Prime Minister's press conference - 4 September
|Thursday September 4, 2003
morning everyone. Since we
last met the news coverage, unsurprisingly, has been dominated by the
Hutton Inquiry and the continuing situation in Iraq.
On the first I would simply say let the Judge do the judging, and
I ask people to suspend their judgement until we hear his.
That's what I intend to do.
Iraq itself it is a serious situation, but I think we should get one
thing very clear. This is
not the American and British forces versus the Iraqi people.
The terrorist attacks taking place are not the work of ordinary
Iraqis. More Iraqis have
been killed than either US or UK forces.
The appalling murder of the UN Special Representative, Sergio de
Mello, was not perpetrated by ordinary Iraqi citizens.
On the contrary, this is the British and American forces and the
vast majority of Iraqis versus a small number of Saddam's supporters and
an increasing number of outside terrorist groups.
They are the ones killing religious leaders, murdering Iraqi
citizens, attacking the UN and trying to destroy American and British
efforts to improve security and basic services for the Iraqi people.
are they doing it? Because
they fear the prospect of a stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq.
They know such a country, reborn, would spell an end to their
hopes of persuading the Arab world down the path of extremism.
So our response here should not be to waver, but to redouble our
efforts, to work with the Iraqi people to cast out the extremists and
let Iraq become what it can be and to root out and defeat these
terrorists, whether in Iraq, Indonesia or elsewhere, who want to put
terrorism in the place of peace, democracy and reason.
is important to the stability of the Middle East and of the wider world
and how it turns out will have global impact, including here in Britain.
But outside of the issues to do with Iraq, there is the crucial
domestic agenda on which we as a Government have to concentrate and on
which there is much to do.
we last met, and when we last met as you know you got the presentation
from Michael Barber on delivery, but since we last met here is I would
say evidence again of significant progress.
We've had the best ever A-level results, GCSE results, and
results for 14-year olds. For
the 11-year olds it is true that we in the last 2 years plateaued, but
it is worth pointing out that those results are still way above where
they were in 1997. Average
waiting times in the NHS are sharply down, asylum applications have now
halved since last October, and though it is true that certain aspects of
crime, particularly certain aspects of violent crime, are up crime
overall is down according to the British Crime Survey, somewhere in the
region of 25% since 1997.
point I think is important for us to make is this, none of this progress
has been achieved except by change and reform.
What I do accept however is that it is important that people
understand why we are reforming. The
measures on economic stability and employment are there to provide
opportunity for all, the investment in change in the Health Service and
in our schools is to ensure people have access to decent education and
healthcare irrespective of their wealth.
The new legislation on crime and anti-social behaviour, which
will come into effect over the next few months, is to make our streets
safer for the most vulnerable in our society.
The Pensioner Tax Credit, coming in in the Autumn, will help the
pensioners who need it most. The
new measures on asylum, together with the existing measures, will
continue to solidify the progress made, because the system was not
it's been a tough time for obvious reasons and what should the response
of the Government be? I do
not believe we should change our course, because we believe in it.
I believe that what we did in Iraq was right.
I believe that just as we have delivered low mortgages, low
inflation and cut unemployment dramatically, so in time we will show the
transformation in the National Health Service, in our school system that
the country wants and that I want, and the action against crime that we
desperately need to see.
also believe that the values of fairness and prosperity for all are the
right values. But I know
also of the concerns the country has about whether that course that I
have set out can indeed by achieved.
Is Iraq going to become impossible for us?
Will the rises in National Insurance that people are paying for
really deliver the improvements in the Health Service that we want to
see? Our immediate task is
to go out and seek to unify people around an understanding of what we
are trying to achieve, and why. If
we do this I have total confidence that however tough the times have
been we will win through.
Minister, the last couple of days there have been a lot of changes
around Downing Street, new structures, Alastair Campbell going, Trade
Unions come in for coffee and cup cakes, if not beer and sandwiches.
What was it that went wrong that you felt the need to change and
work on over the last few days?
think it is important that we - especially 6 years into government - not
that we change our course and direction because I do passionately
believe that that course and direction is right and I think that the
changes that we have made on the economy, and that we are making in the
Health Service and schools and on crime, are the right changes.
But I also think it's important that we are engaging with people
and explaining to them why we are making these changes and allowing
people to understand that whatever the understandable preoccupations
with the Hutton Inquiry are, there is a basic domestic agenda out there
that we continue to work upon, and I think centring our operation,
making it more accessible, is an important part of that.
I understand you to say that you don't think it is appropriate to talk
about the substance of what you said to Hutton?
Is that right?
think not really, no because I think it is important that we ...
I ask you two questions related to presentation.
