HC Deb 18 December 1986 vol 107 cc1340-2
8. Mr. Patrick Thompson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for stimulating the further development of neighbourhood watch schemes.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

There are already some 17,500 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales. This clearly demonstrates the public's willingness to be involved in positive crime prevention activity. The first national neighbourhood watch conference took place on 8 December, which was also the day on which we launched a new quarterly magazine Good Neighbour. Together, these will help to disseminate ideas, good practice and projects to encourage further development of neighbourhood watch.

Mr. Thompson

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and for the support that his Department is giving to home watch schemes in Norfolk, especially in my constituency, where good progress is being made. This must be one of the good, practical ways in which to deal with crime, especially where elderly people who feel under threat are concerned. Can my hon. Friend find ways in which to increase further liaison between police officers and the community and to publicise these matters further, especially in East Anglia, through the Magpies programme?

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. During the past six months, 10 new schemes became operational in his area and five more are setting up. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about communication. That is why we held the standing conference and why we have the new magazine.

Mr. Janner

Although I welcome neighbourhood watch schemes, does the Minister recognise that they are no substitute whatever for having enough policemen on the beat, and that people in my constituency are afraid to go out at night because of what can happen to them on the street and because they do not want to leave their homes empty? When will the Minister provide enough policemen on the beat and stop refusing the Leicestershire police force the policemen it requires and has asked for so that it can be properly staffed?

Mr. Hogg

That is a singularly unattractive question from a member of the Labour party.

Mr. Janner

It is just that the Minister does not like it.

Mr. Hogg

Since 1979, manpower available to the police service has increased by about 15,000. Since 1979, we have spent more than 38 per cent. more in real terms on the police. I remind the House that when the Labour party was in power the police were grossly underpaid and left the force in droves.

Mr. Watts

Is my hon. Friend aware that the recent increase in the approved establishment of the Thames Valley police is extremely welcome as it provides an opportunity for the further development of community watch schemes and other measures to combat crime? Is my hon. Friend further aware that the antics at Greenham Common, supported by the Labour party to the hilt, are a serious drain on the manpower available to the force and divert its efforts away from the detection of crime and the arrest of criminals?

Mr. Hogg

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. I am grateful to him and other Conservative colleagues for the way in which they have put the arguments in support of the Thames Valley application for an increase in establishment, which we have been able to meet. My hon. Friend has suggested that the demands of Greenham Common undermine the capacity of the Thames Valley police to respond. Who supports the people who are demonstrating at Greenham Common? I will tell you, Mr. Speaker. The Labour party supports Greenham Common demonstrators.

Mr. Soley

I wonder whether the Minister would like to co-operate with me in setting up a neighbourhood watch scheme in the House to find out how many times the Secretary of State for the Environment has broken the law. What will he do, that is effective, about crime prevention, over and above the cheap option of neighbourhood watch? We all know that it is the cuts in caretaker provision and other forms of crime prevention that have pushed the crime rate up and that it is the Government who have done that with the full co-operation of the Secretary of State for the Environment, who has a lot to answer for, besides his breaches of the law.

Mr. Hogg

I shall be very pleased to set up a neighbourhood watch scheme in the House, because we would then begin to identify which Labour Members supported the demonstrations at Grunwick, which Labour Members stand on the Wapping picket lines and which Labour Members persistently encourage those who riot and abuse the police. We should certainly have a neighbourhood watch scheme, and we know who will be found out.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Major Hugh Thornburn of Alderley Edge in my constituency has been in the forefront of the development of neighbourhood watch schemes. Does my hon. Friend, who clearly supports neighbourhood watch schemes, accept that an additional modest resource is necessary if the co-operation of the police with the development of neighbourhood watch is to exploit the maximum co-operation of ordinary lay men and women in society in combating crime?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point, but I re-emphasise to the House that, since 1979, this Government have increased spending on the police service by more than 38 per cent. in real terms. It is for chief constables to determine how they allocate their expenditure within their budgets.

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