16 Mims Davies debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Parole Board and Victim Support

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 9th January 2018

(6 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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David Gauke Portrait Mr Gauke
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Whether the hon. Lady’s points are considered in the review or more generally, they are important points about the need to ensure that we have a system that is working.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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For the second time today, women’s rights and transparency take centre stage in the Chamber. Again, we are discussing whether a system works and whether a process is letting women down. May I, too, welcome the Lord Chancellor to his role and urge him to use the review roundly to ensure that the system is fair and works for everyone, and women feel it is safe and works for them?

David Gauke Portrait Mr Gauke
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My hon. Friend has made an important point about the need for women to feel safe, and we must ensure that the system provides that reassurance.

Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill

Mims Davies Excerpts
Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield (Lewes) (Con)
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am sure that many Members have already noticed that the Bill is in not my name, but that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey). It is a huge honour to take over the Bill from my right hon. Friend following her recent and richly deserved promotion to the Government. I am very grateful to her for having brought this important Bill before the House and for entrusting its further safe passage to me.

The purpose of the Bill is to make our prisons safer and more secure. It would amend the Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Act 2012, which was guided through Parliament and brought to the statute book by my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford). I am very happy to have an opportunity to build on his previous work.

Let me start with the problem that the Bill is intended to tackle: the presence of mobile phones in our prisons. These illicit phones cause significant harm both inside and outside our prisons, where they are used to co-ordinate the smuggling of drugs and other contraband. Mobile phones are key enablers of the illicit economy in our prisons, which drives a significant amount of violence and self-harm. They also have an impact outside the prison walls. They can often be used to harass victims and witnesses, or to run organised crime gangs outside prison. The high price that mobile phones command in our prisons funds the organised criminals who supply them to carry out other illegal activities.

The 2012 Act recognised the significance of the threat and provided the Secretary of State with the power to authorise governors to interfere with wireless telegraphy in their prisons. Using this authority, governors are currently empowered to carry out interference to prevent, detect or investigate the use of devices capable of transmitting or receiving images, sounds or information by electronic communication such as mobile phones.

Despite the authority provided in the 2012 Act and the considerable use that has been made of its powers, mobile phones continue to cause real and severe problems in prisons throughout the country. In particular, prisons continue to face the challenges posed by the increasing availability of mobile devices. Although governors have been authorised under the Act to interfere with wireless phone signals to combat the use of illicit mobile phones, and although seizure figures show how effective they have been in using the detection equipment available to them, the sheer number of seizures demonstrates that the Act needs to be expanded.

Hard-working prison staff make every effort to detect and confiscate illicit mobile phones and SIM cards, but the figures illustrate the scale of the problem. Only last year, 20,000 phones and SIM cards were found in prisons in England and Wales—approximately 54 each day. That is a significant increase on previous years, with just under 17,000 found in 2015, 10,000 in 2014, and just over 7,000 in 2013. Having met prison officers in my local prison in Lewes and heard at first hand about the problems that mobile phones cause them, I believe that the Bill will significantly improve safety and make their jobs easier.

It is clear that the current ban on mobile phones in prisons is not working, and that the 2012 Act needs to be expanded to combat the increasing problem. The Bill will build on the Act by allowing the Secretary of State to directly authorise public communication providers and mobile phone operators to interfere with wireless telegraphy in prisons, as is set out in clause 1. As a result of the 2012 Act, mobile network operators are already involved in work to combat illicit phones, but because the authority to carry out interference lies with individual governors, the role of the mobile phone operators has so far been limited. Clause 1 provides both the authority and a clear line of accountability in primary legislation for mobile phone network operators to become more actively involved in combating the problem. It is of course important to ensure that such activity is subject to safeguards that are needed to prevent inappropriate use. To that end, further consequential changes are made in the schedule to the Bill, which amends sections 2, 3 and 4 of the 2012 Act.

The schedule amends section 2 of the 2012 Act so that safeguards that already apply to authorised governors will also apply to authorised public communications providers. Like an authorised governor, any authorised public communications provider will have to comply with directions from the Secretary of State which must specify descriptions of the information with which governors are to be provided, the intervals at which it is to be provided, and the circumstances in which the use of equipment authorised for the purposes of interference with a wireless signal must be modified or discontinued. There will also be directions aimed at ensuring that authorised interference does not result in disproportionate interference with wireless technology outside prisons.

