About 13 years ago I became rather conscious of what was going on in prisons. I had taken part in a campaign to help overturn the convictions and to free Ruth Wyner and John Brock, who had been working at the Wintercomfort project in Cambridge, helping the homeless. I remember helping to lead a procession across London that had the slogan, “Help the homeless: jail the social workers?” An account of these events is given in Alexander Masters’ book, “Stuart: a life lived backwards”. With the knowledge of the police, these two people were running a project for homeless people, some of whom were addicted to illegal street drugs. Another police officer found that some people were exchanging drugs on or outside the premises, and for some ludicrous reason the people running the project were prosecuted and jailed.
In jail, Ruth Wyner was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement so as to give counselling to other prisoners who were getting illegal street drugs in prison. I asked how many times each year someone in prison was detected as having used illegal street drugs. The answer was about 20,000, which is really quite high. I then asked somebody who had worked for me but who went on to work in the Prison Service how the drugs got into prison. The answer was, “Sometimes they’re thrown over the wall.”
I also refer Members to the first book Lord Archer wrote about his prison experience. It described how new prisoners, most of whom were inexperienced at crime—and at life—were sent to a high-security prison for a period, and if they were not on drugs before they went, they were often on drugs by the time they had finished their three weeks there, because the senior, experienced prisoners would arrange for the new prisoner to get their family to pay the experienced person’s family or associates outside the prison. That demonstrates why the mobile phones issue is important and why detecting unauthorised possession of mobile phones matters.
We ought to support the Bill. The question of how to deal with the amendments will be determined by the Minister’s responses to the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall). I am grateful to the Bill’s promoter, my hon. Friend Stuart Andrew, and I wish him success with it.
We must address the underlying issue, which is that 800 mobile phones are detected a month, and many more surely go undetected. A technical fix ought to be possible, so that any use of a mobile phone in a prison is linked to the identification number of a phone, and if any phone is used that is not part of the approved list, investigations should take place and people should find out where it is. The technology cannot be that difficult. Perhaps that is how it is done anyway, and that is why the detection rate is as high as it is.
I am a great believer in helping prisoners to be rehabilitated, but if there is a currency in mobile phones in a prison, let alone in controlled or illegal drugs, we need to stop it. The Bill is about the particular issue of how one can dispose of or destroy items that are not illegal to possess but that are unauthorised in prisons. Its limited purpose is one that this House should support, and I do support it.