HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc333-66

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a further sum not exceeding £342,548,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1985 for expenditure by the Home Office on prisons (including central administrative staff) and associated stores in England and Wales, and the Parole Board.—[Mr. Hurd.]

4.46 pm
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I beg to move, That Class IX, Vote 8, be reduced by £1,000 in respect of Subhead A6(1) (Academic, physical and religious education of prisoners including the cost of seconded teachers; library services; vocational and construction industry training; recreational expenses). It is a fine thing that we are to have a debate on this important subject, and I pray tribute to the Liaison Committee, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) who first initiated such processes with the Leader of the House, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) who has seen these important matters through. Consequently, we can debate Select Committee reports on the Floor of the House. I am sure that the House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and his Committee.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), who has kindly allowed me effectively to introduce the debate, thereby waiving his own privilege as the current Chairman of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts. He invited me to do so because I initiated discussions on this whole subject in the last Select Committee.

I also pay tribute to Mr. Christopher Price, a former Member of Parliament, who may be in the precincts of the Palace, for the marvellous lead that he gave the Committee during the last Parliament. In the last Parliament, the Select Committee was moved to conduct a parliamentary investigation into education in prisons. It was the first time that the House had undertaken such an investigation. Incidentally, we had the excellent support of Sidney Heaven OBE, whose background is recognised internationally. Indeed, I also pay him a warm tribute for all that he has done and continues to do in advising our Committee.

We acted on noble precedents. In 1729, General Oglethorpe induced Parliament to inquire into the horrors of the Fleet and Marshalsea prisons, and founded that line of idealists and practical reformers that continued in John Howard, Elizabeth Fry and many others, who saw prisons as a means by which offenders might be led back into the community of good and useful people from whom they had been temporarily expelled by their own actions.

We were also conscious that we were looking into an area where public money is spent on a large scale. In 1980–81, the cost of keeping a prisoner in a dispersal prison was £19,262 a year, rising by about £3,000 a year. In the same year, the average cost of keeping a prisoner in a local prison was £8,770 a year, rising by about £1,000 a year. If the rises have continued at the same rate, the sums for the current year must be £28,000 per prisoner in a dispersal prison and about £12,000 per prisoner in a local prison. Those are substantial sums of taxpayers' money.

The Committee fully acknowledged that there were very positive aspects to the present situation, on which we must congratulate the Government and all those involved in the prison department. Wicked and dangerous men and women committed to prison are kept in security where they can no longer menace society. There is now in progress a better building programme than there has been for a century, and that is excellent. There is also provision to improve the establishment of prison officers still further. The independent prison inspectorate, established in 1980 by the then Home Secretary, my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw, in an act of great political courage, publishes regularly full and honest accounts of the state of our prisons. Last, and most apposite, the prison education service has developed into an organisation with professional standards and great potential. That is due in no small measure to the tireless efforts and commitment of Alan Baxendale, its first chief education officer, to whom I pay a warm tribute for all that he has done and continues to do and for the manner of his doing it.

Yet the Select Committee is profoundly disturbed by what the inquiry revealed. Prisons, with education playing its appropriate part, should be influencing the prisoner, while he is serving his sentence, to mend his ways and to become a contributing member of society. I have been a visitor of prisons for many years. I have been all over and have thoroughly looked at prisons of every kind, not only at their education service, although that is what I want to concentrate on today. The evidence proves that prisons are having the opposite effect. In particular, the efforts of the prison education service to help the task of the prison service are being seriously frustrated.

All sources of information give the same picture of prisons. I quote, not from some sensational journal, but from the sober reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. He said: In local prisons, many prisoners are locked up for 22 hurs each day with nothing to do for weeks on end; in a Training Prison, to give one example, 200 men out of 745 were locked up all day with nothing to do; other prisoners, recorded as at work, have in reality very little to do. I ask for reassurance from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the situation is no longer deteriorating. It is imperative that he be able to give the House today reassurance that that serious deterioration has been arrested.

In 1981 the chief inspector spoke of the rapidly diminishing"— I repeat, diminishing— possibility of access to recreational, educational and other facilities. In 1982 the chief inspector told us: the problem is as bad, if not worse, than in 1981. The Select Committee was not indifferent to humanitarian objections to the cruel stupidity of such a regime. We had to face, however, and had no wish to avoid, the consideration that prisoners are under-sentenced for crimes, many for hurting and most for robbing their fellows. Some clearly felt that it was just that they should be imprisoned in punitive conditions.

We considered that conflict of opinion seriously and carefully. We had before us evidence from bodies that we could not possibly ignore — prison governors, prison officers, the Association of County Councils, the Society of Education Officers, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, and many more.

We scrutinised the published reports and statistics of the prison department, Her Majesty's Chief Inspectors of Prisons, and relevant publications of the Home Office. Our detailed examination of that vast mass of evidence, all written with great care, for which we were grateful, and all emanating from sources which commanded our respect, revealed that none of those authoritative bodies in any place in their evidence gave the smallest sign that the present unpleasant regime of confinement in idleness deters men and women from committing new crimes after their release, and so returning to prison.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I have listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman. What he has just said to the House was ably backed up by the ex-governor of Wormwood Scrubs prison, who resigned from the prison service after an extremely distinguished service because he was so fed up with the lack of help from the Home Office. He refused to be in charge of what he called a human dustbin.

Mr. Greenway

What the hon. Gentleman said is true. The former governor of Wormwood Scrubs appeared before the Select Committee and said such things. We took a serious view of what he said. On the other side of the coin, some were more optimistic. None the less, I am taking a serious view and I note the point that has been made.

On the contrary, the regime of confinement in idleness does much to ensure that a prisoner cannot go straight after release. That is the worry to the House and to society. The convicted criminal who wants to go straight needs much more than good intentions. He has to be capable of strenuous effort and great perseverance in the face of disappointment, as has every member of society. His friends, and probably his family, may well be criminals. He has to reject them and find new friends. He has to find a new place to live and a new way of earning a living. That needs great strength and stamina. Every bit of evidence that we received on the matters and every official report that we read, emphasised that confinement and idleness rob all but the very strongest of that strength and perseverance, indeed, of the very will to exert themselves in any way except, alas, one.

It also emerged forcefully in the evidence that prisoners kept locked up and idle for long periods may be pushed towards violence and riot. Official reports tell us not only that prisoners locked up and idle, as many now are, are likely to become violent and recidivist, but confirm that they are becoming so. The official reports of the prison department and of the prison inspectorate for 1982 tell us that the prison population is becoming more recidivist and that violence in prisons is "commonplace" and "horrifying" — their words, not mine. They say that there is "very great concern" over the increase in arson in cells.

I suppose that there is a certain bureaucratic neatness about a series of reports that begins by forecasting disaster and goes on to chronicle the disaster as it comes to pass. But one could wish for a happier sequence of records.

The Select Committee observed education in prisons primarily in relation to the heavy and serious problems of violence in prisons and recidivism arising from a lack of occupation. Idle hands make mischief. That is not a new expression and one can put it as simply as that. Although prison industry did not lie within our purview we looked at it because the pattern, nature and even quantity of education provision will be different if prisoners have a chance to do a day's work in industry. We were forced to the conclusion that prison industry was not likely to alleviate the problems of idleness to any lasting extent. Out of a total of 305 workshops 210 were working at less than half capacity in 1981 and producing a trading deficit of £9,700,000. Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons expressed no hope of improvement.

Does prison education really offer purposeful occupation to prisoners? We had to consider representations from some quarters that it does not, that it is, sometimes at any rate, a soft option, a skive or a trick to get out of a cell and gossip over a book. We were not naive and I do not want to be naive in what I say to the House. We know that for some people education can be a skive. That is the way of the world and all people are human. We saw in the evidence no reason to doubt the genuineness of the efforts that students put into study. They work hard and, as one who was a schoolmaster for 23 years and held senior positions, I can confirm the genuineness of the effort that we saw.

Everything that we learned lead us to suppose that, in the conditions of conviction and imprisonment, men and women who choose to study—we are talking about a voluntary activity — are motivated to work very hard indeed. At one end of the scale, an illiterate prisoner will probably progress between two and five years in reading age in 12 weeks of daytime tuition. That is pitifully slow progress. At the other end of the scale, the success rate of prisoners taking public and vocational examinations is about 90 per cent. As a member of the council of the Open University, I know that a number of prisoners are taking OU courses with considerable success. They and their mentors should be congratulated.

We recommended that prisoners undertaking a course of education should be paid at the same rate as prisoners working in industry—about £2 to £2.50 a week. Some see that as a radical recommendation, but I ask the House to see it in the context of the broad picture that I am presenting.

Two facts show that prisoners realise how much value there is in prison education. First, the report on the riots in Wormwood Scrubs in 1979 says that one of the main causes of those riots was the closure of the education block. Secondly, during the riots at Hull prison, prisoners protected the education block from damage, to show the value that they attached to it. Those were tremendous demonstrations of prisoners' feelings. It would be instructive to compare the cost of a major prison riot with the annual cost of education in prisons.

The first task of the prison education service is to bring prisoners who will take advantage of education to the end of their sentence with the spirit to grasp, on release, the opportunity to rejoin the honest and contributing part of society. That must be the aim of the service and of society.

Of course, that is only a start. The after-care agencies, such as NACRO, have a major part to play. That is why our first and second recommendations dealt with collaboration between the prison education service and the after-care organisations, particularly in their education work.

The Committee saw and was immensely encouraged by a living proof of the success of the partnership of education and after-care. One of our witnesses, Pat Doyle, had followed the familiar path from school truancy to petty crime and on to ever longer prison sentences. After the shock of her last conviction and sentence, she said: Enough is enough. I cannot go on like this. She turned, as others turn, to education to help her to get on to a new course of life. Her prison teachers helped and, towards the end of her sentence, teachers from the North London college came into the prison to start working with her, so that she would not be among strangers, if she continued to study after her release. When the Committee saw her, she was well on her way to an independent and useful life. We were impressed by Miss Doyle and her approach to life after her education in prison.

