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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN PRESCOTT MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER. 10th JUNE, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: So it's been all change in the ministerial line-up, indeed the changes are still going on, more being made at Chequers this morning and then the team will be told what they are. John Prescott of course retains his role as Deputy Prime Minister, hands over his old Ministry to Stephen Byers and there's an over-riding imperative to deliver on public services. We'll be picking over all of this with John Prescott after this brief reminder of the last few days.
DAVID FROST: An instruction to deliver, well the Deputy Prime Minister is here with us this morning and first of all John welcome and what, how would you describe your new job?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it's, you remember four years ago you asked me what I did I want to do and I said I wanted to be the Deputy Prime Minister supporting the Prime Minister as I did with the Deputy Leadership role and they thought then that the Deputy Leadership of the Labour Party wasn't an important job. I think we showed that we worked as a team and I wanted to do that in government. Tony took the view that I should really go and take departmental experience I've certainly take that in the last four years, and then I've now come back to the job I wanted to do which I described to you which is basically to support the Prime Minister in delivering on our programme and then getting the electorate to agree for another term. And what I'm now doing and have agreed with the Prime Minister is that there will be a new office that the Deputy Prime Minister set up, myself and the ministers and the Cabinet Office will now be relocated in Admiralty House which is on Whitehall. I will have direct responsibility to act with the full authority with the Prime Minister, I will represent the Prime Minister abroad and at home as I have done on one or two occasions in the last couple of years and indeed then I will have a responsibility that the government's cross-departmental manifesto pledges are maintained, that the actions in social exclusion, in regional governments and production of a regional White Paper, all these things will be, a responsibility for me to perform for the Prime Minister so that the Prime Minister himself can get on with doing the many demands that are made on him at home and abroad. So I'm absolutely delighted to do what I wanted to do from the beginning.
DAVID FROST: So you don't regard it as some people say, oh this must be demotion because you've lost a vast department¿a big department, in fact probably too big a department because it's been split up?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I could argue about that but in the main we would like to say, if it is demotion I must be the only minister in the world that asked for it¿I've been discussing weeks with him how the programme can be developed because you've got to remember this Prime Minister wants to radically change the way we deliver and that was the heart of this election. Perhaps we haven't delivered as fast as we should and we argue about that, well we certainly need to deliver much faster, there are obstacles and difficulties and constraints in the government machinery and this Prime Minister wants to radically change things and now his office wants to monitor, to develop and to check and to look where problems are earlier. You've seen this Prime Minister, he's hands on a lot of things, he wants to know what's going on with the secretaries of state and therefore to that extent I can relieve him of certain amount of that burden and he can still be informed without having to be directly involved in it. My job will be to take off some of that strain and make sure we deliver, we deliver because you know from day one, you know I've always been on your programme, haven't I, about pledges?
DAVID FROST: Yes.
JOHN PRESCOTT: And you know what I did? That's the old one, we delivered on it, that's the new one¿
DAVID FROST: Nearly, nearly?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No, no well I'll argue it if you want but¿
DAVID FROST: You did that last time¿
JOHN PRESCOTT: I know, I know, I know, but the point is we have a new one now, pledges delivery and in fact at this election people agreed with the good better leadership was in the Labour Party, they agreed with our policies which was a strong economy and investment in our public services, they had some criticism at the rate of delivery, we understood that, we understand that. They've now given us a mandate to get on and deliver those services, we want to deliver them more effectively, more efficiently and indeed with better quality¿
DAVID FROST: And if you don't, if you don't do that in the second term they could punish you at the end of it?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Oh absolutely and I'll be going back with my card again and saying look this is what we've promised, thousands of doctors, teachers, nurses, the very fact of achieving those targets does require government to deliver in a much more effective way than it has at the moment, you can't have any excuses at the second election. You have to go along and deliver strong economy, public services, what the public want and that's why we've had such an emphatic victory as we did on Thursday.
DAVID FROST: But, but one of the things too that's come up in the, in terms of the process of this election, the, one, one of the key things is delivery, actually there's one other question I wanted to ask you which is, your job, it's a graveyard isn't it, that sort of job, I mean Michael Heseltine couldn't make it work and Jack Cunningham and Mo Mowlam didn't get, make much of an impact, isn't it a tough, tougher job than it sounds?
JOHN PRESCOTT: It is a tough job but I think Michael Heseltine was able to do it in a different way because he was the Deputy Prime Minister, Mo, Jack and others who went into the Cabinet Office were not Deputy Prime Ministers, couldn't act with the full authority of the Prime Minister that I will have and I think the relationship between Tony and I has been very good and I believe that as in our leader and deputy leadership of the Labour Party, two of us can work as a team, I think the electorate like that. I want to be fully supportive of a Prime Minister who wants to make radical change and deliver. So I've no doubt it may be difficult but we'll have the support and I hope perhaps my own personality and agreement with my colleagues that I'll make a contribution to delivery.
