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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
International aid
On Sunday 10 June Andrew Marr interviewed Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary

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

Hilary Benn MP
Hilary Benn MP, International Development Secretary

ANDREW MARR: Two weeks from today Labour will announce who's won its deputy leadership contest.

Among local Labour parties the famous candidate is apparently Hilary Benn, the International Development Secretary.

A familiar face in the Cabinet, not to mention the son of the redoubtable Tony Benn, you'd expect him to have a high public profile.

Imagine then his horror this week when the polls suggested that less than one in ten adults knew who he was.

Well, this is what he looks like! Welcome.

HILARY BENN: Good morning Andrew.

ANDREW MARR: Thank you, thank you for coming in. Let's start with this BAE Saudi bribes story.

The government are not saying that the bribery never happened, though the Attorney General say it is denying that he's tried to run a cover-up, perhaps not surprisingly so.

Given the language, and I can't really such strong language being used for quite a while about a story, isn't it time there was a wider public enquiry?

HILARY BENN: Well, the Attorney General indeed has vigorously denied that he told anyone to not reveal information. Look, you have to remember this is a contract that was signed in the mid-1980s by Mrs. Thatcher and it was covered by a commercial confidentiality clause.

And I think that the real issue here is the decision to stop the investigation was taken by the Director General of the Serious Fraud Office for the reason that he gave very publicly and openly, which was the threat to national security.

And in the end that is the primary responsibility that governments have got, and that's why that investigation's stopped. And it's not a question of giving British Aerospace Systems an easy ride because there are six other investigations still continuing into the activities of the company in other countries.

And I would simply say people need to look at the efforts we're making across the board in the fight against corruption and I'm proud of the fact that in relation to Nigeria, for example, about 35 million of money which had been brought into Britain to be laundered, that had been stolen from the people of Nigeria, is currently under restraint and we're beginning to return the money.

So this is one case, yes the Attorney General said it was an uncomfortable one, but the decision was taken on the investigation for the reasons people have been very open and transparent about.

ANDREW MARR: You are known as being a straight guy, you are known as having a moral compass. Do you feel comfortable about this deal?

HILARY BENN: It's - well, we didn't make the deal.

ANDREW MARR: I know.

HILARY BENN: Mrs. Thatcher found it in the mid-1980s. Well, I am comfortable with the fact that we have now changed the law.

That's one of the things that this government did do to make bribery of foreign officials an offence. And it's difficult to undo the past, what really matters is what you do in the future, and I think the culture in the world has changed and I think that's right.

ANDREW MARR: Squalid originally, squalid?

HILARY BENN: Well, it's not for me to say because those who took the decision at the time have got to answer that question, I can't do it for them.

ANDREW MARR: Let's move on to something else which has attracted a lot of hostile commentary which was what the G8 have done, or rather have not done when it comes to Africa. Bob Geldof who was used so effectively by the government originally at the time of the Gleneagles Agreement is now livid.

HILARY BENN: Well I think first of all Bob Geldof would deny vigorously he's ever been used by anyone, he is his own man and he has his own opinions. But I...

ANDREW MARR: But he helped promote the whole thing - he was standing alongside the Prime Minister, now he feels badly let down.

HILARY BENN: Well, Bob has been a wonderful campaigner but on this occasion I disagree with him, I think he's gone slightly over the top in his assessment of what happened at Heiligendamm this week.

The fact is, what was agreed at Gleneagles has had an impact...

ANDREW MARR: But they carry on talking, I mean there's nothing hard-line, you know, the money hasn't got through.

HILARY BENN: Well that's not the case, with respect Andrew, because the deal that was done at Gleneagles, here we are two years later, for 22 of the world's poorest countries every single penny in debt they owed to the IMF, the World Bank and the African Development Bank has been written off.

This week I met the president of Zambia, President Mwanawasa. His country no longer has to service that debt, they've been able to ensure free health care in rural areas so politics actually does change things.

ANDREW MARR: Well there were two parts, as we know, to all of that. The second part was for direct extra money coming in.

And it's absolutely the case that the G8 countries have failed so far to deliver what they said they were going to do. And they have not properly and clearly committed themselves with a timescale to doing it at this summit, which was what Geldof and many other campaigners desperately hoped they were going to do.

HILARY BENN: Well, first of all they reaffirmed the commitment that was made at Gleneagles, to double aid to Africa by 2010. Secondly, global aid to Africa went out last year. Thirdly, Britain is absolutely keeping its promises and I think everybody recognises that.

And it's about a continuing campaign to ensure that people live up to the commitments that they've made. And the other thing that came out of Heiligendamm this week was they were clearer about how the money was going to be spent, particularly in the fight against HIV and Aids. And we've made progress there.

There's now a million people in sub Saharan African, Andrew, on anti-retrovirals. Five or six years ago it was 100,000. Is it enough? No it isn't. Is it progress? Yes it is, and we need more of it.

