Clause 109

Education and Inspections Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 11th May 2006.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I beg to move amendment No. 530, in clause 109, page 80, line 6, at end insert—

‘(ga) education and training in prisons and young offenders institutions;'.

The amendment would extend the clause to prison education. At present, there are significant problems in prison education, which most people believe contribute to reoffending. The Government issued a Green Paper on the subject in December last year, which I am sure the Under-Secretary has with him. I, too, have read it carefully and we have been able to discuss it, thanks to his generosity and courtesy. The Green Paper acknowledges the many significant problems; I will highlight a few in support of my amendment.

One of the difficulties is that prisoners are often moved around, so they do not have consistency in education opportunities. Those who teach them often  move around, too, so they are often left not having the same teacher and not being able to build a relationship with a teacher that would assist their learning. I imagine that you know, Mr. Cook, that the Forum on Prisoner Education has warned the Government that, in its judgment, a year after the Education and Skills Committee wrote a damning report on the quality of learning in prisons in England, little has improved. Only four of that Committee’s 55 recommendations have been fully met. The forum also says that the plans published in the Green Paper will help—in particular, they should help offenders to find jobs when they leave prison.

The salient point is that if we can provide prisoners with a reasonable opportunity to learn while in prison we may first, reduce the reoffending rate, and secondly, assist them to build a life once they leave prison that is worthwhile, wholesome and lawful. The Education and Skills Committee found that 96 per cent of jobs were not available to people leaving prison because they did not have adequate skills to do those jobs.

I do not for a moment suggest that the Under-Secretary or indeed the Labour party as a whole does not care about this matter or recognise some of the points that I am making. However, by accepting the amendment before us the Under-Secretary would signal an intention to build into the Bill the proper consideration of these urgent matters. Indeed, one might say that if the amendment were resisted precisely the opposite signal would be transmitted: that the good intentions of the Green Paper were not being given force in legislation. Given that we do not yet have legislation affecting prison education, the amendment gives us a golden opportunity to make that commitment to send precisely that signal.

I could go on but the lateness of the hour, the length of the Committee sitting and the urgency of other matters forbids me from so doing. I look forward to hearing what the Under-Secretary has to say before deciding whether we will press our amendment.

Photo of Sarah Teather Sarah Teather Shadow Secretary of State for Education

We are very supportive of this Conservative amendment, despite the fact that when we moved a new clause in an earlier sitting requiring a statutory obligation to provide education for those in prisons, the Conservatives did not support us but abstained in the Division. The amendment seems to be in the spirit of our new clause, so we support it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole went through the arguments at some length in a previous sitting and so I shall not repeat them, but the Minister said in response to the points that she made that a Green Paper was out for consultation now, so there was no need for such provisions to be put into the Bill. However, it will take some time to move from a Green Paper through the consultation to the process of getting the proposals enacted. To echo the comments of the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, we have an opportunity to make sure that we get something into legislation now, so that there is ongoing monitoring and so that we can drive up the standards of education in prison from now and not simply wait for that legislation to come on to the statute book.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Adult Skills), Department for Education and Skills

Hon. Members will appreciate that this is a short debate on a large topic. Before I speak to the amendments, I would like to draw attention to the fact that a considerable amount of work has been carried out to improve the quality of offender learning both in and outside prisons and funding for offender learning has increased from £57 million in 2001-02 to £151 million in 2005-06. We have a much better external inspection of prison education to the same tough standards as for mainstream education and training, and we have seen an impressive increase in offenders’ basic skills. We are building training into the prison day, alongside activities such as prison industries, catering and so on, as well as more opportunities for offenders to take part in higher education.

I accept the criticism. We would not have published a Green Paper unless something needed to be done, but I think that we have already travelled quite a long way along the path. I cannot accept the analysis offered by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings of the Education and Skills Committee’s report or the Forum for Prison Education’s comments. We rejected some of the recommendations because we did not agree with them, but those that we agreed with are either being implemented or form part of our Green Paper.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I do not want to break the spirit of consensus, particularly so late in our consideration of the Bill. We want a happy afternoon. However, the Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, speaking of these very matters, said that the Government have failed to meet their manifesto commitment to

“dramatically increase the quality and quantity of education provision” in that field. The Government published the Green Paper in December. What had they been doing since 1997?

