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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 11:40 GMT
Spotlight on Deputy PM
On Sunday 17 December, Andrew Marr interviewed John Prescott MP

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

John Prescott MP
John Prescott MP

ANDREW MARR: Now then, he has responsibility, he has power, and indeed the Prime Minister is out of the country.

But what has the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott been up to recently?

Let's look at a few of the globetrotting things he's been doing.

He's been going from the United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan in New York to presidential inaugurations in Mexico, and the Congo.

And of course we know that he will be leaving office at the same time as Tony Blair. Welcome John Prescott.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Welcome, before I answer the question thought, David, delighted to hear what he said, but you know on waterways, we've turned it around since 1997.

It made 100 million deficit, it now makes a profit. I changed the rules with Gordon Brown and we've had a massive expansion of waterways, and we're opening a new one up in the Bradford area, so I'm delighted to hear what David said.

ANDREW MARR: A new waterway?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes, a new canal way.

ANDREW MARR: You should break a croissant with him after the programme, and talk to him.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Always nice to see, because they are great, our waterways. And they were always a dirty part of the city, one we avoided. Now of course they're a major part of regeneration in Leeds, in Birmingham, in Sheffield, all these. So they've come back and I'm really glad about it.

ANDREW MARR: Very good, very good. Let's start by asking you another regeneration question then. There's also worry at the moment about the process by which Britain is going to get its first super casino. And you're obviously involved with Philip Anschutz and there's the...

JOHN PRESCOTT: ...they're nothing to do with casinos, I think we've discussed this before.

ANDREW MARR: We have, but let me just put the question to you, which is that there is concern in lots of cities around the country, notably Blackpool, Sheffield and other places, wanting this casino, that somehow the questions they're being asked are unfair, and that there is a bias in the system in favour of Greenwich and in favour of the Dome.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I don't know about that, I'm not involved at all. There's an independent commission has been set up to make recommendations, to interview all those that want to go for the super casino. I've no doubt super casinos have a major part to play in regeneration.

Blackpool makes that clear, indeed down in Greenwich makes that as well. But that's for them to make their case. I have not been involved in any of that, still not involved...

ANDREW MARR: ... all right.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Only to appoint a commission, but indeed I think casinos can play a part in regeneration, and that is one of the matters that is being considered by this commission.

ANDREW MARR: All right. Let's turn to, I guess the biggest story in today's papers, which is the latest phase in this cash for honours situation. Can you just lay out for us what you think the situation's been, and whether you think there is a problem here?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I see there's an awful lot of speculation here, there's certainly a problem with our financing of political parties, of what there's no doubt.

Indeed as you know, on this programme, and indeed under the previous person, David Frost, I've always advocated state financing. I've worried about the growing expenditure in election, now up to about 40 million. Really, you can't just get that by subscriptions and donations. Really what we've got to have is a proper funding of state financing.

Now some countries have done that, so first of all how do you properly finance, in a democracy, the money that is needed for elections? First of all reduce the expenditures and then deal with the contributions of which I think the state has a part to play. And I think we can get away from these problems that we've got at the present time under present investigation.

ANDREW MARR: Well. Hayden Phillips has done this review and it seems that he is calling for a cap, and actually for parties to spend less at the next General Election than they did at the last one. But he also wants to cap the amount of money that individuals or organisations...

JOHN PRESCOTT:'s been published and note that he actually referred to the participants in this discussion of which you said addressed some remarks to donations as well as to capping expenditure.


JOHN PRESCOTT: This is now going on in the discussion with the political parties. I mean, I read in the papers today that there's a rebellion amongst MPs. Look the papers have their own agenda on these matters, it's good news for them to produce.

But, we had a national executive on Friday to deal with these accusations, as to whether there was some backdoor fixing going on in the matter. Totally untrue.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

JOHN PRESCOTT: And we've actually dealt with that. But let's be clear, there are some difficult decisions to be made, without a doubt.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you directly about one of those.


ANDREW MARR: Would you yourself support the idea of a 50,000 cap on donations to parties which would cause problems for the Labour Party, because the Trade Unions give a great deal more than that?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think what you've got is a balance going on. We as a party have said clearly that we don't think the way that some of these proposals suggested by Hayden Phillips can be handled in political financing in the way that we deal with it. Ours is the...

ANDREW MARR: Would you go for the 50,000?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we are negotiating with him now and there are, Jack Straw for example, and others, are actively involved. I don't want to give a comment at this stage, we'll wait for the final result. Because at the end of the day clearly some legislation will be required and government will have to make a decision about it. So let's wait until we get the final report.

You said he's going to be doing it in January, but of which I absolutely agree with him, you've got to put a cap on expenditure. And you've got to look at how you raise the financing. But there's an awful lot of hypocrisy goes on at the moment.

People are saying they don't want state financing, they don't like the ideas of the private contributions. But if you've got to have elections you've got to provide a certain amount of money to that.

ANDREW MARR: Right. I read in the papers this week that some people at the top of the Labour Party didn't really see what was wrong, about people who had been major donors to the party, being given peerages.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, some people, some papers, there's all sorts of allegations...

ANDREW MARR: About you of course?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes, but let me make it clear, all political parties, leaders anyway, and Liberals and the Tories and ourselves, are entitled to appoint people to be political peers in the House of Lords. I mean with that, that is a proper process that we can knock. And we all do it.

