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23 Mar 2010 : Column 129

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): Will the Secretary of State answer the substantive point raised by the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell)? Surely it cannot possibly be right that 2,400 prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who want to attend courses to address their reoffending behaviour are unable to do so. That cannot be either right or economic.

Mr. Straw: The Prisons Minister-the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle)-tells me that 69 per cent. of those prisoners have the opportunity to attend such courses. Following changes that I made in the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 that led to a minimum tariff of two years-so that people were not on imprisonment for public protection tariffs for such a short time that they could not do courses-we are now ensuring that there is a greater opportunity for people to do these courses. But I come back to the point that the responsibility for showing that prisoners are no longer dangerous and that it is safe to release them rests fairly and squarely with those prisoners, and not with the Prison Service.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): On the question of the Libyan who was released early from prison north of the border, what discussions, if any, has my right hon. Friend had with our country cousins north of the border, given that it is now eight months after that man's release, and that we were told at the time that he had only three months to live?

Mr. Straw: I have had no discussions with the Justice Secretary in Scotland about this. That is a separate jurisdiction; it made its own decision and must take responsibility for it.

T7. [323415] Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I thank the Justice Secretary for the lockdown at Frankland prison in County Durham. Is he aware of recent similar incidents at young offenders institutions, whose prison officers are crying out for the tools to enable them to do their job properly? Will he conduct a thorough review of this issue to ensure that those prison officers can perform the tasks that we entrust them with?

Mr. Straw: The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I think that she is asking whether staves should be available to prison officers in young offenders institutions for under-18s. I received representations on that from YOI staff over about two years, and I conducted a review. This is quite a difficult issue, in terms of balance, and all the staff are agreed on that. In the event, I endorsed the existing policy, but I have looked into this very actively, and I promise her that it is a policy that has to be kept under active review.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Link workers are a primary source for prisoners on release, supporting their reintegration into the community. How are the Government supporting this group, ensuring that it is adequately resourced and not undermined?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): We increasingly involve third sector and other organisations in offender management to make sure
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that proper arrangements are in place for those leaving prison, so that they do not fall down the cracks or between services and fail to get the support that they need. It is an increasing part of what we do.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State agree that the rules or legislation governing antisocial behaviour orders need to be looked at again in light of the serious percentage of reoffending taking place?

Mr. Straw: We are always looking at ways in which we can tighten up the legislation on antisocial behaviour orders. Before ASBOs were introduced-by me as Home Secretary in 1998, as it happens-there was no provision in the criminal law for dealing with persistent antisocial behaviour. ASBOs have been a successful tool available to local communities, police and the courts in dealing with this behaviour. Where someone breaches an ASBO, they commit an offence with a maximum sentence of five years. What we wish to see is these full powers being better used by the courts.

T8. [323416] James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): If a smug individual were to break a law, rule or regulation once, that is unfortunate; what advice would the Secretary of State give if they did so 37 times?

Mr. Straw: It makes that individual, whoever they may be, a persistent offender. Whether a community punishment or a short sentence would be appropriate is, I think, open to question. [Interruption.] I am therefore not surprised that the Liberal Democrats are opposing indeterminate sentences for public protection, which are, perhaps, what is needed.

T9. [323417] Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): I am grateful -[Interruption.] I am very grateful indeed for the support from the Conservative Benches. May I ask the Minister this very simple question? Are the Government going to accede to the request by Lord Hutton of 27 January to release information relating to the death of Dr. David Kelly to the medical experts who have demanded it? Are they going to release that information?

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): Unfortunately, I did not quite catch all of the hon. Gentleman's question. Insofar as I understood what it was about, the Government- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) is in a state of almost uncontrollable excitement.

Mr. Wills: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As I was saying, insofar as I understood the hon. Gentleman's question, the answer is that the Ministry of Justice looks at each case on a case-by-case basis. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman, we can always look at matters again, and we will do so, if necessary.

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): What is the Secretary of State doing to address concerns from professionals, practitioners and the public alike about the staff shortages and massive casework increases in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
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Service, including the problem of having a period of up to five months during which there has been no allocation of any guardian in a case involving vulnerable children?