The first is whether you expect or would like to give evidence -
further evidence - to Lord Hutton.
And the second is, in view of what you said in your letter
yesterday to Bob Phillis. The
points that he talked about whether you would say here and now that you
would like, and would like say the Electoral Commission to start working
on a television debate against your main Opposition opponent during the
next Election campaign?
I think that in respect of the Hutton Inquiry.
Of course I have said I will co-operate with the Inquiry in any
way at all, but I wouldn't take that as any indication of what the
Inquiry will do. I think it
is u to them to decide that. In
respect of television debates with opponents I think we went through
this at length at the last Election.
But obviously we will wait and see what the Phillis Committee
comes back with and we have tried to act on the changes that they have
made already, but I do think it's important that we also understand that
for the vast majority of people out of there is what is concerning them
is not frankly how the Lobby is done or who comes into what position.
What they really want to know from us is are we going to make
progress on the basic issues upon which they elected us back in 1997.
have a problem haven't you at election time?
absolutely, but in a sense that is a reflection on whether people
believe that the Government is going to make progress on the essential
things that we have set out, and I think that the whole key to getting
people to participate and turn out is a belief by them that politics
works and delivers. If they
don't think that politics can deliver change, why should they
participate in the political process, and one of the things that we've
got to do, and I think this is one of the reasons for changing the way
that we work, is so that we are saying to people very clearly look these
are the reasons why we are making these changes in the National Health
Service, in our school system, in tackling asylum or crime, and these
are the things we are going to concentrate upon as a government because
in the end for them I think you would probably accept in the last few
months, what have people been hearing.
Mainly to do perfectly understandably, I'm not making any
criticism of this - but it is to do with the Hutton Inquiry and so on,
and what I think is important is that they understand from us as a
government meantime there is a huge domestic agenda that we're working
on and are trying to get sorted out.
Minister, the Foreign Secretary is talking of the risk of a strategic
failure in Iraq. Geoff Hoon,
the Defence Secretary, is calling for a review of troop levels and
resources. Are you going to
give them more troops in Iraq, and would you see that as an
encouragement to the Americans to provide more troops as well?
think you can make rather too much of this.
The position on troops is that we keep it constantly under
review, but unless there's a recommendation that comes forward from our
Military Commanders that they require more troops, we don't provide
them. At the moment we've
got around about a third of the numbers that we had at the time of the
Gulf Conflict. It's also
worth just pointing out, incidentally - I just got the figures before I
came in, but it may be of interest to you - we have now got round about
25 different countries participating also with troops and I think there
are 14,000 troops now from other countries in Iraq.
And the British actual participation in Iraq I think is round
about 10,000 or 11,000, so we keep it under review constantly, because
we've got to get the job done, but there are no decisions that have been
taken on additional troops.
back to the domestic agenda. Two
days ago you agreed with the Trade Unions that you would see them on a
regular basis. The CBI has
complained that they don't get the same sort of exclusive access that
you've granted to the Trade Unions.
You also said when you came to power you would keep all these
organisations at some sort of arm's length.
Does this suggest in some way that you are weakened right now and
you are desperately trying to keep the left wing of your party back on
side to avoid the revolts that are causing problems?
that would probably be a hopeless undertaking if it was what I had set
out for myself, but no. For
a start I see the CBI as well as the TUC incidentally.
I don't think I was saying we should keep them both at arm's
length. I think we said we
should treat them both equally. And
indeed we do. The CBI gets
every bit as much access to us as the TUC.
I was slightly surprised at quite how the concept of a Public
Services Forum was taken. I
think it's a good thing to listen to the views of
people who are working in the public services that we are trying
to change. They have got a
valuable input to make, but in no sense does it mean that we are going
to depart from the reform agenda. The
reform agenda is important. Look,
one of the things that's been happening - I think you can see this
particularly in the Health Service - the concept of choice within the
Health Service is proving popular both in cardiac surgery and now
increasingly in London for people who have been waiting a long time,
these new diagnostic and treatment centres that are going to be
delivering hundreds of thousands of operations, some private sector
organisations, some public sector but all within the NHS.
These are reforms that are popular with the public and in the end
will deliver us a better NHS. Now
I don't think there's anything for people to fear who work within the
public services from that agenda. But
obviously they have concerns and fears and it's important to have a
dialogue with them, but it's a dialogue not in order to weaken the
reform process, but to strengthen the understanding of it.
questions if I may. Isn't
there a danger that we are being sucked into a long war that this
country didn't want to fight, and a country that doesn't want us to be
there, and more generally this morning you seemed to a echo a former
Prime Minister - the Prime Minister is not for turning.
Couldn't this be your Thatcher moment that actually some in your
Party, concluding that you're now less of an asset than you were, and
more of a problem?
