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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 08:59 GMT
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On Sunday 28 October Andrew Marr interviewed Harriet Harman MP, Deputy Labour Leader

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Harriet Harman MP
Harriet Harman MP

ANDREW MARR: Welcome. Thank you indeed for coming in.

HARRIET HARMAN: Thank you.

ANDREW MARR: Can I pick up something that's been mentioned quite a bit today already, which is the question of English votes for English laws, because you're a moderniser, you're Leader of the Commons - isn't this simple fairness? HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think it's right that we've devolved power, and this was a decision by the House of Commons to set up a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, and also to set up a Greater London Assembly.

So I think it's right that you look at the constitution from time to time and see where you can devolve power.

But I don't think it's right to break up the United Kingdom, and I think that that's where ultimately the suggestion of the Conservatives would go.

I think that for example you know on Crossrail - we can't have a situation where people are elected as Members of Parliament, sent to Westminster, but some of them can't speak on some issues and can't vote on some issues.

ANDREW MARR: So is this just an unfairness that English voters have to swallow?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I do think there's¿ No I don't think that it's an unfairness that English voters have to swallow, because I think we're all better off from being in the United Kingdom.

I do think there's a question about regional accountability, and actually last week in the House of Commons we decided that the Modernisation Committee of the House of Commons, which is an all party committee, would look at actually having better regional accountability, so that the MPs of the South-West can work together to hold to account the regional development agency for that area, or the health authorities for that area.

But I think it's very ironic that we've got a situation where Malcolm Rifkind, who was a Scottish Member of Parliament, a Scottish Conservative Member of Parliament, until he lost his seat, then came down to be a London Member of Parliament, and he's now proposing something that would ultimately end up with Scotland being pushed out of the Union?

ANDREW MARR: Would it really, a Grand Committee? Is that such a terrifying thing, an English Grand Committee?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think what, what people want is proper regional accountability, and I don't think it would be sensible to say that having been elected to the House of Commons you have to have different sorts of voting.

I mean for example we're going to have a Crossrail bill which will mostly affect London, but we're not suggesting that people outside London shouldn't be able to vote on it. There are things that come up to do with fishing - we don't have a fishing industry in Peckham. But as a Member of Parliament we all vote on things that come to the UK House of Commons.

And I think this is a very very dangerous line of argument that the Conservatives are pushing. There used to be the Conservative and Unionist Party, and now they're making proposals which wouldn't help strengthen regional accountability in England but would actually I think threaten the Union.

ANDREW MARR: It's been, to put it at its gentlest, a rocky and difficult few weeks for the Government and the Prime Minister. Give us your take on it. What went wrong?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think it was a rocky and challenging summer, with the financial problems around Northern Rock, with the floods, which were devastating for many people, and the fear of foot and mouth. But I would say out there¿

ANDREW MARR: But you did well then, you did well then - it's after that that the trouble started.

HARRIET HARMAN: But, but that's what actually matters, what is happening in people's lives. And I do this programme - I'm afraid it's rather cringingly entitled 'Harriet in the High Street' - where I go out to different high streets and just listen to what people have to say.

And people are talking about you know whether they're going to be better off, whether or not their children are going to be able to afford to get on the housing ladder, and our supposedly difficult weeks in Westminster, they might have felt difficult for us but I am absolutely certain that out there it's neither here nor there for people. So really I'm not bothered about it.

ANDREW MARR: And yet the dithering over the Election and all of that had a huge effect on the opinion polls, which is pretty much the ordinary people ticking boxes.

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I have to say that nobody in all my visits out into the high streets - you know and I was in Durham on Friday, you know and I've been to Ramsgate and Gillingham - well I won't mention all the places - Corby I've been¿

ANDREW MARR: Thank you! (laughs)

HARRIET HARMAN: ¿but nobody¿ but nobody has said to me, you know, isn't it terrible that Gordon Brown didn't call a General Election. Literally nobody has said that. Now there was an issue about whether or not¿ I mean Gordon obviously was considering whether to have a General Election, and he made a decision not to.

And I think as far as the public is concerned what they say to me is, well you know we've been favourably impressed by how he's handled things so far, and we know he was a good Chancellor, but it's early days as a Prime Minister¿

ANDREW MARR: So¿

HARRIET HARMAN: ¿and I think people make a longer judgement, and they didn't want a General Election.

So I think all this stuff about our difficult three weeks - if people are having a difficult week with their housing, with the economy, with public service, that's difficult, not all of this stuff.

ANDREW MARR: I'm just a little confused though, because you know you were way up in the polls, the Conservatives have rocketed past you to a very very consistent lead now for some time. Why? Is it simply because they've had better ideas?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think that you know opinion polls go up and down, but as Government our concern should be I don't think to be looking over our shoulder all the time at the opinion polls.

