HL Deb 24 March 1987 vol 486 cc115-7

3.8 p.m.

Baroness Sharples

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are taking to expand their crime prevention publicity campaign.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the third phase of the "Magpies" publicity campaign was launched on 23rd February. The campaign, using television advertisements, door-to-door distribution of leaflets and advertising in national and local newspapers and magazines will encourage householders to improve the physical security of their homes. The campaign will cost £1.7 million. The crime prevention publicity budget for 1987–88 has been increased from £2.6 million to £4.8 million and the greater part of the additional funds will be spent on a new national advertising campaign.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he tell us how many neighbourhood watch schemes are now in existence? I asked the original Question in November 1983. Does he agree with the police view that people who are within these neighbourhood watch schemes feel much more secure in their areas?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that supplementary question. As the House will appreciate, neighbourhood watch schemes can be of tremendous importance and give greater security to individuals who live in the areas. There are now somewhere in the region of 20,000 schemes operating throughout the country, which is an increase of 100 per cent. during the last 12 months.

Lord Somers

My Lords, does the Minister agree that crime is at least as serious a disease as AIDS and therefore deserves the same publicity?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I do not think I heard the noble Lord correctly, but if I did, my answer is that that is why we are spending so much and have increased the budget so substantially for next year.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, while I in no way wish to belittle the essential programme which, as the noble Lord has said, costs the country some £4.8 million, I should like to ask this question. In view of the terrific number of offences connected with cars, would it not also be worthwhile to see that implements or gadgets are compulsorily fitted to cars to safeguard them? Secondly, is it not sensible to see that there are more police on beats so that crime may be prevented practically rather than merely by advertising?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, the noble Lord, as always, puts his finger on two important points. The first point related to car thefts. They have increased astonishingly and at an alarming rate. Statistics show that in 25 per cent. of all burglaries force is not involved in entry. There is a message there for everyone in this country. We should help reduce those statistics. With regard to the police, the total police strength in England and Wales now stands at 122,100. That is the highest figure ever achieved. Since May, 1978, there has been an increase of 16,381, and spending in real terms has increased by 50 per cent. We have made a major contribution to improving the police force, and I hope that we shall receive everyone's full support.

Lord Thorneycroft

My Lords, will my noble friend extend that campaign in the direction of the banking system and draw its attention to the need for watchfulness as to the use to which that system can be put for the laundering of the proceeds of large-scale crime?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says, and will draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, as one who is engaged in crime prevention all the time, may I once again ask the Minister whether we can have some discussion on crime prevention in this House? We discuss prisons and prisoners. We do not discuss crime prevention sufficiently.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, that is of course a matter for the usual channels and not for me. I should like to take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness for her work in this field and for the recent pamphlets to which she made a major contribution regarding shops.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is not the incidence of crime at its highest in the most deprived communities? Should not urgent steps now be taken to make neighbourhoods safer, particularly in inner city areas?

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, of course the inner city areas face enormous problems. That is where local authorities can help. Instead of some of the more outrageous schemes which are proposed, it would be helpful if some local authorities followed the example of Hammersmith and Fulham which have produced a useful booklet, giving sound practical crime prevention advice, which they have distributed free to some 64,000 residents in their boroughs, and the example of Droitwich and Deptford where increased lighting has substantially reduced burglary figures.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, with regard to car thefts, will my noble friend consider having it made compulsory for the licence numbers of motor cars to be etched on their windows? That is one of the most effective ways of identifying motor cars after theft and would be an effective way of deterring the huge numbers of thefts.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hear my noble friend's strong conviction on this point with interest. Perhaps I could also discuss that point with my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that crime is not necessarily the result of poverty? The 18th century philosophers Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire claimed that crime was only caused by poverty; but in this country the richer the majority of the population becomes—I agree that there are some people who are perhaps unlucky—the worse crime becomes.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I hear what my noble friend says. In view of what my noble friend Lord Thorneycroft said earlier with regard to other matters, crime in this country is committed across a fairly wide spectrum.