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Breakfast with Frost
John Reid MP, Northern Ireland secretary
John Reid MP, Northern Ireland secretary
Roy Hattersley, former deputy Labour leader
Roy Hattersley, former deputy Labour leader
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DR JOHN REID, MP NORTHERN IRELAND SECRETARY & ROY HATTERSLEY, FORMER DEPUTY LABOUR LEADER OCTOBER 6th, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: Now to Northern Ireland where once again the talk is of crisis in the peace process - maybe the most serious yet. In a moment I'll be talking to the Northern Ireland Secretary, John Reid, who this week faces the difficult task of rebuilding such trust as there was, even, between the political parties. Friday's police raid on the Sinn Fein offices in Stormont, as part of an investigation into an alleged IRA spying operation, has caused outrage. Unionists say that it shows Sinn Fein can't be trusted, Sinn Fein said the police action was "politically motivated".

[NEWS CLIPS]

DAVID FROST: And John Reid is here right now, the Secretary of State. Good morning John.

JOHN REID: Good morning David.

DAVID FROST: This amazing raid, with so many people involved, you said that you didn't know anything about it.

JOHN REID: No I've said that I was aware the investigation was ongoing but the actual decision to move in, to bring charges and so on - that's a matter for the police and it is neither politically motivated, nor will it be interfered with an stopped politically. The police in a democracy have to follow where the evidence leads, and as you may know last night charges were brought - five charges against one of the people arrested, I think it's probable there will be other charges. This is nothing to do with publicity. This is a very serious and a very grave matter and over the next couple of weeks I think we're in a critical position. We certainly need answers from Sinn Fein and the Republican movement - the people of Northern Ireland need answers, and certainly the Prime Minister wants answers. He had a meeting scheduled for the week after next, not the coming week, and he's trying to bring that forward - a meeting with Mr Adams to find those answers. I'm passionate about this peace process but I can't keep it going when there's at least a prima facie case that these sort of things are happening, coming on top of the Colombian adventure, the burglary at Castlereagh, the charges being brought against one individual for targeting, and now this, and there may be other charges and other information coming out.

DAVID FROST: Now normally, John, obviously, the reassurance that the government's not involved in the timing of these things and so on, and it's the police's role - that's normally very, very reassuring. But in a case of somewhere as sensitive, politically sensitive as Northern Ireland at the moment, shouldn't you have been involved - shouldn't you have been consulted, when this raid was going to happen?

JOHN REID: No, in any state where there's political direction of the police force, you have crossed that border away from democracy. We have a democratic state and while I set the broad objectives for policing, the police themselves have to carry out these operations and what happened in this case was some time ago, at the end of last year, there was a disciplinary matter inside the Northern Ireland Office. Following that there was a wider investigation carried out by the police. When they reached the stage that that they thought had reached tentative views that there was something going on here, they informed me, I was perfectly satisfied ...appropriate stage. That was before July of this year. Afterwards, when they had come to firmer conclusions, I informed the Prime Minister but the matter for, of the operational pursuit of the evidence, the bringing of charges and so on, in a democracy is a matter for the police themselves. And that is exactly how this has been handled and it won't wash, quite frankly, for people to protest that this is somehow political. This is a matter of charges being brought last night, perhaps more, and anyone, irrespective of what side of the community they come from, must be equal before the law, but they must not get any more benefits than anyone else.

DAVID FROST: But 13 months seems a long time, that's made Sinn Fein suspicious about the timing, I suppose, but it is a long time to follow this through, isn't it?

JOHN REID: Well police inquiries take time, prticularly if they're inquiries into something of this nature. We know that in certain number of cases, years afterwards it was still not possible to prove who has done it - and there's many of them in Northern Ireland. So this isn't an easy job, but the police have carried out their job efficiently, they have informed me at the appropriate stage - not with a view to getting my authority or otherwise, that is a matter for the police themselves, and we really need some answers now.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of the situation for the peace process, David McKittrick this week, a distinguished commentator, writing about - and this was before this latest case - he was saying this is for the simple reason the prevailing mood in political circles is that the Good Friday Agreement is very probably doomed and only has a few months of life in it - this all stems from a central and incontestable fact that almost the entire Protestant and Unionist community is now opposed to the Good Friday Agreement. Doomed?

