» Monday, September 13, 2004

Fathers’ Rights

Asked for a reaction to this afternoon's demonstration at Buckingham Palace by Fathers 4 Justice, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said everyone would accept that the issue of fathers' rights was very difficult and complex. Clearly, it involved strong emotions and huge sensitivities and it therefore had to be handled in a sensitive way. In the Government's view, the child's interests were paramount. Thus, where it was safe to do so, children should have contact with both their parents. The dilemma arose when such a situation was deemed to be impossible or was not happening for whatever reason. That was why the Government had been talking to all those involved in the issue, including Fathers 4 Justice. As we had always made clear, we did not believe that demonstrations like the one today helped to address the full complexity of the problem. Asked if he thought such protests tarnished the case, the PMOS said that that was for others to judge. That said, given the full complexity of this issue, it could not be reduced to random events. It had to be considered in the round. In our view it was a matter for thoughtful dialogue. We believed that these issues were best addressed through facilitation between the former partners. We recognised that there were huge difficulties when that did not occur, but such an option had to be carefully considered, not dealt with by events like the one today.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (82)

Pensions

Asked if the Prime Minister would accept the 'widespread characterisation' of the UK's pensions industry being 'in crisis' and the gap in provision having 'exploded' during his term in office, the PMOS said that this was a problem which was being confronted internationally, as well as in the UK, because of a huge range of factors. It was therefore important to approach it in two ways: firstly by dealing with the immediate issues, as we were doing through the Pension Bill which had set up the Pension Protection Fund which would guarantee protection if a company went bust. We had also set aside £400m for the Financial Assistance Scheme to help those who had already suffered from this problem. However, it was also important to address the longer term issues, as we were doing through the Pensions Commission, under the chairmanship of Adair Turner. The Commission was due to report its findings in the autumn. After that we would be able to have a sensible debate looking at the issue in the round, rather than turn the whole thing into some sort of blame game.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Fox Hunting

Asked if the motion on a two-year delay would be amendable and subject to a free vote, the PMOS said that the Hunting Bill would be before the House on Wednesday and he would discuss the issue in more detail then. As we had said consistently, the whole issue of fox hunting would be a matter for a free vote and the Prime Minister believed that Parliament should deal with it in that spirit. Asked if he was indicating that both a fox hunting ban and when that ban might come into force would be subject to free votes, the PMOS said yes.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Read whole briefing | Comment (1)

PM’s TUC Speech

Questioned about the Prime Minister's speech to the TUC annual conference this afternoon, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that as had already been reported, the Prime Minister would focus on general themes such as working in partnership with the trade unions, in addition to issues that were of a more political nature.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (3)

Pensions

Asked for a reaction to today's Times report suggesting that taxpayers would have to pay more in National Insurance in order to fund bigger state pensions, the PMOS said that the Pensions Commission, under the chairmanship of Adair Turner, was currently producing a report on pensions policy. It was therefore inevitable that the media would speculate on what its conclusions might be. However, until the report was actually published - it was due in the autumn - he did not think it would be helpful to get drawn into discussions about individual issues - and that should be taken neither as a confirmation or denial. On a more general point, it was important to recognise that the Government had addressed, and was addressing, both the immediate and longer term issues on pensions, which Governments worldwide were having to deal with. For example, under the terms of the Pensions Bill, a Pension Protection Fund was being set up to guarantee protection if a company went bust. We had also set aside £400m for the Financial Assistance Scheme to help those who were already victims of this problem. The Turner Commission was also looking at how to address the longer term pension issues and would publish its conclusions in the autumn.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

Incapacity Benefit

Asked if there were any plans to change the Government's policy on incapacity benefit in the light of reports yesterday about people abusing the system, the PMOS cautioned journalists against getting too ahead of themselves. He pointed out that progress had already been made in stabilising the situation. Equally, it was also a matter of encouraging those claiming incapacity benefit to go back to work both for the sake of their own self esteem and their role in society, as well the wider economic picture.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (7)

Derek Scott

Questioned about Derek Scott's allegations concerning the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as reported over the weekend, the PMOS said that he had no intention of commenting on Mr Scott's book. The people who wrote such tomes had their own PR machines to help shift sales. Put to him that Mr Scott's allegations merited a Downing Street comment inasmuch as they were coming from someone with special access to the Prime Minister, the PMOS said that, tempted as he might be, he had nothing further to say about this matter.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Read whole briefing | Comments (0)

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