10 Downing St - Press Briefing
10 Downing St - PRESS BRIEFING
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) drew journalists' attention to a Written Ministerial Statement from the Department for Constitutional Affairs today regarding fine enforcement, in which Lord Falconer and Christopher Leslie were announcing a radical new approach to fine collection based on the fact that 45% of court fines were not paid. Among the measures being set out were that we would no longer write off fines after twelve months; we would make it easier to deduct fines directly from offenders' pay or benefits; where the courts had been ineffective, we would allow the private sector to be brought in to collect fines; we would introduce a new offence of failing to provide details of income and expenditure to allow deduction orders to be made.
Asked if there was any more detail about yesterday's incident in Iraq resulting in the deaths of six British military personnel, the PMOS said that the MoD was still assessing what had happened. As he understood it, the names of those who had been killed would be released later today. We were taking things slowly, as was entirely appropriate, and we did not think it would be helpful to engage in speculation in advance of the assessment's conclusions.
Asked for a reaction to reports that British soldiers had fired plastic bullets while carrying out intrusive searches for arms in Iraq earlier yesterday and that some Iraqis had fired back thinking that live ammunition was being used, the PMOS said that he was aware of certain rumours currently doing the rounds. However, he did not recognise the version of events being described. He repeated that it would not be helpful to get drawn into a speculative discussion about the incident where we were forced to rebut rumours in advance of a proper assessment by the relevant authorities.
Asked if yesterday's incidents would change the way the search for WMD was being conducted and whether it would slow the process down, the PMOS said no. He pointed out that the job of looking for WMD was currently in the hands of the Iraq survey group. Their work was continuing.
Asked if the option to deploy additional troops to Iraq was being actively considered, the PMOS reiterated the importance of allowing the MoD's assessment to take place. We needed to find out whether what had happened was a one-off incident with tragic consequences or something more. That investigation was clearly best done at an operational level.
In answer to further questions, the PMOS said that while no one in any way under-estimated the tragedy and implications of yesterday, it was nevertheless important to see it in the overall context of the situation in Iraq which was gradually improving as a whole and steadily improving in the south of the country. Of course that did not mean we were not facing difficulties in local areas. Obviously we were, which was why we had to assess those threats and deal with them. However, that should not blind us to the overall progress that had been made in Iraq so far.
In answer to questions about the second so-called 'dodgy dossier', the PMOS advised journalists to be patient and wait for Alastair Campbell's evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee at 3pm today. There was no point in pre-empting what he might say.
Asked to confirm a report in today's FT claiming that the Prime Minister was due to give Ministers a 'pep talk' on the Euro tomorrow, the PMOS said he was somewhat surprised that the FT had got excited about this matter. There was a regular meeting of a group of Ministers called Minecor, which was a long-established grouping of junior Ministers from across a wide range of Departments, which met periodically to consider EU issues. The Prime Minister would be addressing the next meeting tomorrow. It should come as no surprise to anyone that he wished to communicate as widely as possible why he believed what was happening in Europe, and in this country about Europe, was important.
Asked when the Prime Minister was going to give his next big speech on Europe, the PMOS said that given how much the Prime Minister had said about the issue in and around the European Council in Greece and also in Parliament on Monday, no one could say that he was not making the case for Europe. Asked if next week would see the launch of the Government's pro-Europe roadshow, the PMOS said that there was nothing he could point to at this stage. As recent events showed, we were clearly not afraid to put the case for Europe. Put to him that the Prime Minister had not held a press conference at the European Council and journalists had therefore been unable to ask him questions about Europe and the Euro, the PMOS reminded journalists that the Prime Minister had in fact done a doorstep and had answered questions about the Convention. It was not his fault that journalists had been interested in something else that day. Europe was not a single-issue subject. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had set out the position regarding the next steps on the Euro very clearly at their joint press conference on 10 June. It went without saying that the Prime Minister was more than happy to explain the Government's position.
Asked if the Prime Minister was holding emergency meetings to rethink the Government's strategy on public services given the results of the latest polls, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister had regular meetings with all public service Secretaries of State, as you would expect, at which he regularly reviewed the situation. While we never commented on polls, it was important for the Government to reiterate the improvements in our public services which were already being made on the ground, such as the decision by GPs to accept new contracts. Equally, however, it was important for the public to recognise that there would not be an overnight transformation.