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Last Updated: Sunday, 29 April 2007, 09:56 GMT 10:56 UK
Home Office affairs
On Sunday 29 April Andrew Marr interviewed John Reid MP, Home Secretary

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

John Reid MP
John Reid MP, Home Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Now then, as so often recently, the Home Office has been at the very centre of this week's political news, not all of it entirely good news.

The Home Secretary's been accused of burying bad news at a time when attention is focused on the handover of power from Tony Blair to his successor, whoever that may be.

Perhaps John Reid himself, but in the meantime there's this week's elections to fight.

Dr. Reid's been out on the campaign trail across England and Scotland. Home Secretary, welcome.

JOHN REID: Thank you for your invite Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: That's very kind. Let's start with the elections themselves.

JOHN REID: Yes.

ANDREW MARR: To what extent do you think they're a referendum on Labour's ten years in power?

JOHN REID: Well I think to some extent every election is a commentary on how people think the government are doing. And my reading of the present position is we're in the third term which is normally pretty difficult, I understand, we've never been there.

ANDREW MARR: I was going to say, it normally doesn't happen.

JOHN REID: Yes. Normally not for Labour, but for others it's proven difficult. The mid term of a third term is even more difficult, and I think the signals are that people are saying to Labour, don't take us for granted, you've done a lot of good but we've got a lot of problems as well.

ANDREW MARR: What do you think the problems are that are annoying people just now?

JOHN REID: Well I don't think the problems are annoying people, obviously there's a lot of background noise, but the thing is that the agenda we had ten years ago when we came into power has been overtaken by events. So that, for instance, ten years ago the big issue was unemployment, the economy. And we've been so successful on that in a sense, we have unparalleled the economic...

ANDREW MARR: There are slight warning signs coming up now, some people would say we...

JOHN REID: Well there are, but in comparison with any historical period there's no question that this government and Gordon have made a major contribution towards what has been an unparalleled series of good economic figures. On the other hand it's quite clear that the agenda for the future has other issues. For instance the whole question of security....

ANDREW MARR: Immigration as well?

JOHN REID: Well, immigration, counterterrorism, crime, all the issues we deal with in the Home Office. However globalisation, decisions taken on the other side of the world which affect you, the need to constantly retrain and re-skill in a changing world. All of that brings a degree of insecurity, the environment pushing forward in the public service reform because people still aren't satisfied which is why I'm looking at how we can get better, more efficient local policing, with local accountability, carry forward the reforms we got.

All of that, and incidentally, when you said earlier, you know, philosophical differences between me and other members of the Cabinet, that's not true, it is just untrue. Because facing that future agenda there is an unparalleled degree of unity among the Labour leadership.

ANDREW MARR: I just wonder if there's more going on than that. You give a very broad sweep of answers why people might feel uneasy. And yet when you come down to the polls and Labour's position, it's more than that isn't it? Isn't the country angry with Labour, falling out of love with Labour? Something's going on out there.

JOHN REID: Well something's going on, but let's try and discern what it is. I think what the polls indicate to me is that people are saying do not take us for granted, we've supported you now for ten years, we want to see that you have fresh ideas for a fresh generation, as it were.

On the other hand when people really prefer another party to govern there is not only a warning sign sent to the existing governing party, in this case Labour. But there's a coalescence, there's a critical mass around the opposition. That isn't happening with the Conservatives. I mean the Conservatives at the moment are...

ANDREW MARR: Doing pretty well.

JOHN REID: Well they're doing pretty well compared to the last ten years, I wouldn't take that away from them. But there's still 35. 37, 38%, there isn't that critical mass. Let me take the local elections coming up.

ANDREW MARR: So it's not till they get to 40-odd, or above 40 that you'll really start to...

JOHN REID: Do you know what we were getting before the '97 election, on the local elections? We were getting 47%. 47%, and the bother we were getting.

ANDREW MARR: I see.

JOHN REID: Now that is a sign of people who've said, we don't just want to send a signal to the existing governing party, we really prefer this other lot. And I don't see that happening because there's a lack of policy substance in David Cameron and the Conservatives.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Well let's turn to some of the issues in front of you at the Home Office. Overall crime has gone down.

JOHN REID: Yes.

ANDREW MARR: But there are some problem areas and you've highlighted street robbery.

JOHN REID: Yes, absolutely.

ANDREW MARR: What do you, what would be your advice to, and particularly the young people out there with I-Pods and mobile phones and stuff. Do you think it's got to the stage people should not be carrying some of those devices on the streets, or not using them on the streets, because clearly that's where the robbery, the increase in the robbery is coming from?

JOHN REID: If I had one piece of advice it actually wouldn't be to young people, it would be to the manufacturers. And that is, help us to design in-features which reduce crime. Let me give you an example.

We now have an agreement with the service providers for mobile phone that means that within two days of it being stolen the phone is switched off. Not just the SIM card, but the phone. That knocks the bottom out of the market, because if people steal these phones increasingly they recognise they can't sell them. However...

ANDREW MARR: They move onto I-Pods and MP3 players.

