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House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
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Public Bill Committee Debates

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Clive Betts
Ancram, Mr. Michael (Devizes) (Con)
Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)
Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
David, Mr. Wayne (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Dunne, Mr. Philip (Ludlow) (Con)
Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)
James, Mrs. Siân C. (Swansea, East) (Lab)
Jones, Mr. David (Clwyd, West) (Con)
Owen, Albert (Ynys Môn) (Lab)
Pritchard, Mark (The Wrekin) (Con)
Singh, Mr. Marsha (Bradford, West) (Lab)
Stuart, Ms Gisela (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab)
Tami, Mark (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab)
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon) (PC)
Williams, Mark (Ceredigion) (LD)
Eliot Wilson, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 10 February 2009

[Mr. Clive Betts in the Chair]

Draft Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Wayne David): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2008.
Mr. Betts, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. The order was debated and approved in the other place on 4 February. It will effect the transfer of functions under the Prisons Act 1952 from United Kingdom Government Ministers of the Crown to Welsh Ministers. It will help to improve the quality and relevance of the learning undertaken in the prison estate in Wales. The duty to promote the education of the people of Wales under section 10 of the Education Act 1996 was transferred to the National Assembly for Wales in 1999 under the National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, SI 1999/672, along with the majority of functions under the Education Acts. Those functions are now exercised by Welsh Ministers by virtue of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Responsibility for the education of persons detained under the order of a court is excluded from the scheme of the Education Acts.
The responsibility for education in prisons in Wales currently lies with the United Kingdom Government under the National Offender Management Service, acting on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in conjunction with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. Education is provided in prisons in pursuance of the rules made under section 47 of the Prisons Act 1952. The function of making rules, which include those relating to offender learning and the provision of library services in prisons in Wales, is exercisable by the United Kingdom Government. From April 2006, the former Department for Education and Skills, now the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, funded NOMS Cymru for the delivery of prison education, training and the commissioning responsibilities for offender learning and skills provision in Wales.
4.32 pm
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
4.44 pm
On resuming—
Mr. David: The Welsh Assembly Government has a memorandum of understanding with NOMS Cymru. The two organisations will continue to work together throughout 2008-09 on commissioning arrangements for the educational provision in Welsh prisons for the period following the proposed transfer of functions on 1 April 2009. Welsh Ministers will be responsible for making prison rules in relation to the provision of education, training and library services for those who are held in prisons in Wales.
Welsh Ministers already have power under the original transfer of functions order made in 1999, SI 1999/672, in relation to education policy for those serving sentences in the community in Wales. Those people fall within the mainstream education system. It is obviously not a practical proposition to seek powers in respect of prisoners from Wales serving sentences in England. The transfer of functions will apply to the existing public prisons at Swansea, Cardiff, Usk and Prescoed, the private prison at Parc and any new prisons built in Wales, including the prison to be built at Caernarfon. No decisions have yet been taken about the size of the prison or the type of prisoners to be held there, but the new prison will enable prisoners from north Wales to be held nearer to their homes. I hope that it will also provide an opportunity for prisoners to receive educational support through the Welsh language, if they so wish.
From the date of the transfer of functions, the budget will move from the UK Government, through DIUS, to the Welsh Assembly Government, who will also work with NOMS Cymru to ensure a consistent approach to delivering education and training throughout all prisons in Wales, including the HMP and young offenders institution at Parc prison, with which it contracts. The agreed transfer of resources to the Welsh Assembly Government is projected to be £2,656,000 for 2009-10 and £2,733,000 for 2010-11. That is an appropriate transfer of resources.
The Welsh Minister for Children, Lifelong Learning and Skills has consented to the proposed transfer of functions from the UK Government. Assurances have been given by the Secretaries of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, for Children, Schools and Families and for Justice that, when the new prison is built in Wales or if an existing prison is expanded, the current process for securing additional funding from the UK Government for education, training and libraries will apply. The Welsh Assembly Government will also work with NOMS Cymru on the business case to the Treasury for funding for prison expansion, to be covered in the winter or spring supplementary budget. The UK Government have also provided assurances that consequential funding for prison funding in Wales will be provided for 2011-12 onwards.
A transfer of those functions should enable the Welsh Assembly Government to take a strategic planning and management role, linked to their wider skills and social justice agenda. That will provide a consistent level of service throughout the prison estate in Wales, including in the contracted HMP young offenders institution at Parc prison.
I have spoken with officials at length, and I can assure hon. Members that it is absolutely clear that the prison rules apply to private prisons and, hence, Parc prison is subject to the terms of the draft order. I apologise for any confusion that may have been caused on this issue. Welsh Ministers will be able to apply their learning policies to all prisoners in custody in Wales. The transfer will integrate prison education in Wales within mainstream education and training, helping to provide co-ordinated learning for offenders before, during and after their sentences. It will develop local solutions for the training and educational needs of prisoners by utilising a diverse range of local providers.
Members of the Committee will be aware that the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which was introduced in the House on 4 February, has provisions to enable Welsh Ministers to place a legal duty on local authorities to provide education for young offenders in Wales. It is appropriate that Welsh Ministers exercise that function for prisoners in Wales, as education and training are devolved matters. It will allow all prison education to be fully integrated with current Welsh Assembly Government policies on education, training and lifelong learning. I commend the draft order to the Committee.
