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Money for nothing

On Sunday 01 March Andrew Marr interviewed Harriet Harman MP.

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

Labour's deputy leader vows that ex-head of RBS won't get retirement cash.

ANDREW MARR:

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman MP

Well Labour's Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman, began her career as a civil liberties campaigner before entering Parliament, so we're going to be talking about some of those issues.

Plus, of course, the argument which is currently dividing the Labour movement over the future of the Royal Mail.

Harriet Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, welcome.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Thank you.

ANDREW MARR:

Not so long ago, you'd have been on that same platform, wouldn't you? You were a NCCL activist, very well-known for your defence of liberty and so on. Are you comfortable really with all that's happened over the last few years: all these laws that have been brought in - the surveillance, the holding of data and so on?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well listening to what David Davis was just saying there, I mean I think that the DNA database has made a massive difference in bringing people to justice who otherwise would get away with crimes of rape. I think that they've been a real step forward. I think that CCTV cameras have helped people not only feel more secure, but actually bring people to justice. I think that the biometric passports allow people to whizz through a fast channel. I haven't got one yet, but allow…I mean he's just completely behind the time. And the other thing is that we introduced…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Is it safe, is it alright for government to hold all of this information and be able to pass it in all directions between agencies?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well one of the, one of the really important things that I think that we've done since we came into government is we introduced the Human Rights Act, so we've entrenched a check on executive gov…executive action. We've entrenched a legal redress. And we never had that before, so I think that we can make progress in protecting people, in security, but we've got that real backstop which we never had before. So yes I am…You know I think we're doing the right thing. And if we're not, the courts say sorry, you can't do that.

ANDREW MARR:

We know now that as a country we have been involved in rendition - passing people over to the Americans - and there's a lot of strong evidence and suspicion that some of those people were tortured. When Lord Carlisle says it's time for an inquiry - he's dead right, isn't he?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well I think you know it's horrific allegations that we somehow should have been involved in torture. We're totally you know repulsed by torture. It's not just that we're against it. And the…

ANDREW MARR:

So if it's horrific, there needs to be an inquiry.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well…

ANDREW MARR:

We need to find out the truth.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well the allegations that have been made by Binyam Mohamed are being investigated by the Attorney General. And actually if you look at what we've done is that it was us that insisted that the Americans give him as part of his case all the evidence that there was, and it was us that insisted that he was released.

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

HARRIET HARMAN:

And we've argued for Guantanamo to be closed. So we're totally clear about this. You know nobody…

ANDREW MARR:

Lord Carlisle…Lord Carlisle, who you appointed…

HARRIET HARMAN:

Yes.

ANDREW MARR:

…says we need a judge led inquiry.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well I mean we've got at the moment the investigation by the Attorney General and what you know future…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Would you rule that out? I mean this is, this is…I mean it is a different thing. It's somebody standing outside the Government saying let's have all the facts in the open. There can be no suggestion of collusion or hiding things if you've got a judge led inquiry.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well…

ANDREW MARR:

That would be the answer.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well Lord Carlisle stands outside the Government and makes these, gives the Government very important advice on this, and obviously we'll have to…

ANDREW MARR:

And you stand inside the Government.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Yeah…

ANDREW MARR:

I'm asking for your reaction to it.

HARRIET HARMAN:

…and obviously we'll have to listen to what he says. But at the moment we've got an investigation by the Attorney General that will…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So you don't rule it out?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well you know we'll just have to see what lies ahead on that. But I think…You know there's no way that we are somehow ambivalent about the question of torture. It's absolutely revolting! And the thought that rendition is part of that, I think that that's abhorrent. I mean we're absolutely clear about that.

ANDREW MARR:

If it's abhorrent, we handed two people over to whom that happened. I mean we did it. We've said so.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well we're…

ANDREW MARR:

As a government.

HARRIET HARMAN:

…we're totally…You know what's happened is if without our knowledge people have been subjected to and without our acquiescence horrific you know torture and abuse, we're totally against that and we've made that absolutely clear. And we wouldn't have anything to do with that knowingly.

