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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006, 11:00 GMT
International Aid
On Sunday 19 November, Andrew Marr interviewed Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development

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

Hilary Benn MP
Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development

ANDREW MARR: Well, the International Development Secretary Hilary Benn is with me.

He's just back from Addis Ababa claiming an end is in sight, perhaps to the crisis in Darfur which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, we're going to talk about that in a minute, but first, Hilary Benn, can I ask you...

HILARY BENN: Good morning.

ANDREW MARR: Good morning. Thank you for coming in.

Can I ask you about what the Prime Minister was saying just now. We know that Pakistan is pivotal in the war against terror.

How concerned should we be by the traffic between Britain and Pakistan, particularly people going out to some of these Madrasers being radicalised then coming back?

HILARY BENN: Well we should be concerned. And if we listen to what the security services have said about the number of people that they're watching, their first task is to try and protect us from those who would do us harm.

But I think what the Prime Minister and President Musharraf have said today is really important because it's about what happens in Pakistan. And we've got to be resolute in standing up for values of moderation and reason, and using politics as a way of resolving the world's problems, and not violence.

ANDREW MARR: And how much does this money that was announced for Pakistan help us stand up for values of moderation and reason, how's it going to be spent?

HILARY BENN: Well some of it's going to go on getting more children in Pakistan into school. And the chance to go to school and to have a decent education, to understand the world in which you're growing up is a really important part in, in any society developing.

That's why in Afghanistan, you know, the most significant change since the fall of the Taliban is that girls can go back to school again. I mean, how can any society grow and prosper if half the next generation doesn't have the chance of an education.

The best start in life we can get, apart from the love and care of those who bring us into this world. It's also going to go on health because Pakistan has very high rates of infant and maternal mortality, we're already funding a programme, the lady health worker's scheme, remarkable women who go out into the community to give...

ANDREW MARR: We don't hear much about this stuff, do we?

HILARY BENN: Well, I talk about it a lot and it's nice to have the chance to come on to your programme to talk about it this morning. Because there's a huge development challenge in Pakistan. And that's why we're very significantly increasing the system.

Because in the end it's about defeating poverty. And if you defeat poverty you've got a better chance of defeating injustice, and helping people to see that politics is the best way to solve the world's problems, and not violence.

ANDREW MARR: Well let's carry on talking about politics in the context of Darfur. Just talk us through where you think we've got to, because we've moved a little bit of the way towards some kind of settlement but nothing like the whole way, have we?

HILARY BENN: No, no we haven't. But we did make progress in Addis Ababa. Because prior to that the government of Sudan was saying we're not prepared to accept a UN resolution 1706 which was providing for a United Nations force to go in. So we found another way of achieving the same objective.

Because we have reached agreement on a three-phase proposal that Kofi Anan put forward to provide more troops, secure funding, better commander control and equipment, and that third phase will be a joint UN African union operation.

And that is a step forward, and the second thing we agreed was to restart the political process by the AU and the UN jointly convening talks between the government of Sudan, the one rebel group that has signed, and the rebel groups that haven't. Because politics negotiation compromise again is the only way this conflict will be brought to an end.

ANDREW MARR: But we still don't know, do we, there's strictly no agreement on whether these UN troops will be able to use their weapons, and secondly how many of them there'll be?

HILARY BENN: Well everyone who was at the conference said we needed 17,000 troops, 3,000 police. The government of Sudan has said they'll go away and reflect upon that. I'm very clear they've got to be able to protect themselves, they've got to protect civilians because that's the reason we need more troops in there. I was in....

ANDREW MARR: The UN was devastated by some of these things that happened earlier in Africa where UN troops with loaded weapons stood by and allowed terrible things to happen.

HILARY BENN: Yeah. And you've got to be able to protect people. That's why we've worked so hard to get this agreement, that's why Britain was the first country in the world to provide funding to the African union force that has been there for, what, two and a bit years.

The violence did decrease but we've seen it increasing again more recently because of the tension between those who haven't signed the agreement. Now the peace agreement that we negotiated in May in Abuja does, in my view, provide the solution. Because this rebellion was all about regional government for Darfur.

ANDREW MARR: Mm.

HILARY BENN: The peace agreement provides for regional government for Darfur if the people vote for it in a referendum.

ANDREW MARR: And the original UN resolution said, I think, all reasonable force was what the UN troops would have to be able to use. Do you think we'll get to that position?

HILARY BENN: Well I think the troops that will come in, predominantly from Africa, but they may need to come from elsewhere if Africa can't raise sufficient numbers, will have to have the means both to defend themselves and to defend civilians.

But it's a much bigger, more effective sticking plaster that we're looking for, more troops to get out and about, see what's going on and protect people, just by their very presence. In the end you did have that, where the security situation wasn't bad.

But you need a political agreement to bring this conflict to an end, because that's the only way the, what, 1.9 million people who tonight again will be living in camps, provided for, fed and clothed and watered and sheltered by the International Community and Britain's played a very big part in that, is the only way they're going to be able to go home.

ANDREW MARR: Mm. Now you spend your life dotting around the world, so let's dot around the world a little more and dot to Iraq where Gordon Brown has been announcing another aid package there, more money for infrastructure and so on. But he's also said that he wants British troops to start coming home within months. Is that something you'd agree with?

