» Monday, February 9, 2004

Alastair Campbell/FPA Statement

Asked, in the light of John Humphrys' comments in the Radio Times, who had arranged Alastair Campbell's statement at the Foreign Press Association (FPA) on the day that Lord Hutton's report had been published, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that Downing Street had helped facilitate it. Asked if Downing Street had paid for it or whether Mr Campbell had done so, the PMOS said he didn't know if there had been any cost involved. On the day of the statement, his attention had been focussed on the Government's response to the report. Questioned as to whether the Government paid the FPA for using its facilities to hold the daily morning press briefings there, the PMOS said yes. Asked if it was right that we had decided to hold the briefings at the FPA rather than elsewhere because it was cheaper, the PMOS agreed that the Government, in looking for a venue for briefings, had sought to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, as you would expect.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

EU Accession States/Immigration

Asked to clear up the confusion regarding people from EU Accession States working in the UK, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he did not think there had been any confusion about this issue. His colleague had explained the position last week. The Government remained committed to ensuring that the UK labour market was opened up to those who genuinely wanted to come here and work. However, we would not tolerate people who simply arrived here for the purpose of 'benefit shopping'. David Blunkett and Andrew Smith had been working together to look at how we could tighten up procedures relating to so-called 'benefit tourism' in advance of 1 May. They were putting together a range of measures which were designed to stop potential abuse in this area. We expected the details to be set out shortly. Asked if that might be before recess, the PMOS said it wasn't impossible. Asked if the Prime Minister would follow the example of other EU member states and introduce a derogation, the PMOS said that as we had told journalists at last Wednesday's press briefing, our position regarding the EU labour market had not changed. The Home Secretary had set it out again today in the Guardian. We believed it was right for our labour markets to be opened up. In our view, we should take advantage of the fact that people wanted to come here to work, particularly since, as the CBI had pointed out, there were skills shortages in certain areas. That said, it was important for us to ensure that those who came to the UK were here to work rather than claim benefits.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Chinese Gangmasters

Asked the if the Government would support a Private Member's Bill seeking to tidy up the law on gangmasters in the light of the tragic events at Morecambe Bay, the PMOS said that, given the crowded parliamentary timetable, he had not heard that legislative time was being made available for such a Bill. However, as with all Private Member's Bills when they were tabled, the Government would consider the details and make judgements accordingly.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

House of Lords Reform

Asked if the Prime Minister was in favour of the proposal for indirect elections to the House of Lords, the PMOS said that our position on the House of Lords had not changed. As Lord Falconer had set out yesterday, we were keen to see the re-establishment of the Joint Committee so that it could consider issues, including the indirect elections proposal, relating to Lords reform. Until that mechanism was up and running again, it was difficult to discuss the options. Asked if the proposal was a way to break the current impasse, the PMOS said that it was an idea which we would like the Committee to explore.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)

Domestic Agenda

Looking ahead to the business for the next few days, the PMOS advised journalists that crime, health, education and anti-social behaviour would all be highlighted by Ministers this week through announcements and events. Asked if the Prime Minister had instructed Ministers to focus on domestic issues, the PMOS said that he wouldn't characterise it in that way. It was clear that the public wanted the focus to be on the domestic agenda. The Government was just as keen for that to happen. This week there would be a considerable amount of activity across the main delivery departments. Of course that was not to suggest that the last few weeks hadn't seen a similar amount of activity. We accepted the fact that, as a result of the Hutton Inquiry and its aftermath, there had inevitably been more of a focus on Iraq-related issues. That was not to say that those issues were not important. They were. However, it was important for people to recognise that they did not define the totality of the Government's agenda. They clearly did not.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Butler Inquiry

Asked if Lord Butler had started work on his Inquiry yet, the PMOS said that he wasn't certain. If he hadn't started it by now, no doubt he would do so very shortly in the light of the fact that the Inquiry was due to report by the summer recess. Asked if the Prime Minister had been asked to give evidence, the PMOS said that as we had underlined consistently since the establishment of the Inquiry last week, the Prime Minister and the Government would co-operate fully with it.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Tessa Jowell

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Tessa Jowell's comments about testosterone-charged interviews in TV studios, the PMOS said that he hadn't asked him and pointed out the qualification the Secretary of State had subsequently issued. In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that he personally was chilled out as usual.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)


Asked if the Government would continue with its star-ratings policy for hospitals, the PMOS said that John Reid had put out a statement today saying that, "The Government is committed to ensuring that simple to understand star-rating hospital performance information will continue to be published". The next set were due out in July. From April 2004, the star-ratings system would be handled by the Commission for Health Improvement (CHI). The same system would continue until 2005. A discussion was currently underway about the information which underpinned the performance rankings from 2006. However, the Government remained fully committed to providing information to the public in a way they found useful. We were also committed to more transparency on these issues, rather than less.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

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