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House of Commons

Wednesday 21 January 2004

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Local Authorities Bill [Lords].

Motion made [7 January],

Hon. Members: Object.

To be considered on Wednesday 28 January.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Crime Statistics (Vale of Glamorgan)

1. Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Home Office on crime statistics in the Vale of Glamorgan. [148349]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with colleagues about matters affecting Wales. Recorded crime in the Vale of Glamorgan between April and December 2003 was 3.4 per cent. lower than the same period in 2002.

Mr. Smith : Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to Superintendent Josh Jones and the officers of the Vale of Glamorgan division for yet another record-breaking year in tackling crime? Domestic burglary is

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down 20 per cent.; car crime down almost 20 per cent.; and the force has the highest detection rate in south Wales.

However, is my hon. Friend aware of the growing public concern in my constituency about the road traffic police investigation into the death of Stuart Cunningham-Jones in a tragic school bus accident in December 2002? The shortcomings of the investigation were highlighted in this week's coroner's inquest. In the interest of restoring public confidence, will he call on the Crown Prosecution Service to re-evaluate the case and the evidence to see if there are grounds for proceedings? Will he also do anything he can—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his ration.

Mr. Touhig: I endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the officers serving in his police division. As to the second matter that he raised, I am sure that the whole House will join me in expressing once again our condolences to the family of Stuart Cunningham-Jones. I know that Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham-Jones requested a review of the decision not to prosecute anyone in connection with the death of their son, Stuart. Given that prosecution decisions are a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the rights and wrongs of the issue. However, I take my hon. Friend's remarks very seriously and I will ensure that I am kept fully informed of all developments.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): In south Wales, including Glamorgan, crime has risen by 6.3 per cent., which is very good in comparison with north Wales, where it is up by 48.5 per cent. Why does the Minister believe that crime is rising so rapidly in some parts of Wales? Could it be because the police are bringing fewer criminals to justice? Last year 190,000 crimes went unsolved—an increase of 50,000 from 1998–99.

Mr. Touhig: We all recognise that fighting crime is a major issue and the Government are putting in the resources and carrying through the legislation to fight crime. The hon. Gentleman's party is committed, of course, to a 20 per cent. cut in public expenditure. What would that do for the resources that we need to fight crime? Indeed, his party continues to oppose the legislation introduced by the Government to make our communities safer, so we need no lessons from him about fighting crime.

Mr. Wiggin: Unfortunately, that is absolute nonsense. The Minister well knows that we are already pledged to increase the number of police officers in Wales by 2,199. He should be thinking about why the number of special constables has fallen by half and why violent crime has also increased in south Wales, including the vale, by 29 per cent. No doubt the Minister will be proud of that in comparison with north Wales, where violent crime is up by 137 per cent. Why is violent crime rising twice as fast in Wales as it is in Greater Manchester or London?

Mr. Touhig: This gets better. When the hon. Gentleman's party was in government, crime doubled.

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When his leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), was Home Secretary, police officer numbers fell by 1,000. We have invested more money in putting more bobbies on the beat in Wales and under the Labour Government police numbers in Wales have risen 12 per cent. since 1997. There are now 7,354 police officers on duty in Wales. What the police service wants is support, investment and reform. The Government are delivering that; Conservative Members will not.

Mr. Wiggin: That is most surprising, given that we have made a pledge to increase police numbers by 31 per cent. Why does the Minister believe that the number of robberies has also rocketed? Surely he would agree that that crime is a particularly unpleasant violation of people's homes, so why is expenditure in the Welsh Office now £10,609,486,000 when nothing is happening to cut the huge rise in robberies? In south Wales, robberies are up by 53.4 per cent., which is better than north Wales, where the figure is 77.2 per cent. Is that not another example of Labour taxing, spending and failing?

Mr. Touhig: We would take the hon. Gentleman's remarks more seriously if he could get his facts right. The Welsh Office no longer exists; it is the Wales Office. More than that, we do not have a £10 billion budget; that is the National Assembly's budget. If the hon. Gentleman would get his facts right, I would pay more attention to his question.

