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On Sunday, 03 August 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with the deputy prime minister, John Prescott MP.
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
PETER SISSONS: Well it's business as usual for John Prescott this summer. He's made it quite clear that he's in charge while Tony Blair jets off to Barbados for his holiday.
He kept himself busy and the home counties in a state of apprehension with his announcement about plans to build thousands of new homes across swathes of south east England.
And he has the luxury of watching the Hutton inquiry unfold from the sidelines but for the private man there's the one revelation that he'd rather have been kept inside the family, the news that he and his wife Pauline had been reunited with a son she gave up for adoption 43 years ago - we'll have a word about that shortly - but John welcome. You're not just deputy PM now but acting prime minister.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes and this is my sixth year, I think, in operation and Tony's gone on a well deserved holiday and I carry out the administrative role but the Prime Minister is never far away from any of the major decisions and I look forward to getting on with it.
PETER SISSONS: Do you have a hot-line to Cliff Richard's villa?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes, if you want that, but I would be one of those most reluctant to contact him. I want him to enjoy his holiday and to be able to take some of the pressures off him by getting on with this job during the period he's on holiday.
PETER SISSONS: Do you get his red boxes and they don't get shipped out to Barbados?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No, he will still be keeping up with major things like that - all ministers are faced with that possibility - but I deal with the administrative aspects and get on with some of the decisions as they arise and some problems that arise as well per day.
PETER SISSONS: When, when you see George Bush getting into his helicopter, there's always a man with a black briefcase three feet behind him with the nuclear codes, which is the sign of presidential ultimate power. Do you have one of those?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No, he's the Prime Minister, I mean those kind of decisions are pretty fundamental, it wouldn't be made without the prime minister and he keeps himself informed, in contact and such ...
PETER SISSONS: Do we have the equivalent of the man with the nuclear codes briefcase?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I'm sure that Tony has all those people with him like the president. He doesn't go away without these people, of course ...
PETER SISSONS: So he doesn't need you with the black briefcase?
JOHN PRESCOTT: No, he's the prime minister, he's the one that makes the decisions. I get on with helping with the administrative and making sure government's ticking over and deal with the problems as they arise.
PETER SISSONS: The big event this week, politically, was perhaps Lord Hutton setting out his store, which we talked about a couple of weeks ago, and you said then we'll just have to hear what he has to say. Well we've heard what he has to say, what's your reaction to it?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think, I think when I was with you a couple of weeks ago I was saying, as it was said, that should reflect long and hard and I think we need to do that and Lord Hutton now is looking exactly at the kind of comments that were made, the circumstances of the death of Dr Kelly, so what we have to do is wait until he completes his inquiry. I think that's the proper way to do it and that's what I'll be doing I hope others will as well.
PETER SISSONS: He took the breath away of some commentators with the, the breadth of the inquiry that he's going to conduct, as he sees it. Was this the sort of inquiry the government had in mind?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well the government said to him you have the, you will determine the circumstances and the lines of inquiries you want to follow, that's the independent nature the prime minister wanted to see in such an inquiry, so, no we're not surprised. He's a very, a judge with a very independent mind and with considerable reputation and he'll get on with the job and I think we should allow him to do that.
PETER SISSONS: So it doesn't worry you that it's not going to be a glorified inquest with an overqualified coroner, it's going to be practically a full blown public inquiry, raking back events over nearly a year?
JOHN PRESCOTT: That's for Lord Hutton to decide, he's made his statement about that and everybody has been quite pleased about the circumstances and the range of his inquiry and we'll see what happens.
PETER SISSONS: Well he's going to request documents, minutes, phone calls, emails. He's going to have the Prime Minister, Defence Secretary up giving evidence. That's practically a 1921 type public inquiry without the official rubber stamp.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we can get into definitions - yeah, well we can get into definitions of these inquiries but I think we've all been satisfied that Lord Hutton is an independent judge who will be making his proper approach to it and will make his judgement in the appropriate time.
What evidence he wants to call and the witness he wants to call, everybody's wanting to cooperate so let's wait until he's conducted his inquiry and comes to his conclusions.
PETER SISSONS: Now the Daily Telegraph today, stirring things up for Geoff Hoon for planning to go on holiday and miss Dr David Kelly's funeral, do you think that was a diplomatic move?
JOHN PRESCOTT: I think it's mischievous move by the Telegraph to make this point but everyone has to have their holidays and I think, the funeral will be on Wednesday, and I will be attending on behalf of the government, and properly so, and I think we should leave those comments there.
And after all it is the funeral this week and I think we should be thinking of those circumstances and concentrating on that.
PETER SISSONS: Well you'll be there, as you say, but don't you think his departmental boss should be there as well?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I'm representing government and we have to do while the Prime Minister's away, and it's not unusual for me, the one remaining person at the highest level in the government, should be attending this funeral. I think the public will recognise that is proper recognition.
PETER SISSONS: You've been under fire this week for your plans for a massive expansion of housing in the south east of England and lots of pretty villages in peril, all those sort of stories. How advanced are these plans? I mean are they unstoppable? Are they set in concrete?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well ... Thames Gateway, you're referring to, and there are different problems in the north and the south, and what we've done is now to take forward the proposals that are necessary to bring this Thames Gateway into fruition, to make it clear that we can do a lot of housing. It's on brownfield site, it's a massive area for development. But we've also made clear that those houses are needed. There's a desperate need for them in the south. In the north we're knocking down houses, in the south we need them desperately.
