From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on lobbying, autumn statement, Eurozone and mandatory sentencing.
Asked if lobbyists had undue influence on the Government, the Prime Minister’s spokesman (PMS) said that they did not.
Asked if the Government would take the opportunity to back a ten minute rule bill on setting up a register for lobbyists, the PMS said that the Government had a commitment to set up a statutory register for lobbyists and would be coming forward with proposals on it shortly.
Asked for more details on the Dyson conversation in China, the PMS said that it would be surprising if our Government hadn’t spoken to the Chinese about issues such as intellectual property rights. Asked if Dyson was a specific example raised in that conversation, the PMS said that he didn’t know, but that the Government often talked about business issues with other foreign Governments. He said we had taken business delegations to India and China and that people would expect us to raise business issues with foreign Governments.
Asked if the PM was concerned about how it was raised and if anyone in his office had spoken to Bell Pottinger, the PMS said that it was not true to say that Bell Pottinger or any other lobby company had influenced Government policy. If companies had issues then they could come and talk to the Government. If James Dyson called up Downing Street someone would take his call. Asked about the ‘unofficial’ process of lobbyists calling former colleagues, the PMS said that if companies wanted to spend money on lobbyists that was a matter for them. The Government was going to regulate lobbying by introducing a statutory register and increasing transparency.
Asked if Bell Pottinger spoke to someone in Downing Street on Friday evening or if we would seek to find out if this happened regularly, the PMS said that they published lists of meetings with outside bodies, but not every conversation. He added that it was clearly in the lobbyists’ interests to tell their clients they could provide them with a service, but that it was simply not true to say that Bell Pottinger or any lobbying firm had influenced government policy.
Asked if in the future special advisors would have to publish meetings with lobbyists, the PMS said that they hadn’t come forward with proposals yet, but that the main issue was ensuring that we had transparency, and put in place the statutory register.
Asked if the Government’s proposals would be set out before Christmas, the PMS said they would be soon.
Asked if we would have conversations about intellectual property rights with any other foreign Governments, the PMS said that the Government was interested in promoting British Business.
Asked if the PM was happy that benefits had gone up with inflation when troops on the front line could only look forward to 1% payrise, the PMS said that we had to take tough decisions on public sector pay. However, we were committed to recognising the contribution made by our armed forces and that was why we had doubled the operational allowance, increased council tax relief for those on operations and introduced a pupil premium for children of service families. On benefits, a decision was taken in the Autumn Statement that protected the most vulnerable people in society, but we were also reforming the welfare system to make sure that the welfare payments only went to the people who really needed it.
Asked if the servicemen could be exempt from the pay cap, the PMS said that the cap applied across the board.
Asked if the PM agreed with the Secretary of State for the Department of Work of Pensions that keeping benefits in line with inflation would undermine work incentives, the PMS said that the Government was reforming welfare in a number of ways, for example by bringing in the work programme to get people back into work. Taken as a whole, the reforms meant that the Government was sharpening work incentives.
Asked if the PM had formed a view as to whether he could support the Merkozy pact, the PMS said that they needed to see the options being proposed before they made a judgement on how to approach the negotiation.
Asked if the PM was concerned about the possibility of a two speed Europe, the PMS said that we needed to look at the substance of the proposals first, and that we didn’t want to see anything happen that would undermine the integrity of the single market.
Asked if there was any possibility that the Government would have a referendum, the PMS said that the position on a referendum was very clear. He added that no one was proposing a transfer of power from London to Brussels, but rather new economic governance rules for Eurozone countries.
Asked if the PM agreed that the mandatory life sentence was outdated, the PMS said that he did not. He said that we had no plans to abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder. The PM had always been very clear that serious crimes required serious punishment. This Government had actually broadened the application of mandatory life sentences.