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Lord Avebury: My Lords, that may well be the answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The person who is subject to the order

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at least runs the risk of being brought back before the court and receiving a custodial sentence if the court feels that that is the only way to deal with the matter. That would apply if Michael, having been through the voluntary system, failed to attend when he was obliged to do so under the YRO. Therefore, the element of compulsion may not be necessary if that possibility is hanging over the offender.

I also asked the noble Lord whether he could give us some idea of the effectiveness of the 25,000 voluntary attendances. Was the treatment effective in reducing the offending behaviour of the majority of young offenders who complied with the voluntary system—the Michaels at an earlier stage—and came out the other end, the treatment having been delivered? I think that the orders are likely to be much less effective for those who are compelled to attend than they are for those who attend voluntarily. For the latter, there is at least the spirit of compliance with treatment for their alcohol problems, whereas the ones that we are talking about now will have to be compelled to receive the treatment.

In conclusion, the informal approach is good but the noble Lord has underestimated the need for additional funding, which was, as he correctly inferred, my main reason for asking your Lordships to consider the matter again. I hope the noble Lord will agree that we can at least undertake some research on the effectiveness of YROs and look at the figures again later to see who is right—him or me—about the amount of funding that is provided for them. I continue to believe that we underestimate the influence of alcohol on offending behaviour generally and in young people in particular, and therefore I make no apology for having brought back this matter to the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that Report begin again not before 8.37 pm.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2008

7.36 pm

Lord Lucas rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 7 February, be annulled (SI 2008/235).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, at first sight, removing the right to maintenance loans and grants for university courses for students who are in prison seems fair enough, but two aspects of these regulations give me great cause for concern. First, although they are only temporary regulations applying just to this academic year, the substance of them is repeated in next year’s regulations, which I think are already before

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the House. Secondly, the regulations have been put together with a degree of carelessness which is culpable.

Prison education is not an easy business. A lot of dedicated people, voluntary organisations, different departments of state, the Prison Service and so on work very hard to use education as a means of rehabilitating prisoners. Prisoners who take university degrees must surely be a sub-group who have a pretty good chance of rehabilitation after they leave prison. It is always hard to get employment after you leave prison, but having a decent degree would make a considerable difference. Therefore, we should treat that group of prisoners with great care. Before we bring forward measures such as these, we should understand their effects. However, these regulations have been brought forward without the Government having a clue as to their effects and without them even knowing how many prisoners will be affected by them.

As I said, the regulations apply only to this year. They have been brought forward in great haste to save very little money—and at what cost? When the Government brought them forward, they did not know how many prisoners’ education opportunities would be blighted by them. They did not care, and I find that disgraceful.

Although, as I said, taking away from prisoners the right to maintenance seems sensible, what will happen to a prisoner on remand? If a university student is accused of a serious crime and spends time, quite reasonably, in prison on remand, as I read these regulations, he would lose his maintenance grant for the rest of the year. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, may remember Earl Russell’s student who was accused of rape and, with the noble Earl’s help, was exonerated. Even under the regulations as proposed by the Government, but not yet brought forward, he would have lost his maintenance grant for the term. That might tip a student into considerable financial difficulty without any justification at all.

What about a student who goes too far and for some reason is given a six months’ sentence, for example, for driving while uninsured and spends three months in prison in the middle of a university year? He will have contracted his accommodation for the year so he will not pay less rent. What will be his financial situation when he comes out of prison? Where will he find the funds to pay the rent that he still owes? Will he have to give up his university career just because of the regulations? What will happen to longer-term prisoners who pursue a course in prison and when they come out wish to continue that course at university? Where will they look for support?

We are told in the replies kindly given by the Minister that such students may be released while the regulations are in force and find themselves without recourse to a maintenance grant to continue the studies that they had pursued in prison. Maintenance grants do not cover only accommodation; they also cover books and other essentials. Where will prisoners turn for that money to pay for the books and other resources which they need to pursue their courses? Prison libraries are notoriously not well endowed

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when it comes to university-level material. They have to be able to turn somewhere for that.

Such matters ought to have been considered in advance, but they were not even looked at in advance. The Government now promise that they will bring forward regulations some time before September to deal with some of these intricacies. However, they have been very sketchy about those regulations and I should like to know from the Minister whether they will be brought forward before we retire for the Summer Recess.

These people are important. Letting them down at that point in their education, when they are about to leave prison, risks them becoming a menace to society when they might have been contributors to society. That puts in jeopardy a great deal of work that has been done by other people; and for what? When I first saw the regulations I presumed that some nasty newspaper had stuck a pin into an unsuspecting Minister and that these regulations were just a yelp of surprise and reaction. I could understand that. Newspapers are not nice when they go on the war path and one can excuse the initial reaction. But I should have hoped that the Civil Service would have managed to stop this and would have enabled better counsels and more careful counsels to prevail.

