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Lynda Waltho (Stourbridge) (Lab): It gives me great pleasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to make my maiden speech and to follow the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Burrowes). I congratulate him on his speech and look forward to further debates with him in this Chamber on this and many other subjects.
I am especially grateful to be given the opportunity to speak on violent crime reduction as there is much to tell and celebrate about the decline in crime in Stourbridge since my party came to power in 1997. I am very proud of the fact that Stourbridge is one of the safest places to live in the west midlands. Together with the local police and council, a large number of partners and agencies are working together to ensure that Stourbridge is a safer place for everyone who visits, lives or works in the constituency.
Over the past seven years, the safe and sound community safety partnership has been successful in reducing crime across the constituency. Indeed, last year's figures show a reduction in robbery of 59 per cent., a fall in vehicle crime of 31 per cent. and a 41 per cent. fall in burglary. Contrary to the claims of the Conservative party, there has been a fall of 8 per cent. in violent crime, which, incidentally, has continued over April and May. In addition, there has been a significant rise in the numbers of people receiving treatment for drug and alcohol misuse and waiting times for this treatment have been reduced. I am pleased that domestic violence and hate crimes are high on the
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partnership's agenda, and that there are two new domestic violence courts in the Dudley borough as well as a variety of support services on hand to help.
Tackling antisocial behaviour is a key priority and, since 1999, a community safety team has co-ordinated local council, police and other partners to ensure a consistent and successful approach. In addition, the local council funds a co-ordinator to ensure that work is going on to reduce racially aggravated incidents and those motivated by religious or ethnic hatred or homophobia.
Many of my constituents are impressed by the work of the police community support officers who have been assigned to communities and by their effect in reducing low-level antisocial behaviour. They provide a great deal of reassurance to all residents. Of course the excellent work done by our neighbourhood watches across the constituency cannot be ignored.
I should like to mention here one particular co-ordinator, Mr. Peter Timmins of New Farm road watch, with whom I was privileged to spend an hour or two patrolling the area. Mr. Timmins knows every house and householder, co-ordinates with the residents, police and local agencies and was able to give me a breakdown on every problem and situation on his estate. We really do owe a great deal to these residents who do such a professional job in an entirely voluntary capacity.
Of course it would be entirely remiss of me not to mention the local Stourbridge police force, led most ably by Inspector Mark Thomas, with whom I spent a night on patrol duty only last Friday night. The massive reduction in crime figures in Stourbridge to which I referred earlier is a particular success, not just because of the actual fall but because of the circumstances in which Inspector Thomas and his team managed to achieve them. For those who have not visited Stourbridgeto be fair, I think the majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench did visit at some time or other during my campaign; at least, it felt like itto appreciate that achievement fully, one needs to understand that Stourbridge town centre is encircled by a ring road, which somewhat cuts it off from other parts of the town. There are subways, but for the most part they are detested by my constituents as smelly, forbidding places, and there is only one surface crossing.
In the last two years, a number of new large wine bars and pubs have opened up. As a result, and given the presence, too, of a popular nightclub, on most Friday and Saturday nights up to 4,000 youngand merrypeople might be decanted into the town centre within an hour, penned in by the ring road and dependent for their dispersal entirely on the supply of taxis and minicabs. In many areas, that could have meant disaster, but not in Stourbridge. Inspector Thomas has redesigned the police team patterns and set up a successful pubwatch group, comprising the main bar owners and managers and other traders in the town.
On my tour of duty, I witnessed excellent community police work and was really impressed by the professional and calm manner in which all situations were dealt with. I did worry, however, that I might wake up to a bad headline when a reporter from my local newspaper saw me being accompanied out of a bar by two burly officers and ushered into the back of a squad car.
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However, I might be knocking on the door of the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety, my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Hazel Blears), at some point, given the cramped conditions in which the police are working. Such conditions are causing some problems, not the least of which is the lack of adequate cell space for offenders. As a result, officers are often taken out of the area and asked to make use of cell space as far afield as Sutton Coldfield and Coventry. That puts undue pressure on the rest of the policing team, and sometimes leads to a reduced response time for other incidents.
I am grateful to have some conventions to honour today. They are conventions in a good cause, and I can think of no better place to start than with a celebration of the achievements of my predecessor, Debra Shipley. Stourbridge has been well served by Debra Shipley, and it was a great shock to us all when she announced her decision to stand down due to ill health. Debra's work on child protection, domestic violence, care standards for the elderly and children's dietslong before that became a focus for celebrity attentionhas changed the lives of many people and raised awareness across the UK of what are serious issues. It is a testament to her hard work and dedication that at virtually every door on which I knocked during the campaignbelieve me, I knocked on thousandsthe resident either knew Debra, had been helped by her, or knew of somebody whom she had helped. She was a very determined and hard-working Member of Parliament, and I hope that one day, I will be deemed a worthy successor.
The past 10 weeks or so have been something of a blur to me. I was selected only a week before the election was called, so to say that I have been on a steep learning curve is something of an understatement. But I am very conscious of the fact that I am here not just because of my efforts, but because of those of a vast army of peopleparty organisers and staff, members, volunteers and supportersall of whom encouraged and sustained me during the campaign. I am especially indebted to Alderman John Simpsonoften referred to as "Mr. Stourbridge"Barbara Sykes, Joan Kendrick, Chris Hale and Joe Payne, chairman of my constituency party, who, in his 50th year of party membership, masterminded the campaign to retain Stourbridge for Labour.
Anybody who searches for Stourbridge on the internet will no doubt be directed to a variety of unflattering descriptive terms such as "unremarkable", "average" or "not a picture-postcard destination". I am afraid that I cannot agree. It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when I first arrived in the town in the early 1980s, it seized my heart and has grown more beautiful to me each year. It is the town in which I married, and in which I chose to teach and to make my home. It is the place where we chose to bring up and educate our children, and in which we aim to stay. It is also the constituency that I am so proud to represent.
Stourbridge owes its name to an ancient bridge erected across the River Stour, which until recently formed the boundary between Worcestershire and Staffordshire. It was part of the manor of a powerful Norman Lord, William Fitz Ansculf, who supervised his estates from his hilltop castle in Dudleya fact not lost on my constituents, many of whom to this day resent the fact that Stourbridge is governed and supervised from Dudley by the metropolitan council.
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The excellent grazing land led to the growth of a thriving wool trade, which is still represented, by a fleece, on the town's coat of arms. The rapidly expanding iron industry soon caught up and overtook the wool trade. Fortunes were made by the mill owners, and forges were powered by water-wheels on the Stour. Local coal, limestone and fireclay fuelled development in the 16th and 17th centuries, giving birth to the area known as the black country. The area became famous for the production of iron work and nails, chain making, bricks and heavy engineering. One of the most famous works was that of John Bradley and Co., which had the distinction of producing the Stourbridge Lionthe first locomotive to run on rails in America. Sadly, the works now lie idle. There is a campaign to restore them, which I am proud to support.
Stourbridge is noted for its fine glass and crystal ware, although the rise of cheap imports has caused the industry to decline to a few specialist firms and studios that produce individual and short-run items. However, visitors can still take a stroll around the glass quarter, where the Ruskin glass centre may be found, which houses many skilled crafts people and some leading British studio designers. Some of my honourable female colleagues travelled on the excellent Labour women's campaign bus to visit me during the campaign. Having spent some time in the shop outlets that contribute to the local economy, they will, I am sure, attest to the centre's quality.
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