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Mrs. Lawrence: Is my right hon. Friend aware that the word "British" comes from the Brythonic language, of which Welsh is a member? That shows how integrated Wales is, because it has given the name "British" to the British Isles.
Mr. Michael: My hon. Friend is correct. As I said, this intemperate, last-minute debate has confused the issues of nationality and ethnicity. It is possible to deal with those points, but not by adding an extra tick box. If people want the census to ask about their national background and ethnicity in a couple of questions, rather than just one, that can be done in the next census. If so, I would want people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to give their birth origins and their national and ethnic identity. I suspect that all of us could unite around that. [Interruption.] I am glad to see the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) nodding. However, that cannot be dealt with in time for the current census, and it is ludicrous to suggest that it should be.
Our levels of crime and disorder are still too high, on which work is to be done that only a Government will do. I thought that the comments of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) about crime were wrong, and it was disgraceful that he tried to whip up fear of crime and fly in the face of the facts. One fact is that, since 1997, overall crime has fallen in all four police areas in Wales. There has been a fall of 24 per cent. in my area in south Wales, the second largest in England and Wales: only Northumbria has experienced a larger fall. That cannot be said to be a cause for satisfaction--there is still a long way to go--but at least it is going in the right direction. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley, who represents a distant constituency, would have gained a little more respect had he demonstrated that he knew a little more about what is happening to crime in Wales.
Violence against the person is currently one of the big worries, but it is a small consolation that it has risen by 6 per cent. rather than by the England-and-Wales average of 11 per cent. As I said during my time as First Secretary, this is not just a matter for the police and local authorities; those employed in the health service should also try to recognise the nature of violent crime--as workers in Cardiff's accident and emergency units have--and then work with the police to reduce it. That would demonstrate that we can act as we have been proved to be able to act in regard to other problems, such as burglaries and car crime.
I am pleased to note that it now takes half the time it took previously to bring young offenders before the courts. In the third quarter of last year, south Wales achieved its target of 71 days, as opposed to the 142 days that obtained when we took office, and we want that achievement to be sustained for a long time. Police numbers in Wales have risen by some 145 since the general election.
We need a wake-up message, however, because far more needs to be done. In April 2002, the second crime and disorder strategy needs to be in place for every local authority area in England and Wales. Local police superintendents and local authority chief executives, who have personal responsibility for the strategy, should be getting the work done now. Other organisations--including, again, the health service--need to recognise that crime and disorder audits will identify problems involving young people such as drug problems and the need for rehabilitation work. They should be getting the facts together for the audit now, and anticipating the work that they and local authorities will have to do in developing the youth service.
I pay tribute to the working party that produced the report "Extending Entitlement". I think we all want local authorities and the voluntary sector to help to produce the new Welsh youth service that the Assembly has a chance to produce--a project that I am sure the Assembly's Secretary, Jane Davidson, will pursue with great vigour, to our benefit.
Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Should not the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) have pointed out that last week's figures for January waiting lists in the health service showed a dramatic drop? Is it not typical of the Conservative party not to recognise any improvements?
Mr. Michael: The hon. Member for Ribble Valley seems to rely on out-of-date newspaper clippings--presumably sent by his former newspaper shop in Swansea in order to increase its profits--for information about Wales. It is a pity that he is so clearly out of touch.
The right hon. Gentleman has said that when Labour came to power it had to sort things out. I remember the Prime Minister saying that he would reduce waiting lists by 100,000. Since Labour came to power, the list of people waiting for their first out-patient appointment has increased by 79,000--just in Wales.
Mr. Michael: When I took over as Secretary of State for Wales, we were just discovering how disastrous was the legacy of the hon. Gentleman's party. I established a taskforce to examine the position, and also involved the Audit Commission. We discovered massive debt in every part of the health service in Wales, especially in Dyfed Powys, where the entire service was crippled by the disaster left by our predecessors. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of the mismanagement of successive Secretaries of State, which may owe itself to the fact that--like the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley--they did not represent Welsh constituencies and were out of touch with what was happening in Wales.
As for the economy, we have seen stability and a rise in employment, but problems and challenges remain. Those problems and challenges need to be met by business and Government working together. Corus, for instance, has not been willing to work with either the Westminster Government or the Assembly. As well as tackling such issues through partnership, we should encourage a "can do" approach among business. I was delighted to note such an approach among business people who joined us at Labour's business breakfast at Swansea on Friday. Business must join the public sector and others to use the opportunity presented by objective 1 status, and--as I suggested earlier--end the whingeing that has held us back during the early period of that opportunity.
I pay tribute to the voluntary sector in Wales, and to the manifesto that has been launched in the past few days. I am delighted that one plea could be left out--the plea for Government to pay for the criminal records checks that will be introduced in the next few months--because the Government have announced that they will pay for them. They will not constitute a burden or a tax on volunteering, as was planned by the last Conservative Home Secretary. This Government recognise the importance of encouraging voluntary work.
The manifesto also encourages partnership. It suggests that we should operate on the basis of outcomes: we should consider not just what goes in but what comes out, and the question of who does best. That is a constructive approach, and I hope that my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will respond to it positively.
I am glad that it has been decided not to abolish community health councils in Wales. I fought opposition to them during the passage of the 1990 Act, and I was pleased to be able to restructure them in Wales and create a pattern to give them a long-term future there. On Report, amendments were accepted in respect of the English arrangements, bringing the position much closer to what we had all hoped for. Ministers responded positively then. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will be able to assure us that the enhanced powers given to the new body--I think the name is less important than its capacity to do its job for patients and the community--will be available to the Assembly to pass on to Welsh community health councils.
The whole point of devolution is that it gives us the opportunity as Welsh Members of Parliament to celebrate not only differences, but the partnership with the Assembly, with local government, with business and with the voluntary sector in Wales. Devolution is about differences and about partnership. It is a step on the road not to separation or to victory for nationalism, but to victory for common sense.
I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales for the quiet, constructive and powerful way in which he has represented Wales in the Assembly. He has worked with the Assembly constructively during his period of office. It is in that sense that we should celebrate St. David's day and our opportunity to debate Welsh issues in the House today.