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Newsnight Monday, 10 February, 2003, 14:53 GMT
Transcript of Blair's public services interview
Tony Blair and Jeremy Paxman
Tony Blair appeared on Newsnight on 7 February where he was quizzed by Jeremy Paxman and a panel of voters about public services.

Here is the transcript of the interview:

JEREMY PAXMAN: Prime Minister, let's deal first with the question of health.

There is no dispute that you have hugely increased spending on the National Health Service, about 20% in the last year for which there are accounts.

Why has that produced an improvement in productivity of under 2%?

TONY BLAIR: Well it hasn't actually, I mean if you look for example at cataracts, I think there's something like a 30% improvement in that.

If you look at the number of heart operations I think that's up very nearly I think 30% more, almost 40%.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well according to the Department of Health, activity in the Health Service - which they define as 'finished consultant episodes' - went up by 1.6% so what has happened to all this money?

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but if you take, I mean for example, in my own constituency, just on the borders of it, you will see two new hospitals that have been built.

You will see a brand new £8 million community hospital.

If you go to the Freeman Hospital which is just up the road from here routine heart surgery used to take 12 months, it's now down to 3 months.

It simply isn't correct to say that if you look at what has happened in the Health Service there's no money been spent producing¿ real outcomes.

JEREMY PAXMAN: (overlap) So you're saying the Department of Health figures are wrong?

TONY BLAIR: No, I'm not saying that the Department of Health figures are wrong. But what I am saying is the Health Service is not just about the number of operations we perform. It's also about...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well as far as the consumers concerned it's about health care and treatment, isn't it?

TONY BLAIR: True, but that is also about...

JEREMY PAXMAN: So it's rather important how many people get seen by a consultant.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but it's also important for example how long they wait, how many people are on the waiting list, how many nurses there are, how many doctors there are, are you developing for example 'walk-in centres', are you developing other forms of giving people health care.

And what I'm saying to you is that I believe, even though there's a lot of negative publicity often about the Health Service, actually the Health Service is getting better and there is real money being spent on it that is producing better outcomes for people but...

TONY BLAIR: No one disputes...

TONY BLAIR: ...there's still a long way to go.

JEREMY PAXMAN:'re spending a great deal more of money taken from each of us in this room, it's not money that comes from nowhere, it's money we all pay for.

TONY BLAIR: Correct.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Our question is much more to do with the poverty of your ambitions.

Your ambition is to raise spending to the European average and yet when it comes to treatment of patients... let's take a case.

You get prostrate cancer.. or I get prostate cancer, our chances of living five years after getting it in this country about 44%.

In Germany - 67%. In a whole raft of things, in hearts, in cancer, in all sorts of conditions. Why aren't we striving to be the best in Europe?

TONY BLAIR: Oh we should strive to be the best. But if I can just say to you first of all the figures that you're talking about are figures that will probably relate to the historic position of some years ago, and actually for example just recently in the British Medical Journal there was the description of how cancer treatment in this country - it's still got a long way to go, don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying it's perfect, by no means is it that - but it is not correct to say that cancer treatment in this country is not getting better.

For example, you now get seen, if you did have suspected prostate cancer you would be seen within two weeks by a specialist. 97% of people are seen within two weeks.

If you go back 5 or 6 years it was only just over 60%.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Will you commit us to reaching at least the European average of success rates in cancer care?

TONY BLAIR: I mean I can't guarantee what the next few years will bring, but what I can say to you is that there is no doubt at all we are improving. Indeed some people would say in some aspects of cancer, for example breast cancer, we are improving probably faster than most European countries.

And I think that if you talk to people about their experience in the Health Service I think the odd thing is if you poll people and say: "What was your own experience in the National Health Service like?" I think a lot of people will say good.

If you ask them what is the National Health Service like overall a lot of people will say: "Well we're not sure about it."

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well let's ask people about their experience. Mavis Harris, you're a nurse.

MAVIS HARRIS: I am. What I'm concerned about is that the flexibility and good housekeeping are cornerstones of the plan for the Health Service, and while at the front we're all expected to exercise that, but we're still getting 11th hour waiting list initiatives that cost more than the normal routine of putting it into the service for the entire year, and all it satisfies is the bean counters and stresses an already stressed situation for the workforce.

TONY BLAIR: I understand that and I know there's a lot of concern because people say well look, you know.. get rid of all the targets for waiting lists and our life would be easier.

