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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 July 2006, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Transcript: Prescott Today interview
John Prescott
John Prescott appeared on the Today programme on Thursday

A full transcript of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's interview with John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

John Humphrys: John Prescott has said he is not going to resign as Deputy Prime Minister. He's been under enormous pressure over the past few months, ever since it was first reported that he'd been having an affair with one of his secretaries.

Soon after that, he was photographed playing croquet at his official residence, Dorneywood, when it was said he should have been in London, working. He was forced to give up Dorneywood and he's lost responsibility for the huge department that he was running.

Then, questions were raised about what exactly he does as Deputy Prime Minister to earn his salary. But it all died down for a while and it seemed Mr Prescott was out of the woods - until last week.

Then, it was reported that he and some of his officials had been entertained for a weekend at the American ranch of a billionaire businessman, Philip Anschutz. Mr Anschutz owns the Millennium Dome and he wants to turn it into Britain's first super-casino.

This morning, it's been reported that Mr Prescott used his influence to help Mr Anschutz. Like every other news programme, we've been trying to interview Mr Prescott since his problems began, but he's always said no.

Last night, he said yes, and I spoke to him an hour ago. I asked him why did he spend that weekend with Mr Anschutz at his ranch in the United States.

John Prescott: Well, um, when the Dome was sold, John, in 2002, sold by Charles Falconer on behalf of the government, I actually took over the responsibility.

He came to see in that time in 2002 and said to me at the first meeting, look, we're very concerned about a hostile press over the Dome [laughs] - he could be true about that, can't he - and also he said that I'm very concerned that the government's supporting the Dome.

You're the new minister involved in it, and I gave him the assurance we were, and he told me about what was going to happen to the Dome. But he also asked me, could he meet me regularly to update, and I said yes, so he says he comes here about every six months, so I did see him, presumably with others as well, to have an update on that matter.

But since he wanted to discuss those issues as well, I made it very clear that I separated any planning decisions on this, and it was stated in Hansard, I think in August 2002, that it would be Chris Leslie - my minister - who dealt with this, and Lord Rooker would deal with all the planning matters.

So, we had those regular meetings of discussion. Now, the last one was in July of 2005. He knew I was in America and he said would you like to come and see a cattle ranch, which I was very much interested in, and also I said I wanted to talk to farmers, which I did, about the Doha, the negotiations, sugar beet industries, agriculture subsidies.

So I used the Saturday and Sunday, in between a 10-day meeting in America, to actually visit the ranch. The only time I met Mr Anschutz there was at the dinner for two and a half hours, where no discussion took place about the Dome, or planning, or those matters, because they had took place in our regular meetings when we were discussing the Dome.

And so that is why I took that opportunity, probably not only to look at a working cattle ranch but to visit one, I'm curious about it, I saw the cowboy films over my young years, didn't you? I was interested to have a look at it.

JH: Why did you say you had made a donation to charity out of your own money when in fact the donation to charity was made out of government money?

JP: I never said that, John. Not at any time did I say that. In fact, I didn't know there was a payment made by charity money. I mean, this is one of the difficulties of it.

I asked my Permanent Secretary, look, if I'm going to do this, is it OK, am I OK by the rules on this matter? Um, she came back and said that it was so.

I didn't know until later that the payment of it - and I always thought it was public payment - had done by arrangement of a payment to charity 'cos they didn't want to receive a payment.

Now I just assumed that was a normal thing that went on, and I discovered that it's not, but myself and other civil servants were involved in the recommendation of going there.

Once we found that the charity was not seen as a payment for it, then clearly you were into the issue of hospitality, which led me to have to reassess it.

JH: Why should the British tax...

JP: [interrupts] But be clear John, I didn't pay, I didn't, er, pay any money towards that charity payment, I wasn't aware it was a charity payment.

I just assumed that the whole thing, like hotels that are provided for me when I'm travelling through America, that was just the way it had been done.

JH: Why should the British taxpayer pick up the bill for you, and indeed your officials, going to stay with a very rich man to indulge your interest in cattle and cowboys?

