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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 March 2006, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Jon Sopel interview
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

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.

On Politics Show, Sunday 26 March 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:

  • John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister
  • Peter Hain MP, Northern Ireland Secretary

John Prescott MP
John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister

Interview with John Prescott

JON SOPEL: Now, if you're the Deputy Prime Minister, you won't have enjoyed the headlines in some of the Sunday papers this morning. One reads, Prescott Caught In Loans Row.

Another banner headline says, Deputy PM's Five Hundred Million pound deal for Labour's Secret lenders.


JON SOPEL: Essentially, the gist of the story is that two of the people reveal to have loaned Labour three and a half million pounds, shortly after the election, won planning permission to build a massive shopping centre in Croyden.

As Private Eye would say, Could the two be any way related. Well, John Prescott is with me now.

John Prescott, welcome to the Politics Show. Is there a relationship?

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, definitely not. This story is untrue, known to the press since Friday. Let's just see what happened here.

The Evening Standard thought of this story, made this connection, follow (fluffs), didn't ask, we told them it was wrong.

Followed by John Humphreys on the Today Programme, I asked them to withdraw it, that it was untrue, he refused to do it. Followed by the Sunday Papers and no doubt, this then follows on later. Let me deal with the facts.

I make many planning decisions. I make a decision as whether I call in. The two they're referring to, first of all I don't know who the companies are and I certainly don't know whether they were giving any money to the Labour Party, it was the Press last week, acknowledging I didn't know anything about the secret loans and now I'm supposed to have done a deal. I received those planning requirements, looked at them, and decided this could be properly done by the Local Authorities.

Not me, I passed it over to Croydon on the one hand and to the City of London Corporation. They made the decision not me; it's quite untrue to say it was a deal, it's quite untrue to say I made the decision. It was made by the Local Authorities and what I find most galling of all, they've been told this time and time again, every one of those papers - and if you look at the bottom it says, Mr Prescott denies it - well why are they carrying the story because it's untrue.

JON SOPEL: Well the statement from Croydon Council, quoted in the Sunday Telegraph says the Deputy Prime Minister ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well quotes in the papers, please don't give me papers as evidence. I mean you guys rely on what the papers say and even if what the Telegraph was saying, which is another paper for all these, even the pay .. (fluffs), was true they said that, that Croydon Council had to sit down and make the decision after I didn't call it in.

JON SOPEL: In fairness Mr Prescott, we weren't going to cover this story but your office contacted us saying you'd like ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: (overlaps) No, I'm grateful, you've given me a chance to deny stories that the Press, when I deny it, won't carry.

JON SOPEL: Well let, let me just put the allegation to you then, which is from Croydon Council, who were quoted in the Sunday Telegraph, that the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has given further backing to Minerva Parks Place Retail Development Scheme.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's only a judgement if I didn't call it in. Look, in London alone I get something like two hundred applications a year come to the local government office, and they can deal with it. I - something like 25% of then come in to me, and then only 5% are actually well, I'll call them in; so I'm dealing with hundreds of applications, thousands nationally, there are only a few that come to me, and in this case I was not involved, the department was and we didn't make the decision, it was made by Croydon. Now if Croydon makes a statement saying, we are glad he hasn't called it in, many authorities don't want it to be called in, some do - sometimes I agree with the authorities, sometimes I don't.

JON SOPEL: So let's, while we're clearing the air, do you know Sir David Garrard and Andrew Rosen ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, I've never met them.

JON SOPEL: Never met them at all.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I don't think I've ever met them no. I'm not a great one for circulating among businessmen as you probably guessed. I don't do the thousand club and I don't do everything else. I just do my damn job, and therefore I resent it when these implications are made.

JON SOPEL: Well, but isn't that part of the whole problem that the Labour Party has got itself in to, by taking loans from the these multi millionaires.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well, well I do understand what you say. I've been an advocate of state financing for the best part of twenty years. I've found an awful lot more converts in the last few years I'm bound to say, and certainly in the last few weeks. I think that's the way we have to deal with it. But there are real and genuine questions there. Information that I wasn't aware ... (fluffs), others.

