The Prime Minister's Spokesperson (PMS) answered questions on the Leveson recommendations, Israel, tax and Tibet.
The PMS confirmed there would be a Cabinet meeting tomorrow, as well as a short one on Wednesday morning where the Chancellor would brief colleagues on the Autumn Statement.
When questioned about the draft bill on implementing the Leveson recommendations, the PMS said the government was having cross party talks on the recommendations. As part of those talks, the government had agreed to draft the legislation envisaged by the inquiry’s recommendations.
Asked about concerns expressed by the opposition on the drafting of legislation, the PMS said the government was approaching talks in good faith and would draft legislation accordingly. He reiterated the PM’s view, set out in the House last week, that it was likely the legislation would be quite complicated in practice, but the government was progressing the work and would continue with talks.
When questioned on a timetable for the proposed legislation, the PMS said there wasn’t a specific timetable - the work had begun and we were getting on with it.
Responding to questions about whether the draft bill would undergo parliamentary scrutiny in the usual way, the PMS said it would be considered by different parties. It hadn’t been drafted yet - all parties were going to look at the draft bill.
When asked about how the legislation would be drafted, the PMS said they would take the Leveson recommendation as a guide. The PMS said that Leveson was quite specific in his report about the purpose of the legislation he envisaged.
Asked why we were bothering with a draft bill if the PM didn’t intend to turn it into law, the PMS said the PM had set out his view - which was that this would be crossing a rubicon and we should think very carefully before proceeding in that way. The PM believed that when you got into drafting a bill there would be some practical difficulties and it would become quite complicated.
When asked about the meeting with editors, the PMS referred lobby to DCMS for details. On content, the PMS said that Leveson had set out some principles for regulation and it was for the press to set up that new independent regulator. The purpose of tomorrow’s meeting was to find out how they were getting along and to make sure they were doing it as quickly as possible.
Responding to questions about whether there would be discussions with the Scottish Government, the PMS said we needed to work through all the recommendations. The process was just beginning. He said the government had set out its views on the main recommendations and tomorrow’s meeting would be the first opportunity to discuss those with newspapers and try to generate some momentum on the task of setting up a new regulator.
Asked whether the PM welcomed comments from Shami Chakrabarti, the PMS said that the PM had set out his position last week and we would now get on with the work to see this regulator set up and continue with cross party talks.
Asked about suggestions that others were drafting alternative bills, the PMS reiterated that we had entered into a process of cross party talks and there was bound to be discussion about the legislation required under the proposals.
Asked if the PM was encouraged by reports that 2000 editors had agreed to sign up to a new regulator, the PMS said we wanted the newspaper industry to take forward Leveson’s proposals for an independent regulator: one that had real teeth and commanded public confidence. He said it was good there was support for that but now we needed to see some action.
Responding to questions about the role of Ofcom, the PMS reiterated that the PM didn’t think that was the right approach.
Asked about the response of victims, the PMS said that the central recommendation in the Leveson report was an independent regulator with real teeth which could fine newspapers and ensure real redress for victims - that’s exactly what the PM wanted to see. When pressed on whether all victims spoke with one voice, the PMS said there would be lots of debate and people would set out their views.
When asked if the PM had changed his mind about a statutory underpinning, the PMS said no. The PM thought there were other possibilities that should be explored and we should think very hard before going down that route.
Asked about the PM’s view on the recent announcement of Israeli settlement building, the PMS referred lobby to the statement from the Foreign Office. The FCO this morning summoned the Israeli Ambassador to London to meet with Alistair Burt. The PMS said that Mr Burt had set out our concerns.
Responding to questions about whether the FCO was considering recalling its Ambassador to Israel, the PMS said we had had a meeting and would have further discussions with the Israeli Government and international partners. He reiterated that any further action would follow discussion with Israelis and others. We were not proposing any further action at this stage.
The PMS made clear that the government was concerned about the situation and thought that what was being proposed in Israel could have a negative impact on the prospects for talks.
Asked about the criticism of Starbucks, the PMS said the issue was how we tackle tax avoidance and HMT had been setting out what the government intended to do. The PMS said that the government needed to make sure it was tackling aggressive tax avoidance and it was doing this in a number of ways, including bringing in a general anti-avoidance rule. He said the government was also working with other countries to try to reduce the amount of tax avoidance.
Asked about Douglas Alexander’s personal decision to boycott Starbucks, the PMS said that was a decision for individuals. He reiterated that the government did not talk about individual taxpayers. The PMS said we thought that all companies should make a fair contribution to taxes and those views seemed to be shared by the general public and consumers.
Asked whether the government would support publication of names of companies who are paying their taxes, the PMS said taxpayer confidentiality was an important part of our system and we wouldn’t want to do anything to undermine that.
Asked if ministers were banned from meeting the Dalai Lama earlier this year, the PMS said no, they were not banned. The PM himself met the Dalai Lama in May this year. The PMS said that when it came to government contact with foreign dignitaries, we often coordinated our approach across government.