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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 September 2007, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Labour Home policy
On Sunday 09 September Andrew Marr interviewed Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary

Please note "The Andrew Marr Show" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Jacqui Smith MP
Jacqui Smith MP

ANDREW MARR: So, we've talked about the climate, we've talked about peace.

Now let's turn to the climate on the streets, and violence at home.

Over the summer the Tories campaigning about Britain being a broken society, even anarchy in the UK, plus that awful shooting of Rhys Jones in Liverpool, has put law and order firmly in the headlines.

Are gangs now ruling parts of urban Britain? Well, I'm joined by the new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Welcome Home Secretary.

JACQUI SMITH: Morning.

ANDREW MARR: Before we move to that, for an awful lot of people you're still, if I may say so, an unfamiliar figure at the top of politics.

What do people need to know about Jacqui Smith that they don't know?

JACQUI SMITH: Well I think they need to know that (1) having a job of Home Secretary is a massive honour for me, I'm really proud to have it.

And I said right at the very beginning that actually it's hard to think of a greater responsibility for an elected politician than to be given that responsibility to help to make sure that our streets are safe, our families feel safe, our borders are secure, and that British people can get on with living their lives.

And that what guides me in this job. I have to say, I've been around government for a while, you know, I've done jobs in health and education, in trade as a Equalities Minister, so I know what I'm doing.

ANDREW MARR: No, no, most in politics know you, but I say quite a lot of people will to be coming to you for the first time. You're a former teacher and the children of teachers.

So, presumably you accept that there's a large number of young people who have, whose lives have gone badly wrong, and who are in gangs and, whether it's anarchy in the UK, there's parts of the inner cities which are in deep trouble.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, I accept that there are particular areas where, with respect to gangs and guns, we've got some problems. And that's why I want to focus attention on those.

Part of my problem, actually, with this discussion over the summer, particular the approach that David Cameron has taken, is to suggest that our streets are full of gun-toting young people is just plain wrong.

Of course, at the time we were having this discussion we also had the examination results that showed that our young people are doing better at school than they've ever done. We've got lots of experience of the really positive contribution that young people are playing in this country.

But, yes I am worried about when it comes to the most serious violence, the extent to which gun crime in particular is happening more with young people. And that's why what I've said is we need to focus our attention on where we can really make a difference. And I believe that we can, and that's why...

ANDREW MARR: So what are you going to, I was going to ask what you're going to do, because actually the number of shootings is a real problem, it has gone up. Knives are a problem as well.

And there are parts of west London, there are parts of Manchester and other cities where people are dead scared of gangs on the streets.

JACQUI SMITH: I mean, let me just be quite clear about the figures of shootings and homicides by shooting.

Actually the figure is about the same now as it was ten years ago. However, particularly the way in which it's getting younger, particularly the way in which it's relating to gangs is a serious problem...

ANDREW MARR: You accept that's a big problem?

JACQUI SMITH: ...and that is why I for example am bringing together a national dedicated unit. I'm asking John Murphy who's the Deputy Chief Constable of Merseyside police to lead that.

I will be leading myself a ministerial taskforce across government in order to support focused activity in those areas of this country where there is a particular problem.

Neighbourhoods in London, in Manchester, Greater Manchester, in Liverpool and in Birmingham where I think actually we can build on the good work that's already happening and we can really focus down some activity on making a difference there.

ANDREW MARR: So, it sounds a little, if I may say so, a little nebulous task forces and so on, not new legislation, not new money. What actually is this taskforce going to achieve in practical terms?

JACQUI SMITH: Right. What it's going to achieve in those areas is a real focus on some of the actions that we know work - things like much greater use of intelligence led police into identifying who it is who's supplying the guns, who are the gang leaders?

The use of that intelligence led policing then to get the gang leaders off the streets, and their guns. It's tough work bringing together the serious organised crime agency, along with our border agencies to cut off the supply of guns into those areas.

It's worked, building on successful work like mediation where people actually get between the gangs in order to stop the sort of retaliation that we've seen - it's a whole range of things, some of which are already happening in certain parts of the country, but which we need to bring together in these areas which actually account for more than 50 per cent of gun crime, in order to make a difference. And that's my priority. You know, we can have a sort of testament of despair that says we've got a broken society.

ANDREW MARR: Well, a lot of people think that.

JACQUI SMITH: Or, or, we can focus our attention and build the confidence of those communities alongside strong enforcement from police and other preventive work in order to make a difference.

ANDREW MARR: If it's a specific area, a problem in particular parts of the country, certain estates and so on. Can you promise that those areas will get more resources, whether it's more policing, whatever they need to turn that around?

