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Page last updated at 15:52 GMT, Sunday, 25 January 2009

Matter for 'grave concern'

On the Politics Show, Sunday 25 January 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Chris Grayling MP

Chris Grayling - Politics Show

The new Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling, told the Politics Show that newspaper allegations about some Labour peers are matter of "grave concern".

Four members of the upper house were accused by the Sunday Times of considering taking money in return for trying to influence legislation. All four have denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Grayling said: "It's a matter for grave concern. It should not be the case that anybody whose job it is to contribute to legislation, should be receiving a substantial sum of money, in order to encourage them to help amend that legislation...

"I cannot remember in my life time seeing a more serious allegation made.

"If what we're discovering now is there are loop holes in the House of Lords or perhaps worse in the House of Lords, then the rules there may very well need to be changed."

On crime, he said: "I think there's a very real danger that we'll see a significant increase in property crime and I think there's a real onus on the shoulders of police forces, on the shoulders of police authorities and politicians at Westminster, to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen."

Interview transcript...

JON SOPEL: Chris Grayling thanks very much for being with us. First of all let's start with these allegations that have appeared in the Sunday Times today. What do you make of it?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well, I think first of all we've got to see what the reality is. I wouldn't want to judge simply on the basis of the newspaper story. But certainly if this is true it's a very serious matter. It's certainly something of a kind that I don't think we've seen in parliament in recent years. It's a matter for grave concern. It should not be the case that anybody whose job it is to contribute to legislation, should be receiving a substantial sum of money, in order to encourage them to help amend that legislation. So, if the allegations are true and I emphasise 'if' the allegations are true, it's a very serious matter indeed.

JON SOPEL: More serious than when Tory MPs were taking cash for questions?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I think the big difference this time, I cannot remember in my life time seeing a more serious allegation made, that suggested that people in parliament were taking substantial sums of money, to actually amended legislation, to change the law. That's what would make this a very serious matter and certainly, there has to be a proper investigation, a proper, independent investigation and we need to find the truth of what's really gone on here.

JON SOPEL: When you say a proper investigation, it's not clear what the channels are for it, is it?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well that's certainly the case. The parliamentary standards commissioner doesn't have a remit that crosses the House of Lords. My understanding is that the formal proceedings in the House of Lords, involves the House of Lords Committee. But I think that the key thing is that the Lord's authorities, the Leaders on all sides, need to identify the best way of carrying out a proper investigation. What matters here is not necessarily the details of how it's carried out but that there is a proper assessment of what's taken place and that we get information at the end of this that tells us what's gone wrong.

JON SOPEL: If, and you know, we have to caveat this with 'ifs' and 'allegations' but if this turns out to be true and it is a matter of corruption that people are talking about, should it be a matter for the police?

CHRIS GRAYLING: I don't think its right at this stage to go that far. I think we need to look in careful detail what's gone on. It may be that what's taken place is very serious, it may be that the newspaper story has slightly exaggerated the scale what's taken place, I genuinely don't know. And so I think the right and proper thing first and foremost is to get an investigation in to what's taken place, before any further conclusions are drawn.

JON SOPEL: But it might be the case that the police might be needed?

CHRIS GRAYLING: One simply can't tell. Clearly, if there are criminal matters that take place, then the police will be needed, but we've got no evidence at the moment that there are criminal matters involved here.

JON SOPEL: Wouldn't it be much simpler if there was a straight forward rule, whether you're in the House of Commons or the House of Lords, that you can't be a legislator and a lobbyist, whether for a group of companies, whether for one company. Half your front bench have got paid directorships of some form or another.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well the rules of the House of Commons are now very tight, they were drawn up in the way that they are now, a decade or so again. They say that you cannot be a paid advocate in the House of Commons, which is absolutely right. You shouldn't be receiving money in order to make a case for a particular interest group. If what we're discovering now is there are loop holes in the House of Lords or perhaps worse in the House of Lords, then the rules there may very well need to be changed but I think first and foremost, we need to carry out the investigation, find out what's really happened and then if rules need to change then they certainly must be.

JON SOPEL: Sure, but what about that general point I made, that you can't be both a legislator and involved in sort of taking the shilling from a company. If you're paid as an MP, why should you have anyone receiving extra funds for doing things?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I think the key point here is, is there a link between the two jobs you're doing. If you are a director of a family business, that has no connections with the work you're doing in the House of Commons, that's a very different matter to accepting money from a third party lobby group to make a particular case in any chamber of parliament (interject)

JON SOPEL: I just want to ask a question on this because you've been a scourge of sleaze, and I know, you know, from your own entry in the parliamentary register, you don't have directorships but some of your front bench colleagues do and I know there was a bit of a battle fought within the Shadow Cabinet, about whether this should continue. Don't you think it would have been better if everyone had to divest themselves of their directorships?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well, I mean, I would stand by what David Cameron said at the time, which is what matters is the job people are doing. If somebody is not up to the job, if they're not doing their job properly, then they shouldn't be in a front bench position. I don't think you should make a linkage between the two, because what we're dealing with today in the House of Lords, is a very serious allegation that people have been using their position in parliament to try to change the law on behalf of third party pressure groups, in exchange for money. That is a very different issue to somebody who has perfectly legitimately, under the rules, an external interest and I think in the latter case, the question should always be, is this person doing the job as effectively as possible. If they are. Well, that's fine.

