The Falklands, Fuel and Government communications data plans were among topics discussed at the 10 Downing Street press briefing.
Asked if there was any comment, or concern, following the Argentinean threat to boycott UK banks, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press there was nothing more to add to what had already been said by FCO minister Jeremy Browne that morning.
In response to questions about the current status of fuel supplies at forecourts, and suggestions that it would take some time to get back to normal, the PMS said there had been some increase in demand but companies were making good progress and working to restock supplies.
Asked how long it would take and whether petrol stations would run out, the PMS said that it was an ongoing process, and that demand was abating now that UNITE had said there would not be a strike over the Easter holidays.
Asked what the Government’s current advice to motorists was and whether it would change, the PMS referred the journalists to the advice on the DECC website. In response to questions about whether the website was the right vehicle to provide advice to the public, the PMS stated that it was not unusual to refer people to a Government website for updated advice.
Asked whether the Prime Minister had any plans to visit the woman who was burnt in Yorkshire, or whether there had been any other Government contact with her, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had no plan to visit, and that he was not aware of any contact.
Asked if Francis Maude was the lead Minister, the PMS said that DECC was the lead department, with a number of other departments supporting, and that Francis Maude was the minister in charge of fuel contingency plans. Asked whether the Prime Minister had full confidence in Francis Maude, he said that he did.
Asked if there would be any other meetings that would be chaired by Francis Maude, the PMS said there were ongoing meetings but it was not our policy to provide a running commentary on the timetabling or composition of meetings.
When asked if DECC would be doing anything to help motorists locate fuel, the PMS reiterated that advice could be found on DECC website, that fuel companies were making progress in restocking supplies, and the Government was focusing its efforts on robust contingency plans.
In response to questions about the training of tanker drivers, the PMS informed the journalists that training was underway but that he would not be providing a running commentary. When asked if it was true that the numbers being trained would only meet 10 per-cent of the shortfall, the PMS stated that if the strike did go ahead there would be disruption, however it was hoped that a strike would be prevented.
When asked if Prime Minister said ‘a little bit of panic is a good thing’ last week, the PMS said he was not aware of him having said this.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned by claims from Lord Tebbit and other Conservative MPs that No10 was not operating effectively, the PMS said that we were tackling the largest peacetime deficit and that involved taking some difficult decisions, but we were getting on with the job.
Government’s communications data plans
When asked for the Prime Minister’s response to allegations that the plans would allow the Government and other agencies to ‘snoop’ on the web browsing activity and emails of ordinary people, the PMS said that the Strategic Defence and Security Review had clearly set out that the Government planned to legislate to bring forward changes. Asked if the plans would be included in the Queen’s Speech, the PMS stated that he would not speculate on the contents of the Queens Speech.
In response to a question about whether the plans would infringe civil liberties, the PMS said that communications data was information on the time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, not the content of that phone call and that was an important distinction.
He added that we would need to maintain our current capabilities in this area as technology changed.
Asked whether the new powers would allow the Government ability to look at the content of people’s emails, the PMS said that communications data was not the same as content. Communications data was used currently in 95 per cent of all serious crime and terrorism cases.
When asked if the changes would mean that Internet Service Providers would have to store more data than do now, the PMS said that we would need to ensure we are up-to-date with technological changes. He said that there was already an EU directive that covers the retention of a lot of communications data.
When asked if the taxpayer or industry would be expected to fund this, the PMS said that that further details would be outlined in due course.
UK Government Scottish independence referendum consultation
Asked if the UK Government consultation allowed for anonymous multiple submissions, the PMS said we had received over 10,000 submissions and that we couldn’t prevent anonymised responses. Clearly we would weigh all responses accordingly and it would all be included in the final analysis.
In response to a question about whether the Scottish consultation was rigged, following suggestions that Alex Salmond was trying to rig the referendum after he said that people could respond anonymously as many times as they like to his consultation, the PMS said it would be for the Scottish Government to answer.