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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 June 2006, 11:05 GMT 12:05 UK
Jon Sopel interview
Interviews on Sunday 25 June 2006

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB: These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.
Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.


On the Politics Show, Sunday 25 June 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed:


On David Cameron's suggestion that he might consider scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights the International Development Secretary Hilary Benn said:

"I don't think we should scrap the Human Rights Act but as Charlie Falconer has made clear what over a month ago, if there are problems with the way it is interpreted, then we need to look at it, that's why he, John Reid, the Prime Minister, have put that review in train and we need to reflect on the experience of it to make sure above all, that public safety and public security is protected."

Prisons

On the number of prison spaces, Director General of the Prison Service Phil Wheatley said:

"Well prisons are busy but we've one thousand seven hundred places vacant, that's not full to bursting and we've got round about another thousand places we're expecting to open by the end of next year, most of them will be open by the Spring of next year and the population has grown 2% over last year and the accommodation has grown 2% over the last year, so busy but not yet full to bursting."

George Howarth, Former Home Office Minister said:

"So far, I don't think the Prison Service has got to grips with the need for more prison places. In my own constituency, they have got planning permission for a 600-place prison and they have had that for several years, yet there is no sign of a brick being laid or anything happening at all.

"You could blame the Treasury, you could blame the Home Office. I'm not in the blame game. My concern is that we build enough prison places to deal with the situation we are in."

Africa progress panel

On the formation of the Africa Progress Panel, to be announced by the Prime Minister tomorrow, International Development Secretary Hilary Benn denied suggestions that the forum could become another talking shop:

"You have to look at the character and record of the individuals who are going to be part of it. It's part of the process of keeping up pressure, making politics work,"

Phil Wheatley
Phil Wheatley, Director General of Prisons Service

Jon Sopel interviewed Phil Wheatley

JON SOPEL: Well I'm joined now from Belfast by Phil Wheatley, he's the Director General of the Prison Service and Phil Wheatley, welcome to the Politics Show.

Everything in that film points to the prisons being full to bursting point.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well prisons are busy but we've one thousand seven hundred places vacant, that's not full to bursting and we've got round about another thousand places we're expecting to open by the end of next year, most of them will be open by the Spring of next year and the population has grown 2% over last year and the accommodation has grown 2% over the last year, so busy but not yet full to bursting.

JON SOPEL: But a governor there talking about only room for nine more prisons. Lee there, one of the prisoners, talking about how he can't get on any of the courses, Former Minister acknowledging in the film that it's absolutely chock a block.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well the Governor is right, Bullingdon is running near to full and what we're doing is we're moving prisoners out of Bullingdon in order to make places for prisoners coming from the Courts and as we get busier, and we are busy, we're moving prisoners quite long distance so that they are moved to where the vacancies are. A prison like Bullingdon which is well equipped, good modern prison with good courses, we try and use to the maximum and the Governor is also right, if we had more courses we could do more with people but we are using the courses we've got, we're using the money we've got to maximum effect and we are making a difference.

JON SOPEL: Tell me this what happens when you do reach full capacity ie there's no room for anyone else.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well we can only lock up, I mean I am a jailer, that's what I do and I can lock up as many people as I can safely and reasonably lock up and there is a maximum capacity but my experience has been over the last few years and we've built nineteen thousand places since 1997, that we've built ahead of the growth in the population. There was one plib where we went briefly out in to police cells, but in the main, we've managed to hold the accommodation, we've held them safely and reasonably within our operational capacities, but we have had over crowding throughout.

JON SOPEL: But you've got a Home Secretary who's saying that you know, some prison sentences are unduly lenient for certain offences, people ought to be locked up for longer. There is a clear pressure to keep people in prison more often for offences and for longer and that is going to lead to over-crowding.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well hence the number of places that have been built and are being built. That's - as I say my experience is, of continued growth in the prison service, I joined in 1969 when there were thirty five thousand prisoners. There are now seventy seven thousand seven hundred and eleven and we have built, in order to manage that population

JON SOPEL: So to coin a phrase, crisis, what crisis.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well it's a crisis in - to the extent that we need to be careful that we use accommodation to the best advantage, that we don't waste anything we've got and we built where we need new accommodation promptly and effectively and that's been my experience. That's what we've done over the last few years.

