Briefing by the Prime Minister's spokesman on: Flotilla incident, Prime Minister's Questions, Spending cuts, BP, AV Referendum, Special Advisors' Pay and misc.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that there was now an opportunity for the UK to take leadership in regards to Israel, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the Prime Minister echoed what the Foreign Secretary had said over the weekend. The Prime Minister had spoken to the Israeli Prime Minister and the Turkish Prime Minister, and the words from those conversations had been released; we deplored the loss of life and urged Israel to respond constructively to the criticism of its actions. Israel needed to implement and uphold the UN Security Council Resolution 1860.
Asked if that meant we didn’t deplore completely Israel’s actions, the PMS said that we deplored the loss of life. We had been advising against the flotilla because of the risks that were involved in taking individuals into a high-risk region. The position remained as was set out by the Foreign Secretary at the weekend.
Asked if the Prime Minister supported the British nationals who were on the flotilla and if those nationals would face any consequences when they got back to the UK, the PMS said that our concern was that we continued to have full access to the British nationals who were currently detained and that they remained safe. The expectation was that they would be returning in the next couple of days.
Prime Minister’s Questions
Asked how the Prime Minister would be approaching PMQs, the PMS said that the Prime Minister’s approach would be to answer the questions that were put to him.
Asked what the format would be, the PMS said that his understanding was the same as the journalists’ - as the Speaker had set out about a week ago, he wanted a greater say to be given to the backbenchers.
Asked how many more people would get to ask questions, the PMS said that that was a matter for the Speaker.
Asked if the Prime Minister saw his PMQs as an end to “Punch and Judy” politics, the PMS said that people should wait for this afternoon.
Asked how many questions the Prime Minister expected to answer, the PMS said that, as before, it was a matter for the Speaker. Any questions about the precise choreography of PMQs were for the Speaker.
Asked how the Prime Minister had prepared for PMQs and if the Deputy Prime Minister had been involved, the PMS said that there was time set aside in the Prime Minister’s diary today for preparation, but we wouldn’t get into any more detail than that.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments about giving emergency support to areas that were likely to be effected by spending cuts, the PMS said that the Prime Minister supported what the Deputy Prime Minister said; there was clearly an issue with some regions of the UK being more dependent on public sector jobs at the present time than others. The point that the Deputy Prime Minister had been making was that we needed to think about that issue within the wider context of the Spending Review.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Deputy Prime Minister that indexation/taper relief needed to be looked at in regards to Capital Gains Tax (CGT), the PMS said that the Prime Minister had said that in regards to CGT people needed to wait until the Budget, but he wanted to look at how we could ensure that the CGT system encouraged business and entrepreneurs.
Asked if the Prime Minister was going to meet with BP executives and if he was concerned about the amount being wiped off pension funds, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was concerned about the situation, but primarily this was a matter for BP and the US authorities. With regard to pensions, pension investments were a matter for pensions funds.
Asked if there would be a decision on the timing of the AV referendum soon and if that decision would be taken independently of the boundary commission outcome, the PMS said that a lot of the detailed questions would be answered at the time of the bill’s publication. In regards to the timing of the referendum, the first part of this process involved the Deputy Prime Minister receiving advice on the content of the bill; the relevant Cabinet Committee would then consider the bill in the first instance.
Asked when the bill would be published, the PMS said that he had made clear in the past that we expected the bill to be introduced reasonably early, preferably before the summer.
Asked about the linkage between the boundary commission and the AV referendum, the PMS said that the objective was to get on with both early, as they were both priorities and could take time.
Special Advisors’ Pay
Asked if special advisor pay would be published today, the PMS said it would not be published today but soon.
Asked if the actual salaries would be published or just the pay bands, the PMS said that special advisors were civil servants, so therefore the rules that applied to civil servants, which were being changed, also applied to them.
Asked if special advisors who had half their salary paid by the party and half their salary paid by the Government would be included in the published list, the PMS said that people should wait for the announcement.
Asked if the Government would be looking at party funding and short money, the PMS said that he would not get involved in a short money discussion, but the position on party funding had been set out in the coalition agreement.
Asked if the Prime Minister had full confidence in the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the PMS said that it was worth pointing out that the Prime Minister had appointed Danny Alexander as Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Saturday, and he only appointed people he had confidence in.