No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 5 Dec 2007
Briefing from the British Prime Minister's Spokesman on: EU summit, temporary workers, committee on standards in public life, prisons, Romanian Prime Minister, Charles Clarke and EU Africa summit.
Afternoon press briefing from 5 December 2007
Asked if the Prime Minister would be attending the EU Summit in Lisbon, the Prime Minister's Spokesman told the assembled press that a decision had not been made as yet. The Prime Minister hoped to go to Lisbon but the Liaison Committee was also scheduled for the same day, so it was being looked into as to whether it was possible to combine the two.
Asked what time the Treaty would be signed in Lisbon, the PMS replied that it was slightly variable at the moment and the Government was seeing if it would be possible to accommodate the Prime Minister. However, there were twenty-six other Heads of Government that would also have to be accommodated. The PMS added that the Prime Minister hoped to go, but the Liaison Committee was a very important occasion for the Prime Minister and that had been scheduled for that morning.
Asked if the Prime Minister actually wanted to go and could an assurance be given that this wasn't a way of avoiding putting his signature on the Treaty, the PMS reiterated that the Prime Minister did want to go. The Prime Minister negotiated the Treaty, he was the Head of Government and he would take full responsibility for that. The PMS said that there had been several precedents for Heads of Government not signing such Treaties, but he advised people not to read anything into it in terms of the Prime Minister's position in relation to the Treaty at all.
Put that the Government would have negotiated with the Liaison Committee on timing and would have known the time of the signing of the Treaty, the PMS said that there had been a lot of uncertainty about exactly what the process would be for the signing ceremony. For example, there had been some suggestion that it may have been signed at the EU/Africa Summit. Asked that given the Prime Minister had said that he would not go to the EU/Africa Summit and was this not further evidence that he did not want to be there, the PMS said that this was not the case at all, as it was possible that Mr Mugabe may not have gone to the EU/Africa Summit. The Government's position was that they would not go to the EU/Africa Summit if Mr Mugabe was going, but obviously if Mr Mugabe had chosen not to go, or it had been decided on his behalf that he shouldn't go, then the Prime Minister would have gone and there could have been an opportunity to sign the Treaty there.
Asked to give the most recent precedent of a British Prime Minister not signing a Treaty, the PMS said that Robin Cook signed the Nice Treaty in 2001, Dougie Henderson signed the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, Francis Maude as well as Douglas Hurd signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and it was Lady Chalker who signed the Single European Act. So there had been quite a lot of precedents for people other than the Prime Minister signing European Treaties, so people should not read anything into it.
Asked if those precedents occurred when other Heads of Government were not signing Treaties, the PMS replied that he did not have that level of detail to hand, but noted that Baroness Chalker wasn't even a Cabinet Minister when she signed it and that was also the case for Francis Maude, so it wouldn't necessarily be with their direct equivalents either. As a general principle, whoever signs the Treaty, signs it on behalf of the Government; the Prime Minister was the Head of the Government and he would take full responsibility for the content of the Treaty, as he negotiated the fine detail of it in Lisbon in October.
Asked if the Prime Minister did not go, would it be the Foreign Secretary who attended, the PMS said that in the past it had tended to be Foreign Minister's who had been the next port of call. At the moment it was still hoped that it would be the Prime Minister. Asked if the Prime Minister thought it was a good Treaty, the PMS replied that he did and that's why he agreed to it.
Asked for a comment on the Temporary Workers Bill in Brussels, the PMS said that there was a meeting taking place at the Employment Council in Brussels today and John Hutton was there for the UK. The meeting was happening at that moment and discussions were ongoing so it would be best for people to stay in touch with what was happening in Brussels.
Committee on Standards in Public Life
Asked about the new appointment and why it had taken so long, the PMS said that as people would have seen, Sir Christopher Kelly, a very distinguished former Permanent Secretary and civil servant who had served Government's of both parties had been appointed as the new Commissioner. The process was overseen by the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments who had followed very detailed guidance for the appointment of this individual. The appointment panel was made up of Sir Gus O'Donnell plus a member of staff at the Committee, who gave advice to the Prime Minister; the advice was given on Monday and an announcement was made today. The PMS added that it was a very thorough process, which had taken time. The previous Prime Minister had not thought it appropriate for him to make the appointment when Sir Alistair Graham's term of office ended, so there had been a gap. The new Prime Minister had kick-started the process in July.
Put that Alastair Graham's description of the process had been dithering incompetence, the PMS said that there had been a very thorough process, on the basis of an appointment panel that had included the Cabinet Secretary and was overseen by the Independent Commissioner for Public Appointments.
Asked to confirm that today's announcement was new money and new places, the PMS said he could confirm that, as Jack Straw had made clear in his statement. Asked why it had taken a review to build new prisons, the PMS said that a review was needed to look at it in a coherent and long-term way, looking at both the demand and supply side together. Asked where the money would be coming from if not the CSR, the PMS said that the CSR only went up to 2011, so we were talking about the period after the CSR settlement. The PMS said that his understanding of it was that the Government was pre-committing money from the next spending review.
Romanian Prime Minister
Asked what the Prime Minister would be discussing with his Romanian counterpart, the PMS said that the Romanian Prime Minister was in London and it was an opportunity for them to discuss live European policy issues that were around at the moment.
Asked to comment on Charles Clarke's interview in the Standard, the PMS said he did not want to discuss details of private conversations between the Prime Minister and his Labour Party colleagues. The Prime Minister believed that Charles Clarke was a distinguished and experienced former Minister who had much to offer public life in the future. The Prime Minister would welcome all people of talent committed to public service to support the work of the Government. Put that Charles Clarke could become the envoy for returnees, the PMS repeated that he would not get into specifics of private conversations.
EU Africa Summit
Asked if he agreed with the Liberal Democrats that sending Valerie Amos to the EU/Africa Summit in place of the Prime Minister diluted his position, the PMS said he did not think it diluted the Prime Minister's position at all. The Prime Minister's position was that he would not be sending a Minister but he had never said that Britain would not be represented.