Well, I don't know how you're going to describe it.
I'm really going to have to take it as a Blair moment for the
moment and what that means I'll leave you guys to work out as you do so
did say you weren't for turning in effect though.
You said I don't see the need to change.
of all, I don't think we should change course because I think that it is
important that we carry on just as we have had, I think people would
accept, success on low inflation, low mortgages, low unemployment, so
we've got to show that the changes and investment we are making in the
Health Service and our school system, in the new legislation coming in
on crime and asylum, is going to make a difference.
That's important for us. That
doesn't mean however that we have got to be so arrogant as not to say it
is important to go out and explain to people why we are doing this and
give people a sense, which they are bound to have frankly after months
of concentration on the Hutton Inquiry, that there is a domestic agenda
that we are out there and we are focussing on, and that's why I'll be
visiting one of the estates in the inner city in the country later today
in order to see for myself what is happening, the changes that are being
made, but also what more we have to do.
Iraq, this has been a difficult time.
Not just for the government in a sense but for the country over
Iraq, because you are right in saying that there were very divided
views, and there still are divided views, but let me just state to you
again. My opinion on this
has not changed, but when I say it hasn't changed, that doesn't mean to
say I have disrespect for people who take a different point of view.
But let me just say to you why I still believe Iraq was the right
thing to do and why it is essential we see it through now.
This isn't a case in Iraq of the people not wanting liberation
from Saddam, and the British and American troops there.
On the contrary the British and American troops are on the same
side as the vast majority of Iraqi people.
It's not ordinary Iraqis that are killing UN and Iraqi people and
religious leaders. It's these terrorists and the former supporters of
Saddam. It's not the
British and Americans who are sabotaging the power and electricity
supplies getting through to the Iraqi people.
It's these terrorists. So
what is important is to recognise that this is for the present time the
battleground on which this battle in respect of terrorism is being
fought out, and we've got to fight it out and we've got to win through,
and we will win through in the end.
I've no doubt about that at all.
But every single day we are trying to make changes giving the
Iraqi people more power over their own say through the Governing
Council, building new power facilities, trying to lay new power lines in
order to get the electricity and water through, and these people are
coming along and sabotaging it. So,
what I would say to you is this is not a case where we should be
concerned about whether we are doing the right thing.
We're doing the right thing and these people are trying to stop
us. Now the interesting
question is why are they trying to stop us?
Why are these terrorist groups coming into Iraq at the moment?
Because they know perfectly well that if we succeed in putting
Iraq on its feet as a stable, prosperous and democratic country, then
what a huge advertisement that is for the values of democracy and human
rights, and what a huge defeat it is for these terrorists who want to
establish extremist states. So
of course it's a difficult situation and as ever our first thoughts
should be with our troops. They
do a fantastic job and doing it in very, very difficult circumstances.
But this is a necessary fight.
Not just for Britain and America but for the whole of the world.
If this goes wrong, then the Middle East goes wrong.
I just return to the question of more troops because the advice from the
Foreign Office, as reported this morning, which has not I think been
disowned or denied, unless you are about to correct me on that, seems
quite stark and seems quite urgent.
It talks about a Brigade and it talks about action by Ramadan,
which is only a matter of weeks away.
Are you saying that's
not the case, or that advice is not what's moving things?
I actually haven't seen this particular thing that's in the newspapers
this morning. All I can say
to you is that of course because we have constant meetings on Iraq and
the situation there that we keep the situation continually under review.
My own sense of this however is that, as I say, you have got to
work out given the tasks that you are setting your troops whether you've
got the right numbers of troops to do it, and that's something we take
advice on constantly. The
most important thing however is to build up the capacity of the Iraqi
Governing Council and the Iraqi people to do much of this work
themselves. Now we already
have I think just under 40,000 Iraqi Police but we need special
protection teams to protect a lot of the key oil and public service
supplies and a lot of what we need to do is less simply with our own
troops but making sure that that capacity is there amongst the Iraqis
themselves. And that's why,
as well as obviously as I say you constantly keep under review the
number of troops you have there yourselves, we are looking at a whole
series of things as to how we make progress faster on giving Iraq the
capability to sort out its own problems.
And I would point out too - I think it was on Sunday - that we
had the first Ministerial appointments from the Iraqi Governing Council.
There is a political process here where power gradually is being
turned over to the Iraqi people themselves.
Now we've got a timetable set out for that that I hope and
believe that we will achieve, but that's immensely important for Iraq.
questions. On a personal
level, did you use your holiday to reflect at all on your future and
whether you really wanted to go on with this job? And on a more general
theme, the message you are clearly trying to deliver today is that you
are not for changing, you may not want the Thatcher mantel, but you are
saying you are not changing. However
at the same time you are saying you want to go out and talk to people.