ANDREW MARR: And are other countries backsliding badly?

HILARY BENN: Well, not all countries currently are keeping their commitments. Britain is and I think the best thing that we can do, and that's what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done, is to lead by example and then campaigners around the world in all of those countries have got to continue to work to make sure that politicians do what they promised.

ANDREW MARR: A lot of people watching will say the worst thing going on in the world at the moment in many ways is Darfur, and it's very, very important that we do more. Do you think the time has come for direct military intervention of kind in Darfur?

HILARY BENN: Well the time has come for the AU UN hybrid force to get in there with 20,000 troops. At the moment there's only 6,500 African Union troops, it's simply not enough. The force commander when I was there last year pointed to the map of Darfur and said, "look at the size of this area that I'm having to look after".

That's what the international community's working to make happen. We're now at a very important moment, because those proposals are going to President Bashir, and he has a very simple choice, either he accepts them or we will go to the UN Security Council with other countries to press for sanctions against Sudan.

And that's a very, very clear choice he faces. But an increased number of troops is a sticking plaster on a problem, a big wound, the people living in the camps who we are helping to keep alive, the only solution's a political one, and that's why there must now be a date set for talks so the rebels and the government of Sudan can come together and bring this terrible conflict to an end.

ANDREW MARR: Speaking of terrible conflicts. As the development man, how would you categorise what's happened in Iraq over the last couple of years?

HILARY BENN: It's extremely difficult. It's grim in parts of the country. We've debated this long and hard, we've done during the course of this deputy leadership campaign. And what I would say to you Andrew is this...

ANDREW MARR: That you remain in support of us all?

HILARY BENN: I do not, I look you in the eye and I say I do not regret the way I cast my vote, or the fact that Saddam is no longer there.

But I, you know, I have the honesty to recognise that the intelligence was wrong, that de-Ba'athification went too far, that disbanding the military was in hindsight not the right thing to have done. But - whether people were in favour or against the war, the obligation on all of us now is to support a fragile democracy in the face of sectarian butchery and suicide bombing.

And the one thing the Iraqis now have that they did not before is the means through that fragile democracy to resolve their problems by compromise, by reconciliation, but in the end only they can do it, we can't do it for them.

ANDREW MARR: All right, let's move to more domestic matters. What would you say to those who look at what the government's been saying on smoking and drinking and general behaviour and say there a new generation of puritans coming in, and you're one of them.

HILARY BENN: [Laughter] I think I'd laugh, is the first thing. Look, the vote to ban smoking in public places and it's going to come into effect very shortly, is a public health measure. And it was really striking, I remember going through the lobbies in the House of Commons and the huge wave of Members of Parliament from all sides of the House voting in favour of this change. The fact is this is politics doing what we're there to do which is to listen to the concerns that people express and...

ANDREW MARR: I don't think there was a great upsurge of people calling for a ban on smoking places, it's a health-driven thing from the top as it were.

And now people are going after those of us who drink too much wine in our own homes. There is a Puritanism about.

HILARY BENN: Well I don't agree with you.

ANDREW MARR: I put it to you sir, that you're a puritan!

HILARY BENN: I am not a puritan. But, no there was a groundswell of support for the ban on smoking. I disagree with you profoundly, Andrew.

Actually, because the number of people one has conversations with who say they've been to Wales where the ban has already come in, or Scotland or Ireland - where they've knocked a couple of years off.

ANDREW MARR: So if you're Gordon Brown's deputy the two of you are not going to nag us to death, are you?

HILARY BENN: I don't think there's any chance of that whatsoever.

ANDREW MARR: You're quite sure of that promise?

HILARY BENN: That is a very firm assurance that I give you - no nagging.

ANDREW MARR: All right.

HILARY BENN: OK.

ANDREW MARR: Well, I'll hold you to that if you get it, because you seem to have done well in the constituency parties, do you think it's going well despite the fact Peter Hain and others seem to be out-spending you.

HILARY BENN: Look, in the end the only thing that matters is how people vote. I've said from the very start this is going to be a very, very close contest.

But I think this has been a good process for the Labour Party. We've talked about politics, the future of the country, people are coming in large numbers.

And, what am I standing for? I'm standing to champion a more straightforward kind of politics because I think there's a mood out there in the public who want politicians to be straight and direct.

And also a recognition that we're only going to change things for the better. If each of us play our part, politicians can't do it on their own.

ANDREW MARR: And you'd like to be deputy prime minister if you win this?

HILARY BENN: No, I've said from the beginning Andrew, I'm not standing to be deputy prime minister and I'm not standing to be the Chair of the Labour Party, I think Labour Party members ought to be able to elect their own Chair. I'm standing to be the deputy leader.

ANDREW MARR: Someone else on the Dorneywood croquet lawn. All right. Hilary Benn, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

HILARY BENN: 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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