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I do not believe that social exclusion has to lead to crime. The equation is not as simple as that. I believe, however, that social exclusion is a factor in the causation of crime, along with the lack of healthy living, a clean environment, good, affordable housing and decent, well-paid jobs. There is great concern about behaviour that disturbs the community, but the problem is perceived to be far worse than it is in reality. In the 200304 British crime survey, 42 per cent. of respondents thought that antisocial behaviour had become worse over the previous two years, and only 8 per cent. thought that it had improved. I do not know what barometer those individuals were using, but the perception of crime is always far worse than the reality, and that may also be true of antisocial behaviour. Unfortunately, however, such behaviour has visible results, including vandalism, litter, graffiti and so on, which, in turn, lead to more serious crime. Disturbing antisocial behaviour, whether criminal or not, has a negative effect on the extent to which people feel
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comfortable in their own community and on their perception of it as a safe place in which to raise their families.
A stable community can be achieved only by taking an holistic approach to improving people's lives. Enforcement deals with today's problems, but prevention and education will take care of the future. We need to get to grips with the causes and consequences of crime alike. Locking people up and throwing away the key seldom makes a positive difference or makes our communities safer in the long-term. As an experienced practitioner in criminal law, I know that young offenders often learn more about crime in prison. There are almost 80,000 people in prison in Britain, which easily makes it the imprisonment capital of Europe. The people of the British isles are clearly not intrinsically worse than anyone else, so we must be getting something wrong.
The best place to tackle crime is in the community itself. Plaid Cymru advocates the extension of community-based penalties, which would require additional, properly funded and experienced probation officers. I know from my own experience that such orders work and make the reoffending rate far lower. I accept that they require resources, but offenders themselves are seen to make a contribution to the community in which they have offended. Greater support for victims and witnesses is an important step in ensuring that people feel safer in their communities, and good work has begun to provide that. Two thirds of property crime that comes before the courts arises from a drugs-related offence, so there is a paramount need for drug addiction to be seen and treated for what it isan illness. The number of people experimenting with drugs is growing, and although the vast majority will not become drug users, we cannot ignore the social problems that result from drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.
Strong and vibrant communities are the best places in which people with drug and alcohol problems can recover. High-quality rehabilitation programmes are the most effective way of helping problem users to reintegrate into society. Plaid Cymru would like all moneys collected via Crown courts from the confiscation of drugs offence money to be ring-fenced to secure rehabilitation places for people in recovery. It is not a nice thing to discuss, but no one in the Chamber can put his hand on his heart and say that there is not a drugs problem in our communities. We need such facilities in every part of Wales. It is not simply an urban problem; it is just as much a rural problem. We should tackle this huge problem head on and aim to secure better rehabilitation.
I am not claiming that the confiscated money would be enough, but it would be a start. The Government must recognise that adequate funding for rehab is a sound investment in safer communities. They must invest soon in adequate additional rehabilitation places. Plaid Cymru also believes that early education is crucial in helping to prevent problems developing in the first place, so we call for the delivery of an effective drugs education programme in every school in Wales, using trained peripatetic teachers to serve groups of schools.
We all know that alcohol-fuelled behaviour has been increasing alarmingly, harming individuals and society, not to mention police budgets. The Government
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famously targeted thousands of young people by text message shortly before the last election, advising them to vote Labour if they wanted 24-hour drinking. In the meantime, they produced a strategy to reduce the harm caused by alcohol drinking, which is hardly an example of joined-up thinking. Twenty-four-hour drinking is probably one of the few pledges that new Labour is likely to deliver, with its proposed new licensing laws. Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales, will continue to oppose 24-hour licensing, which places heavy additional burdens on the police, causes further harm to the health of vulnerable people and puts smaller local publicans out of business. Heaven help people who live near licensed premises and have to put up with noisy exchanges all night long.
Mr. Llwyd: Yes, but it is akin to the old licensing system for music on licensed premises. Local authorities, rather than the courts, were responsible for such licences. It was not a brilliant system then, and I am not sure that it will be a brilliant system now. I might be wrong, but heaven forbid that I should live next door to a pub with a 24-hour licence. If licensing is carried out sympathetically, fine. In 24 months' time, perhaps we can have this argument again and I might accept that I am wrong. However, at the moment it appears to be a dodgy policy.
I am not being patronising when I say that educating people, especially the young, is an essential tool in dealing with the problem. Responsible behaviour is also required from the companies that profit from alcohol and must be enforced by legislation if necessary. High-alcohol drinks such as alcopops are clearly targeted on the young and are often consumed to excess by under-age drinkers. The Portman Group may say that that is not the case, but any fool can see that the advertising and marketing of drinks are directed at the young. I must watch what I say, but in many cases those products are consumed by under-age drinkers.
If those drinks are sold, they should carry a compulsory warning reminding consumers of the dangers, and they should be subject to far higher duty, thereby making them less accessible to young people and under-age drinkers. In addition, we believe that there should be stricter controls on marketing and advertising. More legal and financial responsibility should be placed on the owners of pubs and clubs, who are making money by transferring their costs to the community and especially the police forces, as we have seen in places such as Wrexham, Swansea and Cardiff.
If the law as it currently stands were strictly enforced, there would be far fewer problems. We all know that it is an offence to serve somebody who is already under the influence of drink. Why are there only one or two prosecutions throughout the UK in any given year?
: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As a former licence-holder, I knew that my job was on the line if I served people irresponsibly on my
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premises. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David), we are giving a great deal of responsibility to local authorities. We all need to make sure that our local authorities are using those powers responsibly and adopting an area-wide strategic view of licensing and the application of the existing powers. If that means taking licences away from licence-holders, local authorities should do that now and in the future.
Enforcement alone is not enough to free local communities from the threat of antisocial behaviour. I had an exchange earlier with the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones). He made the point that we are all aware of the problem and the need to deal with it, but that looking at how many antisocial behaviour orders have been applied for is a crude way of assessing the extent of the problem. Last week I spoke with the area divisional commander of the western division, much praised by the hon. Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) and rightly so, about how the system was working. The force has a five-stage mechanism leading up to an ASBO. It has very few ASBOs in place, but that is a feather in its cap, not a criticism of the force. However, it takes more time, patience, energy and skill to deal with the problems in the first four stages, rather than going straight to court.
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