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5.9 pm

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, which falls as close as possible to St. David's day.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) on achieving another birthday and surviving the terrible car accident in which he was involved, thus sparing us the unedifying spectacle of the competition to see who would succeed him as Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee.

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) on his maiden speech, which was very good. I did not have the opportunity to get to know his predecessor, Sir Ray Powell, very well, because of the short time that I have been in the House, but I got to know the hon. Gentleman in the general election, in which he fought a vigorous campaign—fortunately, though, not vigorous enough to get the result that he wanted.

I will aspire to reach the high standard set for politicians by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik). No doubt what I say will be reported back to him and judged accordingly.

I thank the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) for publicising the Liberal Democrat "Focus" leaflets and the great effect that they have throughout the nation because of their positive content.

In this debate, we have talked about the economy, manufacturing, the service sector, tourism, agriculture and even shellfish gatherers, so we have had a fairly comprehensive tour. We have also considered how we are functioning as a society and how we are dealing with health, education and transport. The one aspect that we have missed out—although it was touched on by the hon. Member for Ogmore in his description of his constituency—is the environment.

The environment is one of our greatest assets and we must protect it at all costs. Much is written and spoken about sustainability, yet it is a little-understood concept and certainly not one that has captured the imagination of the general public. It is not used by planning authorities, for instance, to rank development proposals in order of

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acceptability, and developments are taking place in Wales under the cloak of sustainability, environmental targets and international obligations that are profoundly and demonstrably unsustainable.

Unfortunately, Wales has had a history of being robbed and raped of its assets and of having its environment degraded and impoverished. One of the first examples was the desecration and deforestation of the hills of south and mid-Wales to produce charcoal to feed the furnaces of the early iron foundries. Those hills have never recovered their diversity—biologically, they will never recover. However, the process led to the wide, open and challenging landscapes that are so valued by the people who live there and by the visitors who bring money into the local economy.

The second great exploitation in south Wales took place in the name of coal, to fuel the iron and steel industries and to be exported as well as being used domestically. The coal rush brought very modest returns for the people who live in the area, and great social deprivation. The huge returns went to the coal owners. Because there were no environmental controls, the mining utterly destroyed some of the south Wales valleys, which were a landscape every bit as beautiful as mid-Wales, and probably more diverse in its wildlife.

The hon. Member for Ogmore mentioned the reclamation work being done by the Welsh Development Agency. I commend that. It has made a great impression and there has been a real greening of the south Wales valleys, but the hand of man does not compare with that of nature: man-made landscapes and environments lack the fascination of the real thing, which is what attracts and will continue to attract visitors. There are lessons to be learned: let us not destroy the very jewel of the Welsh crown that sits so well with the other jewels of culture, language and community.

Recently, the uplands of Wales have become the target of developers who use the words "renewable" and "sustainable" to cloak and cover a unique landscape with industrial structures, such as wind farms. Friends visiting me say, "Don't ever take that landscape for granted. Fight for its survival." A sense of wilderness is very hard to find today in urbanised Britain, but finding it is enormously spiritually uplifting for those whose lives have become humdrum and stressful. Such experiences are more than recreational; they are re-creational and truly renewing. They re-create people's spirit.

We should not be misled: when landscapes are lost to industrialisation, they are lost for many generations and probably for ever. Reclamation has always taken a very long time. In an important debate in the other place, noble Lords, including the Lord Bishop of Hereford, drew attention to the Cefn Croes wind farm development and the Department of Trade and Industry's decision to allow it to proceed without public inquiry. I shall not dwell on that too much, except to say—

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I apologise for missing the earlier part of the debate, but I have just returned from Germany, where I was looking at renewable development. Given that the hon. Gentleman disapproves of wind farms, I hope he will explain his party's position on nuclear power. If we do not adopt one or the other, we may as well throw away any commitment to Kyoto.

Mr. Williams: I do not agree that the choice is between wind power or nuclear energy. The Liberal Democrat

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party and I favour offshore wind farms, rather than the establishment of wind farms in Wales's wild and special places.

