 2012 Act, where the Secretary of State authorises a governor or director to interfere with wireless telegraphy, he must accompany that with directions setting out information that the governor must pass to Ofcom, the frequency with which the information must be provided and circumstances in which interference activity must be modified or discontinued.
The Schedule makes it clear that any public communications provider authorised to interfere with wireless telegraphy must also act in accordance with any directions given by the Secretary of State. However, the nature of the directions will differ from those given to an authorised governor or director, as the authorised provider will provide information to the governor or director of the institution where the interference is taking place and the governor or director will remain responsible for passing such information to Ofcom. In a similar way, provisions in the 2012 Act covering retention and disclosure of information obtained from interference with wireless telegraphy are extended to cover providers, but responsibility for decisions about retention and disclosure of such information will continue to rest with the governor or director of the relevant institution.
I should make it clear that the Bill is not about facilitating one particular technological solution but about providing a clear line of legislative authority to enable public communications providers to bring their knowledge and expertise directly to bear on the problems caused by illicit mobiles in prisons in England and Wales. And as I have explained, public communications providers will be covered by existing safeguards concerning the need to comply with directions and concerning retention and disclosure of information obtained from wireless activity.
To sum up, this is a short Bill but, I hope noble Lords will agree, a very important one. As I saw from my visit to HMP Brixton, the staff and volunteers in our prisons do an extraordinary job in often difficult circumstances. Their role is to care for and support men and women whose personal circumstances and behaviour can often be challenging. The illicit economy in prisons undermines their efforts and drives a cycle of debt and bullying that is one cause of current high levels of violence and self-harm. Illicit phones, along with drugs, are a central part of that illicit economy.
I pay tribute to the excellent work that prison staff and volunteers do and hope that this Bill will play a role in supporting them. I look forward to the debate. I hope that there will be widespread, if not unanimous, support for the Bill and that it will make quick progress through this House and achieve speedy Royal Assent. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly support this Bill, so ably introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding. As the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, said during the passage of the Bill through the other place:
“Tapping the almost 10,000 mobile phones that were seized in a single year and interfering with their ability to communicate is not a silver bullet, but it should help to make prisons a safer and more orderly place in which we can begin to address some of the underlying drivers of violence and crime”.—[Official Report, Commons, Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill Committee, 9/5/18; col. 6.]
I want to set my support in context of the current crisis in our overcrowded and understaffed prisons and—what I have always regretted—the failure of successive Home and Justice Secretaries to implement any of the 12 ways ahead for the Prison Service set out by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, then Home Secretary, in his White Paper, Custody, Care and Justice, in 1991, following the seminal report on the causes of the riots in Strangeways and 23 other prisons in 1990 by my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf.
My noble and learned friend identified the three things most likely to prevent reoffending as being a home, a job and a stable, preferably family, relationship, all of which were put at risk by the way that imprisonment was conducted. He recommended that prisons be grouped into what he called community regional clusters, so that, with the exception of high-security prisoners, of whom there were not enough to justify an expensive high-security prison in each region, prisoners were always held in their home areas. Had the 12 ways ahead been implemented, I do not believe that the present crisis would have arisen, but that is another matter.
The maintenance of stable relationships depends on visits, letters and occasional telephone calls, which is where many people believe that mobile phones have a role to play. Unfortunately, mobile phones are used by too many for nefarious purposes, such as controlling drug deliveries by drone, organising crimes or arranging intimidation of families, with the result that they are, quite rightly, currently banned. Life for prison staff is made no easier by the fact that advancing technology has now produced mobiles no bigger than a finger joint, meaning that a phone can be smuggled in in a Mars bar.
However, in the context of maintaining stable relationships, I deplore the current high charges made by BT for the use of legitimate land lines from prison—which I note have been reduced by 50% for in-cell telephones now being installed in 20 prisons. Of course, prisoners should be expected to pay for any call, but not exorbitantly. I ask the Minister to pursue this matter with BT, stressing the important contribution that maintaining stable relationships makes to the protection of the public by contributing to the prevention of reoffending.
Current arrangements for blocking mobile phones used by prisoners are exceedingly cumbersome and bureaucratic, requiring individual governors to deal with individual providers to have specified SIM cards blocked. Nobody needs to carry a mobile phone in prison: prisoners are banned from doing so; visitors have to hand them in at the gate; and staff do not need to use them. Therefore, rather than interfering with their use, I am in favour of an electronic ban in every prison, on the lines of the electronic fence that the governor of HMP Guernsey has erected to prevent drones from being flown into the prison. Currently, Guernsey is the only prison in Europe to have such a fence. It cost a mere £60,000, which I would have thought was cheap at the price, making prisons safer and more orderly places.
