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Dawn Primarolo: I am trying to assist the hon. Gentleman. The estimate was that the remaining business would take approximately six and a half hours tomorrow. I can assure him that there will be enough time tomorrow to complete the outstanding business on the Finance Bill. He will have every opportunity to contribute to each of the debates tomorrow. There is plenty of time. I am giving him the assurance that he seeks.
 
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Mr. Salmond: I shall ignore the "Watch with Mother" voice in which that was presented to me, and take the assurance from the Minister, along with the nods from the Whips further along the Treasury Bench, which are even more reassuring. I shall hold the Government to that guarantee, and I look forward to seeing the Ministers in the debate tomorrow.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill to be further considered tomorrow.

DELEGATED LEGISLATION

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Supreme Court of England and Wales



That the draft Courts Act 2003 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2004, which was laid before this House on 10th June, be approved.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Countryside



That the draft Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) Order 2004, which was laid before this House on 16th June, be approved.
That the draft Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) Order 2004, which was laid before this House on 16th June, be approved.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Question agreed to.


 
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National Neighbourhood Watch Association

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Ainger.]

7.35 pm

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise an extremely important issue, which has been raised in the other place and by other Members of Parliament, not least by a number of Labour Back Benchers, who have been expressing concern with an early-day motion and representations to Ministers. No doubt they, like me, have been contacted by local neighbourhood watch members and co-ordinators who are aware of the concerns that have been raised at national level.

First, it is worth saying that there is pretty much universal support in the House for local neighbourhood watch schemes. They have been extremely effective, they are essentially voluntary, they exist in many parts of the community, across the country, and their success is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that many insurance companies will offer discounts on insurance for people who live in areas where neighbourhood watch schemes are active. Whereas many of the Government initiatives for which we argue in terms of tackling crime cost money—whether that is more police on the beat, or some other campaign—neighbourhood watch comes at very little cost to Government or local police authorities, it is done by volunteers and it works. There is not much else that can be described in those terms. It is invaluable.

The national body is a registered charity and was formed in 1995 by volunteers, for a number of reasons. Partly, it was in response to quite a controversial speech by the then Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and leader of the Conservative party, who proposed changes to neighbourhood watch, which implied getting out and being active on the streets. The volunteers were concerned that that implied a kind of vigilantism, which they did not want. One of the reasons for the formation of the organisation was therefore to give a voice to concerns at national level and to make representations to Government on an independent basis. It does more than simply provide a voice for the local organisations and volunteers; it also provides support, training, legal advice and conferences.

The reason that I have sought this Adjournment debate is that there now seems to be a serious question mark as to whether that national association will be able to continue in existence at all. It has been reliant for some years on a national sponsorship deal, which it sought to renew with a new organisation, and thought that it had succeeded in doing so, but at the last moment it was effectively blocked by a Home Office decision. It sought Government support as an alternative on a temporary basis, but that has been blocked because the Government claim that an audit cast doubt on the organisation's financial viability—the organisation has no argument on the financial issue, which is why it supports the Government sponsorship, so there is a degree of tautology in the Home Office's argument. In
 
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addition, the audit highlights a shortage of money, not poor bookkeeping, which is the impression that has been given.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab): I support completely what the hon. Gentleman said about the great work of the neighbourhood watch in all our areas, including in my area of Stalybridge and Hyde. I am slightly unsure about whether he is saying that there should be ongoing financial support from the Government. My understanding of the position of the association is that it wanted to have private money as its long-term base of funding, so that it can remain independent.

Matthew Taylor: The organisation wants to maintain its independence, for the reasons that I mentioned at the outset. That is partly why it was formed in the first place. The point is that because the sponsorship deal is caught up in a wrangle with the Home Office, temporary funding is needed to see the organisation through. That is why the argument that it is not financially viable is a bit of a tautology. The Home Office accepts that it would be viable if the sponsorship were there; the Home Office has caused problems with the finalising of the sponsorship deal; the organisation has therefore asked for temporary funding; the Home Office appears to be saying that it will not provide the funding on the ground that the organisation has not enough money to run itself. That is clearly a circular argument.

