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Last Updated: Sunday, 15 October 2006, 14:20 GMT 15:20 UK
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On the Politics Show, Sunday 15 October 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed Phil Woolas, Minister responsible for Faith and Race Relations and Nigel Griffiths, Deputy Leader of the Commons.

Phil Woolas, Minister responsible for Faith and Race Relations
Phil Woolas, Minister responsible for Faith and Race Relations

PHIL WOOLAS, MP Local Government Minister

JON SOPEL: Well we're joined now by the Local Government Minister, Phil Woolas. Phil Woolas, thanks for being with us on the Politics Show.

PHIL WOOLAS: Hello Jon. Hi.

JON SOPEL: Isn't the guy that we heard in the film right there, saying that there are too many QUANGOS doing jobs that aren't the role of government.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well, in government, you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. If you make organisations independent, so that they can be run with public credibility, you're criticised of creating a QUANGO if you take direct control at ministerial level, you're accused of control freakery. We think we've got the balance right, but the direction of travel is very much towards the local agenda, with local government and other local agencies, working better and better together, with new financial freedoms as well. So we think that that is improving.

JON SOPEL: But what about the point that we heard from Stuart Weir there, in Max Cotton's film about - well it's all very well but they're not properly accountable.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well they're of course accountable through government to parliament, quite rightly so and of course we have the freedom of information act, we've got more powers for select committees than this country has ever had but it seems to me sometimes that we are drowned in information from these organisations. They have to be able to get on with their job as well as being accountable and that's why I find it incredible that your Conservative spokesman there, is saying that we should get rid of regional assemblies, which are after all, there to hold to account, in the regions of England, many of these agencies.

JON SOPEL: But the point is that she's making is that they're not directly elected. I mean they're sucking accountability away.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well that is ridiculous. If you got rid of regional assemblies, as Caroline suggests, you wouldn't hand power to local people, you would hand power back to Whitehall in London. So I don't understand how she can say that they're not democratic, therefore we should get rid of them. Surely, she should be saying that we want more democratic local control, and that is exactly what myself and the Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, will be proposing later in the year.

JON SOPEL: But the basic point is one that there are regional assemblies, but no one is directly elected.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well they're local authority elected. The people who hold these bodies to account are local councillors, elected by local people. I don't understand the argument that says we'll better hold QUANGOS to account, by abolishing regional assemblies. Is she suggesting that we have directly elected regional assemblies, I don't think so.

JON SOPEL: You talked about your White Paper. Just give us a clue of what your thinking is.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well the direction of travel is very clear. We have increasingly at local area level, whether that's county, district or city, local boards made up of the public sector agencies, with the private and voluntary sector, where people can come together to share the goals, so that they all work for the people of the area. Getting out of the silos I'm afraid Jon, that's one of those jargonistic words, but working together, rather than in silos, is what we're all about and those new financial arrangements are already in place and working very well on the whole as far as I can see.

JON SOPEL: Let me just talk about another area of your responsibilities, because you're also Minister for Faith and Race. Just explain your views on the classroom assistant Aishah Azmi.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well I very strongly feel and always have done, that children of all backgrounds have a right to a good education. And I think that's especially so in less well off areas and if you know the area that's being talked about well, you'll know that there is a strong ethnic mix and I think those children have a right to a decent education and I therefore support what the Head Teacher's view is about this particular case. And that's my simple point, and I find it...

JON SOPEL: So she should be sacked.


JON SOPEL: So she should be sacked.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well the Head Teacher is saying that you can't communicate. I've read the OFSTED Report on that school. It is a friendly school. It's a good school, but it says in the OFSTED Report that the - most difficulties are related to speech and communications problems and the teachers there have been trying to get the children to have better command of English. Many of the children don't have English as a first language.

JON SOPEL: So she should be sacked.

PHIL WOOLAS: They have a right, they have a right Jon to a proper education, surely that's what we all should be supporting.

JON SOPEL: So she should be sacked.

PHIL WOOLAS: Well the Head Teacher says that's she's not able to do her job. I don't think you would want government ministers interfering in individual personnel issues, but the general point is clear, that if the education can't be provided for children who need it and have a right to it, many of whom are Muslim and other ethnic minority children. It's those children that I'm concerned about. And I want them to get the best chance in life as do their parents and they have that right. And if the Head Teacher says that that's the action she needs to be taken, then so be it.

JON SOPEL: Phil Woolas, thank you very much indeed for being with us.

PHIL WOOLAS: Thank you very much. Thank you Jon.


NIGEL GRIFFITHS, MP Deputy Leader, House of Commons

Nigel Griffiths, Deputy Leader of the Commons.
Nigel Griffiths, Deputy Leader of the Commons.


NB: This transcript was typed from a 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.

JON SOPEL: I spoke earlier to the Leader of the House of Commons, Nigel Griffiths, and I asked him what he thinks should happen next.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: This 2.4 million pounds should be returned immediately. The man who gave it to them is in jail and Ming Campbell and the Liberal Democrats used that 2.4 million in seats like mine, tens of thousands of pounds in each seat to try and buy the seats. It's now time, since they've been caught out that they should return that money.

JON SOPEL: Is it realistic though to expect that.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: Of course it is. They took the money without adequate checks, it's clear to me. The electoral commission is investigating it at this time. They should give it back in the light of the conviction of one of their major donors.

JON SOPEL: Then let the Electoral Commission do their work, wait for their judgement and then surely, it's time to speak out.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: Well, we look, in the next few days for them to make a ruling on this and the ruling I hope will be that the money should be returned.

JON SOPEL: But is it right to expect the Electoral Commission to play the role of policeman. Isn't it - aren't they really expecting the political parties to police themselves.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: The Electoral Commission was set up because of the failure of parties like the Liberal Democrats to police themselves. They are the force that decides whether or not a donor is an eligible donor, lives overseas and all the other qualifications and in this case, I believe the person was not eligible to make the donation to the Liberal Democrats. The Electoral Commission, is they concur with those findings, will insist that the money is paid back.

JON SOPEL: Mr Griffiths, the metaphor that comes to mind is, People living in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: Well you don't have to tell me that Jon. But I'm pleased that last week, I understand the Crown Prosecution Service, having looked at all the evidence in the cash for honours case, decided that there was not evidence to proceed with a conviction and I hope that that will lay to rest that issue as Sir Hayden Phillips looks at the future funding of political parties.

JON SOPEL: But just on a technicality on the Liberal Democrats, they said every step of the way, they asked the Electoral Commission at the time that they were receiving the money whether it was okay, and the Electoral Commission gave it their blessing.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: But if they told the Electoral Commission that they had somebody who lived in Britain, whose company was a properly trading company in Britain and all of that, then the Electoral Commission would reach their findings accordingly. We now know that Mr Brown was never a resident in Britain when he gave that money.

JON SOPEL: So, in your view, the money will, come what may it will have to go back.

NIGEL GRIFFITHS: Yes, that's what I believe.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Nigel Griffiths, thank you very much indeed.


Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 08 October 2006 at 12:00 BST on BBC One.
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