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Mr. Hoon: I am confident that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will set out to the House in an appropriate way the results of her consideration of these important issues. I recognise the importance to local communities of having a responsive and accountable
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primary care trust, and, equally, I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts the importance, which I have set out repeatedly today, of ensuring that the administrative overheads for those delivering front-line medical services are as light as possible. If there are ways in which we can reduce overheads and make the service more efficient, thus allowing more money to be spent on front-line medical care, we should all support them.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): The Leader of the House will know that in the past year I have raised the disastrous financial situation of the hospital trust on which Hemel Hempstead relies. Last week, it announced that all the acute units would close, including intensive care, the high-dependency unit, and the acute cardiac and stroke units. Children's paediatric services will not be available 24 hours a day. A total of 700 jobs will go, including those of doctors and nurses. Where has all the money gone? May we have an urgent statement?

Mr. Hoon: I will not be drawn into the particular case, but it is important that health service provision across the country should allow constituents of all right hon. and hon. Members to access services in the most cost-effective way possible. It is therefore the Government's ambition to ensure that we have a self-sustaining reform system with the highest possible investment of taxpayers' money. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would support that.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Given that a Minister has finally cottoned on to the fact that the Government's actions have led to an increase in support for the British National party, may we have an urgent debate on political correctness in this country, as it has got completely out of hand and many people believe that they can no longer have their say on important issues, which has led them to vote for unwelcome parties such as the BNP? An urgent debate on the issue might stop people wanting to vote for those unpleasant parties.

Mr. Hoon: I have had the opportunity in recent weeks to participate in local government election campaigns up and down the country, but I have not detected the slightest sign that people are afraid to say something because of so-called political correctness. Our democracy is alive and well, and people are ever more inclined to call their local radio station or write to their local newspaper to make their views clear, even to Cabinet Ministers. I simply do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Will the Foreign Secretary come to the House next week to make a statement on the political situation in Nepal? Members on both sides of the House will share my concern about the overnight news that a curfew has been imposed and that a shoot-on-sight policy is effectively in operation. Four people have been killed, and hundreds have been hurt. Our two countries have a great history. As a former member of the Brigade of Gurkhas, I have many friends in Nepal, and I received e-mails this morning telling of the horrors in that country. We therefore need a statement, because the Government have been quiet on the subject to date.
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Mr. Hoon: I visited Nepal to see how Gurkhas are recruited, and excellent standards are maintained there. A great friendship exists as a result between the British Army and the British people and the people of Nepal. The situation is a matter of grave concern to the Government, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is actively concerned to try to reduce tension and violence, which the Government will continue to monitor very closely.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Given that the definition of the Greek word, "philanthropy", is "performing a charitable action"—it is not a trading arrangement for peerages—and given the growing number of signatures on the petition at, will the Leader of the House arrange for a Minister from the Department for Constitutional Affairs to make a an urgent statement to confirm or otherwise that there will be a moratorium on the awarding of new peerages until the issue of cash for peerages is resolved?

Mr. Hoon: My right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs recently answered a series of detailed questions before the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs, so the House has had the opportunity to hear him speak about the present position. Hon. Members will be aware that a police investigation into the matters raised by the hon. Gentleman is under way, so in the circumstances it is not appropriate for me to comment further.

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Public Protection

12.23 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement about further measures that the Government intend to take to protect the public from dangerous offenders.

In my statement on 28 February, following the publication of the report by the chief inspector of probation on the appalling murder of John Monckton, I made it clear that, although we have already made improvements to our system for public protection and will continue to do so, we have to do more to improve the way in which we identify and manage dangerous offenders who present a risk to the public. I announced that the Government would accept the main findings and the key recommendations of the chief inspector's report. Today, I have placed in the Library of the House a probation circular that requires chief officers to implement those recommendations and the 31 "practice" recommendations that were set out in the report. Arrangements will be made to audit implementation in July and again in October this year.

Action on those recommendations is not enough, so I propose to take new powers to enable dangerous and high-risk offenders to be better managed, as well as to strengthen the work of the Parole Board and the probation service. The Government need to provide the framework in which the probation service and other criminal justice agencies can do their job to the highest standards. We have already made changes to the sentencing regime to ensure that dangerous offenders who pose a continuing risk can be detained indefinitely if a court so determines. Those arrangements apply to all eligible offenders who commit offences after the new provisions came into force—that is, offences committed on or after 4 April 2005.

