Building Safer Communities

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The Chairman: Order. I will give the hon. Gentleman some advice. Quotations are allowed, but they should not be too lengthy, although I know that he is coming to the end.

Mr. Llwyd: I will paraphrase, but I am concerned that the advice of a chief constable in one of the most successful constabularies in Wales is not being heeded. The fact is that he is far from delighted with the current settlement. I take the point from the Chair.

Mr. Paul Murphy: I represent a Gwent constituency, as do some of my hon. Friends, and we have met the chief constable and will take this further. However, Gwent's police funding will rise by £3.2 million, or 4.4 per cent. in the next financial year, making it more than £75 million. It will also receive £1 million from the crime-fighting fund, which will provide 81 additional recruits. He rightly points out the highly successful rate of detection; the sixth greatest drop in crime among the 26 forces in the United Kingdom occurred in Gwent. He can rest assured that Gwent Members are taking those matters up, but he must also accept that a generous settlement has been agreed.

Mr. Llwyd: I will not argue that point except to say that the 4.4 per cent. settlement is agreed, as referred to in the letter, but it is not satisfactory to the chief constable. However, I am sure that the Secretary of State will follow that up in due course.

Mr. Flynn: What conclusion does the hon. Gentleman draw from that? The reason why the lowest increase is going to an area—north and west Wales—with roughly double the rate of violent crime is that the Government have acceded to the argument for increasing spending on rural policing. Now that we have done that, the hon. Gentleman is arguing with the result.

We all received the letter from the chief constable of Gwent on that matter. The hon. Gentleman cannot blame the Government for giving in to the argument made by the Opposition. If he chooses that tack—he must reach some conclusion on his position—he is arguing that the next settlement should be a reduction for his area and an increase in Gwent.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is very kind in allowing interventions, but I must add that some interventions are too long.

Mr. Llwyd: I, like many other hon. Members, have argued about the sparsity of rural policing. That point has been accepted by the Home Office, which is most welcome, but why should it mean cuts in other areas? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) seems to be saying that there is a finite budget so if some rural areas have succeeded, other urban areas cannot succeed.

Mr. Flynn: The 4.4 per cent. for Gwent includes a portion for the rural areas, so there is an increased distortion. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the settlement for Gwent is far above inflation and will mean an increase in police officers on the street. He must also accept that there is a lack of logic in his argument. He cannot ask for special treatment for some areas and complain when it is given.

Mr. Llwyd: I am arguing in favour of Gwent's situation and have been asked to highlight its problems. The hon. Member for Newport, West may shake his head but a rurality problem exists in Dyfed-Powys and north Wales. That has been recognised, which I accept is a step forward. I will not argue that point further, but if the hon. Gentleman catches the Chairman's eye perhaps he can develop it later.

The chief constable referred to several welcome initiatives in the Queen's Speech such as the arrangement to keep registers of paedophile offenders. That is a hot, but very important, subject. Such initiatives, however, mean that the police need extra resources to comply with them. There are many good initiatives before the House, but they all have resource implications that place further strain on police forces. The notion that I find least appealing in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill is on-the-spot penalties for people who are drunk or anti-social in public. They are unfortunate because they make the police officer judge and jury. It is difficult to prove that such behaviour has occurred and an immediate penalty may lead to more disorder—if a person is inebriated, he or she may take umbrage at being so accused. [Interruption.] Once again, the main contribution from the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd is to laugh, but I am making a serious point. Liberty believes that it is absolutely wrong that the police should be both judge and jury, and I agree. However, the travel restriction orders in the Bill are helpful, although they will require extra policing.

I do not know how child curfew schemes will work in practice. Indeed, I am unsure whether they will work, and what resources they will require. It is also possible that they will face a challenge under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Child curfews do not resolve the causes of children's misbehaviour, and sometimes they exacerbate it. Frequently, children's misbehaviour is caused by their home environment, and curfews offer only a temporary cure of the symptoms.

