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Written Ministerial Statements

Monday 16 December 2002


Bain Review

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): The Independent Review of the Fire Service was announced on 12 September 2002 under the chairmanship of Sir George Bain. The review considered UK-wide arrangements for the future organisation and management of the Fire Service. I have today placed copies of the final report in the Vote and Printed Paper Offices and Libraries of the House.

Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales)

The Minister for Local Government and the Regions (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986, as amended by the Boundary Commission Act 1992 requires that the Commission undertake a general review of constituencies in Wales. The Commission is required to submit a report to the Deputy Prime Minister, not less than twelve years from their last report. The previous report was submitted on 16 December 1994. The next report must be submitted by 16 December 2006. The Commission expects to take about two years to complete the review.

I have been notified by the Boundary Commission for Wales that they will start their 5th general review of parliamentary constituencies today. The review will include consideration of Assembly Electoral Regions, as required by the Government of Wales Act 1998.

The Commission expects to take about two years to complete its review.


Employability and Long-Term Unemployment Taskforce

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Jane Kennedy): I am today publishing the Report of the inter-Departmental Taskforce on Employability and Long-Term Unemployment, which was established to consider and drive forward action to increase employability and reduce long-term unemployment. The Terms or Reference committed the Taskforce to report and make recommendations on how current actions might be improved and to prepare an Action Plan which integrates actions across Government Departments and Agencies. That Report, which contains some 40 recommendations and 12 action points affecting most Government Departments, is launched today, 16 December.

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Entry Clearance

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell): I have arranged for copies of the second annual report by Rabinder Singh QC, the Independent monitor for Entry Clearance Refusals to be laid before the House today. I welcome Mr. Singh's report and note his comments and suggestions, which will receive careful consideration.

Mr. Singh has not sought to extend his appointment beyond 30 november 2002 and I thank Mr. Singh for all his hard work and dedication during his two years as Independent Monitor for Entry Clearance.


Offenders on Licence

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Hilary Benn): In September, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to look at the case of Malcolm Rourke. This was a disturbing and shocking crime and I extend every sympathy to the victim.

Instances where an offender on licence supervision commits an offence of similar gravity to the original one are thankfully few in number. However, because of the devastating effect these crimes can have on the lives of their victims there can never be any room for complacency among those whose task it is to supervise such offenders. That is why the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw to undertake this inquiry. This work has now been completed.

I am grateful to Stephen and his team for conducting such a thorough investigation and for producing a detailed analysis of how the arrangements for managing and recalling dangerous offenders can be further enhanced. Although the report concluded that there was no evidence of negligence or incompetence, it did make a number of constructive recommendations as to how these arrangements might be strengthened in the future. These have been accepted in full and will now be implemented.

It is a sad reality that there are no guarantees with this type of work. It is not always possible to foresee and prevent crimes committed by people on licence any more than it is possible to do so for those without previous convictions. We can however learn lessons and make sure that every effort is made to protect the public. In particular the most important change is that, in future, recall decisions will be taken by the local probation service which is supervising the offender.

In addition the Criminal Justice Bill currently before parliament includes provisions to enable the courts to pass an indeterminate sentence on those who continue to present a danger to society, and ensure that they remain in custody until it is considered safe to release them.

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We will not be publishing the full report as it would place individuals, who have been exonerated from any suggestion of wrongdoing, in an unfair position. A summary of the case, terms of reference and key findings are as follows:

Following the conviction of Malcolm Rourke in August 2002 for the offences of rape and robbery, committed whilst he was subject to licence supervision, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to conduct an inquiry into the handling of the case. The terms of reference were:

New guidance on recalls, in the form of a Probation Circular, will be issued to NPS staff.

Representatives from NPD, SEU and Parole Board have already met with legal advisers to address the status of MAPPP documentation and this will be clarified as part of further guidance to be issued on MAPPA early next year.

Internal restructuring within SEU will include responsibility for overseeing and regularly updating guidance on these issues.

Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Area will consider what further training requirements are needed in the light of this case.

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The review of the serious incident reporting system has led to the piloting of new arrangements in two Probation Areas. In evaluating these pilots consideration will be given to strengthening the service's investigatory arrangements.