HILARY BENN: Well, what we've said very clearly is the aim of what we're trying to do in Iraq is to support the Iraqis as they build their capacity to look after their own security.

We've already pulled back from two provinces in the south, Decar and Almotana (spelling??), we want that process to continue and the Prime Minister himself has said we hope within the next 12-18 months that's what's going to happen. So the Iraqis can take responsibility. But, look the situation in Iraq is extremely difficult, there is terrible violence, but the Iraqi people have got a choice.

They have a democracy now, they have an elected government, 12 million people voted that government in and people can either use violence to try and do whatever it is they want to achieve, or they can use the political process. And ultimately that is a choice for the Iraqi people themselves. But at least now they have the means to resolve political differences and chart a way forward for the country which is an elected government.

ANDREW MARR: And you'd go along with the Prime Minister and the fact that it's been a bit of disaster since the war?

HILARY BENN: Look, the violence has been terrible. Let's be absolutely clear about that. But if you ask me do I regret the fact that Saddam Hussein is no longer there, no I do not regret that fact. Because Iraq was a country that was traumatised and brutalised and impoverished.

ANDREW MARR: There are two extremes. There was Saddam, and there's what has happened. Do you regret the fact that we went to war with so little of a plan apparently, about what to do in Iraq once that war was over?

HILARY BENN: I don't regret the decision that we took, it's the hardest political decision that I've ever had to make. But I have to say I've been to Iraq four times in the last two and a half years and it's quite humbling when you meet politicians and others who put their lives on the line to do what...

ANDREW MARR: You're not quite answering my question.

HILARY BENN: Well, what you and I are now doing which is debating politics and how things are going to move forward. Looking back were some mistakes made?

Yes, I think they were, the disbandment of the Iraqi army - but, we were absolutely clear as were the politicians in Iraq, about what needed to be done, which was to establish a democracy. And that the Iraqi people have done.

And that democracy is what's going to provide the means of the country moving forward. And that is not a mistake, we planned for that because it's what the Iraqi democrats wanted. And we shall support them now.

ANDREW MARR: Now I mentioned Gordon Brown. A small dung-coloured bird tells me that Gordon Brown wants you to be the deputy leader of the Labour Party, and you're the chosen man, the spot has been placed on you. Is that true?

HILARY BENN: Well that's news to me. I told Gordon...

ANDREW MARR: ...good news for you then!

HILARY BENN: I told Gordon that I was running and I hadn't asked for his support. The fact is it's for Labour Party members to make that choice. I hope and believe that he's going to be the next leader of the Labour Party and the next Prime Minister. But the choice will have been made not by any individual, but by Labour Party members, MPs, trade unions affiliated to the party. It's going to be a choice, it's a democracy, it's going to be a vote.

ANDREW MARR: Is he that big clunking fist that the Prime Minister was talking about?

HILARY BENN: Well he's a very formidable political figure, is Gordon. I think people look at his record as Chancellor as the most successful Labour chancellor we've ever had. And when people get into those polling booths at the next General Election one of the things that will be on their minds is, we've had economic stability which has allowed us to invest in public services, there's been real change in the country and people will think, well perhaps we ought to stick with that.

ANDREW MARR: One thing I asked Alan Johnson the other week, I'd like to ask you too, is why, and I don't want this to sound rude - but why should people out there be at all interested in who's going to be deputy leader of the Labour Party, given that you're all pretty similar, idealogically. None of you are saying let's take the party off in a radically different direction, it's all about party management. Why should we be interested?

HILARY BENN: Well, it's not just about party management. Clearly the role of deputy leader of the party, part of the job is to make sure that the voice of the party is heard in government, to give honest advice, to work with people, to listen. But this contest, both for the leadership if there is one, and for the deputy leadership, is about the future of the country.

And people should be interested in that. And I think we need a different kind of politics, a politics that shows that we work best when we're alongside people in helping them to achieve the things that they want. I think Labour politics works best when we demonstrate we're thinking about the challenges we face in the world, what are we going to do about climate change?

How do we ensure that Britain retains a really successful economy? And everybody should be interested in that. But of course the contest itself will be of most interest to people in the party - I hope people will join,.

ANDREW MARR: Mm.

HILARY BENN: Because if you join you can have a vote.

ANDREW MARR: Let's stick with the party a little bit. Let's suppose you win. Em, the door closes, you take your jacket off and someone comes up to you and says, well, what are we going to do about the terrible mess that has been the cash for honours episode, it's done us terrible damage, it's done politics terrible damage? What's the future hold?

HILARY BENN: Well I think we need to reform the House of Lords, if you ask me very directly. I think we ought to have a very largely elected House of Lords.

I voted for 80 per cent when we last had a vote in parliament. I think there might be a case for having a small proportion of people in the second chamber, co-opted by the elected members on the basis perhaps of advice from an independent appointments commission.

So there would be legitimacy. What I don't think we can have in future is party leaders of whatever colour nominating people to serve in the second chamber. And that's why we've got to push ahead with reform of the House of Lords and why I support what Jack Straw is seeking to do.

ANDREW MARR: Well you must dig a little further than Jack Straw possibly, or the percentage. But you are a Benn, it's family business, unresolved family business. Thank you very much indeed for joining us, Hilary Benn.

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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