Paul Kenny – 2012 Speech to TUC Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Paul Kenny to the 2012 TUC Conference on 9th September 2012.

I am proud and honoured to address this 144th Congress of the TUC as President.

This past year has flown by. A year in which our trade union movement, mobilised millions of people into campaigning for pensions justice.

The biggest demonstration of civil and political defiance in living memory brought home to politicians and pundits that trade unionism was alive, well and kicking.

The Prime Minister called last November’s demonstrations ‘a damp squib’.

Sounds of laughter over his ill-advised refusal to acknowledge the two million plus people taking action could be heard from Glasgow to Gloucester, Cardiff to Carlisle.

Predictions of our demise as a movement were again somewhat premature!

One hundred years ago in Newport, the TUC held its 1912 conference. The President that year was Will Thorne, acknowledged as a founding figure of the Gas Workers Union which today has become the GMB.

Thorne was from the new breed of trade unionism, gas workers, labourers, dockers and general workers whose struggles culminated in the formation of new unionism, which by 1912 had come of age.

The TUC met in 1912 in good heart, membership was up by just under 350,000 to two million, a staggering increase in just a year. Membership at two million, and it was said in the years up to that milestone that trade unions were spent, a thing of the past, trade unions were a dying breed.

Will Thorne, Ben Tillet and others did not buy into that defeatist propaganda of one hundred years ago and we reject those same attacks today.

Two million became 12 million and today we stand above six million.

The challenge to us, with all the physical, financial and organisational assets the movement possess, is to recreate the energy, vision and political will to define ourselves clearly again.

This movement can be proud of what it has achieved for both the prosperity and people of our nation.

Many things taken for granted in today’s society did not land courtesy of politicians’ slumbers.

They came from the passion for social justice which has been at the forefront of our movement for the last hundred years and beyond.

I have never been lucky enough to have worked for any employer who came in on a Monday morning and confessed they had been unable to sleep all weekend worrying about whether I had enough pay, holidays, sick pay, pension benefits, respect at work, dignity and rights to be treated fairly.

These are the values our movement stands up for and it has been trade union collective bargaining and action which has secured work and social benefits which so many today rely on.

It is easy to remember just a few short years ago how those trade union voices which called for equality in our society were rounded on.

How trade union campaigns for gender, race and sexual orientation rights and an end to the discrimination endured by so many were attacked as political correctness and just plain loony left grandstanding.

Who today would take anything other than pride for the changes in attitude and process achieved by those campaigns?

But a word of caution, admiring what has been achieved must never slide into a failure of purpose over that which is still to be gained.

It is also clear, as we know only too well, that hard won advances and rights through industrial and political actions have to be defended, particularly where such advances edge into the power of such vested interests as those employers and politicians who argue for a ‘no rights culture’ of exploitation, insecurity and social conflict.

This year’s Congress badge is a simple message ‘Union and Proud’, because we should be. What working people have created by way of social change through their membership of trade unions is truly remarkable and deserves celebration.

As trade unionists we are a particular type of human being, it is our values for fighting injustice, campaigning for others, and our vision of a society based on equality of opportunity, which drives our agenda.

That is why so many in Government, the CBI or the IoD do not understand what makes us tick.

Their values are based on individual wealth gathering and free market exploitation with some lip service to the deserving poor!

Every essential requirement of a modern democracy is seen as a business opportunity to be exploited and ransacked, irrespective of the long-term costs to the economy or its citizens.

The destruction of social housing, energy policy, rail and transport infrastructure, were all carried through for reasons of commercial exploitation and those basic tenets of a planned economy which require long-term planning and investment, swept away in favour of the quick buck.

And see if you can guess who warned successive governments of the disasters of such moves.

Who said PFI would be a financial disaster?

Who said the culture of bankers’ bonuses was wrong and dangerous?

Who said paying billions to the private landlords instead of building affordable social housing was nonsense?

Who was it said that if you do not carry out maintenance on our railways, safety for passengers and staff would be compromised and, were we right?

Who for years has demanded action over the tax avoidance and evasion schemes so beloved of certain politicians and the City?

Who has led the charge for action on the scandal of over a million young people who are victims of this government’s economic experiments?

On jobs, public services, welfare and so much more, it has been the trade union movement centre stage and sometimes the only voice.

And who has been solid in demanding decent pensions for all?

And our movement’s gains on health and safety in the workplace did not land from outer space.

They arrived by way of a road built with the blood and broken bones of those thousands of victims of avoidable accidents, employer negligence and political indifference, which we continue to campaign against.

Trade unions are often the only course of support a person has when it comes to defending themselves against bullying at work or when seeking training, parental leave or plain old fashioned respect.

Trade unions are the largest collective body for good and social justice in the world and, if as a movement we do not stand for social justice, then we stand for nothing.

Our challenge is to grow, to organise those industries and workers which in some cases we have avoided, perhaps because of the difficulty of the task.

In the run up to the Pensions Day of Action, some unions discovered what some others had forgotten, people joined the union movement in their tens of thousands because we both spoke up for their interests and organised on a scale not seen for quite a while.

This historic year for the TUC has culminated in the election of Frances O’Grady, the first woman to occupy the office of TUC General Secretary.

Congratulations to Frances and best wishes for the future. But I hope that one day soon the election of a woman to leadership will create no more interest, comment or surprise, because it will have become far more frequent in all walks of life.

And a brief word of thanks to Brendan Barber, history will show that a transformation took place under his time in office.

Brendan leaves with the respect and thanks of us all for his contribution and help.

The fact that he announced his retirement after spending twenty two hours in a plane with me, on route to Australia is merely coincidental.

And a big thank you to all the staff at Congress House and in the regions for their wonderful dedicated work on our behalf. We truly have some very talented, principled, passionate people working for us all at the TUC and I for one am grateful for all they have done.

To my own union, the GMB, thank you for giving me the support to carry out at least parts of the duties of President this past year.

I end this address with a single message. Our trade union movement has so much to be proud about. We do not need to hide or apologise for who we are or for what we seek.

Are trade unions, a vested interest?

You had better believe it. We are.

But for a better, more equal society.

Ruth Kelly – 2006 Speech on Sports Colleges

Below is the text of the speech made by the then Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Ruth Kelly, on Sports Colleges. The speech was made on 3rd February 2006 in Telford.

Thank you for inviting me to address your conference.  I am really delighted to have been able to make it this year!

Your conference – the Sports College movement – is nothing less than inspiring.  You are a community of schools: determined to move forward; determined to push the boundaries; and determined to strive for excellence.

I want to acknowledge today, and pay tribute to, the contribution that Sports Colleges are making.  You are using physical education and sport to drive up whole school standards, improve attendance and behaviour and, of course, play a significant and valued role within our national school sport strategy.  A lot is asked of you.  And you continue to rise to that challenge.

You have proved – time and again – that you are a dynamic movement, capable of changing as priorities alter, but your focus – your driving force – is a desire to bring out the potential of every child.  That is an ambition we share.

Indeed, it is at the heart of your conference’s theme – ‘Every Child Matters’.  For me – and I know for you – it is about giving every child the best opportunities and ensuring the highest standards, irrespective of where they live and the nature of their backgrounds.

And that ambition is also at the heart of our White Paper – Higher Standards, Better Schools for All. In it we set out our vision for the next phase of reform – a vision of strong, self-confident schools working collaboratively and in partnership with other organisations to raise standards and improve opportunities for children. As Sports Colleges you have a strong history of working with external partners and I want to explore with you, today, how we can take that even further.

But first of all, I want to take a moment to look at the considerable achievements of the Sports College movement.  In particular, I want to offer my congratulations to the 14 schools whose successful designation for Sports College status was announced earlier this week.  I know that you are all represented here today.  The application process is tough and rightly so.  You can all feel justly proud of your success.  Very many congratulations – you have joined a winning team.

In 2005 Sports Colleges achieved their best ever exam results.  That is a credit: to your movement; to those working in your schools; and to the young people you serve.  Overall, Sports Colleges out performed non-specialist schools by almost 3 percentage points.  And 2005 value added data suggests that Sports Colleges add considerable value between Key Stages 2 and 4 – you will know this already.  It shows that, on average, pupils in Sports Colleges achieved one grade more in a GCSE subject than pupils with similar prior attainments in all schools.

Your successes are many, but there is, of course, more to be done.  I would like to see the gap between your results and the national average narrow even further.  I understand and accept the challenges many of your schools face.  Often your journey has been further, and the rate of improvement faster, than any other type of specialist school.

Together, we must deepen the impact of the sports specialism and ensure an even greater focus on the basics of English and maths.  Excellence in sport should translate into excellence throughout the school, especially in these vital subjects.  Of course, there are already some outstanding achievements at GCSE among sports colleges:

– Madeley Court School, here in Telford, achieved a huge 33 percentage points improvement on its GCSE results since last year;

– And Brookfield Community School in Derbyshire achieved an excellent 19 percentage point’s improvement over the previous year when English and maths are included in the indicator.

Of course your success isn’t just about sporting or educational excellence.  You’re also using your sport specialism to develop citizenship and leadership and prepare your young people for the many challenges of adult life.  Sport – through its rules and tactics – helps instil discipline and a sense of what is right and wrong.  That has a major impact on behaviour and I am sure there is much that other schools could learn from your approach.

I also want to recognise the leading role that Sports Colleges are playing within the national school sport strategy.  A lot has been achieved in the three years since the strategy was launched.

– Overall 69% of pupils in partnership schools – that’s 11% more than last year –  are spending at least 2 hours in a typical week on high quality PE and sport;

– The biggest gains have been across the primary sector where take up has risen by 23% – in just one year – to 64%;

– and while progress across the secondary sector has been more modest, it has reached the 75% target a whole year early.

Participation in club sport, competitive school sport and sports volunteering and leadership are all increasing, year on year.  Our investment of £11.5 million over two years will ensure that all partnerships can employ high quality coaches to widen after-school activities even further.

2006 will be a critical year for the national school sport strategy.  The first milestone within our Public Service Agreement target falls this year.  It is essential that we press on and ensure that at least 75% of school children spend a minimum of 2 hours each week on high quality physical education and sport.

In the longer term, we should, and can, be even more ambitious.  That’s why we want to work with you to offer all children at least 4 hours of sport a week by 2010.  This will include the 2 hours of high quality provision at school.  But it will also include 2-3 hours outside of curriculum time, to be delivered by a range of school, community and club providers.

So, with improving results, together with your contribution to the wider sports strategy, you are showing that you are ahead of the game, demonstrating what can be achieved, and just what Sports Colleges are capable of.

