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News

Wednesday 19 February 2003

Prime Minister’s Press Conference - 25 July

The Prime Minister held a second press conference at Downing Street today where he answered questions from regional, national and international journalists.

Read the transcript of the press conference in full below.

Prime Minister:

Good Morning everyone. As you know, this is the second Prime Ministerial press conference since we announced our intention to hold them regularly. And as at the first, I am happy to take questions on anything, but first I would like to speak briefly about one of the main changes that I made at the centre after the election, namely setting up the Delivery Unit, and to try and set out for you how I believe it contributes to the government’s efforts to improve public services.

And essentially the Delivery Unit assesses data and monitors progress constantly on a few agreed priority areas in each department, and then advises me and the Departmental Ministers at our regular stock-takes as to whether or not we are on track. If we are, all well and good, if we are not we act to deal with the problem. And it might just help to explain to you that there are some four different levels of intensity of action that follow, and I should explain that all of them are agreed in full cooperation with Ministers heading the departments, indeed they often take the initiative so it is a combination of pressure and support.

First, level one if you like, would be an adjustment of the approach by the relevant department. An example of this was when our discussions with Estelle threw up concerns about whether we are going to achieve our goals on school leadership. Level two would lead to a joint problem solving exercise between the department and the delivery unit, often the Treasury will be involved too. We did this for example in relation to bed blocking and the problems we were experiencing there. Level three would apply where such problem solving exercises are likely to involve substantial commitments of my own time, and that is for example the approach we have agreed with David Blunkett over the handling of the issue of asylum applications. And level four comes into action when a problem is serious enough for the relevant Minister and myself to instigate a high intensity drive, led by me and co-ordinated at the centre, and that is the approach we have taken in relation to street crime, a problem which as you know involves a number of departments.

Now what I thought might be interesting for you this morning is that I would like Michael Barber, who is the Civil Servant who heads the Delivery Unit, to show you a small number of slides, the kind of thing he shows to me and Ministers at our stock-takes, and we will give you copies of them. In some you will see we are on track, in others we are not. In some there have been specific policy responses. So over to you Michael. It won’t take long.

Michael Barber:

Thank you. Good Morning. What I want to do very briefly is show you some examples of the data I have shared with the Prime Minister and his colleagues at the regular stock-takes we have. I want to start with a classic trajectory where we are as a government on track. This is the adult basic skills strategy and what you see there is a target of three-quarters of a million improving their adult basic skills by the end of 2004, and the blue bars along the bottom there are the number we hope will pass the relevant tests each quarter, with the majority doing the tests in October. This dotted line is the cumulative total, or trajectory, in other words it is the planned progress towards the target of 2004. And the red down in the bottom corner indicates the progress so far, and you can see that the DFES is ahead of its trajectory significantly, but of course it still has a long way to go.

Here is a second trajectory that relates to school failure where the target is year on year reduction. The number rose very rapidly to September 1998 while Ofsted completed its first inspection cycle of the school system, and since then we have seen a steady fall of about 40% over 4 years with that fall accelerating in the last 12 months, which makes the DFES forward trajectory look achievable, although of course it does get tougher as you get the numbers down.

The next example is from health on the crucial issue of waiting times, and this is the number of patients waiting more than 15 months for an appointment in the year 2000/2001. The target as you know is that by 2005 no-one should wait more than 6 months for an in-patient waiting goal, and I want to show you the interim targets for 2002, 2003 and 2004. On this one the target was that nobody should wait more than 15 months by March of this year, and the red line is the trajectory that as planned in September, progress did not appear to be being made towards that target, it was raised in a stock-take by the Prime Minister, it looked distinctly off track, following that the performance management of the Health Service in relation to this target was strengthened and following it rapid progress was made down to in March when only a handful were left waiting over 15 months.

The next graph shows the progress on the 12 month target for March 2003. What this graph shows is that unlike this time last year the NHS is already on track to hit the March 2003 target, and you can see the slope of the line of what has happened in the last few months parallels the slope of the trajectory through to March 2003, and this is an early sign that the NHS reforms are beginning to make its progress more sustainable.

The final health graph shows both the 15 months and the 12 month waiting graph that you have just seen in the context of the much larger number waiting up to 9 months. And this graph reveals two things, first of all the scale ahead of the Health Service, even though it is making goodprogress, is very substantial indeed, and secondly that although the target for March 2004, the 9 month wait, is some way off, already the Health Service is indeed making progress towards that medium term target.

The final sequence of graphs I want to share with you relate to robbery. Here is the original Home Office trajectory for dealing with robbery in 5 Metropolitan areas set in the year 2000 for the year 2005, it required a 14% reduction over 5 years. At the time the Delivery Unit was established, the reality was that the data was going in the wrong direction and by March of this year it had gone even further in the wrong direction, and now what had been a 14% reduction over 5 years required a 40% reduction over 3 years, which of course is very challenging indeed. In January of this year the Prime Minister raised this at a stock-take with David Blunkett and the Home Office, in February of this year the Met, which is responsible for a large part of the problem, launched its safer streets initiative, and in April the national street crime initiative began. It is too early to say whether that national initiative will indeed deliver and the Prime Minister intends to report on that in September, but if we focus on the last 2 years and look at the Met in particular, we can see that it had been rising remorselessly over a 2 year period, but that since the safer streets initiative actually they have begun to make some progress in turning that round.

And finally I want to show how on this issue the Delivery Unit process contributes to interdepartmental collaboration. We showed this graph at an education stock-take in March with Estelle Morris. This shows the percentage of robbery committed by different age groups and the green line along the bottom there shows a 30% increase over 7 years in the numbers over 21 committing street crime. For those aged 16 - 21 over the same period, the increase was 150%, but for those aged 11 - 15 the percentage increase was nearly 500% over that period. Clearly truancy and exclusion are major contributing factors to street robbery. In April 2002 following that stock-take I mentioned, the truancy sweeps began across the country. In July, in fact this week, the summer splash programme for 48,000 children in high crime areas has begun and from September of this year a full timetable will be in place for all pupils excluded from school.

Prime Minister:

… follows that up also with temporarily excluded pupils, it will take slightly longer to get them all into full time schooling as well. So anyway you will see there in relation to street crime how we identify particular and very sudden problems by collecting and assessing all the data, how we then brought the full weight of the centre to bear on that problem, and out of that came the street crime initiatives, and as I have said in Parliament, I believe that that will help us to get the problem under control by the end of September so that the dramatic rising trend is replaced by a falling trend and a falling trend on a sustained basis. And I have chaired perhaps half a dozen meetings on this in the last few weeks, more than any other of the priority areas, and I would want to pay tribute to the work of the police, the agencies and the Home Office who are working flat out on it.

Initial projections based on what is happening around the country give us some grounds for optimism that we are turning the problem around, but the next few weeks are going to be critical if we are successfully to reverse that rising trend and there can and will be no let-up in the effort to do so. And although I and other Ministers involved obviously will be away for much of the next month, the proper structure will continue to drive this through.

