HL Deb 05 November 1998 vol 594 cc372-4

3.30 p.m.

Lord Addington asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to recognise dyslexia among the adult prison population.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, we were much too prompt in stopping the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, from intervening. I am sorry that we did so. I understand that he simply wished to congratulate my noble friend. We were in the wrong—on that occasion.

I had the opportunity of speaking to the Dyspel conference on Tuesday. Dyspel was set up to explore and address the relationship between dyslexia and offending, and I am pleased to support the essential work that it is undertaking.

The Prison Service is taking a number of steps to recognise dyslexia among the adult population in terms of research, development and current and future practice. It will be issuing advice by the end of this year on screening prisoners for dyslexia.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that, if we are to deal with the problem within the prison population, of which it is thought that up to 50 per cent. may be suffering from dyslexia, help must be given in a way that is suitable to adults who are in prison? Giving help which is based on school assessment and teaching may merely accentuate any feelings of isolation or resentment towards the system.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely important point. The guidance on screening will be in place for those in the dispersal prison regime by 1st January 1999. One needs to remember, however, that there are many juveniles in custody who also have problems. That is a significant matter which we must address with great care.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many dyslexic school children do not receive enough help and remedial teaching and therefore drop out of school and turn to crime through frustration and boredom? The level of those who have dropped out in young offenders' institutions is very high. Could the Department of Education and the Home Office work together in looking at the problem?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we believe that that is central. We cannot fragment the Prison Service from the Probation Service and the rest of the criminal justice system and from mainstream education. There has unfortunately been a misapprehension in the past that dyslexic children are dull or stupid, and that has caused them to lose heart. They are not dull or stupid; they have special needs which must be attended to.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the connection between the frustration of intelligent people in school at their failure to progress has been established as a link with offending, that the link between that and dyslexia is obvious and that the progress of the programme which he proposes is therefore urgent? Can he tell us whether resources will he available to guarantee sufficient out-of-cell time to make it effective?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I agree with the proposition made by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The STOP research project, which was run by Shropshire Probation Service, discovered that, of a large number of those who had learning difficulties, including dyslexia, in one study 90 per cent. had truanted from school at some time, 64 per cent. habitually. I stress the importance that we attach to this matter. The screening guidance in the dispersal regime will be available to governors not later than 1st January next year.

Lord Henley

My Lords, as one of those classed as hopeless by the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, perhaps I may put a question to the noble Lord. Does he agree that funding is of crucial importance in terms of tackling dyslexia in prisons? Does he, therefore, also agree that it was unfortunate that last year the Prisons Minister announced a cut in funding from some £1,774 million to some £1,733 million? I accept that since then the noble Lord has announced an increase in funding of some £200 million. Is that an increase on the previous figure or on the higher figure, or is it an increase on the figure that we would have announced had we remained in office, which would have been a figure larger than that announced by the Government?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not know what figure the noble Lord would have announced had he still been in government. On past form—if I may use that phrase in this context—it would probably have been a reduction. As has already been announced, we are providing an increase of £226 million for prison regimes and, in particular, proper directorates of regimes which will deliver focused, useful benefit to those in prison. It is undoubted, as I think all your Lordships will agree, that there is a distinct connection between poor levels of literacy and numeracy, and therefore poor performance in the job market, and the prospect of re-offending.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I welcome the Minister's reply. Does he agree with Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons that rarely have adequate needs analyses been undertaken of prison education? Would he consider it appropriate to set up monitoring machinery at every prison reception so that dyslexia is identified at an early stage? The sooner it is identified, the sooner it can be dealt with.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is quite right. The reference I made to instructions being given to governors in the dispersal estate by 1st January 1999 dealt with precisely this point. Dyslexia needs to be identified at the induction stage, which is when the screening is intended to occur. I am glad to say that, not for the first time, we are both in complete agreement.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I must declare an interest as the father of a dyslexic and therefore, genetically, in part to blame. Is the Minister aware that, while dyslexia affects between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. of children, it affects 52 per cent. of prisoners? Does that discrepancy suggest that the Dyspel report is correct in saying that dyslexia is a factor in offending behaviour in a significant proportion of offenders?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I am glad to hear from the noble Earl that he recognises that the hereditary principle is not immaculate. There are different views about the proportions. Dyspel has one view; other research has another, which we need to evaluate. However, there is no doubt in the mind of anyone who has studied these matters that there is a connection between failure educationally, for whatever cause, and the drift into crime and re-offending.

Lord Addington

My Lords, as the figure for re-offending once people have got into the prison system is much lower for those who are in work than for those who are without work, is there not a strong case for pump-priming this project to ensure that more dyslexics can gain literacy and therefore become employable, thus ultimately not only cutting crime rates but also saving the Treasury considerable sums of money?

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, there is no doubt about the link between lack of employment on release from prison and re-offending and re-conviction rates. We are pump-priming very significantly. The figure of £226 million is a vast improvement on anything that could formerly have been contemplated. Some of that money will go to improved educational regimes and targets.