(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of
HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II
VOLUME DCXV NINTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1999--2000 House of Lords
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the Government welcome the chief inspector's annual report, which they view as a largely positive commentary on the progress made in the Prison Service. Sir David Ramsbotham makes some valid criticisms of the service and of certain individual establishments. I know that the Director General of the Prison Service welcomes those criticisms and has used them to help effect significant improvements, not least at Wormwood Scrubs.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. May I now switch into slightly more specific mode and ask the Minister if he recalls his response to a point I raised on 12th June, when he said:
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw our attention to the importance and value of education. I know that it looms large in his mind in relation to the Prison Service. It is certainly the case that 65 per cent of the prison population have such poor basic skills as to render them ineligible for the vast majority of jobs. We are right in trying to concentrate extra resources on education. For that reason, an extra £28 million was made available in the Comprehensive Spending Review to enhance opportunities for prisoners and enable them to acquire better accredited basic skills and key literacy and numeracy skills. While the inspector is right to draw attention to some of the deficiencies in the programme, we are investing more in education--more hours are spent in education, and more accredited hours. It is our intention to carry on with that improvement. To reveal just one statistic, in 1997 there were 1.117 million teaching hours; there are now 1.326 million teaching hours. That is an impressive improvement, which it is our intention to continue. We see education as the key to reducing the rate of offending in our prison institutions.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot speak for the Department for Education, but we are investing much more in education; in the Budget, an extra £1 billion was made available. I cannot give chapter and verse as to where all the money goes. The noble Lord is absolutely right to insist that we spend more on education, and this Government have a superb record in doing so. We know that the reoffending rate falls if more is invested in education and training for prisoners; we are right to invest money in that sector too.
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is much disquiet among old-time Labour Party penal reformers about the projected increase in the prison population? Will he give an assurance that the chief inspector will be asked to look into all the implications?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the chief inspector is free to comment widely on matters that affect the prison estate. However, if people commit serious offences and the courts take the view that they should be incarcerated, that is right too. Prison is appropriate for people who commit those kinds of offences, and we make no apology for that. If there are issues of overcrowding, the chief inspector will rightly wish to comment on them.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, is the Minister able to give any assurance about the continuation of the post of the chief inspector, as hinted at on page 4 of the report? Is he also aware of the concern shared by many people, including those in the Churches, about the future of the post?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate is aware that the contract of the Chief Inspector of Prisons has been extended for a further year until July 2001. His period of office will come to a close at the same time as that of the Chief Inspector of Probation Services. We have debated this matter in your Lordships' House on several occasions. The Government continue to have confidence in the independence and robustness of the chief inspector's performance and have every confidence in the way that he carries out his duties. His reports are very valuable to the Prison Service and enable the director general to make excellent judgments in the management of that service. Therefore, we continue to have confidence in the work of the Chief Inspector and look forward to a continuing, wide-ranging and robust relationship with him.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in the report the chief inspector refers to three of the most highly critical reports on prisons that have ever been made; namely, those dealing with Wormwood Scrubs, Feltham and Wandsworth. Is the Minister content that the situation in each of those establishments is now satisfactory?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there is always room for improvement in any prison. I am sure that we can all think of ways in which a particular prison regime can be improved. However, Sir David is himself not unhappy with the progress made in those three establishments. He has recently looked at them again and commented favourably on the nature of the improved regimes. However, he reminds us where they have come from historically. We are committed to working with the Prison Service. The director general is committed to ensuring that those regimes are effective. We must give management every possible support to ensure that at all times the regimes improve and are effective.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the Government are constructing two large women's prisons when, surely, we need more small units well distributed throughout the country and, if possible, linked with treatment and rehabilitation centres?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are continuing the expansion of the prison estate. I understand well the point made by the noble Lord. However, flexibility within the prison estate is required, and the larger establishments provide that opportunity. We continue to monitor the situation and we may well need to review the estate as far as concerns women prisoners.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the reproductive health target embraces all reproductive health services: safe motherhood, the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and access to good quality family planning services, information and commodities. Although funding for all non-governmental organisations under the Civil Society Challenge Fund is on a cost-sharing basis, this constitutes a small proportion of funding that is available to reproductive healthcare NGOs. DfID will continue to play a key role in achieving the aim of universal access to
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|