And Sports Colleges are, I believe, showing too just what can be achieved when schools work in partnership with each other and with other organisations to raise standards. Of course, as Specialist Sports Colleges you all already have relationships with external partners or sponsors but many of you are taking these relationships a step further. I have been delighted to hear about the range of innovative partnerships you have been involved in with all sorts of partners – from Universities to businesses to leading sporting organisations – harnessing expertise and energy and turning it to the task of raising standards with considerable success.

I wanted to share just a few of the interesting examples I have heard about:

– Biddick School in Washington – the first school nationally to receive support from the Lawn Tennis Association in its bid to become a Sports College. Since 1997 the school has extended its relationship with the LTA to the benefit of students at the school and the wider community.

And to quote an example of successful collaboration with business:

– Holloway School in London has been working with the Microsoft Foundation and Arsenal. The school receives IT support, training and software from the Foundation.  Indeed, a number of Sports Colleges where IT was a key feature of their bid have been supported by the Microsoft Foundation in this way.

There are also excellent examples of Sports Colleges working collaboratively with higher education institutions:

– Hayesbrook Sports College – also a recently designated high performing & training school – has an innovative partnership with Brighton University.  They deliver modules for their teacher trainees (over 70 a year) at Hayesbrook School, with placements in all the West Kent Learning Federation schools. Recruitment of newly qualified teachers from Brighton to schools in the Federation has increased significantly.

A number of schools have gone even further and have sponsors involved directly in the governing bodies of their schools – that brings invaluable business expertise and leadership directly into the running of these schools.

– For example, HSBC Education Trust have part sponsored 16 Sports Colleges and a feature of the partnership between school and sponsor is that HSBC Education Trust provides a sponsor governor  – the  school benefits from business expertise and the sponsor inputs to the development of the school as a Sports College.

Our White Paper will build on this excellent work and spread it wider into the education system.   Our task – and one which we all share – is to raise standards for every pupil, and particularly for disadvantaged groups.  That is the purpose of the White Paper.  At its heart is the premise that strong, self-confident schools with greater freedoms and the ability to harness the expertise and energy of external partners will provide the framework to create the next step change in standards.

And I think we all agree that a step change is needed. We want all children to have the best opportunities and the highest standards. Standards in schools have risen enormously, and children and young people are achieving more. But we cannot be satisfied that 56% of children get 5 good GCSEs or the equivalent, especially when only 26% of children on free meals do so. And there is too much variation in schools – all children deserve good schools.

I know there has been a lot of debate recently about the White Paper, particularly in relation to Trust schools, so I want to spend a few minutes clarifying some of what it is putting forward.

Trust Schools are a key element of the White Paper proposals and one that I hope all schools will consider very seriously.  As we’ve just explored, through your specialist status and your leadership of school sport partnerships, you have a proven record of working with external partners and other schools to benefit young people.  Trust status will allow you to build on this further.

Acquiring a Trust is a way for schools to raise standards, strengthen collaboration and draw on the expertise and energy of their partners – including universities, colleges, business foundations, other schools and the wider community. We know from your experience and that of other specialist schools that the external perspective has a real impact on pupils’ achievement.

For the school I saw last week – Thorpe Bay in Southend – acquiring a Trust and working with external partners gives it the best chance it has had for years.  That’s a single school model.  But many schools might want partnerships with other schools in a Trust.  What is more important than the model is that there is a renewed energy, a shared ethos and support for the school leadership.

Trusts build on the experience of the 75% of secondary schools that are now specialist, Voluntary Aided, Voluntary Controlled, or schools which have joined federations and experimented with new approaches to governance.  But they go further, because the Trust can appoint the majority of governors, if the school so agrees, and have even greater support from the school leadership team.

And Trusts bring extra stability to relationships – putting existing partnerships on an even securer footing; broadening partnerships and spreading influence.

There has been much ill informed comment about Trust schools though, and I want to take this opportunity to put to bed some of the myths:

– No school will be forced to set up a Trust;

– Trust schools will remain part of the maintained sector and part of the local family of schools;

– They will operate under the same local fair funding system as other schools;

– They will remain a full part of our capital spending programmes.

– And Trust schools will work under exactly the same code of fair admission as other schools.  There will be no new selection by ability. They will also take part in the local admissions forum. I believe that admission forums have a key role to play in making sure that every child has the chance of a school place at a good school. And they will be an important influence in promoting admission arrangements that reduce social segregation and making sure that schools are discouraged from using any practices which could result in some parents being put off from applying for them – such as expensive uniforms or requesting a financial contribution.

I would argue that Trusts are the natural extension of what so many sports colleges have been seeking to do. You already have a proven track record of successful delivery.  And you have always been prepared to tackle new challenges and explore new ways of working in your quest for improvement.

The Trust School Prospectus – published earlier this year – sets out the potential of what they can achieve for pupils.  Copies of the prospectus are available at the national school sport strategy zone, here at the conference. Do, please, look closely at the Trust School Prospectus and consider how Trust school status can help you to improve things even further for all at your school.

I’m almost out of time but before I finish I want to say quick word about the Olympics. Lord Coe will be taking the stage after me and I know we all share his vision of the Olympic Games providing inspiration to all our young people. We were all delighted by the success of London’s bid to stage the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  It was amazing how the country got behind the bid and rejoiced in London’s success.

The Sports College movement has helped breath life back into competitive school sport.  Through the work you lead in the network of school sport partnerships we have seen the amount and quality of inter school competition rise year on year.

All children have the chance to participate in competitive sport through the National Curriculum.  Not only traditional sports like football and hockey, but less common disciplines for this country like handball or volleyball which can help inspire more youngsters to take up competitive sport regularly.  I know partnerships schools in Nottinghamshire have set up five new leagues which have enabled thousands more youngsters to play competitively.  Through these leagues they are learning valuable life skills – teamwork, leadership – how to win with grace and lose with dignity.

Our new competition managers will help to widen access to competitive sport even further.  I know Dame Kelly Holmes was with you last night.  I am delighted that she has agreed to be our first national school sport champion.  As one of our best ever women Olympians she will be a powerful role model to help inspire and motivate our young people to take up sport or do even more of it.

Sports Colleges are well positioned to help us ensure a lasting legacy.  The link between the Games and sport is an obvious one.  But we want to use the Games to inspire young people in other ways as well.  So, together with LOCOG (London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games) and others, we will be:

– encouraging young people to make healthy living choices more generally;

– supporting learning both in and outside the classroom;

– increasing the number of people learning languages; and

– broadening young people’s personal development and cultural understanding.

Last year also saw the announcement that every School Sport Partnership will be able to appoint two Youth Ambassadors to act as community champions for the games.  This will be a great opportunity for them.  And in the run-up to the games we are establishing a national school sport festival to showcase sporting competition and talent.

These are exciting times.  Sports Colleges have demonstrated time and again the ability, desire and passion to innovate and drive up standards.  The national school sport strategy, specialist status and our White Paper proposals allow us to move to the next level.

There are genuinely tough challenges to be faced. I know that last term was particularly difficult for many heads and teachers in terms of implementing new policy.  The issues were well articulated to me by a group of Sports College heads I lunched with just before Christmas.  But the reforms are essential if we are to transform the life chances of every child in every school.

I know you will, again, rise to the challenge. Thank you.

Chris Kelly – 2010 Maiden Speech

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Chris Kelly in the House of Commons on 29th June 2010.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech, and I congratulate you on your new position. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) on his excellent maiden speech earlier.

Today is an Opposition day, so there are even more Labour Members than usual on the Opposition Benches. I am therefore more grateful than colleagues who made their maiden speeches in earlier debates that it is a tradition of the House to listen to a maiden speech without interruption or intervention. I am also pleased to see several fellow black country Members. I am incredibly proud to be black country born and bred. In fact, I could not be more proud of the area I have always called home.

As the new Member for Dudley South, I thank my predecessor, Ian Pearson, for his service to my constituency and its residents. From the moment that I was selected in September 2007, Mr Pearson was always courteous towards me-so courteous that in February this year he announced he would not contest the general election against me. Mr Pearson was elected in a by-election in December 1994 in Dudley West, and went on to hold several ministerial posts between 2002 and 2010. If I may say so, Graham Postles fought a valiant campaign for the Conservatives in 1994, but so much in politics is down to timing, and Dudley West was Tony Blair’s first by-election as leader of the Labour party. It was therefore the first significant victory of the new Labour era, when Labour Members declared that they were the political wing of the British people. As they left the country on the verge of bankruptcy, that claim now has a hollow ring.

I also wish to pay tribute to the former Conservative Member for Dudley West, Dr John Blackburn, who sadly died following a heart attack in the Palace of Westminster in October 1994. I never had the pleasure of meeting John, but I know that he was widely admired by his constituents and even by his political foes. He was a hard-working local MP, and I intend to conduct myself during my time in this Chamber very much in the same manner. John’s widow, Marjorie, is a supporter to this day and has been extremely kind to me during my time as the candidate in her late husband’s old constituency.

If I may, I wish to pay tribute to the late former Member for Coventry South-West, John Butcher, or Butch as I knew him. If I won my seat, Butch and I were due to have dinner to celebrate and to discuss what he called the pitfalls of being an MP. Sadly, we never had the opportunity to dine together in this place.

Dudley South lies between Birmingham and Wolverhampton on the western fringe of the west midlands conurbation. We local people are fiercely proud of Dudley’s own distinctive identity and heritage. The constituency is situated to the west of Dudley town centre and largely consists of residential suburbs and some rural fringes on the border of glorious south Staffordshire countryside. Wards include Brierley Hill; Brockmoor and Pensnett; Kingswinford North and Wall Heath; Kingswinford South; Netherton, Woodside and St Andrews; and Wordsley. Within my constituency, we have the Merry Hill shopping centre, now managed by Westfield, as well as the largest secure trading estate in Europe in the Pensnett estate, along with dozens of smaller trading estates employing many thousands of people in small and medium-sized businesses.

The businesses of Dudley South are the backbone of the British economy and typically employ no more than a dozen people each. It is the creativity and ingenuity of so many of my constituents-making, designing, building and fabricating myriad goods-that is so important to the viability of the British economy. I come from a business background and can see all around my constituency that the entrepreneurial spirit of local people is undimmed by 13 years of red tape, bureaucracy and increased taxation.

Many families in Dudley South are football households. The vast majority of my residents support either the Baggies-West Bromwich Albion, for those who do not know-or Wolves, as I do. In fact, I went to my first game at Molineux when we were in the old fourth division, and three of the four stands were then crumbling wrecks. Many of my constituents know me as a businessman from a well-known local company, headquartered literally in the shadows of the Hawthorns. However, for those constituents who are not Albion fans, I should add that the business also employs people in Kingswinford.

