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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 September 2005, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
Iraq and terrorism
On Sunday 25 September 2005 Andrew Marr interviewed The Prime Minister, Tony Blair MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Tony Blair MP
The Prime Minister, Tony Blair MP

ANDREW MARR: Welcome Prime Minister, to as I say a blustery Brighton. I hope there will be less bluster inside the hall than there is outside at the moment.

You want this conference to be, above all, about the public services and about the reform agenda.

An awful lot of people would say you have hugely increased the amount of money going into the public services, it's about half in cash terms up since you came to office. And yet there hasn't really been enough change on the ground.

Do you think you can, as it were, look the country in the eye and say "we've had value for money"?

TONY BLAIR: Yes I think we can say there have been big improvements. I don't think there's any doubt about that. I mean every time any independent body, the Kings fund for example just before the election, do an independent report on the National Health Service, they only come to one conclusion, it's improving significantly and rapidly.

If you look at the waiting lists and the dramatic falls in lists and in times, if you look at the improvements in cancer and cardiac care - if you go to your Accident and Emergency Department now you will notice a big difference.

But it's very important to realise this. We were only, as we speak 2005, halfway through what was a ten-year plan published in the year 2000. And it's only in 2008 that we will get up to the average of the European Union....

ANDREW MARR: By which time I have to say you may no longer be here to be answerable for these successes.

TONY BLAIR: A nice way of segueing into that, we can segue back out of it again.

ANDREW MARR: We'll come back to that - we'll segue back out for the moment. But just staying on health then. I mean 76 million a year, 7.6% extra every single year. An absolute avalanche of money going in. And yet we have stories again in the papers of operating theatres being mothballed, wards being closed, financial crisis. And people say how can this possibly be?

TONY BLAIR: But the best thing is to look beneath the headlines and actually see what's happening. I mean all these deficits if you add them all up together they come to less than half a per cent of the money that's going in.

And there will be deficits, operating deficits from time to time, there always have been in the Health Service. And hospitals have obviously got to make do with the money that they have. But if you look at the big picture, the big picture is that people are getting treated better and quicker than they have at any time for years. And that's because of the money that's going in and also because of the change.

And at the end of this year we will have the choice of programmes so that patients are able to go elsewhere in the National Health Service if they can't get the treatment they want quick enough. And you're getting a whole system of the payment by results so the money following the patient which will come in over the next year.

And by the end of 2008 we will have a situation in which there is a guaranteed maximum wait, not just an in-patient wait as now, but the two combined. So from the door of the GP to the door of the operating theatre a maximum 18-week wait. Now that is a tremendous advance on anything we've had before.

ANDREW MARR: One of the stories that's going on around here, people are talking about, is a suspicion that part of the problem in a lot of health authorities is that they are being directed or told to spend a certain amount of money in the private sector which is why some wards are being closed at the moment. Were that to be the case that would presumably horrify you would it?

TONY BLAIR: Well it would horrify me if we weren't using the money we're putting in effectively. But it is important that we're able to have a situation where there are alternative avenues open to people if they're not getting fast treatment. Look...

ANDREW MARR: But ideology would never go ahead of proper care.

TONY BLAIR: Of course they shouldn't. And the very reason why ideology isn't going ahead of proper care is that we are making sure that for example with the independent sector coming in and providing additional operations now for this new system that we're introducing over the coming period of time, where people can access care wherever there's spare capacity in the system.

But it can't be right that people are waiting, in some times in some cases a few days for their diagnostic tests to come back, and in other cases for several months when they're waiting in pain and worried. And if there's spare capacity within the system, private or public or voluntary, let's use it. And that's what the reforms are about.

ANDREW MARR: Let's turn to education. You were raising the problem of truancy from the earliest days of your premiership. You spent a billion pounds and it's just risen by ten percent.

TONY BLAIR: Well first of all, again, let's look beneath the headlines. Actually the billion pounds, the bulk of it is spent on excluded pupils in other words it's not actually spent on truancy per se, it's spent on what we do with pupils when they're excluded from school.

We now make sure they get full time education as opposed to a few hours a week which they used to get when we came to office. But it's true, we've not cracked though.

