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Sunday, January 11, 1998 Published at 12:07 GMT

UK: Politics

Blair to take welfare message on tour
image: [ Tony Blair (right) talks to Sir David Frost ]
Tony Blair (right) talks to Sir David Frost

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has told the BBC he plans to tour the country to explain the "overriding need" for welfare reform.

"You have got to go out and tell people what it is about ... and I want to go to the heart of the country and get to the heart of the matter and say to people welfare reform is not about increasing poverty or harming the poor," he said.

Tony Blair explains to Sir David Frost his plans for welfare reform (Dur4'05"
Mr Blair said his principal message would be that he remained intent on pressing on with reform.

He was "not at all" backing away from the task: "Welfare reform remains absolutely fundamental to the future of this country."

"I didn't come into politics to increase poverty, I came in to politics to fight it...the welfare system isn't working but it's costing a great deal of money," he said.

"We want to help people who can work to get work ... there is a process of change that has to go on to ensure the future of Britain."

When Mr Blair was asked if there was to be more help for pensioners he said that the role of Government in this area might evolve from the current universal benefit system.

"We have to look at ways of getting help to the people who need it most ... but any change will be in accordance with principles."

Mr Blair confirmed that the first event on his tour would be a party meeting in the Midlands.

Support for beleaguered ministers

[ image: The Prime Minister said he fully supports Jack Straw(pictured)]
The Prime Minister said he fully supports Jack Straw(pictured)
In the same interview Mr Blair voiced his support for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, in the wake of recent family traumas, making it plain their jobs were safe.

But he admitted being peeved that the attention was taken away from good news on occasions - such as when a jobs announcement in Tokyo was overshadowed by allegations about Mr Cook's love-life.

The Prime Minister gives his support to Jack Straw (Dur 1')
He said Mr Straw had handled the episode involving his son and allegations of supplying cannabis "superbly" and he said that, as a father with children coming up to adolescence, "all you are sitting there thinking is 'this could happen to any of us."

Mr Blair also dismissed suggestions of rifts between himself and Chancellor Gordon Brown, insisting "he is one of my closest, closest friends".

And he summed up the state of the Government at present as being in the "post-euphoria, pre-delivery stage".

New hospital gets go-ahead

The Prime Minister also unveiled the largest NHS hospital building scheme financed by the private finance initiative.

A new Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is to go ahead, costing £214m with construction beginning this month.

The contract takes to £1.5bn the sums raised through the private finance initiative (PFI) - a means of attracting private finance into facilities for providing public services.

The PFI has expanded since the Government pushed through new legislation addressing private sector concerns about the terms of the scheme.

The Norfolk and Norwich is the fourth to be allowed to proceed but is a much bigger project than the three previous developments - Dartford and Gravesham, Carlisle and South Buckinghamshire.

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