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JACK STRAW, MP, HOME SECRETARY JUNE 25TH, 2000

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

DAVID FROST:
Jack Straw is here this morning. Good morning, Jack.

JACK STRAW:
Good morning.

DAVID FROST:
Let's begin on the subject of asylum seekers as we might, following on the tragedy of this particular week. We've heard lots of demands, obviously, for stricter frontier checks to curb cross-border crime and what immediate steps are there that you could take to prevent a repetition of that disaster?

JACK STRAW:
Well the most important step is one we've already taken which is to introduce this civil penalty, these fines on the hauliers who bring in illegals in the backs of their lorries. And there's no doubt that's working. By the way, to make a very important point, we had to fight that through parliament in the teeth of Conservative opposition and what you're viewers will see all the time is Conservatives saying things against the problems we've got in respect of asylum, but if you look at their record, this is the single most important measure that parliament has taken to try to control this traffic and the Conservatives opposed it. The other thing we've done, which was part of the pull factor into this country was to cut the ability of these people to get cash, social benefits. Again the Conservatives actually voted in the House of Lords to keep that going. So what we've done is to try to improve the controls on the borders by the civil penalty, to cut off one of the main attractions that people have, which is to come into this country, which is to claim cash social security benefits and that's gone, we've introduced a national asylum support system, principally with benefits in kind. There are other things we are doing as well, including a lot of work with the Chinese government to encourage them to work with us much more constructively so that once people are refused asylum in this country who come from China, we can get them back. Now, I know there's some argument about human rights in China, but 99 per cent of the Chinese who come in here have suffered no human rights abuses whatever. They are simply economic migrants who are brought in here by criminal gangs and they need to go back as quickly as possible and we try to deal with that as well.

DAVID FROST:
For instance the fines, 2,000 per illegal immigrant per driver, or whatever, those have all got to go up, haven't they?

JACK STRAW:
Well, let us see. The 2,000 is fixed at the same level as airlines are charged if they allow somebody in who is undocumented and do that negligently or without good reason, ditto for the coaches and ferries. I mean if, that haulier, in principle, who shipped in those people, or somebody like that, without commenting on that particular case because it's before the courts, if for example, it were 50 people in the back of a lorry and they are all illegals and there is no proper explanation as to how they got there, that's 100,000 which is equivalent to the value of many of these trucks. So it's a very, very serious penalty. And there's a civil process for dealing with it rather than a criminal process, which makes it a bit easier.

DAVID FROST:
Talking of these sad 58 people and so on, with the difficulty of identifying who they are, people are saying that, a lot of them probably have relatives in this country who are also illegal immigrants, and that if you were to offer them an amnesty in return for coming forward to identify

JACK STRAW:
Yes, I've heard that, I

DAVID FROST:
What do you think of that?

JACK STRAW:
Well, firstly we don't offer general amnesties. That's very important. The second thing is, so far as any individual case is concerned, if we have representations we always look at those very carefully on extreme compassionate grounds or any other case, but I don't want to go into any details as far as this particular case is concerned because it's currently before the criminal courts.

DAVID FROST:
Some people are saying it might be better if we'd gone into the Schengen Agreement rather than saying out because the Schengen countries don't care what happens to people after they leave the Schengen area, and so maybe if we were in the Schengen area we'd be better off.

JACK STRAW:
We wouldn't. I mean one of the reasons we're able to enjoy very substantial freedoms to walk around the streets without identification, identity cards, things like that, within the United Kingdom is precisely because we have border controls which the other countries in Europe, for reasons I entirely understand because it's a single land mass, do not. There are two points to make here. One is, we are in Schengen. We signed up to Schengen

DAVID FROST:
Parts of it

JACK STRAW:
Yes, but the only part we're not in, in Schengen, is in respect of border controls, but all the other parts, we're in. The second point is this. That Schengen makes it clear in respect of the countries of continental Europe that it is quite wrong for them to do what appears to have happened in Belgium, which is that they spot a group of illegals and then say that all they have to do with them is to take them to the nearest internal Schengen border. That is not what Schengen says. Schengen places a responsibility on the signatory countries of Schengen to ensure that where they come across illegals they remove them from the whole of the Schengen area and we are looking to our European partners to ensure that that is properly enforced. And let me say that in Belgium there's been a very, very substantial fuss about the suggestion that that was how Schengen should be interpreted, when that wasn't the case.

