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UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott
UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott

BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW:

JOHN PRESCOTT MP DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER

OCTOBER 14TH, 2001

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

DAVID FROST:

And now we're joined by John Prescott who's on his first diplomatic mission abroad since September the 11th and he joins us now live from Moscow. John good morning.

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Good morning David.

DAVID FROST:

And I heard an echo there, hopefully it's not coming through to your end, what is the¿

JOHN PRESCOTT:

I can hear you fine.

DAVID FROST:

Good and I can hear you fine too, the, let's, we were talking to Yvonne Ridley there and to Mary Robinson, what is the latest news from the front, or from the bombing front, the latest news on the war against terrorism?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well of course we continue that war and a global alliance against what is happening on the terrorism front and I think the bombing campaign that we've been involved has been successful, there are concerns of course always in these matters, but our concern's also with refugees. Mary Robinson, I believe, would have been talking about those issues and how we have assisted in that process and at the same time is to continue that war in an effective alliance to make sure that we do defeat bin Laden and his network.

DAVID FROST:

And in terms of the timing of all this John, I mean Clare Short's saying that she hopes it will be a short sharp war in the Independent on Sunday, then I remember Don Rumsfeld said it will take five years and Peter Hain said a lifetime. How long do you see this war continuing?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well we've agreed to act shoulder-to-shoulder and everyone has been saying it takes some considerable time and it's very clear that the threats that have come from them have been re-emphasised by bin Laden and we have to deal with threat. It will take as long as it's necessary, it's not only of course a global alliance on military aspects of it, it's also on legal, it's on security, it's on the other global alliance for which I'm concerned with of how we deal with peace issues as well as war and it is across that front and that will take some time. I think everybody has emphasised it and I think that's probably true.

DAVID FROST:

What, what exactly is the, our war aim now, John, the first stage as we know is¿

JOHN PRESCOTT:

It's to defeat terrorism, that's a, to defeat terrorism, it's clearly that, identified in Afghanistan and bin Laden, that's where we're concentrating our effort, I think the world has agreed and it's been confirmed by bin Laden and many of the messages since having first denied these activities that he wants to carry out these kinds of acts of terrorism particularly against the civilian population. That seems to be his confirmed view right up to now and we must defeat that and that's what we're bound to do.

DAVID FROST:

And what, what next, I mean is it only?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I think what's next is to take account of this since September the 11th there's been great emphasis of course on the global alliance in regard to acting against terrorism. I think we equally want to win the peace as well as the war and this is what's important about some of the discussions I'm having here in Russia. Russia's a very important partner to us, very important friend, they act with us on a number of global activities so whilst there's emphasis at the moment on the global terrorism there is issues about poverty in the world, you know something like one and a half billion people live on less than a dollar a day, a billion more have in fact, don't have access to clean water, all these are very important issues that ten years ago the world came together in the Earth Summit and said we must deal with that. Now on September the 11th tragically enough a date 12 months on next year from the terrible tragedy in New York the World Earth Summit will be convened again and Tony Blair made clear he'd some good to come out of this evil. We have to win, indeed, the peace as well as the war. So these issues of poverty, clearly need a global response, even the environmental issues that I've been involved in, as you know David, and we've talked about before from Kyoto, you need a global response whether you're rich, poor, or a powerful nation, you can't avoid the consequences of that, it needs a global response and so our discussions here in Russia are very much about that to see if we can increase our partnership, working together on these very important global issues which are more concerned with poverty and peace, if you like, and which were in these poverty areas much of the kind of resentment and terrorism grows, we've got to deal with that problem. Win the peace as well as win the war, it needs a global alliance and there's a greater emphasis on that since September the 11th and working with Russia's is very important partner in that process.

DAVID FROST:

But in terms of, everybody ducks going on to the second stage of the war, is that because you know what we're going to do next or, and don't want to tell the enemy, or is it because in all truth we don't know what we do next after Afghanistan?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I think, no all options are considered in these matters but let's face it that believe that the case has been made against bin Laden, we've asked the Taliban regime to actually release them, we've asked them a second time to do so, they have failed to do so and therefore we have agreed through the UN and all through this global alliance that we will seek to deal with terrorism in that way and that is what we're concentrating our efforts on at this present time. Of course we have said we're concerned about global terrorism throughout the world but at the moment the evidence is clear as far as we're concerned about bin Laden and what we have to do now is to make sure that we carry that through.

DAVID FROST:

While you've been in Moscow, well you just got there didn't you, but the, you'll have seen the, the fuss about Railtrack which was part of your life in the last few years and, and the £1.5 billion that you pledged in April now Stephen Byers has reneged on and all hell's broken loose, what, what was your reaction when you heard that news?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I don't think that's true, I think Stephen Byers has made absolutely clear he's nearer details, I'm not actually involved in that, but that deal that we reached to begin with has been carried out and the payments are still being made. I think the difficulties that Stephen's faced with, and indeed the taxpayer as well and what I found while I was dealing with Railtrack is you never could be sure how much they were going to be asking for, it was always billions more and if I look at the project on the West coast, when I first came in I was told it would cost to modernise the West Coast railway line something like £2 billion, I believe it's now nearer £7 and £8 billion, it goes up almost a billion a year. Now how can you have confidence in any body that actually keeps coming forward with those kind of increases and that's the great difficulty about Railtrack. And do bear in mind the people who designed Railtrack, the Tory administration, have now said it's fatally flawed and said that you can't work with it. Well I did try to work with it and the problems have got worse and to that extent therefore Stephen Byers has to deal with not only the shareholder interests concern with the taxpayer, who's being asked each for billions more.

