SALFORD is among the areas where "talking" CCTV cameras are to be introduced.

Loudspeakers are being fitted to cameras in 20 areas across the country, allowing operators to bark commands at people committing anti-social behaviour.

Council workers in a control centre can monitor pictures and communicate directly with people on the street at the flick of a switch.

The scheme has been criticised by opponents as "Big Brother gone mad".

But Home Secretary John Reid insisted it was proven to work, and that the communities sharing nearly £500,000 in grants to adapt cameras would feel the benefits.

"This is a hugely popular scheme in Middlesbrough and the vast majority of the people here are right behind it," he told GMTV.

"It helps counter things like litter through drunk or disorderly behaviour, gangs congregating.

"They are the sorts of things that make people's lives a misery. Anything that tackles that is better.

"We want more police officers and we want more neighbourhood policing. There are always people who will claim when we do that it's a police society'.

"It isn't. It's a society where the vast majority of law-abiding citizens are doing their utmost to respect each other.

"There is always a minority and this is a way of trying to embarrass them, short of taking people to court, short of getting the police involved, to make sure it is a better local society."

Competitions are being held at schools in many of the areas for children to become the "voice" of CCTV cameras.

Mr Reid denied that this new scheme was being used instead of putting more police officers on the beat.

The Home Secretary said that since 1997 there were 14,000 more police officers and the Labour Government had introduced 11,000 police community support officers and street wardens.

"We've got more powers than ever before, more resources than ever before. This is just an additional thing," he said.

"The vast majority of people are pretty decent. But if people persistently refuse to do this we have got pictures, which provide evidence and the police can be called.

"We hope it doesn't come to that. Again it saves police time and of course it is not a substitute for having police on the beat."

During a visit to a CCTV control room at Middlesbrough bus station, Mr Reid joked with operator Michael Monument, who lives in Sedgefield, County Durham.

The smiling Home Secretary quipped: "I know a bloke from Sedgefield."

Later, Mr Reid praised Middlesbrough and said the town was taking the lead across the country in pioneering the scheme.

"It is very effective, it is very popular and is great addition to having more police in the community," he told reporters.

He added that the law-abiding majority was behind the scheme and the Government was committed to making it work.

There are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain, even though a Home Office report published four years ago concluded better street lighting was seven times more effective at cutting crime.

The study suggested CCTV cut crime by a "small degree" - 4% overall and just 2% in urban areas - while improved lighting in public spaces made crime plummet by 30%.

The exception was CCTV in car parks, which led to a significant 41% fall in crime, the academic report added.

A recent study from the Government's privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner, warned Britain was becoming a "surveillance society".

The commissioner, Richard Thomas, said excessive use of CCTV and other information-gathering was creating a climate of suspicion.

It said there were an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain.

The 20 areas which have received grants for Talking CCTV proposals are: Southwark; Barking and Dagenham; Reading; Harlow; Norwich; Ipswich; Plymouth; Gloucester; Derby; Northampton; Mansfield; Nottingham; Coventry; Sandwell; Wirral; Blackpool; Salford; Middlesbrough; South Tyneside; and Darlington.