As I said, the debate in the other place made mention of the Cefn Croes wind farm development, about which there is huge disquiet in the whole of Wales. Ceredigion's local planning authority approved the application in a meeting lasting less than half an hour, even though the officer's report, which ran to more than 100 pages, recommended refusing the application. That recommendation was based on, among other factors, the view of the Countryside Council for Wales that wind farms are inappropriate in that location. Here we enter a circle of confusion. The CCW thought that it was not empowered to request an inquiry, and the Assembly thought it could not request one if its adviser, the CCW, had not done so.

The application then went straight from Ceredigion county council to the desk of a Minister in the DTI, without touching any other organisation in Wales. That Minister then took his decision without visiting the site; he merely consulted what we in Wales call snaps, or, in more technical language, photomontages. I wonder whether the Wales Office was involved in that process, and whether the Minister or the Secretary of State could give a personal view on it.

My main concern is the Camddwr trust's proposal to build 165 turbines, 400 ft high, on the Ceredigion-Powys border. One third of them would be built in my constituency above Abergwesyn, on land that is of national park quality but has never been designated as such. That application must not be fast-tracked in any way, but scrutinised in detail. In any event, a public inquiry must be held, involving an entirely independent inspector who is well versed in the impact of such developments on dramatic landscapes.

I am particularly concerned by a press statement by the Minister for Industry and Energy about future planning applications. On announcing the Cefn Croes application, he said:

We are not quite sure what that means, but it fills us with horror. Perhaps there is some fast-tracking system for so-called sustainable or non-fossil fuel obligation developments. Once again, Wales is being exploited by a large organisation that is making huge profits from non-fossil fuel obligation subsidies. We must put our environment before financial exploitation.

5.19 pm

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I am grateful that I caught your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, in this important debate on issues connected with Wales. I am pleased to have been in my place when my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) made his maiden speech. He reiterated the principles that guide this party, so it was a tremendous pleasure to listen to him today.

I am also pleased to be here on the day that the Leader of the House announced a timetable that will, I am sure, eventually lead to the end of hunting with hounds. That is an important issue in Wales and I have had more letters on that than on any other issue since becoming an MP.

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The letters have come from all sections of the population, but especially from young people. Recently, I have had letters from people who cannot understand why, when democratically elected Members of Parliament have indicated their clear will to ban hunting on several occasions, it has not yet happened. A ban to end hunting might help to restore the faith in democracy that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) mentioned. Such policies will help to convince the public that we do what we say we are going to do. I hope that we will not see a fudge on the issue of hunting. If this House votes in favour of a ban and the other place votes against, the Parliament Act should be used.

I shall address most of my remarks to the subject of crime and the Home Office's policies in Wales on prisons and on combating domestic violence. I strongly support the Home Secretary's aim, which he stated to prison governors recently, to reduce the number of people in prison and increase community sentencing, including perhaps weekend prisons and other ways in which prisoners can maintain their contacts in the community while serving their sentences.

I have long taken an interest in the position of women in prison. Because of the lack of a women's prison in Wales, Welsh women have had to serve their sentences in English prisons, which causes huge problems for their families and children. United Kingdom figures show that half of the children of Welsh women in prison are taken into care. An analysis of the 169 Welsh women in prison on 30 November 2001 showed that the majority were there for non-violent offences. Many of the Welsh women who are in prison today should not be there.

I fully support the proposals by the Prison Reform Trust for a network of local facilities to help to rehabilitate offenders. Women are treated differently from men by the criminal justice system. Those facilities should be made available, because women from Wales, and their families, would benefit from them.

The general population of prisoners in Wales, like that in the rest of the UK, has risen rapidly. An answer to a written question that I received yesterday reveals that the prison population in the Welsh prisons—Cardiff, Swansea, Parc and Usk, including Prescoed—rose from 1,437 to 2,191 between 1997 and 2002. That is an increase of nearly 50 per cent. In reasons for prison sentences, the biggest rise has been in drug offences. Some 124 men were held for drug offences in 1997 compared with 280 in 2002—another huge increase. The next biggest rise was for burglary—from 237 to 332. I do not have a deeper analysis of the drug offences, but it is difficult to obtain help for drug addiction in prison. We all know that, despite the best efforts of the prison officers drugs are still widely available in prisons.