ANDREW MARR: What's gone wrong with truancy?

TONY BLAIR: I think it's a deeper social problem. I mean what is very obvious is that the large part of it is actually a few children who are regularly truanting and I think we've got to go right into what is happening in the family there, the relationship between the family and the school, and also the powers that local education authorities have got to make sure the parents face up to their responsibilities.

But again if I can just say this, because it's also true that truancy went up but so did attendance at school. Let's get this in context, you go to any school around Brighton where we are, and you will see the investment. You look at the school results. Literacy and numeracy vastly up since '97, GCSEs improved dramatically over the past few years, particularly in the specialist schools.....

ANDREW MARR: ...number of working class kids or people from comprehensive schools, state schools, being accepted by the top universities down, despite all the effort you've put in over the years.

TONY BLAIR: You see, again, if you look beneath the headlines...

ANDREW MARR: Russell group - it's gone down.

TONY BLAIR: Actually the numbers of kids from working class backgrounds who are going to university has gone up not down. It's true percentage wise it has gone down this year having risen over the previous years.

ANDREW MARR: And not to the top universities?

TONY BLAIR: And to the top universities, we need to do far more obviously to extend access but the best way, and this is the reason for the city academies, the specialist schools, the changes that we're making in the education system. The best way of making sure a child from a poor background gets into a good university is good secondary education. It's not trying to force universities to take kids that haven't passed their exams. It's making sure the level of education, the quality of it, is good enough at the state level.

ANDREW MARR: Inner city state education has really been in a pretty bad state, right up to very recently and probably in many cases still is. You want, I think, 200 independent state academies, whatever we call them, in due course. Cost 25 million each. There's 17 so far only and of those 17 quite a lot have actually not improved their results compared with when they were run under the old system. And some, in some, the results have actually gone down which would suggest to a lot of people that it sometimes may work, city academy, but it's not a panacea.

TONY BLAIR: Right, well first of all, again, let's just look at what the facts are in city academies. Actually the vast bulk of them have improved in some cases, as OFSTED has said, quite dramatically. It's true a handful of them haven't, they're just beginning. And it's not that each city academy costs 25 million, it's that we're building new schools. We also build new schools outside of the city academy programme and they cost a lot of money too.

The purpose of the city academy programme, though, is to bring in outside sponsors, people who are entrepreneurs or companies or charities or faith groups, who will help establish a school that is going to provide really high quality education for some of the poorest kids in the country. And the test with the city academy, and I visited one just the other day in London: are parents trying to get their children into them? Answer yes, they're all massively over-subscribed.

Now, what we want to do is not just create new city academies, but use this idea of the independent state sector to give the same freedoms and powers to schools that don't need completely rebuilding, but who need some of that outside expertise and influence, some of that freedom to go and innovate and create and give a better education for their children, that the specialist schools have started to pioneer but we can take that a lot further. And just to say to you about inner city education incidentally. If you look at London, when we came to office there were boroughs where on average fewer than 25% of kids were getting good, five good GCSEs. There's no borough with under 40% now, that's not good enough but it's a lot better than what it was.

There used to be, I think, 30 secondary schools, or round about that, in London, with over 70% good GCSEs. Right, there are now I think 90 or 100, there are half the number of failing schools. There is a lot of change going on but we need to take it to a new level and do more. And I want to be quite clear about where I want to get to on health and education. I want the public service in the National Health Service and in state education to be of such quality that people, even if they have the money...

ANDREW MARR: Don't want to use it...

TONY BLAIR: ...don't feel that they have to go and use the private sector

ANDREW MARR: What do you make of your party after so many years of new Labour and so many years of you leading it, when you see lots of the motions down in front of this conference saying actually no, no more to the marketisation, no more of driving towards the private sector. These reforms should be halted where they are and in some cases reversed. You haven't won this argument, you haven't won these people over.

TONY BLAIR: I think you haven't converted everybody but then I think I've had .....

