Blair answers questions in Scotland

#1
4 Mar - The Courier - No Blair U-turn on regiments


No Blair U-turn on regiments


ANY LINGERING hopes by campaigners that Prime Minister Tony Blair would overturn his Defence Secretary on plans to merge The Black Watch into a super Scottish regiment were dashed at a meeting in St Andrews last night.

Mr Blair was meeting a selected panel of Evening Telegraph readers to answer their questions, the full text of which will be published in today’s edition of the paper.

In response to a query by Dundee man Paul Cooney, he said he hoped the regiment could retain as much of its identity as possible, but said change was coming because it was what the army wanted and needed.

The Prime Minister disclosed he would meet representatives of The Black Watch while he is in Dundee today to deliver a keynote speech at the Scottish Labour Party conference.

At the same time, hundreds of soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Black Watch will be marching through the city centre.

Mr Cooney posed a provocative question which many have aired—why, after having sent The Black Watch to Iraq, he was now effectively disbanding them through amalgamation.

The Prime Minister sidestepped a direct answer, saying there was a need to reconfigure the army, and that the proposed Royal Scottish Regiment had been a move by Scots colonels. He insisted The Black Watch would not disappear, but remain a named battalio



n in the super regiment.

He said, “I yield to nobody in my admiration for the armed forces. The reason why we are making this change is that the army is saying that this is what we need in the modern world.”

The moves were not Treasury-led, he insisted, and said that the defence budget was expanding.

The army had advised the conflicts the UK could expect were unlike those of previous years and that our forces would be operating around the world and needed to be flexible.

“I know it’s caused a lot of strong feelings. It’s obviously not popular with people, maybe because of how it’s been presented. The British Army has undergone fantastic changes over time and it’s still strong.”

Earlier, the Prime Minister rejected a suggestion that his controversial anti-terrorism legislation could put Britain on a slippery slope to a Nazi-style tyranny.

The suggestion was made when Mr Blair faced a question-and-answer session from 70 members of the public at the start of his visit to Scotland.

The question came from teenager Campbell Kinnaird, when Mr Blair was discussing the controversial new proposals, which include provisions for house arrest without the prior approval of a judge.

The 16-year-old, from Bishopbriggs near Glasgow, told the Prime Minister he had visited the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp last year with Labour MP John Lyons.

The youngster told Mr Blair, “The terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis in the early 1940s were partially made possible by the passing of legislation by a democratically-elected government in 1933.

“Prime Minister, is there not a terrible risk that we are now taking that crucial first step on to the slippery slope?”

Mr Blair replied, “No,” and when the teenager asked if he was sure, insisted, “I am sure.”

The Prime Minister told him, “I feel the emotional force of that argument, but if you don’t mind me saying so, I don’t feel the rational force of it.”

Mr Blair said Britain had had anti-terrorism legislation for a long time and it was important to see it in context.

“These are restrictions on people’s liberty, it’s true,” said Mr Blair.

“But it is on advice from our police and security services, and it is then looked at by a judge.

“It is then reported on every three months by an independent person who will report to parliament.”

Mr Blair continued, “If we ever move to this so-called house arrest, that has got to come back to parliament.

“I am not saying these things are not restrictions on people’s liberty—they are.

“But I think to describe them as a precursor to that type of tyranny is, I think, over the top.”

And Mr Blair appealed for more understanding of the “dilemmas” he faced.

“We have arrested 700 people since September 11 in the UK on anti-terrorist offences,” he said.

“Half of those, after a time, we released. Half of them we did not.

“The fact is, some of these people, I’m afraid, would kill an awful lot of innocent people.

“And if they did, I just promise you this—they (critics) wouldn’t be asking me about the civil liberties.

“They would be saying to me, you got this advice from the police and security people and you did nothing.”

Mr Blair’s question and answer session involved 70 people in Kirkintilloch, north of Glasgow.

The event took place in the conference room of the local enterprise company, and was chaired by soap star Jenni Keenan Green of BBC Scotland’s River City. The town falls within the newly created constituency of East Dunbartonshire and is deemed by analysts to be the most middle-class constituency in Scotland.

Labour would have a theoretical majority of 2600, based on past voting patterns, but in the Holyrood elections of 2003 the local Labour MSP was unseated by a hospital anti-closure campaigner.

Iraq came up only towards the end from a questioner who Emailed his question about when troop withdrawal from Iraq might be possible.

Mr Blair said, “It all depends on how quickly the Iraqis can build up their own security services. That is proceeding reasonably well now but the one thing that the new Iraqi government will do is sit down and work out the way forward.”

After the event, Campbell Kinnaird said of Mr Blair’s answer to his tyranny question, “It was a very good reply.

“But I do think it fails to take into account that it only takes a small thing to get a very large and dangerous thing rolling.”
 
#2
We have arrested 700 people since September 11 in the UK on anti-terrorist offences,” he said.

“Half of those, after a time, we released. Half of them we did not.
That is NOT the set of figures given by Charles Clark on Question Time this week. Certainly not HALF of those detained remain in detention.
 

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