ANDREW MARR:

In which case, there is absolutely nothing to fear from a proper inquiry.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well you know you'll just have to…we'll just have to wait and see what happens about that. I mean I can't say that there will or there won't be an inquiry. I know that there's an Attorney General's investigation into the Binyam Mohamed investigations. And you know we don't think that's the way to do anything. It's, it's a repellent invasion of people's human rights and it's just completely not the way we do things.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's talk about another controversy on at the moment, which is the privatisation, the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail - something that Margaret Thatcher said was a privatisation too far. It's been said that you argued against this in Cabinet. Is that correct?

HARRIET HARMAN:

I agree that we need to take action in relation to the Post Office. We need to secure the pension liabilities; we need to put it on a proper footing so it can compete with everything changing in the way that deliveries are happening, so we need to sort out the regulator and that needs to be by law; we need to have a legal guarantee of a universal six day a week postal service. And those are things that we strongly agree with, with our friends in the unions. We also need to have extra capital invested in and we need to have in addition to the big public investment, and we need to have the right sort of expertise. And together with the unions, in unison, we'll actually talk about these issues and find our way forward, but we're in no doubt that we do need to act…

ANDREW MARR:

Right, just…

HARRIET HARMAN:

…because we need to secure the future of the Royal Mail.

ANDREW MARR:

Just coming back to the question. There's these reports that you argued against this in Cabinet and it was an argument they're about…are wrong, are they?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well Cabinet discussions are private. And of course everybody…you know there's a robust discussion in Cabinet. But…

ANDREW MARR:

That sounds like yes.

HARRIET HARMAN:

…a lot of the…No, no, no. Please don't take…I mean you know I don't report to anybody either on the record or off the record what happens in Cabinet and I'm saying that…

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

HARRIET HARMAN:

…why the Government is taking this action is because we cannot allow the Post…the Royal Mail to slide. We have to take some action. Most of the action is, people agree with, there is an element which is controversial and we need to go about that with a calm debate, respecting each other's point of view, reaching agreement.

ANDREW MARR:

If there was enough money for the Government to support the Pension Scheme and to put in some of the investment that's needed, would privatisation still be a good thing?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well we are going to put in public money to bridge the gap…

ANDREW MARR:

But not as much as you would have had to otherwise.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well we're going to bridge the gap between the pension liabilities and the pension assets and we're going to put in massive investment, as we have been, into Royal Mail, as well as in the Post Office. But the question is can we do better, can we actually attract in additional capital in addition to what the public purse is putting in? Can we get in extra expertise? Because I mean what's happened is…

ANDREW MARR:

Can I just…Those Labour MP's, 139 or whatever it is at the moment, who intend to rebel on this, who are very angry about it, and the union leaders - very, very angry as well - will those MP's, will the junior members of the Government on the rebellion side, will they be disciplined? What's your message to them? What should now happen and are you happy to go through this needing Tory votes to get it through?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well they've got concerns and they're raising their concerns and they need to be reassured. And as the bill goes through the House of Lords and as it goes through the House of Commons, then the Prime Minister has made it clear they'll be consul…there'll be consultation, there'll be discussion, there'll be debate. We'll be seeking to bring about that reassurance. But one thing we can't do is simply allow the Royal Mail to decline. And I think although people are sending fewer letters because they're sending more emails and texts, there's more opportunities with Internet shopping for the Royal Mail to have a really important role. And that's why we need to modernise it and also get the regulation right, which is something the unions have rightly complained about, so that the Royal Mail is not disadvantaged compared to other people in the delivery business.

ANDREW MARR:

So it doesn't sound like you want to discipline people who are on the other side of this argument.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well, as the Prime Minister said yesterday in Bristol, we're going to approach this together, we're going to address the concerns, but actually we can't just allow the Royal Mail to slide and we're going to make sure that it works. He said "it's part of the fabric of society".

ANDREW MARR:

Okay.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Of course it's important.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's move onto another big topic today: Sir Fred Goodwin's pension. One of the things that's said in today's papers, asserted in today's papers - that whatever the Government says, we don't like this, it's outrageous, it's greedy and so on - absolutely nothing you can do about it.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well the Prime Minister, quoting the Prime Minister again, the Prime Minister said it's "unacceptable" and that's obviously the case. If you've got…I don't regard it…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Well you may think it's unacceptable, but there's nothing you can do about it.

