Prime Minister’s land purchase
Asked who in Government cleared the Prime Minister’s purchase of land from his neighbour Lord Chadlington, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said the Prime Minister handled the issue properly and in accordance with the ministerial code. He said the Prime Minister had sought assurances from the Government’s Head of Propriety and Ethics and the Principal Private Secretary at No10, who both advised him that as it was a public transaction and the full market rate had been paid for the land, there was no need to declare it in the list of ministers’ interests. Asked how the Prime Minister could be sure the full market rate was paid, the PMS said the land was independently valued. Asked if the Prime Minister would publish a list of all meetings he had had with Lord Chadlington, the PMS said there was a process for publishing ministerial meetings on a quarterly basis. Asked further questions on the land purchase, the PMS said the clear advice from the Head of Propriety and Ethics was that there was no conflict of interest.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that there were £2billion of uncollected fines and confiscation orders from criminals, the PMS said that clearly the Government wanted fines to be paid. He said the backlog went back over the last five years. The National Audit Office had recognised that there had been considerable improvements to the financial management of Ministry of Justice over the past 12 months and the Government was increasing the fine collection rate. He said there were also a couple of very large confiscation orders that distorted the figures.
Asked if the Prime Minister would be seeking assurances from the Justice Secretary that the fines would be collected, the PMS said the Government was committed to dealing with the backlog which had built up over the last five years. Asked if the Prime Minister felt plans to increase the number of criminals who receive fines instead of custodial sentences should be delayed while the backlog was dealt with, the PMS said the Government was addressing the backlog and that the collection rate of fines had increased.
Public sector strikes
Asked if it was right that tax payers’ money was being used to try to stop public sector strikes by flying in staff from embassies overseas to man borders at ports and airports, the PMS said the Government was considering its contingency plans but would not be providing detail on those plans. The PMS said the public would expect the Government to do what it could to mitigate the impact of the strikes.
Asked if, like the Business Secretary, the Prime Minister was 50:50 on whether to scrap the laws on unfair dismissal, the PMS said the Business Secretary had set out the Government’s position. He said the Government was looking across the piece at what could be done on employment law and regulation. The objective was not to reduce employment protection, but to reduce the burden on business. He said the proposals set out that day were designed to reduce burdens on employers and make it easier for them to take on staff. He added that the Government would be having a further look at rules affecting the smallest companies and that judgement would be made in light of proper analysis of the evidence.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought employers were abusing the system, the PMS said the system as it stood was not working to the benefit of either employees or employers, and there were changes that could be made to the benefit of both. Asked why the Government was calling for evidence rather than taking action, the PMS said the Government had announced important changes including merging, simplifying or scrapping more than 70 employment regulations. He added that it was clear that regulation had a particular impact on the smallest businesses and their decisions to employ staff, so it made sense to look further at this and make judgements based on evidence.
Asked if the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change might have a case to answer about his partner using her contacts with ministers to try to get a lobbying job, the PMS said there was no question of a conflict of interest. The PMS said she had made it clear she would not take any work that touched on his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.