I have looked very carefully to see how we can increase safeguards in respect of offenders who committed their offences before that date. I considered whether it would be possible to make the more dangerous offenders subject to the new public protection sentences, notwithstanding the date of their offence. I concluded that it would not, as it would violate the principle of retrospective legislation, and the House would be likely to find that unacceptable. However, I consider that three further steps are necessary. First, I have decided to ensure that offenders who have been sentenced to imprisonment for offences committed before 4 April 2005 are on licence from the moment that they are released from custody until the very end of their sentence, rather than to the three-quarters point of their sentence as now. That means that offenders who give cause for concern at any time during the currency of their sentence can be recalled to prison.

I will introduce that change by means of an order under the Criminal Justice Act 1991, which will be laid before the House and the other place as soon as possible. The aim is to focus active supervision on those dangerous offenders who pose the most risk of harm and who will be actively and intensively supervised until the end of their sentence. That step is not enough in itself. There are some offenders who do not cease to be a risk to the public just because their licence has come to an end.
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Secondly, therefore, we must be able to deal with such offenders. There is a strong case for introducing a violent offender order along the same lines that have proved effective in the case of sex offenders. Such an order would enable the court to make specific prohibitions on offenders who have been convicted of offences of violence, breach of which would be a criminal offence subject to up to five years in prison. I will publish proposals in that area before summer.

Thirdly, I acknowledge that many dangerous offenders suffer from mental disorder. The plans that we recently announced to amend mental health legislation will help to ensure that mentally disordered offenders receive the treatment that they need and that the risk that they pose to the public is minimised. I am confident that those proposals, together with the reforms that I set out in my five-year strategy for protecting the public and reducing re-offending—in particular, the introduction of a single named offender manager for all offenders, coupled with my proposals to drive up performance by introducing alternative providers of services and challenging the probation service to demonstrate that it can and does meet the highest standards—will help to improve the way in which dangerous offenders are managed. Of course, no risk can ever be eliminated, but we need to do much better in minimising risks.

Accurate assessment of risk must lie at the heart of our public protection arrangements. It is essential that staff are clear about their responsibilities and are properly trained. With immediate effect, all chief officers of probation will have a specific objective to improve the quality of risk-of-harm assessments in their area, and they will be required to provide regular reports. In addition, almost all probation middle managers throughout the country—there are about 1,400—have undergone a rigorous training programme to improve the quality of risk-of-harm assessments and the way in which they manage such cases. In June, we will introduce a new training tool further to improve the way in which staff assess and manage risk.

Still more needs to be done to improve the risk assessment process itself, so I have commissioned the National Offender Management Service risk of harm improvement board to undertake an urgent exercise, with independent input as necessary, to achieve that. I have issued guidance to both prisons and probation staff to highlight the need to avoid over emphasis on good behaviour in prison and to make progress in addressing dynamic risk factors when assessing risk prior to release. The Parole Board—an independent body charged with the task of deciding whether offenders are safe to be released—has a crucial role to play in assessing risk. New minimum standards for the reports prepared for the Parole Board have been introduced and new monitoring arrangements came into force at the beginning of the month. Urgent work is in hand to ensure that the board has available to it all the relevant information that it needs to ensure that its decisions are well founded.

In addition to these measures, the chairman of the Parole Board has also informed me of his plans to appoint senior and well respected independent figures to the panel that reviews cases involving serious further offences, to ensure that lessons are properly identified and learned. I welcome this move, too.
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More generally, it is the role of all agencies within the criminal justice system to prioritise public protection through partnership working, which is why Her Majesty's inspectors of probation, prisons and constabulary are conducting a joint thematic inspection of the effectiveness of public protection arrangements. I will report back to the House on any further recommendations that stem from this report when it is published this summer.

Taken together, I believe these measures represent an important step forward in protecting the public. Implementation of the improvement package will be overseen by my noble Friend the Minister of State for Criminal Justice and Offender Management. I commend the proposals to the House.

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