Section 3 of the Act governs retention and disclosure of information obtained by means of interference. It provides that information must be destroyed after three months unless the governor of a prison authorises its retention on specific grounds. When the information is retained, the governor must review its retention every three months, and must destroy it if its retention is no longer justified. Under the Bill, responsibility for deciding about retention and disclosure will still rest with the governor of the relevant institution, but because relevant information may now be obtained by a mobile phone operator or public communications provider, who may have been authorised in respect of multiple institutions, the Bill amends section 3 to clarify which governor is responsible for decisions about retention and disclosure in such cases.

The House had an opportunity to consider similar provisions to those in the Bill during its scrutiny of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the last Parliament. I am pleased to say there was genuine cross-party support for the measures, but two concerns were raised. The first was about prisoners accessing legitimate telephone services to retain contact with family members, friends and their communities outside prison. Multiple pieces of research, including the Farmer review, show that maintaining contact between prisoners and family members is crucial. Ministry of Justice research shows that prisoners who maintain contact with a family member are 39% less likely to reoffend than those who cannot. It is therefore crucial that we enable that to happen, and some Members have stressed that mobile phones are a tool to maintain that contact.

While being able to contact family members using legitimate telephone services while in prison is key, the Ministry of Justice already has a programme of work under way to ensure that prisoners have access to legitimate phone services and do not need to turn to mobile phones. The Department is trialling in-cell handsets and call tariff reductions in the prison estate, starting at HMP Wayland, and the ongoing trials aim to test the impact of this technology further. Conservative Members have already lobbied the Minister about this important issue through “A Manifesto to Strengthen Families”, and if I was not confident about this work, I would not be recommending the Bill.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech on this important Bill. I have constituents who work for Winchester prison. While they stress the need for family connections, they also have grave concerns about connectivity through illicit mobile phones. The Bill can address both of those points.

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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Absolutely. Existing legislation bans mobile phones, so prisoners should not be accessing them to contact their family. That is not to say that contacting and keeping in touch with family members is not important; it is crucial both for inmates’ welfare and to reduce reoffending.

The second concern raised previously was about the possibility of interference activity in prisons having a detrimental effect on properties close to prisons, perhaps by blocking legitimate signals completely. My constituents in Lewes are worried about this. Under the powers of the 2012 Act, there was a small risk that genuine customers could be disconnected if their phones were incorrectly identified as being used in a prison without authorisation. To counter that, under this Bill, before any system is deployed, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will calibrate and test its approach, including any technology and infrastructure measures, with mobile network operators and Ofcom to ensure that only those handsets that are being used in a prison without authorisation will be identified and stopped from working.

The increased active involvement of mobile network operators under this Bill should be welcomed as reassurance that genuine mobile phone use near prisons will not be blocked. Mobile operators will be the first to know about any leakage from prisons through spikes in complaints, and I am pretty sure that Members of this House will be contacted by their constituents if mobile phone signals outside prisons are affected.

The Bill is not intended to facilitate any one technical solution. Instead, it gives mobile network operators the authority to become more directly involved. By doing so, it provides the freedom, and perhaps the stimulus, to develop a range of solutions. Authorising operators will also add an element of future-proofing to the process, which has been missing so far. As the experts, they will be aware of new technical developments and will be able to adapt their solutions in response to them.

I hope that Members will support this important Bill and the contribution it can make to improving the safety and security of our prisons. I commend it to the House.

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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The Serious Crime Act 2015, introduced by this Government, which created the new offence of coercive behaviour, has been transformative for people in threatening and difficult relationships. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill could also help to manage those difficult situations that do not seem to stop when one party goes to prison?

Wendy Morton Portrait Wendy Morton
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My hon. Friend makes a really important point. What we are trying to do here is tackle the problem while keeping a focus on what prison is all about. It is about trying to reduce reoffending, and about rehabilitation.

A number of years ago, I visited an organisation in the north of England and met one of its pastoral workers. He explained to me how some individuals seemed to go through a revolving door, in that they would go into prison, come out, reoffend and go back in. It is not right for those individuals to be caught up that sort of lifestyle, nor is it good for others in prison. Importantly, it is also not good for our communities, so my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies) makes an important point. It is worth remembering that almost half of all prisoners are reconvicted within a year of release, and the cost to society of reoffending by former prisoners is estimated to be up to a staggering £15 billion a year, so this Bill is vital.

