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Breakfast with Frost
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Tony Blair, Prime Minister
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: PRIME MINISTER TONY BLAIR SEPTEMBER 29TH, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: It's now our pleasure to welcome the man who arrived yesterday here at the Labour Party conference and we're going to be talking to him right now, Prime Minister welcome, top of the morning and just beginning with yesterday's story briefly about one of the stories about Iraq, there is a leak of what form our Resolution might well take, is it ours, or is it US or is it UK's, when the Resolution goes to the UN will it be ours or theirs?

TONY BLAIR: Well there isn't a resolution as yet because we're still talking about it with the United States, with other Security Council partners as well, so obviously in the end what you want to get to is the position that everybody can agree on I am reasonably confident we will.

DAVID FROST: As it were be, is it a joint effort or is it mainly United States?

TONY BLAIR: No it is a joint effort with the US and the UK but we're also obviously discussing it with Russia, with France, with China and with the other members of the Security Council, so it's, it's probably not quite as definite as it may appear from some of the papers.

DAVID FROST: And the various terms seem quite tough and so on, but various people say it could be this is one, one Resolution but it might have to be two Resolutions, is that true?

TONY BLAIR: Well we can leave that open for the moment, the most important thing is to get a very clear determination from the United Nations Security Council saying everything we said about Iraq in the past is correct, these chemical biological potentially nuclear weapons pose a real danger to the world and Iraq has to be disarmed of them. Now that's where we are and we must make it absolutely clear that Saddam and the Iraqi regime have one choice, they either agree to disarm themselves of these weapons that they should never have had in the first place or alternatively then action will follow.

DAVID FROST: But when we hear things like today that the Russians don't like the new Resolution and so on, it is possible that in order to get the agreement with one, that we would go with two Resolutions, one to send in the inspectors and one with the consequences of what Saddam gets if he doesn't obey?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think what's important in the first instance is to get the basic Resolution there, now there are lots of questions about well do you come back to the UN at a later stage, let's take it step by step. The key thing though is that the United Nations has got to be the way of dealing with this, I mean I totally understand the concerns that people have, the worries they have about precipitous military action but the United Nations has taken a very clear position on this, it said Iraq must disarm itself of these weapons, that the existence of these weapons in the hands of this regime is a threat to the world and the United Nations has to be the way of dealing with this issue not the way of avoiding dealing with it. So I hope and believe that we will get the Resolution that we want, what happens after that is obviously a matter of further debate but the first stage is to make sure that the international community is saying so clearly to Saddam that he realises that he has only one choice. If he wants to avoid conflict he's got to do what the international is saying.

DAVID FROST: Regime change the President has said very clearly, is part of the United States basic policy, is it part of ours?

TONY BLAIR: Our purpose is disarmament, now I happen to believe that regime change would be excellent for the people of Iraq, for the region for the wider world but the policy of the American government always has been regime change, it was under the Clinton Administration as well. The purpose of what we are pursuing at an international level though is obedience to the United Nations Resolutions and that is the total disarmament of all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capability in Iraq. Now that's what we've got to do, now I personally believe that if we achieve that it will have a huge impact on the whole way the Iraqi regime operates and you know what we know from intelligence, what we know from other sources is that Saddam sees the retention of these weapons as an essential part of the retention and maintenance of his regime. But our purpose is disarmament.

DAVID FROST: And what about the question that worries people more than any other, Prime Minister, the question if the UN does not bless an attack on Iraq, would we go ahead, the US has said very clearly they would go ahead if, if everything is blocked the US would do it themselves, would we go it alone if you can go it alone with some, with somebody, would we go it together?

TONY BLAIR: Let's just take it stage by stage as I said, I believe we will get this Resolution and I think the Resolution will make it very clear that Iraq has a choice, it has to comply or it has to face the possibility of conflict. Now what I would say is this, the United Nations has to be the means that we actually do deal with this issue because if at this point of decision the international community doesn't cease it knowing that Iraq is trying to acquire these weapons again, in fact has chemical and biological weapons trying to acquire nuclear weapons capability again, if at this point of decision when we know this is happening we do nothing about it the consequences for the world are really, really serious. This is not somebody without a record, this is somebody who twice before when not in his box as it were ended up with a war in which one million people died against Iran and annexed Kuwait which led to the Gulf War.

