Clause 1 — Power to destroy or otherwise dispose of property

Part of Mental Health (Discrimination) (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 10:17 am on 30th November 2012.

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Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 10:17 am, 30th November 2012

I would never describe my hon. Friend as a silver-tongued lawyer—it seems to have a rather pejorative connotation—but he is certainly a clever lawyer, and I take his point. I am not a lawyer, and I do not know whether a vehicle would be a location. Again, there are finer minds in the House than mine who will clarify that point. Even if he is right, as he normally is on these matters, the much tighter definition in the amendment would still be a step forward, because it would, as my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley said, include areas such as hospitals, courts and other specific locations. I would like to think that my amendment also covered other vehicles, but I will let the House debate that point, if it so wishes.

In simple terms, for the duration of a prisoner’s sentence or the time they are on remand, they are in custody, so, for the purposes of the Bill, they should be treated in exactly the same way as if they were in prison, wherever they might be and whatever they happen to be doing. My amendment therefore covers any period while the prisoner is in custody, and so would deal with time spent in court and the other eventualities Time will tell whether it includes vehicles other than those deemed to be prisoner escort vehicles. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will see that I am trying to help, rather than hinder the Bill’s progress.

Proposed new section 42A(2) in my amendment 3 states that an

“article which a prisoner is authorised to have in his or her possession is to be treated for the purposes of subsection (1) as not so authorised where the governor or director of the prison reasonably believes that the article is being, has been or may be used for any of the purposes mentioned in subsection (3).”

The amendment would add, after “governor or director of the prison”, the words “prison officer”. I seek to make it easier for a decision to be taken on the possible unauthorised use of an item by allowing prisoner officers, who are most likely to have the direct intelligence about someone or something, to make those decisions. I have always believed that the people who know best are those on the ground and doing it all the time. When I worked for Asda, there was no doubt that the people on the shop floor and the checkouts were best placed to know exactly what was going right and what was going wrong in our stores. I have no doubt that in a prison the people who are best placed to know exactly what is going on are the prison officers, who deal daily with prisoners.

I was a bit concerned that if a prison governor or director always had to make the decision, one of two things could happen. Either the governor would spend a lot of his time being told little details to authorise a course of action under the Bill, or the slowness of the process or lack of involvement from the governor would hinder its effectiveness. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey had neither of those scenarios in mind when he introduced his Bill. Surely, if a prison officer sees or hears something that leads him to confiscate an item on the basis of any of the Bill’s provisions, that should be more than adequate for the item then to be disposed of under the Bill. I wonder whether we are introducing too much bureaucracy by insisting that it has to be a prison governor or director.

The implication of not including prison officers is that we do not trust them to make these decisions. It would be rather unfortunate if the message went out from the House that we did not think them capable or trusted enough to make those decisions, which should be the types of decisions they take daily anyway. It would certainly improve the Bill and, I am sure, the morale of prison officers if we made it clear in the Bill that we trusted them to take such decisions and did not put too many barriers in their way. Indeed, putting up such barriers might inadvertently undermine their authority in the prison among the inmates. If the inmates thought, “Well you can’t do anything about this, so I’m not really interested in what you think,” that would be a rather unfortunate consequence of what my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey is trying to do.

We come to amendment 4. [ Interruption. ] Does my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North wish to intervene?