The Prime Minister's Spokesperson answered questions on plain packaging, Sir Bob Kerslake, Trident, school lunches, outsourcing and taxes.
Asked whether the Prime Minister (PM) has ever spoken to Lynton Crosby on packaging, the Prime Minister’s Spokesperson (PMS) said that the PM has never been lobbied by Lynton Crosby on cigarette packaging. He said that the important point to stress on this issue is that Lynton Crosby has had no involvement in the decision.
Asked whether the PM recalls Crosby telling him to “get the barnacles off the boat”, the PMS said he was not aware.
Asked whether the PM understands why there may be suspicions about a link, the PMS said that Lynton Crosby is not employed by government, but is employed by the Conservative Party. Lynton Crosby does not have a pass for Downing Street. He does not have a desk at No 10 Downing Street. He does attend meetings at Downing Street.
Asked whether jobs were a factor in the decision, the PMS said that the government takes very seriously the potential for standardised packaging and how it could reduce smoking rates, however there were very different views to the consultation and the government has decided to wait for the evidence from Australia before making final decisions.
Pushed on the PM’s view, the PMS said that the PM shares the view that Jeremy Hunt set out today in his written statement. The government takes very seriously the potential that standardised packaging has but wants to wait and see the evidence from Australia.
Asked for an update on minimum unit pricing, the PMS said there would be a response in due course.
Asked about transparency over Lynton Crosby’s interests, the PMS said that Lynton Crosby is not employed by government, he is employed by the Conservative Party.
Asked whether he could say that no companies have lobbied the PM, the PMS said that he did not know specifically but that BAT and other tobacco companies will almost surely have responded to the consultation and referred journalists to the Department of Health for detail on the companies’ responses.
Asked whether plain packaging was being ruled out, the PMS said it is not, and that the position set out by the Health Secretary is very clear. We want to wait for Australia’s evidence before making a final decision.
Asked whether the PM has given up smoking the PMS said he was not aware of the PM smoking at present.
Asked whether it is fair to say that the PM wants a narrow focus in government and whether the emphasis has changed in recent years, the PMS said that the PM talks regularly about a wide range of issues. He said that the clear focus of coalition was tackling debt and that has always been the key priority. He pointed to the Coalition agreement as it sets out the government’s agenda very clearly.
Asked about minimum unit pricing, the PMS said that the PM has set out his views in depth and the government will respond in due course.
Sir Bob Kerslake
Asked whether Sir Bob Kerslake will get the sack, the PMS said no. He added that the PM fully supports Sir Bob Kerslake’s work.
Asked whether there had been discussions about his replacement, the PMS said he was not aware of any discussions.
Asked whether the report would be out on Tuesday and whether it would be redacted, the PMS said that it would be out shortly and that we have always been clear that it will be edited as would be expected.
Asked whether the PM thinks schools should be made to ban packed lunches, the PMS said that the report does not suggest any sort of blanket ban, but says it should be a decision for head teachers. The PMS said the government trusts head teachers to talk to parents and make their own decisions. The PMS made the point that headteachers already have this power so there was no change of the rule book.
Asked whether the PM’s children have packed lunches, the PMS referred to the PM’s comments in the house, when he said that he speaks as someone with two children who enjoy their school meals and wants schools to go on winning the battle for school lunches.
Asked whether he was concerned about the financial impacts, the PMS said that one of the points in today’s report is that parents currently spend almost £1 billion a year on packed lunches, so they can be quite an expensive option.
Asked whether the government’s appetite for outsourcing has changed, the PMS said that the overarching view that the best provider - whether state, private or voluntary organisations, has not changed. He said it does reinforce the importance of having good contractual procedures so they deliver first class services and value for money.
Asked if the PM would like to repeat the Chancellor’s words on tax rises being limited, the PMS said that the Chancellor was setting out a post-election fiscal position. The PMS said that the PM supports the work the Chancellor is doing in this area.