HL Deb 03 February 2005 vol 669 cc358-60

11.17 a.m.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

asked Her Majesty's Government:

In light of their proposal to decline an emergency grant to the National Neighbourhood Watch Association, what are their proposals for the continuance of that association.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, the National Neighbourhood Watch Association is a charity funded by commercial sponsorship since its establishment in 1995. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Crime Reduction, Policing, Community Safety and Counter-Terrorism has agreed to meet the association to discuss the funding situation. We continue to support grassroots' neighbourhood watch activity through, for example, the funding of free public liability insurance for local groups and a national neighbourhood watch conference in March.

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, I thank the Minister most warmly for that promise. I wonder whether she is aware of the new management structure and that two large companies have both offered £50,000 each and another £10,000 for an annual income for national neighbourhood watch. I am sure that with the Minister's promise, national neighbourhood watch will continue to flourish and bring in all the disparate small groups around the country.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness. I know that my honourable friend will be very interested to hear what the noble Baroness has said.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, has the Minister seen the full-page letter in today's edition of the Times from the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service? He says: We know people do not define how safe they feel by crime statistics alone. They define it by how their neighbourhood, their journey to work and their leisure time are affected by so-called anti-social behaviour". He goes on with a whole paragraph about how the police intend to make safer neighbourhoods a major project. Certainly, it is very important that the association of neighbourhood watches should continue because it will be necessary for the police to work in conjunction with neighbourhood watch. Does the Minister agree with that view?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we absolutely agree that the police should and do continue to work very closely with neighbourhood watch. I reassure the House that even if through some unfortunate circumstance the national association failed, that does not mean that the neighbourhood watch local schemes would be adversely affected.

Noble Lords will know that neighbourhood watch has been in being since the 1980s and the association was created only in 1995. Our support for neighbourhood watch schemes remains resolute.

Lord Williamson of Horton

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that, at least in my area, the neighbourhood watch is considered much more important than many of the Bills on which we spend possibly useful hours in this House? Does she agree that, because it depends on a huge number of volunteers, the movement is inspired by confidence? It is very important to avoid discord and disaffection, and I hope that that can be done.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord's comments. We wish the national association well, but we reassure local groups, many of which are not affiliated to the national association, that they will continue, and our support will remain.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

My Lords, this is an important question. Can my noble friend tell the House whether the Government are giving any assistance to other organisations that work on the ground with neighbourhood watch? I know that in Greenwich and Woolwich there is a group of organisations that work together. Can the Minister tell the House about any help that the Government are giving such groups?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the Government are giving help to the voluntary sector. In addition, through the crime and disorder reduction partnerships we are able to brigade together local initiatives, local authorities, the statutory sector and the non-statutory sector, and they work together very closely. In addition, good work has now been undertaken by local criminal justice boards. The chief officers are able to analyse and assess the needs of the community better. All of those efforts—the public joining together with the statutory agencies—are making a real difference to safety on our streets and I congratulate them all on their industry and their commitment.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a need for a central co-ordinating body? Will she take into account the comments made by the chief constable of Hertfordshire, Frank Whiteley: NNWA has played an important role in the continued success and development of Neighbourhood Watch schemes across the country. Their absence would be a significant loss to Neighbourhood Watch and to the Police Service nationally".

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we will certainly take that into account. I remind noble Lords of what I said about the conference that we are holding in March 2005. The Home Office is also working on a forum, which has been very well supported. The forum is looking at how better support can be given to neighbourhood watch, not only by producing material that it needs, but also by assisting it in other ways. We hope that the efforts that we are all trying to bring together will ensure that even if, through some tragedy, the national association did not continue, we would have a forum that would enable the work to be done. But, obviously, we wish the national association well.

Lord Greaves

My Lords, the Minister's comments about neighbourhood watch are welcome, but does she recognise that in many areas there is a plethora of people tripping over each other in the streets? We have community beat managers, community support officers, the local branch of the community safety partnership, neighbourhood wardens funded under the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, and we are about to get neighbourhood management staff funded under the housing market renewal pathfinder. We are awash with these people. Does the Minister recognise that when the funding for all the trendy schemes is being cut in the future, or they are being closed down altogether, the tried and trusted, reliable neighbourhood watch, organised by local volunteers, will be there to pick up the pieces and keep things going?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for outlining in such detail all that this Government have done to make things better. Some people may see the co-ordination of that work as trendy. We see it as essential. I assure the noble Lord that our efforts in that regard will continue, as well as our co-ordination, which is growing better by the day.