Constitutional Reform Bill
Asked if a decision had been made as to the Government's response to the vote in the House of Lords last night on the Constitutional Reform Bill, the PMOS said the Government was still reflecting. The position remained as it was this morning. Asked to re-iterate what the position this morning had been, the PMOS said that obviously last night's vote was a serious matter and the Government wanted to make progress and achieve the reforms we had set out to achieve - that was a Secretary of State who could devote all of their energy to the DCA and the running and the reform of the Court system, an independent judicial appointments system and a Supreme Court. Following last night, the Government needed to reflect on how we would achieve that result, and that we would do. Asked why the Government wanted a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs who could concentrate solely on his department but not a Secretary of State for Transport who could do the same, the PMOS said that people should look at different cases in different ways. It was always a mistake to make simplistic readings from one case of affairs to anther. We had set out the reasoning for Scotland and Wales when the changes had been announced last year.
Asked when the Lord's reform Bill would be published, the PMOS said he didn't expect it this week. Asked if there was any particular reason for the delay, the PMOS assured journalists that it was nothing out of the ordinary. Put to him that the Government was not going to be able to achieve a non-amendable Lords Reform Bill, the PMOS said that the time to discuss these matters was when the Bill was published.
Asked if the Prime Minister ate Genetically Modified products, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister fully supported the decision announced by Margaret Beckett today. The important thing was that the Government had listened to scientific advice and that advice was clear. Asked if that was a 'no' then, the PMOS said it was an answer to the substantive question concerning the announcement this afternoon.
Asked if the Government had given up all attempts to bring back the four British Guantanamo Bay detainees who were not being released, in the light of the Home Secretary's comments in the US yesterday, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the situation had not changed. What Mr Blunkett had actually said yesterday was that, in 'ideal circumstances', we believed that the best thing would be for the cases to be tried in the US. 'Ideal circumstances' meant people having proper legal representation and right of appeal. As we understood it, that was not the case at the moment. Discussions were continuing with the US authorities as to how this issue could be resolved. Asked if that position was consistent with the Foreign Secretary's view that he did not want the detainees to be brought before a military tribunal, the PMOS said yes. Discussions were continuing. Asked if 'proper legal representation' meant the detainees having the complete freedom to choose who should represent them, the PMOS said that he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn into a discussion about the negotiations when they were still ongoing. That said, as we had stated consistently, the Attorney General had concerns about military tribunal commissions. Those concerns remained, which was precisely why discussions with the US were continuing.
Constitutional Reform Bill
Asked what steps the Government was intending to take following the result of the vote on the Constitutional Reform Bill in the Lords last night, the PMOS said that we regarded last night's outcome as a serious matter. We wanted to get to the point where we were able to separate the role of the DCA Secretary of State and give him the time to concentrate on running - and reforming - the courts system. We believed that the judicial appointments process should be independent and that there was a need for a Supreme Court. Last night's defeat was serious and important. However, we had no intention of rushing into a decision about what we were going to do next. We were going to have a period of reflection and then make a judgement. Asked if he was indicating that the Government didn't have the 'foggiest idea' about what it should do, the PMOS said no. We had a very clear idea as to how we might progress. However, we were not going to be rushed into making an announcement today. Asked to go through the mechanics of invoking the Parliament Act should the need arise, the PMOS thanked journalists for the invitation to engage in a hypothetical discussion, but he would politely decline the request.
Asked if the Prime Minister continued to have full confidence in the Home Office Minister of State, Beverley Hughes, the PMOS said yes. Clearly, she handled a very difficult brief very well. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to her in the last twenty-four hours, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware.
President of Cameroon
Asked about the Prime Minister's meeting with President Biya of Cameroon this morning, the PMOS said that the two leaders had had a wide-ranging discussion about issues relating to that particular region of Africa.
Asked if the Prime Minister continued to believe that he had parents on his side regarding the publication of guidance on drugs in schools today, even if he didn't necessarily inspire the confidence of all teachers, the PMOS said he would disagree with the latter part of the question. The Prime Minister believed that this was an important issue which needed to be addressed. We would do so together with schools, teachers and parents.
Asked the Prime Minister's view on GM crops, the PMOS said that Margaret Beckett would be making a Statement about the issue today. He was not going to pre-empt it.
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