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House of Commons

Wednesday 27 February 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Wednesday 6 March.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Violent Crime

1. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): What recent discussions he has had with the First Secretary of the National Assembly for Wales regarding violent crime in Wales. [35106]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with the First Secretary and his Cabinet colleagues about a range of issues, including levels of crime and the measures aimed at combating it. The Government are committed to improving the reporting and detection of violent crime, and to tackling its underlying causes.

Chris Grayling: I thank the Minister for that response. There has been much in the news of late about violent crime in London, but hon. Members will be concerned about the worrying trends in violent crime in Wales. The Minister will know that there is also considerable concern that county councils in Wales find the process of obtaining antisocial behaviour orders extremely bureaucratic. What steps is he taking to improve that, and to improve the campaign against violent crime in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: The British crime survey, generally regarded as the most authoritative measure of crime, has noted changes in public attitudes and a greater willingness to report crime. Between 1995 and 1999, there was a 22 per cent. fall in violent crime in England and Wales. Indeed, the detected rate in Wales for violent crime is running at 89 per cent.—nearly nine out of every 10 incidents. I pay tribute to the police for that.

I share the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the problems of using antisocial behaviour orders. In my constituency, I have encouraged the police and the

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local authority to use them. As he is probably aware, the Police Reform Bill currently before the House contains opportunities for extending the use of ASBOs. I hope that they will be taken up, as I believe that the orders can be used very positively by the police service and local authorities.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East): My hon. Friend the Minister will certainly have noted that, in Gwent, the numbers of violent crimes against the person, burglaries and thefts from vehicles have fallen by 5.7 per cent. Will he join me in congratulating the Gwent police on that, and in welcoming the 6.7 per cent. increase in the force's budget? That increase amounts to a rise in council tax of just £11.14 for a band D household. Does not he therefore consider that modest increases in council tax represent an excellent insurance policy?

Mr. Touhig: I recognise my right hon. Friend's point. I know that he has made strong representations about the funding of the Gwent police service. As a Gwent MP, I share his happiness at the success achieved by Gwent police in tackling crime and reducing crime levels. However, it is important that all of us in the wider community realise that we have to develop partnerships with the police service if we are to achieve meaningful and long-term reductions in crime. In the end, that comes to putting in the necessary resources, as the Government are doing. We also have to introduce reforms, and the Government will do that too.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire): Is the Minister aware of the organisation Youth at Risk, which has pioneered some ground-breaking work in addressing youth crime? The organisation's work to reduce the underlying causes of young offending has reduced reoffending by as much as 36 per cent.—three times more than similar projects. Is the Minister willing to accept representations from Youth at Risk, and also to support its establishment in Wales?

Mr. Touhig: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, as it makes an important contribution to the wider debate about tackling crime. I am aware of the Youth at Risk project, and of the initiatives in west Belfast of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, which have achieved some success. People under the age of 18 commit about 7 million offences a year. It is important that we tackle youth crime and help young people involved in crime. I have been very impressed by the success that appears to have been achieved in west Belfast. I intend to raise the matter with the crime reduction director for Wales at our next meeting, so that we can examine how that success has been achieved in Northern Ireland, and to see whether we can develop such initiatives in Wales.

Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware of the work of the women's safety unit in Cardiff, which aims to help women suffering domestic violence? The project is funded by the Home Office, but for 12 months only. Will he do his utmost to persuade my

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right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to extend the funding period, so that the unit can continue its valuable work?

Mr. Touhig: I am aware of my hon. Friend's commitment to domestic violence issues, and of her hard work in that regard. Domestic violence is one of the Government's main priorities for crime reduction, and we have a Minister to co-ordinate action across Government in that respect. Domestic violence accounts for about 25 per cent. of all reported violence. I am aware of the Cardiff women's safety unit. There are eight other projects across Wales, and Government funding amounts to about £750,000. I plan to visit the project in Cardiff shortly, and I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to join me. I have no doubt that I will receive representations about ongoing funding for the project. I shall listen to them, and pass them on to the appropriate Minister.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Is the Minister aware that in Wales, crimes of violence against the person are out of control and have more than doubled under Labour? They are up from 17,500 in 1997–98 to more than 38,000 last year. Is it not alarming, at a time of soaring violent crime, that the Government have so undermined police morale that the police are staging a demonstration on 13 March? Can the Minister assure the House that there will be adequate police cover in Wales on 13 March? When, at the beginning of his Administration, the Prime Minister said that he would be tough on crime and the causes of crime, what did he mean?

Mr. Touhig: I think that the right hon. Gentleman has been learning some tactics from the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). When the Government came to power, we looked at the way in which crime was recorded and we found it wanting. Indeed, the House will be interested to know that until the Government came to power, common assault was not counted as violence against the person, and neither were attacks on police officers. We were used to the previous Government doing all sorts of things with figures—we remember what they did with the unemployment figures. We have changed the way in which crime is recorded to make it more transparent. We are making it more accountable. We are putting in the resources and putting in place the reforms to tackle the rise in crime.

As I have already said, there was a 22 per cent. fall in violent crime in England and Wales between 1995 and 1999. When the police officers are demonstrating in London to advance the cause that they want to get across to the Government, I have no doubt that Gwent police service and the police service throughout Wales will make sure that sufficient officers are on duty, doing their duty as we all expect.

Shellfish Industry

2. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower): What recent discussions he has held with the Secretary for Agriculture in the National Assembly for Wales about the Welsh shellfish industry. [35107]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I meet regularly with the Minister

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for Rural Affairs in the National Assembly for Wales to discuss a range of issues, including the Welsh shellfish industry.

Mr. Caton: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I press him to take up with National Assembly Ministers, as well as with his colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the desperate plight of cockle gatherers who usually work the Loughor estuary, including many of my constituents? For eight months they have been unable to earn their living because of a series of positive tests for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. They need financial help and they need their estuary cleaned up. To do that will take action from Government agencies at UK level as well as from the National Assembly.

Mr. Touhig: Responsibility for the closure of the Burry inlet cockle beds rests with Carmarthen and Swansea county councils, which acted jointly in accordance with regulation 7 of the Food Safety (Fishery Products and Live Shellfish) (Hygiene) Regulations 1998. Having said that, however, I can tell my hon. Friend that on Monday I met representatives of the cockle-gathering industry in his constituency together with the Assembly Member for that constituency, Edwina Hart. I have been made fully aware of the problems that the cockle gatherers face, the difficulties caused by the cockle beds being closed for eight months and the impact that that has had on their industry and livelihood. I will make representations to other ministerial colleagues on their behalf and will happily ensure that my hon. Friend is included in the responses when I get them so that he can be fully in the picture and reassured that I and the Government will do all that we can to help the cockle gatherers in his constituency.

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