Asked again if the reshuffle would be taking place today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that the position on this issue had not changed since this morning. He pointed out that the Prime Minister had been quite busy today with a number of diary engagements, including PMQs, attending his weekly Parliamentary Committee meeting and hosting a meeting with the President of Romania in Downing Street. Once he had made up his mind and had decided he was ready to announce a reshuffle we would let people know. Questioned as to how long the Prime Minister had spent at the House today, the PMOS said that he hadn't timed him. He thought he had stayed the amount of time he usually stayed in the Commons after PMQs. Asked if the Prime Minister had any diary plans for this evening, the PMOS said that he had a social engagement. Asked if there was a desire for the reshuffle to be completed prior to tomorrow's Cabinet and Political Cabinet, the PMOS said that the reshuffle would happen when the Prime Minister was ready.
Asked when an announcement would be made on fox hunting, the PMOS said he did not think that journalists would have much longer to wait. DEFRA would be answering a PQ on this issue a little later this afternoon. Asked which Minister was in the lead on this matter, the PMOS said that it was the responsibility of the Rural Affairs Minister, Alun Michael. That said, it was important for journalists to remember that the issue would be put to a free vote.
Asked if the reshuffle would be taking place today, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we would let people know as and when it happened. Asked if the Prime Minister had met the Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister today, the PMOS said that it wasn't our policy to brief on individual meetings. Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister had met the Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister last night, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister met his ministerial colleagues on a regular basis, as you would expect. Asked if the Prime Minister had been in contact with Alan Milburn within the last day or so, the PMOS repeated that it wasn't our policy to brief on individual conversations.
Asked if Downing Street would recognise the suggestions of some city commentators that pensions policy provision had become 'a bit of a basket case' under this Government, the PMOS said it was clear that the Government had addressed both the immediate and longer term issues on pensions, which all Governments were having to deal with. For example, we had introduced the Pension Credit in October 2003. In addition, the Pensions Bill would include the Pension Protection Fund. We had also set up the Financial Assistance Scheme to help those who had already lost their pensions. In order to address the longer term issues, we had asked the Pensions Commission, under the leadership of Adair Turner, to undertake a review. This was due to report in the autumn.
Asked if an announcement on fox hunting would be made today, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had told journalists in his press conference yesterday, Parliament would be the first to be informed about any announcement on fox hunting. Asked repeatedly if a Parliamentary Question (PQ) by Paddy Tipping MP asking whether the Secretary of State for DEFRA would make a statement on fox hunting would be answered today, the PMOS said that the usual Parliamentary procedures would apply, as you would expect. Asked what was so difficult about confirming whether the PQ would be answered today or not, the PMOS said that any Parliamentary Question which was tabled would obviously be answered in the normal way. It wasn't our practice to brief on every single one that came along. Asked to confirm suggestions that the PQ had been tabled solely to put pressure on DEFRA, the PMOS said that he wasn't aware of such reports. He repeated that the PQ would be answered in the normal way. Asked how long it would take, the PMOS said that we tried to answer PQs as quickly as possible. Put to him that it sometimes took Departments weeks to reply, the PMOS said he did not think that was normally the case.
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