Prisoners’ Voting Rights
Asked the Prime Minister's reaction to an ECHR ruling today that murderers held in prison should be allowed to vote in elections, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would consider the detail of today's judgement. However, it had been the view of successive Governments that prisoners convicted of a crime serious enough to warrant imprisonment had lost the moral authority to vote. That remained our position. Asked to explain why prisoners had lost the moral authority to vote, the PMOS said that they had carried out criminal activities which had been judged to be sufficiently serious by a court to warrant imprisonment. That judgment related to how society viewed these matters. Asked if the Government would appeal against the decision, the PMOS said that we would take time to consider the detail of the judgment before announcing what we were going to do.
Questioned about the Opposition Leader's comments on immigration during his exchange with the Prime Minister in PMQs today, the PMOS said that as a Civil Servant he was unable to comment on party political matters. The Prime Minister had simply been making the point that it was important to discuss the issue of immigration rationally and calmly.
Asked when the Prime Minister would meet the families of the Lockerbie victims, the PMOS said that a meeting would be arranged once a mutually suitable date had been identified. It was unlikely to take place before Easter. He added that the Prime Minister had last met the families in December 1998.
Asked the Prime Minister's view of the way the Home Office had been conducting its affairs recently, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the Prime Minister continued to believe that the Home Office was trying to do a very difficult job well. He hoped people would recognise that the Government, led by the Prime Minister, David Blunkett and Beverley Hughes, had taken concerted, systematic action to deal with the problems in the asylum system, which, in turn, had helped lead to the halving of the number of asylum applications. We acknowledged that there were currently problems with the immigration system. We would examine those had been highlighted and take equally systematic action to address them if it was found necessary to do so.
Higher Education Bill
Asked if the Prime Minister would be meeting backbench MPs in the run up to the vote on the Higher Education Bill later today, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister would speak to whomever he thought was necessary. It was clear that the vote would be tight. Questioned further, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister would continue to argue the case - a case which had reinforced by the Coalition of Mainstream Universities, which represented the majority of universities, who had said this morning that it would be disastrous for higher education as a whole, and for students from poorer backgrounds in particular, if the Bill were to be withdrawn.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) drew journalists' attention to a passage in the Prime Minister's speech on crime today in which he had said, "Currently, interception of communications or intrusive surveillance can be authorized under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), against any offender who is likely to commit a serious offence. This is defined as an offence which, if committed by an individual over 21 with no previous convictions, is likely to attract a sentence of at least three years imprisonment.
Asked if the Prime Minister held monthly meetings on immigrations and asylum because he had identified the issue as a priority and whether he would have seen papers and had any knowledge relating to what was going on in the immigration service, the PMOS confirmed that the Prime Minister held regular meetings on the key delivery areas of Government, of which asylum was, of course, one. The Prime Minster had been very focussed on this issue since the Government had come into office in 1997. We recognised that global changes in terms of transport and migration were throwing up challenges for many countries, not only the UK. That was why we had considered it imperative to look at end-to-end reform of the system and bring forward legislation several times since 1997, not least the measures going through the House at the moment to deal with appeals. Pressed as to whether the Government had known about these allegations, the PMOS said that he had no intention of getting drawn into a discussion about who knew what, when. Journalists should not over-interpret that, but see it as a desire to let the investigation take its course without prejudicing it. David Blunkett had made it absolutely clear in the House today that Home Office Ministers had not given instructions to officials to do anything other than follow proper procedures and uphold the law. That said, the allegations that had been made were serious and were, indeed, being taken seriously. Ken Sutton would have the opportunity to consider all the relevant papers that had come to light and Home Office officials were flying out to Sofia and Bucharest to investigate the matter. Mr Sutton would bring forward his report as quickly as possible, consistent with doing a thorough job.
Higher Education Bill
Asked if the Prime Minister was confident that the Government would win the vote on the Higher Education Bill tomorrow, the PMOS said that we were not complacent about it. It went without saying that the Government was working hard to carry the Bill. The arguments had won through last time, albeit with a narrow majority. No doubt it would be close again. However, we believed that the package before the House was fair and balanced and stood as a whole. It was what our universities needed if they were to have the necessary levels of funding for the twenty-first century. It was also what the country needed in terms of widening access by getting more people into university.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister would be making a speech this afternoon on crime reduction. He would stress the importance of local councils, police and agencies making use of the new powers they had to tackle crime, including those under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act. His message to local communities was that the powers should be used. He would set out a new approach in terms of dealing with the most prolific, harmful and anti-social offenders in communities across the country. 5,000 people were estimated to be responsible for about a million crimes a year. He would announce a concerted national effort by police and criminal justice agencies to target individually the most persistent, harmful and anti-social offenders who were still criminally active. Using the national intelligence model, each of the 376 Local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, which brought together the local police force, local councils and criminal justice agencies, would each identify on average 20 offenders in their area who were committing the most crimes or who posed the greatest threat to the safety and confidence of their community. In targeting these offenders, the police would deploy all the most modern surveillance techniques and intensive intelligence gathering.
The PMOS informed journalists that Hilary Benn would be making a speech on Iraq today in which he would look forward to the transfer of authority to a new Iraqi administration on 1 July. That process was already under way. This week, the first Iraqi ministers were taking full authority over their ministries. For example, the Minister of Health had assumed full authority on Sunday. As each Department fulfilled certain criteria, it allowed Coalition advisers to pull back into a consultative role.
Original PMOS briefings are © Crown Copyright. Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's Printer for Scotland. Click-use licence number C02W0004089. Material is reproduced from the original 10 Downing Street source, but may not be the most up-to-date version of the briefings, which might be revised at the original source. Users should check with the original source in case of revisions. Comments are © Copyright contributors. Everything else is © Copyright Downing Street Says.
Contact Sam Smith.