Isn't it rather arrogant to go out and listen to people's views,
but having made up your mind that you are not going to change,
particularly given that many in your party would say look at what has
happened to your reputation for trust, look at the government's standing
now, he has actually got to listen to us, we know better than he does on
think it is always important that you listen to people, and we do.
We listen to the concerns that people have.
But I think it is also important to do what you believe in,
because otherwise there is no point in doing the job at all.
look at what has happened in Iraq and say look what happens when you do
what you believe in.
you see where I profoundly disagree with you is in saying that, or
implying that Iraq was a mistaken thing to do.
I really do suggest that you talk to some of these people on the
Iraqi Governing Council, and whatever the problems, you say to them
would you prefer to be living under the old regime, and they would look
at you as if you were completely crazy. Now they have got problems, you
know there is a problem to sort out because you are being given a
problem by a small number of former Saddam sympathisers and by these
outside terrorist groups, but they are the people trying to defeat a
stable, prosperous and democratic Iraq.
We are the people trying to get there. So let's get this thing
straightened out so that we don't end up saying look at these terrible
things the British and American troops are doing in Iraq, look at the
problems of security, we are not causing the problems of security, we
are trying to deal with the problems of security.
But the absolutely disgusting, appalling murder of Sheikh Hakim,
that was a terrible thing to happen.
Now the British and American troops, we are trying to prevent
that happening, so are the vast majority of Iraqi people.
So I am afraid I don't agree with the implication on the issue.
I carry on doing the job because I believe in what I am doing and I
think I have answered that many, many
is a year now almost since the institutions went down. There is a lack
of confidence in Northern Ireland about the institutions coming back.
How do you propose to put this thing back together.
I know there is talk of an international monitoring body and so
forth, what does that mean? And
does that specifically give the Republic of Ireland a role in the
internal affairs in Northern Ireland?
of all, I think you probably accept, most people accept that this summer
has actually been one of the quietest summers in Northern Ireland for a
long period of time. That
is actually a tremendous plus. There
would have been in years gone by very few summers that we wouldn't have
come back with all sorts of terrible things having happened in Northern
Ireland. However I don't
think we should be lured by that into a false sense of security in a
way. I think it is vitally
important the political institutions get back up and running.
Next week we will be introducing legislation on the Independent
Monitoring Commission. Today we are publishing the format of the
international agreement to establish such a Commission.
It doesn't in any way transgress our constitutional boundaries
with the Republic of Ireland, but it does give us the opportunity of
having an independent body that can monitor what is actually happening
on the ground, whether the terrorism is ceasing or not, and I think that
is very important.
the question is you said that the elections were postponed until the
autumn. MLAs, for example
the politicians are suffering financially, they want to know when there
is going to be an election. The
problem is, is there going to be an election in the autumn or what is
can't specify at this point in time because we are in discussion with
the parties and with the Irish government and so on as to what will
happen, and I can't specify exactly at this point in time what is going
to take place. But let me tell you the basic principles we are operating
to. Elections do have to
take place. We can't go
indefinitely without elections in Northern Ireland. It is however
obviously far better that we have those elections against the background
of agreement on the way forward. We are working hard now, and will do in
the next few weeks, to achieve that agreement. Over the summer obviously
people were away and it wasn't possible to get the agreement then, but
we are restarting the whole process of trying to get people together
round it. The fact that we are introducing legislation next week and
publishing the agreement on the International Monitoring Commission
today is an indication that we intend to move this thing forward. So I
can't say much more, Ken, at this juncture, but I hope in the next
couple of weeks I will be able to be a little bit more definitive.
that timetable of the next couple of weeks, that rules out the
possibility of October elections given next week's deadline for
legislation surely, so you will have to postpone again?
let's wait and see. I think
the most important thing is, within limits obviously, not the precise
month, but I think the most important thing is that people know that we
have got a decent prospect of getting elections held, and also hopefully
against the background of agreement. But I don't want to say more about
this at the moment other than that we are working on it very hard.
I think there is a prospect we will get agreement.
I know we have come very close, but failed, the last couple of
times. I hope we will be
able to get agreement on it, and it is tremendously important for people
in Northern Ireland, because the situation there is transformed
actually, Northern Ireland is a transformed place from a few years ago,
but all of that progress can be put at risk if we don't get a proper
political framework within which people can have their differences and
heard what you said about the Hutton Inquiry, but I do think the British
public would expect some response to matters that are now a matter of
public record, and after yesterday's evidence for instance.
