The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) told journalists that the number of patients waiting for an operation had fallen by 4000 between April and May. The year on year figure was down 42,000 and the drop since 1997 was 373,000.
Asked if the failure to win the Blaenau Gwent by-election was an indication that the Government was running out of steam, the PMOS said that he was surprised that he was being asked to comment on what was clearly a party matter. What he would say was that if you looked at the agenda that the Prime Minister was currently dealing, such as tackling the issues of welfare reform, the future of pensions, the future of our energy policy, these were all fundamental questions. These were all being driven forward by the Prime Minister as well as reforms in education and health of a very fundamental nature, so that didn't fit with the description of a Government or a Prime Minister running out of steam.
The Leader said that on Monday, July 3, under the heading of Estimates, there would be debates on Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law (Caroline Flint for the Government), followed by The Work of the Electoral Commission (Bridget Prentice). On both the following days - July 4 and 5 - the House would debate the Finance (No 2) Bill (HM Treasury team). Adam Ingram would lead for the Government on the debate on armed forces personnel on July 6 on a motion for the adjournment.
Asked for some further specifics about the Prime Minister's Northern Ireland visit today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would be announcing a rough timetable of what we thought needed to happen over the summer up to November. The reason for that was we thought that real progress had been made in terms of setting up the Preparation Committee. We recognised that in this introductory period, it was always going to be difficult, but the reality was that if we were going to meet the November deadline, then we did need to up the pace. That meant we needed to hit the ground running in September. The IMC Report would be released in early October, and people would see the two Prime Ministers back shortly after that, as we were not going to leave it right until the very end. There were things that needed to be done, and the number of issues that needed to be resolved was quite small, but it was better to get them dealt with as quickly as possible. The PMOS said that we would see where we went from there.
Control Orders-High Court
Put that there were reports that when Alastair Darling was Transport Secretary, he made some sort of deal with the rail companies so they could put up their prices, the PMOS said that there was no secret deal. It was a commercial decision by train operator companies to set regulated fares; cheap day return tickets were unregulated. The PMOS suggested that the journalist spoke to the department for more details.
Asked about views expressed by David Blunkett on the performance of the Civil Service during evidence to the Public Administration select committee, the Leader said he had not been aware of it. He would prefer to wait to see what the Committee reported and also to reading the evidence of Mr Blunkett and others "in the round" before commenting. Asked further, Mr Straw thanked journalists for bringing this to his attention.
NAO report re Child Support Agency
Put that the NAO report published tomorrow into the CSA was said to be "the worst I've written in 39 years" by the author, and was there any response, the PMOS said that since it was not published until tomorrow, the time to respond would be then. We had highlighted the problems in the CSA, and the DWP had been looking at it, and the fundamental review process was underway.
Asked further about one of the soldiers killed in Afghanistan who came from Northern Ireland, and whether our military resources in Afghanistan were too stretched, the PMOS said that he was not going to talk about the individual, but the Prime Minister had paid tribute in a very fulsome way, as did other leaders in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon. With regards to the resources, the PMOS pointed people to what General Ward had said. General Ward had said that he believed that we did have adequate military resources on the ground, and as the PMOS had said yesterday, it was the commanders on the ground who made the operational decisions about we needed. We had approached this mission very carefully; Des Browne had been out to Afghanistan to look at the operation.
Asked if the Prime Minister had seen the interview in the Australian with Mr. Murdoch, and what did he think about a possible allegiance switch to the Conservative party, the PMOS replied that yesterday he had said that the Prime Minister had a standard response to such questions. Given that the PMOS was in Northern Ireland, he had now decided that his standard response was "whatever I say, I say nothing".
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