» Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Religious Hatred Bill Vote

Asked if the Prime Minister had full confidence in himself, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the journalist got ten out of ten for effort! The answer, however, was obvious.

Asked "what the hell went wrong" last night with the vote, the PMOS replied that these things happened, and he was sure that every effort would be made to ensure that it did not happen again.

Asked where the Prime Minister was at the time of the vote, the PMOS replied that he did not get into precise details of the Prime Minister’s movements.

Put that it was not a security matter, the PMOS said he was not saying that it was security matter, but simply that he was not going to talk about the Prime Minister’s movements.

Asked again about the vote, the PMOS said it had happened, and it was not the result we wanted. However, the important thing was that although we had lost two amendments, that should not be translated into losing the Bill. As Paul Goggins and Charles Clarke had made clear, we would continue to mount prosecutions, the bar was higher than we wished, but we still believed it was possible to make prosecutions. The manifesto commitment had been translated into legislation.

Asked why the Prime Minister did not vote in the second vote, the PMOS replied that it was one of those things. In retrospect, would things have been done differently? Yes.

Asked if Hilary Armstrong had offered her resignation this morning, the PMOS said: no.

Asked if it was expected that Hilary Armstrong would offer her resignation, the PMOS said the matter did not even arise.

Asked if that was because the Prime Minister believed it was simply a misjudgement by Ministers, which led all the way to No10, the PMOS replied that the matter did not arise because the Prime Minister continued to have enormous respect for Hilary Armstrong, and last night was one of those things which went wrong.

Asked whether the PMOS’ words that "although we had lost two amendments that did not mean we had lost the Bill", would apply if anything happened on the Education Bill, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had said in a different context, the vote last night was "sui generis" to last night’s events.

Put that Ministers knew at 1800 last night that it was "touch and go" with the vote, and was the Prime Minister informed about it at that time, the PMOS said that the journalist may wish to examine the entrails of this, but he had no wish to.

Asked to characterise the Prime Minister’s mood; was it relaxed/water off a duck’s back, etc, the PMOS thanked the journalist for trying to put words in his mouth! It had happened, and we would try to make sure that it did not occur again.

Put that someone must be examining the entrails, and had there been a report from the Chief Whip to the Prime Minister about it all, the PMOS said that everyone knew that the result could have been better, but people shuold not make a bigger deal of it that it was.

Asked what was the reason why the "huge cock-up" was missed, the PMOS said he would leave it up to the lobby note to record that the words "cock-up" came from the journalist’s mouth and not his own, but he was not disagreeing with the analysis! The PMOS said again that sometimes, these things happened, and with the best will, things turned out differently from how it could have been.

Asked how the Prime Minister defended himself over the charge that he had a "contempt" for Parliament, and that was why he did not show up to vote, and if he could not be bothered to show up for what was meant to be his own most important pieces of legislation, what respect did he have for Parliament, the PMOS replied that if people compared the number of statements that the Prime Minister had made to Parliament compared to his predecessors, he had made substantially more. The Prime Minister had introduced innovations such as appearing before the Liaison Committee, and therefore, in terms of his respect for the institutions of Parliament, that was clear. The PMOS said that last night arose out of particular circumstances, and therefore it should be seen as a one-off.

Asked further about the vote, the PMOS said people should not lose sight of the fact that the manifesto commitment to deliver the Bill had been delivered. The Government had lost two amendments, and it was not pretending that we would rather have carried those amendments, but that was the perspective that it should be seen in.

Asked if to was fair to say that the Prime Minister was more concerned with central Government issues, the PMOS said that delivery on the manifesto as a whole was important, and therefore he was not going to differentiate. In terms of what was actually lost last night, there were two amendments, not a Bill.

Asked what could be said about whipping operations, especially with the Education Bill coming up, and if the Prime Minister did not have reliable whipping operations coming into No10, then the whole exercise was "doomed", the PMOS said that if there were any lessons to be learned from last night, then he was sure that they would be learned. In terms of how it would read across from last night to other Bills, the PMOS said he did not think that was legitimate, and he was sure that people would be working very hard to make sure that the read across did not apply.

Briefing took place at 13:00 | Search for related news

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