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Social Behaviour

Q5. [9702] Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will take steps to ensure that the same priority is given across Government to promoting social behaviour as is given to tackling antisocial behaviour; and if he will make a statement.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Our priority is always the rights of the law-abiding majority. That is why we are tackling and not tolerating the problem.

Mr. Allen: Does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that prevention is almost as important as cure in the case that we are considering? As the Cabinet's antisocial behaviour sub-committee begins its work, will he ensure that he puts before it preventive measures such as ensuring that parenting skills are taught at every school and that tracking and intervention by public authorities is more coherent so that we have early intervention? Will he also ensure that placing social behaviour on the national curriculum alongside literacy and numeracy is considered? Will he be tough on antisocial behaviour but also ensure that he is tough on the causes of antisocial behaviour so that we do not all have to pick up the pieces later?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The House is aware of my hon. Friend's campaign on the matter. The problem faces every one of us in our constituencies. We are doing a lot in providing Government money for priority programmes. One such programme, Sure Start, is a long-term programme. Another provides resources for helping the parents, for which approximately £400 million is being spent. Citizenship is part of the curriculum in schools. The other matters should also be included. We intend to take a more comprehensive approach.


Q6. [9705] Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): There are 10,000 council tenants in Chesterfield and a satisfaction rate of 84 per cent. with their excellent Liberal Democrat council. They pay £22 million in rent to the housing department but the Government steal £3 million to £4 million a year of that money to spend on housing elsewhere in the country, such as London. If the tenants transferred to a housing association, the money would be allowed to stay in Chesterfield. The Deputy Prime Minister told the Labour—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Will the Deputy Prime Minister try to answer?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Gentleman's complaint is about the clawback of rent resources. He knows that all Governments have taken the view that council house rents and revenues are national assets, which the national Government finance. The agreement has stood between all Governments so far—not the Liberals, because they did not do that in 1900. We have agreed that some of the money should go back. Some of our equity agreements on social housing allow local authorities to keep 100 per cent. of the money. I have heard the hon. Gentleman's point about council housing often in debates here. However, we have
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put £23 billion into improving housing stock, which was in a bad way. I do not know what it was like in Chesterfield but when we asked tenants to participate in the debates, approximately 189 ballots took place in only 28 of which was the vote against. They find this way of dealing with things satisfactory. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should chance his arm and ask the tenants instead of giving us his view.

Stephen Hesford (Wirral, West) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will know that Merseyside pioneered neighbourhood policing. He will also know that Wirral pioneered the use of community support officers to tackle antisocial behaviour. The 60 extra police officers provided over the past nine months, and the other initiatives and extra resources, have caused the number of burglaries to fall by 25 per cent. and the number of robberies by 43 per cent. What additional measures has my right hon. Friend in mind to build on that success?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We have put a tremendous amount of resources into policing. A target has been set, and we have increased the number of police officers by about 13,000 since 1997.

The community support officers are very popular indeed. Already 6,000 have been appointed, and we hope to increase the number to 24,000. I have no doubt that Members discovered during the general election campaign that wardens and community support officers were very popular, and that there was a correlation with the lower crime figures.
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We think that what we are doing is right, and it is a priority for us. We are finding that it requires resources, but the Conservative party is committed to reducing them.

7. [9706] Sir Peter Tapsell (Louth and Horncastle) (Con): Given his well-known commitment to European solidarity, can the right hon. Gentleman estimate the number of European leaders attending today's G8 summit who admire the statesmanship shown by our Prime Minister in helping to plunge Iraq into a chaos that the United States Defence Secretary thinks may last for 10 or 12 years?

The Deputy Prime Minister: It should be made clear that, as the Prime Minister has said in answer to questions about statements made in America, we as a party and as a Government will retain our military forces in Iraq for as long as it is necessary to carry out that responsibility. That is our case, and that is what we will make clear at the G8 summit or anywhere else. Anyone working out how long it will take is a master of pure guesswork. We look to the democratic development that is happening in Iraq, and we greatly welcome it.

I wondered what question the hon. Gentleman might ask, and looked at some of his past questions. I then took advice from my financial adviser, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who told me to reply that gold sales were now down.

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Points of Order

12.32 pm

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any notice of a statement from the Secretary of State for Scotland on events surrounding the Gleneagles summit? I understand that there were outbreaks of violence in Stirling and the Perthshire villages this morning, caused by anarchist factions which should be roundly condemned, that road and rail routes to Gleneagles have been disrupted or blocked, and that the police have been unable to protect the right to hold legitimate and approved demonstrations at Gleneagles today.

These are crucial matters, Mr. Speaker. They touch on public safety, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. Would it not be appropriate, especially as the Scottish Parliament is not currently sitting, for the Secretary of State to keep the House involved and informed of developments as they happen?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman asked me at least two questions. [Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members who are leaving should not walk in front of the hon. Gentleman who has the floor.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I had received an approach from the Secretary of State for Scotland; the answer is no. He also asked my opinion on whether the Secretary of State should come to the House. That is a matter for the Secretary of State's judgment.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that during the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which has continued for some time, the Government have resorted to the use of statutory instruments and Northern Ireland Grand Committees to conduct the governance of the nation. The problem is that neither of those two vehicles enables legislation to be amended in any way. On every occasion, there must be a simple yes/no decision.

Is there anything we can do, Mr. Speaker, to make the governance of Northern Ireland more democratic and flexible, rather than disrespecting the will, the interests and the preferences of the House because the Government are unwilling to give Northern Ireland politicians and representatives of the respective Northern Ireland parties any chance to amend legislation in the Chamber?

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) and put it to you that it is a denial of the democratic rights of the people in Northern Ireland for their representatives to be unable to move amendments and debate in detail matters that, were they to affect other parts of the United Kingdom, would be the subject of full legislative procedure? Is it
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possible for you to use your offices to encourage cross-party discussion, within the parties represented in the House, about alternative ways forward?

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