DAVID FROST:
And what about Kosovo? We've got, only a year, they were going to be here, the, well the many of them now, asylum seekers, and more than 2,000 certainly still here, and so on, due to leave today, according to some figures, if it's one year, and so on, and they're applying, obviously, for asylum a lot of them. Will they get it? I mean, are you, do you think most of them will get it?

JACK STRAW:
No, most of them won't.

DAVID FROST:
Most of them won't?

JACK STRAW:
No. I mean, they are overstaying their welcome. I mean, let us be clear about this. We led, Tony Blair, led a huge humanitarian exercise in Kosovo in order to save the Kosovo Albanians. And we, with the Americans, were in the forefront of the military campaign as part of the major part of that humanitarian exercise, but also with colleagues like Clare Short ensuring that there was proper refuge for people provided across the border in Macedonia for hundreds of thousands of people, had to flee from Kosovo, across the border at the time. In addition to that European countries organised an evacuation programme in which we participated and quite a number came into this country, as a temporary expedient to help people who were in serious need. And the arrangement was, the understanding, if you like the agreement between us and those people who were seeking refuge was that they would get permission for a year and if political rights were restored in Kosovo to the Kosovan Albanians, they would have to go back. Now, we've kept to our side of the bargain and we look to the Kosovo Albanians here to stick to their side of the bargain. If there are exceptional compassionate reasons why somebody should stay on for a bit because they're very ill, other reasons, of course we understand that. But overwhelmingly these people have no basis whatever for asylum and they need to go back.

DAVID FROST:
Right, and so, therefore, most of them need to go back as you say, and so therefore inevitably we will have those sort of rather awful thoughts of the repatriation scenes that we've seen in Switzerland and in Germany and Austria as indeed in the Vietnamese boat people.

JACK STRAW:
These things are done as carefully as possible but if people are here and they have no basis to be here, in the end they have to be removed. And if, there's no way in which you can run a fair immigration asylum policy without, in the end, ensuring that people are properly and if they have to be physically removed from the country.

DAVID FROST:
What about on the subject of, a related subject and one that's dramatic, we're in the middle of the quarter-finals of the soccer at the moment, and on this whole question of our hooligans and the way we didn't stop them and so on, you're always a very candid chap and I suppose that you would say that people are right when they say that the government did not take tough enough measures, should have done more, should have done more to stop these people leaving the country. Would you agree with that?

JACK STRAW:
Well, I do my best to be candid, David. I don't always succeed

DAVID FROST:
You're not about to be now, or are you?

JACK STRAW:
Every single soft ball I just lift my bat from the wicket, so thank you very much. But thanks for the invitation, much appreciated. Look, I've always made it clear I would have preferred to have had additional powers that were part of that Conservative members' bill that we drafted for a chap called Simon Burns. And the bill, the private members' bill got disrupted, principally because of action by other Conservative members, not Simon at all. And I wish we'd had those measures and other government measures, but that's where we are.

DAVID FROST:
Labour members messed it up as well.

JACK STRAW:
Some did. Yes. It was mainly Conservative members. I would have preferred to have those measures. So there is your candid answer. However, even had those measures been in force, they would have had remarkably little effect over what happened in Charleroi and in Brussels because only a handful of those who were picked up, 900 people, picked up by the Belgian police were on the list which the National Criminal Intelligence Service has of people who were known football hooligans. Either had orders against them, or who had football-related convictions. It is true that of the 900-odd who were picked up, about 300 had criminal convictions of one kind or another but that is actually equivalent to any random sample of 900 men in our society. Astonishing figure. About a third of all men by the age of 30 have a criminal conviction. And I'm now looking at other measures we can take to ensure better, that hooligans don't travel abroad, or if they do, we can take action when they come back. But if I could just make this point, it would help a great deal if Belgium, for example, had done what it said it was going to do, which was to take criminal proceedings against who were picked up as hooligans, rather than, exactly as happened in Copenhagen, and the Belgians said they wouldn't, have now done, just arrest people. They released a large proportion of the people they arrested in Charleroi, back in Charleroi that day or the day after, and all the rest have been sent back, save for a handful. We, our courts, and our system operates on the basis of convictions, which is the fair way of ensuring you distinguish between the guilty and the innocent. And I'm sorry that some continental systems, they have this odd system of what they called administrative arrest, which means the police can nick people and then they just let you go.

