Put that the Opposition had said the Prime Minister was wrong at PMQs on fares, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) referred press to the Deed of Amendment to the Franchise Agreement dated 8th January 2010 which said it shall be amended with effect from midnight on the 1st January 2010 and the section that said from midnight on 1st January 2011, that amendment shall be reversed, so it was very clear in the agreement that it was for a single year.
Asked what was to stop the Government reviewing that agreement for another year, the PMOS said there would be a cost associated with that and. As the Prime Minister had said the money for the trains had to come from one of two places, the fare box or the taxpayer.
Put that the Government did face a choice, the PMOS said that obviously the Government had a role in the setting of fares and that fares were regulated. There was a cap and the Chancellor took the decision in the Autumn statement to reduce the cap. One of the choices we made in the Spending Review was to invest in the railways, and rail and transport investment was prioritised because they were important for economic growth.
Asked if the PMOS was saying that when Government came into office, that was written down somewhere as the policy and that the current Government was continuing that policy, the PMOS said it was clear that this additional flexibility was in place for one year only. Clearly there was a decision in the context of the Spending Review about how much money was invested in the railways and how you pay for the railways, and the balance between the taxpayer and the fare-payer.
Put that the paper was a red herring and that the Government had the decision to make, the PMOS said that it was not. Government accepted the policy and it was in place for one year.
Asked who signed the agreement, the PMOS replied that the agreement in front of him, with Stagecoach Southwestern Trains, had been signed on behalf of Lord Adonis.
Asked to clarify whether the UK Government had a view on the Scottish Government’s wish to ask the ‘Devo max’ question, the PMOS said Government was having a consultation and listening to people’s views. Government had expressed some views in the consultation document, but the document made clear we were seeking people’s views on the question or questions to be asked in a referendum. There were a set of proposals in the consultation document and Government was asking people to put forward their views on those proposals. Government would consider their views and the consultation responses before coming to a final position.
Asked if the Prime Minister had any plans to speak to Alex Salmond or meet with him, the PMOS said he didn’t believe there was anything in the diary.
Asked about talks suggested by the leader of the Opposition and whether there would be talks after the consultation ended or if talks would go on during the consultation, the PMOS said there was the specific issue addressed in the consultation about how you put in place a legal, fair referendum, and no doubt there would be discussion over the coming months on that and lots of people would put forward their views. There was then the wider issue about independence and no doubt there would be discussions between the parties on that too. The PMOS said that as the media had seen at PMQs, it was an issued where the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition share a common view.
Asked if the Prime Minister welcomed this new spirit of cooperation, the PMOS said there were some issues that the political parties agreed on and some they didn’t and that this was an incredibly important issue, and one were there was a lot of common ground between the main political parties.
Asked for details of the ‘Save the Union’ roadshow, the PMOS said there was a consultation on the referendum and that the expectation was there would be public meetings and in particular the Secretary of State would take the opportunity to meet a lot of people over the course of the next few weeks.
Asked if it would include the Prime Minister, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was very focused on the issue and clear he wanted to take every opportunity to argue the case for the Union. He would expect all Government Ministers to do the same.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be willing to share a platform with the leader of the Opposition, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was keen to make the case for the Union and keen to work with the Opposition on this.
Put that often when you have consultations you end up being judicially reviewed, and that the Prime Minister had already set out his view, which created that risk, the PMOS said whether Scotland should be independent was not the subject of the consultation.
Asked if he was aware of the third draft of the European fiscal pact that suggested the Prime Minister had got his way, that reference to the single market had been removed and that the role of the ECJ had been watered down, the PMOS said that the Government’s position had always been that this agreement was fundamentally about fiscal rules for the Eurozone. That seemed to be the nature of the agreement as it stood. This was an ongoing discussion and no doubt the draft would go through further iterations in the coming weeks.
Asked if he was pleased, the PMOS said there was a wider view held in lots of European countries that there was a need for greater coordination of fiscal policy, but that the agreement should not in any way cut across the existing treaty. Asked if he would describe that as progress, the PMOS said he thought that was progress.