Government's Legislative Programme

[back to previous text]

The Chairman: Order. We have only about 10 minutes left before the wind-up speeches, so Members should consider how best to divide the remaining time.

5.31 pm

Ian Lucas (Wrexham): Thank you, Mr. Griffiths. I shall endeavour to keep my comments brief. I want to focus on an issue that was important to my constituents when I spoke to them during the election—crime, particularly drug-related crime.

One of the advantages of being a candidate was being able to take part in meetings with representative groups working in the community to deal with drug-related crime. Real progress has been made. When I worked as a solicitor in Wrexham in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I spoke regularly to the police and the probation service about the way in which my clients with drug-related problems were disposed of. It seemed to me then that the police and the probation service not only failed to agree on solutions, but seldom spoke the same language. Over the past 10 years, considerable progress has been made, with teams working together and agreeing on a way forward for our young people.

I pay special tribute to the team that works with young offenders in north Wales, which has helped to reduce the time taken to get young offenders to court, and worked hard with them to ensure that their options are laid out clearly before them when they come before the courts. It is now recognised across the penal sector that sentencing requires both a punitive and a rehabilitative element.

In private conversations with police officers, I have been struck by how much they recognised the pointlessness of placing young people in custody and seeing the same people return three, six or nine months later. They recognised that the short-term addiction to sentencing as a means of dealing with young offenders is not the way forward. We all accept that offenders must be viewed individually when they enter the system. All the different committees recognised that when a young person decides to take drugs, that is an intensely personal decision. No matter what treatment is adopted, it is also an intensely personal decision to refuse to take drugs in the future.

This is an immensely serious issue, and we can all help with it; it should be addressed on a largely cross-party basis. In a debate on home affairs in the House last week, I was struck by the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the right hon. Member for Maidstone and the Weald (Miss Widdecombe) appeared, surprisingly, to agree about the social element to offending as well as the punitive element of sentencing. The introduction of a social element in the speech of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was interesting and welcome. Drug-related crime is a huge cancer at the heart of Welsh society, and we must treat it extremely seriously. People working hard in such areas agree that it is necessary for individuals to make hard choices about drug taking. They also agree that we must educate our young people about drug abuse and its horrific consequences for them and their families. We must make it clear that there are serious health implications. We also need to emphasise that we as a society will not tolerate the crime that results from drug abuse. People in our communities are terrified to leave their homes because of the threat that it poses.

People who work with young offenders have a common agenda, and we must support it. It requires resources, and when we are examining such problems, we must be conscious that those who are working with young offenders need our support. Their services must be properly funded. Their work must be valued. Much positive work is being done in our communities and I am glad to have reported on some of it today. It is incumbent on all of us to support those groups and make sure that we make a real direct attack on the dreadful drug problem in Wales.

5.35 pm

Mr. Bryant: You are my parliamentary mentor, Mr. Griffiths. I can only thank you for calling me so late in the debate. I am also delighted to be sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Mon (Albert Owen), rather than opposite a Member of Parliament from another political party representing that constituency. The previous Member for Ynys Mon spent most of his time during the general election campaigning in my constituency rather than his own, which was probably the reason for the election results both in the Rhondda and in Ynys Mon. [Interruption.] I should point out to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy that I received more votes than any other candidate in Wales.

Mr. Llwyd: Well done.

Mr. Bryant: All that I want to talk about is the proposed communications Bill outlined in the Queen's Speech, to which no one has yet referred. It will be of great importance both to industry and to individuals in Wales. Initially it will set up Ofcom, and later it will deal with the communications industry throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. I realise that such a Bill may not be important to many people in the Committee, but broadcasting and new media will be one of the most significant drivers of the new economy for Wales in the future. We may need to pay swift and immediate attention to it. Furthermore, broadcasting and new media are absolutely essential to people's lives as citizens, as employees, and as consumers. We must ensure that Wales does not receive a second-rate deal. Unfortunately, it has received a poor deal in relation to all such issues until now.

