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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 February 2007, 15:49 GMT
John Reid interview transcript
On the Politics Show, Sunday 11 February 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed the Home Secretary, John Reid.

John Reid
The highest obligation of government is to protect this country, our people, our lives and our freedom
John Reid

Jon Sopel: John Reid, welcome to the Politics Show.

John Reid: Thank you Jon.

Jon Sopel: And I?ll talk about those big issues in a minute, but the story leading the news about David Cameron having taken cannabis when he was at school, does it matter?

John Reid: Well I think it was Andy Warhol who said that most statements can be answered with a question ?So what?? and I think this is one of these ?So-what?? moments. I mean actually what I want David Cameron to come clean on is where he stands on taxation and public expenditure, the big policy issues, and I think that?s where the public is as well.

Jon Sopel: But some members of the public say: ?Hang on, you?re the guy who?s responsible for drugs policy. You?re the? you know, if it is ?So what?? decriminalise cannabis then.

John Reid: Well there?s two things here. First of all is whether cannabis is dangerous and I believe it is, particularly as regards enhancing the possibility of mental illness. It?s dangerous in a number of ways, which is why I?ve retained it where it is. I won?t declassify it or reclassify it.

But the other question is about politicians and their lives. I mean, do we want to get to the level of ensuring that every politician who bids for leadership or takes part in national politics is a sort of plastic politician produced off some colourless or characterless conveyor belt.

I don?t think that would serve politics well. So I think there?s two different issues here, the first is drugs themselves and I think it?s wrong. But the other issue is, you know, do we really care whether David Cameron, some years ago, was involved in doing something wrong, and I think the public will probably say well, so what, let?s move on and find out what he stands for now.

Jon Sopel: Okay, let?s move on to the Home Office. Where are we on the argument for splitting the Home Office in two?

John Reid: Well there?s two different things about the Home Office improvement and reform. The first is that in a whole host of areas the building blocks of the Home Office, we?ve already launched improvement plans, so we?re rolling out neighbourhood policing, we?re reforming and improving the probation service, our borders enforcement, there?s more money, more powers being given to the officials who have to enforce our borders and so on.

And then there is the great issue of counter-terrorism in today?s world, and what I am arguing is that because migration is at a level that?s higher than ever before, because we?ve got organized crime on a scale that is greater than ever before, and because the terrorist threat is greater than ever before, we need to reorientate the Home Office towards that personal and national protection, personal and national security, and if we do that.

It?s not a substitute for improving each of the areas we?ve started to improve but it does mean that we should reorientate the Home Office towards that, and my own view is, although there could be arguments against it, and there are all sorts of political and departmental arguments that have to be taken into account...

Jon Sopel: I mean both your immediate predecessors are against it.

John Reid: Yes, both of them are. I think they?re mistaken, for this reason that one of them argues for instance that if we minimize the size of the Home Office compared to everything it?s doing just now, somehow the Home Secretary will be not as powerful a politician. National Security should supercede all political, personal and departmental considerations.

The highest obligation of government is to protect this country, our people, our lives and our freedom, and if that means that the Home Office has to be reorientated towards that because of today?s terrorist threat, then I think that has to be done. It has to take precedence over everything else including my or anyone else?s politics or personal preferences.

Jon Sopel: But the other argument that?s made against this is that frankly the prob is you could make the problem worse by splitting it up. You need to get people to communicate better. They?re not going to communicate better when they?re in two separate departments.

John Reid: Well there are arguments both ways on this, but the truth of the matter is at the moment that all of the elements of the Home Office need improving. There have been huge achievements with the Home Office. We?ve reduced crime by 35%, we?ve got a record number of p0lice, we probably have the most robust regime in child protection anywhere in the world, but there are obviously inadequacies and problems as well in the systems.

We need more prison places. We need to reform probation. What holds together those elements is a thing called the National Criminal Justice Board, and however they?re configured, even two departments, they would have to be coordinated through that. But I repeat, if mass migration and immigration, the fight against crime, and above all the fight against terrorism requires that ministers give that their attention, then that supercedes all other considerations.

Jon Sopel: Does Gordon Brown support the idea?

John Reid: This is being discussed at the moment by the whole of the cabinet but the ultimate decision of course, national securities for the Prime Minister which is why I put that to the Prime Minister some months ago because ultimately the Prime Minister is responsible.

Jon Sopel: And the reason that I asked the question is that by the time decisions are taken about this, Gordon Brown may well be the Prime Minister.

John Reid: Well all I say to you Jon is we?re five years on from the... from 9/11 and protecting the public in this country against terrorism supercedes any political departmental or personal considerations. It is the highest priority...

Jon Sopel: Of course. I just wonder whether you have Gordon Brown?s support for it.

