Referring to the Prime Minister's speech to the IPPR this morning, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) pointed to the key policy papers which had already been published, including the five-year plans for crime, education, health and transport, and those which were due to come later this autumn and into the New Year, including DWP and incapacity benefit, DEFRA, housing, DTI, skills strategy, DCMS and the public health paper. We were also expecting more on childcare, drugs and asylum and immigration.
The PMOS advised journalists that Jack Straw would be fronting FCO Questions in the House tomorrow and would also make a Statement on Iraq in which he would refer to the current situation on the ground and the ISG report. No doubt the murder of Ken Bigley would also be raised.
Asked about the Prime Minister's meeting with the incoming European Commission President, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, in Downing Street tomorrow, the PMOS said that it was a significant meeting which was taking place in the run-up to Mr Barroso taking office on 1 November.
Asked the Prime Minister's thoughts on hunting in advance of the second reading of the Hunting Bill in the House of Lords tomorrow, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister's view on the issue was on the record, as was his support for the compromise proposal put forward by Alun Michael. It was now up to the House of Lords to make up their own minds and take their own decisions.
Asked if the Government would accept that there was a £57bn a year shortfall in the pensions system and that the cut in tax dividends were to blame while pensioner tax credits were a disincentive for poorer people to save for their old age, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he thought it would be more useful to wait for the Pensions Commission's interim report to be published tomorrow rather than engage in speculation about its content. In general, however, he would point out that the change to tax dividends had been part of a wider package of corporation tax reforms, including cuts to the rate at which corporation tax was paid.
Asked if, in the light of the inaccurate pension statistics, Downing Street would now accept that the British Crime Survey figures on crime were wrong, as claimed by the Crime and Society Foundation, the PMOS said that it was a mistake to read across from one issue to the other. The crime figures had been tested and were regarded as reliable. He repeated that the Pensions Commission was due to publish its interim report tomorrow. Once they had done so, we would be able to have a proper debate about the issue.
Asked which Minister would be making a Statement to the House on last week's ISG report, the PMOS said that as he understood it, the Foreign Secretary would be answering FCO Questions tomorrow when he would reply to questions which had already been tabled on Iraq. Ultimately, however, Statements and the like were a matter for the Speaker of the House. Put to him that the recall of Parliament in September 2002 to discuss the dossier on WMD meant that the ISG report, which had concluded that there were no WMD, deserved at least a Statement in the Commons, the PMOS pointed out that that was not the only thing which the ISG had mentioned. It had also concluded that the policy of containment had been seriously eroded and that Saddam had had the intent to resume production of WMD as quickly as possible once sanctions had been lifted, as he was confident they would be. Asked to confirm reports that the Foreign Secretary might return early from his GAC meeting in Brussels to make a Statement to Parliament this afternoon, the PMOS said that he was not aware of any plans for a Statement at this stage. However, these were matters for the Speaker who would make his decision in the usual way at around midday today.
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