HL Deb 27 June 1989 vol 509 cc580-2

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further progress has been made in setting up neighbourhood watch schemes and farm watch schemes.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, there are now over 66,000 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, covering approximately 3.25 million households. The total has increased by 28 per cent. over the past twelve months. Farm watch is a useful adaptation of the neighbourhood watch model, which the Government wholly support. The number of farm watch schemes is not recorded centrally.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very encouraging reply. Does he agree that those schemes have had a considerable effect in that there has been a very welcome drop in the number of burglaries and thefts involving cars? However, is he aware that some Labour councils have made it impossible for neighbourhood watch schemes to be set up because they prohibit the putting up of notices on council-owned lamp posts or on other properties belonging to the council?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is quite correct. There has been a considerable drop—it amounts to about 5 per cent.—in the number of crimes against property as recorded in 1988. It is reasonable to assume some connection between that and the success of the neighbourhood watch schemes. The noble Baroness also referred to thefts from vehicles. Those have dropped by 6 per cent. Thefts of vehicles have also dropped by 6 per cent.

As regards my noble friend's observations about certain Labour controlled councils, that is not a new phenomenon. We have experienced the fact that some councils have not been particularly co-operative regarding neighbourhood watch schemes. But new regulations from the Department of the Environment, which came into force in January 1988, have removed the requirement for prior planning permission to be obtained for the putting up of neighbourhood watch notices. There is evidence that that has helped those schemes.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the stealing of cattle, sheep and pigs from farms is increasing immensely? In my neighbourhood six cattle were stolen about a month ago and there is absolutely no trace of them. I hope that the Government are encouraging the watch schemes one way or another in the hope that they will help the situation.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, that if anything is stolen it is a misfortune. It is very difficult to trace cattle, pigs and sheep. About 18 forces have recorded farm watch schemes operating in their areas. That is quite a reasonable percentage. Anything that we can do to help, we shall.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, if there are designated farm watch schemes but some farms are outside it, are those farms not more at risk? Will the Minister ask police in rural areas to make available to the public more information on how to fight crime?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the whole principle of neighbourhood or farm watch schemes is that people collectively care for their property. They work together and share each others' interests. Obviously, in the case of farm watch schemes, those who co-operate in the scheme are at an advantage over those who do not; otherwise there is no point in having a scheme.

We are concerned to see as many of these schemes as possible started up. The Home Office has produced a book called Practical Ways to Crack Crime and 2.5 million copies have been distributed. Crime Concern has also been set up. This independent organisation was launched by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in May 1988.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, is a neighbourhood watch scheme any help against the sudden, unannounced arrival of about 11,000 people in the neighbourhood who then indulge in a party lasting all night and use drugs?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the object of the neighbourhood watch scheme is to alert the police to anything untoward. If 11,000 people have a party, using drugs, in your street, I should think that the neighbourhood watch scheme would alert the police to it.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, if he would care to watch, together with other noble Lords, a dinghy race on the Thames between your Lordships' yacht club and our neighbours, the yacht club of the House of Commons, the time to do so is about 3.30 p.m. tomorrow from the Library or the Terrace?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the ingenuity of some of your Lordships to extend the rules of procedure and to advertise is remarkable. However, I agree with my noble friend that that extends the neighbourhood watch scheme in a way which even the Government had not anticipated.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the police be alerted to this untoward event tomorrow?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, if the police read Hansard, as I am sure they do, they will have been notified.

Lord Borthwick

My Lords, may I ask the Minister what interest the National Farmers' Union has shown in these schemes? Is it doing anything? Has it been consulted?

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, my noble friend had best consult the National Farmers' Union about that. We are trying to organise schemes whereby farmers co-operate collectively. In so far as the National Farmers' Union can help, then I hope that it will do so.