The Committee's report goes far beyond assertions about the vital importance of education in prisons. It recommends that prisoners should be given a right of access to education. We found that the present system of "administrative discretion" —a Home Office expression — is unsatisfactory. We looked at the results of administrative discretion and we do not like them. Administrative discretion sets no minimum standards and imposes no obligation, either on the state or on its employees, to reach minimum standards.

The first consequence of that is waste; there is a worrying amount of waste in educational resources in prisons. On our visits, we saw much productive work in prison classrooms, but we also saw much under-use of resources—desks not being used, space not being taken up for education and so on.

In one prison, we saw a fine education centre and talked to many potential students with clear educational aims, but we were shocked to see no useful work done throughout a whole day, because of muddle in the movement of prisoners. That will not do.

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools is quite forthright about waste. In written evidence, he spoke of a regrettable waste of educational manpower and resources". In oral evidence, he spoke of a significant amount of wastage in a number of establishments". He gave specific examples in reports on individual prisoners.

I give two clear examples. The new education centre at Leeds prison stood idle for a year before it was used for classes, and the new purpose-built education centre in Brixton prison was not used for education for a much longer period. Regrettably, if there is "administrative discretion", some will use their discretion to do very little. I should justify that remark. Education in prisons is provided by local education authorities and the nature of their participation typifies the feeble—dare I say "wet"? —nature of "administrative discretion". They are invited by the Secretary of State to "make arrangements" for education in prisons. They need not do so if they do not wish to. The result is that some local education authorities provide the essential administrative service but little else". Those are not my words and they are not even the words of the Select Committee. They are the words of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools. The teachers' organisation NATFHE is blunter. It says that in most cases the local education authority is a "shadow", a mere employment agency. In such circumstances, those who want to use resources to the full, to provide a good service and to make progress can be, and sometimes are, frustrated.

The Committee recommends that the system of administrative discretion should be ended by a prisons regime Act which not only specifies minimum standards, but lays down an aim for the penal system that can be paraphrased as not only secure detention, but the encouragement of all possible progress towards rehabilitation.

It is clear from our evidence that there is no unanimity of aim in the prison service. It emerges in the suspicion with which different branches of the service seem to regard each other. The governors are on guard against the "empire building" of the education service. The prison officers think that educational facilities encourage prisoners not to conform to the prison regime. Education officers clearly feel threatened by their multiplicity of bosses and want it to be laid down in writing to whom they are responsible. They do not know where they stand.

Those divisions, resulting from uncertainty of aim, are exacerbated in the prison education service by a structural organisation straight out of "Alice in Wonderland".

Basic and academic teaching is in the hands of teachers employed by the local education authority who are professionally and operationally responsible to the education officer. He, however, is professionally responsible to the local education authority, but operationally responsible to the governor.

Teachers employed to teach vocational subjects are employed not by the local education authority, but directly by the Civil Service. They are operationally responsible to the education officer, who is not employed by the Civil Service, but professionally responsible directly to the Home Office education branch—unless, that is, they teach a subject connected with the building industry, in which case they are responsible to the directorate of works.

With such a structure, hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that our evidence showed a marked lack of unity in the education services in prisons, with no real cohesion. As we know, cohesion in education is essential if there is to be a proper structure and if progress is to be achieved. The civilian instructional officers wrote to the Committee: We are not inclined to be answerable to an Educational Officer who is not a Civil Servant". Some of them were, but they said that they were "not inclined to be".

Education in prisons operates effectively only if all branches of the service support and collaborate in it. That depends on the services of the prison officers at a basic level, such as escorting prisoners to classes. We were saddened to learn, for instance, that evening classes—vital where men have daytime work in industry—are often severely curtailed because the existing system of staff attendance provides few prison officers to support classes after 5 o'clock in the evening.

From the evidence before us we had to conclude, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded, that the allocation and deployment of uniformed officers was poorly organised. What concerned us most, however, was that questions about their numbers and deployment as posed in the May report in 1979, and raised repeatedly since then, and last raised in the chief inspector's 1982 report, have still not been answered.

The figures show that between 1947 and 1981, the number of prisoners increased by 174 per cent. and that the number of prison officers increased from 2,400 to 17,000, an increase of 600 per cent. Yet they still work, on average, 15 hours a week overtime. It is all very puzzling. It is also puzzling to reflect that, within that new situation, prison officers often do not have time to accompany prisoners to education classes.

Our concern and recommendations did not stop at a query on prison officer working practices. In our view, the aim of the whole prison regime should be to encourage the rehabilitation of the prisoner, which in the broadest sense is a task of re-education. We saw on our visits encouraging examples of prison officers and education officers working together in active concern for the progress of the prisoners in their charge. It was an exciting experience to encounter such collaboration and unity, and we made recommendations to encourage that still further.

Most of all, however, we believe that we cannot get the branches of the prison service to work together unless they are directed towards one objective, and we believe that that objective should be decided by this House and embodied in primary legislation, in a prison regimes Act. In our view, the disunity arises from a neglect of the first basic principle of management, that one cannot manage without an objective. If one has a means without an end, one has trouble.

Many bodies who gave evidence to us — Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools, for instance—traced waste and conflict back to the same cause, to that lack of a defined objective. I am sorry to be hammering the point home, but it is central to the whole issue. Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons, in his 1982 report, arrived at the same diagnosis. Many prison staff to whom he had spoken were afflicted with "uncertainty and doubts" and were calling for a fresh look at custodial objectives". Yet against this massive demand, the Government do not even consider, in their reply to the Select Committee's report, the nine paragraphs of argument advanced in favour of the recommendation that the aims of the prison system should be decided and promulgated in a law discussed and enacted by this House, a prison regimes Act.

All in all, we found a picture of large numbers of people, some with good ideas, some with not such good ideas, all working in different directions in a mire of confusion and obfuscation. The result is not only unsatisfactory but a wholly unacceptable waste of resources. Our vision focuses on the need for a small piece of legislation, a prison regimes Act. That, in turn, focuses our minds on the needs and rights of the prisoner heading for a new, rehabilitated life, becoming a new citizen risen out of the waste and criminality of his former life.

I urge the House, by enacting such a measure, to give the prisoner the right to be actively employed for a full day, to have the right of access to education, to be treated equally whether working in the workshop or the classroom, to be properly assessed on his educational needs and to be able to fulfil his serious educational ambitions.

We want to provide around the prisoner a prison service whose actions and objectives are co-ordinated and unified towards his betterment; a concerted force of prison officers willing and able to escort him to the workshop or the education block with equal zeal; and a positive, rehabilitative regime, carefully tempered by realism. Ultimately, every prisoner should be given the fullest encouragement to mend his ways.

These aims are not naive or idealistic. The overriding purpose must be the secure custody of often dangerous criminals. But nobody can justify spending enormous amounts of public money on a penal system which merely embitters and frustrates both prisoners and custodians and whose main educative effect is to teach inmates new tricks of the criminal trade.

The House must look afresh at the whole situation. I urge all hon. Members to look with new eyes at a problem that is of central importance to society and to the caring attitude of the nation.

5.16 pm
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I am sure that when, many years ago, the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and I first met, we did not think that he would be moving an amendment on a subject such as this, or that, though on opposite sides politically, we would be at one on this issue. The depth of the problem and the unity of thought that has gone into the methods of solving it are proved by the fact that the motion stands in the name of two Conservative Members — the hon. Member for Ealing, North and the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee)—and myself.

It would be remiss of me not to pay tribute to the previous Chairman of the Select Committee, the former hon. Member for Lewisham, West, Christopher Price, whose interest in this subject is borne out by the fact that he has come here today to listen to the debate. I wish sincerely that he was in a position to take part in it, because not only is his depth of knowledge great, but he has been a friend of mine from Sheffield for upwards of 30 years.

The sparsity of attendance for the debate is regrettable, because we are discussing a vital subject. I accept that some of us would not have known the extent of the problem had we not looked into it. It is a pity that there are not more journalists in the Press Gallery to tell the general public about this real problem which society faces.

It has recently been decided to release about 2,000 prisoners on parole. We all admit—indeed, the whole of Europe admits — that British prisons are grossly overcrowded. That overcrowding has intensified the problem with which we in the Select Committee have been trying to deal. The unanimity among the members of the Committee is a tribute to their realisation of the intensiy of the problem, remembering that none of us knew anything about it until we began visiting prisons.

Most of us have never visited a prison but I had been in one or two to visit a constituent and some time ago I led a delegation into the Maze—Long Kesh—for political reasons. The Maze is a modern prison but some of our prisons are the most appalling places. It is dreadful that people should be put in them. I know it has to be, but many of them are Dickensian in the extreme. Some of the things that go on in them make anyone heave a great sigh of relief when he comes out.

I had some initial knowledge of prisons but I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ealing, North for being the first to raise the issue. He had spoken to his friend, Sidney Heaven, who became our excellent adviser. Mr. Heaven showed a profound knowledge of the problem that we were considering, and intense humanity. We were able to unify ourselves, notwithstanding the political divide, because the problem demanded that we should do so. There were some differences between us but on the major issues we were at one.

Like the hon. Member for Ealing, North, I was a teacher for many years. However, I had never given a thought to prisoners who wanted to be educated. I taught children a great deal about a woman I deeply admired, Elizabeth Fry. I remember the story I used to tell the children about her first visit to a prison. The warders, the turnkeys of those days, begged her not to go into the women's section of the prison. They told her that she would be torn limb from limb. It was so horrifying that most of the turnkeys never ventured into the women's section. Elizabeth Fry bravely went in, stood among the women and gradually won them over. She was first subjected to villification, foul words and abuse. However, she went among them as a teacher and a reformer. When we visited prisons I thought of the noble people of the past who learnt such a great deal and saw the issues much more deeply than many of us do today.