DAVID FROST: And on the Euro, how long can the uncertainty last, just the uncertainty for business, the uncertainty for, not only business but I mean the unions and uncertainty for all of these people there's a real, two years seems a terrible long time to take to make up a decision?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think¿ DAVID FROST: Don't you think it's got more urgent? JOHN PRESCOTT: Well if we get it wrong the uncertainty would be very considerable so you shouldn't get it wrong and I think the criteria was agreed by the Cabinet, put forward to us by Gordon and endorsed, we went to the electorate and said if you're satisfied these various conditions we are prepared to recommend to Parliament, Cabinet first then Parliament and then indeed to the country and the people will have a choice in the referendum and I think that came across in the electorate, that's why the issue of the Euro didn't have the force of argument and political force that Mr Hague thought it would have, we were going to give the people the right to make the final decision.
DAVID FROST: And what about the private sector, when you talked about Tony wants to be, you said, Tony Blair wants to be more radical and so on, does that mean that for instance the thing that he's raised and you've raised often, I mean does this mean much more of the private sector participating in the provision of services in health and education?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well the definition of radical, rather limited one but it has been largely in British politics is perhaps to take the extreme radicalism is to take over the top 25 companies and we went through that process. What we're meaning in the radical is to change radically what we have at the present time, now it's manifest itself in different ways. One it may be in the time we deliver through government changes, the Prime Minister's now talking about in finances, the public-private finances has been an important an issue to the development¿not the privatisation that Mrs Thatcher had, it is the best use of public and private financing and we've had a number of areas where we've developed that and it may be in hospitals, in some cases and it certainly will be in transport, there's a massive, billions of pounds are now being re-invested in our infrastructure and transport systems and in hospitals radical is sense that the argument, the radical principle is treatment free at the point of need that is based upon your need and not your ability to pay, that's a principle we've actually followed. The radicalism that follows from that is putting even more resources of the GDP, not just more money, increasing the resources of GDP to go into hospitals and where there is facilities in the private sector, for example in Bupa, then there's no reason why you can't take those private beds at say at extreme emergency and use them and contract out for them. There is no reason why you can't mortgage buildings from private sector to build a hospital and we do that with our private houses but the staff are still employed by the NHS, the principle remains the same, and specialisation facilities like cataract operations or whatever it might be. They, they, they can be given, delivered in buildings that may be private buildings, financed that way but still the staff, it's still free at the point of use.
DAVID FROST: And if the unions object, as they seem likely to do, NUT, Unison depending on which of the two health and education, it is, you'll, you'll take that, I was going to say take that on the chin but you¿
JOHN PRESCOTT: That's what I though you were going to say.
DAVID FROST: That was, that was, you don't take it on the chin do you?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes, I take your point, shall we move quickly on. But take the trade unions, they're representing their members, I had it with the Underground, it wasn't an issue of safety though the argument was often made that it was safety, that's not true, they may feel that the workers are not being employed in the public sector and they're right to express their concerns about it. That happened in the early kind of private money in hospitals, in the schools and education the desire to a radical form of our specialist schools in the Secondary, Secondary aspects of it. Now take unions will express their concern, in some cases they are perhaps against change sometimes says now we must have a debate with them and that debate will continue, it's not over-riding them, they are people involved, they have an interest in it. But that doesn't say we don't do it simply because we've got an opposition from that quarter, I think it was Tony himself would say that no favours but fairness and I think that's how we'll approach it again.
DAVID FROST: Because it does seem from the polls that at the moment more people think the NHS is worse than when Labour came in than think it's better and that's something that, when we were talking about¿you've got to deliver that is perhaps the most crucial thing?
JOHN PRESCOTT: That is a key issue and I think to a certain extent the decisions we made in the first two years to accept the expenditure which the Tories had was an important issue. In transport I didn't get a, a great deal of it, I got some just to keep up to the mark but I got my £180 billion for transport a little later, but for the first two years we took those difficult decisions, reduced the national debt, redirected from paying banks from borrowing for pay on unemployed and used that to re-invest into hospitals and to education. Now in those circumstances that's where the changes can come, will come and will continue but we have to deliver. Two years out the four years in the tight situation, we're now going into an eight, nine year period which I think will give us sufficient to complete the job, after all that's what the Prime Minister said, a lot done, a lot more to do. He also said a lot to lose and I think what this electorate said, what the Tories proposed they didn't like, they realised it'd be a lot to lose and when we had the return of the Mummy, Mrs Thatcher they were reminded too starkly about the lot to lose and I think that helped towards our great victory.
DAVID FROST: So, and as you said earlier it will be a judgement day when the third, the third election comes round?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Absolutely and my job from day one now is to be working on that to make sure we deliver for that day, working with my colleagues in the departments and making sure there's a central government approach in the sense that we deliver as promised.
DAVID FROST: John Prescott thank you very much indeed. Our thanks to John.
[BREAK FOR NEWS] DAVID FROST: We, we mentioned the famous punch just then, a lot of people think that really, if this isn't a contradiction in terms, kick-started the campaign?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well a lot of people passed a lot of comment but I think I would like to say and I haven't said this before and now the incident's over and the police are in the final stages of their investigation, that I think the public let know what its view was which was entirely different from certain elements in the media and I want to say thank you very much to public opinion.
DAVID FROST: Fair enough, yes the polls, the polls came out 60-40 in fact didn't they. Well thank you to John Prescott, thank you to all of our guests, our glittering array of guests this morning.
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