New Year’s Honours
Asked when the list of new working peers would be released the PMS said that it would be announced at the appropriate time.
Put to him by the Telegraph that the Prime Minister had seemed a bit grumpy this morning, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said no he had not been grumpy. The Prime Minister had in fact enjoyed the opportunity to disagree with the line taken by the Daily Telegraph and had put the case very strongly. He felt very strongly that if you did believe in enlargement then you should pay your fair share in doing so. That had been the foundation of our approach, not only to enlargement but to the budget deal as a whole.
Asked for the Prime Minister's view was on the recommended changes to the categorisation of murder, the PMOS said that the Government had asked the Law Commission for their report and we would study it because it was a serious report and a serious piece of analysis. We encouraged people to contribute to the consultation process which was now being launched by the Law Commission.
Asked if the budget was going to cost £2 billion off the rebate, as mentioned in the Financial Times, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said he was not sure that was what the Financial Times had actually said. The amount of the rebate that we were foregoing was 10.5 billion euros, and that worked out at about £1 billion a year. Of course the overall cost of the budget did go up, but that was the same for everybody, and if people looked at the costings, France was paying 116 % more than it currently did, Italy was paying 135% more, Ireland was paying 90% more, so in terms of overall net contributions, our increase of 63% was considerably less than others'. Why where we paying more? We believed it was right to pay for the development of the Accession Countries, and it was in this country's medium to long-term benefit to do so. If the level of trade we had had with countries such as Ireland, Portugal or Spain was looked at, which had developed in the last period, it more than paid for the amount of contributions that we had had to put in. We believed that the same would be true on the Accession Countries.
Asked whether the government was concerned that in 2013 the figure would be £2bn, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that figure was a misunderstanding of the process. For a detailed breakdown people should look at the figures released early Saturday morning. 2013 was a new book as was the case in every budget negotiation. By then we would have had the fundamental review. As President Barroso had said today that could result in a variation of the budget before the end of the budget period. He had been very clear that there were no taboos in the mid-term review. It would be a fundamental review. President Barroso had said that it could result in change. Of course that was subject to agreement by the European Council but that was true of every country. People should not take as an absolute given things that were not.
Asked what the Prime Minister's reply to the continuing claims from Sinn Fein's that there was political interference in the Stormontgate affair, the PMOS replied that for obvious legal and security reasons, there was a limit to what he could say. The Prime Minister had not changed his view which was supported by the Police Ombudsmen, that the police operation in Stormont was both right and necessary. The Prime Minister fully supported the police in what they did, and that was his view before last week, and that view remained.
Asked whether Downing Street had a response to the Smoking Select Committee's report which had said the Government's plans were impractical, ineffective and that a total ban should be offered, the PMOS said no doubt we would study their helpful comments. What he had said in the past and what remained the case was that the ban would cover 98% of public areas. We believed that we had achieved what was a difficult balance between protecting those that did not smoke whilst at the same time protecting the right of those that did. It was not an easy balance, but we were trying to strike that balance, and would continue to listen to the debate.
Asked if Barry Sheerman was right that the Education White Paper was "green tinged" rather than purely white, the PMOS said that firstly, we did not know what was in Barry Sheerman's report. The PMOS said he was going to go back to first principles on this. Of course we understood that people had concerns, but equally, we believed that that the White Paper already addressed those concerns, as Ruth Kelly would set out this afternoon when she would appear at the Select Committee. The key argument behind the White paper remained: when schools were given the ability to be flexible, they improved, especially in the most deprived areas. That was why City Academies had been such a success, and why they continued to expand across the country. If people looked at the percentage of pupils achieving five good GCSE results in City Academies compared to their predecessors, bearing in mind they were specifically in derived areas, it had gone up from around 16% to around 30%. Equally, if people looked at the percentage of pupils in City Academies who got free school meals, it had also gone up from 33% to 37%. That was the background, and why we believed that the White Paper did address the essential concerns that people had.
Asked how concerned the Prime Minister was about the opposition of Chief Police officers regarding a merger, the PMOS said that in terms of the rationale for the merger, that remained the analysis of the challenges that police forces faced. The Inspectorate Constabulary made clear in their recent report that the current police force structure could not provide an effective community policing, or cross-regional crime. That was the reason behind the proposals, and that fact did not change.
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