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I am genuinely trying to tempt the hon. Gentleman back from the abyss. In this debate and in some propaganda outside the House, we are in danger of scaring people unnecessarily. Does he agree that we have a responsibility as parliamentarians, and especially as Front-Bench spokesmen, to reflect reality?
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Where there is cause for concern, let us discuss it, but where there are improvements, let us reflect them in our debate.
Mr. Roger Williams : The Archbishop of Canterbury asked political parties not to dwell on fear in the election. One of my local papers reported on statistics on crime comparing 1997 to 2004when there had been a change in definitionstating that incidents of violent crime in the Brecon area had gone up from 5,000 to more than 8,000. As fewer than 8,000 people live in the Brecon area, does the hon. Gentleman think that they have been fighting all the time, day and night?
Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman's initial point was serious. Nobody wants to trade on fear, but we must remember that we have been hearing about record levels of spending and record numbers of police officers. Things have never been rosier in the garden, if we believe the nonsense that we have had to listen to this evening. It is entirely right that people should realise that under a Conservative Government they would not just be safer, they would have an extra 2,199 police officers.
Mr. Evans : It is not just that we are promising to put extra police officers on the streets of Wales, although that is absolutely right; we will also release the police who are there already from the paperworkthe red tape and bureaucracythat constantly dogs them. They spend more time chained to their desks in the police station than out on the streets detecting the crimes that people are genuinely afraid of in Wales.
The sad thing is that no matter how often we tell Labour Members about the serious problems faced by our constituents, they refuse to listen. They put their heads in the sand like ostriches and fail to recognise that there is a genuine problem. Elderly people are frightened. There is an increase in crimedrugrelated crime, violent crime, gun crimeand nothing that the Government have been doing has made a difference. The extra expenditure that the Secretary of State talks about all the time has not delivered.
Mr. Llwyd : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I have to make an unfavourable point. His thesis is absurd. Is he actually saying that people in rural Wales are staying in because they are worried that someone will run down the alleyway with a pistol? What he is saying is utter nonsense. If I catch your eye later this evening, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope to address the question of the perception and reality of crime, and I hope, with respect, to make a better contribution than the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Wiggin).
So much for my charitable act of the evening. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to make light of
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people's fears, and I hope that when he makes what he calls a better fist of it, he will not forget the importance of those elderly people.
Mr. Wiggin: Did the hon. Gentleman not listen to the Secretary of State's speech? Did he not hear the absolute gibberish about the Thatcher years and the trading on fear to which we have had to listen? Does he not recognise the difference between the truth, according to the crime statistics released by the Government, and the fantasy about the history that we have had to listen to, none of which is corroborated?
Mr. Wiggin: The hon. Gentleman's question is completely irrelevant as we are talking about the crime statistics now. I have heard about the Liberal party splitting and I have seen the hard time that the Secretary of State for Wales gives the hon. Gentleman, but, quite honestly, after eight years of this Government we should, as has been said, move forward rather than backwards.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way so generously. To try to get some balance into the debate, I should say that overall crime in Bridgend county borough is down by 16.5 per cent. However, on a serious point, will he accept my invitation to visit my constituency at any time in the next few weeks? I will take him down any street on any evening. I will take him to Maesteg and show him what is going on there, and I will take him to Pencoed. I make that invitation seriously because I worry that his tone genuinely adds to a climate of fear, quite unnecessarily.
Mr. Wiggin: All I can do is thank the hon. Gentleman for his invitation and say that I will visit his constituency, but whether I visit the places that he mentions or whether I go with him remains to be seen.
I will now make some progress. Let us turn to the fact that council taxes have rocketed, yet affordable housing is forever decreasing. Economic activity rates and employment rates still lag behind those of England, and the industrial jobs that were so prevalent in the past are draining away without being replaced. The gross domestic product of the objective 1 areas in Wales is below those of ex-Soviet bloc countries, such as Slovenia, and no matter what the Government try to claim, the situation is worsening.
No doubt the Secretary of State for Wales will accuse me of talking Wales down, as he usually does, but that is far from what I am doing. We all know how much potential and passion Wales has. Some of us are so
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concerned about what is going wrong for the people of Wales that we want to bring it to their attention, rather than sweeping it away under a pile of figures and partial truths. Labour in Westminster and Cardiff have had eight long years to deliver their promises to Wales.
Let us consider the economic success that the Secretary of State for Wales so enjoys lauding. Wales's economic activity level stands at 75.4 per cent., compared with the UK's 78.7 per cent., and the rate has continued to fall over the past year. No matter how much the Secretary of State tries to hail falling unemployment, employment still lags almost 3 per cent. behind the UK average. In fact, an Institute of Welsh Affairs report said:
"On the surface, unemployment appears to have reached tolerably low levels, but when combined with sickness and disability claimants, the proportions not working are higher than virtually anywhere else in the UK."
The people of Wales still face lower pay. Powys is the lowest paid region in the whole of the UK. The 82.2 per cent. of UK average GDP that Wales had achieved under the last Conservative Government has now shrunk to below 79 per cent. The trend is clear: under Labour, Wales's economy is going backwards, and the unfortunate consequence is that there are so many missed opportunities in Wales. Wales continues to haemorrhage manufacturing jobs. Tens of thousands of private sector jobs are being lost and VAT deregistrations of businesses are still outweighing new business registrations.
Chris Bryant : There is a serious point, which the hon. Gentleman has raised twice this evening, about how to combine incapacity benefit and unemployment benefit. On every occasion when Select Committees have considered that issue, they have concluded in unanimous reportsincluding the Conservativesthat the incapacity benefit figures cannot simply be lumped into the unemployment benefit figures to produce some sort of measure for hidden unemployment. Those of us who represent constituencies where economic activity is high believe that we can do much more to try to help people with disabilities into work, but I worry that the proposals to reform the benefit system that the hon. Gentleman's party has come up with would dump people on to a new pile to one side and not help them into work. How does he plan to help people into work?
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