JOHN HUMPHRYS: John Prescott, pretty well
everybody seems to be agreed that something must be done in this war against
terrorism, but clearly there is a job to be done isn't there, to persuade
the public and indeed the party, that we ought not to be handing the Americans
a blank cheque.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well John, let me just say
about the survey.
I think it reflected genuine concern that there is not only in the Labour
Party but the community generally. I think the questions were somewhat
simplistic and I think some of our chairmen told your interviewers that,
but it is about concern, about this horrific incident that occurred in
New York nearly three weeks ago. And I think that's one significant point,
there has been no immediate military strike from the Americans that we
could have expected a few years ago to be frank and that means there is
a lot of discussion going on, it's not only about a military option, it's
a financial option, it's a diplomatic option, you know, how do you deal
with all those things that fund and finance global terrorism. And I think
that shows that Tony Blair's efforts in getting that kind of consensus
together which everybody accords him, and properly so, has made quite a
difference in that matter, though we're clearly shoulder to shoulder and
I think in those circumstances we must add to it that we've had a second
meeting, we've had one meeting of Parliament, there will be a second recall,
we are still having our political conference, and our conference is where
we define what the Labour Party point of view is and I'm sure it will be
unanimous in supporting this Prime Minister in his fight against global
terrorism. So yes, concern, uncertainties inevitable in this, we don't
know the full implications that can flow from this, but what we have at
least is a consensus that we've never had before, of nations who have never
come together to unite in a case against globalism and talking about the
proper rational response and not only about justice but about social justice,
the refugees as well as the terrorists. All these are important concerns
that this Labour Party will always be concerned with. Thank goodness we've
got a leader who makes decisions and also goes out and explains them and
finds himself to be very accountable to the people.
HUMPHRYS: But still concern and
you touched on it, still concern that we should not be handing the Americans
a blank cheque?
PRESCOTT: Well, of course we're
not and I mean the Prime Minister makes that time and time clear. What
we are doing is standing shoulder to shoulder, what we are agreed is the
objective to tackle global terrorism and we are as the UN said using all
proper and necessary measures to achieve that. Now that is our course
of action, that is what we're doing at the moment. There will be probably
some form of military response, we must wait and see if that is to occur,
but there will be all the other things, the financial instruments to stop
the financing of terrorism. Our security measures that we are considering
at the moment. It's across a broad front and they always cause some uncertainties.
Why - because as David Blunkett says, it's always a difficult balance
between that of human rights and the security of our people and the security
of our people must be our overriding objective.
HUMPHRYS; But that given that it
isn't a blank cheque then, given that it's not and you said quite clearly
that it isn't...
PRESCOTT: Well, the Prime Minister
says exactly the same thing. It's not accounting, liabilities and assets,
it's about working together, but make no mistake, we have agreed to work
very closely with America...
PRESCOTT: ...and the consensus
to do all we can to rid ourselves of this terror.
HUMPHRYS: But if we're not saying
to the Americans we will do precisely what you want and not ask any questions
about it then clearly there is a point at which we might well say - we're
a bit uneasy about that, we don't want to go down that road.
PRESCOTT: No, I think as Tony explains
it's a partnership. I mean you may be President Bush and I'm Tony Blair
and we talk about the problem......
HUMPHRYS: We're the senior partner,
we're a very senior partner.
PRESCOTT: Of course we are a very
senior partner because it's most of their assets that are being used in
that case. But I think it does bode well that we're having these kind
of discussions, to hear what the American President's saying. He's not
rushing into this in a short term act of revenge, he is looking at the
long term run of how we deal with global terrorism. That attack on that
building, that killing of thousands of people of many nationalities made
a significant difference, it was a change and it was a sea change of a
scale that has brought all the nations together to say we are to do something
and to discuss how we do it, how we achieve it and that's what the consensus
HUMPHRYS: And what many people
are saying - we heard some of them in that film there, people like Oona
King and Glenys Kinnock and Neil Gerrard we've heard if from Clare Short
as well, is that we must not tackle as one of them put it, Oona King put
it, we mustn't tackle barbarism with barbarism, we must not risk .....
PRESCOTT: I haven't heard anybody
HUMPHRYS: Well, no. I mean if
we attack Afghanistan in the way that many people have suggested we should
and some in America seem to want to do...