JOHN REID: Exactly, exactly. What happens is we've reduced crime hugely, by about 35%. But within that new technology, lifestyle changes, new commodities, new gadgets, mean that the criminals continually move on. So when we defeat them on mobile phones they move on to SatNavs, they move on to I-Pods. And there's a new generation which brings together the qualities and characteristics of an I-Pod with a mobile phone.

ANDREW MARR: So what's your advice to all those kids out there at the moment carrying them, well they're probably still asleep, but the ones who are going to wake up and carry them on the streets?

JOHN REID: When you are going to buy the new generation, the so-called I-Phones which is a trademark, but it brings together the qualities of a phone with an I-Pod. When you're looking at that, don't just look at the call tones, don't just look at the camera quality, ask how does this prevent people actually stealing it and selling it again?

What are the anti-crime characteristics, and join with us and others in saying to the manufacturers, that should be as important an element in the future gadgets that you're producing, as the quality of the camera or the variety of the call tones, or any other feature.

ANDREW MARR: Mm. The prisons are full. And it has been suggested that when the Home Office divides there will be a prisoner release scheme. Not announced by you, but announced by Charlie Faulkner, shortly before he goes off and does something else, because it is so embarrassing.

JOHN REID: Well look, I have been absolutely clear on this. We ought to be keeping in prison those people who are a danger to society, that is people who are violent, persistent, dangerous offenders. And they need to be kept in prison for as long as is necessary to protect the public.

On the other hand, if people aren't dangerous, if they aren't persistent, if they're minor offenders, don't send them to prison at the cost of 40,000 a year bed and breakfast to the taxpayer. That's a double whammy for the taxpayer. Make them pay back to the community through unpaid work in the community. Now that's the balance we're trying to get right.

ANDREW MARR: Mmm.

JOHN REID: We've got more prison places than ever before, we've got more serious offenders in prison than ever before, they're serving longer sentences than ever before.

ANDREW MARR: But there is this cramming problem.

JOHN REID: But there is, no doubt about it, we've got 20,000 more prisoners in 20,000 more prison places. That's why I ordered 8,000 more. I've set my face against executive release.

I've said no, we're not going to release people early, we're going to build more prison places, I've got an emergency programme in, and therefore I hope that we don't get to that stage because I want to make sure that we keep in prison those people who ought to be inside.

ANDREW MARR: So, so far as you know, and understand, there is no possibility of Charlie Faulkner or whoever's doing his job when the vote's split, announcing executive release?

JOHN REID: On the 9th May we changed responsibilities. I've been very careful not to speak about Charlie's responsibilities at the moment as regards, say, the judiciary...

ANDREW MARR: Sure.

JOHN REID: ...and the judges, and I'm also careful not to pre-judge anything that Charlie...

ANDREW MARR: So it could happen?

JOHN REID: ...may decide after the 9th May. That is what I would do with any department, any of my colleagues. I don't make the decisions for them. So I'm not going to do it in this case either.

ANDREW MARR: All right. The Department was at least half accused by Peter Clarke of the Met, of being involved in some way in the leak of information about very a sensitive anti-terrorist operation, as you know. And you've said that none of your aides were involved. Are you still sure that that's the case?

JOHN REID: Well first of all Peter Clarke said no such thing. Peter Clarke has said no such thing, the press have implied that he said it. What Peter Clarke said was he had no idea where the leaks came from, neither do I.

I was not involved in giving leaks about that operation, nor were my special advisors or anyone close to me. I have no idea who did that. And incidentally I have already told this privately and publicly to a number of people who are trying to make political capital out of it. But I was not involved nor were my...

ANDREW MARR: And you would associate yourself with what he said, which was that it was beneath contempt for somebody to do that>

JOHN REID: I have already done so. But national security's my highest priority. I've been involved in 15 years in that, so have the people who've worked with me for many years. I have done it in opposition, I have done it in the Armed Forces, I have done it as Secretary of State for Defence, Secretary of State in Northern Ireland, I have done it as Home Secretary, and I place the highest priority on the security of this nation, so there's no question...

ANDREW MARR: Should there be an enquiry on this, should we find out the truth?

JOHN REID: Well, if anyone has a shred of evidence that this was done intentionally by anyone, then they should give that to the police.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. All right. Final question on Home Office matters as such. There is a bit of disquiet, not necessarily about the splitting of the Home Office, though some people are worried about that, but about the speed with which it's been done. Some people say, Woolf and others, that this is such a big constitutional change for this country, for the Home Office, since time immemorial, that to do it so quickly without a big debate in the country and so on is wrong.

JOHN REID: Well first of all the Home Office has changed since its inception, over the decades and the centuries. Secondly, this is an idea which has been thought about on and off over the past few years. And thirdly, in its latest phase these recommendations were put to the Prime Minister months ago. And they were the result of months of an ad hoc group involving all of the Cabinet members involved in making these decisions.

