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Hong Kong

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): The latest Report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong will be published tomorrow and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. A copy of the report will also be available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website www.fco.

The Report covers the period from 1 July to 31 December 2005 and includes a foreword by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I commend the Report to the House.


Benefit Fraud Inspectorate Reports

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. James Plaskitt): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the BFI inspection reports on the following councils were published today: Borough of Poole Council, Rugby Borough Council, Cannock Chase District Council, Hastings Borough Council, Waverley Borough Council, Cardiff County Council, Mendip District Council, Fenland District Council and Leicester City Council. Copies have been placed in the Library.

The BFI reports detail a range of strengths and weaknesses in the housing benefit services provided by councils and make recommendations to improve the security and efficiency of benefit delivery.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is considering the reports and may ask the councils for proposals in response to BFI's findings


Probation Services

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): I am today placing in the Library the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation into the tragic murder of John Monckton in Chelsea on 29 November 2004, which was committed by Damien Hanson and Elliot White. Both offenders were under the supervision of the London Probation Area at the time of the murder. I am grateful to the Chief Inspector for his rapid and thorough investigation in response to my request.

The Chief Inspector describes a sustained and repeated failure on the part of the London Probation Area, over 2003 and 2004, to assess and manage these two offenders to a professional standard. He catalogues numerous ways in which the Probation Service's own national standards for the management of offenders were sidelined or ignored.

The public has a right to expect that everything possible will be done to assess and manage the risk that dangerous offenders pose. Tragically that did not happen in the management of Hanson and White. The
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present Chief Officer of Probation in London has suspended four officers while a review is undertaken into their conduct in the handling of these cases.

The Chief Inspector has reported that risk was not adequately assessed and then the systems in place to manage risk were not properly implemented. Some of this can be attributed to problems faced in London at the time, and which are now being addressed under a new Chief Officer who has been in post since April 2005. During this time London has moved from being the worst performing of all 42 probation areas in England and Wales, now to rank at number 28, and the improvements continue.

The Chief Inspector has made four key recommendations addressed to the Government. I accept them all without reservation. He emphasises the importance of following approved procedures in the management of offenders. We shall be issuing guidelines to all Probation Areas drawing attention to the detailed practice recommendations made in his report. He points out the need for a clear lead responsibility for managing individual cases, and the need for effective management. I accept this entirely. We have already begun to introduce end-to-end offender management. Under this system every offender in the community will have a single, named offender manager, who will be responsible—and held accountable—for the way an offender is managed from beginning to end of sentence. In this way we will avoid the gaps and discontinuities which were such a serious feature of the way in which Hanson was managed. He proposes a clearer performance management framework for handling cases which pose a risk of harm to the public. His recommendation is well made and we will give the highest priority to performance management in these cases. In June we will be reporting publicly on our first year of a "Risk of Harm Improvement Plan" for all probation areas. He recommends that in exceptional cases of serious further offending by offenders under probation supervision, in addition to the internal review there should also be an independent investigation, and that its report should be published. I will implement this immediately. By this means I believe that we will continue to drive up performance and sustain public confidence.

Additionally the Chief Inspector recommends to the Parole Board that it puts in place arrangements to ensure proper liaison between the Probation Service and the Board, when an offender's circumstances change between the decision to release and the actual release. The Chairman of the Parole Board is content for me to say on behalf of the Board that it accepts this recommendation, and will implement it as soon as possible.

The public has a right to be protected from offenders who, like Damien Hanson, have repeatedly shown themselves to be ready to use violence to achieve their ends. We have already taken steps to ensure the public gets that protection which underlies the Government's belief that dangerous and violent offenders should only be let out of prison if it is clear that they are no longer a risk to the public.

Since April last year, when provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 were implemented, anyone who has committed a serious sexual or violent offence has been
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liable to be imprisoned for an indeterminate period. This means that such offenders will not be released into the community until the Parole Board assess that it is safe to do so. In some cases, this may be never. We have introduced this sentence to make sure that the most dangerous offenders really do spend the whole of the rest of their life in prison—even if they do not have a life sentence. This was a significant change which is now being put into effect and has important implications for the future. I will be examining whether there are any means by which this approach can be applied to those who were convicted before last April.

In addition to reforming the sentencing framework, we have also improved our system for assessing risk. OASys is internationally recognised as a world-class assessment tool and we will use this system to assess all offenders under the supervision of the probation and prison services. We have also consulted on plans for reforming probation services, and have committed to introducing a phased programme of contestability to ensure that services are provided by the best possible partnerships and providers.

However, although I fully accept the Chief Inspector's recommendations and we have already improved our system for public protection, there is more we must do. That is why public protection is at the heart of the Five-Year Prison and Probation Strategy I published earlier this month and is the highest priority of the new National Offender Management Service. The Strategy sets out our commitment to:

The commitments in the Five-Year Strategy together with the recommendations of the Chief Inspector's report provide a firm basis for improving the ways in which we can best protect the public. However, in light of the Chief Inspector's Report I intend to look again at the need for any further changes which may be necessary, including in relation to those convicted before the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into effect. I will report my conclusions to the House by April and outline any further steps we intend to take.

I conclude by expressing my deepest sympathy for Mrs. Monckton and her family. All of us who followed the harrowing accounts of her husband's tragic murder could not fail to be touched by her and her young daughter's courage, and by the dignity which she has shown since.

Police Service (Negotiating and Consultative Machinery)

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): In September last year, I invited John Randall, the independent chair of the Police Negotiating Board (PNB) and the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales (PABEW), to conduct a review of the negotiating and consultative machinery in
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the police service. That machinery comprises the PNB, the PAB and Police Staff Council (PSC). I asked him to consult the parties to the procedures and to bring forward proposals for reform necessary to ensure the machinery is fit for the purpose of supporting the police modernisation agenda.

I am today placing in the Library of the House a copy of Mr. Randall's report "Collective Bargaining for a Modernised Workforce". The report contains 38 recommendations and these are separately listed in the executive summary on pages three to eight. Members will be interested in these matters given the statutory basis of the PNB.

I will be consulting police stakeholders on the report and implementation of its recommendations and aim to present proposals to the PNB, PAB and PSC later this year.

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