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.]
Asked if the Prime Minister had been indicating in his press conference this morning that legislation on ID cards would be speeded up, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he was not aware that the timetable had changed. Asked why the Prime Minister was so keen to introduce ID cards when, as he had noted this morning, it was much easier to forge them these days, the PMOS pointed out that one of the reasons why we were taking great care in terms of investigating the production of ID cards was because we wanted to develop the technology which would make it very difficult to forge them. The Prime Minister had been making the point this morning that it was relatively easy at present to forge identity using a variety of means. That was why we believed it was important to follow through on the ID issue following careful investigation.
Asylum and Immigration/Europe
Put to him that, despite what the Prime Minister had said in his press conference this morning, the shift to QMV would effectively mean that we would be giving up our power of veto, the PMOS said we wanted to ensure that Europe could not force any policy on us with which we did not agree. Under measures contained in the Treaty of Amsterdam, we were able to opt in to any European policy we were in favour of, whether it was asylum shopping or dealing with the problem of child pornography. In such cases, co-operation with our European partners clearly made sense. Conversely, we would not opt in to any policies which we believed were not beneficial, such as border police. Pressed as to whether the Prime Minister had been telling the truth this morning when he had stated that we were not giving up our power of veto, the PMOS said yes. As the Prime Minister had underlined, we were not giving up the veto over what affected us in this country. Asked if that meant we were willing to see a two-speed Europe in certain areas, the PMOS pointed out that this was already happening, for example with the Schengen Agreement. What mattered in the end was that we co-operated where it made sense to do so. Questioned as to whether Britain retained the ability to prevent the EU bringing forward policies on immigration and asylum, the PMOS said that if the EU decided to introduce an EU border police force for example, we had the right to decide not to be part of it. Asked if Britain could stop the policy being made in the first place because of the power of veto, the PMOS agreed that we could stop an all-EU border police policy. Asked if we would still be able to do so after April 2005, the PMOS said that we could refuse to be part of any such policy - in which case it would not be called - or be - an all-EU border police service. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that it was important for people to understand that we did not have to agree to any EU policy with which we did not want to agree. On the other hand, where it made sense to co-operate with our EU partners, we would do so. For example, we had reached an agreement with France to bring forward joint measures which had resulted in the closure of Sangatte.
Asked to clarify the Prime Minister's remarks about the restructuring of the Scottish regiments, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had been anxious not to spark another round of speculation in the Scottish press about this issue until the results of the review were known. In that vein, he had simply been asking journalists to exercise a little patience.
Asked if the Prime Minister was personally chairing meetings about the Gambling Bill, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any such meetings taking place. If he was being asked about reports at the weekend regarding Cabinet splits on this issue, he would simply refer journalists to individual Departments for full denials. Today the Prime Minister had been trying to convey the importance of maintaining a sense of perspective in this matter. He wanted people to understand that the Gambling Bill was predominantly about regulating the industry more tightly and closing down gaming machines located in places such as chip shops and taxi ranks. In addition, it was about recognising the reality that this was an industry which already existed in the UK and was a fact of life. In our view, rather than banning it, it was better to introduce more modern regulation. Indeed, one of the primary tasks of the Gambling Commission was to ensure the protection of the vulnerable. Questioned about the possible proliferation of casinos, the PMOS said the industry had estimated that there would only be a maximum increase of between 20-40 casinos where local authorities gave their permission. Put to him that the Gambling Bill would increase the incidence of problem gambling, the PMOS said that an assessment had been made, backed up by Gamcare, suggesting that there was no reason why there should be any significant increase in gambling-related problems as a result of a better regulated industry of the kind we were proposing.
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