Regional pay, Euro 2012, the decriminalisation of cannabis, G20 and tax evasion were all discussed at today's press briefing.
Asked why the government had done a u-turn on regional pay, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMS) said no decision had been made. In the Autumn Statement the Chancellor had said there was a case for considering how public sector pay could better reflect local labour markets and the independent pay review bodies were currently considering the case for greater flexibility on local pay, but nothing had been decided.
Asked whether the PM agreed with Jeremy Browne that England was unlikely to get to the finals of Euro 2012, she said her understanding was that Jeremy Browne had been stating a historical fact about England’s performance rather than passing judgement. Certainly the PM’s view, along with most of the country, was that they were backing the team and hope they did very well.
Asked whether the PM had full confidence in Jeremy Browne, she said yes and reiterated her understanding was that he was stating a historical fact about England’s performance rather than passing judgement. As the PM had said in his letter to the England manager, he wished the team all the best and hoped they did very well.
Asked whether the PM had full confidence in the England team, she said he was backing them all the way.
Asked whether the PM was planning to watch the game that evening, she said he would be in a working session when the game was on, but would be kept abreast of the score. Asked how he would be kept abreast of the score, she said she was not entirely sure, but usually officials could come in and out of such meetings. Asked who else would be in the working session, she said all of leaders involved in the G20.
Asked whether the PM shared the view of the drugs tsar that young people should not necessarily be punished for taking cannabis as it blighted their later life, the PMS said the government had a clear policy on drugs and pointed people to the Home Office for further information.
Asked whether the PM thought cannabis was bad for young people, she said he agreed with the Home Secretary. She reiterated that the government had a clear policy on drugs and had a drugs advisory board which advised the department on policy, and pointed to Home Office for further detail.
Asked whether the PM was concerned that yet again the government had appointed someone to the head of the drugs advisory board who did not think drugs were damaging, she reiterated again that there was a clear policy on drugs and advised people to speak to Home Office for further details.
Asked whether, as the PM had dabbled in cannabis as a youngster, he had any sympathy for others doing the same, she pointed people to what he had said before.
Put to her that the PM himself was supportive of decriminalisation in the past, she advised people to speak to the Home Office for the details of current policy.
Asked whether the PM thought it surprising that Lord Justice Leveson had questioned his commitment to his inquiry, the PMS said the Leveson Inquiry was a matter for Lord Justice Leveson, and the government was co-operating with the Inquiry, but was not providing a running commentary.
Asked whether the PM thought Leveson should get on with his Inquiry rather than holding inquiries into those reporting on his Inquiry, the PMS said these decisions were all a matter for Lord Justice Leveson and, as she had said before, the government was co-operating with the Inquiry and looked forward to its conclusion.
Asked whether the PM agreed with one of his MPs that Leveson was an unelected connoisseur who was trying to stifle free speech, the PMS said the PM had set up this Inquiry because he wanted to look at the relationship between politicians and the press. It was right that the Inquiry ran its course, and it was up to Lord Justice Leveson how he carried that Inquiry out and what he did in order to help him reach a conclusion.
Asked whether there was any inquiry as to how the Jeremy Heywood phone call had reached the public domain, she said the government had not made any comment on that and she would not be providing a running commentary.
Asked on what basis the PM would judge the G20 to have been a success, the PMS said the PM was very clear at the outset of the G20. It should be about making sure the problems of the Eurozone were discussed and that the Eurozone had the opportunity to set out the potential solution to the crisis. She said, as had been seen so far, there had been those discussions. Clearly the talks were ongoing and people should wait to see outcome.
Put to her that it was emerging from Mexico that the US was blaming the Eurozone but the Eurozone was blaming the US, and asked whether there was a danger of a split up, she said the PM had been very clear about what needed to happen rather than getting into a debate how these things had occurred. What was important was taking clear and decisive action in order to deal with the crisis. He had set out in his speech the day before what he thought needed to be done and what the key threats were if we did not reach a resolution to the crisis.
French tax exiles
Asked whether the PM regretted annoying the French with his comments about French tax exiles, the PMS said the PM was answering a question partly in jest but there was also a serious point to what he said in terms of a competitive tax policy and the government was very keen for foreign business to come here to help us to grow our economy.
Asked whether the PM believed Jimmy Carr and others were morally repugnant and akin to benefit cheats, the PMS said the government was doing a lot through the HMRC to deal with tax evasion and certainly the 2012 Budget contained a range of measures to close down tax loopholes which together would bring in about a billion pounds and protect a further ten billion pounds in future revenues. As the HMRC had said, individual tax avoidance cost the economy 4.5 billion pounds a year.
Asked whether it was still the belief that tax evasion was a moral issue, the PMS said the Chancellor had said at the time that he regarded tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance as morally repugnant. He had also said the government had increased the number of staff and resources working on tax avoidance at the HMRC.