Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 18 January 2011
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: AV vote, Iraq inquiry, prisoner voting and phone hacking
Asked whether there had been a discussion at Cabinet on whether there would be a referendum later in the year on the issue, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said the plan was to keep to the timetable that had been set out.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was consulted on the decision that the Iraq Inquiry should not publish certain documents, the PMS said that this was a decision made by the Cabinet Secretary and that the process adhered to was set out in the protocol when the Chilcot Inquiry was established. He added that the Prime Minister had no role in the decision.
The PMS said a number of Government documents had been declassified, but that the Cabinet Secretary had set out the reasoning for his decision on this occasion in his letter to Sir John Chilcot, which was that it could have an impact on diplomatic relations in future if this correspondence was to be declassified. He added that it was also standard procedure not to allow Ministers of current Governments to see papers from previous Governments, which was one reason why the issue was dealt with by the Cabinet Secretary. The Chilcot Inquiry had seen all the papers in question so could conduct its inquiry.
Asked about the forthcoming Commons vote on the issue, the PMS said that a debate would be welcomed and that the Government would listen to what Parliament had to say. He added that the Prime Minister had made clear his position: that he would like to keep to an absolute minimum the number of prisoners who got the vote. He said that he thought there could be about 2,500 cases to consider, and that compensation claims could arise from them. He said it was a matter of legal advice as to what the correct threshold should be, but that the policy was clear.
Asked whether the benchmark had been chosen, the PMS said it was a legal question, and that lawyers had been consulted. He added that this was an issue where case law would develop and so there was no fixed point.
Asked whether legal advice would be published, the PMS said it was not usual practice to do so.
Asked why the debate would be welcomed, the PMS said that the debate had come via the Backbench Committee, which this Government had set up because it was interested to hear the views of backbenchers.
Asked about the position of Andy Coulson regarding alleged phone hacking at the News of the World, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered questions on the issue the previous morning in an interview and that there was nothing to further to add.