Not least for the sake of the overstretched staff in our prisons, I hope that the Bill will be enacted swiftly.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding, for bringing the Bill before the House. I concur with many of her remarks, as I do with those of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who, with his years of experience in this matter, should be listened to.
The Bill meets a tight and limited objective: it intends to make our prisons safer and more secure by disrupting and halting communication by illicitly held mobile phones in prisons. This is to combat the activities derived from the smuggled devices increasingly found in our prisons, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out. In 2015 there were 17,000 mobile phones and SIM cards discovered in our prisons. The Bill permits the identification and blocking of activities using smuggled mobile phones and devices illicitly brought into prisons, as well as allowing the Secretary of State a degree of control over private communication providers when they are exercising their powers.
The Bill itself is limited in scope. It tackles the preventive aspect of prison policy but, as such, it has to sit alongside rehabilitation measures which prevent reoffending and the overcrowding crisis which is a feature of our justice system at present. As described in the House of Commons debate, and by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the Bill is not a silver bullet for the problem of smuggling and contraband in prisons. I respect the intention of the Bill to ensure that mobile devices do not work within the confines of the prison. However, I have two concerns I would like to explore. The more important one is associated with technology and the potential for unintended consequences. The other has to do with the related rehabilitation activities recently laid out in the Prison and Probation Service business plan.
I say at the outset that I am not seeking to wreck the Bill, but the Government wish the Bill to move swiftly and for that to happen I must seek guarantees from the Minister at this stage if there are to be no amendments tabled at a future stage. My first area of concern is over the technologies used to block illicit mobile phones. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, there is a third alternative to those currently being discussed. The Government are considering two technologies. I understand that one is jamming by equipment inside the prison and the other is IMSI, international mobile subscriber identity, whereby mobile phones are identified and that information is passed to the governors of prisons. The third methodology, of an electronic fence, suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is also worth exploring, but we have to consider what happens when you block activity in a given area. The issue relates to both telephone and data activity and I shall refer briefly to the difference between the two parts of the technology.
If I refer to the mobile devices that every Member of your Lordships’ House has been provided I can describe this very easily. There are two very simple symbols at the top left hand corner of noble Lords’ phones. The first identifies the provider—in the case of your Lordships’ House it is O2 UK. To the right of that is a series of symbols which range from an e, GPRS, 3G and 4G to a fan-like symbol. All those symbols relate to wireless facilities. The left-hand one, the one with the name of the provider, is sometimes missing and it says “no service”, and sometimes the one on the right is also missing when no service is available. The left-hand one provides Members of this House, and everybody else, the ability to make telephone calls and to text. The right-hand one also provides telephone calls, and noble Lords will have received a letter this week indicating that their phones are going to be altered. In fact, some of us have already received the new phones.
All the phone technology in your Lordships’ House will now be provided by the right-hand end, in other words, by wireless technology using voice over internet protocol. The right-hand side also allows access to the internet and provides the ability to converse using programs such as Twitter and Facebook. It is important that we have a guarantee from the Minister that whatever technology is chosen deals with both the telephonic end and the data end of the telephone spectrum of which we are all in possession. The right-hand end is far more important: it allows you to do absolutely anything. Will both technologies that the Government are considering block both uses, telephone and data?
I turn to the services available on the right-hand side of the phone from wireless systems outside the prison walls. I do not know whether the Minister walks down streets where he is not known and knocks on every door to talk to people in the houses. My party encourages us to do so, as I am sure the Conservative Party does. I have a provider which allows me to share my wireless facility at home with those who have that provider elsewhere in the country so, as I walk down these streets, my phone pings and tells me that I am connected to the wireless of those houses. I do not know which ones because it is quite a large area, especially if you have a wireless extender in your home—a facility which you can purchase at any electrical store and plug into your electrical socket, which extends the reach of your wireless and therefore the fan-like symbol on the right-hand side of your phone. That wireless signal is available to me in streets that I know nothing about. It is available in properties outside prison walls.
I ask the Minister for two guarantees: first, that the technology used inside the prison will have no effect on the legally available commercial services purchased by those living close to prison walls; and, secondly, whether the technology used to jam or stop mobile services within the prison will be able to deal effectively with these external wireless signals from consumers that I have described.
The Bill allows for the collection of data. It would most likely be collected by using the IMSI catchers that I talked about earlier, which could indiscriminately intercept and hack phones within a given radius, allowing them to intercept mobile signals meant for the network provider. There is a danger of unintentional consequences where innocent third parties may accidently have their mobile data captured within the radius of a defined geographical area. I ask the Minister for a guarantee that this will not happen.
