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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 May 2006, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Opposition viewpoint
On Sunday 28 May 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Ken Clarke MP

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Ken Clarke MP
Ken Clarke MP

ANDREW MARR: And now from endangered species to big beasts.

The big beast of the Tory party, Kenneth Clarke who joins me from Nottingham.

Welcome, good morning, I don't know what kind of morning you're having up in Nottingham.

It's quite nice down here.

KENNETH CLARKE: Morning Andrew. Yes it's all right here so far.

ANDREW MARR: Now, let's start with the morning papers. Another slew of terrible headlines for the Home Office. Putting some historical context into it, because you were Home Secretary for a year and you had some pretty tough headlines yourself at that time. How serious do you think the crisis breaking over John Reid's head now is?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well the Home Office is getting the worst time it's ever had. It always produces nasty shocks for the Home Secretary, it seems very difficult to manage, but previous Home Secretaries have not had to face this kind of combination of things and when the newspapers have turned away from trying to finish off John Prescott they're trying to finish off the Home Office. So, a huge combination of problems have come together which have actually had their causes having built up over the last few years, I think both Charles Clarke and John Reid can reflect that really their predecessors have a larger part to play in all this than they have, really.

But John has at the moment gone away for a few days' well earned rest. He should be thinking very coolly about what he's going to do, and should come back with less of the intention of doing a poor man's Alan Sugar imitation in his interviews but with some clear idea of how he's going to tackle these problems and restore his authority and the government's authority and the role of the Home Office.

ANDREW MARR: He's famously described the Home Office as dysfunctional. First of all do you think that's right? And second, what do you say to those people who say well actually it's too big, it should be broken up?

KENNETH CLARKE: I don't think it's dysfunctional and I think he was, I mean I can understand he wanted to spend the first two days in dynamic actions, talking tough. But it really was not adding very much to keep producing adjectives. And for those who say it's too big that's nonsense. I mean everybody since Robert Peel has had a difficult job.

But even though it has got bigger no Home Secretary has really faced meltdown and, as one of the problems is that different parts of the Home Office sometimes don't co-operate with each other, if you put them in different Whitehall departments the whole thing's going to get worse. So, I think all this is an excuse for what has been a series of managerial failures, policy failures, a breakdown because the recent Home Secretary simply has not paid enough attention to the performance of the department.

ANDREW MARR: If it's managerial failures do you agree at least that Civil Servants should be blamed and named as well?

KENNETH CLARKE: I think the Civil Service has got to be accountable certainly internally. I think you've got to make sure, particularly in the Home Office, that you've got the right people in the right jobs. People who've really seriously fallen down on the job should of course be removed. I actually don't think we should abandon the political convention that the politicians, the ministers are responsible.

In return the ministers have the authority, but that the Civil Service is there to deliver but not personally to be named and shamed by the newspapers which the newspapers obviously want. And I always disapprove of ministers who try to avoid their own responsibilities by turning round and blaming their officials. But you do have to have a system whereby if the senior officials are plainly incompetent in their jobs then they should be removed. But not by publicity witch-hunt naming by select committees and all that sort of thing.

ANDREW MARR: Sure. Well this takes us on to the way the country's governed. And you have got responsibility from David Cameron for looking at the Constitution. And I just wanted to ask you, (a) how you're getting on, and then about a couple of things, I mean, for instance, the House of Lords. Are you still elect the man yourself?

KENNETH CLARKE: Well first thing how are we getting on. We've got 18 months to produce solid policy all only David's policy groups. so I think mine will be rather quicker than that. We're hoping to get something out by the summer or the autumn.

But don't hold me to that, but we're getting on with work. I think going back to the Home Office, very briefly, I think our study of collective government, Cabinet government, ministerial responsibility, the independence of the Civil Service, but how the Civil Service can be modernised to make it more capable of coping with the demands of modern management and a giant executive all are very important I, I think David Cameron is right to realise that at this stage he ought to reflect on the style of his government, the collective nature of his government, to protect himself and his colleagues against the blunders, the pigs' ears, the air of constant hysteria and shambles which is now afflicting the present Labour government because they've neglected those things.

On the House of Lords, well, every Member of Parliament has his own view on the House of Lords. I know my taskforce is going to major on that because Blair's going to produce something this year and it will become a political issue all of its own. I think all the party leaders will have to have a free vote on it because it cuts across party lines. I am quite openly and always have been, someone who believes that you should have a largely elected House of Lords and one that has its powers intact. Because I'm in favour of strengthening parliament, both Houses of Parliament, not of weakening them in any way.

ANDREW MARR: Well, here's something that I think we can agree Tony Blair won't come up with a policy on this year, which is the question of so-called English votes for English laws. In the hypothetical situation of the Conservatives winning in England at the next election, but because of the Scots still not having an overall majority in the House of Commons, do you think that's sustainable? Do you think that's an area which needs to be looked at again?

KENNETH CLARKE: I think English votes for English laws has an obvious common sense. It is a slight absurdity that Scottish MPs can have decisive votes sometimes on things which have no effect on their own constituencies at all, and are purely domestic English politics. It's not as simple as that, that's the reason we have a taskforce. You do have quite a lot of complicated questions to ask, you...

ANDREW MARR: But you'll come up with a hard proposal on that at the end of it?

KENNETH CLARKE: We'll come up with a hard proposal but I assure you that is something that requires serious thought and study because it is very difficult to contemplate a government for say a full four or five year term which has its own Secretary of State for Health, its own Secretary of State for Education, but no ability to carry any policy whatever because it doesn't have a majority of English MPs.

Do you start looking at, do you need an English Executive, do you need an English Select Committee which will be a separate legislative body of parliament within parliament to determine English matters, is actually more complicated than it sounds although I, personally, as, you know, as an English Member of Parliament, begin from the principle that Members of Parliament should not have a decisive note on matters which have absolutely no effect in their constituencies, can have a big effect in others.

ANDREW MARR: Finally, David Cameron. Tories doing pretty well in the polls at the moment. Do you think that he's been able to lead the party to the centre ground more sharply than you would have been able to do with your history?

KENNETH CLARKE: Oh yeah, one of David's advantages is not only his youth, it's the fact that he has no political baggage. Because he's not been a prominent political figure before he became leader. So...

ANDREW MARR: Some say no policies...

KENNETH CLARKE: All my old right wing nationalist, Euro-sceptic enemies will have reacted to every move I made to try to take the Conservative Party onto the centre ground domestically as well. And David's been able to do it, I think extremely well, very quickly. I think he's still doing it well. He's going to be helped, his authority's going to be restored by having these opinion poll leads which he very much needed.

He's got plenty of time to put some flesh on the bones. He's got all his taskforces and his policy groups so that in about 18 months' time he can start deciding what his priorities are and where he's going to become specific on commitments for the next government. But so far he's doing extremely well.

ANDREW MARR: Kenneth Clarke, thank you very much indeed for joining us this Sunday morning. Thanks a lot.



NB: this transcript was typed from a recording and not copied from an original script.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy

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