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House of Lords

Thursday, 1 May 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

House of Lords: Public Information

Lord Soley asked the Chairman of Committees:

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, a wide range of activities is taking place with the aim of raising understanding of the impact and relevance of the House of Lords. These include the Peers in Schools programme, appointment of regional outreach officers and new media initiatives such as virtual tours. The developments are taking place within the context of a five-year bicameral programme endorsed by both Houses that seeks radically to improve the connection between Parliament and the public.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer and for the support that he has given. I also thank the House’s information officer and the Hansard Society for their help in starting up the weblog, commonly known as the blog, which in the first six weeks of its existence has drawn 30,000 visits from the public, has had 600 comments from members of the public and is growing fast. Given that we no longer get reports of this place or, indeed, of the other place in the newspapers, and have not done so for many years, is not this a direct tool to reach out to the public to tell them what we are doing? If people look at the blog site, and preferably join in, they will see that there is great interest in what happens here and a desire by the public to be involved.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his comments and congratulate him and his colleagues who started the Lords of the Blog project, which was launched last month and which, as he said, has attracted considerable interest. The project is conducted and hosted by the Hansard Society and is being run on a six-month trial basis. Any noble Lords who have not yet had the opportunity to look at it can find a direct link to it from this month’s issue of Red Benches. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome other participants in it.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the Lord Speaker deserves a bouquet of congratulations for the amount of public attention and people that she has brought to this House, thereby enormously increasing knowledge of it? She deserves to be thanked for that.

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Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I can hear the House’s ready acceptance of the noble Baroness’s remarks. Since 2006, the Lord Speaker has indeed been very active in this role. I mention particularly the Peers in Schools programme, in which I believe more than 60 Peers participate. I understand that more volunteers would be welcome. We also have the UK Youth Parliament event, which will take place tomorrow, and a further important programme associated with the 50th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act this year. There are other matters as well.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, will the Chairman of Committees join me in congratulating all those associated with the production of the excellent publication, The Work of the House of Lords, 100,000 copies of which I understand have been distributed? Does he agree with the following two propositions: first, that it is essential that a substantial sum of money be allotted annually for publicising the work of this House; and, secondly, that all forms of communication, not least the modern ones so powerfully advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, should be considered at all times?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I agree with the noble Viscount. The Work of the House of Lords is a great step forward and the information office, which produced it, deserves our congratulations. A budget of £4.8 million has been allocated in 2008-09 to fund the delivery of work to make the House and its work more accessible to the public. That is not a large amount in terms of the total budget, but it is quite a large sum of money.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is the reputation of the House of Lords enhanced by the sight on television of noble Members of this House bawling and shouting at one another, as is to be heard during Question Time?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is a difficult one to answer. I am happy to say that normally when I answer questions I do not get too much of that. But, of course, we are a party-political House and it is not unnatural, therefore, that Members from either side should occasionally get excited about a subject.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, the Chairman of Committees has given us some indication of the work that has been going on within the House of Lords with the help, assistance and guidance of the Lord Speaker. Could he give us a little more information about the current programme of Lords activity?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I was fairly brief in my Answer because one does not want to take up too much time. I could go on at some length. I mentioned the Peers in Schools programme There are visits to Women’s Institute branches across the country and the “What a waste!” competition for schools followed the Science and Technology Committee’s report on waste reduction. We have recently appointed regional outreach officers with a remit to establish links with stakeholders in specific regions and localities

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in the UK. Each officer will spend approximately 10 working days a month in their local region. Many community groups have specific objectives to increase civic participation, and parliamentary outreach can play a key role in the attainment of that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, does the Chairman of Committees agree that the constituency that perhaps most needs to be aware of the work of this House is the other place?

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an extremely good point. Members of this House have tried to deal with that for many years, but I am not sure that we are getting very far.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the quality of information about the history of the nation conveyed to visitors to this House by the diligent guides is formidable and impressive? I have learnt a lot from them. Would it not be desirable if that could be supplemented or even replaced by more information from the guides about the work that we do here and how we do it? That would be a most useful addition to the valuable work that the guides do already.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, that is true. The guides whom we all see working on the morning tours do a very good job indeed, although one sometimes thinks that maybe they make too much of Henry VIII and his wives, which has rather limited parliamentary interest. It is important also that the guides explain the work of both Houses, which they do.

