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Crime Prevention

Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what new initiatives he will take to promote crime prevention.

We are planning to launch a new national crime prevention campaign, with an enhanced publicity budget, later this year. We have made provision to sustain this campaign over the next two years. The emphasis will be on showing how all those who are concerned about rising crime can make their own contribution to preventing it.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that response. As 96 per cent. of crime involves property and 25 per cent. of that proportion involves cars, is it not absolutely essential that the public be involved in the protection of their own property? In his crime prevention programme, what attention will be given to specific schemes such as neighbourhood watch, which has a very good track record of success? Will he promote that scheme, among others?

We shall certainly do that. It is amazing and encouraging that there are 29,500 neighbourhood watch schemes in England and Wales, whereas three years ago there were only about 1,000. This is a real outburst of energy by the citizen in co-operation with the police, and we warmly welcome it.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's excellent news. Referring specifically to the Metropolitan police district, does he welcome also the 7,000 neighbourhood watch schemes that exist in the district and recognise the excellent contribution that they are making to community-based crime prevention? Will he hazard a comment on the quite extraordinary behaviour of the nine Labour London borough councils which persistently attack the police and refuse to co-operate with crime prevention measures both in their districts and in the inner London schools? How does this sit with the extraordinary claim by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that he is in favour of crime prevention based in the community?

I do not know where the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) is, but my hon. Friend has certainly put his finger on the reason why the Labour party's campaign on law and order has completely failed to get off the ground. Part of its document asks me to do things that I have been doing for some time already, and the rest asks me to do things that no one in his right senses would think of doing, such as handing over responsibility of policing policies, priorities and methods to elected Labour authorities, particularly in London.

Leaving aside the party political propaganda that we have just heard, let us concentrate on the facts. In view of the Secretary of State's answer, which suggests a welcome shift in opinion in the Conservative party and the Government, and bearing in mind the answer that the Under-Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on 23 April, which again suggested a shift in Government thinking, can he tell us whether the Government are to fund crime prevention in the way in which we are recommending in our document? if so, do they intend to announce that prior to the general election, in the same way as for nurses pay and school education?

There is ample funding of crime prevention from a wide variety of sources—publicity by the Home Office and a mass of schemes financed partly by the urban programme and partly by local authorities. The hon. Gentleman is unfair. When I came to the Home Office for the first time in 1983 I found that the then Home Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), had already begun to put massive emphasis on crime prevention, and that has been intensified and developed ever since. I am delighted that the Labour party is clambering on board and hope that it will manage to bring with it all those boroughs which are still obstructing the scheme.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the increasing number of crimes involving knives, particularly in south-east London, and of the concern in the community about them? Is he aware of the extent of frustration among police officers caused by the rules imposed upon them under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which limits the extent to which they can stop and search people suspected of carrying knives? Will my right hon. Friend consider reviewing the way in which this part of the Act is working and, meanwhile, perhaps introduce legislation to prevent the sale of some of the horrifying weapons that are at present freely available in the shops?

My hon. Friend is right about knives, but not right in what he said about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which does not limit the power of the police in that respect. It simply requires them to make, when they can, a record of what occurred and why. I do not think that that is unreasonable. We are looking at my hon. Friend's final point about sale and possession. Of course, there are many wholly innocent reasons why people should carry knives from time to time, and that creates a problem about legislation. However, if we can find ways of strengthening the law to deal with offensive weapons, such as my hon. Friend suggests, we will take it.