BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 22.09.02

Interview: IAIN DUNCAN SMITH, Conservative Party Leader.

On why he joined the countryside march and plans for an attack on Iraq.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: David Grossman reporting on an issue that's causing big problems for the government. As for the Tories... well, they will also obviously have a free vote when fox hunting comes back to the Commons. But their leader has made his position perfectly clear. Otherwise he'd hardly be out there today on the march. Is that wise... identifying himself with a cause that has only minority support in the nation as a whole and most of THOSE are natural Tory supporters anyway. It's NEW supporters he needs if he's going to drag the party out of its torpor. It's still languishing in the polls and shows no sign of recovery. Well, Mr Duncan Smith has left the march in Parliament Square and he is in our Westminster studio now. Good Afternoon Mr Duncan Smith. IAIN DUNCAN SMITH; Good Afternoon John. HUMPHRYS: Lovely day for a march, but... DUNCAN SMITH: It is a nice day. I thought I'd expect to see you out there...small farmer yourself. HUMPHRYS: Ah well, I'm busy in here as you know. The problem for you though is that even people in your own party think it is a mistake, some of them, think it is a mistake to identify so publicly, to identify yourself and the party so publicly with a cause that's inherently unpopular in the country as a whole. DUNCAN SMITH: Look, I'm an urban MP. I don't have a rural constituency, and I've always made my position clear on this. This is a free vote issue. I'm not going to dragoon anybody into the lobbies on my side. I say I take this view personally. What I've simply said is I think it's wrong with all the problems that exist in the countryside at the moment, and you know them as much as anybody else, you know the rural shops are closing, the schools are in difficulty, we've got problems with rising crime, and the farm incomes are falling. I think it was something like fifty thousand farmers last year were actually on incomes below what the government has set as the national minimum wage. So these are huge crises and problems following foot and mouth, and what I say is wrong is that the government should give government time, that's the key, to a Bill which will ultimately make criminals out of a large section of the British public and I don't think that's right. So I'm doing it because, or marching today because I feel to do the right thing is important, not to make gestures, not to pretend as though I could hide my opinions behind somebody. As far as I'm concerned I've always said to everybody I will do the right thing, and I will lead rather than follow. HUMPHRYS: But when that Bill comes to Parliament, as come it will, for months on end perhaps, Tories, Tory peers perhaps, will be fighting a battle that is going to be unpopular with a great deal of people. And also, just let me make this point if I may, you will be therefore, not just identified with a cause that is unpopular with a lot of people, but you will be reinforcing an image that is out of date in the eyes of many people. DUNCAN SMITH: Well John, I think there are two important points to make on that. The first is, this is not just a Conservative issue. I met Kate Hoey out there on the march. You've just had pictures of Ann Mallalieu. There are others too, there are some Liberal Democrats on there, although Charles Kennedy is opposed, although he says at the same time he supports the issues on the march but is opposed to the march. It's rather bizarre that, but nonetheless, you have a number of others in the parties in both Houses that do actually believe that to ban hunting, to make criminals of them is wrong. So it's not just a Conservative issue. The second point to make about this is, of course public opinion as you see it says in the last polls that I saw were marginally in favour of something being done about hunting, but the truth when you ask them, do you want to make criminals of people that hunt, you see the polls change quite dramatically because I don't think the majority of the public actually thinks this is an item that is really, really important. The items for them that are important. The things I talked about, you know, the Toynbee Hall speech about the real five giants of child poverty, the problems in old age, poor health care, poor education and rising crime, those are the real issues that the public both in urban constituencies and in rural constituencies they all know that those are important, not this. And I'm saying by all means leave it as a Private Member's Bill, but not do giver government time, because you complain at the same time you haven't got time to do stuff on education and hospitals, that's the key. HUMPHRYS: And yet if you were to form a future government you would give time to repealing and ban on hunting wouldn't you, so where is your sense of priorities. DUNCAN SMITH: Well, my priorities are set here by this government What I'm saying is, if you don't give them government time, if you leave the Private Member's Bill to see if it can make progress itself, as has always been the case, because there are people on all sides of the House that share views and differ with people, then my answer is, then we will leave it like that. But if you go ahead and do something which has not been done before, which to make government time, in other words take time away from education, health, from law and order, take that away and give it to a ban to make criminals of people who hunt, then the only thing you can say in balance and fairness is that when we return to government we will