I want to start with the issue of the private funding, because it needs to be explained. The original sponsorship arrangement was with Norwich Union. It was in place from 1994 until 2003. I do not think there is any dispute about the fact that it worked well. There were no Home Office objections, and it involved the exclusive commercial use of the neighbourhood watch logo. That was, of course, key to the process in which Norwich Union was involved: it wanted to be seen to back an organisation, have the use of the logo and support the local neighbourhood watch. No doubt it considered that commercially advantageous as well. The arrangement was ended by Norwich Union when its ownership changed and it had new priorities, not because of any dispute with the association or any disagreement about the important role of neighbourhood watch.

Over the past 18 months, the association has been working to secure new sponsorship. A major high street bank has agreed to sponsorship, essentially on the same terms as Norwich Union. As a result, by 2008 £1 million per annum would be flowing to local neighbourhood watch groups. The agreement was due to be signed on 19 March, but the Home Office and Treasury solicitors wrote to the association's trustees on 17 March—just two days beforehand—threatening possible legal action over the logo.

That brings me to the issue of the logo. As far as I can see, there is no history of any original dispute with the association. After all, the logo has been used in this way for many years, with, it appears, complete Home Office agreement. In 2002, however, another insurer, Direct Line, began using it without permission.

Following a challenge, the association and the Home Office were asked by Direct Line's insurers to provide evidence of copyright. They failed to do so. There were
 
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no documents and no artwork to be provided by the Home Office to show that it had the copyright. The Treasury solicitors were apparently saying that most records since 1985 had been destroyed. In the meantime, it emerged not only that Direct Line was going down this route, but that the home watch logo—which is used instead of the neighbourhood watch logo in some areas—had been registered by two companies, with no authorisation or agreement whatever.

The advice to the National Neighbourhood Watch Association from its lawyers was that it had no option but to protect the neighbourhood watch trade mark itself, as the Home Office could not establish Crown copyright. Private commercial companies were rapidly starting to use it, and it was clearly at risk of being lost altogether and abused by other private organisations. For the Home Office to suggest that the association had some ulterior motive in deciding to register copyright at this point is ludicrous. Why would it want to abuse its own logo, given that it consists effectively of local organisations that have come together at national level? Nor was it seeking to do anything that it had not done before with Home Office agreement. The Norwich Union agreement had been in place for many years; the association simply sought to replicate it.

The Minister wrote to me saying,

I cannot see how that can be true, given that for so many years it operated on exactly that basis. The registration process was carried out through all the usual channels, with advertisements in the appropriate journals, and the association's lawyers took it through the process. Nor was the process clandestine. The issue of copyright was discussed with Home Office officials following proceedings against Direct Line. In January 2003, the Home Office suggested that ownership be transferred to the National Neighbourhood Watch Association—and that is in writing.

The Home Office knew about that process for months, so why wait until just two days before the signing of a commercial sponsorship arrangement? There were never any objections about Norwich Union's usage. Exclusivity is clearly essential if the national association is to secure commercial sponsorship. It sought Crown copyright action to stop Direct Line abusing the logo and other organisations registering it. It would have been happy if the Home Office could have stopped other organisations abusing it. That is what it wanted, but that did not happen.

The central point is to ask whether the Minister—I appreciate that these are difficult issues—will agree to step back and reconsider the issue. As I understand it, there is no issue for the National Neighbourhood Watch Association about who has the copyright. The issue is that, whether the copyright is in the hands of the national association or the Government, the aim is to stop private companies abusing it, as Direct Line sought to do and as others have done in registering the home watch title.

That brings us to the issue of public funding. Following the breakdown of the commercial sponsorship proposal at the last minute, the
 
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Government allocated grants through to the end of 2003 and early 2004 to help to resolve the inevitable financial shortfall, but further support is being withheld due to what the Government describe as an audit report. The Minister wrote to me, saying that

The way in which the matter has been reported would give the impression that there was something wrong with the financial management of the national association. The Mail on Sunday, for example, quotes a Home Office source as saying:

The Home Office view is that they are "financially unsound" but it was not an official audit. It was a funding review, which concluded that, without the commercial sponsorship, the national association is short of funds. However, that is why it is applying to the Government for funding. It would not be asking them for that if it were not short of funds. I cannot see what the dispute is.

