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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government have made education a top priority. Educating prisoners is a key element of the Prison Service's plans for developing constructive and positive regimes which make a cost-effective contribution to the reduction of reoffending. We want to see a Prison Service which gives prisoners the skills needed to turn them away from crime and to open up employment opportunities. That is why we have provided £226 million over the next three years to deliver our manifesto commitment of constructive regimes, including education.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that encouraging reply. Given the crucial importance of remedying this educational deficit if prisoners are to have a hope of a job when they get out, will the Government redouble their efforts, perhaps through such schemes as educational targets for staff and educational incentives for inmates? Will the Government do still more to facilitate the work of the voluntary sector, noting the superb work done at the Feltham Young Offenders Institution by the Society of Voluntary Associates (SOVA) who tell me that given more resources they would happily move out into the less transient populations of mainstream prisons where of course the needs are just as great?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, what the noble Lord says is absolutely right. I met representatives of SOVA in the past few weeks. They do admirable work,

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as do their colleagues in the voluntary sector. The present story is lamentable. Of all prisoners, 67 per cent. are below or at level one in numeracy, which is very modest indeed; and of young offenders and juveniles--the noble Lord specifically refers to them in the Question--82.4 per cent. do not get above level one.

The noble Lord makes a good point, I suggest, about targets. We intend that, by the year 2001, 50 per cent. of prisoners with six months or more to serve in prison should achieve level two competence in basic and key skills. So we have targets in mind; and we intend to deliver.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the saddest things about the previous government was that they reduced the total amount of money that went to education in prisons? Can he give some clearer evidence than he has given so far today that that trend is being reversed? To be told that the amount is going to new regimes is one thing, but to be told that the money is going to prisons is another.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the extra amount that is going to prisons as a result of the money obtained by the Home Secretary from the CSR settlement is £660 million. The figure that I gave for constructive regimes was £226 million and rather more than £10 million in the first year for the enhancement of educational provision.

The Earl of Gowrie: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, through the Arts Council of England, subsidises writers to work in prisons and that that can have a stimulating effect on education generally? Will he encourage this trend?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was aware of that, significantly, as a result of a specific Question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples. Following that question I did a little more research and found that the writers in residence schemes worked well. I was able, I hope to her pleasure, to provide her with some further material relating to the success of such schemes.

Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that recent reports have highlighted the high level of illiteracy among young offenders? Does he agree that at least custody provides an opportunity to give them intensive remedial teaching to equip them to live successfully within the community?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it can provide those opportunities, but one must reflect on the fact that in this country, notionally, children are educated compulsorily at public expense from five to 16. It is a rather depressing thought that children who have been so expensively educated still end up in the prison or young offender system with such low levels of numeracy and literacy. I believe that the work of

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Mr. Blunkett and the Department for Education to improve the educational standards of young people is of great importance.

Lord Gisborough: My Lords, in view of the fact that 50 per cent. of people in prisons reoffend compared with 12 per cent. in military prisons, will the Minister see whether any lessons can be learnt from that?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that there are any general lessons to be learnt from the military prison system for the vastly disparate 66,000-plus who are in the rest of the regime. In particular, I do not believe that any helpful lessons can be learned for women prisoners in the prison estate.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, will the Minister be good enough to pursue what he said from the Dispatch Box on 10th December, at col. 1026 of the Official Report, concerning the importance of co-ordinating the work of the Home Office and that of Mr. Blunkett in raising standards in prisons just as in the schools?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I did say that at the Dispatch Box. My noble friend Lady Blackstone and I had an immediate meeting to see how we might co-ordinate our dual responsibilities. We intend to set ourselves particular targets and have already arranged to meet not later than six months from now to see how far we have got. These are not idle offers.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether part of the strain on the education system in prison arises from the fact that there are more 15 and 16 year-olds in prison now than before in spite of the previous government's building plans for local authority secure accommodation and the fuss that the Labour Party made about that matter when in opposition?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we did make a fuss because it was a disgrace--and it was a right fuss to make. There was a modest increase in local authority secure accommodation but it was overtaken by the number of young persons who were being sentenced to custody. We ended up with a net deficit. But this is not the occasion on which to say who did what over the past 18 years. We have to get on with the task and that is what we are doing.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a high percentage of dyslexic people in prisons and young offender institutions and that there is a need for specially trained remedial teachers?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do. I confirm that specific directions are to be sent out to all prison governors by the end of February of next year so that every prisoner on an induction course when entering a custodial establishment will be specifically screened for dyslexia.

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Grammar Schools: Ballots and Standards

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Young asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the balloting system for grammar schools is consistent with their aim of raising standards in schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, increasing parental involvement in education is an important aspect of our drive to raise standards. Enabling parents to make a choice about future admissions arrangements to grammar schools is part of that.

Baroness Young: My Lords, is the noble Baroness satisfied that the very complex--some would say unfair--system of balloting which allows votes for those who are automatically eligible and for those who are eligible only if registered, which includes parents of children under compulsory school age who may well leave the area before their children reach the age of 11, is fair? Does she agree that that will cause not only great concern to parents of children in the grammar schools but also disruption to pupils and staff? Can she justify that as "raising standards"?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government have heard the criticisms by the Conservative Party about the arrangements for ballots but consider that these are sensible arrangements that allow those parents who are most likely to be affected by a change in the admissions policies of grammar schools first to sign a petition and then to vote. As to standards and disruption, I am absolutely clear that teachers in grammar schools are more professional than the Question implies. I have no hesitation in saying that they will be able to cope perfectly well with a ballot inviting parents to express their views about admissions policies and that the excellent education that they are providing for many pupils in such schools will continue.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I speak as president of the Grammar School Association. In spite of the admiration that she shows for grammar school teachers, does the noble Baroness consider that a policy that subjects schools to five-yearly ballots is governed more by ideology than the interests of education? I refer to the Answer given to my noble friend about the improvement in educational standards. Is it not ideology rather than education that governs the policies that the noble Baroness advocates?


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