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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 October 2006, 11:17 GMT
Poverty and pensions
On Sunday 29 October, Huw Edwards interviewed John Hutton MP, Work and Pensions Secretary.

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

John Hutton MP
John Hutton MP, Work and Pensions Secretary

HUW EDWARDS: John good morning. Thanks for coming in.

JOHN HUTTON: Morning Huw.

HUW EDWARDS: Child poverty. I know you've made a lot of progress.

I think the figures are that over the last decade some seven hundred thousand children have been lifted out of that poverty bracket.

Why is the progress not as impressive as you would like it to be?

JOHN HUTTON: Well you're right, we have made tremendous progress. I mean child poverty doubled in the eighties and it's fallen by about three quarters of a million since Labour came into office.

Every Labour government has made tackling poverty one of its top social priorities, economic priorities.

And we've had tremendous success in doing that. I think what this report when it's published soon I think will confirm that increasingly you know we've got to target our attention in government on couple households.

You know we've done very well in improving for example the employment rate of single parents, improved very substantially in the last ten years or so.

But I think often you know you will find this problem about poverty and low income in a couple household where one is working, one adult is working and the other isn't.

Now that is a challenge, that is what Lisa Harker's work has identified as one of the next big challenges that we've got to address in government. And we, we need to discuss and consider amongst ourselves very carefully how we do that.

HUW EDWARDS: But what can you tell viewers this morning about what you're likely to do, let's say in the year ahead, that you've not been doing over the past few years? What new ideas are you likely to bring forward?

JOHN HUTTON: Well Lisa's identified a number of things that she wants us to consider. For example developing a new deal for families as well.

The new deal has been a tremendous success in helping young people, older workers get back into work. But often you know in the welfare state, if you're a couple household with kids, you tend to be invisible. If you're a lone parent with children you know we see you straight away and we focus resource on you.

Less so I think when it comes to families. And that's something that we've got to look at very carefully and respond in due course when we've had a chance to, to think about the next steps forward in this war against poverty.

HUW EDWARDS: What could that mean in raw practical terms for the families that you're talking about?

JOHN HUTTON: Well it, it, it could involve you know more sort of help for example in getting the second adult in that household into work. They may not be a client or a customer of the Department for Work and Pensions. They may not be claiming benefit themselves.

How are we going to provide more targeted employment support for, for those women, and they're mainly women, who are not actually as I said customers of Job Centre Plus at the moment.

HUW EDWARDS: I mean lots of people keep on saying look you know, putting people into work yes for some people that will work. But you know in lots of families it actually creates another problem, not least to do with child care and this is ..

JOHN HUTTON: Yeah.

HUW EDWARDS: .. in trying to solve a problem you are actually making it much worse.

JOHN HUTTON: Well we're certainly not making it worse. That we do know. I mean there are over a million extra child care, high quality child care places available for families now. By two thousand nine, ten we'll have universal child care available for every three and four year old. Now that is going to up, open up a world of new employment opportunities mainly again for women, but for parents generally.

And I think we've got to develop a, an approach that first of all makes the opportunity to work our priority. That is the best route out of poverty. It's the best sustainable way to, to target resources and to help kids. Because you know poverty is a big drag anchor around, around the neck of many children. And we've got to help them escape from that so that they can realise their potential.

HUW EDWARDS: I mean this is just one area, I mean you've got a huge area in your department. If you look across government obviously we're looking at you know lots and lots of big policy areas.

Over the next six months as, as we approach a leadership contest, how important is it for the Party to come up with or at least debate new ideas in that process of trying to renew itself?

JOHN HUTTON: Oh I think it's very, very important and there is clearly going to be a debate and I welcome it. I think everyone in government welcomes it. The Prime Minister has, is going to lead some work across government over the next six months, developing new solutions to new problems.

We've got to ask ourselves one fundamental question all the time, you know are the polices that we came into government with in nineteen ninety seven the right ones for, for two thousand and seven? And we've got to be prepared to change where that is necessary, where the evidence supports a move in the new direction.

And that is an essential part of renewal. Renewal is, is not an event. It is always a process. We've got to always look out, not in. We've got make sure that our policies are relevant to, to Britain, to modern life in Britain today. And help in particular families cope with a lot of the pressure and change that's going on.

HUW EDWARDS: But, but are we going to see people like you arguing, as I think you did at the Party Conference for a different approach to providing public services, where the government maybe doesn't provide as much but guarantees quality and standards but is not involved in the actual provision. That is farmed out to private companies or agencies. Is that the way that you want to see it go?

JOHN HUTTON: Well I think there's going to be a debate certainly over the next few months about this. And we have been prepared to use the private sector, the voluntary sector, charitable sector as well to deliver public services. And in my own department, some of our flagship back to work policies have been actually led and delivered by the private and voluntary sector.

And they've been a runaway success story. So I don't think we should have any no go areas. I don't think there should be any sort of black spots as it were in terms of who can deliver public services. The only question I think the public want reassurance about, and my constituents say to me is that they want the best quality ..

HUW EDWARDS: So ..

JOHN HUTTON: .. from publicly funded services, whoever that is.

HUW EDWARDS: So health, education, social services, what you're saying is that people shouldn't be afraid of the idea that the government withdraws in effect from providing those directly?

