JOHN HUMPHRYS: Mr Blair is about to get
onto his feet in Cardiff and address a Party Conference, as we've already
been told he will attack the wreckers, the people he says want to stop
him reforming and improving our public services. The official line is
that they are the Tories but the trade unions see it differently, they
and many other traditional Labour supporters, believe they are fighting
a battle to save the public services from being run by the private sector
and that they are seen as the wreckers. Some of them see it as a battle
to the very soul of the old Labour Party - one union leader even called
the plans Labour's poll tax.
Well John Prescott has
been widely seen as the conscience of old Labour, indeed, many believe
he was promoted by Tony Blair precisely because he could act as a buffer
to shield him from the wrath of the traditionalists. I've been talking
to Mr Prescott this morning and I asked him if he could understand the
trade unions worries.
JOHN PRESCOTT MP: Well, whether I'm the conscience
or not I'll leave others to judge it. I have some very strong views and
I've expressed them that I believe in traditional values but I also put
them in the modern setting and the one that's causing concern at the moment
is to whether you can use private finance in the provision of public facilities,
the public private partnership. You know, back in 1992, myself and Gordon
Brown and Robin Cook, put together this proposal before the Tories ever
came to their privatisation programme because we could see the massive
disinvestment that had gone in our public services and we wouldn't be able
to raise enough money if it came from public exchequer. So we need to
put the combination together, a massive disinvestment programme and you
know we did put that to the conference, we..it is our manifesto policy.
The unions campaigned on the same policy that I've campaigned on and now
when I hear people like John Edmonds saying well, I don't agree with it
and apparently it's not supported by the party, cause the decibels of support
in the claps in Cardiff were not very high. Well, it's a new interpretation
of democracy. We have a policy, we have a manifesto and we have, even
during these difficult economic times, in the first five years put twenty
billion more into public services, nine of that has come from private financing.
HUMPHRYS: But what Mr Edmonds says
and he said it again just a couple of hours ago, is that if you want to
raise more money, then the right way to do it, if you are concerned about
the public services, is to tax the richest a little bit more and that way
you will raise more money and you can put it into public services and that's
what people want, especially people within the party.
PRESCOTT: Well I think you've referred
to the IFS report before and it makes that very point. You can raise the
monies if you like by taxation, you can do it by extra borrowing if you
want and you have to get a balance and that's what this Chancellor does
but when John Edmonds comes along, telling us, well I believe in the old
public borrowing, he's the same man who comes along and says I want low
interest rate because it effects the manufacturing industry...
HUMPHRYS: ...he's not alone though
of course, is he John...
PRESCOTT: ...I'm not just saying...John's
articulated these arguments in a way and I have to say he's the one who
comes along for the interest rates. We have the lowest interest rates,
the lowest inflation and more people back at work. And by the way, on
the public sector area, something like a hundred and eighty thousand more
people back into the public service industries now, with the kind of investment
of a scale that we haven't had before. So, you know, I think there's every
reason for him to recognise that that's a considerable advance on public
services, benefiting his members, benefiting basically the public in this
country and if John's in disagreement, as he clearly is, I did appeal to
him, look at some of these facts, look at what we've done and put it in
one of your ads, that you put in the paper attacking us.
HUMPHRYS: Well, he's looked at
it and he has concluded that this is a very dangerous road to go down.
He says that for the Labour Party it could be the equivalent of the Tories'
Poll Tax, that's what he means about it.
PRESCOTT: That's the kind of rhetoric.
I mean John has put these arguments at conference and has been defeated
at conference. So I mean in a democratic party and we are a party who has
implemented our manifesto. Another point John used to get on about, we
want governments who implement the manifesto, well this new form of financing
was in our manifesto, he has more members in work in these areas, more
services are being provided for people. We've still a lot to do but we
have made that start and it's in line with get the economy right and then
improve radically, the quality of our public services.
HUMPHRYS: But as I say, John Monks....John
Edmonds is not alone, John Monks of the TUC, very moderate figure in terms
of the Labour Party has said this and I'm sure you know the quote: There
is a new ideological preference for the public sector, people believe that
if something is done for profit, people in your party believe that if something
is done for profit, it makes it more efficient. Therefore, you are more
interested in getting more private sector involvement than you were in
the past for ideological reasons, is that right?