I had intended to ask the following question of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, but I failed to intervene, so perhaps she or the Minister will clarify this later. Will the Bill create an extra burden on prison governors? My understanding is that it will not and that it will actually make their job a lot easier, but it is important to get clarity on that for those listening to the debate.

If we can take this Bill through Parliament and if we can transfer powers to public communications providers, that will enable us, the Prison Service and prison governors to stay a little more ahead of the curve or at least keep close to it. We all know how quickly mobile technology, and technology in general, can change, and we so often hear how quickly new powers that we have legislated for can become out of date because those who seek to do us harm are one step ahead of us. I therefore hope that the Bill will go some way towards addressing that.

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Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is ironic that that would happen in this of all debates—we have a debate on where it is inappropriate for a mobile phone to be used being interrupted by a mobile phone left on the Benches. I suspect the Member whose phone it is will find the Deputy Chief Whip of our party wanting to talk to them about her views on where mobile phones are not appropriate. It is not just in jails, but in the Chamber.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I would like to help the debate and my hon. Friend. I believe that was a signal displaying that a phone has been lost, allowing it to be found by the person looking for it. This highlights just how technically able these phones can be—we may not know how capable they are.

Kevin Foster Portrait Kevin Foster
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I completely agree with my hon. Friend on that. Modern phones can monitor someone’s heartbeat and health, and do a range of other things. We have just touched on how they can even be used to determine location, which becomes a real issue as this technology gets more accurate. One of the great train robbers was helicoptered out of a prison, so knowing exactly where someone is in a large complex can be a very useful piece of information for someone looking to carry out a violent break-out. Making it clear that someone cannot just be pinned down via mobile phone or a piece of wearable tech is one of the things—

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Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey), who is in the Chamber today, on introducing the Bill, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on taking it up. I have not yet had the pleasure of taking a Bill through the House, so I am delighted to be part of the process. I know that my right hon. and hon. Friends have been adamant campaigners on this issue. This absolutely matters to my hon. Friend, given the prison in Lewes, and I congratulate her on an excellent speech.

We are in a sphere of new challenges—I see the Minister in his place, and I look at the notes from the MOJ about the challenges in our prisons—and it is vital for the safety of our prisoners, prison officers and visitors that every necessary power be available. I found myself having a strange conversation with some prison governors during the Conservative party conference—they were not at the conference; they were on a walking holiday and found themselves in the same hotel as me. They had started their careers as prison officers and they raised several points with me, as well as highlighting many of the changes they were facing.

I mentioned in an intervention the issue of coercive behaviour and the conducting of threatening and dangerous relationships from behind bars—for example, prisoners continuing to coerce and threaten family members or, as we have heard, people going through a court process. Some prisoners, though deprived of their liberty, can still cross the line and threaten individuals. That was of great concern to the prison governors. I also mentioned earlier my surgery work with prison officers at Winchester Prison. In fact, some of my early surgery work involved supporting them in their challenging job. They raised with me, a new Member of Parliament, the fact that new technology was affecting how they worked. They were keen for the MOJ to understand the growing pressures on their security and the issues they had to deal with.

Maria Caulfield Portrait Maria Caulfield
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does she not agree that prison officers work under very stressful conditions and that the Bill would enable them to get rid of the curse of mobile phones in prisons, take the pressure off them and make prisons a safer working environment?

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I absolutely agree. That was exactly their point—that it was becoming a more dangerous and difficult job, that they could be tracked down, perhaps on the school run or in the community, through connections within the prison, and have their families threatened. It was enlightening to learn about the pressure on our prison officers brought about by the changes in technology to which prison inmates still had access.

Let me put that in context. Winchester Prison was built in 1846. It is a typical Victorian prison. It has a capacity of about 690 inmates and now takes offenders from the age of 18. It does great work on community rehabilitation—it is one of the 10 pathfinder prisons—and is working hard to reduce violence, incidents of self-harm and suicide and is doing as much as is humanly possible to make sure that time spent in prison is practical and useful for the next stage of their lives. If, however, a prisoner is still being hassled from the outside and cannot get away from it, how can they move on?

