Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Press Conference

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Monday, October 8, 2007 - 14:17 GMT Jump to Comments

Prime Minister:

Good morning. Thank you very much for joining me today.

We held the first meeting of our Cabinet following the Summer recess and I welcomed them all back from their holidays.

In addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, we discussed today the flooding and how we are responding in every community to the needs of these communities, particularly to get their schools back up and running as well as to repair their homes. We discussed Foot and Mouth and the response of the government and we will be reporting later this week on the different reviews that we set up to investigate what has happened and I will be talking to the farming community later today. We discussed the very sad tragedy of Rhys Jones' death. We have sent our condolences to his parents and we discussed what we will do as a government to intensify in those areas where there is a prevalence of guns, our action to root out, to control the supply, to stop young people using them, to confiscate these guns and at the same time to monitor those areas far more closely with greater patrols, with greater surveillance and to make sure, even with the use of stop and search powers in these areas, that young children in particular, teenagers, are not using guns.

We have discussed today the issues that we are looking forward to over the next few months. Schools return this week, and this morning the Schools Secretary has made a number of announcements. In the last few months since I took over as Prime Minister we have been determined to improve our schools. We have introduced the Every Schoolchild Counts Programme to back up the Every Child Reader Programme. That is one-to-one tuition so that no child falls behind at the age of 5, 6 or 7 in reading and in counting. We have introduced new measures of discipline in our schools so that low levels of intolerable behaviour are punished quickly. We have also introduced new measures to encourage young people to go to University and to College by improving our educational maintenance allowance system. Today we are announcing further measures to emphasise two of the themes of the Autumn months. There has got to be greater discipline in our schools and we want to support leadership, particularly the leadership of Head Teachers, so we are giving new powers to Head Teachers to apply to courts for parenting orders, we are making parents responsible when their children are excluded from school, and we are making the education authorities responsible for getting those children back into alternative education so that they are not roaming the streets or simply doing nothing once they are excluded from schools.

But we also want to improve the leadership of our schools and this intensification of the educational reforms, which includes the setting up of more City Academies, will be a theme of the Winter months. We are offering schools who are prepared to take over and work with and improve failing schools £300,000 to do the initial planning for that to happen. We are encouraging Head Teachers and Trusts particularly to take over failing schools. We are looking already at 10 potential schools which can be taken over in this way and I am determined, because our mission is that every child has the best chance in life, to root out failing schools, to take action so that every child has the best chance, and to ensure that no child is left behind. So you will see that the emphasis in education is on standards, on discipline, on aspiration and on improving the leadership in our schools which is essential to the improvement of standards all round.

Before I answer any questions, can I also say one thing today. It is a terrible sadness that Jane Tomlinson has died. She is an inspirational figure, and her inspirational work in raising money for cancer charities, but also over 7 years in battling the disease of cancer, is something that has commended itself to people not just in this country but all round the world, and I believe that her life and her work is an inspiration to millions of people in this country and to millions around the world.

Question:

Prime Minister, would you acknowledge that you kind of need, or that there is a strong imperative now, to have an Election at least before the Spring in order to give yourself ...

Prime Minister:

I am getting on with the job. I said when I took over as Prime Minister that it was getting on with the job that concerned me and what I wanted to do. I think you have seen over the Summer that my whole attention has been on dealing with the floods first of all and the security and terrorist issues that arose early on and then dealing with Foot and Mouth. Obviously we are dealing with the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan and continue to do so and I have just announced that education is going to be a very important theme of the Autumn months. I am getting on with the job of governing. I think a lot of this speculation about elections comes from those people who early on in the Summer were demanding that we have an election, and now in the last few weeks have been demanding that we don't have an election and I just prefer to get on with the business of governing and that is what I am going to do.

Question:

Just a follow up on that, let us be clear does that mean no Autumn election? And can I ask you on Iraq, we saw the withdrawal of the British troops from Basra City yesterday. What do you say to people who now say it is time for all the British troops to come home and who have been led to believe that you might announce just that in a few weeks time?

Prime Minister:

We will discharge our responsibilities to the people of Iraq and we will discharge the responsibilities that we have accepted through the United Nations and the international community, in the most recent Resolution passed by the United Nations where the Iraqi Government wants us to support them in their efforts to ensure the security of their country. What happened at Basra yesterday was a pre-planned, pre-organised exercise that was announced months ago that we intended to do it. It was our intention to pass over, over time, the security of the Provinces that we have had responsibility for, including the three outside Basra where we have already passed over responsibility, so that instead of us being responsible with their combat forces, we are responsible with our forces for what is called over-watch, that is for training, for an ability to re-intervene if necessary, for supply of services, but backing up the security forces of Iraq itself. And I think people should understand that we have reached a situation where across Iraq the 350,000 security forces, some in the police, some in the armed forces. There are 150,000 other forces being trained to be part of these security forces. In Basra itself, in that area, we have got about 30,000 people being trained up, and the whole purpose of our policy has been, and this is why the Basra Palace is part of it, the whole purpose of our policy has been to transfer responsibility from our forces to the Iraqi security forces. Now that has not yet happened in Basra. What we have done is move from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station in a pre-planned exercise. We will have to make a further decision when the time is right as to whether we move from combat to over-watch in Basra as a whole. That will be a decision that will be made in concert with our allies and of course in concert with the Iraqi Government. And even then we will continue to have responsibilities that we will discharge to the Iraqi people.

