Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Croydon North (Mr Reed), who has done great work on his private Member’s Bill.
I am grateful to Members from across the House for giving clear cross-party support to this Bill, which is small but nevertheless important. There are a number of people I would like to thank. I particularly want to thank the Clerks of the Public Bill Office, who have helped me through every stage of the process to get the Bill to Third Reading. As we know, it can be difficult to get a private Member’s Bill to this stage, and their support has been so helpful. I would also like to thank the Ministry of Justice team for all their support and information and all Members of the House, particularly those from the Opposition, who have supported the Bill and who recognise the important difference that this will make in prisons up and down the country. In particular, the Bill will make a great difference for prison officers, who do such sterling work under very difficult circumstances.
Members may know that I inherited this Bill, so I want to put on record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), for her previous work in championing the Bill and for trusting me with the responsibility of ensuring its safe passage. I hope I have repaid her confidence. I also want to acknowledge the groundbreaking work of my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) in steering the original Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012 through Parliament. It could be argued that because we are revisiting the 2012 Act only six years later, it was in some way deficient, but nothing could be further from the truth. The 2012 Act was an important and far-sighted contribution to the fight against the scourge of illicit mobile phones in prisons. The reason it has proved necessary to legislate again so soon is the sheer speed of technological change and the sheer scale of the problem posed by illicit mobile phones in our prisons.
Figures provide a stark illustration of the scale of the problem. In 2011, just a year before the 2012 Act was introduced, about 7,000 illicit mobile phones and SIM cards were found in prisons in England and Wales. By 2016, that figure was nearly 20,000. Last year, it had risen to 23,656 mobile phones and SIM cards.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on how far the Bill has progressed so far. Last night I was talking to some mums whose young people had been caught up in crime, and they were horrified to tell me that people are using mobile phones to continue criminal activities in jail, and to continue to hold in their thrall the young people they have groomed. Does the hon. Lady share my concern that that is allowed to continue?
The hon. Lady is quite right, and I will go on to explain how mobile phones are used to continue crime in our prison service. To reiterate, last year 23,656 mobile phones were found in our prisons, which is nearly 65 a day. In my constituency, 184 mobile phones and 80 SIM cards were found at HMP Lewes last year, and having visited the prison regularly and met prison officers and the governor, I have heard at first hand the implications of that. As the hon. Lady pointed out, illegal mobile phones present a serious risk to the security of our prisons, as well as to public safety. Mobile phones in prisons are used for a range of criminal purposes, including commissioning serious violence, harassing victims, and continuing involvement in extremist activity and organised crime. Access to mobile phones is strongly associated with drug supplies and violence in our prisons, so it is a serious problem.
It might be argued that the Prison Service should be better at stopping mobiles entering our prisons in the first place, but as the previous Justice Secretary made clear in a speech to Reform in December last year, technological advances have been harnessed by some manufacturers with the clear intention of circumventing prison security measures. Technological advances have made it possible to manufacture phones so small, and containing so little metal, that they can be concealed internally and are difficult to detect with existing screening machines. Phones have been marketed as “beat the BOSS”, which refers to the body orifice security scanner that is in use in our prison receptions.
However, just as technology can be harnessed for illicit ends, we can also enlist its support to improve the effectiveness of our response to the problem. Public communications providers such as mobile phone operators have been at the forefront of rapid technological developments in mobile communications. Only this week, we witnessed a mobile phone make its maiden speech during a Defence statement—there is no end to such possibilities.
My hon. Friend talks about a mobile phone making its maiden speech during a Defence statement, but does she recall that on Second Reading there was a rather bizarre interruption to my own speech—better known as a mobile phone fighting back against the Bill?
My hon. Friend is quite right: mobile phones were trying to fight the Bill on Second Reading.
The changes in the Bill are designed directly to enlist the specialist knowledge, support and expertise of mobile phone operators to combat the use of illegal mobiles in our prisons, young offenders institutions, secure training centres and secure colleges. Importantly, and as I made clear at earlier stages of the Bill, it will ensure that a line of accountability for an operator’s activity is clearly set down in primary legislation.
Under the 2012 Act, public communications providers can become involved in interference activity in our prisons, but only when acting as agents of the governor or director who has been authorised to carry out that interference activity by the Secretary of State. By providing for them to be authorised directly, the Bill will enable them to bring their expertise directly to bear, at all times governed by a clear, legal framework. Existing safeguards in the 2012 Act will apply to authorised public communications providers, just as they already apply to authorised governors. Like an authorised governor, any public communications provider must comply with the directions given to them by the Secretary of State. Responsibility for deciding on the retention and disclosure of information obtained following interference activity conducted in a prison will continue to rest with the governor or director of that institution. That will apply even if the information has been obtained following interference activity conducted by an authorised public communications provider.
Two main questions have been raised during the progress of the Bill. The first came from residents in Lewes who were concerned that they might live so close to the prison that their mobile phones could be interfered with. I understand the fear that genuine customers could be erroneously disconnected from mobile phone networks if a phone is incorrectly identified as being used in a prison without authorisation. However, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will calibrate and test its approach, including any technological process and infrastructure, with mobile phone network operators and Ofcom, to ensure that only those handsets that are used in a prison without authorisation are identified and stopped from working.
The second concern raised by Members concerns the lack of genuine contact between prisoners and their families. Conservative Members who are part of the Strengthening Families programme have identified through the Lord Farmer review that maintaining contact between prisoners and their family members is crucial to reducing reoffending. Indeed, by maintaining family contact, reoffending rates can be reduced by something like 38%. It is important that genuine contact with their families is maintained for prisoners, but that does not mean that they need mobile phones to do that. The Government have made great efforts to tackle this issue, and increasing legitimate access to phones, and encouraging prisoners to have more contact with their families, is important and part of the Government’s overall objective to improve rehabilitation.
The deployment of in-cell telephony to 14 prisons has been completed, and will make more calls accessible. Tariffs have also been reduced at those sites to make calls more affordable, and six more prisons will have in-cell telephony deployed by the end of July. In-cell telephony gives prisoners much greater opportunity to maintain contact with their families, as it is not affected by time out of cell, or lack of privacy.
I have one final point before I invite the House to give the Bill a Third Reading. This Bill is not tied to any one technical solution, but instead it sets out the legal framework to enable more direct and independent involvement by authorised public communications providers. That approach should provide an element of cover against further and rapid technological advances in the mobile phone communications sphere—advances that are almost certain to happen, given the speed with which this high-tech field has developed. With that, I commend the Bill to the House.
This welcome Bill goes some way to addressing the issues surrounding mobile phones in prison, and as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) said, evidence has shown time and again that mobile phones have been smuggled into prison for use by inmates, often to enable them to engage in further illegal activity. They are used illicitly to order drugs, harass victims, and organise crime, both inside and outside the prison. The use of phones for such activities is completely unacceptable, but figures indicate that the number of phones conveyed into prisons for use by inmates is increasing.
The hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) gave some figures, and I shall present some others that show a similar trend. In 2013, there were around 7,500 reported incidences of mobile phones and SIM cards being found in prison, but by 2015 that figure had increased to nearly 17,000. Mobile phone use in prisons is a problem that needs tackling, and the Bill is a welcome step forward. I might question whether Back-Benchers should be driving forward legislation to tackle illegal prison activity, rather than the Government, but nevertheless the ability to interfere with wireless telegraphy and to disrupt mobile phone use in a designated, specified area could have a significant impact in reducing the use of mobile phones and, subsequently, any further illegal activity through their use.
Although the Bill goes some way to addressing organised violence and drugs in prisons, it cannot be seen as a panacea to end the problems in our prisons. Violence, drugs, and further crime are not helped by the Government’s treatment of our prisons system, which has produced an environment that allows them to flourish. The Government’s decision to slash prison budgets, axe prison officers and neglect our prisons has led to overcrowding and violence. With nearly 4,000 fewer frontline prison officers than in 2010, searches are increasingly difficult and no amount of action on wireless telegraphy can replace the eyes and ears of staff on the ground. Without those staff and proper action to address overcrowding, mobile phones will continue to find a way in, drugs will carry on being smuggled through, and prison violence may continue.
I am delighted to be called so early in this debate. I would like to put on record my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for all her work in driving the Bill forward and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who put a lot of work into the Bill.
As an MP with three prisons in my constituency, I have a particular interest in the Bill and I am pleased to be here to support it. It tackles one of the main security and safety threats currently facing our prisons: the illicit use of mobile phones, which can pose serious risks to the security and safety of many prisons. I would also like to put on record my thanks to the governors at HMP Ashfield, HMP Eastwood Park and HMP Leyhill for their insights into this matter and their continuing support to engage with both me as the local MP and the Government to make progress on these issues. I think we have already seen early on in this debate that there is agreement that action is needed. We have heard about the astonishing increase in the numbers of illicit phones and SIM cards being recovered in our prisons: 20,000 in 2016 and more than 23,500 in 2017. It is clear that action needs to be taken.
Illicit mobile phones deserve no place in our prisons. They may be used by prisoners to contact their families but they are also a potential source of revenue, such as when they are used to maintain communications with crime networks and drug smugglers outside prisons. They destabilise and undermine the safety of prisons, and help to support ongoing criminality and the illicit economy inside prisons. Mobile phones and SIM cards are worth a lot of money in prisons, whether sold or rented. That can fuel a vicious circle of debt, violence and reoffending. Prisoners with access to the internet and social media can spread sensitive information about the prison themselves. They can intimidate and harass prison staff, as well as witnesses and victims outside prison. If prisoners are able to continue criminal behaviour inside prison, the point made to me a number of times is that there is much less incentive for rehabilitation.
When discussing this matter with the governors in south Gloucestershire, they have stated that, although this is not as big an issue for our three prisons as it may be in other prisons, they all acknowledge that the proliferation of illicit phones is a real and current problem because of the changing and evolving nature of technology, and that the low numbers of contraband in our area may grow in the future. All three governors are very clear that the measures to disrupt technology and disrupt the illicit use of mobile phones is greatly welcome.
I know the Minister and the Government are already doing a lot of work to tackle this issue. We have been investing in further technology, such as metal detectors, body scanners and detection poles, which already help to detect some contraband smuggling. I am pleased we are pushing ahead with measures to make it easier for prisoners to access phones in their cells—this has been mentioned already—where access is currently limited in a number of prisons. This helps prisoners to feel much more comfortable having private conservations with their families, and reduces the demand and need for illicit mobile phones which can then go on to be used for other purposes. In-cell telephones will help to stop the demand for illicit phones. In the prisons in south Gloucestershire where we already have this technology, this has helped to stem the flow of illegal handsets. Prisoners are able to keep in touch with their family and loved ones, while the prison staff are allowed to monitor the calls if it is felt to be necessary.