Hon. Members will recognise the concerns raised in the House over several years about the use of mobile phones in prisons. For every prison in England and Wales, being equipped with technology is vital. We heard earlier the annoyance of a phone going off when it is not wanted, but if someone relies on it and cannot get a signal, it is a disruptive force, and that is simply what the Bill does. It is so important. We heard the figures earlier: 13,000 mobile phones—an increase of over 7,000 in just three years; 7,000 SIM cards, and these all have a value within the prison environment. Some inmates will be digital natives, having grown up with digital technologies, and for them connectivity will be absolutely normal, so being deprived of it could be very helpful.

This is an excellent Bill, and I think it will be very helpful in prisons. The interference we have seen with the court process, and the impact of social media on juries and judges, is highlighted in our courts now, so we need to make sure that prisons are not another place where pressure can be applied.

I commend this Bill and I wish it a safe passage, because it matters to our prison staff, to their families, to visitors and to all the people who rely on our prisons being secure. It will also help our governors, and eventually keep our communities safe. Ultimately, that is what we are looking for: to rehabilitate and help people and to keep our communities safe. I wish the Bill all the speed in the world, and I commend it to the House.

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con)
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I am honoured to follow my hon. Friends, who have made some passionate contributions to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) on continuing the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Ms McVey) on promoting this much-needed and important Bill. If it is passed—I am very glad the Government are supporting it—it will be a crucial component in our armoury in the fight against crime, as we seek to ensure the safety of all our citizens.

I am pleased to follow my colleagues and to talk in support of the Bill. I am particularly pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mims Davies), who is my neighbour in Hampshire. She made extensive reference to Her Majesty’s prison in Winchester, which is a large secure establishment serving both of our areas. I have met constituents in my surgery in Fareham who have been released from Winchester. On the whole, they have had very positive experiences, and I congratulate the staff at Winchester on their pioneering work and the efforts they put into providing inmates with a safe and appropriate climate for their terms in custody.

I am proud that in Fareham we have Swanwick Lodge, which is a secure unit. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh mentioned rehabilitation, and Swanwick Lodge provides accommodation for children and young people between the ages of 10 and 17 who have been caught up in crime. I have been to visit Swanwick Lodge, and I have been taken aback and impressed by the commitment, dedication and expertise of all the staff, who are really trying to transform the lives of young people who have, unfortunately, founds themselves caught up in crime but who want to come out, to reform themselves and to make their future better than their past.

The Bill contains new powers for the Secretary of State. It would authorise public communication providers, including mobile phone network operators, to interfere with wireless telegraphy so that they can disrupt unlawful mobile phone use in prison. For me, as I said, that is critical in the fight against crime.

That raises many issues about the balance of privacy and security, and about the pace and character of technological change in the 21st century. That is why the Bill has my support, in that it will equip our law enforcement officers and security agents—those at the forefront who are tasked with the difficult challenge of keeping us all safe—to stay three, four or five steps ahead of the criminals. That is important if they are to be effective in disrupting plots, to identify threats, to intercept communications and to properly take action before attacks are carried out.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Given her time in the law, will my hon. Friend comment on how the change in mobile technology has affected the court process and the matters she was involved with, and on how we must catch up when it comes to mobile phone usage and the pressures in the prison system?

Suella Braverman Portrait Suella Fernandes
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I am grateful for the reference that my hon. Friend makes. Yes, I was a barrister for 10 years and worked in and out of the courts. Part of my work was serving on the Treasury counsel panel defending Government Departments, including the Ministry of Justice, and decisions by the Parole Board on sentences. On occasion, I visited prisons in that capacity.

The use of mobile technology has transformed not only the way that people in prisons communicate but, in relation to my hon. Friend’s point, the way in which we use our courts system. I am very glad that this Government are at the forefront of leading technological change in our courts so that we can speed up the filing of papers and the exchange of documents. We can even use technology so that witnesses can be cross-examined or examined-in-chief via satellite television links. Inmates in prison can be questioned by counsel in a court on the other side of the country if it is not convenient or feasible for them to travel. This technology has been integral in speeding up justice. Obviously that should not be done at the cost of good justice and proper decisions, but it cuts costs and enables swifter decision making, and that cannot be a bad thing.