The only thing I say to you, the problem that we have is this, and just let me try and explain it from where we sit for a moment.

We are putting up people's taxes in April - which is a difficult thing to do in one sense - we're putting up people's tax in April to put more money into the Health Service.

We have to be able to show real outcomes as a result of that and I think the problem with people that people find with the Health Service is not that when they.. they don't get decent treatment when they get into the Health Service because I think people think that doctors and nurses and other allied Health Service staff do a fantastic job for people, but they wait too long to get into it, and so people wait too long to see a consultant, they wait too long to see the GP, they wait too long for their operation, and it's difficult for us to justify spending the money unless we're saying but we've also got to cut the time that you have to wait.

Do you see what I mean?

JEREMY PAXMAN: Alright, Graham Brown, you tell us what it's like when you're there.

MAN: My mother went to visit my stepfather in hospital a little while ago in a local hospital, and when she arrived it was a geriatric ward and there was another one of the patients had had an accident in the ward and there was a piece of faeces lying on the floor.

My mum went to the desk and reported it and an hour and a half later when she left she cleaned it up as she left. Now that cannot be right.

TONY BLAIR: That's obviously absolutely wrong.

MAN: And when you link that to the rise in streptococcal infections and the fact that it's poor hygiene on the wards that's causing this, it all comes down to results at the end of the day.

It's all very well to talk about statistics of number of people having successful operations and so on, but you shouldn't have to do that in a modern health service surely.

TONY BLAIR: Of course you shouldn't. I mean the only question I'd say to you is that we treat in the Health Service what a million people every 36 hours.

There will be situations that happen which are unacceptable and wrong, and I would say that must be true of any health care system in the world.

You know.. either something has gone wrong in the management of the hospital or the people who are supposed to clean things haven't cleaned them.

All I say to you is I don't honestly believe that that is typical of what goes on in our wards.

JEREMY PAXMAN: You've created an environment in which there are more managers than there are beds!

TONY BLAIR: I'm sorry, that is nonsense. That really is nonsense.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Which bit of that statement is untrue?

TONY BLAIR: That there are more managers than beds.

JEREMY PAXMAN: How big is the gap?

TONY BLAIR: The gap is actually large because I'll tell you what the Conservatives do in order to say that, what they say is they include in managers administration staff, secretaries, maintenance staff.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well they're all non-medical staff.

TONY BLAIR: Well you need non medical staff. I mean you've got to have secretaries, receptionists, maintenance people in a hospital, that's not the same as managers.

The number of actual managers in the Health Service is round about 26,000 and actually the amount of money that we spend on the Health Service on management has fallen, not risen, in the past few years.

JEREMY PAXMAN: There's a chap in the back row.

MAN: I happen to be in the RBI on Monday and it absolutely stank. I wouldn't have anyone in there.

TONY BLAIR: There are situations where people will get bad treatment but I think there will be a lot of people who will be listening to this and watching it who will say well actually I went into the Health Service and got fantastic treatment from it.

And I just.. all I say about this is let's have some sense of balance because actually, when you talk to people, of course it's a mixed picture, but I think it's not true to say that there's nothing getting better, and all I can talk about in terms of personal experience is my own constituency where I would say undoubtedly, you know.. but if you look at the new North Durham Hospital, I mean that is a better hospital than what was there.. than Dryburn was there before and I remember it when I was a kid and you know.. that is a.. and Bishop Auckland Hospital is a better hospital than what was there before.

The Community Hospital I was talking about a moment or two ago, that was an appalling old.. I think 1920s, 1930s building. We've now got a brand new Community Hospital.

Does that mean it's all perfect? No. But I think there are changes, and one of the things that worries me is that I think part of the agenda of people who are saying 'Look, the Health Service isn't functioning, the money is all being wasted' is to switch us into a different health care system that I think has got real costs for people that aren't being spelt out.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Let's look at another area in which you are spending money which is Education.

Alan Prangnell, tell us your experience. You're a builder I believe.

ALAN PRANGNELL: Yes, I've over the years on occasion to employ several.. well.. YTSs as they were.

And the actual standard of education they've been coming out with has been basically appalling.

They've had reading and writing skills of a ten year old some of them, which makes them almost unemployable.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Your government concedes that secondary education is failing.

TONY BLAIR: No, I certainly don't concede it's failing.

BOTH: Estelle Morris conceded that.