Not only am I proud of my constituency and my area, I am proud of my country. I am fortunate to have travelled extensively, but no matter how exotic or cosmopolitan the destination, I have always yearned for England. Part of that is the people. The people of my borough are decent people who strive to do the right thing by society and, most importantly, by their families. As they told me during the general election, they get frustrated when they see others ahead of them who have not “done the right thing”. Their sense of fairness was seriously challenged by the last Government. I am pleased to see this coalition Government restoring that sense of fairness and balance while addressing the scale of the deficit and debts bequeathed to us. That sense of fairness has been severely tested over the last 13 years as we have seen neighbouring Sandwell metropolitan borough council receiving far more per head from Whitehall than Dudley metropolitan borough council. That massive disparity cannot be fair, and my constituents have also expressed their unhappiness in large numbers about many of the local government funded quangos with questionable track records of productivity and efficiency, and a democratic deficit, when my constituents struggle to make ends meet and pay their council and personal tax bills.

I was born in 1978 under James Callaghan, but I am a child of Thatcher. I was honoured to receive letters from the former Prime Minister both during and after the election, and they now hang proudly on my wall. Baroness Thatcher truly is a guiding inspiration. She comprehensively proved that one person can make a positive difference. My political interest began at the age of 14, when I wrote to the Express and Star, still the largest circulation local paper in the country, about the increase in the entry fee at the local swimming baths. I then joined the Conservative party in 1996 at the age of 18 when I arrived at university in Headington in Oxford, to be greeted by the beaming faces of my hon. Friends the Members for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson). The former was at that time the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, and the latter was the chairman of the university Conservative society. In 1996, who would have believed that, come 2010, Justin Tomlinson and I would join Jon Djanogly, who has been an MP for nine years already, on the Government Benches?

It is a huge honour to represent Dudley South in this Chamber, and I will work tirelessly to get a fair deal for my residents.

David Cameron – 2013 Press Conference with President Hamid Karzai

Below is the text of the press conference held with the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.  The press conference was held in Kabul on 29th June 2013.

Hamid Karzai

In the name of God, members of the Afghan and international press, you’re all welcome to today’s press conference between His Excellency, very respected Prime Minister Mr Cameron, and me. His Excellency the Prime Minister is a friend of Afghanistan, and has helped tremendously with Afghanistan’s reconstruction and especially in terms of the betterment of the contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the last time we met was in Chequers in London, for which we are grateful, and we’re happy to see him again here in Kabul.

Mr Prime Minster and me discussed on a wide range of all issues of interest and we also talked about the concern in Afghanistan, which is there on the peace process, and that the foreign hands in – should not be able to abuse the peace process in Afghanistan, and I also discussed this with the Prime Minster that, while Afghanistan is happy, and is pleased with its strategic relations with the world, it also believes that the bilateral security agreement with NATO and the United States be based on the interests of Afghanistan, something that could guarantee and assure us peace and security in Afghanistan, and something that provides for a centrally strong and united Afghanistan. And an agreement in which Afghanistan can gain further strength and can walk towards prosperity and stability.

Mr Prime Minister and I also talked about our relations with Pakistan. We exchanged our views very, very clearly that it’s important for both of us to have good relations and friendly relations with Pakistan, and not that Pakistan makes efforts for strategic depth against – in Afghanistan, because neither Afghanistan soil would be used against Pakistan, nor Pakistan’s soil should be used for activities against Afghanistan. We are seeking strong and friendly relations between the two countries, something based on mutual respect to interests, to mutual interests, so we also talked about all the aspects of the peace process, and that we need to co-operate with each other in moving forward.

And His Excellency the Prime Minister reaffirmed all the commitments he has previously made to Afghanistan, and also talked about the best wishes and the good wishes to Afghanistan, and I thank him again for the renewed expression of his commitment, and I thank you for all the efforts you’ve made to Afghanistan. And this time too his visit was aimed on how UK can help in, helping the peace process and how they could work with Pakistan and Afghanistan on – in expediting the peace process, and so that we could all be hopeful of ourselves, thank you.

Prime Minister

Thank you very much Mr President, and I’m delighted to be back here with you in Kabul. This is a city where Britain and Afghanistan have so much vital work going on. We had very useful talks today, and we share a common goal: a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan. A country that is no longer a haven for terrorists, that no longer harbours threats to either of our national securities, a country where Afghans themselves are in control and building the peaceful and prosperous future that they deserve.

We’ve discussed three key issues: our progress towards that shared vision; the challenges ahead; and the role that the United Kingdom will continue to play as a strong friend of Afghanistan after our combat troops have left. Let me say a few words on each.

First on the progress we have made. This morning I was in Helmand Province, where Afghan troops are now the lead force responsible for security in that province, and for taking on the insurgents. This is the case right across the country – in each and every province and city, Afghan soldiers and Afghan police are assuming responsibility for keeping Afghanistan’s 27 million citizens safe. This is a remarkable transformation. When I first came to Helmand in 2006, there were almost no Afghan forces at all. Today, there are over 340,000. These are capable, determined troops, and we’re on track for them to take over full responsibility at the end of next year.

But progress is not just limited to the battlefield. In Helmand, 130,000 children are now in school, including 30,000 girls, when under the Taliban there were none. 80% of the population can now get healthcare within 10 kilometres of their home, and, crucially, support for the Taliban has plummeted, from over 20% two years ago to just 5% today.

And this progress is not just limited to daily life. The political process is moving forward too. Preparations are underway for next year’s presidential elections, which will mark the first peaceful constitutional handover of power in living memory, and it will be a vital part, sir, of your legacy. Afghans are already registering to vote; over 50,000 new voters have already registered, including over 10,000 woman.

And I believe that the Taliban, watching all this progress, are beginning to realise that they are not going to secure a role in Afghanistan’s future through terror and violence, but by giving up their arms and engaging in a political process. But let me make absolutely clear, this peace process is for Afghanistan to determine; it must be Afghan owned, it must be Afghan led, there is no other agenda that Britain has, that America has, that any country in the West has – no other agenda, other than your stability, your security, and your prosperity. That is why we wish this peace process well, but it must be your peace process and not anybody else’s.

Now, of course there will be challenges ahead, and there is a lot still to be achieved. We discussed the need for a peaceful, credible election next year, in which Afghans across the country can vote freely, and Mr President, I welcome your commitment to a democratic succession after your second term. The forthcoming elections present an opportunity for Afghanistan to demonstrate its democratic progress, both to its own citizens and to the world. Britain stands ready to assist the Afghan government and the Independent Electoral Commission to achieve this. We are providing financial support for the process, including £4.5 million specifically targeted to increase women’s participation.

We’ll also do all we can to support an Afghan led peace process. This will not be easy. It will take courage and conviction on both sides. There will be setbacks. But there is, I believe, a window of opportunity, and I’m going to urge all of those who renounce violence, who respect the constitution, who want to have a voice in the future prosperity of this country, to seize that opportunity.

Finally, the President and I discussed our shared commitment to a strong partnership between our two countries beyond 2014. While our combat troops will return home, we have already committed to support and sustain the Afghan security forces with financial support long after 2014. The Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which you specifically asked Britain to take the lead in, where we will help to train the Afghan army officers of the future. It will take its first students this Autumn.

And we will continue to support the vital building blocks for growth: the rule of law, the absence of corruption, the presence of property rights and strong institutions. We will maintain our development assistance, and co-chair a ministerial conference next year, to agree the international community’s future support for Afghanistan.

Finally, here in Afghanistan on Armed Forces Day, I want to pay particular tribute to the 444 British men and women who have died serving our country here in Afghanistan. I think of their family and friends, of all who’ve been injured, whose lives have been irrevocably changed by the role they have played here. We have paid a high price, but since British troops arrived here over a decade ago, we have dramatically reduced the terror threat emanating from this whole region. We came here to make Afghanistan safer, to make Britain safer, and together, we are achieving that. Thank you.

Hamid Karzai

Welcome, Mr Prime Minister. Now Prime Minister, would you like to have the first question?

Question

If you wouldn’t mind speaking in English, sir.

Hamid Karzai

Please, do.

Question

We would be grateful. Given the recent attack by the Taliban on your own presidential compound, how realistic is it that you will be sitting down with the Taliban any time soon?

Hamid Karzai

Ma’am, the attack that was organised near the presidential palace will not deter us from seeking peace. We have had them killing the Afghan people, but we still ask for peace. This was peanuts, comparatively speaking, quite an irrelevant attack. We’re more concerned when they attack the Afghan civilians; we are more concerned when they attack Afghan schools and children. I wish they would spend all their time attacking the presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone.

Prime Minister

Let me make the point that the Afghan security forces dealt with this attack without any military assistance from others, and they dealt with it very effectively and very swiftly.

Hamid Karzai

And very promptly. So I wish they would concentrate all their energies on attacking the Presidential palace and leave the rest of the country alone, leave all children and women and schools alone, not kill them. Even then, we want to talk peace because that’s what we are seeking, because that’s what the country needs, that’s what also the Taliban need. I would ask them once again to free themselves from foreign influence, from the grips of foreign intelligence agencies, and to return to their own country in dignity and honour and work for their own people.

Question

Thank you very much Mr President, from [Inaudible]. First, I welcome Prime Minister Cameron to Afghanistan and then, very briefly, what do you think, Mr Prime Minister, about the role of Britain in convincing Pakistan as your traditional friend to help sincerely in ensuring a real peace process for the interest of Afghanistan and of Pakistan?

And my other question is to President Karzai. There are countries like Britain, UK and Pakistan involved in the peace process in – of Afghanistan. There are – it’s said that there are efforts of these countries that a federal system of governance be introduced in Afghanistan.

And the other question is about the Taliban’s office in Quetta. Following that, the government of Afghanistan suspended the talks on the bilateral security agreement with the United States. And, a few days ago, you also had a video conference call with President Obama and you talked about – was there any contact on resumption of such talks on the bilateral security agreement, and what agreements have you reached?

And the third point is that the Pakistani Taliban announced that they welcome the office of the Taliban in Quetta, and they are all led by one single group of the Afghanistan Taliban – Mullah Omar is their overall leader – and say that they will take their commands from Mullah Omar of Afghanistan. What do you think of all this? Thank you.

Prime Minister

Well, perhaps I can answer my part of the question first, which is: what is the role of Britain in terms of our relations with Pakistan? We have a good relationship with Pakistan; it’s a long-standing relationship. And we have a very clear view, which is that it is in Pakistan’s short, medium, and long-term interests to have a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, with which they have a good and strong relationship. That is the sum total of what we say to Pakistan about Afghanistan.

