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5. Mr. Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What proportion of prisoners were not in work or education programmes in the last period for which figures are available. [202047]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I do not measure the figures in the way in which the hon. Gentleman has requested, but I can tell him that provisional data for 2007-08 indicate that, on average, per prisoner, 7.7 hours of education and 12.5 hours of work activity were undertaken each week.

Mr. Holloway: Obviously that sounds absolutely marvellous, but the Minister will be aware that one of his colleagues said in a written answer that I believe was given yesterday that the average prisoner does 36 minutes a day of vocational training. We all know that prisoners are half to a third less likely to reoffend if they can get a job afterwards. How much more productively could the remaining 23 hours 24 minutes be used?

Mr. Hanson: On average, each prisoner will undertake more than 25 hours of purposeful activity each week. That does not include just work or education; it could include issues related to preparation for release or a range of matters concerned with assessment of their offending behaviour. A considerable amount of work is being carried out at local level. We are looking strongly
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at the idea of working wings and at working with private sector partners such as Cisco and Bovis to help to support employment.

As the hon. Gentleman recognises, employment, skill levels and training are key to helping people to get back into work on their eventual release from prison. Last year, we undertook some 12 million hours of work in prison industries, producing £30 million of goods, and thousands upon thousands of prisoners underwent vocational training to learn important skills for their release.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that finding opportunities to improve education and creativity in unique ways is essential? Will he join me in welcoming the opening on 22 May of the Hay literary festival in Parc prison? A 10-day literary festival will be launched, with two books written by past and present prisoners in Parc, so the Hay literary festival will be in the prison as an outreach. Is that not a unique opportunity to promote reading and writing among prisoners and to give them the chance to enjoy new literature?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing that to my attention. As she knows, I visited Parc prison last year and found it to be an effective centre in addressing literacy, numeracy and vocational training. She will know the importance of community outreach: representing outside events in prison is an important way to maintain links between prisoners and the community. I commend the fact that some prisoners are using their time productively to learn new skills and to contribute to things that they may do when they leave prison. I hope to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency again later this year.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): I pay tribute to the Minister and to the Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), for their commitment to helping to enhance the education of prisoners who suffer from dyslexia and dyspraxia. Will the Minister work with other Departments to seek to spread to other prisons the pilot scheme that has been going on in Chelmsford prison, from within the prison system, to reduce levels of illiteracy and to enhance the ability of those suffering from dyslexia to learn to read and write so that when they leave prison their enhanced educational capacity means that they are less likely to reoffend?

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point in that way. He will know that I visited Chelmsford prison in July last year and met here in the House later in the year some of his constituents who are involved in schemes in the prison to help to raise literacy and numeracy levels. The work that is undertaken in Chelmsford, often by voluntary organisations, is key to helping the prison service to raise the basic level of literacy and numeracy for individuals in prison. The House will know that many prisoners enter prison with low levels of literacy and numeracy, and low levels of self-esteem as a result. One way to help prevent them reoffending is to ensure that we raise their skill levels, especially if they have conditions such as dyslexia. We focus especially on how to raise their skill levels to help them to obtain employment in the community.

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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Many constituents who write to me in support of longer jail sentences also favour effective forms of prison-based rehabilitation through work and education. However, while the problem with drug supply in prisons persists, the presence and menace of highly addictive narcotics militates against such provision. What role does the Minister think that the zero-tolerance approach to drugs in prison, advocated by the Prison Officers Association, has in offering all prisoners the real chance of rehabilitation and recovery from addiction and of benefiting from the sort of work and education programmes to which the main question refers?

Mr. Hanson: We have to do two things. The first is to try to prevent drugs from entering prison, and we have had great success with mandatory drug tests. Secondly, we must help prisoners to get off drugs while they are with us. Some 70 per cent. of prisoners enter prison with a drug problem, and there are always challenges with individuals trying to get drugs into prison. We have dogs, CCTV and the help and co-operation of the police, but we need to control it more, which is why we have recently commissioned a review to consider what else we can do.

Mr. Colin Breed (South-East Cornwall) (LD): Is the Minister aware that in Dartmoor recently a considerable number of prisoners who were undertaking education and rehabilitation programmes or who were out on work placements were summarily removed with virtually no notice and were moved to another prison hundreds of miles away? That undermined all the work that the prison officers had been doing and decreased the support of the outside companies that had been prepared to take people on work placements.