You must be concerned that there was clearly far more concern
about that dossier being expressed inside the intelligence services by
people who could not be described as junior, and apparently that never
made its way to you. What do you think of that?
really think Andy, I know what the headlines are today, but the
important thing about this inquiry is that the judge is hearing the
totality of the evidence, he is not looking at the headlines, he is
looking at the evidence. And
I think what is very, very important, as I said a moment or two ago, is
to make our judgments on this once he has made his judgments.
Now I totally understand why people are concerned about it, but
in the meantime there is no point in me speculating as to what he is
going to find, that is for him. In
the meantime I think what is important is that we concentrate on the
am not asking you to speculate on what he will find, it is your response
to this evidence.
course, but I think if I start giving my response to each piece of
evidence that comes, and I could make a response to you on this, but I
don't think it is the right thing for me to do.
I think it is important to allow him to determine this, because
the difference between the judge, and with the greatest respect, either
us or you, is that he is hearing the whole of the evidence, he is not
just getting the bits that appear in the headlines, he is getting the
whole of the evidence, and I think he should be allowed to get on and do
that work. I am sorry, I
don't mean to be unreasonable about it, but I think if I start
commenting on that evidence yesterday, there is no reason really why I
shouldn't comment on other evidence too.
United States has returned to the United Nations now seeking a new
resolution that would enable other countries to join in the
reconstruction of security operations while still under American
military command, as you know. I
have three questions. Is
Britain as engaged in that effort, drawing up the resolution, as it was
the last time? Secondly,
are you particularly trying to talk to the French and the Germans,
countries that disapproved of the earlier effort and may resent slightly
being asked now to chip in in an operation they didn't like in the first
place? And thirdly, do you
think you will have success this time where you failed last time?
to the first question, yes to the third question and the second
question, it is important that we work with everyone, those that were
opposed to the war, those that were in favour of it, because everyone
has got the same interest now, which is a stable and prosperous Iraq.
And whatever disagreements there have been with France and Germany over
the issue of the war, I can assure you they are absolutely committed to
doing what they can to help Iraq succeed in the future.
And we have been working obviously very closely with the US on
the new UN resolution.
your opening remarks you talked about the need to unify your wider party
behind you, and yet your policy on university top-up fees has caused
catastrophic divisions. We know from Mr Campbell's diary that he
certainly is aware of this huge stuff about trust surrounding you, and
yet the top-up fees policy was ruled out in your manifesto and that is
hardly likely to help you on that score.
We read that you are supposedly wanting to be more collegiate and
involve Cabinet colleagues and the wider party in devising policy, and
yet this policy was imposed on the Labour Party via remnants of the SDP.
you giving a preview of your column here Patrick?
final point. Is this also
undermining your support among middle class voters who will always wish
you well, why not go back to the drawing board, devise a policy in
consultation with your party and go and get a mandate for it at the next
mean on student finance?
think that actually is a good example of where there has got to be a
proper and open debate in the country and of course we listen to
people's views on it. But
let's be clear why we have taken the action we have, and all I would say
to you is when you take on an issue like this, that let's say is not
immediately popular, I think it is important that people then at least
give us some credit as to why we are trying to do this, and we are
trying to do it because if we want to widen access to universities, if
we want to make sure that the education people are getting at
universities is top quality education, if we want to keep Britain with
its university sector as one of our strengths, we have got to increase
significantly the amount of funding going to universities.
Now how do we do that? Well
we can get it from ordinary taxpayers, even more money, by putting up
their taxes, but is it really fair to ask an ancillary worker in the
Health Service who has not gone to university to pay even more taxes so
that someone can go to university and get a good education that will
allow them to earn 40 - 50% more than a non-graduate?
If we don't get it from extra taxpayers, we could do what the
Conservatives are saying which is that you just cut the number of people
going to universities. Under
their plans around about 100,000 people fewer than now would go to
university, but that is extremely unfair and in any event the
universities will tell you they are in a funding crisis even if you keep
the present numbers or reduce them. So that is why we came to the notion
that you have to balance the individual contribution and the state
contribution, and in respect of the individual contribution, no-one will
now pay anything up front at all, they will pay it back once they are
earning money as a graduate. Now
let's have a debate about which is the fairer system, but surely the
proper thing for government to do in these circumstances is to say look
this is what we think, there is going to be a full parliamentary debate,
I don't doubt there will be a big debate in the country and in the
party. But I think, if I can say this respectfully, those people who are
opposed to our policy should come forward and say what their alternative
is, but we know the Conservative alternative, which is to say cut the
numbers going to university. That would be a terrible thing to do.
A whole lot of working class kids wouldn't get access to
university. The Liberal
Democrat alternative is to say you have got to go to the university
closest to where you live, well that is not very fair either.
