BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 30.09.01

==================================================================================== NB. THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT; BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES, OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY ==================================================================================== ON THE RECORD RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE DATE: 30.09.01 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon from Brighton, where the Labour Party Conference is about to begin. A different conference this year of course, cut short and dominated by the attacks on the United States. I'll be talking to John Prescott about that and about the political fallout here at home. What effect will a war on terrorism have on public opinion, civil liberties, the economy and Gordon Brown's plans to spend billions more on Health and Education. That's after the News read by Matthew Amroliwala. NEWS HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair's first reaction to the attacks on the United States was to declare that Britain would stand shoulder to shoulder with America. But for the "war on terrorism" to be effective there would have to be a broad coalition - not just in Europe but around the world. So far the coalition building has been surprisingly successful. But can it survive the stresses that military action will bring. David Grossman reports on the military options and the dangers to the international coalition that they represent. DAVID GROSSMAN: There is now an uneasy atmosphere at Westminster - ever since the events of September the eleventh normal political activity is suspended. The usual froth and bluster of the party conference season is this year flat and pensive. Everyone looking towards Washington to see what America will do next. The pressures on the American administration are immense. The US public expects and demands strong action against those responsible, but just what can be done? A military strike would to some extent help satisfy the media and the viewing public, but what do you hit? And how would such action help create and maintain the broad global coalition needed to roll back international terrorism? LORD POWELL: Action has to be proportionate to the scale of what was inflicted on the United States. You see people have to remember, seven-thousand people dead in the space of an hour. You know that's well over ten per cent of total American casualties in the whole of the Vietnam war. PAUL ROGERS: Taking the very strong military route as seems to be happening with the very big US military built up is in a sense playing into the hands of the perpetrators. They actually want to see this as an ongoing war, they see the attacks, the atrocities, in New York and Washington, as part of that war. GROSSMAN: Against the terrorists is massing the most formidable military force. Two aircraft carrier battle groups are already on standby in the Middle East. The USS Enterprise and its escort of ships and submarines is on station in the Indian Ocean, and the USS Carl Vinson battle group has just arrived in the Gulf. Two more carrier groups have just left the US East Coast and Japan. Each has about a hundred aircraft providing vital air support for any mission - their conspicuous deployment also sends out a powerful signal. COLONEL ANDREW DUNCAN: They will be shown on television time and again and it will be seen by the American public, who will then see that the President is doing something but hopefully they'll also be seen by the Taliban, and maybe by Osama bin Laden himself, who will get the message that there is a major build up against him and that they can't escape, and that the best way forward for them is to negotiate or even to hand over bin Laden himself. GROSSMAN: The US Air force has stealth bombers that can reach any point on the globe. During the Kosovo conflict they flew non-stop missions from Missouri refueling on the way. America also has well-sited airbases on Diego Garcia and in Turkey. However some potentially useful bases in Saudi Arabia could be unavailable as the Saudi government is uneasy about airstrikes. But surprising co-operation from Russia has presented other options. LORD POWELL: I think the new factor as I read it, has been the despatch of some forces anyway to central Asia, to republics, which were formally part of the Soviet Union. That is a very extraordinary departure, again something one couldn't imagine, even six months ago. Countries like Tajikistan and Kasakstan and Usbeckistan, preparations are being made for US forces to be based there. Again, increasing the range of options available to an American president. GROSSMAN: And then there are special forces - the US has about forty-thousand elite troops in outfits such as the Navy SEAL Team Six and the Army's Delta Force. For counter-terrorist expertise the Americans would probably find Britain's SAS very useful. ANDY MCNAB: The way that the war certainly will be conducted in the beginning is by surgical strikes, using special forces, whether it be Brits, the, you know, the French, Germans, or Americans, and the fact is the biggest weapon the military has is information, so no doubt now there's lots of information being collated, so they know the targets they're going to hit. Once they've got that information, the military then can plan and prepare surgical hits. GROSSMAN: So what sort of force will any military meet in Afghanistan? The Afghans have a well deserved reputation as formidable fighters - their strength comes not from numbers nor equipment, but from