simply say we will give the same time to those if it is the case, who wish to repeal it, that's all. HUMPHRYS: But according to an internal Conservative Party document that would be and I quote 'a lunatic sense of priorities on your part'. DUNCAN SMITH: Well, listen, there are going to be people who are in favour of hunting and people that are opposed to it. I'm simply saying that if the government proceeds down this road, it is this government that is about to break the practice of all of the past years, that you don't give government time to a ban on hunting, in other words making criminals of people. I simply say it's unfair so you need to balance that on the other side to give those an opportunity if they want to, to repeal the legislation. It won't be a whipped vote, it is a free vote, it will always in my book remain a free vote. I'm simply saying do the right thing, be fair. I don't hunt, I just simply believe this is not right, and I don't think my constituents at the end of the day really think this is a number one ranking issue. The issues that bother them are the ones I spoke about before, those issues of health, education, crime and drugs. Those are the key issues and the government seems to think this is a higher priority. HUMPHRYS: Alright, well, let's turn to another number one ranking issue that absolutely clearly is that and that is Iraq, parliament going to be recalled on Tuesday, you'll be debating it then and you will have the dossier that the government is going to produce, but you won't have that until shortly before that session of parliament begins. What do you make of that? DUNCAN SMITH: Well I, you know, on your programme, I said that the government, they should bring this dossier forward well over a week ago and get it in the public domain. Now clearly the government has some difficulties in doing that, I don't know what those are, they're probably a lot to do with intelligence gathering and trying to figure out what they can present, I recognise that, but as long as it's in everyone's hands so that at least they've got something to debate during the debate, it's not the only information, let's be honest about this, I don't think there's going to be a sort of 'golden bullet' sitting in this, this dossier, that says 'look, this is the final bit that says absolutely bang to rights these are the amount of weapons he's got.' I don't think that's the case. The ISS, The Institute of Strategic Studies, produced a very comprehensive document based on what had been said by the arms inspectors three or four years ago as well as up until about a year ago, and that shows comprehensively that he has been developing biological, chemical and even nuclear... HUMPHRYS:, no, not, not the latter, they said they'd done nothing more in that than... DUNCAN SMITH: HUMPHRYS: ...they have done for the last ten years. DUNCAN SMITH: No, no, if you look at it, what they're saying is, the procedures, the scientists and everything else are there and established, what they lack is the fissile material, and with that they could take anything from a couple of months to a year to make a warhead for one of their missiles, that's what they're saying. HUMPHRYS: Well, they, they made the point very clearly, they were no further advanced with that now than they were ten years ago... DUNCAN SMITH: ...because they haven't got the fissile material John, that's all I'm saying... HUMPHRYS: ...precisely... BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER HUMPHRYS: ...there's no reason why they should get the fissile material is the point that they're making. DUNCAN SMITH: ...but that's what their belief is, but we don't know for certain, that's all I'm saying, but they do have, clearly do have biological weapons, they have improved missiles with improved range, it'll cover most of the targets in the Middle East even if not stretching as far as some parts of south-west Europe, so all the evidence is there - those who don't want to accept to any of it, well it doesn't matter how much more is produced. HUMPHRYS: So, so it doesn't matter what's in the dossier then, you're... DUNCAN SMITH: does... HUMPHRYS: ...well, from the point of view of your mind being made up, it really doesn't make any difference does it? You're determined that it should go ahead, an attack should go ahead. DUNCAN SMITH: I believe that we face a serious and growing danger from Iraq, and the whole of the Middle East does, if we don't now deal with Saddam Hussein. In two to three years time, if he gets the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, then that could change everything, and it will be too late then to say, oh well, I wish we did something about him. So what is happening is right at the moment, is that United Nations is now under pressure quite rightly to pass a resolution that says to Saddam Hussein once and for all, you must now comply with all those resolutions that say you get rid of your weapons, you obviously allow the inspectors in, you put a time scale to get rid of those weapons and you then show that those weapons and the programmes and the scientists involved are no longer working on them and that's the key bit. HUMPHRYS: But in the same way that you would countenance, you would support an attack without any new evidence in that dossier, you would also, as I understand it, support an attack without a specific United Nations resolution. DUNCAN SMITH: No, we've said all along that we want that resolution, but the only way you'll have it... HUMPHRYS: ...yes, you'd like it... DUNCAN SMITH: ...yes, well I believe that the only way... HUMPHRYS:'s not essential? DUNCAN SMITH: Well it's not essential strictly speaking in legal terms. I mean