No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 22 Nov 2007
Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: CHOGM, data protection, pakistan and football
No. 10 Morning press briefing from 22 November 2007
The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by briefing the Lobby on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and Pakistan. This morning there had been a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting to discuss Pakistan, the Foreign Secretary had given a response to this, and there would be a further meeting this afternoon where they would make further decisions on Pakistan.
Once that second meeting had happened, a recommendation would then be put forward. The Prime Minister's statement on this set out his approach, the fact that he spoke to President Musarraf last night, and that the key to this issue was working with President Musarraf in order to encourage him to fulfil his commitments to reverse the extraordinary measures that had been put in place, and to meet the recommendations that were put forward by CMAG in their statement on the 12th November. And in doing that to maintain the shared values of the Commonwealth.
There was potential bite in this Heads of Government meeting because of the fact that it was taking place in advance of Bali and in advance of further talks on world trade. Some of the key players, India, Canada, South Africa, Australia would be together at an important time, so we hoped that this meeting will see movement forward on those issues.
The Prime Minister has set out his five main aims for this CHOGM meeting:
* The first being on pro-growth development and looking for an early WTO deal, his particular focus would be on trade with President Mbeki and Prime Minister Singh attending the meeting
* The second would be on education and increasing access to education throughout the developing world
* The third was
conflict resolution, and the PMS referred journalists to the
Prime Minister's recent foreign policy speech.
* He was pushing forward the idea that a UN Security Council resolution looking for peace, also contained within it measures to build in stabilisation and reconciliation
* Fourthly tackling extremism, the Commonwealth was a forum for looking to mobilise free society
* And fifthly looking for action to promote low carbon growth and tackling climate change.
Asked if the Prime Minister supported Rwanda's application to join the Commonwealth, the PMS replied that these were decisions that would be taken by the Commonwealth as a whole. But we were supportive of some of these proposals.
Asked how we squared the Prime Minister's fifth aim with building a new runway at Heathrow, the PMS replied that on climate change it was not just one country's activities, but many decisions that needed to be taken on an international basis. In the consultation that Ruth Kelly had put forward today we were clear that as part of our international efforts to cut aviation carbon footprint, we were leading negotiations to include aviation in the European emissions trading scheme.
Put that the Guardian was reporting that documents would be published today on data loss and asked if this was true, the PMS replied that any further queries regarding process at HMRC and the ongoing investigation should be referred to the Treasury.
Asked if the Prime Minister was satisfied with the statements made by Alistair Darling in the House about the fact that this was a junior official and that no senior levels had been involved, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had set out his position on this and the Chancellor's statement at PMQs yesterday.
Asked if the Prime Minister was aware of the suggestion that it was not just a junior official involved, the PMS replied that as we said yesterday when asked similar questions, there was an ongoing investigation, and it was important that this takes place.
Asked if it was not also important that MPs were given the correct facts, the PMS replied "absolutely", and she had nothing to add to what the Prime Minister said on this issue yesterday.
Put that the Prime Minister said yesterday that there was a dispute between the NAO version of events and the HMRC version of events, and asked to confirm what the Prime Minister was referring to, the PMS replied that again we were asked this yesterday, and the Prime Minister's words spoke for themselves. Again all of these things would be looked at in the review.
Put that Government was hiding behind the review, the PMS disagreed and replied that it was inappropriate to discuss the issues subject to the review.
Put that the Government had said today that there were "some errors", and asked if that was correct and could we be more specific, the PMS replied that she would not be getting into any further discussion of the individual allegations or reports that were being put out. It would be inappropriate to do so when this was being looked into.
Put that we had gone halfway to talking about it as the Government had said that there had been errors, the PMS replied that she had nothing to add to what had already been said on this by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.
Asked if Sir Gus O'Donnell's check across departments had officially begun, the PMS replied that she would find out from the Cabinet Office.
Asked whether the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, when they spoke about his, were confident that they had seen all of the exchanges between the NAO and HMRC, the PMS replied that she had nothing to add to what had already been said about this.
Asked for a reminder of the inquiries, the PMS replied that the review that was set up last month chaired by Mark Walport of the Wellcome Trust, and the Information Commissioner, were looking at the security of personal data in general. And there would also be a review conducted by the chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers into HMRC itself.
Asked what exactly the PricewaterhouseCoopers review would look into, the PMS replied that again we answered questions on this yesterday, but the review would look into the processes and the procedures that are in place at HRMC.
Asked if this incident would be included, the PMS replied that all aspects would be looked at.
Put that people wanted to know "where the bodies were" in this case, was it a junior official, was it a senior official, and were the Chancellor and Prime Minister's words with hindsight as accurate as they would wish them to be, the PMS replied that the review into HMRC procedures, as you would expect, would look into all the issues. She had nothing to add to what the Prime Minister and Chancellor had said on this issue.
Asked when the PricewaterhouseCoopers review was ordered, the PMS replied that she would check the exact date it was established, but the Prime Minister had obviously referred to it in PMQs yesterday.
Put that people whose bank details had gone missing wanted to know whose fault it was, and asked if they would know that at the end of the review, the PMS replied that she was not going to pre-empt the outcome of the review.
