Asked if there was a view in Government for Ministers to use video conferencing more, rather than flying around the world for meetings, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that video conferencing was used, not least in terms of the Prime Minister's regular conversations with President Bush. There were, however, occasions when face to face contact was necessary, and therefore, as people knew, Ministerial travel was now offset and that was an important development. There was no part of the Government's message which said that people should stop using aeroplanes. The important thing was that within Europe, we worked towards an EU trading scheme, with emissions being included. That was what we were supporting.
Put that the Prime Minister today at PMQs in response to the Leader of the Opposition said that he was not ruling any options out when it came to a question about prison ships and army camps, and what progress was the Prime Minister aware of on them, the PMOS pointed out that with regard to prisons, in terms of guidance that came from the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, and the Attorney General, that reflected existing policy, rather than new policy. In terms of handling the problem, the PMOS said that he was not going to get into speculation about what would happen, except that John Reid had laid out that there would be an extra 8000 prison places by the end of 2012. That came on top of the nearly 20,000 extra places there had been since 1997. It was not that the Government had not been doing anything in this field, but everyone recognised that there were pressures in the prison system.
Put that there had been criticism about the Prime Minister's absence from the debate this afternoon, would he be able to be on the bench as the debate wound up, and what was the Prime Minister doing this afternoon that prevented him from attending, the PMOS said that it was not the Prime Minister's custom to take part in Foreign Affairs debates. The Prime Minister had said two weeks ago that once we had assessed Operation Sinbad, then he would make a statement to the House on what followed from it as the next stage of our policy in Iraq. The Prime Minister had judged that to be the appropriate time to appear in the House. As the Prime Minister had said at PMQs, he had constantly spoken about, and answered questions in the House at PMQs about Iraq. With regards to this afternoon, the Prime Minister had a meeting with Dr. Paisley and he was giving a short speech at the CBI.
Asked for further information on Angela Eagle's meeting today, the PMOS replied that he was not going to comment on a private meeting. The important thing was that people recognised that there were serious issues that needed to be considered, as well as sensitivities on both sides. People had to think about the serious issues at the heart of this, not least, the future of children who were not only in care, but who were helped with after care by the Catholic agencies. The PMOS said that those children were amongst the most vulnerable in society.
Put that PA were saying as fact the John McTernan had been interviewed again by police, the PMOS said that his approach to this was consistent. He had no comment to make whatsoever on the police investigation.
State of the Union
Asked for reaction to President Bush's State of the Union address last night, and in particular if there was disappointment that there were no firm commitments on the environment, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that it sounded like the journalist had been listening to a different speech. President Bush had announced a commitment to reducing gasoline usage in the United States by 20% by 2017 - this was a firm commitment. This obviously fitted with a situation where there was a momentum building, not just in the States but also worldwide, on energy and climate change. As the Prime Minister had said in the past, he believed that these were flip sides of the same coin.
Asked if the Prime Minister welcomed the interventions of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York into the debate about gay adoption laws, the PMOS replied that there was not much more to add from what he had said earlier in the week. This was a genuinely difficult issue. It was an issue on which there were sensitivities on both sides, but at the core of it we had to remember the children. Not just those in care now, but also the children who are still receiving aftercare, and in the case of the Catholic agencies this was rather a high number. This was because the Catholic agencies had tended to concentrate on those children who were most difficult to place and therefore there was a process of aftercare as well. There were real practical considerations that had to be taken into account as well as the conflicting principles that were at the heart of the issue. The Prime Minister was leading the process of trying to find a way through those conflicting pressures.
Asked why the Prime Minister would not be leading today's debate, given that this was the first Government debate on Iraq, and secondly would there be any indications on British troops, the PMOS replied that what the coverage of this had missed out, was that this Prime Minster had never led a foreign affairs debate before, furthermore he did not think that this had been the practice in the past either. What the Prime Minster had given was a commitment to the House to make a statement once Operation Sinbad had finished and had been assessed. That would be the important point of decision about what our profile should be. That was the point at which the Prime Minister believed he should come to the House and explain what his decisions were and what the next steps would be.
Asked how distracting and debilitating it must be for the Government for more and more Ministers and officials to be questioned by the police, the PMOS replied that this fell into the category of him being invited to comment on a Police investigation which he was not going to do.
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