Asked if Downing Street had had any further contact with the Bigleys, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said not since yesterday when the Prime Minister had spoken to the family and the Foreign Secretary had spoken to Ken Bigley's wife. We did not think it would be helpful to brief on the content of those conversations other than to say, as the Prime Minister had told Sir David Frost in his interview yesterday, that everyone was impressed with the dignity of the Bigley family who were going through what was clearly a horrible ordeal. Asked for a reaction to the suggestion by Mr Bigley's brother that the Prime Minister's silence on the matter was effectively the 'kiss of death' for Mr Bigley, the PMOS said that he did not want to get drawn into a situation of response and counter-response regarding comments made by any particular relative of Mr Bigley. In general, people understood that it was necessary to adopt the position that we had - not just because we refused to get into negotiations with these particular kidnappers, but we also because it was important to bear in mind the implications for any activity carried out by hostage-takers in the future. That said, we recognised that the current situation was very difficult for Mr Bigley's family.
Indian Prime Minister
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised journalists that the Prime Minister would be meeting the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today. It was Mr Singh's first visit outside Asia as Prime Minister and we were delighted that he had chosen London as his first point of call. The two Prime Ministers would take the opportunity to discuss issues such as tackling terrorism, and would also talk about economic, trade and financial matters, as well as greater co-operation on technological programmes. They would also address the issue of climate change.
Asked for an update on the hostage negotiations in Iraq, the PMOS said that obviously we remained very concerned about Ken Bigley and the other hostages. We were monitoring the situation very closely. As journalists were no doubt aware, the Foreign Office had used Arab media to broadcast an appeal for information. However, as the Prime Minister had made clear yesterday, given the sensitivity of the situation, we would not - and should not - say anything further at this point. Asked if there were plans for any further appeals, the PMOS said not at this stage.
Asked about Patricia Hewitt's proposals to reform employment practices, as reported in today's FT, the PMOS said that this was part of the consultation exercise which the Labour Party had been undertaking. Consequently, as a Civil Servant, he was unable to comment on it in detail. Generally speaking, however, as the Prime Minister had made clear to the TUC, the Government had made clear its commitment to its social partners not to introduce any changes before 2006. Nevertheless, now was the right time to start thinking about the next steps that should be taken. Any changes would be made after 2006 and following full consultation with our social partners. Asked if Downing Street was able to allay the fears of the CBI who were concerned about the cost to companies of extending maternity leave, the PMOS said that the CBI had indicated that they would look at the ideas that were being put forward. It was important to recognise that they were not firm policy proposals at this stage.
Asked to explain the Prime Minister's comments about fox hunting during a press conference at Leeds Castle at the weekend in which he had said that the Government had sought a compromise but, because it had been rejected, it was necessary to find a way through, the PMOS said that the next stage was the House of Lords. We would wait and see what happened there. Asked about the Prime Minister's personal views on fox hunting, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had already answered the question.
Asked for the official government line on Peter Hain's statement this morning that there should be a new director of security at the House of Commons, the PMOS said Mr Hain had also made it clear that this was a matter for the outcome of the enquiry. There were clearly lessons to be learned and clearly it was a process of bringing security measures in the House up to date. How precisely that was done was a matter for discussion. It was important that we recognised after yesterday the importance of modernising the security arrangements around the House. That would be a matter for further discussion.
Northern Ireland Talks
Questioned about progress of the Northern Irish talks, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister and Mr Ahern had both arrived and made opening statements. In summary, the Prime Minister had said that after two years of going around the issues, this was now the point of decision and what could not happen would be to leave it as another staging post for further discussion. They had begun the process of speaking to the parties. The issues included a complete end to para-militarism, a complete decommissioning process and a complete commitment to sharing power on that basis and the resolution of issues such as policing. The issues have not changed over two years. All the parties knew these were the issues that needed to be addressed, that is what the next two and half days were about. There was a recognition that the people of Northern Ireland wanted to see a resolution of these issues because they recognised the issues hadn't changed since the Prime Minister identified them two years ago.
Questioned on why the Prime Minister had not voted last night, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had had other engagements yesterday, which we had been carrying out. It had been clear that both the vote on the ban was going to be carried and that also the vote for the delay was going to be carried. The Prime Minister had been absolutely clear that the delay had been needed to give industry time to adapt. The Prime Minister's strong preference had been to reach a compromise, and that was why he had strongly supported the efforts of Alun Michael in the many weeks and hours Alun Michael had spent trying to negotiate a compromise and that was why the Prime Minister regretted that a compromise had not been reached.
Prime Minister Allawi visit
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the protesting outside Parliament, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that when the Prime Minister met representatives of the pro hunt organisations in his constituency last Friday, and again at Chequers, he had underlined that he recognised that there were strong emotions on all sides of this debate. He had also recognised there was a legitimate right to peaceful protest, but the emphasis had to be on peaceful protest. It was for others to judge whether that criteria has been met or not.
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