Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I am touched by what the Secretary of State said about the Welsh language. Having started from a position of not understanding Welsh, David Davies, the Assembly Member for Monmouth, now gives regular interviews in that language on television and radio. Should the Secretary of State not follow his fine example?

Mr. Murphy: It would not make much sense. My hon. Friend would have to wait a long time for me to learn to give interviews in the Welsh language. As far as I am aware, Mr. Davies is many years younger than me. I am sure that his brain is more attuned to learning languages than mine. Nor do I accept that any pensioners who come to Wales and speak either English or Welsh, are in some way a burden. They are a strong and growing part of our community. I welcome them to Wales and I hope that others will too.

I am pleased that the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government are doing more to strengthen our rural communities than modulating subsidies. Already the Assembly is investing in improved public transport in rural and less urban Wales. Millions of pounds are being invested in new rail schemes, including a welcome return of passenger services in the Vale of Glamorgan. That is a tribute as much to the campaigning skills of my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) as to anything else. New investment of millions of pounds is being made in bus transport and the improvement of links between bus and rail transport, such as on the Heart of Wales line.

When the Conservative party was in office, it destroyed our rural bus network through its devotion to privatisation and deregulation. It damaged our rail network through the same approach. We are fixing the problems. It takes time, but the improvements are being made. The party that wants to take over the Government of the United Kingdom, but which will not, proposes to return to its previous course of waging a war against the transport links of rural Wales. Indeed, just what is the Conservative party's policy on strengthening communities in Wales? It would destroy our public services with £16 billion of spending cuts. As well as affecting investment in public services, it would fundamentally undermine the devolution project, by withdrawing resources from the National Assembly for Wales. The Conservative party would return the economy to boom and bust—to the days of 15 per cent. mortgage rates and record repossessions. It would return us to the days of mass unemployment by abolishing the new deal.

Whether or not a general election is in prospect—one will happen eventually—all parties that represent Welsh people in the House of Commons should be able to set out the choices that confront the people of Wales in the months ahead.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) rose—

Mr. Murphy: If the hon. Gentleman is about to complain about the general election, he should remember that he, too, has a duty to explain to the Welsh people, in this forum, what his party will offer them. I have no doubt that that will happen in the next few hours.

Mr. Evans: The Secretary of State has set the bait and I am nibbling. He said that the Conservative party should explain its policies, and we will. We shall not accept his version of our policies. He made a distorted reference to tax cuts, but we shall make our intentions clear for the general election and we expect him to do the same with respect to the Labour party. A challenge has been made and we await the answer of the Secretary of State for Wales. I am prepared to take part in a television debate in Wales during the general election, to explain our policy. Will he, unlike his party's leader who has run away from the television debate challenge, accept it? Yes or no?

Mr. Murphy: Resisting the temptation is the problem.

Mr. Evans: Is that a yes?

Mr. Murphy: We shall have to wait and see. The hon. Gentleman and I often appear on television programmes, but the Labour party's conduct of its general election campaign in Wales will be a matter for the Labour party and no one else. We shall return to those matters in future.

Mr. Evans: Running scared.

Mr. Murphy: The media are here, Mr. Jones. If the hon. Gentleman wants a conversation on television, we can have one next week. I am sure that there is no problem about that. I have two further predictions. First, the date of the general election will be some time before July 2002. Secondly, the result will be a renewed mandate for the Labour party to continue its programme of reform and modernisation, strengthening our society and protecting our communities; to abolish child poverty in Wales; to work for full employment in Wales; and to create a responsible society in which strong communities can be safe and fight crime together.

Fifteen years ago, we were in the very darkest days of Thatcherism. The communities that we are discussing today, which we want to be safe and strong, were treated with contempt. Working people were treated as the enemy within and our young people were told to expect a future of not so much low skills as no skills. Those were dark days for our country. It seemed that we would never again enjoy the social solidarity that communities in Wales, in particular, have enjoyed, or the concern for others that marks out a truly strong society.

Neil Kinnock, formerly my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn and now a European Commissioner, thought otherwise. He urged us on in the face of adversity to hope for better days. ``It can be done; it must done,'' he said. He represented all that the Labour party does and what is best in Welsh society, for our belief in the duties that we owe one another is more hard-headed than soft-hearted. We know that only by widening opportunity for all citizens can we build a truly safe society and safe communities in Wales. Since the day we were elected we have been doing that—fighting the evils of poverty, worklessness and social exclusion. We shall keep on fighting them in the next Parliament too.

11.25 am

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): In any discussion about building safer communities, the first issue to examine is the current rate of offending in Wales and the perceived rate of crime. If the current British crime survey is to be believed, reported crime figures have fallen slightly. A written answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) in Hansard on 8 January, at column 425-6W, about recorded crime for the year to March 2000, revealed that crime overall in Wales had decreased. That is of course welcome. However, Wales had a higher rate of violence against the person than other parts of the United Kingdom. The figure for England is 1,096 offences per 100,000 in England, compared with 1,292 per 100,000. There is a stark difference in those figures, so a problem exists.

Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I wonder if the hon. Gentleman saw that in the Western Mail it was reported on 17 January that Gwent police insist that more violent crime is being recorded by the force because they are more proactive about targeting incidents of low-level disorder and making quick arrests.

Mr. Llwyd: I saw that item and shall quote from a letter from the chief constable of Gwent shortly.

Recent statistics show that violent crime has risen by 8 per cent., with, unfortunately, an even higher figure for north Wales, although apparently there is a slower rate for Wales as a whole. We cannot draw much comfort from the figures, but crime figures for Wales are, in the round, undoubtedly improving. I am sure that all hon. Members are pleased about that.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that we have demonstrated, in places such as Cardiff, ways of targeting violent crime, and that that example needs to be followed in every community in Wales?

Mr. Llwyd: The right hon. Gentleman is right. The scheme was mentioned in a recent crime debate and I remember that the Minister of State warmly recommended it to all police forces. Use should be made of that pilot scheme wherever that is possible.

Of all crime in Dyfed Powys, 25.2 per cent. is violent crime. In comparison, 6.7 per cent of crime in Cleveland is violent crime, and in Warwickshire the figure is 7.3 per cent. Some areas of Wales plainly have a problem. Unfortunately, the present funding arrangements do not include additional resources for tackling that problem. In fact, the reverse is true. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) can argue her point later, or she may intervene.

The figures for 1999-2000 show expenditure of £7,416.2 million in England, or £140.39 per head, and in Wales £125.49 per head. We have had a debate about that, and it would be wasting time to go into it again.

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): The hon. Gentleman quoted some statistics. My figures for 2001-02 show that in north Wales, where his and my constituencies are situated, there was a real-terms increase of 6.1 per cent. That is the highest in Wales and the third highest in the whole country.

Mr. Llwyd: I am coming to that later. However, Mr O'Donnell, the financial secretary of the North Wales authority, says that it is 5.1 per cent. I do not know where the hon. Gentleman got his figures from. Perhaps he could tell us.

Mr. Ruane: The Home Office.

Mr. Llwyd: Well, they are not accepted by the North Wales police. It is 5.1 per cent., according to them. I will not go into per capita spending again. However, the figures provided by the House of Commons Library for overall police funding for 2001-02 show £147 per head in England and £132 in Wales. Wales received 5.1 per cent. of the budget—

Mr. Win Griffiths: The hon. Gentleman has just quoted figures from the House of Commons Library, but he did not say whether those figures were for all police forces in England and all those in Wales, or for all the shire forces in Wales and all those in England.

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Prepared 13 February 2001