JP: Well, I didn't say it's, er...as to whether the charity money should be used, that's a legitimate point made, and um, I, I never got into the details of it, I just assumed all those matters of paying for accommodation wherever they were made was cleared and arranged by the department and that's what happened, and you're quite right to raise that question, but in fact it wasn't one that was put to me.

JH: But, I mean, you'd gone there to have a good time.

JP: I'd gone there, signed off over a weekend, a good time to look at how a cattle ranch works, to see how the farmers on sugar beet were, and I had those talks, and as you know John, I've been actively involved in international politics - on Doha, on climate change - and this is, I was making a speech in Los Angeles and the challenges to America and Europe as to how we could deal with these challenges globally. How could you deal with agriculture subsidies.

As you know, in America there's a real problem with sugar beet, and also European agriculture subsidies, so here was a chance, not to just sit in a hotel, go by the pool and do nothing, but learn a little bit more about some international kind of, er, problems, and talk to them about it in the context of, in this case, the ranch and on a farm.

JH: You'd said there was no need to register it in the Register of Members' Interests. Then when Mr Mawer, the Commissioner, said he'd look into it, you decided that you should register it.

JP: This is the trouble with all the interpretations. I had decided to register when I realised this new information about the registration under the ministerial rules, and I'd done that before I met the commissioner.

And the only reason I was at the commissioner was because the, um, Mr Swire had written to the commissioner and I had to write right away, because he hadn't written is there something wrong here, he released the letter and it was important that I put my response out.

So I sent it to Sir Philip, and then I said to Sir Philip, can I see you? He didn't ask to see me. I said can I see you and discuss this matter?

He is looking at it from my role as a member of parliament. He has no responsibilities for the ministerial rules. And so I told him when I met him yesterday that I'd already taken that action.

JH: The fact is you had a total of seven meetings with Mr Anschutz...

JP: Well, if you work it out, from 2002, it works out about every six months. Yes, that's what he asked to do. And by the way, John, can I just tell you this.

He is a guy who comes along, buys the Dome, right, when everybody said it was a liability, now converting it into a very successful asset, was giving 10,000 new homes, 24,000 jobs, 400,000 commercial and retail space, five billion of private investment coming into the project, turning a poisonous bit of land into one of the best creates, er, recreates, er, of regeneration that we've seen, developing east London to its great advantage.

Now, if a man has to see me, I tell you what, John, if he comes offering that deal, I'll see him every three months.

JH: It will be a very, very successful asset if the Dome gets the casino licence [interrupts] - let me just finish the question if I may, and the charge against you is that you had used your influence to help the Dome to get that licence.

JP: Well, first of all, the Dome, the licence, casinos were not involved in the application and the sale of the Dome. Nothing to do with it at all.

JH: No, I didn't say that.

JP: No, no, but I'm just trying to make some facts clear, right? Secondly in those circumstances, I had no influence over the planning decisions in these matters, though ironically enough, the planning decision didn't have to come to my department 'cos the local government made it.

Now there were issues that were brought up, for example from time to time, controversially, publicly. How many casinos were there going to be?

Here's a man coming see a hell of a row going on, on your programme as well, John, about gambling and whether we wanted casinos or not, and in all those matters, the government decided in a gambling bill to say it's going to be an independent commission makes the recommendations about casinos.

It then goes to the secretary of state, in this case Tessa Jowell. She then makes recommendations to parliament. All these procedures were agreed by the er, Mr Swire, the opposition as well, and that will be decided by parliament.

I would never be having a decision on the casino in this case and it will be done by parliament after an independent commission recommendation.

JH: But the point is that documents had been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Guardian and Newsnight, that show your office knew that the granting of a casino licence at the Dome was a central feature, I'm quoting [interrupts] - let me just finish the quote if I may - and key plank of the company's business strategy and they also show that your officials pressed ministers in the Department for Culture, which is responsible for gambling policy obviously, to meet senior executives at Mr Anschutz's company, AEG.