DAVID FROST: Which Britain supported, but...

TONY BLAIR: Well I mean I wasn't in government at the time however there is some myth about this, Britain made it very clear and so did the United States in the 1980s when Saddam started to use chemical weapons in the Iran war that that was totally unacceptable.

DAVID FROST: So we still supplied him with weapons after he'd used chemical weapons didn't we?

TONY BLAIR: Well there's a lot of dispute about that, as I say I wasn't in government...

DAVID FROST: No, no, not on your, not on your watch, we do change, we do change our national point of view...

TONY BLAIR: You do change your national point of view but the one thing that is absolutely...well it's not for reasons of convenience, the one thing that became very clear is that once he annexed Kuwait and then after we had to expel him from Kuwait and the Gulf War occurred it was then that the full extent of this chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programme became clear and that's why the UN passed all those Resolutions at the time and he's still in breach of every single one. He was supposed to, for example, within 15 days of the United Nations inspectors going in, provide a full list of all the weapons programmes he had, it was several years before we got to know the truth and that was only from people who defected from the regime. So all I'm saying is let's take it stage by stage, the first stage is the United Nations resolution, we are going the UN route, but the UN route has to be the way of dealing with this not avoiding dealing with it.

DAVID FROST: But in terms of all those worried delegates up here or people worried around the country or the 70 per cent of people who think we should, shouldn't go ahead unless we have the UN backing. You would not rule out going ahead with the United States without UN backing, you wouldn't rule that out would you?

TONY BLAIR: Well let us just wait and see where we get to, but remember this also, the most important thing if we want to avoid a conflict is to maintain the maximum pressure on Saddam and the Iraqi regime. Now I think the sensible thing therefore is to get the Resolution but to make it clear to Saddam there is no way of avoiding disarmament, it will happen either through the United Nations inspection route or it will happen otherwise, but it will happen.

DAVID FROST: But can you, it's only happened rarely, can you, could you go to war with a majority of the British nation being against it?

TONY BLAIR: Well I don't believe that the majority of the British nation is quite the position that people say. I totally understand the worries that people have, what people worry about is we take precipitive action without attempting to build a coalition of international support and people also worry, I think this is other issue at the back of this incidentally, people think there is some element of double standards in that we're not giving the same priority for example to the Middle East peace process. Now I think all these concerns can be dealt with by doing what we're laying before people. Going down the United Nations route, getting a new Resolution, making it clear it has to be obeyed and restarting that peace process in the Middle East. And so I don't think, I think there are certain sections of opinion that will be opposed to conflict in any set of circumstances but I think there are also other sections of opinion that say well let us wait and see how the situation develops, we need to be persuaded, we need to be convinced but we're not closing our minds to it.

DAVID FROST: Oh yes, I mean obviously there is, there is a majority if you're doing it with UN blessing and backing Blair. But then it depends on the circumstances, 70 per cent against is for doing it without UN backing?

TONY BLAIR: Right but then it depends on the circumstances in a sense in which the UN refuses to step up and pass a new Resolution. Now I don't believe that that will happen because I think that whatever differences there may be about strategy and tactics in this between the various major countries in the international community, there's no disagreement about these two essentials. One, Saddam poses a real threat and two, he has to be disarmed. The only question is what's the best route of doing it, now as I say I think the best territory for everyone, in a sense, to camp upon is to say we'll go the United Nations route, we have a strong Resolution that goes down and Saddam then knows he's got a choice. But if he doesn't believe that, I mean again let us not be naive about dealing with this man, for ten years he's been dodging inspections, lying to the United Nations, in breach of all their resolutions and at the same time acquiring illegally the capability to build chemical and biological and nuclear weapon capability, getting ballistic missile capability and so on, we're not doing with someone who's going to this because he wants to do it, we're dealing with someone who will do it only if he's forced to do it. Now I hope he can be forced by international pressure but if not we have to be prepared as an international community to do it the other way.