tactics and terrain. ROGERS: The forces are basically pretty small, but they could actually conduct very effective guerrilla campaigns as indeed could some of the fighters who were involved in the group that perpetrated the atrocities. Even so, I think it is true to say that if the United States used massive military force, and special forces, ultimately, it could win within that context. GROSSMAN: But victory wouldn't come without a cost - flushing guerilla's out of country like this would mean significant casualties. MCNAB: Ultimately there will be casualties. The sort of war - if you're going to fight guerrillas, what you've got to do is employ guerrilla tactics. What you've got is, is well hardened and seasoned troops in the mountains. These people have grown up with a weapon in their hand. All they've ever known is war and this is not a big shock horror to them, every invader that they've had, they've pushed out of their country. GROSSMAN: We now know that special forces are already inside Afghanistan gathering intelligence, but the US is not yet ready to begin a wider offensive. Colin Powell the US Secretary of State, was a very meticulous Commander during the Gulf war. He never made a move until all his forces were in the places and the strengths that he wanted. Although the American administration has prepared its public for casualties, the idea of beginning the war against terrorism with a humiliating mistake is unthinkable. Memories of President Carter's shambolic attempts to free the Iran hostages in the late seventies are still very vivid. POWELL: The worst thing would be to have an operation which goes off at half-cock, which results in American casualties, which fails to get hold of any terrorists, and kills and wounds many civilians. They'll want to do everything possible to avoid that and that means careful planning, careful preparation. In that sense it is rather like the Gulf War because there, you'll remember, there was a steady build up over many months and the Americans and the coalition then in place, only went to war when it was sure that it had everything it needed in place. LAWRENCE FREEDMAN: The figure in the administration who's perhaps on the ascendant because of the very nature of the crisis is Colin Powell the Secretary of State and of course he's the figures which Conservatives in the administration in the Republican Party are most suspicious of on the grounds that he's ultra cautious in military means, is more likely to be trying to cut deals with regimes they would rather not cut deals with and so on. So I think there is a potential tension that could become quite serious. GROSSMAN: The white flags in this Taliban parade certainly don't carry the same meaning they do in the West. If the regime refuses to surrender bin Laden, the US has promised to make them a target too. But hitting Afghanistan would upset many Moslem and Arab nations. Many secular Arab countries are barely managing to keep a lid on Taliban sympathisers in their own populations. ALI MUHSEN HAMID: If it is proved that bin Laden is the culprit, so all the international effort should be concentrated on bringing bin Laden to justice. I mean not to, to commit such atrocity against the Afghani people, I mean if I just mention the example of Timothy McVie, there was no retribution against his family or his village or his city or his house even. They just put him on trial, and this is what we want to be done if justice is the aim. GROSSMAN: During the Gulf War President Bush senior built a huge coalition, now his son is doing something similar, but according to Washington insiders important lessons have been learned from that conflict about not making the military coalition too wide, nor relying on the UN for authority to act. LORD POWELL: There is always of course a danger to involve many countries that you're going to have different voices. I think one mistake which will be avoided this time is going to the United Nations for a specific resolution authorising specific action. That is what we did in the Gulf War and for quite good reason. There, Iraq had invaded the territory of a neighbouring country, Kuwait, the United Nations authorised the United States and others to sling Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, but of course that also limited what they could do. It meant they could not when that part of the task was done, go on and do more in Iraq itself. This time I would be pretty certain the United States will depend on Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, the Article that gives every country the right of self-defence. HAMID: No I don't agree with that in fact because I mean if we allow every state to interpret Article 51 as it's, to its liking, I mean that we will have anarchy in the international system. I mean there should be an effort under the United Nations' auspices. LORD HANNAY: The width of this coalition is determined not by a sort of goodie goodie view that you must get a lot of countries together to all stand shoulder to shoulder. It's by severe common sense. The fact is that if you are to deny terrorists means of finance, means of weapon, getting weapons, refuges and so on, you need everybody possible on board. Anybody who's not on board is a weak link. GROSSMAN: Keeping the coalition together once any military action starts will be very difficult. There are already worries from Europe about the scale of America's response. And if military action is widened to include targeting countries like Iraq, then the warnings from the Arab world are very grave indeed. HAMID: Aggression against Arab countries is considered as aggression against all Arab countries, as it is in the NATO is applying Article Five we will apply our treaties and agreements in supporting and helping any other any Arab country which I mean becomes a victim to any American military act. GROSSMAN: It would be seen as an act of war against the Arab world? HAMID: That's true yes, on the government and people........ nobody will accept that. GROSSMAN: US Special Forces like these filmed in training are now on the ground in Afghanistan. Senior White House sources have taken the very unusual step of confirming their presence perhaps to head off any public impatience. But some experienced diplomats believe the defeat of terrorism will come from co-operation, not conflict. LORD HANNAY: The old adage that once the guns start firing, the diplomats take a set - back seat, doesn't apply here. You have to in fact pursue both or more than one side of this campaign, in parallel. You probably do have to have some military action, although I think that will be less significant and less widespread than a lot of the speculation is currently pointing to. GROSSMAN: As this most terrible month in New York's history comes to a close, to many Americans strong military action is still the only appropriate response to such an outrage. Although the public seems willing to allow time to prepare an attack, some analysts believe the pressure for a decisive strike soon will grow. FREEDMAN: They've made quite strong rhetorical statements now about what is going to be done, and to do nothing, and not to be able to do anything would cause difficulties, so I don't think they've got a lot of time to sort this out. GROSSMAN: How long, weeks? FREEDMAN: Weeks. GROSSMAN: The decisions facing the American administration are frightening. President Bush has to pick his way though many contradictory pressures, not least the military strike his public is demanding could shatter the international co-operation he'll need to stop the terrorists striking again. HUMPHRYS: David Grossman reporting there. So huge political challenges abroad if Britain and America are to build and maintain a strong coalition. And there are problems at home too. Amongst the public as a whole and specifically within the Labour Party, there are serious misgivings about the risks involved in military action. There are also worries about the effect of all this on our own domestic concerns. There was already enormous pressure on the government to deliver on its promises of better public services - especially health and education. Gordon Brown is committed to increased spending by billions of pounds. But that depends on a reasonably stable economy .... and war not only costs a lot, it also has massive consequences for every part of the economy. I'll be talking to the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, but first Paul Wilenius reports on the worries about war. PAUL WILENIUS: Imagine a world without war. No killing , pain, or suffering. Such a place of innocence and peace does indeed seem a distant dream. But these peace protesters in London are still hanging on to that dream, just as many did in the 1960's. Then they took to the streets outside the American Embassy, to protest at the war in Vietnam. The anti-war feeling was so strong it spread through parts of Harold Wilson's Labour Government and Party. Now Tony Blair is standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States, as it hovers on the brink of a global war on terrorism. The American Embassy here in Grosvenor Square is now a symbol - not only of the revulsion at the recent terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but also of the determination to fight back. Yet although there is clear public support for military strikes, the first signs of unease within the Labour Party are starting to emerge . OONA KING MP: In my view you don't meet barbarianism with barbarianism. You don't respond to the deaths of innocent civilians, by killing innocent civilians. GLENYS KINNOCK MEP: Many of us would, would feel enormous pain if we were to see a number of innocent civilians affected. Hundreds, thousands of people trying to get through closed borders to refugee camps. So I, I do think that - I think what we've seen and what maybe we continue to see is, is a whole failure of the diplomatic process to deal with this crisis. WILENIUS: The sheer scale of the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan was ignored for years by many in the West. It's a country already shattered by military conflict, pounded back into the dark ages by decades of war . Although there's widespread backing inside Labour for some kind of military action, there are fears it may only hurt more innocent people , casting doubt on the wisdom a full scale assault to fight terrorism. How widespread are these worries? On the Record tried to contact all four hundred and twelve Labour Party chairs in seats with sitting Labour MPs. We spoke to almost half of them, one hundred and ninety four, and found that a clear majority are against giving the Americans a free hand on military action , or extending the war to attack other countries like Iraq. When asked : Do you believe that Britain should "support whatever military action the United States decides to take " in Afghanistan? One hundred and six said No, and seventy nine said Yes. NEIL GERRARD, MP: Certainly talking to members of my own party recently, most I think believe that we've got to take action after what happened in, in New York. How far they support military action is, is another question and I think perhaps most of all, the, the mood was one of concern of being uncertain about what was going to happen, and being worried