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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while literacy and numeracy are fundamental to the provision of education in prison, the teaching of art, music and drama is equally important? The annual Koestler awards are but one example of the importance and the huge potential of that provision. It is all too often not available, due to its lower priority and the frequent demands of cost-cutting. Given that the idea of formal education does not appeal to the majority of prisoners, does the Minister also agree that arts education often provides a valuable gateway into more formal learning and is therefore doubly justified?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the view expressed by the noble Baroness. There is no doubt that the features that she described play an important part in prison education. However, the whole House will realise that there are a disproportionate number of people with very low skill levels in prison. Some 60 per cent of prisoners do not have the skill levels that we expect of the average 11 year-old. There is little prospect of us being able to ensure that people can earn their living and fulfil their part in society after they have discharged their responsibility in prison unless they have the skills that employers will be able to use. That is why basic skills inevitably form an important part of the programme.

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Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that volunteers coming into prisons can do a most useful job by helping prisoners who cannot read or write? Will he pay tribute to the many volunteers and encourage that practice?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, indeed I shall. There is no doubt that the enormous progress that we have made on literacy and numeracy would never have been possible on government resources alone. They have been supplemented by an enormous amount of work by volunteers—both those working outside prisons among the general population and, as the noble Baroness rightly identified, those working with prisoners. We should pay due regard and tribute to that valuable work.

The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when a child of school leaving age is received into prison, the prison is often not told of any information about that child's previous education? As appropriate education is important to their future, is the Minister willing to ensure that that information is passed through?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is an important point. We all recognise that the distressing number of juveniles who come within the framework of the custody system need particular attention. I emphasise that we are seeking to double the number of hours available for education for juveniles. That reflects the increased concentration of effort on that group. The right reverend Prelate is entirely right that we cannot improve education effectively unless we know the background of the people whom we are seeking to educate.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a very distinguished statistician who is a Member of this House confided at No. 10 this morning that if you are in doubt about a figure, 10 per cent will usually do? I am not suggesting that the £50 million spent at present represents only 10 per cent of what is desirable, but there is a massively strong economic as well as social case for a great increase in expenditure on education in prisons for the good of all of us, as well as of the prisoners.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his contribution, particularly given his great background in education. I assure him that this morning's celebration by the Prime Minister of the provision of skills in this country was a reflection of our growing emphasis on the need to direct resources in that area. The noble Lord is right that education for the prison population is an important element if we are to reduce recidivism and, eventually, to reduce the costs to society in every respect.

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Drivers: Experience and Age

3.16 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce provisional "P-plates" for newly qualified drivers and consider a requirement that drivers from the age of 70 should produce evidence of a recent satisfactory eye test when applying for the renewal of a driving licence.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, two weeks ago the Government published a consultation document Introducing a more structured approach to learning to drive, inviting views on the possible use of probationary plates by newly qualified drivers. A decision will be made in the light of that consultation on the matter raised by the noble Baroness and on the other measures consulted on.

On renewal at age 70 and thereafter, drivers must declare any medical condition that may affect their safety to drive, including deteriorating eyesight. There is no evidence to suggest a need for more stringent measures at present, but, given its importance to safe driving, the issue is kept under constant review.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he know that during the passage of the most recent road safety legislation, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, and I were very keen on promoting P-plates or R-plates for new drivers? Northern Ireland has R-plates; Australia has P-plates. The noble Viscount produced valuable evidence from Northern Ireland and I produced a considerable amount from Australia. Since then it has become even clearer that a high number of accidents are caused by new, young drivers. It is estimated that 38,000 road users a year are killed or injured in accidents involving at least one driver with less than two years' experience. Does the Minister agree that such plates would have the great benefit of identifying such drivers so that additional speed limits could be imposed on them?

On the issue of eyesight tests, does the Minister accept that many people are not aware of deteriorating eyesight? Now that eye tests are free again, what is there to stop people having them, particularly as the administration has to look at applications for renewal every few years? What harm would there be in that? There should be no extra expense.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, that is quite a challenge. I have noted the noble Baroness's interest in P-plates over a number of years and was advised about it in preparation. I share her concern about the relatively high accident rate among inexperienced drivers, who are usually also young drivers. The consultation paper is an excellent opportunity for the noble Baroness and others to put their evidence to the department before it comes to a view. I shall ensure that that happens. The central debate will be about the extent to which we should try to improve the experience of drivers before

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they take the test and the extent to which we should put conditions on drivers following the test. That is why the consultation goes into a wide range of options.

The eyesight test is now free, although it is almost certain that there would be some charge by opticians were we to require a certificate to be produced. The core point is that there is still no evidence that older drivers—70-plus—pose a significant accident problem. They have lower accident rates than most other age cohorts, particularly—as one would expect—cohorts composed of the young. The Government believe that the current voluntary system—whereby older drivers are expected every three years to make a proper health declaration, backed by a check with their GP or a declaration by the court or insurers—seems to be working satisfactorily.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, while considering the principle and consequences of proof of age at one end of the spectrum, will the Minister also consider proof of age at the other end? Is he aware that confusion often results when legislation and regulations rely on proof of age, as happens in many instances? Is it not time for the Government to lead the debate on a national proof of age card?

Lord Filkin: What an interesting question, my Lords. It seems almost an invitation to join the debate on identity cards, which I hesitate to do. I shall reflect and correspond on the matter.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, given the Minister's previous statement, does he agree that many people, including many noble Lords, require glasses at a much younger age than 70? Cannot eyesight deteriorate at any time in life? Moreover, are not other qualifications, such as a person's reaction speed, necessary to be competent to drive? Would it not be sensible for the Government to consider requiring a declaration and a test proving competence to drive every 10 years during adulthood?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, that eyesight deterioration does not occur only at 70 but at a variety of ages. However, from the late 40s onwards most of us suffer some form of eyesight deterioration. It is also a fact that older drivers tend to have slower reaction speeds in a number of respects. Those facts are matched to some extent by the fact that, as noble Lords well know, older people have considerably greater judgment and experience. Older people are also inclined to be more cautious about exposing themselves to driving risks. They tend largely to avoid night-time, rush hour, winter or wet weather driving. Older drivers therefore make some fairly sensible behavioural adjustments to reduce risk.

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The Government do not support a 10-yearly test. We do not believe that the benefits that might be gained by such a process justify the amount of work and bureaucracy involved or the costs that would be imposed on individuals and the Government.

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