HC Deb 23 February 2004 vol 418 cc10-1
8. Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab)

What action he is taking to improve educational opportunities for prisoners. [155751]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department(Fiona Mactaggart)

We have increased substantially our investment in learning opportunities and funding will continue to rise—from £97 million this year to £137 million in two years' time. Prisoners have gained more than 100,000 qualifications in literacy and numeracy since April 2001 and are set to exceed targets again this year.

Mr. Hopkins

I thank my hon. Friend for her answer to my question. I recently had the interesting experience of visiting a prison for the first time— [Interruption.] I was a guest, not an inmate. I was impressed by the quality and commitment of the staff, and was most interested by conversations with inmates. They said that while they appreciated the opportunities for education, what they really wanted was skills training, particularly in construction trades, which would give them real alternatives to crime as and when they were released from prison.

Fiona Mactaggart

I am pleased to be able to reassure my hon. Friend that not only have we exceeded our targets in terms of achieving basic skills qualifications, but we have succeeded in increasing resources and achievements in vocational skills for prisoners. On work-related learning targets, in the first nine months of 2003–04 prisoners achieved more than 80,000 work-related qualifications against a target of 60,800

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con)

Does the Minister agree that successful rehabilitation of offenders through education and training while they are in custody depends on their having employment opportunities when they have finished their sentences? What discussions has she had with trade, industry and commerce on providing those employment opportunities to prevent reoffending?

Fiona Mactaggart

The hon. Lady will be aware that under this Government there are more employment opportunities for everybody as a result of our effective economic policies. Part of that process, through jobcentres and so on, is to provide appropriate support for ex-offenders to get into jobs.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab)

I invite my hon. Friend to come and see the success of the education and training programme at Usk prison in my constituency, and at the Prescoed centre nearby. When I last visited the prison, I was particularly impressed to hear prison officers admit that they first came into the job as hard-nosed screws but are now involved in literacy programmes, as they recognise that if prisoners are not to offend again they need the skills to be able to apply for jobs, keep jobs and have the sense not to reoffend.

Fiona Mactaggart

My hon. Friend is right to recognise the sense of personal reward that many prison officers gain from contributing to the learning of offenders—because, I believe, they realise that by improving offenders' qualifications they can ensure that they do not see them again. That, in the Prison Service, is a mark of success.