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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 January 2006, 17:51 GMT
'Respect tsar' lays down the law
Louise Casey
Louise Casey denies the 'respect agenda' is inspired by nostalgia
Tony Blair's Respect tsar has called for a "new generation of enforcers" to uphold the rules of society.

Louise Casey said the role of authority figures like police, community support officers and park keepers was vital.

Mr Blair's Respect action plan launched last week includes evicting problem families for up to three months, more parenting orders and on-the-spot fines.

Opposition critics dismissed the plans as "knee-jerk populism" and a "mish-mash" of gimmicks.

'Better deal'

But the measures were defended by Ms Casey, the Cabinet Office civil servant in charge of making them work, in a Downing Street web chat.

I've seen...the shock on the face of someone who thought it was okay to urinate in the high street and was fined on-the-spot - I don't think he'll be doing it again
Louise Casey

"The Respect programme is about making sure that some of the most poor and vulnerable citizens get a better deal," she said.

"For me it is an issue of social justice. No-one can learn in a classroom with constant disruption, in a home where violence is the norm or in a community where litter, graffiti, harassment are part of their day to day lives.

"And for all of us, daily encounters that show consideration make our lives better."

Last resort

She defended plans to cut housing benefit or evict families who caused a persistent nuisance for up to three months, which was attacked by The Children's Society last week as "shock tactics".

Consulting on evicting nuisance families from their homes for three months
Police and councils to have to hold "face the people" sessions
More use of parenting orders and a new national parenting academy to train officials on giving advice
Cards giving discounts on activities for youngsters doing voluntary work
Mentoring schemes, including one using top class athletes
Local councils to have to create family support networks
National phone number for reporting nuisance behaviour

Ms Casey said: "As the Respect Action Plan makes clear tools such as eviction should be used as a matter of last resort.

"We are setting up a network of family support projects precisely to encourage stability and decent behaviour and before anyone is facing eviction they are offered help to modify their behaviour.

"Our strategy is clear - we must offer help at all times but the deal is people must accept that help and change their behaviour.

"If they don't they face consequences because their behaviour ruins the lives of many other people."

'Shared responsibility'

Ms Casey denied the government's "respect agenda" was inspired by "nostalgia" for a bygone age.

"I feel very strongly... that this isn't harking back to some world based on deference and 'tugging the forelock'.

"It is highly unlikely that I would have this job if we were in 1950, and many other people like me enjoy opportunities and a life that my parents could only have dreamt of.

"But we must create a culture based on shared responsibility for each other, less thought about the individual and more thought about the community."

Asked why more police were necessary on Britain's streets, she said most people in the country seemed to welcome the increase in police numbers.

"I don't think it is about something going wrong, but actually a recognition that as a society we need a generation of 'new enforcers' to ensure that the rules and boundaries that we have within society are upheld," she said.

"Many people feel that the broad economic and social trends have made changes to family and community structures which in turn may mean that the influence of the church, other faith organisations, extended family etc have not really been replaced.

"To meet this challenge in the 21st Century we need to make sure that parents are able to feel confident to bring their kids up well, that schools restore discipline and respect and that the community is able to sort itself out as much as possible.

"Part of all this is increased numbers of police officers, community support officers, park keepers etc."

Violent films

Ms Casey also defended on-the-spot fines for loutish behaviour, which she said had been given out to 17,000 people.

"I've seen them issued and seen the shock on the face of someone who thought it was okay to urinate in the high street and was fined on-the-spot. I don't think he'll be doing it again."

She said there was "no evidence" anti-social behaviour orders, or Asbos, had become "trophies" for some youths, and dismissed one questioners' concern that they might be used to target people who were merely "eccentric".

"In order to get an Asbo you have to - and this has to be proven in a court of law - behave in a way on a persistent basis that causes is alarm, harassment and distress," she said.

Asked why instead of placing Asbos and parenting orders on problem families, violent films and DVDs were not banned she said: "Regulation has a role here, (but) key for me is what parents allow their children to watch on TV, DVD and video games.

"This is why more widely we need to give parents the tools they need in order to bring up their kids properly."

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