DAVID FROST: Do you find it, it would seem that you do, do you find President Bush, an easy, a good person to work with, I mean do you like him, do you find him easy to work with?

TONY BLAIR: I find him incredibly easy to work with, I think it's a pity that, that such a parody of him in parts of the media here because I find him very, very easy to deal with, very open, very transparent and you know the best proof of this is, I mean I've been involved in two major military conflicts since I became Prime Minister, Kosovo and Afghanistan, on each occasion we tried to act with the maximum support and in a measured way and we only took military action when all other routes had been exhausted. Now that's how I intend to act this time.

DAVID FROST: But both you and he are are great, greatly men of faith and so on, I mean do you pray together?

TONY BLAIR: Pray together?

DAVID FROST: Uhm.

TONY BLAIR: How do you mean?

DAVID FROST: Do you say prayers together for peace, you and the President?

TONY BLAIR: Well we don't say prayers together no, but I'm sure he in his way hopes for peace and I hope for peace too.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of what Al Gore said, Al Gore said this week that President Bush has "squandered the global good will towards America since last September", you disagree with that?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think probably I've got enough things to work out in my own politics without getting into somebody else's, so you know I personally think what we've done since 11th of September is important and right but I want to see the world go further, I mean, you see, my idea of this is that you don't choose between the different parts of this international agenda, it's all important. That's why we've been spearheading Britain, a new partnership for Africa, new aid, new development help for Africa, that's why we're in favour of Kyoto and climate change action, that's why we're in favour of restarting the Middle East peace process, it's both parts of it. The tough stuff if you like on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, but also the stuff that tries to deal with some of the causes of the resentment and fanaticism and extremism in the world.

DAVID FROST: Education, back here at home, how damaging is this fiasco over the A level results and grades been?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think the main thing is it's worrying for the students involved.

DAVID FROST: Yes, I mean what do you say to a student who should, when he's regraded, he should have been to a different university or whatever, which could have changed his life and those hopes are dashed, I mean what do you say to someone like that?

TONY BLAIR: What we've got to make sure is once we get the full report back from Mike Tomlinson, you know the former Head of Ofsted who's doing the report for us then we'll have to make sure that no one is, is disadvantaged as a result of the, the marks being regraded. But I do point out to you as Mike Tomlinson himself found that this happened, probably we think within the one exam board but happened as a result of, no there was no political interference from ministers at any level at all. And I don't think either that we should forget because I think that this is part of the background to this, the fact exam results in this country have been getting better, that we've record numbers of 11-year-olds getting their literacy and numeracy. We've record numbers of kids getting five good GCSEs, we've now record numbers of kids getting decent A levels and I think part of the problem is every time we do better we have these arguments about are we dumbing down standards and that leads to, to a culture in which obviously in this instance people felt that we had to, to somehow artificially bring the grades down. Perhaps we should have been rejoicing at how well they did.

DAVID FROST: But is there in part as governmental or ministerial responsibility not in the sense of direct interference, as you say, and Mike Tomlinson also made that clear and Mike Tomlinson in some of his comments, that this was an accident waiting to happen and it was an accident waiting to happen because in fact as it turns out with, with hindsight A and AS levels were rushed through too quickly?

TONY BLAIR: Well I do think we need to look at the lessons about, that's absolutely clear but on the other hand I think it's absolutely important to realise why we're doing it in this way because we believe it will lead to better results in the long term and you know there are lots of debates going on, for example about do we change A levels and go for the baccalaureate system.

DAVID FROST: Yes, Estelle Morris was talking about that here last week.

