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Transcript of Kenneth Clarke interview

PLEASE NOTE "THE ANDREW MARR SHOW" MUST BE CREDITED IF ANY PART OF THIS TRANSCRIPT IS USED

On Sunday 20th February Andrew Marr interviewed Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.

ANDREW MARR:

Probably it is quicker to list the cabinet posts which Ken Clarke hasn't held in his long career in politics. Now the famous suede shoes are under the desk at the Ministry of Justice where he is in the middle of a row over human rights, votes for prisoners and all of that. The Prime Minister thinks we need a British Bill of Rights to establish a line in the sand over which the human rights judges in Strasbourg will fear to tread. So what does the Justice Secretary think? Mr Clarke is with me now. Welcome.

KEN CLARKE:

(over) Good to be here, Andrew.

ANDREW MARR:

We will come onto these fantastically interesting issues in just a moment, but before we do, let's start with the huge news of the day which is what's going on in Libya. This country has, for better or worse, opened quite close links with the Libyan government over the last few years: BP are drilling or plan to drill off Libya and so on. Do you think we've made a mistake?

KEN CLARKE:

No, I don't think we've made a mistake in actually having investment there. But I mean everybody's appalled to see a dictatorship getting its troops to fire on unarmed demonstrators and the British are obviously in favour of democratic, liberal politics all over the globe, wherever the people locally adopt it. So we normalised to a certain extent under the previous government relations with Libya, but that doesn't mean we don't welcome genuine moves towards more open, liberal, democratic societies, and we're not closely allied with Gaddafi. (Marr tries to interject) Nor do I or any other member of the Government approve of dictatorship.

ANDREW MARR:

Is there anything we can do, do you think, to put some more pressure on him?

KEN CLARKE:

I think we join in with the international opinion in hoping that you get peace, stability, you don't have violence against unarmed people. I hope Libya does move to a more open and democratic constitution, and that must be the wish of any British politician I would have thought. Certainly the present government you know welcomes more democracy, welcomes liberalism, and deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrators. It goes without question, I think.

ANDREW MARR:

Now you mentioned international opinion just now, which leads us to the European Court of Human Rights …

KEN CLARKE:

Yeah, sure.

ANDREW MARR:

… where there's been a series of rulings which have caused intense anger among many members of the public and members of your own party about prisoners' voting rights and appeals against the sex offenders register and much else. Do you think that the case that was being made in the House of Commons by people like Jack Straw, which was that the court had basically gone too far, that it was aggrandising itself and spreading into new areas, do you think that's true?

KEN CLARKE:

Well I mean you mention Jack. The prisoners' rights vote was five years ago. That was the decision, the prisoners' votes decision in Strasbourg, and for five years Jack did not denounce it, so it's a new conversion. The sex offenders register was the British Supreme Court, not European Court, and that was almost a year ago when Labour was still in power. I don't recall anybody denouncing it. But it's certainly true that we're having a lively debate now about the European Convention and it's certainly the case we're going to have a commission to have a look at the case for a Bill of Rights because we want to make sure the relationship's right. There's no question of this government denouncing the European Convention on Human Rights as part of our programme is to continue to adhere to that. Only the Greek colonels have ever repudiated the Convention on Human Rights. But there's a good case, I think, for reforming the court. I think behind all the heat there is a little light I think to be shared on whether we shouldn't in the Council of Europe address the question of how the court behaves - how far does it go into things which legislatures and national courts could actually determine? Are we certain that the court operates properly? It's got an enormous number of judges. Could it handle its caseload quicker? When we get the chairmanship of the Council of Europe in November, I hope and I intend that we shall take the lead in trying to get this court to reform itself. And quite a lot of other countries share what I would call sort of more reasonable doubts about all this, which is shouldn't we have a look at this court and just get clear what the relationship is between national courts, national parliaments and the court in Strasbourg.

ANDREW MARR:

Well tell me a little bit about the Commission on the British Bill of Rights idea. Who's going to be on it? Is it going to be a Conservative only body? Will you be chairing it? How will it work?

KEN CLARKE:

No, no, this is all … It's a coalition government and this is a coalition policy, and I think in the next week or two we'll set it up. I mean we are moving, as you probably gather, next week to actually set it up. And Nick Clegg and myself are discussing this, we're in the lead on it, but I mean the government as a whole again will agree on the commission. I think you'll have the membership sorted out in the next week or two and the terms of reference will be based on the government's policy. I mean all my statements have been based on the government's policy towards the European Convention, our adherence to it.

ANDREW MARR:

But if a British Bill of Rights was enacted, presumably that would have to be superior to the European Convention, otherwise there's no point in having it?

