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CNN Live Event/Special

Tony Blair Answers Questions About Terror War

Aired January 16, 2002 - 10:08   ET


DARYN KAGAN: Right now, we want to take you live the House of Commons. This is British Prime Minister Tony Blair answering questions, right now referring to the treatment of Al Qaeda prisoners by the U.S. Let's listen in.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: ... British officials will see those people from Britain, but there should be no doubt about two things. First of all, as I say, we're dealing with very dangerous people. Secondly, however, we are civilized people, and we will treat prisoners in a proper and humane way.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, further to the right honorable gentleman's question, however, given what we do know already, would the prime minister make clear, for the British citizens are concerned, his views as to them being (INAUDIBLE) shackled, sedated and kept in cages?

BLAIR: As I say, let us just wait and see exactly how they have been treated. And let us remember, in the transport of these prisoners -- of course, you know, it's important not to say anything that prejudices their defense to the charges that have been made against them. But I don't think anybody should be in any doubt that the members of the Al Qaeda network are highly, highly dangerous people. And it would be unsurprising, frankly, if there were strict measures of security taken with them.

Having said that, of course, they should be properly, humanely treated in exactly the way, frankly, that the Taliban wouldn't treat their prisoners.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, the entire House is united in wishing to see those responsible for the appalling atrocities of September the 11th brought to justice, but would the prime minister recognize and would he stress this to the Americans in particular, that to maintain the global opinion, which has been so successful in the fight against terrorism, we must demonstrate that our values remain above those who seek to destroy them?

BLAIR: Of course, but with respect, I think you should listen to what I've been saying over the past few minutes. Of course, it is correct that we make sure that people are humanely treated. That is true. That is precisely why a British team will visit those people that claim to be British citizens. The International Red Cross will see these people.

We understand that they are indeed being humanely treated, given proper medical advice, given proper food, given proper allowances for their own religion, to shower properly, to exercise properly and so on.

And I simply repeat, it is important we get to the actual facts of how this group of people, 50 in number, are being treated, rather than simply taking instantaneous reaction to reports in the media.

QUESTION: Following his answer to my honorable friend from (INAUDIBLE), what exactly is the justification for continued bombing of Afghanistan?

BLAIR: The justification is for the very reason I gave a few moments ago. There are still pockets of resistance by the Taliban. The discovery just today that is emerging now of the conspiracy to kill American troops in and around a particular American camp, with the discovery of a large number of weapons and ordnance, is an indication of how this campaign is not over yet.

But I simply say to my honorable friend, when I met the representatives of the new interim government in Afghanistan put together by the United Nations, they regarded the actions of American, British and allied troops in Afghanistan as a liberation of the people of Afghanistan.

I do say that they believe that, as a result of the defeat of the Taliban, their removal from government, people in Afghanistan have, for the first time in years, got the prospect with a decent future.

War is a bloody and difficult business. We should carry it on until we have squeezed out the last remaining remnants of the Taliban, but then our task is also, as we will show at the Tokyo conference soon, to reconstruct Afghanistan and give it a proper future.

QUESTION: Mr. Speaker, in a week when Etta Trollyweights (ph) have become a reality at the three-star Blackmore (ph) Victoria Hospital, can I draw the prime minister's attention to the remarks made by the parliamentary undersecretary Nobel Hunt at a recent conference, when he said the national health service has two years it win back public confidence or other forms of funding will be considered. Can I ask the prime minister is he agrees with undersecretary on the timing issue, and can he tell this house, what are these other forms of funding that are under consideration?

BLAIR: Mr. Speaker, first of all, in relation to the National Health Service, of course it's important that it wins back confidence, which is why the report from the modernization board last week, which said people by people such as the royal colleges, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association, that report was very clear indeed that the NHS is making progress, that most of the indicators are now moving in the right way.

Of course there will be big pressure over the winter. But the fact is there are more beds now, more nurses, more doctors and the waiting lists are coming down. So in respect to alternative systems of funding, while he knows what we believe, we believe, as indeed is the case with Denmark, where I gather the shadow health spokesman has been, that it should be funded out to general taxation, but the alternative of course is the proposal of his own party, which is to force people to pay.

And yes, I'm afraid it is, which is to cut public spending. They can point their fingers as much as they like. But the proposal of the Conservative Party is to cut public spending and to force people to pay. And that is the difference between a party that believes in the National Health Service, free at the point of use, and a Conservative Party that will cut spending and charge people.

QUESTION: The government has recognized the problems for the seaside resorts, owing to the decline of the domestic tourist industry, and the urgent need for regeneration. Can the prime minister therefore tell me what funding will be made available to regional development agencies so they can implement their coastal strategies that they're currently drawing up to help regenerate seaside resorts, such as Markham (ph)?

BLAIR: Mrs. Speaker, I can't offhand give exact level of funding for the Markham, or indeed for the coastal resorts. But she is right in saying the regional development agencies don't have a specific in order to encourage areas of development on coastal resorts. But of course she's right in saying that the regional development agencies do not have a specific agreement in order to encourage economic development in areas like here -- that means in the coastal resorts. And of course, there is additional finance being put into tourism at the moment. But I think she will agree with me that it is necessary to coordinate this on a regional basis, and what would be very unfortunate is if we took the proposals of the party opposite and abolished the regional developmental agencies.

QUESTION: If the prime minister were to shortly ban the counsel tax payers suffer would be receiving bills of around 1,000 pounds, a staggering 60 percent increase since the prime minister took office? And as my constituents reflect on the...

KAGAN: We are paying a little visit on Democracy there British style. Fascinating look into how they are handling things at the House of Commons. British Prime Minister Tony Blair standing up and taking questions from the member of the House of Commons. We dipped in at the point he was answering questions and defending the treatment of detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, at the U.S. Naval base there. There are about 50 detainees there right now that have been brought over from Kandahar. And it is believed there have been reports that perhaps as many as 10 of those could be British national, although that report has not been confirmed yet. Also, you heard the prime minister defend the continued bombing in Afghanistan, and we just we thought we would hang out there and listen to his defense.

Interesting look at Democracy British style.