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Prison Farms And Gardens
03 March 2004
Volume 658

2.53 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their policy with regard to the future of prison farms and gardens on which prisoners work.

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My Lords, the policy of the Prison Service is to expand its horticultural activities, providing an additional 355 work places where certificated training will be provided in grounds maintenance and landscaping, which will better prepare prisoners for jobs on release. To fund this expansion, prison farms comprising field-scale cropping and livestock where few or no prisoners are employed will be phased out. Some land will be sold, with the returns reinvested in increased and modernised horticultural activities.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and for clarifying the position. Does he agree that although not many prisoners are directly employed on the farms, the farm prison service has been an exemplar of exactly what Defra and the Department of Health are trying to do; that is, it produces fresh food, grown in this country, and makes it available for this country's institutions? It seems that the Home Office is flying in the face of the aim of those two departments, which is the procurement of fresh produce. I also refer to the beneficial effects on prisoners that the preparation and distribution of such fresh food may have.

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My Lords, on this occasion, the noble Baroness has got it wrong. We are providing increased employment opportunities in this field of activity. By focusing more on horticulture, where there are expanded market opportunities" we will ensure that many of the prisoners are directly involved in providing fresh food and produce for the Prison Service as a whole. Of course, the Prison Service will benefit from that, and prisoners will benefit by producing fresh food.

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My Lords, could the Minister tell the House whether the reports in the weekend press are accurate that both prison farms and prison institutions are to have the Royal Arms removed from them and henceforth not be known as Her Majesty's Prison Service? If so, why, and how much will it cost? Is it linked to yesterday's announcement by the Home Secretary that he wishes to remove the Crown from the Crown Prosecution Service?

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My Lords, the noble Lord has asked questions that are well wide of the Question on the Order Paper. As I understand it, there is to be a Statement on the Crown Prosecution Service and its future naming—or not—after Question Time.

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My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the stud for Suffolk Punch horses is on the farm at Hollesley Bay prison in Suffolk. Those horses are becoming an endangered breed. Could the Minister tell me what will happen to the stud and whether there is a future for it?

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My Lords, I am aware of the stud at Hollesley Bay prison. There was detailed consultation on the future of the stud and the Suffolk Punch horses. My understanding is that the farm will be sold, along with the land and buildings, to a trust, which will become known as the Suffolk Punch Trust, enabling the horses to remain in their home county. The trust will provide employment and training for prisoners, so the activity that is currently going on there will continue under another guise.

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My Lords, given the welcome extra attention that the Prison Service is now putting on rehabilitation, and against the background of the low educational achievement of many young offenders, can my noble friend say whether now that there is a bit more stability in the governance at Feltham prison, the massive opportunities there for horticulture and landscaping experience for prisoners have been restarted?

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My Lords, as I hoped that I had indicated clearly at the outset, there will be expanded opportunities in the Prison Service for horticultural activities. Young prisoners in particular may well benefit from this and, given that young offenders in general tend to come from urban areas, activities such as landscaping and parks maintenance are skills that will be acquired and developed by participating in the new and expanded service.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that prisoners won a high award—I think that it was a gold medal—at the Chelsea Flower Show last year? Such a pursuit is not only good for them in the future, but is an excellent way of spending time in prison. I speak as an ex-member of the board of visitors at Pentonville prison, where the meat provided by the prison farms was of excellent quality and was a reasonable price. It would be a pity if the meat produced by prisoners disappeared from prison fare.

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My Lords, I am sure that meat will not disappear from prison fare, but changes are being made. As the noble Baroness will know, in 1996 the pig farm enterprises at Littlehey, The Verne and Everthorpe prisons were closed. Some livestock farms will be retained as part of the changes. The noble Baroness is right that the farm service, and in particular the garden service that takes place in the prison estate, is of the highest quality. On many occasions, prison farms have produced winning entries at important flower shows such as those at Chelsea and Southport.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that working with animals helps to rehabilitate very difficult people, including prisoners? If he looks at the farm at New Hall women's prison, near Doncaster, he will see that prisoners work there with horses and find jobs afterwards.

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My Lords, we certainly recognise the importance of rehabilitation. We recognise the importance and value of that offered by the prison farms. I shall look carefully at the points made by the noble Baroness. I am sure that they will be taken into account as the review process continues.

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My Lords, is the Minister aware that slightly more than 20 years ago, I visited Strangeways prison as a Minister—

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My Lords, that is wishful thinking! I visited the prison as a Member of another place. I found most of the training facilities there in mothballs because of overcrowding. Six months later, Strangeways was being dismantled from the roof downwards by prison rioting. Do the hopeful statistics that the Minister provided about gardening and horticulture extend to other aspects of prisoner training, or do we still face the problem of prisoners being in cells for 23 hours a day while training facilities go unused?

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My Lords, the Government have laid great stress on rehabilitation within the prison estate. We have invested in it and we have expanded educational opportunities. The education budget in the Prison Service is now in the region of £150 million per annum. That has been increased year on year since the Government came to office. We do understand the value of rehabilitation. As I explained to your Lordships today, the initiative is one small part of that. We are seeking to expand opportunities for prisoners, because we want to ensure that the training they receive inside prisons enables them to gain full and useful employment outside prison.