4.49 pm
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): May I also say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Betts? The Minister said something that was not apparent from either the explanatory memorandum that has been circulated or, indeed, the debate in the Grand Committee in the other place. I wish him to clarify at the outset whether the order applies to Parc prison at Bridgend. I am sure he will agree that the impression was given in earlier debates that Parc prison, which, in fact, accounts for more than half of the prison accommodation in Wales, was to be excluded from the terms of the order given that it is a private prison. I see that the Minister is nodding, so I assume that there was an earlier foul-up, which has been clarified by his statement today. That gives me considerable reassurance, because my party was concerned that the proposal would have led to an inconsistency in the educational and training provision for prisoners in the Welsh prison state. Fewer than half of them would have been subject to the terms of the proposed order, while the others would have been subject to the provisions of the current regime. Having received that assurance from the Minister, I am considerably reassured.
The most important aspect of prison education and training is the issue of consistency. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs identified that point when it published its report, “Welsh Prisoners in the Prison Estate”, in June 2007. In it, the Committee expressed its concern about the generally low levels of educational attainment among prisoners. It identified education and training as a key component of the rehabilitation process undertaken with offenders in prison.
A particular concern identified by the Committee was the fact that the transfer of prisoners between establishments can interrupt training and educational programmes as they progress through the system. It noted that the prison service was struggling to implement the effective transfer of educational assessment data between prisons and between prison and community-based education providers. It stated:
“The ineffective transfer of information on educational achievement can mean that individuals are repeatedly reassessed when transferring between prisons or into community settings.”
The report urged NOMS
“to promote consistency in education and training qualifications between prisons so that prisoners are able to continue their programmes if transferred.”
There is, therefore, an identified need for consistency in education and training provision in prisons throughout England and Wales. It was certainly my party’s concern that if the system in Wales had been fragmented, as was the impression given previously, it would have amounted to a distinct disadvantage to prisoners who might be transferred from prison to prison within the Welsh prison estate.
There remains the concern, however, that many Welsh prisoners do not necessarily serve their sentences in Welsh prisons. Similarly, the converse is true. Approximately 20 per cent. of prisoners in the Welsh prison estate come from outside Wales. Many are transferred from prisons in England into Wales and from Wales into England. One of the points that I would like the Minister to address is what arrangements will be made to ensure that there is sufficient consistency of education and training for those prisoners who may be transferred from one educational regime to another. While one can see that there is a more compelling case for devolution of that competence, given that it now applies to the whole of the Welsh prison estate, there still remains the issue of continuity of education and training for those prisoners who may be transferred into Wales from England, and vice versa.
It had been my intention to oppose the order. However, I am considerably reassured by what the Minister has told me, and if he will help me on the other point that I raised, it is likely that I will not be troubling the Committee for long this afternoon.
4.54 pm
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Mr. Betts, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome this development, which is of particular interest to me, as the hon. Member for Caernarfon. Last week’s announcement of the intention to build a prison in Caernarfon to serve the population of north Wales was welcome, as was the decision to provide much needed Welsh language provision. I am very much in favour of both of those developments. I am also a member of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and I think it was I who suggested to that Committee some time ago that we undertake an investigation of the experiences of Welsh prisoners in prison estates, which led to our 2007 report recommending that we have a prison in north Wales and that we address the needs of Welsh-speaking prisoners.
The report also called on NOMS and the Welsh Assembly Government to examine the gaps in the provision, and this order will go quite some way towards addressing those gaps. We undertook a number of prison visits, and the deficiencies became apparent fairly swiftly. I will refer to them later in my remarks. We were concerned about continuity for individual prisoners—those who, for example, half way through an educational course, were suddenly transferred elsewhere. We were given to understand that the consequence would be that the prisoners had to restart their courses from the beginning. Therefore, the emphasis that the Minister puts on continuity, and that which may be achieved within what I might even call the prison system in Wales—I do not think we actually have a Welsh prison system as such, but we do have a prison system in Wales—is to be welcomed.
The hon. Member for Clwyd, West referred to the 20 per cent. of prisoners who come from England to Welsh prisons. I do not know if the percentage will be the same when we have the prison in Caernarfon. Irrespective of that, however, I am confident that proper arrangements can be made so that the education provided for those prisoners within the prison estate in Wales is consistent with their needs when they are released and move back to England. Ensuring continuity for the 80 per cent. is also extremely important, and that continuity would be rather more difficult to address.
It is reasonable that Welsh Ministers take responsibility for the education of prisoners in Wales, but I am concerned about prisoners held outside Wales. The Minister said that it was not practical to have a change in responsibility in respect of prisoners from Wales who are held outside Wales. I take his point entirely, but something should be done about the provision for such prisoners. Suffice it to say that all women prisoners from Wales are now held outside Wales, largely in Staffordshire and also in Gloucestershire at Eastwood Park, so there are Welsh women held outside Wales who will have educational needs which arise from their experiences in Wales. Surely some effort could be made to help them.