KEN CLARKE:

Well that's exactly what the Commission's meant to be looking at because that's a very interesting question which you ask people on both sides of the argument and they're not quite sure what the answer is. The government's policy is to continue to be a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Under all circumstances?

KEN CLARKE:

(over) The government's policy is to have a commission to investigate the case for a British Bill of Rights and whether that could improve the relationship between Strasbourg and here. Quite separately, quite separately, I think whilst we're waiting for this commission to come up with its proposals, I think we should take the lead in trying to get the reform of the court in line with the wishes oh that the Dutch, the Netherlands government will agree with the approach that I'm describing.

ANDREW MARR:

Wouldn't you say that having a British Bill of Rights was xenophobic, anti-foreigner and nonsense …

KEN CLARKE:

It depends how …

ANDREW MARR:

… for instance?

KEN CLARKE:

… it depends how you make the case for it. (laughs)

ANDREW MARR:

It's a phrase I dimly recall from a certain Kenneth Clarke.

KEN CLARKE:

I dimly recall, but I … I dimly recall people talking about foreign courts, which caused me to react in that way. We've accepted the jurisdiction you know since 1950. For eighteen years I served in a Conservative government which didn't waver in its commitment to the European Convention of Human Rights. Of course all these things need to be looked at, which is why I think the case for reforming the court and having a commission, seeing whether a Bill of Rights can improve things, what would be the relationship between the British Bill of Rights and Strasbourg, that's the sensible way to proceed. And I think the debate in the last two or three weeks has come out rather oddly and there's more heat than light because, as I've already said, one decision on prisoners voting was taken five years ago and the other decision was taken just under twelve months ago by the British Supreme Court, the English Supreme Court …

ANDREW MARR:

But …

KEN CLARKE:

… and has already been applied in Scotland without any fuss at all.

ANDREW MARR:

But it should be said the Supreme Court interpreting European law.

KEN CLARKE:

It was following the convention, but nobody made the slightest fuss when they gave the judgement and it's been applied in Scotland some time ago without the slightest fuss in Scotland. The key thing on the sex register is nobody is going to expose the public to any risk from sex offenders and so on. I mean what is unhelpful is to have the press suddenly discovering an old judgement and deciding that sex offenders are going to be let loose on the public without having to stay on the register.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me ask about prisoners' votes.

KEN CLARKE:

Sure.

ANDREW MARR:

The idea, we read, is that people sentenced to less than four years in prison would get the vote; people sentenced to four years or more would not get the vote. That still leaves an awful lot of burglars and muggers and drug dealers and so on who would under these proposals get the vote.

KEN CLARKE:

That was the best legal advice the government could get, and it's always a problem with legal advice. I mean I used to be a practising lawyer myself. Trying to give legal advice to a litigant who doesn't want to be told what the law is but wishes it was something else is always tricky. That fails in general.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) So the one year thing is over, is it?

KEN CLARKE:

Well no what we're doing is we're obviously considering, amongst other things, the debate we had in the House of Commons. We are continuing to consider what the legal position is. But everybody - the Prime Minister and everybody else has said we will of course comply with the law. It would be quite startling if you had a British government that said you know we weren't going to comply with legal judgements; we were above the rule of law.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Because there hasn't … Sorry, can I just …

KEN CLARKE:

(over) Government, parliament and all of us are accountable to the law.

ANDREW MARR:

Because there has been a suggestion that if the government tries to impose this judgement by having a debate and a vote in parliament, then it's done all that it can do and that therefore it can, as it were, set aside this judgement.

KEN CLARKE:

There are all kinds of arguments. I mean, as you say …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But what do you think of it?

KEN CLARKE:

(over) Well like everything else, I think it should be looked at carefully (Marr laughs) with good legal advice and some calm, sensible, practical approach.

ANDREW MARR:

We can't have an a la carte attitude to this court is what you're saying?

KEN CLARKE:

Towards any court, be it the British Supreme Court, be it an ordinary Court of Justice here or European Court, any other court whose jurisdiction we accept. You are in the end bound by the law. I mean the decisions on prisoners voting to be fair are rather confusing. We had one a couple of days ago and she was totally misinterpreted by the newspapers, so I shouldn't worry about that. But the law does have to be settled and in the light of the debate in parliament, we've got time to have a look at how we're going to comply with it. But I don't think you're going to get a British government that will say it is above international law, even more domestic law.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Is there any chance whatever, do you think, of the Conservative party by itself or indeed the coalition government in due course deciding to pull out of the convention?

