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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing from 12 Nov 2007

Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Lord Mayor's Banquet Speech, Rape Conviction Rate, Slogans, Detention Without Charge, Chiefs' Pay, Ed Balls, Ian Blair and Embryology Bill.

Lord Mayor's Banquet Speech

Asked for information regarding the Prime Minister's speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet and if there would be anything on Iran, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) said that it would be a wide-ranging foreign affairs speech and it would be surprising if there was not some mention of Iran; the Prime Minister had been talking yesterday about Iran during his interview on the Adam Boulton show.

Asked if the Prime Minister believed that the US was Britain's most important ally, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had made clear on many occasions that he believed the United States was Britain's most important bi-lateral relationship. That had been the position under Prime Minister Tony Blair and that was the position under Prime Minister Gordon Brown; the position had not changed.

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Admiral Fallon's comments in the Financial Times that "bellicose comments" were "not particularly helpful", the PMS said that the Prime Minister's view was that we needed to keep up the diplomatic pressure on Iran. As he had said yesterday, there were some signs that sanctions were having an affect and we were expecting a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency shortly; if that showed that Iran was continuing to defy the international community, then we would have to consider the case for further sanctions at the UN.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be wearing white tie, the PMS said he would be wearing white tie.

Asked why the Prime Minister was wearing white tie tonight when he had not done so in the past, the PMS said that that was the decision he had taken.

Put that the speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet could be an opportunity to clarify the recent misunderstandings between the US and the UK and asked to give an example of what those misunderstandings could have been, the PMS said that he did not think that there had been any misunderstandings on our part; the Prime Minister had always been very clear about the importance he attached to the relationship with the US.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the UK had been joined at the hip with the US, the PMS said the Government had made its position clear on numerous occasions in July when the issue came up; as had been said before, the Prime Minister believed that the relationship with the US was Britain's single most important bi-lateral relationship.

Asked if it was the Prime Minister's position that Iran should unequivocally have no nuclear programme whatsoever, the PMS said that the Prime Minister's position was that Iran must comply with previous UN resolutions.

Asked if the Prime Minister would reflect, at the Lord Mayor's speech tonight, on the fact that General Musharraf implied that Britain was content with his continuing rule, the PMS said that it was the Government's view that it was vital that the constitution was restored and that other restrictions were lifted immediately. Without this the British Government would seriously doubt whether any elections could be held in free and fair conditions. Without the lifting of the restrictions that had been imposed, for example on the media and on individuals' movements, the Government seriously doubted whether any elections could be held in free and fair conditions.

Asked if there was a Commonwealth Ministers meeting today, the PMS said that there was a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (attended by Mark Malloch-Brown). This was a preparatory, not decision-making meeting, ahead of the main meeting, which was taking place at a later stage in Kampala.

Asked if Pakistan would feature in the speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, the PMS said that it would be surprising if there were not some mention of Pakistan in the speech.

Asked if a possible suspension from the Commonwealth would be on the agenda, the PMS repeated that it was a preparatory meeting, not a decision-making one. The meeting was taking place today so it was best to wait until the meeting had happened and then speak to the Foreign Office.

Asked about the Prime Minister's reported comments re regretting having appointed Mark Malloch-Brown as foreign minister, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had full confidence in Lord Malloch-Brown.

Rape Conviction Rate

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the conviction rate for rape was of concern, the PMS said that obviously the Government had been taking action in order to deal with victims of sexual violence offences and taken action to increase the conviction rate for rape. We now had specially trained police officers in virtually all forces, specialist rape prosecutors and had established the Sexual Assault Referral Centres in order to help victims of violent sexual offences.

Asked if those actions had had the desired affect, the PMS said that obviously there was always more that could be done. He went on to say that it was this Government that had introduced a number of specific measures in order to help both with the victims of violent sexual offences and also to help ensure that the action could be taken to get the conviction rate up.

Asked if more should be done, the PMS repeated that you would always want to do more, in this area particularly. We had put a number of measures in place to help ensure that more convictions could be forthcoming through the training of specialist prosecutors and by having specially trained police officers in virtually all forces.

Asked if there was a need to address some of the wider cultural problems, for example sexual education, the PMS said that that was something we had been looking at. This Government introduced Sexual Assault Referral Centres in order to help victims of sexual violent offences. Last year the Home Office ran a campaign to raise awareness among men about the need to get consent prior to having sex.

Asked if Government accepted or disputed the claim that the UK had the lowest conviction rate in the EU for rape, the PMS said that he did not have the comparative figures to hand but repeated that there was always more that the Government would like to do in order to increase the conviction rate and we had already taken action to try to deliver that.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that sentences appeared to be decreasing, the PMS said that this was a matter best addressed to the Ministry of Justice. Obviously, this was something that the Government kept continuously under review; nobody should be left in any doubt regarding the Prime Minister's view that people who commit serious offences like rape should be given serious jail terms.

Slogans

Asked what the Prime Minister thought about the piece in The Times re slogans to sum up Britain in five words, the PMS said that every time one of these stories appeared the Prime Minister showed a certain amount of bafflement as to why people suggested that this was something he advocated. The Prime Minister had never put forward any suggestion, in public or private, that we should have a British motto, so it was not clear why these stories were being written in the way that they were. What the Ministry of Justice was doing, as part of the Governance of Britain agenda, was consulting on a statement of British values, but this was something which was much more serious and wide-ranging than would be implied by a motto. It would be part of the on-going, longer-term consultation ahead of any possible British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

Asked if the mottos were useful or perhaps a little trite, the PMS repeated that a motto is not something the Prime Minister had ever advocated.

Asked at what stage the Michael Wills meeting was at, the PMS said it was best to speak to the Ministry of Justice to get a specific answer on their process and timetable.

Detention Without Charge

Asked if the Prime Minister disputed the Liberty figures re detention without charge, the PMS said that every country faced its own particular circumstances and had to take decisions based on what it thought was in its own national interest. The British Government was consulting on a proposal to extend the potential limit beyond 28 days but we had emphasised throughout that any extension beyond 28 days would need to be accompanied by much stronger Parliamentary and judicial oversight.

Chiefs' Pay

Asked what the Prime Minister's thoughts were regarding quango chiefs' pay, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had always been very keen to ensure that the taxpayer, license fee payer and any other supporter of the public purse, got the best value for money. Obviously, a lot of these organisations had to compete in competitive markets with the Private Sector. That said, it was important that those organisations that had their own separate funding streams were able to demonstrate best value for money.

Ed Balls

Asked about a story regarding Ed Balls working at the Smith Institute in 2004 without permission from the Treasury, the PMS said the relevant department had already responded and he had nothing to add to that.

Ian Blair

Asked if there was still full confidence in Ian Blair, the PMS said yes - there had been no change.

Embryology Bill

Asked if the Government was prepared to have a free vote on all aspects of the Bill, the PMS said we should wait and see what particular kinds of amendments came forward, but that no decisions had yet been taken one way or the other as far as he was aware.

ENDS

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