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We should also recognise that four Welshmen have been tragically killed in action while deployed on operations across the globe. On St. Davids day, we should remember the ultimate sacrifice that they have made for the United Kingdom and for Wales. We must also pay tribute to the undisclosed number of service personnel who have returned home with serious injuries sustained while in theatre. Thousands of Welsh sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines from the constituencies of every Member here remain overseas, each making a significant contribution to vital military missions, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards have been placed on immediate notice to deploy to Kosovo in
support of the NATO taskforce already in the country. Their commitment to service is greatly appreciated, and on St. Davids day the best wishes from everybody in this House go out to them.
On a linked matter, I hope that the Secretary of State will continue to support the sustained investment in St. Athan for military training and to show the political leadership that is required to maximise our military assets in Wales. There is some doubt about that, not least because of the views that have been expressed on defence policy by Labours partners in the Labour-Plaid coalition in the Assembly. I hope that he will reject their policies and give us the assurance we need that the project will go ahead.
Much has changed since we last celebrated St. Davids day. Certainly, 2007 was a watershed year for Welsh politics. Mays Assembly elections marked a fundamental shift in support away from Labour and, as I believe the Secretary of State agrees, marked a new chapter in the devolution processperhaps an unexpected chapter from the Labour partys perspective. Welsh Conservatives became the official Opposition, and our gains last May underline, I hope, our partys credentials as the only credible alternative to Labour. Not least, without wishing to rub in it in, last May represented Labours worst electoral performance since 1918. On this St. Davids day I, like the Secretary of State, look forward to the local elections in Mayand to a general election, if the Prime Minister, who seems to spend most of his time dithering, summons up his courage and manages to call one.
The other changethe obvious oneis the one at Gwydir house. When, during last years debate, I predicted the departure of the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), it was only in jest. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank him for his courtesy and consideration to me throughout his tenure at the Wales Office and when I shadowed him on foreign affairs. He has always treated me with courtesy and respectbehind the Chair, if not always on the Floor of the House. I wish him well, and I would like to put that on the record.
I am pleased to welcome the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) back to the post of Secretary of State for Wales. The Chamber seems slightly surreal this week, as we have had a MurphyJim Murphy or Paul Murphyat the Dispatch Box every single day; we seem to be making Murphys law.
What a challenge the new Secretary of State faces, given the very different devolutionary settlement from the days when he previously held the post. He painted himself as a devo-realist and highlighted some of the problems that he has to deal with. I think he now realises that, far from diminishing, the work load at the Welsh Office has increased and is becoming increasingly complex. At the same time, the number of staff is increasing to support that increased work load. One could take the view that more work means that there is more activity, but this is not necessarily an improved deal for Walesit reveals a Government Department that is struggling to cope with a very complicated system that the Government themselves have created.
I do not know whether the Secretary of State has had a chance to count the number of ways in which we can legislate for Wales, but we now have 13, including Wales-only Acts, provisions in Acts applying to Wales
specifically, Acts of the UK Parliament applying to England and Wales, subordinate legislation for Wales, and legislative competency ordersI could go on. It is clear that the Government were not prepared for such a complicated system. We have struggled to get Welsh clauses drafted for Bills, Ministers have given confused and contradictory explanations of how the different processes should work, and legislation has been held up in Wales, in Westminster or sometimes in a bureaucratic black hole between the two institutions.
For me, it is crucial that an over-complex and unsatisfactory system set up by the Government does not damage the legislative process for Wales. That is why I have pushed repeatedly for protected time to discuss the Welsh provisions in Westminster Bills. I am glad that the Secretary of State and the Wales Office have now agreed on that, and I look forward to ensuring that legislation on Welsh matters, no matter what form it arrives in, is fully scrutinised and given the time that it deserves in this House. Let us face the truththis complicated legislative system was developed to bridge the gap between Labour MPs and Labour Assembly Membersto try to pacify those holding increasingly divergent views and to fool those at both ends of the motorway, as was said in the debates on the original legislation to create the constitutional settlement. Nearly 10 years after the first devolutionary settlement in Wales, instead of getting on with the business of governing Wales we still have that constant pressure from internal politics and positioning, which I hope we will be able to put to rest at some stage. I still think that the right hon. Member for Neath was mistaken when he said that the Government of Wales Act 1998 settled the constitutional question for a generation, but we shall see.
Lembit Öpik: Obviously, the hon. Lady would like to be the Secretary of State for Wales instead of his shadow. Will she therefore clarify whether she thinks that the process of devolution should continue? What is the Conservative party line? Is it to improve devolution and give more powers to the Welsh Assembly, or is it the same as that of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies), who is evidently in favour of reducing its powers?
