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Budget Resolutions

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:08 pm on 16th March 2020.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 9:08 pm, 16th March 2020

I wish to concentrate on two issues: education and justice.

On education, I have visited every school in my constituency at least once, and a consistent theme that has come out is that the Government have not been open about how schools should cover the changes that occur to them as a result of Government action, rather than things that they control themselves. An example is the minimum wage: it is not that schools disapprove of it, but they just do not know how to cover it. I was therefore glad to see that the budget for schools will increase to £52.2 billion, and I am glad that the increase in per-pupil amounts will go up to £3,750 for primary schools and £5,000 for secondary schools by 2020-21. However, that has still not answered the question that I have been asking Ministers for a long time: does it cover the full amount by which the schools say costs have been increased as a result of our actions as opposed to actions that they control themselves? I would like an answer on that.

Like my hon. Friend Laura Farris, I am troubled by the special educational needs and disability spending requirements. I am pleased to see that investment has increased by £7 billion, but I do hope that the SEND review, which I welcome fully, will be comprehensive and fully take into account all the things that influence the sector.

On the question of justice, as a member of the Justice Committee, we did a report on the state of prisons and their governance. We had two aims: first, to ensure that prisons were places of rehabilitation; and, secondly, to ensure that they dealt with a massive backlog of repairs. That is not to make prison a luxury, but to make it inhabitable. In other words, there is a distinction between safety and rehabilitation. There is no lesser emphasis on rehabilitation, and the experience that I have gained from visiting prisons, both in this country and on the continent, has shown that rehabilitation is something that can work, and work effectively. I am fully aware of the £2.5 billion to transform the prison estate and provide 80,000 new places, but the concentration should not be on new places alone. The concentration should also be on dilapidated and decrepit prisons.

The estimate that we made in the Justice Committee was that there was a spending backlog of £900 million in the Prison Service to make prisons fit for human habitation. Against that, the £150 million that the Government have put forward seems relatively insignificant. I ask the Government to comment on that and on how we will address the £900 million that we have identified as the correct spending.

Finally, we should give the governors power. They should have complete control over how they deal with spending in their prisons, so that they are able to make sure that prisons are fit for living, because that will increase both the rehabilitation effects of prison and also their good effects on the people and on their future.