Asked if the Government would continue to deliver on the NHS reforms, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the listening exercise would continue.
Asked whether the listening exercise included the Health Secretary, the PMS replied that the Health Secretary was very engaged in the listening exercise.
Asked about a timescale for the exercise, the PMS said that there had been questions over some elements of the legislation and we wanted to pause, listen and reflect on those and give people a good opportunity to make their case for changes in order to put in place improvements.
Put that the exercise was creating uncertainty across the NHS, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister had set out some key principles; we were committed to the NHS being free at the point of delivery, but we all accepted the need for reform. That’s why we had decided to pause, listen and reflect and improve to make that reform as effective as possible. We expected to come back with substantive changes once the listening exercise was completed.
Asked what would happen at the end of the listening exercise, the PMS replied that we were currently going through the listening exercise. We would then reflect on those and then come back with improvements when the listening exercise is complete next month.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should have a say in whether Scotland became independent, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister’s views on a referendum were very clear. If the Scottish Parliament voted for a referendum, then there would be one, but the Prime Minister was not in favour of independence.
On whether the Prime Minister thought that other parts of the UK should have a say, the PMS replied that she did not know what shape a referendum might take, if indeed there would be one and this was therefore a hypothetical question.
Asked whether the UK Parliament was the ‘Supreme Parliament’ in this situation, the PMS replied that if the Scottish Parliament voted for a referendum then there would be one.
When asked if the people of Scotland should have to wait three years for a referendum, as Alex Salmond had suggested, the PMS said that it was a matter for the Scottish Parliament.
On whether the Prime Minister thought that a referendum would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament in a political sense or in a legal one, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had said that if the Scottish Parliament wanted to hold a referendum, then he would campaign to keep the UK together with ‘every single fibre that I have.’
Asked if the Prime Minister would see to it that the UK Parliament would allow a legally binding referendum to take place, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had said that he would not put any obstacles in the way of a referendum.
Put that the Prime Minister would disagree with the views of people in the City who thought that an independent Scotland would be good for England economically, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had been very clear about his views on keeping the UK together.
Asked if the Government was prepared to look again at the Scotland Bill and look at any amendments, the PMS referred journalists to the Prime Minister’s call with Alex Salmond on Friday. The Prime Minister’s view was that we would judge any amendments on whether they were in the best interests of the UK.
The PMS said that the Bill was based on a consensus over a long period of time, it was robust, and it would transfer some major new economic powers to the Scottish Parliament. The PMS added that it still represented the biggest transfer of financial power in the history of the Union.
Asked for the Prime Minister’s view on Alex Salmond’s comments that he’d like to have the power to reduce corporation tax, the PMS said that tax matters were a matter for the Chancellor, but advised journalists we would wait and see what proposals came forward. The Prime Minister had said that any changes would need to be in the best interests of the UK as a whole.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that once it had gone through the UK Parliament, the Scotland Bill would need legislative consent from the Scottish Parliament, the PMS said that it was a Bill of the UK Parliament.
On whether the Prime Minister thought that a referendum was entirely a matter for the Scottish authorities, the PMS replied that it was.
Asked whether the Prime Minister believed that there was now a mandate to open the Scotland Bill, the PMS referred journalists to what was briefed out on Friday evening; the Prime Minister would judge any changes or expansions in the Bill on whether they were in the best interests of the whole of the UK.
Asked if there were any plans for the Prime Minister to meet the First Minister, the PMS replied that they had spoken on the phone on Friday and the Prime Minister looked forward to meeting him at the next opportunity.
Asked if the Government would be changing the strike laws, in particular the threshold, the PMS said that the Prime Minister had made clear that he would look at arguments for any changes.
Asked about any implications for the UK if there was a further bail-out, the PMS replied that the bail-out was currently between the IMF and the Eurozone and as things stood, there was no proposal for the UK to participate in any further bail-outs. As the Chancellor had said, we did not want to be a part of any bail-out for Greece, but the Government was part of an existing mechanism due to decisions made in the past.
Put that the UK still had potential liabilities, the PMS said that we did; we were signed up to an existing mechanism that was signed up to by the previous Government.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought that Cabinet meetings in the regions had been a success and would there be more of them, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was keen to take the Cabinet out to the regions. It was important that the Cabinet listened to local concerns and that they were visible throughout the country and not just Westminster-based.
The PMS added that it was important that when the Cabinet met in the regions, it was not a financial burden on the taxpayer.
Asked why regional Cabinets were now not a financial burden, the PMS replied that in the past, they had been quite expensive in terms of travel arrangements. The PMS said that the Government was careful to ensure that costs were kept to a minimum and there were ways of doing this in terms of security and where the meetings were held.
Asked if the Government was satisfied that they were not just used as party events, the PMS replied that the Cabinet represented the British people and it was important that the meeting was held outside of London occasionally.