I have a particular interest in this Bill because, along with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), who I see in the Chamber, had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill that became the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. It was an extensive Bill that dealt with the very issue we are talking about—powers to enable our law enforcement agents, intelligence officers and policemen to be ahead of the curve when tracking down crime. During its passage, we met many experts at the forefront of this challenge, and also many opponents of greater security powers such as Liberty and Big Brother Watch—organisations that advocate for privacy rights. I applaud their work in many respects.

In the course of my work on the Bill, I was struck by the pace and the character of technological change. Methods that we all use innocently to book holidays, to buy our shopping and to communicate with friends and family across the world are also, sadly, abused by people who are trying to harm society and take advantage of vulnerable people. Terrorists use WhatsApp. Serious fraudsters use telecommunications. Paedophiles use secret Facebook groups to pursue their insidious aims. I am glad that this Bill is the next step in this fight. It will continue the Government’s work in cracking down on crime, and it has my full support.

Prison and Youth Custody Centre Safety

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 19th July 2017

(6 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Phillip Lee Portrait Dr Lee
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The Corston report was one of the first things I read when I was appointed to this role in July 2016, and it makes a persuasive case. There is an issue about where some women should be held. I am not completely convinced that we can go down the path of all women being held in community provision, in residential women’s centres. However, I am persuaded that we can reduce the number of women we are locking up. This will be based primarily on the way that we deliver community provision, and on mental health care before, during and after prison.

I have met a number of women in prison, the majority of whom have displayed scars of self-harm. As the hon. Lady might know, I am a doctor and I observe these things, and it is quite distressing to see this. To deal with the problem, we need to change the environment in which these women are held and to get their mental health services improved. Those are my two priorities, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be reassured that the strategy, which will be delivered by the end of this year, will get things right.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Listening to parents of young offenders in my constituency surgeries has been eye-opening, as is listening to those working in Winchester Prison, who have seen what happens to people who have never got out of the prison system. I welcome the focus on dealing with the growing level of violence and youth justice. It is vital that we look at those issues individually and at the outcomes. How will this new unit help to ensure that the recommendations are followed?

Phillip Lee Portrait Dr Lee
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The unit to which my hon. Friend refers has been set up by the Department to ensure that the recommendations are followed. I gather that this is the first time that such a unit has been created. With regard to youth justice and to women’s justice, the key is to build a network over time—it will take a long time—that allows people to be held closer to home, so that families, and mothers in particular, can stay in contact with their children. That is our intention. I have mapped out the country with regard to women’s justice and youth justice to ensure that what we bring forward fits the framework, so that we can deliver time in prison closer to home for women and young people.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 7th March 2017

(7 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Bercow Portrait Mr Speaker
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The hon. Gentleman looks cruelly let down, but we will have to cope.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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T5. Some of my constituents who work in Winchester prison have highlighted directly with me the challenges that they have at work, locally and nationally. As the Lord Chancellor is keenly aware, there are rising challenges around extremism in prisons. Will she update the House on the progress of the new directorate for security, order and counter-terrorism?

Sam Gyimah Portrait Mr Gyimah
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right: extremism is a worry in our prisons. That is why we set up the new security and counter terrorism unit in the Ministry of Justice. That unit is progressing with implementing the recommendations of the Acheson review that the Department adopted last summer.

Prisons

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 25th January 2017

(7 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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The Opposition talked about IPP prisoners. Of course, it was the Labour party that introduced that sentence, and my right hon. and learned Friend who abolished it, so well done to him. There is a legacy here, since some of them are still in prison, but I have established an IPP unit within the Department to deal with the backlog and ensure that we address the issues those individuals have so that they can be released safely into society. We must always heed public protection, however, and as he acknowledged, some are not suitable for release for precisely that reason.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Local police have raised with me the impact, particularly in Hedge End, of psychoactive drug abuse before people enter prison. The types of prisoners being managed are of a different ilk, and the type of addiction is unknown and difficult to quantify. How difficult is it on the ground for our prison officers?

Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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My hon. Friend is right; this is a very serious issue, both in society and in prison. We are looking at additional training for prison officers and have introduced tests to help to get prisoners off these substances, as well as prisoner education programmes. These drugs do have a serious and severe effect. On her point about the community, I want our community sentences to address mental health and drugs issues before people commit crimes that result in custodial sentences. Too many people enter prison having previously been at high risk of committing such a crime because of such issues. We need to intervene earlier, which I think is an effective way of reducing the circulation through our prisons, rather than having an arbitrary number that we release. What we need to do is deal with these issues before they reach a level where a custodial sentence is required. That is our approach, and I shall say more about it in due course.