As for the communications Bill, I hope that Wales will have more television choice in the future. One of the issues that was raised at every third doorstep I visited in the Rhondda during the general election campaign was that many people want to be able to watch both Channel 4 and SC4, and I hope that movements will be made in that direction. Whatever new system there may be for imposing quotas on the independent broadcasters, we must ensure that we have strong quality Welsh programming on Welsh television.

We must also have in place the information technology structure throughout Wales that makes it possible for new businesses to proceed with their work. That is essential, unless we are to perpetrate further the digital divide that is already afflicting many parts of Wales.

I also want to ensure that cross-media ownership is dealt with robustly in the legislation that is presented to the House. In the Rhonda, Sky already has a virtual monopoly over digital television for anyone who wants to take a step forward.

Finally I should like to see in the communications Bill some resolution of the long-running debate between the BBC governors and other regulatory bodies. I note that the chairman of the BBC, who is at this very moment presenting the annual report, is also still the chairman of BT. That is no longer a viable position while BT in Wales is making significant investment decisions. I hope that there will be movement on that in the near future.

5.40 pm

Lembit Öpik: First, as it seems that I am the new shadow Secretary of State for Wales, may I congratulate you, Mr. Griffiths, on your promotion to your heady new position? I, too, look forward to welcoming you to Newtown, the birthplace of Robert Owen and thus the spiritual home not only of the co-operative movement, but of socialism. Labour Members should take note.

The opportunity for Wales is great. Wales is big enough to shine as a jewel in the UK, and it is small enough for us to unite to work together to achieve that. We have not fully utilised the opportunity to create a truly diverse tiger economy in Wales, but I am sure that we can create a society with diversity in business that progressively reduces its dependence on the social security system. However, we still want a society that enjoys a reliable, modern and fast social security system that is available to those who need it. We can create a system that the public can trust, and feel is something exceptional in the UK. We also want an exceptional education system to go with it.

As I have said many times before, Wales lacks confidence. The objective in the coming term, for a truly visionary Government, should be to begin to instil that confidence and strength of purpose. In that context, the Queen's Speech is something of an unopened box. It is an unknown because, as other hon. Members have said, there is precious little in it that specifically refers to Wales.

Indeed, as the hon. Member for Ribble Valley pointed out, the Welsh content comes down to one sentence:

    ``My Government maintains its commitment to devolution in Scotland and Wales.''

That could go either way. [Hon. Members: ``What is wrong with that?''] There is nothing wrong with that, as I am sure that we all agree, but the jury is out on the extent to which the Government will deliver the services that we all wish to see. There are hints about devolution with regard to the NHS. In fairness, there is a specific reference to it. We end up in the slightly ironic position that Wales seems to be given a dispensation to save its community health councils while England seems destined to lose them.

The Queen's Speech is also potentially good in terms of the development of a single regulator for the media, for the reasons that have been mentioned, particularly in the creation of a strategic approach to bilingual broadcasting. At this point, we simply cannot say for sure that there is a guarantee of delivery. We can only assess the situation in 12 months' time when we see the extent to which the delivery follows the promise.

I should like to say a few words about what Plaid Cymru Members have said. I obviously agree with much of what they said because they went for what might be called the early-day motion 40 gambit, which is to steal Liberal Democrat policies and present them as their own. I applaud them for that, and I offer them the solace that far from being annoyed, we are flattered that they see the merits of our position.

Incidentally, it is curious that Plaid Cymru have entered a mysterious pact with the Scottish nationalists. While the Scottish nationalists virtually base themselves on the sole premise of independence for Scotland, Plaid Cymru have repeatedly told us that they have never called for independence. That is rather like a vegetarian and a carnivore saying that they share a common interest in food, and there are not sufficient grounds to be sure where Plaid Cymru is going.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 July 2001