Briefing by the Prime Minister's Spokesman on: Afghanistan, BP, Office for Budget Responsibility, Bloody Sunday Report, prison population and Chief of Defence Staff.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s statement on Afghanistan this afternoon, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that people would have to wait for the statement for details, but broadly speaking the Prime Minister would set out the Government’s approach to the mission in Afghanistan in the year ahead; the support we were providing to the Armed Forces; and how we intended to keep Parliament and the public informed.
Asked about Chris Huhne’s statement on BP, the PMS said that Chris Huhne would be updating the House on the latest situation regarding the oil leak.
Asked if the fact there was a statement on BP was recognition that it wasn’t just another company, the PMS said that it was a matter of public interest and it was right to keep Parliament informed.
Office for Budget Responsibility
Asked for the Prime Minister’s view on former Chancellor Alistair Darling’s demands for an apology regarding borrowing figures, the PMS said that the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) had published their report this morning, which showed that the structural deficit was larger than previously believed. This meant that we would have to do more to close the gap.
Asked why we were having a forecast now ahead of the Budget, the PMS said that providing a forecast before the Budget provided clarity about the economic situation, against which those Budget judgements would be taken.
Asked if there would be a regular forecast ahead of the Budget in the future, the PMS said that in terms of future Budget and OBR timings it was best to speak to the Treasury.
Put that the OBR could be easily influenced as it had been set up by the Government, the PMS said that the OBR was independent and there would be legislation in due course, which would set it up on a statutory basis.
Bloody Sunday Report
Put that the Justice Secretary had said that the Bloody Sunday Report was a waste of time and money, the PMS said that the Justice Secretary’s comments were about the process rather than the fact the inquiry had taken place. He spoke about the process and the costs involved. This was a very important issue and it was right that it should be examined.
Asked why the Prime Minister was making a statement once the report had been published, the PMS said that it was a very important issue and a matter of public interest.
Asked about the Justice Secretary’s comments regarding prison population, the PMS said that the coalition document said that we would review sentencing policy, which we were doing.
Asked if the Justice Secretary was pre-empting the review, the PMS said no.
Chief of Defence Staff
Asked how the Prime Minister was involved in the decision regarding Sir Jock Stirrup’s exit as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the PMS said that he would not get into the process; there would be an announcement in due course about the exact timing and a successor.
Asked if the Prime Minister had been aware that the Defence Secretary was suddenly going to sack Sir Jock Stirrup, the PMS said that the Defence Secretary had said that there had been discussions ahead of the decision regarding Sir Jock Stirrup, which was amicable.
Asked why Sir Jock Stirrup was staying in post until the completion of the Strategic Defence Review (SDR), the PMS said that it was understandable that the Defence Secretary wanted to think about the senior team he had in place at the conclusion of that review. There would be an announcement soon on the precise process and timing of a successor.
Put that the Defence Secretary’s interview with the Sunday Times was in effect an announcement, the PMS said that the Defence Secretary had had discussions with the CDS about his position. In terms of the Permanent Secretary, he had made clear his intention to leave at the end of the SDR in an email to Defence staff last week. It was not a huge surprise that in the context of the SDR, the Defence Secretary was thinking about the senior team he had in place.
Asked why the CDS was remaining in post until the conclusion of the SDR, the PMS said that the CDS’s tenure had been extended until the start of 2011, so it had always been the case that the job was appointed with a fixed term contract.