Clause 1 - Unauthorised photograph or sound-recording of the inside of a prison

Prison Media Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 22 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble 10:00, 22 Mai 2024

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 4, leave out from “(1),” to end of line 7 and insert “for the “or” at the end of paragraph (a) substitute—

“(aa) takes a photograph of the inside of a prison from outside the prison, or””.

This amendment modifies the amendments to section 40D of the Prison Act 1952 made by clause 1 so they no longer make it an offence to make a sound-recording of the inside of a prison from the outside of a prison (but they still make it an offence to take a photograph of the inside of a prison from the outside of a prison).

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Ceidwadwyr, Poole

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 2.

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendments 3 to 10.

Clause 2 stand part.

Amendments 11 to 19.

Clause 3 stand part.

New clause 1—Unauthorised photographs, films and sound recordings of prisons and prison workers: Scotland.

New clause 2—Unauthorised photograph or sound-recording of the inside of a prison: Northern Ireland.

New clause 3—Unauthorised photographs and sound-recordings of prisons and prison workers: Northern Ireland.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert, for the very first time and to propose legislation to the House. Let’s get to it.

The Prison Media Bill tackles the serious, real-world harm caused by photos, videos and other media created of the inside of prisons and of prison staff and uploaded to social media and websites. We have seen that content used to intimidate and harass victims of crime, prison workers and their families, causing significant distress, and to facilitate continued criminality in both prisons and the community, including drug supply, violence and gang feuds. Given the severe consequences for the safety and wellbeing of victims of crime and prison staff, it is unacceptable that such prison content should be allowed to remain online.

This important Bill will strengthen section 40D of the Prison Act 1952 to ensure the removal of such photos and videos from online platforms and to reduce their harms. It will also discourage individuals from making and uploading the content in the first place, updating legislation passed in the 1950s—very much in the absence of modern social media. The Bill will achieve that by closing existing loopholes, making the uploading of unauthorised prison content illegal regardless of whether it has been uploaded from the prison or the community. It will also make it clear beyond doubt that it is illegal to film the inside of a prison from the outside, for example by drone. Importantly, it will also make it illegal to film staff on prison land.

I am grateful for the service of the prison officers who work in the two prisons in the South Ribble constituency, HMP Garth and HMP Wymott. They do a caring and brave job, day after day. The important measures in the Bill will protect their right not to be intimidated or harassed while going to work and will stop that activity, especially where it facilitates continued criminality. Together, those changes will provide social media companies with the clarity they need that such content has been unlawfully uploaded and must therefore be removed.

With that background in mind, I turn to the clauses in the Bill, as well as the amendments and new clause 1.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Ceidwadwyr, Warrington South

Before my hon. Friend goes into the detail, she mentioned section 40D of the Prison Act 1952, which already contains provisions to prohibit mobile phones from being allowed inside prisons. Perhaps we should make it clear that it is already illegal to have a mobile phone there. Am I right in understanding that the Bill will mean that anybody who is on prison grounds or grounds surrounding a prison who films is also committing a criminal act and can be sentenced in a magistrates court or Crown court?

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble

As usual, and as his service as a magistrate shows, my hon. Friend is quite right. It is illegal to have a mobile phone in a prison estate at the moment, and it is potentially punishable with an additional two years of sentence. The Bill strikes the right balance between preventing criminality, in terms of filming prison officers and providing protections, which I will turn to, for people who happen to live close to a prison, such as those in Ulnes Walton.

We are aware that, while it is illegal to have a phone in prison—from legislation from the 1950s, prior to the social media age—it does happen occasionally, and there is a worrying increase in media being uploaded outside of the prison estate by members of the community for various nefarious means, which I have set out. The figures in the briefing pack show that there have been about 2,000 such incidents in the last three years, so it is important that we have the legislative powers to prevent it.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Ceidwadwyr, Sedgefield

In terms of the people affected, my hon. Friend has mentioned the prison officers and people living near the prisons, but there are also people such as the family of my constituent Christie Harnett, who was the victim of knife crime and sadly murdered by a gang. The protagonists are now locked away, but they recently put something out on social media. The distress that that causes to the family is just off the scale. My understanding is that this Bill should help to prevent those sorts of things, which cause distress to families who have already suffered unimaginably.

