HL Deb 15 March 1982 vol 428 cc387-9
Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, for the foreseeable future, it is intended to maintain the present number of staff for educational and training work in penal establishments, and whether expenditure upon these services will be maintained at present levels at least in real terms: and if not what changes are envisaged.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, my right honourable friend is very conscious of the importance of education and training in prison régimes and everything possible is being done to maintain the high standards of these services. In view of the current constraints on public expenditure, however, he cannot give the assurances the noble Lord seeks. Nevertheless, the considerable investment in prison education and training of recent years and the current levels of expenditure will ensure that these services continue to make a valuable contribution to prison régimes.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, would the Minister accept that that is a disappointing reply; and in view of the importance that the Government attach to these matters, especially at a time when the prison population is increasing, that there should in fact be increased expenditure on these services especially because of the importance of resettlement? Would the Minister also accept that part-time training and education is an important part of these services, and that it is regrettable that there has been a substantial decrease in the number of part-time staff? Can the noble Lord say whether the Government intend to remedy these losses?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boston, refers to the reply as disappointing, but he also of course puts his finger on the reasons why it is not possible to give an absolute assurance; that is, because spending priorities within the prison service and the pressure of numbers and the heavy demands upon building resources caused by years of neglect make it impossible to give the absolute assurance that the noble Lord asks for. However, in the second part of his supplementary the noble Lord mentions the desirability of increased expenditure. I think I ought to say that whereas in the financial year we are just finishing the estimated expenditure will be some £9.2 million on prison education and training, a figure has been reserved for next year of £11.7 million, and within that figure we shall certainly look closely at the needs for part-time teachers.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, while welcoming the last part of the noble Minister's statement, may I ask him whether it would not be in order to praise highly the standard of teaching which goes on in prisons, and the results which are achieved regardless of numbers of staff, or indeed of prisoners who are benefiting from the staff's work?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I think particularly in the spheres of remedial education, where a great deal more is asked of the prison education service than is asked of the education service in the country generally, and also in the area of examinations, where the success rate is remarkably high, that the prison education service is to be congratulated.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, would the Minister consider one aspect of education in prisons on which we have had some correspondence; namely, the acquisition of skills in typewriting, which a prisoner can easily undertake within the privacy of his cell and with the minimum of supervision? Would the noble Lord agree that in spite of the difficulties he has mentioned in this correspondence, such as the need to search typewriters to make sure that unauthorised objects are not concealed in them, this is a skill which is particularly appropriate to be taught in prisons, and that if it cannot be done within the cells then facilities ought to be provided in the libraries, where the prisoners can learn under close supervision from the librarians?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, this is an interesting question, but it does not really arise on the original Question.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, can the Minister help so far as the new régime on youth custody is concerned, and whether it is intended that the present six hours per week of evening tuition, which is at the moment enshrined in the borstal training rules, will be continued under the new régime when it is introduced?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord an absolutely straight answer to that because we are in the process of deciding exactly how the statutory rules relating to education and training are to be re-written, but I assure the noble Lord that they are to be re-written to take account of the new young offender's legislation in the Criminal Justice Bill which is now before the House of Commons and of course has not yet come to your Lordships' House.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether, when the Government are able to spend this further amount of money on education, they will ensure that more subjects at a City and Guilds level will be able to be taken by those who are within Her Majesty's prisons? Would my noble friend agree that a great number of prisoners already come up to that standard, and indeed that some other prisoners take and pass Open University courses?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, within the budget figures that I gave at the beginning we shall certainly take account of what my noble friend Lady Macleod has said about the importance of vocational training. I confirm the truth of what my noble friend has said about the standards in vocational training that are achieved by prisoners.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, would it be possible to publicise the results of this educational work, which are quite remarkable in individual cases, of A-levels, university degrees, from prisoners with no apparent indication of capacity or ability? I think it would be a good thing for this to be publicised: something good to come out of the prison service for a change.

Lord Belstead

I think we should look at that in the context of the annual report of the prison service, my Lords, and I shall draw the attention of the Prison Department to what the noble and learned Lord said.

Baroness David

My Lords, will there be the officers available, under the new attendance system which is being negotiated for prison officers, to unlock prisoners and escort them to classes in the evening, and will there be as many evening and adult classes as there were before?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the attendance system has not yet been agreed with the Prison Officers' Association.

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