The Government state:
“Blocking works by preventing phones from connecting to mobile networks, allowing us to stop the mobile phones that we have not been able to find from working”.
I accept that and think it an appropriate aim. I seek a guarantee that technology that allows for a blanket block on mobile communications will not unintentionally cause disruption or hacking to innocent third parties; for example, the person living across the road from the prison suddenly finding that their mobile does not work in their home or that their calls and data are observed. For example, a new block of student accommodation has been built right alongside the walls of HMP Cardiff. Students are nine or 10 floors up—all of whom, I guess, will have some form of wireless communication, which of course is vital to undertake their studies. I recognise that these are significant guarantees that I am seeking but I am sure the Minister would not want to face a charge of the Government snooping on personal information.
Finally, I turn to the legitimate uses of telephone and data services by those in prison. I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Currently offenders have to deal with a high-cost, low-availability prison phone that makes the possession of an illegal mobile phone attractive despite the costs of punishment. If prisoners have to make a choice between a 10-minute call to a mobile that costs nearly half their average weekly income—after waiting for a long time to use the phone, during which there is a real risk of violence; I cite the government advice on this matter—and a mobile phone that can be used at any point, it is hardly surprising that offenders choose to illicitly obtain a smuggled mobile phone.
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust make a powerful case for greater access to prison-controlled phones. There are important rehabilitation needs for prisoners which require the use of telephones and data access. One of the most important factors in avoiding reoffending is the retention of family links and family support so that when a person leaves prison there are powerful reasons to not return there and, I hope, that most essential of needs—a roof over their head and somewhere safe to live.
Access to a telephone is essential to achieve this goal. The Minister’s colleague, in her letter dated 24 July this year, told us that the Government are spending £7 million on in-cell telephones. I applaud and welcome this objective but it raises other questions about the timescale for the rollout of that programme, especially if this Bill is enacted and immediate action is taken. Can the Minister outline the progress of the rollout of in-cell phones and whether that will be alongside the enactment of this Bill and the activity relating to it? There is a genuine rehabilitation need to improve offender access to phones, as well as to reduce the cost of calling.
Equally, access to data services is essential to many learning and training schemes provided in prison. Crucially, the Government have made it a requirement that applications for benefits, including universal credit, are made online. If this is not possible to do in prison, there will be a long wait before a released offender gets access to the vital financial means on which to live, and perhaps they will turn back to offending. The ability to interfere with wireless telegraphy requires protections, and these must be reflected in the guarantees that I seek from the Government. I wish the Bill speedy progress but it is essential that the public are protected in this matter.
My Lords, although this Bill is welcome Bill its provisions would, of course, have been better within a government Bill that incorporated a comprehensive programme for the reform of prisons and courts. Our prisons are now, I am afraid, in a pretty sorry state—I think the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to a crisis—thanks to government underinvestment and poor management.
The previous Government’s Queen’s Speech promised reforms to transform how our whole justice system operates. But what materialised instead was a legislative drip-feed, with many of the most important challenges completely absent from their legislation. Indeed, the one welcome initiative—the one before us today—has had to be handled in a Private Member’s Bill. It would create a power for the Secretary of State to authorise communications providers to disrupt unlawful mobile use in prisons, which would otherwise contravene the law. As the Bill is all about that legal power, we do not share the worries about technicalities raised by the noble Lord, Lord German.
In 2013, 7,500 phones and SIM cards were found in prisons but, as we heard, within just two years—by 2015—the figure was nearly 17,000. This Bill goes some way to addressing that problem. There is, as we have heard, clear evidence that mobiles are smuggled into prisons, often enabling inmates to order drugs, harass victims or witnesses and even organise crimes, whether inside or outside prison, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Pidding. The ability to disrupt phone usage could indeed reduce illegal activity and may help to counter organised violence and drug use. It is obviously not a panacea.
Alas, the Government have a lot to answer for regarding the sort of environment that we now see in prisons, an environment which facilitates violence, drugs and crime. If the Government are going to take a decision, as they did, to slash budgets and prison officer numbers—indeed, to neglect our prisons—they will have to accept responsibility for overcrowding, limited offender rehabilitation and the violence that goes on in prisons. Attacks are reaching a record high as the service struggles to tackle out-of-control drug use and the influence of gangs. Every 20 minutes there is an assault in prison, and a prison staff member is attacked every hour. Attacks on staff have increased by more than a quarter in the year to June, while prisoner-on-prisoner attacks have increased by one-fifth. This problem will not go away through wishful thinking; it needs serious funding and a proper strategy. We still look to the Government to provide that.
