Welsh Grand Committee
Monday 11 December 2000
[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]
Legislative Programme and Pre-Budget Statement
Motion made, and Question proposed [this day],
That the Committee has considered the Matter of the Government's legislative programme as outlined in the Queen's Speech and the Chancellor's Pre-Budget Statement as they relate to Wales.[Mr. Paul Murphy.]
Question again proposed.
The Chairman: I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the Committee is debating the matter of the Government's legislative programme and the Chancellor's pre-Budget Statement as they relate to Wales. The Committee will note that we made progress this morning by ensuring that speeches were brief, but many still seek to catch my eye.
Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): I was speaking about public transport. I had complained about transport policy for the whole of Wales, and in particular about train services. I hope that the bypasses that have been proposed for Llanymynech in my constituency and the one near Talgarth in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) will be approved, as they would substantially improve accessibility to Wales.
The Queen's Speech mentioned some good things about education, especially with regard to special educational needs and access to learning for disabled people, but we would have liked to hear rather more about tackling the recruitment and retention of staff. Perhaps the Assembly can do a better job for Wales.
I draw the Committee's attention to the treacherous condition of some Home Office legislation. We have heard some fighting talk from the Home Secretary, but what is the benefit of putting young offenders back into the very homes that may have caused the offending behaviour? A more empathic approach needs to be taken than that proposed by the Home Office. It may take longer, but we can learn a lot from such effective organisations as Fairbridge and Youth at Risk, who seek to resolve the underlying causes rather than merely to suppress the symptoms through curfews and other authoritarian actions.
I want to talk about the style of government. It seems to me that Wales continues to have the opportunity to make a different kind of politics work. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) was uncharacteristically critical of the nature of government, although the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) seemed to suggest that Plaid Cymru had accepted that the experimental partnership between Labour and the Liberal Democrats may be made to work. Of course, the test will be the extent to which we can change policywhether we can improve the rural settlement, and whether other preventative health measures such as free school milk can be introduced.
We evaluate ourselves in the House through debate, but the public evaluate us by the result. I hope that the Government will listen genuinely to views, whether from their own party or from elsewhere. Wales tends to be quite good at fighting for itself, but it is now time for us to help Wales to fight its corner. I hope that we will all do all that we can to get the most for Wales from the Queen's Speech.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): Although I welcome the measures in the pre-Budget report, particularly the duty-free fuel and the rise in pensions, I shall focus on the legislative programme.
The hunting Bill is a controversial measure, but I believe that most people want hunting banned. At the general election, we promised a free vote on hunting. That took place, but most people believed that it was a promise to ban hunting, which we have not yet done. I shall vote to ban hunting, but an outright ban will bring real problems. I am pleased to see that the Bill has taken account of some of those problems, particularly in the exceptions for flushing out with dogs.
In WalesI am not sure about the rest of the United Kingdomthere are two sorts of packs. There are the ``Yoiks, tally-ho'' packs, with hunting pink and horses, which tear one fox to bits in an afternoon. Most farmers in Wales want more foxes controlled than that, and tend to control them themselves with foot packs. In the Berwyn in my constituency, a group of like-minded people go out with dogs, flush the foxes on to guns and then shoot them humanely. I understand that that is taken into account in part II of schedule 3. I am sure that the ban will find favour.
Mr. Öpik: Will the hon. Gentleman assure me that he will listen to the arguments for all the options when the time comes? It would be most dangerous for us to be ruled by an emotive argument, and to be closed to arguments different from those currently preferred.
Mr. Jones: I have listened to the arguments for about 20 years. The same arguments took place when Clwyd county council tried to impose a ban.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): There has been a widespread and long debate on the abolition of fox hunting. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that enormous sums of compensation will have to be paid to those directly employed in hunting if abolition goes ahead? The costs could run into millions. Would he prefer millions of pounds to be spent on banning fox hunting or on the national health service in Wales?
Mr. Jones: I do not know where the hon. Gentleman finds his information. Perhaps he would tell me, because, judging from the parts of the Bill that I had read, I had no idea that there was any element of compensation. It would be a strange precedent to have compensation for something criminal.
