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Sunday, 5 November, 2000, 12:40 GMT
The Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott
DAVID FROST: Does the Deputy Prime Minister feel like Noah in his Ark this morning, good morning John.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Good morning David, how are you¿
DAVID FROST: Very well indeed. Are you encouraged by what you've seen today, it sounded, from Richard Wells, as though it could be worse?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes it could have been, I mean if these defences hadn't held something like 30,000, 20,000 or 30,000 houses could have been affected by it. But what we've got now is a situation where it is falling, that's helpful but bad weather on the way and we've got to hope in fact it's fallen sufficient not to create any further effects in York. But if you look behind me David, there's the kind of thin white line of sandbanks, 900 people, 300 soldiers, the ordinary citizens and emergency services, they're the ones that saved York, who built those kind of extra additions to the flood defences and saved us from, you know increasing waters of 15 to 20 feet.
DAVID FROST: Why did this happen, I mean was it an act of God or an act of unpreparedness that goes back not just in this government but previous governments as well?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well all governments have attempted to improve flood defences, I think this one's the biggest flood we've had in York since nearly 400 years ago because the marks are still on the walls and it's very difficult to deal with that kind of increase. But as you know I've been saying on your programme from time to time, the climate changes affecting our, having an effect on weather and floods and we've got to do more and I think this is a wake-up call, I'm glad we've saved it in York but I've been paddling in four foot of waters in various parts of Yorkshire, some places I'm going to, for example this water's gone down to Selby and created an extra problem for them down there. Successes and perhaps not done so well but tremendous efforts by people, that's why I've given the extra £51 million actually to the £400 million budget we've got to increase some of the flood defence programmes that we've got. At the same time, you know people say to me here David, you know when the cameras have gone and all the efforts seem to go from it so I want a national recovery team, I also want them in the local areas looking at how we get the agencies to help people who have to look for accommodation, have to dry out their homes and do things like that and at the same time I've brought in, reduced some of the silly rules we've had on the Bellwyn Fund, that is the financial agreement between the local authorities and indeed central government so you can get advances, you get payments cleared in the 14 days once they're established and I've increased it from 85 per cent payment to a full 100 per cent and these are the small things that people are looking as they begin to readjust as the floods go down, how they live with these great difficulties that follow from it.
DAVID FROST: You of course were central in Kyoto and so on, do you think, as some people say, that this can be traced in some way to the fact that we haven't beaten the problem of global warming, is global warming partly responsible for the scenes we see there behind you?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think it is and I've argued that for long enough, I know people have laughed at me at times for making this point that climate changes can have tremendous effects on our daily lives in this country. Indeed next week I'm in Brussels negotiating the final stages of that agreement finishing off hopefully in the Hague. But at the end of the day it's 10 years before we get the full effects of that if we agree it, what we've got is a regular pattern of floods now, three in the last 13 years, in 1998 when I'd just come into government David, I was in Stratford and there they were complaining bitterly about the floods and that nobody gives them any warning, including the Met Office. The Met Office has been brilliant this time, they've told us, the environmental agency are doing a superb job and they've given all the warnings this time so the warnings about what is to happen is not a problem now, dealing with the floods are and climate change is certainly part of it so I go internationally to negotiate and also get national programmes to deal with the consequential problems we have here.
DAVID FROST: We have a situation in fact, because of global warming we have all these demands for in fact the tax to be cut on fuel whereas originally one of the plans in putting tax on fuel was to help this very situation, it's a curious contradiction this week?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Except of course on the point you're making about the price of fuel, it's the increase in the prices internationally are still kept at a very high level so the point is about the prices and the use of fuel, that is still there. But I must say as people begin to argue that they want to cut fuel taxes and we must wait for what the Chancellor's got to say about that, but they're talking about, Mr Hanley and those £12 billion cuts in expenditure, well you have to think of floods, you have to think of pensions, you have to think of the railway investment, all those things that we're doing, it's called government, it's called getting a balance and I'm accountable to the electorate if I get it wrong. For Mr Hanley and some of his people are not and that's called democracy.
DAVID FROST: And in fact are you confident that you will manage to prevail over Mr Hanley and his team?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well the time for the test of that is the general election, we have to get the balance right, I believe we've been a competent government, we've taken the long-term decisions, they are difficult ones but they will be in Britain's interest at the end of the day and in the middle of all these problems, floods and railways, I can tell you the time it's not always easy but I know and I'm assured we've got the long-term decisions right, mistakes were made over decades, this government's getting those kind of decisions right and we really will get the benefits from it.
DAVID FROST: And you think that the country won't, we nearly ground to a halt over the floods, the news is a bit better today although as you say the danger of the weather the rest of today is going to be, do you think you can then stop the country grinding to a halt over this upcoming blockade protest by means of the carrot and the stick, the stick in this case being Jack Straw and the carrot being Gordon Brown?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well government can't accept that a few people at some refinery gates can stop the country running and deny it the fuel with all its effect and consequences for our emergency services. Governments must govern and that's the clear line and that's what the Prime Minister's made clear and at the end of the day we'll be accountable to the electorate. But in the mean time they've told us to get on with the job, make the best decisions, be competent and that's what we're trying to do at the present time.
DAVID FROST: And what about the question of insurance and the fact that people without appropriate insurance, is there anything you can do about that and when you said that victims of the flooding have a right to expect support from central and local government in helping them cope with the aftermath of the flooding, what did you have in mind on that?
JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think I'll be talking with York today to set up this recovery team so we can get all the agencies of government together with the local authorities to see how we can help them through this process of change. Sometimes it takes as much as 18 months David, I was up in yesterday and these people are just getting over the last flood 18 months ago, they've got all the work done and now they're back with these tragic circumstances. A lot more to be done there, get the money and answer some of the problems and making the change, I'm glad you mentioned the insurance because I received quite a lot of complaints about that, how slow they are in dealing with them, it is a difficult problem, sometimes the work is not of good quality either so I've asked the insurance companies to come in and see if they can readjust their procedures and assessments like we have in central government and put in our minds the terrible circumstances of people today in their homes, some without any heat or electricity suffering the consequences of floods, don't let's forget them, let's keep continuity in our support for them.
DAVID FROST: John thank you very much for joining us this morning, we appreciate it, from York.
JOHN PRESCOTT: Thank you David, would have preferred your studio.
DAVID FROST: Well we shall miss you at breakfast.
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