ST David’S Day

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:28 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 1:28 pm, 28th February 2019

Diolch, Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. It is a delight to follow Stephen Crabb and his singing the praises of bilingualism and the other great points of Wales. I also wish to add my voice in expressing respect for those colleagues whom we have lost: Paul Flynn, who was so welcoming to me, as he had been to everybody here; and Steffan Lewis, the Assembly Member whom we lost at the desperately young age of 34. I greatly appreciate the fact that mention has been made of him. He was a great politician and a great man, whose loss we definitely feel in Wales.

I extend my sincerest thanks to the schoolchildren of Ysgol Gymraeg Llundain and Only Boys Aloud. Those of us who were lucky enough to be there this morning know that they sang absolutely wonderfully at this morning’s St David’s Day service. Only Boys Aloud’s rendition of “Nearer my God to Thee” will remain with me. Mae eich gwlad yn falch iawn ohonoch chi—your country is very proud of you.

This St David’s Day, we celebrate our nation, its culture, its people. We all know that Westminster continues to recognise Wales’s contribution to the United Kingdom; however, we cannot simply close our eyes to the fact that Westminster’s contribution to Wales still leaves us very much wanting.

Cyfiawnder—justice. Some Members of this House may not be entirely familiar with the medieval Welsh ruler Hywel Dda. His name is particularly linked with the codification of traditional Welsh law, which was thenceforth known as the laws of Hywel Dda. The latter part of his name, Dda, or da, transalates as “good”, and refers to the fact that his laws were perceived as being just that: just and good. In fact, one sees in them compassion rather than punishment, common sense and recognition of the rights of women. Fast forward to the 16th century. The last recorded case to be heard under Welsh law was in Carmarthenshire in 1540—four years after the 1536 Act of Union, which stipulated that only English law’s writ would run in Wales.

Since then, we have seen the coming of age of devolution, and this year is of course the 20th year of the National Assembly for Wales. Wales has had for 20 years its own Senedd: a Parliament and legislature, creating laws in relation to health, education and the economy. However, cyfiawnder—justice—or the lack thereof, continues to be controlled by Westminster. Although my party’s ultimate aim is to restore the true meaning of cyfraith dda—good law—handing to Wales the reins over criminal justice in its entirety, the crux of my contribution today will focus on the more immediate shortfallings of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and opportunities for improvement under the current model. Indeed, the Welsh Affairs Committee is currently holding an inquiry on this very subject that is due to finish soon.

The prison estate in Wales is currently controlled, managed and paid for by the Ministry of Justice, while the responsibility for providing healthcare, education, housing and emergency services sits with the Welsh Government—with no extra funding from Westminster, of course. The incoherent interaction between devolved and reserved competencies results in disjointed policy making.

First and foremost, we need improved and accurate statistics to inform proper planning in the provision of Ministry of Justice prison and probation services alongside service provider partners. We need disaggregated statistics specifically for Wales in relation to both Wales-addressed offenders and prisons in Wales, to inform scrutiny at UK and Welsh parliamentary levels. Such scrutiny has been sadly lacking, and it has proven difficult even to get information. We need statistics on reoffending rates; on offender health outcomes; on prison staff recruitment and detainment; on the use of experienced staff from Wales across the wider prison estate, otherwise known as detached duty; and on violence rates, including deaths in custody, self-harm and violence towards staff. It has in the past proven difficult to get such information. All the information should be provided for scrutiny annually to both the Welsh Affairs Committee and the relevant National Assembly for Wales Committee, and the relevant responsible Ministers from both Parliaments should be called to account.

Currently, the prison estate in Wales caters only to male prisoners, and there is only one young offenders institution in Wales. Given the geography of Wales, at the very least two residential centres should be developed for female prisoners. As we know, large-scale super-prisons simply do not work. HMP Berwyn opened in February 2017, and when it is completed and at full capacity, it will hold more than 2,000 inmates. It will be the largest prison in Europe. Not all its inmates are appropriately placed. Sixteen prisoners who were previously categorised as the most dangerous to society were held at HMP Berwyn in 2017. The prison was intended for low-risk offenders to be on a regime designed to reward good behaviour.

We were also told that HMP Berwyn would hold suitable north Wales prisoners, but evidence shows that they are still being sent to distant prisons, remote from the rehabilitation benefits of being close to home, family and potential employers. The best rehabilitation results are found in prisons located close to the communities from which offenders come and to which they will return for employment, so the Ministry of Justice should not propose another supersize prison anywhere in Wales. It would inevitably require a high percentage of English inmates to be transported considerable distances for the sake of ease and the cost of warehousing, rather than the prioritising of effective rehabilitation.

As well as the prison estate, the probation service requires immediate attention. The proposed Wales probation model still involves significant contracting out, although the proposal to bring it back into public management is to be welcomed. It is to be hoped that that will be a future model for England, too. Only yesterday, I found that in the four years since key parts of the probation system were privatised, there have been 225 charges of murder against offenders monitored by private probation contractors in the four years since their creation. That far outnumbers the 142 murder charges against high-risk criminals managed by the Government probation service over the same period. These shocking statistics show the urgent need to bring probation back into the public sector. As we have experience of in Wales, with Nadine Marshall and the tragic Conner Marshall case of 2015—the offender was managed by Working Links, which has since gone into administration—victims and for that matter offenders, too, are being failed by a system that is putting profit before public safety.

To close, I wish just to say that the word for justice in Welsh, cyfiawnder, means to make good, to make right and to make just for all. Let us make cyfiawnder Welsh for Wales.