JP: Well, I've no doubt my officials might have been talking about that, and it was being dealt with at the early stages by Lord Rooker and then other ministers had responsibilities 'cos I'd separated myself from that, particularly I was meeting regularly Mr Anschutz, right, and I think that was quite proper to do.

JH: But your officials weren't separated from it and you're the head of that department.

JP: Well listen, let me make the answer, and that's what I think the minutes are. These minutes reflect the getting together of officials from my department and I think from the culture department as well, right.

I haven't seen the minutes, I've just read what they're saying in the papers, but I did hear Newsnight last night, he didn't say I was involved in those discussions...

JH: Your officials...

JP: Yes, fine, well let's make that clear because it's seeming as if I was involved, I was not involved...

JH: It's your department...

JP: Well, I'm not involved because it's quite normal under all governments that you can separate the secretary of state from these decisions, 'cos it's inevitably involved in all sorts of discussions with people and that's normal under Tory governments and Labour governments.

JH: But it's normal for the head of the department, which is you, the boss, which is you, to know what your officials were doing and to give it your approval.

JP: I need to know that my officials are talking about the enforcement and the development of the contracts for all these jobs and houses so they have a responsibility but it's mainly the main department is the culture department, and they would naturally want to have a look what's going on.

And I've no doubt those discussions go on but John, we've got thousands of civil servants in all sorts of discussions. What they do is work to a remit and the remit in this case is to have a look at the contract, how is it being implemented and then to work with the department that has that responsibility.

JH: But you are the, if I may say, you are the deputy prime minister, you have enormous influence, and one of the rival bidders for that licence, Southend-on-Sea, say that your office pressured them to stand down in favour of Anschutz.

JP: Well, what become my office and me, first of all I wasn't involved in any way and categorically I can say that. In no way did I express an opinion, as I hear it's being reported in the paper, that I was supporting some link for the tender.

Absolute rubbish. Not involved, very clear about it. Now if you say to me [interrupts] - wait a minute, if you say to me, some officials have been talking through the process of a very controversial piece of legislation in the house, where there was much argument about what gambling, how many casinos, if you remember the Tories only wanted to be one casino, I think others wanted more, at the end of the day, that debate was settled in parliament. I was not involved in that process at all, except as a parliamentarian.

JH: So when Anna Waite, the former leader of Southend-on-Sea Council, said "it was made clear to me that pressure was coming from on high that there should be only one bid in the Thames Gateway area, and it should be the Dome, the suggestion was that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was using its influence to push their Dome bid, the whole thing stank from beginning to end", when she says that, she's not being truthful?

JP: Well, "stink and stank" like on your programme is coming from Tories, and there's a very active Tory policy involved here, quite frankly, with the media, and they've got their, they want to carry out this campaign, particularly against me.

But let me say again on your programme, I was never involved in any such action. People had better bring the evidence, but if you say to me, were there some civil servants down the line exercising some judgement on this in view of the circumstances, I wasn't involved in it, didn't even know about it 'til I read about it in the press, and totally reject any idea that I expressed any opinion whatsoever. Look, I know there's a media storm against me.

They don't like me, and to be honest, I don't like them. But in reality, you have to deal with the facts, not the papers are doing that too much, and what you're saying to me, officials might have been involved. I don't know for sure.

I was not involved because the suggestion was that at the end of the day, my meeting with Mr Anschutz was somehow giving him preference for a bid. It was not, I did not get involved, and there's no evidence to that fact at all, and I deliberately separated in 2002, made a statement to parliament, to separate the planning decision away from me.

JH: If there is a media storm against you, as you suggest, it's for a number of reasons apart from this. It began with the revelation of your affair with your secretary.

There are now reports, and they're circulating on the internet, as you know, that you have had other affairs. Is that true?

JP: John, you're doing exactly what you read in the papers. You did it once to me before on the Minerva building.

JH: I'm asking you a question.

JP: Well, and I'm trying to answer it my best way in the context of what you do, John. You'd remember that I had an argument with you. I tried to get on the air to deny it.