TONY BLAIR: I don't think she conceded that, no.

JEREMY PAXMAN: "We must recognise that our secondary schools do not command the trust and support of parents in the way that our primary schools do."

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but that's not to say the whole system is failing. I think that would be ridiculous to say that.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you accept there's a problem with many secondary schools.

TONY BLAIR: I accept we've got to do a big lot of improvement but again let's not completely run ourselves down in this situation.

Most authoritative recent international report put us seventh in the world - ahead of France and Germany - for our school attainment, so I mean I totally agree with you, there is a big, big act to do, not just for school leavers but also in adult literacy.

We've 7 million adults in this country that can't attain the proper literacy and numeracy standards, that's why we're putting money into it.

But primary schools, which is where it starts, it's just worth pointing out - again I'm not saying it's perfect - but in the last few years in this region in the North East for example, for the first time, we have over 70% of our 11 year olds passing their exam results.

It was just over 50% a few years ago, and we have over 40% for the first time getting five good GCSEs. That still means there's a huge number of kids that aren't doing it properly.

All I'm saying is, let's not.. you know.. let's not say it's all hopeless. We are actually making progress but there's a long way to go.

TONY BLAIR: Were they new dealers incidentally or?

MAN: Sorry?

TONY BLAIR: Were they new dealers or YTS?


TONY BLAIR: When did they?

MAN: Oh this was 5, 6 years ago.

TONY BLAIR: Right, well I think if you find it in the new deal which I think most people do accept is a good scheme for young people, young unemployed people are given proper skills and we have a better relationship with the employers because I think what used to happen under the YTS was that people were just.. you know.. taken out of school, put with an employer but not given proper skills.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Anne Cohen, you're a teacher.

ANNE COHEN: Yes, I've been working as an occasional supply teacher and I've noticed that in all ages - because I've been doing from younger children right through to secondary - in almost every school you go to, because working for an agency I tend to go to the schools with problems, but I've seen quite a lot and in almost every class there's an element of disruptive pupils who actually stop the majority of children from learning, and nothing seems to be done about it.

It doesn't seem to be.. I mean the teachers tend to have positive attitude and to try to encourage them to behave properly but it doesn't seem to be working.

JEREMY PAXMAN: There's a lady in the front row, because I think this is probably relevant. You're experienced here too.

RUBINA AHMAD: Yes, I've seen private education and state education at grass root level. My children went to private schools. In principle I was against it, but I'm glad they enjoyed private education.

When I was ready to step into the job market I took on a job as a dinner nanny in one of the best primary schools... state-run primary schools in Newcastle.

I could see the difference in the way from very young a child is fashioned. I saw mine being fashioned.

There is such a difference. Why can't we have the same standard for all children in Britain?

TONY BLAIR: Well I think.. I mean first of all let's deal with behaviour and discipline because there is a role for the school and a role for the government but I've got to say to you honestly there is also a role for the family and the parents, and I think there's a.. sometimes.. you know.. if I'm being absolutely blunt with you, there's a limit to what either the school or the government can do.

Sorry, I'm just going to deal with the behaviour point.

What we are trying to do though is first of all give the heads at schools the ability to exclude the pupils if they are disruptive, and what is more - because this is a big problem that we have - I remember one of the first meetings I ever had on Education when I became Prime Minister and we discovered that when kids are excluded from school, actually they only used to get 2 hours education a week, the rest of the time they were free to do whatever they wanted, so it wasn't a great punishment frankly if they were excluded from school.

I mean it's taken us a long time to get there, I know, but from last September any child permanently excluded now goes into full-time education and is given intensive education.

But I think some of these issues like truancy and so on we have to deal with also by imposing some penalties on parents who don't conform to their responsibilities.

JEREMY PAXMAN: We've got to move on because there's a subject which virtually everybody in this audience has expressed deep concern about Prime Minister, it's the question of asylum.

Can you just explain to us why it is intrinsically unreasonable to detain everybody who applies for asylum here while we at least discover whether they're a terrorist and perhaps whether we discover whether they're a refugee or an economic migrant.

TONY BLAIR: Well if they're a terrorist, I mean we screen for that now, and all the intelligence evidence that we have and are necessary in order to make sure that we can identify someone who might be a likely terrorist, we do now.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well it's clearly not working.

TONY BLAIR: Well, you say that but the screening process, the fingerprinting of all asylum seekers has only just come in, and actually, if you detained all asylum seekers, well you have to find somewhere to put them.