I want to praise the British troops, I want to praise them for the way that this particular exercise at Basra Palace has been managed successfully but I want to praise them also for the enormous courage and bravery that they have shown, and I want to praise them because they have been involved not just in the security of the area. but they have been involved in something that is equally important, and that is building up the infrastructure and giving people a greater stake in the future of the Province, and that is part of the work that is being done in getting people into work, in building up the health service, in building up education, building up the infrastructure, and our troops have played a very important part in doing that. We will continue to discharge our responsibilities in Iraq.

Question:

It is not the beginning then of a full withdrawal?
Prime Minister:

We have to make decisions about whether we move only from, at this stage, only from combat to over-watch and we will still be discharging our duties to the people of Iraq even in the phase of over-watch.
Question:

Prime Minister, in your NCVO speech yesterday you expressed your concern about voter apathy and falling turnout. Can I ask you, in view of your concern that you want to reconnect the voters, whenever the General Election comes and I know that you haven't ruled it out yet for this year, will you be prepared in principle to take part in televised debates with the Leader of the Opposition because all the evidence from France and other countries shows that viewers do want to see that, and it does engage them in the electoral process?
Prime Minister:

This has never happened in Britain before, of course. I would say to you that people have a chance every Wednesday when Parliament is sitting to watch a televised debate for 30 minutes at a time that involves mainly the Leader of the Opposition and the Leaders of the other Parties, but involves other MPs in asking questions of the Prime Minister. So unlike America, unlike France, unlike many other countries, it is a very regular feature of our democracy that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and other politicians are debating with each other in the House of Commons itself so to draw parallels with other countries is not necessarily the right thing to do. What I can say is there is going to be a healthy level of debate over the next few months and I think that what is becoming absolutely clear in fact over the last few weeks is that the debate between the two Parties is on very clear lines. We want to reach out, as I showed yesterday, and draw on the talents of all the country.
Question:

Again on that speech yesterday you said that you wanted to break the old sterile Party divides.

Prime Minister:

Yes, that we work together where we can and as we have done. I hope he would also agree on issues such as the issues of terrorism and security, and I hope the Conservative Party will support not only the policies that they have already supported but support some of the other proposals that I put forward in the Summer and the way that we try to move forward. And where there is common ground between the Parties, where we agree on issues, I think it is a mistake to say there is a division where no division exists. Where there is unity we should be honest and say this is where all the Parties in the country can agree, but of course where there are disagreements it is only an honest form of politics that says here is an issue on which we profoundly disagree and that is an issue that in the event will be resolved not just in Parliament but by the people of this country, but where there is common ground, I seek it. And I think you have seen over the last few months that whether it is on Constitutional reform or whether it is in other areas such as drawing on Conservatives to do particular reviews such as on terrorism and security, and then on education as I announced yesterday, we will draw on the talents of people in all Parties and indeed we will draw on the talents of people who are not even associated with any political party.
Question:

Prime Minister, just on that note, would you acknowledge then that leadership and discipline in schools which you are talking about now as your broad Autumn themes are things that David Cameron has highlighted all Summer but also why not rule out an Autumn General election if you have really got enough on your plate? Why not just kill the speculation now, as you could, stone dead? And even if you want to go further have fixed term Parliaments to restore faith in political decisions like that?
Prime Minister:

We have put forward a proposal, by the way, that the calling of an election requires a vote in the House of Commons but that is something that is going to have to be discussed in the House of Commons to see if we can get support for it. But I have made it absolutely clear. I am getting on with the business of governing. I said yesterday, and I repeat yesterday, there is a time and a place for discussing elections. This is not the time. I am getting on with the business of governing.
Question:

A lot of discussion this morning about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher's years in power. What are the achievements of that period that you would like to see preserved in this country?

Prime Minister:

I think Mrs Thatcher, Lady Thatcher, saw the need for change and I think whatever disagreements you have with her about certain policies - there was a large amount of unemployment at the time which perhaps could have been dealt with better - we have got to understand that she saw the need for change. I also admire the fact that she is a conviction politician. She stands very clearly for principles. I believe, and I have said before, that I am also a conviction politician. I am convinced about certain things, that we have got to support the talent of every individual in the country, that people have got to respect other people, that we have got to have a work ethic that works, that we have got to have discipline, as I have said, in our communities, and that is the only way with families working well and communities well, that we can do well as a country. So I am a conviction politician like her, and I think many people will see Mrs Thatcher as not only a person who saw the need for change in our country and took big decisions to achieve that, but also is and remains a conviction politician, true to the beliefs that she holds. (Party Political Content)
Question:

Parents have heard promises before from government before when it comes to tackling gun crime, how can you reassure parents that this time the steps that you are going to take are actually going to make a difference on our streets?