PRESCOTT: What you're saying to
me I that the fears of what might happen by some who say this might be
HUMPHRYS: But they are real fears
PRESCOTT: Well, they are genuine
fears, because we don't know exactly what is going to happen, how it will
happen, right? But then not to draw from that somehow that we're not concerned
about innocent people, or act of barbarism, eye for eye as I saw on your
film there, no, we want to have a measured response. Everybody has talked
of that measured response, nobody wants to kill innocent citizens, nobody
wanted to see six thousand innocent citizens murdered in those tower blocks
that we saw in the United States.
HUMPHRYS: No, indeed, but one of
PRESCOTT: By the way most of those
comments I think that were said there, they were showing a genuine balance....
HUMPHRYS: Oh did you, no question
PRESCOTT: There is some uncertainty
but we don't like what has gone on about terrorism, we do want to do something
about it and they were balancing that and expressing properly a concern.
HUMPHRYS: Of course and one of
the reasons for the concern, part of the reason for the concern of some
people like Oona King and Glenys Kinnock is that when Tony Blair talks
about doing away with the Taliban if they get in the way of stopping them
getting bin Laden or whatever it may be, of the terrorist camps.....
PRESCOTT: That's the UN position
at the moment,
not only the individuals but those nations who harbour them, so this is
actually Tony Benn or
HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair yes.
HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair, you said
Tony Benn yeah, Freudian slip!
PRESCOTT: But it was in fact the
UN resolution that says that
and I think that's quite important for a consensus that you have the ideas
and the values embodied in a UN resolution that is accompanying this.
HUMPHRYS: But what I'm trying to
suggest to you is that people, many people are concerned when they hear
talk about making the Taliban our enemy if they don't do what we want,
because what you do with an enemy is that you try and destroy him as Tony
Blair himself suggested this morning. And they are worried that that might
result in exactly the sorts of casualties and increasing this terrible
humanitarian - worsening this terrible humanitarian disaster that already
exists in Afghanistan.
PRESCOTT: I thought Glenys Kinnock
was making clear, that the actions of this government, its action against
women, its undemocratic nature....
HUMPHRYS; Although supporting the
PRESCOTT: ....quite offensive about
this regime, and we're not saying because it has these offensive features
they should be tackled, what we are saying, if there's a condition and
they don't deliver up bin Laden, it's quite clear they know he's there
and if they're not prepared to deliver then they are protecting and I think
the UN resolution and the combined view of all of us, if they do that and
they prevent us arresting these terrorists, getting rid of them, getting
rid of their whole organisation, then they are assisting and they declare
themselves by that definition....
HUMPHRYS: But then..
PRESCOTT: .. to be an enemy to
the UN resolution.
HUMPHRYS: And if you attack them
as a result of that you do then inevitably risk real civilian casualties,
PRESCOTT: Well it's the nature
of what we are talking about, what kind of attack, but a whole range of
things, but don't forget, I think we need as much effort to deal, not only
with their terrorists camps and one presumes at least the Americans didn't
make the choice this time. I think President Bush said was that, send
a missile costing twenty million pounds or something to destroy a ten-dollar
tent. I think when they did that last time, perhaps they have learnt a
lesson, perhaps they realise it's long-term and I think that's what they've
taken into account and what is equally concerning is the drugs that actually
this Taliban organisation trades in. It provides funds, it actually grows
poppies to provide funds for funding terrorism and maintaining that regime.
Now to that extent, I think that is something that is assisting the terrorist
organisations and we'll have to make a judgement about. But let us wait
on that. We have told them, we expect them and want them to produce these
terrorism to us, let's see what happens.
HUMPHRYS: The other thing that
worries many people is the possibility that has been raised of widening
the war to include countries like Iraq and Iran and all the other terrible
seven that have been listed. Do you share the concerns of the worries,
the consequences that might flow from that?
PRESCOTT: Well I think, I welcome
the fact that Iran has also condemned these actions also...
HUMPHRYS: ...but has not said it
would support the United States...
PRESCOTT: ...well, whatever in
whatever form they've condemned them and I say there's one important reason
that tend to unite all these nations, it's not a moral outburst, most of
them are suffering some form of terrorism in their own countries and we
can see that clearly when the countries are mentioned and in those circumstances
they have common interest to come together to defeat this challenge of
global terrorism. It is on a scale now unprecedented and the reaction has
to be a rather unprecedented one and one that actually has a measured response
and that's what this consensus is about. I certainly wouldn't like to see
and I don't think anybody would like to see an extension of the war. But
what we have committed ourselves to and I admit we haven't declared it
to be a war, but it's a kind of war against terrorism as it's being said,
what we have committed ourselves is to root out this international terrorism
and those that harboured it. Now is may be a bank and it may be a country
like we have in Afghanistan, if that's the case and we have to judge each
by its own measure.
