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Drones over Prisons

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th July 2018.

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Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View 12:00 am, 10th July 2018

What steps the Government is taking to tackle the use of drones over prisons.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

What steps the Government are taking to tackle the use of drones over prisons.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Reducing the use of drones in prisons means four things: we must tackle the criminal gangs that organise the drones; we must tackle the people who fly them over the wall; we must ensure that we have electronic jamming equipment in place; and we need physical security in the forms of nets and grilles to prevent the prisoners from accessing those drones.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Conservative, Plymouth, Moor View

I know that my hon. Friend likes nothing more than donning his budgie smugglers and sitting in the back garden on a Sunday afternoon. Drones can be a menace in that regard. Will he confirm exactly what he is doing in some of the measures that he is putting in place to combat drones in prison?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

You are right, Mr Speaker; it does sound a pretty rum business. The serious point about drones is that, rather than flying over my back garden in Penrith and The Border, they are bringing illicit substances into prisons. Of the four methods I emphasised, the key way of dealing with that—the one that is the most important of all—is physical security. If we have the right nets and grilles, it is simply impossible for the prisoner to put their hand out of the window and take the drugs off the drones. Of the four methods, perimeter security is probably the most important.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

I thank the Minister for taking the issue suitably seriously. Is he aware of a particular issue in a number of prisons, including Wayland prison in Norfolk, where the drone flyers have been acting with impunity and have become ever more brazen in their conduct? Will the Minister tell the House how far he has got in implementing the measures he has mentioned? Is there not now an argument for a specific new offence of flying drones in that way?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

We have made a lot of progress on the issue. In prisons such as Liverpool, where the new grilles are coming in, and Chelmsford, where we have the new protective equipment in place, we can see that it is more and more difficult to get a drone into a prison. When the nets are working and the grilles are up, it is difficult to do. There are other things we can do, too. One central thing is intelligence operations to identify organised criminal gangs. We are introducing sentences—in a recent case someone who flew a drone into a prison received a seven-year sentence.

Photo of Paul Williams Paul Williams Labour, Stockton South

It is estimated that more than 200 kg of drugs were smuggled into prisons in England and Wales in 2016. What proportion of that 200 kg does the Minister estimate was delivered by drones? What else is happening to stop the use of other methods of delivering drugs into prisons?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The payload of a drone is relatively limited. The amount of weight that it can carry tends to be 1 kg or 2 kg at the maximum. Therefore the majority of drugs that come into prison are almost certainly going over the wall by other means—thrown over or posted over impregnated in paper—or carried in by people coming into the prison. That is why we are investing much more now in different types of scanners to pick up any human bringing drugs into prison and are also ensuring that we have the perimeter security in place for the throwovers.