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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 12:26 GMT
Peerages and politics
On Sunday 19 March 2006 Andrew Marr interviewed John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister

Please note "BBC Sunday AM" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

John Prescott MP
John Prescott MP, Deputy Prime Minister

ANDREW MARR: [... back to the harsh reality of contemporary politics] The Deputy Prime Minister is now in our Hull studio. Mr Prescott, welcome.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Thank you.

ANDREW MARR: Can I begin by asking you whether you knew, before you read it in the papers, about these high value loans?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I did not.

ANDREW MARR: You didn't know, we gather that most of the senior members of the party didn't know - how do you feel about that?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well just, let's be clear about what that means. In these kind of loans and raising finances for very expensive elections, some come by donations, some come by contributions, some come from loans, as we've learnt. We would normally get that in our accounts, it wouldn't be abnormal - we get loans from banks, it's not given to every member but it is given to key people who are sitting on the committees.

ANDREW MARR: And yet people like Ian McCartney didn't realise what was going on. We read this morning that he was lying extremely ill in his hospital bed and was asked to sign off papers for suggested peerages, which are now under the scrutiny of the appointments commission have caused an enormous fuss. This looks utterly appalling.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think we've got to be very careful about accepting some of the facts in the press, quite frankly. They're not facts. I mean if you look at Ian McCartney, I visited Ian McCartney at that time and there's a great deal of talk about Ruth Kelly going there - of course she went to see him. Ian was ill, we went to see him - but I tell you what he was doing, he was doing a lot of business as well - typical Ian McCartney. So he was receiving from the Cabinet Office papers. Lord Turner wasn't involved in pressing him into signing documents. He carried out his function and role as the party chairman, as requested at the Lords commission to give information about individuals.

That's what he did. And some of the stuff in the papers today which I know - for example, I was supposed to have got absolutely furious in the Cabinet. Well, I think there's a difference between me firmly putting a case and furious but I'll leave you to make the judgement about that. But I certainly wasn't wading on about why did this come out. We'd already had an executive committee meeting on Monday, we'd had a committee also dealing with the offices of the executive, and on the Wednesday, and we agreed again to meet tomorrow, and we'll have to give the proper information to the executive on Wednesday. So we have been investigating all that's involved and I'm bound to say not all the information possibly is out yet, and we're still looking at it.

ANDREW MARR: Can you understand why around the country ordinary party members look at these secret donations and feel betrayed?

JOHN PRESCOTT: When you say secret donations, they will be in our audited accounts - they have to be in our audited accounts, they're in the provisional ones at the present stage. But I do understand that people are feeling very unhappy about it because in a way I feel there's a kind of unhealthy approach to political financing in this country. If you look over the last 20 years I've personally been advocating state financing.

Everybody else tends to look the other way - I read editorials in papers today suggesting that really the solution is the elected House of Lords - well that's a point of view but it's nothing to do with political funding. A healthy democracy wants healthy political funding. It will be made up of loans, it will be made up of contributions, all of it needs to be transparent and the Prime Minister has made it clear that in the laws that we brought in - don't forget we brought in the laws for the donation, so it's not secret, to make it more transparent, and loans that have come from banks have always been open, loans given individually have not been covered by the same rule.

ANDREW MARR: But the point that a lot of people feel, Deputy Prime Minister, is that there was a new system set up, we were all told it was going to be absolutely transparent, we could see who was getting donations and how much they were giving at the high end and then we would be able to make judgements about who got peerages and so on - and the loans get round that system.

JOHN PRESCOTT: No the loans are actually recorded in our accounts and they will come at the time. I think the accounts from January to December for 2005 will be produced in June to the executive - it's already beginning to go through our normal committees. So they will be transparent, the loans are there. The issues as to the identity where loans come from is the matter of public discussion at the present stage.

I fully understand that but we as an executive will be looking at it. But I think we've faced, we need to face up to a really good debate and I think it's now starting - particularly with the Prime Minister now asking Hayden Phillips to go and talk to other political parties, because all political parties are involved in this, it's not illegal but it's a practice I think that people don't like.

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

JOHN PRESCOTT: So what we need to do is have a healthy debate. To my mind it will lead to the conclusion of state financing.