That is why I helped to put together the trilateral talks process between Britain, Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I believe that process has made some assistance in the development of good relations, but we need to keep on. We need to keep on this journey. But I think it is absolutely clear that it is in the long-term interest, short-term interest, medium-term interest of Afghanistan to have a good relationship with Pakistan, and Pakistan to have a good relationship with Afghanistan.

And I pay tribute to the President for his longstanding leadership and vision on this issue. And I know that he will keep up those efforts. There are always difficulties; there are always blocks in the road, but I know that the President sees past them and knows that this long-term relationship is in both countries’ strong interest.

Hamid Karzai

[Inaudible] establishing the so-called federally administered system in Afghanistan, or leading Afghanistan towards such a system, or – or the rumours that we’ve heard and we’ve also seen efforts being made by some outsiders, by some foreign countries. So such efforts into leading the country into a federally kind of a system is not welcome in Afghanistan. We’ve seen such efforts have always failed in the country. So – but recently we’ve seen that efforts are being made to promote such desires for an establishment of such systems through the Taliban.

So this is – this is an issue that we have spoken about with other countries. Today we also spoke about this with the Prime Minister today on the lunch, and he assured us that not such a thing exists on, of course, their agenda. We too have also heard such things from Pakistan that efforts are being made to that effort. And I don’t know what interests Pakistan is seeking in such a situation. So we believe that would be in the damage of Pakistan; it would be in the loss of Pakistan, not in the interest.

And the other point you raised about the Pakistani Taliban’s movement, who announced that they fall under the Afghanistan’s branch of the Taliban and that they would accept the Afghanistan Taliban leader as their own leader, so they’ve like separated themselves from Pakistan. So they too can then reach an approach Tal – Quetta’s office of the Taliban too, and then they could – they could sit together in that, and then the government of Afghan would sit with them and talk.

So we’ve heard of such efforts. We’ve also seen some signals, but such efforts will not yield any results, will be of no avail, so we – and the countries that we – that we know are involved, we are in very clear contact and in relationship with them and we will act based on the Afghanistan’s interest and the unity. So we’ve seen such efforts even very long back, when such efforts came ahead. Even the Taliban themselves then contacted us and said that they were against it.

So the – the negotiation on the bilateral security agreement is still suspended. I – as you pointed out, I had a video conference – contact with President Obama where he hoped that the negotiations would resume on the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the US, and that if we could reach an agreement by October this year, but I noted and reminded that Afghanistan continues to hold its unchangeable conditions and principles that seeks Afghanistan’s interest, and Afghanistan’s centrality and central government. And Afghanistan’s unity lies in the heart of such conditions.

So if these conditions and if these principles are met, we definitely – the nation of Afghanistan will definitely be ready to agree or to accept the bilateral security agreement with the US. Anyway, it is up to the people of Afghanistan to decide so the loya jirga, the grand council, will decide on how to move ahead with a bilateral security agreement, and then they will advise their government on that. So they will make the final decision. Thank you.

Question

Mr President, if I could just pick you up on the concerns you raised about efforts to create a federal system. Is it for you a red line that the constitution should not be changed, and what do you say to people who say that the constitution vests too much power in the presidency and if you are having a process of reconciliation you need to look at that?

And Prime Minister, if I could ask you, I believe this is your first visit to Afghanistan since the sort of formal opening of dialogue with the – with the Taliban. What do you say to families of British soldiers, the 444 British soldiers, who may feel that once again a British government has held talks in secret with an organisation that it asks its troops to put their lives on the line to fight? And once again, just with the IRA, you’re now having talks in the open with that organisation whilst your troops, British troops, are still on the line. Thank you.

Hamid Karzai

The right question.

Prime Minister

Shall I go first?

Hamid Karzai

Please, sir.

Prime Minister

Thank you. Well, what I would say to everyone in the United Kingdom, and perhaps particularly to British forces and British forces’ families, is that we should be very proud of the work that British armed service personnel have done here in Afghanistan. We came here in 2001 with a very clear purpose, and that was to stop this country being used as a base for terrorist attacks against Britain.

And we have been successful in that task. The Afghan government, with our assistance, has managed to deliver security and stability across much more of this country than was ever possible in the past, and it is no longer a haven for terrorist plotting and planning. And yes, of course we now believe alongside our security approach, which is about training up the Afghan army and police force, we believe yes, there should be a political process as well, but a political process that will only succeed if those involved in terms of the Taliban put down their arms and stop fighting.

Now, the encouraging thing about the process so far is the Taliban statement that they made was that they didn’t want Afghanistan anymore to be a haven for terror. They didn’t want it to be a country that caused pain to other countries in the region or in the world. So I think people would expect the Afghan government and its allies and friends to have that sort of political process.

But I think above all, we should be proud and grateful for what our armed service personnel have done here. We should be very clear that any peace process has to be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. And let me just make absolutely clear beyond any doubt about the timetable for British troops leaving Afghanistan. I set this out in 2010, and it has not changed: there will be no British combat troops after the end of 2014. British troops are coming home. That is happening right now. Until recently, we were in 130 different patrol bases; we’re now in just over ten. By the end of the year, that will be something like four bases.

And let me also be clear that after 2014, we have said that our contribution will be the officer training academy that President Karzai asked us to establish. We have not made any other commitments, and nor have I been asked to make other commitments. Now, of course, other NATO countries may choose to do more things to help assist the Afghan forces; not in a combat role, but to assist the Afghan forces post-2014. But from everything I’ve heard today, the Afghan forces are doing a good job, they are highly capable, highly motivated, and they are capable of delivering security for this country.

Hamid Karzai

You asked about federal system in Afghanistan. Federalism is run quite successfully in some countries. You have it in the United States, you have it in India, you have it in Germany and – in a more liberal way – in Switzerland. The Afghan experience is different. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and after the years of interference from abroad and the internal incoherence in Afghanistan, it was exactly the nature of a fragmented system in Afghanistan that caused so much bloodshed and misery to the Afghan people. Therefore, the Afghan people are looking forward to a strong unitary form of government that would deliver them to services, that would provide them the goods for a better life.

Any system that is imposed on us or effort is made to be imposed on us from abroad – federalism or any other structure – the Afghan people would reject. Especially an effort for federalism through delivering a province or two to the Taliban will be seen by the Afghan people as an invasion of Afghanistan and as an effort from outside to weaken and splinter this country. Therefore, there will be a strong opposition to that. Therefore, there was the massive, strong reaction to the manner in which the Taliban office in Doha was inaugurated.

So our message is clear. The constitution is the work of the Afghan people; they are empowered to bring any changes in the constitution that they want. The Taliban, once they’ve joined the peace process, once they’ve begun to talk to their Afghan brothers and sisters, if they have any demands, they should put them forward, and then there is a mechanism provided in our constitution for amendments in the constitution through the Afghan loya jirga, and the Afghan loya jirga can look at all those questions as the right given by the Afghan people to it. The power to the President of Afghanistan? The constitution, well, it’s a presidential system. Therefore, the President has powers.

Any more questions, Mr Prime Minister? One more?

Prime Minister

It’s for you to decide.

Hamid Karzai

Well, Mr Prime Minister, I will decide on your instructions. So…

Question

I would ask my question in English. What specific actions should be taken in order for negotiations to begin? What does Taliban want? What does US want? And what does the Afghan government want? And also, what does the US, Taliban and Qatar government want the Afghan government to do? Thank you.

Hamid Karzai

Well, sir, who is this question asked for, Prime Minister or myself? Alright. Well, we know what we want, the Afghan people, from the peace talks. We want peace and stability in Afghanistan, we want the return of the Taliban back to their country. We want them to be part of this society and this policy and to work for their own country. That’s our desire, and we hope the peace talks will begin as soon as possible.

As to what the Taliban want, we will hear it from them once the – once the peace talks start. Our desire is for a unified and strong, peaceful Afghanistan. Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Mr Prime Minister?

Prime Minister

It was very good to see you again. I hope to see you again soon. Keep in touch? [Inaudible] as soon as possible.

Hamid Karzai

It did, a lot. And more of that to come from the Americans.

Michael Kane – 2014 Speech after Winning Wythenshawe and Sale East By-Election

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Kane after winning the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election on 13th February 2014.

Tonight the people of Wythenshawe and Sale East have sent a very clear message – they want a government will to stand up for us all – a One Nation Labour government.

It’s a result which emphatically demonstrates that people here know the NHS is not safe in David Cameron’s hands, and that we’ve had enough of his utterly out of touch government.

But tonight we are thinking of those across the country affected by storms, by flooding and by the dreadful weather which we also experienced in Manchester on Wednesday.

I will be an MP speaking out on the issues that matter to you:

Fighting for a fair deal for Wythenshawe A&E.

Exposing the cost-of-living crisis felt by families and pensioners across our area and beyond.

And on the unfair and disproportionate cuts to local services – Wythenshawe and Sale has said tonight: enough is enough.

This was the by-election nobody wanted.

My dear friend Paul Goggins achieved so much for the people of Wythenshawe and Sale East, and their love and respect for him will be one of my abiding memories of the campaign.

Paul’s legacy is matched by the legacy of my mentor and my inspiration Alf Morris, who championed the rights of the chronically sick and disabled.

To be returned as MP for the area both Alf and Paul served so well, the constituency in which I’ve lived all my life, is a humbling moment for me.

My message to you tonight, whether you voted for me, for one of my opponents, or you didn’t vote at all, is that I will represent everyone in this constituency and I will be your voice in Westminster.

Almost 200 years ago Benjamin Disraeli stood on a spot across the road from here and spoke of One Nation – and he said “What Manchester does today, the world does tomorrow”.

Well, Manchester has rejected David Cameron today…and the rest of Britain will tomorrow.

Today’s Tories have abandoned Disraeli’s principles.

It’s the same old Tory attitude of “them and us” , and people here are sick of their constant attempts to divide our communities.

But as Ed Miliband told Wythenshawe when he came here during the campaign: we are a party for everybody – uniting communities, building on the best of Britain … not pandering to the worst.

That’s what One Nation Labour is all about.

I want to thank the returning officer, Sir Howard Bernstein, the staff and the police who have all worked hard at the count tonight.

And thank you to my opponents for what has been predominantly a robust but fair contest … I wish them a safe journey home.

I’d like to thank my agent and all those who have worked so hard on my campaign, so often battling the elements…

And I want to pay special tribute to my wife Sandra who has been at my side all the way and without whom I wouldn’t be here tonight.