There are now different enquiries going on. I'm on the National Executive, and we're now moving to find out answers to the questions that we want to know. But as you know, the police are involved, the House of Commons, the Lords are involved, the Electoral Commission is involved. Let's wait to see ... comes out, it's not just the Labour Party about loans. At least we've declared who they are. Certainly, in regard to the Tories, there's an investigation there. I don't want to blame off on the Tories, I'm more interested in dealing with the Labour Party's position and that is underway at the present time.

JON SOPEL: Is it tenable to carry on having somebody responsible for fund raising, Lord Levy, who is outside the Party's hierarchy. He's not answerable to you, he's not answerable to the General Secretary.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well he does sit on one of the Committees actually, of fund raising that is set up. He does sit there frankly, and so I can't say he's divorced from that. As I understand it, as a member of the Labour Party, I have met Lord Levy, but you know.

JON SOPEL: Are you comfortable with his role.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm not comfortable that we have to borrow money, but let me just tell you something. Even when our membership was twice as much as it was in 1997, it only pays for 25% of about election expenses. They're extremely expensive. You either have to get another ... or you have to get it in loans, as in this case came up. That has raised a number of very uncertain situations which we're not happy about. Which we will have to look at. And we are indeed looking at.

JON SOPEL: There are a lot of suspicions around at the moment, about who's acting and what, and why they're doing certain things, people cast aspirations of why Jack Dromey said what he said. I mean you don't think that these stories about you and the planning decision - are a way of shifting attention away from certain others to put the focus of attention on John Prescott.

JOHN PRSCOTT: I don't know, I just said they're not true, that's the first thing I want to claim. And what I'm annoyed, most of all, is that when I make that clear and my people, for three hours on the papers all yesterday and I personally asked the Today .... They still ignore the fact that I am denying the story. Now you could say to me, and we often hear it - well why don't you go to The Press Complaints Commission.

Can we just answer this point. The Press Complaint Commission, has got a Commissioner who's been paid for the money for his book by the very people he's supposed to control, so look, if really serious that what we've got now press and media get together. If somebody starts a story off, it doesn't matter whether it's true, as long as you've got the cuttings and you've just shown it now, quoting the Croydon Council. You rely on the damn cuttings you guys, you don't do any research.

JON SOPEL: No, no no.

JOHN PRESCOTT: You don't ask.

JON SOPEL: No, as I say. As I was saying, we didn't contact you, you contacted us.

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, no and I'm grateful for that. And I've told you that.

JON SOPEL: And so, and so - but what I don't understand I suppose ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: But you never - if you'd have dealt with this story this morning, you wouldn't have rung me up to find out if it was true would you.

JON SOPEL: But we weren't going to do the story.

JOHN PRESCOTT: No, but none of them have. Right.

JON SOPEL: But you see, you contacted us and given ...

JOHN PRESCOTT: We had to contact ...

JON SOPEL: I mean I suppose what people may be surprised about is, that this was a story that was dying out. Yes, it's on the front page, and here you are, John Prescott, in the studios, you're you know giving, fanning the flames of it.


JOHN PRESCOTT: No, you know, you know I've been a, I - you know, I've been a Member of Parliament since 1970: integrity is an important part of me. If people accuse me of making a planning connection, I mean look at the headlines. It's not as if John Prescott denies, is it.

Deal means you've done a deal for what, for money, for other connections. I'm involved. It's not only untrue in fact, it's untrue in its aspirations and its accu ... My reputation is important to me, politics is important to me. I've not made any money out of politics for god's sake - but I'm here doing what I can, best in public service.


JOHN PRESCOTT: It's a very privileged life. I do get a privileged life, I don't doubt that. I even make my mistakes from time to time. And we'll have to be answerable to you guys. But not what when it's a lie.