The measures the Government are already undertaking will be complemented by the measures proposed in the Bill. Although there are currently laws in place enabling prison governors to interfere with wireless telegraphy to block phone signals, the Bill will go further and will help to address the problem by allowing communication providers to directly and independently take action to interfere with the signal to disrupt this unlawful use of mobile phones in prisons. By giving direct authority to mobile phone network operators to act on these issues, we will be utilising their key specialist knowledge to help combat criminality in these institutions.
I echo the concerns we have heard in previous debates, which were repeated by my local governors, about the impact that blocking mobile signals could have on surrounding local residents and businesses. For example, the Bristol and Bath cycle path runs right by the wall of HMP Ashfield. The last thing we want is for signals to be blocked or interfered with. We need to ensure that the technology is properly targeted, so people nearby are not affected.
I welcome the comments made about ensuring that any technology and infrastructure measures will be properly calibrated and tested to make sure that only the illicit use of mobile phones is targeted. It would perhaps be helpful to have an understanding of where that will be tested, whether in prisons around the country or off site. My governors have asked for early notice about whether they will be involved.
In conclusion, the prison governors in South Gloucestershire welcome the Bill’s proposed changes. They welcome anything that will help them to address the issues and risks associated with illicit technology. I support this much needed Bill, which will support the work of governors in helping to keep our prisons and communities safe.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and, for those of us who are truly fascinated by what goes on inside prisons, to hear what is going on in Gloucestershire.
Illicit phone use in prison is not new. I am sure hon. Members across the House are familiar with the 1969 version of the film, “The Italian Job”. Think of the scene where Mr Bridger—I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, this may not be in order, but I am going to talk about lavatories—goes to use his lavatory. I am sure hon. Members are with me. He uses that as an excuse to use his illicit telephone. From the prison lavatory, he runs a complex criminal network involving drugs, gangland violence and all sorts of other dreadful things we still worry about today.
Mr Bridger, a fictional character played so well by Noël Coward, was able to do that because he had access to a telephone. Now, of course, telephone use in prisons is ubiquitous. One does not have to be a criminal with the cunning or intelligence of Mr Bridger to have access to one’s entire network of contacts outside prison. Almost all prisoners, I would imagine, have had access to a mobile phone and, in my experience of the Prison Service, not just one. It is a bit like dealing with teenagers at boarding schools. My middle sister, whose day job it is to control them, tells me that, when she asks them to hand in their mobile phones at night, she then has to say, “And the other one.” And then she says, “And the other one, please.” I think the same is true in prisons.
There is no doubt that in recent years we have faced new security challenges in our prisons, not least new psychoactive substances which have been devastating for the Prison Service. On that note, it is a pleasure to follow all the speeches that have been made so far on this important but careful Bill. However, it is important that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition recognise the difficulties the Government have faced in trying to deal with new psychoactive substances in prisons. I hear what they say and indeed have spoken many times myself about the difficulties with reductions in staffing, but the Government need to be given some credit for the enormous efforts that have been made to increase prison officer numbers. I believe the Government are currently on track with the new target of increasing prison officer numbers by 2,500 new officers this year. That will be a real help to improving security in our prisons.
It was a pleasure to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) talk about the importance of family ties, which were one of the difficulties raised during the Bill’s earlier stages. She spoke passionately, as I do frequently, about the Farmer review. It is important that we view in-cell telephony not as being nice for prisoners to have, but from the other side of the telescope. What we are all trying to do is protect victims, not prisoners. Anything that we can do to reduce reoffending—my hon. Friend said that it has been proven that maintaining family ties helps to reduce reoffending by 38%—is worth that. That is not because we love prisoners or what they have done, but because we care that they will not do it again.
It is also important to mention prisoners’ children. One of the worst statistics that we bandy around from the prison world is that a judge sentencing somebody to prison today is sentencing two thirds of their children to a prison sentence in turn. That is an appalling thought. If we are genuinely interested in trying to help the most vulnerable, difficult-to-help parts of society—the parts that others cannot reach—we have to deal with that statistic. If, by keeping family contact going and reducing reoffending, we can play some small part in the non-creation of an underclass of people who will themselves offend, we must do everything we can to do that. If that involves in-cell telephony, so be it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate detailed the many difficulties that can ensue from a large internal and external drug-trafficking market, which can be kept going by mobile telephony, so it is clear why it is important to stop mobile telephony within prisons as much as possible. We have known for some time that it is technically possible to turn off mobile signals. It is often done in really serious terrorist cases; there are powers to do that when the security services are worried about people’s safety. Indeed, I often wonder whether we would not all concentrate more in meetings, and indeed, in this Chamber, were it possible to turn off our mobile phone signal from time to time, and certainly, as a mother of teenagers, I would occasionally love the ability to turn off more than the wi-fi—which of course, they know how to turn back on—and to put a “cordon sanitaire” around whatever we might need to.
I am a parent of teenagers myself. I do not understand this technology in the Bill—I am hoping that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) will explain it to me when I give my speech—but I am interested to know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) thinks that this technology could be utilised in the home to allow for better productivity from our children.
The technology has been there for a long time. Governors have had the ability to turn off individual non-authorised mobile phones, although they have had to jump through very difficult hoops to do so. I am sure that we could extend that to our homes, but I think we would need another private Member’s Bill to do so.
This Bill gives the Secretary of State power, in addition to the existing powers, which are very difficult to use, to turn off much wider groups of mobile telephones. From time to time, this may of course upset prison staff, who may have to go to a special area of the prison to use their mobiles. I am dreadful—my children tell me off for being addicted to my mobile—but it may assist with the general rehabilitative nature of life in the prison if staff are indeed encouraged to talk to prisoners.
As the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) made clear, the Bill is not enough to deal with the problem on its own. The Government have also invested £2 million in detection equipment for mobiles. There will be handheld detectors and portable detection rods, which will be used as people enter the prison, for example, and I am sure that those will be helpful, too. What is exciting about the Bill is that it is a simple measure that not only will deal with a specific problem, but is part of a wider package of Government reform of the prison system, which I know that this Minister and the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice are absolutely devoted to taking forward.
The Bill on its own will not make our prisons rehabilitative, particularly safe or crime-free zones overnight, but it will certainly help, and it has been an honour for me to play a small part in its inception.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) in supporting this very important private Member’s Bill, and let me repeat the congratulations that have been expressed to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who has shown such deftness in guiding this private Member’s Bill this far. She has done a fantastic job and I strongly congratulate her on her fantastic work. This private Member’s Bill is incredibly important, because the widespread—I am afraid that it is widespread—use of mobile phones in our prison estate is causing very serious problems. I will use three cases to illustrate exactly how serious these problems are, because individual cases are always more powerful than simply quoting statistics.
The first case is that of Shaun Walmsley, 30 years old, who had been imprisoned in HMP Liverpool for a particularly brutal gangland murder. This man was a high-level criminal, running criminal gangs, and had murdered one of his criminal associates. He engineered a hospital appointment by feigning illness and, over the course of three months, used a mobile phone that he had illicitly obtained in prison to plan his escape. During his second hospital appointment, he was sprung out of custody by masked men brandishing machine guns in an episode that police say had been planned over a period of three months, using the mobile phone that he illicitly had. If measures such as those in the Bill had been in place, it would have been impossible for Shaun Walmsley to plan and execute his escape and the prison guards who were accompanying him to the hospital—Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool—would not have faced machine gun-wielding thugs as they escorted the prisoner.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on progressing this Bill so well. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) mentions, a lot has been said about making calls, but I think the point he is making is that, with rapidly advancing technology, the problem is much broader because it is about access to such things as the internet and applications, which are aiding criminals in prisons, and we need to stamp that out as well.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point: this is about not just voice calls, but data. The case studies that I am mentioning illustrate that the use of mobile phones in prisons is not a harmless activity that we perhaps frown upon, but to some degree, can turn a blind eye to. In fact, what we are seeing is the organisation of very serious criminal activity being facilitated by mobile phones. A moment ago, I mentioned an escape involving machine gun-toting masked men.
A second example is that of Imran Bashir, who was incarcerated in HMP Garth in Lancashire. He was using a mobile phone in that prison to co-ordinate a widespread heroin-smuggling and heroin-dealing network, bringing untold misery probably to hundreds of people who were buying and taking heroin. He was running this criminal enterprise via a series of conference calls, which he had organised and was participating in using his mobile phone. My hon. Friend mentioned the use of internet and data. This man was using conference call facilities to organise his criminal network. Had measures such as those in the Bill been in place, it would have been impossible for him to do that.
A third example is that of convicted armed robber Craig Hickinbottom, aged 65. He was serving a prison sentence but was using a mobile phone that was in his possession to run a very well-organised smuggling network, which was bringing prohibited items into not just his prison, but several prisons in Scotland and the north-west. He was only uncovered when the cameras on the prison perimeter, which were being used to film wildlife—that might have been an elaborate cover by the authorities—spotted the drones flying over the prison walls carrying prohibited material, some of which was suspended on fishing line.
The subsequent investigation revealed that Craig Hickinbottom had been co-ordinating a vast smuggling network over many prisons. More than £1 million-worth of banned material had been smuggled in, including drugs, mobile phones, SIM cards, offensive weapons, a screwdriver—I assume that it was intended to be used as a weapon—a Freeview box and a remote control. He was eventually convicted and given a new prison sentence. All that nefarious activity was facilitated by his having a mobile phone.
The prohibition of mobile phones in prison is no minor matter. I have given just three examples of extraordinarily serious criminal activity being organised and orchestrated using mobile phones. Taking mobile phones out of our prisons will prevent that serious criminal activity. The Bill therefore has my complete support.
I have two questions, either for my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes or for the Minister—if he does not intend to make a speech, I will happily take an intervention. My first question relates to clause 1(2), which states:
“The Secretary of State may authorise a public communications provider to interfere with wireless telegraphy.”
The word “authorise” indicates that a provider can be permitted to do that, but can they be compelled? Can the Secretary of State actually require a provider to jam the signal or in some other way prevent mobile communications? The Secretary of State may authorise it, but what if the provider declines to act? Does the word “authorise” give the Secretary of State enough power? Should it not be replaced with “compel”? I see that the Minister is tempted to intervene, but he is indicating—with extraordinarily dextrous hand signals—that he will return to that point in due course.
