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David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of his statement. Much of what he said is welcome and constructive. However, it is the first duty of the Government to protect the public, and clearly they and their actions have not protected the public on too many occasions in recent times. Failure of Government policy has been a contributing factor in the tragic deaths of Marian Bates, John Monckton, Robert Symons and Mary-Ann Leneghan, among others—all murdered by criminals on early release, parole or probation.

It is no surprise that the Government are announcing the order this week, just before the killers of Mary-Ann Leneghan are sentenced and a report on the murder of Naomi Bryant, which is expected to be extremely damning, is published. This is the latest in a series of tough-sounding measures that the Home Secretary has announced this week, which are designed to catch the    headlines and pre-empt the reports of the Government's failure.

The problem that the Home Secretary's new order seeks to address is largely of the Government's own making. It has been the Government's policy to release dangerous offenders into the community on early release. The Daily Mail reports the chief inspector of probation as saying that there are 15,000 offenders on probation who are assessed as representing a high or a very high risk of causing harm to others.

It was the Government who cut the Parole Board's budget for face-to-face interviews by 90 per cent. two years ago. Yusuf Bouhaddaou, who murdered Robert Symons just five weeks after being released from prison, was released with no face-to-face interview. Instead, he had just a 25-minute telephone conversation with the probation service.

It was the Government who introduced OASYS, the offender assessment system that the National Association of Probation Officers has described as "poorly designed", with its prime purpose being to

If we look at each of the appalling murders committed by offenders on probation, early release and parole—Mary-Ann Leneghan, John Monckton, Marian Bates, Robert Symons and others—one point is clear: if the offenders had been in prison, those crimes would not have been committed.

So what are the Government proposing to address   their own failures? Although, astonishingly, the Home Secretary did not mention it in his statement,
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pre-briefing by the Home Office stated that they would increase the number of face-to-face interviews prior to release to 30 per cent. Is that true? Even if it is, an astonishing 70 per cent. of prisoners will still not have a face-to-face interview before release. What extra resources is the Home Secretary providing to the probation service, which we are told is already overstretched? Will he increase the interview budget, which was cut by 90 per cent. two years ago?

The Home Secretary says he wants to impose restrictions on violent offenders and, presumably, ban them from approaching certain people or places, but prisoners released under the home detention curfew scheme have committed over 7,000 further offences already. In 2004–05 alone, 224 offenders on probation were convicted of further serious offences, including 26 murders—I repeat, 26 murders. A criminal who is willing to murder or to commit armed robbery or burglary will not be put off by some sort of super-ASBO. If 42 per cent. of antisocial behaviour orders are ignored by young tearaways, how effective will the so-called super-ASBOs be against psychopathic hardened criminals? If the Government cannot make the sex offenders register work properly, how safe should the public feel after this latest headline-grabbing initiative?

The Government's proposals fail to address the real problems in the probation service, which is in desperate need of effective leadership and management from the Government. What does the Home Secretary have to say to Harry Fletcher of the National Association of Probation Officers, who says that the probation service is already poorly resourced and massively overstretched? [Interruption.] The Home Secretary laughs. Damien Hanson, who murdered John Monckton, was assessed as being 91 per cent. likely to reoffend, yet he was released halfway through a 12-year sentence for attempted murder. The Home Secretary's proposal fails to address the underlying problems in the probation service that allowed that to happen. Is he proposing any further legislation with respect to the National Offender Management Service, which remains only half reformed?

The Government have failed to address the problem of prison overcrowding, which means that prisoners are not getting the rehabilitation that they require. How do the Government intend to solve that problem? Let us be clear. The latest spate of murders is just the latest symptom of a major failure in the criminal justice system—a failure by the Government of policy, strategy, leadership and management. The measures smack of a policy designed primarily to relieve the pressure on overcrowded prisons, rather than protecting the public. With 15,000 dangerous offenders back on our streets, let us hope it does not result in yet more victims of crime and yet more families devastated by murder.

Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman started well by saying that he welcomed the proposal and wished to be constructive about it. His allegations are demeaning and misleading. Let us go through the points in detail.

The right hon. Gentleman's first allegation was that the announcement was some sort of initiative to catch the headlines, rather than a substantive measure to address the issue. As I said in my statement and as he should have had the grace to acknowledge, immediately upon the announcement of the verdict in the Monckton
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case, which had the appalling results that he described in the case of Hanson, I asked the chief inspector of probation to go through in detail what was done wrong in relation to that case and how to put it right. I published that report extremely rapidly, and I announced today that we are carrying through in specified ways measures to stop what the right hon. Gentleman correctly defines as a terrible, appalling case, the Hanson case, happening again.

Secondly, at the time that I announced the outcome of the Bridges report, I said that despite its recommendations, which were important and would be implemented, it necessarily fell short in certain important respects, and I would return to the House, as I am doing today, to say what further steps we would take. To suggest that this is some kind of spun response is demeaning and unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman.

There are three core issues. In each area we have made major improvements since the time of the Government with whom the right hon. Gentleman served and held office. First, with regard to the sentencing regimes, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 established the means, which did not exist under the Government of whom he was a member, of controlling people sentenced under that regime who are dangerous to society, and at any point recalling to prison people who are dangerous to the public. That does not solve problems arising from sentences before 2003, but it is a major advance, which will make a difference. Today we are announcing further measures to deal with people sentenced before that time.

Secondly, on the risk assessment regime, it is critical that professionals can assess the risks associated with individuals who commit appalling crimes, but the right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in his demeaning remarks about OASYS and the multi-agency public protection arrangements. It is an internationally recognised system, which is being introduced in a way that was never considered by his Government. It is improving the system and will improve it further, to deal with the issues properly. That is what we are doing and what he never did.

Thirdly, once the assessment has been carried out, the question arises how we properly manage people thought to be a risk in those circumstances. Once again, we are introducing major changes to do that, including focusing the professional resource of probation staff on those who are most dangerous, which is why we will publish further legislation on the contestability agenda as I described. My comment to Harry Fletcher and the National Association of Probation Officers, whom the right hon. Gentleman entertainingly chucks into the discussion, is that resources are important and that we have put more resources in—much more than under his Government—but change and reform to the way we run our probation system are also important. We make the changes to protect the public better. That is what we are committed to do.

Martin Salter (Reading, West) (Lab): Given that four of the six individuals convicted of the horrific murder of Mary-Ann Leneghan in my constituency were under the supervision of the probation service, the Home Secretary's announcement is welcome. However, none of those young men had been subject to early release, and I deplore the attempt by the shadow Home
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Secretary to make political capital out of a horrible episode. Only one of those individuals, Adrian Thomas, had convictions for serious and violent offences. Incredibly, that man, who kidnapped and tortured a 13-year-old boy before murdering Mary-Ann Leneghan, received only a community rehabilitation order in 2004. Will the Home Secretary accept that the courts should take a long, hard look at the sentences that they hand out to dangerous individuals, because those sentences are currently far too soft?

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