TONY BLAIR: These are big issues but let's be quite clear, every other country that we're in competition with, if you like, round the world is making sure that their children are and their students are tested and you know tested regularly because people know if you're going to get the right jobs today and you need the right qualifications, you need the right skills, you need top quality education and for all the problems and I don't dismiss any of them at all, about what's happened in relation to A levels, our education system is actually getting better. I mean the most recent international survey found that it was amongst the top eight in the world ahead of France and Germany so I totally understand the concerns that people have and yes we've certainly got to learn the lessons of, you know are we introducing these things too quickly, but realise what's pushing us forward is the need to try and make sure our education system really does measure up to the best and there is considerable success in this system as well as question marks.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of, and in terms of this whole period in education, you believe we're in a post-comprehensive era?

TONY BLAIR: Yes I do, I think that, look the public services are at the very top of our agenda and I believe that we have to up the pace of reform, not slow it down, we've got to up the pace of reform, whatever the difficulties internally within the Labour Party, difficulties in taking on certain interest groups within the country because the old education system simply based around the comprehensive ideal, thinking that was enough in order to give us top quality education isn't enough for today's world. In exactly the same way that monolithic National Health Service delivered in the same old way isn't enough for today's world and so it's for us who are putting the money and the investment into these public services also to make sure that we do the change and reform and if we don't do that then people will lose faith in those services.

DAVID FROST: Right and so that, that's why we're in the post comprehensive era and one ps to what we're discussing, you, you supported the sacking of Sir William Stubbs did you?

TONY BLAIR: Well I believe that it's not because he did anything wrong in relation to the exams incidentally, I mean Mike Tomlinson found that he acted with integrity there as you'd expect him to and I never thought that he wouldn't. But I think it's very hard in circumstances where the relationship has broken down, where he's publicly accused the Secretary of State of something wrongly, it's quite difficult for that relationship to be maintained frankly and I think it's for that reason rather than in relation to what happened with these particular exams that we needed to maybe change.

DAVID FROST: Fox-hunting, part of the great march last week and so on, I mean do you actually care about fox hunting yourself, I mean are you morally opposed, are you repelled, are you passionate about fox hunting yourself or not?

TONY BLAIR: Well I've always, I think I've said to you on this programme why I think it's, it's cruel and I don't understand why people want to do it in that way. On the other hand we appointed Alan Michael to engage in a process of hearing the views of people on both sides of the argument and come up with some examples and I won't prejudge what he comes up with which I think is going to happen in the next few weeks.

DAVID FROST: But you wish you had never got into this?

TONY BLAIR: No it's not, incidentally there are very strong views on both sides of this argument and this was always going to be an issue but if we can find a way through and Alan can find a way through well...

DAVID FROST: But you don't have a strong view on the subject?

TONY BLAIR: No I mean I voted in a particular way and I retain that view about fox hunting but I also think it is important that if we, you know, can find a way through which also takes account of the very strong views on both sides then that's something that we should try and do.

DAVID FROST: Prince Charles was criticised in some quarters this week for his letters and his phone calls to members of the government, including your good self and so on, but I sense that in fact you're all for it, you almost encouraged him to do it?

TONY BLAIR: Look I have no problem at all with Prince Charles writing to me occasionally which he does, we speak and we meet reasonably often, I find his views both helpful and informative and I don't have any difficulty with it at all, absolutely none and neither incidentally, just to make it clear, do Downing Street or anyone in government have anything to do with letters being leaked.

DAVID FROST: Really, how, how does a leak like that happen?

TONY BLAIR: Well I haven't the faintest idea but I can assure you as far as I'm concerned these are letters of private correspondence, our meetings are that I find them useful, I find them helpful and there's absolutely no reason why it should stop at all.

DAVID FROST: And there's no, some people say, Prince Charles is getting dragged into politics by these leaks, but as far as you're concerned wherever the dividing line is between politics and government and the monarchy, that line has not been crossed?

TONY BLAIR: No I don't think it's been crossed at all and I also think it's important that, that people, you know realise that yes Prince Charles will feel strongly about these things and express his views but let's look at some of the other things he does, the Princes Trust which is a magnificent institution that he created years ahead of his time that helps thousands of young people in this country and some of the issues he's raised, for example in relation to faith issues between the Muslim and the Christian world, some of the issues he's raised in relation to farming and organic farming, I think that, that's fine I think I welcome it, I think it's a constructive part of the public debate and I don't think there's a, any problem at all.

