Asked what the UK’s potential liabilities were if Greece required a second bail-out, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that he would not get into speculating about another country’s finances. There had been a meeting of Eurozone ministers last night and they had made a statement after that meeting. Put that we contributed towards the IMF and were we liable to pay anything through the European Union, the PMS replied that people should speak to the Treasury about our position as an IMF shareholder. The PMS said that anything further said here would be taken as speculation on Greece’s finances and he would not be getting into that. Asked if there had been any request put to the Government, the PMS said that there had not been any request. Asked if Greece would come up at the European Council, the PMS said that it was not on the agenda, but there would be a discussion of the economic situation at dinner. Asked if the Prime Minister would have anything specific to say on the situation, the PMS replied that the Eurozone Finance Ministers met yesterday and had issued a statement following the meeting. The PMS said that the arrangement in place for Greece involved Eurozone countries and not the UK. Asked if the UK had signed up to a mechanism that would make it liable for future payments, the PMS said that this Government had signed up to the European Mechanism that would start in 2013. There was no proposal on the table that would involve the UK, but the PMS said he would not get into speculating on Greece.
Asked if the Prime Minister was sympathetic towards women who would have to work longer under the new pension proposals, the PMS replied that this was something that had come up in PMQs last week and the Prime Minister had made the point that all parties had supported the equalisation of the pension age between men and women. The PMS said that we needed to raise the pension ages to make sure the pension system remained affordable, and because we were doing that, we had been able to re-link pensions back to earnings. Asked if there had been any discussion of making the transition slightly easier, the PMS replied that there was a debate in the House this afternoon. Ahead of that debate, the Pensions Secretary had put out a statement setting out the position. Asked if there would be any concessions for women nearing pension age, the PMS referred journalists to the statement put out by the Pensions Secretary. The PMS added that we would stand by the 2018 and 2020 timetable. Asked if the Government would stand by the timetable while looking at ways of alleviating the pain, the PMS said that everyone had agreed on the need to equalize the pension age and to ensure that our system was affordable, we needed to raise pension ages, and that’s what we were going to do. Asked if this was a contradiction of the Coalition Agreement, the PMS said that this was something that needed to be done in order to ensure that we had a pension system that was affordable. As the Prime Minister had pointed out, as a result of making the changes, we had been able to introduce the triple guarantee on pensions, to ensure that they would be linked to earnings, prices or 2.5%, whichever was highest. When asked about the specific line in the Coalition Agreement, the PMS said that we had to deal with the reality of the situation; we had an unaffordable pension system which required some changes.
Asked if there had been any movement on the Government’s position on strike laws, the PMS said that the positioned remained the same and they remained under review. Asked about Chris Huhne’s comments on Conservatives in the Government acting like ‘ideological zealots’ over the deregulation of climate change laws, the PMS said that we were looking at the issue of red-tape and we wanted to try and identify unnecessary burdens on business. We took the approach that generally, regulation was not always the answer and if we could find other ways of encouraging and incentivising the right kind of behaviour then we should consider those.