Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 16 November 2010
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: detainees, civil service posts and royal wedding.
Asked if the Justice Secretary’s oral statement this afternoon would contain any detail on the amount of the settlement, the PMS said the Justice Secretary would be confirming that we had reached a settlement; he would not be giving details of figures, due to the confidentiality agreement that had been made in the context of that settlement.
When asked which side had asked for the confidentiality agreement, the PMS replied that it was something both sides had agreed upon. On what the difference was between a ‘settlement’ and ‘compensation’, the PMS replied that the difference was that we were not admitting culpability.
On whether the settlement had been cleared by the Prime Minister and whose idea it had been to pursue a settlement, the PMS said that we had set out that it was our intention at the time of the Prime Minister’s statement at the start of July.
Put that the Prime Minister must have signed off the settlement itself, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was aware of the discussions and how they were progressing, but the discussions had been led by Government officials and lawyers.
Asked about the nature of the discussions with the previous Government, the PMS said that they would have been informed of the outcome.
Asked how quickly the inquiry into all the issues would start, the PMS replied that it was our intention to allow Sir Peter Gibson to proceed with his review before the end of the year.
Put that all cases were now resolved, the PMS said that we had dealt with the cases that we needed to. Asked about the cases against MI5 officials, the PMS said that there were some police investigations, but the police were best placed to tell people where they had got to.
Put that none of this affected those investigations, the PMS said that there was a mediation process in response to these court actions and there were police investigations which were a matter for the police.
Asked how the Gibson Review could go ahead with police investigations ongoing, the PMS replied that we had said that we needed to get through this process and the police investigations.
When asked what the Prime Minister’s response was to the settlement, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been very clear that we had to deal with this issue. For the past few years, nearly 100 employees of the security services had been devoted to these cases. The PMS said that the Government was facing years of litigation, the cost of which could have run into tens of millions of pounds and we needed to draw a line under the past and let the security services get on with the job they needed to do.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought the outcome was distasteful, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had to deal with issues as he found them and this was considered to be the best way forward.
Put that the Government would still want the Gibson Inquiry to be as public as possible, the PMS said that the commitment remained the same. Clearly there were secrecy issues here, and that was why we had constructed the Inquiry in the way we had. The PMS added that it was not possible to have a completely public inquiry, but it would be as open as possible.
Asked if the timing of the announcement had anything to do with Prince William getting engaged, the PMS replied that we had not made an announcement on this. The PMS said that the Government decided to make a statement at the point when it knew the story was going to break last night. The PMS added that we had found out about Prince William’s engagement during this morning’s Cabinet meeting.
When asked what conversations there had been with the Americans on the subject, the PMS said that we had been in close touch with them throughout. Asked if the Prime Minister had spoken to President Obama on the subject recently, the PMS replied that they had spoken about it in the past but not recently.
Asked if the Prime Minister saw this as an admission of culpability, the PMS replied that this was not.
Asked if the Gibson Inquiry would be a mixture of public and private hearings, the PMS replied that it was something Sir Peter Gibson was considering.
On whether the Prime Minister could understand the concern of people who were witnessing taxpayers money being spent in this way, the PMS replied that some people would find this unpalatable.
However, the Government was spending public money on this issue anyway, by virtue of the court cases and the legal action that had been brought against it. In addition to this, over 100 staff were dealing with this and nothing else and it would have been in no- one’s interest to let this run on for the next few years.
Civil Service Posts
Asked why it was wrong to employ Andrew Parsons and Nicola Woodhouse in civil service posts and not other former Conservative staff, the PMS said that the people being referred to had been employed to do a cross-Government job. The reason for this was because we thought it would be an effective way of saving money.
However, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had decided that civil servants doing these jobs sent the wrong signal to the public at a difficult time. The PMS said that it had therefore been agreed that they would return to work for the Conservative Party in purely political roles.
On why this was not the case for other people in similar positions, the PMS said that as a general statement of policy, the employment of those individuals was all done in line with the established procedures. It was normal for Government departments to employ people on a temporary basis. It was not normal, or legal, for the Government to consider people’s political affiliation when considering them for a job.
The PMS said that we would continue to look at ways to save more money on communications and we would be saving considerable sums over the next few years.
Asked if Andrew Parsons would be accompanying the Prime Minister on any official business, the PMS said that he would not. Asked if the Government would be seeking to fill the role left by Nicky Woodhouse, the PMS said we would look at the various communications needs of the Cabinet office and No10.
Put that it had been reported that Andrew Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse would not be replaced, which then opened up the possibility that they weren’t needed to start with, the PMS said that there were lots of people across Government departments employed in communications roles of one sort or another and we were looking across departments to see what we needed and how we could best deploy those resources.
Asked when the review into Government websites would be completed, the PMS said he did not know when it was due to report. Asked if the Government was looking at having just one website, the PMS replied that we were looking at rationalising websites.
Asked how much money employing Andy Parsons and Nicky Woodhouse would save, the PMS said that he did not have a figure, but the Government was confident that savings could be made. The PMS said we were seeking to reduce the amount of duplication across Government.
Asked if the initial decision to make these two members of staff civil servants stemmed from the Prime Minister’s wish to cut down on the number of Special Advisors, the PMS replied that these were not Special Adviser roles. The Prime Minister had considered the issue, and decided that it sent the wrong signal.
Asked if this would lead to a review into how people were employed on a temporary basis, the PMS said that he didn’t think so. The PMS said that departments needed some flexibility to be able to employ people on short term contracts, to enable them to have the resources they needed to do their jobs.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that some of the criticism was down to the fact that these people had been employed without any competition, the PMS said that these were long-established procedures. The PMS said it was important that Government departments had the flexibility of being able to employ someone very quickly.
Asked whose idea it was to hire them in that way, the PMS replied that the decision to hire them as civil servants was taken on the basis of civil service advice. The advice given was that, if they were going to be doing Government jobs, they would need to be Government employees.
Asked for a comment from the Prime Minister, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was delighted to hear the news and had passed on his best wishes to the happy couple.
Published: 16 November 2010