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Breakfast with Frost Sunday, 30 June, 2002, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Interview with John Prescott MP, deputy prime minister
John Prescott MP, deputy prime minister
John Prescott MP, deputy prime minister

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

DAVID FROST: Now on Wednesday John Prescott resigned from the Trade Union the RMT, he's been a member of the RMT and its predecessor the Seaman's Union since he was a 17-year-old. But now the union's decided to withdraw financial support from Mr Prescott's constituency party because of his refusal to support Blair policies as they see it. He's recently back from Brazil as well, let me start by saying welcome.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Do you think I've changed in 25 years, that you said to Virginia Wade...


JOHN PRESCOTT: Would you put that to a man like you...

DAVID FROST: We can get a picture of John from 25 years ago and we'll have a vote with the audience and they can send us their answers.

JOHN PRESCOTT: You put it to women, why not men?

DAVID FROST: Very good point. Sexism in reverse that is, yes. The, was it really horrendously difficult, I know what you felt about the Seaman's Union and therefore about its successor and was that a tough, as tough a decision as you've had to take?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I was within three years of becoming, 50 year membership of the trade union and that meant quite a great deal to me, I'm a union person and everybody knows that, I come from a union family and I've remained a union person whether I'm in that union or not. And it was a difficult decision but I mean the decision's clear, you cannot have a trade union or an employer or anyone else dictate to you about the vote and that was the position that he put to a number of MPs that you must either support this policy, that is say the renationalisation of rail and the three or four other things that he had repeatable legislation or we'll not support you. We cannot have that, nor is it in breach of my contract if you like, with the constituents who could expect me to do what I should be doing for their interests. Secondly it's in breach of the PLP rules and it borders on being a breach of parliamentary privilege, that is totally unacceptable and all my life, whether it's ship owners sacking me off ships or whether it's trade union leaders telling me if you don't do as you're told I'll exercise a sanction I say I'm sorry I don't accept that, I'll do what I think is right and that was the kind of decision, and in that context it's not a difficult decision, you have to do what's right and I'm elected by the people in this country and we will act in the interests of everyone particularly when I'm a government minister.

DAVID FROST: And what's going to happen to the flat, the RMT flat?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's a flat I've lived in even before I became a Member of Parliament, it was the National Union of Seaman's buildings, it was one of the assets passed over, most of my years were in the National Union of Seamen on shipping and in those circumstances it's a flat I have at that moment, it's, I've always said that in fact I may not be always in government, you never know what's going to happen but I need a flat to go back to and it's agreeable and it is possible that I can do that and that's where it remains at the moment. The only difficulty was it was suggested to me because of all the publicity that I could possibly buy the flat, they made an offer to me, a commercial offer, they took assessments on, the sale was going through, the new general secretary was elected and decided to stop it.

DAVID FROST: And he...

JOHN PRESCOTT: He's right to do that.

DAVID FROST: In one of the papers today he's quoted as saying he wants to get you out of his flat?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No I don't know, well I mean you can't always believe what is said in the press, I go on what he's written to me and what he's said to me in regard to the parliamentary one, not the press reports. But he has written saying, soon as he was elected along with the executive they decided to revoke it. Of course if it had been in Scotland they couldn't have been able to do that but look he has a right to do that, that's a, that is his right to say I'm not going to continue that sale so they have conducted some and therefore I remain a tenant.

DAVID FROST: And what about finding another union, you've had a union all your life as you said for nearly 50 years, how are you going to find another union?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well there have been offers made to me, let a little water flow under the bridge first I don't want to create difficulties, you know this is just a flurry, it doesn't affect the relationships between the Labour Party and the trade unions. I'm a trade union man, I'll always be that way, now whether I've got a membership card or not I'll still be doing what I think is right, what brought me into politics to work on behalf of working people and I do find it a bit much to hear them saying about transport policy, 180 billion into the transport system, more people on trains, more on buses, 70 per cent increase in shipping and that's supposed to be a failure. Well I'll live with what I think is a success.

