Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on events in Bahrain, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that there would be an update on this from the Foreign Secretary later. We were deeply concerned by the events in Bahrain last night and by the level of violence. We would urge all sides to avoid violence and urge the police to exercise restraint. It was essential that Bahrain took further steps to reform that met the aspirations of its people for greater political and social freedoms. All countries in this region were different, but Bahrain had made important political reforms alongside its growing economic success and we welcomed those steps. For example, it had a parliament, and there was an opposition.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the substance or presentation of the consultation on forests, the PMS said the Secretary of State was making an announcement to the House of Commons later today.
Asked if the Prime Minister had full confidence in Caroline Spelman, the PMS said yes.
Asked if the Prime Minister had met with Caroline Spelman yesterday, the PMS said he didn’t think so, but they had spoken in the last 24 hours.
Asked who the Prime Minister blamed for getting the proposals wrong, the PMS said that we had set out some proposals for consultation and as the Prime Minister had said yesterday a lot of people had expressed views. The Prime Minster had always been clear that we were going to listen.
Put that Caroline Spelman had brought forward her spending review proposals too early, the PMS said the spending review process was an orderly process with departments settling in the usual way with the Treasury. They were one of the first departments to settle, but that wasn’t particularly relevant to this issue.
Asked if DEFRA had joined the Star Chamber and if Caroline Spelman’s tough measures had had an influence on other departments to do the same, the PMS said that those that settled became eligible for membership of the Star Chamber, but not everyone who settled had to become a member of the chamber. He would have to check what had happened with DEFRA.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that the forest proposals were a mistake, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made the point in his interview on Monday that governments made mistakes, but that when we did we were relatively fast in trying to admit those mistakes and put them right.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that appointing a new Director of Strategy would stop things like this happening, the PMS said that we hadn’t made any announcements on new appointments.
There had been some changes to the structures at No10 and Cabinet Office, which reflected the fact that we now had a coalition Government.
Asked if that was about staff numbers, the PMS said that it was about getting the structures right and one of the things we did early on was to set up a coalition committee to deal with certain issues, which had not happened in the past. There had been a process of evolution over time.
Asked why the plan for housing benefit had been dropped, the PMS said that we were announcing a massive reform to the system and for good reason. One pound in every three was spent on welfare and that amount had gone up dramatically over the past years. At the same time there were lots of people who were trapped on benefits; five million trapped on out of work benefits and nearly two million children growing up in homes where nobody worked. A massive job needed to be done in reforming the welfare system. We had been doing that and developing our proposals over a period of time. The housing benefit reforms referred to were announced in the first Budget. Since then we had developed our proposals on universal credit, which were a key part of improving work incentives.
Asked why the 10 per cent reduction was not needed now, the PMS said that this was something that Iain Duncan Smith had spoken about before in front of the Select Committee. The original proposal had been designed to improve work incentives. We had since developed our proposals for universal credit and the work programme which would encourage people to come off benefits and get into work.
Asked if this was a victory for the Deputy Prime Minister, the PMS said that Iain Duncan Smith had been talking about this this morning and he and the Deputy Prime Minister shared exactly the same position.
Asked if Iain Duncan Smith had said that no-one would lose out, the PMS said that he had said that at the point of transition no one would lose out in cash terms, and then as people moved out of benefits and into work they would be better off.
Asked if the Prime Minister was pleased with last nights result, the PMS said that we were pleased to get the legislation through Parliament.
Asked if the Prime Minister had anything to say on Libya and the violence there, the PMS said that they should respect the rights of people to peaceful protest and that any violent repression of protests was completely unacceptable.
Asked about Iranian warships using the Suez Canal, the PMS said that we were concerned by those reports.
Asked about warning from the President of the European Court on Human Rights regarding prisoner voting, the PMS said that the Prime Minister’s view was that we should keep the number of prisoners who had the vote to an absolute minimum.