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble

My hon. Friend—very good friend —is absolutely correct. I thank him for the work he does on behalf of his constituents day in, day out. Sedgefield, I dare say, has never had a better Member of Parliament, or certainly not a more community-engaged one.

My hon. Friend is quite right, and that is exactly why we are bringing forward these measures: to make sure that the victims of crime and their families do not see content made with nefarious intentions coming out of prisons and—I will come to this—to make it absolutely clear to social media companies that this stuff is illegal and that, as part of their terms of service, their teams can get it taken down.

May I also pass my regards to my hon. Friend’s constituent’s family? It does sound like a difficult time, and I hope that they can see that we are taking action to prevent such distress in future.

Let me turn to clause 1—unauthorised photograph or sound-recording of the inside of a prison—and amendments 1 and 2. The clause makes minor modifications to the wording of section 40D of the Prison Act 1952 to put beyond doubt the illegality of creating unauthorised media of the inside of a prison from the outside, including via drones. As drafted, the Prison Act 1952 could be interpreted as not applying to media created by drones from above prisons. Such videos quite clearly present a security risk, showing both the lay-out of the prison buildings in detail and staff and prisoner movements, and could facilitate criminals in smuggling in drugs or weapons, or even in planning or facilitating an escape.

To ensure consistency between fines for offences under the existing and new wording, clause 1 also removes the statutory minimum limit for fines on summary conviction—fines are an important point that we will return to later. That change ensures that these offences, as previously, can be punished by a fine of any amount, as well as a prison sentence of up to two years, to reflect the seriousness of recording this content and the harm that it poses.

Ahead of today’s sitting, I tabled two amendments to clause 1 to avoid criminalising behaviour that it is not necessary or appropriate to criminalise, and to ensure consistency within the existing offences. Amendment 1 will exclude sound recordings from the offence in section 40D(1) of the 1952 Act of creating and uploading content of the inside of a prison from the outside. This change is important to avoid criminalising people who live close to a prison capturing sounds from the prison that can be overheard from their properties.

For example, my community of Ulnes Walton is adjacent to HMP Garth and HMP Wymott. We cannot criminalise people videoing a fun family event—perhaps a barbecue in the garden—who happen to record sounds from the prison. This is an important protection, as it would not be appropriate to include that type of situation in the offence. Such sound recordings do not present the same security risks as videos and photographs taken of the inside of a prison from the outside.

Amendment 2 specifies that a sound recording made of sounds transmitted from inside the prison, or a photograph taken of images transmitted from inside the prison, will be treated as one made or taken inside the prison. This will ensure that the recording of a prison audio or video call made by individuals receiving them on the outside will still be an offence under section 40D(1)(a) of the 1952 Act. These recordings can cause harm by being used to threaten or harass victims or people in the community.

Amendment 2 will also provide a defence for someone to show that they did not know, and had no reasonable cause to believe, that a photograph or video taken from outside a prison was of the inside of a prison. The purpose of amendment 2 is to avoid criminalising people who unintentionally create or upload photographs or videos of the inside of a prison taken from the outside. Real-world examples could be dashcam footage from a car driving past the Ulnes Walton road that inadvertently captures the inside of an open prison or a person taking a photo from a plane and inadvertently capturing the inside of a prison from above. We do not want to criminalise non-problematic behaviour. Like amendment 1, amendment 2 will make the scope of the new offences narrower and ensure that legitimate behaviour outside the policy intention of the offences is not unintentionally criminalised.

I turn now to clause 2 and amendments 3 to 10, which relate to unauthorised photographs and sound recordings of prisons and prison workers. Clause 2 will introduce a new offence of creating unauthorised media of prison workers on prison land. This is intended to crack down on so-called audit videos and the threats they pose to prison staff and security. The threat of targeting and harassment is present for everyone working in prisons, so clause 2 will apply to recordings of prison officers, custody officers in private prisons, legal visitors, inspectors, delivery drivers, building contractors, providers of healthcare and education and, importantly, volunteers, who do fantastic work in our communities and who I want to personally thank on the record.