Miners Compensation

2. Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): When the Wales sub-group dealing with matters relating to miners compensation schemes for chest diseases and vibration white finger last met; and what progress was reported. [148351]

6. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): If he will make a statement on payments to retired miners and their families in Wales under the respiratory disease and vibration white finger compensation scheme. [148355]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): The Welsh monitoring group dealing with coal health claims last met on 12 January and discussed the good progress being made on both chest disease and vibration white finger claims in Wales. The latest compensation figures show that £284 million has been paid out under the chest disease scheme, and £103 million under the vibration white finger scheme.

Mr. Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which shows that the Government are treating seriously the long-standing problems of illness among miners. However, will he give me some idea of the progress being made on claims by surface workers for that compensation?

Mr. Touhig: Indeed, that matter figured in our discussions at our last meeting on 12 January. The Department of Trade and Industry has already undertaken extensive work in consulting medical experts and conducting dust surveys in respect of

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affected surface workers. The Department considers that no evidence has yet been found to suggest that it is liable for respiratory diseases suffered by surface workers, but the Government are co-operating very fully with the claimants' solicitors. The judge handling the matter has requested those solicitors to identify lead claims and to gather more evidence for him to consider at the next hearing on 3 February. As I said, the Government, to help the solicitors, have provided access to all the necessary archives, and have made it clear that they will react positively if evidence emerges that the DTI is liable for compensation in this case.

Mr. Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that the nearly £5 million paid out for dust disease compensation in my constituency shows that the Government are tackling a problem that the Tories ignored for 18 years?

Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend speaks the truth, as ever. If the Conservative party had not resisted the legitimate claims of miners over the years when it was in government, many miners who are now no longer with us would have received compensation when they were alive. Our priority has been to compensate the oldest miners, the ones who are most ill, and the widows. I can tell the House that the claims of the overwhelming majority of people in that category have been settled. At the beginning of January, 87 per cent. of high priority miners' claims had been settled, and settlement offers had been made in respect of 80 per cent. of widows' claims.

Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr) (PC): What was the Minister's reaction to the news that the leaders of the Union of Democratic Mineworkers have benefited personally to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds from the miners compensation scheme? To prevent Welsh miners and their families from being ripped off by the company set up for the purpose of securing the compensation, does the Minister believe that the Government should suspend its special deal with the UDM, pending a full investigation of its financial affairs?

Mr. Touhig: Let me make it clear that the arrangement between the UDM and the company, Vendside, was agreed between them and the DTI. The same sort of scheme has been agreed with the claimants' solicitors. As for additional costs and payments, to solicitors or anyone else, I and other Labour Members are on record as saying that we totally condemn any organisation that, in addition to receiving the legal fees being paid by the Government, seeks to take compensation away from miners. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes: Vendside has been involved in some 120-odd claims in Wales, but it ill behoves him to preach to the Government on the matter. I am not so sure that he was quite so outspoken when a leading member of his party doubled his salary by heading an organisation that was taking between 5 and 10 per cent. of compensation from miners and their widows.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend confirm that the DTI originally agreed to compensate surface workers in exactly the same way as it compensated underground workers? There are only

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4,700 surface workers in the entire country. Underground miners had to go through years of hard fighting with the previous Conservative Government to get compensation. Instead of requiring surface workers to go through that, would not it be much more sensible to compensate them in exactly the same way as the underground workers?

Mr. Touhig: I confirm my hon. Friend's point on the DTI's original position on surface workers, but I reiterate that the judge who has been handling the matter has required the solicitors acting on behalf of the claimants to submit evidence. The Government are collaborating closely and fully with the claimants' solicitors and have made it clear that if a case can be made and justified, and if it is demonstrated that miners have been injured as a result of dust intakes when working on the surface, they will respond positively. My hon. Friend is quite right to say that the numbers are small. We are keeping an open mind on the matter and I hope that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion very soon.

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