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NMEC: Ministerial Responsibility

Lord Desai asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Rooker: Further to the Prime Minister's response to the Member for South Suffolk on 8 July (Official Report col. 749W), I have full responsibility as Minister for the New Millennium Experience Company. My honourable friend the Member for Harrow East (Tony McNulty) will provide support in the other place, although without any executive responsibility.

The shareholding remains with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, for the time being while outstanding litigation is being resolved. It is the intention that the shareholding will transfer to me as soon as the litigation has been resolved. In the meantime, I have been granted power of attorney and any decisions in relation to the company are being taken by me. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, no longer has any ministerial responsibility for the New Millennium Experience Company.

Electoral Modernisation Pilot Programme

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Rooker: The 2002 electoral modernisation pilot programme was subject to a gateway review process. The review decided that the project should proceed and also made a number of recommendations to improve the process, which were carefully taken into account.

A gateway review is currently under way for the 2003 electoral modernisation pilot programme. The next stage of this review is planned for early January 2003. The gateway reviews are proving beneficial to

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this project and careful regard is being had to their recommendations. The process is based on well-proven techniques that lead to more effective delivery of benefits together with more predictable costs and outcomes.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will place in the Library of the House copies of the reports commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions on recent e-voting trials.[HL424]

Lord Rooker: Copies of the Electoral Commission's strategic evaluation report of the May 2002 electoral modernisation pilot programme, together with the government response to the recommendations of the report, were placed in the Library of the House in September. The reports for each of the 30 individual pilot schemes, including the nine e-voting pilots, have been on the Electoral Commission's website and available from local authorities since August. I have today placed copies in the Library of the House.

Afghanistan: ISAF

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they consider the present size of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan to be an adequate response to the current security situation in Afghanistan.[HL445]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos): The size of the International Security Assistance (ISAF) is governed by the ISAF mission, which remains as defined in UN Security Council Resolution 1386 of 20 December 2001 and most recently reconfirmed on 27 November 2002 by UNSCR 1444. This authorises ISAF to assist the Afghan authorities in the maintenance of security in Kabul and the surrounding area. Any change to the ISAF mission would require a new UN Security Council Resolution. The size of force required might then have to be reassessed.

We share the view of the Afghan people that security remains a priority and are concerned that the Afghan Transitional Administration does not yet have adequate means to deal in an effective manner with ongoing threats to security beyond Kabul. Options are currently being discussed for addressing this problem in the short term. Ultimately, the solution to the question of security in Afghanistan must lie in building up indigenous security and law and order forces capable of addressing likely sources of instability. We welcome in this context the decree signed by President Karzai on 1 December on principles governing the establishment of the new Afghan National Army and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants into civilian life.

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Viktar Ivashkevich

Lord Moynihan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the European Union's condemnation of the sentencing of the journalist, Viktar Ivashkevich, in Belarus, has had any effect; and what action the Government are taking to urge the Belarusian authorities to review the verdict, given the role of the free press in foreign policy.[HL446]

Baroness Amos: Her Majesty's Government are very concerned at the treatment of Mr Ivashkevich and other journalists in Belarus. However, representations by the EU have had no effect yet. In response to the continuing deterioration of individual freedoms and rights of expression in Belarus, Her Majesty's Government, along with 13 other EU member states, have issued a travel ban/exclusion orders on the President of Belarus and seven leading political figures.

Offenders on Licence

Lord Temple-Morris asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether any changes have been made to recall procedures for offenders on licence in the community.[HL719]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): In September, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to look at the case of Malcolm Rourke. This was a disturbing and shocking crime and we extend every sympathy to the victim.

Instances where an offender on licence supervision commits an offence of similar gravity to the original one are thankfully few in number. However, because of the devastating effect these crimes can have on the lives of their victims, there can never be any room for complacency among those whose task it is to supervise such offenders. That is why the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw to undertake this inquiry. This work has now been completed.