But most of all I’d like to thank the people of Wythenshawe and Sale East.

They have rejected the failed policies of the out-of-touch Tories…

They have rejected the isolationism and scaremongering of UKIP.

Labour is proud of Wythenshawe and Sale, and this is the place I am proud to call my home.

Today the people have said loud and clear: Labour is on your side.

Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn – 2003 Speech on George Bush

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Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Corbyn in November 2003.

Tomorrow the streets of London will be filled with a cross-section of the entire community as we march from Malet Street to Trafalgar Square via Kingsway, Waterloo and culminating in a march along Whitehall. This itself is a product of weeks of negotiation with the Metropolitan Police, to try and protect the right of free speech and assembly in our capital city. Having been a party to all these talks I have always had the feeling that there were huge pressures being placed on the Police to try and prevent any access to London by anybody whilst Bush was visiting.

Bush’s visit, the first state visit by a US President (as opposed to the lower status ‘Head of Government’ visits by Carter, Regan, Bush Snr and Clinton) is really bizarre for any observers of this scene. Refused an open procession in the State Landau with the Queen, Londoners will at least see a horse and carriage, with appropriate cycling outriders when the Stop the War Coalition put on this event later this morning.

All visiting heads of state or Government visit the Palace of Westminster and make an address to an assembly of both Houses, and some even answer questions. President Mandela came twice and happily answered questions on one visit for over an hour; he led no one into war, showed the courage of the South African people to oppose, and defeat the vile apartheid system. His State visit was the most popular ever. Bush Jnr on the other hand has no history of ever standing up for anything, unless avoiding being drafted into a war which he claimed to support counts as principle.

Since he is the centre of attention this week, and those of us who oppose his visit are being accused of “crude anti Americanism”, it is worth looking at his record.

On Sunday evening I was privileged to meet Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic and introduce him to the audience at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, and then watched the film with him. The film is really a journey of discovery of a young man growing up in a patriotic American household in the sixties. Convinced of his country’s rightness and opposition to the communist menace he joins the marines, and in his fervour, does two tours of duty. Almost killed and paralysed in 1968, he comes home to indifference and hostility and in time, becomes opposed to the brutality of the Vietnam War.

Ever since that time Ron has devoted his life to opposing the military policies of the United States. On Monday morning he led a delegation to Downing Street to ask that Bush’s visit be cancelled.

Tomorrow the march will be led by a group of United States citizens who are opposed to the war. Far from being anti-American, the peace movement has united the ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic, in the cause of peace.

George Bush, for the red carpet and £4 million worth of security and hospitality being spent, is the only US President to be elected by the Supreme Court, and as a result of the greatest ever expenditure, by Corporate America, on his campaign. Since then he has repaid with interest: tax cuts, welfare cuts, huge arms budgets, oil drilling and now contracts to rebuild Iraq to the same companies who provided the weapons to destroy it.

Globally, his administration has opposed the Kyoto protocol, supported cruel World Trade Organisation conditions and methods, and continued dumping surplus US food on the poorest countries – destroying much sustainable agriculture.

Post September 11th the US never took stock and looked at the world; war in Afghanistan followed; the Axis of Evil speech; and then the build up to Iraq. Afghanistan is presented as a victory, yet 8000 died and opium production is soaring, so it is hardly complete.

In Iraq, the military ‘victory’ of May, and the premature celebrations have been brought to a halt, as the casualties mount, and the effects of cluster bombs and Depleted Uranium are felt by thousands of wholly innocent Iraqis and their children.

Bush’s cabinet contains those who met and financed the Saddam Hussein section of the Ba’ath Party and they will be well aware of the problems that the unilateral and illegal war has created. Nobody who opposes the war ever supported the regime, but most people want to see a peaceful Iraq with an accountable Government.

In his determination to go to war in Iraq, Bush flouted the UN, and now wants the world body to pick up the pieces, without any legal authority.

Whilst the war in Iraq and Afghanistan gain all the publicity, we should not forget the on-going gruesome and grim conflict in Colombia, where the pro US Government is rapidly losing support as the US maintains its military presence on the pretence of being part of an anti drugs crusade.

Whilst many issues unite the peace and anti-war movements in this country, the Government’s support for the Bush-inspired National Missile Defence system has mobilised many members and supporters of CND; we opposed the US inspired cruise missiles in the 1980’s; NMD is equally as dangerous to world peace.

Amidst all the opposition to Bush we should reflect on one positive aspect: the world, as John Pilger reminds us, is divided into one superpower and world opinion. The unwanted visit of George Bush has helped to create a huge Trans Atlantic movement for peace and justice. Merely being allowed to hold the march tomorrow shows the strength of public opinion and the power of peaceful protest.

David Jones – 2014 Speech on Growth in Wales

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Below is the text of the speech made by David Jones, the Secretary of State for Wales, in Cardiff on 30th June 2014.

It is generally recognised that there nothing more important for our nation’s long-term economic prosperity than investment in infrastructure.

It is what gets people to work, facilitates communication and helps British businesses to compete in what is an increasingly globalised economy.

I am pleased, therefore, to be here today to speak to you about what we in government are doing to ensure that Britain gets the infrastructure it needs to compete effectively in the global race.

Our inheritance

It is now just over 4 years since the coalition government came to power.

Our inheritance here in Wales was an infrastructure that had been severely neglected, was in dire need of upgrade, and was inadequate to cope with modern demands.

There was little plan for investment, not even on the main road route into South Wales – the M4 – despite general recognition that its improvement was desperately needed.

Energy infrastructure was coming to the end of its operating life without any commitment on the investment required to replace it.

Indeed, it is fair to say that for almost a decade under the last administration, Britain was without any coherent energy policy.

Wales’s railway infrastructure was neglected, too.

At the end of 13 years of the last government, Wales remained the only part of Europe, other than Albania, without a single centimetre of electrified railway track.

And Wales also lagged well behind the rest of the UK in broadband provision. It was notorious for “not spots”.

Mobile telephone coverage in large parts of Wales was, frankly, appalling.

Not only did the last government fail to “fix the roof while the sun was shining”, it failed to fix the infrastructure, too.

Wales was being expected to compete in a 21st century global economy when it was struggling with an obsolete, 20th century infrastructure network – it was an impossible ask. Wales – and Welsh businesses – deserve better.

Long-term economic plan

We know that investment in infrastructure is one of the driving factors of economic growth.

And when we came to power we didn’t just inherit an infrastructure that was unfit for purpose; we inherited an economy that had suffered the worst economic downturn since the 1930s and a deficit that was the largest in peacetime history.

We had to get the deficit down and to do so required difficult, and sometimes unpopular, decisions.

But because of the difficult spending decisions we have taken, we have been able to prioritise public investment where it is needed most and to create the right conditions for private investment in infrastructure.

Ensuring the United Kingdom has first class infrastructure is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan: supporting businesses, helping them create jobs, and offering the prospect of a brighter future for the British people.

And – whisper it – our plan is working!

Britain is now the fastest growing major economy in the West. There are more people going out to work than ever before, and confidence is returning.

But, as any business man or woman here will recognise, getting banks to lend has sometimes proved problematic.

So we have also used the strength of the national balance sheet to provide £40 billion of UK Guarantees to get infrastructure projects going, which otherwise would have stalled because of financial difficulties.

So in this year alone, new projects worth an estimated £36 billion are due to start across the United Kingdom, helping creating thousands of jobs, securing future growth and delivering the world class infrastructure that the country – Wales included – deserves.

Private sector

Key to infrastructure investment is a confident private sector. And the private sector is indeed investing.

Some 200 projects across the UK are due to be completed this year – including the Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm, which is currently the largest in construction anywhere in Europe.

But this has only been possible because we took the difficult decisions required.

We know that the old model of the public sector funding our entire infrastructure network is not sustainable, nor is it desirable.

We understand that unlocking and stimulating private sector investment is crucial.

Because it is the private sector that will provide the majority of UK infrastructure investment between now and the end of the decade.

Broadband

But the government does have a significant enabling role.

We have, for example, invested significantly in better broadband.

We know that this investment will pay dividends; it is estimated that every £1 government invests delivers benefits of around £20 to the economy.

In Wales, we have increased our support for broadband to almost £70 million to allow the Superfast Cymru programme to go even further.

This is direct United Kingdom government funding for a programme managed by the Welsh Government under the guidance of Broadband Delivery UK – an excellent example of Wales’s two governments working positively together.

But there is still more we need to do.

Even with significant investment in the pipeline, there will still be parts of Wales in 2016 that will not be benefiting from high speed broadband.

That is why earlier this year we announced that we are providing an additional £10 million for those areas which are the most “hard to reach.”

This funding will allow market testing of solutions proffered by suppliers for the areas not covered by the superfast broadband rollout.

Businesses in our super-connected cities of Cardiff and Newport can also now apply for vouchers to improve their broadband connectivity, which is vital for a modern business to compete and grow.

And it’s not just in fixed broadband connection that we have plans to improve Wales’s digital connectivity.

Our £150 million mobile infrastructure project will see masts going up across the country, significantly extending coverage across Wales.

Transport

And let us consider the issue of transport.

Just as Wales needs to be better connected through our digital infrastructure, we need a transport network fit for a modern economy to prosper.

As I mentioned earlier, the congestion along the M4 at Newport is one of the most pressing road transport issues for the whole of the UK, let alone Wales.

And in the 15 years that have passed since devolution, nothing has been done to ease that congestion.

But upgrading that important stretch of highway is crucially important.

Indeed, the director of CBI Wales said recently that if the Welsh Government does not build a Newport relief road Wales could “miss out on millions of future investments and hundreds of new jobs.”

The Prime Minister put it even more starkly: he called the M4 at Newport “a foot on the windpipe” of the South Wales economy.

So in November of last year, we gave the Welsh Government the borrowing powers it needs to raise the necessary finance for this project.

We now expect to see firm progress.

And through the Wales Bill – currently passing through Parliament – we are providing the Welsh Government with the opportunity to acquire extended borrowing powers to enable it to upgrade Wales’s road infrastructure yet further.

We want them to take those powers, and trigger the referendum need to do so as quickly as possible.

And let us consider Wales’s railways. As a government, we are serious about giving Wales a railway that is fit for the 21st century.

Our plans for rail are the most ambitious since Brunel was transforming Victorian Britain.

We are investing £9 billion over the next five years to upgrade railway networks across England and Wales.

As part of our investment, we are committed to electrifying key rail routes including the Great Western main line.

But let me say this quite clearly.

