Asked about whether the policy on deportations to Zimbabwe was being reviewed, the PMOS said that he had said yesterday that the Government's policy hadn't changed and it was still the Government's policy to consider individual applications on an individual basis. It had always been the case that if an MP raised an individual case that it would be investigated. That remained the case. In terms of the Government's policy, that had not changed for reasons outlined by the Prime Minister on Monday. Asked if the day-to-day operation of the policy might be altered, the PMOS repeated that the policy hadn't changed. He would not give a running commentary on individual cases.
Civil Service Bill
Asked when the Government expected to publish its Civil Service bill, the PMOS said that so far a draft bill had been published, that remained the case.
Put to him that the Prime Minister had said that we had to have ID cards in order to meet US requirements, yet the head of the Passports Service said that wasn't the case because we were already going to do that, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was wrong to focus exclusively on the US. This issue wasn't focussed exclusively on the US. As he had said yesterday afternoon, at various degrees we already had European countries going down the road of using biometrics. We had never pretended that in terms of identity cards that the legislation was purely necessary for passports. What we had said, and we had addressed this in relation to cost, was that in terms of ID cards, the vast bulk of the cost was taken up by the costs associated with passports, not with ID cards. The Prime Minister delineated yesterday how much of that cost would be born by the ID element alone. It was wrong to characterise this as purely in response the US, it was an international trend and it was a trend that was developing all the time. Asked which countries were demanding that we had biometric data, the PMOS said that, as we said yesterday afternoon, countries as diverse as Italy, Spain and Belgium, were amongst those, and there were others as well, who were going down the fingerprint road. Put to him that we wouldn't have to show our passports in those countries, the PMOS said that was increasingly becoming the EU standard, that was the important thing. The international trend was going in that direction.
Asked of the Prime Minister was surprised this morning by the announcement in Moscow of a nuclear fusion reactor was going to built in Paris, the PMOS said he was not aware the Prime Minister had been surprised. Put to him that the Prime Minister had been ambivalent about nuclear power and therefore a large project like this had gone to France along with 10,000 jobs, the PMOS said that ambivalence was not the same considering matters on the facts. The Prime Minister believed there should be a rational discussion of these matters and that was what we would have.
Put to him that the expulsion of Zimbabwean's to Zimbabwe had been called immoral by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the PMOS said that as we had said this morning, we obviously understood that there were concerns about individuals and the threat to them, which was precisely why in the 15 months to March this year, we granted asylum or discretionary leave at initial decision to 270 Zimbabweans. Equally however it was a fact that in the past people had applied, falsely claiming to be Zimbabweans. Therefore what we needed to do was assess each case on the individual merits, and we agreed that process with the MDC whenever we first applied it.
Asked if the Home Secretary had been serious this morning in suggesting that a special Standing Committee could be set up to discuss the detail of the ID Cards Bill, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) referred journalists to the Home Office for further detail about such a suggestion.
Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister was visiting Hungary and Poland today with an offer of future financial assistance, the PMOS said that this was not the time or the place to discuss such an issue. As the Prime Minister had underlined at the end of the Brussels Summit two weeks ago, and as the Deputy Prime Minister would again make clear in his meetings with the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Poland today, we would ensure that the Accession countries would not lose out financially. We already had very good bilateral relations with Poland and Hungary and we shared many common views on issues such as economic reform. We recognised that they had budgetary concerns relating to the EU. We also understood that part of the problem with the current CAP policy was the fact that so much of it was focussed towards the original fifteen members, rather than the new Accession countries. It was therefore important to switch the focus towards helping them raise the standards of their basic infrastructure in line with the rest of the EU. That would be the Deputy Prime Minister's basic message today.
Asked to confirm reports that the Government was softening its stance towards failed asylum seekers from Zimbabwe and that the deportation of some individuals was being postponed, the PMOS said that as we had made clear from the outset, individual cases should be judged on an individual basis. Obviously we took threats that were made against people into account. Equally, it was a fact of life that people had abused the system in the past by pretending to be Zimbabweans. That too had to be taken into account. Asked if the deportation of a Zimbabwean had failed to go ahead yesterday as a result of the Government's new stance, the PMOS declined to comment on individual cases. He underlined that the policy of dealing with people on a case-by-case basis had not changed. Asked when deportations to Zimbabwe were expected to resume, the PMOS said that he had no intention of giving a running commentary on individual cases. Pressed as to whether the Times had been right to report today that immigration officers had been ordered to halt deportations to Zimbabwe, the PMOS underlined that we had not introduced a blanket ban on removals to Zimbabwe and that our policy had not changed, nor would it. Questioned as to whether a policy of temporary suspension of removals could be put in place until the matter was resolved, the PMOS said that it was a question of being able to strike the right balance. On the one hand it was important to ensure that cases were assessed on an individual basis, including taking seriously any threats which had been made. On the other hand, it was important not to send the wrong signal to would-be fraudulent asylum seekers, which would return us to the days when there had been a clear abuse of our asylum system. We would not allow that to happen.
Asked about the Prime Minister's meeting with the Taoiseach, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that they had held a press conference after the meeting and what they said then had pretty much covered it. They had said that this had been a chance to review where we were. At this time of year obviously they took in issues such as the marching season and they hoped for a peaceful marching season. The primary focus at the minute was on the possibility of an IRA statement, which would hopefully emerge soon.
Asked about the need for biometric ID cards in the light of a comment by a US senator questioning whether the technology could deliver what thte UK said, the PMOS said that in terms of the technology for ID cards, that technology was developing all the time. It was unfair to judge our approach to the technology even before we had completed the procurement process. It was proper was that we took this step-by-step. It was the considered judgement of the experts in the Home Office and elsewhere that we needed to bring ourselves into line with international practice. Asked how many countries actually were introducing biometric technology the PMOS said that the list was quite extensive. For instance in the EU there was Spain, Belgium and Italy among others in various stages of development. It was developing quickly and as the technology developed, alongside the increasing awareness of the problem of identity fraud we believe that more countries will demand biometric testing. Put to him that the Prime Minister had said this morning in his monthly press conference that we wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for passports and the technology and asked where therefore terrorism and identity theft came in, the PMOS said that the point the Prime Minister was making was that because of the development of passport technology anyway the additional ID element was only £30.
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