So I think it is important we have a debate on the basis of the
facts, and I believe we can win that debate.
the changes to the communications structure an admission that the Civil
Service was politicised and that was wrong, and to put it crudely, is
this an end to spin?
think and hope you would all accept that in the world of 24 hours a day,
7 days a week media, a government has got to have a communications
operation. We made the
changes that we made on the back of the recommendations of the Phillis
Committee and I think they will strengthen our capacity to communicate
in a proper and legitimate way. But
I think it is important too, maybe there are changes that we are making
in the way we approach things, I think it is a two-way process that too,
for the media also with their responsibility. And in the end, let's be
clear, both of us have got an interest in the public being less cynical
and more open to the political argument and I hope that is what it
of the people in Iraq agree about the steps taken by the United States
and the United Kingdom in terms of overthrowing the regime, but most of
the Iraqis did not support the fact that the Americans were involved
heavily in appointing the Governing Council which people were hoping
that the appointment of such a Council would reduce the attacks, but on
the contrary it has reflected frustration, especially some of the
members of this Governing Council are wanted by Interpol for crimes and
for fraud. So how can you
retain back the trust of the Iraqi people on the steps taken earlier?
first of all thank you at least for the admission, which I believe to be
true, that the vast majority of the Iraqi people actually did welcome
their liberation from Saddam. I
think in respect of the Iraqi Governing Council, it is important to
realise this was a process also agreed with the United Nations.
Now it is however only an interim step.
We are then going to agree a constitution in Iraq, and then it is
going to go to a mandate of the people.
And so I know there are all sorts of debates, and it is a very
difficult situation, we face the same problem in Afghanistan, who do you
choose to go on the Governing Council, how do you get the ethnic,
regional, religious balances right.
We did our best to do that.
But I think that it is important for people to understand in the
Arab and Muslim world that this is only an interim step, in the end it
is the Iraqi people that we want to make this decision and they will
decide whether if people are running for office from the Governing
Council they have done a good job or done a bad job.
Iraq, it is 125 days since the war ended.
The whole of the summer the Iraq Survey Group, which you have
constantly pointed out is 1,300 strong, has been scouring Iraq for
weapons of mass destruction. The initial informal indications from the
group seem to suggest that they have given up more or less hope of
finding evidence of a major weapons programme. When, if ever, do you
think you are going to be able to prove the case for taking Britain to
war in the way that you did?
Well first of all I don't actually accept the premise, James, I don't think they have given up hope of that at all.
you still expect evidence of a major weapons programme to be discovered?
have got no doubt at all, I have been in this position all the way
through, that they will find evidence that those programmes were
continuing well after Iraq was saying that they had been discontinued
and shut down, but let's wait until they complete their work properly.
And I have been through the reasons that I think the war was justified.
to the monitoring body, elements of the Ulster Unionist Party have
expressed concern that this gives Dublin a role in the internal affairs
of Northern Ireland. Do you
believe that what you are publishing today will satisfy them and help
stabilise the position of David Trimble who you know faces another
difficult meeting of his party's ruling council on Saturday on this
I don't think we cross any constitutional proprieties or boundaries that
we shouldn't in relation to the International Monitoring Commission, but
I think this is of enormous value I hope to the Unionist population.
Because what is their worry? Their
worry all the way through has been that unless there is some objective
way of determining whether any undertaking is given by the Republicans
who want to sit in government, whether those undertakings are justified
or not, their concern all the way through has been well how do we test
this objectively, and their worry has been well the governments will
look at this far too politically. So
that is the hope in appointing an independent international commission
which is absolutely clearly and objectively going to determine this, and
I think that will be of great support I hope for the Unionist community.
you concerned for David Trimble's position, because he has been a
bulwark of this whole process?
I think David himself would say, I don't think there has ever been a
time in the whole of this process over the last 6 years when there
hasn't been a concern about either David's position or the situation
within the Unionist community, it is just part of the world we live in.
But the fact is that we have come a long way precisely because of the
leadership that he has shown. He
however is insisting now, I think reasonably, that we have got to be
clear that if we are going to reconstitute a political process that is
inclusive, that has got the Republicans sitting in government with the
Unionists, it has to be on the basis that the violence is ended
completely, and there has got to be a body that can allow us to come to
that conclusion independently with proper sanctions to back it up.
understand you say it would be improper to comment on the outcome of the
Hutton Inquiry, and I accept that, however can you clarify a point of
logic for me? Last Thursday
you told Lord Hutton that you chaired a meeting of Downing Street
officials to discuss how you would go about naming Dr Kelly, and yet on
22 July when asked on your plane on the way from Shanghai to Hong Kong,
why did you authorise the naming of David Kelly, you replied "That
is completely untrue". Asked
whether you had authorised the leaking of the name of David Kelly, you
replied "Emphatically not. I
did not authorise the leaking of the name of David Kelly."