We are grateful to Stephen and his team for conducting such a thorough investigation and for producing a detailed analysis of how the arrangements for managing and recalling dangerous offenders can be further enhanced. Although the report concluded that there was no evidence of negligence or incompetence, it did make a number of constructive recommendations as to how these arrangements might be strengthened in the future. These have been accepted in full and will now be implemented.

It is a sad reality that there are no guarantees with this type of work. It is not always possible to foresee and prevent crimes committed by people on licence any more than it is possible to do so for those without previous convictions. We can however learn lessons and make sure that every effort is made to protect the public. In particular, the most important change is that in future recall decisions will be taken by the local probation service which is supervising the offender.

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In addition, the Criminal Justice Bill currently before Parliament includes provisions to enable the courts to pass an indeterminate sentence on those who continue to present a danger to society and ensure that they remain in custody until it is considered safe to release them.

We will not be publishing the full report as it would place individuals who have been exonerated from any suggestion of wrongdoing in an unfair position. A summary of the case, terms of reference and key findings are as follows.

Following the conviction of Malcolm Rourke in August 2002 for the offences of rape and robbery, committed while he was subject to licence supervision, the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, to conduct an inquiry into the handling of the case. The terms of reference were:

    "To examine the way in which the Prison Service and the National Probation Service managed the case of Malcolm Rourke following his release from custody on 14 June 2002; to consider whether, in light of this case, any changes need to be made to the arrangements for managing the post-release supervision and recall of dangerous offenders; and to make recommendations."

The key findings of the inquiry are:

There was no evidence of negligence or incompetence in the handling of the case by individual members of staff.

There were information gaps and communication problems between the Probation Service, Prison Service and Parole Board concerning recall procedures for offenders released under licensed supervision and these must be rectified.

The right to recall dangerous offenders should in future rest with assistant chief officers of probation (whose staff deal directly with the offenders under supervision), subject to Parole Board review and not with the Prison Service's Sentencing Enforcement Unit, as at present.

The status of information gathered by multi-agency public protection panels should be clarified to ensure that the Parole Board is in possession of any information which has a bearing upon risk.

Prison Service guidance to staff on recalls should be updated and improved.

There needs to be further training for prison and probation staff on making and responding to requests for recall of high risk offenders.

Statistical information on recalls should be collated and disseminated to staff in probation areas.

Communication between hostels and probation staff in the field should be reviewed and there should be single electronic probation case records which are accessible to all.

In appropriate cases, the Probation Service should give consideration to transferring the case management role to the hostel manager or developing a co-working arrangement.

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Action Plan

All of the recommendations have been accepted and work is under way to implement them.

The right to recall dangerous offenders will rest with the assistant chief probation officer in the area concerned, subject to Parole Board review, not with the SEU.

The National Probation Service is planning to introduce the electronic version of the offender assessment system (OASys) by 31 December 2003. This will provide a single case assessment which staff in each area will have access to.

The introduction of OASys and the development of its application to include supervising officers' case notes will further enhance communication between hostels and probation staff.

The National Probation Directorate will establish a recall forum with representatives from the Home Office's Sentence Enforcement Unit, the National Probation Directorate, the Parole Board and other agencies who might have an interest in this process. This forum will review the collation of recall management information across the agencies; identify gaps; and ensure more effective information sharing systems are put in place.

New guidance on recalls, in the form of a probation circular, will be issued to NPS staff.

Representatives from NPD, SEU and the Parole Board have already met with legal advisers to address the status of MAPPP documentation and this will be clarified as part of further guidance to be issued on MAPPA early next year.

Internal restructuring within SEU will include responsibility for overseeing and regularly updating guidance on these issues.

Leicestershire and Rutland Probation Area will consider what further training requirements are needed in the light of this case.

The review of the serious incident reporting system has led to the piloting of new arrangements in two probation areas. In evaluating these pilots consideration will be given to strengthening the service's investigatory arrangements.

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