There is also a specific challenge for the summer now that the schools are breaking up, and as Michael’s graph just showed you a moment or two ago, the explosion in offending is actually with the very young age groups, for the 11 - 15 year olds. In term time the truancy sweeps have helped combat that by keeping youngsters at risk of offending inside school. The next few weeks however will see this what is called the summer splash scheme, and that will get up summer activities for somewhere in the region of 48,000 children in all the high crime areas through specific individually tailored programmes to keep them occupied and reduce the risk of them offending. These are based actually on pilot schemes that have been successful and I am confident that this will have a positive impact on the problem.

Right, well I take your questions on anything, but first I would just like to say also how much I am looking forward to going to Manchester for the opening of the Commonwealth Games later today which I believe will be a great show case for Manchester and for the whole of the country, and indeed the Commonwealth. Next week I am taking a short break in the UK, in part to promote UK tourism, I am looking forward to that, and I will then attend the closing of the Commonwealth Games before going to France for my main holiday. After returning from holiday I will be visiting Africa in part for a bilateral visit and also going to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa. I will return to Sedgefield, my constituency, on the return and I would like to invite those who wish to travel with us to Africa, and indeed other media to come to Sedgefield after that where amongst other things I will hold the September press conference there and I can promise you lots to write and talk about and very warm Sedgefield hospitality.

Question:

Prime Minister, could I turn to another grave matter which is Iraq. You have been asked on several occasions recently by the Liaison Committee and indeed in the Chamber of the Commons to pledge a vote of the House of Commons before any military activity involving British troops takes place. On each occasion up to now you have refused to do that, or have declined to do so, and my question is very simple, why?

Prime Minister:

Because I think it is important that if we do get to that situation that we follow the precedents that there have always been, and I don’t think there is any point in getting into speculation at this point in time about the right way to consult the House of Commons. I actually think, if I can say so to you, I think we are all getting a bit ahead of ourselves on the issue of Iraq. As I have said before, action is not imminent, we are not at the point of decision yet, and there are many issues to be considered before we are at the point of decision. And I would simply say to you that if you look at what we did in relation for example to Afghanistan, we consulted the House of Commons very carefully, but I am not going to pin myself to any specific form of consultation.

Question:

Prime Minister, if I could follow up on the question of Iraq. Some interest that you appeared yesterday to say when, not if, about a possible attack involving British troops. But also you have spoken in general terms about the threat you believe Saddam Hussein poses, there was talk of a dossier of evidence, that has not appeared, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is actually within months of acquiring a nuclear capability, how imminent do you believe this threat is?

Prime Minister:

First of all of course we have knowledge necessarily limited by the fact that Saddam is in breach of all the United Nations resolutions to allow the weapons inspectors in so that we can discover the true extent of weapons of mass destruction capability, it is one of the reasons why it is so important he lets weapons inspectors back in. But as I say, we are not at the point of decision and I think it is important just for the moment at any rate that we don’t get entirely ahead of ourselves. But I repeat again what I said in the House of Commons and have said on many, many occasions, the fact is that weapons of mass destruction are an issue, I think in the speech I gave in the House of Commons, the statement I made on 14 September, straight after 11 September, I said the next issue will be weapons of mass destruction, they are an issue, Iraq’s position in relation to weapons of mass destruction are an issue but we have taken no decisions as to how to deal with it. And it is one of these issues upon which, because it is obviously very, very sensitive and I understand entirely why people want to put all sorts of hypotheses to me and say well what will you do in this circumstance or that circumstance, but it is an issue of tremendous sensitivity and I think it is unwise for me, if I can put it like that, to go down a speculative route too far.

Question:

Prime Minister, there has been a degree of disappointment about your words yesterday in the House of Commons, and indeed the Secretary of State’s statement, by Unionists in particular and to a degree with Republicans. Perhaps could you outline to us what you mean by a closer audit of the ceasefires and what sanctions you would actually take?

Prime Minister:

We are looking carefully, as John Reid said yesterday, at whether precisely in order to give essential credibility to any assessment, that we have some independent mechanism that assists us in this process. Now John said that he would consult upon that and come back quickly, and we will do that. But the basic point that we are making is this, look why has this all come about? It has come about for two reasons. One is because of all the various events that built up genuine concern about the IRA and whether they were sincerely committed to this peace process, and it is important for us to say to people, look there is no acceptable level of violence, if people are preparing for violence, they are targeting, they are procuring weapons, that is incompatible with commitment to exclusively peaceful means and therefore we have to be able as a government to make a judgment necessarily more rigorous as time goes on that if these activities continue it is inconsistent with people being on a cease-fire. And the second thing is that related to that is this appalling level of violence on the ground which is going from so-called Loyalists as well as Republicans too. Now in relation to that there is a security response that we have to make, and we have been making it, which is to toughen up the presence of police and security forces on the street.

Question:

If there was another Columbia or Castleray break-in, what sanctions would the government take?

Prime Minister:

There is no doubt at all that if we believe that the cease-fire has been breached, and we made it very clear the types of things that will lead to that judgement, I am not going to speculate that it is going to happen and I believe and hope that it won’t, but if we do come to that judgement then John Reid, the Secretary of State, will put before the Assembly a motion, there can’t be any doubt about that. So what I am saying to people is look we have to be in a very, very clear situation where everyone understands we will do whatever we can to stop the levels of violence at the moment, that is why we are looking at why we need further legislative changes, heavier security presence on the street, making sure that the police, in accordance with their own operational independence of course, but are arresting as many people responsible for this as possible, but also making it crystal clear, and this necessarily involves the Republicans and Sinn Fein and the IRA because they are the party in government, some of these Loyalist organisations engaged in this violence, they are not in government, Sinn Fein are in government and it is quite clear that you cannot carry on in government unless you are committed to exclusively peaceful means, and that is a judgment that has got to become over time more rigorous. Now I believe incidentally that Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams and the Sinn Fein leadership are committed to this peace process, I genuinely believe that, and I also believe, which is the irony of the present situation in a way, that the IRA have never been further away from a return to violence, but they have to understand that although everyone understands the internal strains and pressures, there isn’t some tolerated level of violence for a party that is sitting in government, that can’t be acceptable.

Question:

You may know that we invited the audience to suggest questions that they would like to see you answer today, and this one came from David Walker of Merseyside, he asks: Prime Minister, if the 21 year old Tony Blair was able to meet Tony Blair the Prime Minister, do you think the young Tony would be happy with the old Tony’s politics?

Prime Minister:

Blimey. Would he? No, probably not actually, no.

Question:

Why not?

Prime Minister:

Because I think the 21 year old was probably a little more radical, but that is what 21 year olds should be really I think.

Question:

… Prime Minister, on such a subject as say Iraq, be understandable, you have given your answer many times, often in the same way, but would those fears of such a different situation in the case of young Tony Blair be understandable?

Prime Minister:

I think that you do necessarily probably as you get older, you moderate your politics a bit, but you also try and make sure there is a tie-up between the ideals and the practice, and I think probably when people are younger they tend to be very much on the idealistic side, as people get older I hope they keep their ideals but they also realise they have got to have practical applications, but I suppose it would be the case with most of us, in fact look around this room I know that it is the case with some of you, that you were a good deal more radical when you were younger. Some of you of course have gone the other way as you have got older.