DAVID FROST:
It did look in terms of the intervention by Germany, that Germany were much more effective than here, and whatever was the background with Simon Burns, the FA were pleading for this passport law to be changed and even as late as May 27th, they were pleading for it.

JACK STRAW:
Can I just make this clear. There was, the FA accepted that there was no way in the world that changes in our law could have made any difference to people travelling to Euro 2000 bar for two or three. That's the truth of it. We do not have a power in this country to give to the police arbitrarily to take people's passports away. And I don't think people would be totally pleased about that. It cannot follow

DAVID FROST:
I think that on an occasion like this that's what we're advocating

JACK STRAW:
Most people advocate this in respect of people they know to be guilty. But the British public opinion on criminal justice as I know is extraordinarily volatile. When it comes to should you give an arbitrary power to someone against someone who turns out to be innocent, but there's a mistake, people are rightly very concerned about that. We've got to get the balance right. I mean, Germany, let me make this clear, too, their hooligans seem to be almost exclusively highly organised. And we've got two hooligan problems. One is a highly organised problem, the other is a disorganised problem. But we've done pretty well with the problem of the organised hooligans who we knew in advance. Not with the others. But, another, in terms of reporting, 230 Brits were picked up in Charleroi. Do you know how many Germans were picked up? You'd assume there were none. There were 130 Germans arrested on the same evening, so there's also a German problem. There were Germans also causing trouble in Charleroi.

DAVID FROST:
The general figure was 930 wasn't it, prior

JACK STRAW:
Yes, yes it was.

DAVID FROST:
And how many for Germany overall?

JACK STRAW:
Many fewer is the answer. Many fewer. We have a problem. We have a general problem of drink-related violence in our society, particularly amongst younger men, which we've got to deal with. Which is one of the reasons why the violent crime figures are going up

DAVID FROST:
I want to come on to that in just a moment. However effective it would have been, there's no doubt that for instance, if only, the Belgians were saying, if only the British had done more, if only the British had done what they said they would, or done more, but just one second, the Belgians, UEFA, FA, everybody thinks we didn't do enough. So at least, at least in terms of communication terms with these countries, perhaps preserving the World Cup bid, if we had done more it would have been better in those terms, quite apart from the dispute over the overall effect.

JACK STRAW:
With great respect, that wasn't what was said in anticipation, whether we'd done enough or not. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We did a huge amount in cooperation with the Dutch and the Belgians and the French. As far as the Dutch are concerned, there was no trouble in Holland, from British fans. And let's be clear about this. The game with Portugal passed off without incident. So there were particular problems in Belgium. We weren't responsible for police in Belgium and the other problem, of course, of our fans, our so-called fans, getting drunk and then causing trouble on the streets in Belgium. But the cooperation between us and the Belgian authorities was very good and we did everything we said we were going to do in advance. And in advance people like the Football Association and the Football Supporters' Association, all the others, said yes, we have done everything that we could have done. With the single exception of that bill, I said I wanted that bill through, it wouldn't have made all that much difference

DAVID FROST:
Norman Fowler was going to do it too, wasn't he, he was blocked, wasn't he?

JACK STRAW:
What happened so far as Lord Fowler was concerned, there's an interesting story on that. The opposition brought forward proposals for a football banning order, I said if we would take those forward, I support them in principle, and we did take them forward in the bill that we gave to Simon Burns. You've got some questions to ask me about crime more generally, I think?

DAVID FROST:
Yes, here is a piece of paper from the front page of The Times, "Straw on rack as muggings soar", a sharp rise in violent crime over the past year has been revealed in official figures. Next month it is suspected that the average increase of, they say up to 19 per cent in violent crime, 3.8 per cent overall rise in recorded crimes. Now that obviously is always bad news for the Home Secretary.

