Asked if the Prime Minister believed that Ministers' should take responsibility for departments and the decisions taken in departments, in particular with reference to what Nick Clegg has said, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that Ministers were responsible for departments but they could not make decisions or be responsible if they had not been made aware of problems in the first place. They cannot act on things they do not know anything about, in relation to the current situation the Home Office has launched an investigation and this was a commonsense approach.
Asked what the Prime Minister's response was to Jonathan Porritt's suggestion that the approach to the issue of global warming was patchy and muddled, the Prime Minister's Offical Spokesman (PMOS) said that it was not muddled headed to double our compliance with our Kyoto target; it was not muddled headed to produce an energy review which allows us to develop clean technology; it was not muddle headed to lead the intellectual debate on climate change at Gleneagles and then take this forward with the Gleneagles dialogue which will then produce recommendations which the Japanese will be able to take forward when they take over the G8 Presidency in 2008. It was also not muddle headed to face up to the reality that if we have a growing world economy, that gave us the resources to invest in the research and development (R&D) which will produce more effective and efficient energy uses than if we don't have that investment to put into the necessary R & D.
Asked if a £200 fine on employers was a real incentive to pay the minimum wage, the PMOS said that no employer liked to find themselves going through the courts or liked to find themselves fined. Therefore, the fines were a disincentive and the important thing was to look at the number of employers who did comply with the minimum wage and the real difference that it had made to lots of low paid workers.
Iraq and Troops
Asked, with regard to PMQs today, if there was any indication of an announcement of a timetable for Basra in general, the PMOS said that Operation Sinbad was just over half way through, progress had been made though the situation on the ground was not ideal. However, as a result of the work of our police training teams nearly 55 per cent of Basra city's police stations were up to the standard required; this is compared to 20 per cent last September. The murder rate in Basra has reduced from 139 reported in June to 29 reported this December. Reconstruction programmes in Basra are evident with the refurbishment of 176 schools, refurbishment of 3 hospitals and a further 8 primary health clinics, refurbishment of a pharmacy, an orphanage and 30 football pitches. These are all in addition to road and bridge repairs in the region.
Asked if there was any view on the exiled Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal's comments that the existence of Israel had to be acknowledged, the PMOS said it would be best to wait and see exactly what he had said but that it was correct to recognise the reality that Israel did exist and had to be recognised as such for there to be a two state solution.
Prime Ministerial meetings
Asked if there was a deliberate reason why the parliamentary lobby had not been told about the housing breakfast the Prime Minister and Ruth Kelly hosted this morning, the PMOS said no, the same practice had been followed with similar breakfast events week in, week out.
Overseas convictions of British Nationals
Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on the news that the Home Office had sat on files concerning British people convicted abroad, and had not entered them onto the national computer, the PMOS said that the term 'sat' was no one he recognised. The Home Office would be issuing a statement in due course. The PMOS added that as the story was just breaking, his information was that some of the information from other countries that had been available in the past had been patchy. Secondly, this was the whole reason why the system had been regularised under the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and transferred authority to ACPO.
Asked what the Prime Minister's comments were regarding the current situation in Somalia, if the Prime Minister supported the US and how that squared with the EU's position, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister was aware of the US position in tracking the terrorists responsible for the bombings in 1998 but it was a matter for the US.
Asked for the Prime Minister's response to a committee report which said that the provision of specialist school services was very patchy, the PMOS Lord Adonis had said to the LEAs that if they wanted to make any changes to the provision of specialist schools in their areas, then they had to ensure that what they replaced them with was a better service. This reflected the fact that there wasn't a Government policy of closing specialist schools and that the rate of closures had fallen under the current administration compared to the previous one. The PMOS went on to say that there would always be a need for a mix of provision, for some children inclusion in the main stream system would be the answer, but for others, specialist schools per se would be the answer. No one answer would address the needs of every child and this was illustrated in this case. There were unique circumstances that demanded unique answers.
Asked if the Prime Minister had been informed or consulted by President Bush prior to the American attack on Somalia since the UK and US were partners against terrorism, the PMOS said it was a US operation aimed at those who were responsible for the 1998 terrorist operations against US forces in that area. However, it was a matter for the US.
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