JON SOPEL: I'm just struggling to reconcile the picture you're painting. The picture we've got in the film, the picture that you get from Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons. She suggests you've reached a tipping point. Let me just quote you this. "I should not, in 2006 be inspecting prisons where exercise in a high security prison has to be cancelled because of the parcels of excrement, prisoners have thrown from their windows, because they can't get out of their cells at night to go to the toilet."

PHIL WHEATLEY: I mean that was a specific problem to do with electronic unlocking actually, not overcrowding and not shortage of places. We are over-crowded, I'm not saying we're not over-crowded. Your film about Bullingdon, I thought was absolutely accurate, that's the Bullingdon I know, it is a busy place, running very full be effectively. We are not a ... at the moment at crisis.

JON SOPEL: Sorry to interrupt you a moment ago you told me, yes it is busy, and now you are saying we are overcrowded.

PHIL WHEATLEY: No, we plan to be overcrowded as the Governor made plain there. He expects to have a full prison that involves quite extensive overcrowding at Bullingdon and he's got a regime that matches that. And we need to make sure that we don't hold more people in prison than we can safely and securely hold, that implies a level of overcrowding, but we certify each prison's capacity and we're not prepared to go beyond what we can safely and securely hold.

JON SOPEL: How many additional prisons would you like to see built.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well it's not a matter for me, it's a matter for the government and for sentencers as to who comes here, I would like to make sure there are sufficient prison places, whatever the courts send to us, but it isn't my issue.

JON SOPEL: Well it may not be your issue but on the other hand, you take a very keen interest in this, you know which way policy is going, surely you must have an idea of how many more prisons you need.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well, I am a jailer, I'm - it isn't my business to decide who comes to prison. That does - is a matter for the courts and parliament and the government. What ever the conclusions are, it's important there are sufficient prison places to cope with what the courts sentence - at the moment we are managing with seventeen hundred spare places with more places to come on stream during the end of this year and the beginning of next year.

JON SOPEL: Just help me with this particular story that's in the Sunday Telegraph this morning from Paddy Hennessy, the Political Editor, taking about the Home Office had thirty million pounds I think it was, to buy land for prisons, hasn't been used - have done nothing with it and also you've under spent on your capital projects by three hundred and seventy million.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well, all I can say is the Prison Service hasn't underspent on its work, we're using all our recourses that lie within my charge, and I run public sector prisons - we're using all the resources that we've got in order to make prisons work and I think you heard, the - I think it was George Howarth speaking saying in his constituency, there was a site for which there was planning permission which was available to use. There are always contingencies that would allow us to expand when the resources are available.

INTO FILM

JON SOPEL: Definitely not going back to [HMP] Weare under any circumstances.

PHIL WHEATLEY: I mean there are no plans to open the Weare. We closed it because er, we'd had it as a temporary prison for rather longer than we'd planned. It was requiring a lot of money to make it operate effectively, we'd opened new prisons during the course of last year at Bronzefield near London and Peterborough, we didn't need it any longer and the money has been used elsewhere. There are no plans to re-open it.

JON SOPEL: And any others, any other prison ships that you might consider using in the future.

PHIL WHEATLEY: I haven't got any prison ships to hand and there are other ways if we wish to expand the prison estate in which we can expand it providing the funding is available

JON SOPEL: And where are they.

PHIL WHEATLEY: Well we've got plenty of available space within existing prisons, in which we can build new ... (overlaps)

JON SOPEL: You said additional space. Where would the additional space be.