Now, two things. The first is of course if you're dealing with the matters of national security and they involve. It isn't possible to have the same level of public debate that you would have on other issues. And the second thing is the reasons behind this are quite simple, and that is, in today's world mass migration, the question of managing effectively immigration, countering terrorism, international crime and the lack of social cohesion which results in antisocial behaviour. Those challenges...

ANDREW MARR: That's what you want to concentrate on?

JOHN REID: Absolutely, those challenges are immeasurably greater than they were ten years ago and they're sufficient for any department, and that is the main driver in re-focusing the Home Office.

ANDREW MARR: One of the things that you remain absolutely focused on, you say, is the question of terrorism. Now there were two Libyans that you wanted kicked out of the country, and you've been told by a judge you can't, and one of the papers today says it could have cost a million pounds or whatever it is, to look after them in secure accommodation. Does this, how does this make you feel, it must make you weep?

JOHN REID: Well...

ANDREW MARR: You don't weep do you?

JOHN REID: How do you think it makes me feel? I'm not going to express my feelings because (a)

ANDREW MARR: Oh go on!

JOHN REID: No, we're in the middle of an appeal process and (b) because I got in trouble before for expressing views about the judiciary. So let it stay there, let it, let me say only that, as I said already, national security of this nation should be the highest priority of government and certainly the Home Secretary.

Secondly, that the rights of individuals are obviously very, very important. But so are the rights of 60 million individuals who make up this country. And we'd better make sure we get that balance right.

ANDREW MARR: And will it cost that kind of money, do you think, if they stay here?

JOHN REID: It costs a lot more obviously to try and get, and not just in money, but in energies and efforts of our security service and our police, it costs an awful lot more to try and keep surveillance on someone outside of confinement than it does either in confinement or if they're deported to another country.

Yes, now, I take the responsibilities under the European Convention of Human Rights very seriously indeed. But they cannot apply only to one or two individuals, especially incidentally if those individuals are not citizens of this country, they must equally apply to the 60 million people in this country whose lives, as well as whose democracies and freedoms and long-term liberties, are surely as important as any individual.

ANDREW MARR: Absolutely. Your last job, but one or two, I get confused, Defence Secretary. Should Prince Harry be going out to fight?

JOHN REID: I think this is clearly a decision for the Armed Forces themselves, and their chiefs.

ANDREW MARR: So you...

JOHN REID: Let me just say I understand why it's a difficult decision. The life of every individual in our Armed Forces is absolutely something we should concentrate on obviously. Any single life is important.

When it comes to a Prince this is not just a matter of humanity for operational concerns, it has a potentially big strategic importance. I'm not talking about the death, but the capture and so on. And therefore these are very difficult issues, but it is right in my view that these decisions are made by the chiefs of their Armed Forces themselves.

ANDREW MARR: OK, well I was talking about a previous job, let's talk about your next job. Since we last spoke and since you last gave an interview, the sort of bubble of expectation that David Milliband was going to stand against Gordon Brown has subsided and gone away. Do you think it's now basically a done deal that Gordon Brown is the next Prime Minister?

JOHN REID: Two or three minutes ago, before I came on, you referred to this as the "bubble of hysteria". You'll be glad to know I'm not going to blow up this bubble any further, Andrew. Let me just say this, look, the big choice that faces us in the near future is actually these elections, a choice between Labour or Conservatives, or in Scotland between Labour and the instability of the SNP.

The primary purpose of all Labour politicians at the moment is the maximum unity in placing that choice before the people of this country. So I'm not going to go down the road of speculating, but I will make a prediction to you, it's got two parts. First of all I predict that we will not only see that unity up to this election, but beyond this election. And rather than the expected fracturing of Labour beyond it, we will see a coming together of all of the Labour leadership, beyond this election.

ANDREW MARR: So there won't be a ferocious row?

JOHN REID: Secondly. Secondly, I predict that that will be a unity beyond these elections based on substance and policy. Unlike the Conservatives we have addressed the next generation of problems, the next decade whether it's the environment or globalisation or security.

And I can tell you there is total agreement on how we should approach that. I had this morning at a forum programme which, on the policing, which was in one of the newspapers, and they decided to run this as a sort of Blairite as opposed to a Brownite agenda. This is the result of things in which Gordon has been involved, I have been involved, and others.

So, (1) there will not be a fracturing beyond this election, there will be a coming together of the Labour leadership. We have stood together over the past ten years. We took the accolades together, we now must take responsibility together if we're declining in the polls. And we will forge a future together in the spirit of unity and on the basis of substantial policy.

ANDREW MARR: Last, last time you were asked about this you said that by definition you were not ruling yourself out as a challenger to Gordon Brown. What you have just said sounds to me very much like somebody who is?

JOHN REID: Look, I'm not going to down the road of speculating on the elections themselves. I've said the election that matters to me is the election which places before the British people the choice between Conservatives and Labour. That is the important election.

What I am saying is that beyond that election I believe that the purpose and the practice of unity which will lead us into it will extend beyond it and it will be a substantial one, a coming together on the basis of a common view and a common direction for the future. So people who are trying to make these divisions are not going to succeed.

ANDREW MARR: OK, John Reid, for now, 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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