The Prime Minister's Spokesperson answered questions on Office for Budget Responsibility, prison, bankers' bonuses, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Office for Budget Responsibility
Asked where the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was based, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) told the assembled press that he believed it had office space in the Treasury building.
When questioned if the OBR was guarded about its independence, the PMS said that this was a question for them, but it was an independent body.
Asked if Downing Street had contacted the OBR in the last two days, the PMS said he was not aware that it had.
Asked when the Prime Minister had seen the OBR figures published that day, the PMS said he would have seen them this morning.
When it was suggested that the timing of publication was convenient after high unemployment figures had been reported, the PMS responded that the OBR had said previously it would deal with questions that were raised about the forecasts it had published alongside the Budget.
It was the PMS’ understanding that the OBR had been due to publish these figures the following day but, given misleading reports in the press that morning, they had decided to bring publication forward. OBR forecasts were not bound by National Statistics rules.
Asked whether public sector employment would fall faster post-Budget than pre-Budget, the PMS said that public sector employment was expected to fall by 460,000 over five years under previous plans. The post-Budget projection was for a fall of 490,000.
Asked why the OBR was not based elsewhere, the PMS said a Bill would be introduced later in the year to establish the OBR on a statutory footing. New legislation would set out what its functions would be.
Asked how to contact the OBR, the PMS said to ask the Treasury about arrangements, but the OBR would speak for itself.
When questioned where the unemployment figures printed in the press that morning had come from, the PMS said that we did not comment on suspected leaks.
When asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Michael Howard’s previous speech where he said that there was a link between the number of prison places and the number of crimes committed, the PMS replied that Justice Secretary’s speech that morning had set out the government’s position.
Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on the levies the European Parliament was planning to introduce on bankers’ bonuses, the PMS said he had not seen details of the proposals, but people should speak to the Treasury.
When it was suggested that it was Deputy Prime Minister’s decision to make previously secret Iraq documents publicly available that day, the PMS responded that it was the Cabinet Secretary’s decision and that he had clearly set out his reasons for this decision in an open letter.
Asked if the Prime Minister shared the Defence Secretary’s concerns about prematurely withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had been very clear on his position. The Prime Minister had made a statement to the House where he had said that there was an established strategy, that we were six months into that strategy and that this was a crucial year. He had also been clear that troops should not be in Afghanistan a day longer than was necessary.