The Secretary of State and I regularly hold such meetings. For example, I recently met the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) to discuss the importance of a new prison in north Wales that would have a positive impact on offender manager in that area, by enabling prisoners to remain close to their families—a proven factor in reducing reoffending.
Does the Minister accept that the number of prisoners from north Wales would have to treble to meet the Ministry of Justice criteria for building a new prison there?
I understand from the hon. Lady’s comments that she is against a new prison in north Wales. There is a strong case for such a prison. One of the central factors is, of course, that it would not only serve north Wales, or Wales as a whole, but receive prisoners from the north-west of England, so its catchment area would be far wider.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the success made in Wales in tackling offending by women—in particular, the success of the Women’s Turnaround Project, based in Cardiff, which aims to stop women reoffending and going to prison? Will he congratulate that project?
I am aware of that project and the excellent work that takes place. The needs of women prisoners must be at the very top of our agenda, and I am pleased to say that they certainly are.
May I first associate myself fully with the words of the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan)? On offender management, does the Minister realise that the £24 million cut in the probation service budget for England and Wales means that over 90 per cent. of newly qualified probation officers in Wales will not be offered a job? In his next routine meeting with the Ministry of Justice, will he show his concern about that terrible statistic?
It is important that we have a modernisation agenda and ensure that the probation service is as effective as possible—I believe that that is happening—and I welcome the fact that, as I understand it, the hon. Gentleman is to serve on an inquiry panel that has been recently set up by the Howard League for Penal Reform. I am sure that he would agree that we must ensure that a disproportionately large number of ex-service personnel do not enter our prisons.
The Minister will be aware that in its report on prisons in Wales, the Welsh Affairs Committee was unanimous in its support for a new prison in north Wales. Equally, we were disappointed that the Caernarfon site was deemed not suitable. Does the Minister agree that we need to build a consensus across the local authorities to identify suitable sites, because the economic benefit of a new prison will be immense in terms of jobs?
My hon. Friend is correct. There will be an enormous economic benefit to the area that is fortunate enough to have a new prison. I am pleased that my hon. Friend had a successful meeting yesterday with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. There is a common agenda that we can work on and take forward.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), will the Minister consider the case of Dyfed Powys probation service, where only one of seven trained individuals has been given a full-time job, and six have been given temporary contracts until next March? What assurance can the Minister give us about funding after next March?
That very much depends on what happens when the general election comes, and the result of that general election. One thing we can be certain about: if the Conservative party gets into power, we will see catastrophic cuts in the Prison Service, the probation service and elsewhere. That is the stark choice that we face.
Further to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson), the Ministry of Justice has made it clear that it is looking for a number of 1,500-place prisons, and that they should be located in the areas from which the most prisoners come. Since only some 650 prisoners in the entire system come from north Wales, is there not a concern that the exercise that the Ministry is conducting may be a cosmetic one? Will the Minister and the Secretary of State use their good offices to ensure that the Ministry of Justice is fully aware of the pressing need for a new prison in north Wales?
I find the logic somewhat perverse. The early part of the hon. Gentleman’s comments came across to me as an argument against a prison in north Wales. But it is very important that we all pull together; we have the same argument. We recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) said, that there is an economic case to be made for a prison in north Wales. There is also a need to ensure that prisoners from north Wales who speak Welsh are actively catered for.