On the Politics Show, Sunday 14 January 2006, Jon Sopel interviewed John Hutton, The Work and Pensions Secretary
INTERVIEW WITH: JOHN HUTTON, MP
JON SOPEL: And the Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, is with us. John Hutton there was a very clear feeling at that Fabian Conference that not only must the leadership question be resolved, but that these activists have had it up to here with New Labour.
JOHN HUTTON: I, I don't think that is the, the mood of, of the Party as a whole and I certainly don't think it's the mood of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I think the most important thing for Labour now is to remain focused on delivering our manifesto, the terms on which we were elected less than two years ago and I think we've got to keep our focus absolutely on what's happening and what is going to affect Britain in the future: the challenges that face us and I don't believe that a return to old fashioned left-wing policies is going to be relevant or would, would be the right solution facing us today.
I think we've got to remain New Labour, I think we've got to be a party of aspiration and opportunity, and yes, I agree with Ed Balls, where we er, need to re-new policies, maybe it's in welfare, we're doing it now in pensions, energy and so on. We should have the confidence and the determination to do that. (interjection)...
JON SOPEL: And Harriet Harman calling for more equality and even one of your cabinet colleagues talking about City bonuses as being 'grotesque'.
JOHN HUTTON: Well, I don't think we can go back to a period of time when we impose sort of restrictions on pay through legislation. If anyone is proposing that I think that will be a great mistake, it's a global labour market now and we've got to make sure...
JON SOPEL: So Peter Hain was wrong to use that phrase?
JOHN HUTTON: Well I, I don't think we, we can or should go down that road. I think what we've got to do and I agree to some extent with what I think Harriet was saying, we've got to raise the floor, not lower the ceiling and I think we've got to deal with for example in my area of responsibility, the over five million citizens in the UK of working age who are currently not economically active.
What more can we do to help those people get back in to jobs because that is the right way to make sure Britain remains competitive as an economy and our society remains cohesive as well. So there are challenges in, in front of the Labour government but I think the response to that should be New Labour, not a retreat to, to old fashioned socialism.
JON SOPEL: You spoke to Labour MPs I think on Monday at the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting and you stressed the need to reach out to people who aren't naturally Labour, not just concentrate on turning in to the core vote. And I think you said something along the lines of, "we must not let our desire for unity translate in to fear of debate over big issues." Now what does that mean?
JOHN HUTTON: Well I think the Labour Party has always been interested in ideas and there is a very active debate going on in the party now, rightly so as we renew ourself in office, as we, we begin the process of choosing a new leader, to debate what those challenges are and what our response should be.
I mean that is rift in politics and I think it is important that people should express their views. I, I don't have any, any trouble er, with people on the traditional left or, or on the centre, on the New Labour side, debating those ideas. That has got to be healthy for the party.
JON SOPEL: Just as a matter of interest, where do you put Gordon on that axis?
JOHN HUTTON: I think Gordon, and if you look at Gordon's record in government and in opposition, I think he's very much on the, on the New Labour side of the argument and I think he is aware of the challenges that we face and is determined that erm, Labour should be the party of ideas, that is able to look outwards, not inwards, to engage the public with debate about the future of our country, and to do it in a way that is in touch with the modern world and the modern economy...
JON SOPEL: Yes, when you said you wanted to debate, be able to debate and you know, unity mustn't be paramount in all of that, some people will see that as code for, 'I want to be able to criticise Gordon Brown, if I feel that he's taking, making the wrong moves.'
JOHN HUTTON: Oh, people would say that but it's quite wrong. There is a debate going in the Labour Party now, there always has been. Debate has never stopped in the Labour Party and I don't think it ever should. We are people who are passionate about our country, our people, the opportunities that they should have to succeed in the modern world, and it would be a very poor and dismal think if the Labour Party ever stopped debating ideas.
JON SOPEL: Do you have a certain sympathy with the view that's been expressed that the new Leader ought to go to the country quickly, because the British people were told at the last election in 2005 that categorically, Tony Blair would serve a full term.