Prime Minister:

I think that you will see that quietly and behind the scenes that we are working on a - I have already had two meetings with a variety of groups, including the police and all those concerned about gun crime, and this morning with the Home Secretary present and other Ministers, and quietly and behind the scenes, what we are identifying is those communities where in these communities there is a large supply of guns, and then we have got to look at how we can control and prevent the supply of guns to these communities and that will demand action by the Serious Crime Agency. It will demand action about the import of guns as well. And then we have got to look at the circulation of guns in these communities and do so, as Ken Jones who is the Head of ACPO said, in a calm and measured way about how we actually get to the bottom of this. And we are going to have to have greater powers for the police to intercept guns, to patrol these areas, to have intensive policing where that is necessary, to stop and search, to have video cameras in place perhaps at a greater degree than has happened in these particular areas, and therefore we are going to have to deal with the legislative issues of course about the supply of guns, but we have got to deal with this problem of execution and in a calm and ordered way we will work our way through each of the problems that is allowing the supply of guns to develop in some of these hot-spots in the country. And behind that strategy will have to be the work that we are doing in the schools, the work that we are doing in family intervention where parents have lost control of their teenage children. And I think you will see in these communities over the next few months, very deliberate, intensive action, and I hope the people in these communities appreciate that that is in the interest of cutting the supply of guns, stopping the circulation particularly amongst young people, and stopping what is the deadliest of crimes that have in this case in the last few weeks tragically shocked the nation by taking away a young and wholly innocent life.

Question:

Prime Minister can you reassure the 80-90% of voters in this country who are demanding a Referendum on the EU Treaty that you will walk away from the IGC in October if you believe EU leaders are not assuring you that what you call your red lines are actually protected, and they are taking them for real?

Prime Minister:

I have already made it clear to Chancellor Merkel, who was Chairman of the discussions, to President Sarkozy and to others, that our red lines have got to be adhered to in the detail of the Inter-Governmental Conference, and if I were to come to the conclusion that we were not having the detail of what was decided reflected in the final outcome of the decisions, then of course I would come back to the British people and say that we had to do things differently. I think people must understand this, that if we were having a vote and a decision in Parliament on the Euro and whether we joined or not, there would be a Referendum. I was the first person in the country to say that it was in the national interest that we had a Referendum. If we were debating now the old Constitutional Treaty which as the Brussels Declaration said had been abandoned, and has certainly been abandoned as far as Britain is concerned, then the case for the Referendum would have been strong. But I said before we started these negotiations in the last week in Brussels, if we secured our red lines then in my view there would be no need for a Referendum and I think that people do start to understand that the Charter of Rights is not justiciable in British law. That was a Protocol agreed at Brussels, that we have an opt-in on Justice and Home Affairs and therefore there is a quite different position for Britain that inter-governmental policy making is the means by which foreign policy remains established and therefore there is not a fundamental change in the way that that is done, that national security has been exempted and therefore is a matter for national governments, and on Social Security we have an emergency break. So each of the red lines that I was obviously concerned about and would have led us to not accept the Amending Treaty in the first place, we achieved our objectives in Brussels. Now it is our intention, and I have made it absolutely clear that we will have to achieve in detail what was achieved in the statement that was made after Brussels when the Inter-Governmental Conference comes to its conclusion, but I have every reason to believe that the rest of Europe understands very clearly that that is what I want to see happen, and will happen.
Question:

I wonder if you believe that it is possible to have a substantial withdrawal of British troops, or even redeployment of British troops in Iraq, without affecting American troops and of course the smaller Australian force in the South. And if I can ask a second one. The meeting in Sydney of APEC, do you think they can talk constructively about climate change if they don't talk about emissions targets cutting?
Prime Minister:

Well there are three major conferences on climate change coming up and I think all of them have a role to play. There is the conference organised by the United States, there is the conference to be organised by Germany as a result of the G8, and then there are the Bali discussions. And I do not think that there is any discussion that is going to be held about climate change that does not involve the issue of carbon emissions, so I do believe that these three conferences are the backdrop in which any discussion at APEC or anywhere else is going to be held.

As far as Iraq is concerned, let me be absolutely clear that we had 44,000 troops in Iraq at one stage. We now have just over 5,000. That figure is the figure that will remain, roughly speaking, as we occupy the Basra Air Station. Our intention is to do exactly what the Americans themselves want to do, to move from a position of being in combat to being in a position of over-watch where the Iraqi people themselves are responsible for their own security and our ability to move out of Basra Palace and into Basra Air Station successfully is a reflection of the fact that General Mohan and the others who are responsible for the security of Iraq are themselves taking over what we always wanted to see happen, that they are responsible for the security of their own Province and their own regions. We have done it in three Provinces, we have not yet achieved it in Basra. We have simply moved from Basra Palace to Basra Air Station. There will be a point at which in a pre-planned and orderly way we will make a decision about when we can move from being responsible for combat to over-watch, still of course at Basra Air Station at the moment and that will be a decision taken in the light of military advice on the ground.
Question:

