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Lord Tebbit, Baroness Williams and Frank Dobson in discussion
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: FORMER TORY CHAIRMAN LORD TEBBIT, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PEER BARONESS WILLIAMS, AND FORMER HEALTH SECRETARY FRANK DOBSON, MAY 20TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST: Now of course the whole country's gearing up for this general election, we'll be talking about that in a moment with our all-star panel, but first a small taste of a special election programme presented by our beloved friend Mr Peter Sissons.

[FILM CLIP]

DAVID FROST: That was, that was indeed Peter Sissons, now a fresh batch of opinion polls this weekend indicate that despite the excitement of the last week the Prime Minister kebabbed outside a hospital and a fracas in Wales involving the Deputy Prime Minister is no great sign of support shifting one way or the other. What could change before polling day, well joining me here this morning a special trio to review each of the party's chances and here they are. On my immediate left or perhaps I should say on my right Norman Tebbit, Shirley Williams and Frank Dobson, welcome to all three of you. Mad, bad and dangerous was the description Charles Kennedy had for William Hague's policies on asylum, what's your reaction to that, Norman?

NORMAN TEBBIT: Well I think that Welsh guy would have said it applied more clearly to the Deputy Prime Minister. But of course we know that Charles has got to show off and he's got a great reputation as a game show player, but of course, it hurts the party you know which has seen its vote go down at every election since 1987, 800,000 down last time, this time probably sinking below four million again. So he has to make an exhibition of himself.

DAVID FROST: And what did you think of the speech, the William Hague speech on asylum and the policy on asylum and the concentration on asylum?

NORMAN TEBBIT: Absolutely sound, and I read in the papers this morning that Jack Straw is going to propose a limit, an actual number limit on the number of people who will be admitted regardless of what's going on in the world, regardless of whether there are many people who qualify or not, but he's proposing a limit. Now Hague never proposed that, all he said was that if you want to come here you must wait in the detention centre, if that's what you want to call it, you're not in prison, you can go at any time you like but that's where you wait until we've processed your claim and that seems to make sense to me and to most other people I think.

DAVID FROST: Shirley?

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: I think it's very marvellous that the British public have not responded to what I believe to be a cheap and dangerous campaign run by the Conservatives on asylum seekers. It just isn't true that we're a soft touch, in fact six European countries take more refugees per head of population than we do and have done for quite a long time, secondly it isn't at all easy to get into this country, I know because I get a great many letters from religious groups and others that are concerned about refugees and because you can't get into this country if you haven't got official papers how the devil do we suppose that somebody from Iraq or Iran who is a genuine dissident, who may have been tortured, who is fighting for democracy gets here because he or she won't have, that's for sure, official papers. I think we never look at the causes of refugees, right now we've got a terrible situation between Israel and Palestine which you've just been discussing, if that goes wrong there'll be thousands more refugees streaming across Europe trying to get anywhere safe. We never address the causes, we only talk about the symptoms and I believe the Conservative Party is using it in a most cynical way to try and attract public support.

NORMAN TEBBIT: And they stream straight across Italy, Germany

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: Oh come on Norman

NORMAN TEBBIT: France, Belgium and they don't stop there

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: No that's not true

NORMAN TEBBIT: There is a camp, there is a camp at Calais where the French keep them in order that they pop them on lorries and the rest of it to smuggle them in.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: I just told you and the facts come from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees that there are six European countries including Holland which take more more refugees than we do, last year Germany took three times as many, they didn't this year but in every year in the last ten years Germany has taken proportionately more than us. It's a complete and absolute Tory shibboleth that suggests how many we take.

NORMAN TEBBIT: We don't know, we don't know how many, we don't know how many we take.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: That suggests that we are particularly soft touch.

NORMAN TEBBIT: Because? SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: But no, there

NORMAN TEBBIT: Even after we have found through the processing that some of these people are bogus they've disappeared. We don't report them.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: Well that's another story and I'm not suggesting for a moment that the asylum system has been very efficiently run. With great respect Norman under your government it was so appalling that it took up to two and a half years to deal with cases and there was many people's.

NORMAN TEBBIT: I, I, I haven't been in the government since 1987 Shirley.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: I didn't, I said your party, your party well come on, you support it.

NORMAN TEBBIT: I was not a noted supporter of John Major

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: You know what we mean by the phrase your government it happened under Thatcher too.

DAVID FROST: Let me just bring in Frank here, I mean there is actually in addition to the tactics and so on, there is a real problem here isn't there, because when you see, if you see a figure of 78,000 plus dependants and then only 9,000 have been successfully removed and so on, there is a lot of figures building up there isn't there?

FRANK DOBSON: Well I, first of all I agree with everything that Shirley said. Secondly there are a very substantial number of people who under international law and our law are entitled to asylum in this country and they come here thinking that they are and they are allowed in. There is another substantial number of people who have grounds for thinking that they will qualify but don't and then there's a number who clearly just want to avoid the general laws on immigration and want to get in. But we've got to distinguish between those and the best thing to do is to deal with things quickly and one of the problems, I know Norman says it wasn't his government but he's here on behalf of the Tory Party, the last Tory government started introducing a computer system which was going to sort all this out, sacked hundreds or got rid of hundreds of staff and it's taken a long time to get the situation sorted out but the backlog now is lower than it's been for ten years. But when we come to this, I mean of all the cheap and meretricious things that William Hague's come up with in his short and I expect fairly shortly to be terminated career as Leader of the Tory Party, these camps are it. He hasn't calculated how many people might be needed, might go in his camps so he doesn't know how many he would want, he doesn't know how much it would cost, he doesn't know where they would be and he's got no estimate of the time it would take to build them and provide them. It's no answer even to the problem that he's thought up. And the final point I'd make is this, there are, he, I don't say he's racist, I certainly don't say that Norman's racist, but they do need to think very carefully if every racist in the country cheers the policy they've announced.