PHIL WHEATLEY: A large number of our prisons actually have spare ground within them that we can develop. So that they - Bullingdon is an example, one could if one wanted put more accommodation in there and there are a series of places where we've got options of expanding if we need to. That needs resourcing.

JOHN SOPEL: Okay, Phil Wheatley thank you very much for joining us.

End of interview

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

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


Hilary Benn MP
Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development

Jon Sopel interviewed Hilary Benn

JON SOPEL: Now almost exactly a year ago, Africa was the hottest political buzz word.

Over three billion people reportedly watched the Live Aid concerts, hundreds of thousands marched on Edinburgh.

The object of their efforts, putting pressure on the G8 leaders who were assembling for a summit at Gleneagles.

Britain declared that Africa would be one of the top priorities for its Presidency, and in an effort to keep the momentum going, the Prime Minister will announce tomorrow that he's forming a body called the Africa Progress Panel.

It will be Chaired by Kofi Annan, and will include among others, Bob Geldof and Nigeria's President Obasanjo.

Well the International Development Secretary, Hilary Benn, joins me now, and welcome to you Hilary Benn. One year on from the G8, what have you achieved, what have you failed to achieve.

HILARY BENN: Well we've made real progress on debt because by about the time of the Gleneagles anniversary, for twenty of the poorest countries in the world, all of the outstanding debts they owe to the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the African development bank will have been written off.

So a country like Zambia for example, with that money, with some financial help from Britain, is now for poor people in rural areas going to provide health care free. We've seen a new humanitarian fund set up, so that the UN can respond to crises quicker. Britain has committed over the next ten years, eight and a half billion pounds to support countries in getting all of their children in to school.

We've seen aid rising. Where we haven't made progress yet, is on the Trade Talks and things have been pretty gloomy, although in the last couple of days, there are signs of potentially some movement, and it's really important that we get a decent trade deal, because enabling poor countries to earn their way out of poverty, is what's really going to make a difference.

JON SOPEL: We'll come back to that. But are there places in Africa where you could go and the people who took part in the marches and the people who watched the concerts can look and say, well there are more teachers there or there are, there's better health care there.

HILARY BENN: Yeah, it's a process. Take Nigeria, cos one of the other things that's been achieved this year is the biggest single debt write-off for any African country ever - in Nigeria. Now that's going to free up about a billion dollars a year. Nigeria has plans to recruit another hundred and twenty two thousand teachers, and put another three and a half million children in school. So that's a direct result of the campaign for debt relief and debt cancellation.

JON SOPEL: Okay, so the Africa Progress Panel, what is it, who's on it, who's it going to report to.

HILARY BENN: Well, it's going to report both to the G8 and to the Africa Partners Forum, which brings together representatives of the rest of the world and Africa, meets twice a year. Kofi Annan is going to Chair it. I mean you've referred to some of the individuals who are going to be on it.

And it's about keeping up the pressure because 2005 as you said in your introduction, was an extraordinary year and if it hadn't been for this tide of human will, right around the globe, the quarter of a million people who marched in Edinburgh, I don't think it would have been possible to achieve what happens at Glenn Eagles, but you have to keep the pressure up to make sure that people do what they promised they would do.

JON SOPEL: All well and good saying you're going to set up a panel, but how do you ensure, I don't know, it doesn't become another talking-shop where it doesn't make any difference.

HILARY BENN: Well first of all you have to look at the character and the record and the history of the individuals who are going to be part of it. It's being Chaired by Kofi Annan, Kofi has made an enormous contribution to development and to international politics.

It's part of a process of keeping up the pressure, making politics work because in the end, what was achieved at Gleneagles, was the result of politics, people debating, arguing, willing that something should happen.

And therefore, taking the step which the Prime Minister is going to announce tomorrow, is part of keeping that pressure up, so that countries do what they've promised. Not just in the G8 but also in Africa because the development story is also about the decisions that developing countries take for themselves.