My second question does not relate directly to the legislation, but it touches on it. The Bill relates to public communications providers, but is it possible to install equipment in prisons to allow the signal to be jammed independently of the providers? Could the Prison Service bring a portable device into a prison in order to jam the signal?
The answer is yes. We absolutely can take our own devices into prisons in order to do that independently of a mobile phone company.
I am delighted to hear that. Could the Minister elaborate further by commenting on how frequently that is done?
There are some technological limitations, because the mobile phone company transmits at different frequencies and at different powers. If we were to prevent the use of mobile phones through our own device, we would have to anticipate the frequency and the nature of the transmission. That is what we have done in the past, but it is not always technologically adequate, and that is the reason for the Bill.
I thank the Minister for that thorough answer. I look forward to hearing his comments in due course on whether the word “compel” might be more appropriate than “authorise”.
I strongly support the removal of mobile phones from our prison estate and therefore support the Bill. I strongly encourage the Minister to step up the level of physical searches in prisons. Hopefully he will comment on that too. It is a pleasure to support the Bill, and an even greater pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). I was interested to hear him describe the number of different criminal uses of mobile phones in prison. There are no prisons in my constituency, but many of my constituents are prison officers based at HMP Dartmoor, one of the most beautiful prisons in the country, which is in the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox).
I thank my fabulous hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for bringing forward the Bill. Would she like to intervene to explain a little further how the technology will actually work? I am interested to hear what tech will be used.
Or I could give way to the Minister on that.
I am happy to talk about the technology in very general terms, as I will do in my speech, but the whole point of the Bill is to try to interfere with criminal activity. We must therefore keep a lot of the technology classified. Otherwise, we will not prevent, intercept or gather the traffic data in the way we want.
I fully understand that clarification. As a member of the all-party parliamentary tech group, I always like to know how things work.
I was interested to hear how drones are being used to drop mobile phones over prison walls. Some drones can actually be flown using a mobile phone, so some prisoners might be using mobile phones to fly in drones carrying drugs. The implication of having more mobile phones in prison is that more illicit activity can take place.
Following what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) said, the harshest thing I can do, as far as my children are concerned, is take away their mobile phones, because they feel lost, as if they have been cut off from society. When it comes to rehabilitation, we must try to remove prisoners from criminal activity, in much the same way as we do when trying to get people clean from drugs; we take them away from their environment and put them somewhere separate, where they generally respond much better. If people have committed crimes, they should have that impingement placed on them. The use of that technology should be denied them.
I think that the purpose of the Bill—I did not serve on the Public Bill Committee, so I stand to be corrected on this—is to strengthen safety and security in prisons, through the authorisation of interference of public communications. In 2016 the Government published plans for reforming the prison system, including the measures in the Bill. The “Prison Safety and Reform” White Paper set out the Government’s plans to deliver a mix of operational changes and to underpin the legal changes required.
Our prisons face significant security challenges. In 2016, approximately 13,000 mobile phones and 7,000 SIM cards were found in prisons—an incredible number. That was an increase of 7,000 mobile phones from 2013. As I explained earlier, there has been a rise in the number of drones being used to fly contraband over prison walls. It is just incredible. I welcome the announcement that the Government are going to invest £2 million in handheld and portable detection equipment in order to find mobile phones in prisons.
The Bill creates powers allowing the Secretary of State to authorise public communications providers to interfere with wireless signals. Almost half of all prisoners are reconvicted within one year of release. It strikes me that prisoners are much more likely to reoffend if they have access to mobile phones. These measures will therefore hopefully reduce reoffending. More than 150 mobile phones were cut off since the introduction of the Telecommunications Restriction Orders (Custodial Institutions) (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 and the Serious Crime Act in 2015, which is to be welcomed.
The purpose of the Bill is to help people not to reoffend, but it is also to help prison officers do their job effectively. I therefore welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes has introduced the Bill and wish it safe passage.
As I have listened to the speeches that have been made so far this morning—mostly by Conservative Members—I have been struck by the length of time my colleagues have been spending on their mobile phones. I say that because it is important for the thousands, or millions, of people listening to the debate at home, and those in the Public Gallery, to recognise that the purpose of the Bill is not to punish prisoners for wanting to get in touch with their families or friends outside; the purpose of the Bill, which I fully support—and, like other Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for introducing it—is to improve the security and safety of our prisons, and, specifically, to make it harder for people to engage in criminal activity from behind bars.
As we have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), nearly 50% of prisoners reoffend within a year. That is an appalling and sobering statistic, and we should all be very worried about it, not least because those are only the ones we catch within a year. Apart from the fact that reoffending ruins the offenders’ lives, the lives of their families and the lives of the people against whom they offend, it costs the country north of £15 billion a year, so we need to tackle it. I know—and all other Conservative Members know, as, I suspect, do most Opposition Members—how hard the prisons Minister is working, along with other Members of the Government, on the whole issue of prison reform, and on ensuring that we can rehabilitate our prisoners more effectively.
As we have already heard, this is, in some ways, quite a technical Bill. It enables the Secretary of State to authorise mobile phone operators themselves to act quickly and effectively to disturb the signals and operation of phones in our prisons. In this place we often talk of big aims and grandiose ambitions and use soaring rhetoric, but it is often small, technical adjustments that have some of the biggest, most far-reaching consequences, which is another reason why I support the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis)—who is a dear friend, not just an honourable one—mentioned loving prisoners and their families. I think that we do love prisoners and their families. We want to give them the best possible opportunity not to be drawn into criminal activity behind bars, but to put their lives back on track. That should accompany all the other reforms that the Government are trying to introduce, such as the recruitment of additional prison officers, additional funding and investment in prisons, and improved drug treatment.
We have heard from many Members about the use of technologies such as drones that are enabling mobile phones to be dropped into prisons. Let me press the Minister, and the Government, to ensure that we are dealing fully with all the different areas of legislation that can help this Bill to be effective. Also on today’s Order Paper is my Bill relating to psychoactive substances, a subject about which we have already heard this morning. Dealing with such substances is one way that could make my hon. Friend’s Bill more effective. Keeping drugs out of prisons and preventing mobile phones from being used illicitly constitutes another step towards sorting out the difficult problem of reoffending.
I commend my hon. Friend again, because it is hard to get Members into the House on Fridays when most of them tend to be in their constituencies. It is testimony to the quality of the Bill, and the commitment that Conservative Members—including the Minister—and a number of Opposition Members have to it that so many are present today, and I think it gives an indication of the importance of what we are trying to do.
Let me end by saying this—[Hon. Members: “More!”] More? I do not want to test the indulgence of the House too much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Politicians spend a lot of time talking. We do that because it is our job, and because we are paid to advocate on behalf of our constituents. However, we must ensure that we talk with purpose, and with action in view. I am very happy to be here today—in fact, I think that this is the first Friday on which I have spoken in the House since being elected—because I know that this talking, not just by me but by other Members, will lead to concrete action to improve prisoners’ lives, and that is why I wholeheartedly support the Bill.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), particularly as this is the first time he has spoken on a Friday.
Let me echo the words of other Members and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for guiding this important Bill through the House. I also thank my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour, now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, for introducing the Bill last year.
We know how quickly technology can change and evolve. The first mobile phone that I purchased, probably about 20 years ago, looked a bit like a brick and weighed nearly as much, and had only a few hours’ worth of battery power. Mobile phones have come a long way. The new ones are lighter, smaller and more sophisticated. They do so much more than just make calls, and they tend to be much more durable.
Contraband is nothing new—it has been around as long as prisons have been in existence—but recent changes in mobile phone technology allow prisoners to connect easily with the outside world. As others have pointed out, that poses risks not just to guards and other prisoners, but to our communities. Victims of crime and the wider public expect those who are sentenced and serve their time “inside” not to have the means to contact others and continue the illegal activity for which they were imprisoned.
Disturbingly, as we have heard, tens of thousands of phones are confiscated in prisons each year. According to media reports, inmates are able to order drugs and other contraband in “Deliveroo” style on their phones, and products are delivered to cell windows by drones. It is therefore important for us, as a Government, to stay ahead of the curve, and to equip our prison officers and governors with the powers that they need to disrupt a practice that is widespread and growing.
Just this year, a burglar who was serving time in Strangeways prison was caught using a mobile phone to send a text—I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis)—as Mr Bridger communicated in “The Italian Job”. Further investigation of his cell by prison guards revealed two handsets and a host of other electronic items, including phone batteries, a charger, a SIM card and a keypad. I will not promote the brand of phone he was using by naming it, but it is marketed as the smallest fully functional mobile phone in the world, and can be purchased over the internet for as little as £23. What makes these phones a particular favourite of prison inmates is that they are small enough to be hidden, sometimes in a way not easily detectable by a search, and can often beat metal detectors as they have few metal components. This illicit use of mobile phones undermines the security and safety of other prisoners; it enables criminals to access the internet and gives them the ability to contact the outside world for illicit and questionable purposes.
I am reassured that the Government have already taken action to tackle this issue: £2 million has already been invested in detection equipment, and every prison in England and Wales is currently being equipped with technology such as portable detection poles. However, body scanners and detection poles are not enough on their own to combat this problem, as the evidence I have mentioned shows. This Bill addresses the need for mobile networks to have the powers to completely cut the signal from an inmate’s mobile phone device and, more impressively, locate a phone that is being used.
On Second Reading and in Committee, a number of key issues were raised, particularly around improving the availability of, and prisoners’ access to, lawful telephones in prison. This is important. A prisoner’s access to communication with their family is vital in reducing reoffending rates, as we have heard. Maintaining positive connections is important. For instance, research published by the Ministry of Justice last year reveals that prisoners who are visited by their families during their incarceration are 39% less likely to reoffend upon release. That family connection is key to cutting a prisoner’s cycle of self-harm and violence. Prisoners can already contact family members, for instance via Skype, and safeguards must be in place to ensure that these beneficial, supervised sessions are not affected as a result of this legislation.
I also appreciate that this is a matter of supply and demand. As the Howard League for Penal Reform has highlighted, one way to tackle the demand for mobile phones is by ensuring better access to telephones in prisons:
“Ensuring prisoners can access reasonably private and affordable pay phones would have a significant impact on demand for mobile phones.”
As well as preventing reoffending, prisoners who have regular family contact are more stable while serving their sentences. That is why I am pleased that the Government are committed to providing legitimate ways for prisoners to contact friends and family, while tackling the use of illegal phones at source.