Mr. Evans: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he would give no compensation whatever to anyone who worked in fox hunting and lost his job as a direct result of the Government's legislation to ban the sport?
Mr. Jones: I understand that the employees would be eligible for normal redundancy pay. In the House, we can legislate for what we collectively like, without any compensation, unless we decide otherwise. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should table an amendment to that effect to the Bill, but I doubt that it would find much favour among those who will vote on it. I do not remember those who lost their jobs in steel works receiving much compensation from the previous Government.
I want to move on to other subjects, especially the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the proposals in the police and criminal justice Bill. I am pleased that the Government have demonstrated their high priorities for the care and protection of young people in Wales by including the Bill to extend the Children's Commissioner's functions in the Queen's Speech. The Waterhouse report was published only 10 months ago, so that is a tribute to Ministers who have acted quickly to implement the key findings of ``Lost in Care''.
Hon. Members will recall that I was a little dubious about the drafting of the Waterhouse report, especially in terms of its naming or not naming individuals accused by victims of abuse. If I had found that those not named had not been properly investigated, I would have named them in the House, but in three hours of going through evidence with police, it was clear that the people whose names I had been given as alleged abusers, but who were not named in the report, were probably not prosecutable, whether guilty or not. That still does not absolve the drafting of the report, because those people should have been named. It should have been made clear that they were not guilty and it should not have been left to a third party such as me to go through the evidence.
However, as I said at the time, the recommendations of the Waterhouse report were good. More than 70 of them made a contribution to the safety of children in care, and one of those was the creation of the post of Children's Commissioner. Confidence in the protection of children in care was severely undermined following the crimes that took place in north Wales. It is pleasing that children had a role in the appointment of Mr. Clarke. He will have a pivotal role in restoring confidence for future generations of young children, and I wish him well in his task.
I am delighted that the Bill also seeks to address some of the minor deficiencies of the Care Standards Act 2000 by extending the role of the Children's Commissioner. Most of us thought that that was necessary, so I am pleased that the new commissioner will not only concentrate on the 3,000 young people in care in Wales but act as a promoter of the rights of every child in Wales. The commissioner's role in overseeing complaints procedures, his powers to undertake formal investigations on matters of principle and his role in observing child abuse investigations mean that we now have a basis for a rapid improvement in the protection of children in Wales.
Irrespective of whether hon. Members represent rural or urban parts of Wales, crime and the fear of crime are high on the agenda of many of our constituents, so I am pleased that the Government are proposing measures to deal with what has been described as yob culture. Loutish behaviour affects most towns and villages in Wales, so the introduction of fixed penalties for offences of disorderly behaviour in public, including the use of insulting words and behaviour, is especially welcome. The intimidation felt in our streets has a big effect on people's perception of their own safety, particularly among the elderly.
The new police powers to close down licensed premises immediately in order to deal with disorderly behaviour are also welcome. Prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in designated public places will be welcome in some villages in my constituency, and enabling local authorities to take an active role in imposing bans on street drinking is an excellent proposal. Those measures are not hard-line or draconian, they are common-sense, practical measures designed to help the police to do their job. They are designed to redress the imbalance that has developed over the past 20 years and restore a sense of community and of responsibility to one's community. The planned legislation referred to in the Queen's Speech goes some way towards that.
Not only are the Government introducing legislation to deal with the problems that daily fill our postbags: they are prepared to put their money where their mouth is on crime. The recent settlement for North Wales police is a prime example. For the next financial year, North Wales police are set to receive an increase in funding of 6.1 per cent., or £4.7 million. North Wales police will receive additional funding to reduce crime and the fear of crime in rural Wales through targeted initiatives such as the crime fighting fund and the rural policing fund. That is especially welcome in rural areas such as my constituency.
The Government can rightly be proud of their record in north Wales. They have proved that the pledges that they made before the general election were not just empty rhetoric. It ill behoves the Conservative party to run down and disparage the benefits that the Government have brought to the people of Wales.