Blair On Iran, Al-Jazeera
Morning press briefing from 10 January 2006
Press briefing from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman on: Iran, Respect, Fraud, Al-Jazeera and Smoking
Asked for an update on Iran, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that we were concerned by reports from the IAEA, and we were waiting for a full report from them later today. Everyone needed to be clear that this did seem to amount to another breach of IAEA board resolutions. Mr. El Baradei had summed up the situation well when he said that the international community was running out of patience, and we shared that view. The PMOS said that clearly, the next step was the Foreign Secretary would keep in close touch with our E3 colleagues, and we expected Ministers to discuss with the E3 the next steps soon. The first real port of call was with the IAEA board.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that a) the time had come to refer to the United Nations (UN) and b) as was being reported that any attempt to refer would be "thwarted" by the Russians and the Chinese, the PMOS said that we had previously supported referral to the Security Council, but it depended on the outcome of any IAEA discussion. That process was therefore helped by us not giving too much of a running commentary in advance.
Asked if the Russians and Chinese could be "swung round", the PMOS said that he wanted to answer the questions without appearing to speak for, or address directly other countries. The PMOS said that what Mr. El Baradei's comments reflected was a growing recognition that this was a real problem in the international community, with a real impatience with what was seen as Iran's defiance of the international community. There was a procedure which was that first of all, the IAEA board needed to get a full report, and then the board needed to decide how to deal with that matter. That was the process, and we would go with that process, but no-one was trying to downplay the seriousness of this development.
Asked what would happen next with regards to the "Respect" agenda, the PMOS summarised what the basic approach was. Local authorities told us that for each local authority area in England and Wales, approximately fifty families in each area caused a large percentage of problems. Therefore, what that suggested, and what experience suggested was that what might seem in themselves small measures, could have a big effect in helping local neighbourhoods. What was critical was to give individuals, neighbourhoods and communities the confidence and the hope that they could take action, or help bring about action, that would eliminate the problems that came from that disproportionately small number of people.
Why did we think this approach worked? We had now seen the nearly 6,500 ASBOs issued from what was admittedly a slow start, so they had reached a critical mass where people recognised that they did have an impact. We had seen 500 crack houses close, 800 dispersal orders issued, over 170,000 penalty orders given, and 13,000 Acceptable Behaviour contracts agreed. All that was practical experience on which these new proposals were based. What happened now was that there would be a task force unit in the Home Office which, among other things, would help mentor projects up and down the country, and £25 million had been allocated for that. What would also happen was an extension of parenting orders, so as schools and local authorities could apply those, as well as the police.
We would also see the establishment of the Parenting Academy, and we would see the consultation process on the proposal to close houses which were a persistent cause of problems. We had already seen that in practice in Scotland where ten houses had been closed. We would also see consultation on docking housing benefit if families or parents refused help when dealing with problem issues. There would also be a volunteering service. The PMOS said there were a wide range of new powers and measures that would be taken as a result.
Asked if it was the Prime Minister's belief that if certain things were made illegal first, society's attitudes would change as a result, the PMOS replied that first of all, the Prime Minister's belief was that as he set out in his speech, people needed to clearly identify what the parameters of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour were. The Prime Minister was not harking back to a nostalgic glow of the past, but rather, trying to identify and define what the parameters were now.
These measures would then be taken, and regardless of how small they might appear, they would be built up incrementally, and by showing communities that by taking action of a relatively small kind, the nature of the neighbourhood could be changed. The PMOS said that a small number of kids could wreak a whole street, but if action could be shown to be taken, and that behaviour was stopped, then it would have a good effect. So, yes, it was about change in the culture, but it was done not by sweeping legislation, but rather by a series of incremental steps. As the PMOS said yesterday, some of those incremental steps would require legislation that would be attached to other parts of legislation going through the House. Others would be practical measures.
There was evidence that changing attitudes was already happening. If people looked at the polling data, in areas where ASBOs had been used, there was evidence that fear of disturbance and disorder were going down. Other figures showed that the proportion of people who thought that neighbourhoods were getting noisier had gone down in the past three years from one in five to one in six. The trend was going in the right way, and it was all about establishing the dynamic in the right way, rather than the wrong way.
