Building Safer Communities

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8. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): What discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales about education and training in Monmouthshire.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State and I meet regularly with the First Minister to discuss a range of issues, and education and training is frequently one of them.

Mr. Edwards: I welcome the implementation in Wales of the Learning and Skills Act 2000. I recently attended the launch of the community council for education and training in Monmouthshire. It has a rural focus, to reflect the training needs of a farming community that is currently under-trained. Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent announcement by Corus will have massive implications for retraining in south-east Wales, and that Corus should listen to its work force, and allow it to take over the management of Llanwern, and to save Ebbw Vale as well?

Mr. Hanson: The Government's position has been strongly outlined by my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State. We strongly believe that Corus should reconsider its proposals. It has an opportunity to do that, and to examine a range of alternatives proposed by its work force. The Government are willing to discuss several issues with it in due course. My right hon. Friend has visited Ebbw Vale and Llanwern, and, on Friday, he and I visited Shotton in north Wales with you, Mr. Jones.

I am sure that Corus needs to rethink its proposals. If it does not, the Government will consider the situation. The Government and the Assembly have a range of mechanisms and support that can be considered, such as training and enterprise councils. However, the first step is for Corus to reconsider.

Vocational Training

9. Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney): When he proposes to meet the chairman and chief executive of the National Council for Education and Training in Wales to discuss vocational training.[148995] The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I have no current plans to meet the chairman or chief executive of the National Council for Education and Training in Wales.

Mr. Rowlands: Has my hon. Friend read the powerful and pungent speech of Mr. Steve Martin, the chief executive of the council? Among other comments about the standards of skills in our community, he said:

    ``We need to move away from this phoney distinction between the academic and vocational, to value both because both are needed for a civilised and successful nation. ''

If that is the case—I hope that my hon. Friend shares the sentiment—in what way can he and the Secretary of State support the crusade that Steve Martin is about to lead to improve vocational skills and their status in our communities?

Mr. Hanson: I support the words of Mr. Martin and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing them to my attention, both now and before the Committee. I hope that we can develop educational and vocational skills, and that that will be one of the council's key tasks. I also hope that the non-devolved employment service will have a great contribution to make.

My hon. Friend will be aware that the key to success in Wales is a highly skilled and trained work force. I am confident that the policies of the Government and National Assembly will help to achieve that.

Crime Reduction

11. Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): When he next plans to meet representatives of local authorities and chief constables in Wales to discuss crime reduction.[148997] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I meet Welsh chief constables regularly. My most recent meeting with all four Welsh chief constables was on 15 January to discuss a number of issues affecting policing in Wales, including crime reduction. I also have regular discussions with representatives of local government in Wales—yesterday I met the Welsh Local Government Association— covering a very wide range of issues including crime and policing.

Mr. Michael: I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State discussed crime reduction in that meeting because the provisions of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 make the reduction of crime a matter for every organisation and agency, including educational agencies. Does he agree that the National Assembly's publication ``Extending Entitlement'', which indicates the nature of local authority and community-based future support for young people in Wales, must be taken into account by local authorities, particularly local educational authorities? Does he also agree that approaches to youth offending and general support for our young people should be brought together?

Mr. Murphy: Of course I agree with my right hon. Friend. The reduction of crime in Wales has been the result of a partnership between local authorities, the National Assembly and the Government. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend because, when he was First Minister, it was his responsibility to ensure that the Assembly played a full role in the reduction of crime.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Will the Secretary of State revisit his earlier remarks? In 1997-98, Wales received 4.93 per cent. of the England and Wales police grant budget. In the following year, Wales received less—4.92 per cent.—and, last year it received 4.89 per cent. How does that stand against the cited increased funds for the police?

Mr. Murphy: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the question I was asked concerned the comparison of per capita funding between police forces in England and Wales. I thought that I made it clear that it is unfair to compare England and Wales when including the metropolitan forces. If such forces are taken out of the equation, the comparison between per capita funding is good.

Steel Industry

12. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): What recent representations he has received on the steel industry.[148998] The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have received recent representations, both written and in meetings, from a wide range of organisations and individuals to discuss the steel industry, and, of course, Corus in particular.

Mr. Griffiths: In our meeting with Sir Brian Moffat, it was evident that he was taking a short-sighted and blinkered view of the steel industry's future. Given that representatives of the steel industry, particularly in Wales, are prepared to sit down with Corus to work out the problems, has Sir Brian Moffat contacted the Secretary of State to clarify the considerable aid package that was on offer from the Government when the announcements were still in the rumour stage?

Mr. Murphy: On several occasions we offered Sir Brian a variety of packages that we believed might have helped the steel industry. His view, which he has subsequently expressed publicly, was that the steel industry required major restructuring. In Wales, that meant the possible closure or partial closure of plants.

We have received no further response from Sir Brian. However, I hope that during the course of this week, when those points are repeated by the trade unions, Corus and Sir Brian will take notice and reconsider their short-term decision about closures.

The Chairman: Order. That brings us to the end of question time.

Building Safer Communities

10.59 am

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that we have from now until 1 o'clock and then from 4 o'clock until 6 o'clock for the debate.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): On a point of order, Mr. Jones. I presumed that the subject of today's debate, building safer communities in Wales, would be a matter of home affairs, crime and policing. However, I note with interest that, on Saturday, someone from the Wales Office contacted the Western Mail and extended the remit of the debate to include poverty and social exclusion.

May we have your ruling on what exactly we are discussing today, Mr. Jones? Or have we been spun again by the Labour party over the weekend?

The Chairman: We are debating building safer communities in Wales.

11 am

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the matter of Building Safer Communities in Wales.

Almost all the members of the Committee represent constituencies in Wales. Clearly, a debate on safer communities should cover the levels of crime, why crime exists and how we can eradicate it. As the debate progresses this morning and later this afternoon, I am sure that hon. Members will draw on a wide range of experiences to ensure that we debate what will or will not make for a safer Wales, not just the question of crime.

Crime, poverty and worklessness are the deadliest threats to strong and safe communities, but they are not the only factors. The pensioner who is afraid to turn on the heating, the rural family without access to public transport, the young mother without access to child care, the child in a failing school—all those people suffer from the social exclusion that weakens our communities, and they expect action from us, as their representatives in Parliament.

Safe communities are not just those that are free of crime but those in which all our citizens have a stake and are listened to. The safe society is the responsible society, in which we take our duties to one another seriously. I am proud to say that the Labour Government have tackled and are tackling all those issues, often in partnership with the National Assembly for Wales. Our war on worklessness and poverty is at the very heart of our programme to modernise and strengthen Britain and Wales. We have introduced the new deal, the centrepiece of our action against social exclusion, which has taken 27,000 people off the dole queues in Wales. We understand that not only must we be tough on crime. Quite rightly, we must be tough as well on the causes of crime. Young people, particularly young men, without work will turn to crime. My hon. Friends and I know that; the Liberal Democrats believe it; so too, does the Welsh Nationalist party. Even the reformers of the Victorian era knew it a century ago, but I am not convinced that the Conservative party knows it. It proposes to abolish the new deal. Not for nothing did John Stuart Mill call the Tories the stupidest party. Their decisions are the latest manifestation of that.

The Labour Government also introduced a national minimum wage. For the first time, our adult citizens know that a floor has been put on the wages that employers can offer them. It is a guarantee of security in the workplace. For those on the Government Benches, it is a matter of human dignity, but the Conservative party fought for years to resist it. They told us that the minimum wage would cost jobs, but since its introduction, firms in Wales have taken on an additional 29,000 workers.

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Prepared 13 February 2001