JOHN REID: I don't know that it's doomed but there is a lot of substance in what David McKittrick said, and why has this come about? Because the Good Friday Agreement was not just a series of things to be done, it was based on the principles laid down by George Mitchell, and agreed by all of the parties to it, that they would commit themselves to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. So when we get allegations that one of the parties to this - the Republican movement - have been involved in consorting with terrorists in Colombia, or the police believe that they are the people who are behind the burglary at Castlereagh, taking away information that would certainly be of use to terrorists, or we have charges up against members for either targeting, or we get the instance of the shooting last week of Mr ... or we get this sort of example, can you blame anyone - not just Unionists, but others - for saying well people are trying to ride two horses here. So we need some straight answers on this in the coming week and we need to know from Sinn Fein and the Republican movement that this has stopped, that there will be no more of this, because I am passionately committed to this agreement and those areas of it which are under my control, the equality agenda, the human rights agenda, the reform of the institutions, I will proceed with them. What I can't do, when people are taking risks and undermining the political element of it, I can't force people to work together when they feel that there is bad faith in one of the parties.

DAVID FROST: Right, but this morning, it would be fair to say, because of this concatenation, of the list you just gave, topped by the latest events, that the peace process is in a greater state of crisis today than it's ever been so far.

JOHN REID: I think that we're at a stage where there's not only serious and grave - as the Irish Prime Minister said in the last few days - I think this is at a critical stage and somehow we have to have an assurance that if these things have happened in the past, they will happen no longer. Now we've never had a signal of that nature. The IRA have never been prepared to say the war is over or that the army is stood down; we are, we've come a huge way in terms of the cease-fire, there has been no attacks on the police, on the army, no planting of bombs, but the constant drip feed of allegations that the maintenance of the apparatus of terror is still being carried on is undermining hugely the confidence in this agreement.

DAVID FROST: And just what, one paradox here adds ..., not grasped by the average Protestant in the street, has been that the majority of killings and riots have been the work, not of Republicans, but of loyalists. Most Protestants are averse to confronting such realities.

JOHN REID: Well we should confront it. It is absolutely true that the vast majority of the murderous sectarian attempts that have been made, have been made by loyalists. Last week we arrested one leading loyalist. The week before we did. Last night we arrested another loyalists. So that is absolutely true, but there's one difference - the loyalists are not in government. The Republicans are in government and to be in government and associated in any way with a level of violence or maintenance of a terrorist or a private army, that is a hugely difficult problem but that does not diminish the fact that we have to counter the loyalist, murderous loyalist attacks, and are doing so. As I said, last night, last week, the week before, we're arresting them as well.

DAVID FROST: And finally, how long has Sinn Fein got - to summarise all the things you've been saying - to clear the air? Is it a matter of days, or weeks, or months?

JOHN REID: I think over the next couple of weeks we have to, we have to find a solution to this problem. The events which we're speaking about, I won't go into detail of them, but the events that these charges relate to, took place sometime ago but there has to be an assurance that they are no longer and will no longer happen, otherwise I just can't magic up confidence across the community.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed, John. Let's go - will you stay with us for a moment because we're turning next to the Labour conference last week in Blackpool, because I know you'll have some views on this as well. The party leadership suffered a defeat over private sector involvement in the public services and only just avoided getting outvoted over Iraq. But Tony Blair has made it clear that he's not for turning - as a certain prime minister once said. He said "Labour has to be bold, more bold, radical and reforming." Will the party faithful march in step with him? I'm joined now from our Sheffield studio by the former Labour deputy leader, Roy Hattersley. Good morning Roy.

ROY HATTERSLEY: Good morning.

DAVID FROST: What are your concerns about the way Tony Blair is leading the party at the moment, the directions in which he is going?

ROY HATTERSLEY: Well my concerns are far less than they were a year ago. I think things have much improved over the last year. They've generally improved because the last budget or the last financial statement began to spend at the sort of level that we all knew was necessary if we're going to get the health service and the education system that the country needs and that people want. Reality has broken in and we are now planning to spend and are spending the right levels of money. I don't have very many concerns about the nature of the Prime Minister's speech last Tuesday, I thought it was perhaps the best conference performance I've ever heard. What I now want to see, what the party wants to see, what the country wants to see, is what those generalities - conference speeches are inevitably made in generalities - what those generalities mean. Now I think a number of them are immensely encouraging. Some of them need to be ... more clearly. But what is absolutely certain is in a party which, two or three years ago, was literally and openly rejecting concepts like equality and redistribution, is now accepting them again. The Prime Minister accepted them just before the party conference and I think he'll be held to those policies - in fact he doesn't need to be held to them, I think the party is now much more back on track, back on track in terms of what the Labour Party ought to stand for.