We worked hard to produce a careful and detailed report. We knew that it was essential to do so. As the hon. Member for Ealing, North has said, it was the first time that such a report had been prepared. If the Select Committee is to be remembered for anything, I believe that it will be for this report. In fact, it was one of the minor reports that the Committee prepared, having produced more reports than any previous Select Committee. That is a tribute to our Chairman, among others.

Unfortunately, the Government decided to attack our report. There was a problem because the report was made by the previous Select Committee and became available a year last April. In the meantime there was a general election. There was a different Committee when the Government produced their reply early this year. Only two members of the previous Committee are members of the present Committee. It is fortunate that they are two who took a real interest in the report. The new members of the Committee had to consider the report of the previous Committee and the Government's reply. It saw fit to hold a further group of meetings before producing a second report, having inquired more deeply into the subject. That is a measure of the seriousness with which it approached the problem.

The Committee's decision to proceed in that way was widely welcomed throughout the prison service and by the teachers in the service, especially by the main union that represents the prison education staff as opposed to the prison staff itself, the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education. It wrote to the Committee to express its complete support for the report and for every principal recommendation within it.

It was about eight months before the Government published their reply to the Committee's report. It was vague, dismissive and, in the Committee's opinion, thinly argued. That is why we had to go further and respond to the reply. Our most vivid impression, following visits to prisons, from questioning those concerned with education, and from considering written evidence, was the degree of confusion in prisons in general. It is impossible to study prison education and not to learn a great deal about prisons, the prison service and what goes on in prisons generally.

We met warders who were deeply interested and some who were not. I remember going round Wakefield prison with the chief warder. He was obviously a most humane man and he was forthright in his criticism of what went on. At the same time, he was aware of the realities and recognised that good things were happening. We learnt quite a lot from our visit to Wakefield.

We found that no one agreed entirely on why or how prisoners should be educated. Each individual had his opinion and there was nothing central to the approach to education in prisons. The purpose of the prison regime itself was unclear. For example, should a prison regime be punitive or rehabilitative? In the minds of most people it has to be punitive to a degree, but I believe that that feature should take second place to the prison's role in rehabilitation. Unfortunately, whether the intention is to punish or not, the rehabilitative aspect is slender. In my opinion prisons will be universities for the training of criminals until we adopt a far more rehabilitative approach to those we imprison. There was no real direction given from the prison department. The central pillar of the Committee's report was the recommendation that a prison regime Act should be placed on the statute book setting out a right of access to education and a right for prisoners to be actively employed.

It is appalling that so many prisoners spend 22 or 23 hours a day in their cells. We visited Wormwood Scrubs and saw prisoners on remand placed three or four in a cell. Many of them had been there for many months. Many had been there for six months and some had been there for longer than that. They were waiting to be tried for offences of which they said they were innocent. I do not know whether they were innocent but they had a right to he tried long before many of them did reach the courts. They needed education just as much as other prisoners. In 1982 the annual day for the collection of statistics in prisons was 30 June. It was found that 10,841 of a prison population of nearly 44,000 at that time were idle for the entire day. That meant that 25 per cent. were unemployed.

What about the other 75 per cent.? Does anyone think that they were employed? Many of them were in their cells all day long and all night long, with all the indignities of slopping out in the morning and many other things that one can hardly talk about but which happen in prisons. The feeling of humanity within the Committee steadily emerged when we witnessed many of the things that take place in our prisons.

It is difficult to talk about the individual problems, but many of us were shocked by one particular prison, Wakefield. Every prison has what is known as a black museum, which has the weapons that have been fashioned in prison. One man in Wakefield needed a whole group of warders because, although he. was clearly mentally ill, no mental institution could look after him. We went to look at these terrible black museums, which often contain weapons from incidents in which prisoners had been killed by other prisoners.

One of the outstanding facts that came out of all our visits was the extent to which lifers—murderers, rapists and so on — were clamouring for education. They wanted their education even though they knew that they were in prison for a long time. We are not giving theta sufficient education. For instance, the workshops to keep them employed are not properly utilised. In the financial year 1981–82, 210 out of the 305 workshops operated at less than half capacity. They are lying there idle, despite the demand from the prisoners who want to work. The hon. Member for Ealing, North has mentioned the issue of whether prisoners should be paid a proper wage instead of the miserable pittance that they are paid. There is a minimum of a 34 per cent. wastage of workshop capacity, as the official figures show, and that statistic can be multiplied many times.

Prisoners are demanding education and it is right that they should have it. One of our central points is the need for primary legislation on education in prisons. There should also be a great reform of our prisons to make them more acceptable — I am speaking personally on that. However, aside from the details of what should be included in the legislation, we argued the need for this primary legislation with great care in some nine paragraphs. The Government's response to this detailed and considered argument came in 14 words, which were: The Government considers that primary legislation dealing with regimes is neither necessary nor desirable. The Select Committee had examined this problem with great care and in great detail and suggested that the necessary solution was primary legislation. We were rudely dismissed in 14 words without any real explanation.

This was hardly a compliment to the work of a Select Committee, which is gradually beginning to change what goes on in prisons. This will take a long time and we shall need to bring more people into the struggle. While the Government's reply to our report appeared to accept some of the details, their reaction to the most important findings betrayed a worrying state of affairs. The prison service is, and has been, in a state of crisis for a long time, and something serious needs to be done about it.

Hon. Members should think back to the prison riots that have occurred in the past few years. If we incarcerate criminals for 23 out of 24 hours a day, neglect to give them the education that they need, do not have sufficient teachers or material to educate them, and neglect to have a prison regime, in which, for instance, the officers can conduct the prisoners to the rooms in which they can be taught, that almost encourages rioting and disorder in prisons. Again, this is my personal view. One of the ways to discourage rioting and disorder is to treat prisoners humanely, to have the warders, who to some extent live under the same regime, treated properly and looked after, and to give the prisoners better conditions and better education. That would be a civilised approach.

The Home Office looked at all the Select Committee's discussion of the principles and concluded that no real appraisal was necessary. That is one of the reasons why we want education in prisons to be under the local education authority. Division of labour and authority in prisons should be looked at carefully before primary legislation is introduced, if and when it is. To check on the real meaning of the Government reply, we asked the prison service to come to give evidence to us again. Our first impressions of the Government's reply to the Select Committee report were amply reinforced.

For example, it was staggering to hear the chief education officer of the prison service, Mr. Alan Baxendale, a most humane and kindly man, declare that prisoners already had a right of access to education, when the Government reply said categorically: The Prison Rules do not give a prisoner the right to education contemplated in the recommendation. It is time that that was cleared up between the Government and the education service. I hope that it will be made clear that a prisoner has the right to education. The word "access" can be discussed, but if a prisoner wants education, he should have it.

We found that there was some resistance from prison staff to education. For instance, there are often highly educated prisoners, who are educated beyond the level of the staff. In previous years, many of the prison staff and their organisations had come out against education for prisoners because cuts in education might affect their children outside the prisons and they felt that prisoners had no right to education. Many of us believe that our children outside, and prisoners inside, have a right to education. It will help all mankind if we see to it that both these categories have education.

The report recommends the right of access to education mentioned by the chief education officer. There are other contradictions between what the Government say and what others say. How can anyone not come to the conclusion that the Government are confused on this matter? The Committee visited a number of prisons, and occasionally split up to go to different prisons. Often we could not all go at the same time because of other commitments. The hon. Member for Ealing, North will agree that as a teacher it is easy to recognise poor education facilities, low morale and lack of drive. In some prisons, this was very noticeable and in others, conditions were better.

As the hon. Member for Ealing, North said, we took evidence from what one might call consumers of the prison service, one of them serving a long sentence at the Scrubs, as it is called, and the other recently released from the women's prison at Holloway. We were not allowed to know their names, for obvious reasons, and we are grateful to them for volunteering to come to the Select Committee. Obviously, they had to be accompanied.

We called the long-term prisoner Mr. Smith. He was a gifted and intelligent man who was in for a long time —we had not the faintest idea why he was in, and we do not make inquiries about such things. He wanted to talk about education. Both the prisoners were extremely intelligent people. Mr. Smith started with no aspirations and decided to take O-level classes. The assistant governor recommended that instead he should apply for an Open University course, as he seemed to be intelligent. However, as he said: It has taken me 14 months to get an Open University course and in that time I have done nothing. I have been stagnant. He then submitted application after application and was repeatedly promised that education staff would see him. At no time, he claimed, was he properly assessed, and the first time that the education officer came to see him was in preparation for his giving evidence to us. That is a deplorable state of affairs. We could not question a vast number of people, and out of 40,000 prisoners, the Select Committee was only able to question those two prisoners in detail. But we were, of course, able to question other prisoners as we went round.

Miss Doyle at Holloway—her name can be given—was full of praise for the education staff, and in a letter that she wrote to us she said: I cannot put enough stress on the importance of the education department within Holloway. It would have done your heart good, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to hear that woman and to see what education had meant to her.

During the war, as a young teacher and soldier, I was stationed in a distant place where there was a young man who was a criminal, to say the least. We could not do anything with him. I had come out of action and was in the Education Corps for the time being. I asked him to come to my office. He refused so I had to use discipline to tell him to come. I discovered that he was an illiterate. In three months, having taken him for an hour each morning, I had him reading. When I left that area to come home he was captain of the football team and had been captain of the cricket team. He came up to me and said, "I'll not forget you." I said, "I'll never forget you." Until then I had never known what illiteracy could do to people.

Many prisoners are prisoners because they are inadequate; because they cannot face up to life, and so take short cuts and wrong paths. But between 15 and 25 per cent. of them—and sometimes more—are illiterate. I hate to use the word "waste" but their illiteracy involves a terrible waste of the time of the prison service. I wonder whether we realise the number of warders who have to go to the cells of illiterate prisoners to read the letters that have come from home, from a loved one or from whomever, simply because those prisoners cannot read. The warders then have to sit with the prisoners and write letters for them.

