Asked if any examination had been undertaken to decide whether Clare Short had breached the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and whether any disciplinary action would be taken against her, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was not a matter for him. Nor would it be appropriate for him to know in any event on the former. The Prime Minister was making a speech in Scotland this afternoon and he was focussing on his attention on that, as you would expect. As he understood it, the Prime Minister would not refer to the matter, but would give the speech he had always intended to deliver. Asked if he was indicating that the Prime Minister considered the matter to be closed, the PMOS repeated that the Prime Minister was focussing on his speech today. Journalists should speak to the Labour Party about it.
Prime Minister’s press conference
[This is the transcript of one of the Prime Minister's occasional press conferences; these are the words of the Prime Minister giving a statement and answering the questions of journalists. Unlike the PMOS's briefings, this is a more-or-less verbatim transcript of the Prime Minister's words. Such press conferences happen about once a month, and occasionally more often.]
Clare Short/Katharine Gun
Asked if the Prime Minister was content to allow someone whom he regarded as 'reckless' and 'irresponsible' to continue as a Privy Counsellor, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister had expressed his view of Clare Short's behaviour this morning. His words spoke for themselves. The overriding point in this whole matter was not to put the operation of the security services at risk in any way. Asked if it was appropriate for a Privy Counsellor to put the operation of the security services in peril as she had done, the PMOS said that it was not appropriate behaviour for anyone to do such a thing. Asked to explain what Ms Short had done to put the security services at risk, the PMOS pointed out that the very act of levelling allegations meant that questions about the operation of the security services were inevitably brought into the public domain, thereby making it very difficult to address them.
Questioned about the new Africa Commission which the Prime Minister had announced today, the PMOS said that this was something which the Prime Minister had always believed should be a high priority. It was a subject to which, quite unapologetically, he would return. The Commission was a way of focussing attention not just on individual crises, but on the whole issue of Africa. He was delighted that Bob Geldof and others had agreed to become involved.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that Jack Straw had spoken to the Libyan Foreign Minister, Mohammed Abdulrahman Shalgam, earlier today. Mr Shalgam had reiterated the assurance he had given yesterday that Libya stood by the commitments it had given on both Lockerbie and the investigation into the death of Wpc Yvonne Fletcher.
Asked why the Government had dropped its prosecution of Katharine Gun, the so-called 'GCHQ whistleblower', the PMOS said that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had put out a statement on this matter. He had nothing to add to it. In answer to a multitude of other questions, the PMOS said that his answer remained the same.
Asked where Tanzania fitted into the UK's policy on asylum, the PMOS said that this was a pilot scheme which aimed to explore with the Tanzanian Government ways in which we could help them process asylum applications which arose there. This was not about sending back people who had claimed asylum in the UK to have their claims processed in Tanzania. It was about helping Tanzania deal with the influx of people from some of the surrounding African countries by helping with asylum applications and protecting genuine refugees so that these people would be less likely to make secondary movements to the UK. In the same way, we were also exploring ways to help the Tanzanian Government deal with the issue of accepting there failed asylum seekers from here, i.e. Tanzanians or Tanzanians claiming to be Somalis. As the Prime Minister had said in PMQs today, this was just one initiative in dealing with the problem of asylum. It was not a 'fantasy island' - nor, he repeated, was it about moving claims from here to there.
Asked if the Prime Minister would accept the criticism, in the light of recent announcements, that the Government was not particularly joined up and that its policies were shaky and not very well thought through, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said no. The Wanless Report was a piece of work which had been commissioned some time ago and whose remit had been to look into the whole issue of public health. The Report talked about the importance of individuals taking responsibility for their own health, in addition to the importance of the full engagement of the wider community. The issue of obesity, which had been the subject of a paper published last week, was only one aspect of that. As he understood it, a White Paper on obesity would be published later in the year. Put to him that recent proposals, such as the introduction of a 'fat tax', subsided gym membership and drug testing in schools, had collapsed almost as soon as they had been announced, the PMOS said that it was important for people to understand what the three proposals were about. As we had stated clearly last week, we had no intention of introducing a so-called 'fat tax'. That said, it was clearly an important and valuable part of good Government to have a small cadre of people looking in the longer term at some of the challenges facing the community and the population as a whole. The suggestion for subsidised gym membership was part of the Big Conversation consultation exercise, the purpose of which was to debate ideas. We had been consulting for some time about the issue of drug testing in schools and were now publishing guidance on it. It would be discretionary. Headteachers would not be required to test children for drugs at the start of the school day when the register was taken. What we were doing was giving them the power to do so if they so wished. Put to him that the powers already existed, the PMOS said that we would be issuing guidance which would enable headteachers to take this issue forward. Put to him again that the powers already existed, the PMOS said it was true that we were not going to be legislating on this matter. However, until the guidance, which was being produced in consultation with the police, headteachers and other interested parties, went out to schools, the matter had not been taken forward. This was all about schools having the tools at their disposal to deal with the issue of drugs.
Asked if the Government's efforts to seek clarification about the Libyan Prime Minister's remarks yesterday had paid off, the PMOS said that we had now received an assurance from the Libyan Foreign Minister that Libya stood by all its previous commitments regarding Lockerbie and the case of Wpc Fletcher. We had indicated the importance of making progress on the latter issue and the importance of continuing to make progress on WMD programmes. Asked in what format the assurances had been given to the British Government, the PMOS said that it had been done through our diplomatic channels.
Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to the collapse of the trial of the so-called 'GCHQ whistleblower', Katharine Gun, the PMOS said that it was a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service who had issued a short statement. We had nothing to add to it.
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