The use of mobile phones in prisons breaks down the metal and concrete barriers that were built to protect the very communities we represent. What is at stake is not just the safety of the public but the safety of our prison guards and governors. Although not a silver bullet for prison reform, this Bill will go a long way towards remedying the problems raised today. I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes for guiding this important piece of legislation through the House; I wish it well in its passage to becoming an Act of Parliament and commend it to the House.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson). I can add another 10 years to hers; I first owned a mobile phone 30 years ago. Whether it was 20 or 30 years ago, however, we must remember that they were just phones then. They were not devices with apps and various other things; technology has changed so much and we need to ensure the legislation keeps up with that. I too commend my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for bringing forward this important Bill, which I believe will strengthen the safety and security of our prisons to the benefit of both prisoners and prison staff.
My hon. Friend was very descriptive in her speech, which effectively highlighted the issue this Bill aims to tackle. As she said, if technology is being used to breach the security of our prisons, there should be the capability to use technology to combat that criminality. If our statute book is to remain effective in the digital age, it is vital that legislation is regularly reviewed and gaps are identified when they are created by the pace of technological advancement. New technology, such as smart phones and drones, presents a constant challenge to the security of prisons, so any additional support Parliament can give to Her Majesty’s Prison Service in tackling these issues should be welcomed across the House.
This is a simple Bill, but one designed to combat the mobile phones and SIM cards found across prison estates, of which there were 20,000 in 2016. I am sure that figure has increased considerably since. By enabling the Secretary of State directly to authorise network operators to cut off wireless telegraphy, we can not only greatly limit the illegal activities of prisoners inside prisons, preventing things such as organised riots and drug deals, but reduce illegal activity outside prison as well.
As we learned from the contributions made during the earlier stages of this Bill, legitimate contact between prisoners and their families provides stability to their prison experience, especially to those prisoners who may be at risk of self-harming, and can aid rehabilitation. It is therefore reassuring that Ministers have addressed the concerns raised on Second Reading and in Committee—concerns I share—and that legitimate contact will not now be affected by this Bill; we are grateful for that.
I am disappointed, however, that although this Bill extends to England, Wales and Scotland, in addition to making provision for its extension to the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, in practice it will apply only to England and Wales. I sincerely hope that once this legislation is passed Ministers will continue to work with the devolved Administrations to align the law in order to ensure that prisons across the United Kingdom are afforded the same level of security across the board.
The offer was made to the Scottish Government to apply the Bill to Scotland. They have not taken it up, but the hope is that they may well do so in future.
I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. The absence today of Scottish National party Members is notable and might suggest they are not as concerned as we are about the security of our prison officers and of prisoners who want to be rehabilitated.
I would not want my hon. Friend inadvertently to besmirch the reputation of some of our hon. Members: there are Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament here; I have seen them today.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was looking across the Chamber at the SNP Benches, not behind me; I know that we have representation from the devolved nation of Scotland here today.
In summary, this is a well-considered Bill that will improve the security of our prisons for both prisoners and prison staff. It will also strike a blow to serious and organised crime by dramatically reducing the amount of illicit contact between prisoners and the outside world. I again commend my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes on the way in which she has navigated the Bill to this stage and I am pleased to offer it my full support today.
It is a great pleasure to talk on this Bill, which I fully support. This issue first came to my attention when I was working at the Centre for Social Justice, where I was director of policy from 2012 to 2016. We wrote a report while I was there called “Drugs in Prison”, which looked at how we might remove these toxic and addictive substances from the prison estate. We wanted to examine how prisons could protect the public and punish offenders through the deprivation of their liberty, but could also help prisoners to rebuild their lives. This Bill contributes to all three of those work-streams. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on introducing it and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) on having started the whole process. It was also good to hear the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) supporting the Bill; it is always a pleasure to be in the House when there is cross-party support for something that, as I believe to be the case here, contributes to the cause of social justice.
This is a series of measures that can protect the public. It is utterly unacceptable that people in prison should be able to continue their criminal operations from behind bars. At an earlier stage of the Bill, the Minister referred in true literary form to the passing of messages scribbled on silver through the bars of a prison in “The Man in the Iron Mask”. These days, it is possible not only to pass messages but to take orders on the internet, control our banking activities and really run our lives from our mobile phones. How many of us do not do that? We are failing to protect the public by failing to disrupt criminal activity in this way, and failing to deprive people of their liberty. So much activity can be conducted through mobile phones, and we will not be fulfilling what the public expect of a prison sentence if we continue to allow people unfettered access to the internet while in prison.
That said, I firmly take on board what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) said about the Farmer review and the importance of allowing people to stay in touch with their families. That is unquestionably important. I have a number of young people in my constituency who have parents in prison and, having spoken to their teachers, I know how important it is for them to be able to stay in touch with their fathers. However, this cannot be used as an excuse to give people in prison 24-hour access to the internet. The public would not expect that, and I am sure that people who have been sent to prison would not expect it either. There is a balance to be struck, and I believe that the powers in the Bill will give us the potential to do that.
That is of course only one part of the picture. Our research into drugs in prison at the Centre for Social Justice was headed up by a former prison governor from Liverpool, Alan Brown. He showed us an extraordinary number of ingenious ways in which people could bring illicit substances into prison, sometimes using mobile technology and sometimes not. I remember him describing how one prisoner had been found building a catapult out of rubber gloves. He had tied many yellow rubber gloves together and then propelled a heavy object connected to a fishing line from his cell window over a tree branch. It landed on the ground, and one of his counterparts out on the street attached a parcel of drugs to the fishing line, which was then reeled in. We also saw examples of drone activity, and I remember one former prisoner describing how he had cut a hole in the side of his mouth in order to create a pocket in which to smuggle drugs into prison. All these examples remind us just how ingenious our prison population is.
I am hearing from prison officers that one of the most ingenious ways of smuggling drugs into prisons at the moment is to soak the pages of books and letters in drugs. The prisoners lick the drugs off later when they are back in their cells.
Edible books! That is extraordinary. I have not heard that example before.
There are many ingenious ways of bringing drugs into prisons, and we know how extraordinarily disruptive they are to prisoners’ lives. A large number of people take drugs for the first time in prison, and the amount of Spice—the recently criminalised new psychoactive substance—in prisons has rocketed in the past few years. That is damaging not only prisoners but prison officers, who often inhale the odourless fumes as they go around on their watch. These substances actively destroy people’s chances of rehabilitating when they are in prison. In many cases, they create or cement addictive behaviours, which then carry on when the person leaves prison, destroying their chances of being able to move into work. Being able to tackle telephony in prisons is one important way in which we can start to disrupt this trade and so give people in prison more hope that they will be able to turn their lives around on release.
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart). He has made an excellent speech, and I know that he comes to this issue with a lot of experience at the Centre for Social Justice. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on her hard work in taking the Bill forward, and also my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) on the work she did to initiate the Bill. The fact that it passed unamended in Committee reflects its simplicity and its importance, as well as the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, and I hope she will see its passage through the House today.
The Bill is of particular interest to me as I have recently served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. I welcome its provisions, because I believe that giving the Secretary of State the power to authorise public communications providers to disrupt the unlawful use of mobile phones in prisons is an important public policy objective. These powers are in addition to those already on the statute book that allow prison governors to interfere with such mobile phone communications. I am pleased to support the Bill today. I believe that it will strengthen our prison system as well as meeting the challenges associated with advances in mobile technology and wider criminal activity. I echo the sentiment of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes that 13,000 mobile phones and 7,000 SIM cards being found in our prisons in 2016 was simply too many. That is why I commend her for bringing forward the Bill, and I am sure that it will find support on both sides of the House.
When I served at the Ministry of Justice, I was able to witness the use of mobile phones in prisons when I visited HMP Pentonville. I spoke to the governor, the deputy governor and prison staff there, and I was also able to speak to some of the prisoners, which enabled me to understand some of their motivations. I also understand the difficulty that prison officers have in curtailing the use of mobile phones in prisons. That is why the Bill is so important. The unlawful use of mobile phones in prisons undermines the safety and security of prisons and enables criminals to direct illegal activity from behind bars, including organising violence and drug smuggling. It also harms the rehabilitation process for prisoners, as we have heard from a number of speakers today.
Reoffending rates are still too high. This costs the economy around £15 billion a year, but it also means wasted talent and broken families. There are complex reasons for reoffending, and it is not solely down to the use of mobile phones in prisons, but there is no doubt that that can be a seriously contributory factor. Unfettered access to the internet can have a damaging impact on the rehabilitation process, through the glamorisation of life behind bars on sites such as Snapchat and Instagram, as well as through more sinister activities such as organising crime from within prisons and associating with former criminal networks. Prison officers have told me that such damage is most pronounced when they are attempting to break down the gang culture that pervades many of our prisons, and the cycle of violence that often comes with it. If a gang member on the inside remains in close contact—speaking daily—to those outside, and perhaps even continues his activities while in prison, how can we expect to break the cycle of bad behaviour and the gang culture? In order to change lives it is vital that we change the habits of prisoners and break their contact with their criminal fraternity.
Equally, for prisons to be at their most effective, it is important that they work as a true deterrent. In our modern society, where we depend so much on our mobile phones to manage our finances, order food, read the news and update social media, the loss of liberty on the inside should be a truly frightening prospect, entailing tangible disadvantages that are truly punitive. With the proliferation of mobile phones in prisons, being cut off from the outside world has essentially become completely irrelevant, and we need to reverse that process. That is why the Bill is so important.
In fact, the use of mobile phones in prisons is not only harmful to prisoners’ rehabilitation, it could also trigger other bad behaviours, for example encouraging prisoners to disregard authority and other prison rules. I fear that more videos watched on social media from inside prisons will simply make people less afraid of jail and diminish the impact that jail has as a deterrent.
Other hon. Members have reiterated the importance of ensuring that prisoners are able to stay in contact with family members so that they can maintain relationships and bring stability to their lives, especially after they leave prison. I am delighted that the Ministry of Justice is taking action to ensure that that is the case and that the Bill would not diminish that ability. For example, I am aware that prisons such as HMP Berwyn, a category C prison in Wales, already offers close to 24/7 access to pin phones, so that prisoners can call their loved ones. As a result of such measures, the use of mobile phones will no longer be necessary.
I commend the Ministry of Justice and the Minister for ensuring that prisoners who are found with phones in prison are subject to increased sentences. For example, John Grimshaw, who was found with two handsets, a phone battery, a SIM card and keypad in his cell at HMP Manchester received a harsher sentence—I think it was an extra year. It is right that we continue to punish those in the prison system who are found with illicit mobile phones.
