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Community Safety Audits

15. Angela Smith (Basildon): What assessment he has made of the community safety audits undertaken to date by local authorities. [48409]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Ms Joyce Quin): The extent to which that work is already under way varies significantly around the country, and we have not so far made any formal assessment, although the results of local authority association surveys have been published and are a useful guide. We are aware of many examples of good practice around the country. The Crime and Disorder Bill will ensure that the benefits of an audit-based approach to tackling local crime problems are available to communities throughout the country.

Angela Smith: I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that much work on audit and other aspects has already been done by local authorities, including my own in Basildon, without any support or encouragement from the previous Government. The support, encouragement and legislation from this Government have been widely welcomed. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the work already undertaken is used as an example of best practice by local authorities that are just getting off the starting blocks?

Ms Quin: Indeed, we want to build on the good work that has been done in various parts of the country. I am happy to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work done in her area, Basildon. I should also mention the geographic information system developed by the safer Merseyside partnership and Salford's community safety profiles scheme. The point of our legislation is to support local authorities in such work. My hon. Friend is right to say that the previous Government set their faceagainst requiring local authorities to undertake those responsibilities.

Tote

17. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will make a statement on his policy in relation to the future of the Tote. [48411]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (

Mr. George Howarth): A review of the scope for greater private sector involvement in the Tote is already under way. Before any final decisions are arrived at, we will take full account of a recent internal review undertaken by its chairman, as well as the likely commercial impact of any changes on the Tote, the needs of gambling regulation and the health of horse racing.

Mr. Heath: Before the annual meeting of the Tote tomorrow, and in view of the statements of some privateers and the Treasury, can the Minister explain to the House, first, how the Government will sell something that they arguably do not own; secondly, how he will maintain the integrity of pool betting; and thirdly, how he will ensure that the essential revenue coming from the Tote is maintained, given the parlous state of the horse racing industry?

Mr. Howarth: All the hon. Gentleman's questions fall within the scope of my earlier point that we are concerned about the health of the horse racing industry. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will speak at the Tote lunch tomorrow. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can curb his enthusiasm and wait to hear what my right hon. Friend says. The terms of reference of the review are sufficiently wide to take properly into account the hon. Gentleman's concerns, which we should all share.

Lighter Refill Sales (Young People)

18. Mr. David Hanson (Delyn): When he expects to reach a conclusion following the consultation on the banning of butane gas lighter refill sales to under16-year-olds. [48412]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Depending on the results of the consultation, which we are currently undertaking, we hope to be able to reach a decision in principle at the end of the summer.

Mr. Hanson: How many young people die as a result of the misuse of butane gas lighter refills? Does my hon. Friend accept that there is widespread support among local authorities, trading standards departments, charities, parents and many others for the banning of the sale of butane gas lighter refills to under 16-year-olds, which would be a positive move by the Government?

Mr. O'Brien: The latest figures come from data collected by St. George's Hospital medical school for the Department of Health. They show that 75 deaths in the United Kingdom in 1996 were associated with volatile substance misuse. Gas fuels, usually in the form of gas lighter refills, were involved in 60 per cent. of those deaths. I do not want to prejudge the results of the consultation, but, as my hon. Friend said, there is widespread concern in the country about this issue, and I pay tribute to him for his work in raising and seeking to tackle it.

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Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Would the Minister support a move to introduce voluntary identity cards to enable retailers to judge whether people are aged under 16? Following my local campaign, such cards have the support of North Yorkshire county council.

Mr. O'Brien: The Portman group is already putting forward its proposals, and we have broadly accepted them in a certain context. The issue is whether we can extend them to deal with those matters to tackle the sale of such substances in shops.

Metropolitan Police

19. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If he will make a statement on the latest manpower and funding levels of the Metropolitan police. [48413]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw): The 1998-99 settlement for the Metropolitan police service provides a spending capacity of £1.775 billion, in line with the national average for police authorities in England and Wales. Police strength in the Metropolitan police at May 1998 was 26,585 officers. The Commissioner tells me that it is recruiting and plans to end the financial year with about 26,750 officers and 13,377 civilians.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Although I appreciate the modest increases in the funding and the manpower of the Metropolitan police, does the Home Secretary agree that they are almost being negated because the alarming and increasing amount that is being apportioned to police pensions--a matter which was taken up by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Beard)--has to be met? Does he also agree that that alarming increase is affecting the provision of services at the sharp end? I understand absolutely that this is a long-standing problem which certainly cannot be laid at the door of this Government, but will the Minister look to some way, especially in the review and consultation, of disentangling the cost of police pensions from the provision of services at the sharp end of the Metropolitan police?

Mr. Straw: I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the impact of the cost of the police pension scheme on police services generally. That point also applies to the fire service. Part of the problem has been the unacceptably high proportion of officers whom chief officers of police have allowed to retire early on grounds that are not acceptable, as the Audit Commission and hon. Members on both sides of the House accept.

The variation is extraordinary: at one end of the scale, only 17 per cent. of officers have been allowed to retire early in Kent constabulary; at the other end, 77 per cent. of officers in Merseyside have been retiring early. That suggests a lack of effective management control of the numbers who are retiring early. We have increased police budgets this year, nationally and also for the Metropolitan police, of 3.7 per cent. We look to chief officers of police

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to make the same kind of efficiencies as other sectors of the public services, which were subjected to such efficiencies relentlessly--and, in my judgment, quite rightly--by the previous Government.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton): Will my right hon. Friend, who has referred to the resources given to the Metropolitan police, explain a situation that develops in some of the regions? Is there the same effect on the Metropolitan police as there is in some of the regions? Band D taxes meant that we had a reduction of £6 million for police services in West Yorkshire. Does the same apply right across the board, and does that include the Metropolitan police?

Mr. Straw: The system by which police authorities set a precept is broadly similar across the country and has, for the current year, as for many previous years, been the subject of capping. Within totals of grant and standard spending assessment, which are set by central Government, each police authority has a fair degree of flexibility about the overall amount that it desires to set and to spend on its police service.

Hooliganism (World Cup)

21. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley): What further sanctions people convicted of causing trouble at this year's world cup face under British law. [48415]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alun Michael): An Order in Council came into effect on 1 June which allows the courts in England and Wales to impose restriction orders on those convicted of football-related offences in France. We shall examine the circumstances of each conviction to see whether there are lessons to be learnt in respect of restriction orders.

Mr. Pike: Is it not important that we take every possible step to ensure that the small minority of hooligans who do such damage to the name of football and to the name of England are not allowed ever to get away with it again?

Mr. Michael: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, although as a Welshman perhaps I should not say too much about the name of England. It is greatly to be welcomed that agreement was reached with France before the world cup finals, so that the order could come into effect on 1 June. The restriction order power is operable if we have an agreement with the country and an order has been made under the Football Spectators Act 1989.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed): How many of the people who were arrested in France have been charged with an offence?

Mr. Michael: None so far, because, so far as I am aware, none have been released. The matter will have to be considered on their return to this country.

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Opposition Day

[17th Allotted Day]


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