Asked for copies of the remits of the review, the PMS referred people to HMT.
Asked for exactly what the Gus O'Donnell review would look at, as he was commissioned to carry out the capability reviews in the summer of all departments, and did these reviews cover security, and if not why not, the PMS replied that the Cabinet Secretary had now been asked to look specifically at data retention in departments.
Put that surely security should have been part of a departmental capability review, the PMS replied that this was going to be a specific review looking at this issue on its own.
Asked for the total number of officials who had resigned so far over this, the PMS replied that as journalists knew, Paul Gray had offered his resignation, which had been accepted. Any other issues regarding HMRC personnel should be referred to them. She had nothing to add to the position as it stands.
Asked what the status was of the review into ID cards, the PMS replied that this was something that was ongoing, but again as we said yesterday, the Government's position on ID cards remains unchanged.
Asked to guarantee that ID cards would be introduced on schedule for foreign nationals next year despite the problems with data over the last few days, the PMS replied that this question had been answered by Government Minister's over the last couple of days and the Government's position on ID cards remains unchanged.
Asked specifically about the ID cards timetable, the PMS replied that the timetable was part of the policy.
Put that the Government had said the banks had asked for a delay before the announcement on the missing data was made, but the banks had said they categorically did not ask for that delay, the PMS replied that she was not going to get into any of these issues.
Put again that banks have denied asking for a delay and asked if the Government stood by its earlier statement, the PMS replied that she had nothing to add to what the Chancellor said on this issue at the time.
Asked if to the best of her knowledge, was every statement that the Chancellor and Prime Minister had given accurate and did we doubt the accuracy of any of the statements, the PMS replied that she had nothing to add to any of the statements that had been made either by the Chancellor or the Prime Minister, and no, of course not.
Asked if we had any reason to doubt the account given by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the PMS replied that she was not going to conduct the review sitting here, or comment on what individuals were saying.
Asked if there was a case for a proper external inquiry into this incident as it was of such magnitude, the PMS replied that the HMRC issue was being thoroughly investigated.
Asked who they were being investigated by, the PMS replied that they were being investigated by the people already set out earlier in the briefing.
Put that there was then some consideration being given to an external inquiry, the PMS replied that she had given no indication of that.
Asked if there were plans to publish these reviews, the PMS said people should check with the Treasury.
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with John McCall that now was the time to show some leadership and some iron, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister set out very clearly his view on the serious nature of this issue yesterday in PMQs. And the fact was that measures were being put in place to thoroughly investigate this and to ensure that everything is done to prevent such a thing arising again.
Asked if we knew when an interim report from the Chairman of PWC would be, the PMS replied that it was not for her to decide.
Asked if the Information Commissioner's report was being written before this incident happened, the PMS replied that this was correct. But a separate review had been established, led by PricewaterhouseCoopers to look at HMRC's data handling processes.
Asked if it was in the remit of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report to look at the wisdom of merging Revenue and Customs, the PMS replied that this again had been dealt with in previous lobbies but that this would not fall within their remit.
Asked what Pakistan needed to do to avoid being suspended from the Commonwealth, and where would the bar be set, the PMS replied that the bar was set by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group. They have called for the restoration of the constitution, President Musharraf to step down as military commander, immediate release of detainees, the removal of curbs on the media, and a rapid move towards the creation of conditions for a free and fare election. These were the specifics, and would determine their decision at their meeting later today.
Asked if the process of suspending Pakistan, if it happened, would happen at this meeting over the weekend, or would the weekend end with an ultimatum, the PMS replied that any suspension would happen fairly immediately, i.e. Pakistan would not be able to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
Asked what the practical ramifications of suspension were in terms of aid, the PMS replied that on aid we obviously had close connections and were considering the implications of our development and other assistance programmes for Pakistan. We already had contingency plans, though DfID, that come into play during the state of emergency. So that was already ongoing. In terms of the actual ramifications for the country in general, obviously the Commonwealth was a body that brings together important global issues such as those set out already, and with this came benefits.
Asked to clarify that there was consideration of Britain's aid to Pakistan being in jeopardy, the PMS replied that this was not what she said. There would be implications for our development and other assistance programmes, i.e. the practicalities of those being delivered and how they should be delivered during a state of emergency.
Asked if the Prime Minister watched the game last night and what did he make of the result, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister did watch some of the match, although which particular sections she was not sure. He like everybody else though that last night's result was very disappointing.
Asked if the Prime Minister secretly went to Wembley, as Steve McClaren was looking for somebody else to blame, the PMS replied that the statement on Pakistan revealed what the Prime Minister was doing last night.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the £2.5million pay-off for McLaren, the PMS replied that these were matters for the FA.
Asked what the Prime Minister thought of the opportunity next summer to have a home international tournament, the PMS replied that she had nothing to say on that at this stage.
Asked if the Prime Minister thought it was right that the man at the top should be sacked when things went disastrously wrong, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister thought that those were matters for the FA.
Asked if the Prime Minister though that rugby was a far better game than football, the PMS replied that she had no idea, but thought that this was the end of the Lobby briefing.