Government’s Legislative Programme


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Mrs. Gillan: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that setting targets as such is possibly not the way to go in absolute terms? Our proposal to set rolling targets and framework targets over a period is perhaps a better and alternative way of considering the issue. Will he support our calls to have the proposed rolling targets set and monitored by an independent body? That would give confidence to the public, as well as to the interns to whom he refers, but it is not present in the Bill. Perhaps I can seek his support, on a cross-party basis, for our proposals to improve the Bill.
Alun Michael: It is always interesting to hear from travellers on the road to Damascus who have taken no interest in such issues in the past. That is an indication of the extent to which we have won the argument, and of the way in which the climate change agenda, which has been promoted internationally by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, is having an effect, even in the depths of the Conservative party, which is a good thing. Consensus, led by the Labour party, is the right way forward for the country.
On the hon. Lady’s point, what is important is that the targets are meaningful, that the measurements are meaningful and not based on minor fluctuations and that the direction of travel is sustainable for the long term. I have absolute confidence that, in developing the way in which those policies are to be implemented,my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will challenge himself and others.
The hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire also referred to post offices. Very small communities, in which, as he has acknowledged, the Government have maintained post offices by pumping in extra money, have to be sustainable in different ways. It is necessary in some cases to assist communities to take ownership of the facilities, so that those facilities can be run as a social enterprise. I have seen some good examples in different parts of the country of shops or post offices that were unsustainable as commercial ventures retaining the community benefit, to which the hon. Gentleman has rightly referred, thanks to the engagement of the community. Those facilities were made sustainable by being linked to other things.
Organisations such as the Churches have looked at the use of buildings that can otherwise be very expensive in small villages in order to make them sustainable. The hub-and-spoke idea of using mobile facilities is a way of ensuring that they are provided for the long term. However, we must face the fact that it is very expensive to provide these services in every rural community, and a more intelligent and engaged approach to solving the problem and meeting the challenges is essential.
Mr. Roger Williams: The right hon. Gentleman has a great knowledge of rural areas and rural issues. His point about using post offices or ensuring that post office services are delivered in a different way is well made, and people are prepared to engage in that respect. In my constituency and in Ceredigion, post offices act as a contact point for the police, bringing a bigger police presence to the village and retaining the post office.
Alun Michael: That is quite right. My point is that the issue needs to be considered from a community perspective. We must ask what facilities we need and how we can make them sustainable for the long term, rather than just saying, “Oh Government, please pour more money into providing them.” I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman’s comments fit with what I am saying.
My hon. Friend spoke strongly on the issue of global warming and I urge hon. Members in Wales to engage with the co-operative approach in which the community takes responsibility for what it can contribute. I represent Wales on the national executive of the Co-operative party, which is arguing for developing the concept of the carbon-neutral community. The RSA has proposed some exciting ideas on personal carbon trading, which are currently being piloted.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spoke the other day about the idea of a carbon card, which fits well with those practical approaches, considering not only the global dimension but asking, “What can I do about it?” On those matters, and on fair trade, making the link between the international dimension, our responsibilities and what we can do as individuals will lead to a positive response to the need to engage with these major political issues.
It is also a pleasure to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, with whom I share an interest in South Africa. I was grateful for his insight into the links between higher and further education and the community, on which he is such an expert.
I was interested, too, in the thoughtful remarks of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) about compulsory medication and other issues. Over the years, I have seen lives ruined because of people’s failure to take prescribed drugs, which leads to the loss of the individual’s quality of life and, in some circumstances, to their loss of freedom, because a disaster happens as a result of their failure to take that medication, which can also damage the lives of people around them. Compulsion can be in the interests of the patient and the community. The points that the hon. Gentleman made are extremely relevant as the devil is in the detail. The challenge is to get the balance right, ensuring that the power is not abused, but that it is used in circumstances in which an early enough intervention would protect the interests of the patient and be welcomed.