Many of those prisoners have, for reasons of illness, been pushed aside in life. The young man to whom I referred had been ill throughout his childhood years and for that reason had not learnt to read. Many of the prisoners have all sorts of reasons for not having learnt to read or write. If, on their release from prison, they could have the extra degree of adequacy that literacy brings, it would help the prison service as well as helping those prisoners to cope better with the outside world.

An outstanding feature of the prison service is the education department's battle for survival. The cuts in education within the prison service are far more severe than those experienced outside, as we saw at Wormwood Scrubs. About half the full-time teachers had gone. Those who remained often had difficulty in being able to teach full time. Many of them had been put on part-time work, and NATFHE had been dealing with the problem.

I have mentioned Miss Doyle, who was so full of admiration for the education facilities in Holloway. She said that regularly more than half the classes were cancelled. As has been mentioned, although there are six times as many prison staff as there were some years ago, with a prison population that has doubled in size, the staff still average 15 hours a week overtime. That is excessive overtime. It means that after 5 pm there is hardly anyone available to deal with the prisoners who need education. Some of the prisoners have already been working during the day. Miss Doyle told us that often a two-hour class would last for only an hour. She was emphatic that to provide any real service the education officer had to struggle with the existing system.

It has to be remembered that an education officer has to ask whether certain prisoners or an individual prisoner can be escorted from one part of the prison to a classroom elsewhere. Usually there is nobody available to escort the prisoners. The teacher is left waiting in the classroom and nobody comes. If any prisoners come to the classroom, usually it is for only half an hour or an hour instead of two hours. The lack of staff to escort prisoners to education classes has the further effect that other prisoners who might also wish to be educated are denied the opportunity.

Miss Doyle told us about the sort of manipulation that takes place on the telephone whenever an escort is required. She referred to manipulating whatever officer answers the other end of the telephone and saying 'Can you possibly bring this person to their classes because it is necessary?' That is between two people. Either that officer is going to say yes because she believes in what she is doing, or if she is in a bad mood she might say no and that is it. We were able to question only a small number of members of the prison service. Nevertheless, it was obvious that there are many things wrong in the service, and certainly in the education department. The common thread was a certain degree of confusion and some conflict. We did not see the drive and unity that we wanted to see. I am not condemning individuals. I am saying that the reasons for the confusion and conflict need to be considered with great care. Wastage must be eliminated and the resources, however inadequate, must be used in a proper manner. We were not able to give much consideration to the question of libraries, and I hope that at some stage it will be examined.

I have already referred to the chief education officer, Mr. Baxendale. He told us that great efforts are being made to improve the facilities. As a result of our report, that effort has been increased. A regional conference has been set up to study our report. The staff are grappling with considerable problems and are having some success in overcoming them.

Obviously, it would be incorrect and unfair to say that everything is wrong; it is not. The problem is that no ore seems to know the purpose of the education or indeed of the regime. We were unable to find any clear and unequivocal statement of policy. There are all sorts of papers from the Home Office, the prison service, policy statements, circulars, instructions, prison orders and rules, Government handbooks, and so on. they all say different things. It is an administrative jungle in which people have to work and in which they are trying to educate prisoners.

Instead of dealing with administrative details, the Government—and by that I mean any Government—must sit down and sort out what they are doing with the vast amount of money that is spent. I understand that between £20,000 and £28,000 a year is spent on each prisoner. That is still insufficient and we are asking for a great deal more money, but we want it to be spent intelligently. In the most expensive public schools nothing like that amount is spent. Tremendous sums are spent on armaments, and a few more million pounds spent on the prison service would achieve a great deal.

An attempt must be made to solve the problem of illiteracy among prisoners. It would be a considerable achievement if a prisoner could say, "I learned to read and write in prison". Even in that area, as I have illustrated there are serious problems and restrictions, but when education is given at higher levels, there is the problem of prison officer resentment. In that respect the problems are appalling, and far more Members of Parliament and others, should visit the prisons and formulate their own opinions.

Clear guidance, and hence legislation is necessary. We cannot justify a prison service which simply locks up offenders and lets them out later, having learned new tricks of the trade and little else. That is what is happening. That is why I read out some of the facts of unemployment in prisons. The Home Office guidance is full of contradictions, as we showed in our report.

I again stress the need for that central point — a prison regimes Act. The case for such legislation is watertight. Without a formal legal document setting out the purpose of the prison regime, we shall continue to see a prison service that is flustering, wasting resources and needing more resources without any clear idea about what it is doing or any unequivocal guidance to its staff about their duties and responsibilities.

I am convinced, as was the Committee, that there are insufficient resources in the prison education service, but I am doubly convinced that confusion, distortion, conflict and lack of purpose in the Home Office and the prison service are wasting money that could be more widely used under a more acceptable regime. It is disgraceful that we pay highly qualified teachers and instructors to sit and wait for prisoners who may or may not arrive at their classes because of vagueness of policy, the bad mood of a prison officer or the half-baked concept that education is a second-rate soft option.

I stress, so that my point is not construed in any other way, that prison officers have a serious task to perform. They do their best to carry out that task honourably and well. Of course there are exceptions, as there are exceptions in other jobs. The regime needs to be improved. A good regime will be better not only for education and prisoners but for the prison staff. I should like to think that prison staff did their job and got off home, without having to work long hours of overtime.

In short, our main report was a carefully thought-out and detailed analysis to which the Government reacted by merely retrenching their messy and ill-conceived policies and administrative confusion. The motion to which I have put my name asks for a token reduction in expenditure which is being squandered through inefficiency and muddle-headedness. I urge hon. Members to support the motion. They will be supporting the Select Committee's report, which will assist prisoners and prison staff, help towards rehabilitation, as opposed to a punitive regime, and educate prisoners for the outside world against further crime.

5.52 pm
Mr. George Walden (Buckingham)

I do not need to re-argue the case on the virtue of rehabilitation in prisons —that has been eloquently done by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I believe that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State will have noted that the reforming zeal in this matter is bipartisan, too.

One may ask, in that case, why I am speaking on this issue. I do so for three main reasons. First, as a new member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, I have been impressed by the work done by my predecessors, and I wish to support the conclusions that they have recapitulated so well. Secondly, I have a naive, perhaps even mystical, belief in the value of education. Just as many, perhaps all, prisoners have some residual spark of humanity—even the hardest cases—many, or perhaps most, have a spark of ability that should be brought out. I refer to practical and highly intellectual abilities. It is a truism to say—nevertheless, it is still worth saying—that a number of prisoners would not be where they are if that spark of ability had been captured earlier in their lives.

There are some people who would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and the hon. Member or Hillsborough, but who might suffer from a slightly sentimental approach to this problem. We have not heard that approach in the debate so far. They are the types of people who encouraged the release of an American criminal a year or two ago on the ground that he had literary ability. He proceeded to murder for a second time. They are the sort of people who admire — I believe rather too much — a French writer, who was an unpleasant criminal. I do not like his writings, so perhaps I am prejudiced. There are people who are naive, idealistic and sentimental, but none of those descriptions can apply to the pragmatic work that has been done by the Select Committee. We have heard some of the details. The Committee has argued solidly its case for reform. That is not a passionate and sentimental plea for reform, but a well-researched and soundly based one.

My third reason for participating in the debate is my constutuency interest. My constituency includes two prisons next door to each other. One of them is the most important therapeutic prison in the country. The prison next door is an open one. The first prison to which I referred is commonly called a psychiatric prison and contains some strange people who are difficult to manage. Obviously, there is a completely different type of prisoner in the open prison. I stress those differences to show—I know this from having spoken to people at those prisons — that education is equally important in both establishments. There is an enormous range of ability, or sometimes non-ability — there are many semi-literate people and many people taking A-levels. The first prison even contains prisoners who have applied for the Duke of Edinburgh award, and in one or two cases they have won gold awards. That point emphasises what can be done, given the right organisation and resources. I know the value of the work done and of attitudes. The proposed legislation is important.

I remind my right hon. Friend the Minister that I do not underestimate the work on prison reform on which the Government have begun to embark. That work is sadly overdue and will be immensely expensive. New prisons are to be built—two of them on the borders of my constituency, so I shall be well-endowed with such establishments. Given the enormous and sensible expense on which the Government are embarking, it will be wise to pay attention to the Select Committee's recommendations about putting a little extra effort into what is a relatively small area, but one that will help to keep recidivists out of the prisons. There is also the obvious value on humanitarian grounds.

I cannot claim for a moment to speak with the depth of knowledge and experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and the hon. Member for Hillsborough, but I reinforce the case for action at a time when there is a fear in my constituency about the effects of financial restraints. We must especially remember one practical problem—I make this point without political overtones —which the prison education service is soon to face. Inevitably, if teachers as a whole are awarded a reasonably high increase in pay compared with the increase in the prison award, prison education will be restricted still further. That is a purely neutral statement, but should be borne in mind by all who are concerned with this matter.

My plea is thus that the Government should recognise the importance of this apparently small area of activity and give it the significance that it deserves in their overall strategy on law and order, which I thoroughly endorse.

6 pm

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

The motion to reduce by £1,000 the £342,548,000 allocated to the prison service is a procedural device but it has a certain relevance in that past and present members of the Select Committee seek not financial aid but a different approach to the prison service in general and education in prisons in particular.

The strength of the Select Committee procedure is that it involves people of differing political persuasions being overtaken by the strength of the evidence so that they finish up agreeing in their recommendations. These reports, the first published under the previous distinguished Chairman, Mr. Christopher Price, show that people who had little in common politically were overwhelmed by the arguments, so that their recommendations were unanimous. The weakness of the Select Committee procedure, however, lies in the fact that Governments take so little notice of Select Committee reports.

A few years ago I visited Finland with a parliamentary delegation and saw the central prison in Helsinki — a flourishing organisation with metal workshops, carpentry shops, classrooms and a hospital. The kitchen was staffed entirely by prisoners. There were working parties outside and prisoners painted the building, parts because they needed painting and some to improve the appearance and atmosphere of the cells and other rooms.

