HC Deb 05 December 1991 vol 200 cc386-7
6. Mr. Lee

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many neighbourhood watch schemes are now in place.

Mr. John Patten

At the end of December 1990 there were estimated to be more than 92,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, covering nearly 5 million households. They are multiplying fast.

Mr. Lee

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my Pendle constituency has 96 of these excellent neighbourhood watch schemes involving almost 20,500 households. Does he agree that not only do those excellent schemes make a positive contribution towards crime prevention, but they build bridges between the police and the community?

Mr. Patten

As my hon. Friend says, the schemes are valuable in building bridges between the police and the community. I was particularly interested to note that in the Whitefield area of Nelson in my hon. Friend's constituency, largely occupied by ethnic minority households, a neighbourhood watch scheme has recently been set up and is helping to build bridges between the ethnic minority residents and the police.

Mr. Vaz

I, too, welcome the growth of the neighbourhood watch schemes. However, does the Minister realise that the schemes place a great burden on individual residents in a particular area and that they depend on the co-operation of the police? In Leicestershire, the police are spending a great deal of their valuable time assisting neighbourhood watch schemes. What additional resources can be provided to local police forces in order to make the schemes even more efficient than they are?

Mr. Patten

Neighbourhood watch schemes are by their nature genuine voluntary organisations, although they receive Government support, in that substantial resources are devoted to them through the funding of the police, who themselves assist neighbourhood watch schemes.

While I am on my feet, perhaps I may apologise for referring in an earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North when I meant my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens), who made the suggestion.

Mr. Malins

Neighbourhood watch schemes are very strong in my constituency and are a good example of the police and public working together in helping to beat crime. In the Croydon area, where neighbourhood watch schemes are strong, burglaries are down. Does not that show that public co-operation and awareness are major factors in reducing crime in our cities?

Mr. Patten

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That pattern is the same whether one is speaking of reasonably affluent, suburban Croydon, the outer estates of Luton, or the council house areas of Wythenshawe. Where there is sustained development of neighbourhood watch schemes, there is a sustained decrease in the number of burglaries.

Mr. Randall

Does the Minister agree that not only crime but anti-social behaviour are causing immense alarm and distress throughout almost all of Britain? Does he accept that the overall effectiveness of the various schemes and agencies that contribute to crime prevention, including neighbourhood watch, is seriously impaired by the lack of co-ordination between them? Will he consider encouraging local authorities to formulate local strategies aimed at preventing crime and anti-social behaviour which are based on far greater co-ordination between the various agencies involved?

Mr. Patten

We are consulting further on a recent report on those issues. Suffice it to say that no one owns neighbourhood watch schemes, except those who belong to them and who have helped to make them a success. The schemes are not in the ownership of the police, local authorities, any political party or any business. They are in the ownership of their communities, which we should support in their endeavours—not try to take over something that they started only in 1982, when the first neighbourhood watch began. There are now 92,000 such schemes, entirely due to the endeavours of individual active citizens and communities.

Mr. Dunn

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to congratulate those who are running successful neighbourhood watch schemes in Dartford? Does he agree that neighbourhood watches can be deemed only an aid to proper policing, in terms of numbers and police efficiency? Will my right hon. Friend intervene with the chairman of Kent police authority to ensure that Dartford has its fair share of the new allocation of extra manpower for the county of Kent?

Mr. Patten

I will certainly consult my noble Friend Earl Ferrers, who is directly responsible for those matters, and will draw my hon. Friend's remarks to his attention. The additional 1,000 police recently announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be largely devoted to beat policing. My right hon. Friend has rightly ensured that 80 out of every 100 additional officers provided will go straight back on the beat, in Dartford and elsewhere.

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