Much has been said already about the interface between the National Assembly for Wales and Parliament. Devolution creates a situation in which we can do more together than we can alone. That is certainly true at constituency level, where I find the overlap in working and taking initiatives with our Assembly Member, Lorraine Barrett, to be of great benefit. However, it is of far more importance to our constituents and to the community. She is deeply rooted in the local community, and that helps us both in our work.
I am pleased to see many examples of the National Assembly maturing as an organisation. The work in some Committees is of an increasingly high standard, and we have seen the benefit of work to improve the lives of children and of older people. However, it is disappointing that the Opposition have not yet matured in the same way. The obstruction of the budget is irresponsible. I remember during the Assembly’s first year, the then hon. Member for Caernarfon saying that it was important that the Administration had their budget, and that it must be scrutinised and challenged. But, he said, to obstruct the workings of the Assembly and its Government was irresponsible.
It is a pity that the Opposition parties have largely been silent on the Government’s winning a further six years for objective 1 finance—I am sorry that I use the old terminology; I can never remember the new terminology. I was pleased to be engaged, along with Andrew Davies and Rhodri Morgan in achieving that success during my time at the Department for Trade and Industry. I worked closely with them to realise that outcome, which depended on something that has rarely been acknowledged: the expertise of the Prime Minister in achieving a budget for Europe during the UK’s presidency.
Mrs. Gillan: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
Alun Michael: Yes. It is always a pleasure to give way to the hon. Lady, because it usually gives me an opportunity for a riposte.
Mrs. Gillan: The right hon. Gentleman needs every opportunity he can get.
May I put right something that the right hon. Gentleman said, which is wrong? The leader of the Welsh Conservatives said that constructive dialogue is the only way forward to ensure that Opposition priorities are addressed in the final budget settlement. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks for one minute that talking about budgets for schools, tir mynydd, closing the higher education funding gap and increasing the budget for transport grants and the ambulance service should be dismissed lightly as a political stunt, he misleads the Committee and the people of Wales.
The Welsh Conservatives have used what is available to negotiate the budget, and they carry out theirduties properly and in the interests of the people of Wales—unlike the Labour party and Rhodri Morgan. They appear unable to listen, and are able to do deals with Opposition parties only when it suits them.
Alun Michael: That is a pretty desperate attemptto defend the Welsh Conservatives. It is a suicide attempt, really. If the Welsh Conservatives engaged in constructive dialogue, it would be a Damascene change. Let us see whether they put their votes where their mouth is. It is easy to come out with such rhetoric, but we have seen the Conservatives, with the nationalists and the Liberal Democrats, rush into the Lobby when the chips are down, because antagonism is their normal attitude. During the early days of the Assembly, the Conservative approach stopped the consensual approach that, as a reflection of people’s desire for a new politics, we wanted to use to advance the Assembly. Perhaps the hon. Lady was not paying attention to Welsh politics at that time.
National health service bodies have responsibilities too, which can work to its benefit, if crime reduction is pursued vigorously. For example, an initiative was undertaken by Professor John Shepherd of Cardiff university, who, being responsible for the accident and emergency unit, got rather fed up with having to put faces back together after violent experiences. He put together a partnership to analyse the nature of the violent offences that resulted in people being taken to Cardiff’s accident and emergency unit. That analysis involved a police presence, victim support and greater reporting of offences. It identified examples of domestic violence, as well as locations and licensed premises in which a disproportionate number of offences took place and where the analysis suggested that the repetition of crime could be prevented. Certainly, that resulted in some hot spots in Cardiff being dealt with and a reduction in violent crime.
I recall that some years ago, when I had such responsibilities, I wrote to every NHS trust in Wales suggesting that they get together with the local police and learn lessons in order to benefit potential victims and the NHS, which has to provide very expensive treatment to victims of violence. I do not get the impression that those benefits have been pursued and squeezed out in every part of Wales. Proper analyses of crime can reduce repeat violence on licensed premises, as well as domestic violence, and that would result in fewer victims and remove some pressures on policing and NHS budgets allowing them to focus on the priorities of the local community. That analysis is important. Local authorities, the Assembly, police and other partners should be engaged in identifying and tackling crime and disorder.