ANDREW MARR: Some powerful figures here haven't been converted.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but let's wait and see how the constituency delegates vote. And I think - these programmes were all discussed before the election. They were in the manifesto. One of the things that we did was have the most detailed manifesto we've had for years and years. And we went through a long process to get this right, and the test bed is there in experience. As I said, look the test with city academies is not what you say or what I say, it's what parents do...

ANDREW MARR: It's what parents do...

TONY BLAIR: The test with the National Health Services and you can see this actually sometimes when you go to Scotland or Wales and talk about the Health Service there, the test is, are these reforms delivering? And the answer is they are, but we've got to follow through the logic of them, and that is that in public services today, you know, the old monolithic, one-size fits all, it doesn't work. It's not where we need to be, it's not where we are in any other walk of life. In public services we've got to allow..

ANDREW MARR: ...why not go for full scale privatisation then...

TONY BLAIR: Because you don't want to privatise it.


TONY BLAIR: Because a public service that allows people access free at the point of use is an important principle to keep. But you've got to update it for today's world and if the private sector can help in doing that, or the voluntary sector can help in doing that, then let them help.

ANDREW MARR: Right. I read, and I don't believe it, that you don't want to discuss, or you don't want Iraq to be much discussed at this conference. I can't believe that you wouldn't want Iraq to be discussed because it's such an important issue.

TONY BLAIR: No, and of course it will be discussed.

ANDREW MARR: Now, 25,000 civilians have died in Iraq over the last two years. That's 25,000 people going about their ordinary lives who could have been your constituents or ordinary citizens of any state. That's a heck of a large number of people to have lost their lives in this. We've seen these appalling scenes in Basra. Is there any moment, sort of late in the night when you look in the mirror and think this has actually not been worth it, all this bloodshed, all this killing, it's not been worth it?

TONY BLAIR: Well what is happening in Iraq though...

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people are dying.

TONY BLAIR: Yes. But who's killing them? Terrorists are killing them. Insurgents are killing them.

ANDREW MARR: Yes, about a third of those people were killed, no doubt in absolute legitimate operations by British or American soldiers.

TONY BLAIR: So what do we do? Do we give Iraq over to a combination of terrorism and insurgency when it's perfectly obvious what Iraqis want. They want democracy. Look, we have the same issue in Afghanistan and in the end these people given the chance, want a proper democracy. They don't want a terrorist insider they don't want former Saddam people to decide it.

ANDREW MARR: They may not want our kind of democracy. I mean they may very well end up with mullah's, particularly in the south, a Shia state, we've had Saudi Arabia protesting publicly that they're worried that the south where we're in charge, sort of in charge, is going to become part of a greater Iranian-dominated Shia area. Not the kind of unified peaceful democratic Iraq that you hoped for, is it?

TONY BLAIR: But that's what we're trying to get to. And when you say, do they want this type of democracy, well eight and a half million in January voted for a government. In Afghanistan they now vote to determine their government. Why do you think the terrorists and insurgents are doing what they're doing at the moment? Because they know in December there is going to be the first direct democratic election for a government in Iraq. And they are desperate to stop it. Why do they want to stop it? Because ordinary Iraqis given the chance want to live their life in the way that anyone else does. And, you know, I've always thought it was a myth that democracy is some western idea. Democracy is what people want wherever they're given the chance to have it.

ANDREW MARR: It's just that week by week, almost day by day, the situation seems to get worse. The latest problem is clearly the inter-penetration of the Iraqi police and security services by insurgents or terrorists, or whatever you call them. 56,000 police, have you any idea how many of those people are in fact on the other side?

TONY BLAIR: No, I think it's incredibly difficult to ...

ANDREW MARR: We may be training the people who are then shooting us.

TONY BLAIR: Well, I don't think that's true. But I think what is true is that it is very very tough because for these last two years as you say, and remember this has been a United Nations-backed process, we have been operating whatever the original conflict and the absence of UN resolution for two years or more there's a United Nations resolution that gives our troops along with those of 30 other countries, a mandate to work with the Iraqi government to try to stabilise the situation so that democracy can take root. And yes it's true you will have people who will come and try to use violence. There were several hundred of them on the streets of Basra last week but there's one and a half million people in Basra who also want the chance to be able to determine their future in a proper way.

