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Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW WITH ANN WIDDECOMBE, SHADOW HOME SECRE APRIL 22ND, 2001

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST:

With the polls resolutely refusing to show any significant upturn in support for the Tories, the last thing they needed was a fresh bout of in-fighting, but the pact on fighting racism has proved just that with the leader having apparently urged all Tory MPs to sign but they say not and then a host of high-profile figures refusing to put their names to the words he's agreed. A few minutes ago I spoke to the Shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe about this matter and several others as well and I asked her first about the CRE race pledge and if it matters who signs what?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Now I think people have got to make their own decisions, William has signed it on behalf of the entire Party, therefore we're all bound by it and Michael Ancram as Party Chairman will make sure that it is properly implemented. But whether individuals want to sign additionally has got to be up to them, I've really only signed it for one reason, it is that I more than anybody in the course of this campaign will be talking about asylum, talking about immigration and those types of issues and I simply don't want a distraction every time I want to debate what we should do about the fact that the asylum system is out of control. I don't want the distraction of your profession trying to sidetrack the whole discussion as to whether or not I've signed this silly pledge. But I do regard it as an unnecessary pledge.

DAVID FROST:

But it's a silly pledge for what reason?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

It's silly because it is unnecessary, all the parties have signed up to the principle, for individuals to sign up as well it's a bit like saying that we're not trusted to act in a decent way. I don't have to sign a pledge that I won't hurt children in the course of a campaign or break the law in the course of the campaign, why should I have to sign a pledge saying I won't be racist in the course of the campaign. But as I say I'm not going to allow it to be a distraction which is why I've signed it.

DAVID FROST:

And, but most MPs seemed to have thought they were bound to sign it, don't they, because the first two or three who said they weren't going to sign it caused a real fuss. Somebody told them they'd got to sign it?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

No what we were told was that William had signed us on behalf of the whole party and therefore we were bound by it and we have known right from the start that we were bound by the pledge that has been signed, that is very different from saying that every individual MP should sign individually. We all get in the run up to general elections hundreds and hundreds of requests to fill in questionnaires, to sign declarations, we could spend our time doing nothing else, a lot of MPs quite honourably take the view, that's it, they, they just don't engage in that.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of the CRE, do you feel that they've behaved correctly on this?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

No I don't and I don't think that when William Hague signed the pledge for all of us that he expected this to be the aftermath. I don't think the CRE had behaved terribly responsibly, I don't think they've done anything to improve relations with politicians, I think they need to reflect upon it and I think what is very interesting is that although Labour have tried to turn this very much into a Tory race row what we see today in our papers is the mother of Stephen Lawrence, the former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, all of them actually saying that Labour itself is behaving badly.

DAVID FROST:

I can't quite see on this how they're behaving badly, how do you mean?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Labour are behaving badly in several ways, they have tried to exploit the fact that our asylum policy, for example, they have tried to call it racist, they have tried to exploit the fact that we're willing to debate these issues and to try to turn it into something rather sinister and that is not so and I think it is perfectly right and proper that we should turn round and we should say 'actually it's not we, it's Robin Cook who's playing the race card in the latest controversy'.

DAVID FROST:

And what, what about Chicken Tikka Masala, have you ever tried it, this, the new British dish according to Robin Cook?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

I've tried it, I've tried it and I enjoy it but I also enjoy fish and chips and roast beef.

DAVID FROST:

And in fact some Labour ministers have indicated that with unemployment down there's a skill shortage and in fact some of the people we're talking about are going to be very, very much needed in this country?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

If there is a skill shortage there is already a perfectly valid mechanism for importing those skills, it's called the work permit scheme. Using abuse of the asylum system whereby people with no possible grounds to claim asylum, get into this country often illegally and then say and oh by the way I claim asylum, that is a very different issue and we cannot have economic migration through abuse of the asylum system.

DAVID FROST:

And if you win the next election Ann, how long will it take to set up these secure or build these secure centres?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

We shall start immediately because it will be my joint top priorities together with getting the police and the sentencing system right, we shall start immediately, obviously we won't have places there for everybody in the first five minutes, nor will I sit back and wait until all the places are on-stream. So we will start by detaining people who come from countries with perfectly safe records who are not likely to be suffering persecution at all and we shall build up from there. And I am quite confident that this is something that we can do speedily, it isn't something that halfway through the Parliament we shall still be struggling to achieve..