I welcome the leadership from the police in Cardiff—there is a can-do approach and a real attempt to deal with local issues—but the quality of the information on which we are operating is still far poorer than it should be in the age of the computer and the internet. Again, I am happy that the senior team in Cardiff wants to improve that situation and has responded positively to some of my suggestions. However, the situation is not satisfactory. Some30 years have passed since the Devon and Cornwall police force showed the potential of its analysis of crime in the centre of Exeter, some 25 years since a local analysis in Cardiff and 10 years since some very powerful systems were devised in places such as the university of Salford.
Analyses provide less useful information now than when the current assistant chief constable, David Francis, as a young superintendent, provided us with a personal analysis using the Amstrad on the corner of his desk. I hope for better analyses, especially since the 101 centre in Cardiff put together officials from local authorities and the police and provided a proper analysis of the issues. That can be linked to proper intervention and the use of antisocial behaviour orders, which are sometimes successful, but not always developed crisply enough. However, we need greater concentration and a focus on joint action to protect citizens so it is important that local and central Government and the Welsh Assembly work together. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister will act as a bridge between the Home Office, the Welsh Assembly and those organisations to make the situation better in Wales.
Mr. Llwyd: On a point of order, Mr. Caton. I notice that the Secretary of State, with respect to him, has been able to extricate himself from the main Chamber, but the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire is not in his place.
The Chairman: That is not a point of order.
3.30 pm
Mr. David Jones (Clwyd, West) (Con): This has been an interesting and varied debate, which opened with a speech by the Secretary of State that was, in its own way, strangely comforting. That was perhaps owing to its familiarity, since it was almost word for word the same speech that he delivered last month to the Welsh Assembly. However, it would be unfair to be over-critical of the Secretary of State for the cut-and-paste approach to his speech. After all, he has many other matters on his mind at the moment. He is, of course, double hatted: also being Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and he appears very pleased with his performance over there. Indeed, so pleased that he recently announced to BBC Ulster that the financial deal that he had achieved to facilitate the establishment of the new Northern Ireland Executive would leave the people of Wales green with envy. Again this morning, he told the Committee about the wonderful initiative that he had brought forward in Northern Ireland to support renewable energy. We look forward to a similar initiative in Wales.
We have also heard today that the Secretary of State will be spending Christmas at Hillsborough castle rather than in Neath, so clearly he has a great affinity with Northern Ireland. He is also harbouring his own deputy leadership ambitions.
The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): I am enjoying every second of this, but as my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen can confirm, it has long been a tradition for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to spend Christmas in Northern Ireland on duty.
Mr. Jones: I fully understand that, and no doubt the Secretary of State will be spending new year in Wales. He obviously has his deputy leadership ambitions, too, which are well known. He told us this morning about his 4-tonne Jaguar, and he is no doubt aiming for an 8-tonner. When he comes before us today with his re-treaded speech, we should understand that he has other things on his mind.
The Secretary of State was of course suitably laudatory of the Labour Government. That will be the reason why he will probably be departing Wales and taking up the deputy prime ministerial position. No matter how badly the Government perform, there is the Secretary of State to bang the drum and belt out what a fine job they are doing.
What was telling in the Secretary of State’s speech was his concern about the challenge posed to Labour by the Conservative party in Wales. It was he who told colleagues that the Labour party would be in a bare-knuckle fight with the Tories and it is he who has expressed concerns about a Tory-led coalition. No doubt it is also he who has encouraged his colleague the First Minister of Wales to do his cosy deal withthe self-proclaimed only real socialists in Wales, the separatists in Plaid Cymru. They are strange bedfellows indeed.
 
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Prepared 15 December 2006