HARRIET HARMAN:

No, but…but let me just make my argument about this. Is that it's been called a pension but I can't see how it's a pension because he's not retired. It's money for nothing. It's a severance payment. And to get a severance payment when you've led a bank to the brink of collapse with record losses and thousands of people fearing for their jobs and requiring the public to step in with loans to back up the bank, that is a matter of public interest now and the Prime Minister has said that that is "unacceptable". He's asked for him to forego this huge amount of money for nothing; and if he doesn't forego it, because it's unacceptable it will not be accepted and the Government will take action.

ANDREW MARR:

What kind of action can the Government take? I mean Sir Fred said, "This is my contractual right" and you know, in the nicest possible way, get lost, push off.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well I don't want to, I don't want to go into all the details of issues that…the methods that might be taken. But I can say this, which is that Sir Fred should not be counting on being £650,000 a year better off as a result of this because it's not going to happen. The Prime Minister has said it's not acceptable and, therefore, it will not be accepted. And it might be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it's not enforceable in the court of public opinion and that's where the Government steps in.

ANDREW MARR:

It sounds to me like you might have to take special legislative action if you're going to, if you're going to do that because, as you said, in the court of law he's probably in quite a strong position.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well I don't want to jump the gun here because the Prime Minister has asked for him to forego it and obviously we want him to do that. That's the most straightforward and honourable way of doing it. Secondly, it's being crawled over by the lawyers to see whether it is actually an enforceable legal contract. So I don't want to jump ahead of it, but I do want to be clear that the Prime Minister has been quite emphatic about this, that he regards it as unacceptable. As we all do. It obviously is.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And something will happen. He's not going to keep that money?

HARRIET HARMAN:

He's not going to be better off by £650,000 a year as a result of bringing a bank to the brink of collapse, threatening jobs and causing public money to have to be brought in to stood behind the bank.

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Let me come round a hundred and eighty degrees, as interviewers are allowed to do, and ask about the argument that the focus on Fred Goodwin's pension arrangements, whether they're pension arrangements or not, is a diversion and that the real problem that we're facing in this country is the meltdown of the banking system. And after the vast, vast sums of public money that have been poured in there's still no sign of that unfreezing and that as a result we're going to move into ten or maybe longer years of politics which are completely different - much, much higher taxes and a much, much tougher life for millions of people out there. Not a great thing to be standing at an election in a year's time max on.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well I think for the moment our immediate concern is to stabilise the banking system to make sure that there's confidence so that it can actually get lending again. That is…You're absolutely right, that is our number one priority. And we have to give people real help now - people who face unemployment, people who are worried about getting the credit they need for their business, people who are worried that if they lose their job or their income drops, they might lose their home. So that is a massive priority. But in addition to that, we've got to look to the future and provide not just help now but real hope for the future because we need to have a stronger post-recession economy and a fairer post-recession society and that's what we're working on. Yes, I mean Sir Fred Goodwin's pension, severance pay is an issue - but, you're right, these are much…

ANDREW MARR:

These are the bigger issues.

HARRIET HARMAN:

…much more important issues.

ANDREW MARR:

You've quoted him twice already. The Prime Minister is said in today's papers to be turning the air blue about you. He thinks that you're plotting for his job.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well that story that was in the Mail on Sunday has actually been totally denied and you'll see that as well as carrying on writing the story, they've actually carried on the denial.

ANDREW MARR:

Would you like…

HARRIET HARMAN:

They've actually reported the denial.

ANDREW MARR:

Would you like to be Leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister because at some point that vacancy is going to come one way or another? Jack Straw's talked openly about it.

HARRIET HARMAN:

Well there's two things wrong with that argument. Firstly, I'm very proud to be the Deputy of a Prime Minister who is an international leader…

ANDREW MARR:

A slightly different question I was asking you.

HARRIET HARMAN:

That's the first thing. No, but that's the first thing - is that I'm very proud to be Gordon Brown's loyal Deputy, and that's what I am. And, secondly, discussion about a leadership challenge is based on the assumption that we are going to lose the next election and we are at the moment dealing with people's concerns and that is what our big challenge is. But when it comes to the next election, we'll be fighting it and we'll be fighting it to win it.

ANDREW MARR:

And there's no truth whatever in the story that you have been manoeuvring or positioning or placing yourself to replace Gordon Brown?

HARRIET HARMAN:

Abso… absolutely not a shred, not an iota of truth in it. None whatsoever.

ANDREW MARR:

Not a shred, not an iota. Harriet Harman, thank you very much indeed for coming in.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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


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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