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Lord Ackner: My Lords, does the Minister accept that, so long as the present gross overcrowding of prisons continues and so long as the severe budget cuts continue, there is no real prospect, to quote the words of the Question, of enhancing,
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, gross overcrowding is of course a very serious problem. The present figure for inmates as at 16th March is 64,956. We have to manage, to an extent, what we have inherited. But I stress that many positive initiatives are going ahead. We cannot simply throw up our hands in horror. It is very important that the prison department regards rehabilitation and education for a return to a decent life extremely seriously.
The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that these initiatives amount to a quiet and sustained revolution in aspiration and achievement laid out in the most welcome Green Paper, The Learning Age?
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the figures for 1995-96 and 1996-97 show a cut in the amount of time spent in prison education in at least 71 per cent. of prison establishments? Does he accept that those figures are supplemented by the fact that in 1995 each prisoner spent an average of 1.8 hours in prison education whereas in 1997 that had dropped to 1.5 hours? Will the Minister explain what will be done to remedy that situation?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we look not only at the education component, but at purposeful activity generally, which includes work; education and training; supervised PE and sport; evening education; religious activity; social, domestic and family visits; prison induction courses, and resettlement and rehabilitation activities, not all of which come within the component normally thought of as "education". The key performance indicator is that each prisoner should spend at least 22.5 hours per week in purposeful activity. In fact, to the end of January this year, that was exceeded and the figure was 23.2 hours.
The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, we are doing quite well for time at the moment. I think that perhaps it is time for our side to ask one question, then the noble Baroness, and then, no doubt, the noble Earl.
Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in his report on women in prisons in May last year the Chief Inspector of Prisons recommended at paragraph 12.126 that there should be greater co-ordination and co-operation on educational matters by prisons holding women? Has that been set in motion?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was aware of that recommendation. That is one reason why an assistant director has been appointed to deal with the sort of issues to which my noble friend has referred which relate particularly to the problems that some women suffer in our prison regime.
Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, this appears to be a popular topic this afternoon. Is the Minister aware that for at least the past 30 years, if not longer, there has been a Dowty workshop in Gloucester
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that such schemes have the great virtue of being focused, with the result that we are not training people for opportunities which may not exist, thus not affording them the opportunity to lead a fruitful life. Of course, such schemes depend on the flexibility of the local prison governor and on the generosity of local employers, such as that to which the noble Baroness referred.
Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that his answers have demonstrated that the penal policy of Her Majesty's Government and their budgetary policy are incompatible? Which one are they going to change?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, they are not incompatible. There are constraints on public spending, but that does not limit the power of reflective imagination to spend the available money in the most appropriate way.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, is he aware that epidemiological studies are not clinical studies? If the King's College study is to be the only such study, I must advise him that other aspects of the Gulf veterans' illnesses need to be looked into. Is the Minister aware that the chairman of the Gulf War Illness Panel of the Medical Research Council is also the head of
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, the noble Countess has asked me a great many questions and I shall do my best to answer. Yes, I am aware that there is a difference between clinical research and epidemiological research. We do not rule out the possibility of further clinical tests being carried out on other groups in due course. As to the process by which the contract was awarded, I shall be happy to look into the points raised by the noble Countess.
Lord Burnham: My Lords, this is an immensely complicated pie, if that is not too mixed a metaphor, and many people have fingers in it. Have the Government appointed an individual to co-ordinate all the work and, if not, will they do so?
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, the House will be aware that a very large amount of money is being spent by the Americans on researching Gulf war syndrome. Can the Minister advise the House whether any of that research will take into account the experiences of the British and the French armed forces in the theatre of the Iraq conflict?
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The United States is in a position to devote far more resources to this subject than we are. I can assure my noble friend that there is a full and continuing exchange between our two governments on the results that we come up with. Unfortunately, so far the United States is no nearer a solution than we are. I am not aware of any significant research being carried out on this subject in France.
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