Asked if Jack Straw would mention Uzbekistan in his speech tomorrow, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was up to him. As he had said yesterday, the Government believed that the situation was very serious, that there had been a clear abuse of human rights, a lack of democracy and a lack of openness. Our Ambassador in Tashkent, having seen the Deputy Foreign minister yesterday, was seeing the currently Foreign minister.
Asked if 450 deaths since the election of the new Iraqi Government demonstrated progress, the PMOS said what was progress was that we had for the first time in living memory a democratically elected Government in Iraq. Nobody underestimated the terrible price that terrorists were exacting for that progress, but there was progress. What we must do, as the Prime Minister had said, was see it through to the end and make sure we did everything we could to help the democratically elected government of Iraq agree a new constitution, progress to further elections in December and provide the capability so that they could take responsibility for their own security. Clearly those who were killing people wished to stop that progress, but we were as determined as ever to see it through.
Minister for Women
Asked if it was acceptable to have an unpaid minister for women, the PMOS said that there had in the past been various ministers, who, because of the limits on the size of Government have been unpaid. The important thing was that we had a representative at Cabinet level in Tessa Jowell looking after equality issues and a very energetic and capable minister, Meg Munn.
Asked about the Government's plans to tackle anti-social behaviour in the light of Hazel Blears comments, the PMOS said that the important thing, as the Prime Minister had said last week, was to have a national debate on the kind of measures and signals that we sent to those who showed disrespect or broke the law. There were various different aspects and factors related to that. We had dealt with some of these already through the use of ASBOs. Some of them we would be dealing with in future legislation, such as through the ability to close down pubs where there were problems. Others required a debate, such as in education, with head teachers about discipline. Another aspect of it was how to send the strongest possible signals to those who had been convicted that the community as a whole disapproved of their behaviour. It was in that spirit of debate that Hazel Blears made her comments.
Asked about the UK's rebate from the EU, the PMOS said that the position on the rebate had not changed since he last briefed it before the election campaign. Asked to clarify what that position was, the PMOS said that that the important thing was that we had argued and continued to argue that given the balance of resources and payments that countries made, the UK was justified in its rebate and that remained the position. Asked repeatedly to say it was non-negotiable, the PMOS said that the Government had said that we believe the rebate to be justified and we will argue that case in Europe. Put to him that the Chancellor had said it was non-negotiable given the existing Common Agricultural Policy, the PMOS said that he had nothing to add to the Chancellors words, which he fully endorsed.
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