As has been said, the measures in the Bill were originally in the Prisons and Courts Bill, which fell when the Prime Minister called her rather ill-fated 2017 election. Not only did she lose her majority but this measure similarly disappeared. Can the Minister say when the other provisions in that lost Bill will come before Parliament? As I think he knows, we are particularly concerned about the measure to prohibit the cross-examination by perpetrators of victims of domestic violence in family courts. There is currently no sign of that measure appearing. I am sure the Minister is not content that it is still possible, despite restraining orders being in place, for these victims to be cross-examined by the individuals they most fear, who have made their lives and those of their children so miserable.
A recent study by Women’s Aid, with Queen Mary University of London, showed that nearly one-quarter of domestic abuse victims are still being cross-examined by the perpetrator in family courts—a practice we managed to end in criminal courts. That concern caused the Law Society and Resolution to write to the Lord Chancellor to urge action. Despite professing support, however, the Lord Chancellor resorted to that old excuse, yet again, that it would be dealt with,
“as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
That was in a letter from the Lord Chancellor three months ago. Perhaps the Government will take the opportunity provided by today’s debate to spell out when we will see that legislation. If need be, it could be addressed in a similar Private Member’s Bill or assisted by us in some other way.
We are content, with the support of your Lordships, to give this Bill a Second Reading, and we certainly wish it speedy progress. However, the Government’s handling of the legislative programme relating to wider reform concerns us. The fact that they have now to rely on a Private Member’s Bill, welcome though this one is, as a vehicle is probably also of concern to your Lordships. For now, we wish this Bill well.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Pidding on bringing this Bill before the House. Like her, I thank Members in the other place who have made a significant contribution to the progress of the Bill so far. I strongly concur with my noble friend’s assessment that the Bill will make an important contribution to keeping our prisons safe and secure. I note the contributions from other Members of your Lordships’ House—it appears that they agree with the aims and objectives of the Bill. It would be deeply regrettable if for any reason the Bill could not find its way swiftly on to the statute book, given the need to address such an important issue with regard to our prisons.
Noble Lords clearly understand that the illegal supply and use of mobile phones presents real and serious risks not just to the stability of our prisons but to the safety of the public. Illicit phones erode the barrier that prisons walls place between prisoners and the community. They can be used to commission serious violence, harass victims and continue organised crime and gang activity outwith the walls of the prison. They are also key to the illicit economy within prisons, and consequently contribute to the cycle of debt, violence and self-harm that can occur in prisons, particularly where it is related to drugs.
Examples of the risk that illicit mobile phones in prison pose to the public are clear. We should have no doubt about the seriousness of the crimes committed by means of mobile phones. As a result of considerable work and intelligence-led enforcement activity, we have managed to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in prison using mobile phones and the control of criminal activity outside prison from within prison.
Clearly this is a major issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to the number of mobile phones that are being recovered in prisons. It is an ongoing and demanding issue that we seek to address in various ways. Addressing the security challenge posed in many cases is an essential prerequisite to making prisons safer and therefore capable of performing their rehabilitative functions.
Noble Lords highlighted the need to continue to provide legitimate ways for prisoners to contact family and friends as we tackle the illicit use of mobile phones. We recognise and endorse that point. Recent research published by the Ministry of Justice has shown the beneficial impact that maintaining family links can have on reducing reoffending. The provision of accessible legitimate telephony services is obviously a key factor in maintaining those links, and there is an ongoing programme of work to improve those services. Touching upon a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, we have completed the deployment of in-cell telephony to 20 prisons to make calls more accessible to prisoners. We are investing £7 million over the next two years to provide in-cell telephony in a further 20 prisons. In response to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, we have also reduced tariffs in these sites to make calls more affordable. I recognise that telephones that are otherwise available in prison are subject to a higher tariff than that normally found in domestic tariffs because they are essentially charged on a pay-as-you-go basis. That is being addressed. For the avoidance of doubt, we hope all in-cell phones will be on a more affordable tariff. There will be limitations on the use of those phones because they will be limited to preapproved phone numbers and there will be robust restrictions in place to address that.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised a point in earlier conversations about linking the availability of such in-cell telephony with incentives and privileges within the prison. We recently consulted on the incentives and earned privileges policy. As we take that forward, I will pass his point on to officials because it strikes me that it is worthy of further consideration.
