Free nursery milk, the Eurozone and the G20, the Leveson Inquiry, and Boris Johnson's comments on a third runway at Heathrow were among topics discussed at this press briefing.
Free nursery milk
Asked whether the PM thought an excessive amount was being spent on milk in nurseries, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMS) said he had not explicitly expressed his view but the government was outlining proposals today, and recommended people speak to the Department for Health (DH).
Asked if the milk was currently free and how much the excess was, she advised people to speak to DH for full details on this and the government proposals.
Asked whether the PM was aware of how controversial this issue was, she said it was an important issue which is why the government was publishing proposals today.
Asked whether fewer children would be getting free nursery milk, she advised speaking to DH. Asked whether the PM would be concerned to know if this was the case, she said she would not be commenting further and advised people to look at the proposals.
Asked whether the PM was concerned with the DH press notice entitled ‘future of free nursery milk secured’, when one of the proposals was a cap the amount childcare providers would be able to claim, the PMS said she did not think he had seen the press release but would be broadly aware of the proposals. Asked if he had signed the policy off, she directed people to DH for the detail. Asked if it was accurate to say the future of free nursery milk was secured, she again advised speaking to DH.
Asked whether the PM would give a more considered reaction to the Greek election, the PMS said the election was the start of a process and it could be some days before a government was formed. So from the government’s point of view, it would continue to monitor the situation. She said the PM would be doing a clip when he landed, at approximately 5.20pm that afternoon.
Asked whether the PM was concerned by the rising bond yields in Spain, the PMS pointed to what he would be saying in his speech later on that day - that there were still a number of things the Eurozone countries needed to do and it was up to the Eurozone countries whether or not they were prepared to make the sacrifices these entailed. She said he would be sending a strong message in his speech later on.
Asked whether the PM thought it credible that Spain and Italy might have to leave the Euro, she reiterated that there were still things the Eurozone countries needed to do, and the PM would be setting out what he thought these things were as part of the G20 talks.
Asked if there was going to be a new line, she advised waiting to see what the PM had to say when he landed.
Asked for more detail about who was on the trade delegation to the G20, she said she would send the list, but to give a flavour she listed: Biogas Technology Ltd; Bupa Gas; CBI; Diageo; Intercontinental Hotels Group; Oxford Business Group; Pentlands Brands; Rolls Royce; the University of Glamorgan; and Virgin Atlantic.
Asked whether ministers had been asked to stop commenting on Leveson, the PMS said the government had not been providing any running commentary on the potential outcome of the Leveson Inquiry. She said the whole point of the Inquiry was to look at relationships between politicians and the media and we should await the outcome of his findings. Pushed on this, she said she was not aware of ministers being told not to comment, but certainly it was the case that it would be unhelpful for government to be providing a running commentary on the Leveson Inquiry when the PM had set it up to look at relations between politicians and the media. She added the government looked forward to its outcome.
Asked whether Mr Gove was providing a running commentary on Leveson, she said she understood the comments were made some time ago. Asked if Mr Gove was freelancing or speaking on behalf of the cabinet or government, she said she did know the source of his comments - they had been made some time ago, and not on behalf of Government.
Asked whether the PM thought Lord Leveson was within his right to make a complaint, she said the PM had not made a comment on this and she was not going to provide a commentary on what Lord Leveson should or should not be doing.
Asked whether the PM thought Lord Leveson intervening was ‘chilling’ in itself for free speech, she said it was up to Lord Leveson what comments he made and what was important was that the Leveson Inquiry was ongoing and the government looked forward to the outcome.
Asked again whether the license to government ministers to speak been withdrawn she reiterated she had made no comment on what had or hadn’t been said to government ministers, but what she had said was that providing a running commentary was unhelpful and we were looking forward to the outcome.
Boris Johnson and third runway
Asked whether the PM shared Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for him assuming a supreme power in England to push through his agenda on the third runway at Heathrow, the PMS said she would not comment on Boris’ statement but an aviation strategy would be published in the summer.
Asked whether Downing Street would welcome Tony Blair’s return to politics, the PMS said she had seen the comments but did would not comment. She said if you looked at what Tony Blair actually said he answered this issue himself.
Public sector regional pay
Asked about the PM’s position on changes to public sector regional pay, the PMS said this issue was still under consideration and so no decision had been made.
When it was put to her that the Chancellor was very keen but the DPM seemed to be against it, she reiterated decisions had not been made. The Chancellor had announced in the Autumn Statement that there was a case for considering how public sector pay could better reflect local labour markets; the independent pay review boards were currently considering the case for greater local pay flexibility in the wider public sector; but nothing had yet been decided. The PMS said that unless there was strong evidence to support it and there was a rational case for it then there would not be any change.
Asked whether MPs should also have this change apply to them, she said that applying the change to MPs was not something the government was looking at, and this would be a matter for the House.
When it was put to her that the Chancellor seemed very keen but here she was talking about the need for strong evidence and a good case, she said the Chancellor had said there was a case for considering how public sector pay could better reflect local labour markets but unless there was strong evidence and a good case for it, this would not change. Asked if this could be classified as a u-turn in the making, she said seeing as no decision has been made the answer was no.
Asked when a decision could be expected, the PMS advised people to speak to the Treasury.
Asked who decided if there was a strong case, she said let us see what the pay review boards come up with. She said she was not sure who they were reporting to but expected the Treasury would have a strong part to play in any decision.
Asked whether the PM was concerned that, 6 weeks after his invitation to discuss the referendum, the First Minister had not responded, the PMS said she could not comment on the First Minister’s correspondence and this was really a matter for him.