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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 17:56 GMT
Blair 'respect' speech in full
The full text of Tony Blair's 'respect agenda' speech on 10 January:

The important thing about debating anti-social behaviour, and the measures we are proposing, is not to debate it at the crude level of 'tough' or 'not tough'; populist or not.

But, instead, to regard it as a genuine intellectual debate about the nature of liberty in a modern developed society such as our own.

I welcome the fact the director of Liberty is making a speech today on the same subject.

There is a serious argument against what we are doing and it is right at the centre of political debate with both opposition parties joining forces to dismiss what we're doing.

But I want to explain why I think this argument, serious though it is, is wrong and out of date.

Let us start from two propositions we all agree with. An innocent person should be protected from wrongful accusation. The public at large should be protected from crime.

Until we began the new crime measures of recent years, these two principles existed in a very simple theoretical construct of the criminal justice system. The police would charge the accused of whatever crime, that was appropriate. The CPS would prosecute. A magistrates court or judge and jury would decide guilt.

Why do I say theoretical? I say this because spitting at an old lady on her way to the shops is and has always been a crime; graffiti is a crime and always has been. Petty vandalism, the same. Having money on you that is from drug dealing, likewise. Most assaults, believe it or not, do not involve physical injury. But they are crimes and very threatening to the victim. Serious financial fraud or being engaged in organised criminal conspiracies are crimes and very serious ones.

In theory, in each case the police charge, the prosecutor prosecutes and the court decides.

In theory there is no need therefore to change these criminal law processes. Except that, in practice, its not what happens. In practice, the person who spits at the old lady is not prosecuted because to do so takes many police hours, much resource and if all of that is overcome, the outcome is a fine. The result is the police do not think it worth it; and so it doesn't happen.

In practice, to prove that person X with 10,000 on them in cash in the middle of the city at 2am got this money through specific acts of drug dealing is too hard. You may know it. But how do you prove it? So it doesn't happen.

In practice, the months and years of a court process, with a jury utterly bemused and the legal aid bills rising - spending is very unevenly distributed between case types, with over 50% of legal aid for crown court cases spent on 1 per cent of cases - to prove serious financial fraud or conspiracy means they rarely happen and if they do, often collapse.

The theory is basically treating Britain as if it were in the 19th or early 20th centuries. The practice however takes place in a post-war, modern, culturally and socially diverse, globalised society and economy at the beginning of the 21st century. The old civic and family bonds have been loosened. The scale, organisation, nature of modern crime makes the traditional processes simply too cumbersome, too remote from reality to be effective.

The result is that whatever the theory behind the two principles - protection of the accused, protection of the public - in practice the second has not been realised.

Since the self reinforcing bonds of traditional community life do not exist in the same way, we need a radical new approach if we are to restore the liberty of the law-abiding citizen. My view is very clear: their freedom to be safe from fear has to come first. Yes, in theory, that is what is supposed to happen through the traditional court processes. In practice it doesn't. We are fighting 21st crime with 19th century methods.

The real choice, the choice on the street, is not between a criminal law process that protects the accused and one that doesn't; it is between a criminal law process that puts protection of the accused in all circumstances above and before that of protecting the public.

A few years ago, we began to change this. The Proceeds of Crime Act gave the police the power to seize the cash of suspected drug dealers. anti-social behaviour law imposed fixed penalty notice fines, instant on-the-spot (usually down at the police station, in fact). ASBOs came into being where general behaviour not specific individual offences was criminalised.

This has, bluntly reversed the burden of proof. The person who spits at the old lady is given an 80 fine. If they want to challenge it, they have to appeal. The suspected drug dealer loses the cash. He has to come to court and show how he got it lawfully.

Now, as I shall say later, we want to take these powers further. Today I focus on anti-social behaviour. Shortly we will do the same on serious and organised crime.

But the principle is the same. To get on top of 21st century crime, we need to accept that what works in practice is a measure of summary power with right of appeal, alongside the traditional court process.

Anything else is the theory, loved by much of the political and legal establishment but utterly useless to the ordinary citizen on the street.

Backing this up, has to be new ways of policing such crime. This is why community support officers are so vital in support of warranted officers and the Serious and Organised Crime Agency is such an important innovation in fighting organised crime.

