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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 10:05 GMT 11:05 UK
New Labour future
On Sunday 04 June 2006, Andrew Marr interviewed Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

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

Peter Hain MP
Peter Hain MP, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

ANDREW MARR: Let's start off with that Martin McGuinness stuff because everybody is talking about it, it seems almost impossible to believe that somebody who was so much part of that organisation could actually have been a British agent.

Do you think it's dirty tricks?

PETER HAIN: Well you get allegations like this just about every day and they've gone on for years and years and years. We never comment on these sort of matters, neither I, as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland or any of my predecessors ever comment on them.

ANDREW MARR: Okay, let's move on to something that I'm sure you will comment on which is Ian Paisley and his position as you try and get this new administration together.

Now he would need to sit down with Sinn Fein in effectively a new administration and work together and you've done everything that you can think of to encourage talks and bring them together. In the end, isn't he always going to say no?

PETER HAIN: Well we have to wait and see, but what's very important is tomorrow, for the first time, there'll be a meeting of a preparation of government committees, now that's quite an important title. All the parties, including Ian Paisley's party will be represented there.

It'll begin the process of identifying issues which need to be resolved before we can get to the position where they can form a power sharing executive.

ANDREW MARR: It has been called a talking shop.

PETER HAIN: Well perhaps that accusation has been made and indeed it has been made, but what we've achieved so far, and people didn't think this, is have the assembly start up again, have people behaving in a dignified way towards each other, not shouting abuse with each other, sitting together, all the parties including the DUP and Sinn Fein in a business committee, now tomorrow for the first time in a preparation for government committee, and I think that's important momentum. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, there's always difficulties to resolve and¿

ANDREW MARR: And when you say this is the last chance, last chance before what?

PETER HAIN: Well we've set a deadline in statute, deadlines have come and gone in the past in these negotiations in Northern Ireland, but I've been very clear, and the Prime Minister has, together with the Taoiseach.

November 24th is the deadline in statute in the emergency bill I took through Parliament recently to say if you haven't reached agreement by then, then you yourselves pull the curtain down on it, the salaries, the allowances which have been running at £85,000 each.

ANDREW MARR: Not paying them for a start.

PETER HAIN: Indeed, and I think that might concentrate minds, but I hope in the meantime people will also recognise, including Ian Paisley's supporters, that there has been a sea change in Northern Ireland in the last year, let alone the last decades.

We're now in a situation where the Independent Monitoring Commission reported recently that the IRA has closed down its activity, it's stopping criminality, and there's another report due in October. If that trend is maintained then I don't think there'll be any reason left for parties not to share power, and I think that's what the people of Northern Ireland want and that's what we ought to secure.

ANDREW MARR: We're talking about parties having to share power one day (laugh) in the UK. What about the Labour Party? Government's in a deep, deep hole. What's it going to do about it?

PETER HAIN: Well we're facing a difficult period. You know, if you look at the time that we've been in power, we're now going into our tenth year of power.

We've almost defied all the laws of political gravity. We haven't.. well we haven't had the mid term difficulties and crises that even Mrs Thatcher had when we were winning by-elections from the Tories in some of their safe seats under Mrs Thatcher.

Now, we've hit a difficult time, it is serious, we're going to need to get through it, but we're getting on with the really big issues: sorting out pensions, trying to get a fairer council tax, all those sorts of issues.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people look at it and say you're on your way out of office.

PETER HAIN: No, I think a lot of people look at the Westminster bubble which you and I both inhabit and think this is a different world from theirs. They see all this kind of daily ...

ANDREW MARR: But the public opinion polls, these people are not in the Westminster bubble. They're the people reading in the papers about all the disasters in the NHS computer programme and the Home Office and saying this government is simply not doing its job.

PETER HAIN: Well let's take those two issues. We've invested more in the National Health Service, we recruited tens of thousands of more nurses and doctors and consultants. We've brought waiting times for serious operations right down to a matter of weeks.

ANDREW MARR: A £13 billion overrun on a computer programme - it's unbelievable.

PETER HAIN: Look, I'm not saying that the National Health Service is perfect. I'm told it's one of the biggest organisations in the world after the Chinese army and the Indian railway.

Obviously we're continuing to drive forward the reform and get the delivery right, but if you look at the big picture, is anybody seriously saying, are you saying Andrew, that this National Health Service today is not light years away from what it was under the Tories? No, it's much, much better. It's got to get better still and we're doing that in education as well.

ANDREW MARR: It's reported in the papers that trade union leaders and others have asked you to stand when the vacancy becomes available as the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

PETER HAIN: Well I've said in fact on Friday night, as I've said on two broadcast interviews weeks ago, there is no vacancy for the Deputy Leader. I've been a long time supporter of John Prescott. I supported his campaign very actively and energetically. I think he does a great job.

When you see him working chairing cabinet committees, when you see him as probably the most active campaigner working with the grass roots of the party as well, right across the country, I think ...

ANDREW MARR: You don't think he's become a laughing stock?

PETER HAIN: I think all of the speculation frankly is a distraction, and I think party members are frustrated and irritated by it and what they want us to do, cabinet ministers and others, get on with the job of driving forward the policies that we've been doing and improving them too.

