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Breakfast with Frost
John Prescott MP, deputy prime minister
John Prescott MP, deputy prime minister
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: JOHN PRESCOTT, MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER MARCH 9th, 2003

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

DAVID FROST: And now I'm joined, as we promised, by the deputy prime minister, John Prescott. How are you John?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm fine. Fine, fine.

DAVID FROST: What about - looking through all these newspaper headlines that we showed earlier on -

JOHN PRESCOTT: I've given up reading them.

DAVID FROST: You have. You've turn ... turn to the sports pages. But wave of resignations possible. Aides to Cook and ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well it's all speculation by the press isn't it? More people ... kicking over ...

DAVID FROST: Not in our name Mr Blair, and here, here 200 MPs are going to revolt over the war.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Sunday Times.

DAVID FROST: What are you going to do about that?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I never -

DAVID FROST: Can you do ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: You know I say that every time I come on your programme. But look, this is a very serious issue and lots of MPs are concerned about it, lots of the public are concerned about it. Nobody denies that for one moment - even Tony Blair and the rest of us are very, very concerned about it. But, we have an issue of the United Nations, we have this issue of Iraq and we are proceeding through international law to deal with Saddam.

DAVID FROST: But what about - a lot of papers, one says 30 - ministerial resignations. Do you expect that if you go ahead with the war?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I wouldn't want one ministerial resignation. And the one thing that's happened with this government is that we have a debate in the House of Commons - and not on the old dodge of the early day motion or indeed on the adjournment motion. This is one where people have had the right to vote and they expressed that view and that view reflected what I think the opinion polls have shown, that something like 25 per cent so far feel very strongly about it and voted against the government's motion.

DAVID FROST: But I mean there is more and more pressure going on, particularly I mean, particularly the numbers will grow, they all say, if we don't get the resolutions.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we're working very hard to get the resolution. I mean Jack Straw, Tony Blair, working extremely hard to try and get the agreement in the UN for the second resolution. Fourteen 41 made it absolutely clear that Saddam was condemned for all his non-compliance for the last 12 years and that Blix was sent in to see is he would cooperate, and his latest report shows that he isn't cooperating fully or in the immediate way that the resolution called for.

DAVID FROST: But there's a quote here, for instance, the Sunday Times, this was a pro-war, pro-Tony Blair piece, it says a prolonged war, they say, is Mr Blair's nightmare. In such circumstances a Liberal Democrat-inspired vote of no confidence or a formal move to unseat him at the party conference - even Labour's equivalent of the men in grey suits could, in theory, bring the Blair era to a premature end.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, it's speculation but I mean there's no doubt that Tony Blair is acting in a very courageous way. He's doing what he believes to be right and we're fully supporting him in that. And I've been at conferences where Tony has addressed them and you can almost feel the apprehension amongst our Labour people at these conferences, in Glasgow, in Southport last week, but they all recognise this as a man who firmly believes in what he's doing, believes it's right to tackle this particular problem that Saddam has presented us with and believes that 12 years is too long. And I think the identity of the, and the requirements of 1441 make it a requirement that he should be complying. He's not. But Tony is putting his case, putting it very, very strongly, and I think the people recognise an honest man who's making a case for peace and security.

DAVID FROST: But when you have named members or minor ministers or whatever or named people like Tony Wright and Anne Campbell saying we are going to resign, this is getting more serious, more dangerous.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I've been a PPS and I think I ended up resigning because I had a disagreement. You can resign, I don't know whether you have to make public statements with it but that's up to them. But at the end of the day people have, papers like the Sunday Times, and others, have been ringing round all the PPS's and the four or five they've got at the moment are the only ones they could get to make statements. Others gave them an exactly opposite point of view. So I think we should put it into its context. Each individual member has to make their minds up and these individuals have made a statement to that effect and that's the nature of a debate and that's what Tony Blair does tolerate in the Labour Party.

DAVID FROST: And is Tony Blair's premiership safe whatever happens, do you think?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I would say so but that's a matter for the party. I don't think there's any doubt about it whatsoever. Tony Blair is giving leadership, that's what this party wants from Tony Blair and we will go on seeking to get that second resolution at the UN, which we're fighting very hard for, and then of ... perhaps ... point of view and a vote on that - given those circumstances - I believe Tony Blair is showing great courage and leadership and that's what the people in this country like.