David Hannay on your Today programme, the other programme you do, made it clear a couple of weeks ago that strictly speaking, and he was the ex-ambassador to the UN, he said strictly speaking, legally those resolutions themselves, are enforceable. But what clearly the President of the United States, and I hope the Prime Minister and believe the Prime Minister as well, and others are trying to do, is to strive to get the United Nations now to give an overall mandate to say 'look, if you don't comply with any of those, then military action will take place.' And you know, Saddam Hussein, what - four days ago, suddenly seemed to me to be panicked, he then suddenly said, 'I'll let the inspectors back in.' Now do we honestly think that he'd have allowed to talk, or would have started talking about that, if he hadn't begun to realise that they were serious about military action. It's the threat of military action that is forcing him to comply with those resolutions. HUMPHRYS: Yes, but the interesting thing about that was even though he said it, the response from Washington was to say, it doesn't matter, we're going to attack anyway, we want regime change. That was the effect of it. And you, this morning, seem to be saying very much the same thing, doesn't matter about the dossier, that's to say whether there's new evidence, doesn't matter whether there is a specific United Nations resolution... DUNCAN SMITH:, I didn't say it didn't matter about the dossier, I said... HUMPHRYS: said it would make no difference to your basic decision as to whether there was new information. DUNCAN SMITH:, I said, I said those who expect there to be some final absolute proof would build it up to be more than it is. My belief in discussions with government is that the dossier will add to the sum total of knowledge out there... HUMPHRYS: ...but if it doesn't? DUNCAN SMITH: ...there isn't one single bit that actually... HUMPHRYS: ...precisely... DUNCAN SMITH: ...that actually changes, suddenly, you know, a revelation to somebody. HUMPHRYS: Alright. Well let's be quite clear about this then, even if there is no specific new evidence in addition to that which we already know, the stuff that came out of the ISS, and all the rest of it, even without that, your position is quite clear, we should attack Saddam Hussein? DUNCAN SMITH: I believe, quite rightly, that the threat of military action from the allies is the only way to deal with Saddam Husseim... HUMPHRYS: ...right... DUNCAN SMITH: ...either, and I believe this is a very strong chance that he finally is forced to comply completely with those resolutions and get rid of those weapons, which is after all what we want, and that's what he was told to do ten years ago, and he hasn't done it, and I thought very importantly David Hannay, again, on your programme, the other programme, said that you know, when South Africa said they would end their nuclear and biological programmes, it took one year, because they actually agreed and worked with the inspectorate. They don't have them any more. In Iraq's case, they stopped, blocked the inspectorate at all places, and they were not able to get rid of those weapons, so we need them to be got rid of, and it's interesting John, it's very important because the public I think do need to know this, all the inspectors have said that those weapons were being developed and he continued to make stockpiles of them whilst they were there, every one of them has said that, from the head of UNSCOM Richard Butler, right the way through to all the inspectors. HUMPHRYS: Well, let's look to the future and not for the moment to the past, though obviously the past has to inform the future quite clearly, but nonetheless, your position is, that whatever Saddam Hussein now says, you believe there should be, to use the American expression, regime change in Iraq? That is your position? DUNCAN SMITH: My position has been quite clear, I have said, if that is what is necessary, and if it the only thing we can do, then regime change would have to take place, but if however Saddam Hussein, as I am absolutely clear about this, if Saddam Hussein agrees to comply with the total resolutions within a time scale under a new resolution from the United Nations, then that is clearly preferable, but my point is, he'll only do that if he recognises that there is a threat if he doesn't comply. That's where the pressure comes, that's where the compression comes, so what we want is the end of those weapons, the eradication of the programmes, the dispersal of the scientists, at that point, Saddam Hussein, or whoever ends up being in charge of that country, is more than likely to be a peaceful neighbour and not threaten all the other countries around it. HUMPHRYS: One of your predecessors, John Major, has said, there would be a great price to be paid in terms of the war on terrorism, in terms of the International World Order, if there were to be an attack on Iraq without a specific United Nations resolution. DUNCAN SMITH: Well that's we're asking for, that's what I have worked for, that's what I have been saying, that there must be now a clear United Nations line on this, and the reason why John, you know I've been on this thing since 1995, I've tried to warn endlessly, year in, year out, that he is going on producing these weapons and the west is hiding its head, pretending that he's not. At last we are facing up to it, and it is important this, I think this is a test for the United Nations, they have an opportunity now to send a very strong signal to all those other countries and would-be dictators around the world, that they're not prepared to put up with this sort of action. HUMPHRYS: Right. But, if there