Building Safer Communities

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Mr. Hanson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that we must try to put the matter in context? More than 30,000 home detention curfews have been issued, but only 533 prisoners—1.8 per cent. of the total—have been convicted, charged or are awaiting prosecution for offences committed while on curfew. I accept that it is a difficult matter, but more than 29,500 people are now not offending. The hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and for Woking (Mr. Malins) gave the scheme unanimous backing in the Home Affairs Select Committee report. The hon. Gentleman must consider the matter in context.

Mr. Evans: Anyone who has been the victim of a crime committed by someone on early release will question that scheme. We must be cautious about who is let out. Indeed, I would stop the scheme, because those who have been convicted ought to serve their sentences. We all know that those who are convicted represent the tip of the iceberg and that much crime is undetected. We should support the police. I hope that the time lag between arrest and cases coming to court can be shortened, but we must also be sure that those criminals serve the full sentence.

Mr. Hanson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that individuals will eventually be released from prison? A scheme that can help them to stop reoffending is in the nation's long-term interests and it will help build the safer communities that we both seek.

Mr. Evans: I do not dispute that. Indeed, we debated the Prison Service yesterday. We must consider what happens to prisoners while they are in custody, and we must see what can be done about their education and rehabilitation, especially if drugs are involved. I know that much has been done to try to clear some of our prisons of drugs, but they are not all drug free. We must do what we can to ensure that prisons become drug free and that those who are dependent on drugs are treated for their dependency while in prison.

Car crime has been mentioned. The latest statistics show that south Wales is now the sixth worst place in Britain for vehicle crime, which includes criminal damage, tampering with vehicles, aggravated driving and taking away, theft of valuables or simple vehicle theft. A vehicle crime takes place 133 times a day in south Wales. The 480,269 car-related crimes in the 12 months to March 2000 puts the area's figure above that of Merseyside. I was a little alarmed when I read that the Quadrant car park in Swansea had been refused the safer car park scheme simply because not enough car crime had been committed there. Local authorities should apply for those schemes so that they can get closed circuit television cameras in place. We should prevent crime now rather than wait. We know that when CCTV is installed, criminals start to look elsewhere.

Let us consider how we are to make our car parks safer, and not just say, ``Well, it's not as bad as some other areas, therefore we will not prioritise that particular car park.'' I support the safer car parks scheme, which was started under the Conservative Administration, and has been carried on by this Government. More CCTV is involved, which was supported broadly by our Government and by this one. We must ensure that local areas are given the support that they need.

I will not speak for much longer, because I know that many hon. Members want to contribute to the debate. Some local authority estates are very large, and, as I said, it is accepted that some of the families living on them are nuisance families. I suspect that every hon. Member knows, as do some of their constituents, of certain individuals of whom it is said, ``If only they weren't living among us, the quality of life for the rest of the people on the estate would improve.'' I have no doubt about that. When I visited a housing estate in Wales a few weeks ago, a lady from the residents association told me exactly that. She said that two problem families were blighting the lives of everyone else.

We must consider legislation to enable people in such communities to have some say in the sort of people who are allowed on to their estates. That must be done in a broad way, to avoid racism or sexism. Why should estates be seen as areas in which to dump problem families? Nobody else will live in certain houses, so the problem families are put there. We should listen more to the decent, law-abiding citizens who have to live on housing estates. They could come up with imaginative schemes to ensure that they are not dogged by nuisance families simply because they live on a council estate, or an estate with some council housing. The Government should consider ways of empowering our local authorities.

The Welsh language was mentioned earlier. We should consider Wales as a whole—as a community within a much larger community. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy distanced himself from certain comments made by members of his party, and I welcome that. However, I would ask his party, in general, to reconsider their comments, because they have caused serious concern among many people living in that area.

We must recognise that the matter concerns not just the English but people of all sorts of races who have come to Wales, built up businesses, and made a tremendous commitment on a voluntary basis as well. They feel offended by the suggestion of an individual of any party that they are leeching off society or are in some way detracting from the culture of an area. People from elsewhere, whether it is England, Scotland or other parts of the world, have made a tremendous contribution to Welsh communities, and have enriched them. I hope that Plaid Cymru will carefully consider the matter. It says that its members are responsible for their comments, but I understand that Simon Glyn is still chairman of a housing committee, which causes me grave concern.