From April, prison governors will be given new freedoms to drive forward the reforms and cut free from Whitehall micro-management. Governors will have control over budgets, education and staffing structures, and they will be able to set their own prison regime. At the moment, we have a plethora of prison rules, including on how big prisoners’ bath mats can be. Surely that is not the way to treat people who we want to be leaders of some of our great institutions.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 24th January 2017

(7 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Elizabeth Truss Portrait Elizabeth Truss
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Last week, I hosted a meeting with the Lord Chief Justice and leading legal firms to talk about mutual recognition and enforcement of contracts. In the spring, we will hold a global Britain legal services summit to promote the fantastic capabilities we have in the law.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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When people leave prison, we need to ensure that those addicted to drugs or alcohol have the best start away from their dependency so that their loved ones can be protected from that harm. Does the Minister agree that former prisoners with a substance addiction, who might come back coercively to control their families to get to that substance, can be managed better?

Phillip Lee Portrait Dr Lee
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I think it extremely important that ex-offenders receive appropriate substance misuse treatment in the community, and I am looking at that extremely closely.

Domestic Violence Victims: Cross-Examination

Mims Davies Excerpts
Monday 9th January 2017

(7 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald
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The hon. Lady makes an important point. As she will know, there are practice directions in the family division, and one is being prepared at the moment, so I will make sure that her comments are taken well on board. We do not make the practice directions, but we can certainly pass on her comments.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I and my staff have been struck in my constituency surgeries by the clear feedback on this anomaly around cross-examination. One of my constituents who complained about it was a former police officer. May I urge the Minister to take every step and use every tool possible to get the matter resolved as soon as possible?

Women and the Vote

Mims Davies Excerpts
Wednesday 8th June 2016

(7 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Caroline Dinenage Portrait Caroline Dinenage
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Absolutely. The right hon. and learned Lady is also very much to be celebrated. It is a shame that she is not here so that I can thank her personally.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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Will the Minister give way?

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Caroline Dinenage
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May I make a bit of progress? I really want to talk about the lasting change that starts with education. Girls are now outperforming boys at school and outnumbering boys at university. We really need to ensure that success in school translates into career success. To do that, we need to free women and girls from the pressure to conform to restricted choices in aspirations. There are no longer such things as boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs; there are just jobs. That is why the Government are working so hard to broaden girls’ career choices by encouraging more of them to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and maths. Those are the skills that our economy needs and those are the career choices that will narrow the gender pay gap, which, I am proud to say, is now narrower than it has ever been, and it is the Prime Minister’s ambition to eliminate it altogether within a generation.

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Caroline Dinenage
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I will make a little bit more progress. We have published regulations that will increase transparency around the gender pay gap, and we expect employers to start publishing the required information from next April. We have been working closely with business on these regulations at every stage, and we will provide a package of support to help employers calculate, understand and address their gender pay gap areas.

It is also vital that we continue to gain positions of leadership and influence in business. I am delighted that Lord Davies’s target of 25% of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has been met and exceeded. Across the whole FTSE 350, the proportion of women is more than double what it was in 2011. Backed by the Government, this business-led approach is working. The work is not over. We need to promote the business-led 33% target for FTSE 350 boards. I am delighted that Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander will be bringing their wealth of business experience to a new review into the executive pipeline.

Many of the initiatives I have mentioned have been led by the Government Equalities Office. I am immensely proud to be a GEO Minister alongside my colleague the Secretary of State for Education, and to continue the work that has been done by making sure that in everything we do we make the UK a better place for women to live and work.

I am also proud of how the Government lead the way internationally on promoting women’s rights. I was honoured to lead the UK delegation to the convention on the status of women in New York earlier this year, which involved delegates from across the world. It was striking how many common issues were raised that affect women globally. Economic empowerment, the violence against women and girls mentioned by the hon. Member for Wirral South, and political representation are all issues for women across the world.