I've looked at this, you know.. for 3-4 years and I simply point out to you one thing, I'm about to come to what I think we can do about this.

Every time we have tried in the last 3 or 4 years to toughen up the law in relation to asylum I simply tell you there has been... it has been extremely difficult to get the consent to push those pieces of legislation through.

I think what has now happened is that the public mood has changed on this completely.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Prime Minister, you have an unassailable majority in Parliament.

TONY BLAIR: No I don't, not in the House of Lords I don't.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Oh, so the House of Lords is the problem here!

TONY BLAIR: Well it has actually.. it has actually been because...

JEREMY PAXMAN: You would like to detain them if you could.

TONY BLAIR: Well no, I'll come to the detention point in a moment.

No, the fact is the difficulty that we have had with legislation, I'm not saying this is the whole reason for it, all I'm saying is that it has been difficult to get people to give the consent to take really tough measures but we are prepared to do that.

We have introduced measures recently to end the social security support for many of these people, to make sure that we do detain those, particularly those who have potential terrorist connections. If you want to detain everybody however, then find.. but you're going to have to find the detention centres and build them in order to put them, and I tell you, having looked at this issue very carefully, I don't think that is the main issue.

The main issue is stopping the numbers of people coming in and claiming asylum, that is the key to this thing.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well everybody is highly exercised about this so let's take you down here in the front row first of all sir.

PETER WATERS: At the end of the day really, how many borders are these people crossing to come into our country? They must be crossing in absolute.. you know.. loads of borders. In all honesty are we an easy touch?

Is that why they keep on coming to... wanting to come to our country? They closed the Sangatte Camp in France, there was an express train basically to come to this country. Why are we...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Why are we such a soft touch Prime Minister?

PETER WATERS: Yeah, exactly.

TONY BLAIR: Again, I mean first of all let's just get the facts on this. Every single country in Europe at the moment has this asylum problem.

Many of them actually don't keep the same types of figures that we have but it is a myth that Britain is the one country in the world with this asylum problem.

The second thing is that.. you know.. there are pull factors in this country, I mean partly to do with the full employment in the South East, but the basic problem that you have is exactly the one that you mentioned, that what happens is that people will come who are really economic migrants, come through and claim asylum.

They often don't have the documentation so that you can't trace where they've come from, and it then becomes extremely difficult to remove them to the place that they originate from.

Now at every stage of this we are trying to make the system work better. What we've agreed now with the French is not just closing Sangatte - and by the way Sangatte hasn't reopened as some of the papers say - we're putting British immigration officers along all those French ports so as to stop people actually coming in through that route.

Now, in addition to that, as I say, we've stopped the social security support for people who don't claim immediately.

We're also declaring a whole series of countries, countries from whom we won't allow asylum claims, and if you do get asylum claims from another additional list of countries, they only exercise the appeal out of the country.

Now we're putting those measure in now, but I'm well aware of the public concern on this, I really am, and what's more, I think if we do not deal with this issue properly, then there are those that will exploit it for all sorts of the wrong reasons.

TONY BLAIR: There's a gentleman right here in the front, I think you also want to make a point about this, don't you.

TIM CHAPLIN: Why can't we have the holding camps for these people and make.. fast track them through and get them once sorted out and get them out .. you know.. back away home wherever.. you know.. back to where they came through the country they came through, like Germany and France and all these places. Why can't we do that?

TONY BLAIR: Well we can. I mean that's what we're trying to do now. I simply...

TIM CHAPLIN: Yes, but what I'm saying is, they should be held somewhere, you know.. not Dover obviously because they're saturated with them in Dover, but I'm sure there's loads of army camps that's been closed down that you can keep them in army camps.

TONY BLAIR: Well we're trying to. For example there's the Oakington Detention Centre that we've got at the moment. I simply say to you...

JEREMY PAXMAN: How many people does Oakington hold, Prime Minister?

TONY BLAIR: There's roughly numbers for about 400.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And how many are actually in there right now?

TONY BLAIR: I don't know how many...

JEREMY PAXMAN: 32 was when checked on January 10th.

TONY BLAIR: Well hang on... yes, but that is because the only people that are going there now are the people whose claims are ill-founded and therefore they're transferred to Oakington so we can get them out of the country quickly.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So we're not detaining people there.

