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Sure Start

10. Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): What plans she has to extend the Sure Start programme. [22050]

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): The Government intend to develop 3,500 Sure Start children's centres—one for every community—by   2010. There are currently about 400 designated children's centres, most developed from existing provision such as Sure Start local programmes and early excellence centres. About £435 million has been made available to
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local authorities in 2004–06 to develop centres in disadvantaged areas. From March next year, £947 million will be available for local authorities to create 2,500 children's centres by March 2008.

Mr. Betts: I thank my hon. Friend for that very welcome answer. I visited the Tinsley Sure Start scheme in my constituency recently, and hope to visit many similar schemes in the future. What impressed me most was the way that health and education professionals worked together to deliver a combined and integrated service for parents and children, some of whom are the most needy in our communities. Will she give an assurance that that close working relationship between health and education professionals will be maintained when the Sure Start scheme is mainstreamed to local authorities?

Beverley Hughes: As my hon. Friend rightly says, that is imperative. Indeed, the concept behind Sure Start and the children's centres was that there should be complete integration of services for young children at the point of delivery. Integrated services mean that parents do not have to go knocking on a number of doors. We know that that integration makes a real difference to children's well being in the early years and to their achievements later on.

It is imperative that the health services are involved. On my visits to children's centres, I have been very encouraged to see the presence of the health services, which even manage some centres. I welcome that, and would like the practice to be more widespread.

Curriculum Guidance

12. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): When she last discussed curriculum guidance with the examination boards. [22052]

The Minister for Schools (Jacqui Smith): Neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor I have discussed curriculum guidance with the awarding bodies.

Mr. Harper: Has the Minister read the poem "Nothing's Changed" by Tatamkhulu Africa? It appears on the GCSE English literature syllabus and it   advocates the bombing of a restaurant to advance social change. Does she think that teachers who teach the poem should be jailed under the proposed Terrorism Bill?

Jacqui Smith: I know that the increasingly numerous and highly professional English teachers in our schools will use the poem to inculcate in our young people precisely those attitudes to literature and terrorism of which all hon. Members would approve.


The Solicitor-General was asked—

Case Progress

21. Dr. Doug Naysmith (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op): How prosecutors ensure that victims are kept informed about the progress of a case. [22033]
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The Solicitor-General (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The prosecutor's pledge announced by the Attorney-General on 21 October reinforces the Government's commitment to victims. Under it, prosecutors commit themselves to improved contact with victims about the progress of a case. Also, the "No Witness, No Justice" programme, a joint initiative with the police, ensures that victims are kept informed about a case through local witness care units.

Dr. Naysmith: I thank my hon. and learned Friend for   that interesting reply. Does he believe that the prosecution can prevent publication and inappropriate reporting about victims in the media?

The Solicitor General: For vulnerable witnesses, it is possible for the prosecution to make an application under section 46 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. Such witnesses may be eligible for   reporting restrictions, but the court must be satisfied that the quality of their evidence or their level of co-operation are likely to be diminished by fear or distress at being identified by members of the public.

In addition, there are obvious obligations in respect of the application of the sub judice rules, which ensure that media reporting of particular cases is restricted. However, those rules apply only while a case is in progress.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Sometimes a difficulty arises with the manner in which victims are informed about the progress of a case. In one instance in my constituency, the police caused great distress when they called at the home of a victim's family, who would have been happier if the information had been conveyed in a more sensitive way. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it might be worth looking at how such information is sometimes conveyed?

The Solicitor General: Certainly, how information is conveyed to people is important. For instance, a crime victim who is asked to give evidence in court can be distressed if the police visit is conducted insensitively. Obviously, police officers try to do their best, but they are human and therefore imperfect, and matters are not always handled properly. Increasingly, we are trying to get the CPS to take on much of that role, and we hope that it can be done in a way that enables the witness to have contact with witness care units, which provide not only that initial contact is made more sensitively but also   that if a witness is nervous about having to give evidence, they have the opportunity to visit the court for a familiarisation tour. They can also be provided with help with child care, transport and other facilities to ensure that they are able to give their evidence, which is always a difficult thing to do, with the least possible trauma.

Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): Will my hon. and learned Friend inform the House what special provision is given in the area where more victims withdraw before going to court than any other and where there is more intimidation and distress—domestic violence?
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The Solicitor General: My hon. Friend is right; domestic violence accounts for 16 per cent. of violent crime and involves 13 million women victims and 3 million male victims each year. It is a serious matter.   The CPS has launched a major drive against domestic violence and there is now a national network of co-ordinators who work with various agencies to support the victims of domestic violence. Specialist courts, piloted in Caerphilly and Croydon, have shown that pulling together the various agencies to provide support for victims can improve conviction rates, as victims do not so often withdraw their evidence. In one of those courts, for example, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of retractions of victims' statements, from 53 per cent. to 17 per cent., as a result of such   support to victims of domestic violence. The Government aim to create 25 specialist domestic violence courts and we have invested £1 million to do so.

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): The Solicitor-General has confirmed that hitherto the main point of contact between a victim and authority on the   progress of a case has been the police, and there are   numerous examples of the breakdown of communication. He says that we shall move towards a new system in which the CPS will take the lead. Could he amplify that point? When will the crown prosecutor's office be the contact point for a victim rather than the police station, if that is the intention? How will that programme of change be rolled out?

The Solicitor General: From the point of charge up   to   appeal, the aim is to achieve better direct communication between the victim and the CPS. The police will still have much contact, especially with witnesses and victims, so both the police and the CPS will be engaged in the process. Previously, as the hon. Gentleman says, it was primarily the responsibility of the police to make and maintain those contacts and to issue warnings, but as a result of the prosecutor's pledge and the way in which the CPS has developed in recent years, the CPS is taking on much more of that role. As it is the focal point of the prosecution case during court proceedings it offers a far better contact, rather than the prosecutor having to ring the police station each time they know something and hoping that the police officer will be able to inform the victim. Direct communication, which is being rolled out across the country and to which the prosecutor's pledge will give real impetus, will lead to victims receiving a much better service in the criminal justice system.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The Solicitor-General will know that many victims, like other witnesses, are told that, for their personal safety they need to move from their home or move their business during a case. Many people affected say that such protection is still unsatisfactory; they cannot happily live their lives somewhere else while the case is going on and certainly cannot carry on a business, so will he and his colleagues from other Departments look into the issue?

The Solicitor General: The hon. Gentleman speaks from personal knowledge, given the courage that he displayed in giving evidence in a particular case. He is
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right that some witnesses fear intimidation and, sadly, some have good cause to do so because of the nature of the criminals about whom they are giving evidence. The aim of the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is to provide the maximum reasonable safeguard and protection. It is always difficult to make the right judgment, particularly when dealing with criminals who are very effective at getting at witnesses. I will talk to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service about ways in which we can continue to strengthen the support that we provide for witnesses. The hon. Gentleman had the courage to give evidence, as do many other witnesses. However, some witnesses withdraw their evidence—we must change that and provide them with greater protection.

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