Asked for further statistical information about Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that more than 2,400 ASBOs had been issued since being introduced in 1999, with 1,323 taken out in the year to March 2004. The use of ASBOs had therefore increased by 50% in the last year. It was clear that the powers were starting to take grip and were being used more widely up and down the country. However, the purpose of the Prime Minister's visit to Harlow today was to encourage their use more widely. The PMOS pointed out that 422 ASBOs had been issued in Greater Manchester since 1999 - up 232% since 31 March 2003. 59 ASBOs had been issued in Liverpool - up 139%. 122 ASBOs had been issued in Leeds - up 430%. 48 ASBOs had been issued in the London Borough of Camden - up 182%. These figures showed that local councils, local authorities and the police were beginning to see how effective the powers actually were and were starting to use them more widely.
Asked about the latest round of talks on Northern Ireland, the PMOS said that this week would see preliminary discussions taking place between the Secretary of State and the local parties on a bilateral basis, leading to intensive talks at Leeds Castle between 16 and 18 September. The aim was to come up with a deal. We believed that the parties had engaged seriously since the Assembly elections in preparing the ground for such a situation and that it was worth going for a deal rather than delaying the process. As anyone who had been following what people on both sides had been saying over the summer would recognise, there was a common agenda on the devolution of policing and how to handle the timescale of such issues as decommissioning and bringing paramilitarism to an end. These were now being openly discussed between the parties in a way which would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Today was the tenth anniversary of the IRA ceasefire. We had clearly come a long way since then. That said, we had yet to complete the journey. Both President Clinton and Senator Clinton had underlined during their visit to Northern Ireland last week that delay would only result in a political vacuum, which was clearly a very dangerous thing.
Asked how urgent the Prime Minister considered the fox hunting issue to be in terms of when it would be brought forward in Parliament, the PMOS said that he had nothing further to add to what had already been said about the issue. Asked if it would be discussed in Cabinet on Thursday, the PMOS pointed out that there was no Cabinet meeting this week. Asked the Government's latest position on the issue, the PMOS said that it had not changed. As everyone was aware, the matter had been up for discussion. When we had anything further to say about it, we would let people know.
Asked for a reaction to reports today suggesting that the outgoing President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, was proposing that European athletes should sport the EU flag in commemorating their sporting victories, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any plans to introduce such an idea. The Great Britain team would continue to fly the Union Jack whenever the opportunity arose. He took the opportunity to congratulate Team GB on its performance in the Olympic Games in Athens. Asked if a victory parade would be arranged for them, the PMOS said that, as with England's Rugby triumph, we would talk to the athletics authorities and decide what they wanted to do. Asked if the Prime Minister liked the idea of a victory parade, the PMOS pointed out that the Olympics had only just finished and the athletes had only just returned home. We would let them catch up on their sleep before talking to them.
Asked if the Prime Minister felt relaxed and 'raring to go' after his summer holiday, the PMOS said yes. Asked about a reported incident relating to a football game involving the Prime Minister and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, the PMOS said that his days as a football commentator were long gone. Those who had read his match reports in the Belfast Telegraph would know why. Questioned further, the PMOS declined to comment on a game he hadn't attended.
Asked to rule out the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle before the Party Conference season, the PMOS said that he was impressed with the remarkable restraint shown by journalists in waiting until the end of the briefing to ask about this matter. As they knew very well, however, it wasn't his policy to respond to reshuffle questions.
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Foreign Secretary in Sudan
The Prime Minister's Spokesman said that the Foreign Secretary would visit Khartoum today where he would meet with the President and the Foreign Minister. He would also visit Darfur. He wanted to see the situation on the ground and obviously planned to meet the key players and underline our support for the international process to resolve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. He would also deliver a clear message to the Government of Sudan that they must do more to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution and the commitments that they gave to the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. The PMS said that our policy was to work with the Government of Sudan and the African Union to resolve this crisis. There had to be a political solution to the crisis and the Government of Sudan had to be part of that. We were also encouraged that there were talks taking place in Abuja today between the Government and the militias.
Prime Minister’s Holiday
Opening of the New Scottish Parliament
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