Clause 2 defines prison land as any area connected with the provision, running or management of a prison. That includes land immediately surrounding the prison walls and land used for car parking, storage or accommodating staff. The clause also specifies that the new offence of creating unauthorised media of prison workers on prison land must be intentional. This would exclude instances of filming from a property near to a prison or filming the exterior of a prison and unintentionally capturing media of prison workers.

Clause 2 will make the unauthorised uploading of photos or videos from inside of a prison, or of prison workers on prison land, an offence, regardless of whether the media was uploaded from—this is the crucial bit—within the prison or within the community. This will close the loophole whereby it is not currently an offence for someone outside a prison to upload media they have been sent by someone in prison that was created unlawfully. This measure is designed to provide social media companies with helpful clarity about this content being illegally uploaded, and they will be required to remove it under their terms of service.

Photo of Paul Howell Paul Howell Ceidwadwyr, Sedgefield

Just before I get to the point of my intervention, I have made an awful error and would like to correct the record. I came into this Bill Committee thinking about Christie Harnett, a girl who died from suicide because of the Tees Valley mental health trust problems. I inadvertently used her name, when the constituent I actually wanted to refer to earlier was Jack Woodley and his mother Zoey McGill.

To the point of my intervention, will these measures clarify for people—such as those at the Northern Echo, who are running a great campaign against knife crime, which is the cause of this issue—what they can and cannot put into the media, while still enabling them to get at those committing knife crime?

Photo of Katherine Fletcher Katherine Fletcher Ceidwadwyr, South Ribble

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I think that his needing to correct the record due to his campaigning for multiple constituents shows the type of MP he is, and I am sure Hansard will be able to make that correction.

To my hon. Friend’s point, yes, if any media outlet is inadvertently amplifying videos that have been created illegally within the prison estate, the Bill will make it very clear to them that that is not legal, and His Majesty’s Prison Service will have the opportunity to intervene—although I hope that they will hear about the Bill being passed and self-police in that area. All major social media companies state in their terms of service that their platforms cannot be used for illegal or unlawful purposes.

Clause 2 also includes a defence for someone uploading content that they did not know, or had no reasonable cause to believe, was filmed or created illegally. This could include reasonably believing content to be a fictitious depiction of prisons or prison workers on a film set or from a historic, decommissioned prison. Both those new offences will be punishable solely by a fine for individuals creating and uploading media. In line with existing fines, that fine would be unlimited. That reflects the difference in severity between the offence of creating or uploading content from outside a prison and the offence of doing so from inside a prison, where possessing a mobile phone without authorisation is illegal and could be punished by a prison sentence of up to two years.

Clause 2 also provides, for both offences, a defence of reasonable belief that media was created with authorisation. That would include, for example, an honest and reasonable mistake as to whether a prison governor had permitted a news outlet to record interviews with its workers outside the prison.

The importance of public interest has been carefully considered. The clause contains a public interest defence for both new offences. That could include whistleblowing —an important topic—by members of prison staff or members of the public filming potential misconduct of prison staff from outside a prison.

Amendments 3 to 9 are all consequential on amendment 1, which excludes sound-only recordings, as already discussed. Amendment 10, a small technical amendment to ensure consistency with existing legislation, extends Crown immunity from prosecution for the new offences in sections 40DA and 40DB of the Prison Act to individuals who work at the prison, but are not serving agents of the Crown, in line with the extension for existing offences in section 40D. To put that into a real-world context, the immunity protects a building contractor who needs to take a photo of their work from inside a prison to have it certified, or, perhaps more likely, private prison officers who are not technically Crown employees and use body-worn cameras in the performance of their duties.

Let me turn to clause 3, new clauses 1 to 3, and amendments 11 to 19. I grant that it is unusual to have so many amendments to a private Member’s Bill at this stage, but the reasons will become clear. Clause 3 contains technical provisions for the geographic coverage and coming into force of the Bill. In its current, unamended form, it provides that the Bill will apply to only England and Wales. At this point, it will be helpful to explain the three new clauses and amendment that I have tabled to extend the Bill to Scotland and Northern Ireland, so that the measures to tackle harmful prison media apply UK-wide, which is important.

If extended to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Bill will benefit citizens across the UK by improving the safety of all prison staff and the security of all prisons in the UK. Victims of crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland, not just England and Wales, will be better protected against the sharing of digital media illegally created by the perpetrators from inside prison. Harmful digital content is not constrained by the borders of the UK. The extension of the Bill’s coverage will curtail the availability of that material.