is not a United Nations resolution, you would not support an attack on Iraq? I'm slightly puzzled you see, as to your position here. Are you saying, that in the absence of a United Nations resolution, there should be no attack on Iraq? Is that what you're saying? DUNCAN SMITH: No, I haven't said that. I have said that I want the United Nations to complete this mandate, and give the mandate to the allies, that if he doesn't comply with those resolutions which are already legally binding on him, and to which action is available, I mean to the sense that after his failure... HUMPHRYS: ...but, but without that there should be an attack anyway? DUNCAN SMITH: I'm saying that military action is the only way to do it if the United Nations now however steps up to the mark, which I believe they will do, I don't believe they are going to shirk this, look Saddam Hussein is somebody who is a threat to all those people - in the dossier by the way John, something you ought to know, there will be published some of the most graphic pictures I believe, of what he has done to his own people using chemical and biological weapons, civilians he has attacked, and the Iranians, and also the Saudis, the point is... HUMPHRYS: We've seen those pictures. DUNCAN SMITH: ...well you might have seen them John... HUMPHRYS: the world has seen them, there are pictures in the newspapers this morning showing that... DUNCAN SMITH: ...but many in the public are not aware, honestly, you know, I think it is the role as well of the media to say who this man really is... HUMPHRYS: ...well, alright, I... DUNCAN SMITH: ...he is a serious threat John. HUMPHRYS: ...I believe we've saying that for a very, very long time. But let me, let me turn to some, a couple of quick questions about your own party. We saw the resignation of Dominic Cummings this past week, you've now lost, I'm doing a quick count, you've now lost your Chairman, you've lost your Chief of Staff and you've last your Director of Staff... DUNCAN SMITH: ...I haven't lost them at all John. HUMPHRYS: ...well they've, they have, they are no longer in their positions, they... DUNCAN SMITH: ...well that's because I took decisions about them. HUMPHRYS: ...ah, well alright then, you've sacked them, you've got rid of them, they've gone, whatever, they are no longer there. It rather suggests a leadership in some disarray? DUNCAN SMITH: Not at all. You are looking, do I look like I'm in disarray? I can tell you now, I know exactly where we are going, and our programme John has not changed. I mean you yourself know, because we talked about my Toynbee Hall speech, identified the five giants, that followed from the Hackney speech I made, and the Harrogate speech I made back in the Spring, what I am saying, that the party, and anybody who disagrees with this will just have to follow, because what we are about to do is to explain to the British people that the Conservative Party believes that they key objectives, the priorities for us as a returning government are solving the crisis in the Health Service, improving the quality of our schools, getting more policemen onto the streets, and improving the quality of the policing so that we have less crime, less violent crime. These are the key three priorities which will help with the other two, which is to improve the lot of children who are in poverty, and the elderly now who I think are, many are in crisis, facing serious problems across the board from the lack of care homes to their poor pensions. Now, those are our priorities, those are not going to change, and you'll see that again at the conference John and I promise you, at conference you will see us begin to flesh out policy initiatives, that will show the direction of how we will deal with these and why the government... HUMPHRYS: And what you will have to persuade the conference of, at least many people at that conference is that you truly are modernising the party, you're not the old Conservative Party, and we've talked about this before as well, but Michael Portillo got into this subject himself yesterday and that is this touchstone issue of Section Twenty-eight, and he said, 'it's time to get rid of it, it has completely served its day' and again, the problem is you don't seem to be giving clear leadership on this, it isn't absolutely clear quite whether you go along with the Portillo line who is a moderniser or you go along with a traditionalist line. DUNCAN SMITH: Well with respect John, I don't think I should be defined by another person. I was... HUMPHRYS:, an issue...... DUNCAN SMITH: No I was elected John on the programme that I put forward at the time of the leadership election and I made it clear then that all of our policies that we had must be under review so that we can decide whether they're right for where we want Britain to go. Section Twenty-eight is part of that, what I said to you on your programme as you recall was that I believe the principle behind Section Twenty-eight, which should run right the way through the education system, is that children who are under the authority of adults who are not clearly their parents, they must be protected in case adults beyond those teachers have particular desires or views and... HUMPHRYS: ...right, and it needs Section Twenty-eight to do that? DUNCAN SMITH: ...well it may or may not. HUMPHRYS: ...ok... DUNCAN SMITH: My point has been that we will look at this and decide how best to do that so that it covers a whole range of activities rather than just perhaps necessarily a narrow one. HUMPHRYS: Right. Iain Duncan Smith, thanks very much indeed, you can go back to the march now. DUNCAN SMITH: Pleasure.
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.