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Prisoners (Education)

8. Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): What action he is taking to improve educational opportunities for prisoners. [155751]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart): We have increased substantially our investment in learning opportunities and funding will continue to rise—from £97 million this year to £137 million in two years' time. Prisoners have gained more than 100,000 qualifications in literacy and numeracy since April 2001 and are set to exceed targets again this year.

Mr. Hopkins : I thank my hon. Friend for her answer to my question. I recently had the interesting experience of visiting a prison for the first time—[Interruption.] I was a guest, not an inmate. I was impressed by the quality and commitment of the staff, and was most interested by conversations with inmates. They said that while they appreciated the opportunities for education, what they really wanted was skills training, particularly in construction trades, which would give them real alternatives to crime as and when they were released from prison.

Fiona Mactaggart: I am pleased to be able to reassure my hon. Friend that not only have we exceeded our targets in terms of achieving basic skills qualifications, but we have succeeded in increasing resources and achievements in vocational skills for prisoners. On work-related learning targets, in the first nine months of 2003–04 prisoners achieved more than 80,000 work-related qualifications against a target of 60,800.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Does the Minister agree that successful rehabilitation of offenders through education and training while they are in custody depends on their having employment opportunities when they have finished their sentences? What discussions has she had with trade, industry and commerce on providing those employment opportunities to prevent reoffending?

Fiona Mactaggart: The hon. Lady will be aware that under this Government there are more employment opportunities for everybody as a result of our effective economic policies. Part of that process, through jobcentres and so on, is to provide appropriate support for ex-offenders to get into jobs.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth) (Lab): I invite my hon. Friend to come and see the success of the education and training programme at Usk prison in my constituency, and at the Prescoed centre nearby. When I last visited the prison, I was particularly impressed to hear prison officers admit that they first came into the job as hard-nosed screws but are now involved in literacy programmes, as they recognise that if prisoners are not to offend again they need the skills to be able to apply for jobs, keep jobs and have the sense not to reoffend.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend is right to recognise the sense of personal reward that many prison officers gain from contributing to the learning of

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offenders—because, I believe, they realise that by improving offenders' qualifications they can ensure that they do not see them again. That, in the Prison Service, is a mark of success.

Prisoners (Police Cells)

9. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): How many prisoners are being held in police cells. [155752]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): As at 22 February 2004, there are no prisoners held in police cells under Operation Safeguard and no prisoners held overnight as lock-outs.

Gregory Barker : Can the Minister ensure that when prisoners are held in police cells, as they have been in the past, they are in the care of police officers who have been properly trained in looking after prisoners, especially the vulnerable and those on suicide watch? We cannot rule out the possibility of prisoners being held in police cells again.

Caroline Flint: Operation Safeguard is an arrangement between the Prison Service and the police. Senior police officers and senior Prison Service representatives must ensure that, as far as possible, provision is adequate, and that includes training. Fortunately, Operation Safeguard has not been used since 20 December 2002.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): The Minister is being disingenuous. Because of the rapid rise in the jail population, the Prison Service is in crisis, and—according to the service—there are only 600 places left. The Minister says that Operation Safeguard was last used in 2002, but it cost the taxpayer more than £10 million. Each place cost £363 a night, which is more than three times the cost of a high-security prison place or a de luxe room at Claridge's. Will the Minister confirm that several police forces are now on standby to reintroduce Operation Safeguard to save the Home Office's bacon? Who will pay for this crisis? Will it be paid for by the Home Office or by hard-pressed police budgets?

Caroline Flint: We are dealing with the issue of capacity in the Prison Service by providing 3,000 more places and building two more prisons that will provide 1,290 places. We constantly review the management of prison places, but we must also think of the future. The national offender management system will offer a scheme providing more places for serious, violent and dangerous offenders, as well as using other forms of sentence, such as community sentences, to deal with short-term prisoners.

The hon. Lady talks about more resources. The shadow Chancellor's standstill Budget would mean a loss of £669 million to the Home Office. Just how would the Opposition pay for the Prison Service—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Mr. Dismore.

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Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act

10. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): How many individuals have had (a) nationality and (b) indefinite leave to remain removed under the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and if he will make a statement. [155753]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes): The Home Secretary has exercised his right under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to remove citizenship from one individual. That individual has appealed, and the case is currently awaiting a hearing by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.

We are not currently aware that the provisions to revoke indefinite leave to remain under section 76 of the Act have been used. Both measures were passed by Parliament to be used by Ministers sparingly and, in relation to section 76, in the special circumstances in which we could not deport someone. However, where removal is possible, indefinite leave to remain is invalidated automatically as part of the removals process.

Mr. Dismore : Is there not a serious loophole? A year on, Abu Hamza's appeal still has not been heard and his lawyers are threatening a seven-year legal battle. Every terrorist suspect so far, from the shoe bomber to the ricin plotters, has left a trail of slime leading back to Hamza. The British people, including most Muslims, cannot understand and do not accept the fact that Hamza is allowed to block the road every Friday to spout his anti-semitism, holocaust denial and hatred of our country and our society, from Her Majesty the Queen downwards. Why has he not been put behind bars, thrown out or extradited to the Yemen to stand trial for his terrorist offences there? When will we deal with this evil influence in our society and get rid of him once and for all?

Beverley Hughes: I share my hon. Friend's frustration, but the timing of the appeal is in the hands of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which is the court, and not in the hands of the Home Office. SIAC is keen to make early progress. The funding was in the hands of the Legal Services Commission. We are not at liberty to interfere in either the funding or the court process. However, I assure him that any opportunity to prosecute this individual will be taken and that the local police are monitoring him very closely, including outside the mosques on Friday, and are currently investigating allegations in a newspaper about one recent sermon.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): Is the Minister personally content with the current powers that she and the Home Secretary have to expel people they believe may pose a risk to this country? Yes or no?

Beverley Hughes: We have taken the powers that are available to us, but in the implementation and exercising of those powers we have to give people rights of appeal, which exposes them to court processes, over which—rightly, many would argue—we have no jurisdiction.

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That is the position in this case: it is in the appeals process, and we must allow SIAC to determine the outcome. I hope that it will do so as soon as possible.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): Will the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill enable a person wrongly deprived of citizenship or indefinite leave to remain to appeal to the courts against that deprivation on a point of law?

Beverley Hughes: The Bill has very little bearing on that question, as it deals with arrangements to translate into a single tier appeals processes arising from asylum and other applications. The SIAC process is separate from that, and is confined to this kind of case. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is the opportunity outside SIAC, with permission, for people to go to higher courts.


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