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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 10 Jun 2008

Afternoon press briefing from 10 June 2008

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Fuel strike, pre-charge detention, police pay and Europe.

Fuel Strike

Asked for a read out of Cabinet and if there was any discussion on the crisis at the pumps that might be looming, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) replied that at Cabinet the main items discussed were an update from Geoff Hoon and Jacqui Smith on where we were on 42 days, Ed Balls talked about under performing schools, there was a wide ranging discussion on immigration led by Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears with Liam Byrne, and Shaun Woodwood updated Cabinet on Northern Ireland. On the issue mentioned, John Hutton had been in Luxembourg today so was not at Cabinet, so there was really just a brief reference from the Prime Minister saying that this was something that John Hutton and his department were dealing with.

Asked if there was another Minister from the department present in John Hutton's absence, the PMS replied that normally if a Cabinet Minister was absent then the department would not send a representative. But there was no shortage of Whitehall activity on this front.

Asked what this Whitehall activity was, the PMS replied that there had been various inter-departmental meetings in recent days to discuss the contingency arrangements.

Asked what the contingency arrangements were, the PMS replied that for example we had an established memorandum of understanding with the fuel industry that had been in force since last Friday. This allowed the oil industry to work more closely with the Department for Business whilst remaining within the scope of competition law. These procedures were recently used to good effect in Scotland during the Grangemouth dispute.

Asked if there had been talk of fuel being safeguarded for security of the emergency services, the PMS replied that obviously there were a number of contingencies being considered. The main measure that was enacted as a result of the memorandum of understanding that was brought into force last Friday was enabling oil companies to share information about fuel stocks that they hold without violating competion law. Competition law prohibited the oil companies getting together to talk about what fuel stocks they held, and clearly in a situation like this people would like to see some co-ordination between the oil companies. So we were enabling them to exchange information on fuel stocks without them being in breach of competition law. Of course the Government was very mindful of the needs of the emergency services should there be any issues arising out of this strike, and these were all being factored in to the Government's contingency planning.

Asked if the Government was confident that the emergency services would not run out of fuel, the PMS replied that clearly the Government had well established mechanisms for ensuring that the emergency service could continue to function.

Asked if the Government was confident that ordinary pumps would not run out, the PMS replied that our general position on this as we were saying this morning, was that we would like to avoid a situation arising whereby the strike occurred in the first place. It was disappointing that the talks had broken down, we encouraged both sides to get back to the table, but of course a responsible government had to put in place contingency measures to try and minimise disruption to the public.

Asked if contingency planning involved talking to the Scottish Executive, the PMS replied that whatever discussions needed to take place with the Scottish Executive would have taken place, but it was best to talk to the department on the exact measures.

Pre-Charge Detention

Asked if the Prime Minister had any discussions today on 42 days, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had meetings with his parliamentary colleagues all of the time. It would be surprising if he did not discuss 42 days with some of them.

Asked if the Prime Minister was confident of getting the support of the DUP, the PMS replied that we were certainly not working on that assumption.

Asked if the Prime Minister had been over in the House today, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister had spent most of the day in Downing Street.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be meeting anybody from the DUP, the PMS replied that the Prime Minister was not be meeting anybody from the DUP to his knowledge.

Asked for a flavour of the Cabinet discussion on 42 days, the PMS replied that it was a fairly brief update, the main message was that the Government had more to do to ensure that the vote could be won tomorrow.

Asked if we were planning any announcements on the concerns that the DUP had raised, the PMS replied that we were not.

Police Pay

Asked if the Prime Minister was delighted by the High Court's Judgements on police pay, the PMS replied that the Home Secretary had already commented on this, and she spoke on behalf of the Government. Obviously the Prime Minister was very mindful of the excellent work that the police do in protecting the public, but we had had to take difficult decisions in relation to public sector pay across a number of sectors and because of that we had been able to keep inflation lower that it might have otherwise have been.

Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned about sending a message to other people governed by pay review boards that these reviews boards could be overturned by the government at any time, the PMS replied that ultimately it was for the Government to make decisions, and sometimes the Government had to make difficult decisions as had been the case in relation to public sector pay in recent years.


Put that a couple of European leaders had urged the Irish not to vote against the EU Treaty, and asked if the Prime Minister would join them, the PMS replied that we would not be commenting on this.


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