JACQUI SMITH: Well we're devoting an extra, an additional 1 million nationally. But what we're also doing is focusing the activity and the powers locally on those neighbourhoods where this genuinely is a serious issue, and where we think that we can make a difference.

ANDREW MARR: And they'll notice a difference over the autumn?

JACQUI SMITH: Absolutely they will.

ANDREW MARR: OK. Let's turn to another part of the same story in a sense, which is that clearly people that need to be put behind bars, and yet our prisons are brimful. Are you going to build more prisons?

JACQUI SMITH: Well we've already of course said that we're building more prisons and that's part of the activity that's already underway. But actually of course we also need to focus, as I am, on cutting crime, on making sure that we make our streets safer anyway.

But where we need to use prison we will, where we need to use our other forms of punishment which will stop people from re-offending we will. The reason of course that we, although it's no longer in my department, while we're actually reforming the whole way in which we treat offenders, from the point at which they commit the offence through to the point at which hopefully they're on the straight and narrow.

The reason why we're reforming the whole of that is because we're serious about doing what's necessary to stop people from offending, to protect our communities, and to get people actually out of a life of crime because that's the long-term way way in which we're going to improve our streets.

ANDREW MARR: Let me ask you about another story today, which is the report that the government wants to, and indeed you're quoted in some of the papers, wants to ensure that everybody who is skilled or semi-skilled, coming into this country as a migrant, has to be fluent in English first. Why are you doing this? Is it above all to cut the number of immigrants to this country?

JACQUI SMITH: What I think's at the heart of that immigration policy is how we can make that policy work best for Britain and for those people who have a right to come here.

We've made a lot of progress in terms of, if you like, the sort of administration of that system, reforming the border and immigration agency, regionalising it, getting much more effective. But I think there is now an argument, and it's one the Prime Minister has made absolutely rightly about how we make that system work at its best for Britain.

And one of the ways in which I think that we can make sure that people integrate more quickly, we can make sure that the people who are coming here both integrate themselves but also benefit the UK is by expecting people who are coming here through the skilled and slightly less skilled route, to actually be able to speak English.

Next year we introduce a very radical change to immigration, with the points-based system, the sort of Australian style points-based system.

ANDREW MARR: And will that slow the flow of people coming in?

JACQUI SMITH: What it will do is make sure that where we have people coming in to this country we're clear that they bring something that will benefit the UK, and that we can integrate them quickly into our community.

ANDREW MARR: Do you have any numbers based idea in your head, do you want to have fewer people coming in?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, if you think at the moment...

ANDREW MARR: I mean a million over the last few years is a lot. A lot of people say, just in terms of the effect on local services, it's been too many.

JACQUI SMITH: Well, and we've recognised that which is why of course...

ANDREW MARR: Do you think it has been too many?

JACQUI SMITH: ...which is, well, we've recognised which is why of course we've set up the migration impact forum specifically to look at that impact on local services.

And I think it's about making sure, you know, I think, probably for the first time we have set a very clear objective that migration policy needs to be about benefit to the UK as well as being fair to those who are coming here. And that's why through the migration advisory council that we've put in place, we're going to take a very hard-headed look at what it is, what skills we need to come here...

ANDREW MARR: Yes, I understand that.

JACQUI SMITH: ...in order to support.

ANDREW MARR: I do understand that but, you know, in very straightforward simple terms for all those people watching, wanting a straightforward answer to it, do you want to slow the flow of migrants coming into the country - or not?

JACQUI SMITH: I want to make sure that the flow of migrants coming into the country are coming in a way that's going to benefit the UK. That's the reason for the very radical reforms ...

ANDREW MARR: But the numbers don't matter to you?

JACQUI SMITH: ..to the points-based system. Well, they do and their impact on public services matters and that's why we are now explicitly considering that through the migration impact forum. And that's why the points-based system will put benefit to Britain at the heart of our migration system.

ANDREW MARR: Another story today which has two passports opened up on the page. One the familiar rather grand-sounding, you know, Her Britannic Majesty requests and commands and so forth, and the other with a very sort of dull bureaucratic European Union thing at the front, suggesting that our traditional passports are going to be swapped for these new rather duller, less patriotic sounding ones. Is that true?

JACQUI SMITH: No, it is not true.

ANDREW MARR: It's not true, that's not going to happen, we will carry on with our Britannic Majesty or whoever there, will we?

JACQUI SMITH: I certainly think that in terms of our issuing of UK passports, that's an important, you know, that's an important area as well of our sort of what it means to be...

ANDREW MARR: And you're going to keep that, OK, well it's good to get that cleared up. Let me ask you about the main story of the day. British police have been involved as well as the Portuguese police in this terrible McCann story.

