HL Deb 30 July 1981 vol 423 cc754-6

2.39 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what has been learned from the various schemes of community policing which operate in certain parts of the country; whether these have proved effective; and whether there are any plans for their extension.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, a number of research projects are under way with the aim of assessing the effectiveness of community policing. While it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, there are, I understand, indications that community policing schemes may have the effect of increasing the flow of information between the public and the police about criminal activity, facilitating co-operation between the police and other agencies within the community and improving relationships between the police and the public. The extension of community policing schemes is a matter for the operational judgment of individual chief officers. They are, I know, determined to take whatever measures may be appropriate to maintain and strengthen links with all sections of the community.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend the Minister for that reply, I should like to ask him, first, when is the research likely to be published and known? Secondly, would he not agree that almost inevitably community police—that is, the policemen on the beat—are likely to have knowledge of and a relaionship with the people in their area which is far better than that of any other police? Thirdly, I wonder whether my noble friend is able to say anything about the Berlin scheme, the Berlin police having copied the English police in their system of community policing and now being said to have improved on it? Is the Minister able to comment on that?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, as regards the question of when the current research will be published, I point out that there are four different pieces of research of which I have some details, and another two possible further projects, and I think that on those I ought to write to my noble friend, which I shall do. Secondly, I entirely agree with the view which my noble friend has expressed that those who are policing in this way are likely to have more knowledge of their local area and therefore to be more effective in their policing. Of course, the factor common to all community policing schemes is to have enough policemen. In that respect the substantial increase in the total strength of the police service over the last two years has been very important. I should like to study what my noble friend has said about the project in Berlin, which I know has some aspects which are of importance to us in this country.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, has not the experience of community policing, introduced by the splendid Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall, already shown provably that improvement in the various ways that he has introduced there cannot only improve relations between the public and the police, but can actually reduce the incidence of crime?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, there is little firm evidence about the benefits of community policing, but we all know that what the noble and learned Lord says is true. What the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall and other chief constables have found is that, among other things, there is a major task in this area of persuading people and local organisations that they are responsible, with the police, for the maintenance of law and order.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his Answer appeared to reveal that the Home Office was reluctant about following up this research? The problem is very urgent and a great deal is known about it. Can he not confirm that the tradition in this country, going back to the earliest times, is that the people themselves were very largely responsible for policing?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hope that no reluctance has been shown by my replies. All the pieces of research, which were the basis of the Question tabled by my noble friend Lady Faithfull, are already being undertaken either by the Home Office Research Unit or at the behest of the Home Office. On the second point which my noble friend Lord Inglewood has made, this is exactly what I tried to say at the end of my reply to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, will the Government encourage all chief constables to have crime prevention panels? I was somewhat astonished to find that Greater London does not have a crime prevention panel.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we are in touch with chief constables about the importance of crime prevention panels. I shall certainly take into account what the noble Baroness has said in this respect.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, having been one of the Members who went to Hyde Park for the fireworks display, may I say that the policing there and the whole attitude was absolutely magnificent? I think that they should be given every credit for what they have done in the last two days.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend and I shall draw my noble friend's words to the attention of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, while considering community policing, may I ask whether the noble Lord will make comparisons between community policing, which is taking place in the large urban areas—and I speak particularly of Handsworth in the city of Birmingham—where there are serious difficulties, and that which is taking place in areas such as Devon and Cornwall? Will the noble Lord accept that one of the real problems with community policing is that normally there need to be mature policemen on a community police basis, because the younger members are still learning the areas in which they are operating?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a crucial point. At a time when I suppose that the percentage of the police force taken nationally is younger than it has ever been, there is a very real difficulty about getting the more mature men and women actually on the beat. However, I know that chief constables have this very much in mind and do their best to try to take some action in this particular respect.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the reason for this was that the pay scales came out of alignment, and that now the pay scales for police have improved, the average age of the policeman on the beat should gradually increase?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is right, but we have a problem at the moment, and the noble Baroness quite correctly identified the problem.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, I think that we should move on to the next Question.