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Council Estates (Security Patrols)

Part of Clause 38 – in the House of Commons at 10:50 pm on 13th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 10:50 pm, 13th June 1988

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) is well known to the people of Southampton for the interest that he takes in such issues as this. I am advised that, for the three or four years that he was the distinguished chairman of the housing committee of Southampton city council, he took a special interest in trying to arrange the sorts of security and anti-vandal patrols on our great housing estates which he believed then and believes now—I have more than a shred of belief myself—could under certain circumstances, perhaps when all else has failed, have an effect.

I welcome very much the welcome that my hon. Friend gave to what the Home Office is trying to do on crime prevention and the tribute that he paid to those who composed the booklet, "Crime—Together We Can Crack It". My hon. Friend asked how many of those booklets have now been distributed around the country. I advise him that demand has almost outstripped supply. We have distributed about 1 million copies of the booklet and will shortly have to reprint a revised and updated version. It has had a warm welcome.

Many crimes in this country are eminently preventable —for example, one quarter of all domestic burglaries and perhaps one in five of all car crimes. People must and should, take more care of their property because one of the things that so contribute to the feeling of fear and uncertainty on our great housing estates is the fact that people read in the headlines that hundreds of thousands of crimes are being reported. However, many of those crimes are petty, and many are avoidable.

About 95 per cent. of all crime is not against the person, but against property. However, crimes against the person, such as my hon. Friend referred to in Southampton, are important, as were the remarks made in the chief constable's report about violent crime. I was extremely disturbed to learn from my hon. Friend the facts about the incidents, which I judge to be stabbings and woundings, which have caused so much trouble in the streets of his beautiful and prosperous city.

I advise people who go about armed with sharp-bladed instruments such as knives, stilettos, Stanley knives and other implements of wounding—and sometimes, alas, murder—that the Criminal Justice Bill, which returns to the Floor of the House on Thursday this week, introduces severe new penalties for those who are caught, not just using but even carrying sharp-bladed instruments in the streets without due reason. Over the years, the classic defence of the yob and the bully when he has been searched and found to have a knife on his or, more rarely her, person has been, "Oh, I use it for peeling oranges, guy, —or constable." That has been used time after time, but will no longer apply, and people will be severely treated for the offence.

In the Criminal Justice Bill, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is bent on introducing for the first time the prosecution right of appeal through our right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General against allegedly over-lenient sentences. That is something that people who go about armed, bent on causing trouble, in our great cities such as Southampton, should face up to.

There are severe new penalties in the Criminal Justice Bill which I hope will act as a deterrent. I hope that, in a year or two, the chief constable's report will not need to refer to such tragic events. So much depends on excellent policing and the work of those who police cities such as Southampton. I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to those who police our cities. I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is looking forward very much to the TVS seminar to which my hon. Friend referred.

Law and order and crime are at the centre of public debate, and we must realise that. As I have said, so much is preventable. The effort that can be made, sometimes on very difficult housing estates is formidable where neighbourhood watch schemes have been started up and successfully implemented. When the Government came to power in 1979, there were no neighbourhood watch schemes. In 1982, the first such scheme was started, and now, in 1988, there are some 50,000. The number is growing fast; the momentum is unstoppable. I hope that my hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I was sorry to hear that neighbourhood watch schemes in some parts of Southampton at least had not been progressing as fast or developing as well as my hon. Friend had hoped. However, perhaps I misunderstood my hon. Friend.