Briefing by the Prime Minister's spokesman on: the economy, Coalition agreement, World Cup bid, ash cloud, Parliament, Iran, Thailand, appointments, dissolution rule and misc.
Asked whether all spending decisions since January would now be under review, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the announcement made this morning was about all spending decisions made since January. All those spending decisions, including things such as pilots would be looked at again to see whether we should proceed with them.
Asked if things that had already been signed off would be looked at again, the PMS replied that he would not try and anticipate what might be found in this process; decisions would be made after the process had finished. Asked if this included every Whitehall department, the PMS confirmed that it did.
Asked whether the PMS agreed with the Chancellor that Treasury officials were involved in inventing “works of fiction”, the PMS said that the Budget forecast was the Chancellor’s forecast and that was set out in legislation. Today’s announcement meant that the process of making forecasts and assessments of the fiscal position would be done independently.
Asked if there was any procedure whereby civil servants have in the past been involved in producing “works of fiction”, the PMS replied that the procedure was for officials to advise and Ministers to decide and the old forecast procedure was consistent with that.
Put that as these were Treasury forecasts, the implication was that people could trust them, the PMS replied that the forecast was the Chancellor’s forecast and that had always been the position.
Put that the Prime Minister had spoken of inspiring people but how would he inspire people who had lost their jobs, the PMS said that the Chancellor had already set out his priorities for the economy this morning and this had also been discussed in the Prime Minister’s joint press conference last week. Clearly there was a difficult job ahead; the priority for economic policy would be to tackle the deficit, but another priority was to get Britain working again.
Asked about the £6billion of savings and when those would be available, the PMS said that there would be an announcement soon.
Put that the Chancellor had said this morning that the aim was to protect key public services rather than frontline services, the PMS replied that there was a process to go through in terms of public spending. There would be a Budget on the 22nd June and a Spending Review would follow. The Prime Minister had said that he thought efficiencies could be made and that the key to this was to try and get more for less and to reform public services so that we could improve them while also dealing with the deficit problem.
Asked what the difference was between a key public service and a frontline service, the PMS said that he would not get into a semantic argument. The process of a Spending Review was one of making choices on public spending and that’s what would happen.
Asked when the second agreement would be published and would the Human Rights Act appear in it, the PMS said that there would be a further Coalition document which would set out the Government’s policy programme. The precise timing of that had not yet been decided but was likely to happen in the next couple of weeks. In terms of what it would say on other issues, people would have to wait until it was published.
Asked who would be chairing the negotiations between the two wings of Government, the PMS replied that he would not get into detail on the process. There were two parties in the coalition and they would be discussing these issues. The PMS said he would not get into details about how that would be worked through.
Asked whether some of the original agreement would be reviewed or would new issues be discussed, the PMS said that the Coalition Agreement that had been published would remain; the objective here was to work through the other areas of policy that were not covered.
World Cup bid
Put that the Prime Minister had backed the World Cup bid and did he stand by that after the events of the weekend, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought that this was a matter for the FA and they had acted swiftly. The Prime Minister remained very enthusiastic about the World Cup bid and was fully behind it.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would agree with the comments made by Richard Branson, the PMS said that the Government’s priority was the safety of passengers. There was a process for analysing what was going on, which involved the MET Office, the CAA and the Air Traffic Control Service and those experts would be the ones who took the judgement. Asked if the Prime Minister would want to see any revision to what was in place, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was keen to listen to the expert advice and would listen to any views on the subject.
Asked who would be taking the second Opposition questions in PMQs, the PMS said that he didn’t think this was principally a matter for the Government but for the House authorities. Asked if there were any other plans to change PMQs and what would happen to the Opposition Day Motion that otherwise would have been in the hands of the Liberal Democrats, the PMS said that on the second point he did not know and on the first question, he wasn’t aware of any plans to change anything at the current time.
Asked if the Prime Minister supported John Bercow as the House of Commons Speaker, the PMS said the Prime Minister always supported the Speaker of the House of Commons constitutionally.
Put that Iran had agreed a nuclear swap deal with Brazil and Turkey and what was the Government’s response, the PMS said that the position on Iran was unchanged and the Government was concerned about these issues.
Asked if the UK was still committed to UN sanctions on Iran, the PMS replied that our position was unchanged at the present time. The reported actions of Iran would clearly be a serious cause for concern. Iran had an obligation to reassure the international community and until it did so we would work with our international partners on a sanctions resolution in the UN Security Council.
Asked for the Prime minister’s view on events taking place in Bangkok, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was being kept informed but these were primarily a matter for the Foreign Office.
Asked if there were any other Government appointments to be made, the PMS said that people should expect a few more appointments to be made in the coming days.
Asked whether the Government would be appointing 100 more peers in the House of Lords, the PMS said that he didn’t think the Government would but he had seen the story being referred to. The policy set out in the Coalition Agreement said that there would be proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber of the House based on Proportional Representation.
The proposals would be developed in the next six months or so and in the interim, Lords appointments would be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by political parties in the General Election. The PMS said he thought it was a leap to go from that to the suggestion of 100 more peers.
Put that it was mathematically right to have 100 more peers, the PMS replied that the Coalition Agreement stated that between now and December 2010, Lords appointments would be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote. This was an interim arrangement but people should not expect 100 peers to be appointed in the next six months.
Asked if Regional Ministers had been scrapped, the PMS said that we were still in the process of completing the appointments to the Government. The Prime Minister had been very clear on the importance of devolution.
Asked whether the 55% dissolution rule would mean that the Government would not automatically seek the dissolution of Parliament if The Queen’s Speech or the Budget was voted down by 51%, the PMS said that if you had a fixed term Parliament, power would be taken away from the Prime Minister and given to Parliament to make the decision on the dissolving of Parliament.
There would be a Bill published early in this session and the details would be set out in that. There would be a lot of debate about precisely how this worked and the PMS would not get into detail on that before the Bill had even been drafted.
Asked if the Government was committed to 55% dissolution, the PMS said that it was. Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister would be taking the Bill through Parliament, the PMS said that the DPM would certainly be responsible for issues surrounding electoral reform and constitutional changes.
Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister would have a role at next months G8 and G20 Summits, the PMS said he did not know at the present time.
Asked whether there had been any contact between the Government and the Icelandic Government, the PMS advised people to speak to the Treasury.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be using Chequers regularly, the PMS replied that we hadn’t focussed on those issues yet.
Put that the Argentinian President wrote to the Prime Minister about stopping British companies drilling for oil around the Falklands and how would the Government respond, the PMS advised people to wait until we had responded to the letter.
Asked when the Prime Minister would be moving to No10, the PMS replied that he would be moving in soon, but it was more likely to be weeks rather than days.
Asked if there would be a free vote on the repeal of the hunting ban, the PMS advised people to wait for the policy programme.
Asked about the Calman Commission and the West Lothian question, the PMS said that people would have to wait on the precise timings of how these issues would be handled and how and when a commission would be established.