Asked for the Prime Minister's reaction to this morning's terror raids in Birmingham, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that a major counter-terrorism operation had taken place earlier today led by West Midlands Police in which 8 arrests had been made. The Home Secretary was fully briefed on the operation and was receiving regular updates as developments occurred.
Asked for further clarification about Lord Levy's travel arrangements, and the FCO's role with regards to Lord Levy, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that Lord Levy travelled at his own expense, and received no remuneration on expenses. The FCO provided logistic support, including on occasion, official accommodation overseas. The FCO provided an office in London and one member of FCO staff to provide support services.
Asked to clarify Lord Levy's role and title, the PMOS replied that Lord Levy remained the Prime Minister's Middle East envoy. The journalist was pointed to the Prime Minister's remarks in Ramallah in December, which summed up why the Prime Minister believed that Lord Levy fulfilled a valuable role. But we would not be providing a running commentary on details such as who he had met. Asked further on Lord Levy's role, the PMOS replied that the role was one of engaging people involved in the Middle East and the Middle East Peace Process. As the Prime Minister had said in Ramallah, in a very difficult situation we relied on people who could talk to all sides. Lord Levy was one of those people.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any more thoughts on the developments in the Midlands on today's terror raids, the PMOS said that the police had warned people that this was a live investigation, and therefore, everyone had to be very careful about what we said, and we also had to be careful about what we said in view of the possibility that there might be a trial at some stage. There would be a time and a place for Government comment, but this was not it at this stage.
Asked if the White paper on the House of Lords reform would be put before Cabinet tomorrow, the PMOS replied that it was.
Asked whether the Prime Minister had received assurances from Sinn Fein that they would demonstrate on the street that they were signed up to supporting the police, the PMOS set out what had happened so far. Firstly there had been the Ard Fheis motion; Secondly, Gerry Adams had said that anyone who was a victim of crime should go to the police; Gerry Adams had then gone on to say that if any Republican or Nationalist wanted to join the police, then Sinn Fein would support them in doing so. It terms of how we go forward, people expected the words to be translated into action. But people should recognise the significance of not just the leader of the Republican movement saying that victims of crime should go to the police, but also that young Nationalists and Republicans would be supported were they to choose to join the police. Those were two huge steps.
Asked what No.10 made of HM Inspector of Prisons comment that the Government had, 'created an ark after the flood' in response to calls to reform prisons, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the HM Inspector also said that the significant improvements continued to take place in many key areas of prison life, she praised the prison service safer custody work, education and training provision, resettlement and health care. What was also important to recognise is that John Reid has agreed with her that there is still much work to be done. That is why in top of the 20,000 extra places he has asked for an additional 8,000 places. It is a mixed picture and the Government needs to work with people such as HM Inspector of Prisons to get it right.
Asked why Manchester had been chosen as the site for the new super casino, the PMOS said that it was that is what the Casino Advisory Panel announcement said. What is important is that we take their independent advice. If you look at their assessment of the areas in terms of deprivation and regeneration their view is that Manchester certainly fulfils the criteria. Asked if the Government expected there to be any legal challenges, the PMOS said it would entirely be a matter for them, we should recognise that if we ask an independent body to reach an honest assessment and it does then we should take note of that honest assessment. What Tessa Jowell has indicated is that the initial impression is that of an honest assessment of the various criteria and therefore let us see where we end up.
Asked what was discussed at the Sarkozy lunch, the PMOS said that it was a wide-ranging discussion, as you might imagine, which went over Europe, the Middle East, and other relevant issues climate change included. As you'd expect its range was wide. Asked what was on the menu and more importantly was the chef French, the PMOS said if the reporter waited half an hour or so he would cook up a response.
Put that now there had been a decision on the super casino, would we be minded to accept the recommendation on casinos, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that the next step was Tessa Jowell's statement in the House this afternoon at 1530, therefore he did not want to pre-empt anything she was going to say. It was then a matter for the House to vote on. Tessa Jowell had to make up her mind whether to accept the panel's decision. That then went to a vote in the House, but it would be a Whips' vote as it was a Government proposal.
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