Are you, from what you've heard, convinced that the Portuguese police are to be trusted and are playing fair with the McCann family, because they clearly worry that they're not being?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, and of course everybody worries, because at the heart of this of course is a little girl that has gone missing. You know, I'm clear that the Portuguese police have the objective of sorting, of solving this crime and most importantly, you know, of finding Madeleine. And that's what we in our support of the McCanns have tried to do as well.

That's what through some of the expertise that has gone from the UK we've tried to do. And that of course is the priority. This is a difficult situation, it's an ongoing investigation but I'm confident that we share the objective of finding Madeleine and that's the most important thing of course.

ANDREW MARR: So if, I mean, you trust the Portuguese police, the McCanns are coming back to this country. Now if the Portuguese police want them back for more questioning will you make sure that happens?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, that's not for me to decide, you know, that is part of the case. And actually the McCanns have been very clear that they want to do absolutely everything in order to find Madeleine.

ANDREW MARR: And you'll carry on supplying expertise to Portugal?

JACQUI SMITH: Where we're asked to supply that expertise we will, where we can support the family but the support particularly making sure that we find Madeleine we'll do that.

ANDREW MARR: And if the McCanns, as it's reported, are appealing to the government because they're worried about the way the forensic evidence is being treated. Is that the kind of thing the British government can help them with?

JACQUI SMITH: Well I think it's very important that the Portuguese case and the Portuguese investigation is able to continue. But where we've been asked for specialist help, and of course for the, some of the world leading forensic specialists that we have, we will provide those in order to make sure that this investigation is happening on the basis of the very best information and the very best investigatory skills.

ANDREW MARR: Now, you've off shortly to the TUC, always a joyful occasion for ministers. Among the people who were going to be greeting you there are the Police Federation. Some of their quite prominent voices are saying that they really deserve the formal right to strike. What's your reaction to that?

JACQUI SMITH: Well, you know, the legal position is clear, police don't have the right to strike. That of course places a responsibility on us to negotiate seriously with the police.

That's where we are at the moment, in the middle of a negotiation about pay which in my case, which in my view needs to both reflect the considerable progress that we've made in improving police pay over the last few years, which is why for example we have very, very good recruitment and retention in the police force.

But also recognises the wider case that quite rightly the Prime Minister has made about the need to ensure, because we want to keep a close eye on inflation and on public spending and its links into other things that impact on all of our lives including serving police officers, that we put a fairness to the police force alongside fairness to the taxpayer as a whole.

ANDREW MARR: But serving police officers watching this programme and thinking back to the prison officers going on strike your message to them is "don't even think about it"?

JACQUI SMITH: Well the legal position is clear with respect to police officers. We are in the process of negotiation, that's a negotiation that I take seriously.

ANDREW MARR: What about more generally, the public pay issue, which is clearly bubbling up the agenda, it's clearly going to be, the Prime Minister's talked about it.

And a lot of people at the TUC believe that public sector workers are going to face far too severe a squeeze from government, I mean there are all sorts of economic problems well understood. But what's your prognosis for a winter of discontent, not like the famous winter of discontent, but instead a winter of trouble?

JACQUI SMITH: Well lots of people at the TUC also represent, you know, that majority of hard-working families who also want to be confident that their mortgage costs are going to be kept under control as they have been with this Labour government. That they're going to, you know, not go back to the scourge of inflation and the sort of frankly, you know, boom and bust to coin a phrase, that we saw under the Tories.

And therefore I think their members recognise this need, and it is a difficult balance between doing the right thing by our public service workers, because of a very important contribution they make to this country, but putting alongside that as well the tough approach to stability in our economy which has been a major success of this Labour government and which has benefited working people across the country.

ANDREW MARR: Finally there was one story I have to say which I find a bit hair-raising, back in The Times a few days ago, about the number of British mosques now under the control of pretty hard-line Diovani sects, and people who preach messages of hate against Jews and westerners generally.

We had a lot from the government about working inside the Muslim community, ensuring that Imams and leaders of the community were not extremist. It appears to have failed completely.

JACQUI SMITH: No. I dispute that. I mean, incidentally I dispute some of the figures actually in that Times piece. But the point is nevertheless important, that we have been serious about working with the Muslim community. Hazel Blears I know in the Department for Communities and Local Government in previous work there has very much...

ANDREW MARR: Is this working?

JACQUI SMITH: I do believe that it is and I think over the next few weeks you'll more progress in terms of how we can make sure that the, you know, the genuine insignificance of that Muslim faithful, very many British people can be recognised, whilst also at the same time all of us can be confident that that isn't going to be a route that extremists take.

ANDREW MARR: All right, thank you very much indeed Home Secretary, thank you for joining us.

INTERVIEW ENDS


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