HUMPHRYS: What about the effects
on the way we live at home? Serious worries about what all of the measures
that are being talked about now might, the effect they might have on our
civil liberties. Do you share those concerns?
PRESCOTT: I think everybody shares
a concern where you have to find a balance between the civil liberties,
human rights issues. We have legislation that govern most things now, so
you can be challenged in the courts but there are people who think it's
rather difficult to understand why people who advocate the kind of terrorism
action that we've actually seen can still reside in this country. We can
go to extradite, but because of our legal process it takes many years to
do it. Now is that the proper balance? Should we harbour people like that?
HUMPHRYS: Do you want to change
the law to make it, to stop that happening?
PRESCOTT: Well I think David is
looking at all these things at the moment...
HUMPHRYS: David Blunkett, yes?
PRESCOTT: David Blunkett and indeed
we as a government would look at that. And I think Tony Blair made clear
this morning that we'll be looking to some form of legislation, hopefully
with the co-operation of all in the House of Commons to be brought before
it. So there is a range and you know, some have been looked at before.
I heard the discussion on the film about the ID card, House of Commons
committees, various governments have looked at it and have rejected it,
but there is ...
HUMPHRYS: ...including your own?
PRESCOTT: ...pardon? Oh yes, absolutely,
and Labour dominated committees have said the same thing. But it would
be right I think to look at the whole range of measures and to make a judgement
and if they don't stand up because there will be a public debate about
them, this is a democracy, government doesn't come along and say we're
going to do this. That's what Parliament is there for to challenge, have
the debate, and agree or disagree and it's to get that proper balance but,
it is difficult, I think the foreign... the Prime Minister's made the point
about these exchange bureaux, where huge amounts of money are traded through
them and don't have the same financial regulation. Why shouldn't we do
something about that? Why some banks who may be involved in money laundering,
or accusations as such, why shouldn't they be subjected to tougher regulations.
This is what is involved I think in tackling global terrorism and it simply
isn't just a military option.
HUMPHRYS: What's you own view,
if I just pick out one of those, about ID cards?
PRESCOTT: ...well it's an interesting
one John because you may have heard I was one of the spokesmen for Transport
up to a little while ago...
HUMPHRYS: ...I'd heard rumours,
PRESCOTT: ...and I had to make
a judgement about that in regard to the motorist licence, the car licence
and in fact what I did there with the driving licence was to agree as all
European countries have, that if you get a new driving licence now it will
have a photograph on it. And what's interesting is if you usually go somewhere
and someone says have you got any identification, they usually pull out
their driving licence don't they. If you go for a passenger, pensioners'
pass on a bus or a train, you're required to provide a photo, if you even
go and change a video. Now all these things have got us used to a kind
of using photographs...
HUMPHRYS: ...none of them are compulsory
PRESCOTT: That's an essential point
and indeed I was coming to that. All these are voluntary, there was even
talk of them going on your banker's card for example, they're all voluntary.
Now have we reached the stage where it would be effective as in our help
in a way in this country, to have an ID card. Now David's made it clear,
you don't think, he doesn't think we should react to this terrible global
terrorism as the sole issue, so there will be a proper public debate. It
will be reopened.
HUMPHRYS: What's your view? You
sound fairly relaxed about it.
PRESCOTT: Well I think I tried
to face that question with the licence and I thought it was alright and
I think that's happening more and more...
HUMPHRYS: ...yes but that was voluntary
as you say...
PRESCOTT: ...yes, but I mean that's
one where I had a practical way to have to make a decision. I could have
said no, we shouldn't go ahead with it, disagree with Europe, but I didn't
think it made that difference. The requirement that you should have an
ID card, I'll be quite honest, I don't think fills me full of dread, as
a seaman I had an ID card, I couldn't go anywhere without an ID card. There
are many many examples where it's been, but it is a difficult balance,
it does cost money, I heard Frank talking, it cost a billion pounds, I
don't know whether it costs that amount, but certainly select committees
have gone on balance against the compulsory requirements of an ID card,
but I think it's a proper decision and debate to have and I notice public
opinion seems to be quite supportive...
HUMPHRYS: ...at the moment of course,
but in the wake of a terrible disaster like that people do...