And the next stage of this will be to focus on the few 'problem families' from which so much of the disorder comes. Again traditional thinking will have to be overthrown if we are to get to grips with practical reality.

All of this, in the end, however, comes down to how we view our obligations to each other in the society we live in.

Respect is a way of describing the very possibility of life in a community. It is about the consideration that others are due. It is about the duty I have to respect the rights that you hold dear. And vice-versa. It is about our reciprocal belonging to a society, the covenant that we have with one another.

More grandly, it is the answer to the most fundamental question of all in politics which is: how do we live together? From the theorists of the Roman state to its fullest expression in Hobbes's Leviathan, the central question of political theory was just this: how do we ensure order? And what are the respective roles of individuals, communities and the state?

Legal stricture will never be enough. Respect cannot, in the end, be conjured through legislation. Government can provide resources and powers. It can do its best to ensure that wrong-doing is detected, that its powers against offenders are suitable, that its systems are expeditious and its enforcement strong. And the British system, like others, in the modern world, has not been good enough against these standards.

But, ultimately, the change has to come from within the community, from individuals exercising a sense of responsibility. Rights have to be paired with responsibilities.

Of course the overwhelming majority of people understand this intuitively and have no trouble living side by side with their neighbour. Indeed, in some vital ways, we are more respectful as a society than we once were.

Try telling ethnic minorities in this country that there was more respect fifty years ago. Try telling that to women who wanted to pursue a career but who were expected to stay at home. A few weeks ago the first civil partnerships began. Why not ask gay men and lesbians if they want to go back to the 1950s?

But it is sometimes said that, as we get more prosperous and as deference declines, respect for authority is bound to fall away. It is sometimes posed as if it were a choice: an ordered and hierarchical society based on knowing your place or a meritocracy at the price of social disorder.

Indeed, a modern market economy needs the attributes of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit. These qualities thrive best when we can be critical of authority, when people can make the most of themselves without feeling constrained by their background. This is precisely the ideal of the open society that we value.

All of this is true. But to help communities in the modern world, restore respect, these changes in lifestyle need to be accompanied by a new settlement between people, a new modus vivendi. We need to bear in mind RH Tawney's words, which simultaneously show us the way forward and that these questions are not new; "what we have been witnessing", he said, "is the breakdown of society on the basis of rights divorced from obligations".

So I am not today re-starting the search for the golden age. We are not looking to go back to anything. We have left behind an era in which we refused to respect people because of who they were. The only reason to withhold respect is because of what people do.

Anti-social behaviour is not evidence of a flawed moral sensibility in the British people. On the contrary, the need to act comes from the pressing moral urgency of the people.

We have made significant progress over the past 8 years on crime and anti-social behaviour. Crime reached a peak in the mid 1990s and since we came to power there have been substantial falls in crime: Overall crime is down by 35%; domestic burglary is down by 53% and vehicle theft is down by 46%.

Over the past few years, courts have issued 6497 anti-social behaviour orders; over 500 crack houses have been closed and 800 dispersal orders have been issued.

Over 170,000 penalty notices for disorder have now been issued and 13,000 acceptable behaviour contracts have been agreed.

Each of these powers was contested at the time. But it is now clear that they are working. Reports of vandalism and noisy neighbours have all been going down since 2001. Three years ago, one in five people thought there was a high level of anti-social behaviour in their area. Now that is down to one in six. As well as summary powers, there are innovations in the Court system which seek to close this gap such as the Liverpool Justice Centre and we want to see more of these, but so long as a gap exists between the real experiences of communities and the efficacy of the criminal justice system, we will need powerful out-of-court tools. There is no other way of providing people with the confidence and reassurance they deserve that their problems will be addressed.

Today's action plan will show how we intend to develop pre-court powers further to bring about a fundamental shift to give people control of their communities so that they can begin to re-build the bonds of community for a modern age.

We will take action to extend and enhance key programmes such as neighbourhood management and wardens; we will provide communities with redress to their local authority to ensure that their concerns are acted upon and we will reinforce our commitment to introduce neighbourhood policing in every community over the next two years. Some areas already benefit from these schemes and people in those areas tell me what a difference they make to their lives.