Mr. Hanson: The hon. Gentleman will know that that issue was raised at the previous Question Time by the hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Cox) and another hon. Member whose name escapes me at the moment. I have written to them both recently, and will send the hon. Gentleman a copy of that letter. It explains the circumstances and what we are trying to do to compensate Dartmoor and to re-sort the arrangements.

Prison Work Programmes

6. Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): What progress has been made on increasing the number of private and third sector organisations involved in work programmes in prisons. [202049]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Since the launch of the Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending, we have established links with many employers and, as was noted in the Ministry of Justice’s prison policy update published in January, we want to expand and further develop these links. I will undertake a ministerial-led forum with the private, public and third sectors in May to discuss how we can further work together.

Anne Snelgrove: That is indeed good news. I am glad to hear of the work that my right hon. Friend is doing. Does he agree that it is a concern that the Prison Service
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might have to impose a core day on all closed prisons? That would mean less time for prisoners to carry out such activities, which are so vital to their rehabilitation. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that there is sufficient time for those excellent activities to take place?

Mr. Hanson: The proposals for the core day to which my hon. Friend refers try to reorganise the operation of the Prison Service to meet the needs of the prison and the needs caused by challenging financial circumstances. We are looking at how to ensure that the same amount of time is invested in prisoners’ rehabilitation and employment and in developing their other skills, but in a different time frame during the course of the week. I do not expect that prisoners will lose out as a result of the changes.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Is the Minister aware that City livery companies—not least my own, the Worshipful Company of Weavers—provide considerable assistance to Her Majesty’s prisons, particularly in the purchase of equipment that enables meaningful training and other work to go on in prison? Will the Minister further encourage the work of the livery companies of this country? They often do work in prisons, which is unheralded but worthwhile, to help those who need help.

Mr. Hanson: I pay tribute to the work of the livery companies and the many private sector companies that consider what help they can give to support the work of prison industries and to help with employment and training opportunities outside prison. I want to make links with livery companies, businesses, small businesses, local government and national Government to ensure that we can try to match skills acquired in prison with placements for employment outside prison. Employment is key to preventing reoffending.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Is the Minister aware of the work of Safe Ground, a voluntary organisation that works with prisoners’ families to help them to plan their future after incarceration? Will he consider how families can be involved in helping rehabilitation and reducing reoffending?

Mr. Hanson: I would be grateful to learn more about that organisation from my hon. Friend. Her point is vital. Having links and maintaining contact with families, as well as hopefully maintaining that contact after people are released from prison, are extremely important. It is a sad fact that many children of prisoners go on to a life of crime. We need to do a tremendous amount of intensive work to maintain family links and to support families’ contact with prisoners.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is it not the reality that the chief inspector of prisons has said that there is insufficient purposeful activity in prisons and that she assessed no closed male prison as performing well? Could the Minister provide or put in the Library the statistics on the amount of purposeful activity in each of our prisons so that we can see which prisons are performing well and which are not? These questions have a sort of “Groundhog Day” quality about them. Until we try to work out who is doing well and who is not, we will continue to go around this track.

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Mr. Hanson: That is a very helpful suggestion, and I will certainly look at whether we can produce those figures for individual prisons. As I mentioned in an earlier answer, prisoners in the system in England and Wales spend 25.3 hours a week on average in purposeful activity, including education, training, work, preparation for release, effective courses and community work on a range of matters. I will look at the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, and if possible, I will take up his very helpful idea.

Criminal Justice System

7. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on public confidence in the criminal justice system. [202050]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Between March 2003 and December 2007, public confidence that the criminal justice system is effective in bringing offenders to justice rose by 5 percentage points. Other measures of confidence have also increased: respect for the rights of the accused is up by 3 percentage points; witnesses being treated well, up 4 percentage points; victims’ needs are met, up 6 percentage points; and effectiveness in tackling youth crime, up 3 percentage points.

Mr. Harper: I thank the Minister for that answer. He knows, because I gave this information to the Secretary of State’s office, that my late constituent, Mr. Kevin Davies—a young man with learning disabilities and epilepsy—was imprisoned and tortured by criminals in a chain of events that ended in his death. As a result of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, passed by this Government, his three captors will be released from prison in just three years’ time, after having served just half their sentence. Kevin’s family feel very badly let down by the justice system. What can the Minister say today to help to start restoring their confidence in that system?

