From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: China, Chris Shale and Strikes.
Asked about details of the business deals being signed by the UK and China and would the Prime Minister be raising the issue of human rights with the Chinese, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman told the assembled press that we would update people on details of the bilateral talks later today. On the issue of human rights, the PMS replied that he would talk a bit more about what was discussed in the meetings at afternoon lobby, but as ever, no issue was off the table.
Asked whether Premier Wen had raised the issue of sovereign debt and the situation with Greece, the PMS replied that he had seen the comments made by Premier Wen on that subject and he had no doubt that the situation in the global economy would form part of the discussions today. Asked specifically about Greece, the PMS said he thought there would be discussion on the economic situation in general.
Asked if there had been any contact between Downing Street and Chris Shale before he died, the PMS said that it was true that there was a phone call to him on Saturday to make him aware of the fact that there would be a story running in the Sunday newspapers.
On whether there was any update on the Unison talks, the PMS replied that it had been widely reported that there would be the latest in a series of meetings this afternoon and no doubt there would be more to say after that.
Asked if the Prime Minister was optimistic, the PMS replied that our approach was to be constructive. Asked if there were more meetings planned, the PMS replied that he thought there would be more meetings in July.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought it was good for parents to help out in schools during strikes, the PMS replied that he did not think that was quite what Michael Gove’s letter had said; he did write to schools and say that they should deploy all available staff and consider the full range of local resources available to them.
The PMS added that Michael Gove had been saying that schools should make every effort to stay open and minimise the inconvenience caused to pupils and parents.
On whether CRB restrictions should be lifted during strikes, the PMS said that there was no suggestion that CRB restrictions should be lifted.
Put that Vince Cable and Michael Gove seemed to differ on the Government’s position on toughening up the strike laws, the PMS replied that the Government’s position was that it was something that we kept under review. Vince Cable had said in a speech a couple of weeks ago that public sector strike levels were low and therefore there was not a compelling case to change the laws at the present time, but we would keep that under review.
Asked what would constitute a final resort and make the Government think about changing the law, the PMS replied that what we did not want to see was widespread disruption to public services and to the economy. We would make every effort to stop that from happening and we thought the best way of going about that was to have a sensible discussion about changes to pensions, which we believed were necessary.
The PMS said that we knew that certain unions had already balloted their members and had decided on strike action this Thursday - we thought that was premature and unnecessary, and the only people who would suffer would be the British public.
Put that the NUT had suggested that if there was any give in the Government’s stance during the talks today, they may well call off the strike, the PMS replied that we were committed to implementing Lord Hutton’s recommendations and the Government would stick to its fiscal plans.
Put that Francis Maude had called for volunteers to help out and did this constitute sensible contingency planning, the PMS replied that there was contingency planning going on across a range of public services. Schools already drew on the wider community and they may be able to do that to ensure they stayed open this week.
The PMS added that if lots of schools were to close, it would have a big impact on parents and pupils. We wanted to avoid that and it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do to ask schools to look at all available options and think about what arrangements they had in place.
Asked whether public services should guarantee a minimum level of disruption during the strikes, the PMS said that there were specific parts of the public sector where there were certain restrictions, for example prisons, but we were not planning on any changes to the strike laws at present.
Asked if there were any further meetings to come between now and Thursday, the PMS replied that he was not aware of any but people should check with Cabinet Office.