The Bill can be extended to cover Scotland and Northern Ireland in two ways. First, the UK Parliament can legislate to create the uploading offence, as it falls within the reserved area of internet services. If the measures applied to only England and Wales, they would create a legislative gap affecting how internet services are regulated in Scotland and Northern Ireland in respect of such content. The devolved legislatures would be unable to fill that gap due to the agreement on reserved powers.

While the uploading offences come under the internet services reservation, there are connected offences that fall under the devolved matter of the management of offenders. To avoid criminalising the uploading of content in Scotland and Northern Ireland that is legal to have filmed or created, such as content involving prison workers created from outside a prison, we are seeking to modify Scotland and Northern Ireland’s respective prison legislation. That engages the legislative consent process with those Administrations. Officials in the Ministry of Justice have been working with their counterparts in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and with the respective prison services, on that approach. I would like put on record how grateful I am for the constructive cross-party working from officials from all three Administrations. I thank them for the opportunity to extend this measure UK-wide.

New clause 1 amends the Prisons (Scotland) Act 1989 to create equivalent offences of creating and uploading prison content in Scotland. New clauses 2 and 3 amend the Prison Act (Northern Ireland) 1953 to ensure that equivalent provisions will apply in Northern Ireland when the Bill is passed. Amendments 11 to 17 and 19 make provision about the extent and commencement that is consequential on new clauses 1 to 3.

Finally, and separately to the issue of territorial extent, amendment 18 is a small technical amendment to ensure consistency in the Bill’s measures. This change gives the Secretary of State the powers to make different transitional or transitory provisions, or provisions to preserve the operation of existing legislation, for different areas of the country. This creates consistency with the powers that the Secretary of State already has to commence the Bill on different days in different areas of the country, with the areas of the country being the crucial part.

For completeness, clause 3 as drafted sets out, along with other technical specifics, that the Prison Media Act 2024, as it will be known, will be brought into force by regulations made by the Secretary of State. Clause 3 also provides that the Secretary of State can make certain provisions in connection with the Bill’s measures coming into force if necessary. These could be transitional or transitory provisions, or provisions to preserve the operation of existing legislation. Different provisions can be made for different purposes.

I reiterate my thanks to all the officials who have worked incredibly hard on this Bill, and I look forward to it being enacted.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 10:15, 22 Mai 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Robert. I add my wholehearted support to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble for introducing this hugely important Bill. She has handled today’s proceedings and presented her case with aplomb, elegance and eloquence, as though she had done this 100 times already, so I pay tribute to her for that. It has been a pleasure to work with her on this Bill. It is a testament to her determination to get things done that she has brought it this far. Her South Ribble constituents are very lucky to have her.

As the Minister for prisons, parole and probation, it is central to my role to help to protect the public from serious offenders and improve the safety and security of our prisons. The Prison Media Bill will help us to achieve those core priorities by demonstrating a zero-tolerance approach to social media misuse from within custody. Like my hon. Friend, I put on record my gratitude to all those who work in His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service for the work they do day in, day out to keep people safe.

I also put on record my gratitude for the contributions today, including from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South. In this place—this is not always the case with all colleagues—on matters of justice, he knows of what he speaks, with his strong track record as a magistrate and in this House, so it is always interesting and instructive to listen to his contributions.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield, who rightly highlighted a very distressing case, which he and I have discussed. He has been diligent and dogged in his pursuit of his constituent’s interests in this matter. As with my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble, his constituents are equally very lucky to have him.

The Bill strengthens existing legislation, specifically the Prison Act 1952, on the unauthorised creation and uploading of digital media, including photographs and videos created inside prisons, or of the inside of prisons from outside—for example, by drone. Deterring individuals from uploading videos and photographs and removing from social media those that are uploaded is crucial. The content can cause very serious harm. It can be used to harass and cause distress to victims of crime and their families, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield highlighted, thereby re-traumatising them. It can facilitate continued criminality, which extends beyond prison walls into the community, including drug supply, violence and gang feuds. Videos taken from above prisons by drone can also cause serious security risks.

