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Page last updated at 10:47 GMT, Sunday, 12 June 2011 11:47 UK

Transcript of Andrew Mitchell interview

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

Andrew Marr interviewed International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell on June 12th 2011.

ANDREW MARR:

David Cameron has robustly defended Britain's aid budget when every other aspect of government spending has been squeezed, but the idea of helping the disadvantaged in far flung countries does have its critics in this country. Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, is with me now. Good morning.

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

We'll come onto the critics maybe in a moment, but let's start with the big conference that you've got tomorrow called GAVI. This is the vaccination conference that Kevin Rudd was talking about. Now of course we are sort of familiar with the fact that vaccination can help cut child mortality, but why is this something that people at home should be really focusing on now?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well we had a look when we came into government at all the different ways in which Britain does development and who the British taxpayer funds, and one of the very best was the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation where effectively you can vaccinate a kid in the poor world for the price of a cup of coffee against all five of the killer diseases, which mean that so many of these children die before the age of 5. Children in Britain do not die from these diseases. And so everyone is coming together tomorrow for a pledging conference to support this, led by our Prime Minister. We are hoping by tomorrow lunchtime to have raised sufficient funding over the next four years to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children in the poor world and save millions of lives. It's really important. It's Britain's big ask for development this year. We want to support it very strongly. We have a leadership role in all of this and as a result of the action that is taken tomorrow, we have a real chance of saving more than 4 million children's lives.

ANDREW MARR:

And if you look at the amount of funding that's come in from different areas, it is really Bill and Melinda Gates, the Gates Foundation have provided the vast majority. I mean they have this wonderful thing, I think it was from one of the early American tycoons - "The man who dies rich dies disgraced" - and they've given extraordinarily leadership, haven't they?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well it's a remarkable combination: very many countries, including new countries doing this for the first time like Korea; it's got the private philanthropic foundations like Bill and Melina Gates; it's got the private sector. Britain is doing a matching funding approach, so that we drag in as much private sector money as we can and match it. So it is a combination of all those different things committed to trying to save lives in the poor world.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me ask you about a very specific issue at the moment, which we see these terrible photographs, pictures on the television news about Syria and what appears to be a hideous act taking place in Northern Syria at the moment, people fleeing over the border. What can we do to help these people, first of all?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well you are right, we have seen pictures of extraordinary brutality and repression, and that is why the international community more or less unanimously is calling on Assad to reform or to go and people are fleeing across the border into Turkey in large numbers. We've been in very close touch with the International Red Cross, with Jakob Kellenberger who is in charge of that and who is personally watching and masterminding the response. At the moment the Turkish Red Crescent are very engaged on the border. They are providing accommodation for 5,000 people. Britain will give strong humanitarian support in terms of shelter and medicines and food, not least from our stores not too far away in Dubai. But the key thing is to stop the repression, which is causing very large numbers of people to cross the border. And if it continues there could be an enormous exodus from Syria, so we call on the Syrian government to stop this; and of course at the United Nations Britain and others are seeking to get a resolution to put further pressure on the Syrian regime.

ANDREW MARR:

We are, however, still at the stage of motions and resolutions. It appears that we've got absolutely no leverage when it comes to Assad himself. It's totally different from the situation in Libya. Why is that?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well it is totally different from the situation …

ANDREW MARR:

(over) Why?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

… in Libya - not least because the Arab world, which was virtually unanimous on the subject of Gaddafi, is not unanimous on Syria. This is the art of the possible, we do what we can, and I think the British Foreign Office has been extremely effective at the United Nations; and our humanitarian support, using our taxpayers' money very carefully but supportively to try and help in what is a brutal and difficult situation.