DAVID FROST: And do we hear the word "socialist" in that, do you think?

ROY HATTERSLEY: Well I don't think the word terribly matters - I know you've got John Reid on the programme, I was interested to hear him on Thursday, I think, broadcasting, using the word radical as a sort of criticism: "let's be careful we're not too radical". On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was using the word radical as a sort of praise, saying we have to be more radical. What I use that example to illustrate is that the words can be used in whatever way the occasion demands. What has to happen now is the application of what I think are traditional socialist policies, of more redistribution, greater equality, and whether the Prime Minister's worried about the rhetoric or not, I don't mind. Remember President Clinton talked about the balance between rhetoric and reality, I, and I think the whole party, is more interested in reality than the rhetoric.

DAVID FROST: What about Iraq? Do you stand with him on Iraq?

ROY HATTERSLEY: I stand with him where I believe he is. I believe the Prime Minister is acting as an entire force for good on the President of the United States - President Clinton said things about his role which the Prime Minister couldn't say himself. I'm not in favour of a war if a war can be under almost any terms avoided. If there's any way of making sure that Saddam Hussein doesn't use, doesn't use his weapons of mass destruction, I'm opposed to a war. I fear President Bush has got the idea of a war so firmly in his mind that he wants a regime change whatever happens. Now this, I think, is the opportunity for the Prime Minister's place in history to be established. He has to say very firmly "If there has to be a war then I go along with it but we're not having one for some of the reasons that I fear are at the back of the President's mind." It's an immense testing time for the Prime Minister but I suspect he's being a force for good, I want him to go on being a force for good and I think the country ought to encourage him in those terms. We stand behind you as long as you go on being a restraining influence, as Labour prime ministers always have been and ... the atomic bomb ... 50 years ago.

DAVID FROST: And do you agree with the Prime Minister that we have now entered the post comprehensive era?

ROY HATTERSLEY: No, of course I don't. And the Prime Minister doesn't believe anything about that himself, or doesn't understand anything about that himself. I think we're going to go on chipping at the comprehensive system. I think we're going to do it bits of marginal damage by establishing more specialist schools and more city academies - I must say, you know, only in England, the Scots have far more sense, the Welsh have far more sense, in Ireland they're moving towards a [INTERVIEW BREAKS OFF]

DAVID FROST: Well it looks as though we lost Roy Hattersley there, just as he was going into the post comprehensive point. So let me turn with that point, Roy Hattersley, with an encouraging judgement overall, but clearly about to say, we can predict, that he doesn't accept the point about post comprehensive.

JOHN REID: Well I think first of all, Roy, obviously it's my Glasgow accent, didn't understand my speech. I wasn't - I was saying the opposite of what he thought I was saying. I was saying what the Prime Minister was saying, that we are best when we're bold and when we're radical and that those who say we haven't been radical haven't been watching what we've done on the Bank of the England the great constitutional changes and so on, and now what we have to do is go beyond the comprehensive framework and within that framework to give as much diversity and as much choice as possible, in education and in health, because people today are demanding more of that than they were 40 or 50 years ago.

DAVID FROST: And what about the PFI thing, some people have said, you know, Tony Blair rejected the vote and said we're ploughing ahead, we're going to be bolder and so on. To those people who say well why not agree, why not agree to a survey, why not agree to a three month moratorium, what's so terrible about that?

JOHN REID: Well if you go to the constituencies, where incidentally the constituency delegates at the conference voted 2-1 to carry on adding to the vast amounts of money we're spending in schools and hospitals from the public purse by additional private money. If you go to those 450 schools that have been modernised and almost 70 hospitals that have been built, the people on the ground want them. They want better quality. They're not particularly cared, nor would you be, if your mother was in pain or your son wanted a decent education, where the money is coming from. They don't want schools stopped because the trade unions or John Reid have an ideological opposition to where the money's coming from. And we have to modernise, now, the comprehensive education system and the national health system so it gives the maximum choice and diversity to people when they want it, at the grass roots, and the interface, and that is precisely what we intend to do.

DAVID FROST: Well our huge thanks to you John and our huge thanks to the absent figure, sadly, of Roy Hattersley - I'm glad we got as much of him as we did, and if he's listening to us right now, best of luck with his new book on John Wesley coming out next week. Thank you Roy, thank you John.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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