DAVID FROST: What about at the same time, you put out in an announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister's office yesterday saying that contrary to reports in the papers yesterday Martin Sixsmith is not being prevented from giving evidence to the Wilks enquiry into the role of special advisors, and you, you said, and he's not been told he may not get his money because he has got his money...

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well again...

DAVID FROST: What's the story there?

JOHN PRESCOTT: These were press reports, I inherited this problem, namely as you can imagine that came with the job, the new job and I just wanted to be sure, is the agreement between the two parties which was a kind of binding agreement one that's been agreed with both parties. I understood that to be so and I've told that to be so. Also as made clear the money had been paid and there's nothing in the agreement that prevents you actually going before the committee that requested to see him. Of course he's entered into a contract agreement on these matters and he will have to take that into account but every civil servant enters into a form of agreement when leaving the office under those circumstances and I just wanted to make it clear, I'm certainly not involved in saying you can't go to the committee, I'm not, and I've also been made clear that money has been paid to him and that's where we are.

DAVID FROST: And what about the other people they talk about, I mean should, for instance, Alistair, Jonathan Powell or even the Prime Minister, should they all turn up and testify?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I don't know I'm not responsible for that but I am funnily enough...Martin Sixsmith even though the deal was done well before I arrived on the scene, so its final conclusion and agreement with Martin Sixsmith was in those final stations so I just said, are the two parties satisfied with this agreement, I was told yes and of course I say okay, get on with it.

DAVID FROST: You mentioned Railtrack just now, obviously when you were on this programme and elsewhere you used to talk about being in favour of the renationalisation of British Rail back in 1993, here on the programme and so on, then it didn't happen but now it has happened, I mean British Rail?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well let's be clear, we were fighting against the privatisation, we said it would be disastrous, most of the things we predicted did happen and we were hoping it would discourage the government from not doing it until after the election as they did with Telecom, but they went ahead with this disastrous proposal. I was then faced as a minister, do I take it back and pay 6 billion compensation so I had an argument about this, went to the conference, RMT put the proposal of nationalisation, the conference supported my proposal, I got on with the job, it then collapsed and as I mentioned on your other programmes now, this new deal is an attempt to get it back to a public interest company. Something that I advocated 15 years ago in documents of a public interest...

DAVID FROST: Well this is what I meant, it's come full circle and you've got what you originally wanted?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it's not the complete public ownership model, it's a different one but it has no shareholders and its concern and priority is now to do something about the railways and that's what it's doing, getting on with the job. There has been such massive disinvestment that you've got to get an awful lot of money into the railway system, the other thing is the West Coast line estimated to be 2 billion, went to 4 billion, went to 6 billion, I believe it's near 10 to 12 billion now, I mean how can you plan a system like that, we've got to get back to reality and that's what Alistair's doing in the setting up of this new company...

DAVID FROST: And what about the shareholders who are, who say they're not getting the full value of their shares and, because they're only getting 75 per cent of the value on the day when Stephen Byers acted and took it into administration, are they, are they right to be aggrieved about the missing 25 per cent?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well the share pricing, well the company that went into administration, but the share price is similar to where it was originally bought for. If those people bought after that first time the shares had gone up to 10 or 12, they may feel aggrieved but that's a judgement for them to make, I think this is an agreement with Railtrack and the companies themselves to see whether they want to accept this, they must make a decision about it and that's where they are negotiating now.

DAVID FROST: What about the subject of trust, Peter Hain was talking about it, the problem of, the problem of trust, the problem of the figures showing that people don't, don't, don't trust Labour now in the way they don't trust, they didn't trust the Conservatives before...