TONY BLAIR: No, we are detaining people. But the point I was about to make...

JEREMY PAXMAN: Well we've got one place.. one camp with 32 people in it!

TONY BLAIR: No, I'm sorry, we have...

JEREMY PAXMAN: There are going to be 100,000 people, are there not, this year.


JEREMY PAXMAN: The total was 92,000 last year. It's predicted to be 100,000.

TONY BLAIR: Yes, but we do not have 100,000 people who have come through the route that the gentleman is just describing.

What he's saying is, if you get people and they come through France or Germany, and therefore you know perfectly well that they've come from a safe country. Why on earth can't you return them to them?

The answer is you can, it is more difficult in circumstances where someone comes to this country, we don't know how they've come in, they don't have proper documentation and they say: we come from say Iraq or Afghanistan or Somalia or one of these other countries.

Now what we are looking at now is how we make sure we deal with those people in a fast way, and we're going to need a lot more than simply Oakington in order to deal with them.

But I just tell you, when you start going down this path you have to have centres to put these people in, and every time we try and make one of these new centres in the community, not surprisingly people aren't too keen to have them in their own community.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you do plan to create more of these centres?

TONY BLAIR: Yes, they are, I mean they're coming on stream now.

JEREMY PAXMAN: And do you plan to detain now... Your new Archbishop, Rowan Williams is hardly a raving member of the Monday Club or something, thinks it: "perfectly reasonable..." his words "to detain people after arrival while they're sorted out and processed."

Is that a view to which you subscribe?

TONY BLAIR: I don't subscribe in to detaining everyone who's claiming asylum because you would need.. you know.

I mean you would need many, many centres and many, many camps. What I do...

JEREMY PAXMAN: We ought to find out whether they're refugees, shouldn't we, or migrants?

TONY BLAIR: Yes you do, yes you do, and it is correct that you detain them for that period of time, but then there is an appeal process that they are able to go through and at the moment as a result of certain court decisions and the way that the European Convention on Human Rights operates they're...

JEREMY PAXMAN: And most of them never get deported. TONY BLAIR: Well it is difficult once.. because you've got to find a country to deport them back to, and some of these countries wont take them back.

And so that's why I say to you, in the end the only way of dealing with this is to stop the numbers coming in.

Once people get in, unless you can discover what country they've come from and get that country to agree to take them back, then it is very difficult to get them back.

JEREMY PAXMAN: 92,000 roughly the last year for which published figures are available. What would you like to see it reduced to?

TONY BLAIR: I would like to see us reduce it by 30-40 percent in the next few months and I think by September of this year we should have it halved.

JEREMY PAXMAN: So about 40-45,000 a year.

TONY BLAIR: Well I think you can get it below that then in the years to come. Can I just make this point to you. We are not the only country that has this problem though.

JEREMY PAXMAN: No one suggests it's unique to Britain but it is an acute problem which concerns everybody.

TONY BLAIR: It is an acute problem. All I'm saying to you is, it is difficult to deal with, and the last times we have tried dealing with it, some of those that are most vociferous now in telling us we've got to detain everyone were the people when we even tried to detain the suspected terrorists, were telling us this was a breach of their civil liberties.

JEREMY PAXMAN: But you're a man not afraid to take unpopular decisions.

TONY BLAIR: Well I suspect in this case it will be a popular decision.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay, let's move on to another area of general concern to people in this audience.

Since you became Prime Minister - and I don't suggest this is your fault of course - but since you became Prime Minister, this has become a much more violent country. What are you going to do about that?

TONY BLAIR: I think you've got to do.. I think the violence comes really in two forms for people. I think one is the acts of violence that we would normally consider.. you know.. the serious muggings and so on.

I think there is a separate aspect which is what I would call antisocial behaviour which is less serious crime but which is a huge problem for local communities.

I think the only answer to it is to do two things.

First of all to reform the criminal justice system, and secondly to introduce new measures specifically to tackle antisocial behaviour. JEREMY PAXMAN: Okay, David Hines, let's hear from you.

DAVID HINES: How do you.. well to me.. especially convince me and the public that you've been tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

And before you answer that I'd like to say that homicide is currently over 800 per year now and why don't you have a deterrent - life to mean life.

And everything would filter down from that and that's why we have so many violent crimes now because the sentencing doesn't fit the crime.

Put the victim first and for 10 years I've heard that the victim is going to come first in this country - they haven't. Why is the criminal still number one in this country and the victim second?