PRESCOTT: ...absolutely, that's
a fair point. But that's why we said we'll not make a decision quickly
in the wake of such a decision, we'll have a proper prolonged debate about
the matter, then a decision will be made.
HUMPHRYS: So for sure, nothing
would happen in less than say, a year, do you think?
PRESCOTT: I don't know. David is
looking at these matters and he will come to the House and I think the
House is the place to make these decisions...
HUMPHRYS: ...right, but a long
time anyway, it's not going to be...
PRESCOTT: Well, I've no doubt
when we come back we'll be pressed in the Commons about these issues and
the Prime Minister I think made clear again this morning in interview that
there will be some legislation that we bring forward, legislation whether
it unanimous agreement, I think will be quite easy, where there's controversy,
we have to clearly tread carefully but what we have to do, our first security
at the end of the day, is the security of our citizens and we must always
do what we can to see that we maintain that.
HUMPHRYS: There is obviously going
to be an effect, there is already an effect on the economy. Gordon Brown
has to meet various commitments, a lot of commitments, including a lot
PRESCOTT: ..he's done very well
so far, hasn't he?
HUMPHRYS: ...I never answer those
questions...(laughter from Prescott)... including a lot of extra spending
on health and education. Are you assured that that extra spending is safe?
PRESCOTT: Well we have the Chancellor's
judgement who says that in his judgement, he told the Cabinet and he's
made public statements to the effect that he intends to keep the improvement
and increase in spending on public services. I hear in the film again,
that people think will that be one of the casualties of it, he's made that
clear that it's not so. We are in the strongest...
HUMPHRYS: ...he hopes it's not
PRESCOTT: Well, yes, everything
is a hope in these situations...
HUMPHRYS: ..that's my point.
PRESCOTT: ..there's always the
demands on them but I think there is a matter of record now. It isn't the
first year of a Labour government. I've been on your programmes before
when you have always told us, well you'll be taxing us this and you'll
be doing that. We're four years on, we have the lowest inflation, the lowest
levels of unemployment, the lowest interest rate for decades and...
HUMPHRYS: ..and now we've got a
war or at least something like a war faces us.
PRESCOTT: ..but well, but nevertheless
we have reserves, we have sound political finances...
HUMPHRYS: Almost gone, not much
left, after foot-and-mouth and all the rest of it.
PRESCOTT: Well again....
HUMPHRYS: No, no just a fact, there
isn't much of it left.
PRESCOTT: We approach this situation
in a stronger situation with growth in our economy, most of our allies
in this. So I would say to you, we've a strong position, we have to judge
it as it's going on. But the one important point I would make to you because
I think you have pointed out to me before in Public Private Partnerships,
why don't you spend the reserves? We have transformed what was a borrowing
debt of twenty-eight billion to something like an eighteen billion surplus
and we always said, why don't you spend it and we've made it clear that's
for contingencies. There couldn't be a bigger contingency at the moment
and that is the long term view that has been taken by the Chancellor. So
in four years, he's been good at his predictions, good at producing a stable
economy and making sure that we can have economic prosperity along with
HUMPHRYS: But we are now...
PRESCOTT: If we'd have listened
to all the demands to spend the reserves on different sections, we'd have
had nothing now.
HUMPHRYS: But a lot of those have
had to go on things like foot-and-mouth disease and the aftermath of Hatfield
and so on as you know and there isn't very much of that left. And we are
now in a situation where we are facing some sort of war, whatever kind
of war it will be and when Tony Blair was asked this morning, what would
be the cost of that war, he said quite rightly: don't know, how can you
possibly say. So if we are faced with the situation where we....
PRESCOTT: ...why are you going
to go on to say something else if you can't possibly say?
HUMPHRYS: Well, because what I
am going to put to you...
PRESCOTT: ..because you want to
ask the question.
HUMPHRYS: Well certainly that,
that's my job, that's what I get paid for, certainly that, but this is
the point isn't it. We've seen how much some of the sorts of wars we've
been involved in have cost, three billion pounds in the Iran/Iraq war,
in the war against Iraq, for instance. Now if we have no idea how much
this war is going to cost us, how much damage it is going to do to the
economy, then we cannot be sure that the economy will grow the way it is
going to do, we cannot be sure how much is going to be left in the pot
to pay for all that extra spending that your government is committed to.
We may well then face very serious decisions, isn't that right, isn't that
PRESCOTT: No, it's not inevitable,
it's may, may, may. There's a possibility...
HUMPHRYS: Oh, well, a lot of it
isn't a may though, a lot of it is a certainty...
