HC Deb 26 June 1986 vol 100 cc454-7
7. Mr. Neil Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent representations he has received about the Government's strategy for crime prevention.

Mr. Hurd

I receive many letters on crime prevention and am encouraged by the increasing support for the Government's initiatives in crime prevention.

On Monday I had the opportunity at our latest seminar to discuss the further development of those practical initiatives with a wide range of practical people representing industries and unions, central and local government, police, education and others.

Mr. Hamilton

Has my right hon. Friend received any representations on this subject from Manchester city council? Is he aware of the crime prevention strategy which that council enthusiastically pursues, supported by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), and of its police committee support unit, whose sole purpose seems to be to attack and undermine the police? It publishes a scurrilous publication called "Police Watch", which, in its first issue, seemed to accuse the Greater Manchester police force of conniving at murders, and seems to believe that the neighbourhood watch scheme is an exercise in setting up a secret police. Does my right hon. Friend think that that encourages effective policing in Manchester and is an effective crime prevention strategy?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. I am deeply worried about what is coming out of the city of Manchester. It seems to be following the worst example of the worst London boroughs in its anti-police activities. These are the followers of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), in his city. What we do not yet know is whether he has either the power or the will to do anything about it.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

Does the Secretary of State recall that whenever any Opposition Member or member of the public suggests that the solution to the problems of education, housing and health involves increased public expenditure, the Government invariably reply that problems are not solved by hurling money at them? Does he realise that his Government have done nothing but hurl money at this problem, yet the crime rate has become worse and worse in each successive year?

Mr. Hurd

The serious answer is that public money should be spent on all the policies in which the hon. Gentleman is interested. The difficulty that we constantly find is that existing institutions are not targeting that high public expenditure effectively. That is part of the purpose of the inner city initiative of my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General.

Mr. Malins

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the enormous encouragement that the Department has given to neighbourhood watch schemes. In London they have proved very successful, and in my constituency the increase in the number of neighbourhood watch schemes has been matched by a reduction in the number of burglaries and other crimes. I urge my right hon. Friend to continue to encourage these schemes.

Mr. Hurd

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. I know that his borough is one of the leaders in that respect. There are now 14,500 neighbourhood or home watch schemes, which is more than twice as many as a year ago. This is not the result of any diktat from the Home Office or the police — although we encourage such schemes— but is rather the spontaneous wish of those living in such neighbourhoods. I hope that, regardless of party, everyone will give them a helping hand.

Mr. Chris Smith

Would not by far the best strategy for crime prevention be to ensure that local authorities have the proper resources to enable them to keep the streets well lit and their council estates more secure, better designed and patrolled? Have the Government not spent the past seven years going in precisely the opposite direction and has that not endangered crime prevention, rather than securing it?

Mr. Hurd

The hon. Gentleman would not make those remarks if he had been at our seminar and had heard about the priority estates project of the Department of the Environment. Plenty of practical people were there, and they could tell the hon. Gentleman about it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and his Department wish to tackle the design of housing estates and remedy the huge public expenditure mistakes that were made 20 or 30 years ago. At that time huge sums were spent, but wrongly spent.

Mr. Churchill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the citizens of Manchester widely welcome neighbourhood watch schemes, and that those who oppose them are the criminals and also Manchester city council? Is it not a matter of grave concern that, instead of supporting neighbourhood watch schemes, that council is using ratepayers' money to finance a scurrilous anti-police publication, called "Police Watch-? Is it not sheer humbug on the part of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) to lecture the Government about law and order, when he does not have the guts to condemn his fellow Socialists on Manchester city council?

Mr. Hurd

I agree with my hon. Friend. Now that the right hon. Member for Gorton has been converted to crime prevention, I hope that he will go and tell his supporters, or his masters, on Manchester city council what it is all about, and that, instead of nitpicking and finding imaginary difficulties, they should set about encouraging people in Manchester to join this effort.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

What of the Government's strategy on the prevention of kidnap crimes? Is the Secretary of State aware that when the Cunningham brothers were being tried in the courts in Dublin last week over the Guinness kidnap, Mr. Patrick McEntee, the solicitor for the Cunningham brothers said that the reason why they kidnapped the Guinness woman was that they knew that she was covered by kidnap insurance? Does that not indicate that kidnap insurance acts as an incentive to kidnap, and how is the review coming on in the right hon. Gentleman's Department?

Mr. Hurd

Slowly, because of the genuine difficulties, of which the hon. Gentleman knows, in dealing with this matter unilaterally or in trying to prevent the payment of ransom in these cases. The hon. Gentleman knows the difficulties— he has tabled many questions. I accept that the problem is a genuine one and if we can find practical ways of tackling it we will do so.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

What consideration has my right hon. Friend given to improving the lighting on council housing estates and on side streets, where a lot of crime is occurring because the perpetrators can get away without being seen?

Mr. Hurd

My hon. Friend is right. The positioning of street lighting is crucial. Many mistakes have been made in this respect in the past, and this is one of the areas that my right hon. Friend and his Department and local authorities are energetically tackling.

Mr. Kaufman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any claim that the Government have a crime prevention strategy could come only from a Home Secretary who is a writer of imaginative fiction? Is it not a fact that, with 4 million serious crimes last year in Great Britain, the Government's law and order policy has collapsed, and that these crime prevention seminars that the Government hold at Downing street are meaningless gimmicks that are almost completely non-productive? When will the Government take serious action to bring the crime level down to the 2.5 million which they inherited from the Labour Government. which that Government said was too much and which they said they would cure, because it has risen by 1.5 million since then?

Mr. Hurd

The right hon. Gentleman's appearance is at least one up for the parliamentary clear-up rate, anyway.

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that the kind of measures that we were discussing on Monday, namely, the formation of a British Standard to improve the security of motor cars, or the agreement of 10 to 15 insurance companies and brokers to give discounts to people who improve the security of their own houses, are gimmicks, he is a long way from reality. They are very practical steps, along with dozens of others, to encourage people to take sensible measures to prevent crime.

Forward to