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No. 10 Afternoon Press Briefing From 2 July 2008

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Business Council, retirement age, letter from the Chief Whip and Hauliers strike...

Afternoon press briefing from 2 July 2008

Business Council

The Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) began by updating people on changes to the Business Council. Arun Sarin, the outgoing Chief Executive of Vodafone and Jean-Pierre Garnier, the former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline have stepped down from the council in reflection of the fact that they no longer have roles in UK-based businesses.

They were replaced by three members - Andrew Witty, the new CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, Ian Livingstone, the CEO of BT and Paul Walsh, the CEO of Diaggeo. In addition, the chairmanship, which was always going to be on a revolving basis, would switch from Mervin Davis, the Chair of Standard Chartered, to Stephen Green, the Chair of HSBC from next January. Mr Davis would remain a council member.

Retirement Age

Asked whether the Prime Minister supported a compulsory retirement age, the PMS said the Prime Minister supported Government policy, which was set out very clearly in response to the Turner Commission a couple of years ago. Put that it discriminated against workers over 65, the PMS replied that the whole purpose of the Turner Review was to look at trends over the next 30, 40, 50 years and to set policy on the basis of those trends and that's what we were doing. The Turner Commission lasted for two years and was a very thorough piece of work. It was widely welcomed on a cross-party basis and there was widespread consensus for its conclusions at the time.

Letter from the Chief Whip

Asked whether the PMS could shed any more light on the letter sent to Keith Vaz by the Chief Whip, the PMS said that the Chief Whip had been making it clear that this had been intended as a light-hearted letter.

Put that there was no question that the letter had been sent as quoted, the PMS repeated that the Chief Whip had made clear that it was meant as a light-hearted letter. Asked whether the Prime Minister viewed it in that way, the PMS said that it was raised as a question at PMQ's and the Prime Minister had answered it.

Asked whether the Prime Minister had completed his answer or was he in the middle of doing so, the PMS replied that he had seen what other people had seen, which was the Prime Minister attempting to answer, the Speaker calling order and then calling the next question. The Prime Minister was doing what he was told to do by the Speaker, which is what he would always do. Asked whether he thought the Speaker was rescuing the Prime Minister from a difficult situation, the PMS said that it was not for him to put any sort of interpretation on events that we could all see for ourselves. Asked whether the Prime Minister had had anything else to say on the matter, the PMS replied that unfortunately we would never know.

Asked whether letters were sent to any other MP's, the PMS said questions about the Chief Whip's personal hand-written letters were best addressed to the Chief Whips Office.

Hauliers Strike

Asked whether the Prime Minister had any sympathy with the argument that hauliers in this country paid a lot more duty than in other countries, the PMS said the Prime Minister understood the concerns that hauliers were raising, but what we had seen in recent months and over the past year or so, had been a significant increase in the world oil price which was affecting all countries. Put that a cut in the duty would be beneficial to hauliers, the PMS said that people had to look at the tax system in the round, instead of just looking at one aspect of it. We had lower rates of income tax in this country compared to many other countries and this was how we chose to structure our tax system.

Asked if this was something that could be returned to at the Pre-Budget Report, the PMS said that tax matters, as always, were a matter for the Chancellor in the Budget and Pre-Budget Report.


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