The debate has been made broader. Initially, we intended to talk more about policing, and we were to be able to question a Home Office Minister, but no Minister was able to attend because of all sorts of diary commitments. I regret that. However, I look forward to my television debates with the Secretary of State during the general election campaign, in which he is now keen to participate, although he did not really show that when I challenged him earlier. I am up for it, and I suspect that members of other parties would also wish to take part in such debates. I only hope that the Secretary of State, unlike his leader, will not back off from debates during the campaign.

The people of Wales will be considering education, the national health service, pensions and public spending in general. We have heard the £16 billion cut, which is complete fantasy, quoted time and time again, and I am sure that Labour Members will carry on producing it. They can carry on, because the people in Wales know the levels of service that they currently receive and those that they were promised four years ago. The Government have not delivered, and the general election is only weeks away. I know that the people of Wales cannot wait to get rid of this dreadful Government.

12.49 pm

Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Thank you, Mr. Jones, for calling me so early in this day's debate. I apologise to you and to the Committee for the fact that I shall not attend this afternoon, as I shall be serving on another Standing Committee at 4.30 pm.

I pay tribute to the work of the North Wales police force in my constituency, especially for its raid last week on people involved in the drugs world of Rhyl, north Wales and Merseyside, but generally for its record on crime and disorder during the past four and a half years. Crime levels in Wales have fallen by 11.4 per cent., and domestic burglary has fallen by 28.3 per cent. That contrasts sharply with the figures under the previous Conservative Administration, under whom crime doubled between 1992 and 1997.

The improvement in crime levels in Wales has not occurred by accident. It is part of a three-pronged policy that includes police partnerships with local authorities and the voluntary sector, our Government's economic and social policies and the specific extra funding that we have given to police forces across Wales. On the first of those, I am pleased to say that my constituency is blessed with a wide range of voluntary groups—Victim Support, the STARS project and the Cars project in Rhyl, the Women's Aid Federation and many others—involved in anti-crime measures.

We are also blessed in that Denbighshire county council is working towards an effective partnership with the police and that the police have adopted the Labour Government's philosophy with zeal. The police have now formalised their partnership with the local authorities and voluntary groups. My constituency has a drug and alcohol forum, a domestic violence and personal safety forum, a town centre and disorder group and a rural crime and community safety group. Those forums have widened the responsibility for tackling crime. They have input into the formulation of policing policy and have helped to bring down crime figures in my constituency.

The second reason for the reduction in crime is the Government's commitment to tackling the underlying causes of crime and disorder, which are poverty and social exclusion. In the past, crime levels have followed economic cycles. They have gone down in booms and up in busts, as we saw throughout the Tory years. The Tories were prepared to say that 3 million people unemployed was a price worth paying. They were prepared to let a generation of young people rot on the dole, left on the margins, and were prepared to accept the financial cost of keeping millions on the dole. That cost the British taxpayer billions of pounds.

That should be compared to Labour's priority of putting people back to work. For example, the new deal has meant that 70 per cent. of the young people in my constituency are now in work. They have a stake in society, a reason to get up in the morning and a rhythm and pattern to their lives. We have also introduced the minimum wage and the working families tax credit. People will not go to work if they will worsen the position of their families and children by doing so, but we have made work pay.

Most importantly, we have created jobs in Wales. They might not be in the manufacturing, agricultural or tourism sectors, but the overall number of jobs in Wales has gone up by 40,000. In 1986, the dark days of the Tory years, 5,000 people were unemployed in my constituency. That figure is now 1,200, and it is going down.

The third key to the successful reduction in crime is the funding of the police forces in Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) quoted several sources to suggest that the police forces in Wales were underfunded. I quoted one source—Bill Brereton, the assistant chief constable of the North Wales police—and I would like to refer to another, the former chief constable of north Wales, Michael Argent. He commented on an additional £4.7 million for the North Wales police that was announced last November. The additional funding took the North Wales police budget from £77 million to £82 million. That 6.1 per cent. increase was the third highest in the country, behind Bedfordshire and Kent, and the highest in Wales.

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Prepared 13 February 2001