§ Mr. Beith
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many offenders serving custodial sentences have taken part in the New Deal scheme through the Prison Service; how many offenders completed the scheme and obtained employment following participation in the scheme; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. George Howarth
Offenders are not eligible for the New Deal while serving custodial sentences, but they can take part in the Prison Service's Welfare to Work programme for 18 –24 year olds running in selected prison establishments. This aims to improve their employability and help them gain the most from the New Deal Gateway, to which they have immediate access on release.
In the 12 months from April 1998, 2,430 inmates joined the Prison Service programme in the 11 establishments piloting it, and 1,625 had completed it by the end of that period. Early results from an evaluation of the programme indicate that within 6 months of leaving prison, 28 per cent. of those who complete the programme go on to join the New Deal Gateway, compared with 11 per cent. of a control group. A survey of probation officers also indicates that 42 per cent. of programme completers have some employment and 6 per cent. go into education or non-New Deal training within four months of release. These percentages are similar to the control group.
The programme is now continuing into its second year and the number of establishments has been increased to 13.