Building Safer Communities

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): We have had a useful debate in the time that we have had. We have heard not just useful contributions, but useful confessions. Several hon. Members have come clean and declared previous form, as I think the phrase goes in the police service.

Rightly, we have concentrated on crime. That was the Govt's purpose in bringing forward the motion. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Government are concerned not just with tackling crime, but with looking at the underlying causes of crime. We have had many welcome contributions today.

May I explain the absence of the Secretary of State? We have overrun and he is in an important ministerial meeting about another matter. I hope that you, Mr. Jones, and the Committee will understand his absence.

We are focusing on crime. We have heard a number of important speeches. I particularly welcome the contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael). As well as his experience in Wales, both as Secretary of State and as First Minister, he brings to the debate his experience as a Home Office Minister. He and my hon. Friends the Members for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mrs. Lawrence), for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane), for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Mr. Williams), for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr Smith), for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) have all mentioned the fact that, under the proposals that the Government have introduced, we have seen an increase in the number of police on the beat in Wales since the general election. As a result of increased funding, there have been 146 extra officers in Wales since the election. Funding for tackling crime has increased by 15.6 per cent since 1997. It is a record settlement, which will give police budgets their biggest boost since the early 1980s.

This year, Welsh police forces will receive nearly £390 million from the main settlement for 2001-02. All of my hon. Friends have mentioned the impact of that resource on the ground-floor operations of the police. There are increases of £56.3 million for the Dyfed Powys police, £75.1 million for Gwent, £82.2 million for North Wales and a massive £176.1 million for the South Wales force—all real increases in funding thanks to the Government. My hon. Friends have recognised that contribution and made much of it in their speeches.

I particularly welcome the local examples given by several hon. Members about how that money is being used on the ground, in partnership with the Assembly, local authorities, voluntary agencies and with the victims of crime, to ensure that we tackle the problems. All my hon. Friends have mentioned that partnership.

Those forces will also receive £8.5 million for Airwave. Dyfed Powys, Gwent and North Wales will receive an additional £4.3 million for rural policing and there will be approximately £5.7 million from the crime fighting fund if forces meet the criteria. Overall, police funding in Wales has risen by £53.7 million, a 15.6 per cent. increase since 1997.

I believe that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) said that police numbers had fallen. If he has any alternative figures, I would be grateful if he wrote to me and brought them to my attention, but, in March 1997, in Wales, there were 6,592 police officers. In September 2000—these are the latest figures that we have—there were 6,738 officers, an extra 146 police officers on the ground in Wales since the general election.

Mr. Walter: I do not have the detail on the full-time officers. Does the Minister deny, however, that the number of special constables in Wales has gone down?

Mr. Hanson: I was looking forward to the issue of special constables being raised because those figures relate to real police officers, on the beat, doing real jobs trying to prevent crime. I recognise that the number of special constables occasionally causes difficulty. There are issues there, which the hon. Gentleman has drawn to the attention of the Committee. I recognise those concerns. The Government believe that special constables have a valuable contribution to make. Indeed, the Home Office is undertaking a new recruitment drive in England and Wales. All four Welsh forces are actively involved in recruiting special constables. Again, the Government are very supportive of neighbourhood watch. Neighbourhood watch schemes are extremely strong in Wales. They are supported by the police, are growing and are valuable.

Real issues were raised by hon. Members. The hon. Members for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and for Ribble Valley mentioned violent crime. I accept that that is an important issue. Only last week in my constituency, I visited the victim of an armed post office raid. I saw at first hand, shortly after the raid, the circumstances that the individual faced and the fear that that brought.

It is an issue that the Government are trying to tackle. Last year, about 38 per cent. of notifiable offences in Wales involved either violence against a person or criminal damage. However, the post office incident in my constituency is not the norm. Most violent crimes in Wales—the police agree—arise in public order situations such as drunken balls outside pubs. [Interruption.] I mean drunken brawls, although it is possibly balls as well—who knows? There are some strange events of an evening in many parts of Wales.

The important thing to mention is that disorderly and anti-social behaviour is exactly the type of crime which the Government are targeting in the new Criminal Justice and Police Bill—exactly the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth made in his excellent contribution. The link between alcohol misuse and crime and disorder is widely accepted. The Bill would allow local authorities to ban drinking in designated places and give police new powers of arrest to enforce those bans. I believe that that is welcome. Indeed, many hon. Members have mentioned that.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy mentioned the difficulties that have been raised about Gwent police funding. I know that the Secretary of State is concerned—he is a Gwent Member—but I refer the hon. Gentleman, to counterbalance some of his points, to a letter dated 29 November 2000 to my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), the Whip on duty today, from Mr. Keith Turner, the chief constable. He said:

    ``I have some good news for you. So far, we have been awarded 31 additional police officers from the Crime Fighting Fund...There is more good news in the pipeline . . . In the 2002-03 . . . we are expecting an allocation of an additional 32 officers from this fund.''

He went on to say that, at the end of the three-year period in Gwent:

    ``We will have been awarded an additional 81 police officers . . . Moreover, these officers are over and above those we would acquire through our normal recruiting process. Good news indeed''.

There are difficulties, but I concur that efforts are being made by the Government to secure those issues.

Time is very limited. I take on board the points that the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Simon Thomas) made, which were supported by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), about rural court services. I have no direct responsibility for those matters. I will examine them and report back to the hon. Member for Ceredigion about the conversations that I will have with the appropriate officer about those issues in Wales.

The final points that I want to make relate to the issue of preventing crime. Extra policing, partnership and the issues that all hon. Members have raised in the debate are important, but it is vital to tackle the causes of crime, too. It is not just a slogan; it is an issue. The working families tax credit, the minimum wage, the developments in the Employment Service and the increase in jobs in our community are all important issues. It is right to say that those are things that the Government have done and brought to the table, which will add to the sum total of employment and, therefore, the safety of communities.

I end on this overtly political point. I repeat that the Conservative party's cuts would not have supported those initiatives. It did not support them in the House of Commons. It is all very well for Conservative Members to say that they support the minimum wage, but I do not recall them voting for it. The Government are committed to those social improvements, to police funding and to tackling the causes of crime and crime itself. I believe that we have a great story to tell to the communities of Wales.

Question put and agreed to.


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

        Committee rose half-past Six o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Anderson, Mr. Donald
Davies, Mr. Denzil
Edwards, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hanson, Mr.
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Lawrence, Ms
Livsey, Mr.
Llwyd, Mr.
Michael, Mr.
Morgan, Ms Julie
Murphy, Mr. Paul
Öpik, Mr.
Powell, Sir R.
Rogers, Mr.
Rowlands, Mr.
Ruane, Mr.
Smith, Mr. John
Smith, Mr. Llew
Thomas, Mr. Simon
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.
Williams, Mr. Alan W.
Williams, Mrs. Betty

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Prepared 13 February 2001