Blair steps in to end 'yob culture' feud

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will chair the first meeting of the cabinet committee on antisocial behaviour to end a turf war between ministers who are battling for control of the "yob" agenda.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, and Hazel Blears, who is responsible for the police and antisocial behaviour orders, have been battling to seize control of the agenda.

The Blairite MP David Miliband was promoted in the post-election reshuffle by Mr Blair to take charge of what has been termed the "respect" agenda as the cabinet minister for communities and local government under John Prescott in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

No 10 said that it was working on how to handle "cross-cultural issues". There have been continuing reports from Whitehall that Mr Clarke was being "highly obstructive" by refusing to give up responsibility for antisocial behaviour.

Mr Blair has taken personal charge of the committee in charge of finding ways of reviving "respect" in society, which he has set as the priority agenda for the third term of his period in office.

The committee is expected to have its first meeting next week. A Downing Street source said: "Asbos are the preserve of the Home Office and both departments know that is the case.

"The respect committee will hold its first meeting and it will be chaired by the Prime Minister. He wants to make sure that it does make things happen but he is very anxious to avoid giving the impression that the Government can change the world."

The committee will focus on discipline in schools, stopping abuse of public sector workers including nurses and doctors, and ways of persuading more authorities to make use of Asbos.

However, Mr Blair also wants to find ways of encouraging the public to counter the lack of respect in society, an issue that was raised repeatedly by voters during the election campaign.

Meanwhile, the Home Secretary is facing increased opposition over the Government's drive to introduce identity cards. A new analysis by a London-based human rights group claims that four million disabled people in the United Kingdom will be seriously disadvantaged by the proposed scheme.

The report by Privacy International warns that if the Government proceeds with its plan to require biometric registration it is likely to breach the Disability Discrimination Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

About one million disabled people would have difficulty accessing crucial public services such as the NHS were the cards introduced, it says.

The figures were drawn from an analysis of two reports: that of the UK Passport Service biometrics trial, published by the Government last week, and the 2002 report of the US Government Accountability Office, Using Biometrics for Border Security.

The UK report involved a biometrics trial of 10,000 volunteers, including a weighted sample of 750 disabled people. Privacy International's director, Simon Davies, said that the outcome paralleled the American findings.

"Requiring people to hand over their fingerprints and iris patterns fundamentally discriminates against disabled people," he said. "The Government has a clear choice. Either it abandons its commitment to improve the quality of life for disabled people, or it abandons the identity card proposals."

The Government's development policy was also questioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England yesterday. Despite the government's stated intention to preserve green belts, the group said it was allowing projects that were having a "cumulatively devastating" impact on their survival.