Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.36 pm

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): I have decided to focus my remarks on crime. There are two major reasons for that. First, my postbag shows that it is a great concern to some constituents. Secondly, the Government have instituted programmes to tackle crime and I believe that success is evident.

My contact with the criminal justice system begun at an early stage of my working life; I had better explain that, lest I create the wrong impression. Leaving school at 16, I went on to the secretarial staff of the late Emyr Thomas, solicitor, who was clerk to the justices in Caernarfon. Several years later, I became chair of the Môn-Gwynedd victim support scheme. Victims have first-hand, and often highly distressing, experience of crime and we rightly recognise their needs.

The perception of crime for those without first-hand experience is frequently exaggerated by poor data and misleading reporting. We have a part to play in that, and it can be for good or ill. Concerning data, I believe that the British crime survey is acknowledged as authoritative and a world leader in tracking crime trends. On the other hand, until recently the police had recording methods that under-reported crime. The police schemes and the British crime survey were not comparable and I know that the chief constable of North Wales, Richard Brunstrom, recognised that.

In short, the police under-reported crime, which is why our chief constable was an early enthusiast for the new police scheme, the national crime recording standard. He ensured that North Wales was an early participant in the new scheme. Now North Wales police have a more reliable system of reporting crime. When externally audited by the Audit Commission, North Wales police were found to have the best recording system in England and Wales.

26 Feb 2004 : Column 502

What is the result of the data? Contrary to the perception in some quarters, crime is falling. Alongside that, however, it is notable that, in north Wales, detection rates are increasing. For example, detection rose from 28.8 to 31.5 per cent. for the period April to January between 2002–03 and 2003–04. I frequently meet officers in North Wales police and I have no doubt as to their commitment to protecting our citizens. They deserve our support; not only through legislation to assist them, but in correct reporting. Parliament has reformed the criminal justice system and the Government will continue to bring forward measures to further reform the system.

On 18 February, Llandudno in my constituency hosted the first North Wales criminal justice board conference. In his address to the conference, John Grant Jones OBE—the chair of the board—pointed out that crime has fallen for seven years. Persistent offending had also fallen and the number of offenders brought to justice was increasing. He added, however, that nearly 73 per cent. of the public believe that crime is increasing. He clearly saw that misperception as a challenge, and I am sure that the board, the agencies, the police and we in Westminster should also rise to that challenge.

To show what is happening in my constituency, I mention a meeting that I had with the central divisional commander at Llandudno two weeks ago. The introduction of a divisional burglary action scheme has already had a positive effect. In three of the four months since its inception, the number of burglaries reported decreased by more than the targets and the number of burglaries detected also surpassed those targets. The trends are good, and I know that the officers will do their utmost to ensure that those positive trends continue.

I have already mentioned my involvement with victim support, and I welcome the publication last December of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill. During my time with Môn-Gwynedd victim support, I was very conscious of what victims and volunteers told me. They believed that the perpetrators were receiving better treatment than the victims. Victims and their families were not given enough information at the right time; and they did not receive adequate support as they faced the daunting task of appearing as witnesses in court. That is changing. The Bill is central in putting victims first. It will ensure that they receive the help, support and protection that they need. The Bill will build on the Government's ongoing reform of the criminal justice system. A key part is to allow victims to take their case to the parliamentary ombudsman if they feel that the code has not been followed by the criminal justice agencies.

I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary could explain whether the proposals in the Bill will help a young lady who was assaulted in an unprovoked attack while on holiday in north Wales recently by a young male and a young woman whom she had never met. The incident was captured on CCTV and an off-duty police officer witnessed it. The victim's injuries necessitated medical treatment and she may suffer long-term effects after her ordeal. The offender escaped a custodial sentence: he managed to get off lightly, while the distressing experience will remain with the victim for the

26 Feb 2004 : Column 503

rest of her life. She feels aggrieved about the magistrates' decision and feels strongly that her case shows that the victim is secondary to the offender.

My postbag tells me that my constituents also feel badly let down by magistrates. They tell me that the police investigate complaints thoroughly but that the perpetrators, as in the case I have mentioned, are often dealt with far too leniently at the magistrates court. Antisocial behaviour can no longer be tolerated. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 was born out of individuals, communities and agencies sharing their experiences.

Reflecting successful outcomes in my constituency, it has been said for some time that crime reduction partnerships need strengthening and, indeed, more financial resources, but money is not everything. To those areas in Wales that have not moved forward speedily enough in pursing applications for antisocial behaviour orders, I say that they should get their act together, and think of their communities and individuals who are suffering. That is why they are involved in crime reduction partnerships.

I welcome the opportunity to talk about the record of the police and crime detection in north Wales, and I look forward to hearing the Under-Secretary's response.

5.43 pm

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): This has been an interesting debate, in which many contributions have been made—[Interruption.] I am told that I have not been in attendance, but hon. Members will have noted that I have been in my place for considerably longer than the Secretary of State for Wales. Having said that, he has two jobs and must be torn by being able to devote only part of his time to the concerns and interests of the people of Wales.

The Government's lamentable failures are not simply exemplified in, or typified by, Wales. Wales fails more than the rest of the United Kingdom as a result of the Government's policies. It would be wrong of me to claim the expertise in Welsh matters of right hon. or hon. Members who have sat for Welsh constituencies for many years but I believe in the Union, so I care about and believe in Wales. As a Member of this Parliament, I have responsibility for the people of Wales, in the same way that I have responsibility for people in other parts of the kingdom. I make no apologies for making a few humble remarks about Wales and the Government's failure to deliver for the people of Wales.

Fifteen small schools have closed in Wales since May 1999 and the Minister will know the impact on small communities. As a Member of Parliament representing a rural constituency, I know that schools are at the heart of villages. When a small school fails, the community suffers. There has been a 2 per cent. cut in the education budget for mid-Wales this year. Labour has failed to meet the targets for key stages 3 and 4. For the Secretary of State to defend in the House today Government policy on tuition fees was flagrant, appalling and an abuse.

I was the first of my family to attend university, helped by a grant. If the Government have their way and introduce punitive fees and top-up fees, tens of

26 Feb 2004 : Column 504

thousands of children from working-class homes will not go to university as I was able to do. The Government, understandably, are sensitive about their tuition fees policy. A considerable number of Labour Members do not support it. The Secretary of State offered statistics about education in Wales but they were all measurements of input, not output.

I acknowledge that the Government are spending 40 per cent. more on health than in 1999 but waiting lists have doubled since devolution and currently total 307,608—well over 10 per cent. of the population. Almost 40,000 people in Wales wait more than 12 months for treatment, compared with 188 people across the border.

The Secretary of State chose his words carefully in talking about Government successes in targeted areas singled out for special treatment. Those statistics are no comfort to the sick and needy people waiting for operations that fall outside those criteria and their families. The Secretary of State must answer to them and to their representatives from Welsh constituencies who sit in this Chamber.

The hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) said that the chief constable of North Wales was enthusiastic about the method for reporting crime but simultaneously lauded the British crime survey and commented on misconceptions about crime levels. That survey is based on perceptions and understandings. One cannot claim that there is a definitive guide to crime, then observe that there are misconceptions about the facts. I was amazed that she contradicted herself in consecutive sentences.

Next Section

IndexHome Page