Jeremy Quin contributions to the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2018


Fri 6th July 2018 Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill (Commons Chamber)
3rd reading: House of Commons
Report stage: House of Commons
26 interactions (1,658 words)

Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Jeremy Quin Excerpts
Friday 6th July 2018

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup
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6 Jul 2018, 11:37 a.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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6 Jul 2018, 11:37 a.m.

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.

Maggie Throup Portrait Maggie Throup
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6 Jul 2018, 11:37 a.m.

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 for the way in which she has navigated the Bill to this stage and I am pleased to offer it my full support today.

Break in Debate

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con)
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6 Jul 2018, 11:59 a.m.

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 the Bill 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 for 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 the telephones that are provided.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 11:56 a.m.

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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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.

Break in Debate

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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6 Jul 2018, 12:01 p.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 12:01 p.m.

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?

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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6 Jul 2018, 12:02 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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6 Jul 2018, 12:07 p.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 12:07 p.m.

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.

Robert Courts Portrait Robert Courts
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6 Jul 2018, 12:08 p.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin (Horsham) (Con)
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6 Jul 2018, 12:11 p.m.

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 in which 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 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 naive. 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.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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6 Jul 2018, 12:16 p.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 12:17 p.m.

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.

Mike Wood Portrait Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con)
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6 Jul 2018, 12:19 p.m.

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.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Rory Stewart)
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6 Jul 2018, 12:24 p.m.

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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 12:38 p.m.

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.

Rory Stewart
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6 Jul 2018, 12:44 p.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Rory Stewart
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6 Jul 2018, 12:46 p.m.

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.

Those 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.

Jeremy Quin Portrait Jeremy Quin
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6 Jul 2018, 12:51 p.m.

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?

Rory Stewart
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6 Jul 2018, 12:52 p.m.

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.