Yesterday, when I received the copy of the ministerial statement on this matter, it appeared that that was not the case. A Minister has just stumbled across this anomaly, said, “Whoopee, I can earn some Brownie points with the Chancellor by saving him £20,000”, and has valued that little bit of personal success over the consequences of this going ahead, without the research having been done and without knowing the effects, which is greatly distressing. At the heart of this, I am afraid, is a contemptible, petty, careless use of ministerial power. I greatly regret that this has been brought before the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 7 February, be annulled (SI 2008/235).—(Lord Lucas.)

7.45 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, we on these Benches have some sympathy with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. It is an anomaly. Since 1998, 154 prisoners have received rather more than £20,000. The total amounts to something close to £700,000.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, £20,000 is what the regulations would save.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: Yes, my Lords. On average, such prisoners have had a loan of about £4,000, which they presumably will have had to repay, and a grant of about £1,000. The noble Lord made the point about not knowing the circumstances of the prisoners who were students; whether they were young men or women—I suspect they were probably young men rather than young women; whether they had to pay for their lodgings for the year when they

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had been put on remand; and for that matter whether the grants were being made in order to buy books, which is very necessary.

In all conscience, the problem of education in prisons is huge. We are in the middle of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has been extremely anxious to have a number of amendments considered which relate to prison education. Many of us have this issue on our conscience. A big problem is that when prisoners are released, they can no longer continue the courses that they started. It is vital that they are able to do so.

In that process, I have discovered a blog being pursued by a number of noble Lords. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, contributed to that blog yesterday, saying that he was going to pray against the regulations today. He said:

I sympathise with those feelings. Equally, it is fairly clear, as the noble Lord said, that a Minister has discovered this anomaly and has thought that the hole should be plugged very quickly. The regulations have then been brought forward as a knee-jerk reaction and, yes, on average, £20,000 a year would be saved. Those who are detained at Her Majesty's pleasure already get maintenance from Her Majesty so you can understand the feeling that it is unnecessary to pay them twice. Another way to look at it is that they are a group of prisoners who have discovered a little loophole and have been able to profit from it and why should they? Looking on the more positive side, it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has raised an interesting issue and I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, my noble friend is clearly very committed to ensuring that prisoners are equipped with education and skills to assist them on their release from prison and I sympathise with many of the points that he has made. However, I am glad that the Government have now stopped the abuse of the student support system by prisoners. I want to ask the Minister how that quite unbelievable situation came about and why it was allowed to carry on for so long. According to the preliminary investigations by the Government—it has been widely reported in a number of newspapers today—more than 250 prisoners have received £250,000 in maintenance grants since 1998 and an additional £250,000 of loans have been paid out by the Student Loans Company over the past 10 years.

When will the Government provide a breakdown of the number of serving prisoners affected by the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2008? I strongly believe that prisoners should be encouraged to learn and train while serving their sentences, but not with grants designed to help students outside prison with their living costs. Students struggling with costs have a right to feel outraged.

We are all too aware that many prisoners who arrive in prison are unable to read and write and are often released back into the community in the same

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condition. The Government say that they are committed to rehabilitation. What is being done to provide a stronger role for the third sector providers who have the ability to link basic education and training in prison with realistic prospects for employment on release? Following on from that, if prisoners are released early, what is the department doing to ensure that they are able to continue the education and training that they undertook in prison to aid their rehabilitation successfully afterwards? I, too, will listen with great interest to what the Minister has to say.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I would normally start a dinner break debate by thanking the noble Lord for precipitating the debate. Even though this is a Prayer against the regulations, it is helpful to have this debate and for me to have the opportunity to answer these questions. As a former member of the Merits Committee, I can now feel from the other side the benefits of its work. I pay tribute to its members and extremely able chairman.

I hope that I can reassure the noble Lord that we take very seriously his concerns and the concerns of the Merits Committee. We also take the need for the rehabilitation of offenders extremely seriously and are supportive of the role that higher education, further education and distance learning can play in contributing towards that important cause. However, if the regulations were annulled, that would reopen the loophole that has enabled prisoners who are maintained at public expense also to receive student support. I do not believe that that is right or an appropriate use of public funds.

It is right that prisoners, like other students, should be eligible for loans to cover the full tuition fees for higher education, and prisoners will continue to be eligible to take out such loans even with these regulations in place. But as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, pointed out, prisoners are already maintained at public expense. They have access to the learning materials that they need, such as books, through the higher education institution—many higher education institutions would, I am sure, advocate how brilliant their library facilities were—and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, through the Prison Service, as well as support for travel and meals while they are away from the prison. It is therefore simply not appropriate for them to receive further financial support for maintenance.

