Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Raoul Moat, Afghanistan, Mandelson diaries, IPSA, General Richards, two-week cancer guarantee.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would be saying any more on the matter, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that this was ultimately a matter for Facebook. Facebook was a forum in which people were able to express their views and the Prime Minister had expressed his in PMQs. The PMS added that it was possible Facebook would be made aware of the Prime Minister’s comments at official level.
Asked if that would take place imminently, the PMS replied that it was possible that this afternoon we would put a call in to make sure they were aware of the comments. On whether it would be a No10 official, the PMS said he thought it would be.
Put that the Prime Minister had read out the names of British soldiers that had died in Afghanistan for the first time in two weeks and did he now recognise that PMQs was the proper place for such tributes, the PMS said that the Prime Minister read out the names at the earliest possible opportunity when he was in Parliament.
The Prime Minister had made a number of statements recently and had therefore taken the opportunity to read names out at those times.
Asked if there was a change in policy, the PMS said that there was not. The PMS said that this was true under the last Government; it had always been the case that the Prime Minister read out names at the earliest opportunity in the Commons.
Put that the former Prime Minister had always read out the names of soldiers, the PMS said that there had been no change of policy on that point either; the Government could only give out the names of soldiers when it was appropriate to do so.
Put that the Prime Minister had read out excerpts of Peter Mandelson’s book and had he spent a lot of time reading it, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had seen the reports.
Put that the Prime Minister sounded exasperated when talking about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the PMS said that the Prime Minister was making the point that the system as it stood was not working. This was not about the rules, or about the fact that IPSA was independent; it was the way the system was working. It had been an ongoing issue and MPs from all sides had been making their views known.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would accept that the public would not have much sympathy for MPs moaning about a tighter expenses regime, the PMS said that it was not a question of it being a tighter regime; it was right that there should be a system that the public had confidence in and the Prime Minister had made that point in the House.
There was a separate point that the system needed to work, so that MPs could make the claims that they were allowed to.
Put that the Prime Minister had originally endorsed IPSA and what had changed since then, the PMS said that this had been an ongoing issue. There had been problems with the bureaucracy of the system and those problems had not been resolved. The Prime Minister was completely supportive of having an independent statutory body and having a cleaned up expenses system that was transparent and one that the public had confidence in.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that it could look like people were ganging up on IPSA, the PMS replied that the Speaker’s Committee had an oversight role for IPSA.
IPSA was also accountable to the Public Accounts Committee because the NAO had an oversight role and audited IPSA. So there were ways by which IPSA was held to account, as people would expect of a body spending public money.
Asked what the Prime Minister had said to General Richards and what he wanted to see from his appointment, the PMS replied that General Richards did not take up his post for some time, so the current Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) remained in charge.
Asked what the Prime Minister wanted from the appointment, the PMS said that the appointment was made by the Queen, based on a recommendation from the Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister was consulted on the appointment, which was made on merit.
Put that the Prime Minister had interviewed him, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had met General Richards on several occasions.
When asked what the Prime Minister’s view was on Sir Jock Stirrup being publicly sacked in the Sunday Times, the PMS said that we had dealt with that in the past. Today’s appointment was about the new CDS.
Two-week cancer guarantee
Put that the Prime Minister had not given a full answer in the Commons, the PMS said that the position here was that these decisions were no longer for politicians. They were now for the NHS Commissioning Board. Whether or not there was a target of two weeks or not was a matter for the Commissioning Board. The PMS said that at the moment it remained in place, but whether particular targets remained in place in the future would be a matter for them.
Asked why Simon Burns had said a couple of hours ago that it would not be scrapped, the PMS said that it remained in place. Rather than the Secretary of State defining targets for the NHS, the people who knew about the NHS would define targets where they thought those targets would help in driving the right clinical outcomes.
Asked what the NHS Commissioning Board was, the PMS replied that it was the board that would oversee the NHS. Put that the Prime Minister had said in opposition that politicians should take responsibility for front line services, the PMS said that of course politicians took responsibility, but the decision on what targets were appropriate should be taken by the people who understood the processes in the NHS.