The Olympics, House of Lords reform, the economy and Syria were among the topics discussed at this press briefing
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) began by saying that there had been an Olympics committee meeting that morning to take stock and look ahead to the coming week.
House of Lords reform
Asked if the boundary review was dead, the PMOS told the journalists that they should wait for the announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister later that day. He reminded them that each Boundary Commission would present final recommendations in Autumn 2013 and the issue would then return to the House of Commons.
Asked if there was enough time to legislate for any changes to constituency boundaries before the next election, the PMOS replied that the process and parliamentary timetable were designed with that objective in mind.
Asked whether the Prime Minister had discussed with Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dems their threat to vote down any changes proposed, the PMOS said again that the Boundary Commissions would report back in 2013 after they had completed their work.
When asked about potential whipping arrangements, the PMOS said that the process was still ongoing and we would need to wait until recommendations were received. Asked if boundary reform remained a Government commitment, the PMOS replied that it was a Government policy and in the Coalition Agreement.
Asked if the Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) still took the view that it was vital for democracy that it was passed, particularly the equalisation of constituency sizes, the PMOS told journalists again that they should wait for the DPM’s announcement later that day.
Asked whether the PM had abided by the Coalition Agreement, the PMOS said that the Coalition Agreement included a number of constitutional and political reforms, one of which was to reduce the number of constituencies and equalise their size, in order to ensure that people’s votes had equal weight. The PM’s position was that he had wanted to move towards a mainly elected House of Lords. A majority of MPs had voted in support of that in the House of Commons, but it was not possible to move forward without consensus and cross party support.
Asked if the PM or DPM had talked to the Leader of the Opposition in the recent days or weeks ahead of today’s announcement, the PMOS said he did not believe there had been any recent discussions with the Leader of the Opposition on this issue.
Asked why the PM was not making a joint statement with the DPM, the PMOS said the House of Lords Reform Bill was one which the DPM was taking through the House of Commons.
Asked if the ministerial Olympic meeting that morning was positive, the PMOS said that it was. He said that discussions had focused on the successful sporting weekend, both in terms of medals won and the arrangements put in place to manage the additional numbers of people at the Olympic Park. He told the journalists that Friday had been the busiest ever day on the tube with 4.4 million journeys and half a million people using the Docklands light railway. He said that ministers had been pleased that people had been listening to the advice and planning their journeys effectively. Although we had seen record numbers, people had been spreading their journeys throughout the day and that had helped avoid problems.
Asked if any thought had been given to a parade for the GB team to celebrate their achievements; the PMOS said it was his understanding that such an event was very likely, but that journalist should check with the British Olympic Association.
When asked if the PM would be hosting a reception for the winners at No10, the PMOS said it was his understanding that an event would happen in public so people in London could attend.
When asked if anything was being done to counter the ‘ghost town’ effect in the centre of London, the PMOS said that the evidence so far was that the number of people visiting London was up, transport usage was up and the number of people visiting the West End was up. He went on to say that it was not just about the two weeks of games, but also about the legacy and the brilliant advert the Olympics had provided for the City of London.
Asked which events the PM had been to so far, the PMOS said that he had been to the men’s cycling road race, the diving, handball with President Hollande, Judo with President Putin, cycling in the velodrome and that he had also attended athletics over the weekend.
Asked about the reservations expressed by Lord Moynihan about future sports funding and whether it might flag after the Olympics, the PMOS said the objective had been to create a lasting legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic games. That included the physical legacy with the Games’ venues and the Olympic Park, as well as the economic and sporting legacy. The PMOS said that a £1 billion youth sport strategy had been put in place for the next five years to increase opportunities for young people to get involved in sport and that 13,000 schools had signed up for the school games competition. A lot of work has been done with businesses throughout the period to use the Olympics in a positive way. [The PMOS also pointed to the number of Ministers due to attend events at the Business Embassy this week.]
Asked if we could guarantee that the amount of money going into sport would stay the same, the PMOS said the Prime Minister was very committed to ensuring that we maximise the benefits of hosting the Olympics.
Asked if the PM thought that private schools charitable status places on them an obligation to share their high class sports facilities with their local communities, the PMOS replied that if those schools with great sports facilities could do more to share them with their local community that would obviously be a very positive thing.
Asked about Danny Alexander’s comment that ‘the credit rating is not the be-all and end-all’ and whether this was a change in Government position, the PMOS said that what mattered for the Government was having the right polices in place including a credible policy for reducing the deficit. He also pointed to that fact that all three ratings agencies continued to award the UK a triple-A rating.
Asked whether the Prime Minister thought Tony Blair would make a suitable replacement for Kofi Annan, the PMOS said that work with other countries was needed to deal with situation in Syria and that the Annan plan hadn’t worked. He reminded them that on Friday, the UN General Assembly had passed a resolution which condemned the Security Council’s lack of action on Syria. He said that the UN Security Council (UNSC) needed to respond to that resolution and show that it could live up to its responsibilities. He said that the issue was not about who the envoy was, but about the UNSC.
Asked what the PM thought of the Syrian Prime Minister’s defection, the PMOS said he was aware of reports. If true, it would be the most senior Syrian politician to defect and would serve to highlight the fact that the regime was bankrupt and had lost all legitimacy.