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Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2009

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved By

That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Welsh Ministers (Transfer of Functions) (No. 2) Order 2009.

The draft order seeks to effect the transfer of functions under the Prisons Act 1952 from UK Government Ministers of the Crown to the 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 contained in Section 10 of the Education Act 1996 was transferred to the National Assembly for Wales in 1999 under National Assembly for Wales (Transfer of Functions) Order 1999, SI (1999/672), along with the majority of functions in the Education Acts. These functions are now exercised by the Welsh Ministers by virtue of the Government of Wales Act 2006. Responsibility for education of persons detained under order of a court is excluded from the scheme of the Education Acts.

The responsibility for education in Welsh prisons currently lies with the UK Government, under the National Offender Management Service, NOMS, 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 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, under that section is exercisable by the UK Government.

From April 2006, the former Department for Education and Skills and now the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, funded NOMS Cymru for the delivery of prison education and training and the commissioning responsibilities for offender learning and skills provision in Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government have a Memorandum of Understanding with NOMS Cymru. The two organisations will continue to work together throughout 2008-09 on commissioning arrangements for 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 to those who are held in prisons in Wales. Welsh Ministers already have powers 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 not a practical proposition to seek powers in respect of prisoners from Wales serving sentences in England. This transfer of functions would apply to the existing public prisons at Swansea, Cardiff, Usk and Prescoed, the private prison at Parc and any new prisons built in Wales. From the date of the transfer of functions, the budget will move from the UK Government—DIUS—to the Welsh Assembly Government. The Welsh Assembly Government would also work with NOMS Cymru, to ensure that there is a consistent approach to delivering education and training across all prisons in Wales, including HMP/YOI Parc, 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. This 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 Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and the Secretary of State for Justice that if a new prison was built in Wales, or if an existing prison was expanded, the current process for securing additional funding from the UK Government for education, training and libraries would apply. The Welsh Assembly Government would 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 prisoner funding in Wales will be provided for 2011-12 onwards.

The transfer of these functions should enable the Welsh Assembly Government to take a strategic planning and management role, linked to their wider skills and social justice agenda. This will provide a consistent level of service across the prison estate in Wales, including in the contracted HMP/YOI Parc.

It 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 education needs of prisoners by utilising a diverse range of local providers.

The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill has been introduced in the other place today, and it will have provisions which will 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 this 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 House.

I thank the Minister for his thorough explanation of what this order does—or attempts to do. I have to say, although we are in Grand Committee, that we do not think that the order will achieve what the Government are setting out to achieve, and I will try to show the holes in it.

When Ministers of the former Department for Education and Skills decided to make planning and funding prison education part of the Learning and Skills Council’s responsibility from July 2006, responsibility for prison education in Wales was raised as an issue for the Welsh Assembly Government to consider.

In June 2007, the Welsh Assembly Government formally proposed that the responsibility for prison education in Wales be devolved to the Welsh Ministers. Education is provided in prisons pursuant to rules made under Section 47 of the Prison Act 1952 and functions under that section are exercisable by the UK Government. Since April 2006, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has funded the National Offender Management Service in Wales—NOMS Cymru—for the delivery of prison education and training.

It is clear also from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Welsh Assembly Government have a memorandum of understanding with NOMS Cymru in respect of the commissioning arrangements for educational provision in Welsh prisons. The Explanatory Memorandum makes clear that the transfer of functions would apply to the existing public prisons at Swansea, Cardiff, Usk and Prescoed and any other new prisons that may be built in Wales. The transfer would not, however, apply to prisons in the private sector which contract with NOMS Cymru. That means that Parc prison at Bridgend would be excluded from the transfer of functions order, although the Welsh Assembly Government would continue to work with NOMS Cymru, as at present, to ensure that there would be a consistent approach to the delivery of education and training across all prisons in Wales.

We take the view that there are considerable dangers inherent in the proposed transfer of functions order. At present, there are 2,392 places for adult male prisoners in Wales. There are currently no places for female prisoners in Wales. According to a Parliamentary Answer from the Ministry of Justice dated 26 January 2009, as at 30 November 2008 there were 2,259 adult male prisoners detained in Welsh prisons. An Answer dated 19 January 2009 makes it clear that as at the same date, 30 November 2008, 1,199 prisoners were detained in Parc, one of the prisons not covered by this order. This means that only approximately half of the adult prisoners in Wales were detained in prisons which would be subject to the transfer of functions order. While the Explanatory Memorandum indicates that the Welsh Assembly Government would seek to work with NOMS Cymru with a view to maintaining consistency of service across the prison estate in Wales, it is an unacceptable paradox that the Welsh Ministers’ functions would relate only to prisons capable of containing half of the Welsh prison population.

