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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVID BLUNKETT MP HOME SECRETARY NOVEMBER 10TH, 2002
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Well we'll have a full review of the papers a bit later on in the programme because of everybody having to go off to the Cenotaph but one interesting piece in the Observer today is an article by the Prime Minister and in it Tony Blair promises a complete rebalancing of the Criminal Justice system in favour of the victim and he says there'll be a simpler, tougher approach to anti-social behaviour. And the Home Secretary himself is with us now, despite his injury to his left hand which, how did you do that?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Nothing to do with committing a crime or punching anyone although there are occasions when you'd like to.
DAVID FROST: When you're tempted?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Yeah.
DAVID FROST: Tempted?
DAVID BLUNKETT: I broke my finger in a door I'm afraid, I was saving the dog from being hit by it and put it in the hinges.
DAVID FROST: And in the meantime Lucy is retiring now?
DAVID BLUNKETT: She is early next year, I've concluded the update of my little book On A Clear Day, with a little eulogy to Lucy...
DAVID FROST: And that's Lucy there, over there?
DAVID BLUNKETT: No Lucy's laying down out of the way of the table.
DAVID FROST: Now coming on to the, and this was, this is David Blunkett On A Clear Day, that's a new version...
DAVID BLUNKETT: David you are a star.
DAVID FROST: An up to date version of all his life and times?
DAVID BLUNKETT: I presumed you were showing it to the audience.
DAVID FROST: Yes...
DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you that's very nice.
DAVID FROST: Absolutely, yes, reassure you of that fact. Now coming on to the old criminal justice reform, what do you think is the most important part of the various reforms. I mean is it the anti-social behaviour, is it juries, what is it?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well there's a jigsaw because people are sick and tired of hearing that laws have been passed and nobody enforces it, nobody actually sees a difference on the ground and what we're saying is that you start with anti-social behaviour because that's where people get the idea that they can get away with anything, that they can make other people's lives a misery and you move through changing the reforming, modernising, the whole criminal justice system, sentencing which doesn't make sense to people through to very serious offences, sex offenders and the whole outdated 19th century legislation.
DAVID FROST: Start with the first one, the smallest one for a minute, some people worry about this concentration on vandalism and graffiti and litter bugs and all of that sort of thing, but that, that will take up time either in court or with the police that should be spent on more serious crime or are you going to do all that with the new system of fixed penalities?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well fixed penalties through to the idea of anti-social behaviour courts in the community, actually being able to deal with things very quickly. What we've said is and Tony Blair's asked me to take this on as a cross-department, cross-agency, cross-country if you like, task, set up a unit, pull everyone in from those neglected areas like environmental health powers, through the police, through people in their own community being supported and helped to tackle things like neighbourhood watch. We need to, if you like, give must greater support to those who are doing it themselves, changing the culture so what we're saying is look we'll do our bit, we'll change the law, we'll put more police on the beat, we've got new community support officers and street wardens, we'll have fixed penalties, we'll speed up the court system but in the end we need a cultural change in this country, we need families to teach respect, we need an understanding of responsibilities as well as right and we need to say to people we're not going to tolerate any longer the kind of low-level thuggery and behaviour that makes people's lives a misery and nor are we going to have a criminal justice system that lets the very severe, the offenders who are violent and sex offenders off lightly and if we can get the balance right we can get the messages right.
DAVID FROST: What about date rape, will that feature in your plans?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we've got a whole paper coming forward and legislation on sex offenders, sex offences, the, the laws are way back as you know, in the 19th century and I'm going to take on the balance because all the time I'm seeking to have a balance between getting sensibly tough with those we have to and reform a modernisation of those things that really don't help us to make sense. Now on date rape I want to see that as much, a much more fundamental part of revision of the rape law so that we get more convictions of those who are guilty. We make people more confident to be able to come forward but we protect the innocent, there's not going to be any paper and pen by the bed stuff in terms of signing up before you make love to because that's the sort of ridicule that we need to avoid.
DAVID FROST: I see, so, and at the same time it's important in the case of date rape or other rape cases that the, that people are still innocent until proved guilty...
DAVID BLUNKETT: That has to...
DAVID FROST: Not guilty until proved innocent?
DAVID BLUNKETT: We have to stick to the idea that you have to be proven guilty rather than that you're assumed to be guilty but we also want to assume that if someone makes love they do so with free agreement, not that they're forced to, not that they're conned into it and it's that sort of very delicate balance that the sex offences paper will be dealing with it, I hope we can deal with it responsibly and sensitively.
DAVID FROST: Do you hope to reduce the number of jury trials?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well I'm the one with the Lord Chancellor and with the Attorney General who said look we're, we're going nowhere in terms of the two previous attempts to legislate on what was called mode of trial, ie a massive reduction in jury trial. Let's address it from the other end, let's say where does jury trial actually cause us real difficulty and in serious and organised fraud cases and where there's clear intimidation then having a judge taking that trial not only makes sense in terms of not tying somebody up for almost a year, for instance, of their lives on jury service, but in terms of actually being able to get a, a verdict of any kind and you know there are parts of our country where you don't stand a cat in hell's chance of getting a verdict in terms of organised crime simply because of the intimidation that goes on.
