HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1065-6
7. Mr. David Bendel (Newbury) (LD)

How many hours per week on average prisoners spent in education in 2003. [148329]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins)

The average weekly figure for 2003 was 9.49 hours. This does not include distance learning, private study or learning that takes place on the wings, for example, through peer support schemes.

Mr. Rendel

As a result of a question that I asked Mr. Narey, the then director general of HM Prison Service, the 53rd report of the Public Accounts Committee in 2001–02 stated: The Prison Service said that the single action most likely to impact on re-offending was investment in education to enable prisoners to obtain jobs on release. Given that 50 per cent. of released prisoners reoffend within two years and that 80 per cent. of prisoners do not have the writing skills even to fill in a job application form, why is the Minister doing so little to increase education in prisons?

Paul Goggins

The 53rd report of the Public Accounts Committee was right, but the hon. Gentleman was wrong to say that little is happening. Last year, 41,000 basic skills qualifications were gained in our prisons and we anticipate that 50,000 will be gained this year. He is right to suggest that better education and more qualifications will equip people to get jobs and stay out of trouble. That is our objective and we are delivering on it.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab)

My hon. Friend knows that I visited Lancaster prison a few months ago and that I was impressed by the education facilities provided for some of its prisoners. It is important to reduce and stop reoffending, so will he tell us when such facilities will be increased and thus become available to all prisoners throughout the country?

Paul Goggins

I know about my hon. Friend's visit and I was grateful for his positive remarks afterwards—he is right. We have put in place education and skills coordinators in all our prisons to ensure that all prisoners have the opportunity to learn and develop skills. As we move forward with the new national offender management service, we want the joining up of education in our prisons and that for offenders in the community. As we do that, I think that we will get even better results.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con)

As the ability to read and write is a crucial ingredient of people's prospects of employment after imprisonment, will the Minister tell us what efforts the Government are making, and whether they have made any impact on the high percentage of prisoners without those skills?

Paul Goggins

The hon. Gentleman is right. The improvement of literacy and numeracy is fundamental. The numeracy and literacy rates in our prisons are deplorably low, which is why we are investing £59 million a year in education in our prisons. That is beginning to yield results because, it is anticipated that 50,000 basic skills qualifications will be gained in prisons this year. That represents an amazing step forward that we want to sustain and improve on. He is right that, if we continue to make such improvements, we will increase the chances of people staying out of trouble.