Mr. Straw: I am not trying to excuse the situation, but may I gently point out that CAFCASS in England is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, while in Wales it is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government? I will certainly take up the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I am aware of the pressure on CAFCASS, which has an impact, in turn, on the operation of the family courts, for which I am responsible.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Will the Secretary of State reassure my constituent whose relative was murdered by the Yorkshire Ripper many years ago that he will never be let out of prison, because of his heinous crimes?

Mr. Straw: I would like to provide that reassurance. I have to say to the hon. Lady and the House that ultimately that decision would be for the Parole Board and the courts, and perhaps mental health tribunals.
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However, I say to her, and through her to her constituent, that all the evidence I have seen in this case-it is a great deal-suggests to me that there are no circumstances in which that man will be released.

T10. [323418] John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, the court can determine that an adult does not have the right to decide where she lives, on the basis of the opinion of an expert appointed by the Official Solicitor. Do Ministers believe that a psychologist or psychiatrist should be required for such an assessment, or would a social worker be sufficient?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): It is the job of the Court of Protection to make that assessment under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. The court will look in detail at the individual concerned and take a holistic approach to them. If it so wishes, it may choose to involve experts from across the piece, if appropriate. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has agreed with the president of the court that a review of its rules should take place, and that issue might be one of those that it considers.

23 Mar 2010 : Column 133

UK Passports (Use in Dubai Murder)

3.36 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will report to the House on the investigation announced on 17 February by the Prime Minister into the use of counterfeit British passports in the killing of Mr. Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January. The UK is continuing to support inquiries under way in a number of countries including in the United Arab Emirates itself. However, at the end of last week the Serious Organised Crime Agency reported to the Home Secretary on its investigation. Its report has now been studied by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and me, and was presented to the Cabinet this morning.

In the past 24 hours I have spoken to the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose passports were involved. Their investigations are continuing. It would not be right to release the report in full, for legal and other reasons, but it is right that the House should know a summary of the conclusions that SOCA has reached and the action that we will be taking in response.

First, for the avoidance of any doubt, I should make it clear to the House that in the case of each of the 12 passport holders to whom SOCA spoke, it found no evidence to suggest that any of those individuals were anything other than wholly innocent victims of identity theft. Secondly-this should not need saying-I must add in the strongest possible terms that the UK had absolutely no advance knowledge of what happened in Dubai nor any involvement whatever in the killing.

SOCA conducted an extremely professional investigation. The Israeli authorities met all the requests that SOCA made of them. SOCA was drawn to the conclusion that the passports used were copied from genuine British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries. It found no link to any other country. Given that the operation was a very sophisticated one, in which high-quality forgeries were made, the Government judge it highly likely that the forgeries were made by a state intelligence service. Taking that together with other inquiries and the link to Israel established by SOCA, we have concluded that there are compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports.

The Government take this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable. It presents a hazard to the safety of British nationals in the region. Also, it represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the UK. The fact that that was done by a country that is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury. No country or Government could stand by in such a situation.

Israel is a democratic country, with remarkable achievements to its name, in a dangerous part of the world. That makes international co-operation even more important. Britain has worked and will continue to work closely with Israel on a range of issues, notably the Iranian nuclear threat, but that co-operation must be based on transparency and trust. The Government are therefore taking a number of steps, based on the evidence of what has occurred in this case, to make clear their deep unhappiness at what has happened, and to seek to ensure that such an abuse does not happen again.

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I met Foreign Minister Lieberman on 22 February. At that stage, our investigation was only just starting. I told him then of our deep concern about the incident, and made clear my expectation that Israel would co-operate with the investigation. I met Mr. Lieberman again in Brussels yesterday. I set out the findings of the SOCA report, our intended actions, and our determination to ensure that this affair is never repeated. I handed over a letter seeking a formal assurance from him that in the future the state of Israel would never be party to the misuse of British passports in such a way.

