Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): We should emphasise strongly the importance of a building safer communities in Wales, and this debate is an opportunity to do that. The Government were determined to begin by developing a strong economy and within that economy to tackle unemployment, to ensure there were more jobs. We know that that has been done in Wales, despite the bad news about Corus—let us hope that we get some good news before the end of the week. Despite that bad news, 40,000 more people work in Wales now than in 1997. Moreover, despite the loss of jobs in manufacturing, extra jobs have been created. In 1999-2000, which is the last year for which we have figures, the average full-time wage rose faster in Wales than in Great Britain as a whole. It rose by 4.1 per cent. in Wales compared with 2.6 per cent. in Great Britain as a whole.

The working families tax credit helps about 70,000 families, and the national minimum wage benefits about 10 per cent. of the Welsh work force. There has been a 70 per cent. increase in income support for under 11s since April 1998, the child care tax credit assists almost 6,000 families and there have been significant increases in child benefit. All these schemes give people more money in their pockets to help them to live better without the need that many have felt to become involved in crime.

Our strong economy has also meant that the Government have been able to invest in public services, and have put more money into education and training. This year, local government had a record increase—despite the whinging of the Conservatives, it has had the best deal. Huge complications arise from the changes in the local government formula, but there is more money for local government and the police, with more people working in the police force.

Recorded crime has gone down, not just because of extra resources, but because of more thoughtful policing. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) has already mentioned what has happened in his area--I have family connections, but I will not go into that now.

Mr. Llwyd: Go on.

Mr. Griffiths: Well, if I am forced. My wife's cousin is the distinguished police inspector my hon. Friend was talking about.

In Bridgend, focused policing in the problem areas has helped to bring crime down. There is a communities-that-care programme involving local government, the police, social services, education, and voluntary organisations, such as Kenfig Hill Pyle Connelly, which last year won the Philip Lawrence citizenship award for the work of young people led by a young mother, Helena Parobijc. They are doing fantastic work in helping to get young people off the streets. There are four projects in the Bridgend county borough area. Such initiatives, backed by Government finance, help to build safer communities.

5.55 pm

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): We have had an excellent debate. What strikes me is that everyone cares about solving crime and crime prevention. It is a shame that no Home Office Ministers are present. I understand the stresses and strains of their job, as they are very much in the front line. They are dealing with six Bills at the moment, so they must be overloaded, like some of our police forces. None the less, their presence would have been helpful, as their Department controls the purse strings and has responsibility for these matters, together with the Lord Chancellor. The Secretary of State's wide-ranging speech helpfully included specific references to social exclusion. As many hon. Members have pointed out, there is no doubt that employment and wage levels are important in stabilising society, lowering crime and making society safer.

We had a discussion about the new deal and the national minimum wage. I believe that the new deal should be available to 16-year-olds, particularly to 16 to 18-year-olds. Unless we solve these problems, there will be more criminal elements. I hope that that will not happen, and that problems such as those in the steel industry will be solved.

There is a question mark over police numbers. The Government have made a commitment to raise police numbers and have set targets. However, there is a large wastage rate as police officers leave the service. Crime and disorder partnerships are important, and rural crime is of particular concern to me and my community, as I represent a rural constituency.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) rightly concentrated on increases in violent crime. Violent crime in rural areas in particular is a problem, which we ignore at our peril. I believe that the problem is alcohol-related, as violent crime peaks on Friday and Saturday evenings. We have all experienced that, and it needs to be tackled head on. The hon. Gentleman highlighted the funding problems, which have been fully debated.

The rt. hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) mentioned on-the-spot fines. I am sure that that has resulted in a vast improvement. He mentioned in particular the reduction of violent crime and the laudable methods deployed in Cardiff. The rt. hon. Gentleman is a former Home Office Minister, who has taken a great interest in these matters and has contributed much to solving the problem of crime. We all appreciate that.

The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) dealt with the important issues of drugs, notifiable offences and early releases. I, too, am sorry for the rough experience that he had with criminals on his property. We want to banish that sort of behaviour.

The hon. Member for Vale of Clywd (Mr. Ruane) rightly concentrated on tackling the underlying problem of poverty, and similar matters. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams) rightly praised Dyfed Powys police force, whose record is outstanding. The detection rate, at 64.2 per cent., is the best in the land. I should like to pay tribute to the former head of the police service, Chief Constable Ray White, who was an outstanding police officer and did a fantastic job in Dyfed Powys.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) quite rightly concentrated on the problems of keeping courts open—a matter that is occupying us a great deal in Powys. There is very little understanding in the Lord Chancellor's Department of the distances involved in rural Wales. My constituency is 87 miles long and 47 miles wide, yet they are trying to have a situation--

6 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

6.15 pm

On resuming—

Mr. Livsey: I was talking about magistrates courts. We understand that there are plans to close Ystradgynlais and Llandrindod magistrates courts in Powys. That is totally unacceptable and we are making representations to the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) rightly discussed violent crime and in particular how women are affected by domestic violence. The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) talked about a 33 per cent. reduction in crime, and the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) talked about how unemployment affects crime. They both talked about a man whom I suppose should be called super Col, Colin Jones, who appears to be an excellent policeman. I am sure that there are excellent policemen in all our areas.

The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) rightly mentioned the problems of rural crime and the means of tackling them. My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) discussed the importance of jobs and health and the dangers of crime. He espoused the virtue of Robert Owen—which I do, too—whose vision still applies today. The hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence) talked in particular about council estates and their problems.

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) was right to discuss community action and neighbourhood watch, but perhaps not right to extol the virtues of Councillor Bob Mills, who was done for grievous bodily harm four years ago and who has flirted with some political parties, but not the Liberal Democrats.

Mr. Llwyd: To develop that theme, I suggest that the reason why Bob Mills thought that there were too many policemen in Newtown was because he got nicked.

Mr. Livsey: I am sure that that was the motivating factor for his statement.

The best way to create freedom from crime is to provide sufficient police to improve the prevention and detection of crime. Liberal Democrats plan to increase overall police numbers by 6,000 and the number in Wales by at least 500. We want to make crime and disorder partnerships focus on improvements for local residents. We want to cut re-offending, give victims and their families greater rights to be heard in court, and target the causes of crime.

Crime prevention is excellent in many parts of Wales. I am old enough to remember when the people in the crowd at Cardiff Arms park sang off by heart ``The Bold Gendarmes'' and ``We'll run them in'' when the other side was playing dirty. The culture that encourages people to behave in their societies still exists in Wales. The problem is that violence is up, which we must tackle head on.We must aim at social factors such as full employment, because they are bound to reduce crime. There is no question but that we need more bobbies on the beat. The speeches about keeping police stations open are especially important. We must all work together in partnership with youth, communities, the churches and councils to support the police and to make our communities safer places.

The probation service in Powys has been destroyed by its proposed amalgamation with that of Dyfed. Powys probation service had the best record in the United Kingdom and received many awards. We regret that it is being amalgamated because a huge area has to be covered. The role of the probation service in small communities is absolutely vital.

Those are all issues that we need to deal with. I believe that we are going in the right direction. There is a will among politicians of all parties to achieve that. We need more funding and more people. If we go along that route, and as long as we have enough magistrates courts in the locality to deal with the problems in our society, we will make considerable progress.

6.20 pm

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Prepared 13 February 2001