Until I hear from the Minister, all I can take is the national association's view. It says that at no point did the auditors find fault with its accounting controls or processes. Indeed, it has a good financial performance record. It has been audited by KPMG year after year in accordance with charity law. Not only has KPMG approved the books but it has not issued a management letter for the past three years, which is more than can be said of many companies, so the financial management is, in any normal sense, clearly sound. Indeed, if there is an issue about people getting the figures wrong, it is to do with the Government's own financial review, since its authors did not consult the national association management during the review, or share their findings prior to publication so that matters could be clarified or resolved if there were concerns.

The proof of the pudding—no audit company would allow that to happen because it would check with the organisation—is that on 17 May a Home Office official wrote to the national association admitting that

Therefore, if there is any mismanagement here, it seems to be with the Government, not the national association.

Clearly, the authors of the audit recognise that the association would be self-supporting if a contract with a commercial sponsor were secured, which brings us back to the question of why that is effectively being blocked.

We know from debates in the House of Lords that the Government have now said that they would step in if the NNWA folds. The Lords Home Office Minister said that

But the whole point of the network is not just that it runs conferences and provides training and support, but that it is an independent voice for the local volunteers. Frankly, in effect the NNWA appears to be being nationalised through the back door and taken over by the Government. That is highly inappropriate for an organisation that is entirely dependent on volunteers.
 
6 Jul 2004 : Column 816
 

Last weekend, The Observer reported the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety as saying that the Government want to "beef up" neighbourhood watch schemes to become "Neighbourhood Action schemes". What does the Minister mean by "Neighbourhood Action schemes"? That sounds rather like the proposals introduced by a former Conservative Home Secretary, who talked in 1995 about "Getting them out on the streets, rather than just looking through their windows". In fact, that was the very issue that led to the formation of the NNWA, which argued that it did not think that an appropriate use of the volunteer network.

The Minister will agree with me about the importance of Neighbourhood Watch at a local level. I hope that she agrees that the ideal solution is to maintain a national umbrella organisation that reflects and responds to local community groups, and which is able to continue to provide support and training, and an independent voice and conferencing, for such people. That is important not least because it is much the most likely way of continuing to get people to take part in the NNWA.

In the light of that, and given that Ministers have never had a problem with exclusive use of the logo being the basis of the organisation's funding and sponsorship, it is a little hard to understand why it should be such a great problem now. If they do not want the NNWA to hold the copyright, it should be simple to resolve the problem through Crown copyright processes. In the light of my discussions with the NNWA, I do not believe that it has any problem with that idea. However, the NNWA and local neighbourhood watch associations—and, indeed, the Government—cannot live with people such as Direct Line simply using the logo ad hoc, with Government solicitors apparently unable to prove that there was Crown copyright. In the light of that understanding, I hope that the Minister will reconsider and see whether there is a way to resolve these issues.

A number of criticisms have been made of the NNWA that are misplaced, and I shall give one more example of why I am concerned about the funding review—the so-called audit. The review argues that the NNWA secured premises in Buckingham gate that were more expensive than elsewhere, but we should remember that that was part of the Norwich Union sponsorship deal, which was self-funding. In fact, that brought in a profit of £50,000 per annum, rather than resulting in a net cost; indeed, that is admitted elsewhere in the funding review document.

Secondly, the review looked at eight comparators, including moving elsewhere—it was to either Stockport or Stockton, I cannot remember which—where rents were as low as £16.50 per sq ft. But because of existing staff costs and the sponsorship deal, that would have proved more expensive than the offices that the NNWA had secured. The costs were the lowest of the eight comparators examined—a fact that would have been known, had the authors of the funding review taken the trouble to discuss matters with the NNWA before publication.

I know that the Minister did not herself conduct the review and that she is reliant on information from her officials, but there are real issues that need to be resolved. The NNWA has been pressing for a meeting for some time, and she has now agreed to meet its representatives. I hope that, in the light of what I have
 
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said, she will meet them with a very open mind, and that we can solve these problems in a manner that deals with the concerns of various Members, including her own Back Benchers.

7.54 pm


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