HC Deb 24 April 1986 vol 96 cc409-10
6. Mr. Colvin

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the progress in setting up neighbourhood watch schemes in shire counties.

Mr. Giles Shaw

In December 1985 there were some 3,850 neighbourhood watch schemes operating in shire counties, which was more than double the number recorded in January 1985.

Mr. Colvin

That is indeed good news, but does my hon. Friend agree that chief constables are probably wise to proceed cautiously with neighbourhood watch schemes, perhaps on a pilot scheme basis, in order to ensure that they have the wholehearted support of the general public, without which the schemes will not only fail but could be an additional drain on police resources, which are scarce? Where the schemes are proven to be effective, will he consider increasing police establishments to enable more schemes to be set up, because neighbourhood watch schemes may help prevent crime and catch criminals, but they require additional policemen?

Mr. Shaw

I am very sensitive to my hon. Friend's point. Those neighbourhood watch schemes which are stimulated from within the community, arising perhaps from consultative councils such as that which is being established at Eastleigh in my hon. Friend's constituency, may well not be as manpower intensive for the police as those which are established under police intiation. However, I accept my hon. Friend's point that, like so many other police activities, all should be assessed in relation to police establishments.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the Minister accept that neighbourhood watch schemes may have considerable value in some areas, but that the public are provided with far better protection if people living in rural areas can see the occasional policeman walking through their village or small town? Will he take steps to ensure that chief constables are aware of their responsibility to have more policemen on foot in the shire counties?

Mr. Shaw

The hon. and learned Gentleman should be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has invited chief police officers in all counties and, indeed, in the metropolitan areas, to make representations in relation to establishment, and he is currently considering many applications. Neighbourhood watch schemes and all the other activities that are mounted around those schemes have resulted in a welcome reduction in burglaries and I hope that that will be applicable in rural areas as well.

Mr. Rathbone

May I put the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) in a slightly different way? Is my hon. Friend sure that insufficient numbers of policemen are not holding up the introduction of the schemes in many places?

Mr. Shaw

We are concerned at having sufficient police available, amongst other things, to enable us to stimulate crime prevention measures such as neighbourhood watch schemes. There is a role here for special constables, which we are currently examining.

Mr. Clelland

Is the Minister aware of the excellent neighbourhood watch scheme set up in the Northumbria police force area, which, along with the metro transport system, the new metro shopping development and the setting up of regional drug squads, has placed considerable pressure on manning levels in that police force? When will the Home Secretary reply to the request from the Northumbria police authority in letters dated 22 January and 15 April for an increase of 75 in the manning of the Northumbria police force?

Mr. Shaw

I am aware that Northumbria, amongst others, has made an application, and I know that each of those applications must be, carefully considered. We shall respond to that application, as to the others, as soon as possible.

Mr. Conway

Is my hon. Friend aware of the progress which has been made in Shrewsbury with the neighbourhood watch scheme? Is his Department encouraging chief police officers to expand the special constabulary and to link them in with the neighbourhood watch schemes? That would increase the number of foot patrols in shire areas.

Mr. Shaw

We are requiring all chief constables to take a view of all their resources. My hon. Friend will be aware that the numbers in the special constabulary are entirely a matter for the individual chief constable. There is little doubt that they would be a useful adjunct to crime prevention activities.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister take into account the fact that there ought to be neighbourhood watch schemes in the counties of Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Berkshire and all those areas where the Americans have bases? We need people to keep an eye on the criminal activities of President Reagan and those who allowed him to bomb Libya and other countries—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is very wide of the question.

Mr. Skinner

If the Government will not keep an eye on him, somebody has to do it.

Mr. Shaw

I suspect that that is a little outwith the neighbourhood over on which I was answering questions.