Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his time allocation.

27 Jun 2001 : Column 717

8.23 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly): I rise to make my first contribution in this House conscious of the fact that, as the Member of Parliament for Caerphilly, I am part of a long Labour tradition. My immediate predecessor was Ron Davies, a former Secretary of State for Wales. He made a huge contribution to the achievement of Welsh devolution.

Other former Members of Parliament for Caerphilly include Mr. Fred Evans, who was the Member from 1968 when he won a famous by-election until 1979. His predecessor was Mr. Ness Edwards, a famous miners leader in south Wales and the author of a scholarly book on the history of the South Wales Miners Federation. He rose to become Postmaster-General. He reflected the coal-dominated reality of south Wales better than anyone else I can think of.

Today, south Wales is very different and so is the Caerphilly constituency. Coal has given way to a more diverse economy. Now manufacturing is king and probably as many of Caerphilly's work force are employed outside the constituency as within it. That is not to say that we do not have the legacy of coal; there are still coal tips in the constituency that need to be removed. The award of compensation to miners and their widows must be speeded up and paid as quickly as possible.

As the Caerphilly constituency responds to a changing world, new priorities emerge and fresh issues come to the fore. In the southern part of the constituency--the area dominated by Caerphilly town--we have a town which is famous for its cheese and its huge, magnificent 13th century castle. That town is an important tourist attraction with huge potential, which will be fulfilled only if we preserve the countryside around Caerphilly mountain and further east towards the village of Machen.

At the same time, in the northern part of the constituency--an area that gave inspiration to the artist Lowry in the 1960s--there is an urgent need for the Bargoed bypass. It is needed to relieve traffic congestion in the town and bring economic regeneration to the upper part of the Rhymney valley. Infrastructure and economic development initiatives are particularly important now in the Caerphilly county borough area due to job losses at Corus in nearby Llanwern and elsewhere. Yes, unemployment is at an all time low, but there is a need for more to be done.

Of common concern to all parts of my constituency, north and south, is the need for a new hospital. We must act so that potential and actual patients in the constituency and county borough need not have to travel long distances for medical treatment. It is unacceptable that my constituents have to travel to Cardiff, Newport or Merthyr Tydfil when it is widely acknowledged that a new hospital is needed in the borough. I hope that progress can be made on that in the near future.

I shall work closely on those issues with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Havard), who both represent parts of the Caerphilly county borough and share my philosophy and priorities. They both believe that there is a need for an increased emphasis on better and more effective policing.

We have seen recent improvements in the crime figures in the Caerphilly area, but there is real concern about drug-related crime and increasing antisocial behaviour.

27 Jun 2001 : Column 718

I am convinced that the Government here in London and the National Assembly for Wales are correct in tackling the underlying social factors behind crime. There is a direct correlation between social deprivation and the incidence of crime. I welcome the support given to young people by the National Assembly through the publication of its policy statement "Extending Entitlement". I say that as someone who has worked for the past two years for the youth service in Wales.

There is also a need to make policing more effective. That is why I warmly welcome the proposed legislation to take action against money laundering so that recovery of the proceeds of crime and drug dealing is easier. We also need greater police co-operation across police force boundaries. However, there is no ducking the fact that the police forces in Wales need more resources.

Gwent police, for example, suffers from the deployment of an obtuse funding formula. It needs a fairer funding formula to give it, perhaps, £150,000 a year extra. That money is needed to tackle crime in the areas of greatest deprivation in the south Wales valleys. The previous Home Office Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), promised to review that formula and I hope that his replacement will realise that commitment.

I am privileged to serve as the Member of Parliament for Caerphilly. I thank the people of my constituency for the trust that they have placed in me and my local party for its support. I was a Member of the European Parliament for 10 years. That experience has made me a committed European and internationalist. David Williams was one of the most famous sons of Caerphilly. We have heard much about Edmund Burke, but David Williams was a friend of Thomas Paine. He argued forcefully in the 1780s and 1790s for democracy, liberty and freedom. He helped to draft the first French constitution and in 1792 was made an honorary citizen of the new French republic. I cannot hope to follow David Williams's achievements, but I hope to reflect his internationalism and integrity through the way in which I represent the people of Caerphilly.