PRESCOTT: Well it's true that if
you use private sector money and you borrow from them, you'll want a profit.
If the government borrows on bonds from the market and the city, it would
still want....the city will still want money for lending it for its bonds
for its public financing.
HUMPHRYS: Yeah, but if the private
sector gets involved they want to make a profit because they're concerned
about their shareholders.
PRESCOTT: It's a fair point, it's
a fair point. But the argument there about profit, it's about risk. If
you look at some of the public sector investments, they cost a great deal
more and people just sign their cheques away for it. We've tried to say
by bringing in public and private partnerships, we will get a better level
of efficiency in it. Now I know John Edmonds apparently is rejecting that
thinking, but we know for a fact in some of the energy industries he's
in, there was a tremendous reduction in the costs, after the privatisation,
I don't want to get into the argument about privatisation, but even the
National Audit Committee has made clear, that something like eighty per
cent of the projects they .... are really welcomed by the people who brought
them in as better value.
The argument is ongoing
and if you bring in the private sector, there's a different set of rules
to the public sector and I think I've said on your programme before John,
if you go to the Treasury and ask for the money and let's take railways,
Peter Parker told us in 1980, if you don't get the money into the railway
system, the core is already beginning to crumble and we didn't. Now, you
need long term investment. He could see that wouldn't come from Treasury,
both Labour and Tories, who have a time arisen of usually one year, Gordon's
now taken it to three. But all these massive investment problems require
continuity of investment for twenty or thirty years. So if you go to the
Treasury, they can't give you that because you don't know whether you are
going to be in power, if you go to the private sector and put a public
private partnership together, you can guarantee that money because it's
a contract requirement on both sides and we believe a greater level of
efficiency and shifting the risk onto the private sector, who lose some
of his so-called profits if they don't perform as promised.
HUMPHRYS: And you believe that
if there is a profit motive, you do get greater efficiencies, you're persuaded
PRESCOTT: Well, I can look at some
of the examples, of the public sector and I can look at some of private,
it's not total in every area, mistakes are made...
HUMPHRYS: ...no but the broad principle
is that if it's private and they're operating for a profit, they're going
to be more efficient than the public sector...
PRESCOTT: ...I think they're more
concerned about saving money if it's the profits affected, whereas if it's
the Treasury you just pay the bill, whether it's Air Traffic Control or
whether it's the railways, or whether the Jubilee Line at two to three
billion pounds more...
HUMPHRYS: ...well on that basis
wouldn't you just privatise the lot then?
HUMPHRYS: Well on that basis why
not just privatise everything?
PRESCOTT: But I'm not proposing
HUMPHRYS: Why not if it's more
PRESCOTT: Well, I don't because
public private partnership is where the combination comes together. You
get the best of the public and the actual best of the private, putting
the two together and there's a great deal of evidence to show this is so
and the Audit Commission's come out with its opinion on it. But John, what
I was trying to say at Cardiff this week and people like John Evans you
HUMPHRYS: John Edmonds.
PRESCOTT: ...John Edmonds seemed
to ignore it is that who pays the price then, if you've a massive disinvestment
and by public financing you can complete and replace that investment, let's
say in ten, fifteen years. If you bring in private money at the scale that
we do, in addition to additional public financing as we've done, you can
reduce that period of waiting and that's the real price, who pays it? The
kid in the school with the leaking roof and the outside toilet? The patient
waiting for an operation? The passengers because there's a delayed........investment
in the infrastructure? The pensioner who wants a care home? These are all
that we can quicken the process of replacement if we bring public and private
HUMPHRYS: But even Peter Mandelson
says that you're giving the impression that private involvement is the
PRESCOTT: ...is this my knock-out
HUMPHRYS: ...you may deliver one
now, if we're still...though not to me, but a metaphorical one. Peter Mandelson
says you're giving the impression that private sector is the only solution.
PRESCOTT: Well he's talking about
impressions. I'm certainly not, am I. And I'm certainly not advocating
HUMPHRYS: ...he says that's how
it looks and it certainly looks like that to the trade unions.
PRESCOTT: ...well, I've got to
give you the example that what we've done, if you look at the last five
years of the Tory government, something like twenty-four billion pounds
went into new capital investments right, under us, it's forty billion pounds...