In that prison, the most important person was not the governor but the sales director, whose job it was to find a market for the prisoners' work. When I asked the governor how Finalnd had managed to get the running of prisons so right while Britain had got it so wrong, he suggested that it might be because most members of the Finnish Government had been in prison; most had served time as political prisoners during the winter war. The unlikely picture of the then Home Secretary, Lord Whitelaw, in a striped prison suit was no doubt on all our minds when we agreed that Finnish Ministers had experience in these matters that our Ministers did not have.

On the publication of the Select Committee reports, one newspaper commented that the Government were long on sympathy but short on action, but it is clear that we must have exactly what the Select Committee recommended —a prison regimes Act so that prisoners know their rights, which at present are entirely at the discretion of the governor.

It is important to bear in mind, however, that just as the Leader of the House of Commons is perhaps less important than the Whips and gets his way less often than they do, the prison governor's role is secondary to that of the prison officers, who have the real power and clout. Only when their situation is right will the overall problem be solved. I do not refer to their pay, which I believe is reasonable, but as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) pointed out, in 1981 every prison officer worked an average of 14 hours overtime per week and the figure is probably higher now.

Prison officers must recognise that prisoners want and are entitled to education but that they cannot obtain it without the good will of the prison officers. It is natural that some prison officers are jealous when prisoners are seen to receive a better education than their own children or next of kin.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not just a matter of children or other relatives but that conditions in the service do not make it easy for prison officers themselves to improve their education?

Mr. Freud

I entirely agree. No doubt the Minister wall refer later to the 45,000 inmates of our prisons, but the true figure should be 65,000 because the 20,000 prison officers actually spend more time in prison than the average prisoner. Once a prison officer is allocated to a prison he faces a life sentence which is not commutable. The average prisoner might serve eight, 10 or 12 years, but the prison officer spends his entire working life in that prison. Certainly, prison officers are jealous of the greater facilities available to those who have done wrong than to those who have done right — the prison officers themselves. That is why I believe that we must first achieve contentedness among prison officers and remove the reasons for their jealousy. If that means teaching 20,000 prison officers as well as making teaching available to 45,000 prisoners, so be it—it is a good cause.

I do not believe that the Home Office has the slightest idea of what goes on in the prisons or what should go on in them. If I asked the Minister now whether people are sent to prison as punishment or for punishment I doubt whether he could give an answer. As he seems to have fallen asleep, it seems unlikely that he will even try.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I am listening.

Mr. Freud

That is the best news that I have heard for some time. In that case, I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman so that he can answer my question. Are citizens sent to prison as punishment or for punishment?

Mr. Hurd

I was simply making it clear that I was listening to the hon. Gentleman with great care. I shall seek to reply to his points later, if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Freud

I am grateful to the Minister. I believe that some people are sent to prison for different reasons but until there is a prison regime Act, prisoners will not know their rights and privileges. We must have statutory rules on these matters.

In my view the Government are unkeen on prison education because they regard it as a waste of resources. Officers are needed to take prisoners to and from classes. The officers themselves are unkeen to do that because it is a bore. The real trouble is that educationists, prison officers and the Home Office are all working in different directions. Unlike colleges of further education, the workshops are staffed by Home Office employees while the teachers are employed by the local education authority; they have different rates of pay, different working weeks and even different pension arrangements. What we know is how little concern there is on the part of the Government. Although I am tempted, I shall not quote too much from the three reports before us. But they are valuable reading because they show the Committee's most careful concern for prisoners and their plight.

The evidence to the Select Committee came from all branches of those interested in prisons, prisoners and prison reform. I am not very sold on the average political persuasion of the Prison Officers Association, but I shall quote one member of the association, Mr. Evans. This is the only quotation that I shall use. He said: I think it has to be said, Mr. Chairman, that if Parliament got it right in education then it would be the first thing that they have had right on the penal system for a very long time. I believe that one of the problems is that the prison officers feel that they have been let down by the Home Office; let down in that they have been shown no direction in which to go. There is too little lead from the Home Secretary; too much is left to the discretion of the prison governor and he is to some extent at the mercy of the prison officers.

There are many prisons with prison farms. They are farmed and food is produced, but that food is not allowed to be sold because the unions will not allow it. Here I blame not the Home Office but the unions, for not being understanding. I am sorry that prison officers, the vast majority of whom have the well-being of prisoners at heart, have not tried to persuade their union colleagues at the TUC to be more sympathetic in allowing prisoners to work, as they do in Finland. Where that is done it occurs at no great detriment to the employment situation but with enormous elevation of the dignity of man.

I understand that it is time-consuming and organisationally difficult to teach prisoners. But it is astonishing that all sorts of people are allowed to visit prisoners, to preach to prisoners, to entertain prisoners, including celebrities. I was asked several times, before I came to Parliament, to visit Wormwood Scrubs and other prisons, at the behest of the late Lord Stonham, just to talk to prisoners there.

Why cannot educationists do the same and why must we have a procedural difficulty in making prison officers take prisoners in and out of cells? In olden days the prison chaplains had their own prison warder who had keys so that they could go where they liked. In this day and age, it would not be difficult to have a prison teacher with a key, who could move within the confines of the prison to teach those prisoners who were keen to learn. There are many of those.

I want the Minister to examine particularly the plans of the new prisons that are being built, to see whether he can arrange facilities to make it easier for prison education to be effected. There should be fewer keys, more access and greater dignity, and no need to involve more than perhaps one supervisory prison officer in the gambit of being taught.

Our hope for the best sort al education in prisons is, as ever, to present a wide range of educational facilities. I am not sold on any particular examination. As the hon. Member for Hillsborough has said, let us begin with teaching those prisoners who cannot read or write to become literate, but let it range upward to encompass the Open University, via all the other educational hurdles.

Mr. Greenway

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the nation's prisons need a proper assessment of the educational needs of prisoners as they go into prison so that they may be provided with the form of education that is most apposite? They could start on the ladder with a literacy scheme. Others may be interested in vocational education, or the Open University. In that way, each prisoner can proceed according to his needs, possibilities and aspirations.

Mr. Freud

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be very helpful to do so. It is something that the probation service might well be able to do. Probation officers are very experienced and educationally enlightened people. They could recommend the type of educational progress of prisoners to be borne in mind by the Home Office when it allocates people to prison.

To revert to the Open University, I am saddened, with all the good work that the Open University is doing, that its budget is being cut by 5 per cent. in real terms, even while the number of its customers has risen by 10 per cent. Of course, it will be impossible for the Open University to take prisoners, who are per capita more expensive clients for it, by virtue of being costly to visit; moreover, the university lecturers have to conform to the hours of the prison and not to their hours of availability.

In closing, I say simply to the Minister that the Select Committee report is worthy of more attention than he has accorded it. I ask him to re-examine the dignity of prisoners and to see whether, in the course of this Parliament, he can lend his support to the recommendation for the introduction of a prison regimes Bill and the proposal that education should be part and parcel of the rights of each prisoner.

6.17 pm
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

This is a very important debate. The House rarely discusses our prisons. All hon. Members will accept that, sadly, there are very dangerous people in our society who need to be kept in prison.

In a debate such as this we must emphasise once again to the Minister that many right hon. and hon. Members, and many people connected with penal establishments, believe that we have still far too many people in prison. The numbers are increasing year by year and there is major overcrowding in many prisons.

Wandsworth prison is in my constituency. It was built more than 100 years ago. I sit as a member of board of Wormwood Scrubs prison, which is very similar to Wandsworth. It is also very old and overcrowded. It lacks many modern amenities and facilities. I have visited those prisons on my occasions over many years. There are similar establishments in many parts of the country.

We know that prisons are designed to contain people. They are not supposed to be pleasant places, and they certainly are not. I believe that there should be three basics in all prisons. First and foremost, the food that is served to prisoners should be reasonable. There should be work opportunities as well as leisure, recreational and educational facilities.

When I visit a prison and taste the food, I usually find that it is not too bad. The complaint is that between the time that it leaves the prison kitchen and when the inmates sit down to eat it, it is cold. Surely we can all understand that complaint. We would all be annoyed if we went to a restaurant, or even went home, and found that our meal was cold. We can do something about that, but a man in prison cannot. The sad fact is that that causes endless complaints within the prisons, not least from the prison officers who have to suffer the anger of the men who say, "Why cannot the food that we are expected to eat be served in a pleasant condition?" There could be and should be a much greater improvement in the serving of food.

The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) spoke about the use of prison workshops. Both Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth have workshops. However, the Government have not done all that they could to develop prison industries. Those who become involved in the prison system understand the difficulties that many people do not appreciate. The prison governors and those who work in the prison workshops often say that the great problem is that men serving short sentences cannot be meaningfully employed. However, I believe that much greater use could be made of the workshops. It is no good the Minister saying that the Government are doing all that they can—they are not. Men are locked up for 22 hours a day, yet prison workshops are either closed or only partially used because there are not sufficient civilian instructors or work available. The Government could do a great deal about both those points. I speak not of the open, modern prisons, but of the vast majority of prisons that are old and overcrowded. The Government, especially the Home Office, must do a great deal more.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) spoke of his experiences in Finland, and I endorse his comments. Many of us have travelled to various parts of the world to visit prisons to see how their systems operate. In many countries there are good, modern prison industries. If they can do it, so can we.

We often hear people say that if prisoners were working and were paid reasonable wages, that would be a means to support the prisoner's family. That is a commendable aim, but there are many problems involved in seeking such a development. The real issue is ensuring that we make use of the workshops and that we get the men out of the cells and occupied. I am sure that the Minister reads the reports of the prison board visitors. He cannot be in any doubt that the visitors feel that there is a great lack of work facilities in our major prisons. The Government have no excuse for saying that they are not fully aware of the problems.

