The Secretary of State for Wales (Peter Hain): It is a great privilege for any Welsh MP to be Secretary of State for Wales, and I am especially delighted at having that honour. I pay tribute to my predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who did an excellent job. He had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues at the Ministry of Defence and Members of the National Assembly for Wales.
Mr. Thomas : I welcome the new Secretary of State to his place on behalf of Plaid Cymru and wish his predecessor well in taking on his new responsibilities, which are also of great importance. We look forward to the right hon. Gentleman making some jinking runs down the left wing in the next few Question Time sessions.
I draw the Secretary of State's attention to the imminent loss of jobs at Dewhirst in Cardigan and to the rundown in Ministry of Defence facilities at Aberporth. The loss of more than 400 jobs in one small market town over the next year could, at least temporarily, double the unemployment rate in the Cardigan travel-to-work
I acknowledge the hard work that the hon. Gentleman has done on behalf of his constituents in respect of the matter that he raises. I know that he is very concerned about it and so are we. However, plans are afoot to create new opportunities in his area, including, for example, plans for a technology park at Aberporth. Those plans are still proceeding and are capable of creating more than 200 well-paid high-quality jobs. In Ceredigion, unemployment is at an all-time low; the 2.5 per cent. claimant count is one of the lowest in Wales, thanks to this Labour Government.
Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his promotion and I look forward to working with him very closely in the months and years to come. Is he aware that the unemployed claimants figure for Conwy in west Wales has fallen from 2,240 in September 1997 to 1,178 in September 2002? Does he agree that that is a considerable tribute to the Government and local business?
Peter Hain: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I agree that that reduction is a tribute to the sustained work that the Government have put into Wales in the past five years. We are now working in close partnership with the National Assembly for Wales to deliver Wales as a world class economy and as the top area for investment. Some 18,000 more jobs have been created in the past year and we intend to continue along that path.
Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): It is great to see the right hon. Gentleman back in Wales. We have missed him and I wish him every success in his role in the run-up to when I take on the job myself in 2006. In the meantime, does he agree that one way of creating jobs, especially in north and west Wales, is the development of a strategic plan for airport development, perhaps along the lines of the consultation that was recently published for Wales? If so, is he willing to meet me and a delegation of interested groups that want a hub and spokes approach to Welsh airport development to see what we can do in working with the Assembly to achieve such a result?
Peter Hain: I suspect that such generosity from all parts of the House is a one Question Time only experience. I remember well the hon. Gentleman's interest in regional airways and especially the route from Welshpool airport to Cardiff, which I was keen to promote when I was previously in the Welsh Office. Indeed, I took a flight with him from Welshpool, although I declined his invitation to pilot the plane. Given what happened to him a few weeks later, I am pleased that I did so. The matter is an important priority
Mrs. Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): In my area of west Wales, there are potentially 360 temporary jobs at Powergen, which has stepped in to replace the ITV Digital losses. Will my right hon. Friend work with Assembly Ministers to try to make those jobs permanent? Does he acknowledge that the 1,000 jobs that were lost when ITV Digital went to the wall had as great an impact on west Wales as the collapse of Corus on east Wales? Will he do everything possible to ensure the same amount of investment in west Wales as in east Wales?
Peter Hain: Indeed, as a south-west Wales Member of Parliament, I understand my hon. Friend's arguments. We shall continue to work hard with the National Assembly and as a Government to create the conditions for generating more jobs in west Wales. I am sure that I do not need to point out to my hon. Friend that unemployment in her constituency has fallen by almost half since we came to power in 1997.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I hold regular discussions with colleagues about matters that affect Wales. The antisocial behaviour order is a useful tool in dealing with antisocial and loutish behaviour, which causes considerable distress and upset in communities throughout Wales.
Mr. Francois: I thank the Minister for that reply, but is not it the case that many people throughout Wales feel threatened by rising crime? Given the low take-up of antisocial behaviour orders in Wales, and the fact that many people feel too threatened to testify against criminals in court, what are the Government doing to tackle such problems directly?
Several other options are available, including acceptable behaviour contracts, curfews, parenting orders, and on-the-spot fines, which are being piloted in north Wales. It is a bit rich of Conservative Members to
Mr. Bryant : My hon. Friend knows that, especially in mining communities in south Wales, the antisocial behaviour of one person or a single family can ruin the quality of life of a whole terraced street. It is surely distressing that South Wales police have been able to enforce only four antisocial behaviour orders so far. Is my hon. Friend worried that local authorities in Wales are not yet prepared to make sufficient use of antisocial behaviour orders? Will he congratulate South Wales police on appointing a full-time antisocial behaviour order officer, based in Pontypridd?
Mr. Touhig: I certainly welcome the actions of South Wales police on the matter. I chaired a public meeting in my constituency a week ago, during which the issue was discussed. My advice to local authorities and the police service everywhere is to use antisocial behaviour orders when appropriate. Parliament has given the police and local authorities the power to take such action. The crimes that worry most of our constituentsvandalism, antisocial behaviour and petty intimidationdistort and damage the quality of life throughout Wales. Parliament and the Government have introduced measures whereby the police and local authorities can tackle such crimes; they must now use those resources.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): The Minister says that he has given the police and local authorities power. However, the low number of antisocial behaviour orders that are used must worry him. Such an order is three times more likely to be issued in England than in Wales, yet the Minister has conceded that a few thugs and yobs cause misery throughout Wales. Is it not time to make life miserable for the thugs and yobs rather than the people of Wales? Will the Minister work with the police and local authorities to try to ensure clarity and ease of use for antisocial behaviour orders so that we can clamp down on the thugs and yobs?
Mr. Touhig: I agree that we must make the procedure as easy as we can. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that there have been difficulties, and that legal advice has been taken about some antisocial behaviour orders. Once that first hurdle has been crossed, however, it will be much easier for the police and the local authorities to put the orders to the best use.
I told the hon. Gentleman when he raised this matter in July that the Government have laid the foundations for the most co-ordinated attack on crime in a generation. Billions are being invested in fighting crime, there are 4,500 more policemen on the beat than there were two years ago, and there are 600 more police officers in Wales than when we came to power five years ago. Only investment and reform will reduce the problem. The hon. Gentleman's party, both here and in Wales, opposes that investment and reform.
Mr. Touhig: Yes, I certainly welcome that initiative. My colleagues who represent Welsh constituencies may remember that I facilitated a meeting between all Welsh Members of Parliament and David A'Herne, the crime reduction director for Wales. I meet him on a regular basis, and I think that it would be productive to have further meetings with him so that we can understand the initiatives that are being taken by the crime reduction and disorder partnerships in Wales, and give them every support that we can. We had a debate on this in Westminster Hall only the other week. I urge colleagues everywhere to press their local authorities and the police service to use antisocial behaviour orders where appropriate.