The WASC Report on a Prison for North Wales

Today the Welsh Affairs Select Committee showed itself at its best. Following the fiasco of the Government changing its mind about a new prison in north Wales last year it decided to reopen its inquiry on the subject, take new evidence to try and get to the bottom of what happened, and make some new recommendations. The report is here:

     Welsh prisoners in the prison estate: follow-up

I was pleased to see that they had come to many of the same conclusions that I have expressed on this blog here, here and here.

Condemning what the Government did last year as "a backward step" their main point is that a 1,500 place prison is unsuitable for the needs of north Wales, but that the UK government is locked into a way of thinking that will only envisage prisons of that size.

The Government has now announced its intention to consider alternative sites in regions across England and Wales, meaning that North Wales can no longer be assured of securing a prison. This is a backward step when there is a pressing need for the immediate creation of prison facilities in North Wales. The Government should give priority to identifying a site in North Wales.

... There is a tension between the size of the prison needed to accommodate prisoners from North Wales and the Government’s intention to build prisons of 1,500 places. We do not believe that North Wales should be denied a prison it so badly needs due to a rigid policy on size on the part of the Ministry of Justice. We urge the Government to be flexible in its approach, which would be consistent with the considered views expressed in recent reports by the Justice Select Committee.

This is a request that is so obviously reasonable that it is difficult to imagine how or why the Labour Government in Westminster so pointedly ignores it. But ignore it they have, and they are still ignoring it, as this quote on the BBC website shows:

A Prison Service spokesperson said: "The Government continues its search for sites suitable for 1,500-place prisons.

"The search is focused on our priority areas of London, north Wales, the north west and west Yorkshire. Some have been suggested by local authorities or members of the public. After carrying out a suitability assessment of the sites we will publish a shortlist of preferred sites later this year."

Of course the government is not obliged to do anything that any Committee of MPs recommends, but to my mind this another perfect illustration of the fallacious way that Labour are conducting their election campaign.

Labour likes to claim that electing Labour MPs will make a difference for Wales. The WASC has a majority of Labour MPs (six out of eleven) and I have no doubt that these Labour MPs sincerely want what is best for Wales. But the fact is that this Labour Government continues to ignore them. It's quite possible to understand why the Labour government would ignore MPs from other parties (even though in this case I'm sure the other parties on the WASC agreed with their Labour colleagues) ... but what sort of party is it that ignores its very own MPs?

Surely the answer is obvious: The Labour Party is set on policies that work for middle England because it needs the votes of middle England. The Labour Party does not represent Wales ... unless, of course, Welsh interests just happen to co-incide with those of middle England.

So what on earth is the point of us voting for Labour candidates in this forthcoming Westminster election? Labour MPs may claim to speak for Wales, but in practice their views will get ignored because the Labour Party is more concerned about being in power at Westminster than it is about Wales. This is just the latest example of it.


The second point I want to make is about Labour's mendacity. When the Ministry of Justice reversed its decision to build a prison on the Friction Dynamex site at Caernarfon, the reasons given centred on the suitability of the site in relation to ground contamination.

However the report shows that the MoJ and the owners of the site had very different views about this. But at the end of the day it was just a question of money, for the ground could be remediated, though at a cost.

The much more fundamental problem is that the Caernarfon site is 27 acres, but the MoJ—because it has changed its mind about the size of the prison—will now not consider any site of less than 35 acres. In other words the Labour Government is clearly lying about its reason for rejecting the Caernarfon site. Any argument about the site's value is secondary ... a smokescreen to try and hide the fact that the site could not accommodate the larger prison they wanted to build instead.


Anyway, that is now going to become history. So I want to conclude by asking a different question. Labour have said they won't change their minds, so what would the Tories do?

David Jones is a regular reader of this blog, the only Tory MP in north Wales and a member of the WASC. So let me put you on the spot, David. Will your party commit to build a smaller prison in north Wales to serve the needs of north Wales?

Or will David Cameron's government treat you and any fellow MPs you might get in Wales in the same way as Gordon Brown treats his party's MPs?

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