It is a matter of great concern to me that, while we remain absolutely committed to perform our part of the bargain we struck with the Welsh Government in 2012 to electrify the main line through to Swansea, the Welsh Government remain reluctant to fulfil their side of the deal, and fund the electrification of the Valley lines.

I am seriously concerned that their stance is putting this transformational project at risk.

We stand ready to discharge our part of the bargain.

We want to help them to get this scheme underway and will continue to work with them to try to make this happen.

HS2

And let us consider HS2.

As we improve our rail services within Wales, we must not close our eyes to projects across the border in England – indeed, we must seek and exploit every opportunity to connect Wales better.

The economy of Wales is inextricably linked to that of England and our transport systems need to reflect this.

Sir David Higgins highlighted in his report the need to be alert to opportunities to connect services into HS2.

With the planned HS2 hub station at Crewe only 20 miles from Wales, we must be looking at how investment in Wales can link into the new network.

The development of HS2 is a huge opportunity for Wales and I believe that we must welcome it enthusiastically.

Energy

Nowhere is the close integration of networks more evident than in the case of energy infrastructure.

Wales has always been central to the UK’s energy security, and Wales’s potential in the sector is enormous.

We have the natural resources, the skills, the expertise and the enthusiasm to generate a significant proportion of the electricity Britain needs.

The UK National Infrastructure Plan lists more than 15 Welsh energy projects already in the pipeline, from large scale offshore wind farms to micro generation; and there is the potential for more.

We need to show Wales is open to diversity and innovation when it comes to growing the energy supply. Hitachi’s decision to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa Newydd highlights the attractiveness of Wales as a place in which to invest.

Their investment will create thousands of jobs and provide massive supply chain opportunities for British companies.

And last autumn, we announced that we are working with Hitachi to support this development with a sovereign backed guarantee through the UK Guarantees Scheme.

Holistic approach

While broadband, transport and energy are, in their own right, key areas of infrastructure, we need to be holistic in our approach to infrastructure planning.

Let me illustrate this by a real life example.

Following the announcement that Hitachi would be investing £20 billion into nuclear energy projects in the UK, I met members of their executive team on Anglesey to discuss their proposals for Wylfa.

Bear in mind that this is the largest investment in Wales for generations.

This project will rightly showcase Wales as a leading place for investment.

During the meeting one of the executives, needed to make an urgent call but was unable to do so because there wasn’t a mobile signal!

Remember that we were discussing £20 billion of investment – it was embarrassing, to put it at its mildest, that he was unable to complete such a basic function.

So the moral is that infrastructure improvements don’t happen in silos.

Providers and investors need to work closely together to deliver infrastructure collaboratively.

We cannot have one sector investing in world leading technology if the supporting infrastructure is not up to scratch.

Planning

As we call on investors to be more collaborative in providing the infrastructure Wales needs, it is also essential that they should be able to invest quickly and with confidence.

There is absolutely nothing more crucial to efficient infrastructure development – or, for that matter, to economic growth – than a benign, flexible and practically-focused planning regime.

Because developers need be assured that Wales is a welcoming place in which they can invest with confidence.

In England, planning reforms are underpinning our long-term economic plan by unblocking the system; and we are determined to do all we can to make sure that it improves continuously.

We have, for example, radically simplified planning guidance.

What used to consist of thousands of pages of often impenetrable jargon and otiose waffle has now been cut to around 50 pages of clearly written, plain English.

Guidance that, remarkably, actually guides, rather than impedes.

Our reformed system means we can deliver the infrastructure that people want and need, by working with, not against, investors.

The hard fact is that, as a consequence of Eric Pickles’s reforms, the planning system across the border in England is now substantially more streamlined and accessible than that in Wales.

That is not good for Wales, and will only work to its disadvantage.

So, I urge the Welsh Government to look at what is happening in England and take action in their forthcoming Planning Bill, to implement similar, effective reforms to the planning system to enable the infrastructure Wales needs, to get going.

Infrastructure report

A year ago at this very conference I told you about a new Infrastructure Working Group I had set up.

Its task was to identify Wales’s future infrastructure priorities and the challenges they face.

I am delighted that today we are publishing our report, which sets out the infrastructure we need for a modern economy to build a more prosperous Wales.

This report highlights the key themes I have outlined today.

We need to remove the barriers to infrastructure investment in Wales, especially around planning.

Investors need to unlock all existing sources of finance, including UK Guarantees.

Infrastructure providers need to be holistic in infrastructure.

Planning and Wales’s two governments need to work together in planning and delivering Wales’s infrastructure needs.

Concluding remarks

My message to you today is: after years of neglect and inaction by previous administrations on infrastructure – we have a plan.

Our long-term economic plan is bringing stability and competition back to our economy and ensuring a brighter future for our nation.

We are investing in infrastructure across the country, to create a more balanced, resilient economy.

If we are to be ambitious for the economy in Wales, it is essential we are bold and clear in our infrastructure plans.

I can not reiterate this strongly enough – infrastructure is an absolutely vital part of our long-term economic plan and will continue to play a central role in improving our long term economic security.

Building a more prosperous Wales, fit to compete in the global race, demands world class infrastructure.

We are determined to do all we can to deliver that for the people and businesses of Wales.

David Jones – 2014 Speech to Welsh Local Government Association

davidjones

Below is the text of the speech made by David Jones, the Secretary of State for Wales, to the Welsh Local Government Association in Llandudno on 19th June 2014.

Introduction

Today, I want to talk to you about our changing local democracy.

About what I believe is the need radically to decentralise power: to move it away from Westminster and Cardiff and closer to the people and communities it serves.

And about advancing localism and embedding it in our political system.

As a government, we are strongly committed to localism, and we have achieved a great deal already.

But I have real concern that there is a growing divide between the devolutionary approach to power that we are adopting at United Kingdom level and the picture here in Wales.

I believe much more could and should be done in Wales to push power down to local authorities and local communities.

A matter, I’m sure, of particular interest to all of you here today.

We are living in an age of localism

As a government, we believe that it is right – no, essential – that those who represent local people and serve local communities should be given the right degree of power to make decisions about the issues that matter to those people and communities.

We are keen, enthusiastic proponents of devolution.

We believe in developing the devolution settlement in Wales, and that is why the Wales Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament, will give the Welsh Government and Assembly more powers to take decisions that affect the people of Wales.

But let me be clear: we don’t believe that the progress of those devolved powers should come to a stop in Cardiff Bay.

We believe in a dynamic form of devolution – with power cascading down to the right level at which it can best be exercised.

The problem is that, in Wales, this simply isn’t happening.

Power is devolved by us in Westminster to Cardiff, but, too often, that’s where it hits a barrier.

Instead of cascading down to local communities, it is restricted and confined, as if behind a dam, in Cardiff Bay.

For that reason, local councils in Wales increasingly enjoy less power than their counterparts in England.

Indeed, it is a sad paradox of devolution in Wales that the devolutionary process, far from pushing power away from the centre, has actually led to more centralisation of decision making – but in Cardiff, rather than Westminster.

And if you live in a community away from the capital, Cardiff can be as remote as London from your everyday life.

Indeed, given the train services, to us here in North Wales, Cardiff is, in journey times, actually further away!

Differences in Approach between England and Wales

We don’t think that is right.

As a government, we at Westminster are unashamed, enthusiastic localists.

And with localism you really have to mean it, want it, be committed to it…

…and deliver it.

It isn’t enough simply to pay lip service.

Williams Review

Now, I have no doubt that, as members of this Association, you are currently spending a lot of time considering the recommendations of the Williams commission.

The Welsh Government are, of course, also considering their response to those recommendations.

I believe that their response to Williams will be pivotal to the development – or lack of development – of localism in Wales.

This is an opportunity that should be seized by ministers in Cardiff Bay.

An opportunity for them enthusiastically to devolve more power to local authorities across Wales.

To show the same enthusiasm for localism that we have at Westminster.

To give you the power to make the right decisions…

…to take the right actions…

…to use your local knowledge to improve the lives of people in your parts of Wales.

Because reforming local government shouldn’t be about central government – whether in London or Cardiff – taking the opportunity to impose more micromanagement on local government.

It should be empowering local authorities, local councillors, and ultimately individuals, to develop their own responses to their own, unique challenges.

And that is what we, as a government, are doing in England.

Breaking down, for example, the barriers that have stopped councils, charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups working together, and sharing responsibilities and budgets for the benefit of those who need their help.

Because we believe that people who share communities are very probably best placed to make the right decisions for those communities.

And we want to trust and enable them to do so.

Planning and housing industry red tape

Sadly though, in Wales, decisions are increasingly being centralised by the Welsh Government; and those decisions are only serving to impede locally-driven development.

I believe that decisions about housing stock, for example, are best made at the local level, not by officials hundreds of miles away whose knowledge of local needs and priorities will inevitably be less than that of local elected representatives.

A flexible, practical planning regime is all-important.

It is key to economic growth.

And stimulating and supporting the housing and construction industries is critical to our economic recovery.

In England, our radical planning reforms are underpinning our long-term economic plan by unblocking the system.

And in this way, boosting house building and attracting new investment into the market.

And those reforms are working.

In 2013, new home registrations rose in England by 30%; the highest level since 2007.

Sadly, here in Wales, it is a different picture.

Last year, Wales was the only region in the United Kingdom that saw a fall in the number of new home registrations: a decline of 12 percent.

The latest construction figures also show that output in Wales is lagging well behind the rest of the country.

Over the last year, new house building in Wales declined by almost 7 per cent, as opposed to growth of almost 34 per cent recorded across Great Britain as a whole.

Let’s be frank.

These are shocking figures.

They indicate, as clearly as they could, that there is something seriously wrong in the planning and regulatory system in Wales.

The Welsh Government need to take urgent action to improve the planning process.

In England, we in the United Kingdom Government are determined to do all we can to make sure that it improves continuously.

We have, for example, radically simplified planning guidance.

What used to consist of thousands of pages of often impenetrable jargon and otiose waffle…

…has now been cut to around 50 pages of clearly written, plain English.

Guidance that, remarkably, actually guides, rather than impedes.

So the planning system across the border in England is now much more accessible – much more user-friendly – than here in Wales.

It will therefore come as no surprise that developers increasingly find England a more welcoming place to develop.

That should be a concern to everyone, at every level of government, in Wales.

And let’s consider the issue of regulation.

As a government, we don’t believe in regulation for the sake of it.

In fact, we believe that there should be much, much less of it; and where it is necessary, it should be sensible, better and smarter.

So we have conducted a “red tape challenge”, testing the need for thousands of regulations.