JON SOPEL: On the subject of - and John Prescott on the subject of mistakes. Tony Blair has apparently given an interview to an Australian radio network this evening, saying, he now thinks it was a mistake to pre-announce his departure date. Was it?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well that's his judgement but he has announced it and ... we're all kind of working to that judgement. What he might well mean.

JON SOPEL: Did you think it was a mistake.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Listen, I'm just giving you my judgement. He might mean it caused an awful lot of uncertainties, once he's said that, and that was a concern expressed by a number at the time. But he made that decision. I'm sure that's his decision, and that's what we having to deal with as a party, in that transfer.

JON SOPEL: So plain speaking John Prescott, you thought it was a mistake when he did it.

JOHN PRESCOTT: When he made the decision.

JON SOPEL: When he pre-announced it.

JOHN PRECOTT: Er, no, I didn't. I actually think from my point of view, I think if you are going to go and he felt that was his decision, I didn't play any part in persuading, but he made that decision. I thought it would be announcing then you could get on with a peaceful transference of power.

JON SOPEL: And very briefly do you think that this hastens, that he's said this, that it will hasten the day that he leaves Downing Street.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I don't know. I still think the timetable in peoples' minds is still reasonably the same.

JON SOPEL: Okay. John Prescott, thank you very much for joining us.

JOHN PRESCOTT: And thank you for giving me a chance.

JON SOPEL: Well it's a pleasure. Any time, come on the programme, thank you very much.

End of interview

Peter Hain MP
Peter Hain MP, Northern Ireland Secretary

Interview with Peter Hain

JON SOPEL: Peter Hain, welcome to the Politics Show. No lack of ambition in what you're doing over there.

PETER HAIN: It's a Labour agenda all right because Northern Ireland needs radical reform, and you've got the impression from the DUP MP, Sammy Wilson, one of Ian Paisley's party, you'd got the impression that I was ramming the stuff through against opposition of everybody.

In fact it's supported by the business community, the Trade Unions, the voluntary sector, large swathes of progressive opinion in Northern Ireland, who want to see Northern Ireland become world class in education, in health, in the private sector, right across the board, and in promoting renewable energy. And I'm doing these things because I believe in them, but also because they're right for Northern Ireland, and have got a lot of support there.

JON SOPEL: But of course, but no democratic mandate for them. I mean look at the smoking ban, it was announced, there was no vote on it.

PETER HAIN: But there was extensive consultation and that produced overwhelming support for a full ban unlike at the time, a year ago, when there were proposals from our government for a partial ban in enclosed public spaces. So actually we've been consulting all the way through. The cull of local councils, the cull of local authorities has been on the back of an extensive programme of consultation, going over a number of years.

JON SOPEL: And on grammar schools, much more radical. I can see you've got a minor problem there with your ear piece. Let me just - sorry about that. Are you back with us? Yeah. On grammar schools, you've been much more radical than Tony Blair would have been for example.

PETER HAIN: Well we're not abolishing grammar schools but there are 40% of the schools in Northern Ireland are grammars, unlike the tiny minority in England, and I took the view, and it's a Labour view if you like, and I'm proud of that, that we have a duty for the third that have been failing in Northern Ireland, much more than in the rest of the UK, those at the bottom where the system has failed them, cut off their opportunity as a result of a test they take at the age of eleven, and plunge Northern Ireland in to a situation where there are more people failing educationally, fewer people with qualifications and degrees than elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Yes, the people at the top including the school that you went to - that you covered earlier on, they're doing very well. But I'm interested in not just a few doing well, but everybody doing well, and frankly, Northern Ireland can't become world class, can't become competitive with the Chinas and the Indias let alone Eastern Europe today, unless it has everybody with high skills. So yes, we're driving that agenda forward, but we're not abolishing grammars, they will stay. We're abolishing the eleven plus.

JON SOPEL: Okay, but what you're doing is driving through an agenda which if you know, translate this to the Westminster setting, Tony Blair simply wouldn't be able to do because of the threat of rebellions, the difficulties that he faces in getting votes through. That's a simple statement of fact isn't it?

