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Prisoners: Literacy

Volume 614: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016

Fewer than half of the people entering prison have basic standards of English and maths. This is a huge problem because we know that low levels of education can prevent people from securing jobs on release and leading law-abiding lives.

The Secretary of State is quite right to say that both literacy and numeracy are essential to getting a job. Should we not therefore put more resources into educating prisoners on release so that they are able to get jobs?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The fact is that too many people enter our prisons without those skills. We need to use their time in prison to help them to gain the basic skills so that they can succeed outside. We have started measuring prisoners’ skills by testing them as they enter prison. I am keen to see that we measure real progress made during prisoners’ stay in prison and hold governors accountable for that.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that there will be no return to the policy of banning books for prisoners?

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to her position. I was delighted to hear the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport talking about the importance of the arts in prisons. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise how the arts can bring prisoners to literacy and teach them a huge range of skills. I hope she will meet the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance at the earliest opportunity to discuss what the arts can do, particularly in respect of literacy.

May I say what a fantastic job my right hon. Friend has done in championing the arts in every part of our country? His legacy lives on, and it will live on in our prisons.

I think that the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) is overcome with emotion. What a happy day for the feller!

What discussions will the Secretary of State have with Justice Departments in devolved legislatures throughout the United Kingdom to ensure that best practice is replicated in the improvement of literacy in all UK prisons?

I look forward to meeting my counterparts from all over the United Kingdom and discussing these critical issues, because this is a challenge that we all face.