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No. 10 Morning Press Briefing From 11 Mar 2008

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Cabinet, corporation tax, citizenship, MP's expenses, sentencing and Madam Tussauds.

Morning press briefing from 11 March 2008

Cabinet

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by telling the assembled press that it was a slightly shorter Cabinet than usual; there would be another meeting of Cabinet tomorrow to discuss the Budget.

The main items discussed at Cabinet that morning had been the environment, on the back of a presentation by Hilary Benn, a brief look ahead to the European Council from David Miliband and an update on Northern Ireland from Shaun Woodward.

Asked for more details on what was said on the environment at Cabinet, the PMS said that it was an opportunity for the Cabinet to be updated by Hilary Benn on what the main issues were, going forward, so it was quite a wide-ranging discussion. The Government had recently introduced the Climate Change Bill; we now had the Independent Climate Committee up and running, with Lord Turner appointed. One of the issues that the committee would be looking at would be the setting of carbon budgets and this had implications for other departments, so that was the main gist of the discussion.

Asked what was discussed in regards to the European Council, the PMS said that it was really a brief intervention from the Foreign Secretary, just to outline what the issues were, which were principally around the economy and the environment.

Asked how long Cabinet had gone on for, the PMS said that Cabinet had met for about 40 minutes.

Corporation Tax

Asked if the Prime Minister thought it would help schemes such as the National Enterprise Academy if the rate of corporation tax for small businesses was cut, the PMS replied that the Government had made a lot of changes to the tax system since 1997, which had had a significant impact on promoting enterprise. As people would recall, last years Budget involved a major simplification of the tax system.

What the National Enterprise Academy was about, was addressing some of the cultural issues and education issues in relation to enterprise. It was one part of a much wider strategy.

Citizenship

Asked what the Prime Minister's view was on teenagers swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen, the PMS said that the Prime Minister's view was that he very much welcomed Lord Goldsmith's review of Citizenship; it had a number of interesting proposals in it, including this one and no doubt there would be a debate about all these issues. In general the Prime Minister thought it was a good issue to have a debate about, he had consistently said both before he became Prime Minister and subsequently, that we needed to do more to entrench the notion of Britishness in British society.

Of course, people would have different views on specific, individual proposals, but what Lord Goldsmith was setting out today was quite a wide range of proposals which would form the basis of a debate going forward.

Asked how the Prime Minister thought this would go down in Scotland where there had been claims that it was just a pet project of the Prime Ministers, the PMS replied that he would not describe trying to forge a greater sense of British identity as a pet project. The Prime Minister considered it to be a very important issue for the Government of the United Kingdom.

Asked how long the process would take, the PMS said that there would be a discussion led primarily by the Minister of Justice, Jack Straw. There had already been a lot of different opinions expressed this morning and it seemed to have sparked a lively debate. It would be best to check with the Ministry of Justice on the exact timetable.

Put that the SNP was opposed to the whole notion of Britishness, the PMS said that as he understood it, the comments from Scotland were in relation to specific proposals, not necessarily the underlying principles that Lord Goldsmith was trying to address. As the PMS had said, the Prime Minister had a lot of sympathy for the underlying objectives of the Lord Goldsmith Review. On specific proposals there was bound to be a debate and different people would have different views.

MP's Expenses

Asked if the Prime Minister thought today's recommendations were a step in the right direction, the PMS said that as we had consistently made clear, the Prime Minister would welcome any step towards greater transparency of MP's expenses.

Put that the Prime Minister should voluntarily publish a full breakdown of his own expenses, the PMS said that that was not the Prime Minister's decision to make; it was a matter for the House authorities. The Government could not start making one-off initiatives of this kind. There was an overall decision that needed to be taken by the House authorities, they were responsible for decisions in relation to publishing MP's expenses and they had made a welcome step forward this morning.

Put that such a gesture would show leadership by the Prime Minister, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had set out his views quite clearly in the letter he had sent to the Speaker a couple of weeks ago.

Sentencing

Asked if the Prime Minister agreed that judges and magistrates had overacted to high profile cases when it came to sentencing, the PMS said that Lord Phillips was proposing new sentencing guidelines that had been circulated in recent days. Sentencing in individual cases was a matter for the courts and was for judges to decide.

Madam Tussauds

Asked about the waxwork situation, the PMS said we had always been very clear about the situation and were slightly baffled by some of the reports yesterday. As the letter we had released to the media made clear, we received a request from Madam Tussauds just last week for the Prime Minister to pose for an exhibit in Madam Tussauds. The PMS added that this wasn't something that the Prime Minister had given more than a seconds thought to.

Asked if the Prime Minister was going to do it, the PMS said that we received lots of general requests, so we would consider it and give a response at some point.

ENDS

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