Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Llwyd: I suppose that if I were about to lose my marginal seat, I would be making desperate points such as that. I have not conferred and do not intend to confer with the councillor concerned—

Mrs. Williams: Councillors.

Mr. Llwyd: Has the hon. Lady conferred with the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas), who has said that the influx of people across the border is a strain on social services, and that many such people are criminally active and ruining the town of Colwyn Bay? The hon. Gentleman is far more senior than a councillor in Gwynedd.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): I note that the hon. Gentleman responded with a question rather than a comment.

I think that it would help the discussion if the hon. Gentleman expressed his condemnation of the views of such people as Dafydd Iwan and Simon Glyn. Will he distance himself and his party from the comments of such people?

Mr. Llwyd: I did that at least three weeks ago, and I repeat that I unreservedly condemn those remarks. Of course, that was another hon. Member with a marginal seat speaking. Let us see who will be next.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): Should Councillor Simon Glyn still be the chairman of the housing committee of Gwynedd council?

Mr. Llwyd: Unlike under the Millbank tendency, it is up to the local party to decide what to do with that person.

Mr. Ainger: What do you think?

Mr. Llwyd: I think that it is difficult to justify, but that is my personal opinion.

Mr. Öpik: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Committee should not condone racism? There is no place for racism of any type in Welsh politics. Does he agree that that transcends party politics? Any right-thinking politician in Wales should seek to ensure that racist comments are viewed as inappropriate to the new kind of politics that we are trying to build in our nation.

Mr. Llwyd: Yes, I agree entirely.

In conclusion, we need to use more community-based penalties in dealing with offenders. I am not alone in saying that; Lord Justice Wolff and other commentators who understand the issue have said that. It is not a soft option, and often prison is not an adequate solution. People we send to prison come out toughened and even more proficient at crime than they were when they went in and, unfortunately, often with a drug habit. My 25 years of experience indicates that, even for serious offences, community-based penalties often pay off and are far better. Offenders have to think more and for a longer time about their wrongdoings, and they have to make restitution to society. Generally speaking, the reoffending rates of offenders who have been dealt with by community penalties are far lower than for those who have been sent to prison. We should use community penalties more creatively and more often.

As the Secretary of State rightly said, social exclusion is one aspect of the problem. After generations of poverty, people might feel that they are in a hopeless position. It is evident that some people in a hopeless position turn to crime. That is not to say that everyone who is poor is a criminal, but crime is prevalent in socially excluded areas. I commend the report of the Welsh Affairs Committee on social exclusion, and I welcome the urgent manner in which the National Assembly is addressing the problem. I am pleased that the Government's social exclusion unit is concentrating on the problem. We need to work together to build stronger communities and to bring the alienated and disillusioned back into the mainstream. With the political will that is now prevalent, that will be done with assured success in the future.

12.2 pm

Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth): I hope that the Committee will not just consider the topic of building safer communities in Wales but that, as Members of Parliament, we will commit ourselves to leading the campaign to do that. Let us issue a challenge to every local authority, police division and public body in Wales to take on the job of cutting crime and disorder. The tools are now there for doing that. In addition, over the past three years, a serious start has been made on a long-term, sustainable reduction in crime and disorder.

For the first time, we have information, division by division, on the levels of crime and disorder, offences per head and offences such as violence. We have information about our own areas. The strategies that are built as a result of the crime and disorder audit should target the crime and disorder that we all know exists within our constituencies. Those divisional statistics at the local level where most crime happens are a step forward.

Tools have been provided in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which deal with punishment and the equipment to deal with people who have offended. Also, there is a strategic approach, which involves, first, auditing crime and disorder; secondly, listening to the views of communities and learning from the experience of ordinary people; and, thirdly, putting a strategy into place with effective targets.

We have the crime reduction budget. Not only is there the increase in police finances to which we have already referred, but the budget provides for specific targeted activity to reduce crime and the burden on both communities and the police.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) refer to the importance of the social exclusion unit. There is no doubt that the work of that unit has led to joined-up thinking across government, on issues such as unemployment and the new deal, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred, and on housing, transport and other factors in the creation of safer communities.

This is the springboard year. The first strategies had to be in place by April 1999, showing how each part of our nation would reduce crime and disorder in the local divisional area and in the local authority area. Three years later, that occasion comes around again. A fresh strategy must be in place by April 2002, with a baseline redrawn according to what is actually happening in each area. The work for that should have already started. I chaired a conference recently, at which I asked those attending—police officers, crime reduction officers and local authority officers—about their time scale for gathering information in preparation for April 2002. Some said that they would begin by summer this year, others that they would begin by the autumn, but some two thirds of those present did not know what the target for our area was.

The nature of the target is not particularly important. It can be approached in two ways—one can consult people, and feed the results of that consultation into the findings, the statistical approach and ultimately into the strategy, or one can collect the statistics first and hold consultations on them. However, it is important that every division and local authority in Wales recognises the importance of meeting the target. We must recognise the reality of crime and disorder, and listen to people. A council estate, an inner-town area or a specifically vulnerable group must not be left out of the process because not enough has been done to make sure that the targets are properly understood. The problems must be identified, the hotspots of crime must be focused upon and the work must be done. That job is important.

We have heard a lot about the financial pressures. There are such pressures on Cardiff and other cities, but that is allowed for in the formula used to allocate the money for each police authority area. I am pleased to hear the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy acknowledge the extra cash that has been given to rural police forces. Rurality has helped three Welsh forces, including Gwent. That is because, when I was Minister of State at the Home Office, I set in motion research to identify the extent of rurality. In focusing on the problems, a balance must be struck between rural and urban areas.

There is no such thing as a perfect formula. However, it is clear that problems would increase massively if police resources were cut, and if resources for other sectors such as education, training or employment were also cut. That is what would happen if we were to have a Conservative Government after the next election and they made their promised £16 billion cut in public expenditure. It is important to use existing resources to target the real ills of our society. Police responses must be improved. There should be effective partnership between police, local authorities and others. Crime must be cut and our communities must be safer.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy called for more action in the community, both in terms of community penalties and on the propensity to commit crime, but he also seemed to criticise some of the tools that will enable such action to be taken at local level. On curfews, I ask the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. O£pik) to examine the detail. A structure for the use of curfews is required, within which, the police and local authorities must consult each other and the community—the parents—on whether there is a problem to be dealt with. If there is a problem, such as the one to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy presumably contributed by creeping around after 9 o'clock in Dolgellau in his younger days—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman seems to be admitting that he still does that. Problems in the local community should be tackled. Far too often, we hear the police and others say that they can do nothing about the bad behaviour and depredations of youngsters, and that we have to put up with them. We do not, because the Government are introducing measures to ensure that problems can be addressed.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): I have an open mind on curfews, but I wish that they had been given a different name, as I think that the term sends young people the wrong signals. Antisocial behaviour orders need a partnership approach. Although I can pinpoint two places in my area where the community wants ASBOs, we cannot establish them between the police and the local authority. Surely we should make the existing tools work before we try to pile more restrictions on young people.

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Prepared 13 February 2001