The debate is primarily about education facilities, but when we have an opportunity to debate prisons other issues need to be aired. I warmly welcome the speeches of hon. Members who served on the Committee looking at the education facilities in prisons. I have met many educationists who do their utmost and have a great record of devotion, quite often despite the appalling lack of concern and help from the Home Office. They have proven themselves time and again in trying to develop education facilities.

Despite some of the comments that I have heard this evening, I have found from my close contact with the Prison Officers Association that there is rarely any objection from prison officers to the development of education facilities. A good prison officer knows that if a prisoner is occupied in doing something of interest, rather than being locked away hour after hour in his cell, the prison officers will have to deal with fewer problems. Prison officers come in for a great deal of criticism. I can only tell the House that I meet prison officers who do not know who I am, yet I see them performing great acts of kindness for the men for whom they have responsibility. I hope that the Minister will endorse my comments. Prison officers perform a difficult task with a great deal of consideration, and credit should be given to them.

Many people in prison have great skills and abilities. They need the opportunity to further their education. Men and women in prison can take Open University courses. However, I am concerned with those in our prisons—the majority being men — who cannot read or write. They should be the priority in our education system. When talking to them and trying to build some confidence, I frequently hear them say, "I never learnt to read or write. When I tried to find a job I was asked to fill in a form. I had to make an excuse rather than say that I could not read or fill out a form." Teaching reading and writing should be a major priority.

If a prisoner has certain abilities, he has a degree of confidence and can ask for certain services. He can say that he has O-levels or A-levels and that he wants to take an Open University course. If, in its annual report, a prison can say that a certain number of prisoners took Open University courses, that is to the prison's credit. I welcome that. However, I do not want what I call the elitist education system to develop in our prisons. It would not be right for those with ability automatically to get education facilities, and for prisoners who cannot read or write and lack confidence to have to struggle and rely on sympathetic governors or boards of visitors for those facilities. I hope that the Minister will consider that point further.

The library service is important in prison education. I do not know whether the Committee visited prison libraries. I have visited some, but they were nothing to write home about. Often when a visitor says, "I do not think much of your library", the reply will be, "We do not have the facilities. The prison is crowded". I accept that problem, but a library should be part of a prison education service.

All hon. Members know that a person interested in developing his knowledge and academic ability needs books. That must be taken into account. Many prisons will suffer enormous problems developing their library and education services as a result of the Government's rate-capping legislation. Local authorities often ensured that a library service was available—Hammersmith borough provided one at Wormwood Scrubs. However, there is little hope of a London borough doing that, not because it is unsympathetic but because it does not have the backup facilities. That will occur all over the country. It is one thing for the Minister to tell the House that the Government have a mandate for their rate-capping legislation, but it is another fully to appreciate its long-term effects on services such as the prison service.

Many hon. Members are interested in the prison service, and I could talk about many issues. There are many things wrong with our prisons. The Minister has shown that he, too, realises that new problems are continually cropping up. Many men and women prisoners are mentally ill and should be treated elsewhere, but the prison service does not receive much Government help to move them to a more appropriate establishment for care. There is an increasing drugs problem. I wonder whether the Home Office fully understands the seriousness of it. If it does not, the problem will hit it soon.

If we get our priorities right, we can help. Even under the previous Labour Governments there were money limitations, as there will always be. I accept that. It is regrettable, but it is a fact. However, if we get our priorities right, there is much that we can do. I should like to see more meaningful consultations with the Prison Officers Association. The Minister may say that consultation takes place, but it does not in the talks with the present executive and general secretary of the association. They want meaningful consultations and want to work to overcome the problems. Sadly, they are not receiving much help from the Home Office, which is unwilling to participate. I hope that the Home Office will recognise the willingness of prison officers and their organisation to be involved in day-to-day issues and in improving prisons.

Either we face up to the problems in prisons or we see greater violence and disruption in our prisons. No hon. Member would wish to see that. I have seen the effects of a prison riot and prisoners on prison roofs. It is frightening to see the anger of men who have had to resort to that because they could not vent their anger and frustration in any other way. The priority of the House and especially of the Home Office should be to assuage that anger by providing education and other facilities. All hon. Members will wish the Home Office well, but it must show hon. Members that it recognises the problems and wants to overcome them.

6.36 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

I welcome the debate on this subject, which is of enormous importance to the prison system and the country. Over the past few years I have visited many prisons and other Home Office penal establishments. I remember visiting Wormwood Scrubs soon after the riots. My memory of an incident during that visit is as fresh as it was that day.

Following the midday meal, I asked to see one of the cells that catered for more than one prisoner. The deputy governor showed me up to a cell. When he opened the door, I saw a bunk bed with a prisoner lying on each level, and a third prisoner lying on a separate bed on the other side of the cell. There was just enough space to walk between the beds. It was early afternoon and I asked whether they were going back to work or to education. They said, "No." I asked them whether they had been out that morning, and they said, "No." I asked them whether they had gone out the previous day, and they said, "No." I asked whether they had been out of their cells at all and they said that they went out for their one hour of exercise. They had been inside for about five months, and during that period they had spent 23 hours a day lying on their beds. They were young men in their mid-twenties and were lying there day after day in an atmosphere of abject despair, boredom and desperation.

I believe that when those men are released they will be more of a threat to society than they would be if they had had the opportunity of work, training and education while in prison. The position may have improved since then. That incident took place some years ago. However, it struck me then that we had a serious problem to face. We know that that problem occurs in many other prisons. We have evidence from the Select Committee and other bodies that far too many prisoners do nothing while they are inside. I noted that the riots at Wormwood Scrubs took place following the closure of the education block, and it is believed that that was a contributory factor. I can well understand why.

I have visited other prisons and left with a greater sense of optimism. I visited the borstal in Rochester—the original borstal — for young men. It is no longer a borstal as the custodial arrangements have changed, but I trust that training continues. The young men there were doing City and Guilds courses, painting and decorating, carpentry and mechanics. There was a general sense of optimism about the place. The young men were confident and positive. Several with whom I discussed the education that they were receiving said that they were leaving borstal with better qualifications than when they went in. They would be able to do a better job and earn more money. They were positive about this.

That was the other side of the coin from the rather depressing experience at Wormwood Scrubs. One can give examples of both sides. I am sure that many hon. Members could do so who have visited various establishments. I am not sure that a useful purpose would be served. I feel bound, however to mention Barlinnie, not that it comes under the Minister's responsibility, because I feel that the special unit there is of enormous interest to all of us who are interested in prisons. It gives hope by arranging an environment in which people can work, study and learn, even when that environment is unstructured as in Barlinnie. That poses greater challenges to the prisoners than a structured environment. The men can develop themselves, acquire skills and begin to adopt attitudes to society which I venture to suggest they would never have adopted had they remained in their old prisons in Peterhead or wherever they were before they went to Barlinnie. A great deal can be done and achieved for people in prison but, alas, too little is being achieved.

Education in prison has three functions. The first is to relieve the boredom and monotony of day-to-day life in prison, and to widen the horizons of prisoners, especially those serving long sentences, who would otherwise feel as frustrated as the men in Wormwood Scrubs whom I described.

Secondly, education in prison can provide something in prison that nothing else can—it can teach people how to make choices about their lives. People get into serious trouble and are sent to prison because they have handled their lives badly and have made the wrong choice, whatever other pressures there were on them. Society then puts them into a penal establishment where they are virtually unable to make any decisions about their lives. Everything is decided for them, except at Barlinnie as I said.

It is difficult for me to understand how an environment in which men—it is usually men—can make no choices will help them to cope with society outside where they will again have to make good or bad choices, depending on whether they are going straight or getting into further trouble. Education has the supreme attraction in that it enables prisoners to make choices about an element of their lives while they are in custody.

The third function of education in prison is to help prisoners prepare for the day that they are released. As many hon. Members have said, at one end of the scale that can mean teaching basic literacy, which will equip prisoners to cope with the outside world better than if they remained illiterate and—if there were any jobs outside —less able to obtain jobs on their discharge. At the other end of the scale, there are a number of highly intelligent and ingenious prisoners whose resourcefulness and abilities have hitherto been devoted to crime. If those talents can be diverted into a more positive direction, it will be a gain for them and society. Alas, it does not always happen that way.

I had a constituent on whose behalf I battled for a number of years. He wanted to take an Open University course, but because his first eligible date for parole was before the completion of the Open University course, he was prevented from starting. In the event, of course, he did not obtain parole. He was denied the chance to start his Open University course for reasons that seemed so absurd that I found them hard to believe until the letter I received from the Home Office confirmed that that was the practice in the prison department. I am pleased to say that the man has been released. He did not manage an Open University course, but he is out of prison and sends me occasional postcards to say that he is getting on all right.

Some people within prison and penal establishments are committed to education. I am aware of the enthusiasm with which people at detention centres feel that their approach to education can benefit the young men who go there. That is right, but with the coming of the short, sharp shock sentences—three weeks in practice—I have heard one or two people connected with junior detention centres express regret that they did not have the young people in for long enough and therefore could not do enough for them. If they had them longer they could help them more. That is a slightly ridiculous argument because it implies that the purpose of a sentence is to educate people. Surely that is not the case, but I mention it because it was an example of enthusiasm which somewhat ran away with itself.

It is clear from what hon. Members have said, and what the Select Committee report explained, that there are enormously wide variations in available education. There is an element of chance as to whether a prisoner has good opportunities for education or virtually none. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred to the information given in the Select Committee report about the number of workshops which were operating at half capacity. The question to which I have tried and failed to obtain the answer in the past is how many prisoners on a given day are working or being trained, and how many are doing nothing? The Home Office has so far been unable to provide that information. I suspect that it would be a serious indictment of what goes on in our prisons. It would reveal how little time is used purposefully and how much is spent in the cells doing nothing.

