Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 25 November 2010
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Howard Flight, Tuition fees, EU Budget, Bank of England and publication of Scotland Bill.
Asked about Howard Flight’s comments, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minister had answered a question on this in his press conference earlier; he did not agree with the comments, he said he thought Mr Flight should apologise and that was the end of the matter.
Asked what qualities of Mr Flight’s did the Prime Minister think made him a good candidate for being a Peer, the PMS said that it was a party political appointment and the question would need to be put to his political colleagues.
Put that the Prime Minister could stop the appointment, the PMS replied that he did not know the constitutional position. The PMS said he thought this was an appointment by The Queen on the basis of recommendations made by the political parties. That had happened and The Queen had approved them.
Asked if the prime Minister was happy to see a man with these views sitting on the Government side in the House of Lords, the PMS replied that he wouldn’t add to what the Prime Minister had said.
Asked if the Prime Minister recognised that such comments undermined the Government message of ‘We’re all in this together,’ the PMS said that Mr Flight was not a member of the Government. The Prime Minister had said that he did not agree with the comments and Howard Flight had now withdrawn those comments.
Asked if Downing Street would treat the incident similarly to that of Lord Young and wait to see how the incident ‘played out’ in the media before deciding whether to retract the Peerage, the PMS replied that Lord Young had reflected on the situation and then decided to offer his resignation.
Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to Mr Flight, the PMS said that he had not. On whether the Prime Minister was satisfied with Mr Flight’s apology, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister thought that Mr Flight should apologise. The PMS said that as he understood it, Howard Flight apologised unreservedly and had withdrawn his remarks.
Put that Mr Flight had first said his remarks had been ‘taken out of context’ before offering an apology and had there been any contact between Downing Street and Mr Flight, the PMS said that he would not get into process questions.
Put that there was plenty of scope for the Peerage not to be given, the PMS said that he was not a constitutional expert on such matters, but the appointment was made last week and those appointments had been made by the Queen following recommendations by the political parties.
Asked if the Prime Minister expected the whole of the Front Bench to support the vote on tuition fees, the PMS said that the timing of the vote had not been fixed yet. The Coalition Agreement had made a provision for Liberal Democrats to abstain on this particular issue.
On whether the Prime Minister was aware of what the Deputy Prime Minister intended to do on the issue, the PMS said that he was sure there were discussions between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister on this kind of issue.
Asked whether a Liberal Democrat Minister could vote against rather than just abstaining, the PMS said that it was a hypothetical question. We did not know when the vote was and the Coalition Agreement stated that an arrangement would be made for Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain.
Put that the usual conditions would apply if a Minister vote against a three line Whip, the PMS said that a Coalition document had set out the working arrangements of the Coalition, stating that Ministers would be bound by collective responsibility, but the Coalition Agreement and the provisions in it also applied.
Asked if the vote would take place before Christmas, the PMS said that that was his expectation.
Put that Prime Minister Reinfeldt had said in his joint press conference with the Prime Minister that there may be some agreement on EU budgets, the PMS said that discussions were ongoing, but the Government’s position had not changed.
Bank of England
Asked about Dr Posen’s remarks on comments made by the Governor of the Bank of England, the PMS said that his remarks were a matter for him. The PMS said that it was not unusual for the Governor of the Bank of England to make comments about fiscal policy.
The PMS said that in his experience, Bank of England Governors talked about fiscal policy, as well as monetary policy. Asked if it was clear that the Governor of the Bank of England maintained his impartiality during the forming of the Coalition, the PMS said that people should speak to the Bank of England for the precise position. It was certainly true that the Governor of the Bank of England could meet with Opposition politicians and brief them on issues.
Put that the First minister had written to the Prime Minister, requesting a face-to-face meeting on the publication of the Scotland Bill, the PMS said he was sure the Prime Minister would reply to the letter.