DAVID FROST: I think that's applause, or someone complaining about your transport policy...and just one other question on the countryside that some people raise seriously, that if something goes through against fox hunting they say darkly, ah hah, I know this government, shooting and fishing will be next to be banned, you could say absolutely not to that in this Parliament and the next couldn't you?

TONY BLAIR: I certainly can yes and there's never been any proposal to do so.

DAVID FROST: I would have thought banning fishing would be the most unpopular move...

TONY BLAIR: As far as I'm aware nobody anywhere near government has ever suggested...

DAVID FROST: They haven't.

TONY BLAIR: No.

DAVID FROST: No they haven't. What about this vote on the PFI's here, we heard about it in the news and so on, where the, the unions who are proposing this motion want there to be a moratorium on new PFIs and it looks as though they might win, would that affect your policies or not?

TONY BLAIR: No it won't effect determination to proceed with the policy because we think it's the right policy, that's not to say we don't carry on having a dialogue with unions and others who've got concerns. You know if I look at my own constituency, PFI has built two new hospitals right on the edge of the constituency, a new community hospital in the constituency, these things are actually helping provide better public services. If you look at Glasgow for example they're renovating and rebuilding the whole of their secondary schools in Glasgow through PFI, now the idea that we should stop that would be absurd. And so we've got to continue it because the thing about PFI, I mean it's very simple this, what it means is that the private sector shares some of the risk for these big infrastructure projects and as a result of that the experience is that they're delivered on cost and on time. Now the private sector always did build these projects, they didn't share the risk, what PFI does is it helps us deal with the financing of them over a considerable period of time, it shares the risk with the private sector and the experience is that it is working. That's why we've got the largest hospital building programme since the beginning of the NHS now underway.

DAVID FROST: Why don't the unions see that then, why can't you get it through to them?

TONY BLAIR: Because, well I don't think all the unions are in the same position, I think you'll find many constituency delegates incidentally in a quite different position but obviously whenever there is the issue of the private sector and public services people worry, I totally understand that but the truth is if you look right round the world today the barriers between public and private and voluntary sectors in things like these big infrastructure projects are coming down. Now we need to be opening up our public services, finding new ways of financing, new ways of delivering them. You know we've got to, to open the system up to new ideas and new creativity because we're putting in this investment, it's a massive investment, we are the only country anywhere in the Western world this year and next year increasing health and education spending, public spending is a proportion of national income, we're doing it. So our credentials on support for public services and investment are clear and but at the same time and my view is that the public really won't agree to this investment going in on any other basis, we have to make the change and reform and we have to up the pace of reform not slow it down.

DAVID FROST: At the same time too the unions are withdrawing some of their funds, a million pounds over the four years not from the GMB and so on and so forth, so it would seem at the moment that instead of two thirds unions have put up about one third of the money for running Labour, is that enough, do you have alternative sources or would it be better to bring down the figure that can be spent at the time of elections, down from 15 to 10 or something like that?

TONY BLAIR: Well we don't have any proposals to do that, to do that, I mean obviously it is important that we try and make sure that we're funded properly, the unions used to fund the Labour Party almost in its entirety, that's not the case any more now, I think it's healthy that we have different sources of funding. But unions have got to decide themselves whether they want to fund the Labour Party and the one thing that I found when I met some of the union people yesterday is that they understand entirely that they cannot fund the Labour Party on the basis we do X or Y on policy, I mean that's not a deal we can accept from whether it's private companies or trade unions.

DAVID FROST: Because in fact they said, the paper today, the Labour Party's 10 million in the red this morning?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think there's an overhang from the general election as there often is with many political parties but I wouldn't exaggerate this and I'm sure we will, we will turn it back round. Yeah I mean I was here a few weeks ago with the trade unions and I was told then it was going to be terribly difficult and was going to be a very rough ride and all the rest of it and we had a perfectly good session together.

DAVID FROST: But I mean Peter Hain says today in the Independent as you will have seen, that there's a real danger that you and the government are getting detached from the rank and file that you're going to be talking to this week, is that a real danger, that the longer you spend in power the less you're in touch and the more detached you become?

