The Prime Minister's Spokesperson (PMS) answered questions on Maria Miller and Finucane Review.
Asked whether Maria Miller should recuse herself from overseeing Leveson implementation, the PMS said no. It was important to remember what Leveson had proposed: independent regulation of the press and a body to be set up by the media. That was the principle the government had accepted. Work was underway and the Prime Minister had set out his position on Leveson in a statement. We were having cross-party talks to discuss the detail.
Asked about reports of conversations Maria Miller’s special adviser and Downing Street Director of Communications Craig Oliver had with the Telegraph on the expenses story, the PMS rejected claims that the post-Leveson landscape would be influenced by stories in newspapers. He said the Prime Minister had set out his view on Leveson in a statement to the House and that remained his view.
Questioned on the media’s concern about reported threats to the Telegraph and mention of Leveson, the PMS rejected claims that threats had been made to the newspaper. He reiterated the Prime Minister’s position on Leveson which was set out clearly 24 hours after the government received the report.
Asked about the appropriateness of the actions taken by Maria Miller’s special adviser and Craig Oliver, the PMS said they were both reflecting the concerns of the Secretary of State about the way that investigation had been conducted. Those concerns were set out in a letter to the editor.
Asked why the special adviser and Craig Oliver had mentioned Leveson in relation to an expenses story, the PMS was clear the two issues were separate. Asked whether disciplinary action was being taken against the special adviser or Craig Oliver, the PMS said we would never talk about those issues, but reiterated that the special adviser and Craig Oliver were simply raising Maria Miller’s concerns.
Asked if the Prime Minister was happy they had behaved appropriately, the PMS reiterated that they were raising concerns on behalf of Maria Miller. Questioned as to why Craig Oliver had got involved, the PMS said he was the Director of Communications for government, and he frequently had conversations with journalists and editors.
Asked if Leveson was raised purely to explain Maria Miller being busy, the PMS said it was obviously something she’d been working on in recent days - that was the context. The direction of policy had been clearly set out by the Prime Minister.
Querying why the special adviser had called the Telegraph’s Director of Corporate Affairs if the issue wasn’t being linked with Leveson, the PMS reiterated that the Prime Minister had set out his view and stories about expenses would have no bearing on that view.
Asked about the concerns raised about the Telegraph’s investigation, the PMS referred lobby to DCMS.
Asked if, in opposing statutory regulation of the press, the PM expected Cabinet Ministers to get an easy ride the PMS said no.
Asked whether it was a legitimate use of a communication department to warn papers off running stories, the PMS said they were raising particular concerns about the conduct of the investigation.
Asked whether the PM was disappointed with the family’s reaction, the PMS said the government had considered the issue carefully. It was the government’s position that it didn’t want to have lots of long, expensive public inquiries. The PMS said the government thought the Finucane Review was thorough and had been given all the access and papers it needed. He referred to the Prime Minister’s statement on the issue today and the fact that the Prime Minister had previously met with the family to explain his position. The government thought it was a comprehensive and thorough report.