Rural areas suffer from certain types of crime, and I am looking forward to the election of police and crime commissioners in a month’s time so that those rural communities have more of a say in policing priorities. I hope that in my own county of Gloucestershire that will include the election of Victoria Atkins, the excellent Conservative candidate.
I am sure that Brian Blake in Devon and Cornwall will have a different view on those matters. I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, but he will be aware that farm watch, neighbourhood watch and special constables provide important community and voluntary support for rural areas. In these straitened times, what reassurance can the Minister give that the beat managers who are essential in co-ordinating the police response in those areas will be available and will continue to exist?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know from experience in my county that the difficult financial decisions that police authorities and chief constables have had to take can easily be combined with ensuring that there are more resources on the front line and that some of those excellent neighbourhood policing priorities are maintained. The election of police and crime commissioners will ensure that those neighbourhood-focused activities are not only continued but strengthened.
Is the Minister aware of reports in the newspapers today that five mainly rural police authorities have found 26 million depraved examples of images of child abuse on the internet and elsewhere, at the same time as the budget for the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which reported two and half times as many reports of child abuse this year as it did two years ago, is due to be cut by 10%. What is he going to do about that and will he reconsider the cuts to the funding for dealing with child abuse?
I have briefly seen that report in the newspapers this morning. Of course, our plans to take CEOP into the National Crime Agency will enhance the ability of our police officers and crime fighters to deal with such images and such appalling crimes, which I am sure that everyone in the House would deprecate.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s measures on illegal Traveller encampments are welcomed by the vast majority of rural people and are no threat at all to those who are committed to a travelling way of life and want to carry it out in a legitimate fashion?
I think the way that my hon. Friend puts that is exactly right. I have experience of that in my constituency and by dealing with those people who abuse the regime and the hospitality of the settled community we will make the settled community more welcoming of those who are genuine Travellers. In that way, both parts of the community can live in harmony.
Over the past couple of years there has been a huge increase in theft from rural premises, rural businesses, farms and domestic properties, particularly of metal, fuel and implements. The Minister cannot get away with simply saying that the police commissioners will sort it out. What initiatives has his Department been following for the past couple of years?
I repeat what I said about police and crime commissioner elections meaning that the police will be more responsive to the important issues raised, because they will be able to raise them with chief constables on behalf of rural communities. We have been considering some of those important issues at a national level, for example through the plant and agricultural national intelligence unit that has been set up, to ensure that we deal more effectively with some of the crimes that are common across the country in rural areas on both a local and national level.