JON SOPEL: Final thought on this before we move on to your home affairs brief. Isn't it barmy that you couldn't throw somebody out of the House of Lords?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well, I think certainly, if it turns out that something serious has taken place in the House of Lords, I've no doubt the Lords themselves will want to revisit their rules. But the reality is, we are where we are at the moment. I think there have been one or two cases where people have looked and said, that seems strange. But I've no doubt as a result of the allegations this morning, if they prove to be true, the House of Lord's authority themselves will want to tighten up their rules and say, what do we do about this in the future.

JON SOPEL: Okay. Let's move on to your Home Affair's brief. Do you think that it's inevitable that crime will rise because we're in a recession?

CHRIS GRAYLING:I think there's very much a danger of that. The fact that we saw an increase in the crime figures out on Thursday, in burglary for example, in theft, in forgery, in fraud, all crimes against property, and it's the first rise in burglary we've had for a very, very long time. And these are last summer's figures, just at the time when things were beginning to get worse. And so I think there's a very real danger that we'll see a significant increase in property crime and I think there's a real onus on the shoulders of police forces, on the shoulders of police authorities and politicians at Westminster, to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen.

JON SOPEL: Yes. So their resources are going to be hard pressed. And one of the things that is not ring-fenced under Tory spending proposals is the Home Office budget, so if there is a demand for more police on the beat, you can't meet it.

CHRIS GRAYLING: The question always comes back to, should there be more money overall. Where it should be focusing in my view, is why is it that police officers spend only a tiny fraction of their time out policing. I was having a conversation a couple of days ago, with somebody in the police, who said to me, in the area that they work, there are around two hundred officers of who around seven are out on the streets at any one time. You know, a typical police officer only arrests somebody around once a month. What we've done in this country, over the past decade, is wrap our police forces up in complication, in red tape, in bureaucracy, so they don't actually get on with the job of policing any more. You don't need to spend more money overall to get police out of the police stations, on to the streets, dealing with these problems.

JON SOPEL: And I know that one of the areas that you want to tackle, the sort of anti social behaviour, the petty crime that exists on people's doorsteps or on their estates. Isn't that exactly what Tony Blair did with the ASBOs and all the rest of it and really trying to crack down on all of that.

CHRIS GRAYLING: But the truth is, it hasn't happened. If you go out to virtually any community in this country and ask people what their big concern is, they'll say to you it's about the gangs causing difficulties, it's about acts of vandalism. It's about anti-social behaviour on our streets. It's about disruption in the town centre on a Saturday night and very often, in those circumstances, you'll find a very small number of police officers, fighting a challenging battle against what can be sometimes, quite large groups of people involved in this. And the reality of that should change.

JON SOPEL: But this government has devoted considerable resources to precisely that. What is new in the Tory proposal that will change - I mean I'm sure you're right that people are very concerned about lawlessness in their communities but what is there new in the Tory proposals that will change that?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well, we have a situation, ten years later, when the government as you say, has claimed to have done more and more on policing where you'll find very many people dialling 999, who don't actually get a response. The police can't come to an incident of anti social behaviour and yet we have - you know, Tony Blair kept telling us, more police officers than ten years ago. I think the real question we have to ask is, Why is it that when we've actually got a large number of police, sitting in our police stations, that we don't have people who can answer 999 calls. That's what we've got to change. We've got to end the situation where so little police time is actually spent policing.

JON SOPEL: And just a quick, final thought on sentencing. Doesn't it drive people mad that you get people put away and we've seen some pretty dramatic cases this week, a rapist where one, you don't get very long sentences and two, when you are inside, you - come what may, if you behave yourself, you're let off with you know, 50% of the sentence.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Absolutely right. There's a huge frustration and even more absurd that we should be releasing some prisoners early because our government has failed to get grips with the problems in our prisons. But to me, the most alarming statistics this week, was the fact that a substantial proportion of people, caught committing serious crimes are getting off with a caution. If people are committing acts of violence, they're caught carrying knives, they're committing serious crimes and they're let off, with a gentle wrap on the knuckles, what possible disincentive is there to do it again.

JON SOPEL: Chris Grayling, thank you very much for being with us here on the Politics Show.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Thank you.

END OF INTERVIEW WITH CHRIS GRAYLING


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 Sunday 25 January 2009 at 1200 GMT on BBC One.

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