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's a bit difficult to believe, I mean I understand ??? it depends what poll you want to look at. If you look at the new Newgov ones, now you've got to be on the computer online to be able to feed it in, not many people in East Hull will be feeding into that system. But it means that, that's a poll system, that seems to be a variance with the traditional polls that show that we've gone up two points the Tories have gone down two points, despite a month of sustained opposition by the press.

DAVID FROST: Does the fact you're still at ten per cent mean that all this trust stuff doesn't matter a damn?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well trust does matter, in fact you can't keep that 42 per cent which is a very high figure after six years and have two landslide victories, you can't keep that trust unless you're delivering. I won't bring out me card again that we delivered on that, but in the last 12 months David we've continued 147,000 more people back at work, we've got 27,000...

DAVID FROST: No you can do the whole list but Labour fails to hit half its targets for better services?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yeah, yeah, Sunday Times and the Liberal in alliance, Sunday Times will print anything that's anti-Labour, the Liberals are providing you with that, I can go into the details if you want but the facts we are giving you in 12 months, 150,000 more people back at work, 27,000 more in police, teachers and nurses, these are gains. Greater stability in the economy, we've still got lowest for inflation and interest, that's our first year of the second term, it shows we're on course for economic prosperity, we're keeping it with stability and social justice.

DAVID FROST: But why did that, why don't, why don't they trust you more, why don't, why are the figures, certainly the figures on sleaze...for instance, one is YouGov, one is another, in 1997...

JOHN PRESCOTT: If you take the Guardian poll which has been around for a long time, NewGov is a new one right and you've got the Times and the Telegraph using it, what does it say, it's quicker this system, quicker and it's cheaper and it asks the kind of questions that are sexy, is it sleaze, do you trust this government and yet if you don't trust this government which they're suggesting why is it we're still 42 per cent in the polls?

DAVID FROST: Well that is the puzzle, that is the puzzle.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I'll tell you the puzzle, you give the kind of questions that make sexy for answer, you sell to the press who want cheap quick responses to fit them and I must say to the press they've really got to bear this in mind. If you look at the Euro survey which I mentioned last time, the British press is, is trusted by the British electorate at half the rate that is in Europe yet television and radio is on average the same and I think the reason that many of the press, many of the journalists as Stephen Glover in that article in the Spectator - to show I am an intellectual, I read thse articles - he said that journalists are now coming to predict rather than give facts and if you look at all those stories today you're mentioning - cannabis, if you talk about the entitlement card, all those are predictions by journalists who should go back to writing facts.

DAVID FROST: So do you think that David Blunkett is right in saying that the media is on the brink of insanity?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think David said it he didn't actually mean it in that way. I say there's a very serious situation here both for the politicians and the press, let us present ourselves in the way of what is happening, not of what you are actually predicting will happen and I think where proprietors are proclaiming to editors now you must do as I'm told. I mean that's a very worrying factor I think for our British press and they should think about it.

DAVID FROST: At that point let's just leap over and get an update on the news headlines from Bill.


DAVID FROST: Well we heard in the news there John, I mean that Ken Livingstone wants to rejoin the Labour Party, would you be delighted to sign his nomination papers?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well if he comes along we'll consider that like many others but he has to be treated the same and I must tell you being a member on that Executive, last time when he came for us he told us a tissue of lies, I just don't believe this man and whatever he says, but of course I'll be fair in my consideration when it comes before the Executive but the important issue is are you backing Brazil or Germany today.

DAVID FROST: I think I'm backing Renaldo, Renaldo versus Oliver Khan, that's really going to be a good battle.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's the real issue.

DAVID FROST: The real issue, thank you very much indeed John, thank you to all of our guests for being with us this week. I won't actually be here next week because I'll be starting my usual summer break but the programme goes on and for this year's Breakfast with Frost summer season I'm leaving you in the hands the brilliant hands of a host of different presenters, there's Peter Sissons, Fergal Keane, Huw Edwards, Gavin Esler and Sue McGregor, what more could we want in the weeks ahead. I'll be back in September, top of the morning, good morning.


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