Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. We are extremely glad to see you. It is our first session since Parliament returned on Monday. We were grateful for the progress report dated 16 October. It is the first time we have had the opportunity of taking evidence from you, Mr Halward, and we are delighted to see you. Correct me if I have that wrong. We have obviously had a considerable amount of evidence from Mr Mogg on a previous occasion. Is there anything you would like to say before we start? We shall try to make our questions follow a logical and constructive order. Any of you should feel free to correct anything you have said on any answer you have given, either now or later in writing if you want to add any gloss and we shall regard ourselves free to ask any supplementary questions in written form if questions occur to us which we think we ought to add.

  (Mr Halward) Thank you very much for that warm welcome and introduction. I was in fact here last year on 27 October to provide an update a year or so after the publication of the Committee's report on the Northern Ireland Prison Service. As you mentioned, Mr Martin Mogg was here on that occasion as well and Mr Douglas Bain is new to the senior management team of the Northern Ireland Prison Service and looks after a large number of policy areas and a broad area of services to prisoners: medical, education, training and matters of that sort on the policy side as well as prisons legislation. I welcome this opportunity to discuss progress in the Northern Ireland Prison Service with the Committee. I would not want to say a great deal at this stage in addition to the progress report which we have submitted to the Committee. If there is a single focus for my task—and I have now been in post for just over two years—it is to tackle the consequences for the Northern Ireland Prison Service of the Good Friday agreement. Much of the emphasis in the first two years has been on the implications for staff of the early release of prisoners, mainly the need to reduce the size of the Service. That staff reduction programme is now virtually at a conclusion; just a final 50 or so staff have to leave the Service. The reduction in the size of the Service has been achieved entirely by voluntary means. We are now able to turn almost all our attention to the future of the Service. The focus for that is the new Prison Service purpose statement, vision and values which we attached to our progress report. That summarises what we are about in the future. There are just a few points where the emphasis changes from the task of the past. We shall of course continue to give the highest priority to matters of security and safety, both for staff and prisoners and although most of the paramilitary prisoners, politically motivated prisoners, have been released from the system, there are and will remain some such prisoners in the system and they will continue to need a good deal of attention. There is more emphasis for the future than the past on community involvement. The Prison Service has had to be at a bit of a distance from much of the community because of the pressures of the past. Those barriers are to some extent coming down now and we have taken one or two major steps forward in the last year on community links. We are working in ever closer partnership with other parts of the criminal justice system and we are putting far more effort into tackling offending behaviour so that we hope released prisoners are much less likely to re-offend than in the past. The means by which we shall do almost all these things are through our staff and a large amount of our effort is on freeing up the talents and abilities of our staff. An important part of indeed our whole programme of staff reduction has been to do something for those remaining in the Service. There have been opportunities for most grades and groups of staff to go for promotion as a result of the programme. We have now introduced a thing we call the Future Positive programme which is a two-day workshop aimed at helping each member of staff to consider their position in the Service and the contribution they can make to it. Other than that we are continuing to put a lot of emphasis on staff training and development and a whole range of things which come under the heading of Investors in People; good communication, clear lines of accountability, clear job descriptions and matters of that sort. Although it is fair to say that we are reasonably pleased with the progress we have made in the last year, there is a great deal still to be done and we are looking forward to getting on with that.