ANDREW MARR: Are we going to apologise to the Iraqi government for the actions that led to that confrontation?

TONY BLAIR: The Iraqi government are not asking for us to apologise but let me just say one thing to you, we will do whatever is necessary to protect our troops in any situation. I know it's been difficult in Basra but...

ANDREW MARR: So no question of accepting arrest warrants for the two soldiers involved?

TONY BLAIR: No, absolutely not.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely not. Can I ask about the exit strategy? Almost every single senior military character who's able to speak out says there needs to be one. We've had a report in the Observer this morning that next month there's going to be a document published setting out an exit which begins potentially in May. Is that true?

TONY BLAIR: Well I've not heard that. But what there's been is...

ANDREW MARR: There isn't a strategy at the moment which would....

TONY BLAIR: I mean I think what people may be thinking of is the thing that we've working on with the Iraqi government for some time which is, you know, as the Iraqi forces build up, you know, what is then the future needs for multi-national force contributions.

ANDREW MARR: And is there any timescale built into that?

TONY BLAIR: The timescale is when the job's done. Let me just tell you what the problem with this is. When people say what is the strategy for Iraq. The strategy is as it has always been, right. It is (1) a political process based on democracy and based on the UN-backed process for democracy. It is (2) building up Iraqi capability for security, for the army and police, so that we don't have to do it. Now, when will it be that the Iraqi capability is capable of taking over from us? That is determined by the strength of that capability, not by any other timetable.

ANDREW MARR: I suppose the critics would say yes we understand that's the strategy. It's just that it's not working.

TONY BLAIR: Well, let's see whether we have the elections in December as to the political strategy. And as for the Iraqi forces themselves, look, you know this is as I say, you're building a country after decades in which the people weren't merely oppressed, but every single institutional state was corrupted.

ANDREW MARR: Did you expect it to be this hard?

TONY BLAIR: No, I didn't expect quite the same sort of ferocity from every single element in the Middle East that came in and was doing their best to disrupt the political process. But I have absolutely no doubt as to what we should do...

ANDREW MARR: But would you have negotiated had you known then what happened afterwards.


ANDREW MARR: You'd have done exactly the same...

TONY BLAIR: There is no doubt in my mind at all that what is happening in Iraq now is crucial for the future of our own security, never mind the security of Iraq or the greater Middle East. It is crucial for the security of the world. If they are defeated - this type of global terrorism and insurgency in Iraq - we will defeat them everywhere.

ANDREW MARR: After the election the situation potentially changes. Have we told the Japanese government that we're going to go, start to go at some point next year?

TONY BLAIR: No, because it's not, as you know...

ANDREW MARR: It's just there are very specific reports.

TONY BLAIR: I know, there are very specific reports. And let me just tell you what the problem is. The strategy has always been - we go back or we, you know, retire as the Iraqi capability builds up. If you talk about our ability to draw down as the Iraqi capability builds up then you get a story staying you'd rather cut and run. Then when you say no we're not going to cut and run, then you get a story saying we're going to stay forever. The fact is, what we do depends on the job being done. It doesn't depend on any, there's no arbitrary date that's being set. And the allies are all in exactly the same position. You know, our mandate there from the UN is to stay as long as the Iraqi government want us, number one. And number two, as long as it takes to build up the capability of the Iraqi forces.

ANDREW MARR: There's some stories, some pretty ringing stories in the papers at the moment, about the victims of the 7/7 bombings, people who have lost their legs suffered appalling disabilities and have not had a penny yet of help from the government. What's gone wrong there?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think what is going to happen now is over the next couple of weeks those payments are going to be made. I mean it's the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board primarily that handle this, and obviously they're an independent board.

ANDREW MARR: But of all the people who should get help quickly.

TONY BLAIR: Absolutely, and I mean I will, you know, given those stories that are there today I'll look into this myself obviously but I'm sure that they will make the payments as soon as they possibly can.

ANDREW MARR: And when it comes to your new terror laws. If the opposition parties continue to oppose the idea of a three-month detention period, will you stick with it, will you back Charles Clarke all the way through?

