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Neighbourhood Watch

Volume 455: debated on Monday 15 January 2007

The neighbourhood watch movement comprises numerous local and regional schemes. The Home Office provides support to those schemes through the provision of free literature, public liability insurance, training and advice. We continue strongly to believe in and support neighbourhood watch schemes and the wider watch movements.

The neighbourhood watch scheme claims an impressive membership of 6 million households, about a quarter of our country’s population. However, does the Minister agree that we can go further than that? When Staffordshire police and I make joint presentations to the public, as we did most recently last Friday at Great Haywood, about the effectiveness of neighbourhood watches in complementary action with neighbourhood policing, people see how effective they can be themselves. They queue up to sign for new neighbourhood watch schemes. Does the Minister agree that such local successes could be made nation wide if the Home Office fully backed an effective national organisation?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work in supporting neighbourhood watch schemes in Stafford and trying to develop them there. He has championed the issue, not only in respect of his local area but in pressing us to do more about it. As he pointed out, there are 165,000-plus watch movement schemes, such as shopwatch, pubwatch and so on, as well as neighbourhood watch. They cover 6 million households and have approximately 10 million members. There is no doubt that neighbourhood watches contribute to tackling crime; most importantly, they also tackle the fear of crime. They provide an important mechanism through which ordinary members of the public and communities can work with local police and influence policing priorities in their areas.

Does the Minister agree that, like Crimestoppers, neighbourhood watch schemes play an important part as the eyes and ears that detect and report crime? If that is the case, surely more support should be given to such schemes. I invite the Minister, as Colchester is much nearer than Bolton, to come to my constituency and see what is arguably the most successful neighbourhood watch scheme in the country.

I visit many constituencies and see success on the ground. As the hon. Gentleman points out, neighbourhood watch schemes are an important way of tackling the fear of crime and crime itself. The Home Office is doing a lot to support the development of such schemes; as I said, we fund public liability insurance and literature and have made a website available to people. Alongside that, we are working with local neighbourhood watch groups to establish a new strategy that will lead to the sort of support mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

I have been working closely with my own neighbourhood watch on formulating dispersal order action plans so that we can address the underlying issues that have led to problems of antisocial behaviour in the community. What conversations will the Minister have with his counterparts at the Department for Education and Skills to ensure that local authorities act on their new statutory duty to provide new facilities so that we can address some of the underlying problems and so that young people do not hang around the streets with nowhere to go and nothing to do?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Although a lack of new facilities can never be an excuse for poor or antisocial behaviour on the street, it is incumbent on us all to try to improve youth facilities. That is what we have been doing. She will be pleased to know that another important aspect of the strategy that we are trying to develop is encouraging more young people to be part of neighbourhood watch schemes. In that way, we can get better schemes and tackle crime more effectively. As I am sure she will agree, it is not only old people who want something done about crime; young people are also demanding that we do something about it. We should work together to develop schemes and tackle some of the problems on our streets. If we can involve young people, the neighbourhood watches will be much more effective.

The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) is right. Neighbourhood watch is outstandingly successful, but it is outstandingly successful because it co-operates closely with community and neighbourhood policing. Will the Minister reply to the question put earlier by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham)? Is there any truth in the stories that appeared in the press over the weekend that there was to be a cut in the number of members of a police force, and therefore in the number of bobbies on the beat who participate in neighbourhood and community policing?

We have a record number of police on our streets and we have police community support officers in all our communities. It is interesting to note that the debate about community support officers has now become a debate about how many of them there are. When they were first introduced, it was said that they were not worth the investment. The hon. Gentleman made a good point in saying that it was important for neighbourhood watch to work with local police, community support officers, local authorities and all partners. Of course it is important. Neighbourhood policing is not just a matter for the police; at its best, it is neighbourhood management.