about where in the end it might lead us. WILENIUS: On the question : Would you back the spread of military action to other countries as part of a war on terrorism, ninety-seven No, with seventy-four saying Yes. GERRARD: I can see no justification at the moment for suggesting that we should attack Iraq, Sudan, some of the other countries, that, that have been mentioned. No evidence that they've had any direct involvement in what's happened in, in New York. WILENIUS: But the party activists we consulted did want to be tough on the Taliban , when asked whether : One of the aims of military action should be to bring down the Taliban Government in Afghanistan? One-hundred-and-eight said Yes and seventy-seven said No. KINNOCK: It does require a, a great deal of, of thinking about how we do it, and how we do it in a way that limits the, the effects on, on civilians and the, the enemy is bin Laden and it is then to overthrow the Taliban and then to restore democracy in Afghanistan. Those are the three processes, all of them hugely difficult. PAT MACFADDEN: Well there's always been a pacifist thread in the Labour Party but I believe that its less strong now than it was say for example in the 1980's. And I think that in the support that the Prime Minister's received so far, is not because that's less but because of the sophistication of his response to the crisis. As I say quickly aligning himself with the United States on a military level, but also making clear, as has President Bush, that people mustn't take this out on the peaceful law abiding Muslim community in Britain and in the United States and also saying that there must be a humanitarian response. WILENIUS: Oona King the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow arrives for a meeting about the forthcoming conflict with anxious party members. More than half of her constituency in East London is Muslim, and there are real concerns that if the military strikes on Afghanistan are too ferocious, they could make things much worse. UNNAMED MAN: Children are dying overnight and so on. Okay many innocent people have died in America as a result of what's happened, but many innocent people are dying in Afghanistan as a result of war, or threat of war. Now you know something needs to be done about that as well. UNNAMED PERSON: I think we also need to ask the role we actually played and the role now we need to play and I think it is bringing to account our politicians as much as those who are responsible for the attack that they have committed. WILENIUS: Oona King is worried about the impact of the expected war on refugees. She fears that the steady flow of Afghans fleeing their country could become a torrent. KING: If the action that's taken results in many more millions of people, and there are already more than a million Afghanistani's walking towards the border with Pakistan that haven't already got there. If the response that we see sparks off more and more millions of people flooding into that area, it will destabilise the entire region and that's not a policy objective that anyone wants. KINNOCK: We are an internationalist party, we have very strong feeling of solidarity, and we would have a feeling of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, with the women of Afghanistan, the most persecuted human, huge abuses of human rights that you could imagine in the whole world in Afghanistan, and our party would be deeply worried about the humanitarian crisis that is occurring and is likely to get worse, were there to be a big military conflict in the region. WILENIUS: It's not just the extent of the military operation overseas that's worrying many Labour Party members, like these in East London but there are real fears that a prolonged war on terrorism would threaten civil liberties and human rights back here at home. East London, not Kabul. But the tension in the air is still palpable. Muslims gather in the local mosque, worried about revenge attacks on them after the terrorist atrocities in America. Fears of a violent and political backlash disturb some Labour MPs. There are concerns draconian new security measures could be counter productive targetting asylum seekers and other refugees. KINNOCK: I very much believe that none of those measures should contravene the human rights act, that civil liberties and human rights are very very important and in amongst all of this we should not be demonising and criminalising all Muslims, we risk having people picked up simply because of their ethnic background, their nationality, the way they look, where they came from, that's very dangerous and I think could be very divisive . WILENIUS: Despite anxieties in the Muslim community, there is pressure on the government to be seen to do something in Britain to fight terrorism. Home Secretary David Blunkett is preparing a package of measures to give extra powers to the immigration and security services, although doubts are surfacing over identity cards. MIKE O'BRIEN MP: We looked at the issue of identity cards in the first Blair government and I certainly was convinced that we didn't need identity cards. It was an illusion that they would really provide much greater security. We decided against it for much the same reasons as the Conservatives decided to abolish identity cards in the 1950's, and that is, it undermines the relationship between the police and the public. The forgers are able to reproduce them, usually relatively easily, and therefore it provides us a false sense of security. FRANK DOBSON MP: Whether it would contribute very much to actually combating professional dedicated terrorists, I'm not at all sure. And it would