So what we are going to do is to make sure the resources are there, the planning changes are necessary, it is a tremendous amount of money, and also we're making clear that if you change the density of housing per hectare you can take the same amount of land, you don't have to be threatening the villages you're talking about and the villages aren't in the Thames Gateway, this was a whole massive industrialised area that we're going to convert into a wonderful asset and wonderful community.
PETER SISSONS: But have you, have you got detailed plans for the transport links, the schools, the hospitals?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes. This is what we've said to them before, if you take Barking Reach which is one classic example, if you want to develop these ten thousand houses there, you need to have a light railway system connected into it - that's £150.
Now we need to find the resources for that. We're working with the Mayor's department and I'm quite confident with new forms of financing that we'll be able to get the transport infrastructure.
It will be followed by the education and hospital infrastructures that are necessary for it and the, indeed the Prime Minister is now chairing a special cabinet committee to make sure government follow up with the necessary infrastructure investment.
So we spelt it out in this plan. I think we're now going to make happen what was a vision ten years ago and I think that's right.
PETER SISSONS: Should we be encouraging people to go and move out to the English regions to -
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we are -
PETER SISSONS: - the quality of life out there, instead of packing ...
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well - I don't need to be told about the quality of life in the north, I lived there ...
PETER SISSONS: You want to keep it to yourself by the sounds of things.
JOHN PRESCOTT: But don't forget what we are doing, we are looking at how we might move more government offices to the north.
We have set up regional economic development moves and agencies to reduce the disparities between the north and south and economic growth. So we're doing all those things.
But if anybody thinks somehow you can transfer say the sons and daughters who live in the south and say look you can't live near your parents, an essential part of any community, go up to Hull where they're knocking thousands of houses down.
I don't think that's fair, I don't think we have to do it and we can meet the needs of the north and the south and that's what we intend to do with these plans.
PETER SISSONS: Well the big story in personal terms, the revelation -
JOHN PRESCOTT: Let me get on to what we talk about Labour's six years in office, what we were doing.
PETER SISSONS: Well I thought we'd just talked about large chunks of that.
JOHN PRESCOTT: No, you've picked choices from it and commented. Just to make a quick point anyway, between, everybody's talking about six years of the Labour government compared to the Attlee period and in six years after 18 years of a government the point I would make, I'm proud to be in a government where those traditional values of the Attlee, about getting people back to work, education and health, have been pursued by this government.
And I actually think we've delivered, despite what the press say, we've delivered a ten year programme in six and the things that we promised on my little cards that I used to keep bringing up.
And so to that extent, traditional values in a modern setting, proud to belong to a government and we'll get on with delivering that programme.
PETER SISSONS: Well, you'll forgive me -
JOHN PRESCOTT: And I'm going around to tell Britain because I'm not going to get a chance in the programme which we're seeing here now.
So I want to be able to get that case across and indeed will be going and campaigning, while I'm doing this job during the summer, tell Britain what the reality of that is.
PETER SISSONS: Well it's not my fault ...
JOHN PRESCOTT: ... talking about what the arguments are.
PETER SISSONS: It's not my fault that most people are really interested in this personal story. The revelation of your reunion with Pauline's son Paul, who she had adopted when she was 17. You've been trying to keep it secret for two years - why?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I've known it for 43 years, so I mean I'm more than that ¿
PETER SISSONS: The newspapers got on the trail two years ago, didn't they?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes. I don't want to make any more comments. I will answer that one question though.
Two years ago, yes they did bring this up, and we made the point that this was a very private situation and we needed to deal with that and during the two years we've, you know, talked to a lot of our friends, tried to adjust to these new situations, allowed that relationship between Paul and his mother to develop to such a stage now that we believe they want to be out and be seen about. And it was necessary in those circumstances now to make a public statement.
And we have made that statement, we are delighted that Paul has joined us now and completed our family and we made the public statement primarily so that we can say right, we've said this, there is no more comments to be made. It's a happy situation, we're delighted with it and I hope the media will take that into account and allow us to get on with our family life.
PETER SISSONS: But you can't blame people just for be - not having a sort of malevolent curiosity. It's a, it's a happy, nice story when there's a reunion of this type and people want a little bit about it.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think that what they want to know is that in those circumstances a mother and a son is reunited, and I think that's a wonderful story and to see the relationship with the two of them, which has developed over the last two years, it really is something that makes a stronger family and I think that's occurred and I think we have every reason to be happy about it.
But I think you'll understand in those cases, you don't want it to continue and more and more statements.
They've made the statements, I think the media should now recognise that they want to get on with their lives and we certainly want to continue to operate as a family.
PETER SISSONS: Everyone's saying, oh he's now got a son who's a Tory, who supports fox hunting, isn't that a, isn't that a merry joke?
JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm not going to say any more because you know in the media, if I start keeping making more statements, it gets more legs, you get more interpretations.
We desperately don't need that. We made a very, very full statement. It's been in all the papers and I think people will understand that and I hope that they will understand that we don't want to make any more statements.
PETER SISSONS: You must be very proud though, of the way -
JOHN PRESCOTT: Of course I'm proud but don't keep teasing me out to make statements. You know if I make a statement on your programme any more than what I've said, that will become the justification for a further round of publicity and exchanges.
We honestly don't want that. A mother and son are united, my family is completed. Everybody's delighted and I see no reason to make any further comment.
PETER SISSONS: I think we can - we - we respect that. But there's another secret that you haven't kept very well. You and Pauline, of course, are great jazz fans and we've got a bit of jazz coming up on the programme so you stay here with us.
JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm a great jazz fan.
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03 Aug 03 | Politics
Prescott says family now complete
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