Put that the subject of docking of housing benefit had been broached before, but was not implemented, and was there a greater acceptance now of similar measures, the PMOS replied that what people needed to address was the substance. First of all, it was not a case of docking housing benefit from vast numbers of people. If people looked at the figures again, it was fifty problem families in each local area, rather than vast numbers. Secondly, it was about giving people a choice; they could choose to accept help and guidance which was in their interest and their children's interest, or they could refuse. If they refused, there should be a penalty for that refusal. That was the choice. Therefore, we did think that people were moving away from the big headline to the reality, and if people looked at the reality, it made sense.
Asked what was actually new in the "Respect" plan, the PMOS said that the journalist might regret asking the question! The "Respect" plan would:
• Establish a national network of intensive family support schemes which was being done by the Home Office.
• Consider sanctions for households evicted for anti-social behaviour who refused help.
• Increase parenting programmes for the parents of at risk children and young people.
• Establish a National Training Facility to train staff able to deliver high quality parenting interventions, and it would equip and incentivise all Local Authorities to improve delivery of parenting services.
• Improve the incentives for teenage parents to participate in parenting classes and education, and ensure that parenting support is considered as part of any pre-sentence report for all young offenders.
• Target disadvantaged young people through sport and art.
• Launched Britain's first national youth volunteering service.
• Expand the process of mentoring, and to review the impact of youth activities.
• Take action on those who are off the School Roll, including an introduction of a new statutory duty on all local authorities to make arrangements to identify children missing education.
• Introduce a mandatory respect and anti-social behaviour outcome in all Local Area Agreements (LAAs) by April 2007, and a standard set of Power of Community Safety Officers (PCSO) powers.
• The PCSOs would be given powers to take part in truancy sweeps (Home Office)
• Develop a Respect Standard for Housing Management, and every area would be given the chance to have a neighbourhood charter.
• Ensure that senior representatives of CDRPs held regular 'face the people' sessions.
• It would ensure that all Government funded regeneration schemes were accompanied by schemes to tackle behaviour, and ensure that all Housing Market Renewal Pathfinders funding was independent on putting in place plans to deliver the respect drive.
• Increase PND fines to £100 from £80 for serious offences
• And finally, it would make it easier for Trading Standards Officers powers to issue PNDs (Home Office).
The PMOS said that alongside those mentioned, it would give neighbourhoods the ability to trigger a review by local authorities of whether sufficient action was being taken. That was why it involved all the individual departments, and was also why a very co-ordinated approach.
Asked if the Prime Minister expected the people of Scotland to benefit from the "Respect" plan, the PMOS replied that it terms of Scotland, it was already leading the way with regards to closing houses. In the last three months, the PMOS thought ten houses had been closed. Already, Scotland was in the vanguard of this, and devolution in Scotland would apply in terms of other matters.
Asked what from the list that the PMOS read out would apply to Scotland, the PMOS said he would respect devolution and the ability of Scotland to make its own decisions. Equally, as the Prime Minister believed, that the "Respect" was an issue that was not limited to England and Wales.
Put to the PMOS that Michael Howard had said that he wanted "thugs" to be frightened of the police, and was this something that the Prime Minister sympathised with, the PMOS said that what young thugs needed to realise was that it was not just the police that they needed to be aware of who would take action against them, as it was also communities, neighbourhoods and local authorities. Equally, however, if they did take the right action, then they could be helped to make life better for themselves as well as their communities. This was a combination of: increase of punishments, giving guidance to people and increasing help. The PMOS said it was a comprehensive approach in that sense.
Put that the Prime Minister seemed to say this morning that he wanted to extend the shift from serious crime to fraud, the PMOS said the Prime Minister had talked in the past about problems with fraud trials, and indeed, we were taking action through DCA on fraud trials. In terms of the overall position of recognising that the legal reality of the day was different from that of the 19th Century, then, yes, people were right. With regards to fraud trials, the PMOS recommended the journalist spoke to the DCA.
Asked that on the bombing of Al-Jazeera story, did the Prime Minister have a view on who should be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), the PMOS said that prosecutions under the OSA were not a matter for the Prime Minister to comment on.
Asked if the Prime Minister was minded to give a free vote to MPs on smoking in public places, the PMOS replied that as he had said yesterday, the Prime Minister had dealt with this issue in the Christmas time press conference, and nothing had changed since then.