Monday 18 February 2019
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Government have decided to opt in to the European Commission’s proposals for Council decisions authorising the acceptance by certain member states of the accession of named countries to the 1980 Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, in the interests of the EU. The acceptances are as follows:
Austria, Cyprus, Croatia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania and the United Kingdom to accept Dominican Republic;
Austria, Luxembourg and Romania to accept Belarus and Uzbekistan;
Austria to accept Ecuador and Ukraine;
Austria and Romania to accept Honduras.
The UK has already accepted Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ecuador, Ukraine and Honduras and therefore these Council decisions do not instruct the UK to take any action.
All EU member states are party to the 1980 Hague Convention, the primary civil law international instrument which provides a mechanism to seek the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children to their country of habitual residence.
When a country wishes to accede to the convention, it is necessary for an existing contracting state to accept that country’s accession before the convention can apply between them. It is the European Commission’s view that there is exclusive competence on the EU for all matters relating to the 1980 convention and that therefore member states must be authorised by the EU to accept accessions by third countries and must do so collectively through Council decisions.
Although not anticipated in the proposals, the Government believe that the UK opt in under the protocol to title V of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union applies and it has therefore asserted its right to choose whether to opt in and have decided that it is in the UK’s best interests to do so.
The Government believe that the wider significance of these proposals for external competence mean that it is in the UK’s interests to participate fully in these negotiations, including having the ability to vote. These proposals must be agreed by unanimity within the EU Council.
Probation Services: South-West England and Wales
I wish to inform the House regarding future arrangements for probation services in the south-west and Wales.
The House will be aware that community rehabilitation companies were set up just over four and a half years ago (with contracts awarded in December 2014). They were a new idea and part of probation reforms which extended supervision on licence each year to an additional 40,000 offenders released from prison sentences of less than 12 months. These companies do not deal with high-risk offenders—who are managed by the National Probation Service—but with low and medium risk offenders. They have been set up in a range of ways. There are 21 companies, the majority of which are private sector owned with a range of voluntary sector third party suppliers. Their particular purpose is to work with low and medium risk offenders, supervise them, develop plans for them, and provide them with rehabilitative services, in order to reduce the reoffending rate.
On Thursday 14 February 2019, Working Links (Employment) Limited, and its three CRCs: Wales CRC, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire CRC, and Dorset, Devon and Cornwall CRC, went into administration. The Ministry of Justice has been in discussions with Working Links and has taken immediate action to ensure that probation services are fully protected in these areas. Our central priority is of course to protect the public, ensuring that we have the right supervision of offenders in place, and that probation staff are supported in their important work. We have undertaken significant work to determine the most sustainable option for future management of probation services in Wales and the south-west and have transferred staff and services to Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, which is owned by Seetec. This change has been made via a variation to Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC’s existing contract. Seetec has a good track record in Kent, Surrey and Sussex and we are satisfied that they are well- placed and well-equipped to take over these services and run them effectively. Plans have been implemented to ensure that probation staff and other key probation stakeholders are well-informed with regards to the transition.
We are also working towards more bespoke arrangements for the services in Wales, specifically that offender management services in Wales be transferred to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service before the end of the current contractual period, to better dovetail with the future design for probation delivery in Wales. Our intentions are to transfer these services by the end of 2019, rather than the previously planned date of 2020, and we are currently working at pace with Seetec to accelerate this process.
We also recognise the impact of Working Links’ administration upon its other public sector contracts in the UK, and have been engaging with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government. DWP will be working with Working Links and the administrators to identify all participants of its programmes who are potentially affected to ensure appropriate advice and support is provided.
The Government continue to work to improve the effectiveness of the wider probation system. We have already taken action to stabilise and improve probation delivery. Last year, we announced we intended to end CRC contracts early and held a consultation on proposals to improve future probation services. We also agreed contractual changes with current CRCs to improve performance in key areas. We want to create a better system in future which will prevent these kinds of things happening again. We intend to better integrate public, private and third sector providers, putting in place a more stable and resilient probation system, which works effectively to protect the public and tackle reoffending. We will announce detailed plans later this year.
We know probation is vital to ensuring justice is done and the cycle of reoffending is broken. We will work closely with Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC and Seetec in the next weeks and months to ensure the continuation, stability and improvement of services.