I support the Bill because it would set out a framework to allow the Government to future-proof the prison regime. As the fourth industrial revolution accelerates, technology that blocks signals and mobile phones in prisons will soon become more cost-effective and have more impact. Therefore, the regime created by this simple but effective Bill will be important to ensure that our prison regime is secure for the future. I hope that the Minister and the Secretary of State will work closely with telecommunications companies to ensure that they bring forward the right equipment and mobile phone detection software to ensure that we can protect prisons, to make them safe and to allow prisoners to be rehabilitated. I strongly support the Bill and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes on her hard work.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) who, with his knowledge and campaigning on the fourth industrial revolution, brings much expertise on modern technology to the debate, as he demonstrated in his remarks.
It is also a pleasure to speak on Third Reading, having spoken on Second Reading and been on the Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on bringing it this far, and I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) who initiated the Bill. I am pleased that since I rose to speak I have not had another phone launch a fightback, as one did on Second Reading. Those of us in the Chamber suddenly discovered what the “Find My IPhone” noise sounded like, as it bleeped away on the Back Benches, interrupting our proceedings. Mobile phones can, however, be a great tool and a useful asset in modern life. Unfortunately, they are no longer just phones. They can be the equivalent of a desktop computer, a communications device, store large amounts of information, process documents, and no longer even need a mobile network to work as in many cases they can operate via a wi-fi system. Even a fairly weak signal will allow phones to function fully, given apps such as WhatsApp. They can also make encrypted communications to a high standard, which can make it much more difficult for traditional methods of interception to deal with them. The Bill is, therefore, very timely.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who is sadly no longer in his place, highlighted that in 2016, the latest year for which figures are available, 13,000 mobile phones were confiscated. The problem will only continue to escalate, not least given the way technology can be used to make devices smaller, to deliver easier access and the potential fusion between people’s bodies and technology that can now be achieved in a way that would have been unimaginable only 10 or 15 years ago. It is right that we are looking to update the legislation.
The Bill is not about prison governors having to play whack-a-mole trying to find a phone that has just popped up and getting it blocked. It is about blocking off networks that are operating, and taking advantage of the technology to ensure a zone in which phones just do not operate. If that is possible technologically, there should be a legal power to enable it, which is what the Bill will do. That is why it is vital we give the Bill its Third Reading today.
For Members who are regulars on a Friday, I do not plan to go to my usual lengths of detailed analysis. [Hon. Members: “More.”] I can hear their disappointment. It is strange to hear it from my hon. Friends—it is usually Opposition Members who demand more during my speeches—but today is not the day to set a two-hour record.
Today is about being clear about the target of the Bill. It will be interesting to hear how the Minister expects to work with the mobile phone networks to implement the Bill, and how he expects to work with those who provide other wireless communications systems that may be near prisons. For example, it would be no good knocking off mobile phone network signals only to discover someone has busily set up a wi-fi network covering the jail.
Phones can now fully operate via wi-fi, including voice calls. Many of us have used the WhatsApp call feature, which is as simple as making a phone call. It will be interesting to hear about the work that will be done around jails, not just with the big mobile phone networks but to ensure that we knock out any potential wi-fi coverage, not least when a standard home hub can cover 100 metres, which shows the potential, and all the more so with mobile wi-fi technology.
This is a very welcome Bill, and it needs to happen. The law must try to keep pace with technology. Phones are advertised as able to beat body orifice scanners, which shows the lengths people are going to, and finding phones in prison will only become more challenging. This Bill is an appropriate fix and a proportionate move. Bluntly, there is no need for a person in prison to have a mobile phone to contact their family. There are legitimate ways of doing that via postal communications or via the telephones that are provided.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not give way, because I am just about to take my seat. I am conscious of the time and I know that others wish to speak.
There are ways for people in prison to communicate and to keep in contact, but we must also remember that prisons are about protecting the public and ensuring that people cannot run a crime network from behind bars. That is why I support the Bill, and I will be pleased to see it get its Third Reading.
It is a great honour to speak on this timely Bill, as we bring the law up to speed with emerging technologies, which present so much of a challenge to prison governors and warders as they go about their business.
It is also a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and I am delighted he was able to make his speech without being harassed by a mobile phone, as he was on Second Reading—the timing of that interruption was extraordinary and is perhaps never to be beaten in the annals of Hansard. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for her calm, cool, thoughtful and detailed stewardship of the Bill.
I welcome the Bill, and I am delighted it is one that the Government support. As I have mentioned, this is a necessary Bill. I practised at the Bar before coming to serve in this place. As anyone who has worked at the criminal Bar will realise, mobile phone use in prison is now a serious problem. It is beyond a curious fact and it is beyond a joke. There is no suggestion that mobile phones are not available in prisons, because they are. Frankly, they are a form of currency and they are in daily use.
People in prison can do an extraordinary amount of things with a mobile phone. A number of Members have mentioned those things and, in some ways, we should get away from calling them mobile phones, because the time will come in the not-too-distant future when the extraordinarily capable devices we have in our pockets will replace desktop computers. We will be able simply to plug it in, and everything we do from a computing perspective will be carried around on this very small device.
These devices can be used to make calls, certainly, but that is by no means the only thing they can do. They can do everything from secure, encrypted instant messaging through to word processing and controlling things. So we now live in a world in which people can control the lights in their home on a device that they carry around in their pocket. It does not take a great deal of imagination to realise that if someone is able to do that, they can do other things as well. Phones are now integrated with the systems of some cars. This world presents extraordinary difficulties for prison governors.
As someone who has practised at the criminal Bar for years, I know there is no longer a suggestion that going into prison presents any more than a nuisance to someone seeking to continue carrying out what they see as their business—their criminal activities. As has been said, some Members use their phones in the Chamber—I can reassure their constituents that they are working. They are dealing with emails, reading briefing papers and responding to what constituents have written to them. If they can carry on their business inside the Chamber, it is fanciful to think that if prisoners are given access to devices and the technology to communicate, they will not be able to continue with their criminal activities. They clearly will be able to—
Does my hon. Friend agree that we talk about these things as phones, but in reality we are talking about a computer system that can make calls?
I could not agree more. When the iPad was first introduced it was described as being a large iPhone that cannot make calls. We are almost now dealing with the reverse of that: a computer that just happens to make calls. Increasingly, that is a by-product that is not needed, because people might communicate by text message or WhatsApp—people can do absolutely everything. I recall thinking years ago, as basic phones started to include things such as photos and syncing with computers, that it would not be very long before that small device replaced everything else—we are well on the way to that now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) alluded to the fact that people can use phones to take videos and smuggle them out of the prison system over the airwaves. That is dangerous to the discipline inside prisons. It makes it difficult for governors. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) share my concern on that facet, in particular?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and I entirely share his concern on discipline. I was about to mention photographs and a point that brings the one he made into sharp relief. When we first had phones with cameras on, the photographs were grainy and did not really show anything; they were not helpful as photographs. We now have extraordinary camera abilities with high-definition video. When those things are able to be operated from within a prison, people could photograph or video a prison officer and then harass them by sending that to someone who is outside. The prisoner could show exactly who that prison officer is, in order to humiliate them or blackmail them. That is a very serious problem.
It is also a serious problem that people can record something that is taking place in a prison. Another example of the obvious need for the Bill is that a prisoner can ring a contact on the outside and arrange for the delivery of drugs or other contraband, but this goes far, far beyond that. These extraordinary small devices provide the ability to run an entire business operation and those inside prisons have the ability to carry out an entire criminal operation. That has serious corrosive effects on the ability of prison officers to maintain discipline and to protect the public, as hon. Members have suggested.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that not only do people have this ability to communicate, but that is now combined with what was once military-grade encryption technology? I alluded to that in my speech. Does he share my concern that it is bringing a whole new angle to this area?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right about that. The ability to load software such as virtual private network software on to a telephone, to use WhatsApp, which is encrypted, and to communicate with people anywhere in the world while being able to disguise one’s own identity and geographical position presents enormous challenges for those who are trying to make sure that prison is a disciplined place that protects the public from the activities of those within it.
It is extraordinary that going to prison is really only a nuisance, and that if people have access to the right technology, they can carry on from inside prison in exactly the same way as they carried on outside, with only minor inconvenience. We should not allow that. We can see from the statistics—13,000 phones were seized in 2016, going up to 23,000 in 2017, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes said, with 7,000 sim cards seized—that this is a real and pressing problem that we have to deal with now.
Why do we need this change to the law? Essentially, the existing law, as I understand it, enables governors to interfere with specific devices, but we are always playing catch-up. We do not know what technological advances are likely to come in future; we simply know that they will come, and we need to be in a position to address them as and when they arise.
Let me address briefly some of the objections to the Bill that are germane to some of the issues we have been discussing. Having practised at the Bar, I am particularly sensitive to some of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) mentioned the important rehabilitative aspect of communication, but it is important that we see communication between prisoners and their families as distinct from their having mobile phones; the two are not the same thing. Prison must, of course, be a punishment and it must protect the public, but having represented people over the years, I have seen countless examples of people who go into prison, meet people and learn more criminal skills there, and come out and continue their criminal activity.
On families staying in touch when a family member is behind bars, does my hon. Friend agree that it is extremely important to maintain personal, physical contact? Being able to make weekly or daily calls is great, but it is hugely important for people to spend physical time with their child, and too often that is not available.
Yes, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He has great expertise from his background at the Centre for Social Justice and is well placed to comment on that. I could not agree more. It is critical that prisoners are able to remain in contact with their family members and loved ones, and not just through calls. It is not simply a matter of providing telephony services. We need only look at the statistics: as I understand it, people are 39% less likely to reoffend if they maintain regular contact with their family members. The reoffending rate is around 50% within a year, so it is clear that we must address that, however we look at the criminal justice system.
Given my hon. Friend’s work at the criminal Bar prior to entering this place, he has a lot of experience of this issue. In response to the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart), he referred to the need for regular prison visits so that prisoners can see their families in a physical context, and I totally agree with all that, but as much as we would all like to see it there are many cases in which that becomes incredibly difficult to achieve, including because of the geography—where prisons are. Therefore, properly handled telephone connectivity is incredibly important. I may refer to this if I catch Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye and am given a chance to speak, but the costs, which can be up to half the prisoner’s wage for a 10-minute call to a mobile phone, are prohibitive. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) said, that needs to be addressed.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The cost of calls in prisons is certainly being addressed. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes mentioned that, and I have no doubt that the Minister will, too, in due course, because the Government have undertaken that work.
