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5. Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues in Wales about the operation of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in Wales. [22529]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have regular discussions with the Assembly Minister for Social Justice and Regeneration to discuss a range of issues. That includes the operation of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in Wales.

Julie Morgan: Is my hon. Friend aware that CAFCASS Cymru, which works with some of the most   vulnerable children and families in Wales, has no waiting list in terms of allocating workers in both private and public law? Does he agree that that is a huge   step forward and that the agency needs to be congratulated on its achievements, especially in view of the recent chequered history of CAFCASS?
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Nick Ainger: I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating CAFCASS Cymru. Since its transfer to the National Assembly for Wales, it has far exceeded performance targets on referral time of cases to guardians. That results in children—many of whom are extremely vulnerable and may be victims of abuse and family break-up—being helped far more quickly. Six thousand children a year will benefit from this improved service. The transfer has been a really great success and all staff should be congratulated.

Police Forces (Reorganisation)

6. David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): What plans the Government have to reorganise police forces in Wales. [22530]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): In   the light of recommendations made recently by Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has asked the police service to come forward with firm proposals for the future of policing in England and Wales to meet the new challenge of terrorism, serious crime and drug trafficking.

David T.C. Davies: One of the chief constables has already estimated that the cost of that reorganisation will be £10 million to £12 million, plus the entire reserves of all four police authorities in Wales. Can the Secretary of State demonstrate his undoubted command of mental arithmetic and tell us how many police officers could be trained and put on to the crime-ridden streets of Wales for the same sum that will be needed to create this unaccountable bureaucratic monolith?

Mr. Hain: First, as a Gwent MP, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to join me in congratulating Mike Tonge, chief constable of Gwent, who is today receiving the Queen's Police medal in recognition of his distinguished service.

As regards the hon. Gentleman's rant on this matter, may I invite him, instead of ranting, to display a bit of objectivity? On the figures he quoted from the chief constable of South Wales, which were given at a private meeting to which the hon. Gentleman was invited, she said that her best estimate was that the start-up costs would be about £10 million. She could not be certain, so the hon. Gentleman has upped that figure by a couple of million. She also said that she thought the savings would be three times as much. Why did the hon. Gentleman not raise that point and why did he not make it in the very biased account he gave to the South Wales Argus the other day?

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Is it not true that the forces of Wales have the best record of any in the United Kingdom, especially Gwent and Dyfed-Powys? This reorganisation is being forced on Wales for the benefit of English cities. If there is a need for a special emphasis on the problems of serious crime, drugs and terrorism, why not form a special unit and leave those splendid forces intact?

Mr. Hain: My hon. Friend will surely join other hon.   Members, especially Welsh Members, in wanting a Welsh police service that is not only doing a very good job, as in Gwent, on neighbourhood policing and other
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matters, but that can also confront the new challenges of   terrorism, drug trafficking and international serious   organised crime. The fact is that apart from the   South Wales force, which is near the optimum number suggested by Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to fight those challenges, none of the other   forces is anything like the size necessary to do so. We should consider the all-Wales option, but keep the principle of local neighbourhood policing sacrosanct and make sure that, as in Gwent, there is an element of regional accountability still built into the system, so that the identities of the regions currently organised into police forces are maintained, especially in north Wales.

Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): The police grant has been insufficient to meet some of the demands of the police authorities, such as pensions. As a result, the council tax precept has gone up by much more than inflation, on top of the recent rebanding of properties. What assessments has the Secretary of State made of the effect of the possible amalgamation of police forces on a potential rise in council tax across Wales?

Mr. Hain: I have made no such assessments. As I   pointed out earlier, however, considerable savings will be possible, which will enable resources to be released not only to fight the new threats, but to make sure that we have as many police officers as possible on the ground in our neighbourhoods. Since our Government came to power, Wales has had 950 extra police officers and 270 extra community support officers on patrol. We are driving that forward with even more recruits and even more effective neighbourhood policing in future.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in line with the strategic reorganisation of the police, it is also vital that we continue the strategy of neighbourhood policing? Will   he join me in applauding the work of my right hon.   Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr.   Blunkett), who as Home Secretary did so much in driving forward the agenda of community safety and community policing?

Mr. Hain: Indeed, I am happy to do so. My right hon.   Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr.   Blunkett) did a great job in making sure that neighbourhood policing was a priority of every police force, which is increasingly the case. We much regret the   fact that he is no longer able to discharge his   responsibilities. In any future reorganisation of policing, neighbourhood policing must remain the bedrock, and the basic police command units will continue to take that agenda forward.

Adam Price (Carmarthen, East and Dinefwr) (PC): Where will the final decision on this contentious and potentially damaging force merger be made—Wales or Whitehall?

Mr. Hain: Obviously, I will have an input from Wales, as will the Welsh Assembly Government. Indeed, the Home Secretary has written specifically to the Welsh Assembly Government inviting their views and an Assembly Committee is currently considering the matter. We need a police system in Wales that meets
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the   big new challenges. A terrorist suspect has been arrested recently in Cardiff, and others are known to be active in south Wales. We need to deal with the problems of drug trafficking and serious organised crime, and the Labour Government are doing that. If Plaid Cymru wants to opt out of confronting those challenges, that is a matter for it. We are rising to meet those challenges and we want a good police service in the whole of Wales that confronts those big challenges and preserves community policing.

Housing (SIPPS)

7. Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): What representations he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the effect on the affordability of housing in Wales of the changes in the rules for self-invested personal pension scheme investment in residential property. [22531]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): I have made no direct representations. There has been widespread speculation about the impact of the new rules that will allow self-invested personal pensions to be invested in residential properties. Government guidance sets out the implications of putting a residential property into a SIPP. It is unlikely to be an   appropriate investment for most people, but the Government will keep the matter under review and will not hesitate to act if there is evidence of abuse.

Hywel Williams: Average house prices in Wales are already seven times average incomes. Is it not inevitable that new money flooding into—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to come to order. The noise is unfair to the hon. Gentleman.

Hywel Williams: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Is it not inevitable that new money flooding into the holiday homes market will push up prices further? How can the Secretary of State support an arrangement that will make it even more difficult for hard-working Welsh families to enter the housing market?

Nick Ainger: I note the hon. Gentleman's point, but he and his colleagues are in danger of sounding like salesmen for SIPP providers. They should not overstate the impact of SIPPs on the rural housing market. There are significant drawbacks for investors wishing to place a second home in a SIPP. For instance, a property placed in a SIPP will be owned by the trustees of the SIPP, not the individual.

An investor would not be able to stay in a second home free of charge. He would either pay the full commercial rent or face a 40 per cent. charge for a benefit in kind. In most cases, the property would have to be sold before the pension could be drawn, so the investor would not be able to use it as a retirement home unless he could raise enough money to buy it from the SIPP. Those rules and others ensure that assets put into a pension fund give people a secure retirement income, and are not a means of subsidising second homes.
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