Prisons: Education and Training

11.13 am

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, the Government see education and training leading to employment as an important part of their reducing reoffending strategy, with investment in offender learning and skills rising to more than £170 million this year. We have an ambitious programme of reform under way, much of which is focused on improving the skills and employment opportunities of prisoners, led by an interministerial group on reducing reoffending.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that partly encouraging reply. However, does she agree that if prisoners—especially young prisoners—who have emerged almost entirely untaught

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from so-called looked-after status are not automatically to return to reoffending, what they need above all while in custody is education and training to help to equip them for a totally different life after their release? Under those circumstances, and not least in the light of the Government’s response to the important Leitch report, should not the Government play a far more proactive role by using incentives, financial penalties or whatever other means of encouragement are necessary to ensure that both the inmates and the institutions gain if prisoners enrol for skill courses, rather than more routine work, within the prison?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that the Government need to do more and I can reassure her that we have an ambitious programme of reform under way. As I stressed in my first Answer, we see the promotion of new skills for offenders as a key part of our strategy for reducing reoffending. She is right to draw attention to the fact that the Leitch report highlighted real gaps in skills, and offenders—and young offenders, in particular—are the very people in whom we see the greatest skill gaps.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us how many writers in residence there are now in prisons?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot. I apologise but I shall investigate that question and write to the noble Baroness promptly.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if rehabilitation is the primary objective in penal policy, education and training in the most up-to-date forms is essential, but that it is also essential that this process starts the very day that a person begins his or her prison sentence? Can she assure the House that reports that the Government intend to put the emphasis on the end of a sentence, rather than the whole sentence, are not accurate? I know from my own experience of working with organisations involved in prisons that the need for that process to start right at the beginning is crucial.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, my noble friend highlights an important point. I think that the key step that the Government took was in 2001, when we transferred responsibility for offender education to the education department. Since then, the pivotal status of assessment on entry to prison has been a key factor in promoting the development of personalised learning for prisoners. Therefore, I do not accept that there is undue emphasis on the end of a prison sentence. However, offender learning through employment, for example, can take place only when a prisoner is able to go out on release and take part in employment. Therefore, I emphasise the importance of the assessment at the start of a sentence.

The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, is the Minister aware that prisoners with learning difficulties are often effectively excluded not only from education but also from offending behaviour courses and that there is evidence that, for that reason, many may have longer custodial sentences than others convicted of

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comparable crimes? Can she tell us what steps the Government are taking to make provision for such prisoners?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, if I may, I shall come back to the pivotal role of the assessment that needs to take place right at the start of admission into the secure prison service. Once offender learning has become the responsibility of the Learning and Skills Council and its delivery partners, their assessors are responsible for ensuring that they have the skills to identify learning needs, but an emphasis must also be put on doing the right things in the right order. It is not possible to help offenders to learn and gain new skills if they have drug and alcohol problems or are experiencing mental health problems. Therefore, it is absolutely right that the assessment is done, that access to the right services is secured and that that happens in the correct order.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, the Minister used the word “reform” and spoke of the fact that a group of Ministers is taking personal responsibility for these matters. In view of the importance of the issue, can she say whether prison governors are personally accountable for pre-set targets for achievement in this area and for the quality of the work that takes place?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I come back to the importance of educational outcome, responsibility for which must rest with the education providers. However, responsibility for ensuring that offenders attend classroom and educational activities is very much with the prison governors, who have targets for achieving results in this area.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, what information can the Minister give us on the implementation of safe web access in prisons? Such access is very important but is in fact quite limited for a proportion of the prison population. Has there been progress on implementation?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, pilot programmes are taking place particularly in the north of England to look at the use of e-learning which, of course, involves safe web access. I shall have to write to the noble Baroness with more detail, if I can get it.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, will the Minister explain to the House why the Government are not willing to link the successful completion of education programmes, or indeed work objectives, to eligibility for parole?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I think I can reassure the noble Lord that the successful completion of educational activities and the building of new skills is very much part of achieving an offender’s sentence outcome. A range of outcomes is required for a sentencing plan to be successfully achieved and it includes matters such as behaviour and alcohol and drug dependency. Although educational and skills achievements are important, I am sure the noble Lord will agree that it must be one of a number of the factors taken into account.

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Health: Terminally Ill Patients

11.22 am

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the introduction of individual budgets in social care has transformed the care of some social care users. Learning from this, we need to understand how to support and allow health service users to design their own tailored care and support packages. The NHS Next Stage review will consider this issue and will report in the summer.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Do the Government recognise that speed and flexibility are of the essence for these patients, yet delays after care assessments exist? If patients could directly arrange adaptations, such as fitting a stair rail or for care from a Marie Curie night nurse, their care would fit with the Government’s aim of putting people first, which would free district nurses from a gatekeeper function. Do the Government recognise the anomaly that, when patients receiving direct payments for social care deteriorate and become eligible for continuing care, their direct payments cease, thereby removing the ability to control their care at the end of life?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am pleased to acknowledge the issues raised by the noble Baroness concerning the problems faced by the terminally ill in often needing small amounts of money quickly and the issue that is created by direct payments and transfers to continuing care. Early findings from the pilots show that the introduction of individual budgets and direct payments in social care have transformed the care of some social care users. We need to learn how to support and allow service users increasingly to design their own packages. The Next Stage review is looking at different ways in which patients can be given greater control over their healthcare. This might include an offer of an individual budget that gives people with particular long-term conditions more control over their treatment. That work is at an early stage, but care for the terminally ill is a potential area to look at. I would particularly welcome the views of the noble Baroness on how that might best be achieved, in the window that those two factors provide us with, in the coming period.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s concerned response; things are clearly going on in this field. Can she tell us what the Government are doing to encourage people to record their preferences for end-of-life care in advance of becoming terminally ill?

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