8.30 pm

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup): It is a great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), on which I congratulate him. He spoke with confidence and passion and is clearly a very decent representative for his constituency. His speech will stand him in good stead and we wish him well. As a retread, I do not suppose that my contribution counts as a maiden--I am not sure that it is possible to be a virgin twice.

When my service in the House was rudely interrupted in 1997, I left the Chamber as a Government Whip. I went on to become chief executive of the Cats Protection League, which is Britain's largest and oldest cat welfare charity. It is the most amazing organisation and helps 165,000 cats a year, has 79,000 members and sites and groups in 280 constituencies. One of its main aims is the neutering of cats. Some of my more cruel friends suggested that as a Government Whip I had gone from neutering Members of Parliament to neutering cats. I always argued that it was a good process for both species because it stops them wandering.

It is a great pleasure and honour to represent Old Bexley and Sidcup. Although it is a south-east London borough, emotionally it remains part of Kent. Some

27 Jun 2001 : Column 719

85 per cent. of my constituents are home owners and we are blessed with excellent grammar, community and primary schools, which is part of the reason why so many people choose to make their homes in that wonderful constituency.

My constituents were, of course, served for 51 years by Sir Edward Heath, who was Father of the House and a former Prime Minister. Perhaps less known to hon. Members is the fact that he was also a colonel in the Royal Artillery during the second world war and gave distinguished service to his country in every respect. Sir Edward held controversial views on the European Union, but at least he always had the courage and tenacity to stick by them. In 1985, I was one of 12 Members who voted in defiance of Mrs. Thatcher's three-line Whip on the Single European Act. I thought that that demonstrated some courage, although I did not get a medal for it; instead, I was made to spend even more time on the Back Benches.

Despite our different views on the future of Europe, Sir Edward was a extraordinarily decent Member to follow. Although I am a bit cynical after 33 years in active politics about the size of a personal vote that a Member of Parliament accrues, I found on the doorsteps of Old Bexley and Sidcup that Sir Edward was held in the deepest affection and the greatest respect. It will be an enormous challenge to follow his service in the House.

In supporting the Conservative amendment to the Gracious Speech, I want to highlight the problem of police numbers. The notifiable offences rate in the borough of Bexley increased by 19 per cent. last year. Although it is a tranquil and lovely place to live, crime is of great concern to my constituency. The Bexley division of the Metropolitan police force is an extremely able and talented service, but it is considerably undermanned. It has fewer than half the number of police officers for an average London borough of our type. Just before the general election campaign was announced, the division was pleased when Mayor Livingstone--no doubt to help some of those whom he hopes to rejoin in the fullness of time--announced an extra 20 police officers for it. Sadly, 10 were taken away to form the serious crime group, which investigates murder. In Old Bexley and Sidcup and in the London borough of Bexley in general it is highly unlikely that anyone will be murdered, but it is likely that people will suffer from vandalism, burglary or car theft, and those crimes require the evidence of a police officer in the area.

Sidcup high street is struggling to survive as a retail centre against an enormous problem of vandalism. Its residents were disappointed that the Home Office did not agree to the closed circuit television application that the town made in the recent round. Vandalism is a problem and retailers are struggling. Part of my campaign will be to press the Home Office Minister responsible to reconsider that decision.

It is not only the major centres that have to deal with that problem: shops in the Oval have been frequently vandalised. It was bad enough that they suffered from paint spraying, but the little monsters have got used to using glass cutters so that they can make their presence permanently felt. Struggling to meet the demands of

27 Jun 2001 : Column 720

both central and local government in a hostile retail environment in which there is vandalism makes earning a living very difficult. Those traders are struggling.

It is not good enough to say that those who commit such crimes need more counselling or help. The victims of those crimes have lost patience with that approach. It does not matter whether one sits in this Chamber as a Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat Member, or as a member of any other party, the fact is that victims of crime in our constituencies are fed up. It will take parties of all persuasions to have the courage to finance the police service properly and to get policemen back on the beat.

It is very good to be back in this Chamber; it has been gratifying to have been welcomed by members of all parties. Those who lose their seats will find it a very cold experience. One of my tasks now that I am back is not to rest until I am sure that the constituents of Old Bexley and Sidcup are far better protected by a better-manned police service than at present.

Next Section

IndexHome Page