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Educational Opportunities (Prisons)

Volume 526: debated on Tuesday 29 March 2011

Together with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Ministry of Justice has undertaken a review of offender learning. Our proposed new approach has received strong support from the heads of learning and skills in prisons, and I hope that when we publish the results of the review, which we will do shortly, my hon. Friend will share their enthusiasm.

Does my hon. Friend agree that punishment is the deprivation of liberty, and that we should all try to ensure that when people leave prison, the time that they have spent there makes them less inclined to reoffend? Education is an important part of that. The position is very straightforward. When my hon. Friend’s proposals are made public, I hope that they will present opportunities for a substantial increase in educational opportunity in prisons.

I share my hon. Friend’s view. It is important for the pathway that leads the offender through the custody system—and, indeed, the supervision system in the community—to assist his progress towards rehabilitation, and that must be done through the delivery of learning and skills and education. Prisoners should be given effective work that enables them to make proper recompense to their victims, and learning and skills associated with that work will be an important rehabilitative tool.

While in government Labour increased the offending learner budget by 300%, and I am pleased to hear that the Minister is building on that. Does he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel), who on 9 March was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying that offender education was

“yet another example of gold-plated rights for convicted criminals”,

and that prison education

“sends out the signal that crime pays”?

The reason for the review of offender learning is that, as usual, the last Administration spent a vast amount of money and secured precious little extra output for it. The hon. Lady has made the case very clearly. I am satisfied that we will largely protect the budget for offender learning and that people will leave prison with skills and training, better equipped to be contributing members of society following their release.

The Minister will know that Reading young offenders institution received a dreadful report on its education service from the independent monitoring board, particularly the part of the service that is run by The Manchester College. What action is the Department taking to deal with the shortcomings of the college, and to give more power to prisons to opt for excellent local education provision?

My hon. Friend has been assiduous in holding the offender learning contract to account in Reading prison, and the Skills Funding Agency has completed an investigation into the allegations made against The Manchester College in respect of its education contract there. The report of that investigation is being finalised, and I am not able to comment on it until it has been completed, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that we must get the heads of learning and skills in the prisons much more clearly in charge of the direction of the skills training in their institutions.