When replying to the debate, and answering the accusations that there have been cuts in services, the Minister may say that expenditure has increased, but I do not believe that he can deny, whatever has happened to the money, that in real terms there have been cuts in services and that a lower standard of education is now provided in prison than a few years ago. That is why there have been so many pleas for expansion. The Select Committee, the May report, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons and almost everyone who has considered education in prison makes a plea for expansion.

Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to the Select Committee recommendation that there should be a new prison regimes Act. That argument seems unanswerable, because unless there is a statutory basis for the matters about which we have been talking, to compel the prison department to provide adequate minimum standards of education, and adequate opportunities for all prisoners in all establishments, I fear that nothing sensible will happen. Pious hopes and wishes are no substitute for a determination to provide the necessary type of education. That is why I believe legislation to provide minimum standards of education is necessary. I regret the Government's flabby response to the Select Committee report.

In arguing for better educational opportunities in prison, we are not being soft on prisoners. We are in no way condoning the crimes that led prisoners to be in prison. We are saying that decent education can bring a number of benefits. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned the Prison Officers Association. Prison officers have to cope with the consequences of many of the things that are wrong with our prisons. Being a prison officer is a difficult and unenviable task. The provision of better education would help prison officers in their day-to-day tasks. They would be dealing with fewer discontented, angry, frustrated and bored prisoners. Proper education in prison would benefit prisoners while they are in prison and, above all, when they leave; society would be protected. I would feel much safer in the knowledge that prisoners being discharged from prison had spent most of their time working, learning and training rather than lying in cells doing nothing. If I know that prisoners are discharged having served long sentences during which they have done virtually nothing, I am worried that their anger and frustration will probably be directed against society, thus endangering all of us. I regard a commitment to education in prisons as being helpful to society. It would make our streets and homes safer. I hope that the Government will listen to the pleas that have been made on both sides of the House saying that education in prison is so important that we cannot afford just to tinker at the edges and leave the main problem alone. I hope that the Minister will respond positively.

6.49 pm
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Douglas Hurd)

I agreed with almost all of the first part of what the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) said. It would be hard to better his explanation of the purposes of prison education and the ideals that should underlie it. I have found the debate fascinating. It is the first of its type that I have attended. It illustrates the importance of the subject and of the Select Committee system. It is the duty of a Select Committee to act as a stimulus to the Government and, when it thinks it necessary, to act as a goad. The two reports have served that purpose.

Sensible Governments welcome stimulus and, although it is more painful, an occasional goading, provided that they are being goaded in the direction in which they think it is right to go. That is certainly true of prison education. The Select Committee is pressing us to devote greater resources to prison education and, generally, to devote more coherent attention to prison education. I welcome that. It is a direction in which we want to go. It is good in itself that the House, through its Select Committee and through today's debate, should show that interest.

The prison department report of 1982 said: The upsurge of interest in education services did much to raise the morale of education staff". I am sure that the Select Committee has had that effect in its visits, in its reports and in today's debate. I pay tribute to and compliment those who have taken the lead, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) whose great enthusiasm for the subject spans many years. Yesterday I read an Adjournment debate of 1980 in which he eloquently set out his enthusiasm. Today he gave us another eloquent and strongly felt speech. He was well seconded by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). There was idealism in their speeches, and it would be a bad day for the House if idealism became a term of criticism.

The second report contains some harsh words about the Government's response to the first report that, to some extent, have been repeated today. I do not believe that those harsh words were justified, but it is not enough to say that. Any Minister who is confronted with such words in a report of the House should sit up sharply and reflect why they were used and what issue provoked them. There is no division between the Government and the Select Committee about the importance of prison education. We have a good story to tell about performance and I propose to tell it. Nor is there any division about the need for greater resources. At a time of great financial stringency we are acting on that agreement. The prison programme is one of the few major spending programmes that is increasing substantially in real terms and prison education is getting a reasonable share. There is no division about the need to increase the number of weeks in the education year in prisons and there is no division about most of the Select Committee's practical recommendations.

The main division arises on the recommendation in the first report for a new prison regimes Act. That recommendation is repeated in the second report and was repeated again in most of the speeches made by members of the Select Committee and by the hon. Member for Battersea. Perhaps I should explain why the Government have reached a different conclusion before I explain what we are doing in tune with the Select Committee's report.

I am sorry that, in its second report, the Select Committee interpreted the Government's response as dismissive. It was not intended to be so. Much thought has gone into the matter and we do not believe that circumstances that are so varied and changing as the present prison regime can helpfully be prescribed in substantive legislation. The needs of prisoners, staff and the service as a whole are constantly changing and vary widely. Detailed, substantive legislation might become radically out of date and in need of change.

Hon. Members ask themselves from time to time whether legislation in general terms is worth its salt. Hon. Members might not agree, but one of the lessons that I have learnt in a relatively short time is that we have had quite a few Acts that lay down general obligations in general terms, the practical effects of which have not always matched the good intentions with which we set out. Expectations are raised by general phrases and then dashed because those phrases are not turned immediately into reality. That happens under Governments of both colours. We should reflect carefully and be somewhat chary before pursuing that route.

We believe that the type of detailed provisions that the Select Committee has recommended should have a place in legislation but that that legislation should be in the form of the rules approved by Parliament under the Prison Act 1952 and in guidance issued by the Department to its establishments.

Mr. Flannery

Am Ito understand that the right hon. Gentleman is saying that the central theme that we have pushed in almost every speech today is not acceptable to the Government, as the Government's answer to the first report shows? Is he now saying that there is adequate legislation which, if worked out properly, would solve the problems of prison education? If that is what he is saying, will he explain why prison education is in such a mess and why the Government have not done something about it through existing legislation?

Mr. Hurd

We believe that prison education requires and is now receiving a great effort in terms of resources and staff. I shall expound on that later. The Select Committee will always want us to do more. That is perfectly proper, but I wish to show that we are doing a great deal and that a great deal more can and will be done in our programmes under existing legislation. I was trying to explain why we do not believe why new primary legislation is necessary. Changes are needed in the present rules to modernise many of the points to which the Select Committee has drawn attention.

Mr. Greenway

Like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), I am most disappointed by what my right hon. Friend has said. He seems to take refuge in prison rules and to say that they will be looked at and perhaps redrawn with a view to making the prison education system more modern and sensible. But why have not those rules been redrawn for more than 20 years, and why have we been hearing talk of redrawing them for at least five or six years when nothing has happened?

Mr. Hurd

I accept that criticism. I believe that the rules should be redrawn, and they will be. However, I am afraid that I cannot say exactly when the House will be asked to approve new versions. I do not think that my hon. Friend would disagree that it is important that as much effort as possible should go into the resources that are increasingly being devoted to prison education. Nevertheless, I accept my hon. Friend's rebuke. However, the practical need is for a revision of the prison rules rather than primary legislation. In the light of their experience in other areas, hon. Members will know of the limited value of new primary legislation, which takes a great deal of time and requires a lot of effort and which may simply raise expectations that cannot quickly be satisfied.

I should like to give a more detailed reply than that which we gave to the Select Committee's first report as to what is happening to our efforts in prison education. I shall deal with the money involved first, but I entirely accept the point made by many hon. Members that figures for expenditure are not in themselves the answer. In 1982–83, the budget for education, libraries and vocational training equipment was £10.5 million, in 1983–84 it was £12.1 million and in the current financial year it stands at £12.9 million. Those figures, however, are minima because they do not include several costs which fall outside the prison budget but which are, in effect, to do with prison education. They compare with £500,000 for all prison education in the mid-1960s. So it was £500,000 then and it is £12.9 million now.

The cash figures that I have just given represent increases of 15.2 per cent. in 1983–84, and 6.6 per cent. in 1984–85—or, in other words, an increase of almost 23 per cent. in expenditure on prison education over those two years. That is considerably higher than the rate of increase over the same years for prison service expenditure overall and is, of course, well ahead of, and indeed about double, the rate of inflation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the figure per head, per prisoner?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that I have that statistic to hand, but I can certainly let the hon. Gentleman have it. I am talking about the rather rapid rise in real terms in the expenditure on prison education.

The cash that I have just described has enabled the number of full-time and part-time teachers to be increased in 78 prison service establishments, split between 50 prisons and 28 young offender establishments. That increase amounts to 36 full-time teachers and at least 27,000 hours of part-time teaching.

The improvement in the Home Office per capita payments to the local library authorities for their facilities in prison service establishments is reflected in a rise from £3.47 to £5.085. The Home Office has been able to open negotiations with the Open University for a modest increase in the number of establishments designated for Open University degree study.

So far I have dealt with the cash involved and the total of manpower, but I should like now to discuss the use of that manpower. Prison education is a partnership that involves the Home Office, the local education and public library authorities and the principal trade unions concerned. With them are associated the Department of Education and Science and Her Majesty's inspectorate of schools and, increasingly nowadays, a range of other education institutions and public bodies with an interest in such work.

In recognition of the importance of the subject and of its growth, the Home Office recently established with its main partners a national consultative committee for prisoners' and trainees' education services in order to improve their communication and co-operation with each other, and to harmonise their policies and practices. I can, I think, report that the consultative committee is developing well, and in line with that development it became possible early this year for the Home Office to improve the internal organisation of its education branch so that it can work more effectively.

I shall comment briefly on some of the specifically educational recommendations in the Select Committee's first report as they relate to prisoners. I readily accept that those recommendations do much to chart the professional way ahead for prison education. We accepted the first two recommendations about follow-on education facilities in the community for prisoners when they come to the end of their sentences. The proposals carry forward policies that the Home Office was already working on, and a working party has now been set up to consider how they can be further developed. We likewise accepted the Committee's three recommendations dealing with professional issues in the staffing of the education services, the support that staff need on the job, their bases in colleges of further education or institutes of adult education, and the arrangements for their in-service training. Those, too, were welcome recommendations that pushed us further along a path upon which we had already set out.

