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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 17:13 GMT
Key points: Blair news conference
Here are the key points of Tony Blair's monthly news conference on 12 December, 2006:

Pensions

  • The Pensions Bill will re-establish the link with earnings and make the state pension fairer for women and carers
  • Mr Blair said that the age for the state pension will be increased to 68 by 2050, in line with longevity
  • Workers will automatically be enrolled into pension schemes. Four per cent of their salaries will be paid in, they will receive a matching employer contribution of 3% with 1% from the government in tax relief.
  • He believed that the "simple and clear method of saving" outlined in the bill would enable people to have a decent state pension in the future

Child Support Agency

  • A white paper on the Child Support Agency will be published on Wednesday
  • It will create a new agency and support parents who want to make their own arrangements, so those on benefits will no longer be forced to use the agency
  • The system will operate in a "far more simple and effective way"
  • Mr Blair described these changes to pensions and child support as major reforms that will "make the country stronger"

Iraq

  • Tony Blair said that "our strategy is to draw down our forces as swiftly as possible" but this can only occur if the conditions permit
  • He did not interpret the Iraq Study Group as "saying that we should get out, come what may".
  • Instead, he felt the ISG wanted an increase in "driving up of the capability of the Iraqi forces" so Iraqis can take responsibility. The coalition forces will then have a support role
  • He believes it is necessary to build up the capability of the Iraqi government, mobilise the region in support of a democratically elected government and address the wider Middle East as a region
  • Mr Blair said that whilst the pace of change in Baghdad and in Basra was different, the handover of power in the south will not be held up by difficulties in Baghdad, where US troops are based

Middle East

  • Mr Blair said there was "nothing more important on the international agenda"
  • He said it was necessary to "make every effort to break the deadlock"
  • The international community needs a Palestinian government that it can properly deal with
  • In his forthcoming visit to the Middle East, Mr Blair intends to spell out exactly what would be done if the Palestinians were prepared to accept negotiation "on the basis on mutual respect and mutual recognition"
  • "It is very difficult to see how you can negotiate with Hamas in circumstances where they are saying emphatically 'We deny the right of Israel to exist'"
  • There has to be a genuine willingness on their part - or at least on the parts of elements of Hamas - to engage in a meaningful way with Israel and I don't notice that at the moment", he said

    Iran

  • Mr Blair said Iran was deliberately "causing maximum problems for moderate governments and for ourselves in the region, in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Iraq".
  • Iran "poses a significant strategic threat" to the whole Middle East region, he said
  • He believed Syria needed to play a constructive role in the region by supporting the Iraqi government and the democratically elected Lebanese government
  • Mr Blair was appalled at the Holocaust conference in Iran , especially the presence of an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader, saying it was "shocking beyond belief"
  • He saw it as "such a symbol of sectarianism and hatred towards people of another religion, I find it just unbelievable"

Armed Forces

  • Mr Blair's expressed his gratitude to the British armed forces
  • He said that they showed "courage, professionalism and commitment"
  • He "took very seriously" the recent comments on accommodation for the armed forces, made by former Army head General Sir Mike Jackson
  • In recent years, he said that spending on the British armed forces had been increased in real terms and they were doing their best to meet the requirements of the armed forces.

Cash for Peerages

  • Mr Blair said that he would not comment on the issue of cash-for-honours until he had received the report conducted by Hayden Phillips into the funding of political parties
  • Turkey

    • Mr Blair declared his support for Turkey's accession to the European Union
    • He recognised that there was an issue regarding the Ankara Protocol (which covers trade between Turkey and the EU's new members including Cyprus). However, he said that in the long term, it would be a big mistake for Europe to turn its back on the accession

    Post Offices

    • Asked about the closure of Post Offices, he said that it was not possible to continue the enormous subsidies when the additional money did not seem to be doing any good
    • He commented that some Post Offices would be closed because people had made an "individual choice" to conduct their business differently

    Christmas

    • Those who oppose Christmas on the grounds of political correctness were criticised by Mr Blair
    • He said they were "misguided people" and that to his knowledge, "people of other faiths don't in the least mind" that Christians supports Christmas
    • Regarding the decorations in Number 10, he said "I don't think I've ever seen so many Christmas trees as there are in this building, which is very good"



    SEE ALSO
    Iran a 'major threat', says Blair
    12 Dec 06 |  UK Politics



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