TONY BLAIR: Well this is why you've always got to keep in touch with people and it's why it's so important that we listen to what people are saying as we do, I mean you know for example when a few years ago there was a real concern amongst pensioners that we weren't doing enough on the basic state pension and for pensioners particularly around Christmas time, we listened and we did things. We will listen now, we're listening to trade unions for example saying perfectly understandably okay even if you do have competition between public and private sector it shouldn't be on the basis of cutting wages or terms and conditions of employment for our workers. That's a perfectly reasonable point of view I think. So we have to listen to that, at the same time you've still got to take a decision at the end of the day, you've got to govern, you can't just say well whatever anyone's doing, for example on the countryside issues I mean you know sure we will listen to what people will say but as a result of the farming industry already has said to us, we sat down, we appointed a commission under Sir Donald Curry to look at the issues to do with the future of farming after BSE and foot and mouth, he came out with certain proposals, made a report, we're now funding that to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds. So of course we listen but at the same time obviously we have to take decisions in the broad national interest rather than in the interest of any one section of the population.

DAVID FROST: But in terms of unions what did you think of that story of the firefighters are going to go on strike, firefighters are going on strike on November the 5th?

TONY BLAIR: Well I don't know whether it's true or not so maybe until we know whether it's right, but I hope whatever they do they, they act responsibly and again with the firefighters, I mean they do a magnificent job yes, but no government could, could yield to a 40 or 50 per cent wage claim, it's just not possible, not possible without people's mortgages going up, without knock on effects to the economy that we couldn't contemplate in the interests of the whole country. So it's not that we're unsympathetic to what they're doing, indeed again we set up an independent inquiry to look at some of the issues that they raise under someone who's very respected by trade unions as well as employers, George Bain but we can't...can't give in to, to a claim of that magnitude, it would just wreck the economy.

DAVID FROST: And what about the thing that people say about Iraq and the Euro, that if there's a war against Iraq there can't be a Euro referendum, you can't have both?

TONY BLAIR: I've never quite understood that one, I must say, I mean you do whatever's right whether it's on the single currency, on Iraq, on public services and I suppose in one sense this is, you know we've been five years in government now, I mean I think if you look at the management of the economy, the issues of jobs, the better school results, whatever the problems remember there's not a single national waiting time, or waiting list index that's not better than 1997 in the Health Service but there's still masses more to do and whether it's on international affairs or the Euro or on public services this is the time for us to have the courage of our convictions and push forward, there's no point in being in government otherwise.

DAVID FROST: And Charles Clarke was saying yesterday that if the five tests are passed there could be a referendum, we hope there'd be a referendum in October 2003, is that possible?

TONY BLAIR: We've made no decision yet as to when any potential referendum could be, so you know we'll wait and see.

DAVID FROST: Still waiting to see?

TONY BLAIR: Well I mean we were waiting for the economic tests, they've got to be met, if they're met then we'll put the issue to the people in a referendum but there are no dates pencilled in.

DAVID FROST: Have you just scribbled a note to yourself though that Euro referendum basically it's off until the next Parliament?

TONY BLAIR: Certainly not.

DAVID FROST: Certainly not?

TONY BLAIR: No absolutely not because we've got a policy that is very clear, if the economic tests are passed then we will do it and I think it is very, very important for Britain to be right at the centre of Europe, I've always said that. But joining the single currency must be done on the basis that it's in our national economic interest.

DAVID FROST: Prime Minister we've got to stop just there for a moment for the news headlines and we'll come rushing back.

[BREAK FOR NEWS]

DAVID FROST: Thank you Prime Minister it looks as though you've got a nice ??? holiday week in store for you?

TONY BLAIR: Yeah absolutely, I'm looking forward to it.

DAVID FROST: Thank you for joining us, our thanks to the Prime Minister and Christopher Reeve and to you for joining us, next week we'll be joined by IDS next week, next Sunday, top of the morning, good morning.

END

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