In June 2007, the Welsh Affairs Select Committee published its report, Welsh Prisoners in the Prison Estate. In it, the committee expressed its concern as to the generally low levels of educational attainment of prisoners. The committee 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 as they progress through the system can interrupt training and educational programmes: a lack of consistency.

The committee 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 noted that:

“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 consequently a need for consistency in education and training provision in prisons throughout the whole of England and Wales. Prisoners should have the opportunity to pursue courses based upon a consistent syllabus wherever in the country they happen to be detained. If a prisoner is moved to another establishment, his records should follow him and his new prison should be able, and indeed required, to ensure that the prisoner follows the same course at his new prison. That will not happen if a distinctly Welsh syllabus is pursued in prisons in Wales.

A further difficulty arises in that many Welsh prisoners, indeed all female Welsh prisoners, are detained in prisons outside Wales. Similarly, many prisoners detained in Welsh prisons are not ordinarily resident in Wales. A Parliamentary Answer dated 19 January 2009 indicated that the latest available data, from September 2008, showed that there were 433 prisoners held in prisons in Wales with a home address outside Wales. Educational and, more particularly, training qualifications differ considerably between England and Wales. Given that some 20 per cent of the Welsh prison population is not ordinarily resident in Wales, it would appear paradoxical that such prisoners will be expected to follow courses prescribed by Welsh Ministers.

We consequently oppose the proposed order. It would apply to only approximately half of the Welsh prison population. We consider the current arrangement, whereby NOMS Cymru works closely with the Welsh Assembly Government, to be superior, in that it permits the Welsh Assembly Government to continue to have input into the educational and training courses pursued in Welsh prisons, while ensuring that NOMS Cymru retains overarching responsibility for education and training and can provide courses that are equally relevant to Welsh and non-Welsh prisoners. Before this order goes to the Chamber for approval, I sincerely hope that Her Majesty’s Government will rethink it.

I apologise for being about a minute late coming in; I had thought that the Northern Ireland business would go on a little longer.

The points made by the noble Lord in his opposition to the devolution of functions have some force, in my view, but not overwhelmingly so. I am concerned by the statistics that have been cited this afternoon, particularly the fact that women prisoners are not catered for within Wales. I have a different angle to the noble Lord on some of these issues.

First, this statutory instrument, which affects Wales so far as the education of prisoners is concerned, is a result of the Government of Wales Act 2006. I believe that that legislation was a halfway house on matters of this kind. It points to a situation that needs further reform. In my view, and in the view of many people living in Wales, it would be better if we had an overall legal system and policing that would cater in the round for some of the anomalies that have been pointed out here this afternoon.

In principle, we welcome the provision for the transfer of these functions to Welsh Ministers; there is no doubt about that. The practical outcome is somewhat different. I shall go through one or two points to illustrate some of the things that happened previously which are not entirely satisfactory either. The Welsh Minister for Education rightly asked that prison education in Wales be devolved. As we have heard, the statutory instrument affects that transfer and provides for the transition, which, importantly, includes skills provision. Many occupants of the four prisons in Wales—Swansea, Cardiff, Usk and Prescoed—will benefit from such training to enable them to get into employment. Parc Prison, Bridgend, is in the private sector and its young offenders section carries out a very important function in Wales.

For many years, the provision of prisons in Wales has been a sore point. Fortunately, recently, this has improved. It would be good to know more about the statistics, which we have heard today. For example, it would be very interesting to know how many prisoners who are resident normally in Wales are in prisons in England. It is impossible to compare statistics without having proper comparisons for the reverse situation. I speak as a former Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnorshire. Young offenders used to go to Bristol where they were isolated from their own communities. There are many tales of very unhappy young offenders being sent to prisons far from Wales, which means, taking cultural matters into consideration, as some primarily Welsh speaking young offenders are placed in an alien environment. Sadly, one or two of them have committed suicide as a result of being in that situation.

As a result of this statutory instrument, I believe that they will be able to plug into education and training, and relate to their own culture. This tool will be invaluable in helping to overcome the education and skills deficit. In the prison sector, nothing is more important than turning around the employment prospects of offenders. Good education and skills will improve their job prospects, enable offenders to turn their lives around and help them to gain their self respect and become responsible citizens.

Vitally, it will help to prevent them from reoffending. This transfer of functions will assist the fight against the loss of human potential. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, has drawn attention to some important anomalies which should be put right as soon as possible. None the less, we need to know the whole picture. If we did, the reasons why the Minister with responsibility for education and skills wants the Assembly to have these functions would become clearer. This legislation, in principle, should be warmly welcomed as an important step in helping to create a more civilised society in Wales.