  2. Thank you very much indeed for those introductory words. I should not want in any way to lull anybody into a sense of false security by being initially highly complimentary; we may have some other questions to ask at a later stage. However, I think I speak on behalf of all the Committee when I say it is quite clear that the Prison Service has made significant progress in dealing with the matters covered in the report which we published in November 1998 and that you have achieved that against an extremely sensitive political backdrop. We would want to congratulate you on what has been achieved and the fact that very difficult managerial issues affecting operational and staffing matters have been successfully negotiated. In particular we are conscious that achieving a reduction in staff of 40 per cent between April 1998 and September 2000 without major industrial relations problems reflects extremely well on both management and staff, including their trade union representatives. We might make a further reference to that when we see the Prison Officers Association hereafter. We would want to take the earliest possible opportunity in this meeting, given the fact that we were quite hard on the Service in our earlier report, to congratulate the Prison Service management for the constructive manner in which both sides have approached this matter, which itself is exemplified in the results. May I switch to training? You have been able to increase the level of staff training by 40 per cent and paragraph 8 of the progress report describes the comprehensive nature of that training. We see also that training is being provided for 178 newly promoted managers and 134 new recruits. Could you, either now, or, if it is easier, later, give us those figures broken down both by gender and religion because we did in fact take statistics of that nature in the earlier report which we published?
  (Mr Halward) I can certainly give you some figures now because we paid particular attention to the composition of our workforce. As far as appointments to the Service were concerned, the proportion of the Service who are Catholics increased from eight to nine per cent in 1999 and the proportion of women in the Service went up from nine per cent to 12 per cent in 1999. We expect that to improve a little this year. In 1999 we ran five smallish recruitment campaigns. The proportion of Catholics applying was 11 per cent and the proportion appointed was 20 per cent. In that way we are gradually increasing our proportion in the Service. Similarly for women, in 1999 16 per cent applied and 20 per cent were appointed. We are appointing slightly over the proportion which is applying and the proportion applying is higher than the proportion already in the Service. It is going to be a very modest shift in the balance because the Service is largely static in staffing terms because many of those staff who were due to retire in the next few years have opted to leave early under the staff reduction programme. As far as promotions are concerned, the picture is not quite so encouraging and the reason for that is that the pool in which we are fishing for promotion at each grade is quite seriously unbalanced. Again this same principle is true that for Roman Catholics and women the successful applicants are slightly above the proportion of people applying: 9.9 per cent of women applied for promotion in the current round of promotions; 13.2 per cent were successful in those promotion competitions. For Catholics, it was 6.2 per cent of applicants and 7.2 per cent appointed. We can write to you with details of that if that would be helpful.[1]

  Chairman: That would be extremely helpful.

Mr Beggs

  3. Will the departure of the 52 largely specialist staff in March 2001, mark the end of the staff reduction programme? If not, what further reductions are expected?
  (Mr Halward) That will mark the end of the programme. We were actually oversubscribed by around 160 above the number we needed to leave the Service. We did let everybody go and it was letting everybody go which enabled us to run some promotion processes which we had not done for some years and get a bit of movement through the Service. We were also able to take the advantage of doing one or two other things we had wanted to do like substantially increasing the proportion of our health care staff who are fully trained and qualified nurses and increasing the proportion of our staff who are prison auxiliaries as opposed to prison officers. We were oversubscribed enough to enable us to do those things.

  4. What is the total number of staff remaining in the Service?
  (Mr Halward) There are almost exactly 1,700 operational grades, that is from Governor 1 at the top of the hierarchy to auxiliary officer at the bottom and there are 350 general service grades in addition. The general service grades work both in establishments and in Prison Service headquarters.

  5. The 1999-2000 accounts suggest the total cost of the downsizing of the Service arising from the Belfast agreement would be about £130 million. How much of this related to severance payments to officers and what is the range of payments received by individual officers?
  (Mr Halward) I can give you some information at this stage but to provide a detailed response we might have to respond later. The vast majority of that money went on severance payments. The total for support services was in the order of £2.3 million or something of that sort. The remainder went both on lump sum payments and, for those leaving before they were entitled to draw their pensions, some pay in lieu of pensions for the years up to pensionable age. The range of payments was very substantial. Those receiving the largest lump sum payments were members of staff who had done at least 25 years and were not over 50 and thus did not get a pension immediately payable. People at the top of the scale, somebody not getting a pension straightaway, would be getting somewhere in the region of £250,000 as a lump sum to tide them over from, shall we say, 45, to the age of 60. Those people who were between 50 to 55 and thus got a pension paid immediately tended to get lower lump sum payments but not untypical would be £100,000 to £110,000 and then a pension immediately payable of £14,000. There is a huge range because it depends on length of service, seniority and age. If it would help, I could send a table which gives two or three specific examples.[2]

  6. It would be helpful if you would forward some more detailed information. The cost of the staff reduction programme is to be met by Treasury funding and efficiency savings. How much is to come from each source? What efficiency savings do you plan to make? How will they impact on the operations of the Service?
  (Mr Halward) The total cost of the staff reduction programme, including the staff services, is in fact around £150 million when totted up over the whole range of years: £153 million is our latest estimate, of which we have had to find £24.5 million. That has been found largely by changing the grading of some of our staff and saving on running costs. The Northern Ireland Prison Service, for historical reasons, has a very different staffing balance to other prison services in the UK and particularly has had much less civilianisation or the use of prison auxiliaries. It is essentially by changing in those areas that we have managed to find efficiency savings together with some flattening of the management structures. We are rather top heavy as a service and we have taken advantage of the changes to rebalance the Service. We have rather more managers now at first line supervisor level, at senior officer level and fewer at more senior levels. That is linked with another bit of our policy which is to devolve more authority both to establishments and within establishments to various units in each establishment.