Mr. Wills: I start by expressing my sympathy for the tragic loss suffered by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. I am sure that I speak for the entire House in extending my condolences. We recognise that the criminal justice system cannot put right all the hurt caused to the victims of such tragic crimes and their loved ones. Of course, we must be sensitive, and we are. That is why we keep sentencing and offences under review, so that we can ensure the best possible outcomes and strive to seek to secure justice for all.

The changes that the hon. Gentleman referred to—I can understand the hurt and anger felt by his constituents—took place in 2003 and did not introduce the system of licensed release. For many years, long before that Act and long before this Government came to power, prisoners were eligible for release on licence from halfway through their sentences. I point out that, under a Conservative Government, prisoners were eligible from a third of the way through their sentence. We have tightened up procedures for supervision on licence. We continue to keep them under review. If offenders—

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Mr. Speaker: Order. It is important that perhaps the Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman. We do not have the time.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is not an even greater threat to public confidence the way that the system is administered? In the report on the appalling death of Richard Whelan, inspectors identified

to things such as enforcing bail conditions, communication between parts of the system and bailing to non-existent addresses. What is going to be done about that?

Mr. Wills: We recognise that the criminal justice system has failed in certain areas. We are setting up a working party to look at that, and I understand that the Solicitor-General will take charge of it. I am sure that we will report to the House in due course on the lessons to be learned.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): In evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, Helen Newlove and Paul Carne—both of whose very close relatives have been killed; they are therefore the relatives of the victims of crime—mentioned in particular their concern about the rights of victims and their relatives in respect of the granting of bail and even their position in courts, as there are no designated places for victims to sit in courts. Can something be done to address those concerns?

Mr. Wills: We recognise that, in the light of those cases, we need to look at the system again. Both the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor have expressed their determination to do that. The Lord Chancellor is carrying out a report at the moment, and I am sure that he will bring that report to the attention of the House shortly.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): The need for public confidence cannot be greater than when sentencing terrorists. Is it not therefore totally unacceptable that convicted terrorists who are serving determinate sentences under the 2003 Act are still eligible for automatic release at the halfway point of their sentences? How many more dangerous terrorists, such as Yassin Nassari, may not now be released up to 18 days early but will still be released automatically when only half their term of sentence has been served?

Mr. Wills: I point out that a gamut of offences are covered by the term terrorism; I am sure that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that. The most serious terrorists are generally sentenced to indeterminate sentences, so his concerns do not apply.

Party Funding

8. Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with trade unions on party funding and rules governing donations to political parties. [202051]

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The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): In my capacity within the Labour party—I lead on party funding—I have had, and continue to have, periodic meetings with the trade unions and, of course, all others, including the hon. Gentleman’s party, whenever it wishes to meet me.

Richard Ottaway: During the Secretary of State’s friendly chats with the trade unions, did he point out that it would be inconsistent to cap donations to political parties from individuals and businesses while allowing the trade unions to pour money into Labour party coffers through the device of the political levy?

Mr. Straw: I have been well aware of the complexities of the situation. Not least of the matters that made it much more complex is the way in which the Conservative party has dramatically shifted its position on the issue. Originally—just a year ago—it fully welcomed Hayden Phillips’s proposals as the basis for agreement, but as was said by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who used to speak on the subject for the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives then “walked away” from those talks without any justification whatever. [Interruption.] It is a little bit of education for the Conservative party, which has a very short memory.

My position in respect of trade union funding is that which the Conservative party set out in its evidence to the Neill committee some years ago. It said:

What I would like to know is what exactly has changed since then.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the concerns of the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) are perhaps a bit misplaced? The system for trade union money is, of course, very well regulated and very open. By contrast, a recent Rowntree report said in respect of the 20 most marginal Tory and Labour constituencies in the 2005 election that £53,000 was put into Labour coffers by six trade unions, while a quarter of a million pounds was given by the shadowy, shady organisations of Lord Ashcroft and Lord Steinberg, and by the Midlands Industrial Council. Who is fooling whom on this one?

Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend is correct, and I hope that the Conservative party is taking serious notice of the Rowntree report, which includes the following rather stark conclusion:

We want what was proposed by Hayden Phillips—an all-party agreement so that we deal with the issue across the piece. It remains a matter of great regret to me that at the eleventh hour the Conservative party walked away from the talks, and from the basis of a draft agreement that had been brokered with it in the months leading up to those talks.

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