As a consequence of that exercise, almost half of the Housing and Construction regulations considered are going to be scrapped or improved.

Changes which we estimate will save businesses almost £90 million a year.

In the Queen’s Speech, we announced an Infrastructure Bill, designed to bolster investment in infrastructure and to reform planning law – creating jobs and improving economic competitiveness.

We are committed to implementing a zero carbon standard for new homes from 2016.

But we understand that it is not always feasible or cost-effective for house builders to mitigate all carbon emissions on-site.

So, rather than a rigid, top-down approach, we are introducing flexible means for house builders to meet the zero carbon standard.

‘Allowable solutions’, where minimum energy standards are set through the building regulations and the remainder of the zero carbon target is met through off-site abatement, will provide builders with just that flexibility.

That’s what we’re doing in England.

Regulating fairly, proportionately and sensibly.

However, in Wales, all too often the Welsh Government seems intent on maintaining, and even increasing, the burden of regulations on councils and businesses, rather than reducing them.

By imposing increasingly onerous building regulations in Wales, the Welsh Government is increasing the cost to house-builders of constructing the starter homes so many families desperately need.

And putting up the price of those homes, so that more people will struggle to get onto the property ladder.

There are examples of development costs increasing by 20 per cent as a result of the way BREEAM standards are imposed in Wales – seriously damaging the industry.

And the Welsh Government is pressing ahead with the so-called ‘Conservatory Tax’.

This will require Welsh homeowners to carry out extra work to the rest of their property when, for example, they add a conservatory, an extension or convert a loft into living space.

This is a measure that we considered, but rejected, in England.

Research showed it would harm the economy by discouraging nearly 40 per cent of households from undertaking home improvements in the first place.

The ‘Conservatory Tax’ is a straightforward tax on Welsh builders and homeowners.

It will deter people from improving their homes and damage the construction industry.

I urge the Welsh Government to abandon it.

Welsh builders are increasingly despairing, too, over the draconian way building regulations are imposed in Wales.

Redrow have estimated that, as a consequence of Welsh Government requirements for the sustainable building code, and for all new homes to be fitted with sprinklers, the cost of building a typical house in Wales will be £13,000 more than in England by 2016.

So it is no wonder that Persimmon have pulled out of investing in the south Wales Valleys, citing heavier regulation in Wales as a major factor in their decision.

Planning and localism

Yes, planning is key to economic growth.

Do it well and the economy is likely to prosper; do it badly and it will be damaged.

And planning decisions shape our localities and affect our communities profoundly.

It is therefore surely right that local communities should be given as much power as possible to make those decisions.

We at Westminster have reformed planning, so that it can help deliver the homes and infrastructure that people want and need; by working with, not against, local communities.

Our reforms and the locally-led planning process are delivering real results and speeding up the system.

We believe that Local Planning Authorities are best placed to make decisions that affect their areas – drawing up clear local plans that meet local development needs and reflect local people’s views.

And the National Planning Policy Framework in England is just that – a framework – within which local authorities are empowered to make the best decisions for their local needs.

We made a commitment to give people more power over development in their areas.

And the Localism Act has done just that.

It has introduced new powers for people to make neighbourhood plans; giving communities the power to set the priorities for local development and reducing interference from central government.

But the Localism Act largely doesn’t apply in Wales.

The reforms to the planning system and the building regulations that we have carried out in England haven’t been adopted in Wales.

And this has contributed to the decline in house building and the reduced availability of homes of which I have spoken.

Wales is now at a tipping point.

So the Welsh Government have to make a decision.

Do they want a Wales that is over-regulated, centrally driven, increasingly uncompetitive and economically sclerotic?

Or do they want a Wales in which lower, smarter regulation frees up businesses and communities, and creates more prosperity?

Conclusion

As a Government, we are strong supporters of devolution and the opportunities it provides to advance the cause of localism.

But devolution should not be an end in itself.

It should not be a case of accruing increasing powers to a few individuals in Cardiff Bay.

It should, rather, be a stream of power that becomes a mighty river, flowing down to every community, large and small, the length and breadth of Wales.

And ultimately, it should flow to every household, every individual in Wales, making them more in control of their own surroundings and lives.

Real devolution is about decisions being made at the right level, by people who understand local issues, for the benefit of local communities.

I, and my colleagues at Westminster, are committed to that kind of devolution.

I want to see that same commitment from the Welsh Government.

More powers being decentralised from Cardiff Bay to decision-makers in local authorities across our country.

That is what we are doing in England.

And that is what should be happening in Wales.

In short, we believe in strong, empowered, local government.

We believe in you.

Because you are the ones best placed to make decisions for your communities, your towns and villages, the people you represent.

Because you understand, better than anyone, their needs, their concerns, their priorities

You do fantastic, valuable work.

And we want to do all we can to enable and empower you to do it better.

Thank you.

David Jones – Speech at CBI Wales

davidjones

Below is the text of the speech made by David Jones, the Secretary of State for Wales, at the CBI Wales event on 7th March 2014.

I am delighted to be here in north Wales.

Only last week I was hosting a delegation from the Indonesian Embassy to showcase what the region has to offer to inward investors.

One of the visits we undertook was to Airbus where the delegation was greatly impressed by their fantastic operations at Broughton.

What impresses me about Airbus is their commitment to developing their workforce – including almost 400 apprentices – which is the largest engineering apprenticeships scheme in Wales.

I encourage you all to look at their model for apprenticeships and the opportunities that you can provide to young people in Wales to create a skilled workforce for the future.

As we look to help businesses to develop apprenticeship programmes we are also investing in our infrastructure to build a stronger economy.

Last year we introduced a National Infrastructure Plan.

The National Infrastructure Plan brings together the Government’s infrastructure priorities across different sectors and identifies the top 40 projects considered crucial for economic growth.

It includes a forward-looking pipeline of investment worth over £375billion, ensuring that we are investing a greater share of our nation’s wealth in infrastructure than the whole period of the last Government.

This forward plan includes key projects in Wales.

We are investing in rolling out superfast broadband to homes and businesses across Wales.

The UK Government has announced further funds to Wales to build on this scheme, taking the total investment in Wales to £69million;

We are also investing in improving mobile broadband and telephony services across Wales.

Recognising the importance of a modern transport network, we are making the most significant investment in Wales’ rail infrastructure for decades with the electrification of the rail network in south Wales.

As the first north Wales Secretary of State for Wales for 40 years I have been clear that this is just the start of large scale rail investment in Wales.

The planned high speed network coming down the tracks to Crewe provides an exciting opportunity for the region.

I have been supporting the case for electrification of the north Wales main line, which would allow;

More efficient connections with the high speed network and shorter journey times into Wales vital for attracting inward investment; even closer integration across north Wales and into major cities in England.

We must strengthen the existing economic success of north Wales to ensure it continues to expand and attract new business ventures.

Financing key infrastructure projects is of course a prominent issue.

I am pleased to welcome Louise Minford from Infrastructure UK to talk about the UK Guarantees scheme.

This is a Government initiative aimed at boosting infrastructure investment.

You may be aware that the Government has committed to working up a guarantee for Hitachi’s investment in the Wylfa Newydd power station by the end of 2016.

I believe this investment is vital for the region and presents great opportunities for local business.

The UK Guarantees Scheme aims to kick start critical infrastructure projects that may have stalled because of adverse credit conditions.

Up to £40 billion in guarantees is available to do this.

In light of the Scheme’s extension to December 2016, Infrastructure UK is eager to encourage a wide range of projects to apply.

I hope to see the UK Guarantees Scheme utilised in many more defining projects in Wales and I encourage you all to speak to Louise about ideas that you may have.

David Jones – 2013 Speech on Devolution

davidjones

Below is the text of the speech made by David Jones on 28th November 2013.

Introduction

Thank you for my introduction.

And my thanks also to all of you here at the Durham Union Society for inviting me to talk about Devolution in the Continuing Union.

This is my second visit to Durham University in just a few months, and it is always a huge pleasure to visit this world-renowned academic institution in one of the loveliest cities of Britain.

I am pleased, too, to learn that Wales is well represented here by the Durham Welsh Society, Cymdeithas Gymraeg Dyrym (Cym Gym Dyrym) which provides those with ties to Wales or those simply interested in Wales with opportunities to learn the language, to network or to socialise through more traditional student activities.

I want to reflect this evening on the United Kingdom and the benefits it delivers for us all; to explain why I, as a proud Welshman and equally proud Briton, believe in the Union; why I would not want to see that Union wrenched apart by Scotland’s separation; and why I believe that devolution works – and works well – for the United Kingdom and for all parts of the United Kingdom.

Why, in short, I believe we are truly Better Together.

I am happy to take questions at the end.

Future of the Union

As I speak to you this evening, 2014 is just over a month away. Constitutionally, it will be the most important year for the United Kingdom in over 300 years.

There are, I suspect, few of us who, until recently, would ever have thought that the day would arrive when we would be contemplating the end of the United Kingdom in its current form. But that is precisely what is at stake in the referendum on Scottish independence next September.

In just ten months time, the people of Scotland will be asked to make an historic choice between a continuing Union – staying part of the UK – or taking the huge gamble of walking away; a choice that would truly be a leap into the unknown.

There is a vigorous and vibrant debate going on right now north of the border – and indeed across the UK – about the best future direction for Scotland. And as decisions go, they don’t come much bigger; make no mistake, it is a decision which has important and far reaching implications for all parts of our United Kingdom and for all its citizens, not only Scots.

It is a decision on whether Scotland should end over three centuries of history, shared endeavour and success. Whether Scotland should turn its most important trading partner into a foreign country, and put up barriers against it. And whether Scotland should turn its back on the shared values and mutual dependence of the UK’s family of nations.

Benefits of Devolution within the Union

The UK Government is making a strong, positive and, I believe, convincing case to the Scottish people for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. Devolution has enabled Scots to take important decisions locally in relation to schools, hospitals, transport and many other issues which affect daily life. In many respects the decisions taken north of the border have differed from those taken in relation to England, and in relation to Wales.

That is, of course, a legitimate consequence of devolution. But devolution has also enabled Scotland, like Wales, to benefit from two legislatures and two governments working in its interests. It has provided the flexibility to evolve and adapt to changing circumstances in both nations: a flexibility that Scotland would lose with independence.

The Benefits of a United Kingdom

Our Union is of course about much more than devolved decision-making. It is about the interrelations and interdependences that make us more prosperous, more secure and more innovative together, rather than apart.

Together, we enjoy the benefits of a strong economy in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

The UK is the world’s seventh largest economy and is ranked in the top ten most competitive economies in the world. The Government is committed to an internationally competitive tax system and, when Corporation Tax falls to 20 per cent in 2015, it will be the lowest in the G20.