HUMPHRYS: ...will be.
PRESCOTT: ...well I mean, will
be, in two-o-three..
HUMPHRYS: ...hasn't been.
PRESCOTT: ...well, let's just take...
HUMPHRYS: ...hasn't been.
PRESCOTT; ...no I'm sorry...
HUMPHRYS: ...in fact for the first
couple of years there was
PRESCOTT: ...no no...
HUMPHRYS: ...less than in any period...
PRESCOTT: ...no no. Well let me
tackle you on that one then, because you easily throw it in ...
HUMPHRYS: ...well it's the IFS,
you quoted the IFS a moment ago.
PRESCOTT: Well I was just going
to give you the IFS and because we did it in another programme, I looked
up the IFS right, and it makes it very clear. It says, given in the first
period of a Labour Government, four years, those two years we accepted
the Tory expenditure plans which showed public expenditure going down.
But we did that largely to get stable economy, to get the reduction in
interest, to get people back to work, and we achieved it. But we knew and
I knew, as the Transport Spokesman that I wasn't taking a priority in money
and transport because we wanted stability of economy and more into health
and education. Now the IFS says yes, you did that. So if I take the first
period, that's the four years, looking at the proportions is not greater
than before right. But he also says in the monies and commitments going
on to two-o-three, two-o-four, and the substantial and continuity of investment
in health and education, yes, it's doing a lot better. They go further,
they say, if you want more money to get real improvements, you've either
got to look at taxation or you've got to look at more borrowing or a number
of measures they've proposed...
HUMPHRYS: ...and the...
PRESCOTT: ...and we admit that
HUMPHRYS: ...and the unions if...
PRESCOTT: ...we've got a stable
economy now John. We've never had that for decades and what always used
to happen before, when they get a stop/go in the economy, they always cut
the public services.
HUMPHRYS: Right, that's one thing,
that's one thing, running those services, getting investment is one thing
and you talk about PFI, we haven't got time to argue that now, but running
the services is another thing and Tony Blair says he wants reform and he
says there is no ideological bar. That's the expression that he used, so
it doesn't matter, take the Health Service, it doesn't matter who provides
the Health Service so long as it is free at the point of delivery. That's
your view is it?
PRESCOTT: Well I think the most
essential point is free at the point of use and that's a very distinctive
difference between us and the Tories who clearly going through all this
process and it's not working.
HUMPHRYS: ...and that is all that
PRESCOTT: But that is about....
no no, that's a very important point. Secondly, to get more efficient and
to get the service to .... much quicker, that's the reforms that we're
trying to bring in are equally as good. Let me give you an example. My
agent in Hull actually, I say, needed an eye operation right. He didn't
go to Hull Hospital, but they offered he could go to Harrogate right, and
that was a contracted service done with the Hull Hospital. He was taken
by car there, the eye operation was done immediately and then he was serviced
by the Health Service. From his point of view...
HUMPHRYS: ...or it was a private
hospital that he went to in Harrogate?
PRESCOTT: Well it was a kind where
people had got together, they're only doing eye operations...
HUMPHRYS: ...alright, but private,
PRESCOTT: ...and they have a contract
agreement to provide that and all those facilities were specialised in
and he got that service quicker than he would have been getting from his
Health Service. He got a very perfect service as he says himself and therefore
to that extent it was a combination of public and private, meeting the
needs also of free at the point of use and he got the service quicker.
Now, he thinks that's pretty good, I think that sounds good and I wouldn't
want to get ideological whether in fact you can get a combination of public
and private working together for the advantage of the ...
HUMPHRYS: ...but looking at it
politically, is it wise from your perspective to alienate the trade unions,
as you're doing, as you're certainly in danger of doing, I mean the GMB
for instance withholding a couple of million pounds. It's not going to
PRESCOTT: ...well, well...
HUMPHRYS: ....it's going to spend
on adverts to fight a war against it, I mean, is that wise?
PRESCOTT: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
But listen, listen, listen, I come from the trade union movement like they
PRESCOTT: We like the aggressive
style of arguing, at the end of the day they can make judgement how they
spend their money. They don't want to get their situation...
