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UK Press Briefing: 3.45pm Tuesday 8 February 2005

Press Briefing: 3.45pm Tuesday 8 February 2005

Briefing from the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman on: Ellen MacArthur, NATO Training, General Luck Report, Bad Language and Soldier Injury Package.

Ellen MacArthur

Asked what the thinking behind the timing of Ellen MacArthur's damehood was, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) said the precedent had been set by Sir Francis Chichester in 1967 when he completed his circumnavigation of the world. The Honours Committee decided the honour in the normal manner, and Her Majesty was pleased to bestow the honour to Ellen MacArthur.

PA added that The Queen knighted Sir Francis Chichester with a sword that had been used to knight Sir Francis Drake when he arrived back in 1967. The PMOS expressed admiration at PA's collective memory bank.

Asked when Ellen MacArthur found out about her damehood, the PMOS said last night.

Asked when the Honours Committee had decided to give Ellen MacArthur a damehood, the PMOS said we did not brief on the Honour's Committee's deliberations, but he pointed out that the trip lasted 71 days, so it was not as if the issue had come from nowhere.

Asked if the honour was contingent with Ellen MacArthur breaking the record, the PMOS said this was going into the territory of the Honours Committee decision, so could not comment. However, he did say that everyone was "very very pleased" that she had broken the record.

Asked if she was the youngest person to be made a Dame, the PMOS said she was.

NATO Training

Asked to clarify the Prime Minister's comments during his Liaison Committee meeting earlier today about NATO training in Iraq, and how did this differ from previous discussions regarding training in Istanbul and Sea Island, the PMOS said there was a variety of training being carried out by different countries in different places. What the Prime Minister was hoping for was that the other countries would contribute further, but this was a matter for them to decide. The PMOS said it was recognised internationally that we were in a different place now that there was a directly elected government in Iraq. That changed the atmosphere and the position.

General Luck Report

Asked when people could expect to see the report published by General Luck that the Prime Minister discussed in his Liaison meeting, the PMOS said that last April we had started to delineate the process of Iraqiisation. This meant that gradually, the responsibilities of the multinational forces were being transferred over to the Iraqi forces whenever they were capable, both in terms of quantity and quality. General Luck's report was a progress report on that process, and it fitted into the pattern of what Prime Minister Allawi had said two weeks ago about the six steps needed to move forward (eg patrolling cities, and the Iraqi forces replacing the multinational force). What it did not, however, propose was the idea of strict timetables because there was a difference between timelines, which were a step by step approach, and timetables. This would be impossible not only because the Iraqis had to be capable of handling their own security, but also because we did not want to target a date for the insurgents to attack on.

Asked when the report might be available, the PMOS said the Prime Minister had told the Committee he had only seen a draft, so there would be nothing available until the draft had been made into a final product.

Bad Language

Put to him that there had been much made recently about public figures setting an example to young people, with the example given of Wayne Rooney swearing at a referee, the PMOS broke in and said he thought he knew where the question was leading. The journalist then asked what was the Prime Minister's view on foul and abusive language, and did he use it himself, the PMOS said he thought the person the journalist was referring to was capable of speaking for himself. As he no longer worked in Government, the PMOS said he did not feel the need to comment.

Asked again about the Prime Minister's attitude towards bad language, the PMOS said people could judge for themselves about how the Prime Minister behaved in public, and a good example of that was at the Liaison Committee meeting today.

Soldier Injury Package

Asked about the soldier's injury package that had been brought up at the Committee meeting, the PMOS said it had been discussed at lobby last week, and the issue was being looked at. His hunch was, it would take more than days to finalise the package, but the MOD were working on it as a matter of urgency.

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