PETER HAIN: There are two points here. First of all I'm implementing some of the very same policies, for example specialist schools, sport, technology, music, the arts, science, things like that in the post primary schools, the non grammars, to give every child an opportunity there. That's what we're doing in England. We're also bringing down waiting lists, which I was appalled to find when I went to Northern Ireland, last year - were as much as four years.

We're bringing them down to a year, they'll be reaching English type levels in the future. So I think all of these reforms are what would be supported by parliament if the House of Commons were involved, but they're tailored to Northern Ireland's circumstances for example - water charges which I'm bringing in, there will be special benefits for those on low incomes, so that they don't get penalised.

JON SOPEL: Okay, and what about this observation from Sammy Wilson in the film, that you have become something of a colonial governor. And you're saying yes, I've consulted widely with people and I've done this and I've done that. But essentially, you're making your rip run.

PETER HAIN: Well is there a figure more unlikely to be a colonial governor than me? I want to see devolution in Northern Ireland. I'm trying to persuade people like Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley to get in to power and share devolved government. And we'll be coming up with a plan to do that in the next few weeks. I've been working ever since I got here last May to achieve that and it's often the opposition unionist politicians who are criticising me that refuse to share power.


PETER HAIN: So I don't think anybody can really make that accusation stand up. If they don't like the policies, let them get in to power tomorrow and make these decisions themselves.

JON SOPEL: And you talk about coming up with a plan in the next few weeks, how far are we away from returning to devolved government would you say.

PETER HAIN: Well we are planning, and we'll be announcing this in the next few weeks, to bridge the gap between the Unionists on the one hand, who want to go in to a shadow assembly and the nationalists and republicans on the other, who don't want to do that. We'll provide a bridge between their two positions, but at the end of that bridge, there's a gate. Either that gate will open to devolved governments, which is what we want. Or it will close to the assembly allowances and pay and salaries will stop.

There will be no get out clause of an early election and people will have to make their minds up. It's a crunch time. I mean this assembly has been in existence for nearly four years. They've all been paid not to do their job. Very few people are in that happy predicament. It's cost over eighty million, we can't continue like this, every body agrees with that. This plan will provide that bridge between the two positions, but nobody will be able to avoid taking a decision, that will be the choice that confronts them.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Let me just move on to the wider politics of what's going on. You heard John Prescott I think, a few moments ago. Tony Blair apparently having given an interview in which he's talked about it may have been a mistake to pre-announce his date of departure. Do you think it was?

PETER HAIN: Well I think what he said it was a mistake to imagine the media speculation would go away. And frankly, if he hadn't announced it, there would still be endless media speculation. It's been going on for most of our government as to who would succeed Tony and Gordon's likely succession in that. So I don't know that it would have changed much frankly.

What is important is we're continuing with the process of government. Tony Blair is a strong leader. We've got the most successful economy, record public investment. He's been the most successful Labour Prime Minister, ever in our hundred year history, and Gordon, the most successful Chancellor, and that's what matters. And I think all this tittle tattle ...

JON SOPEL: And do you think for the success of the Labour Government, it would be better were the handover to happen sooner rather than later.

PETER HAIN: Well Tony has made it clear he's going to serve a full term. That could go to 2010. We don't have to take these decisions now. What matters is the policies. Is the economy strong? Yes it is. Stronger than ever. Are we investing more in public services? Yes we are. Are we reforming everything, yes we are. Providing free child, flexible child care for example.

Yes, banning smoking including in Northern Ireland by the way. All these progressive policies that we're driving forward and at the same time providing a radical alternative to the Tories, who have planned big public spending cuts, which would not only threaten public services, but also threaten the economic stability of the economy. That is what we're getting on with and all this media speculation is all very interesting and obsessive, but actually, it doesn't deflect us from the policy.

JON SOPEL: Okay Peter Hain, thank you very much indeed.

PETER HAIN: Thank you.

End of interview

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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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday 02 April 2006 at 12.00pm on BBC One.

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