Prime Minister you not surprisingly praised the bravery of British troops in the Basra operation, but do you now accept that they were given a mission impossible, at least in the numbers that they were there? What do you feel about those US military authorities who are now characterising this as a defeat because isn't it a defeat nonetheless even if you have pre-announced the withdrawal? And do you and President Bush now share both an agenda and a vision for Iraq in terms of restoration of democracy and so on, or are you now starting to go on separate paths, and how often do you talk to him?
Prime Minister:

We are on exactly the same path that I have set out, which is that we will discharge and we will continue to discharge our obligations to the Iraqi people, that we support the democracy and we will discharge our obligations to the international community because please do not forget that this is recognised now in international resolutions that were agreed by the United Nations on behalf of the whole world community. And our policy is exactly the same - to make it possible for the Iraqi people to be responsible for their own security. We have managed to achieve that in three provinces, it has happened in some of the other provinces of Iraq that are not the responsibility of the British, it is yet to happen in the fourth province. When that happens it is a sign that we have been able to pass security over to armed forces and police forces that are themselves Iraqi, and as I said before there are about 30,000 security forces in Basra. That was not the case a year or two ago, we have had to train them up, we have had to work with them. I think most people agree that the army particularly in Iraq has strengthened with the training that has been involved and we look forward to a position where they are able to command the security of the whole region. That is not the case at the moment. What we have done is simply move from Basra Palace to Basra air station, further decisions would have to be made, as is the case in other provinces for which the Americans have responsibility, before security is handed over from if you like combat forces to us performing only an overwatch role in that case.

Question:

Today Bob Crowe's members are bringing disruption and discomfort and delay to millions of Londoners and thousands of businesses. What is your message to Bob Crowe and to any other trade union leader who might be thinking here is a new guy in charge of the country, maybe we should try some industrial action in the public services to see if we get what we want?

Prime Minister:

This is a wholly unjustifiable strike, it is causing an enormous amount of trouble to the people of London and a disruption to the business of this city. They should get back to work as quickly as possible. I gather that talks are to take place but there is nothing that can be any excuse for this action which is disrupting the life of London. I know that two unions who are involved in transport have refused to join the strike, the RMT should also refuse to join the strike and they should get back to work as quickly as possible. As far as public sector and other trades unions are concerned, I made it absolutely clear that we have to put the national interest first, that goes before any sectional interest. And in the matter of public sector pay I am very clear that it is in the national interest that we maintain the discipline that has enabled us to have ten years of growth and ten years of low inflation, which means that people's mortgage rates are lower as a result.

Question:

You spoke about waiting to go into overwatch mode and when the Iraqi forces will be capable for being responsible for security, but everybody knows that actually what has always been happening, even while the British were there, is that gangs and mafias have been in charge of security, so nothing really very much has changed. And on what basis will you go from combat to overwatch? You said you would discuss things with allies and with the Iraqi government, will you also discuss with Iran which has now a great influence obviously in the south?
Prime Minister:

I think the level of violence in Basra has been reduced. I think people acknowledge that there has been, particularly in the last few weeks and few days far less violence. I think the very fact that this change from Basra Palace to Basra air station has been able to take place in an orderly way is a reflection of the greater security of the area, and I believe that the presence of British troops and the work that we have done in improving the infrastructure round the area is recognised by many people in the Basra province. Thousands of people have been given jobs as a result of it, the ... harvest is moving ahead, we have got plans to renovate the port, we are working with the Iraqi authorities in trying to set up a development agency. I have always said that the future of this region, and I believe the future of the whole country, depends as President Bush said yesterday on there being security first of all for the people, on there being political reconciliation and that is urging all the authorities from the different religious groupings in Iraq to come together and work together, and then to have the economic development that is necessary so that people in Iraq, instead of being unemployed, and that was one of the failures in the first few days after Saddam Hussein fell, instead of them being unemployed, without jobs and sometimes therefore without hope, people have a stake in the future of the country. So the policy moving forward, and this is exactly where all of us come together because if I just remind you the decision about moving from Basra Palace was made by our military, the American military and the Iraqi commanders and the Iraqi government, it was a decision made by all of these together, but the policy for Iraq is security, develop political reconciliation and try to build a stake for people in the future of Iraq.
Question:

Prime Minister another blast in Pakistan today, 24 people killed at least, this is one of many, are you concerned that as NATO struggles to hold the line in Afghanistan, it may be being lost in Pakistan, and would you urge General Musharraf to become plain Mr as soon as possible?
Prime Minister:

I think there is a general hope that Pakistan at some stage can return to being a democracy. I think as far as Afghanistan however is concerned, the importance of what we do there is that we are the line against the Taliban. That is why 30 countries are involved in Afghanistan and that is why we have more than 7,000 forces there and are responsible for 20% of the forces. What I would like to see however in future years is greater burden sharing in Afghanistan. I want other countries to play a part in not only providing support at a technical level but also providing troops on the ground alongside us. And I would like to see the same emphasis, and we are proposing it, on economic development for the Afghan people so that the poppy crop is not the source of livelihood for many people but instead farming and the development of small businesses gives people an alternative livelihood.

