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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 5 Mar 2008

Morning press briefing from 5 March 2008

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Barnett Formula, ID cards, Lisbon treaty, gold and Tote

Barnett Formula

Asked to make absolutely clear whether the Government was having a review of the Barnett Formula, and if not, why not, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) replied that it was not the case that the Prime Minister had ordered a review of the Barnett Formula. What was happening, was that there was a debate and a review in Scotland that the Scottish Parliament had supported, looking at how the devolution settlement might be strengthened. As part of that, and as we announced in a Parliamentary Question on the 31st January, and as the Prime Minister had also said in his recent interview with BBC Scotland, the Chancellor would lay before Parliament a factual paper on the funding mechanisms for the devolved administrations.

Asked why then had the Telegraph reported that a review had started to inform the debate, the PMS replied that journalists would have to ask the Telegraph how they reached that conclusion. As he had said, there was a debate and a review taking place in Scotland, and we had said that in order to help inform this debate we would publish a factual paper on the funding mechanisms for the devolved administrations.

Asked when this would be published, the PMS replied that it would be some time this year.

Asked if the Scottish Parliament came back and said that they thought there needed to be changes to this, what would be the position, the PMS replied that this was getting into the realms of hypotheticals.

Asked if the Prime Minister thought that there should be a review at some point, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was supportive of the review of the devolution settlement that was taking place in Scotland, as we made clear in the Lords Parliamentary Question that was answered on the 31st January, and again was made clear in his interview with BBC Scotland in February.

Asked that since there were no current plans for a review, was fair to say that the Government was open to the idea that a review might take place at some point in the future, the PMS replied that again this was getting into the realms of hypotheticals. Our position was that we had no current plans to reform the Barnett Formula.

Asked what the Government had against calling it a commission, the PMS replied that this was a debate that was taking place in Scotland, and we could have a big theological debate over what it was called, but the more interesting issue as far as the Prime Minister was concerned was what it actually did.

ID Cards

Asked if there would be a significant change in the direction of policy on ID cards tomorrow, the PMS replied that Jacqui Smith's speech tomorrow was about the implementation of the Government's existing commitments on ID cards.

Asked if there would be any changes to the announced plans for implementation, for example putting back any phases of implementation, the PMS replied that it was best to have an informed discussion about the speech tomorrow once it had been delivered.

Lisbon Treaty

Asked if the Prime Minister would be voting on the EU Treaty later today, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was expected to be voting.

Asked if the opinion polls showed a different mood in the country, would the Prime Minister's position on the referendum still be the same, the PMS replied that the issue was whether or not this was a significant constitutional change in order to justify a referendum. As the Prime Minister and as the Foreign Secretary very effectively made clear on the radio this morning, it was not the Government's view that this was the case.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about the possible rebellion, the PMS replied that obviously it was an important vote, it was important that the Government got the vote through, but the Government remained confident of wining the vote this evening.

Asked if the Prime Minister was inspired by the quality of the debate by the Foreign Secretary and Shadow Foreign Secretary this morning, and that since it went so well did he think he should do the same with David Cameron, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister thought that the Foreign Secretary gave a very effective and convincing explanation of the Government's position.

Gold

Asked if the Prime Minster lay awake at night wishing that he had not flogged off gold at a knocked down rate and waited until now, the PMS replied that equally you could make the argument that if we had sold off gold in the 1980s when the gold price was very high, then we would have made even more money. The decision made at the time, was a decision to diversify the UK's foreign exchange holdings and to move away from a situation where we were overly reliant on one particular asset.

Asked what we relied on now, the PMS replied that we had also bought other foreign currency assets including Euro assets at the time.

Asked if we had made any money out of that, the PMS replied that he was reluctant to use the phrase, but we were not going to give a running commentary on these matters.

Tote

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that the Government had broken the 2001 and 2005 manifesto pledges not to privatise the Tote, the PMS replied that he did not think the Government had broken the 2005 pledge. From memory, it said that if it were not possible to go ahead with a sale of the Tote to the racing industry, then we would consider an open sale, but we would reinvest some of the proceeds of that sale back into the racing industry.

ENDS

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