KEN CLARKE:

There's certainly no chance of this government pulling out of this convention. We're a coalition government with a range of opinions across it - not just between the parties actually. There's a wide range of opinion inside the Conservative party on the Convention of Human Rights. Fortun…

ANDREW MARR:

(over) There's you and the rest. (laughs)

KEN CLARKE:

No, no, no, no. I didn't take part, but there were Conservatives arguing for the Human Rights Act and incorporating the convention into British law long, longer than when we were in office.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Can I ask you about …

KEN CLARKE:

What we have is an absolutely clearly negotiated statement of policy that says this government will comply with the European Court of Human Rights. And what I've been ex… I'm not even the lead minister. It's Nick Clegg who's the lead minister on all this, but actually I largely agree with him on most of it. But what we're both putting forward is the firm policy of the government. Certainly that will be the policy for this parliament. So …

ANDREW MARR:

Okay. Can I ask you about another European Court issue, which has surfaced in the papers this morning, which is that people at Broadmoor and other secure units, people who've committed some terrible crimes believe that their human rights have been infringed because they're not getting the benefits that they would otherwise be entitled to. That's the kind of thing that just drives people purple with rage when they read it.

KEN CLARKE:

Well I don't think they're likely to win it, are they? I mean I remember this twenty years ago. There were people arguing on behalf of mentally ill people under hospital orders in Broadmoor and Rampton. So what's happening is the Right Wing press, because of the flurry of the last two or three years, are looking for cases to be brought forward. And I wait to see, I won't anticipate the judgement of the court, but when people inside Broadmoor have tried to claim benefits in the past, they have not got any success.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) That same …

KEN CLARKE:

Iain Duncan Smith is reforming our welfare system …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Not that way.

KEN CLARKE:

(over) … but I don't believe he has that in mind.

ANDREW MARR:

That same section of public opinion, if I can put it that way, would quite like your head on a platter, wouldn't they? I mean we read that there's reshuffles coming and that you're a prime target to be moved aside or that your department will be further broken up to bring in Michael Howard or somebody else.

KEN CLARKE:

Well the annual reshuffle is a boring cliché of today's media, and Tony Blair used to give into it which led to a bewildering series of ministers who kind of catch up with departments. But more seriously my position has all been based on the collective view of the government. David Cameron runs a collective government. The more difficult things I've been propounding have been personally discussed and agreed with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, but they're accepted by all the cabinet. And obviously when I was appointed, it was decided in this government to have a moderate Justice Secretary. Nobody thinks I'm from the hanging and flogging wing of the party. Nobody thought I was going to delight the Mail on Sunday. But I personally think it would be quite a step to suddenly swing to the Right, certainly to go back to the kind of law and order policies when each party accuse the other of being soft on crime.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) But you must know that you …

KEN CLARKE:

(over) Every sensible person's tough on crime.

ANDREW MARR:

But you are out of step with an awful lot of Conservative backbench opinion. It has swung towards tougher, more deterrent sentencing… They don't like the idea of putting prisoners out of prisons and many of the things associated with you, and you must feel to some extent that you're a bit of a target?

KEN CLARKE:

I'm out of line with some Conservative MPs - partly inspired by Right Wing newspapers who've told them I'm letting people out of prison or abolishing short-term prison sentences and all the rest of it. Most of my … I've always had disputes with the tabloids.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) I see Philip Davies quoted this morning.

KEN CLARKE:

Philip Davies has always been quoted, but I have had a very good meeting with Philip Davies. Philip Davies and I do not disagree as dramatically as made out, but of course we disagree. Philip has his view, I have mine. What the balance is inside the Conservative party, I'm not quite sure, but we're all tough on crime. The whole point of my job is to protect the public. But you know Blairism led to twenty-one criminal justice bills in thirteen years, all trying to get headlines. We've got to repeal some of this rubbish because some of it will never be in vote. What I am doing is protecting the public by attacking the problems of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, this underclass of people going through the prisons. Our re-offending rates are dreadful and there are more sensible and intelligent ways …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Of doing it.

KEN CLARKE:

… of doing it than just competing for the Right Wing tabloid press support.

ANDREW MARR:

And very briefly, as a bruiser who's having fights with your colleagues, I'm hoping that you're … You've had a bit of a bash on the face yourself.

KEN CLARKE:

Yes. No, I wasn't … I mean I can assure you that …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) That's not a member of the …

KEN CLARKE:

Not Philip Davies, it wasn't a judge, it wasn't anybody else. No, the bruise isn't political. I fell over and banged my head on my way to a meeting, which I wasn't even late for. Bump came up, draining through my eyes. So it gives me, I hope, a suitable pugilistic sort of approach to politics that I usually take. I was a bit of a challenge to your make-up artist this morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Your enemies, take note. Ken Clarke …

KEN CLARKE:

(over) Yes, my members haven't yet physically attacked me.

ANDREW MARR:

Thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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