JACK STRAW:
When crime goes up it's not good news, of course. It's not quite the shock-horror story as The Sunday Times suggests because these figures are well known in any event. Indeed I was talking about them in the House of Commons on Friday. What we've got, just to go back to what I was saying about football violence, you've got a particular problem in our society which we've all got to talk about and deal with which is of drink-related violence. We've also in some of the main cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham, and so on, got problems of street crime. And for dealing with that we have put money into those police forces to give them, quite a lot of cash, 20 million quid, to them to target the robbers, and I was saying on Friday that I want to see the crown courts, the courts of first instance following the lead of the court of appeal, which has made very clear indeed that it wants tough sentences against those who are convicted of robbery. Now, you asked me overall about our record on crime. I record on crime compares extremely well with any previous incoming government, because crime is still lower than it was three years ago. Whereas it absolutely shot up under both the Thatcher and the Major administrations.

DAVID FROST:
Coming down, coming down in the last two years of the Conservatives

JACK STRAW:
Well, coming down, yes, but the Conservatives were in power, David, not for two years, but for 18 years and they had this huge, huge increase in crime. Crime doubled under the Conservatives.

DAVID FROST:
But if it's going up now by 19 per cent in terms of violent crime or figures to that effect, I mean, what are you going to do about it? You're written about the yob culture, and so on. How much of it is organised crime, career crime, and how much of it

JACK STRAW:
Some of it is career crime, some of it is disorganised. What are we doing about it? For example, we've introduced the anti-social behaviour order which is very important new kind of order available either to the police or the local authorities. It's taken time to take off but 70 of these orders have now been issued. I'm afraid to say, all that in the face of Conservative opposition. Another thing I've tried to do, again in the face of Conservative opposition, is to allow the magistrates courts to convict or otherwise those who, for example, are charged with the theft of alcohol from an off licence, or who cause actual bodily harm on a Friday or Saturday night. Now astonishingly, to do this, which is a similar situation to the criminal justice systems almost anywhere else in the world, where you have summary trial for that sort of offence, I've had to fight through the House of Commons and now through the House of Lords to get this mode of trial bill so it will be the courts that decide. That somebody who steals a can of lager should have to have a jury trial, for lord's sake, or whether it's the individual alleged criminal. There's a second very, very important change which we want to see on the statute book. I regret to say, for all the talking I hear from the Conservatives, they are fighting that tooth and nail for a reason I don't entirely understand. There's much else we're doing in terms of crime reduction programmes as well as now putting additional cash into the police to get their members to go back after seven years of off decline to ensure that the work that we have done over the last three years, which is to get on top of the long-term rising trend of crime, continues.

DAVID FROST:
And when you talk about the pressure as you have of getting things through the House of Commons and so on, the time, what about fox-hunting, Jack? I mean when Kate Hoey was here a couple of weeks ago

JACK STRAW:
Yes I saw

DAVID FROST:
She said that, and great fun too, she said that the hunting bill was a great waste of time, a distraction from more important issues, she was quoting health and education, could quote some of the things you are talking about as well. Do you think this fox-hunting bill is indeed a distraction?

JACK STRAW:
It's not a distraction. Fox-hunting happens to be an issue on which I personally have never had strong feelings one way or the other. But if you're in politics you've got to take account of the fact that other people, other members of parliament and members of the public do have strong feelings about this and that actually is evidenced in the House of Commons itself because when I made the statement explaining what we were going to do, the House was very full indeed with partisans on both sides. Now, this is one of those issues, a bit like Sunday trading ten years ago, which has to come to a conclusion. Sunday trading was dealt with by private members' bills on and on, on and on, on and on. People knew something had to happen, there had to be a conclusion which you can't often get with controversial private members' bills, so the previous government sensibly introduced in its own time but for free votes a multiple choice, multiple option bill. That's we intend to do here. We want people to read the Burns report, and then the Commons to come, and the Lords of course, to come to a proper conclusion.

DAVID FROST:
Jack, a lightening question. If Kenneth Noye was prepared to tell all, would you agree to a shortened sentence?

JACK STRAW:
I agree to a shortened sentence. It would be a matter for the courts, and I don't so far as I know believe that his tariff has been set. But thank you very much for the question.

DAVID FROST:
It's an interesting thought, isn't it? I must say. Anyway we're at the end of our time, thank you all. Thank you very much, indeed, Jack, for being with us today.

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