JOHN HUTTON: I think we are going to continue to implement our manifesto, that is the most important thing. We, we are going to do what we said we would do when we were elected in 2005, and personally I, I don't see the argument in favour of, of an election when we choose a new leader. I think we will continue to implement the manifesto, we will continue to govern as New Labour, and I think that is the most important thing.
JON SOPEL: We're going to be discussing soon on this programme the Union between England and Scotland. Do you accept that for a lot of English voters, it is an issue that there is soon going to be a Prime Minister representing a Scottish constituency, where the legislation that you'll be enacting in parliament, in Westminster, won't affect his constituents?
JOHN HUTTON: No, I don't believe that at all for a second. I think it matters not whether the Prime Minister comes from a Scottish constituency or a Welsh constituency or an English constituency, this is a parliament of the United Kingdom, and I think those who are arguing for example, that we should sort of separate the, the MPs at Westminster in to different classes: Welsh, Scottish and English, I think are doing a dis-service to the concept of the United Kingdom and our existence as a nation. I think that is quite wrong. I don't think it matters at all, no.
JON SOPEL: But these are issues that do vex a lot of English voters, that you know, that Scottish MPs are voting on legislation, pushing things through, that will not affect their constituents.
JOHN HUTTON: No, the lion's share of Members of Parliament in, in Westminster are from English constituencies, that has always been, been the case. It's five hundred plus English members of parliament in the House of Commons, so I think those arguments are sort of the fag end of the, of the debate about devolution and the new settlement has never been accepted by the Conservatives, we, we know that; they feel profoundly uncomfortable with the notion that there should be a Scottish parliament. We do not, and I don't think the Scottish people do actually, and I think to be fair to the vast majority of people in England, neither do they. We are a United Kingdom of separate nations, we should reflect those differences in the way that we structure our governance arrangements and we have done so.
I think we've got a durable constitutional settlement and those who are continuing to pick over the bones of that actually are not doing the United Kingdom any favours at all.
JON SOPEL: Just looking back, just thinking back over the past few questions I've asked you and they've all sort of pre-supposed that Gordon Brown is going to be the next Prime Minister. Am I wrong in that?
JOHN HUTTON: Well I think it's very likely that that will be so but I mean, you know, there isn't a leadership election now and we will have to wait and see what happens, but I think Gordon is...
JON SOPEL: Would it be desirable for his views to be tested from another heavyweight entering the race?
JOHN HUTTON: Well I've said before and I think Gordon has said this himself that a leadership contest could be a good thing for, for the Labour Party and I don't resile from that particular view. But whether there will be one or not, it's not up to me that would be... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: What's your hunch? What's your political antennae tell you?
JOHN HUTTON: I, I generally don't know at the moment what, what will happen and I think what I am sort of very very clear about is that I think Gordon would make a very impressive leader of the Labour Party. His record in government and in opposition is one of achievement and New Labour, and I think he would be a very impressive Leader of the Party and a very, very effective Prime Minister.
JON SOPEL: I just want to ask you - this story about data protection, apparently there are plans afoot to create some kind of giant data base with different government departments able to pull the material that they've gathered about ourselves, our private details. Doesn't that smack of Big Brother?
JOHN HUTTON: Not at all actually. I think it's very, very important that we, we have the debate with the public about this. The government already stores vast amounts of data about individual citizens but actually doesn't share it terribly intelligently across various government agencies. So I had a case in my department of a family where someone had unfortunately died in a road traffic accident and over the space of six months, on forty four separate occasions, they were asked by elements in my department to confirm details of the, of this terrible tragedy.
Now, we can improve the quality of public services if we are prepared to share data more intelligently, and maybe the best way to do this, Jon, is to ask the public themselves whether they want information to be used in this more intelligent way, and I think the public are mature and grown up about this, they want public services to be efficient and effective.
In some cases I'm afraid we don't use the information that we currently store in a very sensible way and I think there is room for improvement. But we should have the debate with the public about this and we should ask them whether they're prepared for us to use information in this way.
JON SOPEL: Okay. John Hutton thank you very much for being with us.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH JOHN HUTTON
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The Politics Show Sunday 14 January 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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