From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Chris Huhne, DPM -Bank shares, Afghanistan, Dublin Regulation, Self Defence, Coastguard Services, Circus animals and Libya costs.
Asked about the Energy and Climate Change Secretary’s media plans ahead of the publication of the National Policy Statements, the PMS said he was not in a position to expand on the Department’s precise media plans.
DPM - Bank shares
Asked whether the PM backed the DPM’s proposals given the Government was unable to fund many public services, the PMS said that as the Treasury had made clear we would look at all options on the table. He added that when the PM was asked about the issue in the House last month he made clear he was in favour of wider share ownership but we would have to ensure we got value for the taxpayer.
Asked if this was the only option on the table, the PMS said we would look at this option carefully but alongside a range of others. He reiterated that securing value for the taxpayer was paramount.
Asked if the PM was sending out the same signals as the DPM on this issue, the PMS said the PM was sending out precisely the same signals and he had said only last month that we would look very carefully at this proposal.
Asked if the DPM adding his name to this proposal gave it any more weight, the PMS said he believed there would be a lot more discussion around the proposal in the coming period but it was only one of many options being considered. He added that we would be driven by how best to achieve value for money for the taxpayer.
Asked if the PM had been aware that the DPM was planning on floating the idea, the PMS said the DPM was most likely responding to questions in Brazil.
Asked what he meant by getting value for taxpayers, the PMS said this was a standard phrase. He added that as taxpayers money was used to bailout the banks, we needed to ensure we got value for money for taxpayers who were asked to put their hands in their pockets.
Asked under what timescale the options would be looked at, the PMS said the Treasury had not set out a timetable.
Put that the PM and DPM had said on several occasions that they considered the deficit the defining mission of the coalition and therefore, it would make sense for the money raised from the sell off to go towards reducing that deficit, the PMS said we had set out our plans to reduce the deficit which saw us meeting our fiscal mandate based on latest OBR figures. As to how we would go about of disposing of our shares in the banks, we would look at all the options.
Asked if the sale of the banks was integral to reducing the deficit in the agreed timescale, the PMS said no assumptions had been made about the sale in the current fiscal plans.
Asked repeatedly to explain the different withdrawal dates given by the PM in his statement and by the CDS, the PMS said they were consistent statements and that there would be no UK combat troops in Afghanistan in 2015.
Asked what evidence the PM had when he said in his statement, that the surge had reversed the momentum of the insurgency, the PMS said that was our assessment of the situation on the ground. When the decision to put the surge in place was made a couple of years ago the situation was clearly not as good but we believed it had been effective in halting the momentum of the insurgency.
Pressed further if that indicated that the tipping point had been reached, the PMS said that the strategy had been effective. This was the UK and US assessment.
Asked about whether it was fair to say the situation was irreversible when the PM talked about making a progressive reduction in troop numbers, the PMS said there was a clear strategy and that the surge had been effective. He added we were now beginning the process of transition to Afghan security forces and clearly the rate at which we could move ahead would be dependent on conditions on the ground.
Asked why Britain was so much more reluctant to give a fixed timetable on progressive troop withdrawal, the PMS replied that we, and the National Security Council, would consider the US announcement and we would have more to say in due course.
Asked if we were reducing troop numbers in response to the US announcement, the PMS said we would make our decision based on the conditions on the ground, as we saw them. Pressed whether this decision was politically motivated, the PMS responded there was a relationship between what the US and UK announced because there was an internationally agreed strategy in place. He added that the US were also analysing the situation on the ground and we saw a similar picture, but we would take our decision based on our own assessment.
Asked about the structural difference between the US and UK troop presence and whether it was wise to make a linkage between actions taken by both countries, the PMS said there was an internationally agreed strategy and we are part of that. When it came to specific decisions, we would be informed by what commanders said on the ground.
Asked if the PM was comfortable with France’s announcement this morning to withdraw troops and whether he thought France had played its full part in taking its full share of the burden, the PMS said there was a broad coalition of nations and they were all committed to our objectives.
Asked about the Foreign Secretary’s comments on talks with the Taliban, the PMS said the FS was clear that he didn’t want to get into the specifics but we had always said that it should be an Afghan led process. Pressed if the FS was referring to something above and beyond a high peace council, the PMS said he wouldn’t add anything more to what the FS had said but added that we had been pushing for a parallel political and military process.
Asked again about withdrawal dates, the PMS said that the rate of transition would be determined by the conditions on the ground. He reiterated that 2015 was a firm deadline.
Asked if the PM was worried about attempts by the European Commission to suspend the Dublin Regulation, the PMS said we had made our position very clear and we would continue to make that case very strongly at European Council.
Asked how the PM would keep his commitment to allow homeowners and shopkeepers to defend their property without fear of prosecution, the PMS said the Ministry of Justice would come forward with plans in the autumn but it might involve changes to the law or guidance to courts.
Asked if Government would change its mind on reforming coastguard services, the PMS said we would set out our proposals later in the summer.
Asked about the legal impediments to banning circus animals, the PMS said we would continue to look at these legal impediments but in the meantime, we thought the best approach would be to introduce a tough licensing regime. He further added there would be a debate in the House later that day on the issue.
Asked if No 10 was content that Defra’s legal advice, the PMS said it was necessary to take legal advice and set policy accordingly. He added it appeared that there were legal impediments to an outright ban and legal challenges were likely if we were to go ahead.
Asked if that was why No 10 took a direct interest in the issue, the PMS said it was a live issue.
Asked about the Chancellor’s previous statement on costs and how it related to today’s figure, the PMS said that the figures published were estimates based on the most up to date costs, which was why figures quoted by the Chancellor a few weeks back were different from those set out today.
Asked if it would be better to make an oral statement to the House to go through these costs, the PMS said we had informed the House in the normal way. He added that these were an estimate of costs and MoD would keep the House informed.
Asked if like all estimates these figures could be revised, the PMS said they were estimates.