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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: GWYNETH DUNWOODY MP AND DONALD ANDERSON MP JULY 15TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: This week the government sacked two House of Commons' committee chairmen, Gwyneth Dunwoody and Donald Anderson. And it looks as if rebellion is in the air. Next week MPs could get their chance to overturn that decision. They are both here with us right now. What reasons were you given for this decision? Gwyneth?
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: Well, I wasn't given anything silly like a reason. It's sort of modern man-management, you know. Just told ten minutes before the parliamentary Labour Party are told, oh, you're not on Transport. But we'd like you to go on security, which of course I can't do because I'm not a privy councillor.
DAVID FROST: Donald, what did they tell you? Why they were doing it?
DONALD ANDERSON: We want you to stand down. I asked for what reason. Answer, there was none.
DAVID FROST: And was that said on the phone or in...
DAVID ANDERSON: No, no. I saw the chief whip...
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: Well, you were very honoured, dear...
DAVID ANDERSON: I was honoured...
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: You were honoured.
DAVID ANDERSON: ...on the evening before.
DAVID FROST: On the evening before. And you were not, you didn't see...
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: No, no, no. Hilary preferred to tell me on the phone.
DAVID FROST: Now, whose decision was this? Was it, was it someone saying, who'll rid me of this turbulent priest and then Hillary making the decision?
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: Well, if you can find out we'd be very glad to hear. I think we ought to talk seriously about what select committees are for because frankly we've produced a report for the liaison committee in the last parliament. That's all the chairmen together. Saying it's about time that as a parliament we chose the people who are actually asking the questions. It was a report that made it very clear that ours is one of the few parliaments that lets the ministers choose the people who are actually going to question them. Now frankly, if we are going to do the scrutiny role properly, that ought to be a House of Commons matter, not a matter for the individual ministers.
DAVID ANDERSON: Yes, I agree with that. Basically of course, we could look at the personal side. Some people say, most people say, we've done a pretty good job but the key thing is the matter of principle. To what extent is the executive allowed to control parliament? And this may well be a defining moment because we're at the start of a parliament, the government's not really got into gear yet and parliament can either roll over or it can stand up and serve its rights.
DAVID FROST: How can parliament really do anything different from the government because if you, if you have a free vote in the House of Commons you still have 400-plus Labour MPs who probably a lot of them will do what the government wants.
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: No. I think there's a difference this time. I think that in this parliament you're going to find, a lot of members of parliament, they've got a bit of experience, they know how the place works, they're not learning, and they're going to have their say. And you start with enormous payroll vote, that's absolutely true and there'll be lots of people who march through because they think they're going to be ministers. But I'm afraid that the government has under-estimated the effect on individual backbench members of the PLP and some of the things that they've done. People now see, having talked in their constituency to their own voters, they know that people want not slavish adherence to a kind of yes sir, no sir every time you look at me. But they want you to ask questions. After all, David, the intelligent people have around them those who question what they're doing, before they make mistakes, not after they make mistakes. I'm sure you have people who tell you, don't do that, it may sound like a good idea but it isn't. And that's what select committees do.
DAVID FROST: And Donald do you think that this is clearly a case of over-sensitivity on the part of the government? That they can't, can't bear a bit of criticism, as people have said?
DONALD ANDERSON: Well you've defined another construction. Basically, we, we hope we did a pretty good job. There is an enormous sense of outrage around. There is a happy combination now we've had the liaison committee report, we've had the hansard committee report, and quite a lot of rumblings of discontent on the backbenches. So right at the start of parliament really is the defining moment. Is parliament going to roll over, or is parliament going to assert its rights and say to the government that really it's in your interests and it's in parliament's interests that we stand up for the interests of parliament.
DAVID FROST: And do you think there's a chance you could win, win in this vote?
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: I think that possibly the government have misjudged this. It is really too blatant. It is really too brutal. And frankly members of parliament, if they're to be worth their salt have got to say occasionally, I support this government one hundred per cent, but I don't think they are infallible and that means that it's going to occasionally make mistakes and this is a mistake.
DONALD ANDERSON: If any good is to come of this sad saga it may well be that the government will be embarrassed into going further along the road of reform than they originally intended.
DAVID FROST: And of course you have had the remarkable thing of Betty Boothroyd, the former speaker, very rare for her to do this, but coming out...
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: Well, she feels very strongly about parliament's rights. She was a speaker that protected backbench rights very strongly. She understood in a way that a lot of people don't that parliaments have to be able to speak their own minds. They have to have an element of openness otherwise government doesn't work in a democratic country. And she was a remarkable speaker, she was the first woman, but she was really, really committed to parliament's rights.
DAVID FROST: And, and were you thrilled by that...
DONALD ANDERSON: I was absolutely thrilled. Betty, of course, has a unique position. She watched parliament. She's watched a degree of erosion of parliament's rights. She has seen parliament almost becoming a dignified part of the constitution. And I was genuinely very gratified indeed when Betty, with all her experience, spoke in such terms about Gwyneth and myself.
DAVID FROST: Well thank you both very much indeed for joining us. And we shall watch tomorrow to see what, as you will, what goes on in the debate. And of course, are you able to vote in this vote?
GWYNETH DUNWOODY: Yes, I think we may even manage to vote for ourselves. There's rather a nice idea. At least we, if we lose by one we will know it wasn't us.
DONALD ANDERSON: We're voting for eachother.
DAVID FROST: Excellent, excellent. Very good to have you both with us.
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