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28 Nov 2002 : Column 429Wcontinued
Hilary Benn: The information requested is not available. However, arrangements are being developed to collect data about waiting times for urgent and routine appointments in prisons in England and Wales. Matters concerning Scotland are the responsibility of the devolved Administration. While the institutions in Northern Ireland are dissolved, responsibility for prisons in Northern Ireland rests with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office.
Mr. Bob Ainsworth: The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs keeps under review the extent to which Quat (or Khat) is misused, and whether that misuse has harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem. The matter will be considered at the Council's next meeting. Any decision about the legal status of Khat will be taken in the light of the Council's advice.
Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the Department will publish its review of its action plan to implement the recommendations of the HMCPSI/HMIC joint investigation into the investigation and prosecution of cases involving allegations of rape; and if he will make a statement. 
Hilary Benn : Implementation of the action plan is progressing well. Aninter-agency working group, led by the Home Office and with representation from the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Court
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Service, is monitoring progress against the agreed action points. The group is also considering the issues of wider evaluation to assess the impact of the action plan on the ground, and the dissemination of this information.
Mr. Hunter: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take further measures to ensure that released sex offenders are not re-housed near schools or children's play areas. 
Hilary Benn: We are planning to introduce measures in the Criminal Justice Bill and the Sexual Offences Bill which will further strengthen the recently introduced multi-agency public protection arrangements (MAPPA), which have improved significantly the work of the police and probation services in protecting the public from sexual and violent offenders.
The new measures include a sentence for dangerous offenders, which will ensure that they are only released when they are no longer regarded as a risk; and some further tightening up of sex offender registration. Additionally, we are keen that full use is made of sex offender orders and restraining orders, which can be very effective in helping protect schools and play areas from sexual offenders. In early December we are to issue new guidance to the police on using sex offender orders in light of our experience of best practice and of the new provisions we introduced in the Police Reform Act 2002.
Simon Hughes: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the Ministers allocated responsibility for delivery in the police force areas covered by the street crime initiative will continue to supervise policing in those areas; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Denham: The Street Crime Action Group, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, agreed that it would be helpful for each of the 10 street crime areas to be supported by a Government Minister. The role of the sponsor Ministers is not to supervise policing of the street crime areas, which falls to the commissioner or relevant chief constable.
The role of the sponsor Ministers is to undertake visits to the areas they have been allocated, to meet with, and support local agencies, promote a shared approach to tackling street crime at a local level, and to identify issues on which further action by government agencies would be helpful. The sponsor Ministers will continue to carry out this role.
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Hilary Benn [holding answer 26 November 2002]: One of the aims of the Street Crime Initiative is to improve the support for victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice process. Enhanced victim and witness facilities are available in the 70 street crime courts designated to deal with street crime cases across the 10 force areas participating in the initiative. Forty five of these courts have had physical improvements made (costing over £4 million), including separate entrances and waiting rooms, to provide suitable facilities and support to victims and witnesses to protect them from intimidation while at court.
An entire witness suite, launched on 21 November, has been created at the Inner London Crown court to serve the London courts. This allows vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give evidence to any court connected with ISDN lines through a video link. Witnesses using this system enter the court using their own secure entrance, and have no need to visit the public part of the Court, ensuring that they do not come into contact with the offender.
Local Victim Support schemes across the 10 areas are working in support of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Premium Service, which has enhanced working arrangements between prosecution teams, courts and Victim Support and the Witness Service. The focus on supporting and guiding the victims of street crime through the process from the moment they report a crime is particularly important to ensuring an effective outcome through the court process.
Under section 53 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, the general presumption is that at every stage in criminal proceedings all persons, whatever their age, are competent to act as witnesses and give evidence unless it appears to the court the person in question cannot understand the questions put to him and give answers to the court that can be understood.
When considering the competence of a person to be a witness the court should take into consideration whether the quality of the person's evidence can be improved by the assistance of special measures, in particular the use of aids to communication and intermediaries. The use of aids to communication for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses was implemented in the Crown courts on 24 July 2002 and the implementation of the use of intermediaries will be considered following the evaluation of pilot projects which are due to commence next year.
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Lynne Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what the average length of sentence is for women convicted of drug offences in the last year for which figures are available. 
|Women found guilty||Sentenced to immediate custody||Given community sentences|
The first table represents the number of female prisoners that were received into prisons in England and Wales onto remand over the whole of 2001. These individuals may subsequently have been sentenced.
The two tables do not necessarily cover the same individuals. They are from different data sources and some individuals will be acquitted in a different year to when they were sent to prison on remand.
|Number of remand receptions|
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|Estimated percentage acquitted|
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