You suggested I'd made a planning decision in regard to a man who'd made a contribution to the Labour party. You wouldn't let me come on the programme...

JH: Not true, but let's not go down that road...

JP: No, but an absolute lie anyway, and it's never ever been corrected on your programme. That's the first point. Coming back to the point about, er, er, these allegations...

JH: I asked you whether you'd had any other affairs apart from that which is the one we know about.

JP: I've told you what the answer, I've given a statement about that. I made a mistake, I've owned up to me, that is life, and I've made a statement and I've certainly paid the price for it.

JH: Have you had other affairs?

JP: I watched Newsnight last night and the press, as you know - most people don't - and it's called, I think it's called the internet, isn't it, or blogs or something, I've only just got used to letters, John, I haven't got into all this new technology, but I watched the guy on television last night who does that, saying I have no evidence for these allegations I have made.

JH: So they're not true, are they?

JP: There's no truth in much of the stories that are made in the papers...

JH: So you have not had other affairs, I mean it's a quite straightforward question here.

JP: Listen, you're talking about a lot of people here who have in fact denied these stories, names have been mentioned, some of them are in the process of perhaps suing about it. I'm not going to get involved in that.

I've made my statement about making a mistake and I did all that, I'm leaving it at that, but I notice the guy who's making these allegations says there's no evidence for it. So why are you justified to keep on trying to push this. It hurts so many people...

JH: [interrupts] Because I wanted to give you - would still like to give you - to clear it up for once and for all and say I made that mistake with that particular lady, I have had no other affairs.

JP: I made my mistake and I've made my denials. It doesn't make any difference, of course, to what the press say, but I will keep on saying I'll get on with my job, that's it's to do with it.

People must judge me on what I do on the job. I know that's controversial, I've been in a lot of controversial areas. That's what I'm doing, John, that's what people expect me to do and I'll get on with doing my job and I'm not leaving it, I'm getting on with it.

JH: There are going to be people who are dismayed with that, including your own, some of your own MPs. Does it worry you that you do not have the support on your backbenches that you might like?

JP: Well, I'm going to ask you for the evidence. You're asking me for a lot of evidence. Who are the people on the backbench?

JH: Well, as you'll know, we've had an awful lot of quotes from an awful lot of people, most of them, as you rightly say, most of them have been off the record, mostly people have not been prepared...

JP: Well, how do I know the truth, John, you just repeat these allegations and you make it sound on your programme if it's true. I know Kate Hoey's said something, well that's up for Kate Hoey, she says a lot of...

JH: Well, Stephen Pound, there is a residual loyalty, there's quite a bit of affection, but everybody now recognises [interrupts] - let me finish his quote since you asked me for it...

JP: Stephen Pound wrote me an apology about what was said.

JH: He says everybody now recognises sell-by date is now approaching.

JP: When did he make that point?

JH: Well, he made that point months, weeks ago, several weeks ago.

JP: To which he wrote and apologised.

JH: Well [laughs], does that mean that he doesn't mean it any longer, what about Derek Wyatt, the Labour MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, "I don't think it's tenable that he should retain Dorneywood", at the time of that particular incident. I mean...

JP: Dorneywood is gone.

JH: Dorneywood is gone, indeed, and lots of these things have gone.

JP: John, let me just say to you, let me just say to you, 'cos you're going to now, I hope you're not going to edit this programme, now that you've said [inaudible].

JH: No, this is not going to be edited.

JP: What I say, what I say to these colleagues, I bear in mind the point they're saying, I'm very sorry for what has happened. I do believe in a way it's not been good for my party or government.

Of course I'm conscious of that. All my life has been that. I have never had any other job, I've never had a penny off welfare. All I've done is this job. Now there are very few MPs who can say that. But when I get involved as I have been in these incidents, I am extremely sorry about it.

There's no doubt about it because I do feel in that sense that I've not added to the government itself, in a way it's a very negative position I've been in, but I'll get on with the job, I listen to what my colleagues say to me, of course I do, and I get on with the job, and I meet them all the time, I meet with the constituents as I go out, but much of, by the way like today I'll be out in Hull helping Wilberforce [the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation].