DAVID FROST: But will there in fact be an opportunity for the house to vote before British troops are moved into action?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well Jack and Tony have made that clear, that's the desire to see that achieved, to see when the second resolution is decided in the Security then a chance for the House of Commons to vote on that, with always the qualification that bearing in mind the security of our own troops in these difficult circumstances.

DAVID FROST: But desire to see it achieved is not a pledge.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I've just given you the qualification the prime minister gives and Jack has given ... that we are actually in those circumstances where we may have our troops in danger in those circumstances then we've never risked that situation, we won't risk that, we won't risk putting our troops in any kind of danger. But I think, I think you've got to look at what this government's already done. It has allowed debates, ... before there perhaps have not been as many debates. They've been on motions, they haven't been on the kind of easy way of dropping it, avoiding it by saying it will be on the adjournment, and it's show every intention to consult in a way that perhaps no other government has done on such a serious matter.

DAVID FROST: But in this particular case, with that one caveat, if things go wrong this week, if the second resolution is withdrawn - it could be withdrawn I suppose if you think ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well .. if -

DAVID FROST: But anyway, in general you say ....

JOHN PRESCOTT: ... the prime minister and Jack Straw have made it absolutely clear and I would say in their actions in the past they've allowed the house of course and conceded to have the debate and have a vote - I think that's an indication of how serious both the prime minister and Jack Straw treat this issue.

DAVID FROST: And John, if in fact the UN don't respond in the way we all hope and George Bush begins the war, we will join it?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well if, if we are working through the UN, Tony Blair's playing a major part in making sure it's a UN issue, it's an international law issue. We've made it clear we'll act and comply with the international law and that's what we're doing at the moment. You know, there's an awful lot of discussions going on at the present stage and that's what we're concentrating our attention on at the moment.

DAVID FROST: But as you know, he said here and he also said elsewhere that it was only if there was an unreasonable veto that we would overrule it and go to war. But that seems to have changed, I mean -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think 1441 is actually making it absolutely clear all he was required to do was not to say whether Saddam was guilty or not, everybody agrees, even the French agree to that. They also agree he's not cooperating, Blix has already confirmed that. But 1441 says solely to find out whether he's prepared to give that kind of immediate, unconditional and restricted access. He hasn't done all that and that comes clear from the two reports that Blix has given.

DAVID FROST: But I mean it looks as though the situation could be one not of an unreasonable veto but it might be a vote, because we've got to get five of the six waivers, which is going to be tough - Angola, Guinea, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico and Pakistan. I doubt we're going to persuade France - it's going to be difficult to win that vote but we would still -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well - you - you've just got to wait and see. I mean there was an awful lot of these ifs and buts on 1441. In the end it ended up with 15 none, everybody was saying you wouldn't get an agreement but we did. So let's just continue the negotiations, make our case, convince others of our arguments and let's see what happens.

DAVID FROST: And why do you think so far the persuasion of the British public, and indeed of Labour MPs, has failed so far?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I don't know whether it's failed ... let's just take some of these in order. The majority of Labour MPs are supporting the government at the moment -

DAVID FROST: They say over 200 won't -

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I can't take the Times' estimate. At the moment, let's see where they are at the moment. Twenty-five per cent of them voted against - right? That presumably means 75 per cent, the majority, are supporting the government. It's the same in the Tory party and it was the same in the overall vote for parliament. That reflects almost the two-thirds position that we are finding that people are prepared to support an action and are prepared to pursue an international action through the UN. Now on those circumstances, the majority is for this view. Let's go -

DAVID FROST: The News of the World has a figure, I think of 68 per cent supporting action but then looking at the smaller type, it's only about 25 per cent if it's not with UN blessing.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yeah, I mean they're the kind of questions that you're talking about and you have to take all those things into account but at the moment it's not the minority case at the present time, the government is being, is supported in the majority sense by the main opposition party, by our own politics and by our own polls that are showing that. So let us continue to argue but everybody wants an international solution to this case and getting an international resolution, or a second resolution, to comply with 1441.

