The Leader said that, on Monday, January 22, the House would debate the second reading of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill (Ruth Kelly and Phil Woolas for the Government). On Tuesday, January 23, the business was Opposition Day (3rd Allotted Day), when there would be a debate on Healthcare Acquired Infections, followed by a debate on Life Chances of Disabled Children - both arising on an Opposition motion. On Wednesday, January 24, there would be a debate on Iraq and the Middle East on a motion for the Adjournment of the House (Margaret Beckett and Kim Howells). On Thursday, January 25, the business would be remaining stages of the Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill (Mike O'Brien and Joan Ryan). Private Members Bills would be taken on Friday, January 26.
The Leader was asked if he had seen the reported comments on behalf of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), expressing "serious concerns" about the decision to drop the fraud inquiry. He referred to the twin statements made previously by the head of the Serious Fraud Office and the Attorney General. Mr Straw said that a combination of them was a judgement by both that it would not be in the public interest for the inquiry to proceed, and that always had been one of the two tests for prosecutions. The Leader also pointed to the words in the statement of the Attorney that, in his judgement, even a further 18 months of inquiry would not have produced evidence which could lead to a reasonable chance of conviction. He referred to his comments on the issue during Business Questions earlier. The PMS added that the Prime Minister had set out a full account of his position on this issue at PMQs this week.
Party funding-Phillips inquiry
Mr Straw was asked about claims in the latest BBC report, suggesting that agreement had been reached with Sir Hayden Phillips on the issue. The Leader denied that was the case. He said that Sir Hayden was in discussions with each of the parties at present, and was apparently nearing the final stages of drawing up a report. Mr Straw said that Sir Hayden had to come to his own conclusions, but he had no idea what his report would say.
The Leader was asked if he had seen the latest report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life and the comments of its chairman, Sir Alistair Graham. Mr Straw said that he read Sir Alistair's remarks on the Electoral Commission and was broadly in agreement with him about the importance of strengthening its effectiveness, of separating out its role in respect of parliamentary boundaries and ensuring, as his report recommended, that there should be people of political experience - though not political party representatives - on the Commission.
Put that Alastair Graham's report was suggesting fines for political parties, and had the Government reached a view on any of the suggestions it contained, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that the important thing was that we took the time to study the report.
Sir Haydn Phillips
Asked if the Prime Minister had seen Sir Haydn Phillips in the past 24 hours, the PMOS said that as he had briefed several times in the week, he was not going to give a running commentary on when the Prime Minister met people who prepared reports for him. It was a matter which the Prime Minister remained engaged with and that process continued.
Asked by the BBC if the Prime Minister would be relaxed if police investigations were taken seriously enough to consider charges of racism against any of the individuals concerned, the PMOS said that the key point for the Government was that they identified yesterday which was that any suggestion that the UK in some way tolerated racism needed to be countered strongly. The one lesson that people could draw from the controversy around this issue was that that was not the case, and this country did not tolerate racism. There were processes by which complaints could be looked at and considered, and that was why OFCOM was involved, and we had to respect the role of OFCOM in other comments.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any comments to make on Peter Hain's article in the New Statesman, the PMOS said that as people knew, it was in a political context and therefore, he was not going to comment on it.
Put that the Prime Minister had spoken about progress in the Middle East, and did the UK plan to "play" Iran on its own, or was there going to be some EU united view, the PMOS replied that the important thing that we had taken away from our two recent trips to the Middle East was the need for engagement at all levels and by many different people in many different ways. The important thing was that we kept talking to each other, not only about what our impressions were of what was happening on the ground, but also, of how we could help push things forward. That was partly why tonight's meeting with Condoleezza Rice would be important.
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