Mrs. Gillan: I thank the hon. Gentleman, but our aim as Conservatives has been clearit is to ensure that the Assembly is a success and delivers for people. That does not necessarily mean opposing more powers for the Assembly, but it does mean ensuring that if further powers are granted, that should be what the people of Wales want, and that it happens when the capacity of that institution has been developed so that it can benefit those it serves.
The hon. Gentleman is leading me down a path well in advance of any policy announcements that will be made from my side of the House. We are a year or two away from a general election, if the Prime Minister finds the courage to call one, and I do not intend to lay out our policies and proposals so early on. The Secretary of State referred to the convention, the
parameters of which have not even been set, and it would be courteous to wait and see what they are; indeed, I am waiting to have my first meeting with its chairman to see what proposals, thoughts and discussions are moving forward.
David T.C. Davies: Will my hon. Friend join me in expressing happiness at the deeply gratifying sight of so many Members recognising that it is very likely that she will be Secretary of State for Wales in a year or so?
Mr. Don Touhig (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The hon. Lady was not able to articulate any Conservative policies just now, but her leader said he believes that only English Members of Parliament should vote on English matters. If I recall correctly, her colleague the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) said in the last Welsh Grand Committee that Welsh Members of Parliament would vote with English Members on English matters. How confusing can the Tory policy get?
Mrs. Gillan: It is precisely because this party is the party of the Union[Hon. Members: Hear, hear!] Hang onwait for it. We need to acknowledge genuine concern over the devolutionary settlement, and we will work constructively to find a solution to that problem. To say at this stage that we are anti-devolution would be quite incorrect.
We have made it clear that things can be done differently at different levels of government. We share the view that when an issue can be best resolved locally, that is the course we should take. When, however, a UK-approach is needed, co-operation and collaboration should be the guiding principles. I am interested in working with the Secretary of State to see how we can improve our processes, so that Members are able to get accurate information at Government level on matters affecting their constituencies, without having to ask Assembly Members to table questions for them. There should be an open door in that case because there is a problem. Quite rightly, Members want to know what is happening in their constituencies, and if there are occasions when they are ruled out of order, or when there is no mechanism for them to do so, it is difficult. Our aim is clear: it is to ensure that the Assembly is a success and that it delivers for the people of Wales.
We must take great care that we do not become a little bit too obsessed with identity and nationhood. I do not have to look in the mirror every quarter of an hour to remind myself that I am a WelshmanI am, and I am proud of it. At the same time, however, I know that what my constituents expect of me is an improvement in their lives.[ Official Report, Welsh Grand Committee, 12 December 2007; c. 27.]
I agree with that, and I am sure that every Member can, too. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that Wales is, and should continue to be, part of the Union. I hope that his partys dangerous liaison with Plaid Cymru will not weaken the links.
Today is a day for celebrating Wales, its culture, its people, its heritage and its future. I want to talk about the Welsh language for a moment because I am proud to remind the House that it was a Conservative Government who introduced the Welsh Language
Act 1993, which led to a huge renaissance in the use of Welsh. Perhaps it is also an opportune moment for me to pay tribute to Lord Roberts, who retired from the Conservative Front Bench in the other place this year. Lord Roberts piloted that Act through the House, and I am sure that we have not heard the last of him.
This brings me to something that caused me great concern. I heard that the plans for the daily Welsh language paper Y BydI hope the House will please forgive my pronunciationhave been abandoned after receiving insufficient support. May I ask the Secretary of State what encouragement he has given to Y Byd? I met Y Byds promoters at the Eisteddfod last year, and they were full of enthusiasm and hope. I was very much looking forward to the launch of the first edition, and I am disappointed that the paper may not ever be published.
Paul Flynn: The sad fact is that Y Byd is no longer a practical proposition because of the collapse in circulation of print papers. It is very much a possibility that it can be web newspaper, or a handout given with other newspapers. However, for it to stand alone as a print newspaper is not a practical possibility.
Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Perhaps it is apposite, therefore, to ask the Minister of State if he will comment on the matter when he makes his winding-up speech.
Another important matter in Wales, which the Secretary of State did not touch on, is that of law and order. In my experience, during the past two years policing has become harder in Wales. We feel that police should be out on our streets in Wales doing what they joined the police force to do: fighting crime. Instead, we are finding that all four of our police forces are fighting red tape and bureaucracy. That is why this party has advanced policies to scrap stop-and-search forms, and would certainly reduce the bureaucracy that our serving police officers face every day.
The police are not just being asked to be pen-pushing bureaucrats, but seem to have been appointed as jailers. They have to use their cells to hold so many prisoners that even the Government are losing track of them. I do not know whether the Secretary of State is aware of this, but last month the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), had to write to me, informing me that he had provided me with incorrect figures on the number of prisoners who were being held in Welsh police stations. He corrected the figures, and had to revise the figure of prisoner nights upwards by 426. The total number of prisoners being held in custody cells last year in Wales was 4,200. That is a staggering increase, which puts unprecedented strain on police forces and budgets in Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State will make representations to his Cabinet colleague to consider this matter, because it has become such a burden that it is causing problems for many of our forces.
