Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 19 November 2010
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Lord Young and Peers.
Asked why Lord Young was remaining as an advisor to the Prime Minister if his comments had been ‘inaccurate and insensitive’, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minster had done a broadcast clip in Cornwall, where he had agreed with Lord Young’s summation of his comments. Lord Young had apologised for his comments, and the Prime Minister made the point that he was not a Government Minister, but providing advice to the Government on small businesses.
Put that the Prime Minister still valued Lord Young’s advice, despite the fact that he was ‘inaccurate and insensitive,’ the PMS replied that Lord Young produced a report recently on health and safety and we were taking forward many of the points from that report. We also awaited his report on small businesses.
Put that he didn’t have a permanent job in Government, the PMS said he had been appointed as an advisor on enterprise. This was an unpaid role and the job he was undertaking at the moment was providing advice on small businesses and the impact Government departments had on them.
Asked if it made the Prime Minister look foolish if he took advice from someone who had been insensitive and inaccurate, the PMS said that advice and recommendations were judged on the basis of that advice. The PMS said Lord Young had produced a good report on health and safety and we were implementing those recommendations, and we would treat his report on small businesses in the same way.
Put that Lord Young was now something of an embarrassment, the PMS replied that Lord Young himself had said that he regretted the comments and that they were inaccurate and insensitive.
Asked if it was the case that Lord Young would cease to be an advisor to the Prime Minister after he had finished his report on small businesses, the PMS said that he was appointed as an advisor on enterprise. What we had done so far was set out the next stage of his work.
Asked when the report on small businesses was due to be concluded, the PMS said that he was appointed as an Enterprise Advisor and this was the task he was currently undertaking.
When asked if Lord Young would continue to come into No10 and advise the Prime Minister separately from this piece of work, the PMS replied that the report on small businesses was what he was currently undertaking. It would look at among other things, barriers to growth for small businesses and burdens that were imposed on small businesses by Government. So it would be a wide-ranging piece of work.
Put that Lord Young had been asked to do some work on mutualisation with Government agencies such as CRB and had that now been taken away from him, the PMS advised people to look at the press release setting out his role.
Asked if Downing Street would be publishing the letter that Lord Young wrote to the Prime Minister, the PMS said we did not intend to publish it.
On whether Lord Young offered his resignation in that letter, the PMS said that he did not believe so. Asked if Lord Young had discussed resigning with the Prime Minister, the PMS replied that Lord Young was carrying out this important job and we would judge his report on the quality of its recommendations.
Asked if there was a worry that the Prime Minister would hesitate for a few weeks before doing a ‘u-turn’ on the issue, the PMS replied that Lord Young had been asked to do a piece of work for the Government which reflected his experience.
Put that in the original press release, the Prime Minister had asked Lord Young to be ‘brutally honest’ and would he now revise that advice, the PMS said that we wanted him to be brutally honest about the issues that affected small businesses.
On whether the situation would be different if a Minister had made the comments, the PMS replied that he had made a factual point earlier when he had said that Lord Young was not a member of the Government. Lord Young was an advisor who produced advice. That advice would include recommendations which the Government would then look at and make decisions.
Asked if advisors were governed by any code of conduct, the PMS said that Lord Young was not covered by the Ministerial Code. However, Ministers exercised power in a specific way and were responsible for certain duties and took decisions for the Government.
Asked who Lord Young reported to, the PMS said that he worked with the relevant departments and reported to the Government.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that everyone had suffered financially during the recession, the PMS said that it was a very sharp recession and it had had a significant impact on many people, not just in this country but around the world.
Put that people who had retained their jobs and seen their mortgage payments go down had done quite well out of the recession, the PMS said that the recession had also created uncertainty for a lot of people and that uncertainty remained as we came out of recession.
Asked whether ‘inaccurate’ had referred to the fact that Lord Young had said that cuts were ‘not entirely necessary,’ the PMS replied that comments such as ‘once we get through the recession, people will wonder what all the fuss was about’ was inaccurate when you took into account the size and scale of the recession.
The PMS said that it had been a truly global recession and had nearly involved the collapse of the banking system in this country and people would remember it for many years to come.
Put that the Government had overstated the need for cuts, the PMS said that the need for cuts was defined by the fiscal position in this country.
Asked if it was the Prime Minister’s belief that 100,000 public sector job cuts a year was in the margin of error, the PMS said that it wasn’t the Prime Minister’s belief. The cuts that we would be implementing over the next four years would involve job losses in the public sector and we had been quite clear about that. The PMS said that there needed to be a rebalancing from the public sector to the private sector. The prospect of those job losses in the public sector was something of concern to many who worked in the public sector.
Put that the Prime Minister had said this morning that Lord Young would do ‘a lot less speaking in the future,’ the PMS said that the Prime Minister was pointing out that Lord Young would reflect on the comments made and might change his approach in the future.
Asked if Lord Young would be having lunch with any journalists in the future, the PMS said there was no ban imposed, but he may be less inclined to accept invitations.
Asked if there were many advisors that had a desk in No10 that weren’t Ministers, the PMS said that he was sure there were other unpaid advisors to the Government.
Put that it didn’t inspire confidence when people who had been employed by the Government were making inaccurate statements about the economy, the PMS replied that the point of having a report was that it was an important issue. Asked if Lord Young’s advice was worth taking, the PMS said that the Government would usually wait for those reports to be concluded and then act on the recommendations that were included.
Put that the Government valued Lord Young’s advice on small businesses but not on the recession, the PMS said that we valued the advice he had provided on health and safety issues and we looked forward to receiving his report on small businesses. Lord Young had since retracted the comments he had made on the recession.
Asked if the Prime Minister had confidence in Lord Young, the PMS said that this was a question that would normally be asked about a member of the Government. Ministers had specific responsibilities and exercised executive power for the Government and that was not the case for advisors.
Put that Lord Young’s role was not insignificant, the PMS said that when it came to advice we received, we were intelligent consumers of that advice.
Put that the question of confidence was not a constitutional one, but a personal one about the Prime Minister and whether he had confidence in an advisor, the PMS said that the Prime Minister thought that Lord Young produced a very good report on health and safety. We had confidence in that advice, as we were implementing the recommendations in that report.
Asked why people who made party political donations ended up in the House of Lords, the PMS said that there was an established process on appointing peers. They were vetted through the House of Lords Appointments Commission. There was also an established process on donations which was that they had to be declared to the Electoral Commission.
Asked how the Prime Minister could justify cutting the number of MPs when he was creating more positions in the House of Lords, the PMS said that the Government position on this was set out in the Coalition Document, which had said that we would continue to appoint peers, and reflect the balance of the outcome of the General Election. The document had also said that we would bring forward proposals for reforming the House of Lords.
Asked how it reflected the outcome of the General Election when there would be more appointments for the Liberal Democrats than for Labour, the PMS said that it was to ensure that the balance within the House of Lords reflected that more.
Put that the number of Liberal Democrat MPs went down in the last election, the PMS replied that the starting point had to be taken into account. From May 1997 to May 2010, there were 84 Conservative peers appointed, compared to 203 Labour peers and 64 Lib Dem peers.
Put that Labour would argue that they were merely catching up with their massive majority in the Commons and would the new balance in the Lords reflect the percentage of the vote, or the number of MPs in the Commons, the PMS said he would check, but the policy was as set out in the Coalition Agreement.
Asked again about cutting the number of MPs while appointing more Peers, the PMS said that there was a significant reform agenda underway, which involved cutting the number of MPs in Parliament. We would be looking at the House of Lords after that process.
Published: 19 November 2010