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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Party leaders clash over crime
Tony Blair
Tony Blair says street crime is being tackled
Tony Blair has pledged to look at whatever measures it takes to combat street crime as opposition parties attacked his law and order record.

The last prime minister's questions before Thursday's English local elections saw crime again dominate the political debate.


In this Government no one takes responsibility, no one apologises and no one resigns

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Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of offering only pre-poll gimmicks when the public realised street violence was on the rise.

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy also ridiculed some of the ideas Downing Street is examining in its drive to tackle anti-social behaviour.

'Half-baked'

Leaked plans this week showed Mr Blair was considering docking child benefit from the parents of persistent truants.

Mr Kennedy asked whether anyone supported that "half-baked" proposal and urged the prime minister to "bury this here and now and once and for all".

Charles Kennedy
Charles Kennedy said the child benefit idea had little support
For the Tory leader, the idea was just one of four gimmicks floated by the government in the week leading up to Thursday's polls.

"Given that the local elections are, strangely, tomorrow, don't you feel it's any wonder that the public are cynical about such gimmicks," asked Mr Duncan Smith.

Instead, the reality was that police numbers had only just returned to 1997 levels despite seven government announcements on extra officers over the last five years, he said.

"Because of the government's red tape, now the force needs 12 police officers just to spare one to go on street patrol," he added.

Rights and responsibilities

Mr Blair acknowledged there was a "serious problem" with street crime but it was now being tackled through police initiatives.

He was again unrepentant about the child benefit idea, which gained a lukewarm reception from some cabinet ministers and was openly attacked by some Labour MPs.

"The vast majority of people in this country will support the idea that if people get benefits from the state, they owe some responsibility in return," he said.

The prime minister also stressed the government was now looking at cutting housing benefit for persistent nuisance neighbours.

"We will look at every single measure necessary to bear down on these problems of truancy, of anti-social behaviour, of juvenile offending," he said.

Mr Blair claimed the Tories were "out of touch with the public" because of their opposition to some of ministers' law and order reforms.

Labour's record on transport also came under fire from the Tory leader ahead of Thursday's fifth anniversary of Mr Blair's first day in Downing Street.

Railway worries

Mr Duncan Smith attacked Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's 1997 promise that there would be "far fewer" cars on the road within five years.

That failure was because people were returning to the roads because they were tired of delays on the railways and the London Underground, he said.

"In this Government no one takes responsibility, no one apologises and no one resigns," Mr Duncan Smith continued.

Mr Blair said road traffic had increased, partly because of Britain's economic growth.

He blamed the "tremendous problems" on the railways on the Tory "botched" privatisation.

And he reeled off a list of successes, such as the minimum wage, record primary school results and low unemployment, which had been achieved in the five years in power.

"There is a lot we can take responsibility for and be proud of," said Mr Blair.

See also:

01 May 02 | UK Politics
Assinder's Question Time verdict
01 May 02 | UK Politics
Ministers welcome anti-yob plans
02 Apr 02 | UK
Report shows yob order gaps
25 Oct 00 | Scotland
Tackling 'neighbours from hell'
29 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair defiant over child benefit plan
24 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair sets street crime deadline
16 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blunkett targets young criminals
28 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Q&A: Child benefit
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