The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began by giving a read-out of Cabinet, which focussed on review of policy in light of the riots; reforms to education; and the situation in Libya and Syria.
Criminal Justice System
Asked if lessons learnt from the way the courts worked on cases following the riots would be applied more widely, the PMS said that the courts had been highly effective at processing a large number of cases quickly. The PMS said that this was not only efficient, but sent an important message - demonstrating that we could deliver swift justice. He stressed that the Government was determined to learn lessons from that process.
Asked how lessons could be learnt while many cases were still ongoing, the PMS said he would not predict what will happen in particular court cases, but emphasised that the Government was reflecting on the experiences of recent weeks and would continue to reflect in the weeks to come.
Asked if sitting hours would be considered, the PMS said that there was already work underway to increase the efficiency of the criminal justice system. The PMS reiterated that the Government could learn the lessons from the recent weeks and that Ministers were determined to make the criminal justice system more efficient.
Asked about who was involved in the Quad process, the PMS confirmed that work on tackling gangs was already underway and lead by Home Secretary Theresa May and Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan-Smith, and that there was a separate Ministerial group working in that area. He said the Quad would look at a range of issues across the policy waterfront to help shape the Government’s response to the riots. This would include problem families, the welfare system, supporting people to get in to work and reducing crime and reoffending. He stressed that some of this work was already underway, but that the Government would want to look at these plans in light of what happened in August.
Asked if the Quad was meant to be an arbitration body, the PMS said that this was sometimes the case. In this case it was a way to ensure a strong coordinated policy response to the riots that involved the PM, Deputy Prime Minister and other departments.
TV in court rooms
Asked if HMG will make an announcement on the use of TV in courts, the PMS replied that the Ministry of Justice would be publishing a Written Ministerial Statement later that day.
Asked about further policy on free schools would be launched later this week, the PMS said that he was not expecting lots of new policies to be announced but confirmed that the Secretary of State for Education would take the opportunity to highlight the problems we have in the education system and how we are addressing those problems through structural reforms and raising standards. He said that while exam results were improving, the UK was falling down the international league table on key subjects and we had an education system which did not effectively address inequality.
Asked whether the Government would reconsider the terms of reference of Sir Peter Gibson’s inquiry, the PMS replied that the objective was to have a credible inquiry that could look at issues thoroughly and properly, but not one that was long and costly. The PMS added that the Government has been clear that access would be given to the relevant Government papers, including those held by the intelligence services. The Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Intelligence services had been very clear there would be full cooperation from the various departments and agencies.
Asked again if the terms of reference were sufficient, the PMS reiterated that this inquiry needs to be thorough and it must establish the facts. He said that the terms of reference were reasonably broad.
EU agency workers
Asked to confirm reports that the PM’s office commissioned its own legal advice on the EU’s Agency Workers Directive, the PMS said that the EU directive was agreed in 2008, the regulations have been on statute book since January 2010, and that they would come into force in October. He noted that there have been various concerns expressed by business about these regulations. The PMS said that the Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable, has been working hard to ensure that we limit any burdens placed on employers.
Asked if the Secretary of State for Business asked for additional rules to be added, the PMS replied the Government had been working with employers and businesses to discuss how to minimise the impact of regulations on businesses. He pointed towards the guidance published by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, earlier this year to help businesses with the new regulations and minimise the costs involved.
Asked again if he expected the rules to change further, the PMS reiterated that the Government was constantly looking at the issue of burdens on business. He said that this Government has stated its aim to be the first Government to reduce the burden of regulation over its lifetime.
Asked if there would be any new guidance, the PMS said he was not aware of any new guidance being published.
Asked why a QC was commissioned to review the policy, the PMS replied he didn’t want to bogged down in process, but that as the Government looked at ways to cut red tape and reduce burdens on businesses, it would take appropriate advice. He said that the Government would not apologise about the fact that it would continue to look at the issue of red tape and look very hard at how it could reduce burdens on businesses.
Asked if there would be a delay in the implementation of the directive, the PMS said in was due to come in the 1st October 2011.
Asked if employees’ basic rights were considered a burden on business, the PMS said that, while some regulations are very good and important, and should be there, what the Government should always do is to seek to minimise the cost of those regulations to business.