Asked when the Prime Minister was expected to meet the leader of the Conservative Party to discuss counter-terrorism policy, the Ptime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he wasn't aware that a time had been fixed yet, no doubt it would be at a time of mutual convenience. Asked if it signalled a willingness to be more open about these issues, the PMOS said that meeting the leader of the opposition to have a discussion about these important issues was the right and courteous thing to do. However the Government's analysis of what was a genuinely difficult issue had not changed. The difficult issue was, as the Prime Minister has said, how on the one hand you balance the rights of the individual and on the other hand balance the essential need to preserve national security. The reason why the Home Secretary had to act was because of the legal ruling by the Lords. The reason why the power remained with the Home Secretary was because the Home Secretary was accountable to Parliament and there was a judicial review and appeal element built into the process. In terms of intercepts, this had been a matter which had been reviewed on several occasions. Not just in this administration but in previous administrations as well. While it was fair to say that in the past people had begun with the position that it would be a good thing if intercepts could be used in court, each time the matter had been examined, it had been the opinion of the Security Services that such evidence would lead to sources being identified. Therefore the judgment of successive administrations had been that that was not in the national interest. Those were the reasons why we had ended up with the policies as outlined by Charles Clarke last week. Those reasons had not changed, the analysis had not changed, the advice of the professionals in the field had not changed, as indeed the new Police Commissioner Ian Blair had made clear yesterday. Put to him that the Home Secretary could use the justification that he was liable to judicial review in any case and therefore that justification didn't stand up, the PMOS said that, as the Prime Minister had said at PMQs, the number of cases in which this applied was relatively small. That didn't diminish the seriousness but it was only about 17 cases. In the end this came down to a judgement about national security. That was what made these cases different. This was not about someone carrying out a criminal act and being held accountable through the courts. This was about a judgment to apply the criteria of national security and that was what this made this special. Asked about House Arrests, the PMOS said it was because of that level of accountability that the Government felt the decisions were best left to the Home Secretary.
Asked if it wasn't time to put plans for ID cards on hold given that the Joint Committee on Human Rights said that the plans would potentially be in breach of 14 different elements, the PMOS said that the case for ID cards remained as we had set out. If we were going to biometric passports there was an international need to go down this route. It was believed that this would help in the fight against terrorism and was therefore the right thing to do. Asked if the Prime Minister believed this legislation satisfied the UK's commitment to international human rights conventions, the PMOS said yes.
Asked why the Prime Minister hadn't been present for Alan Johnson's statement on welfare reform given that it was such a high priority for him, the PMOS said that journalists could take it that the Prime Minister had been heavily involved in this, as he had been with the other five year plans. That was why he had gone to Asda with Alan Johnson, because they had recruited people who had been on incapacity benefit and were an example to other employers. The Prime Minister had also made a speech on this subject yesterday. That showed his commitment to the issue. However it was not always possible to coordinate the Prime Minister's diary with the House of Commons statement diary.
Asked why the Prime Minister had published a list of Mrs Blair's engagements at Downing Street, the PMOS said that it had been asked for under Freedom of Information and we were being open.
Asked how important the Prime Minister thought it was to have US backing for the G8 goals of climate change and Africa issues, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the Prime Minister addressed that issue in Davos last week. In terms of climate change, for example, although people had protested that the US had not joined up to the Kyoto agreement, what was important was that we got the US to engage in the issue. That was why there was a climate change conference in Exeter this week, as a scientific consensus was needed, not only on the dangers of climate change, but also on the likely ways to address the problem. By achieving a consensus, the Prime Minister believed we could then move forward, and obviously the US was an important part of that process. In terms of Africa, there already were consensuses on debt relief and HIV/AIDS, and the US contributions on both those areas should in no way be underestimated. Equally, the whole point of the Commission for Africa Report was to build a world-wide consensus, again on identifying the key issues where progress was needed. Those issues were not only what the world could do to help Africa, but also what Africa itself could do on issues such as governance and conflict resolution.
Asked if the current situation had reached a stalemate, the PMOS said we were first of all being realistic about the fact that the robbery was carried out by the IRA, and therefore, about the subsequent implications of it. The PMOS said what he thought was striking about the Press Conference yesterday by the two Prime Ministers was the complete openness of it, and the complete agreement by the two governments and security forces. Secondly, we were talking to all the parties, including Sinn Fein, and listening to ideas. Whilst there may not be movement within the next few days, people should not assume there would not be continuing discussions and a desire to keep moving forward somehow. The Prime Minister yesterday had said the sole obstacle to moving forward was IRA activity on an inclusive basis.
Asked to comment any further on the Hercules crash, and was there confirmation about an on-board explosion, the PMOS said he could not confirm any details. The crash investigator was the person who would determine the cause of the crash, and we had to work to his timetable. The PMOS said he fully understood people's desire to know what happened.
Asked for comment on the FT story yesterday about state aid, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) said there was a written PQ last week, which had included a letter from Patricia Hewitt responding to a process of consultation being carried out by the Commission.
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