Tony Blair's speech to the Welsh assembly
Tony Blair, 31/10/2001
Thank you for your invitation to be here today - the first British prime minister to have addressed the national assembly of Wales.
Devolution is about harnessing the power of community - the diverse community that is the United Kingdom, and the national communities that through devolution can take their futures in their own hands.
Wales has a long history of innovation. It has been a great industrial exporter - from the coal and steel that powered the first industrial revolution to satellite components and computer circuit boards today, when more people work in its electronics plants than coal mines.
You have always been exporters of ideas and of reforming politicians too. The pioneering socialist Robert Owen. David Lloyd George. Nye Bevan, the father of the NHS. And of course my predecessors as leader of the Labour party - Neil Kinnock, Michael Foot and Jim Callaghan, in whose former constituency the Assembly is located.
The national assembly leads a newly confident Wales, giving a lead to the rest of the UK - and to Europe.
But now we have to make devolution really deliver for the people of Wales - delivering not just greater democracy but also better public services and stronger communities.
When I accepted this invitation months ago, I had in mind a very different speech than the one I give today. I understand some feel I should not address the present crisis in the Welsh assembly. I am sorry if that is the case but if I were speaking today before any Parliament in the world, I should feel obliged to talk about the issue that rightly preoccupies people and I hope the people of Wales will consider it a mark of respect not of disrespect if I do so here. And we should never forget the contribution Wales and the Welsh people make to our armed forces.
I said a few days ago that now would be the testing time. People want results. They want them as fast as possible.
They realise the formidable challenges posed by any action in Afghanistan. They worry about civilian casualties. They are anxious about the refugee crisis as winter approaches. They wonder what comes after the conflict.
All these concerns deserve to be answered. No one who raises doubts is an appeaser or a faint heart. We are a democracy, strong enough to have doubts raised even at a time of war and wise enough to be able to respond to them.
But let us go back to why we are in this conflict. On 11 September, thousands of people were killed in cold blood in the worst terrorist attacks the world has ever seen. That is a fact. Those responsible were the al-Qaida network reared by Osama bin Laden. That is a fact barely disputed by anymore. Incidentally, the intelligence evidence, significant when I first drew attention to it on 3 October, is now a flood, confirming guilt.
The Taliban regime in Afghanistan protect al-Qaida and help them. That is a fact. Indeed, according to the latest evidence we have, they are virtually a merged organisation. The Taliban regime are cruel, dictatorial and oppressive, causing 4. million refugees to be on the move before 11 September. That, too is a fact.
Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida have said they consider it their duty to commit further terrorist acts.
We gave the Taliban an ultimatum to deliver up Osama bin Laden. They refused. These are also facts.
They lead to one inescapable conclusion: that if we do not act against al-Qaida and the Taliban, al-Qaida will have perpetrated this atrocity, the Taliban will have sheltered them, and we will have done nothing. We will have done nothing despite the fact, also inescapable, that they intend to commit more atrocities unless we yield to their demands which include the eradication of Israel, the killing of all Jews and the setting up of fundamentalist states in all parts of the Arab and Moslem world.
So: we have a group of people in Afghanistan who are the sworn enemies of everything the civilised world stands for, who have killed once on a vast scale and will kill again unless stopped. They can't be negotiated with. They refuse to yield to justice.
And they have one hope: that we are decadent, that we lack the moral fibre or will or courage to take them on; that we might begin but we won't finish; that we will start, then falter; that when the first setbacks occur, we will lose our nerve.
They are wrong. We won't falter.
We will not stop until our mission is complete. We will not flinch from doing what is necessary to complete it. We will not fail and we will do it all because we believe in our values of justice, tolerance and respect for all regardless of race, religion or creed just as passionately as they believe in fanatical hatred of Jews, Christians and any Moslems who don't share their perverse view of Islam.
They mistake our desire for a comfortable life, living in peace, benign towards different races and cultures, for decadence. It is not decadence. It is progress and we will fight to maintain it.
Now let me return to the questions that need answering.
Our objectives are clear: to close down the al-Qaida network, bring UBL and his associates to justice and because the Taliban regime have chosen to side with al-Qaida, to remove them.
The means we use will be: air power; ground operations as and when necessary in furtherance of our aims; support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban regime elements; and building up a strong political and diplomatic coalition against the present Taliban regime inside and outside Afghanistan.
We have destroyed the Taliban air force, put Taliban airfields and air defence systems out of action; destroyed all the main al-Qaida camps; profoundly damaged Taliban command and control facilities, and dramatically reduced their capacity to communicate with their forces in the field.
So this is a steady process of fragmenting, undermining and eventually destroying the Taliban regime as a serious threat capable of inflicting any more damage on their country and the outside world.
