Asked how much of Lord Turner's report on pensions would be implemented by the Government, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that we couldn't say at this stage because we had ruled nothing in or out. That meant we had to carry out a proper study of the report and come up with a white paper from that.
Asked if the Government believed it could come away with an agreement on the EU budget by the end of the week, the PMOS said that the end of the week wasn't a deadline. The deadline was the summit on the Dec 15th. Without getting into the detail of the negotiations, he would say what the accession countries had been saying was that what was really important for them was that they could get at the money quickly. A deal now would allow them to do that. The other factor people had to bear in mind was that we had to deal with the reality that an awful lot of money would, quite rightly, be going the way of the accession countries if this deal was done. But it only went if and when the deal was done. Asked if they could hold out given that they were already having trouble spending the money they had, the PMOS said that what they had been saying to us was that they needed easy access to the money as quickly as possible. We should try and help them with that.
Asked if the EU rebate was an "indivisible whole", the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that as the Prime Minister had said to Digby Jones yesterday, the position on the rebate was in line with what he had said in the summer and in various speeches to the EU Parliament, Mansion House speech etc. The PMOS said he was not going to give any more details as he did not want to give a running commentary on the negotiations. What we had said, and believed was important was that the recognised that the Accession countries wanted to have access to the additional and substantial money that they would receive under any deal as quickly as possible. That was why we believed that a deal was necessary, but it would be difficult.
Asked what the Prime Minster's take on the Turner Report was, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had said at the weekend, we would welcome the Turner Report, and we had. The Prime Minister had also said that nothing should be ruled in or out, and that was the position. We believed that this was a very serious report, and as Lord Turner had said, it was 400 pages long, and he was not expecting a "yes" or a "no" today, which was the right approach. We now had the substance, and a serious analysis and a series of proposals. Therefore, the important thing was that we now had a serious debate which would do justice to the seriousness of the report. As John Hutton would make clear in his detailed statement today, we would work towards publishing proposals next year.
Asked if the Government was co-operating into the investigation about extraordinary rendition flights coming through British airports, the PMOS replied that he had not yet seen anything other than assertion in terms of the story. We had made clear that we had no evidence to corroborate allegations. However, the Foreign Secretary had written to the US, and therefore people should wait for the reply.
Asked if the Prime Minister was being kept informed of the situation with Mr. Kember, the PMOS said he had to be very careful about what he said about Mr. Kember. It was better to leave it to the Foreign Office (FCO), and people knew the reasons why we had to be very careful and why it should be left to the FCO to comment.
The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) explained for clarification following this morning's briefing that he had re-interrogated the figures. The 10% figure for the estimated turnover of staff who would be on the new scheme, not the old scheme, remained correct. That meant, as the Prime Minister said in his speech this morning that it would be a bit more than a decade for a majority to be on the new scheme. Not 70% as the PMOS had said yesterday. The 70% figure had arisen from a misunderstanding that came about somewhere between Malta, Barcelona and London. The PMOS apologised for any confusion that had arisen.
Put that on Sunday, journalists had been told that within 10 years, only 30% of public sectors workers would be in the old pensions scheme, and the Prime Minister had said something similar yesterday too, it was assumed therefore that we were confident with those numbers, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said: yes. The position was that there was a turnover of 10% of public sector workers every year, and the vast majority of public sector workers within 10 years would be on the new scheme.
Asked if the Prime Minister's position was as Sir Digby Jones had put it to him that Britain would give up the rebate if and only if there was a commensurate and equal giving up of the agricultural subsidy that France got and whether this was a significant hardening of his previous position, the PMOS said we should go back to first principles on this: the abatement was there because of the distortion of the budget as a result of CAP.
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