DAVID FROST: Switching for a moment to another subject that is very much on your mind -

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think one thing I should just say on that one, on the end of the day we keep talking about what we're doing, but at the end of the day he can either disarm or get out. We shouldn't forget that - disarm or get out - it's an important point. He could today say right I'll give you all the information that I've promised that I should give, which is the requirement, and that would then settle the matter, but if he doesn't want to do that then get out and that should settle the matter again. So there are options he can take but of course in many ways he's encouraged perhaps to pursue the kind of action he is at the moment.

DAVID FROST: But just coming back to the basic question - would we go ahead without UN backing?

JOHN PRESCOTT: We will actually follow the UN ... that we're doing at the present time and taking that into account. Fourteen 41 actually shows that Saddam is breach of that resolution and what we've said is we're now pursuing the second resolution at the present time. And that's where we are.

DAVID FROST: And if you fail on the second resolution, you'll say that's hypothetical.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well all that's ifs, ifs, ifs. Yes. I mean they were saying that when we had the whole argument about 1441 but eventually 15 none. So keep on going, argue the case.

DAVID FROST: Let me come on to one other subject that's important at the moment. Will you, will you outlaw fire strikes if there's a war going on?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we've never said that we'd take any of these actions, quite frankly, but we do want to see a settlement to the fire strike, it's been going on since May last year. And now at last the employers and the employees have got something substantial on the table and I think 16 per cent is a substantial offer, it means over those 18 months something like they will all be getting 25,000. I mean that's quite an established position. And I think now what we've got to do is to say to the firemen, think seriously about this matter, presumably since the original one of four per cent was rejected in a Ballot, a ballot will take place presumably in the union after they've had their national conference, I think is on the 19th March.

DAVID FROST: Right, but you don't think you will need to outlaw fire strikes?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I don't think we want to be talking like that, I constantly got that the last few months about whether you should run in with the lawyers sort of thing but the lawyers must make their own decisions. The Attorney General is independent of me -

DAVID FROST: But if - but if Andy Gilchrist is hoping for an improved offer next week, he won't get it.

JOHN PRESCOTT: He has got an improved offer. Twenty-five thousand a year, double the rate of inflation, double the old formula that he had, right? Keeping the 42 hour week, better production - protection - for the public - that's quite a substantial offer and when you compare it with other public workers, leaving aside the army increase ... doing their job for a while - it's a very substantial offer that has been made to them.

DAVID FROST: Do you think you can reach agreement this way though?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm hoping so. I mean at least we're talking all the time and hopefully we'll find an agreement. I mean the public will want it. I hope the firemen want it. We don't want it to continue this way.

DAVID FROST: So we'll see what happens in the ... but do you, do you think you're going to get all the modernisation points that you want? Closing fire stations?

JOHN PRESCOTT: ... Well, when you say closing fire stations ...

DAVID FROST: ... in the wrong place.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well in some case you're constantly changing it, it was only a couple of weeks ago during this dispute that they closed two stations down in Yorkshire and replaced it with a modern one. There was no protest about that. These are on going all the time. Even the ... jobs, 2500 less fireman in the last ten years, these are on going matters. But there's no enforced redundancy - in this situation they get a damned good deal, no enforced redundancy whatsoever and better fire protection.

DAVID FROST: We'll just go to the news headlines and then we'll come back.

[NEWS]

DAVID FROST: One last question John, one other subject. On the council tax, the rises in council tax. Are you going to cap the councils that you regard as putting up council taxes unreasonably high?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think there are good examples here of being, that have risen to an unreasonable level and I shall be calling on the local authorities to give some justification to some of these actions. But I did abolish the council capping, crude capping last time -

DAVID FROST: But would -

JOHN PRESCOTT: - but I reserve powers and I will look at the justification for some of these arguments by local authorities. I have the power, so I can always consider that, but hopefully if they've been given extra money, 25 per cent increase in real terms, compared with four years under Tories, and yet the council tax is going higher. We think some of it is unreasonable, we'll be giving assessment to it and we always have reserve powers.

DAVID FROST: Reserve powers which would include capping.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well reserve powers are always there to say to them if you don't do it now I might catch you next year, there are different ways of killing the cat.

DAVID FROST: Thank you very much indeed John.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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