  7. Overall the staff reduction programme appears to have proceeded remarkably smoothly. To what do you attribute this? Are there any staff whose applications to join the programme have been rejected?
  (Mr Halward) One or two people sought to apply after the scheme was closed and their applications have been rejected. The only staff whose applications to join the programme have been rejected, people who applied within the various phases while the scheme was still in existence were 14 prison auxiliaries. The reason they were refused is that there is a general principle that when you are making people redundant or retiring them early you cannot replace like for like. The way in which we were able to allow more senior people to go was by increasing the number of prison auxiliary jobs we had. No prison auxiliary jobs were actually lost to the Service so 14 prison auxiliaries had their applications turned down. You might ask why we allowed them to apply. It was because until the very last moment we were not clear whether or not we were going to get the number of volunteers that we needed and it was our policy, declared at the outset, that we would do everything we possibly could to avoid compulsory redundancies because of the impact that would have had on staff who had already gone through a very difficult time over many years and we did not want to put staff through the uncertainty of the possibility of compulsory redundancy. To what do we attribute the success of the programme? Very good teamwork at all levels in the organisation. I should like to endorse the comment the Chairman made earlier about the way in which the unions, particularly the Prison Officers Association as far as this is concerned, have responded. They did not accept that the package on offer was a proper reward for their members. They felt it was not sufficiently generous. Having said that they were prepared to work constructively with us to open the package to their members and in the end more people than we needed applied. There was very good work with the unions. We were fortunate to employ some competent consultants to help us with various aspects of this. Representatives of each of the key units of the Service, the establishments, the prisons and headquarters, worked together effectively. We set up a steering group which I chaired which met more or less every Monday morning for two years to make sure that this received the appropriate priority. I should say that we deliberately decided to use the staff reduction programme as a vehicle to achieve a number of other things. It was a single important piece of work which had to be done, but we used this as a vehicle to get more training and development under way, to improve communication across the Service, to improve lines of accountability. It is an example of a single theme which enables you to make progress in quite a lot of areas.

Mr Pound

  8. May I take you back to a comment you made about community involvement? I would imagine that things like open days in prisons are not to be encouraged by and large but I am not exactly sure what you mean by community involvement. Is it possible to give us some small examples of this? I have to say that it is an intriguing concept.
  (Mr Halward) We do not entirely rule out open days.

  9. Let us not tell the inmates.
  (Mr Halward) The principle is that people can come in, but only those people can go out.

  10. It is a one-way street.
  (Mr Halward) We did run an open day at Magilligan, which is a fairly medium secure prison, over the summer and somewhere in the region of 2,000 people came in.

  11. And out?
  (Mr Halward) And out. This was not thrown open to the community entirely at large; it was essentially staff and their families and their friends, but a much wider group of people than we would normally have in. The other sorts of community involvement are where prisoners go out and do some work in the community. Magilligan has a working-out scheme where a number of people go out and do work in the community every day. We have our own working-out unit in the old Crumlin Road site in Belfast as well, which tends to tackle largely life-sentence and long-term prisoners. It is the work our staff have been directly able to do, not specifically related to prisoners, which has improved a lot in the last year. There is a programme which started in England called "Prison? Me? No way" where staff go out into schools. The object of the exercise is to try to convey the message that really prisons are not a very pleasant place and there is a lot to be said for not going there. Our staff have embraced this wholeheartedly, many of them giving up quite a lot of their own time to do it. We have had a number of very successful visits to schools. Increasingly our staff are prepared to be identified and give media interviews, for example, something which was unheard of in the past. We do occasionally allow people into prisons to use sports and other prison facilities which we have. Some prisoners and staff worked with Charlie Dimmock who does a gardening programme on BBC.

