On the Eurozone, welfare refrom, Scotland, HS2 and James O'Shaughnessy.
Prime Minister’s Day
- The Prime Minister is working from Downing Street today
Other Departmental Business
- Transport Secretary Justine Greening will announce that the Government will be going ahead with plans for HS2;
- Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt will attend a School Games event and launch the youth sports strategy;
- Scotland Secretary Michael Moore will make an oral statement on Scotland (1630);
- Policing Minister Nick Herbert is launching the final phase of the non-emergency police number ‘101′ (press notice this afternoon).
Asked if the Prime Minister (PM) had received an invitation to attend the inquiry, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) told the assembled media that the PM had not received any request but if asked to attend he would. The PMS added that when the inquiry was announced the PM had been very clear it had the power to call on politicians, past and present, including Prime Ministers.
Asked if the inquiry had the power to call officials, the PMS replied that it was a public inquiry so had the power to call witnesses in the same way that a Select Committee can.
Asked if the PM agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister that the inter-governmental agreement should be wrapped into the EU Treaty, the PMS replied that the PM had set out his position in a statement to Parliament in December and that position had not changed. He said the statement in December flagged the fact that other countries wanted to bring the inter-governmental agreement into the Treaty in time, but the UK would still want certain safeguards.
Asked for a reaction to the Welfare Bill passing through the House, the PMS said that the Government had to tackle the record deficit and it had set out plans to do that within the course of Parliament. The PMS said that the welfare bill had ballooned over the past decade and it was important to bring it down. He said that those people who needed support should, of course, receive it but the Government also wanted to sharpen incentives to help people get off benefits and into work.
Asked which businesses in Scotland had voiced concerns about the country’s economic stability, the PMS replied that he would not provide names of companies involved in private conversations. The PMS pointed the assembled media to a report by Citigroup published in November which urged potential investors in Scotland’s renewables industry to “exercise extreme caution in committing further capital to Scotland”.
Put that if names could not be given then sectors could perhaps be named, the PMS said that the report made specific comments about renewables, an area where Scotland was strong because of its geography and coastline.
Put that people disputed that businesses were uncertain, the PMS said that businesses in general didn’t like uncertainty. He reminded the assembled media that energy companies made long term investment decisions, which was particularly affected by uncertainty.
Asked if the situation in Scotland was any different to the uncertainty of a General Election, the PMS said there were lots of unanswered questions about what independence would mean, for example, would Scotland keep the pound or join the euro, would monetary policing be set by the Bank of England. The PMS said that these were questions for the Scottish Government but in the absence of answers to these questions there was uncertainty.
Asked why Michael Moore would be delivering the statement if the Chancellor was in charge of discussions, the PMS said one would expect Michael Moore to make the statement.
Asked why Michael Moore didn’t lead the discussions, the PMS said he did and had done jointly with the Chancellor in Cabinet. Ministerial committees were usually chaired by senior government ministers.
Asked if Government would be publishing legal advice, the PMS said that it would set out its legal view.
Put that the Government had suggested a date for a Referendum, the PMS said that clearly any decision about the future of Scotland was a matter for the Scottish people but the Government thought the process should be legal, fair and decisive.
Put that this was a contradiction, the PMS said that was not the case. A number of people had highlighted the fact that a Referendum Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament would be open to legal challenge in the courts and it was the Government’s view that this should be decided by Parliaments and not by the courts.
Put that it appeared that the Government was in disarray, the PMS denied this and said details had not even been published yet.
Asked if the PM planned to visit Scotland, the PMS said details of the PM’s travel would be given to media in the usual way. He confirmed that the last visit had been in October.
Asked if the Chancellor was expected to defend the union, the PMS said all ministers would do so - that was the government’s policy. The next step in the process was to set out our proposals on a referendum, which would happen that afternoon.
Asked if the PM had met the Welsh Secretary or received the resignation she said she would give, the PMS said there had been no specific meeting recently on the matter.
Asked if a tunnel would be in the Welsh Secretary’s constituency, the PMS told the assembled media that the announcement was being made by Justine Greening. The Government had run a consultation; people had concerns and the Government has listened to them.
Put that the cost of the scheme looked to be rising, the PMS said that for every pound spent two pounds would be generated. He explained this was part of the Government’s efforts to rebalance the economy and tackle the North-South divide.
Asked if tickets would be affordable, the PMS said that we wanted people to use the railway. If tickets weren’t affordable then people wouldn’t use it.
Asked if ACOBA were now on a statutory footing, the PMS said there had been no change to the process.
Put that the PM had said in Opposition that they would be put on a statutory footing, the PMS said there was a well established process for advising on people leaving Government to work elsewhere.
Put that James O’Shaughnessy had broken the rules for officials, the PMS said that while he would not normally comment on individuals or on the business appointment process, James O’Shaughnessy had followed the rules and the consultancy he was undertaking was in line with the advice he received.
Put that this was not the view of Sir Alistair Graham, the PMS replied that there was an independent committee to advise on this process and James O’Shaughnessy acted in line with the advice received.
Asked if the PM would look to tighten up the rules in this area, the PMS said that the Government would publish proposals on lobbying shortly. He added that a two year lobbying ban had been introduced by this Government to strengthen the position.
Asked about possible sanctions, the PMS referred the assembled media to the Cabinet Office for further information on the process.