Asked why the Prime Minister was travelling to Libya, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) replied that this trip was all about showing the need to keep re-engaging with Africa as a whole. There was a direct line in terms of theme from Gleneagles to the G8 this year in Germany. Chancellor Merkel had said that the two top themes for her G8 summit would be climate change and Africa, our two top themes from Gleneagles. Taking Sierra Leone, here was a country moving towards elections, the first since the UN has left. This was only possible due to continuing engagement from countries such as ourselves. Looking at Libya, the Prime Minister visited Libya in March 2004 after Libya had said the previous year that it was giving up its WMDs. This was not the end of the story. We had continued to re-engage at a political level through Ministerial visits. We also continued to re-engage at an economic level and today BP will announce that they would be going back into Libya. Re-engagement works - whether it be in Sierra Leone, Libya or Africa in general. South Africa was also an important player in its own right regionally, but was also now on the UN Security Council. Therefore it had an even more important voice on issues such as climate change, but also regional issues such as Darfur.
Asked (although the journalist admitted he knew it was a process question) whether the Prime Minister intended to nominate Alex Salmond to become Privy Councillor, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) said she was afraid that he was correct that it was a process question and not therefore one she would be able to answer. The PMS added that, as the journalist had given her an "out", she would take it.
Asked whether there were any plans for the Prime Minister to have dinner with the Queen, the PMS said the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) had said at briefing this morning that the Prime Minister had a audience of the Queen this week. In terms of other contact with the Palace, we did not brief on that.
The Leader announced that business for the week after the Whitsun recess would be: Monday, June 4 - second reading of the Legal Services Bill [Lords] (Bridget Prentice and Vera Baird, for the Government); Tuesday, June 5 - consideration of Lords amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill (Gerry Sutcliffe), following a debate on Darfur on a motion for the adjournment of the House (Margaret Beckett and Hilary Benn); Wednesday, June 6 - Opposition Day (13th Allotted Day): debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced; Thursday, June 7 - second reading of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill (Phil Woolas); Friday, June 8 - House not sitting.
Asked if there was a timescale for a Bill, Mr Straw said that none had been announced. The Home Secretary had referred to proposals in general terms in the House earlier. Asked if the programme was sufficiently flexible for a Bill to be introduced before the end of June, the Leader said he could not give a specific answer immediately.
Freedom of Information
The Leader was asked if he had been helping to secure agreement on an amendment to a Private Member's Bill being promoted by David Maclean MP, to ensure that MPs' expenses were made public. He said that he had offered advice. His view was that, firstly, it was made clear from the start that, whatever happened to Mr Maclean's Bill, details of expenses had to continue to be published. This was in line with the Publication Scheme agreed by the House as a public authority. Under the FOI Act, every public authority had to have a publication scheme for information which they collect and ought to make routinely available. Mr Straw referred to his earlier comments during Business Questions in response to a question from Martin Salter MP about Commons Early Day Motion 1540, asking him to table a resolution to give direct authority for what the Speaker already had announced. He had said: "I certainly recognise my hon. Friend's wish, which is shared by the whole House, to ensure that whatever happens in respect of the protection of MPs' correspondence, the publication scheme in respect of Members' allowances and expenses continues. I shall give serious consideration to his suggestion and consult the Opposition parties about the matter."
He was asked if he thought that Control Orders, in their current form, had "run their course". Mr Straw said that was a matter for the Home Secretary to propose, because he was much closer to the regime than he was as Leader. The crucial point to get across - and it was hard-going with some of the media, he noted - was that Control Orders, by definition, were never a substitute for incarceration. Mr Straw said that, according to some newspapers, the impression was that an individual had escaped. Control Orders, inevitably, were a much lighter regime of supervision in the community, with concomitant judgement about the risk.
Deputy Prime Minister
In response to further questions, Mr Straw said he would not speculate on any position, disposition or P45 that might await any Minister on June 27. He referred to the answer he had given earlier to Sir Nicholas Winterton MP, when he asked him for an assurance that he would carry on serving as Leader of the House: "I cannot give him that assurance because, like lunatics in prison in days of old, Ministers of the Crown serve entirely at Her Majesty's pleasure and we have no idea when that pleasure is going to come to an end."
Asked what the Prime Minister's view was on control orders, and what was he going to do about their apparent flaws, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he did not accept that description - there were not flaws, but control orders were our forth best option. The PMOS explained that first and foremost, where appropriate, we wanted to be able to deport people, but the courts would not allow us to do that in certain circumstances. Secondly, we wanted to detain people indefinitely, but a combination of the courts and Parliament decided that was not allowed. Thirdly, we wanted to have control orders for 24 hours, but the courts decided that was impossible. Therefore, we had ended up with partial control orders, which meant that they were partial. That was why we wanted to come back and try and put further measures to try and tighten the system.
Asked if the Prime Minister had had an audience with The Queen this week, the PMOS confirmed that he had.
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