  12. This was part of the sentence presumably!
  (Mr Halward) Going out is usually part of the reward. It is a combination of personal development and reward I suppose.

  13. I shall not ask what the reward was.
  (Mr Halward) That gives a flavour of the sorts of things we are able to do. The more our task is understood by the community, the better from our point of view.

  14. I entirely concur with that and it is impressive and very refreshing. I am delighted to hear that your officers are now able to assume a public persona and that is extremely new and very, very refreshing. Do you have prison farms in your estate?
  (Mr Halward) No; no, we do not.

  15. Have you thought of that at all as an option?
  (Mr Halward) No, not really.

  16. Obviously not in Crumlin Road.
  (Mr Halward) No. We grow flowers and things like that in the Young Offenders' Centre and probably Magilligan and Maghaberry does that. I suppose it is gardens which primarily is to make the place look smarter plus provide some occupation for prisoners. In the past the question has been whether there are enough prisoners who are suitable to work on prison farms because generally they are in open conditions and it has probably not been true in the past. We still have a relatively small proportion of our prisoners who are suitable to work in open totally non-secure conditions and we need to debate for the future whether that proportion will increase or not. The proportion of people in prison in Northern Ireland is dramatically less than the rest of the UK. England, Wales and Scotland are around 120 to 125 per 100,000 in prison. In Northern Ireland it is around 60 per 100,000. The number of people we envisage having who are suitable to work on farms is going to be pretty small.

  17. And you apparently have the least criminal women in northern Europe; about three I think.
  (Mr Halward) Have we discovered another?

  18. Have you discovered a fourth?
  (Mr Bain) Iceland is the next lowest. I actually consulted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office because an area of concern for me is providing a regime for women which is comparable with that for our male prisoners. Because of the very small numbers that is actually very difficult. We are running at the moment over the last year at around 20 female prisoners who are roughly half sentenced and half remand.

  Mr Pound: When I think of criminal Icelandic women I always think of Björk but that may not be a crime which is recognised in the courts. May I refer back to the Chairman's introductory points? You referred to the 178 newly promoted managers. Would it be possible either now or in your aide mémoire to Mr Beggs and the Chairman to give us a breakdown of those 178 numerically?

  Chairman: They have offered to do that.

Mr Pound

  19. The Chairman mentioned the increased level of participation in training and that is very reassuring. Is this entirely a reflection of reduced pressures on the Service, or do you think you have actually achieved a sea-change in the culture within the Prison Service in that they now value and recognise the value of training, or have they simply just got the breathing space to do it now?
  (Mr Halward) As with all major steps forward, it is a combination of all of those things. Certainly our evaluation of training is very encouraging these days and it takes into account specifically the usefulness of the training. One of the criticisms made in the past was that when there was training it was not particularly what people wanted. We are getting responses: around about 90 per cent of those going on training now are saying that the training is meeting their needs. Traditionally in the Northern Ireland Prison Service a lot of responsibility for personnel matters, including training, has been regarded as a specialist matter for personnel departments, whether at headquarters or in establishments. In the last couple of years we have increasingly emphasised the role of line managers at every level from the governor through other managers in freeing staff up for training and measuring and comparing the performance of different units within prisons and one prison with another. The managers have increasingly realised that it is their job to release staff for training and development. We took advantage of the staff reduction programme to try to get across a simple message on training which was that if we say we are going to train staff in something then we are going to do so. There was a bit of a credibility problem previously in that there was a good training policy but it did not work through in practice. For example, 550 staff who left Maze to go to other establishments—every single one, apart from a handful on sick leave at the end—received 15 days training to prepare for their work in their new establishments. Everybody but everybody who left under the staff reduction programme got the opportunity to attend a pre-decision workshop to help them decide whether they wanted to go or not; those who left received financial counselling advice on CV's and things of that sort. Within establishments we put a lot of emphasis on health and safety training, starting first with that which is regarded as most important by staff. It is a combination of all those things plus let me not underplay the importance of what I would call luck in this context which is a relatively stable operating environment. We have not had over the last couple of years the sorts of operational pressures on the service which make it very difficult or even more difficult than usual to maintain training. We got sickness absence down by 17 per cent as well which played almost straight into extra training.

1   See Ev p 17. Back

2   See Ev p 18. Back

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