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Breakfast with Frost
On Sunday, 10 August 2003, Breakfast with Frost featured an interview with Michael Howard, MP, Shadow Chancellor

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

Michael Howard MP
"Culture of duplicity and deceit goes right to the top"

PETER SISSONS: Now from church politics to the more familiar kind: the government seems to showing the classic symptoms of the midterm blues, and with the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly getting underway properly tomorrow, the pressure will be on for some months yet. A couple of recent opinion polls have given the Tories a lead, but are they ready to seize the opportunity?

I'm joined by the shadow chancellor Michael Howard: Michael thank you for joining us from your sunny Kentish residence.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Nice to be with you Peter.

PETER SISSONS: Iain Duncan Smith today calls for an apology from Tony Blair, for his spokesman's description of David Kelly as a Walter Mitty. The spokesman himself has made a penitent apology, why not leave it at that?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Oh because what happened last week when that statement was made by the Downing Street spokesman was, was quite disgraceful and it really, I think, tells us all volumes about this government that he's still in his job. If you let me make two points, first of all that is quite unacceptable.

Secondly, although I'm sure Lord Hutton will do a thorough job, a very thorough job within his remit, his remit isn't really wide enough and we need to have an inquiry into everything we were told in the run up to the war in Iraq.

We know, we know that the prime minister didn't tell the truth when he described the dodgy dossier, the February dossier, as an intelligence document. We know he didn't tell the truth when he said that Iain Duncan Smith had seen that document before it was published, and we need to know how many other untruths we were told.

PETER SISSONS: But there's every indication isn't there, listening to Lord Hutton, that he is going to go as far as he thinks is right to go and he may well get into these areas.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I hope so. I hope so but I think it should have been made clear that his remit would lead him to look at everything that we were told in the run up to the war in Iraq. You see this, of course, goes very wide indeed.

There's an article in one of this morning's papers, in the Independent on Sunday, by Peter Kilfoyle, a Labour Member of Parliament, a former minister in this government, who talks about duplicity and invasiveness being the hallmark of this government. Those are his words. And this culture of duplicity and deceit goes right to the top. We, we've had it for years. Tony Blair has known about it for years.

Tony Blair has condoned it for years. And what people are increasingly coming to realise is that we have a prime minister who is a stranger to the truth and a government that is rotten to the core.

PETER SISSONS: IDS says should - in his article today - should Lord Hutton's inquiry be subject to any attempts of political interference and so on, and so on - do you honestly believe that there could be an attempt at political interference with Lord Hutton's inquiry?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well it depends what you mean by interference, doesn't it? What was Tom Kelly's intervention last week designed to achieve if it wasn't to colour public opinion in the way they looked at Lord Hutton's inquiry, and in due course his report.

The government, government ministers who have been saying they're not going to comment on this at all until after the inquiry, it's a matter for Lord Hutton and his inquiry.

And while they're making those protestations, the Number 10 spokesman engages in that kind of character assassination. That's why it's so disgraceful that he's still in his job.

PETER SISSONS: The Tories supported the war, if you knew then what you know now, would you still have supported it?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Yes. Because I still think that Saddam Hussein was a threat to peace, a threat to peace in his region ...

PETER SISSONS: But that's exactly ... now

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well yes, but there's no need to lie to gain support for the war. We would have told the truth, we would have made view clear but we would have told the truth, we wouldn't have misled the House of Commons.

PETER SISSONS: So if he'd come to the House of Commons and said -

MICHAEL HOWARD: We wouldn't have misled the nation.

PETER SISSONS: - well we don't think he's got any of the weapons of mass destruction but we think it's a good idea to kick him out anyway - you'd have supported that?

MICHAEL HOWARD: No - we - that's not the issue is it, the issue is rather more specific than that. There are specific claims that are in issue. And the dodgy dossier, which I've just been talking about.

We wouldn't have produced that, which came off the internet and said that it was an intelligence document. We wouldn't have made claims about Iraq being ready to deploy weapons within 45 minutes if the evidence didn't really support that.

There was and is a, in my view, a valid and legitimate case for having gone to war with Iraq, there was no need to lie, there was no need to mislead people in order to make that case. And to mislead the House of Commons and the nation in order to gain support for going to war is a very, very serious matter indeed.

PETER SISSONS: There seems to have been a minor summer outbreak of party wrangling in the Tory Party.

IDS has had to deny rumours that he plans to sack Teresa May, Tim Yeo was saying that - or hinting - that he'd want the job and that he wasn't happy about what was going on at Central Office. What's going on?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I, I've no idea. I read -

PETER SISSONS: ... believe that ...

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I, I read Tim Yeo's entry in the Daily Telegraph, he didn't mention Teresa May, he didn't criticise Teresa May and Iain's made his views quite clear.

So I don't think anyone really ought to be bothered about that. In a week, for example, when the government announced its appointment of a Director of Public Prosecutions, someone in charge of the whole prosecuting process in this country, crucial to our administration of criminal justice, someone who co-founded a set of chambers with Cherie Blair, now of course the fact that he's a close working colleague of Cherie Blair doesn't disqualify him from that job -

PETER SISSONS: How do you know he's not the best man for the job?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Let me - let me explain why. What, what that does mean though, is that you should scrutinise pretty closely his credentials for the job.

You've just asked a perfectly reasonable question, and if you engage in that kind of scrutiny, you discover that this is a man who has no experience of prosecution at all!

He's never prosecuted a single significant case in his career. And if you look at his website, you'll find that he boasts about the help and advice he's given to people accused of what he calls political violence. We never recognised the political violence in this country, just as we don't have political prisoners.

And at a time when one of the major threats we face is the threat from terrorism, at a time when our criminal justice system is widely seen as being in disarray, for the government to appoint a man who is a crony of Cherie Blair, who has never prosecuted a significant case in his career, who boasts in this way of his, his help to people accused of political violence, is a matter for the deepest concern.

PETER SISSONS: The Tories are ahead by a couple of points in the polls, within the margin of error really, you should be streets ahead by now, shouldn't you, at this stage in the parliament, if the government is in this sort of trouble? It can't bode well for your prospects in a general election.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well we need to be further ahead, there's no doubt about that. Our present lead isn't anything like enough, the electoral system is such that if we're to win the next election and save the country, which is what we need to do, we certainly need to be much further ahead, you're absolutely right.

But one of the things which Iain Duncan Smith deserves great credit for, is that he has always had a very clear strategic vision and he's always had his eye, not on what the polls should be saying now, but on what the polls should be saying in the run up to the next election. And that's what matters. And of course we've got more work to do.

We've got a lot more work to do, we know that, and we are indeed working hard to show people that the policies that we will put in place will make their lives better, will actually improve the public services, will actually improve their health care, improve education, make people feel safe in their streets and in their homes and even enable them to get around more economically and conveniently than they do now.

And we're working very hard on those policies to show that we can actually make people's lives better.

PETER SISSONS: Michael, thank you. I'll just leave you, I don't know if you've seen Stuart Steven's accolade to you in the Mail on Sunday but he says there are rumours that Iain Duncan Smith is thinking of moving his shadow chancellor Michael Howard to make way for the up and coming Oliver Letwin, I am no great admirer, I am great champion of IDS but I have never thought that he might be insane.

Michael Howard, you can bask in that, and we'll take the news headlines.

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