Asked to explain exactly what the Prime Minister knew and at what time concerning the issue of foreign prisoners released without being considered for deportation, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that there had been a discussion between the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in December about the general issue of foreign prisoners and why there had been an increase in foreign prisoners in the system. Last week he was made aware of the specific problem of 1023 foreign prisoners not being considered for deportation. The figure of 288 prisoners released since the problem had come to the Home Secretary's attention was part of that 1023. The Prime Minister had known about the 1023 last week and the 288 last night. Put to him that the Prime Minister had not been aware of the 288 prisoners until after the Home Secretary had spoken to him about resignation, the PMOS said that whilst he didn't disagree with that point, he would point out that the Prime Minister had explained at PMQs his understanding of how we arrived at 288 and why it wasn't until February and March this year that ministers became aware that there were still people being released without being considered for deportation.
Independent Monitoring Commission Report
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that Peter Hain had published the latest and 10th Independent Monitoring Commission in Northern Ireland (IMC) report today. This was the most significant report on the IRA of the ten that the IMC had published so far. It said that the IRA was living up to its commitment made last July to stop recruitment, training, targeting, intelligence gathering, rioting or other violence, other criminality and illegal fundraising. It clarified it's position from the last report on arms to accept that any arms that were retained were retained by people acting at a local level in defiance of the leadership and therefore not in anyway authorised. The amounts were not deemed significant in comparison to what had been decommissioned.
Deputy Prime Minister
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to the Deputy Prime Minister at all today, the PMOS said that as he had said this morning, we believed it was a private matter and therefore the private discussions between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister remained private.
Asked whether the Prime Minister had spoken to John Prescott, the PMOS said that since we had said this was a private matter it would be entirely wrong for him to speak about it. It remained a private matter, as did discussions between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Put that it was not a private matter because the Deputy Prime Minister had allegedly used his Admiralty Arch flat and the election battle bus to conduct his affair, the PMOS said that any specific allegation should be put to the ODPM. We regarded this as a private matter and therefore it should remain so. Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister had abused his office or the civil service, the PMOS said no. Asked whether there were rules governing relations between Ministers and civil servants, the PMOS said that it was best if journalists spoke to the Cabinet Office about civil services rules, as they were the responsible department. John Prescott had set out the particulars and as far as we were concerned was the end of the matter.
Asked if the Prime Minister's packed diary was the reason he had not been able to meet with some of the families of soldiers who had dies in Iraq, the PMOS said that as we had said in the past, he did meet relatives of those killed in Iraq from time to time. As he had said at PMQs he was completely committed to supporting our troops in Iraq and the families who had to wait for them but he did not believe this was helped by meeting in public.
Asked on the back of the foreign prisoners, the NHS budget and the Deputy Prime Minister's revelation how things were going, the PMOS said that government was about dealing with unforeseen events. The important thing was whether you had capacity to respond to events and whether you had the capacity to implement the manifesto under which the government had been elected and the vision to keep that going despite those events. Therefore what you did was deal with events. You did not ignore them. You had to recognise and answer people's legitimate concerns, but you also had to keep your eye on the big picture, which was what the government would do.
Asked if the Financial Times story that the government would not block Gazprom from buying Centrica was true, the PMOS said that the question came under two headings: One, he did not discuss commercial contracts and two, it was hypothetical. Asked what the Prime Minister's view of protectionism was, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had made his view of economic patriotism very clear. He believed in free trade, which abided by proper regulations.
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