Committee (9th Day) (Continued)
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
5:30 pm

Photo of Lord McNally

Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I have had the opportunity to look at some organisations that have become involved in providing work for prisoners and, like him, I am impressed. It is encouraging that those who have taken the risk, as some may see it, of employing ex-prisoners, helping to train them, and doing work in prisons, find it a very fruitful experience.

Sometimes I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a little hard on NOMS. I fully accept that it is obvious that the vast majority of the prison estate was not designed for operating work regimes. Many very competent prison governors and prison officers are not equipped to run businesses. That is a given, which makes the idea of work in prisons difficult but not impossible. One of the things that we have tried to do in the past 18 months is to tackle in a practical way the realities to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred. Several hundred organisations already provide work and training opportunities inside prisons, but many are small and want to do more to attract business.

We aim to provide a competitive package for business. We will make involvement as straightforward as possible and get the commercial model right for both prisons and the private sector, subject to our paramount interest in ensuring security, in line with our legal obligations. NOMS is developing new structures and putting in place the right people to operate in a businesslike way. That includes the recruitment of a new chief executive for the prison industries team within NOMS and a business development manager who will have responsibility for finding new businesses and managing relations with customers.

We are trying to address some of the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and as of now around 9,000 prisoners are employed in prison industries, which my rough arithmetic makes it to be around 10 per cent, or perhaps just a little over of the prison population. It is clear that there is much to do, but there are great prizes if we can get this right. Clause 118 is central to our plan to achieve our aim to make prisons places of meaningful and productive work where prisoners make reparation. Ensuring that prisoners and those detained in young offender institutions or secure training centres have access to training and can obtain qualifications is important. The Government certainly recognise the importance of this area and agree with the intent behind the amendment.

Let me assure noble Lords that we are already doing much of what we aim to do. Through our desire to increase the amount of meaningful and productive work done in prisons, the Government will give many more offenders the chance to learn the discipline and skills of working. As study after study has shown, offending patterns diminish once employment has been found. However, it is not just through prison working that we aim to reduce reoffending. Experience of a proper working week will be augmented by ensuring that their work links them to the right opportunities to develop the skills necessary to their finding employment when they are released.

We plan to deliver learning bases on clusters of institutions that regularly transfer offenders between them. The learning and skills offer will focus on the needs of employers in the areas into which prisoners will be released, as well as on key issues, such as numerous, literacy and communication skills. Here again, I pay tribute to Toe by Toe, which is a marvellous way of tackling illiteracy-one of the problems that comes through time and again in offending. Decisions on the most appropriate learning and skills offer will be taken locally with the key aim of giving offenders the skills that they need to find and keep jobs and apprenticeships on release. There will be no one size fits all approach, nor should there be. Within this new framework we are retendering the offender learning and skills services-a process that gives the chance to look afresh at how to work with the best range of providers. As well as learning the necessary skills and having the right qualifications, many offenders have barriers to entering the labour market that must first be tackled.

As the Deputy Prime Minister announced in August 2011, from the summer of this year offenders leaving custody and claiming jobseeker's allowance will have to engage with a work programme provider on release, who will be paid for getting them into work. As well as creating this "day one" service, we are bringing together the claiming of jobseeker's allowance and the processing of benefits before release rather than after it, so prisoners should have a shorter wait for their first benefit payment, which will help their resettlement. In addition, any prison leaver who claims jobseeker's allowance within 13 weeks of release will be mandated to the work programme from the point of claim. We will also test, in two work programme areas, the addition of a reducing reoffending payment as part of our payment by results approach, in which we will use a variety of methods in the pilot phase.

We recognise that equipping children under the school leaving age with the skills they will need to succeed in life is vital. There is already an expectation that they will be in education rather than paid work. The raising of the participation age will mean that from 2013 all young people, including those in custody, must continue in education or training until the age of 17, and until 18 from 2015. Young people in secure training centres and under-18 young offender institutions will have access to a full day of education and constructive activity. In secure training centres, young people participate in education or training for at least 25 hours per week. In the under-18 young offender institutions, each young person will receive at least 25 hours per week of education and other constructive activity.

We believe that the amendment is constructive but unnecessary. Section 47(1) of the Prison Act 1952 allows the Secretary of State to make rules concerning the regulation and management of prisons, young offender institutions and secure treatment centres, and the treatment of those required to be detained therein. Subsection (3) states:

"Rules ... may provide for the training of particular classes of persons".

Clause 118 will not change those aspects of the 1952 Act, which cover the same ground as Amendment 181A.

For adults detained in custody, the rule-making powers contained in the Prison Act are augmented by provisions in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009, including a duty on the chief executive of Skills Funding to,

"secure the provision of reasonable facilities for education suitable to the requirements of persons who are subject to adult detention",

and, in doing so, to take account of a range of factors such as facilities and equipment. In carrying out this duty, the chief executive must have regard to various matters, including the desirability of prisoners continuing the education or training that they have begun, and making the best use of resources.

I have listened often to-and have always welcomed-the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, championing the concept of making work, training and education a priority. They are the key to rehabilitation. I hope that what I have said has convinced him that, although we may not have achieved all that he desired, we are listening and trying as best we can to move in the direction that he advocates. For that reason, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.

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