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Policing (Cross-border Co-operation)

3. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): If he will make a statement on the effectiveness of cross-border co-operation between Welsh and English police forces. [67874]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): There is good co-operation between the Welsh and English police forces aimed at combating organised crime. The national services, including the National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service, also provide valuable links across all police forces.

Mr. O'Brien: Given the 13 per cent. rise in overall recorded crime in north Wales, especially the 19 per cent.

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rise in robbery, it will come as no surprise to the Minister that I have been told by the Cheshire constabulary that many of the criminals committing robberies in my constituency come over the border from north Wales. May I urge him to ensure that maximum co-operation is permitted and encouraged between police forces, and that no political and administrative boundaries or differences in accountability can possibly get in the way of that full co-operation?

Mr. Touhig: I certainly take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. Cross-border co-operation is important if we are to reduce crime. He mentions the crime figures for north Wales. I can tell him that overall crime has fallen by 22 per cent. since the Government came into office, which compares with the doubling in crime that occurred during the 18 years when his party was in government.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): Can my hon. Friend assure us that there is full co-operation between the police forces of south Wales and of Bristol to stem the dreadful epidemic of cocaine, especially crack cocaine? It already has too strong a hold on Bristol and its dealers are now looking to expand their market into south Wales.

Mr. Touhig: On 5 July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of the three south Wales police forces in response to increased criminal activity, particularly in relation to drugs coming into Wales. The police forces have created a joint specialised drugs unit and are diverting resources into combating drug misuse. They are also working closely with their colleagues on the other side of the River Severn. To a certain extent, the supply of drugs in Wales is based on geographical factors. Supplies to the south come largely from drug dealers in Bristol and the west midlands, while those to the north come from Manchester and Liverpool. Cross-border co-operation is vital if we are to rid ourselves of that misery.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): Many people who live in the Welsh marches live in very isolated communities, such as south Herefordshire, and when they dial 999 they want an immediate response, regardless of the badge on the emergency vehicle that comes. Given that fire brigades regularly cross borders to attend fires, should not police cars also do so, so that the closest patrol car responds to an incident?

Mr. Touhig: I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is a difficult issue in some of the marches areas. I undertake to pass his point on to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

Crime Reduction

4. Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on measures to reduce crime in urban areas. [67875]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about a number of issues affecting Wales, including measures aimed at reducing crime.

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Mark Tami: I thank the Minister for that answer. Antisocial behaviour is a crime that blights many of our towns and cities in Wales. I recently met community leaders in Connahs Quay, where such activities are increasing. Does my hon. Friend agree that the appropriate authorities need to be far more rigorous in their use of antisocial behaviour orders if we are to counter that threat?

Mr. Touhig: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, I believe that he recently hosted a conference in Connahs Quay to discuss issues arising from crime levels there. Several initiatives are being considered by members of the Flintshire crime reduction partnership to tackle underage drinking, including the introduction of proof-of-age cards. I agree with my hon. Friend that the use of antisocial behaviour orders could be greater. In my part of south-east Wales they have been used to some extent with some effect. I hope that police services and local authorities that can make an impact on such behaviour will use them much more than they have in the past.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): I want to focus the Minister's attention on a specific recent urban crime: the defiling of the synagogue at Ffynone in my home city of Swansea. Does the Minister know that the previous synagogue was destroyed by the Nazis during the second world war? Is not it ironic that Nazis should be trying to destroy the current synagogue? Will he accept, through his office, the thanks of the Swansea Jewish community, including members of my family, who have lived there for more than 100 years, for the warmth and hospitality that the people of Swansea have traditionally shown to their Jewish residents?

Mr. Touhig: I can think of nothing more offensive than desecrating a place of worship. Like all decent Welsh men and women, I was outraged by the attack on the synagogue in Swansea. The Jewish community in Swansea has always played a vibrant and important part in the life of the city, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) knows. We must condemn such actions; we should be ashamed of them in this day and age.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda): My hon. Friend knows about the drugs problem in valleys communities in south Wales. Local police reckon that 90 to 95 per cent. of local crime relates to drugs. Has he had an opportunity to decide when the all-Wales drugs conference, for which hon. Members and Assembly Members have called, will take place?

Mr. Touhig: That matter was raised by chief constables when they met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently. I have also discussed it with colleagues, including Edwina Hart, the Assembly Minister responsible for anti-drugs policy, this morning. We take the view that such a conference should produce positive outcomes, and it should therefore have clearly defined objectives. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will raise the issue when he next meets the First Minister.

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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Given the undoubted benefits of closed-circuit television, will the Minister make representations for the next phase in next year's Budget allocation? Phase 1 was £3 million; phase 2 was half of that. That meant that only 13 out of 300 applications were granted in Wales. Will he make representations for an adequate budget, given the usefulness of CCTV in tackling crime?

