HL Deb 27 June 1988 vol 498 cc1133-5

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make a statement on the progress of the neighbourhood watch schemes.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, there are now over 50,000 schemes in England and Wales, covering some 3 million households. The new national crime prevention organisation, Crime Concern, will encourage the formation of new neighbourhood watch schemes and will support those which already exist.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl very much for that excellent Answer. Will he confirm that he is getting the response that he hoped to receive in order to spread this scheme right throughout the country?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there has been a remarkable response to this scheme and we hope that it will grow.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, at the risk of striking a slightly discordant note, does the Minister agree that in the present state of knowledge there is some risk of expecting rather too much of these schemes? There have been various rather disconnected pieces of research carried out. Is it proposed to have a rather more elaborate programme of research which would, for the first time so far as I know, provide a scientific evaluation of the impact of these schemes on the commission and detection of crime?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, there has been some research done on this subject. One piece of research was carried out by Dr. Trevor Bennett and another undertaken by the University of Southampton. Those researches concerned individual aspects of the schemes. However I can tell the noble Lord that neighbourhood watch schemes have had some considerable effect. Residential burglary is down by 4.5 per cent. on the figures for 1986. In some areas where these schemes have been instituted the difference has been remarkable. For instance, in the West Midlands in October there were 500 schemes and a year later, in October 1987, there were 3,130 schemes; during that period residential burglary went down by 14.1 per cent. In West Mercia in October 1986 there were 142 schemes and a year later those 142 schemes had increased to 1,416 and residential burglary was down by 11.4 per cent. So there has been a considerable improvement.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, does the Minister agree that some of those figures may call for a little more scientific assessment; for example, to take account of the changes in the pattern of reporting offences to the police?

Earl Ferrers

Yes, my Lords, that is perfectly true. I think that any statistic can only give a broad picture, but the figures throughout the country show that neighbourhood watch has proved to be beneficial.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a desirable side effect of neighbourhood watch has been a return to people knowing their neighbours, helping each other in a community spirit, and assisting some elderly people who might have been very alone?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think that is perfectly true. The result has been much more cohesion between families and households. As Dr. Trevor Bennett suggested, it has also resulted in a decrease in the fear of household crime, apart from the crime statistics themselves. There is also a reduction in female fear of crime and an improvement in social cohesion, which is important.

Lord Mowbray and Stourton

My Lords, the first neighbourhood watch scheme was probably started by the late Lord Willingdon and Mr. Henry Tiarks, who formed the firm Securicor, with which I was connected until 1970. As the noble Earl will be aware, those companies run wireless patrol schemes. Has the Home Office ever considered that neighbourhood watch schemes might be connected with the patrol schemes, whose patrol cars are in wireless contact with their headquarters all the time? Does he think that that would help or not?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I think the problems that face Securicor and those that face neighbourhood watch are basically different. Securicor is a commercial organisation. Neighbourhood watch encourages people in the fraternity to keep a watch for crime and criminals and also to get to know what is happening in their areas.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, I pay full tribute to those who formulate those schemes and the volunteers who take part in them, but is it not a fact that in the main they are in the wealthier and better off neighbourhoods? Is there not a very grave concern that in many council estates there are no such schemes and there is no substitution at all for the policeman on patrol?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, as usual the noble Lord asks a number of penetrating questions. If these schemes are related to wealthy neighbourhoods then there must be 50,000 wealthy neighbourhoods throughout the country, and that is quite a considerable number. I agree that there is little that gives more confidence to the average person than to see the bobby on the beat. Most police forces have tried to ensure that, among all their responsibilities, that happens. However, for all that, we have tried, and we shall try, to increase yet further the neighbourhood watch schemes.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell the House whether there are any signs or statistics relating to the possibility that, because of difficulties of carrying on, the criminals who have so far been burglars are being driven on to the streets as muggers?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I suppose it is up to individuals to gather their own information as to what happens to criminals who may have been in one area rather than another. However, I cannot provide the noble Viscount with any statistics which show that because of neighbourhood watch schemes people who would otherwise have committed burglaries have gone on to the open streets.