HL Deb 27 April 1988 vol 496 cc206-8

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in setting up neighbourhood watch schemes throughout the United Kingdom.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, there are now over 50,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in the United Kingdom. The total has almost doubled over the past 12 months. It is four times greater than that of two years ago.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that satisfactory reply. Does he feel that the time has now come for a more systematic and comprehensive approach to be made—perhaps at national level—to ensure that those schemes are even more successful than they are at present?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, it is up to each police force to encourage that protection as much as they can. The result has been successful. We are greatly encouraged by the increasing willingness and commitment which that demonstrates on the part of the general public to become involved in the prevention of crime. That is something for which we must continue to press.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the Minister say whether there is any evidence that neighbourhood watch schemes have been truly effective? It appears that in some parts of Greater London the mere exhibiting of a little sticker in one's window offers no deterrent, and break-ins have continued at the same level for the past 18 months even in areas which have neighbourhood watch schemes. Are they being effective?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, wished to take part in any neighbourhood watch scheme, I know that it would be appreciated if he would do more than put up a sticker in his window. The noble Lord has asked an important question. I shall give him a few examples. For instance, in the West Midlands in October there were 500 schemes. In October 1987 there were 3,130, and residential burglary went down by 14.1 per cent.; in West Mercia in October 1986 there were 142 schemes; 12 months later there were 1,416 schemes, and residential burglary went down by 11.4 per cent.; in Greater Manchester there were 800 schemes. After 12 months that figure went up to 5,000, and residential burglary went down by 10.6 per cent.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is always somewhat different in Greater London? I have helped the police in my area tremendously.

Noble Lords


Lord Molloy

My Lords, I have helped the police to instigate things. Is the Minister further aware that I have been burgled four times because of my activity in neighbourhood watch schemes? The last time I had my house ransacked, which was only last Thursday, the police were of the opinion that I may have been displaying too many stickers showing that I belonged to the neighbourhood watch scheme.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I offer my commiserations to the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, on his very unsatisfactory history of unwarranted intruders. I would suggest to him that he should not be put off his neighbourhood watch scheme. Perhaps he could invite others of his friends to display stickers and to be more co-operative over his efforts.

The noble Lord asked specifically about London. According to Metropolitan Police figures, the number of schemes went up from 5,600 to 7,500 over 12 months; burglaries went down by 4.9 per cent. It is unfortunate that the noble Lord's experience did not help him in his figures.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether there is any limit to the duties of those in neighbourhood watch schemes? For instance, will these neighbourhood watch officials be able or be required to report the visit of a gentleman to a lady's house or a lady's visit to a gentleman's house?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I do not think that there is any limit on what people may report to each other. Gossip usually has a good part to play in that. But I do not think that there are any restrictions on the amount of effort that is required by the public to help the police in combating crime.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, can my noble friend say how the farm watch scheme is going? Are the schemes increasing and have they had any effect in the countryside on rural thieving?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend the answer to that. If he wishes to put down a special Question about the farm watch scheme I shall be happy to answer it.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, has the Home Office any advice as to whether stickers in the window saying, "Beware of the dog" have as great an effect as "Beware of the neighbourhood watch scheme"?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there are many statistics in the Home Office, but I do not know whether that information would be among them.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, on behalf of his department will the Minister accept our congratulations on the very effective prevention of crime notices and the brief programmes which have appeared on television? In addition to the neighbourhood watch schemes helping the prevention of crime, is his department ensuring that local authorities get the means to carry out effective programmes, with proper caretakers on council estates, proper burglar alarms and proper locks being installed and proper lighting in the streets?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, that is a rather wider question which has all sorts of ramifications. There are some authorities where the police go around and help people to protect their houses. There are certain schemes where that is done which have proved to be of great assistance. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind comments about my department, which will be received with delight.