But two words of caution. This is not a conventional conflict. It is not a battle for territory per se or for the subjugation of Afghanistan. It is a battle to allow Afghans themselves to re-take control of their country and in doing so to close down the threat posed by the present rules. The political and diplomatic go hand in hand with the military. And we simply cannot and should not disclose the exact nature of the ground operations we intend to undertake. There is a limit to what we can sensibly discuss in public.
We do all we can to limit civilian casualties, unlike Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida who did all they could to cause as many civilian casualties as possible.
Tragically, there will be some but I do ask people to be deeply sceptical about Taliban claims.
Whilst the military action continues, two other things are happening. We are establishing a huge humanitarian effort - $700m already pledged. We are determined to feed and shelter as many refugees as we can. But we have to contend with armed groups harassing UN food convoys, stealing their equipment or even the food itself. We are in continuous discussion with the UN agencies and other on the ground to see how to improve the delivery of supplies and humanitarian assistance, and carry on doing all we can.
Secondly, under the leadership of Mr Brahimi, the Special UN Envoy, the UN is convening as wide a representative group of Afghan opinion as possible in order that when the present Taliban regime falls, a successor regime, broad-based, can take its place. All the main regional countries are being consulted.
The end we desire is this: al-Qaida shut down in Afghanistan ; the Taliban regime out; a new broad-based regime in; Afghan reconstruction under way.
Our military action is focussed on Afghanistan. But terrorism is a wider problem not limited to there.
We will take action as a world community on its financing, weapons capability and movement of terrorists wherever we can, as with the recent EU measures. This second stage of action will, of course, be subject to close consultation and deliberation with the global alliance against terrorism.
The international coalition remains strong. I pay tribute to Arab and Moslem countries who have supported our action. I thank Saudi Arabia for its forthright condemnation and action. UBL may be Saudi in origin but he defames the good name of Saudi Arabia, which is a good and dependable friend to the civilised world.
Every part of this is difficult. Every part requires courage, conviction, hard work. In every part, there may be setbacks from time to time.
But in every part, we have justice and right on our side, and a strategy to deliver.
It is important we never forget why we are doing it. Important we never forget how we felt watching the planes fly into the twin towers.
Never forget those answering machine messages. Never forget how we felt imagining how mothers told children they were about to die.
Never forget the guts of the fire fighters and police who died trying to save others. Never forget the menace of UBL in his propaganda video. Never forget that too long a list of countries who lost sons and daughters. Never forget that they were of all faiths and none; Christian, Jew and Moslem; manyMoslems, for it is not us who are at war with Islam. It is al-Qaida and the Taliban who are at war with anyone, whatever their faith, who does not share their maniacal, fanatical view of the world.
He did not just hijack planes. He has hijacked a country from which he runs his terrorist, criminal activity. Now he would like to hijack a religion; and hijack the Palestinian cause too.
We are a principled nation, and this is a principled conflict.
September 11th is no less appalling today than it was on September 11th. Our determination is no less resolute than it was on the day military action began. We have a job to do; and it is being done and will be seen through to the end.
Now is a time for people of all races and all faiths in Britain to stand together.
That is exactly what Moslem leaders in Wales and across Britain have done with their forthright condemnation of the atrocities of 11 September, and I thank them for it.
I condemn utterly the attacks and abuse that some British Moslems have suffered since 11 September - some of them here in Wales.
And I say to the 50,000 Moslems living in Wales today: we will defend your right to live free from the fear of racism and religious hatred.
Partly as a result of 11 September we face now a more difficult economic time. But in any event, as a result of globalisation, we face constant challenges.
The Corus job losses were a heavy blow.
Sectors such as tourism - already struggling from foot and mouth - have been hit hard.
But the fundamentals of our economy both in Wales and in Britain are the strongest they have been in a generation.
Employment is rising, not falling. Unemployment here in Wales is at its lowest level for over 25 years. Interest rates are at their lowest for nearly 40 years.
We have seen 200 new high tech jobs at a £90m BT Ignite development here in Cardiff; and almost 200 at Continental Teves and Desk Link in Blaenau Gwent - an area particularly hard hit by the Corus losses. New investment that this assembly helped to secure.
I have also heard from business leaders that the assembly has given Wales a real business voice.
Of course, that was one reason behind creating an assembly. Much of the pressure for regional government in England comes from their desire to emulate you.
Those who said that devolution would lead to the break up of Britain have been proved wrong.
Earlier we met together - leaders from the UK, from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to discuss issues of common interest. Diversity does not mean division - quite the reverse. People are perfectly capable of thinking of themselves as Welsh and British at the same time.
Devolution to Wales is just one part of a much wider programme of constitutional reform designed to move us away from a centralised Britain to a more democratic, decentralised, plural state.
