HC Deb 21 April 1994 vol 241 cc1022-3
2. Mr. Paice

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how he intends to improve liaison between the police and local communities in rural areas; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Michael Howard)

A number of my proposals for reform of the police service will help to improve liaison with local communities, both in towns and in the countryside. They include wider representation on police authorities, a requirement to consult locally and to publish a policing plan that reflects local needs and the development of the parish constable scheme. I am delighted that there is now a parish constable in Bottisham in my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Paice

May I assure my right hon. and learned Friend that the parish constable scheme in Bottisham has been widely welcomed? The scheme represents a clear, visible police presence, which is what is needed by so many people in the villages who seek reassurance that the police are really there and are protecting their interests. Is he aware that any extension of that parish constable scheme in Cambridgeshire has now been severely jeopardised by a decision of the county council, which is controlled by the Liberal Democrats and Labour? Having been given an extra £1.1 million in the police SSA, the council has decided to spend only £100,000 on the police.

Mr. Howard

I am afraid that the circumstances that my hon. Friend reports to the House are all too prevalent. Opposition spokesmen make fine noises in the House some of the time, but when their parties have control of local authorities they consistently fail to make available the money that they should for policing.

Mr. Blair

Is not the biggest threat to police and to communities in rural and urban areas the growing link between crime and drugs? Will the Home Secretary give urgent consideration to two proposals? First, he should put a national Government strategy behind successful projects such as King's Cross, where police, local government, schools and businesses are working together to drive the drug dealers off the street. Secondly, will he get together with the Secretary of State for Education to give us a comprehensive programme for drugs education among young people? That is absolutely essential in deterring young people from the blind alley of drug abuse.

Mr. Howard

Of course I encourage schemes such as that in King's Cross, and of course we take the education of the young seriously. That is a part of crime prevention to which we attach great importance. The hon. Gentleman wrote an article about crime prevention in the Daily Mirror this week, in which he mentioned a number of local council schemes. He unaccountably failed to mention the fact that they all had one thing in common—they were all funded by the Government. He mentioned Wigan council, but failed to mention that it receives money from city challenge and estate action. He mentioned Newcastle, Bradford and Islington, which all receive money from safer cities schemes, but he failed to mention that factor. He even mentioned a close-circuit television scheme in South Tyneside which is funded by the Department of the Environment's urban programme. When will the hon. Gentleman give credit where it is due for the Government's excellent crime prevention programme?

Mr. David Nicholson

Let me return to rural areas. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that there has been a rising tide of crime in rural areas, as criminals have become more mobile, and such communities are vulnerable? Is he also aware that there is a good welcome for the parish constables scheme and for the proposals in recent legislation for new age travellers and ravers?

Mr. Howard

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I entirely agree that the measures contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill will make a significant contribution to fighting rural crime. That is something to which we attach particular importance and priority.

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