Number 10 Press Briefing - Afternoon From 7 July 2011
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: News International, bases review and IPSA.
Asked whether the PM agreed with the Mayor of London when he said we should remember Rupert Murdoch’s contribution to British media, the PMS (Prime Minister’s Spokesperson) said he wasn’t going to become a commentator on the history of the media.
Asked if there had been a discussion in Cabinet on phone hacking and BSkyB, the PMS said there had been no discussion of BSkyB but a short discussion had taken place on the issue of hacking and the PM’s announcement regarding this.
Asked whether the PM had spoken to Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks or any member of the Murdoch family, the PMS said he had not.
Asked if he could confirm FT reports that the BSkyB decision had been delayed until September, the PMS said that there was a ongoing consultation which was due to end on midday Friday but did not believe the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had set out a timetable for how long it would take to reach a decision. He added that it would depend on the nature of that consultation and the number of responses received.
Asked how many responses had been received and whether the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, would be reading them all before responding, the PMS said it was standard practice to look at all replies to a consultation and referred people to DCMS for further details.
Asked whether the PM supported those businesses and charities who had pulled advertising and support from the News of the World, this PMS said this was clearly a matter for them but the PM could understand why some had chosen to do so at the current time.
Asked whether the PM believed that the government should also pull advertising from the publication, the PMS said his understanding was that at the moment we did not advertise with the paper. He added that we had spent the last year bearing down on government spending on advertising.
Asked whether there were any plans for the PM or other Cabinet ministers to write op-eds for News of the World in the near future, the PMS said media bids were considered on their merit.
Asked to respond to the accusation by Ed Miliband that the PM had been too slow to respond to the mood of the country on this issue, the PMS said a decision had been made to hold one or potentially two inquiries. He added that there were real issues about how to construct those inquiries as there was an ongoing police investigation which we did not want to jeopardise but the PM had been very clear that we had to get on with this.
Asked whether Ed Miliband’s call for the terms of reference to be announced before the summer recess was realistic, the PMS said it was, and the plan was for the PM to meet the Leader of the Opposition next week.
Asked if the PM was still committed to holding two inquiries and how one could draw distinguish between the issues, the PMS said clearly the issues were connected and there would be some overlap between the two inquiries.
Asked which of those issues was meatier, the PMS said should wait until we had more detail on this.
Asked if the meeting with Ed Miliband was solely discuss the inquiries and whether smaller political parties had been invited, the PMS said that was correct but he was not aware of the precise cast list.
Asked if he accepted that on the issue of plurality, recent events raised the question of whether the UK’s media competition laws were too weak, the PMS said these were things that could be considered through an inquiry but plurality and competition were two separate issues. He added that the European Commission had already made a statement on the competition aspect of the BSkyB bid.
Asked whether this scandal raised questions about whether plurality of the media needed to be looked at, the PMS people should wait and see what the Government said regarding the inquiries and their scope. He added that clearly we needed to ensure that the public had confidence in that process and that meant ensuring the scope of the inquiries was appropriate.
Asked whether we could expect details about the inquiries before Recess, the PMS said those issues would take as long as they took and referred to Leader of the House of Common’s words.
Asked whether the Attorney General was the lead minister, the PMS said that the Attorney General had an important role to play but he would not get into the details of who was leading what at this early stage. He added that whoever was chosen to lead the inquiry, or inquiries, would lead on these issues.
Asked which department people should go to with questions, the PMS said he would happy to answer questions at lobby regarding this issue.
Asked if government was also consulting with the Metropolitan Police on the terms of reference of these inquiries, the PMS said he was not aware of any specific discussions but clearly we needed to ensure these inquiries did not impede police investigations and, therefore, he believed it was possible there would be discussions with Sir Paul Stephenson and others.
Asked about the ultimate aim of the inquiries, the PMS said that what ultimately happened as a result of those inquires was for them to decide and this would be set out in their recommendations. He added that government was responding to public concern about both the way police had conducted their previous investigation into phone hacking and the way certain media organisations and journalists had conducted themselves.
Asked whether PM had any regrets about hiring Andy Coulson and whether he accepted it was an error of judgment to do so after receiving warnings from the Editor of the Guardian, the PMS said that we had set out his position on this. He added that Andy Coulson had resigned earlier in the year and the PM had accepted this decision and had set out his position at the time.
Asked whether it was still theoretically possible that we could have more than two inquiries, the PMS said that there appeared to be two basic issues to be considered here so the likelihood was that we would have two inquiries. He added that if constructing the inquiries in a different way accelerated the process then clearly this was something we might consider.
Asked how it was possible to start an inquiry into the police when there was an ongoing police investigation, the PMS said that was why we were taking our time before answering questions in full. He then repeated the PM’s words about the importance of not jeopardising the ongoing police investigation.
Asked whether our actions were just a kneejerk reaction, the PMS said there were precedents for beginning inquiries when there were court proceedings underway.
Asked whether the PM thought his phone had been hacked into and whether he had contacted police proactively, the PMS said he did not believe so.
Asked whether any thought had been given to cancelling the Bravery Awards, the PMS said no, it had not.
Asked if the Bases Review had been discussed by the Cabinet, the PMS said it had not.
Asked whether the PM had commented on the fact that IPSA had received a clean bill of health today, the PMS said he had not spoken to the PM about this, but accepted that he had had some concerns in the past.