Question:

Yesterday you launched a consultation into the effects of violent video games, what is your message to the makers of these video games and do your concerns extend to violent rap or hip-hop lyrics?

Prime Minister:

They do. I have said before that parents in the modern world, and I count myself one of them, feel under enormous pressure because whereas the sources of authority and the sources of information even for previous generations were often the parents, the school, the peer group, voluntary organisations, the sources of information for children at a very young age now are the internet or television, commercial advertising. And that is a good thing in so many different ways, but where there is pornographic or violent material any parent is going to be concerned about the impact, and any parent wants the reassurance that everything possible is being done when they can't see in almost every occasion the point at which their son or their daughter is watching some of these internet materials either through a telephone or through other media of communication, they want reassurance that we are doing everything in our power.

Now I think we have got to look at this as a society. I hope this is one of the areas where there can be common ground between all parties. I am not interested in censorship at all, but I think we do need rules governing some aspects of the internet and videos where children are involved and the whole purpose of this review would be to draw on the advice of all sources so that we can look at this in a sensible way. This is a challenge of modern society as a result of the explosive development of the internet, new forms of media, multimedia forms of communication. And of course at an earlier age than ever before children have access to all these materials and I think every parent here, but every parent in the country would be concerned that we do what we can. So we will set up this review, we will announce the details of it tomorrow and I hope that from the media itself there will be large numbers of people who will want to be involved in this exercise. I think it is a common if you like endeavour of our society to make sure that our children, while given every opportunity to benefit from new technology and the new media, are also protected against some of the malign influences that are trying to operate through that media.

Question:

On the environment, are you concerned there are too many groups and consultation groups and people actually getting money on the way, rather than doing something about the environment, especially things like wind farms, millions spent on putting them in places where there is no wind.

Prime Minister:

Well I think it is a great thing that large numbers of people are taking an interest in the environment. I think the explosion of interest from the business community is a very good thing, I think the range of pressure groups that are now forming to put their case on aspects of the environment are something that we should all benefit from, and I think the more governments that make the environment, as we do, a central concern, if you like in the 1940s governments would talk about economic and social policy, we now talk about economic, social and environmental policies as absolutely central to the decision making process of government. What about wind farms? I would like to see the development of renewable sources of energy, I would like to see the development of wind and wave power, we are supporting it financially with all the new technologies that make it possible. Obviously we are sensitive to the local areas where people have their own issues that have to be dealt with by planning inquiries, but I think wind power is one of the sources for the future that we should be developing.

Question:

Prime Minister there has been a campaign launched to award medals to service personnel wounded or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You praised our forces today, wouldn't a medal similar to the American Purple Heart be a very practical way of demonstrating the country's thanks for their sacrifice?
Prime Minister:

Well I will listen to what our military leaders say to me about this. As you know there is also a campaign that I think it is very important to listen to, to honour the bravery of people who have died in the service of our country and who have died in the most brave and courageous of circumstances. And I think for example of Captain Hicks this summer in Afghanistan who refused morphine at a time when he was leading his own group and because he was the leader he felt that he had to keep going even although he was mortally wounded, and there are many, many other examples of that that touch me and have touched the whole nation. We set up, as you know, the Veterans Badge to recognise the work of everybody who had served in the Armed Forces and I am very sympathetic to looking at how we can recognise those people who have given special service to our country in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in other parts of the world, but I would like to take advice first on this from the military, as I think that you yourself would want to do as well.

Question:

Prime Minister the Lebanese army has called a major victory over a very bad terrorist organisation, as you know, and we all know that the Lebanese army is in major need of arms, I wonder if your government and other European governments will consider arming this brave army? Also I wonder what you can say to the Lebanese people on this occasion.

Prime Minister:

Well we wish to support democracy in the Lebanon, we wish to support all those who are standing up against terrorists, particularly those terrorists that are trying to inflict massive damage by the loss of life on people, but any decision about arms would be the subject of international discussions and I am not going to go into that at the moment.

Question:

Prime Minister your new Envoy to the Middle East, Michael Williams, called on Britain to take an active role towards Syria and Iran, and also called on Israel to improve life for the Palestinians. Would your government support that? And can you also explain to us why the Palestinian National Youth football team was refused a visa to play in England, and you Sir are a fan of football?

Prime Minister:

Well I shall have to look at the particular question you raise about football and I will be able to talk to you about that later. I follow football very closely but I am not up on every match that is about to take place. I will find out about that. As far as Palestine and Israel are concerned, let me just repeat what the policy of our government is: it is a two state solution, it is that the Israelis have a viable border where they can live in peace, secure in the knowledge that the people of Israel are safe from terrorism and from attack; and it is to encourage a viable Palestinian state. And one of the reasons that we believe a Palestinian state would work better is if we have the economic support that would give people jobs and give people therefore that kind of hope of economic prosperity for the future. That is the policy of the government that Mr Williams will be setting out.

