HL Deb 27 November 1997 vol 583 cc1086-8

3.18 p.m.

The Earl of Longford asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the expenditure on education in prisons in 1995-96 and 1996-97; and what will be the expenditure in 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I can provide figures on how much the Prison Service has spent on education in past years. But the service can only estimate what it will have spent this year and what it will spend next year. That is because responsibility for deciding how individual prison budgets should be allocated to elements of the particular regime, including education, and other purposes lies with each governor. Governors buy education provision from local education suppliers on a monthly basis. That allows them to vary the amount of education they buy according to need.

Against that background, I give your Lordships the following figures for Prison Service expenditure on prisoner education: £36,956,000 in 1995-96; £34,481,000 in 1996-97. The service estimates that in 1997-98 it will have spent £36,266,000.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I venture to ask the much respected Minister whether he will allow me to share his obvious discomfort at giving such a distressing Answer? Is he aware that this country is said to be—I am glad to think that it is—richer than ever and we are getting richer and richer, but we are also given to understand that our prison population is increasing? Am I correct in saying that the amount that is spent on education in prisons is decreasing in real terms? Can the Minister provide any conceivable justification for that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, discomfort is always in the eye of the beholder and I do not feel at all discomforted or uncomfortable. With due deference to our predecessors, I must say that the recent fall has to be measured against the earlier rise in such spending of almost 21 per cent. between 1993 and 1995. Of course, we shall never reach a situation where we have funds available for every worthy cause. We are trying to establish and maintain a constructive, civilized prison regime which—I cannot emphasise this too strongly—this Government believe must include re-education and reskilling for the outside world.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in any civilized approach to penal policy, the biggest challenge of all is the rehabilitation of prisoners, and that in terms of prisoners' rehabilitation it is difficult to think of a higher priority than education? Therefore, can my noble friend reassure us that the Government are committed, as resources permit, to giving education within the prison system the priority that it deserves?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that question. Rehabilitation is enormously important, as I indicated a few days ago, and that is why we are intent on introducing the tagging scheme, which will give those prisoners who are serving between three months and four years and who are within two months of the end of their incarceration the opportunity to return to the community. That is an important aspect of rehabilitation. I can absolutely confirm that, when the resources are available, we intend to tackle these long-lying, deep-seated problems in the prison regime, but we cannot do everything overnight.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, bearing in mind that expenditure on education in the Prison Service is devolved to individual governors, can the Minister tell the House what variation there is in such expenditure between the different establishments and whether the Home Office conducts any research about the outcome of the differential education expenditure in our prisons?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are intending to appoint a director of regimes at prison board level, with assistant directors responsible for different components of the prison system. One of those assistant directors will have specific responsibility for regime services. We would expect those assistant directors to be in place not later than January of the coming year.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most important services in preparing prisoners for their release, whether early or not, is the Probation Service? Does the Minister share the concern of many in that service that the fluctuations in expenditure on that service by prison governors have been as unpredictable and as difficult to deal with as those relating to the education of prisoners?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I believe that I touched on that question earlier when answering supplementary questions arising from the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I venture to repeat that the Home Secretary has in hand a review of the relationship between the Prison Service and the Probation Service, because we believe that both work towards a common purpose. Co-operation between the Probation Service and the Prison Service on a fuller and more integrated basis should be seriously considered.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, does the Minister realise that what he has said will cause enormous pain to everyone involved in education, both in prisons and out of them? Does he also realise that this matter will be pursued relentlessly until we get a better Answer?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I accept the latter proposition—that the matter will be pursued relentlessly. Indeed, we welcome that. Any question relating to prison resources is respectfully answered. However, I do not believe that what the Home Secretary is doing in a multi-faceted attack on the problems of crime and criminals causes pain except to those criminals who may be adversely affected by it.