Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister had cancelled his foreign trip this week because there were concerns about the AV Bill, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said no. It was well known that there had been a lot of debate on this Bill in the House of Lords and it would be coming back to the House of Commons next week. We were still committed to our proposals and as the Deputy Prime Minister was the lead Minister you would expect him to be in the House dealing with the issue. It was usually the principle that Parliament took precedence over other engagements.
Asked if the Prime Minister was having talks with cross-benchers on this issue, the PMS said that no talks had been planned.
Asked if the deadline was still next Thursday, the PMS said that it was still our intention to proceed with a referendum on 5 May for the reasons we had set out. The Electoral Commission required 10 weeks notice ahead of a referendum.
Asked if there had been any discussions with the Electoral Commission, the PMS referred the journalist to the Cabinet Office.
Asked why the Prime Minister was visiting GCHQ today, the PMS said that it had been the Prime Minister’s intention to visit GCHQ for some time. The issue of cyber security was one that we raised and prioritised in the context of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
Council Leaders Letter
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Eric Pickles that cuts to local councils should be frontloaded despite opposition from some councils as outlined in an open letter released today, the PMS said that there was an element of frontloading in the Spending Review (SR) settlement because it had to add up.
Put that in today’s letter some council leaders had said that current plans would cost more and be less effective, the PMS said that they also pointed out in the letter that local authorities had been able to find efficiencies year in, year out, which was good and showed what could be done.
The PMS went on to say that everyone in government was aware that there would be a tight SR given the state of public finances. Good local councils had been planning on that basis and working out how they could find efficiencies.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that Eric Pickles should meet with the council leaders who had written the letter, the PMS said that it was a matter for Eric Pickles. It was the policy of the Communities and Local Government Department to work with councils and see if there was any way we could support this process and help them make efficiencies, for example by indentifying best practice which could be spread to other councils.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried that more councils had similar concerns, the PMS said that efficiencies could be found. It was important to remember that the start of this process was the fact that we had a large deficit, which in part needed to be dealt with through spending cuts. A quarter of public spending was local authority spending and therefore savings had to be found. Delaying that process would mean that we would end up paying more in debt interest, which was money down the drain. There should be discussions between the Department and councils, which was happening, but we could not reopen the SR.
Asked if the Government recognised the figure of £143million in regards to possible compensation payments to prisoners, the PMS said no; there were a number of cases outstanding but compensation would be determined by court, which meant nobody would be able to say for certain what the figure would be.
Asked what the latest legal advice was, the PMS said that the Attorney General would be setting out details and explaining the position in the House of Commons today.
Asked if the Government would accept paying compensation for prisoners, the PMS said that he would not pre-empt what the Attorney General would say on this today, but it was important to point out that it was not possible to ignore judgements of a court without costs or consequences. The Attorney General would explain the case history in this area to the House of Commons today.
Asked what impact the debate in the House of Commons on prisoner voting could have, the PMS said that the House would debate the possible options in this area, and we were considering a wide range of solutions to the issue. We had been clear that our objective was to keep to an absolute minimum the number of prisoners who got the vote. We would reflect on the options in light of the debate and the legal advice.
Asked why the Prime Minister thought that prisoners shouldn’t be able to vote, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made clear that if someone has been punished for a crime they should not be given the right to vote.
Asked who would abstain from the vote, the PMS said that Government Ministers would abstain from the vote.
Asked what the time limit was, the PMS said the court had given us 9 months to introduce legislation to implement the judgement in the first case.
Asked if there was any update on the situation in Egypt, the PMS said that our position remained the same: given the fact that continuing protests were larger than ever we would say that more urgent change was necessary.