Mr. Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman is right. I am wholeheartedly against child curfews. However, as a matter of historical interest, until the 1860s, the young people of Dolgellau were known as ``Bois y cloc naw'', because there is an old clock tower in the centre of the town and the police would take home any youngster who was out on the streets after 9 pm. I was a proud, although not a very talented, member of the Dolgellau male voice choir, and its badge has the clock tower on it with the time at 9 pm. So, child curfew has been tried and tested in Meirionnydd.

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): There are parts of north Wales where we have tried and tested most things, and the hon. Gentleman is right to appeal to our roots and history. However, Scotland offers a more contemporary example. It has been demonstrated that if curfews are properly applied, with the support of the community and the involvement of parents, they can have positive effects on the adverse behaviour of young people and prevent them from getting into more trouble.

Mr. Llwyd: I know that the right hon. Gentleman has more knowledge of such matters than me. If that model is worth while, let us see how it works. If it will operate by means of a joint approach involving parents and, perhaps, social workers, let us see whether that is the way forward. The issue of child curfew is more complicated than some bald statements about it might suggest, and the hon. Gentleman may be right in highlighting that example.

It is a truism that innocent people should not be concerned about providing fingerprints or DNA, but it is unacceptable to me that the police might permanently keep samples that have been voluntarily given. My big concern is that that might deter people from volunteering. That would be a step in the wrong direction. Undoubtedly, the matter will be debated at length in connection with the Criminal Justice and Police Bill.

Everyone knows that closed circuit television is very useful. I recently met concerned residents of Moghred in the Clwyd, West constituency, which has a limited CCTV scheme that has greatly improved matters in most of the town. However, in the week before my visit, an armed robbery had taken place in a shop that is just outside the CCTV area. I understand that resources are finite, but CCTV schemes tend to move crime along, and the lady to whom I spoke in that shop was desperately unhappy.

We need to look carefully at such schemes because, in that town, a single extension of CCTV would have covered the entire commercial area. Perhaps schemes should be extended so that they do not cover just part of the commercial area and push crime into the areas that are not covered.

Mr. Ruane: I support the hon. Gentleman on that point. My principal constituency towns of Prestatyn and Rhyl have benefited greatly from CCTV. However, towns such as Denbigh are concerned that crime has been pushed out to other areas.

Will the hon. Gentleman welcome the investment that my constituency has received? In March 1997, £95,000 was awarded to a scheme in Prestatyn and, in January 2000, £159,000 was awarded to schemes in Rhyl. That shows the Government's commitment to extending CCTV coverage.

Mr. Llwyd: I am not arguing with the hon. Gentleman; I agree with him. I have a lengthy list of approved schemes in Wales, about which I am very pleased. However, we need to examine carefully where such schemes are placed and, if possible, negate the danger of passing crime on to outlying areas. Of course, there have been several good schemes, and I hope that they will come to fruition and that we will benefit from them.

I intended to refer to the rurality aspect that has already been debated. I applaud the Government for introducing the measure, as rural policing has been a great problem for the North Wales police, and others.

I welcome the Government's decision of last week to give volunteer groups free access to the Criminal Records Bureau. I think that that is an excellent step forward; it shows that, sometimes, the voices of pressure groups are heard.

Neighbourhood watch schemes are greatly valued by the police. I should like to see them put on a more official footing because they are currently somewhat piecemeal. The schemes are valued in some areas, but in others, perhaps where officers are snowed under with paperwork, they are treated as something of a nuisance. I am sure that an official recognition of the partnership would assist that.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): Has the hon. Gentleman consulted with some prominent Gwynedd councillors? They have said that they want to monitor English speakers coming into the area. Furthermore, Councillor Dafydd Iwan, whose brother is leader of the authority, recently said on television that villages that have been saturated with incoming English people could be called ghettos. Does neighbourhood watch, as visualised by the hon. Gentleman, follow such thinking?

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Prepared 13 February 2001