DAVID FROST:

Yeah but Steve Marshall was here earlier and he was absolutely clear that the £1.5 billion, Steve, Stephen Byers is on the record as saying they're not going to get it and that's why they went into receivership or into registation. That's, the reason being important John obviously is that all through the papers people in the City and everything are going to say how can we trust the government, how dare we ever invest in another PPP if they're going to pull the rug all over again?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I don't think you could draw those analogies completely but let me just say this, I'm sure that a statement's going to be made about these circumstances, I don't know the full details, you apparently have done an interview with Steve Marshall. Steve Marshall came in later in the day really in Railtrack and I think he tried to do as good a job as he could but there was something fundamentally flawed about Railtrack, that was one of the problems and the political party that designed it has said that. So let's wait and see what Steve has to say, I think Railtrack would have to agree that the government, certainly when I was working with it put quite a lot of money into it, we were heavily criticised for it and I'm afraid the market took a view about the operation of Railtrack, that it wasn't as competent as it should be, there was an ever-increasing demand for public money and whilst people talk about the shareholder's interest the taxpayer's interest has to be the fore as well. And at the end of the day you want a good railway system and whoever's managing it has to be the best possible and I think the view on Railtrack was perhaps it wasn't.

DAVID FROST:

And so the idea now is to have this non-profit making trust or whatever to run it?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well I think you must wait for the statement, I mean I haven't been in the details of that, I think you must for the statement has to be made about this, there are discussions on about all manner of these things and I think Mr Marshall has said that he's cooperating with the Secretary of State and no doubt they'll want to make a statement at the appropriate time and let's wait for that.

DAVID FROST:

Let's come back again now to Afghanistan. What sort of reaction have you been getting in Moscow, I mean they are very, very relaxed, comfortable in their relationship with us at the moment in this war?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well my talks, my talks with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Economic Minister start to take place tomorrow David and we will see then and we will be discussing Afghanistan of course and they've had a considerable experience there, there's lot's to learn between us on these matters. But I think one of the main points that I want to make from this is there's much about the global alliance being new, do you know if we could use this kind of commitment, this passion for a global alliance to deal with terrorism, let us turn that energy and effort to deal with poverty, to deal with the fact that people haven't got water. Here's a chance now to use a global alliance for the real and effective operation and that's as much a lesson that I want to bring home and talk with the Russians to see how we can work together. After all President Putin and the Prime Minister have met eight times, he's now meeting with the American President, he's trying to encourage that cooperation for good and peaceful goals as well as hunt for terrorism.

DAVID FROST:

And what, what should be the state of mind of British people at the moment, we have a situation today where British and American Muslims by an aid of bin Laden were told not to fly or advised not to fly, and also at the same time everyone's getting nervous about Anthrax, what, what is your message to people in the, in that civic sense?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well as you'll appreciate I'm not actually up to speed on those latest developments but what I have heard about the message given to Muslims is basically confirming, I think, the guilt of bin Laden who's made it clear he wants to continue these civilian action. It was only a couple of weeks ago he was denying he had anything to do with such atrocious acts I believe almost condemning it at what happened in New York. Now he's threatening us all with that, so that's the first point to make. Secondly it reminds us to be vigilant and that part of the propaganda war being continued by bin Laden is to cause great uncertainty, the economic field in society, generally and we've got to recognise that's part of their tools to destabilise, we will do everything we can, everything is on maximum alert, we're giving the proper information about all these matters to the appropriate authorities and we're dealing with it in a proper manner. Do bear in mind there's a propaganda war going on as well, threats and intimidation are as much about a threat to the society and its activities as an aeroplane flying into a tower, this is the kind of activities we're involved in, that's what makes it a long kind of process but we are right and justified in our action and their latest threats I think rather convince us of that.

DAVID FROST:

And there seems to be a meeting coming up between the BBC and the government over this question of whether the bin Laden tapes should be seen here, only a minute or two of them is seen but there's a fear they might contain a secret message, coded messages to members of his entourage. Do you think there's any truth to that?

JOHN PRESCOTT:

Well there may well be but I think the fact they're calling for discussions between the government and the media authorities is the proper one, I think it's also caught up also about how much information you give, about movements of people in this kind of situation where threats are made about¿against individuals and their families as much as countries. Look we are in a propaganda war from them as well but what's quite clear, they're the ones that are giving the issue of terrorism, they are carrying this out, there were over 6,000 people died in the most atrocious circumstances and I think we must deal with it and that's what we're doing at the moment.

DAVID FROST:

Thank you very much indeed John for joining us from Moscow, we hope you have a fruitful time and we look forward to seeing you when you're back here. Our thanks to John Prescott there.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST:

Well that's all we've got time for this morning, my thanks to all of our guests this morning, from far and near and we're back at our usual time next Sunday morning at nine o'clock, until then top of the morning, good morning.

END


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