TONY BLAIR: Well, we're going to consult on it and, you know you've got to be careful of sort of saying we're going to listen to you but we're not going to listen to you. On the other hand, I do think that we can't be in a position if the police and security services are saying to us, look this really will make a difference to our ability to stop this terrorist threat. I don't think we can be in a position of refusing that unless there are very good reasons. And it's important when people talk about the three months to emphasise that there's no question of this being three months without charge, without trial and with no judicial oversight. There would have to be continual judicial oversight throughout the whole of that process.

ANDREW MARR: Looking at the powers that are there already, we know that the Home Office was informed in advance of the shoot to kill policy by the Metropolitan police. Did you know about it?

TONY BLAIR: I don't think anyone's ever sort of come along and formally asked for consent to the policy of the Met. But I would just say to you two things, the first is...

ANDREW MARR: So you didn't?

TONY BLAIR: No, but I mean I was just about to say, and if they had I would have said well it's absolutely the right policy. And I wouldn't describe it as a shoot to kill policy. They're not deliberately going out to kill people. What they are doing...

ANDREW MARR: I mean in the case of the Brazilian, I mean they weren't trying to do anything else.

TONY BLAIR: No, but the point is that they're not deliberately going out in order to kill people per se. What they're trying to do is take the steps necessary to prevent, for example, someone who might be a suicide bomber, detonating the bomb. And therefore, you know, it's not a question. I mean shoot to kill in my view.

ANDREW MARR: It was a ghastly episode this one, and clearly whatever the policy, the execution was incredibly, went incredibly badly wrong. Can anything be done in policy level, by people at your level, to stop it happening again?

TONY BLAIR: Let's wait to see what the independent report says on it but the thing that I would emphasise is this, I mean, the police are faced with an incredibly difficult situation in these circumstances. And I think they've got to take the measures that they're taking. And if there's any risk to the public of someone detonating a suicide bomb they've got to do whatever it takes to stop that. And I think people would expect that and I don't, you know, when people describe it as a shoot to kill policy I think it's a colour and turn of phrase that isn't really appropriate.

ANDREW MARR: A couple of little domestic housekeeping matters if I may. Did you really say about the BBC's coverage of Hurricane Rita, Katrina - that it was just full of hate for America and gloating at their troubles?

TONY BLAIR: Look, I don't want to get into a...

ANDREW MARR: Did you think that?

TONY BLAIR: There were some reports, look, this is a conversation that was a private conversation.

ANDREW MARR: Isn't it no longer private

TONY BLAIR: No it isn't, and that's what happens with some things. There were certain bits of the reporting I didn't much care for. But that's my view. But I'm not making any great criticism of the BBC, you carry on and do whatever you want to do.

ANDREW MARR: Matt Frei's a good guy. These people are good reporters. All right. Finally, I just wondered whether you'd like to share with us, whether you have decided in your own mind when you're going to wave goodbye and don the swimming trunks and walk away from it all?

TONY BLAIR: You'd need a different pair of swimming trunks - maybe - no.

ANDREW MARR: You haven't. You have no idea in your own mind. You don't sort of sit with a cup of cocoa late at night and think well actually...

TONY BLAIR: I think your question was whether I was going to share it with you.

ANDREW MARR: Oh I see, so you do know in your own mind?

TONY BLAIR: No, look I've said all I've got to say on this and this week should be about setting out an agenda for the country.

ANDREW MARR: Would you like some of your ministers accept, think it a good idea if Gordon Brown took over without a leadership contest at all?

TONY BLAIR: Well again I've spoken about this as much as I want to speak at the moment. There will come point in time when I'm delighted to speak about it but for the moment I think, you know, we've just won a third election victory, we should concentrate on setting out the agenda for the country.

ANDREW MARR: So you're not going to tell me whether you'd like a contest in due course?

TONY BLAIR: I'm not going to do anything other than say I'll refer you to all the answers I've ever given all these questions and for the moment that's all I'm going to say.

ANDREW MARR: When that changes you'll be very, very welcome to come back and share it with us first.

TONY BLAIR: That's very kind of you Andy.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you very much Prime Minister.


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

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