Question:

Without asking you to prejudge the criteria, do you think the present turmoil on the financial markets strengthens or weakens the case for British membership of the euro?

Prime Minister:

I don’t think it makes the difference there. I think what is important is to recognise the fundamentals are strong, as we were saying yesterday, but I don’t think it affects the euro.

Question:

Surely it must, that if you have turmoil is that the time to be taking a major decision like changing your currency?

Prime Minister:

Well you say that, but the falls in the stock market have been in Europe, in America, in Japan, everywhere, so I don’t actually think it alters the fundamentals of the argument. And just as I say to people you can’t judge this on a day to day movement of the exchange rate, neither can you judge it frankly on day to day movements of the stock market.

Question:

Will you be able to tell us more in September at your press conference?

Prime Minister:

I don’t know, we will have to wait and see won’t we.

Question:

The Foreign Secretary, on Gibraltar, has said that the control of the British base there is a red line, British control must remain absolute. Peter Hain, the Europe Minister, is quoted in the Spanish newspaper El Pais today saying of course it would be converted into a NATO base, a typical NATO base which all NATO members would have access to, including Spain. If you change your mind on that, what guarantee have the people of Gibraltar got to put any trust in any of the words you have said on that?

Prime Minister:

Because I don’t think we have changed our mind at all, it remains under British control, and if it is for NATO purposes or any other purposes it is only with British consent and British sovereignty.

Question:

As you know, there is a very serious situation developing in southern Africa with the famine, what can the government do, what would you urge people to do about that?

Prime Minister:

The famine situation in southern Africa is really serious, indeed we spent a long time discussing it at Cabinet this morning, and the collective view is that this could very quickly turn to catastrophe and we are making aid available obviously as a government, we are also putting together all the various development organisations who are pooling their efforts in order to get as much aid into the area as possible, we will do all we can to work with the governments thereinsofar as we can cooperate with the government there, and we will also try and urge the same type of action both in Europe and elsewhere with other major countries in the world. But this is a very, very serious situation and it is truly a tragedy at a time when actually there are some signs of hope in Africa, over Angola, over the Sudan, over the agreement that has just been brokered in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is a genuine tragedy that this natural disaster has been visited upon people in southern Africa but the consequences are potentially very serious indeed, so we have ordered action at every level we can.

Question:

Presumably the human catastrophe has political consequences?

Prime Minister:

It has got political consequences, yes, but it is the humanitarian consequences that we will focus on.

Question:

You spoke yesterday about Northern Ireland and you gave pledges and you have repeated them this morning. Since you have made those pledges before, how can you convince people that you will carry them through?

Prime Minister:

Because the pledges I have made before is always that if we think that the process isn’t working properly and people are not adhering to a genuinely peaceful and democratic process, then we will stop the process and take stock and act on it. And actually if you look back over the past four years anyone would think that we had done absolutely nothing when concerns have been raised. There have been times when the whole thing has gone into suspension as a result of the problems that there have been. So we have acted always in circumstances where there is a doubt raised about people’s commitment to this process. But I do want to emphasise something to you as strongly as I possibly can, yes there are difficulties again with this process in Northern Ireland, but let us not be in any doubt whatever, the peace process in Northern Ireland has still delivered enormous benefits for people in Northern Ireland. If you look at the jobs and the prosperity there in Northern Ireland, if you look at the flow of inward investment into Northern Ireland, if you look at the security situation, true it is that if you are in north Belfast you will say well what has this peace process done for me, I agree, but for the majority of people in Northern Ireland it has been of enormous benefit and you only have to look at the fact that 10 - 20 years ago there were hundreds of people dying, and then realise this year so far there has been 6, 6 too many but a very great deal different from what Northern Ireland had before. And therefore when people accuse us sometimes of taking decisions that fudge difficult issues or engage in messy compromises, I am afraid that is the nature of these processes, you do have messy compromises sometimes, you do have grey areas that are very difficult and you have to assess constantly whether you are going too far one way or another. But believe me, managing this process, however difficult it is, is better than letting it descend into chaos.

Question:

Was yesterday’s statement a messy compromise, is that what you are saying?

Prime Minister:

No I am not saying that actually because I think that yesterday we made it very, very clear that we could not, in the light of what had happened, allow such things to continue. But you know the messy compromises if you like are there the whole time in trying to manage, what do we talk about from the process in Northern Ireland, we talk about a process of transition, now what that means is that I can’t, and it would be completely dishonest to say to people violence in Northern Ireland has stopped, none of these paramilitary organisations still have some ambivalence, they do I am afraid towards violence. The question is, is it in a state of transition? I couldn’t promise you, never did, that after 10 April 1998 that everything would get better straight away, but I do say that we have made progress and I think that progress is worth keeping, but we are at this point now where we have to return to first principles and say look hang on, what we can’t have is a situation where people think they can have a twin track approach, violence on the one hand and politics on the other. And I know it is frustrating incidentally for some parts of the Republicans because they will say, perfectly rightly, look a lot of this violence is coming from Loyalists, and that is true, but the Loyalist organisation, the UDA, of course is not on cease-fire and we made that clear some time ago, and they are not in government, and therefore there are differences necessarily when you come to look at the position of a party that is linked to a parent paramilitary organisation and that party is actually in the government.

Question:

Can I ask you about delivery on public services which very much depends on you being able to spend the money you want to spend on public services. How concerned are you that the turmoil in the stock markets, up today but tumbling down over the past few weeks, will affect wider economic confidence, undermine the Treasury’s rather rosy forecast, that you can’t quite afford to spend all that money that you want to spend.

Prime Minister:

We believe that the spending proposals are entirely affordable and actually the Treasury, as Gordon was pointing out the other day, have done all this on the basis of the most cautious assumptions, so there is a lot of leeway built into the forecast that we have made and I think you will find that they are very much affordable.

Question:

What will you say to the people of Portsmouth, perhaps going for an operation today in their hospitals, when they find for the second year that their hospital is bottom of the pile still?

Prime Minister:

You know this is a very difficult issue because when you go for a system of inspection, for those that do well, they are fine, those that do badly it is obviously a problem and difficulty for them. But I think it is better that we know the truth. The thing I would say to people is let’s start from the truth. If the truth is, and this is independently done, if the truth is that this hospital needs significant improvement, we are better to know it and then act upon it, and you will know that many of those who were zero rated, over the last year many of those have actually come out of zero rating, better to acknowledge the problem and deal with it than try and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. And I think for most people, I know you can get some sort of lurid headlines out of this hospital or that hospital locally, but I think for most local people they would prefer to know the truth than for us to say look we are putting in all this money but we are not even going to tell you which hospitals are doing well and which aren’t.

Question:

But you would be happy going into a Portsmouth hospital today to have an operation?

Prime Minister:

Yes, because all these hospitals have to meet certain basic standards to keep going at all, and do so, but there are certain elements that could be greatly improved. And a lot of this is to do also, not with simply the quality of care that people get when they get into a hospital, which often can be very fine and I am sure it is in Portsmouth, but is also to do with things like access, waiting times and so on, and for those things I think it is important that we have reasonably dramatic improvement frankly.