I have raised all these points because we must distinguish between the need for communication, which we must have, and the having of mobile phones, which is not terribly helpful. Communication is required partly because we must reduce the reoffending rate—although I do not want to sound managerial—but also simply from the point of view of humanity. Yes, prisons are a punishment, but they must be humane. Say somebody has committed a crime that means they have to go to prison, but they are a single mother and there are children involved. Anybody who has represented someone who has that double heartbreak will realise that there must be a way to make sure, although we accept that they have to go to prison because they have to atone for what they have done, that families maintain contact with each other. A mother who is in prison should be able to make contact with her children outside, lest the children start to follow down the same road, which causes me great concern. We must improve the access to telephony which is permitted—I know that the Minister will talk to that in due course as well as prison visits.
I wish to make one or two more points before I resume my seat. A concern has been raised about co-opting private companies to assist the state. An Act of Parliament will be enacted. The Secretary of State will be making the regulations. It is important to remember that, as that provides the reassurance. The reason it is helpful that the technological burden is pushed to the providers rather than sitting with the prison governors is that it means that they are actively involved. That will help with the technological increases that we know will come in the years ahead, which means that we will not always be playing catch-up as technology advances.
My final point is about the understandable concern of residents who live near prisons that their service may be affected. If the companies that provide the services are involved, they will be involved in providing any solutions to any unintentional disruption in the much needed communication service for those who live outside.
I am very grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the time to speak. I welcome this Bill and I look forward to its further progress.
It is a great pleasure to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. There are a couple of problems that I associate with the 2017 general election, one of which is the loss of the Prisons and Courts Bill. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) has taken up the opportunity for this valuable Bill, which plugs part of the gap that losing that Bill has presented. She is exactly the right person to do so not only because of the calm and collected way that she has presented and promoted this Bill, as referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), but because she has the privilege of hosting in her constituency the Sussex county jail. I do not wish to reopen old wounds between her constituents and mine, but the county jail moved from Lewes to Horsham in 1540 and there was a long-running, 305-year campaign by the people of Lewes to have it returned. They finally succeeded in 1845. For those of us who worry that our campaigns take rather a long time to prosper, they need look only to the doughty efforts of the constituents of my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend proposes a simple and sensible move. Like her, I was shocked when I discovered that 23,000 mobile phones had been found in prisons in 2017. Those are just the ones that were discovered and apprehended. I, too, was looking for measures that could stop that flow of mobile phones into prisons. Indeed, I have used the opportunity of Ministry of Justice questions to press my hon. Friend the Minister on the use of anti-drone technology around prisons. An excellent company in Horsham can bring down drones safely and prevent the use of drones to deliver drugs and mobile phones into prisons. The Minister was kind enough to meet me and pointed out that a combination of this excellent Bill and nets would be an equally effective way of stopping the problem, albeit less efficacious for the company in my constituency. I have not lost heart, though, on the Ministry of Defence, which will find its products very useful.
This Bill will, I hope and believe, reduce the abuse of mobile phones in jails. Jails are there to serve a purpose. At least part of that is to divorce criminal gangs from their leadership, to disrupt criminal gangs, to separate those individuals from society and to loosen the bonds of the criminal networks.
I am not going to discuss, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) did, “The Italian Job” or “The Man in the Iron Mask”. I am not naïve. I do accept that, even prior to mobile telephony, there were still means by which criminal gangs were able to communicate through prison walls. However, we owe it to our constituents to ensure that, just as we use every form of modern technology to apprehend criminals, we also use that technology to ensure that they are cut off from their gangs and their networks when they are serving time. That view, I think, has widespread support across this House—judging by the intervention of the hon. Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), I am sure of it—and we need to do all we can to crack down on that illicit use of phones.
But this is not only about deliberate, illicit use for criminal purposes—it is also about those who are desperate to get hold of a mobile phone for entirely legitimate reasons and find themselves prey to gangs inside jails. Our hearts go out to people who, for whatever reason they are in jail, are desperate to keep in contact with their families on the outside. They then become prey to the criminal activity inside the prison by not only supporting the efforts of those smuggling phones into jails but supporting the wider use of those smuggling networks for drugs and other assets. Another aspect of this Bill is that it should help to prevent those individuals from being abused by other criminals when they are at their most vulnerable, behind bars.
Two big concerns have been raised about the Bill. They have been given an airing already, but it is vital that they are properly addressed. First, this is about not only reducing the supply of phones but reducing the demand for them. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust—respected organisations—have both been very clear about the need to reduce the demand for illicit telephones by ensuring that other means of telephonic communication are available to prisoners. I slightly take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) on one point, where I tried to intervene on him. It is really important, as I am sure he agrees, that we ensure that prisoners can have access to telephone calls. There are limited times in which those calls can be made.
As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Witney, the cost of a 10-minute call to a mobile phone can be up to half a prisoner’s weekly wage, and a 10-minute call to a landline can be a quarter of their wage. They have to make certain that they can get to the phone, with multiple prisoners trying to do the same thing, and they are out of their cells for only a short period during the day. There may be problems at the other end; their families may not be available to take the call. Access is incredibly important.
I completely agree that there is a need for families to have access and for prisoners to be able to keep key relationships, but there is a difference between the completely unregulated communications that a mobile phone—effectively a computer—can provide and the much more specific ones that a family telephone service can provide.
I thank my hon. Friend. I must have misinterpreted his earlier remarks.
Secondly, I understood from my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), when he was the Minister on the previous Bill, that a huge amount of work is being done by the Department. My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) referred to the benefits that HMP Wayland has received from the roll-out of improved modern telephone services. Perhaps the Minister will pick up on that. I have been reassured by what the promoter of the Bill has said. I also understood that the Department, at that stage, was intending to re-tender the national telephony contracts. I hope that as a result of that re-tendering process the cost of calls for prisoners has been reduced.
My hon. Friend the Member for Witney and my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate, who has three prisons in his constituency, raised the issue of constituents around the prison being certain that their telephone signals are not interfered with. I heard words of reassurance on that from the promoter of the Bill, and perhaps the Minister could touch on it as well. I would want reassurance that Ofcom and the mobile phone operators are being consulted to ensure that there are not adverse consequences for those living around prisons.
Having expressed those two concerns, which I am sure will be addressed, I look forward to this Bill continuing to make progress through its remaining stages.
Prison serves many functions and purposes: to punish, to reform, but also to protect wider society. That protection relies on being able to restrict and prevent criminal activities in order to break up the existing networks and ensure that the crimes and offences for which prisoners are in jail cannot continue while they remain there.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) pointed out, technological advances have meant that mobile phones—effectively pocket computers—can be used almost as a mobile office. Almost wherever the user is, with anything more than a minimal signal they can continue with many activities. Of course, for most of us, those are perfectly professional and positive activities. Sadly, in too many of our prisons, the use of illicit phones is rather less positive.
An intrinsic feature of a custodial sentence is deprivation of liberty, part of which is the limitation of the rights and freedoms that those of us in society would normally expect to be able to exercise. Those who are in prison should not necessarily be able to expect the same connections and privileges enjoyed by those outside.
The primary purpose of the Bill is to allow mobile phone network providers to disrupt the use of unlawful mobile phones in prisons. We have heard about the large increase in the scale of the problem, with the number of mobile phones doubling in barely three years. That sharp increase is not due to some deficiency or inadequacy in the existing legislation—particularly the 2012 Act, which lays an important and valuable basis for prison governors’ powers. Instead, it is the use by criminals, prisoners and offenders of technology that is evolving at a rate that legislation sometimes struggles to keep up with.
The Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), will help to address the gap in the powers that may be used by those who keep us safe. We must be clear that the illicit use of mobile phones undermines the safety and security of prisons, prison staff and other prisoners, and it increasingly allows prisoners to carry on organising and co-ordinating serious and, at times, violent crimes that take place outside prison, in the community.
Other action is being taken to tackle the issue of mobile phones in prisons. As we have heard, the number of phones confiscated has risen. Some £2 million has been invested in detection equipment, including handheld detectors and portable detection devices, and all prisons in England and Wales are being equipped with technology to strengthen searching and security, including portable detection poles that can be deployed at fixed points around entrances and visitor areas. Other new technology is being tested to tackle the threat posed by contraband smuggled into prisons, which includes illicit mobile phones as well as weapons, drugs and a whole range of items and materials that, for very good reasons, are excluded from our prisons.
These are important powers. One thing that I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes or the Minister will clarify is the impact of the Bill on prison governors and whether any additional obligations and burdens might fall upon them as a result of these powers to allow mobile phone operators to take action. The Bill is a tool that can be deployed to disrupt communications that undermine the security of our prisons. We can improve the safety of prisons and take a step towards minimising criminal activity. If that is achieved, this legislation will have played an enormous role in helping to keep our prisons and wider society safe.
I thank all Members who have spoken today, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) for promoting this important Bill. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) who introduced the Bill in its original version, and my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) who brought forward the 2012 version.
This has been an astonishing tour d’horizon, and powerful speeches by an extraordinary number of hon. and right hon. Members have touched on fundamental issues concerning the purpose of prison. Members have mentioned the rehabilitative aspects of prison, as well as incapacitation, retribution and deterrence, but we must begin by thinking about the device of a mobile phone itself. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) powerfully pointed out, this device is not simply a telephone, and when considering this Bill we must consider its relationship to prison in general.
Prison is designed to isolate somebody from the public, and in contemporary society prison is effectively a punishment of segregation or isolation which includes the breaking of communication. The difference between being in a prison cell, as intended by the prison’s administration, and being in a cell with this device in one’s hand, is absolute. In a cell, someone without such a device can expect to be controlled by the regime in terms of access to media and communications. With a device in their hand, however, their entire life becomes different—they are no longer quite a prisoner; they are someone who can begin to become an active, involved individual who can reach out well beyond the walls of their cell. Relatively rapidly in the short time available, let me talk through what that actually means and how that feels in a prison.
Having such a device effectively means that someone can set an alarm, wake up, and use a torch to communicate with the drone outside their prison cell. They can use their device to pilot the drone to their window, and having had their drugs delivered, they can sit back and go on Skype or Facebook, or make a WhatsApp video call with their partner outside prison. They can sit back, watch a movie, go on Facebook, and fall asleep. When they wake up in the morning they can use the device for their personal fitness training, or begin trading shares and make a little money.
As their morning starts, perhaps after breakfast, they can begin to use their device more actively to run their criminal gang outside the prison walls—that is the moment at which they pick up their mobile telephone to call a business rival, intimidate a witness, or organise the importation of drugs or weapons into the country. Having done that, the device then becomes a weapon within the prison itself. It allows someone to go to another prisoner and say, “You owe me £35 for the drugs that I dealt you last week”, or to calculate a 50% interest payment, or the interest payment attributed to a particular cell. The device allows someone to take a photograph of an individual and send it to their partner. If an individual will not pay, the device allows someone to feed them Spice and, as happened recently, put them in a washing machine, video them, and load an image of them going round and round on social media.
