Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: the Deputy Prime Minister's statement on electoral reform, Prime Minister's Questions, Civil Service compensation, education/Treasury statements and miscellaneous items.
Deputy Prime Minister’s statement on electoral reform
Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement would include any information on anything other than electoral reform, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that the statement would cover what was set out in the Queen’s Speech; equalisation of constituencies and the Alternative Vote (AV) issue. It was possible that other issues would be covered, and no doubt many of the issues around political reform would be covered in debate later on this afternoon.
Asked if there would be anything on House of Lords reform, the PMS said that there wouldn’t be a huge amount on that issue.
Asked if there would be anything on fixed term parliaments, the PMS said that reporters should wait for the statement.
Asked if AV and constituency legislation would be separate to fixed terms parliaments and other issues, the PMS said that the Deputy Prime Minister would make some of these issues clear this afternoon.
Asked if there was any significance as to why the statement was going ahead today and not tomorrow as was originally planned, the PMS said that we didn’t ever confirm when the statement would be and that he wouldn’t get into how we chose the timing of Parliamentary statements.
Asked when the detail had been signed off, the PMS said that there had been a number of discussions in Cabinet and the Coalition Committee, as well as the relevant Cabinet Committee.
Prime Minister’s Questions
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with the Speaker that PMQs needed to be reformed, the PMS said that he had not seen the Speaker’s comments, but in general the Prime Minister was open to suggestions from the Speaker and from Parliament more widely.
Asked if PMQs would move from Tuesday to Thursday, the PMS said that there were currently no plans to change the day of PMQs.
Civil Service compensation
Asked if another meeting with the civil service unions had been arranged, the PMS said that his understanding was that there was no meeting scheduled in the first place.
Asked if a meeting would take place, the PMS said that he was not aware of one, but he was sure there would be lots of meetings at different levels.
Asked about a letter from the Cabinet Office that had been sent to other departments regarding imminent changes, the PMS said that the context was clear; we had a difficult fiscal situation and the current arrangement for public sector compensation was out of line with what happened in the private sector. It was something that the Government had been looking at for some time, as had the previous government. Our objective would be to bring the public sector in line with the private sector, in discussion with the unions, and to move ahead on the basis of consensus.
Asked if there were any plans to reform strike legislation, the PMS said that there were no plans at the present time.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about public sector strikes, the PMS said that the financial situation the country faced was very difficult and would involve some significant cuts to some programmes, but the objective was to do that in consultation with the public sector. We had already been trying to generate ideas for reforming the public sector from public sector workers, and we would proceed on the basis of a shared understanding.
Asked if it was right that some departments would have their budgets cut by 40% rather than 25%, the PMS said that departments had been asked to look at a couple of scenarios for public spending cuts. The purpose of the scenarios was to generate information to inform choices in the spending review. But in terms of settlements, that would be for the spending review.
Asked if it was usual practice for the Government to make high end projections to inform the decision making process, the PMS said that the 40% figure had not gone around Whitehall in the past, but we now had a deficit of 11%. Given the size of the deficit we needed to make cuts at departments (with the exclusion of health and overseas aid), and the Chancellor had made it clear in his Budget Statement that that meant cuts averaging 25%. In order to generate the kind of information needed to make informed choices, we needed to look at a range of scenarios.
Asked if this was about expectation management, the PMS said that we were not planning blanket cuts across departments, and we needed information to make choices between priorities.
Asked why the Danny Alexander statement was written rather than oral, the PMS said that there were a couple of significant oral statements this afternoon, and the Danny Alexander statement went alongside the education settlement statement from Michael Gove. MPs would get the opportunity to raise questions in the context of the education statement.
Asked for more information on the Danny Alexander statement, the PMS said that it was about end year flexibility this year.
Asked if there was a date for the torture inquiry, the PMS said that reporters would have to wait, but it would be quite soon.
Put that the a backbench MP had refused to see constituents who wore burkas and asked for the Prime Minister’s views, the PMS said that on the issue of burkas the Prime Minister thought it was an issue of personal choice, and that it was important that MPs represented all their constituents effectively.
Asked if the Prime Minister had a view as to whether parents should let their young children cycle to school, the PMS said that he did not want to get into commenting on the actions of particular parents. In general the Prime Minister felt that people should be taking decisions themselves and taking control of their own lives.