HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc709-10
9. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent action has been taken to make prisons better at reforming prisoners. [30270]

Miss Widdecombe

It is central to the Prison Service's mission statement that it helps prisoners to lead law-abiding lives both in custody and after release. Recent action to reduce reoffending and reform prisoners includes the introduction of a scheme of incentives and earned privileges, an increase in the number of hours that prisoners spend in purposeful activity, mandatory drugs testing, and strengthened offending behaviour programmes.

Mr. Greenway

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Bearing in mind the low level of education of many prisoners, does she agree that every penny spent on education for those in prison is well spent, and is especially helpful in reforming them and in enabling them to lead useful lives after prison?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why we have brought about a massive increase in education spending in our prisons, and in the amount of education spending per prisoner, and why the number of student hours in our prisons is nearly double the number that we inherited from the Labour party.

Mr. Pike

Despite what the Minister says, is it not important that the opportunities offered at prisons such as Risley for prisoners to be trained into jobs, and to be able find employment when they leave prison, should be available to every prisoner in every prison, so that there is a real possibility of reducing crime and prisoners do not have to end up back in prison?

Miss Widdecombe

Proper employment opportunities for prisoners do indeed play an important role in rehabilitation, and preparation for employment in outside life is certainly part of that role. That is why there has been a vast increase in employment opportunities for prisoners, and such a substantial increase in the number of hours of purposeful activity spent by prisoners and in the number of national vocational qualifications and other qualifications gained by prisoners. The hon. Gentleman was right; he merely failed to congratulate us on what we are doing in that respect.

Mr. Ashby

My hon. Friend outlined improvements in the Prison Service and in the welfare of prisoners in answer to an earlier question. Is she aware that, in evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday, it was noticeable that the privately run prisons were at the forefront of those improvements, and that the welfare and well-being of prisoners was better in private prisons than in the public sector? Does that not show that our policies are the right policies?

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that private sector prisons have an excellent record of achievement, with one being praised by the chief inspector of prisons as a model of good practice. My hon. Friend did not mention that that has been achieved with more cost-effectiveness and greater value for money than we currently achieve in the public sector. But there are also excellent examples in the public sector and it is in the interests of the Prison Service as a whole that good practice should be disseminated, no matter where it originates. I hope that the Opposition will bear that in mind when pouring scorn on private sector prisons that have achieved so much.