News story

Number 10 Press Briefing - Morning From 8 February 2011

From the Prime Minister's spokesperson on: AV Bill, Bank Levy, Trade White Paper, AL Megrahi, Search and Rescue helicopters, tax system and misc.

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

from the Prime Minister’s spokesperson on: AV Bill, Bank Levy, Trade White Paper, AL Megrahi, Search and Rescue helicopters, tax system and misc

AV Bill

Asked if the Government was still confident of meeting the deadline, the PMS said that it was described in Cabinet as being ‘on track’. The PMS said that the amendment in question was an issue that had cross-party support in the House of Commons and the House would no doubt want to come back to that.

Put that the Government would reverse the amendment, the PMS replied that it seemed likely that the House would amend it back. There was a consensus view on this issue in the Commons.

Bank Levy

Asked why the Chancellor had made this announcement now and not as part of the Budget, the PMS said that the Chancellor had set this out himself this morning. He had made this decision and announced it as soon as possible. The Bank Levy was originally designed to be phased in, but since that decision, the Financial Stability Report from the Bank of England had been published, which detailed the improving resilience of the UK banking sector.

The PMS added that the other reason originally given for phasing in the Levy, was that there had been uncertainty over regulatory reforms, but there had since been greater certainty over those reforms, not least because of the extended period of transition for Basle Three. On that basis, the Chancellor felt he was able to introduce the Bank Levy at the permanent rate this year.

Asked if the decision had been anything to do with the Chancellor meeting the new Shadow Chancellor at Treasury PQs today, the PMS replied that he had set out the position as he understood it, which was that things had moved on since the original announcement.

Asked if this would be enough to assuage public anger over bankers’ bonuses, the PMS said that there were talks ongoing; what we wanted to see as a result of those talks was an agreement whereby the banks would be increasing their lending to small businesses, paying bonuses at a lower rate than last year and making a larger contribution to society overall. Those were the objectives of the talks and that was where we wanted to get to, but they were still ongoing.

On whether there was a feeling in the Government that something had to be done, the PMS replied that a lot had happened in regard to banking. We were trying to address the original problem of the banking crisis in a number of ways; we had set up a Banking Commission, we were the first country to introduce a permanent levy on banks, there was a new code of practice for banks bonuses and there was a new code of practice on how they paid their tax.

The PMS said that in addition to those measures, we were also holding discussions with the banks on lending and bonuses.

Asked if the Government was concerned that Project Merlin had not been finalised, the PMS said that those discussions were ongoing and we had clear objectives for those discussions.

Asked if the banks knew about this morning’s announcement, the PMS said that people should speak to the Treasury about the exact process.

Asked when a Chancellor had last made a major tax announcement outside of the Budget, the PMS said he was sure the Treasury could advise people on the history of tax announcements.

Trade White Paper

On what people could expect from the Trade White Paper, the PMS said that Stephen Green had set out his objectives. These included promoting trade by small and medium sized companies. SMEs that did trade with other countries tended to be more innovative and more efficient. The PMS said that this was about strengthening the backbone of our economy and supporting growth.

AL Megrahi

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with US Senators who had called for a further inquiry into Lockerbie, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had set out his position yesterday. The Prime Minister had also expressed the view in the past that he did not need another inquiry to tell him that the decision taken had been wrong.

The PMS added that there had been an inquiry in Scotland and a lot of scrutiny into processes in this country with yesterday’s report.

Search and Rescue Helicopters

Asked why the Secretary of State was not making an Oral Statement to the House on the issue, the PMS said that the Secretary of State had set out the position in a Written Ministerial Statement.

Asked how much the public had lost during the process, the PMS advised people to speak to the department on the details. There was an investigation ongoing in this area.

Tax System

Asked whether marriage being recognised in the tax system was something that had been ‘kicked into the long grass’, the PMS replied that the position was as set out in the Coalition Agreement.

Asked if there would be any time left to bring in changes to reflect marriage in the tax system, the PMS said that the Coalition Agreement set out that increases in the personal allowance would be prioritised above other changes to personal taxation.


Asked for a Government view on the Guardian journalist who was refused entry into Russia because of the part he played in the Wikileaks story, the PMS said he would get back to people on that issue.

Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on whether the Duchess of Cornwall should become Queen, the PMS said that the Palace had already answered that question.

Published 8 February 2011