HC Deb 07 December 1989 vol 163 cc455-6
4. Mr. Colvin

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many neighbourhood watch schemes now exist in England and Wales.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

At the end of September 1989 there were estimated to be about 75,300 residential neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales. That is almost 16,000 more than the number recorded 12 months ago.

Mr. Colvin

That is good news. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that one of the keys to the success of neighbourhood watch schemes is awareness by the criminal element in the areas covered that a scheme is in operation? Will he therefore take this opportunity to name and condemn those local authorities which still forbid neighbourhood watch signs on their streets?

Mr. Patten

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is a great shame when local authorities do not co-operate with local communities to help neighbourhood watch schemes. I should be happy if the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) would join me in writing a letter to councils such as Cleveland and Haringey asking them to change their policy.

Mr. Sheerman

Given the appalling levels of crime, which have risen steadily every year since the Conservative party has been in office, we wholeheartedly endorse the citizens' response to joining neighbourhood watch campaigns. We must ask, however, that those neighbourhood watch schemes do not just go on and on. They depend upon volunteers, but they must be managed. The police and local authorities are asking for some kind of structure to make them more effective. If the Minister wants a joint letter to local authorities to encourage local councils to participate, he will get it from Labour Members, but if he can get local authorities to collaborate on this, will he ask them about the Shops Act as well?

Mr. Patten

If the hon. Gentleman will come with me to a Labour-controlled borough such as Islington to see the Highbury Quadrant neighbourhood watch scheme, which includes about 800 households—largely council houses, but some in private ownership—he will find that that scheme, like many others in inner cities, is getting along extremely well with a bit of help and encouragement from the police, and is helping with crime prevention and with rebuilding the community, through concern for environmental and other issues.

Sir Ian Lloyd

The whole House supports the admirable development of neighbourhood watch schemes which do not offend civil liberties, but will my right hon. and hon. Friends pay attention to what might be described as the recent development of neighbourhood spying schemes in which a few chief constables have decided to offer the public freephones so that friends, neighbours and relations can report each other anonymously? That has not been authorised by Parliament and it is thoroughly offensive—more reminiscent of the KGB, the Cheka and the Gestapo than of British justice.

Mr. Patten

My right hon. and learned Friend and I will certainly look into that in response to my hon. Friend's important question.