Question:

Prime Minister I am wondering what the latest thinking on Iran is. Last week the IAEA and Mohammed al Baradai specifically pointed to progress in terms of Iran's cooperation with the agency and yet in various memos that were posted on their website from the Iranians, including from the Iranians, there wasn't talk about the bottom line which is stopping the enrichment of uranium. So I am wondering at this juncture if you feel heartened by the progress, if you think that there is a possibility that there can be some fruitful discussions between Iran and the P5 Plus 1 or whether you think there are likely to be more sanctions in the autumn?

Prime Minister:

I saw these reports. Obviously we would have to investigate in detail what is being said by the Iranian government. It is still my belief that the process that we have started, which could of course lead to a third United Nations resolution, is the right process. There is evidence that it has been working in the flow of information to the energy authorities. We will continue to work for that process to be the major means by which we prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and whatever the individual reports are, I think we should focus on how the process can continue to move forward. But if necessary we will support a third United Nations resolution on this matter.

Question:

You said you would welcome a government of all the talents and you have already invited Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to join you. Can you envisage inviting the Scottish Nationalists along as well?

Prime Minister:

I think they are pretty busy at the moment trying to run an administration in Scotland. There are not many, I may say, in the House of Commons. Let me just say on nationalism, the Scottish National party got I think a third of the vote, two-thirds of the people of Scotland were against separation, in favour of the Union, and whatever the arrangements that have been made in the Scottish parliament to form an administration, I will not forget and I think the people of this country will not forget that two-thirds of the people of Scotland are very clear that they want to remain as part of the Union of the United Kingdom and that any constitutional proposals that are brought forward have got to be seen in that light, but the vast majority of people want the Union to stay intact.

Question:

This is the second day in a row you have warned your European colleagues not to backslide on commitments given in Brussels earlier this year on the treaty. Are you worried about an ambush at Lisbon next month?

Prime Minister:

No, because I believe from the discussions I have had with all the major leaders in Europe, and I have been meeting them over the last few weeks and months, that they understand very fully the British position. Remember that this amending treaty has a series of changes that were brought about because of the British requirements, one is the Protocol itself, the other is the opt-in clause on justice and home affairs, the other is the emergency break on social security. Now these are specifically requirements that we made for us to be able to support this amending treaty and that is exactly what we wish to maintain in the detailed description of the conclusions of the intergovernmental conference.

Question:

Prime Minister should a Labour government be protecting vulnerable people from irresponsible lenders? And also on vulnerable people, the IPPR have done some research showing that London-based minimum wage earners should earn more than the rest of the country, do you favour that?
Prime Minister:

On the first question, yes of course it is the role of government where there is exploitative behaviour taking place to take action. That is why the mortgage market has a basic regulation in favour of protecting people who take out mortgages, that is why we acted in 1997, when I was Chancellor, against pension mis-selling and made sure that people had greater protection against their pensions being lost, and that is why of course we have taken this new legislation to ensure that everybody is making a contribution and a contribution is being made by employers to their pensions. But we don't want to over-regulate, we want the minimum of regulation necessary so that people can feel confident that their savings, their mortgages and their pensions are secure.

As far as London is concerned, the minimum wage is a national minimum wage for the whole of the country. Of course I recognise there are different housing costs for example and different costs of living in London, but that is also reflected in the wages that employers themselves are prepared to pay in the capital city.

Question:

Prime Minister Iraq again, you said today that you and the US are on exactly the same path, to use your words, in Iraq but that path appears to be very different as the US pours troops in and you pour them out, as the US expands its bases in Iraq while you have been consolidating yours. Is this an attempt as well, the pull back from central Basra, is this an attempt as well to demonstrate that you are no longer in walk step with Washington policy, and is that a perception of your government that you want understood here and in the US as well?

Prime Minister:

I made it absolutely clear that just as the American government wishes to discharge its obligations to the Iraqi people, we will continue to discharge our obligations. And just as the American government is discharging the obligations that were agreed by the international community to support the security of Iraq, we are continuing to do so. And both of us wish to see a situation where the security of the different provinces of Iraq is taken over by the Iraqis themselves, and by the security I mean the armed forces and the police. We have always recognised that this would happen at different stages, that this would happen first in some provinces but be delayed in others, and we have always recognised the particular nature of Baghdad where there is greater sectarian violence, where there is an attempt by certain elements of al Queda to take control and where there are other influences at work that have got to be dealt with, but are not there in Basra. So the process of moving from combat forces being needed, to an overwatch position and then essentially to training and security being as advisors to the Iraqi armed forces, that will happen at different stages in different provinces but the process and the aims are exactly the same, that the Iraqis can take over security for their own country.

