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Noble Lords: Order, order!

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will the noble Earl tell me whether he will hold to that?

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I did suggest that as the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, had been getting up to speak there would be time to have his question, but if he could make it succinct that might be to the convenience of the House.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am most obliged to the noble Earl. Is the Minister aware that I was surprised to hear from her that the business of the EC was reducing? Has she noticed the Written Answer in Hansard which quotes eight columns of business to be dealt with by the EC during June? One item is the Justice and Home Affairs Council, which proposes that we should have 1997 as a year against racism, something which was recommended against by the Select Committee on European Affairs of this House.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I did notice, because I answered the Question.

Prisoners: Education Services

2.50 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, decisions about education budgets are taken by individual governors in consultation with their area managers. Changes to budgets are still being made and information about them collected centrally is not yet available. Efficiency savings need to be seen against a budget increase on education between 1993 and 1995 of almost 25 per cent., to £37 million. The aim

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is to target resources more effectively, giving priority to literacy, numeracy, information technology, English as a second language and social and life skills.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is not one of the consequences of the devolution of budgetary responsibility to the level of the governors that the Minister and her colleagues no longer answer Questions about the functional headings of expenditure, such as education, across the Floor of the House?

Has the Minister noticed the report of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education which states that in the 45 prisons which it surveyed there has been a 16.7 per cent. reduction in the number of teaching hours and that in the case of Wandsworth the number of teaching hours has been decreased by 52 per cent.--a fact that she admitted in reply to my noble friend Lord Harris on Monday? Although emphasis must be placed on basic literacy and numeracy skills, as the Minister said, in view of those figures does she agree that we must be losing an enormous amount of other educational provision which is of help in preventing recurring crime by people who are released from prison?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that I answered in great detail all the questions about Wandsworth. He will also know that, despite a reduction in the money for Wandsworth Prison, provision was being sustained. Much of that was related to improving the way education was being done; for example, phasing out uneconomic classes, concentrating on more economic numbers, concentrating on literacy and numeracy, improving the workplaces and the vocational training for people in that prison. Perhaps I may refer to NATFHE, whose survey is interesting. I refer to what it stated about Whitemoor Prison, with which the noble Lord is familiar. However, it was wrong about the number of hours in 1995-96; in fact, they were 14,700. There is no plan to reduce below that number for this coming year.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can my noble friend say how many prisons have artists in residence?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend that particular information but I can say that a vast amount of art and craft work is carried out in our prisons. As I said in the recent debate, there were 3,000 entries for an art competition from our prisoners and some of the work was of a very high standard indeed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister cited an increase in expenditure on prison education between 1993 and 1995 of 25 per cent. Is not that increase broadly matched by the increase in the number of prisoners? Therefore, is not the amount of education that is available to any individual prisoner not on the increase?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no. Although the number of prisoners has increased, all other factors have increased disproportionately favourably to that. Since the noble Lord is speaking of comparisons, I will compare today with 1979, when his party was in power.

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Spending on prisons has doubled; sleeping three to a cell has been eliminated; and sleeping two to a cell has been vastly reduced. Officer to prisoner ratio has improved by 33 per cent.; we now have one officer to every two prisoners, compared with one officer to every three. All prisoners now have 24-hour access to sanitation, compared to 46 per cent. who had no access to 24-hour sanitation in 1979. Escapes from prisons have improved by 79 per cent.; there are fewer assaults in prisons; there has been a vast improvement in time out of cells--

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I know that the noble Lord does not want to hear this because it bears unfavourably on his party's record. May I give him the final statistic?

Lord Graham of Edmonton: It is Question Time!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the number of hours of education has improved from 4.6 million to 9.4 million.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, will the Minister deny that under the present Government's policy there is to be a substantial decrease in the amount of education provided in prisons? That cannot be denied, in spite of all the nonsense that we have heard. If any noble Lords doubt that, they can come with me to a prison. There is no doubt at all that there will be a decrease in the number of hours of education. Is the noble Baroness going to justify that in terms of what she calls "efficiency cuts"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if the noble Earl is looking merely at the number of lecturers coming into prisons he may well be right that there will be a decrease. There will be a corresponding increase in purposeful activity outside cells, which will include vocational training, education, rehabilitation programmes and a great deal more constructive activity. The most constructive activity for someone who has the basic skills and basic education is work experience and the noble Earl knows that a good deal of that is also going on in our prisons.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that any efficiency saving which had the effect of making prisoners more likely to re-offend after release would not be efficient?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Earl is absolutely right. We know that the governors of all prisons have been told to give priority to all those activities which will help prevent prisoners returning to offending; in other words, to address all their offending behaviour. It is important to say that in 1995-96 a total of 17,000 individual national vocational units was awarded, which is an increase of more than 25 per cent. on 1994-95 and more than twice the total for 1993-94.

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There was an increase in full national vocational qualifications of 50 per cent., three times higher than in 1993-94--

Noble Lords: Order!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, noble Lords opposite find this highly amusing. Their record on the Prison Service is lamentable.

Noble Lords: Next Question!

The Clerk of the Parliaments: The Lord Spens.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Baroness--

Noble Lords: Order!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I believe that the next Question has been called and I believe that, considering the time, it should go on.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I should like to appeal.

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Avebury: My Lords, no, I should like to appeal to the noble Earl. I want to appeal to the noble Earl.

Noble Lords: Order!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I do not wish to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I realise that he would like this Question to continue but there are two other Questions to be dealt with--

Lord Avebury: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Order!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, it is in the interests of the House that we should go on.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I want to say one thing. I want to say that all the time that was taken up during that Question was by the noble Baroness dealing with matters which--

Noble Lords: Order!

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I must appeal to the noble Lord. I believe he has discovered that it is not in the interests of the House to continue with his questioning, however cross he may feel. I can understand him feeling such anxiety. However, the will of the House is clear that we ought to move on to the next Question.


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