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.
Put by ITN's Political Editor that last week they had reported that the police investigation for the honours inquiry had discovered in their investigation that there was a second computer system used by senior Downing Street officials, and we had issued a statement saying the story was untrue, but it now seemed clear that some senior Labour Party officials in No10 did use a separate system, and did we now want to amend our statement, and were we aware of that some people in No10 used that second system when we made our earlier statement, the PMOS asked the journalist what evidence did he have that some officials did use a second system. The journalist replied that he did not have evidence, but that it "seemed clear" that some people did. The PMOS said that it was wrong. The PMOS said that people had to start questioning who had supplied the information, and why, as it was wrong.
Asked for further information on the Prime Minister's talks with Bertie Ahern this evening, the PMOS said that where we were today was different from where we were yesterday. What had changed was that Gerry Adams had unequivocally said that if someone was a victim of crime in Northern Ireland, they should now go to the police. That was a significant advance by any terms in the history of Northern Ireland. What we now had to do, and the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister would have to consider this, was reach a decision on going ahead with the elections on the basis that those elections would be to a power sharing executive being set up by 26th March, with everyone in that executive fully supporting the police. The PMOS said that we were significantly further forward as a result of the clarity and lack of equivocation in Mr Adams' statement.
Prime Minister’s meeting with Monsieur Sarkozy
Asked if it was usual for the Prime Minister to meet with visiting politicians who were on a campaign tour, the PMOS replied that we had met many politicians who were in the process of elections, and Monsieur Sarkozy was still the French Interior Minister. The PMOS added that if Ségolène Royal wanted to come to London to meet the Prime Minister, the PMOS was sure that he would be happy to meet her as well.
The PMOS told journalists that today, the millionth person had signed an e-petition in a process that had only begun in November, which showed that it was very popular with the public. Petitions had always played an important part in Downing Street, and this was simply a different format in which to do it. It creates an opportunity to listen to what people had to say, to reply, and then to engage in dialogue. What it did not automatically guarantee was a change in policy, as sometimes, there were issues such as road pricing where people had strong views, but strong views did not necessarily equal a solution to congestion. People's views would be taken into account, but a decision had to be made as well.
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