Asked if the Prime Minister had any words for those who might be inclined to oppose ID cards, the PMOS said that the longer this debate had gone the more people seemed to be seeing the relevance of ID cards. What we were seeing was identity theft becoming a much more salient issue which people were becoming concerned about in their every day life. It was a growing crime which costs the economy at least £1.3 billion per year. Criminals were recognising that identities were just as valuable as possessions. There was also the sheer inconvenience factor of having to spend up to 60 hours restoring your records of your identity was stolen. It would also help to strengthen immigration controls, combat illegal working, countering the mis-use of public services, and also the organised crime and terrorism aspect as well. What this was about, the Prime Minister believed, was getting a step ahead of criminals and terrorists. It was important to recognise that 80% of us have passports already and because of the changing technical requirements of the US and the EU and move to biometric passports, we were going to have to go down that road anyway. The extra cost of including the ID element was well worth it because of what it did in terms of delivering extra assurance and extra security for people in all senses.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised that the correct figure for number of Cabinet Committees that the Chancellor chaired, as he had said this morning, was three and not two as had been suggested subsequently. He was also joint chair of the Regulatory Committee. The PMOS apologised for the confusion.
EU Development Ministers Meeting
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) advised that there was an announcement today from Brussels following the EU Development Minister's meeting of an agreement to increase the collective aid target for the EU from 0.39% Gross National Income (GNI) by 2010 up to 0.56% GNI. We believed that this was a significant boost and it meant that we would move faster toward the UN Millenium Goals, which were on the agenda for New York. It was also a significant boost to getting a comprehensive package at the G8. Equally, as a word of caution, this was only one part of the financing package and we continued to push forward for progress on multilateral debt, trade and the IFF within the EU and the G8 groups. There would be words from Hilary Benn and people should contact DfiD for those.
Director of Public Prosecution
Asked if the views of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) on lower degrees of murder without mandatory sentences came as a surprise to the Prime Minister the PMOS said that the DPP was an independent figure and therefore it was right and proper that the DPP aired his own views. In terms of response to them there was, as we had already announced, a murder review getting underway and no doubt his views would be part of the consideration of that. Asked again if it was a surprise the PMOS said that it would be a surprise to him if the DPP had done anything other than air his own independent views. It was important that he was independent and we would not in anyway suggest that he was anything other than an independent figure. Equally though we had announced a review and his views would be taken into account. In response to the suggestion that the only thing in the Manifesto about murder was a recent Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that for the most heinous murders life meant life, but that there was nothing in it to seek a mandate for removing life tariffs the PMOS said that it was correct that the policy for murder was that life meant life. In terms of not compromising on mandatory sentences for murder we announced the review on murder and people should wait to see what came out of that. Asked about timing for that review and whether there was a deliberate decision to not begin that review till after the election the PMOS said that the review was only just getting underway and therefore it was best to be given time to take place. In terms of when the review started the election was part of the consideration but now that it was out of the way things could continue.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) announced the new configuration for Cabinet Committees. The reason for the new structure was to, on one hand, better reflect the Government's manifesto commitments, and on the other hand, reflect the Prime Minister's experience in the first two terms, particularly in dealing with cross-cutting, cross-departmental issues. That meant that the system would be giving a more central role to Cabinet Committees in Government. There would be a reduction in the number of committees from 61 to 44. We had 25 new committees. Some of these were merging existing committees, for example an amalgamation of the separate committees on crime reduction, drugs policy and organised crime into the Committee on Serious and Organised Crime and Drugs. That clearly reflected the Prime Minister's view of the linkages in dealing with these serious issues. Also there was the establishment of new committees, such as the Anti-Social Behaviour Committee which would address, amongst other things, the "Respect" agenda. This would bring together and reflect on the different departmental responsibilities of, for instance, the Home Office using ASBO's, working with the police and the drinks industry; the ODPM's responsibility for strengthening communities, dealing with problems such as graffiti and sink estates; education, working with schools and with parents and looking at discipline; health, making sure that staff were treated with respect and not subject to abuse. In the new committee structure, the Prime Minister would chair 15 committees, the DPM would chair 5 and deputise on 7, the Chancellor would chair 2 and deputise on 3 and the Foreign Secretary would chair 4 and deputise on 2.
Asked about the Prime Minister's intentions to visit the G8 heads of state, the PMOS said that he realised that some journalists had been otherwise engaged yesterday but he had announced yesterday morning that the Prime Minister would be going to Rome shortly and hoped to visit President Bush, President Putin, Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac before the middle of June. All of this was preparation for the G8 summit. This was symptomatic of the priorities we were giving to the G8 and were into a serious, detailed negotiation. You would never get at this early stage people's 'bottom line'. We had to wait for the actual summit for that to take place. Gleneagles was a very important point but it was only one point in the year as a whole because there was also the UN millennium summit in the autumn and the WTO conference in December in Hong Kong. We would drive from Gleneagles, pushing the agenda forward, push it forward in these visits, push it forward at Gleneagles and keep going afterwards in the other aspects as well.
Asked if UN Secretary General Kofi Anan enjoyed the full support of the British Government, the PMOS said yes. The Prime Minister kept in regular contact with Kofi Anan and no doubt would continue to do so.
Asked if Jack Straw had been getting unduly involved in the French referendum on the EU constitution by expressing his wish that the French people voted yes, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS), said that as a government we hoped that people across Europe supported the constitution because we supported it as well. That certainly did not constitute interference.
Machinery of Government
G8 Security Costs
Put to him that the costs of the G8 conference in Gleneagles might not be value for money, the PMOS said that the details of costs were down to the local authorities and responsible departments. No one was pretending that the inevitable security involved could be done cheaply, it couldn't. Equally however it was a showcase to the world and therefore people would recognise the value of that. Asked what the precise value was, the PMOS said that the value was that people from all over the world would be focussed on Gleneagles and Scotland as a whole. There was a clear value in terms of international prestige to hosting such a major international event. The PMOS told journalists that if they spoke to the devolved government in Scotland they would agree. In terms of security of course we all wished that we could return to the days of less security, but given the threat of international terrorism we couldn't do that.
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