Question:

Can I return you to the topic of Iraq. I am sure you are very conscious that you need to build public support, and especially support in your own party, for action against Iraq. It is some months now since we were promised a publication of a dossier which would lay out the evidence against Saddam Hussein, we are still waiting for it, is that because the Americans don’t really have any evidence, or they won’t let you publish it? Why haven’t we seen it if he is such a menace?

Prime Minister:

Because we are not ready to do it yet and when we think it is the appropriate time to do it we will do it, and that is not because either the evidence doesn’t exist, indeed some of it you can get already off the UN website frankly, but it is also because there is an issue of timing and I don’t feel it is the right moment to do it.

Question:

What is the right moment, the day before we go to war?

Prime Minister:

No, the right moment I am afraid I have got to tell you, the right moment is when I judge it to be the right moment.

Question:

The United States is having little success in getting a peace process up and running in the Middle East, and the United States is also perceived in most parts of the world, certainly in critical parts of the world, as not even approaching that problem in an even-handed manner. Does that not greatly inhibit your ability to build a coalition for action, whatever it is, whenever it is, and might it even call into question your ability to throw Britain’s support behind that action?

Prime Minister:

Well this is an important issue, the Middle East peace process, and of course everything affects everything else in that region. But I think that the basis of the American proposal does give us the chance to move the Middle East peace process forward. I think sometimes, because a lot of it focuses, for totally understandable reasons, on the position of Yasser Arafat personally in the speech that President Bush made, I think there is a tendency for people to ignore the really rather bold steps forward compared for example with anything that any of us would have said a couple of years ago on the issue of a viable Palestinian state being an essential part of the end game of this process, based on the United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338, an end to the settlements, making sure that we had not just as I say a Palestinian state in form but also in substance, in other words a state that was viable. I think there is a lot that we can build on there, they are issues that are different, but all I would say to you is that in my view the key thing in respect of the Middle East peace process is that we have the right vision but this will not be negotiated unless there is the most Intensive engagement, in particular from the US, and I am sure that there will be, but the two sides, I can’t see myself are going to reach an agreement themselves.

Question:

You have already said that you will act against Sinn Fein if you perceive there is a breach of the IRA cease-fire. What do you say to Unionists who say it is virtually useless to put a motion before the Northern Ireland Assembly given that there is a complicated cross-community voting procedure which makes it virtually impossible to exclude any party from the Executive?

Prime Minister:

Well let’s wait and see whether we get there and, if so, the circumstances of that. But I wouldn’t under-estimate obviously the very severe consequences of deciding the cease-fire no longer held. But I repeat to you, which I said a moment or two ago, I believe we won’t get to that situation, I hope we don’t get to it, but there has to be no doubt or equivocation about it. We cannot go on with targeting the procurement of weapons and all the rest of it and say this is a stable process, that has to stop, for a party that is in government connected to a paramilitary organisation.

Question:

Why did you and the Labour Party National Executive take a decision not to re-admit Ken Livingstone? And what do you say to those London Labour MPs who say the decision will re-open old wounds and divisions?

Prime Minister:

Well it was going to be a difficult decision either way, wasn’t it, because there were very strong feelings on both sides. I think what motivated me in the end, look I have worked with Ken Livingstone perfectly well since he has been the Mayor, we obviously have some pretty high profile disagreements, but in terms of the general chemistry it is fine. But to re-admit someone into the Labour Party you have to be clear that they will abide by the rules of the Labour Party, I don’t think people were clear about that, particularly in the light of the fact that Ken Livingstone recently said that he would stand as a candidate, no matter what happened. And I think having gone through that process last time, most people felt well you know whatever you feel about Ken Livingstone, as I said I had a pretty open mind on it, but it was very difficult to support him coming back into the Labour Party in circumstances where he was going to say but if I am not selected I stand anyway, because that is hard to justify isn’t it?

Question:

Would you rather have him or Steve Norris?

Prime Minister:

Yes Charles.

Question:

I also have a Ken Livingstone question, but before that can I just take you back to the point of Gibraltar and point out that what Mr Hain said is being hailed as a breakthrough in Madrid, and when Spanish forces have never been offered access to the base before and are now being offered precisely that, how is it possible to describe that as not being a change? And moving on to the Ken point if you like, you would have to find a free high profile candidate who is going to be able to beat him. I think perhaps, with respect to people who have already come forward, perhaps someone of rather more fame, where are you going to find that individual?

Prime Minister:

Well let’s see about that, shall we, there is a bit of time to go before candidates are selected and I don’t think I should try and select the candidate this morning, or even try and pluck a name out of the air, I think that is rather a bad precedence actually. In respect of Gibraltar, the point that I am making is that it is our sovereign right, now whether we do anything with NATO or anybody else, that depends on us, not on Spain.

Question:

Inaudible.

Prime Minister:

No, it depends on us because we are the people who have the sovereign right over the base.

Question:

In the run-up to what you have described as the point of decision on Iraq, should the British government be actively encouraging the Bush administration to seek a new UN Security Council Resolution as a pre-requisite to any military action?

Prime Minister:

What is important is that whatever action we take, should we take action, it is done in accordance with international law, I don’t think we can judge the issue of UN resolutions at this present moment in time. And I also think that the most important thing is to go back to the point that actually in the UN resolutions that we have, 27 of them apply to Iraq and in 23 of them they are manifestly in breach, including all the main ones on weapons of mass destruction. So I don’t know, I haven’t fully caught up on the exact state of the negotiations between the UN Secretary General and the Iraqis, but the omens don’t look very good frankly for Iraq.

Question:

Inaudible.

Prime Minister:

Exactly, but the issue is, is there any point in reviving those negotiations? I don’t know, because it seems somewhat unlikely that the Iraqis intend to comply with it.

Question:

Domestic issues. You seem to be slightly scared of having a fight with the trade unions right now, who ever since Gordon released lots of money into the public services have been clamouring for pay rises and we are seeing strike after strike, almost to the extent that we are being dragged back to the dark days of the ’70s, is that how you feel or are you really just happy with the unions making lots of noise?

Prime Minister:

I don’t think that we should exaggerate quite. Actually if you look at the numbers of days lost through strikes in our five years and compare it with the last five years of the Conservatives, I think we are about half of it, and there are various different issues going on, there is the tube strike, there is the issue to do with the fire brigades and then there are the local council workers, but they are very different disputes with very different contexts. But my position is totally simple and always has been, it is the position I came to office in the Labour Party, which is that we govern for the whole country, the trade unions have a right to be listened to but they don’t govern the country, we govern the country because we are elected by the people, and it is for trade unions to decide how they want to behave. But on the whole the meeting I had last Thursday was actually a perfectly good and co-operative meeting, and I have had some pretty tough meetings with the trade unions in the past, but I think they recognise that there is no mileage in this for them in trying to go back to the bad old days, it is not going to happen, it will never happen whilst I am Prime Minister and I don’t think there is any support for it in the country, I don’t think there is really any support for it in the trade union movement, and you may get the odd trade union leader on a sort of political kick, but I don’t think most of them are in that way.