HUMPHRYS: ...I mean, to call them
PRESCOTT: No, they didn't call
the trade union "wreckers." That's just complete nonsense and both the
Prime Minister and Stephen Byers has got in a section, you can read it
and if you've read ...
HUMPHRYS: ...well I have indeed...
PRESCOTT: ...well you'll see that
he's talking about the Tories, both in Tony's speech and in the...
HUMPHRYS: But Stephen Byers said
"We won't let vested interest stand in the way of reform" well I mean it
was perfectly clear who he meant by "vested interest" wasn't it?
PRESCOTT: No, but he makes it clear,
in the Tories he's talking about the Tories....the whole section's about
the Tories who want to wreck the Health Service....
HUMPHRYS: ...sure, of course...
PRESCOTT: and then privatise it...
HUMPHRYS: ...that is what you expect,
but it's also the trade unions involved in this...
PRESCOTT: ...yeah, but, if you
come to the trade unions, they want to put their point of view, but at
the end of the day, of course they do, they've a vested interest in it
and they've made some changes, to my mind, they're the better from the
mistakes we made on how you handle Labour situations...
HUMPHRYS: ...sure. But on this
you're prepared to fight them?
PRESCOTT: ...but, no. They are
challenging and say, you're not going to carry out your manifesto policy.
Well, you know, how many times have Labour politicians been accused on
programmes on like this, decades ago, where they said, you're not carrying
your manifesto. John Edmonds, I've been on platforms where he used that.
I'm carrying out the manifesto of the party. We are doing the investment
and meeting the needs of the people in a quicker way than ever. We've got
more people back at work, we've got more resources going into public services,
now they wish to argue that case, we will argue as well. I can't accept
though if he says he's going to use money to back other candidates. Whether
there's going to be a GMB party of MPs I don't know, I thought we'd got
away from that sponsorship concept. At the end of the day, this government
will get on with delivering on its manifesto and delivering for the people
in this country.
HUMPHRYS: But they are worried
about all sorts of things and the other kind of thing that they're worried
about is your party's very, very close, increasingly close as they see
it, relationship with industry, with business and we've now got this fuss
over Enron. People do get worried about your relationship with big business.
They look at it and they say, this isn't the party that I thought I was
supporting. I mean don't you have any....as a trade union man yourself,
as you say....
PRESCOTT: ...have you ever been
to meetings of trade unions and business and see how they get on together.....
HUMPHRYS: ...but you don't have
any misgivings? I mean I mentioned Enron in that question. I mean obviously
there's something very serious going wrong...
PRESCOTT: ...you keep throwing
in Enron as if you've got some accusation to make against us. I presume
you haven't because no evidence has been provided, you just throw it in
like that. Quite wrong John.
HUMPHRYS: Because people are concerned,
they see a company like that, that has done some dreadful things.
PRESCOTT: But you keep mentioning
it, others keep mentioning it, there's no ruddy evidence what for it to
suggest any kind of corruption, but if we go back to your original question,
which is, does the Labour Party have a relationship with business. Yes
it does. Does it have it with the trade unions? Yes it does.
HUMPHRYS: Too close was what I
PRESCOTT: Well, it has relations,
you can make a judgement whether it's too close or not and if you look
at the TUC and CBI there's no doubt about it there has been a closer working
relations, but it used to happen in previous governments. At the end of
the day judge us on what we deliver, is it the kind of manifesto and the
traditional values placed in a modern setting. I mean it's more with business
having discussions than perhaps before, so what's wrong? I've got regional
government, I've got development agencies where we put businesses and the
whole community together to work for the community. What's so wrong with
HUMPHRYS: Alright. Some people
- I'll not answer that question because it's not my job to answer them
as you know, but some people might say, "Oh there's John Prescott, what's
he doing here, I thought he was retiring". That peculiar story last week,
briefed by... I don't know who briefed it, by somebody that you're going
to take the early bath. That's not right?
PRESCOTT: No, I want fight. I
want a third period for the Labour government. We've got to fight to get
that case across and it was a nonsense. They knew I wasn't going to retire,
but you know we've got papers like The Sunday Times and The Telegraph.
