Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Megrahi, free bus passes, Office for Budget Responsibility, Prime Minister's interview and NHS.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Sir Nigel Sheinwald that the release of Megrahi was a mistake, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that in the past the Prime Minister had said that he believed the decision taken to release Megrahi was wrong.
Asked if the Prime Minister respected the process, the PMS said that obviously the Prime Minister respected the process. It was a decision for the Scottish government; it had already happened and the Prime Minister said at the time that he thought it was wrong.
Asked if the subject would come up when the Prime Minister spoke to President Obama, the PMS said that there would be a broad range of issues discussed; he couldn’t say for certain this would be one of them.
Asked if they would discuss BP, the PMS said that BP was expected to come up.
Asked if the coalition government had made any inquiries into the circumstances relating to Megrahi’s release, the PMS said no; the previous government set out the position on this; it was a decision taken by the Scottish government. The Ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald had sent a letter, which set out the position.
Put that the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had said that it would invite UK government officials to attend hearings and asked if those officials would attend if summoned, the PMS said that the Ambassador had written a letter setting out the position. It had just been announced that hearings would take place and we would wait and see what the plans were.
Free Bus Passes
Asked if the Prime Minister was contemplating reneging on his election policy to protect free bus passes, the PMS said no.
Put that there had been a claim that one of the options the Department for Transport suggested was speeding up the change of age at which people could get their free bus pass, the PMS said that the position was set out in the coalition agreement; we would protect free buss passes for older people. We would not get into speculation - there was already a plan under the previous government to equalise the age to sixty-five; that would be a phased process and would come in 2020.
Asked if the free bus pass would be means tested, the PMS said that there was no suggestion that they would be means tested; the department needed to look at ways of improving the efficiency and administration of this kind of scheme, but means testing was not consistent with that.
Office for Budget Responsibility
Put that it had previously been said that the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) would be able to question the new head of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) but that the Chancellor said yesterday the TSC could have the power of veto over the Chancellor’s candidate, the PMS said that the two things were entirely consistent; the TSC had the right to call the OBR to give evidence and they also had the power of veto.
Prime Minister’s Interview
Asked about the Prime Minister’s comments on the UK/US relationship in his interview published today, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been making the point that it was important to understand the dynamics of the relationship between the two countries, and understand our role; this was the best way to bring our influence to bear. There were areas where the UK could bring specific things to the relationship, for example we had strong links with countries such as Pakistan, India and Africa. It was important to recognise that both parties had something to bring to the relationship and we could work together in pursuit of our shared interests.
Asked if the Prime Minister recognised the figure from the NHS Chief Executive of £1.7 billion to carry out reorganisation of the NHS, the PMS said that he had not seen that figure, but our objective was to reduce the cost of the NHS and reduce the cost of bureaucracy so that the resources we had could be directed to the frontline.