» Wednesday, March 2, 2005


Asked what transpired at the meeting with the Taoiseach and whether the subject of Robert McCartney was raised the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that yes the issue was discussed and both the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach believed that the McCartney family themselves are the most eloquent in terms of putting what they want from Sinn Fein which is that those responsible for their brothers murder should make themselves accountable. In terms of other matters the two remained agreed that what we needed to see was a complete end to IRA activity of all kinds.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Cancelled Operations

Asked if the Prime Minister had had any further investigations raised into the case raised by Michael Howard at PMQs regarding cancelled operations, the PMOS said it was better that individual local cases were dealt with at local level. The PMOS said it was important to note that the proportion of cancelled operations had varied very little over the years. As a proportion of the total number of cancelled operation in 1996/7 was 1.1%, and in 2003/4 it was 1.2%. In 2001/2, there had been a fluctuation, where it rose to 1.5%. However, in April 2002, the Government took action, by guaranteeing that patients whose surgery had been cancelled on the day would be admitted within 28 days. This now seemed to be working, as figures taken from the first half of 2004/5 showed that 90% of patients whose surgery had been cancelled were being re-admitted within the 28-day period. In terms of absolute numbers, there had been an increase, but that was inevitable as there had been 450,000 this year more operations than there were in 1997.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)


Asked if it was appropriate for the Government to be seen squabbling with the opposition party over the health of a 69 year old woman, for instance through today's visit to Warrington, the PMOS said that he was not going to get involved in party political matters. He would however point out some factual matters. Firstly as he had said yesterday the Government did not want to get involved in talking about an individual case, but it was a fact that the proportion of cancelled operations had not changed much over the years. It remained at 1.2%. Secondly there had been 450,000 more operations per year during this administration. Inevitably given that there were more operations, the number of cancelled operations would increase slightly. Secondly the characterisation of the Health Secretary's movements as being motivated by this particular case, did not take into account that the visit to Tim Parry Reconciliation Centre had been scheduled for some time. The fact that it happened to be in Warrington today was entirely coincidental. Thirdly it was not the Government who raised this particular case. Put to him that the Government had been getting into the individual case, the PMOS repeated that it had not been the Government who had first raised this case. He pointed out that this case was being used to make a generalization about the Health Service. The Health Secretary had been trying to put the argument that you should not and could not use an individual case to make generalizations about the Health Service. That was the reverse of what the question had suggested.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (2)

Anti Terror Legislation

Asked if there had been any further clarification since this morning regarding the "Sunset Clause", the PMOS said the Prime Minister had received sufficient clarification to come to the view that he did. That view was that in the cases where we had to derogate from the ECHR (ie house arrest), that derogation had to be reviewed automatically once a year. In the other cases, not only did people have the right of appeal against it, but also the Home Secretary had to make three-monthly reports to Parliament. There was, therefore, already a review mechanism built in. The PMOS said the bottom line was that we did believe that we did have to respond to two things. Firstly, the need that was spelt out by the police and security services, and secondly the need to address the issue spelt out by the House of Lords' judgment.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (3)

Anti-terror legislation

Asked what the Prime Minister's current thinking was on the terror legislation in the Lords and whether he was opened minded about the sunset clause the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary were both keen for a clarification on what was being suggested. However in general terms the bottom line remained the same, which was the government believed these powers were what was necessary to meet the needs identified by the police and the security services. Therefore the government remained determined to get that on the statute book. Asked if the only way to get it on the statute book was to have it time limited and whether that would be considered the PMOS said that the question started with if and he did not answer hypothetical questions. The Government believed what it was proposing was necessary and therefore we continued to want to get that on the statute book. Asked if the position was that Government had received the amendments but had not yet had the time to look over them the PMOS said there remained some confusion over whether what was being proposed was just a sunset clause or if it came with other amendments. The Government was trying to clear up the position. Asked if the government had a principled objection to a sunset clause the PMOS said that what we believed was that the powers were what was necessary and they were necessary for not just this week or next but for the foreseeable future. He was not going to comment on particular proposals until it was clear on what was being proposed but that was the basic starting point of where we were coming from. In response to further questions the PMOS said that the government was waiting for further clarification on what it was that was being proposed and as such he could not give a signal on the opposition's proposal until that clarification had been made.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)


Asked if the Prime Minister would be meeting the Taoiseach the PMOS said that he believed the Taoiseach was in London tomorrow to open the RTE offices and given the current situation it was sensible and welcome for them use the opportunity to meet.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Stop and search

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy with the message given out to British Muslims yesterday by Hazel Blears the PMOS said that you had to be clear about what it was that Hazel Blears had been saying which was that she understood if there was a perception that stop and search powers were aimed at one particular community but that was not what was happening. What was happening was that those powers were aimed at those who were suspected of carrying out or planning certain activity. They may happen to come from a particular community but it was not a police policy to aim those powers at a particular community. Therefore it was important that people looked at what Hazel Blears had said in the right context and perspective.
Asked when the Prime Minister referred to several hundred potential Islamists engaged in terrorism whether it was right to assume that the majority were not British citizens the PMOS said that was not right and if you considered the case earlier in the week that would indicate that you should not make that generalisation, but he would not get into the detail of who those people were. As he said yesterday what the Prime Minister was reflecting was a group of people who were a concern to the police and the security services but with varying degrees of concern. Therefore he was simply alerting people to the fact and the fact of why we all had to be alert.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

BBC charter

Asked if the Government review proved that they were not vindictive the PMOS said that the charter process was a process that would go forward on its own merits and the debate behind the charter was one that had proponents and people who took different positions on those merits.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

UN report

Asked by the Daily Mail if there would be a Government drugs strategy in light of the UN Report the PMOS said that no doubt the correspondent's paper would want to recognise that the UN report also praised this Government's approach. This was not an area where there could be complacency in any way. There were 3 strands to this, firstly in Afghanistan; we were the lead country in the counter-narcotics approach. Here the important point was that President Karzai had identified that this was a priority. His government had set out a five-point plan to counter narcotics, he had engaged with local governors to see that plan implemented and the international community was supporting him in doing that. This was beginning to take effect, not just with eradication programmes but also with replacement economy programmes and so on. Secondly, here, with the drugs bill we had given the police new powers and also put in place compulsory testing and so on. So we were addressing both sides of the coin here. Thirdly, in relation to EU and EU enlargement the fact was that there was always a vulnerability in terms of accession countries but now that they had joined the EU they had to bring up to standard their police and customs activity against drugs and organised crime. So across the three areas nobody was claiming that the problem was solved, there was still much to do but we had reason to believe that progress could be made in the medium term.

Briefing took place at 14:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

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