They want to keep going for me, I think wishing I would go. I don't want
to disappoint them and tell them I'm not going to go. But it's the way
the Tories are working, it's not an opposition. You were involved in one
with what's his name - Nicholas Soames.
HUMPHRYS: Oh, I meant to raise
that because in case people don't understand what that's all about, I was
going to say I still.....
PRESCOTT: Another non-story.
HUMPHRYS: What Nicholas Soames
did for those who weren't aware of it, Tory MP, was he put down a written
answer to ask the Prime Minister what the job of the Deputy Prime Minister,
John Prescott is. And the answer came back, we'll get back to you on that.
And people thought what, the Prime Minister doesn't know what he's doing!
PRESCOTT: No, no, he put the question
down on Tuesday. It wasn't answered on the Thursday.......Thursday night
it was answered. It was in Parliament and in the hands of the press on
HUMPHRYS: Why didn't he just immediately.....
PRESCOTT: Well because I have to
check an answer, he has to check an answer.
PRESCOTT: Well, because we're answerable
to Parliament. If my name's on it they would expect me to have checked
HUMPHRYS: You would expect the
Prime Minister to know exactly what his deputy did and...
PRESCOTT: No, but he has to....well
you could have pressed a button on the Internet and got it yourself.
HUMPHRYS: But I'm not the Prime
Minister. Why didn't he do that?
PRESCOTT: .......why you gave such
...why you gave...a professional journalist such attention to a clearly
drawn stunt was beyond belief.
HUMPHRYS: Because the Prime Minister
seemed for a moment then not to....
PRESCOTT: He didn't at all.
HUMPHRYS: Why didn't he press the
button on the Internet then?
PRESCOTT: Well, he know what it
is. I've been before the Select Committee, I've made statements in the
House, but you know that answer was there on Friday morning. You had
this fool on the television, on the radio...
HUMPHRYS: .... Nicholas Soames
said he rather liked you....
PRESCOTT: You know he's an ex-Guards
officer who finds people like me who used to serve drinks something unimportant,
shouldn't really be in the House of Commons for a drink, unless you were
getting in there along with a Guards officer. You know a bit of a classer
like that. But if you take Saturday, if you take Saturday, he had the
answer in the House of Commons Friday but perhaps he didn't call in there,
perhaps he couldn't get five days a week in the House of Commons. Look,
these are nonsense stories by a Tory press who build it up. They must
think I'm important enough to do the stories, but let me tell you, I'm
going to be round fighting Tories, I know nothing more but to fight Tories
and I want to see that we win that third period for a Labour government.
HUMPHRYS: And what about your old
role in the government. I mean are you happy with the way that the Number
Ten is working in the sense that we've got all these special advisors now
and people who had come in from outside running you know, civil servants
giving evidence and all that?
PRESCOTT: Well John, as when I
did the transport one, I take a bit of time just looking at it and then
begin to do the White Papers and things I did there. Here, I've only been
here four months. I can see things that I don't feel happy about and changes
and I discuss what we might do about that. I've got.....
HUMPHRYS: ....social exclusion.
PRESCOTT Social exclusion and poverty,
that is across government to say that's ......and I think I'm now understanding
exactly we'll do that. I'm really going to be finishing the White Paper
on regional governments which is a major development, and by the way, I've
probably got more functions and roles, than any of the Deputy Prime Ministers
that have been in there. Yes, I'm happy with the job, yes I am dealing
with some of the changes that are necessary.
HUMPHRYS: What are you unhappy
with, I mean in the way that the operation is run. I mean the....
PRESCOTT: I think that's one of
the points that you, when you, I think you interviewed Heseltine in 1997,
in 1995 I think about him doing the job, and he said, in this job you have
the authority to share the confidence of the Prime Minister and also the
confidence of the Secretary of State you work with on the Cabinet committees.
You have that confidence by not shouting about what you're doing, but
getting the agreements, called fixing, get agreement, and I'm at it as
much as any other Deputy Prime Minister and I love it.
HUMPHRYS: And no unease about the
way some of the advisors operate?
PRESCOTT: Well, I always have unease,
you know me, and I deal with them. But I do it with less publicity in
this job, because I'm supporting the Prime Minister and he's a pretty good
Prime Minister to support.
HUMPHRYS: John Prescott, thanks
very much indeed.