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Shopwatch (Warrington)

3. Helen Jones (Warrington, North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on the role of shopwatch schemes in Warrington in combating retail crime. [155745]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint): The Home Office has provided more than £29,000 to assist retailers in the Warrington area, half of it to provide walkie-talkie radios for the Fearnhead and Poulton shopwatch project. There has been a 41 per cent. reduction in thefts from shops involved in that partnership. I congratulate my hon. Friend and those involved in the scheme.

Helen Jones : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. I am sure that she will agree with me that one of the scheme's main benefits is the protection and security that it provides for those who work in shops, and I therefore invite her to respond positively to the "Freedom from Fear" campaign run by the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers—USDAW—by looking at how such schemes can be extended and how further funding can be provided. Given that she has said that she would like to visit my local scheme, may I ask for her good offices in securing an early date for that visit so that she can see how well it is working, and discuss with the local police how it could be extended?

Caroline Flint: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Violence against shop workers is very worrying, and USDAW has played an enormously important part in bringing that issue to public attention. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary attended a conference organised by USDAW last year, and my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) is involved in the issue. My hon. Friend the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety has met representatives of USDAW, and Baroness Scotland is due to meet the general secretary of USDAW very shortly. We are working with retailers and employees' representatives to try to deal with the situation, which is totally unacceptable. That is why we are putting £900,000 into creating a national association to develop more partnerships on the ground, as extensions of those that we have already funded.

Antisocial Behaviour

4. Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): What guidance he has issued on the use of antisocial behaviour orders and related powers to tackle nuisance behaviour. [155746]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): In January, we issued new guidance on the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003. We have also set up the "together" action line, and we are establishing the

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"together" academy to provide face-to-face training. We will ensure that in every part of the country—in every region, including in Wales—training and support will be available.

Huw Irranca-Davies : I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In the two years during which I have been a Member, the greatest bane of my life has been constantly trying to persuade local agencies, authorities and divisional commanders to use ASBOs and related powers. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to write to those people in my area to ensure that there is at least some use of those powers? In the past two years, there has been none whatever.

Mr. Blunkett: I can do even better than that. On Thursday, I am sending Baroness Scotland to engage in the big conversation in my hon. Friend's constituency: how to activate and use the new legislation against antisocial behaviour.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Does the Home Secretary share my concern that ASBOs, and the new contracts that are used prior to them, do not cover noise pollution and antisocial behaviour in public car parks? The provisions on noise pollution would cover such an incident on a private drive but not in a public car park. Will the Home Secretary use his good offices to review that, and make such incidents subject to ASBOs?

Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to investigate how environmental health powers could be used in such cases, and how more general noise nuisance provisions could be applied to sources of nuisance in car parks—for example where a local pub or club was not properly controlling or supervising what was taking place. I am happy to write to the hon. Lady on that.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. Friend for his replies. My own local authority, Sandwell, has pioneered ASBOs, having issued 16 to date with another nine in the pipeline. Its assessment is that they make a very positive contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour in the area. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of the percentage of ASBOs that are adhered to, and the percentage of those that are breached and result in custodial action, which is itself beneficial to the local community?

Mr. Blunkett: I am happy to do that. We have now reached agreement with the Magistrates Association on a code of guidance relating to breaches of antisocial behaviour orders. This will be very important because, as I have said before, if people get the message that they can get away with it, they will get will get away with it, but if the message is that breaches will be treated very severely, with up to a five-year custodial sentence, people will stop breaching those orders.

Gloucestershire Police Authority

5. Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Gloucestershire police authority about its budget for the forthcoming year. [155748]

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The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety (

Ms Hazel Blears): I have not had any formal discussions with Gloucestershire police authority about its final budget for next year. I understand that it has now set a final budget of £92 million for 2004–05, an increase of 6 per cent. over this year.