Question:

… last answer on the unions, why is it that you seem to be practically the only member of your Cabinet who is still very reluctant on state funding, given that the consequences of not introducing it will surely be to make the Labour Party more, rather than less, dependent on the unions?

Prime Minister:

It is not that I am reluctant to have a discussion about it, but I think I said to you before that the problem with this issue is that I don’t think you can introduce state funding unless there is a real and genuine cross-party consensus, I think it would be very hard to do it otherwise. But I think this issue of party funding and fund raising, I don’t think it has played itself out yet, I think people are still looking at what further changes may be necessary to make the system work better and to ensure that people have what I believe they should have, is a confidence in the basic political system. But the reason why I have always been hesitant about going out and committing myself to state funding is that I don’t think it is something that could be done unless you had a genuine cross-party consensus and I don’t think you have that or anything like it.

Question:

I notice that Sir Mick Jagger has been wondering out loud whether he is a member of the British establishment now. How would you define the British establishment? Do you think it still helps in this country to be born into a titled family, to be an Earl or a Viscount, or is hierarchy and status in Britain today determined by achievement alone?

Prime Minister:

I am going to have to stop calling you at these press conferences. I feel like sort of putting that to the vote really. I think it is changing as a matter of fact, whether it is changing fast enough I don’t know, but certainly I believe in a society based on merit and not on hierarchy. I think it is interesting though. I think this was seen around the Jubilee and the Jubilee celebrations, I think that was far wider in the people that it involved, far more open than perhaps people would have thought of some years ago and so I think things are changing. Whether they are changing fast enough I will leave to everybody else.

Question:

Can I have your reaction to the recent arrests in Greece of the terrorist who murdered the British diplomat, Steven Saunders? And since you mention the Commonwealth Games, do you plan to attend the Olympics in Athens in 2004?

Prime Minister:

On the Olympic Games, I will pass on that one I am afraid.

Question:

Inaudible.

Prime Minister:

Oh that is what it was, you have been put up to this by your British colleagues. Honestly I don’t know. In relation to the terrorism, well first of all I would congratulate the Greek authorities very strongly on the action they took. There was a great deal of concern here, people were worried in case sufficiently strong action would not be taken by Greece, and I think that the energy and determination the Greek authorities have put into this is very welcome indeed I would say.

Question:

My question is regarding Iraq. If Saddam allowed just as a tactical move the inspectors back into Iraq, what would be the effects of such a move on the US policy and British policy towards toppling his regime?

Prime Minister:

Well I think I have always said that of course our demand is that he lets the weapons inspectors back in unconditionally, any time, anywhere, any place. If he were to do that well of course, as I have said before, that makes a difference, but I see no sign that he is prepared to do that. And when you say a tactical move, the whole point about this is that it cannot be tactical, it has got to be genuine. Let us just go back a moment, the reason why the United Nations passed those resolutions in relation to weapons inspectors and Iraq was precisely because we uncovered a major problem in relation to weapons of mass destruction during the course of the Gulf War. The weapons inspectors then found a massive amount of evidence. That is why I say we can publish more evidence later, and if it is appropriate we will, as I have said, but actually there is already an enormous amount of accumulated evidence about what Iraq was up to and that is why it is important, and so of course that has been our essential demand that they should be let in unconditionally.

Question:

Previously you have taken Prime Minister Jospin and some French journalists to Sedgefield, you now say you are going to take this lot up to Sedgefield, how confident are you that the good folk of Sedgefield will welcome journalists crawling all over an unspoilt part of the country?

Prime Minister:

This doesn’t show a great sign of collective solidarity on your part Jerry. I think they will be delighted. They were very pleased to welcome M. Jospin there and I think people will be very happy, and as you know there is a lot to be proud of in what is going on up there and big changes as well that may actually dismantle some of the misguided perceptions about the north east and how it is doing.

Question:

May I ask you a question about your wife? Your wife gave a speech about the situation of prisons here in the UK. Do you agree with the contents, do you agree with the points she made?

Prime Minister:

That is putting me in a difficult pincer movement there. But if you take the situation of prisons, what she was saying, which is absolutely right of course, is that we have to make sure that at the same time as we are punishing people in prison we are also rehabilitating them. And there are pressures on prisons because the prison numbers are rising at the moment, and that is for a perfectly good reason because we are making sure that for example on the street crime initiative, people who might have got bailed before have not been getting bailed, they have been remanded in custody, Magistrates are taking a tough line on people engaged in street robbery and other violent offences, but it is for that reason that we are expanding the numbers of prison places and that was a point that my wife was making, which I agree with of course.

Question:

Can I take you back to Gibraltar again? Was Peter Hain then simply wrong to say in the Spanish newspaper this morning that of course the base will be converted into a NATO base?

Prime Minister:

No, it is not that, the point that I am simply making is that it is for us to decide, as Britain, what happens to this base and there can’t be any abrogation of that principle at all.

Question:

So have you made the decision then that it will be converted into a NATO base?

Prime Minister:

No, what he is simply saying is look if we decide to have that as a NATO base, if there are NATO people involved there, then there is no reason why that shouldn’t involve any NATO country. But the point is the issue that arose during the course of these discussions was, would we be sharing the sovereignty of this base with Spain, and the answer to that is no.

Question:

Will you be disappointed if hunting isn’t banned by the next election?

Prime Minister:

That depends on the vote by the Members of Parliament, obviously the House of Commons and also the House of Lords, and what is important is the will of the Houses of Parliament should be done, but let’s wait and see what we get back out of the consultation that Alun Michael is conducting at the moment, which I think is going well.

Question:

Just to go back to the question of the euro, the government said that the assessment that is going to be made will be comprehensive and rigorous, will it also be definitive, that is to say there won’t be any more once that one assessment has been made?

Prime Minister:

There won’t be any more?

Question:

Assessments, like a rolling assessment.

Prime Minister:

They have obviously got to decide in respect of each of the tests whether they are met, that is the important thing, and so in that sense of course they will be definitive, but I think we should wait until we get the assessments really.

Question:

A philosophical question about why a centre left politician such as yourself seems to be so much in line on its foreign policy with respect to Iraq with a staunch Conservative like George Bush, you seem slightly out of sync with your European colleagues but so much in line with President Bush.

Prime Minister:

Yes, but I was in line with an American Democratic President when we took action in respect of Iraq in 1998, and we were all in line also over Kosovo, and you know I do what is right and the fact that there is a Republican President shouldn’t make a difference to that, you should do the right thing in each of these circumstances, and that is what we do. You know sometimes people do find it odd for example that we work with centre-right governments in Europe at the moment, though frankly at the present time if we weren’t we would be working with a rather small number of people. But my job is to work with whoever is the elected representative of other countries in the British national interest and all I can say, which I have said many, many times to people, is that I find working with President Bush extremely easy and we do see eye to eye on the big geo-political issues of the day, but I also did so with Bill Clinton when he was the Democratic President.

