HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc712-3
12. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the Minister of State last visited a prison in the south-west of England to discuss prison education. [30274]

Miss Widdecombe

I have visited a number of prison establishments in the south-west, including of course the Verne and Portland in my hon. Friend's constituency. My most recent visit to a prison in the south-west was on 8 January and I will be undertaking a further series of visits to the south-west in September. I discuss a wide range of issues, including education, whenever I visit a prison establishment.

Mr. Bruce

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and for her welcome visit to my constituency. Does she feel that the greater link between prison education and local education facilities—for example, Weymouth college in my constituency—has been beneficial in ensuring that the education that prisoners receive is in line with that received by the community, so that qualifications can be transferred when they re-enter the community after their sentence?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed I can confirm that. Further, the arrangements that we have made to contract out education locally give greater flexibility and greater clarity and have generally been welcomed as an initiative by governors and staff.

Mr. George Howarth

The Minister may be aware that I visited the young offenders institute in the constituency of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) yesterday. I have visited a number of prisons, as has the Minister. Is she aware that a recent survey, which covered the south-west and the rest of the country, revealed that on average 14.5 per cent. will be cut from prison service education—in some prisons, the figure is as high as 83 per cent. —which will lead to the loss of 300 jobs and 16,000 prison education hours? Is that what the Minister means when she says that she is committed to rehabilitation through education? The reality is that there will be fewer hours, fewer teachers, less education and less chance of education stopping reoffending. Is the Minister not ashamed of that record?

Miss Widdecombe

As ever, the Opposition are totally incapable of distinguishing between quality and quantity. I will give the hon. Gentleman some of the facts. We inherited from the last Labour Government— [Interruption.] The House is going to hear this. We inherited a real-terms expenditure of £17,800 per prisoner and we have increased that to £26,000 per prisoner. That is what we have achieved, and that shows the callous neglect of prisoners by the Labour Government. They neglected overcrowding, they neglected purposeful activity, they neglected education—

Mr. Henderson

This is a world record.

Miss Widdecombe

As the hon. Gentleman suggests, I could go on for a long time detailing the Opposition's neglect. By contrast, we have reduced overcrowding, increased purposeful activity, increased education, increased qualifications and introduced and increased offending behaviour programmes. We actually care about rehabilitation because it protects the general public. You cannot trust the Labour party to protect the general public.

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