This device can also be used for research—it permits someone to get online, find out what the man sharing their cell has been convicted for, discover something about the business they used to run or the assets they might possess, and establish their address and where their partner is located. The device allows someone to undermine the prison regime, or take a photograph of their prison officer and share it with a friend outside the prison walls, so that they can follow the prison officer home. This device allows someone to research the entire family background of their prison officer, and when they have finished doing that—perhaps in the evening when they are locked up again—they can begin using the device actively to commit crime.
Someone could use their device to hack into other people’s websites, or to access the dark web and start trading weapons or slaves on line. This device might then allow them to begin going on social media. They might not wish to, but they could retweet an ISIS video on this device. They could use this device, through social media, to simultaneously organise disturbances across 30 or 40 prisons at the same time, and time when those disturbances took place. Above all, what they would be doing through their continual use of this device, going on Facebook and Twitter, is continually humiliating and offending their victims. They have been locked away as a sex offender or a violent offender, and their victim is suddenly finding that they are on Twitter or Facebook sharing their views on the world, talking to their friends and generally behaving as though they are not in prison.
That therefore brings us from the device to the purpose of the Bill. This is where the contributions by hon. and right hon. Members have been so important. The first point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), which is what we have to begin with, is that this device undermines the effective functions of a prison. It undermines the authority of the prison officers. It undermines their ability to use incentives and the earning of privileges in order to control the behaviour of a prisoner. Basically, it means that a prison is less safe and less functioning, and is unable to perform its functions.
It was clear from nearly the dozen speeches we heard today that there were four quite different concepts of prison. Roughly speaking, my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham (Jeremy Quin), for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami), for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) focused on the rehabilitative aspects of a prison. My hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) focused on the function of prison in terms of incapacitation. My hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) focused on the importance of retribution within prison. My hon. Friends the Members for Havant (Alan Mak) and for Dudley South (Mike Wood) focused on deterrence.
I am simplifying—the speeches touched on many different aspects of the use of a prison—but by focusing on those four quite different purposes of a prison we can bring into clear focus the different ways in which this powerful device or weapon in the hands of a prisoner can be used to undermine the purpose of a prison. If we were to focus, as my hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden, for Banbury and for Cheadle do, on the question of rehabilitation, then suddenly the telephone can seem a rather attractive way of containing the prisoner’s ability to communicate with broader society.
The argument that might be made—I would not be making it—is that this device is what prevents a prisoner suddenly dropping off the edge of a cliff when they leave prison and re-enter society. A prisoner who has been locked up for 15 years without access to this device and without access to social media has very little idea of the society outside the prison walls. A prisoner who has access to this device is able to continue family contact, is able to keep up with the world, is able to educate themselves, is able to take German lessons, is able to go on Wikipedia. Indeed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury explained in her speech, there is a sense—my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden touched on this as well—that there is not a great gap between the kind of use that many prisoners are putting this device to and the kind of use that we ourselves, our families and our children are putting these devices to in everyday life.
But—this is where the speech by the hon. Member for Croydon South is so important—this device flagrantly challenges the fundamental principle of prison, which is that of incapacitation. In the example of Craig Hickinbottom, in the example of escapes being organised from prison, this device leaps over the prison walls. The prison walls no longer become a method of incapacitating a prisoner, but instead become a fluid substance through which the prisoner can continue to intimidate society, run a criminal gang and operate, in effect, as though they were not incarcerated at all.
This touches on the question raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Brentwood and Ongar and for North Cornwall when they talked about the retributive function of prison. If the point of prison is to ensure that the criminal is punished for the historical crime they committed, the question is this: is it adequate retribution to allow somebody to sit in a prison cell with this device? What do we mean by that? Clearly central to the question of punishment is the question of the deprivation of liberty, which involves the deprivation of communication. In so far as we are unable to punish a prisoner in other ways and many of the other ways in which people were traditionally punished have been removed, an individual is now sent to prison as punishment, not for punishment. In other words, the idea is that the individual goes to prison and the punishment is that deprivation of liberty. However, as hon. and right hon. Members have pointed out, the possession of this device could potentially undermine the fundamental principle of that punishment by giving a prisoner a range of liberties—the ability to speak to their family at a moment’s notice, the ability to go online, the ability to stream videos and music and the ability to continue to live the life of an active citizen from within the prison walls—which is not consistent with the judge’s intention.
That brings me to the fourth purpose of prison, emphasised by my hon. Friends the Members for Havant and for Dudley South, which is, of course, deterrence. On the surface, the issues around deterrence and incapacitation would appear to be the same issue, but they are not. The question of retribution, in particular, involves the judge accurately calibrating the punishment to fit the historical crime. The question in relation to the mobile telephone is the extent to which the deprivation of the mobile telephone is in proportion to the exact crime that the individual has committed.
The question of deterrence is quite different. It relates to the notion of an exemplary sentence—in other words, deterrence relates not to the past and to the historical crime committed by the individual, but to the future and wider society. The question then is: does this mobile telephone and its possession represent for broader society something that would be expected by the potential criminal, and the deprivation of which would dissuade them from committing that criminal act?
Superficially, all the questions around mobile telephones seem as though they are just questions of technology, but they are not just that—they go to the fundamental purpose of prison. Again, it might superficially seem that we can just say, “Prison exists for all these things. It exists to incapacitate, deter, rehabilitate and to take retribution,” but this is not true in reality. If we look at the debates that happen within criminal justice, we are unable to resolve these fundamental issues, and the reason is that the principles, or assumptions, from which these things are derived are in conflict with each other. They can be in conflict in different ways.
It has been a great privilege to hear from so many learned Friends today—indeed, I would be delighted to take interventions from any of them—and they have managed to put their finger on deep philosophical distinctions.
I would not describe myself as “learned”, either in fact or by courtesy. My hon. Friend is making a very powerful and interesting speech about the philosophy of prisons. It occurred to me, listening to him, how profoundly things have changed over the last 30 or 40 years. If we compare and contrast what an offender might have done in society 20, 30 or 40 years ago with the situation now, we see how markedly things have changed. I am thinking about people’s personal lives—their access to films, the internet and the way they conduct themselves. If we compare how people conduct their social lives now with 30 years ago, when social life was more community-based, it is clear that things have changed greatly, and that needs to be reflected in the prison sentences and jails.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. The questions around the telephone is what we expect in society as a whole and the relationship of a prison to what happens in broader society. What we see in our prisons is that in fact they ultimately mirror broader society. What was acceptable in the 19th century is not acceptable today. For example, in Pentonville prison 175 years ago solitary confinement meant total silence and the use of masks for 23 hours a day. Slopping out, which happened as recently as the 1980s—in other words, the fact that prisoners did not have lavatories in their cells—has ceased to be acceptable. Our views on whether prisoners should have showers in their cells might change in 20 or 30 years’ time.
Our views on how a mobile telephone relates to normal life will also change. Will a mobile phone begin to feel so fundamentally interwoven with our social life, our communications and the way we live in a 21st-century society that to be deprived of it will feel quite different in 20 years’ time from how it feels today, or how it might have felt 20 years ago?
Therefore, in trying to work out how to frame legislation and how to treat prisoners, we have to deal with social change at a range of different levels; we have to deal with changes in culture and society over time; and we have to deal with clashes of values between individuals that cannot be reconciled.
The interesting point raised by my learned friends who focused on the question of retribution in justice goes to the fundamental question of what we are entitled to do to an individual.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we experience not only cultural change, but technological change? One of the strengths of the Bill is that it sets out a framework that will help to future-proof the statute book with regard to technological change.
That is absolutely right. Indeed, the very existence of the Bill shows how quickly technology is changing. We began in 2007 simply by making it illegal to have a mobile telephone in prison—it carries a maximum sentence of two years. One would have thought that there would therefore be no problem with simply jamming the signal in prisons to prevent the use of mobile telephones, because having one was illegal. What on earth is the problem with putting in place the technology to stop that? What we discovered, of course, is that that presents a huge range of philosophical, legal and technological challenges. That explains why we had another Bill in 2012 and, thanks to the very good work of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, another Bill now in 2018.
Those challenges are quite significant. Let me deal first with the philosophical challenge. Article 8 of the European convention on human rights allows for a right to privacy. The 2012 legislation began to give the Secretary of State the authority to deal with the question of the right to privacy, and also to deal with the unanticipated consequences, which have been raised by various hon. Members, of the blocking technology affecting the lives of people outside the prison walls. Even that is not sufficient, because there is then a series of changing regulations relating to Ofcom, for example.
The 2012 legislation tried to deal with the gap between what can be authorised to a Crown servant—in this case the governor of a public prison—and what instructions can be given to the director of a private prison, such as one run by G4S, Serco or Sodexo. That was resolved in 2012, but what happened then—this point has been raised already—is that we are simply walking around a prison with various devices. What devices can be used in a prison? Before this legislation, we could wander around a prison with a metal detector, which can pick up the metal in a mobile telephone. We could wander around with a wand that picks up the microwave signals from a phone, but the phone might be very small and hidden almost anywhere in a messy cell. What we were unable to do, except with the co-operation of the mobile telephone company, is operate from the mast.
Under the previous legislation, we were forced effectively to jam the signal by transmitting on the same frequency that the mobile telephone company transmits. The company moves from 3G to 4G and the signal changes. Let us imagine that there are three masts from three companies surrounding a prison, all of which are transmitting on different frequencies. Those frequencies change over time, as do their strengths. The prison will find itself trying to transmit on a frequency, and when the frequency changes they miss it. They find the frequency again and they transmit at a certain strength, but then the signal strength increases against them. As they increase the signal strength, they increase the likelihood that they will take out mobile telephone communications from the surrounding houses. That would be a real risk in Brixton, for example.
We are dealing all the time with technological change. The speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Horsham, for Erewash for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Witney (Robert Courts) were particularly powerful in dealing with the ways in which that technological change drives this legislation, necessitates this legislation, and will challenge this legislation.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful speech. May I raise a practical point? I imagine that people living or working near prisons may fear that this change will reduce the quality of the signals in their houses or businesses. What reassurances can my hon. Friend give?