Diplomatic work between Britain and Israel needs to be conducted according to the highest standards of trust. The work of our embassy in Israel and the Israeli embassy in London is vital to the co-operation between our countries. So is the strategic dialogue between our countries. Those ties are important, and we want them to continue. However, I have asked for a member of the embassy of Israel to be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair, and that is taking place.

Members will be concerned about the fate of the British passport holders involved. As one of them said, to go to bed as a citizen and wake up as a wanted terrorist is shocking. We have provided consular assistance for the 12 people whose identities and passports were misused. As part of that, we offered them all new biometric passports, which are being rolled out to the whole British population and, being considerably more difficult to counterfeit, should give them the confidence that they need that they can still travel safely on their British passports. Eleven of the 12 have so far been issued with new biometric passports.

To alert other British nationals to the risk that their passports might be misused in the same way, I am today amending our travel advice on Israel to make clear the potential risk, and to set out the steps that people can take to minimise that risk.

The middle east is not a place for woolly or wishful thinking. The Israeli people crave and deserve legitimacy and security. The United Kingdom will not compromise its support for that, but the actions in this case are completely unacceptable, and they must stop.

I commend the statement to the House.

Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) (Con): I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement, and for setting out the measures that are to be taken. Let me say at the outset that the Opposition agree with them. We should all regret having to take such measures against a country that is a friend of Britain and with whose diplomats we enjoy good relations, but we cannot permit cloning of, interference with or misuse of British passports by another state. If the Foreign Secretary is truly satisfied, on the basis of all the evidence he has seen, that that has happened in this case, it is right for Britain to take measures both to rectify the situation and to show that it is unacceptable to us.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that there was a similar case in 1987, when it was discovered that Israel had forged British passports for intelligence operations? On that occasion, the then Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, assured the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Howe of Aberavon, that it would not happen again. It seems that those assurances have not been upheld.

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On the results of the investigation, we welcome the fact that Israel co-operated with the Serious Organised Crime Agency in its inquiries. The Foreign Secretary said that he had spoken to the Foreign Ministers of the other countries whose passports were allegedly involved. Can he tell us anything about their own investigations? Can he tell us when he expects those investigations to be concluded, and whether he expects any of those other countries to take similar action in parallel with the United Kingdom?

On the need to prevent this from happening again, the Foreign Secretary will know that as soon as the use of British passports was uncovered last month, we argued that the Government should seek a specific assurance that Israel would never sanction the misuse of British passports in any future operation. We therefore welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary has now formally requested such an assurance from his Israeli counterpart. Will he make it clear, however, that it is not just a question of an assurance that no future counterfeiting will take place, but a question of an assurance that there will be no further use of any British passports that may already have been copied? That last assurance will be of particular concern to British travellers who may fear that other versions of their passports are in circulation.

Did the Foreign Secretary receive any indication from the Israeli Foreign Minister that such assurances could or would be given, and will he intend, if they are received, to change the Foreign Office travel advice relating to Israel accordingly?

The Foreign Secretary said that the biometric passports introduced four years ago are more difficult to counterfeit. Does he consider these new passports to be as invulnerable to counterfeiting as it is possible to make them, or will the Government review whether any other steps are needed to protect the integrity of British passports? Is there any suggestion that British passports are more vulnerable than those of other countries, including other EU countries?

Finally, on the effect of this on relations with the United Arab Emirates, can the Foreign Secretary say any more about what assistance SOCA and other British authorities have provided to the Dubai authorities at their request and whether this is continuing? Has he had any indication from the UAE Government that more stringent rules will be applied to the issuing of visas to British citizens visiting or resident in the country?

There are many issues on which Britain and Israel quite rightly work closely together: a two-state solution to the middle east peace process, diplomatic action over Iran's nuclear programme and the expansion of trade between our countries to the benefit of all our citizens. But such relations and co-operation must be able to take place in an atmosphere of mutual trust, and it is necessary for that trust to be reaffirmed so that relations can be as productive as they should be. We therefore think that the measures taken by the Government are right and that the Israeli Foreign Minister, as he considers the Foreign Secretary's letter, should know that it comes with united support across this House.

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