With a rapidly escalating prison population we must find alternatives to prison. I support the tagging schemes that allow early release and that have been almost universally successful. I look forward to more community sentencing. Those who are a danger to the public must be kept in prison, but many of those who are not a risk could serve their sentences more effectively in the community. It is also important to ask how successful prison is and how good it is at preventing reoffending. We all know

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that its record is poor. Reconviction rates are very high after a prison sentence, and I believe that the entire subject must be reviewed.

Another move by the Home Secretary that I strongly welcome is the ending of the policy of holding asylum seekers in jail. Very many asylum seekers have passed through Cardiff prison and I applaud the Home Secretary's decision, which means that there are now no asylum seekers there.

I previously visited asylum seekers in Cardiff prison, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), and followed up the visit with a debate in Westminster Hall. Asylum seekers were unsuitably housed, on a top landing in an old, unmodernised section of the prison. That is no criticism of prison officers, who were placed in a very difficult situation and had to deal with it as best they could. For people who have committed no crime it was an entirely wrong policy, which I am pleased that the Home Secretary has ended so soon after entering his post. I was also encouraged by the report in the press this week that many of the old Victorian-style prisons will be replaced by more modern ones, which could affect us in Wales.

I shall now discuss violent crime against women in the home. In Welsh questions yesterday I raised the issue of future funding for the women's safety unit in Cardiff. The unit is one of several projects in Wales that are funded by the Home Office for a 12-month period as part of its crime reduction programme, and I was very pleased to hear that a Wales Office Minister would be visiting it soon. The unit, which was very recently launched in Cardiff, is a one-stop shop dealing with criminal justice, housing, finance and the emotional fall-out from domestic violence and rape, particularly in the 70 per cent. of rape cases in which the perpetrator is known to the victim.

The women's safety unit aims to provide advocacy for victims and their children and to reduce the risk of future harm. In the first 11 weeks of its operation, it has dealt with 140 women and 209 children. It is important that we do not forget the effects of domestic violence on children. There are some powerful and evocative images on posters, showing children cowering on the stairs or hiding behind doors when domestic violence is occurring in the home. We have not spoken much about children in today's debate, but obviously they should be at the heart of all our policies. Research has shown a strong link between domestic violence and child abuse, and children are absolutely key in all policies to do with domestic violence.

The women's safety unit has been able to change the structures of the criminal justice system in Cardiff so that cases can be quickly and appropriately dealt with. In Cardiff there is a named prosecutor from the Crown Prosecution Service. There is a domestic violence pre-trial review court staffed by a clerk who, along with all the Cardiff magistrates, has received training from the women's safety unit in how to deal with domestic abuse. It is absolutely essential that people who are dealing with that type of case receive the training to enable them to understand the implications. The time that it has taken for such cases to be heard has been halved in Cardiff, which means that there is less time for the victim to withdraw because of fear or intimidation.

The major problems to be tackled by the unit are the under-reporting of violence in the home and the fact that very many of those women who do report violence drop

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out before the case reaches court. In Cardiff in one week last October there were 52 call-outs to incidents of domestic violence. Those resulted in six arrests, and four people being charged. Thus, following 52 incidents, only four people were charged.

I applaud the Government for putting domestic violence high on their agenda. Projects such as those that we have in Cardiff pave the way for a complete change in attitude and approach to this very damaging situation. The Government have made a tremendous start on the projects that they have set up. There are several throughout Wales, but the funding for those projects is only for 12 months. I want to reiterate very strongly that it is impossible to tackle an issue of such major importance with 12-month funding. I ask the Minister again to use all the power he has to persuade the Home Secretary to increase the funding for these projects.

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