What we should be doing is really listening to what people have to say about what they want the Government to do in their lives, to be strong to our principles and our values, wanting a more equal and a fair society, and a prosperous economy, and then listen to what people say about their families.

And I think that's the job of Government, not looking over our shoulder about what did the Conservatives do last week or what might they be suggesting next week. I think our job is to help back people up so they can get on in their lives.

ANDREW MARR: You're Minister for Women, among other things, and abortion is absolutely at the forefront of the political argument again. Both proposals for further liberalisation of how abortions are carried out and agreed early on, but a very strong campaign to cut the maximum number of weeks, led by many prominent Catholics but many other people as well, marching outside the House of Commons this weekend. Isn't it time to look again at the law?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well there's a.. this is not a Government policy issue because there's a free vote in the House of Commons about abortion, but my view is perfectly clear, which is that I don't think that the criminal law - and we're talking about the criminal law here - has got a very helpful role to play in all of this.

What I want to see is fewer unwanted pregnancies, and if there is an unwanted pregnancy where a young woman wants an abortion, then I think it should happen as early as possible. So my focus is not on changing the criminal law - I don't think it should change - but I think that we need to have better sex education, better contraception advice.

And the other thing that people say is that the best contraception is aspiration. If girls feel they've got a real bright future, to go out to work, then they will delay having their baby. And also to look at the responsibility of boys and young men in this. It's not a girls only issue.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

HARRIET HARMAN: So I think that's what we should focus on, and not making it more difficult for girls to get an abortion, which will inevitably make the abortions later.

ANDREW MARR: What about David Steele - Lord Steele? I mean he says everyone can agree there are too many abortions - two hundred thousand last week.

HARRIET HARMAN: Actually I think there are too many abortions because there are too many unwanted pregnancies. But I don't want to¿ Obviously we want to see much fewer abortions, because we want to see fewer unwanted pregnancies, but I don't think you achieve that by the criminal law.

ANDREW MARR: Okay. So you say want to listen to people. One of the big issues in the country at the moment is the level of immigration, the thought that there might be another five million people over the next five to ten years - the country is already full, the infrastructure can't cope. Has there been too much immigration into this country or not?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I said when you were asking me about our bad few weeks that people have not been raising the question of was there a General Election, when I'd been out and about in the high street, but people do raise the question of immigration, and I know it is an issue of concern.

And I would say this, that this country was built on successive waves of immigration, like my husband's parents, who came from Ireland, her to be a nurse¿

ANDREW MARR: But is there¿ is there no limit¿

HARRIET HARMAN: No let me just, let me just finish this point if I may - her to be a nurse, and him to dig the roads and then run the trains. So our greatness, this great capital city is built on the fact that we've got immigrants, that we're diverse, we're outward-looking and international.

But I know that people as well as recognising that people who come to this country are part of providing our public services, providing our health services, our transport system and our education, they also want to know that the infrastructure is there for newly arrived people and it doesn't create a problem. And they also want to ensure¿

ANDREW MARR: Which it isn't.

HARRIET HARMAN: But..

ANDREW MARR: And the question - sorry if I might jump in - and the question is, do you just carry on building more and more infrastructure, more and more roads, more and more airports, more and more housing, and so on, for more and more people, or is there a limit to the number of people that can live in this country?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well that's why the Government has set up the Migration Impact Forum, to look at. the¿

ANDREW MARR: What's your answer?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think that you have to get the right balance, you have to look at the economic effect of being outward-looking and having a strong international economy. And you also have to look at ensuring you've got enough public services.

ANDREW MARR: Right.

HARRIET HARMAN: And also we're an ageing population, which is also¿

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

HARRIET HARMAN: ¿increasing our population.

ANDREW MARR: Now one aspect of migration is people trafficking. You're meeting the Society of Newspaper Editors next week. Why?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I called in the Newspaper Society because I'm very worried about on the back of local newspapers, ads, you know you see the skip hire and refuse collection and then you see a column for lost pets, and then you see girls for sale, girls from Europe, from Africa, from Thailand, fresh girls every week, eighteen to twenty-five, and this is the front face of the ugly¿

ANDREW MARR: And you'd like to stop this, stop the adverts?

HARRIET HARMAN: Well I think¿ We do know that there's a big problem of people trafficking, and I think the Newspaper Society and us we need to sit down and talk together whether this is acceptable in local newspapers, that girls are for sale. What sort of message does that say in the twenty-first century?

ANDREW MARR: Right, Harriet Harman, for now thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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