Asked if the relationship between academies and LEAs would change at all, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) replied that in relation to academies, we were reducing the £2million entry fee for universities and higher education institutions to strengthen the link between universities and academies. This enabled the Secretary of State to announce a whole raft of new academies today, and a long list of universities who were signing up to the academies programme. There was no change in the changes to the governance arrangements for academies. Academies retained the special independence and freedom that enabled them to drive up standards.
International Monetary Fund
Asked if the Prime Minister was happy with the apparent choice of Dominique Strauss-Kahn as the next head of the IMF, the PMS replied that our position was that we would like to see an open and transparent process. That was the position adopted by the board yesterday. As regards to what was happening at ECOFIN, it was best that journalists speak to the Treasury who were on the ground and better placed to provide an update on the situation.
Asked if the Prime Minister could gives assurances that greenbelt land would stay as greenbelt land as more housing developments were expected to be announced tomorrow, the PMS replied that we could give that assurance. We were not proposing any changes to the very robust protections to greenbelt land. Environmental protection was central to the plans for new housing, all new homes would be zero-carbon by 2016, and there would be new eco-towns and villages to lead the way for greener and more affordable housing. We had already increased the amount of greenbelt land, and were not proposing changes to the robust protections that apply to greenbelt land.
Fixed Rate Mortgages
Asked if there were future intentions to move towards long term fixed rate mortgages, and asked where we were now after the Prime Minister (as Chancellor) commissioned the Miles Review on this, the PMS replied that the FSA, in line with the recommendations of the Miles Review, improved the amount of information that that was able to enable people to make more choice, but it was best to check with the Treasury on detail. With regard to future intentions, it was best to wait for tomorrow's statement.
Asked what the purpose of tomorrow's pre-Queen's Speech was, the PMS replied that the purpose of tomorrow's debate was to set out the main legislative priorities for the Government. There was discussion at Cabinet on this, and the overarching theme was how the Government responds to the rising aspirations of people by providing better opportunities for the future. So the priorities for the legislative programme would be: Housing, and the measures we needed to take to make housing opportunities more widely available; Education opportunities, taking forward some of the measures announced by Ed Balls today; and responding to people's concerns about better health care.
Asked if there was any response to the Russians saying they were not going to extradite Lugovoy, the PMS replied that we made our position very clear on that this morning.
The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) told the press that Cabinet met this morning for about an hour. There was a discussion led by the Housing Minister on housing policy, which followed up last week's discussion. There was an update from the Home Secretary on counter terrorism matters, a discussion on welfare reform led by Peter Hain. There was also a discussion on skills and how we would take forward the Leitch Review led by John Denham, as well as an outline from Ed Balls of the content of his statement later today. The Prime Minister, building on the Cabinet discussion last week on the priorities for the legislative programme, outlined the main elements of his statement tomorrow. The PMS said that he could not get into the specifics of it ahead of the announcement to Parliament, but the Prime Minister did make clear that the overarching theme would be how the Government responded to the rising aspirations of people by providing better opportunities for the future. The priorities for the legislative programme, as he had set out to Cabinet this morning would be housing, and the measures that we needed to take to make housing opportunities more widely available, especially for first time buyers. Other priorities would be education opportunities, taking forward the measures that Ed Balls would announce later today, and responding to people's concerns about opportunities for better healthcare.
Asked for further information about the Housing Minister's statement to Cabinet, the PMS replied that she was speaking along the lines that Alastair Darling had mentioned in the Guardian today in terms of what more we could do to bring more public sector land forward, what reforms could be made to the mortgage system, and what reforms needed to be made to the planning system.
Asked for further information about the welfare reform, the PMS said that there was already a wide-ranging agenda that the Government had already taken forward, in particular, how we took forward the Freud Review and what the next steps were as part of that. There were also various issues that were announced in the Budget in terms of local employment partnerships with some of the major retailers, and how that was taken forward.
Asked if there had been a reaction to the formal announcement by Russia that Mr. Lugovoy would not be extradited, the PMS said that our position was that Russia's refusal to extradite Mr. Lugovoy was extremely disappointing. We deeply regretted that Russia had failed to show the necessary level of co-operation in this matter. The Director of Public Prosecution had carefully considered Russia's offer of a trial under Russian law, but concluded that this was unacceptable. This was a crime that was committed in London, the evidence and the witnesses were in the UK, and we did not have full confidence that a trial in Moscow would meet the standards of impartiality and fairness that would be deemed necessary. Therefore, we remained convinced that Mr. Lugovoy should answer the evidential case against him in a British court. In terms of next steps, at the moment we were reviewing the situation and considering what further steps we could take, but in our view, this response was extremely disappointing and we considered it a serious matter.
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