JON SOPEL: You say it's going to report to the G8 but what happens if whoever has got the Presidency of the G8 that year, isn't particularly interested in Africa.

HILARY BENN: Well, then maybe the Presidency next year will be interested.

JON SOPEL: But that's the central point isn't it.

HILARY BENN: But this is a process Jon. We're talking here about progress over a whole period of time. Look back fifty years. The fact is the proportion of people who can read and write in developing countries has risen from just under half to three quarters. We've got rid of smallpox, we're this close to eradicating polio from the face of the earth. The truth is, progress is possible. What the Prime Minister is doing, what he did last year in putting both climate change and Africa at the heart of our presidency, was to say, we are determined to use the political process to help countries to change their lives for the better.

JON SOPEL: Sure, and I'm sure if Gordon Brown succeeds Tony Blair, as everyone expects that he will do, that Gordon Brown will pursue those interests in Africa similarly. But I mean you've got a G8 about to take place next month in St Petersburg, and what the Russians have said is that their central concern is energy security, not Africa.

HILARY BENN: That's true, that's the priority but also on the agenda would be what more we can do to fight infectious diseases and education. Because if we're going to turn those commitments on aid and debt relief and debt cancellation into more teachers and class rooms, and actually more doctors and nurses and drugs and clinics, cos that's the biggest obstacle to making progress over the next few years.

You need long term commitment, so it's not just about the amount of money, it's about pledging long term commitments because then finance ministers, health ministers, right the way down to head teachers, people running clinics, know they can plan on the basis that this money is going to be available, and that's why just before Easter, we announced that long term commitment on education, because that shows that Britain is playing its part and we would like to see other countries doing the same.

JON SOPEL: What of the record of the G8 itself. Let me give you this quote from Oxfam. They say, "the G8 members are much less generous than many other rich countries. They give an average of ninety dollars per person per year compared to three hundred dollars in the Netherlands. They can and should give far more. "

HILARY BENN: I agree, and that's why we now are the first government in British history to be committed to a date to achieve the UN 0.7% target, 2013, that's politics making a difference. The G8 countries got together and pledged an extra fifty billion dollars a year in aid by 2010, half of which will go to Africa, so that is responding to precisely the point that Oxfam have made and it shows that political pressure can produce results.

JON SOPE: We said at the outset and you said at the outset, the area where you haven't done that well, the score card is poor, is on trade. You said on this programme about a year ago I think that you know, this is the important thing on which we should be judged by and yet it's been an area of almost total failure, despite the, you know trade talks in Hong Kong.

HILARY BENN: It's been very difficult, we made a little bit of progress in Hong Kong, agreement on an end date for export subsidies, 2013 actually, that wouldn't have been possible five years ago, agreement on aid for trade, agreement on duty and quota free access for most of the goods of the poorest countries, Europe already provides that, it's about America and Japan, but on the central question, agricultural protectionism and non agricultural market access, industrialised goods, the three blocks, Europe, the States and the bigger developing countries, China, Brazil, India have all said, we might be prepared to move, but only if you move first and what we've been doing in the intervening twelve months and the Prime Minister has really led on this, is to relentlessly pursue the argument for why we need this break through, because in the end where will developing countries get the money from to pay for the teachers, the nurses, the doctors, the clinics, the schools from economic development and economic growth, and opening up world trade is absolutely key to making that happen.

JOHN SOPEL: Just one question on domestic politics. David Cameron has said this morning that he's looking at scrapping the Human Rights Act and wants it replaced with some kind of Bill of Rights. Good idea?

HILARY BENN: I don't think we should scrap the Human Rights Act but as Charlie Falconer has made clear what over a month ago, if there are problems with the way it is interpreted, then we need to look at it, that's why he, John Reid, the Prime Minister, have put that review in train and we need to reflect on the experience of it to make sure above all, that public safety and public security is protected.

JON SOPEL: Okay, Hilary Benn, thank you very much indeed.

HILARY BENN: Thank you.

End of interview


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