Transsexual People

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): On 11 July the European Court of Human Rights delivered its judgments in the cases of Goodwin v The United Kingdom and XI" v The United Kingdom. The Court found that the United Kingdom had breached the Convention rights of these two transsexual people, under Articles 8 and 12 (the right to respect for private life and the right to marry). In answer to Questions before the Parliamentary recess, colleagues and I made clear the Government's commitment to announce later in the year how we proposed to implement the rulings.

The Interdepartmental Working Group, whose initial report the then Home Secretary presented to Parliament in July 2000, had recently been reconvened to give further consideration to the implications of giving transsexual people full legal recognition in their acquired gender. In light of the Goodwin and XI" judgments, the Group's terms of reference were expanded and it was tasked to report in October. Ministers have now collectively considered the recommendations received from officials.

We will aim to publish, in due course, a draft outline Bill to give legal recognition in their acquired gender to transsexual people who can demonstrate that they have taken decisive steps towards living fully and permanently in the gender acquired since they were registered at birth. That will make it possible for them (if otherwise eligible) to marry in their acquired gender.

The Government are committed, therefore, to legislating as soon as possible to give transsexual people their Convention rights. Whether Parliament at Westminster should legislate for the whole of the UK on this matter is under consideration, particularly in view of the inter-relationship between devolved and reserved policy aspects.

Except where limited exceptions will be created in the legislation, we propose that formal recognition in the acquired gender will bring with it the rights and responsibilities appropriate to that gender—normally, from the date that the change is recognised. It is expected that rights and obligations previously incurred will continue, in most areas; a parent, for example, who changes gender, will not lose his or her obligations—and rights—as father or mother to the child.

Provision will be needed for disclosure to be requested in certain circumstances. For example, insurance and pension companies, whose decisions on cover and premiums depend on gender and medical history, may need to continue to require full disclosure, where relevant and subject to data protection and other legislation. The Criminal Records Bureau must be able to demand full disclosure for clearance to work with

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children and other vulnerable people; but I am pleased to announce that modifications have been made to their procedures, so that the privacy of transsexual people in relation to their former identity is fully respected. Procedures have been similarly modified in Scotland.

Changing legal identity is a serious step, with significant consequences. It is important that no-one should embark upon formal recognition in the acquired gender without convincing evidence. We will therefore propose that applications should be scrutinised by an authorising body, given legal powers to assess medical evidence before the transsexual person is allowed to register in the new gender. In some cases, where the person undertook gender reassignment years earlier, and has lived successfully in the acquired gender, that assessment may be straightforward. In other cases, the authorising body will need to be assured that, in addition to meeting medical criteria, the transsexual person has lived successfully in the acquired gender for at least two years. The medical criteria may include medical treatments to modify the person's sexual characteristics, but the Government will not require surgery as a condition of registration in the acquired gender.

We do not intend history to be re-written. Original birth records will remain in existence, unamended, and will continue to be made available when needed. But the authorising body will empower the Registrar General to create a new record in relation to the transsexual person, from which a new certificate stating acquired name and gender may be drawn. This certificate will be indistinguishable from a birth certificate, in order to

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remedy the breaches of Article 8 identified by the European Court of Human Rights. The link between the original and the revised record will remain confidential within the Registrar General's office.

We are committed to facilitating, as fully as possible, transsexual people's assimilation into the gender to which they feel they belong. We share the Court's view that society may reasonably be expected to tolerate a minority of individuals living in dignity and worth in accordance with the identity they are driven to assume. We do not seek, however, to erase all trace of their former identity. We have concluded that there is no need for transsexual people to be given new National Insurance numbers on registering in their acquired gender. NI numbers give no indication of gender, and employment and data protection legislation should give adequate protection against careless or malicious disclosure in the rare instances where the number enables a link to be made between former and current identities.

Our aim is to ensure that in future transsexual people will be better protected from having constantly and unnecessarily to reveal their history. Our legislation will enable transsexual people confidently to take up those rights which have been denied to them in society—including the right to marry in their acquired gender—while preserving other obligations entered into in the original gender. We will be pleased to receive comments on our proposals, which deserve the support of all who have in the past expressed concern at the lack of legal recognition of transsexual people in the United Kingdom.