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Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 21 February 2011

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: Middle East, Tourism Strategy, Public Sector Reform and Bill of Rights.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Middle East

Asked how the Prime Minister would answer the charge that the current trip was initially going to be used as an opportunity to sell British produce including arms, and only in the last few days had it turned into the ‘democracy tour’, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that there were three key aims for the trip; encouraging political reform, giving British business a boost and strengthening our security ties. This region was vital to UK interests and a reformed Middle East would mean a more secure, more prosperous region and those three objectives were mutually supportive.

Asked if the Prime Minister would feel any discomfort if British arms were used to suppress protests in the Middle East, the PMS replied that we kept our export licensing regime under review for each country. The PMS said she could confirm that we had revoked eight licenses in Libya since the outbreak of violence and we would continue to monitor the situation closely.

On whether that was all export licenses for Libya, the PMS advised people to speak to the Department for Business. Asked what had changed in the last few days for licenses to be revoked, the PMS replied that they were considered on a case by case basis against a set of criteria.

Put that revoking licenses was like admitting that it was a mistake to give them out in the first place, the PMS said that licenses were kept constantly under review against established criteria. In light of the present circumstances, those licenses had been revoked.

Asked for a list of the business delegation, the PMS said that the businesses ranged from the construction industry, manufacturing, finance, defence and representatives from some universities.

On whether any defence contracts would be announced as part of the visit, the PMS said that she would not confirm any contracts ahead of them being announced.

Asked if the Prime Minister was aware of comments made by Colonel Gadaffi’s son yesterday, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was aware of those comments. We were watching events in Libya very closely. The Prime Minister’s view was that the Libyan Government’s actions were horrifying and unacceptable and would result in worldwide condemnation. We would continue to encourage the Libyan Government to embark on dialogue, not confrontation.

Asked about the Prime Minister encouraging political reform, the PMS said that reform was an important part of the Prime Minister’s trip. Each country had different issues, but what would be consistent throughout the trip was the Prime Minister encouraging reform, not repression. The PMS said reform and the aspirations of the people went hand in hand.

Asked why the PMS had not mentioned the word ‘election’, the PMS said a lot would be said over the next few days, but more broadly, reform was essential and that would take many different shapes in different countries. The PMS added that the Prime Minister would not be lecturing countries, but views would be shared.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought he would be welcomed by the people of Egypt, the PMS replied that the UK was a key partner of Egypt and our relationship went back a long way. The Prime Minister was looking forward to the trip and meeting representatives of the opposition in Egypt.

Tourism Strategy

Asked if changing daylight saving hours would form a key part of the Strategy, the PMS said that in regard to changing daylight saving rules, consensus was key. People could expect the strategy to set out views on both sides, but there were sure to be lots of other useful and interesting proposals in the Strategy.

Public Sector Reform

Asked about the Prime Minister’s article that appeared this morning, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had made clear that he wanted to set out his vision for public sector reform in the context of the Big Society.

Put that the Prime Minister would have no problem with private companies supplying education and health services, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had said that he wanted to end the state monopoly, because the public sector was not always the best at delivering services. The Prime Minister wanted to open it up to choice, with private sector suppliers that could provide services at a local level - these could be better value for money and could deliver what people actually needed.

Asked if there would be a limit on private sector involvement, the PMS said there would be in the Judiciary and security.

Asked about providers in other sectors, the PMS said that  there were already some private sector providers in the Prison Service for example and there was also the potential for private sector provision in the Probation Service.

Asked if there was a danger that the Big Society would turn into being all about privatisation, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made clear in his article that he was very keen for decisions to be made locally. At a local level, people would know what the demand was for certain services and what the best sort of provision would be.

When asked if any services had been ruled out, the PMS advised people to wait for the White Paper. This was about opening up choice, not outright privatisation.

When asked what the timescale was for this to happen, the PMS advised people to wait for the White Paper for specifics, but we wanted to see a good start made in this Parliament.

Bill of Rights

Put that Lord McNally had ruled out any Bill of Rights having any kind of power over the European Court, the PMS said that a Commission would investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights, ensuring that British liberties were protected and the UK’s obligations under the convention on human rights were enshrined in law.

What the Commission would also do was to act as a forum for debate about the way rights were protected in the UK. It would look at whether things could be done better and in a way that reflected our traditions.

The PMS said that Ken Clarke had also been talking about what could be done to reform the European Court and that was something the Commission would be looking at as well.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that senior people involved in this process were writing it off from the start, the PMS replied that the Commission had not yet been set up. It would be an independent Commission with an independent chair.

Put that Ken Clarke had said the UK’s chairing of the European Council would play a key part in reform and how convinced were the Government that it would get a lot of support, the PMS said that Ken Clarke had indicated in his interview yesterday that there were other countries that wanted to see the reforms that we wanted to see.

Published 21 February 2011