Mr. Touhig: I share the hon. Gentleman's view about CCTV's contribution to reducing crime and antisocial behaviour, and I take his point on board. The Government have extensively supported initiatives and contributed a great deal of money so that we can have CCTV projects throughout Wales and the United Kingdom. I take the hon. Gentleman's point seriously, and I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is made aware of it.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I, too, condemn the mindless and racist attack on the Swansea synagogue, which I shall visit on Friday.

The latest crime figures show a 16 per cent. increase in robberies in Wales, with Gwynedd experiencing a staggering 440 per cent. increase and Bridgend a 105 per cent. increase. Detection has fallen from 41 per cent. to 39 per cent. Part of the reason for that is the fall in the numbers of police and special constables who patrol in Wales, and the increase in form filling that the police have to undertake. The Prime Minister stated that street crime, which has shot up, will be brought under control by September. Does the Minister stick by that commitment for Wales? If so, what will change to achieve that?

Mr. Touhig: The Government have laid the foundations for the most co-ordinated attack on crime in a generation. Billions of pounds have been invested in fighting crime; there are 4,500 more policemen on the beat in England and Wales now than two years ago. There are 523 more policemen on the beat in Wales than there were when the Conservative party was last in government. Only investment and reform will tackle the menace of crime. The Tories do not understand that, which is why they have not supported our investment or reform. No wonder the Tories have no Members of Parliament in Wales; they are not credible as a political party.

NHS Dentists

5. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): What recent discussions he has had with the National Assembly for Wales about increasing access to NHS dentists in Wales. [67876]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I have regular meetings with the First Minister and the Health and Social Services Minister to discuss the NHS and other health matters.

The Assembly aims to increase availability of NHS dental service provision in those parts of Wales where it is most needed, and in Wales overall, through the Welsh dental initiative scheme.

Ann Clwyd: As my right hon. Friend knows, there are fewer NHS dentists per head of the population in Wales than in any other country in the United Kingdom. Despite

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the Assembly's best efforts, access to NHS dentists and registering with an NHS dentist remain extremely difficult. That is directly linked to dental fees. The Conservative party was responsible for the growth of privatisation—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The Minister is not responsible for the Conservative party.

Mr. Murphy: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question, and she is of course right—whether she is responsible for the Conservative party or not, Mr. Speaker—about the reasons why the NHS dental system in Wales has been so poor. It will take a great deal of time and money to put it right. I know that she is aware that the enormously successful financial settlement that has gone to Wales from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer means that at last proper resources are going into the health service as well as the dental service in Wales.

I should also tell my hon. Friend that there are 42 new dental practices, 41 expanded practices, 15 new posts in community dental services, and five mobile units at each health authority that deals with these matters. She is of course right about fees, and I shall ensure that the First Minister and the Health and Social Services Minister are made aware of the points that she has made.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): Owing to the unfortunate death of a dentist in Aberystwyth, the imminent retirement of a dentist in Lampeter, and the possible criminal conviction of a dentist in Cardigan, thousands of my constituents have been told to travel to Brecon, Ammanford, Milford Haven and areas outside Wales for such services—a two-day journey by public transport for pensioners in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State consider reforming NHS dental fees and talk with the Welsh Assembly about introducing salaried NHS dentists?

Mr. Murphy: Of course I shall ensure that those points are made to the appropriate Ministers in the National Assembly. The hon. Gentleman knows that about a decade ago there was a 7 per cent. cut in NHS dentists' fees, and they have not got over that. What is certain is that something like £71 million is now spent on dental services in Wales. I hope that some of that money goes to rural areas, because that is particularly where difficulties lie. I know that in his constituency only 23 dentists deal with the national health service. That is a problem, but I know it is one that the Assembly is tackling.

Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent): Does the Minister recall the statement made by the Welsh Assembly regarding the reorganisation of the NHS in Wales—made by the people who will be responsible for deciding many of the health issues that we have discussed today? Does he recall the Assembly giving a commitment that that reorganisation would be cost-neutral? Now we are told that it will cost £15.5 million. Does he believe that the people responsible for making that commitment should be subject to a compulsory numeracy hour, or was it another cheap public relations stunt by the Assembly?

Mr. Murphy: I understand my hon. Friend's point—of course I do—but I know that he understands that,

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although £10 million to £15 million will be involved in changing the system, in the first instance that will result in more locally provided services. Much more important than all that, however, is the fact that, between now and five years' time, nearly £2 billion extra will go to the health service in Wales because of the spending review of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is only the resources going into those services in Wales that will provide the insurance for our future.

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