Question:

Now that you have been Prime Minister for two months, has the job been more or less challenging than you expected and has it held any surprises at all?
Prime Minister:

I think there is a surprise every day and I think the challenging nature of this job is that you wake up in the morning and there are new challenges to meet. I wouldn't have expected that we would have had the terrorist incident so immediately, and I wouldn't have expected that we would have had the floods and the foot and mouth and having had to deal with them over the summer months. But that is what people expect the government to be able to do, to respond to challenges as they arise and to deal with them hopefully with a level of competence. And if I may say in all these challenges I am also determined to learn lessons from these challenges. It is only because we learnt lessons from what happened in 2001 on foot and mouth that we were able to act as instantly as we did to prevent the spread of that disease, and whatever lessons we have to learn from what happened on the floods or on the terrorist incidents in London and Glasgow, or of course on foot and mouth, these are lessons that we will learn and of course we will communicate publicly any changes in policy that we wish to see as a result of that.

Question:

I want to come back to the EU treaty. You always refer to the red line achievement to answer the demands for a referendum in the population and on the Conservative side, but on Labour's side and on the trade union side exactly this is what arouses criticism, they say it has been too less achieved in sticking to these red lines in staying away from the social security matters and others. How do you escape from this deadlock?

Prime Minister:

Well I am very clear with my friends who disagree with me on this that we do not want a charter of rights to be imposed on Britain in a way that would be justiciable in British law and that is why we secured the protocol. And I think what we secured was broadly welcomed by many people in the business community and I spent the whole of the weekend when I wasn't at Brussels myself but I was involved in these discussions looking at how we could get a protocol that would achieve the purposes that were intended. So yes there is a disagreement with some of the trade union colleagues on this, but I am very clear that it is in the national interest of Britain not to have the charter of rights imposed without the protocol that means that it is not justiciable in British law and that is what politics is about, there are honest disagreements and that is one of the disagreements. But I think what we are doing is in the national interest and I will not be afraid to say to the trades unions or any other interest in Britain that where we think the national interest demands something and where we think that their proposals are not the right proposals that we disagree with them.

Question:

In 1987 you appeared on Breakfast News and criticised Margaret Thatcher for not taking up Neil Kinnock's challenge for a television debate, you said then that the public had the right to see the leader of the opposition and the Prime Minister debate the issues of the day. Today you ruled that out, can I ask what has happened in the interim to change your mind, apart from becoming Prime Minister yourself?

Prime Minister:

Look we have huge opportunities in our political system. Look in America the reason why people want Presidential debates is for two reasons: one is that the President is elected directly by the people, it is not through the House of Commons, I mean the Prime Minister is not elected directly, you have an election, you have the House of Commons deciding in the end who is the government; and the second thing is there are no opportunities in the American political system for the two opposing parties on a regular basis to be challenging each other in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. In Britain it has got to the stage where of course every week there are 30 minutes devoted entirely to this and this allows people to ask their questions and put their views and that is exactly how it has been for many years. And I think that we have actually in the House of Commons, by the number of statements I have given in the House of Commons since I started as Prime Minister, and perhaps that is a trend that may continue because I am going to give a statement when we come back on Iraq, the number of statements that I give in the House of Commons allow all the parties to question me very regularly and I think probably in the first few weeks I have done more statements that have exposed me to questioning by the other parties than any other Prime Minister has done in recent times. So there are plenty of opportunities for people to question with statements and both Question Time in the House of Commons.

Question:

Can I just take you back to television and your review of childhood and computers and video games. Both today and yesterday you didn't refer to the content of children's TV and I was wondering whether that would be included and whether you have any concern about the amount of routine violence one sees on children's television?

Prime Minister:

I do have a concern. I did make a speech some months ago when I talked about television, I talked about the watershed hour and I talked about the use of commercial advertising on television as well before these hours. I am, too, concerned about content, but look this has got to be looked at by a range of people, this is not the government telling people what they should do, this is society reaching a conclusion that all those people involved, what are legitimate boundaries, particularly for the youngest of children. And I think you need to review this with a large number of representative groups, from parents, from the different industries themselves and from other areas of public life. And this is not an area where you could proceed in my view without trying to establish both what the boundaries are and what is the consensus you can build around these boundaries.

Question:

Given the new era of consultation seeking and listening to public concern that you have announced, are you prepared to look again at the government's intention to introduce pay as you drive road tolls?

Prime Minister:

Well this is an issue that is being debated all the time. The issue of transport charging is something that is not resolved at all, these are issues that people are looking at in detail all the time. We have congestion charging in London, we have had ballots in other cities, but this is an issue that people will continue to look at and it will take time of course to make these decisions implemented anyway.

Question:

I wonder if you could respond to the statement made by the Iranian President about the fact that they are preparing to fill the vacuum created in Iraq by the United States and Britain?

Prime Minister:

We will continue with our policy that means that Iraq must itself be run by a democratic government and we will support that government in achieving its aims for the security of the country, and that means that it should not be a foreign power influencing through Iran the weapons that are provided to militias in Iraq, it means that we should be able to support the democratic government of Iraq.

Question:

Prime Minister given the UK economy's reliance on financial services and the City and so on, how concerned are you about that economy given the current problems in global financial markets?