Now, as for the allegation of whether there's a connection between financial contributions and giving the honours, there is an investigation under the way. Let us wait and see what the investigation will produce. Nobody has been charged as such.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely not.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Let us hear what the investigations...

ANDREW MARR: But would you think it was, if I write a cheque to the Labour Party and pass it over, and I get a peerage back in return, joining what is the legislature of this country, is that wrong?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it isn't under our present system. Unless you are suggesting that the peerage was bought, that's an entirely different, that is an offence in fact. But if people give the money...

ANDREW MARR: ....issues very hard to demonstrate.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, I mean probably going to have to make a judgement about it, that's what part of this investigation's about, whether you can show a connection that you bought the peerage. Our history's been quite a colourful one in this as you well know.

And that's why it needs to be sorted out, that's why Hayden Phillips and in political financing, and the other investigation underway, will have some effect on the final solution. I don't think there's any doubt about it. In fact we're talking about reforming the House of Lords. I personally don't believe in elected second chamber. I think it's a threat to the first, and we have to have an argument about that. But I do think the House of Lords is using its powers much more acceptably against Labour government than it did against Tories.

That's why we want to get rid of hereditary peers that we have, that's why we want to make some changes to the timetables where they can prevent us getting our legislation which we promised in manifesto. So we have a lot of things altogether here which is about political parties in our democracy.

ANDREW MARR: But very, very damaging to your party, all this stuff in the papers.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think there's a lot of damaging done by papers. I mean, I see you've got on top there the Mail, I mean the Mail has a definite agenda to get Labour out. I mean if you look at that memo by, was it, Simon Walters? I mean he's always quoting members, he never says who they are. He just said a high source, been emphatically denied by No. 10 that it's anybody in No. 10.

I can't be sure that it might not be a teeny bopper on the side giving some kind of information advice. But when I read in the story, that actually says that Mr. Blair said Brown's policies won't butter parsnips. Listen, I've worked with these two guys in quite intimate discussions really, over the last 12 years.

That is not the way they talk. Colourful reading, but remember the Mail has an agenda and something else, the Minister of Information, or the Commissioner for Information, pointed out the ones that use information improperly and at top of the list, the Daily Mail paper, so please treat it with a certain amount of disdain.

ANDREW MARR: We ask the questions only. Let me ask you this. There's been a row inside the Labour Party, well a discussion inside the Labour Party. This is not just from the papers, we all know this, about whether there should actually be an election for the next deputy leader. If the party's short of money is it really worth spending all of that money on another election when you could simply appoint somebody directly to do some of those jobs?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, part of my history is campaigning for one member, one vote. I'd be the last one to say you don't have elections and I don't think any candidate at the moment that's declared themselves, wouldn't want an election. But you have to go through a process.

First of all the Prime Minister's announced the date. Secondly that in fact candidates have to get a certain amount of MPs to support their candidature. And then we'll know whether what the election will be. John Speller, I think, has said it costs us 2 million-plus, because it's a postal ballot.

ANDREW MARR: Is that money well spent?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's a big argument, it may well come, I don't know. It may well be that the party might say that's too much, or not. But we are committed to an election.

But if you can't get the candidates in the field you won't necessarily have an election. And if you have not one for the leadership, we have to wait and see whether they've got the nominations candidates.

And you come just to the deputy leadership, people like Speller are saying "do we want to spend 2 million on that election at this stage". But be clear, our rules require this to have a deputy leader, so there will be an election. But the rules affecting the deputy leader are different to the rules affecting leader.

ANDREW MARR: And they're also different to anything involving deputy prime minister. Do you think it is essential to have a job deputy prime minister?

JOHN PRESCOTT: That's a matter for the Prime Minister. I mean, I'm very pleased and privileged that I was given the job, and worked very closely with Tony Blair on this. But it is up to the Prime Minister, whoever it is, it's a matter of patronage. Not every Prime Minister's had a deputy prime minister.

And they are different. Listing to what David said was interesting as an actor to think about it. I think he got it about right there. But you can't go fully ahead without the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister's always involved.


JOHN PRESCOTT: But you have to make decisions, you have some responsibilities for those. And I can recall over my ten years there've been some major decisions you're actively involved in, but never totally out of touch with the Prime Minister.

ANDREW MARR: You've had a very difficult year. The affair, the apology to the party at the Conference and so on. How much damage do you think all of that has done to the Labour Party, and to you?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well hopefully, I hope not. But it wasn't a very good episode in my life. I've apologised for that, and the party must make that judgement. I've done it in a very public way as well. And certainly to my own family. It's not an issue I'm very proud of at all. But I hope the party will understand that.

I am where I am and I've always given everything to this party, I've never had another job, I don't do anything else but give totally to politics, and I hope I've made a contribution. And this year, whilst you might think of that incident, I'd say to myself "do you know there are 200,000 more jobs, more in health and that". It's hell of a record we've produced in this party and that's what I remember from this year.

ANDREW MARR: And there is a story in the papers saying that once you've left the front line you want to stay in public life doing good, said doing a John Profumo-type stuff. Is that true?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Just another example of press prattle, is that The Times or something? I'm told about it - look, I've always done something, whether in government, in opposition, or backbenchers, I've always had a very full life making changes. I will continue to do so.

But by the way, I've been involved in charities an awful lot, so has every MP. Look, another case of press prattle, or somebody has to write something for the editor, to get something in the paper. Just treat it with a certain amount of contempt.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you very much indeed for that.


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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