John Reid: What I?m saying to you is this ultimately is a choice for the Prime Minister. In my view it is an urgent requirement that the national security of this country takes precedence over any other considerations.

Jon Sopel: Let me try one more time because I think the argument is that.. you know, it could be that Gordon Brown is the Prime Minister and therefore it?s vitally important to know what he thinks about this issue. What has he indicated to you about this?

John Reid: Well we?ve had discussions with Gordon, as I have with other Cabinet ministers on this and I?m not going to reveal this to you on this programme because ultimately the decision has to be taken by the Prime Minister. What I am saying to you is my opinion, having been asked to carry out a counter-terrorist review by the Prime Minister, my...

Jon Sopel: Well let?s...

John Reid: Hold on. Having been asked to carry out a terrorist? a counter-terrorist review by the Prime Minister my conclusion is that the terrorist threat is here, that our capability needs to be brought up considerably to meet that, that is a matter of some urgency, and that one of the best ways of doing that is to re-orientate the Home Office towards national security and that takes precedence over all other personal, political or departmental considerations.

Jon Sopel: Well let?s just talk about the terrorist threat for a moment. There has been a lot of concern expressed this week over what.. events.. some of the events that have unfolded in Birmingham. One of the people that was detained and subsequently released said: ?It is a police state for Muslims.? Do you share... understand the concerns of the community on some of this?

John Reid: It?s a completely absurd proposition. The idea that someone who is on actually a state financed television station, having been released under the laws of our democratic, libertarian constitution against the wishes of the police who wanted to hold him longer, what that illustrates is not a police state but a state which is based on the rule of law and which provides freedoms to express a point of view to people ? many of whom support causes which, if we?re successful, would take away those very freedoms ? so I find that an absurd proposition.

Jon Sopel: Okay.

John Reid: And the truth of the matter is, when people say: ?But not everyone who is arrested is subsequently charged under the terrorist legislation when they?re arrested, some people aren?t charged, when in this country people are arrested for normal crimes, about one third of them, between 30 and 40 percent are charged, that is roughly equivalent to the number who are charged ultimately who have been arrested for terrorist crime.

Jon Sopel: But what about the whole idea of alienating the population? For example, when those arrests took place there were some very colourful briefings given that this was an attempt to bring Baghdad to Birmingham. Now the police in the Midlands said they don?t know where that came from. The indication was that it had come from Whitehall or from the Home... I mean do you know where that...

John Reid: There is absolutely no indication that it has come from the Home Office, absolutely none, and anyone who maintains that it came from me or from my advisers is not telling the truth. Let me go further than that. The two statements that were issued on the day by me were: 1) a written statement with the Attorney General warning the media against publishing any such speculation because it might impede the investigation, the operation or subsequent proceedings, and secondly since that was ignored I then went live on television to issue the same appeal to people. So let me be absolutely clear about that.

Now, having said that, the greatest tragedy for relations between members of our community in this country would be if the terrorists got through with another terrible attack. Let us be quite clear, the dividing line in our community is not between Muslims and others, it is between extremists and the rest of us, the extremists who try to divide us from each other, and therefore anything which assists in dividing people has to be avoided if it?s at all possible.

Jon Sopel: Okay.

John Reid: But.. but we cannot, and the police cannot, refuse to take action when there is the potential of murder either of individuals or on a mass scale, because nothing would divide us potentially from each other than people getting through and committing such atrocities.

Jon Sopel: John Reid, we haven?t got a lot of time, I just want to talk about the general state of politics within the Labour Party leadership at the moment. It?s some months since we?ve had you on the programme. Are you running for the leadership or deputy leadership?

John Reid: Well my answer, surprisingly enough, is exactly the same as the last time and for the last five years, and that is I?m concentrating on the job I?ve been given. We?ve now got immigration at a level.. and mass migration the world at a level that?s unprecedented. Organised crime at a huge extent.

Jon Sopel: And you?ve made those points, fine...

John Reid: Well I mean that?s what you want me to talk? well, I believe we should...

Jon Sopel: Well what about the way that some of your colleagues

John Reid: ? I believe we should concentrate on the people.

Jon Sopel: Okay, well a lot of your colleagues are out there fighting for the deputy leadership, attacking each other, attacking other ministers, what do you think of the way they?re conducting it?

John Reid: I think it would be better to have a conversation with the public, Jon, than with each other. I think it would be better to address our remarks and fashion our concerns according to what the public want.

If you ask the public what their greatest concerns are, incidentally it is controlling effectively immigration, it is fighting crime, and it?s countering terrorism. That is why I?m concentrating on them, and I think the more we concentrate on public?s concerns the less we take them for granted, the better the Labour Party will do.

Jon Sopel: John Reid, thank you very much for joining us today.

John Reid: Thank you Jon.


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.

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The Politics Show Sunday 11 February 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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