How can both those statements on 22 July and last Thursday both
I think Julia I am afraid I am going to say to you, let the Hutton
Inquiry make judgments about these things.
I could go into a long and detailed answer, but I won't. Sorry.
difficult times do you ever admit to yourself that you are extremely
fortunate not to face a forceful opposition?
I long for such an opposition.
you accept, as Mr Straw appears to be suggesting and advising you, that
more money might need to be put into Iraq, both by ourselves and the
international community, if we are going to stabilise the situation and
I don't think that is really a matter of any surprise, it has always
been anticipated, you build up the investment and there are
disbursements being made by the provisional authority the whole time, so
I don't think that is very surprising.
And it is important particularly in relation to power generation,
there are certain key things that we can do to improve the situation and
that is what we are going to try to do.
you provide us with some examples from your time as Prime Minister when
you have gone out and listened to people and changed your mind?
you Michael, but not in that instance. There was a very good example
with the 75p on pensions wasn't there, rather famously.
But it is important, of course you have got to listen to what
people are saying, but in the end it is a balance, isn't it?
Let's be honest, when you are in a position like mine you have
got to balance listening to people, hearing their concerns, with taking
difficult decisions. An example was given a short time ago on student
finance. Now I have got to
listen to two different types of concerns on that, I have got to listen
to the people saying I don't want to pay any money, I want my university
education free, I have got to listen to those concerns;
but I have also got to listen to the concerns of the university
saying look we cannot any longer provide top quality education and
expand our numbers unless we get more access to money. And then I have
got to listen to those who are saying I don't want to make a
contribution; and the
taxpayer who says well look why should I pay taxes so that this kid can
go to university, I am not going to university, why should I pay this
money. So you have always
got in politics to balance the listening and the leadership. And I was
asked a question a moment ago about the opposition, what have the
opposition decided to do on that issue, they have decided to stop
thinking. Well you can do that, they have just decided it, and that is
actually one of the reasons why they are in the position they are in.
On the one hand you have got them saying they want to spend more
money on every single thing under the sun and match our spending, on the
other hand they are saying we are spending recklessly and they want to
put in tax cuts. In the end
you have got to listen to arguments in difficult situations, but you
have also got to decide and otherwise there is no point in being in a
position of leadership at all. And of course there is always a balance
between you are accused on the one side of arrogance and on the other
side of weakness, and I think there is a process by which you can engage
with people and have the argument with them, but in the end it is
important that they recognise a decision has got to be taken. And I just
say this to you as well, because I think people in their lives
understand this. Look, every single person in their life has difficult
decisions to make about their own household finances, about where their
kids should go to school, about when they are going to buy their home
and all the rest of it. There
are difficult decisions that people make, but in the end you have got to
make a decision, and it is not a question of not listening to people, of
course you have got to listen to people and as I say there are examples
that I can give of where we have listened and changed, but I think it is
important on some of these key questions that we don't listen as a way
just of avoiding a decision, because that is actually just weak
though I might have caught another Hutton moment this morning, Prime
Minister. You are
persistently saying that outside terrorists are part of your problem the
US and UK face in Iraq, and yet the evidence for that is very scanty.
Presumably you have
some, what is it?
well we do, which is basic evidence and intelligence about what is
happening in Iraq.
you be more specific, because that is disputed, it is heavily disputed.
don't know how heavily it is disputed.
I think most people would accept there is evidence of such
that is what I believe, that there are increasing numbers.
are they, where are they from?
are from different extremist groups from different parts of that region
who are in there causing as much trouble as they possibly can because
they know the problems that we are going to face there.
it lacks specificity.
I am sorry if it does.
have not banged it to rights there.
well I am sorry if it does, but that is what we believe.
You say that nobody else seems to believe that, I would say most
people who are looking at the situation do actually accept that.
I interviewed you last year you accepted that one of the elements in the
special relationship was that Britain sometimes had to pay the blood
price. I just wonder a year
on with the war in Iraq, the loss of life of British troops, the loss of
trust in you, the loss of two Cabinet Ministers, the fractured
relationship with your own party and what is seen on the ground as a
desperate mess in Iraq, what you feel now about the price that you have
had to pay for your unflinching support of President George Bush?
it is not the price that I have paid, the price has been paid by British
and American soldiers, by Iraqis. The
question is, is it right, is what we did right, and I believe it was
right, I believe it to be right. I
think if Iraq, we have to see it through, but if Iraq is reborn as a
stable and prosperous and democratic country, that is of huge importance
to the people of Iraq and to the wider region and to the wider world.