Young people are the most acute example of Welsh prisoners being held outside Wales. It is welcome that we have some places in Parc for people under 18, but the majority of young Welsh people held in custody are held in England, in places as far away as London and Newcastle. Those from my constituency will largely have had their education through the medium of Welsh; the provision in England is either nil or very close to nil in respect of those young people. I urge the Government to look at what provision could be made for them.
I was concerned, as was the hon. Member for Clwyd, West, that private prisons were not to be covered by the transfer, so I am reassured by what the Minister said, not least because the prison in Caernarfon will be built and run by the private sector. The important point to make—this has been made to me repeatedly on my prison visits—is that while they might be private prisons, they should be run to public standards. This development is consistent with the way in which the judicial and criminal justice systems in Wales have developed over the past few years. For example, we have seen the establishment of Wales-wide functions in the courts and the legal profession takes a good deal more notice of Welsh needs. With the prison being built in Caernarfon, we are going in that direction.
As has been noted, education is a devolved responsibility. The Welsh Assembly Government are already responsible for the education service for those serving community orders. Prison education is provided in-house in each prison. The new provision should enable a more effective Welsh strategic planning system to be tied to the wider skills and social justice agendas, and in that respect, I welcome it.
As I said earlier, the order is particularly relevant to the education of young people under the age of 18. There are obvious gains to be made, particularly as the order ties educational provision to local circumstances and local employment opportunities. I recently saw that the reoffending rates of people who have proper educational facilities in prison are reduced by half. Therefore, we should see, perhaps not a halving of the reoffending rate, but a positive effect on those rates.
Equally, when I looked in the library I found a large room with many good modern books that were heavily used by the prisoners. As for the Welsh books, there were a couple of feet of rather old and tatty books, which I would not read, let alone the young inmates of Altcourse.
Illiteracy is high among the prison population, but it is even higher among Welsh speakers. With the development of educational facilities in prisons in Wales, I hope to see more services in the medium of Welsh. I looked at the job opportunities advertised in the Daily Post on Monday. Most were in the public sector, and in about two thirds of them Welsh was stipulated as essential. The employment situation is changing is north Wales, and possibly south Wales as well. If we arm prisoners with Welsh language literacy and computer skills, we will help them to get back into the world of work.
Let me turn to the provision of library services. Six weeks ago, as part of my preparation for the announcement of the prison coming to Caernarfon, I made a visit to Pentonville prison. The visit was arranged by my friend Robyn Ross, who works in the mental health department there. We looked at both the health and library provision. I notice that the order refers to library provision. I was given to understand that such provision would be made by the local authority, but the order says that it would be set down in rules made by the Assembly. Will the Minister explain how that will work in practice? The provision in Pentonville prison, provided by Islington, seems to be excellent. I hope that local authorities in south Wales will be able to provide the same level of service to prisons. I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that in his closing remarks.
5.5 pm
Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr. Betts. I reiterate my support for the order, the main rationale behind which is that we need to ensure a much stronger link between the education that prisoners receive, the support they receive as offenders and the training and work that they secure after release.
Like the two previous speakers, I want to raise the issue of practicalities. The Minister has gone a long way to allay my main concerns over the proportion of prisoners who would not be covered by the order. Perhaps we should have read a little more into the statement by Lord Davies of Oldham in another place. I think that he said that the salary for the learning and skills manager at Parc prison was going to be funded by the Assembly under the new transfer arrangements. We are told that the operation of education at Parc will be under the remit of the Assembly, which is welcome.
We have heard that Welsh Ministers already have responsibility for the education of offenders serving sentences in the community and I firmly believe that they should have responsibility in this area, too. It is important that, for those prisoners in Wales who will be released and rehabilitated there, the process of rehabilitation through prison education policy be integrated with the Assembly’s policies on education, training and lifelong learning in as seamless a way as possible.
We have heard about the problem of prisoners being moved and how that interferes with education. I was a teacher in a previous life and I noticed that problem when children moved from one school to another. We are dealing with adults who have basic problems of illiteracy and innumeracy which is a sensitive area. Consistency between prisons is important, but providing consistency between the prison and outside is also vital. In our Select Committee inquiry we looked at the development at Parc prison of educational models in small packages to ensure that prisoners completed them.
Lord Davies spoke of a consistent core curriculum that would run between England and Wales under the new order. Some might say, on that basis why are we proceeding along these lines with a separate order from Wales? However, if one examines the strategies that the National Assembly Government are pursuing under the “Joining Together in Wales: The Wales Reducing Re-offending Strategy”, one can see the many ways in which the role of the Assembly is permeating the work on reoffending. There were practical concerns that we wanted to raise, but they should not detract from the basic principle of what the order is trying to achieve.
While the Ministry of Justice may have responsibility for offenders in Wales, many of the mechanisms for reducing offending and for rehabilitation are devolved to the Welsh Assembly Government, with the Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration most directly concerned with the reduction of crime. It is in that spirit that I support the order, which will enable reoffending to be tackled across the widest possible front and ensure consistency of delivery of education and rehabilitation throughout Wales.
5.9 pm
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