My hon. Friend makes a good point. It just goes to show the value I would have gained from speaking to him before I drew up my amendments. There is certainly a lesson in there for me. Indeed, given his nature and the fact that he is so expert at looking at such details, I am rather surprised that I did not discuss my amendments with him before tabling them. He makes a good point, although he seemed to imply that I went through a certain thought process—that I considered putting down “any registered charity”, but made a conscious decision not to and instead just put down “any charity”. He is doing me far too much credit by suggesting that I went through that thought process. The fact of the matter is—as I am sure you would have well known, Madam Deputy Speaker, knowing me as you do—that I did not go through any such thought process. I merely put down the sentiment, I guess, that such items should be given to any charity. I will certainly consult my hon. Friend in future, because as ever he spots things that I always miss. If my hon. Friend will bear with me, I will leave that detail to one side for the moment.
We should trust the prison officers, governors and directors to decide how best to deal with the items in question. I would not want us to push them down a particular route if there was a better one available. They might wish to support a local charity, for example, and the amendment would encourage them to use their discretion as widely as possible. My suggestion on Second Reading regarding the use of eBay was mentioned in Committee. Prisons might be able to make some money from the sale of the items. Times are tough, and I would not have a problem with a prison setting up its own eBay personality to sell those items in order to make money that could be reinvested in the prison. I want to give prisons the greatest possible flexibility.
Amendment 6 would remove the words after “force” and insert the words
“and which is held by the prison on that date” into clause 1(6)(a). As the clause stands, the power to dispose of property
“may be exercised in relation to the relevant article found before the day on which this section comes into force if the article remains unclaimed at the end of six months beginning with that day.”
I think that that is too prescriptive. I would like to give the prisons the widest possible scope, and they should not have to wait six months to dispose of an item. If they think that the prisoner should not have an item, and that it ought to be disposed of, why should we insist that they wait six months to see whether it is claimed?
I want to speed through these matters a bit more now, and I will briefly mention amendments 7 and 8. Amendment 7 would remove clause 1(6)(b), which states that the power to dispose of items
“may not otherwise be exercised in relation to an article found before that day.”
Amendment 8 would remove parts of clause 1(7) and insert the words
“covered by this Act if it had been in force at the time the items were seized.”
All three amendments are trying to make the same point. As the Bill stands, it would cover only items seized after its introduction, or a limited type of item that had not been claimed six months after its introduction. That is very weak. It should be dealing with all confiscated items, not just those that have not been claimed. Whether or not they have been claimed is wholly irrelevant. It is beyond me to understand why on earth an unauthorised or illegal item should be given back to someone just because they claim it is theirs.
There are many examples of the appropriateness and correct application of this approach. A pertinent one relates to sentencing. Someone might commit a crime before a change to the sentencing guidelines, but if they fall to be sentenced after the change, they will be sentenced as per the new guideline. I am suggesting a similar approach in the Bill. It would be ironic if someone had an item confiscated after committing a crime and it was handed back because it had been confiscated before the change took place, and if that same person could go to court and be sentenced on the basis of the sentencing guidelines that pertained on the day of sentence, rather than on the day of the offence. That would be a topsy-turvy situation.
It is unacceptable to hand back items that have been confiscated, and the Bill should take immediate effect. That would have the added bonus of saving money straight away. There is a considerable cost involved in storing items on behalf of prisoners, as was discussed on Second Reading. Surely we do not want a prison to be a holding and collection service for prisoners’ unauthorised or illegal items. We should have no sympathy for people who are caught with things that they should not have. At that point, they should forfeit those items. Amendments 6,7 and 8 would deal with that issue, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey will acknowledge that they would strengthen his Bill.
Amendment 9 relates to the “relevant article” that is to be destroyed. Clause 1(7) sets out that such articles may include cameras and sound-recording devices, and
“devices capable of transmitting or receiving images, sounds or information by electronic communications”.
The amendment would add that the power to dispose of such unauthorised articles
“shall not be exercisable in relation to anything which might contain or constitute evidence of a criminal offence.”
I want to ensure that any property that could contain vital evidence in the form of recordings or images could not inadvertently be disposed of too rapidly, without having been checked to ensure that it did not contain anything that could implicate someone in a crime. Such articles should be available for use in any internal disciplinary hearings or as evidence in a court case.