The Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) began by giving a read-out of Cabinet. There had been a discussion on the Health Bill, a discussion on employment and the labour market and a discussion of parliamentary business, including the AV Bill. The key message in regard to this was that Cabinet was clear and united that we would not be splitting the Bill.
Asked if the Government would delay the referendum rather than see the Bill being split, the PMS replied that he would not get into speculation about that.
Asked if the Government was still looking to get the Bill through intact and on time, the PMS said that that was still our intention. The PMS said the reason the Government had wanted the referendum on the 5th May was because the public would only have to go to the polling stations once and it would be much cheaper.
Put that the constituency part of the Bill could be split from the rest of the Bill, the PMS said that the Government’s programme was very clear and we would not be splitting the Bill.
Asked about the reasoning behind not splitting the Bill, the PMS said that it was the Government’s programme. It was right that the House of Lords should discuss Government policy, but it had taken more time over the Bill in Committee than the Commons had on the Bill overall.
When asked if the Government was prepared to enter into discussions or compromise on any of the minor points being discussed in the Lords, the PMS replied that we had a package we intended to implement.
Asked if the Government had a view on whether the Coalition Agreement had a similar or equal status to a party manifesto, the PMS said that that was a question for constitutional experts. The PMS added that the Salisbury Convention which gave guidance on not standing in the way of a manifesto was still only a convention.
Put that Lord Prescott had suggested that there was no democratic mandate to what the Government was proposing, the PMS said that the House of Lords had the right to review and comment on legislation. The PMS added that part of the Bill was intended to provide for a referendum that would allow the people to decide on voting reform and that a referendum was a democratic step.
On whether the Cabinet could bring in a ‘guillotine’ to force the Bill through, the PMS said that he was not an expert on the use of guillotines in the House of Lords, but he was not sure that it was a straightforward option in this case.
Act of Settlement
Asked if there was any discussion in Cabinet on Succession and the Act of Settlement, the PMS said that there wasn’t. When asked for a Government position on the Bill, the PMS replied that amending the Act of Settlement was a complex and difficult matter that required careful consideration. The Government accepted that the provisions in the Act of Settlement could be discriminatory. Discussions had started with those Commonwealth countries who would be directly affected by any change in the rules, and were continuing, but it would not be appropriate to release details at this stage.
On whether the use of the word ‘discriminatory’ referred to Catholics as well as sexual discrimination, the PMS said he believed it referred to both.
Asked about a possible torture inquiry, the PMS said that we had announced that there would be a torture inquiry, but there had been a couple of steps to get through before that could begin. One of these steps related to some police enquiries that were yet to be completed, so the Inquiry had not yet begun.
The PMS added that it would be a matter for Sir Peter Gibson and the Inquiry to decide what precisely they wanted to examine.
Asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with the Chairman of RBS that some bankers were paid too much, the PMS said that the Government had set out its position on bonuses.
Asked how happy the Prime Minister was with the way the Bank of England was conducting its policy of keeping inflation down, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had commented on this last Sunday. Monetary policy was a matter for the Bank of England.
Put that the Deputy Prime Minister had said that the President of the Ivory Coast should ‘go and go now’, the PMS advised people to speak to the Foreign Office on the Government’s latest position on the Ivory Coast.