» Tuesday, January 4, 2005


The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister was chairing a meeting this morning involving the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, Jack Straw, Hilary Benn and officials from the FCO, DfiD, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office on the Government’s response to the Tsunami. This was the latest in the series of daily meetings which had taken place since the Tsunami and had been chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister last week. It was agreed at the meeting that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw would attend a conference in Jakarta on Thursday January 6. He would be attending as a representative of the G8 Presidency and this had been agreed with other G8 Foreign Ministers. He would then travel to Phuket on Friday. Hilary Benn will also travel to the Aceh area in Indonesia and will then go onto Sri Lanka.

The PMS said that the Prime Minister would also be speaking to President Bush again today. He had last spoken to the President on New Year’s Eve. The Prime Minister had also spoken to Kofi Annan again last night. He last spoke to him on Wednesday last week.

Asked what the Prime Minister and President Bush would discuss later today, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman said that they would talk about aid relief and what was happening in the area affected by the tsunami last week.

Asked if Jack Straw would be offering extended aid in his capacity as representative of G8, the PMS replied that he was going to the meeting which had been called by the Indonesian government. The task for everyone was to turn the money into help. As we had made clear last week, money was not the issue, but rather that aid got to the people who needed it as quickly as possible. Requests were coming into DFID from other governments and NGOs for help and no requests had been turned down.

Asked what the military assessments in Sri Lanka and Indonesia had been, the PMS said reconnaissance teams had briefed in the region. For example an RAF C-17 plane had flown into Aceh on Sunday with heavy equipment.

Asked about the arrangements for tomorrow’s three minute silence and where the suggestion had come from, PMS said that the Dutch Presidency of the EU suggested that 3 minute silence should take place across the EU. Everyone had agreed to the suggestion and we had announced the event last Friday.

When asked if the Government would still match the donation amount made by the public, the PMS said again that money was not an issue. The issue was spending money in the right places.

Asked when the government was going to pay for planes for charities to help with aid relief, the PMS said that Hilary Benn had announced last week that the money raised by the public would be spent on buying aid, and not on the cost of transporting aid to the area.

Asked what the government’s view was on banks and credit card companies who would make a profit on the donations collected, the PMS said clearly we wanted as money as possible to go to the people affected by the tragedy.

Asked what the feeling was about recent comments made by relatives that the Prime Minister had been "hiding" and had "lost the plot", the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had the greatest of sympathy for anyone who had been caught up in the terrible series of events. The Prime Minister had been in constant touch with the office, had had daily phone calls with the John Prescott, Jack Straw, Hilary Benn and officials. These calls had sometimes taken place several times a day. The Prime Minister had been kept fully in touch with what had been happening.

Asked if the Prime Minister felt the comments were unfair, the PMS said the question had been dealt with during his Channel Four interview last week when he said actions spoke louder than words. The important thing was that the government had taken action as quickly as was possible. Within hours of the event taking place, the Foreign Office and DfID set up emergency phone lines as well as establishing teams of response staff, and getting aid to the regions.

Asked if there had been any further update to the numbers of dead and injured people, the PMS said she did not have any new figures, but people should keep in touch with the FCO.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought the numbers of missing or presumed dead people would rise, the PMS said she was not going to speculate, but that Jack Straw had said yesterday that people should be aware that the numbers could rise.

Asked if the Prime Minister had had a conversation with the Chancellor on the announcement on the suspension of debt service payments, the PMS said she did not have a list of every conversation the Prime Minister had. Clearly, there had been close contact between the Treasury and Downing Street relating to the announcement about debt relief. The Prime Minister had written to all of the G8 leaders last week, saying how important it was that they worked together to help as much as possible in this situation.

Asked if the Chancellor had been linked into the tsunami committee, the PMS confirmed that he had. Treasury officials had attended as had officials from other relevant departments such as Health and the Cabinet Office as well as representatives of the Police.
Asked if he had attended a meeting, the PMS said the important thing was that government had been working together.

Asked if the £60 million aid money had come from existing aid budgets, the PMS said the journalist should speak to DfId for further clarification. The money had come from their budget, but it had been made clear that other aid budgets would not be affected by the distribution of this money.

Asked to comment about the allegations made by a relative that the Thai government was not going to continue searching for victims, the PMS said she was not aware of the comments, and would rather not comment on them until she had.

Asked what the feeling was about Gordon Brown’s achievement on the G8 rebate on debt, the PMS said it clearly was a very important job, and was common sense. If a lot of aid was being handed out to countries, it did not therefore seem quite right that they should be replaying some of that money back in debt relief payments.

Asked how that differed from what happened at the moment, the PMS replied that we were very involved in helping the heavily indebted countries with these problems. This was an extraordinary event that required an extraordinary response.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be "on show" for the 3 minute silence that would be taking place tomorrow and also how it was being announced, the PMS said the Prime Minister would not be ‘on show’. The event had been organised as a mark of respect for the people who had been killed and injured in the disaster.

Asked repeatedly what was being done, and how would it be marked so that people would know what was happening, the PMS said that the activity would be similar to that on the Thursday nearest to November 11th each year. No doubt broadcasters would announce the three minute silence, shops may lower their lights and companies would remind their workers of the three minute silence. It would be up to individuals how they participated.

Asked if the Prime Minister had personally donated to the disaster fund and if so how much, the PMS said his family had made a donation, but she would not be disclosing the amount.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be speaking to any of the families, the PMS said she was not aware of any plans to do so at the moment.

Asked if the Prime Minister was going to make a visit to the areas worst affected by the tsunami, the PMS said she was not aware of a trip planned at this time.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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