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Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend's final point and pay tribute to the way in which he has taken up that appalling case in his constituency. I have listened carefully to his comments, which are based on what he has learned from the community that he represents. We need better sentencing regimes, which we have established, and we need the courts to carry them through. We also need proper risk assessments, and we are putting them in place. Earlier, I decided not to respond to the shadow Home Secretary's gratuitous remarks about the early release scheme, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has pointed out that to confuse those issues, which are real, with the issues at stake in the Mary-Ann Leneghan case is dishonourable and discreditable.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I too thank the Home Secretary for his courtesy in providing an advance copy of the statement. There is no easy solution to the problems that we face, and Liberal Democrat Members will support any constructive or workable proposals to improve public safety against the actions of dangerous offenders. The Home Secretary will remember that we supported the Government in 2003, when they sought to create a new indefinite sentence for the most dangerous individuals, and I agree with his acknowledgment today that the new powers cannot be used retrospectively.
I broadly welcome the package of alternative measures outlined in the Home Secretary's statement. The proposal to extend post-custody supervision for those sentenced before April 2005 is particularly welcome, as are all attempts to improve the assessment of risk. According to Andrew Bridges, the chief inspector of probation, only 20 per cent. of offenders who go on to commit serious offences while on parole were assessed as being high risk.
The statement leaves two questions unanswered. First, is the new system of early release really providing the maximum protection for the public? In the debates in this House during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the rules on early release were changed in the teeth of opposition from both Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members. Before the implementation of the 2003 Act, the Parole Board had discretion whether to release long-term prisoners at the 50 per cent. point of their sentence and, if there was a reasonable concern about public safety, release could be delayed until the two-thirds point. The 2003 Act removed that discretion from the Parole Board. In view of the cases that have been cited today, will the Home Secretary agree to review that change?
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Secondly, how much will the increase in supervision cost, and how many additional probation officers will be needed? A key problem faced by probation staff and by those involved in multi-agency public protection arrangements is how to apportion scarce resources, which is compounded in turn by a desperately overcrowded prison system in which staff often do not have time to assess individuals properly. What will the Home Secretary do to tackle the severe underlying problems of an overcrowded prison system and an overloaded probation service?
We will, of course, respond constructively and in detail to the Home Secretary's proposals on violent offender orders later in the summer. Will the Home Secretary assure the House that before that step is taken there will be a proper evaluation of the success of sexual offences prevention orders, which would appear to be the model that the Home Secretary has in mind?
I have said that I will publish proposals on the violent offender order before the summer because I want precisely to evaluate the way in which the sex offender regime has worked and to examine any good points. I assure the hon. Gentleman that a proper evaluation will take place.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that early release should be reviewed in the context of the proposals, and I am discussing the issue with the Parole Board and others. He will recall that the system that we have established was an attempt to focus on the greatest danger to the community, which is our precise ambition for the five-year strategy and the contestability agenda. This may be asking too much, but perhaps he will consider constructively our proposals in that area, which are designed to ensure that the professionalism of the probation service is focused on the areas in which it can be most accurately applied.
On costs and prison overcrowding, which are extremely serious issues, more resources are needed for training and support on the difficult decisions that highly professional staff have to takein general, staff make those decisions very successfully. Within the probation and prison system, which needs to be well led and managed, we need to focus existing resources on the most challenging cases, which will require some of the changes that I have described. A range of different measures is needed to address those questions rather than simply more resources.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I welcome the Home Secretary's announcements today and hope that they will lead to greater protection for the public, not least because it must surely be wrong that the system has put the public at unnecessary risk in a series of individual cases.
As for psychiatric provision, most psychiatrists would say that paranoid schizophrenia, which leads to much of the violent psychotic behaviour that we are discussing, has no known effective and reliable treatment. Can one imprison somebody for a crime that they might possibly commit? Can we make a realistic judgment whether
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someone is mad or bad, and how can we reliably introduce such judgments into the criminal justice system?
Mr. Clarke: The answer is that such judgments are very difficult, but existing mental health legislation allows us to make them in some cases. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will introduce carefully prepared legislation on that matter later this year, and I hope that it will provide the protection mentioned by my hon. Friend. The 2003 Act contains a power to detain indefinitely people who are a danger to the public, which also relates to his point. The core point is that we must acknowledge the difficulty of identifying the people who really pose a risk. We should not imply that that task is easy or routine, because it is exceptionally difficult and demands professionalism from those involved. We must encourage and support that professionalism and learn how better to conduct the task.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): As the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) has said, four of the six men who brutalised, tortured and murdered my constituent, Mary-Ann Leneghan, were under the supervision of the criminal justice system, which ultimately betrayed her. The Home Secretary is proposing "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". I welcome the moves to strengthen the Parole Board and the probation service, but my constituents want to know whether dangerous criminals will be locked up, which would be a fitting epitaph for Mary-Ann Leneghan and reassure her family.
Mr. Clarke: The short answer to that question is yes. However, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged that a number of measures are required. We must ensure that the current procedures are carried out properly. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) rightly said about the Monckton murder, there is clear evidence in that case and, I think, the Mary-Ann Leneghan case that the procedures that should have been followed properly were not followed properly, which led to tragic consequences. That state of affairs is scandalous, and it is being addressed by the measures that I have set out. Above and beyond that, there is the question whether the procedures and approaches are appropriate in such cases and whether we need to change and improve performanceI believe that we do, which is why I have made my statement today. Finally, there is the question of how to deal with people whom we deem to be dangerous. The 2003 Act allows us to take the action that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, and the measures that I have set out today will strengthen our capacity in that area.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab):
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and note that it will require still closer working relationships between prisons and the probation service in the community. I know from my recent discussions and meetings with the north Wales probation service that there is great concern locally that the proposal for an all-Wales probation service does not
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take sufficient account of the fact that there are no prisons in north Wales and that services from the north-west will not be as closely integrated as they are at present. Will my right hon. Friend consider those concerns carefully and ensure that they are properly addressed in future?
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