DAVID FROST:

And that's, that's what happens if you win, and your nearby colleague down there in Kent, in Faversham, Andrew Rose said yesterday, if on the other hand you lose you don't make any great dent, as he put it, in the majority, then the party will snuff William Hague out, strong words from your colleague?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Well I can't speak for my colleague, what I can say is this, that our concentration has got to be on winning, the threat as I see it over the next few years comes from having Tony Blair back in government, I believe that if he gets back in government we shall be in the Euro whether most of us want it or not, we shall find ourselves further dominated by Brussels and by Europe, we shall find the break-up of the United Kingdom complete, ruled by regional assemblies on the European model, we shall find the NHS continuing to deteriorate, police numbers continuing to deteriorate. I actually think that it will be a very, very bad thing for Britain if Blair wins, that's the danger I'm concentrating on, that's the danger I'm trying to avoid.

DAVID FROST:

Something must be good, which sounds a very dismal picture there, there must be some good sides to this?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

I see nothing good in what this government has done that has made any very great improvement.

DAVID FROST:

In that case though Ann, why, why are the polls so relentlessly, I mean we talked about polls before but relentlessly saying that Labour has a 20 point lead and so on, if they, if Labour's been that bad, I mean the Conservatives must have been even worse?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Oh come on David, two years ago these same polls that you're quoting said we were going to lose the European elections catastrophically. We won them comprehensively. One year ago these same polls that you're talking about said we were going to lose the local elections and we won the local elections. Now we can make it a hat-trick, we've got to go out there and do that.

DAVID FROST:

And what about the Sun editorial yesterday, Michael Portillo's refusal to sign the so-called race pledge is merely an attempt to get him publicity, the effect of his action is undermine William Hague, Portillo is no racist but he's no good either. Do you wish Michael Portillo had done the same as you?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

That is, as I said right at the beginning ...

DAVID FROST:

Yes.

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

This is a matter for individual decisions, my own position is that I'm going to have to be talking about asylum a very great deal and I do not want a distraction by everybody keeping asking me why I haven't signed this pledge rather than by concentrating on the policy. We have an asylum system that is out of control, people are worrying about it, we do have plans to put it right.

DAVID FROST:

What about the thing you mentioned in connection with today, a very interesting point you made that in fact in terms of the public taking action or helping, helping the police, that they are at the moment hindered from doing that by a fear that the person, the legitimate citizen could be arrested himself for using force to try and withstand a force?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Yes that is a very genuine fear that people have, that they tell me that they have. They often put it in terms of what happens if their own property is invaded but often they'll say to me at the same time, what happens if I go to help somebody else who is in trouble and we do have to turn the practice of the law round so that the presumption is always that if somebody commits an unlawful act that from that moment they lose their right to equal consideration and if they are injured in the course of that act then unless there has been manifestly excessive use of force, that's their bad luck.

DAVID FROST:

And so that way the people would be free to do so. Does that mean changing the rules for the police action, I mean how, how would you put something like that, where you want the police to do something differently how do you get them to do that?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Well the fact is of course that a few decades ago they would have done that and not even thought about it and they would have laughed if a burglar had complained that somebody had bumped him for example. So we have to get common sense back into the practice of the law, into the way that the police and CPS approach such complaints, it may also be that we have to change the law itself for the more difficult cases but certainly the practice of the way these things are done could be done fairly quickly and you know it really is crucial because you only have confidence in the police if their priorities and the public's priorities are very close.

DAVID FROST:

And what's your prediction about the general election?

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

My prediction is that it will probably come in June but I can't absolutely be certain of that and my prediction is that I know that we can win and my prediction is that we'll now pull together and we'll do enough to win but I know certainly that we can.

DAVID FROST:

Ann thank you for being with us this morning.

ANN WIDDECOMBE:

Thank you.

DAVID FROST:

A fairly moderate prediction there.

END

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