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House of Commons Hansard
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Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill (Money)
01 May 2018
Volume 640

Queen’s Recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable under the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012 out of money so provided.—(Rory Stewart.)

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rose—

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Order. I was about to put the Question, but Mr Hanson wishes to speak.

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I was simply going to ask the Minister how much.

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This is about bringing in new technology. What this is really about is powers that will enable the Secretary of State to spend money, once the new technology is developed, to insert the new material. The approximate cost would be in the low millions per site, but we do not have the exact costs at the moment.

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Well, I am grateful for that. If that is the low millions per site for every prison in the United Kingdom, perhaps the Minister can tell me, as I asked, how much and when.

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rose—

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With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker—

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Order. Who is intervening—I am now beginning to lose even myself at this stage? I think what we should do is hear Maria Caulfield and then we will come back to the Minister to answer. I think that that is the best way to deal with this.

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I am grateful to the Government and the Minister for bringing forward the money resolution. I thank the Minister and his predecessor for their support for the Bill. I also thank Opposition Members. The Bill has cross-party support, and the shadow Minister has been extremely supportive as well.

The purpose of the Bill is to make our prisons safer and more secure, and to tackle the ongoing and increasing threat that mobile phones pose to the stability of our prison system. Having met prison officers in my local prison in Lewes and heard at first hand about the problems that illegal mobile phones cause, I believe that the Bill will significantly improve safety and make their jobs easier.

The purpose of sending offenders to prison is not just to punish them, but to protect wider society. The illegal use of mobile phones in prisons allows offenders to continue their criminal activities and fuels the illicit economy. Access to the internet, such as social media, can allow them to contact and intimidate victims and witnesses.

Furthermore, the proposed technology will not interfere with any legitimate wireless telegraphy outside the relevant institution. It is also not the only security measure in place to tackle the illegal use of mobile phones. I welcome the Minister’s support and the money resolution, and I look forward to the Bill’s Committee stage.

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I shall not be opposing the motion. As the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) and the Minister know, the Opposition did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading. However, we do challenge the careless attitude that the Government have displayed towards it and wider issues of prison reform. Prisons are in a worse condition now than they were under the Victorians. They are home to a dangerous level of violence and abuse, and are in nothing less than a state of emergency.

The Bill received its Second Reading on 1 December last year—it had cross-party support and passed without a vote—and Members on both sides of the House recognised the need to take steps on its explicit purpose of degrading prisoners’ ability to use mobile phones in prison. They also recognised the importance of its underlying purpose of restricting the supply of drugs to prisons and tackling the growing violence within them. Yet it is only now, five months later, that a money resolution is being considered.

We might be dealing with a private Member’s Bill, but if the Government were serious about tackling the use of mobile phones, and the supply of drugs and the dangers they pose, they would be acting quicker. They should be bringing these measures to the House in a Bill of their own, not relying on Back Benchers or delaying the Bill, thereby putting the safety of prisoners and prison staff at risk. The Government control time in the House, so there is no reason for delay when they have support. What has taken the Minister so long to reach the point at which the Bill can go into Committee? The Labour party is anxious to get on with reform because every delayed day is another day of violence. Will the Minister assure us now that there will be no undue delays, and tell us whether he has plans for a broader reform Bill?

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I rise to respond to the excellent speech made by the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) and the question asked by the right hon. Member for Delyn (David Hanson).

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Again, I am interested to know how much. It is important that there is some context. I support the objectives of the Bill; I just want to get a flavour of the amounts involved.

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This is a sensitive issue. We are clearly trying to prevent organised criminal gangs from using mobile telephones in prisons, for all the reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for Bradford East. We therefore cannot be too specific about exactly where we are going to put these devices or exactly how we are going to interfere with mobile telephones. The answer that I have given is a broad figure in the ballpark of a few million pounds per site. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would wish me to share with the House the exact number of sites at which we are going to do this and which sites we will target first.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for all her extraordinary work as a Conservative Back Bencher to introduce the Bill. As the hon. Member for Bradford East pointed out, this is vital. There is a plague of mobile telephones that are being used to deal illicit drugs and to fuel violence. We need to cut down on them with better searching both at the prison gates and in cells, and we can also do much more to block the technology. With many thanks to Members, I commend the money resolution to the House.

Question put and agreed to.