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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 21 Nov 2007

Afternoon press briefing from 21 November 2007

Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: HMRC, Commonwealth, Counter Terrorism and Misc

HMRC (HM Revenue & Customs)

Asked whether the person responsible for the HMRC blunder had resigned today, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that he had no information on it. He would check with HMRC as it was one of their employees, but he was not in a position to confirm it.

Asked if there was only one person involved, the PMS replied that people should wait until the review had taken place. That would be the point when the facts could be established. Asked whether the Government was still committed to the introduction of ID cards, the PMS said that the Government's position on ID cards had not changed.

Asked to explain why in August, the Lords Science and Technology Committee's recommendation that the Information Committee be given more powers to carry out spot checks on security guards was refused, the PMS replied that as the Prime Minister had announced today, the Government would be taking forward the suggestion. Asked why it had taken so long, the PMS said that the Government always kept procedures and policies under review and the decision had been taken.

Put that the Prime Minister had said that it would apply to the public sector and would it also apply to the private sector, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister's words were the Prime Minister's words. Asked if it was a conscious decision to only mention the public sector the PMS replied that that is what the Prime Minister had said.

Asked if he would accept that the Prime Minister's apology was a unique occasion, the PMS replied that, for example, the Prime Minister had said previously that he had regretted the decision on the 75p pensions increase.

Asked if the Government would consider making it a criminal offence to negligently leave sensitive material lying around and would it also reconsider the amount of information kept on databases after agreeing in principle to ID cards, the PMS reiterated that the Government's position on ID cards had not changed. If the Information Commissioner put forward such recommendations, they would have to be looked at. The PMS added that the Prime Minister had said what he wanted to say on the matter today and if there were any other proposals put forward then obviously they would need to be considered over the appropriate time-scale.

Asked if there was a dispute between the NAO and the HMRC on what kind of information was requested, after the NAO had denied there was any such dispute, the PMS replied that as the Prime Minister had said in the House, all of this would be covered in great detail as part of the review that has been launched today.

Put that Karen Buck had said that there shouldn't be any movement on ID cards until the review had finished and did the Prime Minister agree with that, the PMS reiterated the Government's stance on ID cards had not changed and added that ID cards would include biometric information which would involve a significant amount of security.

In answer to the suggestion that the banks had denied that they needed more time on the issue, the PMS replied that HMRC had contacted the banks; the banks then required some information. A series of exchanges between the banks and HMRC then ensued in order to ensure appropriate measures were in place. The Chancellor was then in a position to make his announcement.

Put that the banks were told on Monday of this week, the PMS said that they had been told on Friday of last week. There had been a meeting between HMRC and the major banks on Friday 16th November.

Asked how many calls the HMRC helpline had been receiving, the PMS replied that he did not have that information. Put that the best course of action would have been to go public on the matter from the start so that everyone could immediately check their bank accounts, the PMS replied that the best course of action was for the Chancellor to conduct an internal HMRC investigation, which he did; the Chancellor then had to contact the police and the major banks. Once it was decided that it was a prudent moment to make the announcement, the announcement was made.

Put that the Prime Minister had said that anyone who was a child benefit recipient who was the victim of fraud would be compensated and wouldn't that include people who were victims of fraud but not because of the loss of the discs, the PMS replied that as a general point, anyone who was a victim of identity fraud was covered by the banking code. The Prime Minister was clearly referring to identity fraud arising from the loss of these discs. Put that it was not the Government who would be compensating people, it would be the banking system, the PMS reiterated that there were provisions in the banking code, which would ensure that such people were adequately compensated.

Asked if the Government would pick up the tab if the banks laid the blame with the Government, the PMS replied that it was not known if that was the situation. There or may not be such discussions in the future, but the key point was that in relation to individuals who were affected by the situation, there were provisions in place to make sure they were compensated.

Asked who picked up the bill for credit checks, the PMS said he did not know, but the Treasury would be able to supply an answer.


Asked whether the Prime Minister's comments on reforming institutions included the Commonwealth, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister thought the Commonwealth was a good network, which brought together a unique and diverse group of countries. He would be looking forward to having a good discussion in the next couple of days. Asked whether the Prime Minister would like to see the Commonwealth have more power over its members, the PMS said that there were other international institutions that one would not wish to duplicate, which performed a range of functions in an effective way.

Counter Terrorism

Asked about the former Attorney Generals comments regarding the custody of terror suspects, stating there was no evidence to go beyond 28 days detention, the PMS replied that the Government's position was set out in July and it remained the same. The PMS did not wish to comment on the former Attorney General's comments directly but said that as set out in the Home Office consultation document published in July, there was a case for considering extending beyond 28 days, as long as there were appropriate judiciary and parliamentary safeguards in place.


Asked why the Prime Minister said the Barnett formula was based on the needs of each part of the UK when it wasn't, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was referring to Wales and Northern Ireland. Put that it was not based on need but on population, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was not signalling any change in the Government's position on the Barnett formula.


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