The UK is the number one destination in Europe for foreign direct investment. London remains the world’s leading financial centre according to the Global Financial Centres Index, but Edinburgh, too, is home to many important financial institutions.

All parts of the UK benefit from being part of an internal market of over 60 million people, rather than a market of only 5 million which a separate Scotland would provide.

Over 4.5 million British companies benefit from the trade and investment opportunities delivered through the strong UK brand.

And these companies carry out their business within the UK unimpeded by borders and customs, with a strong common currency and single financial system.

How exactly would Scottish businesses, and the Scottish jobs which depend on those businesses continuing to thrive, benefit from separation?

The UK is a key player on the international stage.

We are a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a key member of NATO and have a huge degree of influence in many other international institutions and alliances – from the EU and the G8, to the Commonwealth.

We have recently seen several examples of the UK’s important world role – from the Geneva talks earlier in this week which resulted in a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, to the British people’s magnificent support for those affected by the Philippines typhoon.

This global role is not just of passing benefit to the people of Scotland. It benefits them directly, as it does people across the entire UK directly, by making our country safer and more secure. Together, the UK has a strong and influential place in the world; a position from which we are able to promote the British values of democracy and fair play.

And we, the British, are an inventive and enterprising people. We have a proud and long history of invention and innovation, from the world-wide web to the jet engine and carbon fibre.

Our universities co-operate on research in a way that is possible only as part of a common UK framework. If we are to continue to innovate to deliver the next revolutionary technologies, we need to ensure that our research institutions, like here in Durham University, can continue to use the UK-wide networks and infrastructure that have proved so successful in the past.

Continuing the Union

So I believe that the United Kingdom is a great country, with an important global role and a strong voice in the councils of the world.

But a vote for independence would place all that in jeopardy. Let us be clear: it would be a vote for the permanent separation of the nations of these islands. It would be irrevocable. There would be no going back.

So I want to see Scotland remain in the Union.

I certainly believe that we are better together as one economy with one shared currency. But it’s about more than mere economics. All the nations of the United Kingdom benefit from being part of a larger Union, with strong, shared bonds of culture, values and heritage.

There is nothing contradictory about Scots considering themselves both Scottish and British. Or, for that matter, Welsh people feeling comfortable with the notion that they are Welsh and British, too. I certainly do.

Indeed, I would hope all Britons feel – and most do – that they can unselfconsciously assert two nationalities with equal pride.

I am a proud Welshman, but I am also a Unionist, heart, mind, body and soul. I am campaigning vigorously in favour of Scotland remaining part of the Union, and I hope that as many others as possible from all parts of the UK’s political and civic life will do the same.

From Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, who made an important speech in Scotland last week in support of the Union, to all of those who are working for, or publicising, the Better Together campaign on social media – we are all committed to the same goal: a continued Union of the peoples of these islands for the good of all those who live in the United Kingdom.

A Positive Case for the Union

Just a few days ago, the Scottish Government published its White Paper on independence. Alex Salmond called it a “mission statement” for Scotland’s future. But it reads to me like a “mission impossible”, already showing signs of self-destruction.

Because the White Paper fails to give credible answers to fundamentally important questions. It is founded on a fantasy of a Scotland that could leave the United Kingdom whilst keeping all the benefits that it currently enjoys by being part of the UK. And it sets out a wish-list of promises without any credible plan for how an independent Scotland would pay for them.

Let’s start with the crucially important question of currency. Alex Salmond believes an independent Scotland could retain the pound in a currency union with the continuing UK. But could it?

If Scotland decided to leave the UK it would also be leaving the UK’s currency. The pound would of course continue to be the currency of the UK, and the laws and institutions that currently oversee our stable, resilient and successful currency – like the Bank of England – would continue in place.

But a separate Scotland would sit outside those arrangements, and would need to put in place new currency arrangements of its own.

But could there not be a currency union, which is what the Scottish nationalists seem to assert? Well, the challenges and difficulties of currency unions are many and varied. Just look at what has happened in the Eurozone in recent years. Who would want that repeated in these islands? And the currency union between the Czechs and the Slovaks following the break up of Czechoslovakia famously lasted all of 33 days!

There’s simply no guarantee that a currency union would be agreed. And even less likelihood that one would work. So I would say to the Scottish people, don’t vote for an independent Scotland on the basis that you will be able to keep the pound in your pocket. I think that is simply wishful thinking on the part of Alex Salmond.

Secondly, the White Paper makes a raft of eye-catching commitments, from pensions to tax, from childcare to the minimum wage. But how exactly would these promises be paid for?

The impartial Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that an independent Scotland would face big tax rises or big cuts in public services because of an ageing population and falling oil revenues.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, the IFS says there would need to be an 8 percentage point rise in the basic rate of income tax – meaning an average increase in the tax bill of basic rate taxpayers in Scotland of around £1,000 a year – or a 6% cut in public spending, by 2021-22, in order to balance the books and put Scotland’s long term finances on a sustainable footing.

Hiking the basic rate of income tax from 20% to 28%.

That’d be a hefty price tag for discarding the 300 year old United Kingdom, and a heavy burden for the people of Scotland to bear long into the distant future.

The simple fact is that an independent Scotland would not come cheap. It would mean either higher taxes or much poorer public services than the people of Scotland currently enjoy. Little wonder then that the Scottish Government chooses to be evasive on the true cost of independence.

But, as I’ve already said, it’s not just about economics. It’s about culture, too; about enjoying the things that make us British.

Take the BBC.

The White Paper says that in an independent Scotland, BBC Scotland would be replaced with a new Scottish Broadcasting Service, continuing a formal relationship with the rest of the BBC. The result of that, says the Scottish First Minister, is that people in Scotland would still be able to watch Strictly Come Dancing in an independent Scotland.

That continues a familiar theme of the SNP; that independence would not mean changing anything about being British that Scottish people might enjoy. That Scotland could leave the United Kingdom but still enjoy all the benefits that being part of the Union brings. And what could be more British than Bruce Forsyth?

In truth, there are many consequences of independence that would become apparent only in the event of a “yes” vote, and after negotiations had ended. Alex Salmond might claim he is presenting certainties in the White Paper. But they are only certainties as he sees them. The simple truth is that a vote for independence would truly be a leap into the unknown, as his own White Paper makes only too apparent.

Scotland is part of one of the world’s most successful unions. Scots hold great influence in government, finance and industry. The test for the White Paper is whether it really convinces people why they should give that up and leave the United Kingdom.

Independence doesn’t bring about a new union – it means Scotland leaves the United Kingdom, a fundamental and irreversible change whose implications cannot be determined in advance of a referendum. We are continuing to study the detail of the White Paper, but initial impressions are that it appears to be nothing more than a wish-list designed to hide what independence means.

This cannot be a manifesto for independence. If Scots vote to separate, then their future will need to be negotiated with dozens of countries who will be acting in the interests of their own citizens, not Scotland’s, on issues like currency, defence and borders.

It would, at the very best, be a very uncertain future.

An Evolving Union

There are those in Scotland who accuse campaigners for the preservation of the Union of negativity, of seeking to stand in the way of Scottish nationhood. I simply do not agree.

The campaign for continuation of our Union is called “Better Together” because that is its key message and that is what I, personally, strongly believe.

We are indeed better together as a strong Union that does what is right for each part of the UK and for the UK as a whole.

And sometimes the right thing to do includes further devolution.

I have on occasions been accused from certain nationalist quarters in Wales of being lukewarm about devolution – a “devo-sceptic” as it is termed in the lexicon of post-devolution political journalism.

That is an accusation I flatly reject. On the contrary, I am a strong believer in the devolution of decision-making to the most appropriate level; and I also believe in government at all levels that is accountable to the people who elect it.

Devolution is here to stay. For the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland it delivers the best of both worlds; important decisions made in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast and the benefits that come with being part of a greater United Kingdom.

And devolution is not static. It must evolve as we constantly seek to do what is best for each constituent part of the UK.

In Wales, for example, it was this Government that delivered a referendum on further law-making powers for the Assembly in 2011 and it was we who set up a Commission under the chairmanship of Paul Silk (“the Silk Commission”) to look at the Assembly’s powers.

And devolution in Wales continues to evolve. Earlier this month, we announced that we will implement almost all recommendations made in the Silk Commission’s first report. We are devolving a package of tax and borrowing powers to the Assembly and the Welsh Government – powers which are already being devolved to Scotland – which will give the Welsh Government the tools to invest in Wales and make the Assembly and the Welsh Government more accountable to the people in Wales who elect them.

It is only right that our elected representatives think carefully about how they spend taxpayers’ money, and are held accountable for the money they spend.

Since devolution the Assembly and the Welsh Government have been accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ money. Now they will also be more accountable for how they spend it.

It is, after all, the easiest thing in the world to spend other people’s money; it’s an altogether different thing to explain why they should hand it over.

The Silk Commission will publish its second and final report in the spring, looking at where the Welsh devolution settlement needs to be modified to make it work better. We will of course be looking carefully at the recommendations the Commission makes, and how devolution in Wales can be made to work even better.

Localism

As a Government, we are strong believers in the importance of localism.

Devolution is part of the way we are delivering localism in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

And we are delivering localism in England, too, by empowering councils to deliver for the people they serve; and by agreeing new city deals with our urban centres, including here in the North East, so that they can focus on delivering prosperity and economic growth.

These changes are about decision making at the right level and they are happening across the UK. Councils in the North East – including here in Durham – have been working together on proposals to create a Combined Authority from April next year, to work more closely to support economic growth in areas such as skills, transport and investment.

This all demonstrates that our Union is flexible and adaptable to meet the evolving needs of different parts of the United Kingdom.

They show the benefits of the United Kingdom working together.

As we have demonstrated, by staying together we can achieve so much more.

Conclusion

In summary, our United Kingdom is a family of nations with shared values and culture and a strong sense of mutual dependence.

I believe that our current approach to devolution – evolving settlements, avoiding one size fits all – is right, and should continue. It provides flexibility, and can constantly adapt to changing circumstances. I believe that is what people in Scotland, and in Wales, really want, and what this Government has been delivering.

Our four nations have different histories, different institutions and different relationships with each other and it is right that they have different frameworks of Government which best meet their needs, whilst benefiting from being part of a strong, successful and continuing United Kingdom.

The biggest advantage by far that the four nations of our Union have on the world stage is that they are constituent parts of our shared United Kingdom.

And I believe that for each and every one of those nations – including Scotland – we are “better together”.