Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: tennis, AV referendum and quangos.
Asked whether the Prime Minister would be watching Andy Murray’s match today, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minister would try and watch it if his constituency engagements allowed it.
Asked whether the Prime minister was a tennis fan or whether he played the game, the PMS said the Prime Minister did play tennis.
On whether the Scottish flag would be flown above Downing Street if Andy Murray got through to the final, the PMS replied that we would reflect on that in the light of this afternoon’s match.
When asked if the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister would be campaigning on the frontline, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had set out his position in the past on this and that he would be campaigning against AV. The Deputy Prime Minister was free to campaign for AV.
Asked if MPs would be whipped on the legislation, the PMS replied that both parties would support the Bill, but there was then a question of how they would campaign after that.
On whether there was any concern within Government about the 2007 Scottish precedent when two ballots were held on the same day, the PMS said that the Government had not made an announcement on timing of the referendum, but we would of course take into account previous experience.
Asked if the Prime Minister would play an active role in campaigning, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had answered questions on this in the past and had been very clear about his position; during the campaign the Prime Minister would be asked his view and he would express it.
On whether Ministers believed the Electoral Commission had an advisory or mandatory role in this case as in the past it had advised against having a referendum on the same day as other elections, the PMS replied that we would take into account advice and previous experience on this, but as of now we had made no announcement on timing.
Put that the Prime Minister “expressing his view” made it sound like he wasn’t that bothered, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had been very clear on this. The PMS said he could not predict precisely how the campaign would unfold, but clearly the Prime Minister would be asked his views during that campaign and he would make them clear.
On whether the Prime Minister regarded it as a “Grade A” issue alongside cutting the deficit, the PMS said that this was one of the first issues agreed as part of the Coalition agreement and was part of the first Coalition document.
Asked if there had been any consultation with devolved administrations on timing, the PMS replied that he did not know what the process had been, but it was being led by the Deputy Prime Minister.
When asked if a referendum had been fully costed, the PMS replied that a statement was anticipated from the Deputy Prime Minister. There would then be a bill and we should wait for that bill to go through Parliament. The PMS said that no doubt there would be lots of opportunities for the arrangements for a referendum to be debated during the passage of that bill.
Put that the referendum had not been costed at all, the PMS replied that the normal procedure was for these issues to be raised and discussed during the passage of the bill. Put that it was sensible to put a “ballpark” figure on it, the PMS said the precise arrangements for a referendum would be discussed during the debate in the House.
Put that the precise arrangements for a referendum were already enshrined in legislation from 2000 and would the AV bill change that, the PMS said that all these issues were going to be discussed. There would no doubt be a long debate within Parliament and outside once the bill had been introduced. Issues such as the cost of a referendum would be raised in that context.
Asked if it was still the assumption that the bill enabling the referendum would also contain within it measures to change constituency boundaries, the PMS replied that those were the terms of the announcement in the Queen’s Speech and they remained the same.
Asked if people could expect many Tory MPs to vote against the bill, the PMS said that it was not for him to comment on the voting intentions of individual Tory MPs. Asked if the bill would be whipped, the PMS said it was a Government bill. Subsequent to that, if the bill was passed, there would be a campaign and people were entitled to campaign as they saw fit.
Asked if MPs would be whipped on all aspects of it such as the timing and the cost, the PMS replied that members of the Governing party or parties, were whipped to support Government bills and the provisions of those bills.
Asked if the next election would have to take place under AV if there was a “yes” vote in the referendum, or would the delay caused by boundary reviews mean that the next election would still be on the first past the post system, the PMS replied that he had said in the past that these two issues were linked, but on the detail, people would need to wait for the statement.
Asked if the view was that people employed by quangos and earning over £150,000 per year were being paid too much, the PMS said that the Government’s position on public sector pay was that we wanted to see restraint. There was a pay freeze that applied for the next two years and there was also the Will Hutton Review. The purpose of publishing the list was to promote accountability, so that people could see who was employed at the upper end of the pay scale and hold them and the Government to account.