ANDREW MARR: So you would reject, would you, the Conservative suggestion which we've just been hearing that there should be a cap put on the amount individuals or organisations can provide to political parties?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I'm not against capping, in fact if you look at elections today, there's something like 18 million pounds - that's part capping on total expenditure at the moment - but in reality elections don't start from the day a prime minister announces them, they're going up well before that, so a tremendous amount of money is used. And some money is used to make connection with the electorate. Our discussions and conversation with the electorate, which you've given quite a lot of attention to, is very, very expensive.

And we've got a stage now where we spend a lot of money on advertising and all that, I think there is an argument for capping, quite frankly, but I think all the political parties certainly need to sit down, think it through, come to a decision so we can have healthy financing for a healthy democracy. That's what the people are saying, that they mustn't look away from the idea that somehow it can all be financed that way. You can either limit it to no kind of expenditure or you can get a balance. And if you want an informed democracy, you're going to have to have campaigning and campaigning is very expensive.

ANDREW MARR: Do you think that Number 10 played fair by the senior officials of the Labour Party?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Yes I do think they played fair. I mean the General Secretary admitted, he was the general secretary at the time, he was aware of it, he signed the documents involved. He is our chief financial officer. Jack, of course, has an honorary position as the Treasurer, and he was in a similar position, it seems, as to myself, except of course these accounts are available if people want to ask for them, in the executive a treasurer can certainly ask for them.

ANDREW MARR: But you're the Deputy Prime Minister, did you not pick up the papers last Saturday and read this story for the first time and think that's a bit rum?

JOHN PRESCOTT: I certainly wasn't happy. I heard Jack said he got upset about his Shredded Wheat, I suppose you can put me in that category as well. I mean I'd just heard about it but I know in the main, what surprises me to a certain extent, is that it was suggested that nobody knew about it. We know the General Secretary knew about it, we knew our audit committee chair was informed of this as well.

So there were people who knew about it and we would get it at the appropriate time. We wouldn't normally go rooting through these until we get the accounts given to us, and the external auditor. So all the proper procedures have been complied with here, it's the connection that is the public will debate about and that debate's obviously going to go on.

ANDREW MARR: It isn't just the papers, quite a lot of your colleagues believe it is now time to move on quite briskly, fresh start, new leader, new prime minister.

JOHN PRESCOTT: Now that's nothing to do with it whatsoever. Look, Tony, the only prime minister I know that has actually made a decision that he'll go before the next election, given us an advanced timing of his leaving - right? And that, when the party comes to make a decision about that, it will make a decision. While he's the Prime Minister he is the Prime Minister. I agree that, Gordon agrees that, and the judgement will come at the appropriate time before the next general election.

ANDREW MARR: But it's been a miserable period for the Labour Party.

JOHN PRESCOTT: I think I opened up by saying it wasn't a very happy period and people accuse me of never being happy but it was certainly unhappy for me anyway.

ANDREW MARR: Yeah - I'm just saying, I mean all sorts of stories one after another. The idea that Tony Blair is going to have a fantastic period of one political success after another, after which he can then bow out - it doesn't look plausible now, does it?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well we've got a tremendous ten year record - don't dismiss what we've done. We've got economic prosperity and social justice of a scale that's not been seen in this country - don't dismiss that. And I welcome the fact that I asked the parliamentary party last Monday, Tony's confirmed it again in his speech in Sedgefield, let's get on with looking at how we can win the next election, what policies have to be pursued, traditional values in a modern setting means reform of some kind. We had the big debate on the Clause 4, Tony's now suggesting, I fully support, we have the debate in the party again about the values and the policies that will come during the next few years of the remaining period of his time as a prime minister.

ANDREW MARR: And when you talk about values, what do you say to all those people around the country who say perfectly clear to look at the situation that honours were sold; money was given to the party; peerages were offered - can you give them a categorical assurance that that is untrue?

JOHN PRESCOTT: Well I think we've got to look a lot more at this before you come to all those conclusions you've come to but I tell you what I will tell me - there's millions back at work because of a Labour government, there's 700,000 taken out of poverty, there's a million or so pensioners better off, we have economic prosperity we haven't seen, far better than any other European country, and we have the biggest investment in public services. That's what I'll say to those people - look what Labour delivered and judge it against the difficulties at the moment.

ANDREW MARR: John Prescott, thank you very much indeed.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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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