TONY BLAIR: Well obviously I don't decide what sentences are passed by the court, but if you actually look at the sentencing laws we've introduced in the past few years, the sentences have got longer and been tougher, indeed there are more people in prison today than we've ever had.

But I don't think that's the only answer to it actually.

HINES: Well maybe you should have more prisons but.. and I still think you do.. should have more prisons.

But when everything filters down, when life only carries 12.9 years now for taking somebody's life, that cannot be right.

The public do not have faith in this criminal justice system anymore.

JEREMY PAXMAN: There's a lot of people nodding with that.

HINES: Well Lord Justice Woolf where he comes from and what planet he lives on I don't know.

JEREMY PAXMAN: This was Lord Justice Woolf who said that we had to accommodate sentencing policies to the fact that prisons were apparently a bit full.

HINES: Well that was one comment. The other comment...

TONY BLAIR: About the burglars you mean?

JEREMY PAXMAN: Ah, that was your friend Lord Irvine, wasn't it.

HINES: Well burglars for example, all Lord Justice Woolf's comments are actually being quoted in court by lawyers now, seeing that he said these things. His opinion should not count...


HINES: Jeremy will you just let me finish please.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Sure, I'm sorry.

HINES: What I'd like to say now is that his opinions, his own personal opinions, have been carried through the courts in this country.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Can I just, Prime Minister, just explore just while these names have come up.

Your friend Derry Irvine the Lord Chancellor said that: "I don't accept people are disturbed at first time or even second time burglars not going to prison" now is that because he's been burgled an awful lot and doesn't mind about it or was he just talking nonsense?

TONY BLAIR: What he was saying is, I mean it's never been the case that someone without any previous convictions at all has usually been sent to gaol for a first offence in burglar. But...

JEREMY PAXMAN: And he genuinely thinks people don't mind.

TONY BLAIR: No, but burglary is an extremely unpleasant, intrusive offence, and what is more the courts do have the power to send even first time burglars to prison and they should use it if they think it's appropriate.

The point... I just want to come back on this point. I think sentencing is one aspect of this and I understand your concerns on that, although in the end I can't... you know.. I can't determine what sentence the judge passes.

I can give the power to the judge and the judges have the power now if they want life to mean life to say that.

HINES: Can I just say this, Mr Prime Minister...

TONY BLAIR: Hang on a second.

JEREMY PAXMAN: I'm sorry to cut across you...

HINES: They are not elected.

JEREMY PAXMAN: There's an awful lot of other people who want.. let's get Johanna Davison in here.

JOHANNA DAVISON: Prime Minister I would like to know why you cannot build more prisons, and if you cannot afford them, why can't you get a ship and put them all on a ship out to sea because I don't think enough has been thought about the victims and all the psychological damage what causes to anybody who has been broken into.

I went away on holiday and I was burgled. And when we came back my husband would never ever go away.

This was about six year ago now, or maybe it's longer, and he would never ever go away on another holiday with that psychological effect, getting burgled.

And I don think the victims are even brought into it when they think about the sentencing and letting them out of gaol quicker and now talking about letting 'em go free the first time.

TONY BLAIR: Well first of all they certainly shouldn't be let free under any set of circumstances, and actually, as we were saying a moment or two ago, there are more people in prison today than there have been.

We are actually building more prison places, but can I make one other point to you is I think prison.. people who commit these offences and deserve to go to prison should go to prison, but I don't think that is the only answer to this problem.

I mean I say to you very honestly I think the other part of this is to tackle issues such as drug abuse and the link with crime which are of vital importance if we're to reduce the propensity of these people to offend.

And I also think the other thing we need to do is make changes to the criminal justice system so that more people are actually brought to justice because it's not just what sentence you get if you're convicted, it's the fact that you stand some risk of being caught and brought to court and sentenced that is a deterrent to you.

JEREMY PAXMAN: Prime Minister I'm going to have to stop you there. We could talk about this all night but I'm afraid we're out of time. Thank you very much and thank all of you very much.

This transcript was produced from the teletext subtitles that are generated live for Newsnight. It has been checked against the programme as broadcast, however Newsnight can accept no responsibility for any factual inaccuracies. We will be happy to correct serious errors.

See also:

05 Feb 03 | Newsnight
07 Feb 03 | Newsnight
14 May 02 | Newsnight

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