DAVID FROST: Come back in response to that Norman, and then Shirley.

NORMAN TEBBIT: I think it's a silly, cheap point to make. The clear fact is that we're all agreed that there should be immigration laws to control immigration. What William Hague is saying is let's make sure that they work and let's not fiddle the figures. Let's not pretend that because somebody is told that they must leave that they do leave. Nobody knows how many of the people who should have left have gone. Nobody knows how many are, who are here. Nor should we fiddle the figures in the way the present government does, when they're counting these would-be immigrant families they only count the head of the family, every other country in Europe counts the whole family. If we look at Germany which we've just heard is doing such a good job, on BBC a little while ago there was an interview with a German border guard on the Elbe where people tried to swim across every night from Poland, even in the winter, what do they do with them? They put the dogs on them and turn them round straight back immediately. Now we're not going to do anything like that let me say, and yet we're spoken of as though we were some sort of people, and it's the classic smear 'oh you're not a racist but your, your supporters are racist'.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: We're getting away from

DAVID FROST: Alright, alright, I'm going to just move on to a wider point now.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: Just, just one point though I want to make David if I may?

DAVID FROST: Yes.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: We must address the extreme inequalities that are created in this situation and that's one of the things that hasn't come up in this election, at a time when you've got nearly a billion people living on a dollar, less than a dollar a day we're going to get refugees coming out of our ears if we don't begin to address this issue and I must say, in all, with, with some credit on this to the Labour government they have attempted to try to increase the aid budget to try to help some of these countries to keep people back in countries themselves to develop economically.

NORMAN TEBBIT: That's not going to change the nature of corrupt government in Africa Shirley, you've never been there.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: Corrupt government in Africa corrupt government in many other countries.

DAVID FROST: Right well that is, has been and thanks to the speech and so on, clearly the issue of the last two or three days in the election.

FRANK DOBSON: I don't think it has though David because nobody raised, I've been going round the country, I've been meeting people, well that's the difference and I think that's where a lot of people in the media are totally out of touch with what's actually happening in this election. I've been going round the country, I've been meeting people on streets, I've gone to street stalls and I can tell you not a single person has raised asylum with me and I've talked to Tories and Liberals and non-voters as well as Labour people.

DAVID FROST: Well that's very interesting, that's very, I've got a specific question for you Frank which is Ken Livingstone is out there campaigning for Labour, he'd like to rejoin the Labour Party, would you second that?

FRANK DOBSON: Well he expelled himself by standing against the official Labour candidate and under the party's rules you're out for five years. What he does as a private individual is entirely up to him.

DAVID FROST: And do you think, given that Tony Blair persuaded you to give up a job you loved, wasn't there an implicit promise that you could come back, I mean doesn't he owe you a Cabinet post after this election?

FRANK DOBSON: No, nobody's owed a Cabinet post

NORMAN TEBBIT: Sean Woodward

FRANK DOBSON: I've, I've

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: Yes.

FRANK DOBSON: I've said that if he wants me back in the Cabinet I'd be delighted and if he doesn't that's his decision, no deal was made.

DAVID FROST: I see, very clear. Shirley we've been hearing that maybe the Blair government which may have been cautious is going to be more radical next time but in fact at this particular moment the Liberal Democrats are the most radical party in terms of issues like tax and others.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: And we're very proud of it, the one worry I've got is that the way in which Labour's talking about becoming radical is getting the, the public services run by private managers and given the track record of Railtrack, Marks and Spencers and most recently BT, one really has to ask whether that's a very sensible way to go, I don't think most Labour supporters for one moment realise what's going on. We're being radical in a different way, we're talking about social justice, we believe the electorate will support higher taxation for health and education and my goodness after last week it's quite clear that the NHS has got to be rescued and it hasn't been rescued yet.

FRANK DOBSON: But surely what was radical about your lot voting with the Tories against the windfall levy on the privatised utilities which raised 5 billion and has helped to get 270,000 young people back to work, there's nothing radical, apparently only putting up income tax is radical.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: No it's not

FRANK DOBSON: I like radical taxes like that

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: With great respect, once you've done the windfall tax after that you've been cosying up to the people that pay substantial sums of money

DAVID FROST: Alright I must step in there for one other question which is, we've had single questions there and the question I want to ask you Norman is seeing those polls today if you were still Chairman of the Tory Party what would you do, what, what would you and William Hague do?

NORMAN TEBBIT: Well I might not have started from here. I, I, you know we can talk about all sorts of things and it's a very wide question but I think that perhaps during the next few days I'll be able to bring into play a new issue which will be of great assistance to the Tory Party.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: No guesses as to what it will be.

NORMAN TEBBIT: And I think, Shirley, I would hope that you and your party would be very actively interested in it.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: If it's what I think it is I think you're absolutely right, because I think it's time to discuss the big issues in this election.

NORMAN TEBBIT: No it's not Europe.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: And I'm perfectly happy, oh okay, I was looking forward to it.

NORMAN TEBBIT: I will come to that during the week.

DAVID FROST: Alright well we'll go to the news now and then we'll come back and ask you again.

SHIRLEY WILLIAMS: It's some wickedness of Blair.

DAVID FROST: Sian.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Sian a vision in sapphire we have one second for you to tell us the subject.

NORMAN TEBBIT: I'll tell you on Wednesday, Thursday time.

DAVID FROST: Alright we'll be in touch and we'll be back and we'll tell you what it was next Sunday. That's all for this morning, thank you to all my guests, great joy to have you all here this morning. Top of the morning, good morning.

END

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