PRESCOTT: I mean who knew how much
foot-and-mouth would cost when it first started...
PRESCOTT: ..that's why you have
reserves, that's why we did have quite a large reserve instead of having
to borrow like the Tories were constantly doing in their regime. But what
we need to be doing is to look at those problems, like Gordon Brown is,
take the long term approach on it. We have committed our public expenditures
up to 2003
which led to the tremendous increase in public services, of course we
are undergoing the next three year discussion about public expenditures
and all these matters will be taken into account. But there is a very
big question here, just how deep would be a recession if that was to happen.
At the moment the definition is, if you have two negative parts as the
IMF calls it, then you have recession. But what happens will depend on
consumer growth to a certain extent. We do hope we can say to people, keep
on acting as normally as you can because if you begin to cut and restrict
your expenditure and you cut the consumer demand, it leads to cuts in other
industries, it leads to unemployment, it leads to a bigger demand on the
resources for paying unemployment and dealing with those difficulties.
Now, we don't know what that balance is going to be, when will the uncertainty
go away, will it last twelve months?, eighteen months? - will it be eighteen
days?, will people do it? But I would say to ordinary people, your everyday
expenditure is important in this battle. If in fact the consequences are
a deep recession, then we will pay for it in another way and it will be
an extra burden to the cost of security. So I don't know what the balance
of that is, a lot depends on the psychology of the ordinary consumer.
HUMPHRYS: Sure but the question
is, are we committed, is the government commitment to that extra public
spending even if for instance, it meant raising taxes ultimately to pay
PRESCOTT: We're committed to delivering
on election promises, we've made it clear, I'm not going to get my cards
HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but you've got
a problem here haven't you on taxes and on spending and if the one fights
PRESCOTT: ..by the way you know,
the last time we had our exchange about that, there was one we hadn't
quite completed, that is taken in the courts in the first seventy days,
we did it last week, so we did it in four and half years. So we'd done
the first card, will we be able to deliver on the second, the more doctors,
the nurses, the teachers, the growth in the economy...
HUMPHRYS: ..which means more money.
PRESCOTT: Well, we have budgeted
up to 2003, which money is being expanded at the present time, we go into
the second period of the budget and we will assess how it goes, we have
promised the people in this country to carry out that improvement in public
services and we will have to face that decision for the resources, when
it comes, you and I are agreed we don't know what the uncertainties are.
HUMPHRYS: But what I am concerned
with establishing is that you will do whatever it takes to raise the money
to spend that extra...
PRESCOTT: ..you want to take us
across three or four bridges, I can't give you an exact definition or interpretation
of what's going to happen. I can tell you we have promised that at the
election, we've made delivery the real issue to fight on at the next election
and it would be very difficult to be able to move away from that. But the
consequences of this, of fighting global terrorism, of fighting shoulder
to shoulder with all those who have agreed to do it at the world level,
is what we have as given us a commitment, we will face that commitment
and our manifesto ones of improving good public services.
HUMPHRYS: The biggest worry you
had as a government before those terrible events in New York, coming to
the conference here, was the reception you'd get, particularly from the
trade unions, about your plans for the public sector, more private involvement
in the public sector...
PRESCOTT: ...it was in our manifesto.
HUMPHRYS: Obviously sure, but...and
hugely unpopular. Now, clearly that's been overtaken by events, but it
does remain a very serious problem for you doesn't it, this opposition
within the party.
PRESCOTT: Something hugely unpopular
doesn't get through at conference and.. in the way a manifesto is agreed.
It went through conferences, these decisions, it wasn't just a manifesto...
HUMPHRYS: There were various things
said after the manifesto had been published that aroused...
PRESCOTT: Well I saw Frank into
that, perhaps some
interpretations were wrong..
HUMPHRYS: Frank Dobson, the former
PRESCOTT: Yes, and that may well
be the case. But I have no doubt in my mind and if anything these events
even show us all the more that if you are to get the investments into your
public services, after decades of you know tens of billions of
disinvestment in our public services, both governments, Labour's and Tories,
have never found enough for it. We are now trying to catch up with putting
more public money and we put additional private money. That requires a
partnership formula, we think that's right, it's what we intend to put
and we will argue our case with the party and the electorate, because they
want those public services. Some of these decisions may be difficult but
it's never meant that this government will not carry out difficult decisions
to achieve and do what it said it will do.
HUMPHRYS: John Prescott, many thanks.