The progress we have made on these issues has not simply been given to us. It has been fought for every single step of the way and there is still such a long way to go to achieve the genuine equality we all want to see. The hon. Member for Wirral South spoke powerfully about the speech made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) earlier in the year. Two women a week still die at the hands of an ex-husband or partner, and although we have made so much progress in increasing the number of convictions and prosecutions for domestic violence, every single one of those women is a woman too many.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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I speak as the 380th woman elected to Parliament; we all have our number. We heard about American politics, and, as we heard from Madeleine Albright, there is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women. In this wonderful debate, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) made a point about the safety of women in the context of refuge, of homes and of having a voice. Will my hon. Friend, as women’s Minister, ensure that we as a Government will take that very seriously?

Caroline Dinenage Portrait Caroline Dinenage
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Absolutely. Protecting those who are vulnerable or under threat is fundamentally one of the most important things we can do as a Government, but it is not just about women. As the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) said earlier, men are powerful agents for change in gender equality. It was a man who presented the petition to Parliament 150 years ago and men can still be part of the solution.

Oral Answers to Questions

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 26th April 2016

(8 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Dominic Raab Portrait Mr Raab
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I hope that I have reassured the hon. and learned Lady by reiterating the Government’s position.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Michael Gove Portrait The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove)
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With your permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to associate myself with the remarks made earlier by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). Today we had the decision by the jury sitting in the inquest into the tragic death of 96 people at Hillsborough. It has been a terrible tragedy, and it has taken a long time for those families to arrive at justice. Today is a significant day and I simply want to place on record my thanks to the coroner and his team and to the jury for their work.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies
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Victims of domestic violence need a modern family court system that provides special, well considered safety measures for people who are directly facing the perpetrators of those horrific crimes. Can the Minister assure me that the Department is doing everything possible to ensure that we have a modern family court system that protects vulnerable individuals at those times?

Caroline Dinenage Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage)
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Yes, the Government are absolutely committed to supporting all vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, especially those who have been subjected to domestic abuse, to help them to give the best possible evidence so that offenders can be brought to justice. That is why we have put measures in place including, as I said earlier, the ability to give evidence while screened from the accused in the courtroom, by live video link from a separate room within the court building or from a location away from the court building altogether. Our changes to the courts will only help this.

Policing and Crime Bill (Fourth sitting)

Mims Davies Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd March 2016

(8 years, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Lyn Brown Portrait Lyn Brown
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We have a diversity of authorities in the country. When a fire and rescue authority is part of a council, the council provides the scrutiny of the fire and rescue function. There is an in-built scrutiny of the fire and rescue services by the local authorities. The Bill requires a PCC to provide police and crime panels with relevant information regarding their role as the fire and rescue authority. Police and crime panels are currently comprised of members understandably concerned primarily with matters of policing, so the new role will present a considerable extension of the role of the police and crime panel.

The Home Office currently provides funding to cover the cost of operating police and crime panels under the new burdens principle. However, the Home Office is yet to confirm to panels whether the funding will be available from 2016-17. In addition, the Home Office funding currently amounts to only £53,000 per panel annually. The Home Office calculated the amount to be paid to panels on the basis that they would need to hold only four meetings a year to provide the PCC with the light-touch scrutiny that it was thought was needed. Panels have struggled to ensure that they provide appropriate scrutiny of the PCC and fulfil their statutory duty in just four meetings a year, and they will struggle even more if they are expected to scrutinise the PCC’s role as a fire and rescue authority as well.

How, then, do the Government expect police and crime panels to deal with that extra burden of responsibility? Will independent experts, with knowledge of fire and rescue services, be co-opted on to panels? Will the co-opted policing experts be expected to scrutinise the PCC’s job as the fire and rescue authority? If so, what training is in place to ensure that they develop the required expertise? I am concerned that this model of governance will not provide the level of scrutiny required. We will therefore have police and crime panels, which are already creaking under financial constraints, further lumbered with the requirement to scrutinise police and crime commissioners in their role as fire and rescue authorities—a subject outside their expertise. Is it any wonder that the fire and rescue service is concerned about becoming a Cinderella service?

In our amendments we are proposing to create a separate fire and emergency committee, to be set up with powers to properly scrutinise police and crime commissioners over their role as fire and rescue authorities. Given what the Government are proposing in London, it is clear that they should support my amendment, because it is all consistent. In the provisions for London, the Bill sets out a fire and emergency committee to scrutinise the fire commissioner, who is appointed by the Mayor. Why should the rest of the country expect less scrutiny? Our amendment would create analogous committees wherever a PCC takes over a fire and rescue service. That will ensure that the governors of all fire and rescue services get the necessary level of scrutiny. What is good enough for London is good enough for the rest of the country.