Question:

Does that make you a Conservative on foreign policy and more liberal minded on domestic policy?

Prime Minister:

No, I think it means that I do what I think is the right thing, whether on foreign or domestic policy, and if that means co-operating with someone of a different political colour I do so.

Question:

Aside from the long term measures you have taken to build stability into the economy, is there anything that politicians, be it yourself or George W Bush, can do in the short to medium term to reassure the markets, and if there is what is it and what would be your message to investors?

Prime Minister:

I think that the main thing that we can do is to run a decent set of measures on economic management, the best that we can do is to carry on with the stable economic management that we have. The stock market will be subject to all sorts of things, some of which are not in our control, but underpinning the position is the fundamentals of the economy, the fundamentals of the economy are strong, we have low inflation, we have low interest rates, we have low levels of unemployment, we have an essentially strong economy, that is in part at any rate due to the way that we have managed the economy, the way Gordon has managed the economy over the past few years, and it is important for us that we maintain that. And I think whatever we may say on the day to day basis, that is the best thing that we can do for the stability of the markets in the longer term.

Question:

David Trimble says he cannot sell the cease-fire package in its present form to his party. John Reid is opposed to an independent element in actually monitoring the cease-fire, perhaps you are, perhaps not, perhaps you would like to clear that up. In September, as night follows day, David Trimble will face either a toppling from the leadership or a vote to lead the Executive, what can you do to prevent that and save the collapse of the whole political system?

Prime Minister:

There are two things that we have to do, we have to find the right mechanism to make sure that any judgment on the cease-fire is seen to be credible, and that is the reason why we said that we see merit in having some independent element in that, and John Reid will return with the specific proposals on that once he has consulted on it. And the second thing frankly is to go back and say to the Unionist community very, very strongly what has been gained from this agreement.

Sometimes when we have a lot of receptions here for the voluntary and public service sector we will often have people from Northern Ireland that will be from different parts of Northern Ireland, different political complexions, but often they will say to me, if they are a Unionist, a strong Unionist, they will say well tell me, all the concessions are one-way, it is always the Republicans that get all the concessions, what have we got as Unionists out of this? And I say to them, well first of all the Union, that is quite important if you are a Unionist; and secondly, you have got Sinn Fein in a partitionist Assembly, something that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago; and thirdly, you are all sitting down in a power sharing Executive together with devolved power in Northern Ireland; and fourthly, you have got the Republic of Ireland giving up their territorial claim to the north.

Now whatever the difficulties of this agreement, the idea that Unionism has got nothing from this agreement is in my view, when you look at the big picture, absurd. What is true to say is that I hope and believe that Republicans and Nationalists have also got something from this agreement, they have got greater equality, they have got power sharing, they have got a recognition that any proper future for Northern Ireland has to be based on justice, they have also got a recognition that there is this cross-border element in our relations with the Republic of Ireland, but we have got to get beyond this situation in Northern Ireland where it is a zero sum game, where if the Republicans smile one day the Unionists look sad, and vice versa. That is no future for Northern Ireland.

Question:

… they pocket those concessions, to use your own phrase, can Trimble be saying …

Prime Minister:

I think that, as I say, that depends on those two things, and you are right in saying that people often do pocket them, but sometimes it is a good idea to take it back out of the pocket and have a look at it and say well actually we got something out of this, because they have, and we all have as well. We all remember, all of us in this room remember, waking up every morning in the 1970s, 1980s, a large part of the 1990s, to fresh bomb attacks, fresh atrocities, no possibility of any discussion.

And if you had said at that time, if you had gone back when I first came into Parliament in 1983 and said you will have a situation where the Sinn Fein people are sitting down with the Ulster Unionists in a government together, and Martin McGuinness is the Education Minister and so and so is doing these other portfolios, people would have thought you were crazy, that you couldn’t do it, and we have done it, and so we shouldn’t give it up lightly.

Question:

If you come back from holiday and you find that the tests have been passed and you decide that you will go for a referendum, what makes you so sure that you can turn around a country when the polls as negative as this have never been turned around before in any election before. What makes you think it can be done?

Prime Minister:

Don’t let me get into speculation as to when the tests are going to be done, they have got to be done before June next year and that is the only timetable that there is. But in relation to this, I have always made it clear that this is a big decision, it is a decision where if you believe it is right for the country it is your job as Prime Minister to say that and to put that to people, and that is why I have said that if the tests are met we will put it to people in a referendum and then it is a matter of making the argument.

Question:

In your initial presentation with Michael Barber, it was extraordinarily centralist, I couldn’t imagine any of your predecessors or any other G8 leader taking responsibility for such detailed intervention in provision of public services, no other Prime Minister and no other G8. And the follow up to that is how far do you think it is actually possible to extend choice in public services?

Prime Minister:

I think it is actually a very good question. I would say that you need a combination of two things. We need to be devolving more people to the people that are working fine, we are devoting more of the school budget to schools than the Conservatives did. When we make the changes coming through in the new Education Bill there will be more freedom to hire teachers in the way that people want, or other staff to run their school in the way that they want, to develop in a different way, schools that are successful will be able to take on more pupils, doing it in a far simpler and easier way than ever before, there will be new types of schools developed, totally autonomous, these city academies and so on.

So on the one hand you will have a huge amount of decentralisation, the Primary Care Trusts will be handling 75% of the NHS budget by 2004. But where there is failure, and the system involves systemic failure, then I think that is the job of the centre. And let us be quite clear that the alternative, I was saying this to Alan Beith in the House of Commons yesterday, the alternative if you are not prepared to take charge of some of these things, is you just say well there is failure, there it is, and I am just letting it happen.

Now it is not merely that is politically difficult, it is also not very sensible. What happened when we looked at the street crime problem, and when we actually went through it at the centre, what we were finding with street crime was that there was systemic failure in the system. The police weren’t able to get out on the street and to make the arrests of people and identify them properly because there were all sorts of difficulties with identity parades, they weren’t sure that they had the power where people were bailed to return to court and didn’t return to court that they could go and actually get them.

When people were appearing before court Magistrates were bailing people, not because they thought they should be bailed but because they weren’t sure there were places to put them. The Crown Prosecution Service often wasn’t preparing the cases in the way they had to be prepared in order to get the right case before the Magistrates, and at the end of all that the court hearing was taking ages, witnesses would often be in the same court building and victims as the criminals or the defendants, and it was a hopeless situation. Now we have made changes at every single level, and it could only be driven by the centre.

So it is not that you have to choose between everything done locally and everything done at the centre, it is that you need to put in place structural changes that give maximum local autonomy, but you have to reserve the right where there is failure within the system to make an intervention.