One particularly important recommendation of the Select Committee involved the need to eliminate the 38-week educational year. We accept that. Progress is steady, and in this financial year we are taking steps to raise it to 40 weeks. We shall endeavour to manage our resources so that it is possible to raise the educational year to at least 46 weeks over the next two financial years. As the House will know, education already functions throughout the year in detention centres, and the new youth custody centres are being geared to a 46-week educational year. I hope that the House welcomes that response to one of the Select Committee's most important recommendations.

Concern for vocational training ran through many of today's speeches, and certainly through the Select Committee's first report. Again, we had no difficulty in accepting the recommendation that account should be taken of the experience of local education authority colleges in vocational training to broaden the scope of training in prisons. That, too, was something on which we were working. We like to seek advice over the widest possible area. The other two vocational training recommendations dealing with the unification of education, vocational training and construction industry training within individual prison managements, and the transfer, with safeguards, of vocational and construction industry training instructors to the employment of the LEAs, caused the Government a good deal of heart searching. Indeed, the House will have seen that from our response. After that heart searching, we decided to accept the first recommendation but not the second. The second recommendation led to acute differences of opinion among those concerned. It would be rather expensive, and it is not clear to us, at least at present, that it represents the best use of the money available.

That brings me to the Committee's other recommendation, that construction industry training should be united with vocational training arrangements as an integral part of prison education departments. Our sympathies lie with that recommendation. It is being studied in the Home Office as part of our management review of the prison service, and it is also being looked at in its professional terms within the prison department's directorate of regimes and services by the professional management interests involved. I cannot commit the department today to a particular solution, but we agree that a sensible management device is needed in the headquarters of the prison service and in individual prison service establishments to enable the LEAs, vocational training, construction training and education services to work more closely together than they do at present.

Several hon. Members have dealt with prison staff and that raises another point to which the Select Committee attached great importance. The Government were strongly in sympathy with what the Select Committee said about the education of prison service staff, especially prison officers. One recommendation that was made was that prison officers should take part as teachers in prison education programmes. There is a long tradition in the prison service, as hon. Members will know, of prison officers taking part as teachers in prisoners' and trainees' education programmes. I must admit that that tradition has been undermined in the past few years by the pressures on prison officers with which we are all familiar. It is the intention of the prison service, now that we are recruiting an increasing number of prison officers, that that tradition of former years should be resumed. I hope that the House will welcome that.

Thus, 11 vocational training instructors are following part-time courses leading to recognised certificates of education. Three more are doing the same leading to City and Guilds technical teachers' certificates. One is following a full-time course leading to a BEd degree, and one is following an Open University course. That is not the end of the tale. I could give other examples. In a number of establishments in Britain prison service staff have participated in recent years in local in-service training courses for part-time teachers run by the relevant LEAs.

Several hon. Members have rightly dealt with the problem of illiteracy. Let me give the House some statistics so that hon. Members will be able to assess the situation from their own professional experience. They show the importance that we attach to that matter and the progress that we have in mind. Of 34,670 prisoners who were assessed for literacy in a recent academic year, 5.9 per cent. were found to have a reading age of eight years or less and 12.9 per cent. one of 10 years or less. The figures for youth custody centre trainees were 10,759, 5.4 per cent. and 17.5 per cent. respectively. For detention centre trainees, the figures were respectively 12,460, 5.6 per cent. and 21.4 per cent. Resources are available to help youth custody and detention centre trainees with reading ages of less than 10 years and, increasingly nowadays, trainees with reading ages of less than 12 years are being included with them.

Resources for prisoners go to those with reading ages of eight years or less but increasingly now they are beginning to take in prisoners with reading ages below 10 years. The hon. Member for Hillsborough will probably agree that some of the best work in the education service is done with prisoners and trainees who have literacy and numeracy handicaps. The anecdote that he told us about that was particularly telling. The quality of the teaching and learning is usually high. However, we would all recognise from those figures that there is still a long way to go. A critical question has been asked about the situation in which staff increases are occurring while the overtime figures remain stubbornly high. I hope that in assessing that the House will keep in mind the immense increase in demand which has occurred. In the immediate post-war years in which the statistics start there was not substantial overcrowding in prisons. In addition, as the House knows, the number of dangerous prisoners serving long sentences for crimes of violence, including terrorism, has grown in recent years. Obviously that imposes a substantial extra demand. It means that there is a greater emphasis on security in the priorities of the prison service. Other facilities have improved alongside the improvement in education facilities. The demands on the prison service have hugely increased and that must be remembered when we consider the figures for staff and overtime. However, we are not in the least complacent about that. We are conscious of the need to use staff effectively and efficiently—hence the joint manpower review conducted by Home Office and Treasury officials and referred to in our reply to the first report. There will always be scope for improvement in the use of manpower.

The work of that review helped the Government last year in their decision to increase the size of the prison service by some 5,550 staff in the four years to April 1988. Because of the allegations of waste, it is worth pointing out that in the spring term of 1984 91 per cent. of all daytime education programmes and 87 per cent. of evening programmes throughout prison establishments were achieved. That is probably a rather higher figure than one would deduce from some of the things that have been said. The education centres at Leeds and Brixton, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North referred, are now in use. That at Leeds is in full-time use and that at Brixton in part-time use.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), backed up by others, made an understandable criticism of the difficulties experienced in keeping prison workshops going at the level that he would wish. It is true that prison industries have suffered, like other activities including education, from pressures on accommodation and manpower. Of course, the industrial climate has made matters more difficult, as anyone who has dealt with the problems of prison industries in manufacturing, particularly in finding markets for products, will understand. However, we are doing everything that we can to put prison industries on to a firm basis and to increase the extent to which they already meet prison department needs.

Mr. Freud

When the Minister says that the education programmes have been achieved, does he accept that, without a prison regimes Act under which prisoners would have a right to attend such classes as take place, the fact that a class takes place without a sufficient number of prisoners is no criterion of achievement?

Mr. Hurd

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman can prove that. I was trying to answer the point that, because of muddles, staff shortages, and so on, many programmes that were published and subscribed to did not take place. The figure that I gave was not perfect, but it was reasonable and showed how matters stand at the moment. I do not share the hon. Gentleman's belief that a change in the statutory requirements would in practice create a great difference on the ground. The difficulties with which staff wrestle remain and the greatly increased resources that we are putting in would not be increased by statutory requirements.

Reference has been made to libraries. The total book stock of libraries in all prison service establishments in 1982–83 was 711,000. On 31 March last year just over 24,000 prisoners and trainees — 56 per cent. of the custodial population—had books on loan. I note what has been said about inadequate facilities, but that figure shows fairly widespread lending.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough dealt with the question of classes which were cancelled because there were no escorts to take the prisoners to the classes. That certainly has been a problem. The additions to prison officer staff which we plan to make over the next few years and the efforts which we are making to improve the use of available manpower should ensure that prison officer escorts are regularly available to allow evening classes to take place. Escorts are crucial and we are determined that staff should be available. It is no secret that we want to have more staff available in normal hours, without overtime, because we believe that that would benefit all prison routines and regimes.

Mr. Flannery

I am glad to hear that promise. However, at holiday times, prisoners are still in prison while their teachers are on holiday. What can be done to ensure that education continues during that time?

Mr. Hurd

I will look into that matter in more detail. I said that there has been an increase in the number of weeks per year in which education is given. That covers part of the point, but the hon. Gentleman has raised one of the limitations with which we have to deal.

I should remind the House of some of the facts of the building programme, because they are relevant if hon. Members are to understand the background against which prison education is being improved.

Not all establishments are in poor condition, but the size of the population greatly exceeds the numbers that can be accommodated in what the House would regard as a respectable way. About 45,000 prisoners are being accommodated in a system that has a normal capacity of about 39,000. That is the main reason for the major new prison building programme. Fourteen new prisons are in the pipeline between now and 1991 and major extensions or refurbishments are planned or in progress at 90 establishments, including 23 of the 25 local prisons.

By 1991, a total of 10,000 new places will have been created. One fifth of prison accommodation will be less than seven years old and over half will be less than 30 years old. We cannot have a meaningful debate on prison education without understanding how the building needs are being considered.

We are aware that resources, the funds that they represent, buildings and staff are not enough without improved management information and we are beginning to introduce that. Computer technology is being introduced to help its development and better value for money is being sought for the 61 per cent. of the prisons Vote which is spent on staffing establishments. There will be greater delegation of authority and greater clarity about the lines of accountability so that staff with local responsibility for operational decisions are also accountable for making the best use of resources.

I do not think that the Select Committee would disagree with my view that we must keep a sensible balance between progress in prison education and progress in other services within the regime. If we stress one too much at the expense of the others we could destroy the interlocking and balance of services which are essential to good regime management.

I have tried to deal with the progress being made on money, staff, facilities and the diversity of educational arrangements to which we are committed. We intend to press ahead with that progress. I am delighted that the House has cross-examined us about it and I am sure that it will continue to do so. We are glad that the Select Committee has urged us forward and that its reports and this debate have alerted the House and the public to what is being done and what needs to be done. We are not in the least complacent about the gaps and inadequacies that remain, and I endorse what the hon. Member for Tooting said about prison service and the work of prison officers. They perform a notable service in sometimes difficult circumstances.

It will take time and continued commitment, but I believe that we are developing a realistic and humanitarian regime of useful activity for prisoners during their sentences and preparing them for their return to the community. That is an essential part of our prison policy and, thus, an essential part of the general strategy that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and his colleagues have worked out for this area of our national life.

It is fair to say that, partly as a result of the efforts of the Select Committee, prison education has come of age. We intend that its manhood should be vigorous and flourishing.

7.25 pm
Mr. Greenway

We have had a valuable and wide-ranging debate. I am glad that the Minister has been able to tell us of progress being made in many areas.

I am sure that the Select Committee will continue to take a close interest in what is happening and how things develop and I am sure that it has not said its last word on a prison regimes Act. However, in view of the progress that the Minister has announced, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The original Question was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 19 (Consideration of Estimates).