I am very grateful to both Members of the Committee for the work that they have done on this order and for their contributions today. I am slightly more grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, than I am able to be to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I very much appreciate the support of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for the general principle which underlies this position. It reflects the fact that it is intelligent to seek to promote the education and training programmes, and strategy, and to place that with those Ministers who are responsible for these issues in the wider community. After all, they have to develop these abilities and make provision, which is why we locate, and have located in the past, prison education with its responsibilities for provision across the country.

While I am somewhat shocked at the strength with which the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, opposes an order which makes a relatively marginal, but nevertheless beneficial, effect on the prison system, nearly all his criticisms—

The Minister may have misjudged me. I was dissatisfied as I felt that this order could have been improved significantly before it came to us and that it does not necessarily do what it says it does. It does not improve the situation, which we all agree needs improvement.

Yes, but the noble Lord’s major criticisms of what will obtain under the new provision, obtain under the existing provision. If he is extolling the fact that under the new arrangements prisoners may face a discontinuity in training and education if they move from Wales to other parts of the United Kingdom, that is a constant complaint about provision in England. There is exactly that difficulty of sustaining a coherent programme of training when prisoners are moved with greater frequency than we would wish. They are moved for all sorts of reasons, such as the utilisation of the prison estate, where inevitably priorities on how that space is used apply and the consequences are often the disruption of prison education and training.

I do not see why this arrangement can be castigated for that. After all, does the noble Lord think that in Wales there will be compulsory teaching of the Welsh language to English prisoners, or does he think that the Welsh will engage in Latin or Greek? They will not. The Welsh prisons will provide programmes that are pretty close to the basic programmes provided in English prisons. I hate to state the obvious, but a very high percentage of the people in prisons are illiterate and innumerate. Those basic skills have to be addressed. In our society, there is a great deal of disadvantage to people who are illiterate and innumerate, even if they are law-abiding citizens, as regards obtaining jobs. To come out of prison and to be in that category is a double disadvantage and provides a real problem in terms of their ability to earn an honest living after they have paid their dues to society.

The Welsh provision will be very similar to the English provision, because it has to concentrate on the real needs of prisoners. An added dimension to literacy which we have to address today is computer literacy. Prisoners and those in wider society who are not computer literate suffer very significant disadvantages when they apply for jobs.

On the idea of transfers being the responsibility of those who have a wider education, training and skills responsibility in Wales and leading to some distorted curriculum, which will mean that any transfer of prisoners between England and Wales would be to their disadvantage, it would be no more to their disadvantage than the constant transfer of people from England to Wales and through all the major establishments in England. That is a well-known and historic problem. It receives insufficient attention across the whole of the prison estate, especially if we are serious about how we prepare prisoners for earning a living once they have discharged their responsibility to the wider society.

I assure Members of the Committee—I would not have been prepared to present the order if I had not been assured myself—that Welsh Ministers, seeking to improve the quality of learning and therefore employment opportunities of prisoners when they eventually leave, will of course need to achieve consistency with England through a core curriculum. This is partly because of the facts that the noble Lord mentions. I freely recognise that for a high percentage of prisoners in Wales, their only connection with Wales is that they are in a Welsh prison; they are English and have lived in England. That also works the other way around, of course: well over 1,000 Welsh people are in English prisons. Unless we get elements of co-ordination in the development of skills under the new arrangements we would be creating an unfortunate disadvantage to prisoners, but the Prison Service is well aware of that under its present UK operation. The devolution to Welsh Ministers will offer them the ability to concentrate on a strategy that ensures that what they provide for Welsh people in Wales will also feed into the work done in the prisons for which they are responsible.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the Parc private prison at Bridgend. It is important because it takes a substantial percentage of the prison population in Wales; I do not underestimate its significance. However, although Welsh Ministers will have to work somewhat differently with a private prison because of its corresponding independence, they will be able to influence learning provision in Parc in line with the other four public prisons. The noble Lord will appreciate that Parc might be private, but it does not isolate itself from the wider prison provision for obvious reasons.

A proportion of the budget transferred to Wales will be used to fund the costs for learning, the costs for the library service and the salary for the learning and skills manager posts in Her Majesty’s Prison at Parc. The needs of Parc, considered within a framework of resources necessary for adequate education and training, are taken into account. Resources will be specifically allocated to Parc in those terms.

I will reflect on what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said. I reflect whenever he is critical of me. I would not say that I have sleepless nights, largely because he usually attacks me during the day and I have time to recover before it gets late. Nevertheless, whenever he is critical, I am concerned. However, I hope that he will also reflect on my remarks and rejoinders. I would not be prepared to put this order forward if I thought that it was just an arbitrary transfer to Wales. It is a consistent, applied policy in which Welsh Ministers enjoy the power to exercise their due authority and influence in Wales. It is properly applied in this case.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 5.14 pm.