Mr. Robertson : I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but my office spoke to the chief constable this morning and he told us that the increase in the precept of four times the rate of inflation that the authority is having to introduce will not prevent him from having to transfer serving police officers into civilian work, in order to cover tasks relating to the new police complaints procedure, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and so forth. The Government might increase the grant to the Gloucestershire constabulary, but the amount of extra work that they are asking it to do means that the chief constable has to take serving police officers off the streets and keep them in offices.

Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman will know that there has been a significant increase in support for the police over the past three years—in fact, a 30 per cent. increase for policing in this country, and a 17 per cent. increase in real terms. If the formula had been applied this year in regard to the hon. Gentleman's own authority, it would have received only £56.9 million, but because there is a flat-rate allocation, it has actually received £58.9 million, which is an extra £2 million. It has also been allocated a range of specific grants, and has done particularly well out of the Airwave grant that has been made available. I am also pleased to be able to tell him that I have written today to his colleague, the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), to outline a further payment of special grant in relation to the policing of RAF Fairford, which I am sure will be gratefully received.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Now that Gloucestershire has set its budget, which comes on top of an increase in precept of more than 90 per cent. in the past three years, when will the Government sort themselves out and stop giving conflicting messages over the capping criteria? Should Gloucestershire and the other 42 police authorities listen to the Minister for Local Government, Regional Governance and Fire, who has threatened to cap rises of more than 5 per cent., or to the Home Secretary, who has apparently said that he will be concerned only about rises of more than 15 per cent? Now that we are in the last week of February and police authorities up and down the country are setting their budgets for next year, is it not time that they knew what the capping criteria were? Is it not time that we had joined-up government?

Ms Blears: That is exactly what we have. The hon. Gentleman will know that we have been working extremely closely with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, and that we have been speaking with one voice in saying to local government and police authorities that we expect them to make reasonable, justified and prudent decisions in consultation with their local communities. In the case of Gloucestershire, we are looking at an increase of 27p a week on a band D

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property in relation to policing in that area. The hon. Gentleman will also know that we are trying to ensure that local police authorities take into account the views of their local community, and that we have asked them to set proper prudent budgets that they can justify to the community.

Internet Pornography

6. Mr Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): What plans he has to review the operation of the Obscene Publications Acts of 1959 and 1964 in the light of internet pornography. [155749]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins): Operators of internet sites who knowingly host illegal material in the UK can already be prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Acts. While the Government support effective action in relation to sites hosted in other countries, we believe that this can be achieved only through international co-operation. In addition to seeking such co-operation at European and global levels, we will continue to keep all the relevant domestic law under review.

Mr. Mackay: I thank the Minister for that response. We dare not be complacent, however, as we have seen in relation to the recent Graham Coutts murder conviction and the increase in international paedophile websites. Can I press him further, and say that there must be much more international co-operation to ensure that action is taken? Otherwise, there will be a terrific amount of child abuse as well as other problems. Can we have further guarantees that there will not be complacency?

Paul Goggins: I concur entirely with the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in relation to the horrific murder of Jane Longhurst. I assure him and the whole House that there will be no complacency in respect of this issue. On his specific question about international co-operation, I assure him that we will continue to pursue this matter. I can confirm that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will raise this issue when he meets John Ashcroft in the United States in the near future.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): Among the expressions that I never thought I would utter in this Chamber is, "Can I advise my hon. Friend the Minister to have a word with The Mail on Sunday?" That newspaper appears to have closed down two of the most foul, sadistic brutal sites by impacting on people's ability to subscribe to them. I am loth to do so, but, in view of the greater good, I ask him respectfully to examine this option, which appears to have worked in the case of that newspaper.

Paul Goggins: I join my hon. Friend in thanking The Mail on Sunday for the campaign that it initiated. Any organisation, service provider or newspaper that can help in fighting this battle is to be applauded. What we need, however, is concerted international action, from Governments in particular, to make sure that we have a consistent approach right across the globe.

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