probably cost more than a billion pounds and there might be better ways of spending a billion pounds protecting the people of this country. WILENIUS: Tony Blair will direct the forthcoming military campaign from here in Downing Street. But many in the Labour Party have told me they're concerned the war could become so all consuming that the government is blown off course, on the economy and public services. JOHN MCFALL MP: Well, the American economy was going down before the events of September 11th and they were heralding a recession there. With a knock on effect throughout the world its important that we cushion that effect as much as possible in the UK; Gordon Brown has already laid out his comprehensive spending revue figures and we have the pre-budget report in November and the Departmental Spending limits going to be announced next year. I think in the light of this, that there will have to be some revue in the Treasury on these spending limits and departments. WILENIUS: But being hailed as a true friend by President Bush, could have a high economic price for Tony Blair. As a British battle group steamed for the Gulf one Cabinet Minister all too aware of this told me last week, war costs a lot of money. This combined with a downturn in the economy will put heavy downward pressure on the public spending promises made before the last election. O'BRIEN: There are concerns in the Labour Party about the impact of the war and the economy on public expenditure. Our key commitments as a Labour Government were to improve public services, Health and Education. We must ensure that throughout the next year or two that we give the highest priority to ensuring that that is done. We need to win the war against terrorism, but we also need to ensure that we keep our promises to the British people. If it's a choice between public services being cut, or looking again at Taxes then we'll have to make some difficult decisions. GERRARD: People will expect us to deliver those improvement on public services whatever's happening in terms of foreign policy. So I think if it comes to choice on spending or even tax increases, it will be fatal for us to use spending on security or anti-terrorism measures, as a reason for cutting public expenditure on public services. WILENIUS: The looming conflict has breathed new life into the anti-war wing of the Labour Party. But even before this crisis, opposition to some of Tony Blair's peacetime policies had been re-invigorated. Many of the traditional elements of the party had come together to oppose policies for more private sector involvement in public services. DOBSON: I think one of the problems has been that during the election there was a lot of sort of ill defined talk about further private sector involvement in managing the health service, but quite frankly, I don't think it's a runner, I mean the average private hospital has about fifty beds. It doesn't have any emergency admissions. Its fairly low tech, easy to run. I don't think anybody who's just been running some two-bit private hospital is going to make much of a contribution to improved management, do you? WILENIUS: Until a few weeks ago, it seemed this sort of open discussions and dissent would dominate the party conference this week. Now it appears it will be pushed to one side, for the moment, by the worries and anxieties over the coming conflict. But the war has only added to Tony Blair's problems, in keeping his party united behind his vision over the next few years. HUMPHRYS: Paul Wilenius reporting there. 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... HUMPHRYS: Sure. 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 is about. 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 suggest that.... 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 the response... HUMPHRYS: But they are real fears aren't they? 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 the reasons.... 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 about that..... 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 President Bush. HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair yes. PRESCOTT: Pardon? 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 Taliban. 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, don't you? 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, yes... 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 of course. 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: 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 of... 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 so. 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 social justice. 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 inevitable? 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... HUMPHRYS: ..quite.. 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 for it. PRESCOTT: We're committed to delivering on election promises, we've made it clear, I'm not going to get my cards out... HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but you've got a problem here haven't you on taxes and on spending and if the one fights the other... PRESCOTT: 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: 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: 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 Health Secretary. 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. HUMPHRYS: I was talking to John Prescott a little earlier this morning. And that's it for this week, don't forget about our Web Site if you are on the Internet. Until next week, when we are on at half past twelve, good afternoon. 21 FoLdEd
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.