And that is why the way that we will get the public services right is on the basis of the four principles that we have laid out: the national standards and accountability, which is why we have these hospital star ratings, and why we have Ofsted, and why we have the Inspectorate for the Constabulary now, that is the first thing, national standards; the second thing is within that, local autonomy and more autonomy, earned on the basis of high performance, which is why local authorities and others for example who perform well are going to be given extensive new freedoms; the third thing is that we have far greater flexibility in the way that staff work within these public services, which is why there is the new Doctors’ Contract, the new contract for consultants, the nurses are being allowed to do far more, pharmacists and others being brought into the Health Service properly, in relation to the police why we want the flexibility on civilian support staff, in teaching why for example it may be information technology people as well as teachers that you are hiring in the classroom, why you use classroom assistants more imaginatively than before, right so you have that flexibility in the way that people are employed; and the fourth thing is that you have got to have the ability, if the service is bad, to push it out elsewhere.

Question:

Inaudible.

Prime Minister:

Yes, but that is exactly the point that I am coming to, you have to have the ability to push the service out elsewhere, which is why what we have started now for heart patients, and we will be starting in London, is if people don’t get their operation within a particular period of time they will be able to choose to go elsewhere. What we are saying now in respect of the schools is if you do have a successful school they should be able to expand and take on more pupils. What we are saying in relation to the Primary Care Trusts is if hospitals aren’t providing a proper service then you can go and take your custom elsewhere. And so these public service reforms are big structural reforms that should lead over time to a situation where those public services are back on their feet again, with the right structural mechanisms in place, and with a great deal of local autonomy. But you have still got to have the ability as a government if the system is failing as a system to intervene and check it from the centre, because if you don’t do that frankly well you end up with the problems that we saw and those aren’t acceptable.

Question:

This is something that actually does need intervention from the centre. Hundreds of railways bridges are potentially unsafe and neither the Highways Authority, Rail Track or the local councils, all of whom recognise the problem, will take responsibility. Are you prepared to knock heads together to get something done to prevent another Great Heck crash?

Prime Minister:

Well since it’s the Northern Echo, I had better choose my words carefully. Certainly, as you probably know, we are actually looking at how we make sure that across the government there is the right focus on this. I think the best thing is for me, I recall from memory something that came across my desk a short time ago on this, what we will do, if we might, is get something specific for you and make sure you get it by the end of the day on what we are actually doing in respect of it.

Question:

About Sangatte, can you make an assessment of the progress made by the UK government that will allow the French to close Sangatte in the beginning of 2003?

Prime Minister:

Yes, I think there is a lot of progress being made. As you know, there have been a series of new measures to do with making sure that people have proper identification, David Blunkett announced a series of measures in relation to making sure that people aren’t claiming asylum and working in the circumstances he set out, we have also got the new reception centres that are coming on stream, we have got a massively tightened set of procedures, and we are speeding up the ability to decide these cases and determine them quickly.

And if I can say to you, that we very much welcome the renewed cooperation with the French government over this issue, which I think has been very important and very welcome.

Question:

How immune do you think this country is on corporate problems that America is witnessing? You are passing a series of corporate laws at the moment, do you think they are harsh enough? And secondly, do you think that something could be done at the European level in order to harmonise that and try to avoid what happened in America? And then just on a separate matter, did I get it right that you are not going on holiday to Italy this year? I am Milanese, so I am not fighting the corner for the Tuscans.

Prime Minister:

I am afraid I do have to say that, yes, and my apologies to you. In respect of the first point, there are discussions, as you know, already about European company law and how we get certain clear rules. There was a document published yesterday by Patricia Hewett which put certain proposals forward for tightening our accounting standards. All I would say is I think it is important that we take proper measures but done in a deliberate and considered way, in other words we shouldn’t end up piling on regulation because the problem is very much in the news at the moment, we should do it in a considered way and make sure we get the right answers, not just the quickest answers.

Question:

This morning West Midlands police used a battering ram to break into a mosque in order to liberate, if that is the right word, some asylum seekers. Do you approve of such action and what sort of a message does that send out to ethnic minority communities in Britain? And on a completely different note, could I ask you where in the UK you are going on holiday next week?

Prime Minister:

I think I will pass on the second part of that, although no doubt people will know at the appropriate time. On the first part, I don’t think I should comment on what is an operational matter for the police. I don’t know the individual circumstances of it, John, and I think it would be unwise to comment on it whilst I don’t. All I know is the police do a good job in very difficult circumstances often and I am sure there are reasons for what they did but I just can’t comment on it at the moment.

Question:

Over the next 6 months you are going to come under a lot of pressure from trades unions in order to change labour market laws here. In Lisbon back in 2000 you were a big fan of labour market flexibility and encouraging the rest of Europe to change its laws to make them more liberal. Can you say whether you are going to draw a line on changes to labour market regulations in the UK?

Prime Minister:

The one thing that is for sure is that we will keep a flexible labour market here because we think it is in the interest of the country. So there is a review, which we promised when we did the last Employment Bill in the last Parliament, there is a review of how that legislation is working, but nobody should be under any doubt whatsoever, we are not going back to the days of secondary picketing, secondary action and all that sort of stuff, that has long gone as a serious issue for government.

Question:

I think from what you have said today and in the past, you have now made it absolutely clear there will be no vote or debate before any possible action against Iraq. That is going to infuriate some of your own back benchers, and potentially even some front benchers, are they just the usual nutters you can live with?

Prime Minister:

No, and I don’t think you should read anything into what I have said other than if it stops being a hypothesis and becomes a reality, we will consider what to do then in the right way. But all I would point out to people is that we have consulted people, I don’t think anybody could say we didn’t consult Parliament over Afghanistan, we consulted Parliament copiously.

Question:

After the event.

Prime Minister:

Actually that is not true either I don’t think, I think the first statements made on Afghanistan were made directly after 11 September and well before any military action.

Question:

How seriously as a Christian will you take the views of the new Archbishop of Canterbury when they perhaps clash with your own, not least on something like Iraq?

Prime Minister:

Well first of all, if I comment on the appointment, before I comment on the new Archbishop I would like to say a word of thanks to George Carey who I think has done a magnificent job, in very difficult circumstances often, and has led the church through a period of change and I have found him not merely very wise counsel on many occasions but immensely helpful and I would pay tribute to his leadership of the church over the past years. And in relation to the new Archbishop, well I think he is someone who comes to the post with a reputation, I think richly deserved, as an outstanding theologian, as someone who impresses everybody that he meets, and he is perfectly entitled to express his views and why not.

Question:

One public service that wasn’t in your presentation was transport, and yet the daily experience for many rail users is of delayed trains, cancelled trains, overcrowded trains. The Strategic Rail Authority last week went back to the old solution and said you should price people off the railways, to cut overcrowding you should increase prices. Do you agree with that or does that run counter to your policy about encouraging people to use public transport?

Prime Minister:

I haven’t seen those comments from the Strategic Rail Authority and I suspect that they were somewhat more nuanced than that, since I know they are also actually encouraging a lot more rolling stock into the industry. I forget the exact figures, I think there is somewhere in the region of 1,700 additional service a day that are running compared with a few years ago.

But one of the problems that we often don’t appreciate enough in respect of transport is there has been a 20% increase in rail usage in the past 5 years, a 20% increase in tube usage, and a 15% increase in road usage, so you have got massively more pressure on the system. And the problem with the railways has been very simple, after Hatfield we had to do a big rail recovery programme and there were a lot of issues there that have taken a long time to sort out, and we had a lot of temporary speed restrictions and so on, after Potters Bar those went up again.