The Scottish Pparliament has meant a radical decline in the numbers of Scots wanting separation. In London, there is now an elected Assembly and Mayor. In Northern Ireland, thanks to the efforts of the leaders there, we have in a part of the UK riven by sectarian division, the chance of a new future.
In each area and here in Wales, there are difficulties and tensions between parties and within parties.
But the result is that instead of one centre of power focussed on Whitehall and Westminster, there are several with the opportunity for power to be exercised closer to the people it affects. And I believe the most remarkable thing is not the problem of devolution but the ease with which what amounts to a constitutional revolution, has bedded down.
But devolution fits within a broader framework, re-balancing power between citizen and governmentand modernising Britain's constitution.
We have incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. We have reformed the voting system both here and in the European parliament.
And we have started reform of the House of Lords, removing the vast bulk of hereditary peers.
The Wakeham commission reported in favour of the next stage of reform, with a balance of elected, nominated and independent members.
Later this month we will publish a White Paper setting out our proposals for it, based largely on the Wakeham report.
There will be an elected element, to ensure proper regional representation. There will be a statutory appointments commission. There will continue to be independent members. There will be rules to determine fair political balance.
We will consult on these proposals and then legislate so that we complete the work of Lords reform begun in 1997.
But constitutional reform and devolution can never be ends in themselves. They are means to an end: to improve the lives of the people we serve.
Two years on we must ask ourselves how devolved institutions have measured up to that task.
I believe there are real achievements of which the Assembly and Wales can be proud.
On education, Wales has seen the best primary school results ever. Class sizes are smaller too.
And on health, record investment is being matched with reform.
Meanwhile the national assembly has confidently handled its baptism of fire - the fuel crisis, last year's flooding, Corus, and foot and mouth. That is a credit to the Assembly - and to your leadership and commitment as first minister, Rhodri.
Nearly half of the assembly and a majority of the cabinet are women - a level that puts virtually every other parliament in the world to shame.
Pensioners and people with disabilities now enjoy concessionary bus travel - a policy made in Wales, now being extended to England.
But a huge task still remains.
There are major challenges above all in improving the delivery of public services - challenges that are just as great here in Wales as in the rest of Britain.
In our schools, where we need to raise standards still higher.
In our hospitals, where people are still waiting too long for treatment.
The priority now must be to harness the full potential of the current devolution settlement to improve the lives of the people of Wales.
Westminster must play its part in that process too. Devolution is about partnership - and partnership is a two-way street.
That is a principle on which both Rhodri and Paul have led the way - that we achieve more by working I partnership.
The last spending review alone provides an extra £1.8 billion of investment in Welsh public services.
Partnership means ensuring that Wales' voice is heard loud and clear in Westminster - and Wales could have no greater champion than Paul Murphy.
Partnership allows us then to act together on issues where Wales and Westminster need to.
Legislation for a new children's commissioner - the first post of its kind in Britain; the reforms to the health service in Wales that were voted on here in this very chamber. on Objective One, for example, where the funding is now in place to help deprived communities in West Wales and the valleys.
Or on miners' compensation, where I know that the money has not been getting to those who are suffering quickly enough; but where we are doing all we can to speed up the payments and ensure that the money gets to those who need it most - the oldest and the sickest miners and widows. Every week now we pay out £1m in Wales - over £100m in total so far.
I believe devolution has left the UK stronger not weaker. We are able to do as the UK what we need to do together. And in respect of issues like public services, we can do things differently. Such a constitutional partnership is commonplace elsewhere in Europe and round the world. It allows the energy and diversity of different parts of our country to breathe and develop.
Devolution is in its infancy still. But already there is a healthy debate abut how it can develop, which is taking root also in the English regions.
There is a wider context. A development is taking place that is again obvious and replicated world-wide. Nations are coming closer together - the EU, NAFTA, ASEAN, Mercosur.
Increasingly challenges, interests and solutions are global like climate change, international finance or terrorism.
Yet coincidentally, at the very time nations collaborate on a bigger stage, so within countries, there is a greater desire to seize back control over local issues on a smaller stage. Politics is finding different levels appropriate to different types of issue.
Political systems that fail to make sense of these developments will either become out of touch with people or ineffectual.
Modern Britain is trying to avoid these pitfalls - a true partner now in the EU and globally, committed to devolution on the issues where devolution makes sense; yet proud to be Britain where we need to act as Britain.
Separation of the component parts of the UK is a cul-de-sac. It would just make each part weaker.
There is merit in the simple argument that when it comes to the economy, defence, foreign policy, social security, bigger is stronger. We can then project that strength globally.
But within that unity, diversity can flourish. That is why devolution is important. In its infancy it may be, but it is here to stay. I was proud to make the case for the Welsh assembly, proud that case was accepted and proud to be the first British prime minister to address you. I won't be the last.