Prisons & Mobile Phone Usage

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Bim Afolami: As I have listened to the speeches that have been made so far this morning—mostly by Conservative Members—I have been struck by the length of time my colleagues have been spending on their mobile phones. I say that because it is important for the thousands, or millions, of people listening to the debate at home, and those in the Public Gallery, to recognise that the purpose of the Bill is not to punish prisoners for wanting to get in touch with their families or friends outside; the purpose of the Bill, which I fully support—and, like other Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield for introducing it—is to improve the security and safety of our prisons, and, specifically, to make it harder for people to engage in criminal activity from behind bars.

As we have already heard from my hon. Friend Scott Mann, nearly 50% of prisoners reoffend within a year. That is an appalling and sobering statistic, and we should all be very worried about it, not least because those are only the ones we catch within a year. Apart from the fact that reoffending ruins the offenders’ lives, the lives of their families and the lives of the people against whom they offend, it costs the country north of £15 billion a year, so we need to tackle it. I know—and all other Conservative Members know, as, I suspect, do most Opposition Members—how hard the prisons Minister is working, along with other Members of the Government, on the whole issue of prison reform, and on ensuring that we can rehabilitate our prisoners more effectively.

As we have already heard, this is, in some ways, quite a technical Bill. It enables the Secretary of State to authorise mobile phone operators themselves to act quickly and effectively to disturb the signals and operation of phones in our prisons. In this place we often talk of big aims and grandiose ambitions and use soaring rhetoric, but it is often small, technical adjustments that have some of the biggest, most far-reaching consequences, which is another reason why I support the Bill.

My hon. Friend Victoria Prentis—who is a dear friend, not just an honourable one—mentioned loving prisoners and their families. I think that we do love prisoners and their families. We want to give them the best possible opportunity not to be drawn into criminal activity behind bars, but to put their lives back on track. That should accompany all the other reforms that the Government are trying to introduce, such as the recruitment of additional prison officers, additional funding and investment in prisons, and improved drug treatment.

We have heard from many Members about the use of technologies such as drones that are enabling mobile phones to be dropped into prisons. Let me press the Minister, and the Government, to ensure that we are dealing fully with all the different areas of legislation that can help this Bill to be effective. Also on today’s Order Paper is my Bill relating to psychoactive substances, a subject about which we have already heard this morning. Dealing with such substances is one way that could make my hon. Friend’s Bill more effective. Keeping drugs out of prisons and preventing mobile phones from being used illicitly constitutes another step towards sorting out the difficult problem of reoffending.

I commend my hon. Friend again, because it is hard to get Members into the House on Fridays when most of them tend to be in their constituencies. It is testimony to the quality of the Bill, and the commitment that Conservative Members—including the Minister—and a number of Opposition Members have to it that so many are present today, and I think it gives an indication of the importance of what we are trying to do.

Let me end by saying this—[Hon. Members: “More!”] More? I do not want to test the indulgence of the House too much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Politicians spend a lot of time talking. We do that because it is our job, and because we are paid to advocate on behalf of our constituents. However, we must ensure that we talk with purpose, and with action in view. I am very happy to be here today—in fact, I think that this is the first Friday on which I have spoken in the House since being elected—because I know that this talking, not just by me but by other Members, will lead to concrete action to improve prisoners’ lives, and that is why I wholeheartedly support the Bill.


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