As for the means by which we seek at present to limit the use of mobile phones, we have the means touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord German. He talked about the jamming of equipment and the identification of particular phones and the use of a fence, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I will come back to that point in a moment. Looking at the current means of trying to limit mobile phones within prisons, we have the basic idea of searches, detection using scanner technology, telecom restriction orders—which I think are what the noble Lord was alluding to—and blocking devices. It is a problem that if blocking devices are not deployed with sufficient care we can end up blocking telephony outwith the curtilage of the prison itself. There are therefore certain limitations on their deployment, and we agree with that, so their use has to be approached with considerable care. In addition, because of those limitations there are instances where the blocking cannot be deployed throughout the entire prison itself, where there may be areas that are not blocked. So blocking is not a complete answer so far as mobile telephony is concerned. Where it is deployed, however, let me be clear that the blocking of such equipment extends not only to telephony but also to data—there is no question of that—because they both operate on the same part of the network. Therefore where it is effective in respect of telephony it is also effective in respect of data.
Then there is the issue of wi-fi provision outwith the curtilage of the prison that might be picked up within the prison itself. There is a theoretical risk of that happening; albeit in this day and age one would expect these wi-fi providers to be password-protected, that would not always be the case. Indeed, one of the aims of the present Bill is to enable us to engage with the telecommunications companies in order to develop strategies as the telecommunications develop. One area where we may be able to address this is with regard to further technology to combat the ability of people to pick up wi-fi signals from outwith the curtilage of the prison. As I say, it is a theoretical risk; it is in theory an issue that we would want to address, and one that we feel we might be able to.
Perhaps the Minister would allow me to reiterate the point that when you take out a broadband contract with the largest provider in this country, it gives you the option of allowing your wireless to be available to others. If you do that, clearly there are a large number of people operating through this system where you do not require permission, because that has already been given, nor do you require a password. It just automatically happens when you walk down streets with which you are unfamiliar.
I recognise the point made by the noble Lord, Lord German. That is why, as I say, the Bill would allow us to engage with the telecommunications companies in order that we can combat that sort of development and indeed future technology that may not create an issue at present but may create one in future as we go on to 5G and 6G technology.
We have already invested £6 million in prisons to provide them with modern technology such as scanners, phone-blocking technology and indeed improved searching techniques. Clearly we want to do more. We then have the telecommunications restrictions orders that would enable us to disconnect mobile phones or SIM cards identified as operating within a prison. But I want to be clear: the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that we can engage directly with, and grant permissions to, the telecommunications providers, which are probably the best qualified to guide us on how we can best meet the demands in future presented by the illicit use of mobile phones within our prison estate.
I hope that that has addressed the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord German, because I would not want the Bill to be derailed. I hope that it has also addressed the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, ranged into a wider area with regard to courts and prison reform, and in particular raised the issue of cross-examination in domestic cases within the family courts, as distinct from criminal courts. I undertake to write to her on that subject rather than endeavouring to address that issue in the context of this debate. I hope that she will accept that undertaking from me.
With that, I commend my noble friend for moving this Private Member’s Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to the well-informed and considered debate and for the general support for the measures in the Bill. As I said in opening the debate, the Bill is short but none the less important. It is gratifying to have its importance recognised in this House. I welcome the shared understanding of the problems caused by illicit mobile phone use in our prisons. I emphasise what I said earlier: the Bill is not about one technological solution but about providing a clear line of authority in primary legislation to enable public communication providers to bring their unrivalled technical knowledge, specialised expertise and ingenuity directly to bear on the problems caused by illicit mobiles in prisons in England and Wales.
The Bill is also about trying to anticipate future challenges. The pace of technical change is very rapid, and prisoners will undoubtedly seek to take advantage of those changes, but public communication providers are at the forefront of that technological change, and the Bill will provide a clear line of authority to allow them to play a full, active and, I believe, successful part in the battle against the harm caused by illicit mobile phone use.
The involvement of public communication providers will be subject to all existing necessary safeguards, with the Bill constructed in such a way that governors and directors will remain ultimately responsible for interference activity in their institutions, even where it is communication providers which are conducting that activity. That must be right.
I am very grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Keen of Elie for expressing the Government’s clear and full support for the Bill, and for helping me by answering the questions and issues raised. I am sure that noble Lords will have welcomed his clear statement that if the Bill becomes law, it is a small but nevertheless important element of a much wider programme of work to make our prisons safe and secure, enabling them to become more fully places of rehabilitation. I note that rehabilitation is a priority for all noble Lords who have spoken, and I share this aim.
If the Bill receives a Second Reading, I look forward to it going successfully through all its remaining stages and becoming law. If it does, I am confident that it will make a significant contribution to improving the safety and security of our prisons.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.