That was another part of the discussions with them with Mr Anschutz, he's doing a Wilberforce film, which is being celebrated of 200 years of Wilberforce.

Today I'll be opening the Wilberforce Centre in Hull with the president of Ghana. I mean, these are the things I'm involved in in the job, John, and I get on with it.

JH: But isn't the problem this, that you are the Deputy Prime Minister, that job requires a certain amount of dignity in its holder. The view is that you have lost that dignity, and in the views of many people, um, that you have become a bit of a figure of fun.

You know that as well as I do. Is it tenable that you should hold on under these circumstances?

JP: Well, I mean, others have to make judgements about that. I'll try to do my job, I can't avoid that.

They will make it clear to me in one way or another, right, and I have to take these things into account. But you became a figure of fun not so long ago, when you made that speech and somebody leaked it, John. You know the fierce storm...

JH: I'm not the deputy prime minister, though.

JP: Well no but you act very much like it, I'm bound to say, but you are paid by the taxpayer, are you not?

JH: Well, I'm paid by a licence-payer, that is absolutely true.

JP: You're paid by the taxpayer like me, and therefore there's always felt to be a certain obligation when you're paid by the public sector. They will make a judgement about that, John. I'll do the job to my best ability and that's what I will do.

Others can make judgement about it, but I know when I go round in the street, I do think a lot of this stuff by the press, the public are getting very wise to the kind of formula that's going on at the moment, somebody gets put in a paper like the Mail, you repeat it on your programme, like you did on that planning application, and people begin to worry, they talk and they ask you about it, and then they begin to make a judgement.

Of course, at the end of the day, it's always in the hands of the public, because we're elected officials. In my case, I'm elected by the party also so there are other people who have judgements, and there is also a process in the party, if a party wants to get rid of officials that it's elected, we have a constitution, a democratic one that allows that.

So they are the mechanisms by which if they feel that people are not carrying out the job properly, they can act. It's called democracy, John, and I recognise it.

JH: Isn't your situation a little different in that you can't resign, you're in an invidious position because it you did resign, your future is - let me just make this point - your future is so closely tied in with that of Tony Blair, if you resigned there would have to be an election and people would say, well, since he's gone, we might as well get Tony Blair to go as well, have a double election, you're tied in so tightly with Tony Blair that you can't go.

JP: Trouble with you, John, you read too many papers. You want to talk to people that know what happens. If I, if I resign, it doesn't mean there has to be an election. Read our constitution.

JH: If you resigned as deputy leader of the party, there'd have to be an election, wouldn't there?

JP: No, there doesn't. You just don't know, John. You make all these allegations because you read in the press before you come on this programme.

If you want me to read out the constitution, I'll do. If I resign now, there doesn't have to be an election. No. So you're quite wrong.

JH: So it is possible that you could resign, is it?

JP: Well, I could resign if I wanted to say I hadn't got it, it's always within my hands. I can also...

JH: But you're not going to, you're going to stay?

JP: I'm staying, as long as I believe I'm getting on with the job.

JH: And how long's that going to be?

JP: John, you've moved off from something you didn't know to more questions. This programme...

JH: Well that's what I'm paid to do, ask you questions. How long are you going to stay in the job?

JP: You had 20 minutes in this interview, that's more than you give anyone else, and in fact to that extent I'm saying I'm getting on with the job, make no doubt about it, take no notice of the headlines in these papers.

I always recognise it is the responsibilities of others that can make the decision about whether I'm worthy of support and a job in government, but while I'm doing it, I'll get on with the job, because what we've been doing for the unemployed, for housing, for regeneration and back to the Dome, turning a lousy bit of polluted bit of land into 10,000 jobs, 24,000 houses, jobs and retail, it's becoming the jewel of London.

And I tell you what, if it was done by an American, Anschutz, I say thank you very much you've helped us turn unemployment into jobs, homeless into houses. That's what I was elected to do and, by God, that's the job I'll get on with.

JH: John Prescott, many thanks.


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