Hywel in Parliament - Debates

The Government's Legislative Programme

20th December 2002

Dr. Hywel Francis (Aberavon): I warmly welcome the positive impact that the Gracious Speech will have on my constituency and the whole of Wales. My constituents would especially welcome the emphasis on crime and public safety, and confirmation of the Green Paper on pension reform.

Only an hour ago, I met 30 of my constituents. One of them, Daniel Jeremy, who is 10 years of age, urged me to delay my speech because he wanted me to accompany him on the London Eye. When I explained that I was going to speak on important issues such as pensions, crime and disability, he agreed that I should attend the Committee. The sense of community solidarity is still strong in Wales. Indeed, Wales has been called a community of communities and, more recently, a commonwealth of communities. That vocabulary of commonwealth or community solidarity of citizens, to which my right hon. Friend referred, comes easily to us and is much more appropriate than the vocabulary of subjects. Subjects are subjected, and are victims. Citizens are active and change society, which is the spirit of this Gracious Speech.

In my locality, as elsewhere, all sorts of community groups care deeply about the vital issues of antisocial behaviour, our physical environment and caring for each other. In my community of Cwmafan in the Aberavon constituency, Cwmafan Residents Against Crime works with young people to provide better facilities for them. In other neighbouring communities, the Croeserw Community Association, Port Talbot MIND and the Briton Ferry Brunel dock regeneration project are all in their different ways making a valuable contribution to improving the quality of the lives of their communities.

More widely, the local police, the local authority and Neath Port Talbot county borough council have tackled antisocial behaviour, especially since the return of a Labour Government in 1997, through their crime and disorder partnership, which, in turn, set up a multi-agency crime and disorder case review group. The chief constable in south Wales commended that strategy as good practice, and wants to roll it out throughout the region. The wide range of partners in the group, from local police and the local authority to the local health group and women's aid, indicates a positive and active citizenship approach that not only addresses the fear of crime but creates a more inclusive and active community, especially for young and disabled people. That is the local framework—a collaborative, inclusive citizens' approach on which the new legislation will build. We should therefore welcome tougher sentences for dangerous and violent sex offenders, more drug treatment, the streamlining of antisocial behaviour orders, action against antisocial tenants and, I hope, landlords, and a new curb to tackle alcohol-related crime, which continues to be underestimated in my constituency and elsewhere. We should also welcome the new restrictions on antisocial behaviour, especially, as we saw recently, in regard to the excessive use of fireworks. In my recent discussions with local magistrates, I was impressed by their desire to engage in the public discussion on the administration of justice locally and nationally. They very much welcome ''Justice for All''. In that dialogue, they and many others locally have Column Number: 054told me how much they want to understand better our rights and responsibilities as citizens.

On rights, many constituents who are retired steelworkers have been discussing with me for some time the protection of their pensions, which the shameful treatment of ASW employees in Cardiff and Sheerness has made much more urgent. I welcome the Government's commitment to publishing the Green Paper on pension reform, and I urge the Secretary of State to consult unions, employers and pension organisations to ensure that all current and future pensioners achieve justice and security, especially those involved in insolvency cases. I also hope that the Government will consider addressing the citizens' rights of people with disabilities under a disabilities rights Bill. That would address the gaps in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Such a Bill would deal with the inadequate definition of disability in the Act, its limited scope in relation to transport and housing and the current exemption of private clubs and membership-based organisations.

In March 1999 I participated in a conference in Ystradgynlais—I am looking at the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams)—which discussed issues in relation to what was called citizenship and the new democracy in Wales. The hon. Member for Ceredigion, who is not in his place, was a participant. We are now in the new democratic era and I want a wider discussion of citizens' rights and responsibilities, which the Gracious Speech affords us. That conference, organised by the adult learners body in Wales, which was then called Niace Cymru and is now called Niace Dysgu Cymru, emphasised the importance of linking lifelong learning to active citizenship and communities, and what the Secretary of State earlier and very appropriately called a common Welsh citizenship. In this spirit of greater inclusion I congratulate the Secretary of State on welcoming, this morning, the proposed Llandarcy academy of sport and learning, which will go a long way towards a system that will create a more positive environment for fighting crime. The academy's vision is a citizen's vision—a vision of equality and opportunity, very much in the spirit of the rights and responsibilities envisaged in the Gracious Speech. I believe that that vision of citizenship and of rights and responsibilities will inform the new legislation envisaged for England and Wales, including disability rights and the rights of pensioners, past and present.

All that will be informed by the good progress already made in my constituency and elsewhere, in tackling crime and building active citizenship and communities. For that reason, I welcome the Gracious Speech to Wales.

Return to the top of the page
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Level Double-A Conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0