So I think the most important thing is for the Strategic Rail Authority to put the industry together since the fragmentation of it has been one of the problems, put the industry together, which I know that they are doing, and come out with a proper rail performance plan that gives people a clear sense of where the improvements are going to come.

Now it is true to say actually that in the past few months the figures are better than they were a year ago this time, that is true, but there is still a long, long way to go before we get to pre-Hatfield levels, never mind beyond that. But the only answer to it is the answer that I have given, which is sustained investment plus the changes in management necessary.

Question:

Britain has doubled its arms sales in the last two years to Israel, from 12 million to 22 million, not quite double admittedly, and last year alone 299 separate arms deals were agreed to by the government. How do you justify that?

Prime Minister:

Well I justify it very simply James, I am afraid I just don’t agree with the Daily Mirror on this issue. If we want to stop the defence industry operating in this country we can do so, and the result incidentally will be that someone else supplies the arms that we supply, we have actually tightened the criteria on export control and the sale of arms, tightened them considerably here and in Europe as well, but there are roughly 100,000 jobs in this country that depend on defence or associated industries and I simply don’t agree with shutting that industry down.

Question:

I am not saying that you shut it down, but there is an intifada going on, there are barbaric acts being carried out with British arms.

Prime Minister:

Yes, but once you start saying that you are not going to supply parts to the United States, these are parts for incorporation into planes that they are building, that they may or may not sell to Israel, once you say that you are withdrawing from that on the basis that these weapons might be sold at some point to Israel or indeed to any other country, I am afraid the practical reality is that no-one is going to be doing business with you on that basis.

And as I say, what would actually happen if we did that is not that the parts wouldn’t be supplied, is that you would find every other defence industry in the world rushing in to take the place that we have vacated. And it is a policy that people can advocate, that is fine, but they should advocate it recognising what the consequences of it are.

Question:

Back on the euro, do you agree with the advice of the Electoral Commission that the euro is an issue of such importance that it shouldn’t be decided on the same day as any national elections?

Prime Minister:

I am not aware we have actually seen any formal advice from the Electoral Commission, but no doubt we will consider that when we do.

Question:

Inaudible.

Prime Minister:

When we get to that issue, let’s wait and see. But nothing should be read into that about the timing of the euro referendum.

Question:

There have been reports in the papers this week of four 10 year old girls who fell pregnant in the year 2000 and that Britain has the highest teen pregnancy rate in all of Europe. A lot of groups have criticised your government’s policy on sex education and I wanted to know, are you concerned about the decreasing age of girls who are becoming pregnant in this country and is the government contemplating reviewing or changing the policy of teen sex education in schools?

Prime Minister:

First of all, and I think Michael will probably correct me if I am wrong, but I actually think that over the past couple of years or so that the numbers of teenage pregnancies have fallen, and that is in part because we have stepped up sex education and yes of course I am concerned about it, I think it would be very odd if I wasn’t concerned about it. But the answer is to provide proper sex education, the answer is obviously also that parents act responsibly in respect of what they are telling their children, and you are right in saying the position has been worse here but it has been getting better precisely because we have made some of the moves people have asked us to make.

Question:

Britain was concerned with possible violence with hooligans during the World Cup finals, but actually it was very quiet. What do you think was the reason and do you think you can contain hooligans forever?

Prime Minister:

I think the reason was in part because there was a very good spirit by the travelling fans, in part I think the Japanese authorities handled this issue very well and there was a lot of collaboration between us I know in order to make sure that this worked. And I think we have had a lot of experience in this country of getting on top of the problem, I think we have still got certain things to do, but it is a problem that we are determined to beat and we have probably got a more sophisticated intelligence system on these hooligans than virtually any other country, sadly for the reasons that we have got more experience than most.

But obviously I think everyone was pleased at the way that the fans behaved in Japan and delighted of course with the way that Japan hosted the World Cup.

Question:

Coming back to the Middle East, you have made very clear yesterday and today new criteria for getting a peace process going in Northern Ireland and specifically the end of terrorism and preparations for terrorism.

Surely the same criteria would apply for Israel in its conditions and its quest for peace and its requirement for the Palestinians to end not only terrorism but preparations for terrorism, and what is the UK and the EU going to be able to do to help the Palestinians to end their terrorism? And on a related matter, there was a US report yesterday clearly linking Iran with the bombing against Israel in Argentina some years ago. Iran is also known to supply arms to Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc, and to the Palestinians directly. Why is Britain going down the road of constructive engagement with Iran? Surely your experience with Syria last year taught you a lesson.

Prime Minister:

Well my experience with Syria and with Iran is that you are best to make it clear to those countries that if they want a partnership in the future they have got to change, in particular they have got to stop support for terrorist organisations, and if they don’t do so that has an immediate impact on our ability to deal with them. In respect of the first point you make, I think you are absolutely right, yes that the precondition of getting a viable peace process in place and concluded is an end to terrorism and the support for terrorism and preparation for terrorism.

The question is how do we get to that point, and in getting to that point I think we need to sit down with the Palestinians and work out the proper means of developing a security infrastructure in the parts controlled by the Palestinian authorities where we can be sure that it is capable of dealing with the terrorist threats that arise from extremists within the Palestinian authorities, and where they are incapable of dealing with such threats, that we can be sure that the Palestinian authorities themselves are not complicit in any terrorism.

And that is why I say that in the end the only way to get this thing back on track again is to make sure that we sit down and work out the detail of the proposals necessary to rebuild the security infrastructure, to make the changes necessary in the political institutions of the Palestinian authority, and to do so within the framework of a negotiation towards a final settlement of a secure confident Israeli state and a viable Palestinian state. And the only point that I am making about any of this in relation to the peace process in Northern Ireland is that our experience is that you can’t do this by wishing it, it has got to be negotiated in detail painstakingly over a period of time.

Question:

With coalition forces scaling back in Afghanistan, I am wondering if the job is in fact there considered to be done, or at what point coalition leaders will say the job has been done. And on that same note, how will Afghans know at this point that the rest of the world is not going to abandon them?

Prime Minister:

Those are two very good points. First of all, the job in Afghanistan is certainly not done, there are still huge tensions there, as you would expect, and it is important that we commit to the medium and long term there. And although there have been some forces scaled back, there are others that remain there, we are working very closely with the Americans and others to build the internal security capability of the new Afghan government, and of course the Turkish forces have taken over the lead of the security force there. And secondly, it is important not just for people in Afghanistan but for our reputation in a sense in the wider world that we stick with the people of Afghanistan, we made a promise to them that we would do so and we have got to do that. And this was a regime change, it was a regime change that was highly popular with the people of Afghanistan and we have got to make sure it works and is seen to work.

And the people of Afghanistan are slowly returning to some sort of normality, but there are still big tensions there that we need to work at and this is not going to be solved in a few months, it has got to be worked at in the long term. And certainly so far as we are concerned, and I know this is the same with the US, we will stay there and make sure that the job is done properly because this is what we promised we would do and we have got to keep that promise.

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