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Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine
Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine

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

DAVID FROST: And now from the current man at the MOD to a former, outstanding former, Conservative defence secretary and former deputy prime minister, Michael, now Lord, Heseltine. Michael, good morning.

LORD HESELTINE: David, morning to you.

DAVID FROST: You've been hearing from, obviously, hopefully you were able to hear Paddy Ashdown and Geoff Hoon, what is your reaction as a former defence secretary to the way things are going?

LORD HESELTINE: I think the news today is good and I haven't heard anything from either Paddy or Geoff that I would disagree with. This is a very necessary response to the appalling incidents of September the 11th, war is something you have to fight to win and to win quickly and self-evidently the earlier that happens the easier the strains will be. You have raised a lot of questions about what if and what when but the fact is that you have to get to the point where you deal with the primary target which is obviously the capture or killing of Bin Laden and the overthrow of the Taliban.

DAVID FROST: And in fact phrases that people were using a week ago about the hearts and minds, hearts and minds in this country or the hearts and minds in Islamic country, Mr Ecevit puts that in a certain context, that it's not every Moslem country that's got large demonstrations against what we're doing.

LORD HESELTINE: Well even if they have demonstrations, it doesn't mean that the majority of people - you know I lived through CND and the peace movements, as they were called, laughingly, of the 1980s and we had demonstrations all over the place. The fact of the matter is the overwhelming majority of British people wanted to see the maintenance of Britain's deterrent capabilities.

DAVID FROST: Exactly. And that's what they wanted to see and that's what, that's what occurred. Of course one of the things that occurred under the -

LORD HESELTINE: What is happening - what is dangerous David - just making this point -


LORD HESELTINE: The danger for the sort of societies in which you and I believe and everyone, the vast majority of people on the Western side of the argument believe, is the big problem is how you deal with the media coverage of these events in a context where public resolve is often fairly fickle. The horrendous impact of September the 11th - 7,000 people, innocent people, killed in a wanton murderous act - and then the whole debate slowly becomes one of whether you hit four people in a civilian context in Afghanistan. They become almost a parody of the argument. They are in no way equal arguments.

DAVID FROST: No, and obviously the old thing about a picture being worth a thousand words, the, the repetition of pictures like that has a great potency, doesn't it?


DAVID FROST: How are you feeling today about your party - you had that famous quote, very famous quote, Lord Heseltine warned that victory for Mr Duncan Smith was consigning the party to the political wilderness for a generation. You can imagine the sign hanging outside Tory central office - shop closed, out to lunch. Is your party out to lunch at the moment?

LORD HESELTINE: Well they're probably enjoying quite a good feast at the moment - but that's not of their making. Circumstances have been, have been such that no opposition could do anything, rightly could do anything, other than support the initiatives taken by President Bush and the British Prime Minister and the coalition. Indeed, in a way there is a pent-up force at work, and I think Carol Thatcher spotted it rightly so, that this government domestically is falling apart. They have the Scottish fiasco, they have Railtrack, they have the health service, they have the corruption arguments, all of these things - and the economy is beginning, of course, to look very much different and less effective. And all these issues are building up - sooner or later the damn will burst - but the opposition can't make that damn burst, they have to wait upon events and they're very rightly, in my view, supporting the overwhelming view that we have to destroy the al-Qaeda organisation and deal with Bin Laden - although I happen to believe that actually getting Bin Laden will in some sense create a martyr and that tomorrow's Bin Ladens will be around. I mean just look at the lessons of the IRA and Sinn Fein.

DAVID FROST: Well do you think we really do know, I mean you know the system, do we really know for sure that Bin Laden is still in Afghanistan?

LORD HESELTINE: Well I have no idea, obviously. One can only rely upon those people who have the best available intelligence and frankly my views aren't worth a flick of the finger on that subject. We have to find him, the most likely place is Afghanistan so let's keep that up. But even, even if he's not in Afghanistan, I haven't the slightest doubt that the overthrow of the Taliban is now an important priority.

DAVID FROST: Lord Heseltine, what does Lord Heseltine think of these reforms that are proposed for the House of Lords?

LORD HESELTINE: I was persuaded in the last great debate on this issue, by Enoch Powell and Michael Foot, a highly unlikely combination of intellectual talent, but I was persuaded the House of Lords is a wonderful, indefensible, historic anachronism. That is the only basis upon which you can defend it. And trying to rationalise, actually is what it comes down to is with this government, a form of gerrymandering in the House of Lords, just takes you into a mire of intellectual conflict. I think the House of Lords is a sadder place today than it was before the first set of reforms this government introduced and I think the next lot of reforms will make it sadder still.

DAVID FROST: And the story in The Observer, that we were talking to Geoff Hoon about, this idea of being able to intern without trial terror suspects. Is that the sort of necessity that war, even this rather unusual form of war, brings about?

LORD HESELTINE: Oh yes. Tough, difficult, important to have safeguards, time's limited, but yes, there is no doubt whatsoever that we are dealing with international threats that threaten the security of the nation state and you have to be able to deal with these issues, although they're very difficult politically for the sort of societies that you and I support. That's why the safeguards are important. But I would have no hesitation if I was in government in supporting temporary measures of this sort, extreme though they are.

DAVID FROST: And do you miss it? Do you miss the daily round of politics

LORD HESELTINE: How can I miss it? Here, here you are. I'm not missing it.

DAVID FROST: You're still at, you're still in the business.

LORD HESELTINE: As long as people like you are kind enough to send these very talented people to portray me on your excellent programme, I don't miss it. If you ask me - look what's the choice? I could be in the House of Commons, waiting until six o'clock to talk to an empty chamber and not a word of it would be reported anywhere - that's one choice, not a very attractive one I have to say. Or you have the privilege of having breakfast with Frost, which would you choose?

DAVID FROST: What a, what a choice, and what a wise choice you've made. Michael, thank you very much indeed.


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