Lembit Öpik: Does the hon. Lady agree that the other scandal with regard to justice in Wales is the fact that large tracts of land, including Montgomeryshire, do not have access to a courtroom? Having been promised a courtroom for Newtown many years ago, there has not been any significant action to construct it. Does she agree that in order for the justice system to work effectively, there has to be local access to courts so that lawyers do not have to drive their own defendants to the court, with all the inconvenience and unacceptable intrusion that that entails?
Mrs. Gillan: I confess that I am not intimately familiar with the specific case of the hon. Gentlemans constituency, but that is also a matter the Minister could address in his winding-up speech. It is obviously one of great concern.
Mr. Roger Williams: The hon. Lady was talking about the budgets of the four police authorities. Does she agree that one of the real burdens on those budgets were the proposals to amalgamate all four police forces and the great amount of moneywasted money as it turned outspent on considering that change? The Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing has said that that process should never have gone forward at all.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman knows that I was very vocal on that subject at the time. I thought it was a complete waste of resources, time and effort. The process was abandoned, leaving four of our police forces much poorer, and although compensation was paid, it did not nearly meet the amount of money that had to be expended on a wasteful and useless administrative exercise. Quite frankly, the police have better things to do with their time.
That matter is no different, however, from the issues we face in other areas of law and order, such as prison overcrowding. I hope that the Secretary of State will address that disgrace in all our prisons, and specifically in Welsh prisons. They are overcrowded and full to bursting. Prisoners have to be released early and we know that often prisoners are released early merely to reoffend.
The Government have this great idea of huge, bright and shiny new prisons, but that is not the right solution for Wales or even for the UK. They may supply more prison places for a sort of factory system, but they will do nothing to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent them from reoffending. It remains a sad fact that there are no womens prisons in Wales, nor is there a prison in north Wales. Consequently, Welsh prisoners are often held far from home, are unable to rehabilitate themselves and are unable to keep those family contacts that are so important in getting a man or woman back on the straight and narrow.
Mark Pritchard: Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the prisons crisis could be tackled if the 11,000 foreign prisoners in England and Wales who had committed specific crimes were considered for deportation?
My hon. Friend knows that I used to speak about that subject in our Home Office team and that I felt strongly about it. It is amazing that the Government do not appear sufficiently competent to
deport people, for whom there are deportation orders, at the end of their sentences. Worse, there are some categories of prisoners about whom negotiations should have taken place to ascertain what other arrangements could be made for many of themfor example, being held in prisons in their own countries. My hon. Friend therefore makes a valid point.
Julie Morgan: The hon. Lady said that there is no womens prison in Wales. Does she support Baroness Corstons recommendations for far fewer women to be in prison? Most women in prison do not need to be there. Does the hon. Lady support developing a facility in Wales that addresses the many needs of women?
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Lady is pandering to my personal prejudices and views. There are too many women in prison, and that has a disproportionate effect because when a woman is locked up, the children are often deprived and put into care. We must be careful about our approach to women and criminality. When I examined the matter, I was pleased to visit some of the small prison units that were designed to ensure good educative processes as well as good rehabilitation facilities, which can be provided successfully in smaller units. The hon. Lady has given me an opportunity to reflect perhaps not a Front-Bench but a personal position on women in the criminal justice system.
Mark Williams: A fundamental pressure on the prison systemovercrowdingputs pressure on the education system in the Prison Service. Many prisonersI met some in Parc prisondespair as they wait unacceptable lengths of time to attend anger management courses. That does not help the process of rehabilitation.
Mrs. Gillan: The hon. Gentleman is right. People can start a cognitive behavioural therapy course but they do not necessarily finish it because they are moved to another prison. There is no point putting a man or woman in prison at a cost of £37,000 or £38,000 a year to receive no rehabilitation and have no hope.
Mr. Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) (Con): My hon. Friend may know that the Welsh Affairs Committee visited Eastwood Park, the womens prison in Gloucestershire. The educators there do excellent work. One of the perspectives that they communicated to us is that they do not have long enough to work with some of the girls and young women who pass through that prison, such as those serving sentences of four, six or eight weeks. It is not long enough to tackle some of the underlying emotional problems that drive their addictions and criminality. Indeed, they build much stronger relationships and experience more successful outcomes with the girls and young women who serve longer sentences of three, six, nine months and more.
Mrs. Gillan: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Care in sentencing and considering what needs to be done with an individual is important in the justice system, and I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution.
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