This academic year, the review identified that 44 prisoners have received some form of maintenance payment while in prison. As noble Lords are aware, all further maintenance payments to these individuals have been stopped. Where appropriate, payment of tuition fees to higher education institutions has been reinstated. The Government are committed to improving the skills of offenders, helping them to move into gainful employment and to break the cycle of reoffending. I do not accept the noble Lord’s assertion that we do not care. We care very much indeed. Offenders are encouraged to study at all levels, not only in higher education.

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The Government's commitment is illustrated by the significantly increased amount spent on courses in basic skills, further education and part-time higher education since 2001. In 2007-08, prisoners will undertake more than 1,500 Open University courses. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome that.

A smaller number of prisoners attend full-time higher education courses. They are mainly from open prisons and nearing the end of their sentences. They attend through temporary release from the prison, which is approved by the governor. Thorough risk assessments are carried out by the Prison Service, as well as regular discussions with the higher education institution, to make sure that the prisoner is suitable for release and is making appropriate progress. Yes, we take care to ensure that they are progressing. Detailed scrutiny of cases found by searching for prison postcodes in the Student Loans Company database shows that, from 1998-99 to 2007-08, 154 prisoners received some form of maintenance payment while full-time students. In total, as we noted in this debate, those prisoners received around £570,000 in maintenance loans. We expect those loans to be repaid, and they are being. They also received £160,000 in maintenance grants, which is not an appropriate use of public funds.

In comparison, at the time of my right honourable friend John Denham's Statement on 7 February, preliminary investigations suggested that approximately 250 prisoners had received up to £250,000 in maintenance grants since 1998. We did have an idea about the numbers. We were concerned about individual cases and we appreciated the importance of understanding individual details, but we also felt that a Statement had to be made to Parliament, because Parliament needed to know. I do not wish to labour this point, but there is also evidence of maintenance payments made to prisoners between 1990 and 1998.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, suggested that insufficient care and attention has been paid to the effect of our amending regulations on prisoners who will be released this academic year. He is right to be concerned; I can fully understand the concerns about prisoners who are released and who need financial support to complete their courses. The number of cases is small; to date we are aware of 11 prisoners who were full-time students and have been released since the beginning of this academic year. A further 14 are eligible for release before August.

Prison governors wrote to all prisoners attending full-time higher education to inform them that they would not be eligible for any further maintenance payments when the amending regulations came into force, and the Student Loans Company has written to released prisoners, informing them of the reasons for their maintenance payments being stopped. However, we should remember that those students have received some maintenance payments in the current academic year on which they could draw. If they suffer financial hardship, universities can administer the Access to Learning Fund, provided by the Government, to assist such students. Released and serving prisoners have been informed about the Access to Learning Fund.

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The amending regulations for 2007-08 are an interim measure. It was necessary for Ministers to act swiftly to prevent further maintenance support payments to prisoners undertaking higher education in the current academic year, as most will already have received more funding than we believe is right. From the academic year 2008-09, we are working to ensure that maintenance support for any student who has spent part of a year in prison is available on a pro-rata basis. Those regulations will be laid before the summer, as the noble Lord asked.

My right honourable friend John Denham also made it clear that he will be considering how best to manage financial support for offenders in higher education in the longer term, based on recommendations from DIUS and Ministry of Justice officials. I am sure that noble Lords will be concerned that these regulations are looked at very carefully, and I am sure that the Merits Committee will think about them too.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked about the role of the third sector. We are proud to work in partnership with the third sector, and I am pleased to pay tribute to the work that it does, particularly the Prisoners’ Education Trust, with which we work closely. We are committed to ensuring that we make the most not only of higher education opportunities, but also further education, the Open University and first-level skills.

The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, talked about students entering prison. The concern is that the majority of students in higher education who are prisoners are long-serving prisoners rather than the other way around. Of course we must be aware of those concerns as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has sharply highlighted his concerns over the welfare of prisoners and the need for them to be able to continue with their education. I hope that I have indicated that we have taken a great deal of trouble to understand the individual circumstances of prisoners directly affected by the withdrawal of maintenance payments. We are aware of the institutions they attend. We have ensured that they are aware of what support might be available, and have no reason to believe that any students have to date indicated that they would not be able to finish their courses. However, should that be the case, we have made efforts to ensure that they are aware of what additional financial support institutions—

8 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister have any information on what the money has been used for? The implication is that it has just been absorbed by the prisoners and perhaps passed on to their families, or has even been used to make life slightly more comfortable for them within their own environment. If many of these prisoners are in open prisons, there is some lee-way for them to do that.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, that is an interesting question. It is not easy for prisoners to spend money while they are in prison. I cannot give the noble Baroness a full answer but we have every reason to believe that, where prisoners have received maintenance payments, those payments should be available to them when they are released; I cannot see any reason why they would not.

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