Asked if the Prime Minister was still committed to the pledge he gave 3 months ago, which was that by the end of next year, the number of removals of asylum seekers should exceed the number of unplanned applications, and also whether the Prime Minister was frustrated about a case mentioned the "The Guardian" which detailed the return of Egyptian terrorists to Egypt, the PMOS replied that the answer to the first question was yes, he was still committed and the answer to the second was we have cooperated with the court, but it would be wrong to comment on communications the Prime Minister had with his colleagues.
Asked if the Prime Minister was now comfortable with the limit to the number of casinos that could now be set up, considering the unease within the party about it, the PMOS said that the Government had listened to people's concerns, as we had said we would at the beginning, and as a result, the Bill had been adapted accordingly, which was a sensible Parliamentary process. This was an initial phase that would allow the Gambling Commission to decide how to act.
Asked if the Prime Minister was going to buy the Band Aid single, the PMOS replied that he was going to let it come out, and then make an individual's decision. He fully supported the efforts of all those behind it.
Asked if the Prime Minister had had any contact with Condoleezza Rice, the PMOS said that as he had said in the Morning Lobby meeting, she was someone that we had worked with very closely, and for whom he had immense regard for her abilities.
Asked if the Parliament Act would be used with regard to the Hunting Bill going through the House, the PMOS replied that it was a free vote, and the Parliamentary process would go as it was meant to. The Prime Minister would vote for a compromise amendment, because he believed that it was genuinely in the interests of the country as a whole. He recognised that whilst there were very strong feelings in both Houses, both pro and anti hunting, he did not share those strong emotional views, as he thought it was more important to make a compromise in the best interests of the country. Equally the Prime Minister recognised that it was a free vote, which would determine what would happen.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried over accusations that he had "gone the other way" over the smoking proposals, the PMOS said that the accusations seemed to say that either not enough, or too much had been done to tackle smoking. The Prime Minister thought the public health White Paper had struck a balance, between on the one hand not telling people how to lead healthier lives, and on the other, give people a choice and protect them from harm. He reiterated that it was a balance between conflicting rights, and the Prime Minister believed that John Reid had stuck the correct balance.
Fox Hunting Bill
Asked for some guidance on the Prime Minister's plans for the Hunting Bill the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would have to wait and to see what amendments the Speaker selected. But as he had said yesterday if an amendment was selected which restored the Bill to the original Alun Michael Bill then the Prime Minister would vote for that compromise amendment. Asked if the Prime Minister expected the Cabinet to support that amendment the PMOS said that this was still a free vote. It was a free vote for Ministers just as it was for other MPs; in this regard the Prime Minister was just a Member of Parliament like any other. Asked to explain what the original Alun Michael Bill was proposing the PMOS said that what it proposed was licensed hunting. What it did not propose however was hare coursing or stag hunting, unlike the House of Lords Bill as it had come back and it did not have a wider definition of hunting. The House of Lords Bill allowed hunting for wildlife management as well as pest control, whereas the original Alun Michael Bill was restricted to pest control. Asked if the only way this measure could get on the statute book was if it passed through both houses and not through the Parliament Act the PMOS said his understanding was that was correct.
President Chirac’s Comments
Asked for a reaction to President Chirac's comments stating that the world needed a European balance to the US the PMOS answered "Quel Surprise!" This was a view which the President had expounded on many occasions. There was no surprise about it nor was there any hiding that there was a disagreement about it either. We did not believe in a world vision where you had competing spheres of influence. The President did. That was an open disagreement between us and we should be honest and transparent enough to admit that. We believed however that we could still work together because our whole approach, as the Prime Minister outlined in his Guildhall speech last night, was that we should focus on outcomes. We should focus on what we wanted to achieve. If you looked at a whole range of issues such as Iran where we had just worked successfully with the French and Germans, Africa, Afghanistan, and even the Middle East we shared a common view on what it was we were trying to achieve. So there was no reason why we could not continue to work together on issues like that, as well as on European issues, even if that meant conversations on Thursday would be tougher on other matters. That was life.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the video purportedly showing a US soldier killing a wounded Iraqi soldier in Fallujah the PMOS said that the important thing was, as the US Lieutenant-General said this morning, that the matter was fully investigated and we would await the outcome of that thorough investigation. It was also however important to recognise what the Iraqi Ministry of Health had said after sending a team into Fallujah yesterday. It found that the hospital had ample medical supplies. It had not found citizens in dire need of food and water because most citizens had left the city. It had found that out of the 17,000 buildings only 200 had sustained major damage and it reiterated that the Iraqi Government's priority was the restoration of security and the rule of law. The Interim Iraqi Government in Fallujah now had six objectives, as they had outlined yesterday:
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