Prime Minister:

Well since I started as Chancellor in 1997 we have dealt with a variety of financial events, some of them that threaten to cause both recessions and instability in the world economy, and at each point the question that I have asked is, given that you have got a fast changing international economy and given that people are adapting quickly to the pace of global change, the real question is has government put in place the mechanisms that are necessary to achieve and maintain stability in both your economy, the domestic economy and the international economy? And I do believe that we see greater change than ever before, sometimes that leads to turbulence, as we saw a few weeks ago, the question then is have you got in place the proper mechanisms for dealing with this? I think the issue about transparency in relation to some of the financial instruments has been raised and is going to be discussed widely in the international community and we would support greater transparency, but I also think we have got to recognise that what governments do to achieve stability, they must have their monetary and their fiscal policy in the right place and if they are able to do that they can withstand some of the difficulties that often arise simply because of the fast pace of change.

Question:

Prime Minister I want to take you again back to Iraq. In regard to Basra there is clear factional fighting between different militias and different groups, there is a whole debate about the Governor of Basra being taken out of his position and the different co-parties, they are fighting amongst themselves over who takes control. Is there a role for Britain to play in that and you still haven't handed over security? What role can Britain help with reconciliation in Basra? And I also wanted to ask you about the Iraqis who are seeking asylum in Britain, especially those that helped the British army during its time in Basra, what obligation do you have towards them and what can we expect in the coming weeks regarding that?
Prime Minister:

On the last part, of course we are looking at the matter with a review as to what we can do to help those Iraqis who are in difficulty as a result of helping the allied forces and that means some countries they may wish to go to and looking at help for them to go there. As far as the security of Basra is concerned, the whole purpose of our exercise is to support the security forces that have been built up in Basra. And of course there have been difficulties with the police, and of course there have been militias that have been trying to exercise some control, but I think there are two things that stand out: one is that the level of violence has been lower in recent weeks as we have prepared for the move from Basra Palace; and secondly the numbers of Iraqi security forces, particularly the quality of the army, is being built up by the training exercises in which Britain has been involved. Now I don't disguise from you that the answer for Iraq in the future is not simply that we can maintain greater security through higher levels of Iraqi armed forces, there has also got to be political reconciliation and we are playing our part, and I myself have talked to all leading members of the government about how we can help them come together so that they can have a better form of decision making about oil resources, about infrastructure, about some of the difficult questions that they have got to deal with; and then this final point that we recognise more should have been done in the early stages, and that is the economic livelihood of the Iraqi people that people have a stake in the future of Iraq. But I believe we have made some progress here in Basra and will continue to make progress because we are still there in large numbers and we will discharge our duties to that province in the next few months.
Question:

I just want to ask you after your speech yesterday what do you hope to get out of Mathew Taylor's rural housing report? It hasn't come out with the various government reports on the same subject.
Prime Minister:

Well I think a fresh look from someone who is not within the government but has his own ideas and his own experience. He is a very experienced parliamentarian, he has taken a very big interest in this issue. I think our duty is to draw on people from outside politics and see what contribution they can make and I think in rural planning areas, in the areas in which this review will take place, working with other government Ministers, which he will do, and working with the civil service I think we will get fresh insights that will help us and I certainly look forward to continuing the discussion I had with him yesterday morning about these issues.

Question:

It is Iraq again I am afraid, but one of the arguments against a full inquiry into Iraq was that it might affect the combat morale of our troops. As we move away from a combat role surely that argument falls away. Do you think that and if not why not?

Prime Minister:

Well for me the first priority is the safety and security of our forces and that is still the issue as we move from Basra Palace several hundred people, but most of our troops are at Basra Air Station or doing other vital work in Iraq. And as long as that is the case that is my first duty and I pay tribute to what has been done and I think people are wrong to say - where they have said it - that our troops have not had a major impact because they have had a major impact in improving the security of the area and they continue to work hard both at reconciliation and at developing the infrastructure of the country through working with the various economic agencies that are doing so. There will be a time to discuss the question you raise but for the moment nothing has changed, the security and safety of our forces, and there are more than 5,000 people in Iraq, remain the first and foremost consideration.

Question:

I just wanted to ask you about the issue of child tax credits or the tax credits system. An ongoing staple of an MP's post bag are issues that their constituents have got with tax credits. Do you accept that the very system aimed at tackling hardship has actually caused hardship for thousands of families in this country and what are you going to do about it?

Prime Minister:

There are 6 million families who benefit from child tax credits, there are millions of children as a result of that in these families who are better off as a result of that. The payment for a first child when we came into government was £27 a week. As a result of what we have been able to do with child tax credits it is nearly £70 a week, it is the major means by which we have reduced child poverty substantially and whatever administrative issues arise, and we have developed a system where we are trying to be up to date and flexible in meeting the needs of people's incomes at the time they are drawing that income, rather than simply paying them on the basis of last year's or the year before's income, and that means that there are adjustments as people change their incomes, but whatever these issues the fact that 6 million people are benefiting from child tax credits and we have taken hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty is for me a sign that the child tax credit is a major instrument of helping children and making families in this country better off.

Can I thank you all very, very much.

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