The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that there had been a Cabinet Committee on 'respect' which had been chaired by the Prime Minister, and attended by Charles Clarke, David Milliband, Tessa Jowell, Peter Goldsmith and Lord Falconer from the Cabinet. Other Ministers including Jackie Smith and Hazel Blears also attended. They had discussed how Whitehall departments would cooperate and coordinate on such issues as school discipline, binge drinking, parenting, dealing with noisy neighbourhoods and anti-social behaviour.
The PMOS gave the Government's reaction to President Bush's announcement today that the US would more than double aid to Africa by 2010. He said it was an important and welcome step and created a real momentum for a successful outcome at Gleneagles. It built on the President's increases in US ODA in his first term, his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Millennium Challenge Account. We welcomed the President's focus both on governance and democracy, as well as on the key issues of girls education and malaria. This reflected the comprehensive programme which the Prime Minister had proposed to the G8. We wanted the G8 to sign up to providing universal access to malaria prevention and treatment and to train millions of new teachers for Africa. The President's announcements today were a big contribution to those important aims.
Asked about Mrs Blair's role in the Olympic bid the PMOS said that it was too early to brief on our strategy for the Olympic bid. All he would say was that the Prime Minister, Tessa Jowell and Mrs Blair were all determined that we went flat out to do everything we could to support the bid, and we would.
Illegal Immigration Statistics
Asked if it had come as a surprise to the Prime Minister that Home Office were able to produce statistics on illegal immigration given that he had said that such figures were impossible to calculate, the PMOS put it on record that the Prime Minster could not have known the figure when he was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. The research had not been finished until this month, as he understood it the Head of Research at the Home Office had said that even he had not known the figure at the time of the interview. Asked if the Prime Minister had known that the research was being undertaken, the PMOS said that Des Brown in January of this year had said in Parliament, that work was ongoing to see whether a method could be applied and people were aware of that, but not whether we were anywhere near a figure. Equally, as everybody had made clear, this was still a guestimate, it was one estimate using one possible methodology, therefore it could not be seen as an accurate or definitive figure.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman began by briefing the press on this morning's Cabinet meeting. He told journalists that they had discussed Europe with the Prime Minister reporting back on the speech he had made last week. Jack Straw gave an overview, looking forward to the UK presidency of the EU. The Deputy Prime Minister reported on his visit to four East European capitals where he told Cabinet that not only had the Prime Minister's speech made a real impact, but also that there had been an acceptance of the need for modernisation and a proper debate. Cabinet went on to discuss the G8 and the run up to Gleneagles. With regards to Africa we were driving forward on both fronts in terms of aid and also on the governance side. On climate change, as the Prime Minister had said, everything was still there to play for in terms of our approach. Tessa Jowell briefed Cabinet on the Olympics and the upcoming trip to Singapore, stressing that we were going flat out for the bid, but also stressing that the bid had already resulted in a lasting legacy in terms of sport in this country.
Asked about the contents of the EU white paper, the PMOS said that we had now made it part of the routine that every six months we produced a white paper updating the House on EU developments. That's what this was. It obviously had greater significance because of the fact that our presidency started tomorrow and tomorrow the Prime Minister would be meeting the EU Commissioners. Asked if there would be anything 'new' announced tomorrow, the PMOS said that last week in Brussels, the Prime Minister set out his vision. Today partially and also tomorrow, we would do a press conference with President Barroso of the Commission, giving a bit more of an idea of how we wanted to translate that vision into something more tangible during our presidency. This wouldn't be setting up a knee-jerk process but it was about taking forward the debate in tangible form.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought about the RMT's plans to hold a strike at the same time as the Live 8 event, the PMOS said it was up to the RMT to justify and to explain its actions, we had always made it clear that we believed that the Live 8 event was a significant event and everybody should do everything they could to reflect that significance. Their actions should be judged against that standard.
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
Asked about the Prime Minister's remarks about CAP reform at PMQs and whether he was saying that we should get rid of it, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said we should take one step back and look at what the policy had been all along. Our policy all along had been to get rid of subsidies for crops because we believed that was a distorted way in which to support the rural economy. Therefore what we had always argued for was a managed process of change in which you maintain sustainable livelihoods in the countryside but didn't do so at the expense of distorting world trade. That was why we had always argued for fundamental reform of CAP and we recognised that there had been some progress in that direction but we were arguing for more. We would continue to make that case throughout our EU presidency
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with John Denham that in order to get the ID cards bill through both Houses of Parliament, the Government would have to make serious concessions, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the Government continued to believe that the arguments for ID cards were very much in their favour. Any notion that we kept changing the argument was false. We had merely been supplementing the argument not changing it. To explain further, the impetus for this had come from the move to biometric passports, that was what was propelling this. The next few years would see a visa and passport revolution across the world. That was driving the technology and the change to biometrics. ID cards would help tackle issues such as identity theft, giving people secure means of protecting their identity, a growing crime which cost the economy £1.3billion per year. They helped tackle illegal immigration and illegal working by helping to strengthen immigration controls. They helped to combat misuse of public services by helping to ensure that only those entitled to use them would be able to do so. They also helped tackle organised crime and terrorism. All of those were reasons why we believed individually ID cards were necessary, collectively they made a very strong case. We would continue to make the case for them.
Asked about Bob Geldof's comments that he would be talking with members of the G8 in Gleneagles next week and whether that was true, the PMOS said we would talk about G8 and what would happen there at the appropriate time, not before. Asked if there was a precedent for NGO leaders to attend G8 meetings, the PMOS said that in recent years, the G8 had held outreach sessions and African leaders had come and so on, the spirit of G8 had been to reach out to people beyond the 8. Asked if Bob Geldof would therefore be at an outreach session, the PMOS said that it was a very clever way to ask hypothetical question, perhaps the cleverest this year, but it was nonetheless hypothetical.
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