As well as videos and photos created inside prison, the Bill tackles, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble said, so-called audit style videos, where members of the public film prison staff from outside a prison, threatening the safety of hard-working prison workers. We are not talking about a couple of cases: last year, HMPPS reported 890 pieces of harmful prison content found online, and between 2020 and 2023, it reported nearly 2,000 uploads. The reality is that that probably under-represents the true scale of the problem as those figures are just for reported incidents. That is why, in clause 1, it is hugely important that the statutory maximum limit for fines on summary conviction is effectively removed, aiming to ensure that the offences can be punished by a fine of any amount, reflecting their seriousness.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble for working so closely with my officials to amend the Bill to extend it to Scotland and Northern Ireland through new clauses 1 to 3 and amendments 11 to 17 and 19. As initially drafted, the measures would apply only in England and Wales. However, as she highlighted, harmful digital content is not constrained by the borders within our United Kingdom, so extending the Bill’s coverage will better protect victims from distressing content created by their perpetrators inside prison, as well as bolstering prison security and the safety of prison officers across all nations in the UK.

My officials, like my hon. Friend, have worked closely with officials in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that the provisions that fall within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly are consistent and compatible with existing devolved offences, and that the Bill’s provisions will function effectively within those jurisdictions. I, too, put on record my gratitude for the co-operation of Ministers and officials in the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, particularly for the speed with which they have looked at the matter and given their support in principle to extending the Bill in respect of those devolved offences. Again, I suspect an element of that is testament to the persuasiveness of my hon. Friend.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling amendments 1 to 10, intended, first, to avoid criminalising behaviour that is not necessary or appropriate to criminalise; and secondly, to ensure internal consistency between measures in the Bill and external consistency with existing offences. The changes are designed to ensure that the Bill functions effectively and that provisions do not capture legitimate content, as she said, such as recording by neighbouring residents of a prison or someone’s dashcam capturing the inside of an open prison from a car driving past.

Photo of Andy Carter Andy Carter Ceidwadwyr, Warrington South

The Minister mentioned the 2,000 or so cases, over a couple of years, where material has been posted online. What action has been taken to remove that material? Are social media companies working with His Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service to ensure that it is taken down in a timely manner, that prison officers are protected, and in particular that their identities are not disclosed in a way that could cause them danger?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least because he gave me the opportunity to have a glass of water. He is right to raise that point. The figures reflect reported incidents, so the number may well be higher. I met social media companies relatively recently to discuss this matter. They are improving in both speed and in taking things down, but one challenge is often that each social media company has its own rules, guidelines and approach to tackling harmful content, so there is not always a consistent policy approach by each one. Some—I will not name them—have engaged constructively, while others are more challenging to work with. However, across all of them, there is a recognition of this, and the Bill will further reinforce the sense of obligation upon them.

In closing, I reiterate my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble for bringing forward this hugely important piece of legislation and confirm the Government’s continuing support for it as amended, subject to the Committee’s decisions. The Bill will enable us to tackle the issue of harmful prison media being uploaded online. It will allow us to disrupt the continued criminality that that fuels. It will reduce distress caused to members of the public, bolster prison security and ensure that prison staff can go to work without fear of online targeting and harassment. I am pleased to support my hon. Friend in that endeavour.

Amendment 1 agreed to.

Amendment made: 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“(2A) After subsection (1) insert—

‘(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a)—

(a) a photograph taken outside a prison of an image which is being transmitted from inside the prison by electronic communications for simultaneous reception outside the prison is to be treated as a photograph taken inside the prison, and

(b) a sound-recording made outside a prison of sounds which are being transmitted by electronic communications from inside the prison for simultaneous reception outside the prison is to be treated as a sound-recording made inside the prison.’

(2B) Omit subsection (2).

(2C) After subsection (4) insert—

‘(4A) In proceedings for an offence under subsection (1)(aa) it is a defence for the accused to show that they did not know and had no reasonable cause to believe that the photograph was of the inside of a prison.’”—(Katherine Fletcher.)

This amendment clarifies that taking a photograph or making a sound-recording of material transmitted from inside a prison is covered by the existing offence in section 40D(1)(a) of the Prison Act 1952. It also provides a defence in relation to the offence in section 40(D(1)(aa) of that Act.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.