ANDREW MARR: You say it's a distraction but clearly Alan Johnson doesn't think that.

PETER HAIN: Well as I say, there's no vacancy. I've been a long time supporter of John Prescott. I think he does a very good job. There's a lot of media distraction around at the moment and a lot of excitable political speculation.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of ...

PETER HAIN: .. I'm not going to enter into it.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of that has been said by Alan Johnson too but he goes on to make the absolutely fair and true point that there is going to be a vacancy at one point and whether it's going to be a vacancy he would like to be part of it, Harriet Harman has said much the same thing, and now Jack Straw is saying much the same thing. What I'm asking you is when that moment comes, are you stepping aside? Are you not part of this or not?

ANDREW MARR: What I'm saying, Andrew, is what I've just said and I'll keep repeating it every time you ask me, is that there is no vacancy.

I've been a strong supporter of John Prescott, I think he should continue to do the job which if you see him in cabinet, if you see him in his cabinet committees, and you see him tirelessly campaigning around the country, he's probably the most active campaigner trying to work with the grass roots of the party with the trade unions ...

ANDREW MARR: Yeah, but the problem is ...

PETER HAIN: ... and bind the government much more closely together to the grass roots, this is what we've got to do.

ANDREW MARR: The problem is, if this campaigning and this role was so great, then the party wouldn't be, presumably, in the dire straits that it's in the opinion polls, and the question is, what do you do to change things?

PETER HAIN: Well you say we're in dire straits, we're in a difficult period. The Tories are what - 4, 5, points ahead. At the equivalent time ...

ANDREW MARR: No, they're a bit more than that.

PETER HAIN: Well maybe.. maybe, but at the equivalent time.. they're not 15 or 20 points ahead like we were when Tony Blair's ...

ANDREW MARR: So do you wait until that position before you do anything about it?

PETER HAIN: No, no¿ like Tony Blair's opposition Labour Party was when we were facing the Tories in their dog years. Actually the Tories are nowhere near where they need to be. Now that doesn't mean to say they don't pose a threat, they do, and if you look at their own position, it's just full of contradictions. Last week, for example, what do they announce, a new policy on tax.

They brief the Guardian newspaper in the morning that actually there would be no tax reductions under the Tories but to cover their backs against the right-wingers who don't like this, they brief the Telegraph and the Financial Times that there would be tax cuts. Their policies are all over the place and we're steadily increasingly seeing through that.

ANDREW MARR: It's steady as she goes?

PETER HAIN: No, I think we've got to do better. I think we've got to renew ...

ANDREW MARR: So how?

PETER HAIN: I think we've got to renew our whole relationship with the public and the government and the party and we're trying to do that. And if you look at the issues we're concentrating on, whether it's pensions reform, council tax reform, we're actually tackling the whole problem of energy security facing the country. These are the big issues people want us to focus on, not all this kind of tittle-tattle.

ANDREW MARR: I'm sorry, I come back to these polls, I come back to people's reaction, the events of the past few months, everything from Dorneywood right through to the NHS and people snort with disbelief. They say this is a government characterised at the moment by sleaze and incompetence and it doesn't know what to do about it.

PETER HAIN: Well, as I say, we've gone through a difficult period and we've got to get out of it. But if you actually look at the work we're doing, now why hasn't the same attention been given to pensions reform as was given to all this excitable stuff over the last ...

ANDREW MARR: There was acres of stuff on pensions reform.

PETER HAIN: Well no actually there wasn't to the same extent and actually that makes more difference to people's lives, the women for example are going to be getting a full entitlement to state retirement pension which they've never had, the hundreds and thousands and millions of women who've been discriminated against over the decades, all these issues we're addressing and I think ... you know ... when you get below all the froth and the Westminster bubble excitement, you get back to those issues and when people make a choice between our policies and the Tories who don't have any policies, then I think they'll say this is the government they can trust to take them forward with stability and security.

ANDREW MARR: Do you need a change of leader?

PETER HAIN: Tony Blair is the best and longest serving Prime Minister that Labour has ever had. He's been the most successful, I think he should continue to do the job and I think after he steps down, as he's said he will do, then Gordon Brown will take over in my view and I think he'll be a very good Prime Minister too.

ANDREW MARR: But you have been approached by trade union leaders and others to stand, haven't you.

PETER HAIN: I've seen all sorts of stuff and you're coming back again and you're trying to drag us all back ...

ANDREW MARR: I'm just asking ... I'm asking a very straightforward question¿

PETER HAIN: Well I've given you the answer ... I'm giving you a straight answer, there's no vacancy, I'm a strong supporter of John Prescott, I think he does a very good job and I hope he'll continue to do that job and let's get down to the issues that really matter to people ...

ANDREW MARR: Prescott and Blair together all the way through?

PETER HAIN: I think that Tony will go on until he's said he will stand down, the same will happen with John Prescott and then there'll be a fresh leadership election and then we'll go to where we need to be.

ANDREW MARR: Peter Hain, thank you both ... thank you very much indeed.

PETER HAIN: Thank you.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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