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Mr. Clarke: I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that I will consider the question carefully. I go beyond that to say that he is right that the continuity of approach between prisons and probation in an end-to-end offender management system is absolutely essential and that that requires the person-institution relationship to be very close. He has made the case in this House and elsewhere, as have others, regarding concerns about the reorganisation of police and probation on to an all-Wales basis. I assure him that the concerns that he expressed can be properly dealt with in terms of the necessary change that we are making.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Home Secretary's concept of a violent offender order may well have merit—we will look at the detail when the legislation is published—but may I make a wider point? Persons like myself who practise in the criminal courts, often deal with violent offenders, and have to consider whether they have a propensity to commit future violence, know that one of the problems is that they are often unemployable because they are addicted to drink or drugs or lack employment potential by reason of poor education or lack of relevant skills. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Prison Service must place yet greater weight on tackling addiction of various kinds and on providing education and employment skills, and that his violent offender orders should be shaped in such a way as to enable that to continue after release from prison?

Mr. Clarke: I find myself in the utterly extraordinary position of agreeing with absolutely every word that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says. He is right to say that dealing with addiction and rehabilitation—particularly as regards drugs but also in other areas—is critically important; that is why such provision has been dramatically expanded. He is also right to make the link to employment. About three months ago, my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Skills and for Work and Pensions and I jointly published proposals to develop the relationship between employment and people in the criminal justice system. I am simply delighted to agree with every word that the right hon. and learned Gentleman says.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and his efforts to protect the public in this very difficult area. I particularly welcome the creation of the violent offender order and his comments about mental health. I am sure that he will accept, as we all do, that risk cannot ever be completely eliminated and that it would be unrealistic to think so. These proposals will make much more specific demands on the probation service and probably require more resources for it to carry them out. Will he comment on that?

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. She is of course right to say that risk can never
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be completely eliminated. It is important to say that, because some people seem to believe that it is ultimately possible to do so. It is necessary to minimise risk, however, and that is what our proposals do by putting in not only resources, but advocating change and reform to the way that we do this work.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Can the Home Secretary now answer the important question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis)—why is it that in 90 per cent. of cases, potentially dangerous criminals who are leaving prison do not have a one-to-one, face-to-face interview, and when will that change?

Mr. Clarke: I do not think that the figure is as high as 90 per cent., but I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has given me the chance to answer the question. There are two issues: first, face-to-face interviews with probation officers as people leave prison; and secondly, face-to-face interviews by the Parole Board as it makes its decisions about what to do. It is our policy to ensure face-to-face interviews with probation officers for all people coming up for parole. That does not always happen, as the right hon. Gentleman says, but our policy is to reach 100 per cent.

As for the Parole Board panel's assessment of particular individuals, there has been some controversy over the past two or three years about the extent to which face-to-face interviews should take place. Some of that is based on professional grounds as to whether it is the best way of dealing with the case, and some of it is based on resources grounds. I discussed this some weeks ago with Sir Duncan Nichol, the chairman of the Parole Board. I said that I want to be clear about the professional basis, and then whatever resources are necessary will be made available to the Parole Board to do what needs to be done.

On the first point—interviews with probation staff as people leave prison—the right hon. Gentleman is entirely correct. We are taking the 100 per cent. route, but there is a journey to travel, although it is not as far as he says. Parole Board interviews are a matter of professional judgment about the right way to make those assessments, with face-to-face interviews being part of that process.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I accept the Home Secretary's basic point that reform and resources need to go together, but cannot he give even a ballpark estimate of the additional resources that will be available to the probation service to deal with the additional tasks required of it, particularly given that the Chancellor's projections and priorities suggest that there will be a real-terms cut in future Home Office spending?

Mr. Clarke: I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's last remark, because it is not true. The Chancellor made it clear in his Budget statement that during the next comprehensive spending review, the Home Office budget would maintain a zero real-terms position. That was a good settlement that reflects the needs of public expenditure as opposed to the existing service. The hon.
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Gentleman is wrong to say that it is a real-terms cut. We have not yet taken final decisions on the allocation of resources within that Home Office envelope, but the resource demands that we are discussing will be part of that. It is important for the probation service to concentrate at the moment on deciding where it should best focus its professional resources in carrying out those responsibilities. That discussion needs to go side by side with the overall discussion on resources.

Mr. Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): I associate my colleagues and myself with the Home Secretary's statement and give our support in principle, although we await the detail.

Last week in the High Court in Northern Ireland, a person was convicted of the murder of Attracta Harron, a senior citizen. That person had previously been convicted of a very serious sexual assault. The conviction was accompanied by a sentence that was widely regarded as being lenient. It was appealed and increased after the person was released upon serving the original sentence. Four months later, the body of Attracta Harron was found, and he was subsequently convicted of her murder. The police said after last week's court case that that man was the most closely monitored released prisoner in Northern Ireland. What will the new provisions do to protect the wider public from convicted murderers such as the person who murdered Attracta Harron?

Mr. Clarke: First, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support in principle. Secondly, I am not going to comment on specific cases, but I know that the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), and his Department are looking carefully at the case that he mentions, taking account of the opinions that he expressed about it in the context of my statement and with a view to seeing how they interrelate in the best way. Thirdly, we would be happy to work with the hon. Gentleman's party on these matters to see how we can establish the best regime that will deal with these matters consistently.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): This week, a person was convicted of murdering two patients in Banbury and causing grievous harm to several others. That reinforces the Secretary of State's point that many dangerous offenders have mental health needs. There is obviously an overlap, with many such people going into prison for long stretches of time. Can he assure the House that before violent offenders are released on licence or parole, they will be assessed for their mental health needs, that it will be a condition that they co-operate with any appropriate mental health treatment, and that if they do not, that will be classed as a breach of parole? The danger is that such individuals are looked after by the parole system but are lost to the mental health system when they leave prison. At that point, there needs to be a handover from the Prison Service to the mental health service. I hope that I have made that clear to the Secretary of State.

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