ANDREW MARR:

You were in Libya yourself just a few days ago with the Foreign Secretary. Now there's clearly still very difficult humanitarian issues around Misrata and the edges of Benghazi and so on. There's been another attack overnight, I think, by Gaddafi's forces. Are civilians in those areas relatively speaking now safe? Do you think that bit of the job has been done to secure the Benghazi area?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well we have been successful in terms of getting food and medicine within Libya to the people who are at great risk. Britain was a very strong supporter in Misrata, not least in taking off the quayside 5,000 very poor migrant workers who were caught out in the open and who were being shelled by Gaddafi. Britain immediately said that we would help remove them and we have done that. And on the borders where 900,000, more than 900,000 people have fled across the borders into Egypt and Tunisia, Britain was one of the first countries to get there with tents and with shelter, but also to get people off the borders. And that very prompt action has stopped a logistical crisis on the border turning into a serious humanitarian emergency, and today there are less than 5,000 people on the two borders because more than 900,000 have been moved off. In terms of Misrata and what is happening there, it is clear that there was an offensive by the Gaddafi militias firing on Misrata. Most of the shells fell short of the city, but more than 30 people were killed or wounded yesterday in Misrata.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's turn to the subject of aid and your budget generally. You're the only cabinet minister who has a substantial increase in his budget to look forward to and there's plenty of your colleagues, as you know, on the back benches in particular - and some on the front benches too - who feel that this is not fair. That there are so many people in Britain still not getting a good education, unable to find work, in genuine poverty that government when times are really tight should be looking first at the people at home.

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well I think it was absolutely right of the coalition to say in the early days that we would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in Britain or on the planet. And we've stood by this budget firstly because it is morally right to do so. We live in an extraordinarily unequal world of very great discrepancies and poverty far, far worse than anything we see today in Britain or indeed in most of Europe. The fact that in Southern Sudan - a state, a new state that's going to burst on the world on July 9th - a girl born there today has more chance of dying in childbirth if she has a baby than of completing primary school education. So it's morally right, but also it's hugely in Britain's self-interest, in our national interest. We don't protect our security only by tanks and guns, but also by training the police in Afghanistan, getting girls into school in the Horn of Africa, and building up governance structures in the Middle East.

ANDREW MARR:

Well you mention Afghanistan and Ethiopia. What about India where they've got enough money for a large nuclear tipped force, they've got enough money to put a satellite into space, but they're not spending the money on their poor. Why should we be stepping in?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well they are. And the fact is we made some tough decisions when we came into office. We stopped immediately aid to China and to Russia. We have frozen the Indian programme. So for the first time this year since the war, it is not Britain's largest development programme. We've focused it on the most … on the place where there are the poorest people in India. And after all India is a place where there are more poor people than in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. And Britain's programme today is demonstrative. It helps show how we can get more people into school, get more healthcare to women particularly, and these programmes are massively scaled up by the Indian taxpayer. So British know-how is making a huge contribution. Now is not the time to stop the programme in India, though I don't think we will be there for very much longer, and it is part of a much wider partnership that was greatly reinvigorated by the Prime Minister in his visit last year.

ANDREW MARR:

When you talked about Britain being an "aid superpower", that irritated some of your colleagues. "This is grandstanding", they said.

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well I didn't say an aid superpower. I said a development superpower.

ANDREW MARR:

A development superpower.

ANDREW MITCHELL:

And what I meant by that was that just as America is a military superpower, so, because of the brilliant things that Britain is doing in the poorest places in the world, saving lives … I mean I don't know whether you've ever visited one of these awful malnutrition clinics or wards in a hospital in a country like Uganda and seen children half the size of ours at the age of two and three. We can have a huge impact on this. Britain is doing brilliant things around the world and that is why I described as a "superpower on development".

ANDREW MARR:

Alright, just one final thing on that. Would it not be better actually to take that budget and hand it to the leading NGOs? Why does it have to be done by government? Why can't it be done by Save the Children and other organisations?

ANDREW MITCHELL:

Well NGOs - and they do brilliant stuff all around the world - have a role to play, but in the end the approach of the coalition government is to go with what works. We deploy our hard earned taxpayers' money, so that every pound of taxpayers' money delivers 100 pence of development on the ground. Sometimes it's the NGOs who should do that; sometimes it's other organisations - local organisations or governments.

ANDREW MARR:

Andrew Mitchell, for now many thanks.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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