We will make it easier to address anti-social behaviour, sometimes without needing to go to court. Penalty notices for disorder, which can be issued on the street, will be raised from 80 to 100. Conditional cautioning will be extended, with funding for ten areas to pioneer ways of making offenders do unpaid work, to show the community that they are paying something back. And it is why we are consulting on a proposal for a new power to close down properties which are a constant focus for anti-social behaviour.

Freedom, however, is not just about the absence of restraint. It is also about the presence of resources.

The case for the Respect Action Plan contains both concepts of liberty. It does seek to ensure that wrong-doing is punished. But that is not all it does. The strategy in the plan has two elements: both to deter bad behaviour and to invest in good behaviour.

This is what makes the case for action against anti-social behaviour a progressive cause. Poverty and exclusion from the material norms of a prosperous society provide fertile ground for crime. Anti-social behaviour is more common in poor areas. Richard Sennett has written persuasively about the way the basic courtesies diminish with increasing material inequalities. The social capital literature also provides a large body of data to show that respect and trust are less evident in areas of high deprivation.

Throughout government, we are seeking to change the conditions of poverty in which criminal activity often flourishes. Sure Start, Neighbourhood Renewal, the New Deal for Communities, to name but three - these are all programmes in which we are doing our best on our side of the bargain.

In the case of young people, we tend to focus on what they are doing during school hours. But what they do with their spare time is really important too. Surveys show having more activities for teenagers to do is a critical issue for both young people and their parents.

Getting involved in the right kind of positive activities at the right age- for example, competitive sport or projects to help others in local communities - are important for all young people. But they can turn the lives around of teenagers who are at a difficult point in their lives, or who might get in trouble.

That's why we've placed so much emphasis on getting more teenagers involved. Last summer's Youth Green Paper proposed Youth Opportunity Funds, where young people themselves will decide what kind of activities will be supported in their local area. We've announced that we're making additional funding available over the next two years for that - 500,000 for an average local authority.

And as part of our radical vision for schools which are at the heart of their communities, our Extended Schools programme will provide an exciting range of activities for young people all year round - from eight in the morning to six in the evening."

In the Action plan we have placed a strong emphasis on expanding the role of sport and activities for young people. We will seek to take forward the recommendation by the Russell Commission to boost the number of young people volunteering by over a million over the next five years, as the Chancellor has set out.

So the Respect Action plan has a balance between enforcement measures and prevention.

It also stresses support for parents. We will focus, in particular, on teenage parents and give them stronger incentives to attend parenting classes and education.

Chaotic families lack the basic infrastructure of order. Not all parents find the task easy. The usual barriers against a teenager falling into low-level crime are often absent. Often young men lack role models. Drug addiction leads directly into criminal markets.

There are a small number of families who are out of control and in crisis. It is those families whose children are roaming the streets and disrupting the classrooms. We have to help those parents and their children.

We will base our approach on successful schemes such as those in Dundee and Bristol. We will establish at least 50 schemes across the country by the end of the year. They will combine supervision and sanctions with a project worker, to provide intensive help for those families who are facing multiple problems.

But the support comes with a tough message. If parents of children who are involved in anti-social behaviour refuse to take up the offer of help, then parenting orders will be made available to a wider range of agencies.

So, these are the principles on which this plan is based: a duty and a responsibility on the citizen to respect the rights of others; a duty on the state to protect the vulnerable from significant harm and a duty to uphold the rule of law in a system that is efficient and fair.

This is not a debate between those who value liberty and those who don't. Critics need to answer the following question: if the criminal justice system was failing people, as it clearly was, what ought we to have done? To do nothing is one option. But surely it is to do better by the British people to devise relevant powers, limited by the right of appeal, to ensure that communities do not have to live with unacceptable levels of fear and intimidation.

No liberal democracy can countenance the tyranny of a minority in any of its communities. We, as government, will discharge our duties. We will attempt to create the conditions in which respect can flourish. I believe in the innate decency of the British people and I believe that, together, we will eradicate the scourge of anti-social behaviour and restore Respect to the communities of Britain.


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