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Adult Skills), Department for Education and Skills

I shall not be drawn into a debate on the present Government’s track record on offender learning compared with the Conservative Government’s. We are pleased with what we have achieved so far, but we want to go considerably further. The Green Paper spells out what we want to do to improve training within the Prison Service to give offenders within and outside prisons the skills they need to get into jobs. The hon. Gentleman and I agree that one of the critical things—among many others— that goes wrong in the lives of offenders is not having a job, with no income and all that that might lead to.

Another point that I wanted to pick up was on young people in the prison system. We make it clear in the Green Paper that we need to get that issue right. We are looking at proposals on how school-age offenders are dealt with within various parts of the prison system—secure detention centres, young offenders institutions and the like—and whether we can produce a coherent and strategic approach to their needs, particularly their educational needs. I put that before the Committee because I think that is important to understand in relation to whether the amendments are needed. I am going to argue that, because of our ongoing work, the amendments are not needed.

The adult learning inspectorate at Ofsted already inspects education and training in prisons and young offenders institutions that is funded by the Learning and Skills Council. The inspectors do so as part of the general inspections of prisons and young offenders institutions carried out by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. Where ALI and Ofsted have the power to inspect now, the new inspectorate will continue to have that power, so prisons inspection will continue in the same way as now. That is why the amendment is unnecessary.

It is possible through clause 109(1)(h) for the Secretary of State to make regulations bringing

“such other education or training” into the definition of educational training that will fall within the remit of what the new chief inspector can inspect. The regulations can include education and training for offenders that for whatever reason is not funded by the LSC. That means we cover all angles.

I assure hon. Members that education and training in prisons and young offenders institutions will not fall through any potential gap that hon. Members may have been concerned about. Co-operation and joint action provisions are also built into the Bill. The chief inspector will have to co-operate with the chief inspector for justice, community safety and custody, where appropriate, and to act jointly, again where appropriate. I want to reassure Committee members that we want the quality of teaching and learning for offenders and for all other types of education and training provision to be of an equally high standard across the FE sector, irrespective of the type of provision or setting.

In conclusion, I take the issue very seriously. I am aware of the challenge. Putting aside any party political points that we might wish to make, I hope that the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings and I have found common cause in wanting to find a way forward for the prison system and the offenders’ learning system as a whole. When we bring forward proposals on the treatment of young people within the prison system, I hope that we find common cause on meeting their needs as well. On that basis I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendments.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

The Under-Secretary has again demonstrated that he understands the issue and is anxious to do something about it. The problem is profound and though I do not want to prolong the debate any longer than necessary, I want to mention what was said by the director of the Forum for Prisoner Education, Steve Taylor. He said:

“Government would close a failing school or college if improvements took this long, so why is it acceptable in prisons? They should return to the Committee’s recommendations and take urgent action.”

I understand that the Government have published their consultation paper, but I think that it may be necessary to look again at statutory measures that would make proposals a reality. Although much can be done without statutory provision, some action may require it. I hope that the debate will continue—indeed, it may be time for a debate in the House, and I hope that the Minister agrees that we should encourage that.

Photo of Phil Hope Phil Hope Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Adult Skills), Department for Education and Skills 2:15 pm, 11th May 2006

Consultation on the Green Paper closes at the end of May, and there has been widespread public consultation, but rather less discussion in the House. I would therefore welcome the opportunity to debate such matters either in an Adjournment debate or through whatever mechanism the hon. Gentleman thinks most appropriate.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

I am grateful for that assurance. It would be right to have a debate at the end of the consultation, and when it takes place we can explore the areas where we can agree, and those where we can suggest further Government thinking. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.