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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Blunkett launches new-look lobby
Number 10 Downing Street
The semi-secret lobby has been going since 1884
David Blunkett has launched the first of the government's revamped lobby briefings for the media, warning people to reinforce their vigilance against terrorism following the bomb blasts in Bali.

The home secretary told journalists that it was important all nations knew they were not "off bounds" to strikes by terrorists.

That threat is no greater or less than it was from this weekend

David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett was speaking at the US-style press conference which invited, for the first time, non-accredited and foreign reporters to join their Westminster lobby colleagues.

Until now, the Westminster lobby system only allowed an exclusive coterie of journalists to be briefed.

End of an era

But on Monday, the briefing moved from being a closed shop at Number 10 to cosy quarters at the Foreign Press Association's offices which overlook The Mall and St James's Park.

The new format, which launched the day before MPs return to the House of Commons, is an attempt, the government says, to be more open.

It follows the success of Tony Blair's televised press conferences.

Mr Blunkett was speaking to reporters after Foreign Secretary Jack Straw disclosed that 33 Britons are feared dead following the attack on a beach resort nightclub in Bali.

He said it was important to evaluate the evidence that was adduced prior to the attack.

Anti-terror measures

"We obviously send our condolences and heartfelt concern to those from nations across the world who have been killed and injured in Bali," he said.

Anti-terrorism officers would be working with Australians and Americans to secure evidence of what had taken place in Bali.

"We believe that there was a loose, nevertheless connected network of those who were prepared to either, at local level or through global contact, engage in terrorism," said Mr Blunkett.

"That threat is no greater or less than it was from this weekend. It just re-enforces the point of the necessity of vigilance at home and cooperation across security forces worldwide."

Mr Blair is set to make a statement outside Number 10 at 1600BST.

'Silly' Tories

Mr Blunkett used the briefing to stress that the government's Street Crime Initiative had reduced the number of offences by 16% since April.

He also pledged to "reverse the silliness" of a Tory move in the Lords to block ministers' determination to deny asylum and remove from the country those who commit serious crime.

The new location for the briefings brings to an end the daily tradition of journalists marching through the gates of Number 10 to hear the latest government thinking.

The lobby journalists - all in possession of a special "lobby" pass - gathered in a room in the bowels of the prime minister's official London residence for a morning meeting.

However, the afternoon lobby briefing for accredited Westminster journalists only is set to continue.

Televised conferences

Critics of the lobby system have pointed to the fact that this excludes other specialist journalists, such as education correspondents, when their field is at the top of the day's political agenda.

It is understood that the government intends to hold one briefing a day which could be given either by a press spokesman, a civil servant from a relevant department, or a minister.
David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett is expected to make a statement on criminal justice reform

Downing Street suggested that a change in the way communications were handled could focus the attention of the public back on Parliament.

Earlier this year, senior correspondents were told by a Downing Street spokesman: "We have got to be less buttoned-up, far more open, far less worried about what you guys are going to write."

'Privileged few'

Since 1884, the Westminster lobby has held regular meetings on and off the record with spokesmen from Downing Street and ministers.

The lobby is the name given to a small group of parliamentary journalists who enjoy privileged access to certain parts of Parliament.

One of the main privileges is the right to enter the Members' Lobby at Westminster in order to interview MPs.

Information passed to journalists in these circumstances is often given on the understanding that the source will not be revealed.

Critics say the system makes it easier for the government to get away with putting a misleading slant on embarrassing stories or to make unfounded attacks on its enemies.

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