That is a fundamental question, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has asked it. It is, in fact, addressed both in the 2012 Act and in the schedule to the Bill. In the schedule, new subsection (4A) provides for the Secretary of State, in authorising the mobile telephone company—the mobile network operator—also to place an obligation on that operator not to interfere with the communications of individuals outside the prison walls, and to require the operator to take remedial action if any such interference should take place. That is a very good challenge.
My hon. Friends the Members for Torbay and for Witney also raised other issues, such as encryption and the potential setting up of a wi-fi network within the prison walls. That is not always easy. I assure Members that whenever we try to put wi-fi into a prison, we find that 150-year-old Victorian walls make it almost impossible to get a signal into it. On the other hand, criminals can often be extraordinarily entrepreneurial and ingenious in getting around problems that may defeat our engineers.
At the core of this, however, is not simply a question of technology. Let us return to the question of the four purposes of prison, and let us return in particular to the question of retribution. The key idea of retribution in relation to the mobile telephone is the idea that you are punishing a criminal for a crime that he committed in the past. As was suggested by a number of learned Members, that is a fundamental philosophical principle relating to the nature of the rights of that individual.
As Immanuel Kant pointed out, the individual should, as a matter of rational logic and a categorical imperative, be treated only as an end in himself, not as a means to an end. In other words, we should not be punishing individual A in order to change the behaviour of individual B. We should not even be punishing individual A in order to change the future behaviour of individual A. As Kant argues, the retributive punishment should be directed only towards the historical action of the individual, and should relate only to that historical crime. Kant is therefore arguing that neither deterrence, which is punishing individual A in order to affect the behaviour of individual B, nor rehabilitation, which is punishing individual A in order to affect the future behaviour of individual A, is a valid form of punishment.
The Members who advanced utilitarian arguments were making a completely different set of points. Their arguments were, in fact, arguments about society more broadly. They were suggesting that what matters is not the historical action committed by the individual, but society as a whole, and the future consequences. They might well argue that what matters is not what the individual did in the past—that has happened, and there is no point in crying over spilt milk—but how we change society in the future. How do we ensure, through the punishment that we inflict on this individual, that this individual does not go on and reoffend? How do we ensure, through the punishment that we inflict on this individual, that others are deterred from committing a crime?
In that fundamental clash between a Kantian deontological world view focused on the rights of the individual and the dignity of the individual, and a consequentialist or utilitarian argument in which the individual may suffer for the greater happiness of the greater number, we have something that cannot be resolved in this Chamber, because such fundamental values and principles are beyond the ability of this Chamber to resolve. All we can try to do—through the media, through civil society, through Parliament, through legislation—is listen to these types of debate, understand them and articulate them, but we can never fully resolve them. That is why this legislation needs to be able to contain a powerful and enormous element of flexibility. As technology changes and this device—this mobile telephone that I am now holding up—becomes more powerful, as the ways in which 4G or 5G technology emerge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak) points out, and as social attitudes towards punishment, crime and indeed social attitudes towards mobile telephones change, we need legislation that can keep up with that change. A day may come when some elements of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, where she emphasised the centrality and normalcy of this phone in our everyday family lives and especially in the lives of our children, may begin to predominate over the kinds of argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South.
It has been said that one does hear Kant in the Chamber occasionally, but rarely so eruditely expressed; it is wonderful to hear the Minister’s philosophical discussion. He talked about the centrality of mobile phones; the centrality a lot of us were concerned about was the direct use of the mobile phone to direct criminal networks and criminal gangs on the other side of prison walls. On the strict practicalities of the use of mobile phones, will the Minister reassure me that this Bill will help prevent that very real problem?
Yes; in essence the point about the mobile telephone is that we need to understand it not as a telephone. It is of course a communications device and as such, particularly in telephonic communication, it can be used to control criminal gangs, but we must also take on board its full use, and understand that it is also a recording device, a way of accessing the internet, and a wallet in which money is contained and through which money can be transferred, and that it therefore can be used to intimidate people—to intimidate witnesses—to run criminal gangs and do all sorts of things right through to piloting a drone through a window. Once we understand that, we begin to understand that this device is a weapon, not a communications device, and what follows from that are all the things Members have raised in terms of criminality: the importing of illicit substances, the accessing of illicit entertainment, the making of illicit money, the running of illicit gangs, the extortion of money, the undermining of a prison regime, the committing of crime, its use for terrorism and for promoting disturbances, and create victims through social media.
All of which brings me finally back to the legislation itself. On the surface, this Bill seems very straightforward, and in fact of course, as Members have pointed out, the core of this legislation sits at proposed new subsection (2A) to the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012:
“The Secretary of State may authorise a public communications provider to interfere with wireless telegraphy.”
The key point here is that it is addressed to the public communications provider rather than, as is the case in the 2012 legislation, to the governor of a prison or the director of a private prison.
I touched in my speech on a question about this proposed provision, asking whether the word “authorise” confers adequate power on a Minister or Secretary of State: if they authorise someone to do something, they may not follow that authorisation—they may ignore him. Should that word therefore be changed to “compel” or “require” in order to give the Secretary of State the power he or she needs?
That is an interesting question, and the answer is that, as currently drafted, this word “authorise” means exactly that: it is giving legal permission. The anxiety of the mobile telephone companies would be that without that authorisation, were they to conduct these operations they would be in breach of Ofcom regulations and ultimately in breach of article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. Under this legislation therefore, all we are doing is saying to a willing mobile telephone company that, should it voluntarily wish to work with us, this gives it the authority to do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South has raised an interesting point, however. What would happen if the mobile telephone company were to turn round and refuse to comply? To some extent that is hypothetical, because we have not yet encountered a mobile telephone provider that is not prepared to work with us on this, for a range of reasons. The mobile telephone companies’ relationship with Ofcom and the Government is complex, deep and interlinked, and they generally wish to retain the goodwill of the Government. It is also true that in some cases we would have a commercial contract with a mobile telephone company to undertake this work, so it would have a financial interest in working with us. Hypothetically, however, it remains the case that under this legislation, a mobile telephone company would be able to refuse to provide the service. We do not believe that it would do so, but my hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that, theoretically, it could do so under this legislation.
Has my hon. Friend’s Department received assurances from the major providers that they are happy with the legislation as it stands and that they intend to work with the Government in the future?
Yes, the Department works closely with the major providers and our understanding at the moment is that they are all willing to work with us in line with this legislation.
I shall move towards a conclusion, and I shall try to end within the next three minutes. I want to move quickly through the Bill, and to clarify matters for hon. Members before they vote on it. In proposed new subsection (2B), “preventing the use” and “detecting or investigating the use” are the key purposes to which this authorisation can be put. In other words, the point of this is to ensure that we can prevent someone from using their mobile telephone, that we can find their mobile telephone, and that we can work out what they are doing with it.
Proposed new subsection (2C) will probably trouble, confuse, amuse and perplex a number of Members. It states that an authorisation may be given in relation to
“one or more relevant institutions…one or more kinds of relevant institution…or relevant institutions”.
Even a very learned and distinguished colleague such as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury might struggle to work out why on earth we are distinguishing between those three categories. Perhaps she would like to intervene on me at this point. The answer is that parliamentary counsel is trying to provide for the possibility of our giving authorisation to, for example, two prisons in the adult male estate, such as Brixton and Wandsworth, or to two kinds of prison, let us say a young offenders institution such as Feltham and an adult male institution such as Brixton. Alternatively, we might wish to give a more general authorisation to all institutions of the relevant kind—for example, all the young offender institutions in the country or all the adult male institutions in the country. This is a perfect time for my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury to intervene on me.
I thank the Minister for giving way, but he certainly does not need my help or that of more learned colleagues. The point he is making is an important one, which is that the current legislation is clunky and difficult for governors and Ministers to use, and that this legislation will make things much easier and more effective.
That is an enormous relief.
The Minister has mentioned the word “authorise” again. I heard his clarification earlier. As the Bill is drafted, the mobile phone companies would not be absolutely required to comply, but can he confirm that it is the expectation and the intention of the Government—and, I think, of this House—that when the Government ask a public communications provider to interfere with wireless telegraphy in a prison, it will comply with that request, and that the Government and the House would take a dim view if any public communications provider did not comply with such a request?
Without wishing to sound like the Speaker, I think my hon. Friend has made his point with great force and clarity, and I am sure that anyone listening to the debate will have taken on board his message very clearly.
In conclusion, I should like to thank hon. and right hon. Members for their patience. This has been a relatively long debate, and we have touched in extreme and excruciating detail on the philosophical foundations of the legislation, as well as on the technological applications of mobile telephones. It has been a really worthwhile debate. Having spoken at some length, I want to finish with a short moment of sincerity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, in particular, and also other right hon. and hon. Members for their often intelligent, interesting and illuminating contributions. The Bill matters: it goes to the heart of how prisons are run, what they exist for, how we punish someone and what a prisoner can do from within a prison’s walls to intimidate prison officers and other prisoners, profit themselves and organise crime in broader society.
Giving Government the power to ensure that these illegal acts, currently punishable by a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison, can be prevented with the latest technology and the consent of mobile telephone operators, which will allow us to pinpoint the devices, block them and follow their traffic, will be an extraordinary contribution to reducing drugs, violence and disorder in prisons, making them safer and more decent, and ultimately protecting the broader public.
With the leave of the House, I would like to put on record my thanks to everyone as we reach this stage of the Bill. I thank particularly the Clerks in the Public Bill Office, the team at the Ministry of Justice and my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who instigated the Bill. I also thank the Minister for his support throughout the Bill’s progress and all hon. Members who have given up their Fridays and vital constituency work to be here and make sure that the Bill goes through.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) has three prisons in his constituency, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) would like the Bill extended to teenagers in her house, and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) was also interested in that idea. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) gave some shocking examples of how the technology is being used in prisons right now to commit crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) spoke in a Friday private Member’s Bill debate for the first time, and I am honoured that he chose this Bill. Like me, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) remembers her first mobile phone being the size of a brick—it would not have been easily concealed. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) made the point that mobile phones are now for more than just making calls. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Alex Burghart) brought in his experience of working at the Centre for Social Justice. My hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Alan Mak), with his technological experience, was able to highlight some of the significant purposes to which mobile phones have been put. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) reminded us that he was interrupted on Second Reading by a mobile phone. My hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) brought his experience of the criminal Bar and reminded us that prison is now just an inconvenience to many criminals: the Bill will change that. My hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) continued the battle between Horsham and Lewes, although Lewes thankfully won in 1845 to retain the county prison. My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) gave a great overview of the Bill and said that this small piece of legislation will make a big difference, proving that size is not everything.
I thank hon. Members and I look forward to the Bill making progress in the other place.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.