DAVID FROST: Yes that's a terrifying thought. What about your, you've got your Asylum Act as it were now, what about the figures that appeared in the last month or two, the situation on asylum, these, these, these are from the Daily Mail taken from a Home Office Report, just one out of every 16 asylum seekers who have their claims rejected is thrown out of Britain, one out of every 16. Another 21,000 were judged not to be genuine but allowed to stay anyway because they came from countries such as Iraq which are classed as too dangerous to send anyone back to. The Home Office began deportation proceedings against more than 67,000 failed asylum seekers but only 4,100 were actually removed. One in 16 sounds on the surface unacceptable?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well it is, I mean I've made no bones since I took on the job that the way in which the administration of immigration, nationality and asylum works is unacceptable but I've also said about making sure that we get the, again the right approach to this. Firstly we've got to stop clandestine illegal immigrants coming in. Secondly we've got to provide a warm welcome for those who should be here legitimately, either as economic migrants and I've doubled the number of work permits so that people can come here and work and pay taxes and national insurance. And secondly to work with the United Nations on a gateway for those who are facing death and torture but can't get here because they don't have the money to actually pay the traffickers, the organised criminals who bring them across the world, across Europe. So it's a two-handed approach now of course we need to remove people because it's a symbol if they fail their asylum claim and a very large number do and although we're doing better than the rest of Europe, although we've actually increased the number quite dramatically who are removed it isn't good enough which is why we're putting in place the end-to-end induction centre, accommodation centre and removal places that allows us to have a smooth end to end approach.
DAVID FROST: Right so, those three will contain how many people, one account said 3,000?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well the induction centres as we put them together will actually deal with all those who come through at port of entry and unless they claim at port of entry they've got to have a damned good reason for why we should support them. When they make an asylum claim that's another part of the bill that we've toughened up on, all the way through to the new nationality rules so that citizenship, having a grasp of our country, of our language, becomes something to be proud of.
DAVID FROST: Right.
DAVID BLUNKETT: All of that has gone through in this massive bill, it's the biggest reform for literally decades...
DAVID FROST: But tell me...
DAVID BLUNKETT: Just got to make it work now.
DAVID FROST: Right, yes and talking of making it work, what you're saying to us is, if the figure was one in 16 in the period covered by that last Home Office report you would, you would hope the figure would be in a year's time, one in eight?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Of a lower number coming in as clandestines with a much clearer picture of those who are here legitimately and it's all about trust and security in the system. It's very much what I'm trying to do in terms of order and stability in the community. If people believe that a system works then they'll be much more welcoming and opening and they'll be much more progressive in terms of being able to tackle racism.
DAVID FROST: And what about, there was a cock-up at the Home Office this week in terms of the...
DAVID BLUNKETT: Don't tell me...
DAVID FROST: Production of those figures which was good it wasn't a nuclear alert or something like that by mistake, but, but what is the truth about how dangerous things are at the moment, are things more dangerous now than they were three months ago because of intelligence you've got about Al Qaeda traffic and so on and so forth. Are things worse, is the danger greater today than three months ago?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well the danger's very similar to this time last year and that's why when the Homeland Security Director from the US was here last week you've got a snippet I think of him coming up.
DAVID FROST: Coming up.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Yeah, I and the Prime Minister and myself decided it would be sensible to issue a, a paper that reiterated and reinforced the message that of course everyone in the security and policing service have got to do their job but all of us have got to be vigilant coming up to Christmas and the New Year. What we did was, we, we revised a paper that talked about dirty bombs because nobody knows what we're talking about in any case there's not been a specific warning from the security services about something called a dirty bomb. It had phrases in about boats and planes and trains and I pointed out that this was Burt Baccharac stuff not serious warnings to the public. We took those out unfortunately the version that we altered was temporarily put out, it was a mistake, I've on behalf of the department apologised, it did mess up a clear message and the message is this: We will do everything we can to protect Britain, we need the vigilance of everyone around us, particularly at major airports and those particular gathering points where people know there's a risk, as there is for instance today on Armistice Day and we'll do everything we can but we want other people to be vigilant as well.
DAVID FROST: And as people will see when we play the interview with Tom Ridge in a minute or two, I was asking him whether there were indeed Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the United States for instance and he said yes. Are there Al Qaeda sleeper cells in the UK?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well we're monitoring all those groups and individuals that are in any way likely to pose a risk. But let me make it clear whilst we can do everything that is humanly possible learning from the security and policing services experience of terrorism from Ireland we cannot guarantee that we can protect everyone at every moment, every time and the aftermath of Bali has taught us that we really do need to try and balance keeping our economy and our social life going with the necessary measures to protect and secure our well being and if we don't get that right the terrorists will have won because they'll have undermined our economy and our life or they will have allowed us, as somebody said to me, oh well we haven't been attacked so far therefore there won't be one, therefore the measures, Mr Blunkett, you've taken were inappropriate and disproportionate. Now I don't accept either of those and that's why we've got to get it right.
DAVID FROST: And in terms of Rudi Giuliani said to me it's not a question of if there'll be another Al Qaeda attack, it's when. Is that true of Britain?
DAVID BLUNKETT: Well there've been attacks right across the world since the 11th of September, some have been foiled thank God, like Singapore and elsewhere, there is always a danger because we are literally in the front line but we're in the front line because we're tackling the cells, the organised criminals behind them and if we didn't then we would still remain at risk but without the kind of measures, the kind of vigilance that you and I have just been taking about.
DAVID FROST: David thank you very much indeed, I know you've got to go along to the Cenotaph, we appreciate it as ever.
DAVID BLUNKETT: Thank you very much.
DAVID FROST: David Blunkett there ladies and gentlemen.
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