What would that look like, and what powers would they hold? We propose that when the Secretary of State makes an order for a PCC to take over the fire and rescue authority, she must make provisions to establish a local fire and emergency committee within three months of the order. The committee would be comprised of a balance of members from the local authorities in the relevant policing area. It will also be able to co-opt independent fire experts on to the committee. They would be responsible for keeping under review the exercise of functions of the PCC, submitting proposals to the PCC and reviewing any draft documentation produced by the PCC. In short, they would provide scrutiny of, and advice to, PCCs in relation to the performance of their fire responsibilities, and they would be a proper scrutiny body rooted in local democracy.

This amendment would also enable a local fire and emergency committee to require a PCC and chief fire officer to attend local fire and emergency committee proceedings and to produce to the committee documents under the PCC’s control or possession. They would have powers as well as responsibilities. The Government will note that the proposals for the role of the fire and emergency committee is concurrent with its role in London. If the Government support it in the capital, they really should support this amendment.

The amendment would create a separate fire and emergency committee to rigorously scrutinise the PCC on its fire responsibilities. It would remove budgetary pressures from the police and crime panels and ensure that experts in the field of fire are given a scrutiny role. Furthermore, it would bring scrutiny of PCCs outside London in line with that in the capital. If the Minister believes that a fire and emergency committee is required in London, I urge him to support this amendment.

New clause 13 would require the Home Secretary to establish a national inspection regime for the fire and rescue service. I tabled it to put on the record my concern about the absence in the Bill of any form of independent inspection of the quality of fire and rescue services. Police forces are subject to review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which has a remit to ask the questions that citizens would ask, publish the answers in an accessible form and interpret the evidence. That allows the public to compare performance, and enables the public and their elected representatives to push for improvements.

Some people will no doubt resent or even resist the remit of HMIC. I can hear them now saying, “Who inspects the inspectors? Who are they to lord it over us on the frontline who know what’s what?”. In the same way, some people in the education sector resent the existence of Ofsted—not something I want to examine in detail here, I am sure the Committee will be pleased to know. My point is that some form of independent inspection is part of the process through which the public, as well as decision makers, can be assured about the quality of the public services on which they rely. It is also a route that identifies questions that need to be asked, issues that need to be flagged, concerns that need to be aired and challenges that need to be posed.

The last Labour Government brought to an end the former fire and rescue inspection regime. We replaced it with a role for the Audit Commission in providing a view on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of fire services. Of course, the coalition Government, in their bonfire of the quangos, abolished the Audit Commission. It is an excellent development that, following the abolition of the Audit Commission and the national performance framework, the Local Government Association developed the operational assessment and fire peer programme as the focus of sector-led improvement, providing a boost to local accountability.

It is great news that, since its launch in 2012, all 46 fire and rescue services have undertaken the review. I am sure the Minister has heard, as I have, from front-line fire chiefs and operators that the peer review has helped them to develop their services and challenged them on areas where they could make their performance better. It has helped to plug the gap that was left behind, although some of us might think it is a bit too soft, because the peer review stuff does not have any teeth if people do not choose to improve the services that they are providing.

I am and always have been a great believer in local accountability. As a councillor for 18 years before being elected to this House, I experienced at first hand the discipline and accountability of an election, and the role of the ballot box in enabling our communities to have a say in the quality and effectiveness of the services that are delivered to them. It is a very powerful tool. However, excellent as the peer review programme and the accountability of the ballot box are, when it comes to a function as vital to public safety and community well-being as the fire and rescue service, I do not think they are good enough.

Mims Davies Portrait Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con)
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I am thinking back to the point about accountability and scrutiny in the fire service. As a councillor for nearly six years—I did not do quite as many years as the hon. Lady—it was the one area that I felt I had very little connection with, despite being an elected member. As a Member of Parliament, I have connected with the fire service in Hampshire and seen great work where it has looked at its peers and worked very well with the police. As a local councillor, I felt that the fire service was the one area that the electorate were excluded from in respect of how it worked with the community through elected bodies. I understand where you are coming from on this, but I like the idea of the PCC having a direct link with the community.

None Portrait The Chair
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May I gently remind the hon. Lady that she does not understand where I am coming from? I am completely neutral in this.