Asked if additional British forces would be deployed once Black Watch's tour of duty was over, the Prime Minister's Spokesman (PMS) said that the Chief-of-the-Defence Staff, General Sir Michael Walker, had made the position clear during his interview on the Today Programme this morning. Put to her that both the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary had underlined that the deployment of Black Watch would be a specific time-limited operation, the PMS again drew journalists' attention to General Sir Michael Walker's interview this morning in which he had said, "The activities may not have ceased but we can certainly be certain to remove the Black Watch from the task". Asked if the General had been indicating that other British troops would be sent to the area to replace Black Watch, the PMS said no. The General had been trying to be helpful by answering a hypothetical question and had simply been making the point that such a scenario could occur if it was considered necessary. Asked from where the additional troops would come, the PMS cautioned journalists against getting too ahead of themselves. The past few days had seen endless rounds of questions about Black Watch. Now that we had an answer, journalists wanted more. It was important to take things one step at a time. Put to her that General Walker had said that the resources would be found if there was a need to replace troops, the PMS pointed out that the General had also gone on to say that they would be found within the Multi-National Force. She advised journalists to look at his words carefully, as well as the comments of the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary from this week. In answer to further questions, the PMS pointed out that Black Watch hadn't even been deployed yet. We were straying into hypothetical territory which wasn't at all helpful to anyone. Asked if it was reasonable for MPs to assume that they had been given the impression that Black Watch had been deployed for a specific time-limited operation, the PMS said that she was unable to comment on what MPs might or might not think about this issue.
Asked if Clare Short was telling the truth in today's Independent, the PMS said that as she had told journalists last week, she wasn't going to comment on Ms Short's book as it wasn't her job to get involved in any publicity drive on her behalf. Put to her that Ms Short had made a serious claim, the PMS repeated that she had no intention of commenting on her book, or any other book for that matter. Asked if that meant that she would pass comment if Ms Short made the claim in another forum, the PMS said no. Ms Short had also made her claim in a television interview last week and we had declined to comment then as well.
Asked for a reaction to a report in today's Times which claimed that Thomas Baker, the chairman of International Game Technology (IGT), the world's largest slot-machine manufacturer, had met with officials in Downing Street earlier this year prior to the publication of the Gambling Bill, the PMS said that it wasn't our policy to comment on individual meetings. That said, it was fair to say that officials would have obviously met people from all sides of the argument, which was a perfectly normal state of affairs. Those meetings would have included representatives from gambling companies, charities and any other interested parties. Asked whom Mr Baker had met in Downing Street, the PMS repeated that it wasn't our policy to brief on every single meeting that took place. Suffice it to say that Mr Baker had not met the Prime Minister.
Asked if the Prime Minister was concerned that the number of people kicked or beaten to death in the UK had risen by 60% since 1997, the PMS said that the Prime Minister was obviously concerned about all victims of crime.
Asked if the Foreign Secretary had gone beyond his brief in writing to the Deputy Prime Minister in an attempt to block new legislation on corporate manslaughter, as reported in today's Guardian, the PMS said that it wasn't our policy to comment on leaked documents. Asked if the Government remained committed to a draft Bill on the issue, the PMS said that it would be inappropriate to comment on the contents of the forthcoming Queen's Speech. Put to her that she had commented in detail on the Gambling Bill, the PMS pointed out that the Gambling Bill had been included in last year's Queen's Speech.
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