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Volume 601: debated on Tuesday 3 November 2015

Providing prisoners with employment is an important factor in preventing reoffending. In the Employers Forum for Reducing Reoffending, we have around 200 employers who are positive about employing ex-offenders. Working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions, we are developing plans to increase the involvement of businesses locally and nationally, and community rehabilitation companies should play an important role in making those links with businesses locally to help ex-offenders to get jobs.

My constituent Renee Blow, who volunteered with offenders for 15 years, emphasises that education is the most important part of rehabilitation. Does the Minister agree that making poorly educated offenders literate and numerate makes them more employable?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I thank and commend her constituent for volunteering in her local prison for 15 years. Her point is absolutely correct: we need good numeracy and literacy, and a good level of qualifications that employers respect and value.

Timpson has an extensive scheme to hire and train ex-offenders. The store in Wimbledon has benefited from that scheme and has found that ex-offenders are extremely hard-working and deserving of a second chance. Given the success of that scheme, does my hon. Friend agree that others might look at it, and particularly at the emphasis on training?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that the example set by James Timpson for his business is outstanding. He does not do it just out of altruism; he does it because it makes very good business sense, and because he gets dedicated and loyal employees from the scheme.

Does the Minister agree that the attainment and availability of affordable insurance—whether public liability, employers liability, content or driving insurance—for ex-offenders is an inhibitor for employers who would otherwise wish to employ ex-offenders and set them on the right path? Will the Ministry of Justice commit to working on extending the availability of affordable insurance for employers?

I will certainly look into that. I had heard that insurance was a problem in employing ex-offenders in certain categories, but, prompted by the hon. Gentleman’s question, I will look into it further and write to him.

Businesses can employ ex-offenders only if those ex-offenders have the skills that businesses need. Will the Minister therefore ensure that the shortage of staff in prisons—the shortage appears to be making it more difficult for prisoners to take part in education—is addressed as quickly as possible, which must happen if the scheme is to be successful?

There was a net increase of 420 prison officers last year, and we continue to recruit hard, but the hon. Gentleman makes the valid point that we need good quality qualifications. We will carry on with that work. Dame Sally Coates’s review will help us in that regard.

18. With reoffending rates as high as 59% for those sentenced to a year’s imprisonment or less, and with the clear link between not reoffending and securing employment, what steps can the Minister take to encourage more employers in Dorset and elsewhere to take on ex-offenders as apprentices? (901976)

I would strongly suggest that employers in Dorset and elsewhere join the Employers Forum for Reducing Re-offending, where they will be able to talk to other businesses that have already gone down this road and found it profitable and successful for their businesses. We need many more employers to respond to this call to arms and to join Timpson and Halfords and the many other businesses that have gone down this route.

I am sure that we all agree that education is the key to ex-offenders becoming employable. Given that 25% of our young people in young offenders institutions have special educational needs, will the Minister confirm that all teachers in those institutions will be qualified and able to identify and support children with special educational needs?

The hon. Lady will be aware that Charlie Taylor is undertaking a review of the youth justice system, and I can assure her that he has education at the heart of that review. It will report in the spring of next year.

Will the Minister explain what consultations take place with potential employers to ensure that the courses and training in prisons are relevant to the skills that employers want? Also, when a prisoner who is in the middle of such a course has to attend court and is then taken to a different prison, could arrangements be made to ensure that they can complete the course in their new prison?

My hon. Friend makes two extremely good points. First, we have to ensure that the training and qualifications that prisoners get are of high quality and are valued by employers. We are committed to involving employers in the reviews that we undertake. Secondly, we are looking to reconfigure the prison estate so that we move prisoners around less, but I absolutely get her point about continuity and allowing prisoners to complete the courses they have started.

Would my hon. Friend consider establishing a Queen’s award for prisoner rehabilitation, so that good employers such as Timpson and Halfords can be suitably recognised?