JOHN HUTTON: Well I, I think the government isn't going to withdraw and I don't think the government should withdraw. I mean I, I think we are there to try and provide a route - for example we talked about poverty - route out of poverty for poor families. And that isn't going to happen simply by itself.

You know government has to intervene in a sensible way. So government will be there to support these services. Who delivers them? It will be increasingly I think a matter for local choice and local determination. I think that is right. There'll be a major role of course for, for the public sector in all of this. But I don't think we should exclude options that can lead to the improvement and the quality of public services.

And if that means you know using a private or a voluntary provider I think we should do that and be prepared to, as we have done in the Health Service, in, in, in a variety of other areas where we know it can add value.

HUW EDWARDS: And does that mean that you don't give any guarantees or can't give any guarantees about people who are employed at the moment by government directly in these public services who might not be employed if you farm things out in the way you're talking about?

JOHN HUTTON: I think we've got to guarantee people's proper employment rights. And their terms and conditions and so on. And we, we do that through a variety of legal instruments, the transfer of undertakings, regulations, you know whatever it is. We've got to make sure that people are treated properly and fairly.

But I think really in all of this when it comes to public services Huw, the thing that really matters is the quality of the service we provide for the public and for example that it's available free at the point of use, whether that's healthcare or education and so on. Now if you preserve those two fundamental pillars which must underpin public service delivery I think then you should have a proper debate about who is the best to provide it.

HUW EDWARDS: Forgive me moving on, I just want to move on to one other issue here. We, there's a big story today in one of the papers that Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary said there should be a debate about renewing our nuclear deterrent, Trident.

You've got a big interest in this because of your constituency. Should there be a debate about it or should we just be doing as Gordon Brown says just carrying on renewing it?

JOHN HUTTON: Well of course there should be a debate about Britain's nuclear deterrent. I mean it would be ludicrous to, to imagine that the government can somehow say there shouldn't be a debate.

The, the public will want to debate this. You know Gordon's made it very clear that he's in favour of the debate. But the manifesto on which we were elected made it very clear that we would maintain our independent nuclear deterrent. I don't think there's any case at all for Britain taking a unilateral act to disarm ourselves.

This is an incredibly dangerous world we live in. I don't think there would be any public a, appetite whatsoever for those sorts of unilateral gestures. I think we should maintain our deterrent and we should have a debate about how, how we can do that.

HUW EDWARDS: That's clear. You said recently there shouldn't be any coronation in the Labour Party. "We don't do coronations" I think you said. What did you mean by that?

JOHN HUTTON: That we don't do coronations. That we choose our leaders, we elect our leaders. And I think that's a healthy thing in a mature democracy.

HUW EDWARDS: Are you hurt by lots of reports that you don't get on very well with Gordon Brown?

JOHN HUTTON: I think that's just part of the, the sort of, the fluff of politics. I have a good working relationship with Gordon. And that is important to me. And I value that. I think what we've got to focus on now is less of that kind of tittle tattle and the substantial issues and challenges that we face, yes as a government, as a party, but as a country too.

And what, how we, we can contribute to preparing the ground for what is going to be major changes. If you just look at what's happening on climate change, we've got the immense challenge of globalisation for British business. We talked earlier about poverty. How are we going to help more young people in Britain escape from the poverty trap. These are major social and economic challenges facing us. And that's where I think we should focus our attention. And not on all of this tittle tattle and nonsense.

HUW EDWARDS: Oh yeah, but I'm ... I'm after a bit more tittle tattle. Because lots of journalists reported, and you can tell me whether I'm right or wrong on this, that you actually said that Gordon Brown would be a disaster as Prime Minister. Did you say that?

JOHN HUTTON: No, I, those are not my views and I didn't say that. And I've made that repeatedly clear. But you know people will interpret all of these things in the way that they want to. But those are not my views of the Chancellor. I think he's been an outstanding Chancellor, the best post war chancellor that we've seen in this country.

HUW EDWARDS: Would he make a good Prime Minister?

JOHN HUTTON: I think so yes.

HUW EDWARDS: Would you back him? Would you consider backing him?

JOHN HUTTON: Well I've also answered this question in a way that will probably frustrate you and others that I'm not going to talk about who I'm supporting yet. I think actually it's of very little interest to the country as a whole who I'm going to support or not.

HUW EDWARDS: I don't know about that.

JOHN HUTTON: Oh I think so. When we have the, the chance to choose, elect, I shall make my - a new leader - I shall make my position clear ...

HUW EDWARDS: I mean would you consider standing yourself?

JOHN HUTTON: No I think that's very, very unlikely and I have also made that very clear.

HUW EDWARDS: Should there be someone standing who is closely associated to Tony Blair and what he's achieved as opposed to the Chancellor's camp?

JOHN HUTTON: No I think that's actually absurd. I think if you look at the last ten years the Chancellor has been a fundamental part of, of creating New Labour and delivering New Labour in government. I, I don't think that's the, the issue and I don't think that's the relevant consideration.

I think we need to choose the best leader who can maintain the broad coalition that has kept New Labour together and take us forward into a fourth election victory. And I think that will be the choice that people will make and that will be at the forefront of everyone's mind when we have the, the leadership contest.

HUW EDWARDS: Mr Hutton, good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

JOHN HUTTON: Thank you very much.

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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