And don't forget that even if it wasn't in the headlines, for every year
that Saddam was in power literally thousands of people were dying,
thousands of people were dying through malnutrition, thousands of
children were dying every year through malnutrition, thousands of people
were dying in prisons and in these mass graves that are being uncovered
in Iraq. So far, what,
almost 400,000 people I think in total have either been identified as in
mass graves or missing. Some people, a member of the Iraqi Governing
Council, she told me that she thought it would run into the millions in
the end, the people who had been slaughtered by him. So it is a
difficult situation, I don't dispute that, but you should also
understand this. The reason
that I supported the action in Iraq was not because I thought we simply
had to support America, it is because I thought it was right, I still
think it is right. And you
know sometimes these judgments that you make are judgments that will be
validated or not at a later point, but I happen to believe it was the
right thing to do, and I still believe, and I think this is a really
difficult argument I know because I think it is not fully accepted by
people, I think the link between terrorism and rogue states with weapons
of mass destruction is the crucial security threat of the 21st century,
and I believe that, I am not infallible in the judgments that I make, of
course I am not, and there will be other people who strongly disagree
with that, but that is what I believe and that is why I acted in the way
that I acted and I think that in the end that is what you have got to do
when you hold this position.
I ask you, how will you cope with life after Alastair, are you going to
have ... and who are you going to have your mug of tea with in the
have my mug of tea with my wife actually, thank you very much.
would you describe your government's relationship with Iran at this
particular time? And secondly, regarding the security situation in Iraq,
don't you think that you have made certain strategic mistakes like the
dissolution of the Iraqi army?
the latter point I think we of course are helping now reconstitute it,
but I think it did need to be reconstituted on a different basis,
otherwise the Iraqi people, a bit like the police force, would have
protested. In fact there
were problems sometimes when we were getting Iraqi police back on the
streets again with some people feeling these were former supporters of
Saddam, so you have got to be careful as to how you do that.
But in time that will be reconstituted and that will be
important, because the more that the Iraqi people end up taking control
of the situation the better. In
respect of Iran, well we have a policy of, I would describe it actually
as critical engagement, we are engaged with Iran, we have a dialogue
with their leadership but we are under no illusions.
It is important both that they adhere completely to the demands
of the international community in respect of nuclear weapons, and that
they cease all support of terrorist groups.
Now until those two things are done, that engagement is going to
were a passionate advocate of that pre-war second resolution on Iraq and
a vital post-war role for the UN. How
much do you hope and believe that the current serious situation in Iraq
has changed the views of those in the US and in Europe who opposed both
think whatever people thought about the justification for the war, as I
said a moment or two ago, I think everyone is agreed that it is
important that the situation is sorted out.
It is important always, especially in difficult times frankly, to
keep your eye on the big picture and the big prize, and that is just
imagine if we are able to come through this period and Iraq is governed
by the Iraqi people within a democratic framework, what a huge signal
that will be right across the whole of the Middle East and the wider
region, and instead of a failed state governed by a murderous dictator,
you have a state that is stable and prosperous and democratic. So it is
going to be difficult, it always was going to be difficult, but we have
got to see it through. And the important thing to realise, as I say, is
that this isn't, as I think was being indicated indeed by one of our
colleagues from the Arab media a short time ago, we are not on the
opposite side to the Iraqi people in respect of this, we are on the same
side. It is the small
groups who are trying to disrupt this situation that are on the opposite
you think it is fair to assume that the debate on the euro is dead and
buried by now because of the Hutton Inquiry, the Iraq crisis at large,
you need to focus on public services, what are the chances of having a
referendum in this parliament?
are exactly what they were, it doesn't change it at all, it shouldn't
change it, it has got to be decided on its own merit, and so we will
return to it next year when the question is, as it has always been, is
it good for the British economy. If
it is good for the British economy it is right to do it irrespective of
what else is going on. If
it is not, it is not.
can you realistically expect the French President, Jacques Chirac, and
also your colleague Mr Aznar, who had populations that were 80 or 90%
actually against the Iraq war, to put their troops in harm's way in
Iraq? And also don't you think you have got a lot of explaining not only
to do to the British public, but also to the Iraqis, and I gather that
radio and TV aren't very much available to the ordinary population,
isn't that a major problem?
of all in relation to Spain and France, Spanish troops are already part
of the coalition force. In
respect of France, obviously it is a decision that France will have to
take, but as I say I think most people accept that whatever the issues
to do with was it right to get rid of Saddam, or not right to get rid of
Saddam, it is important for everyone that the situation is stabilised,
and I believe that we will have a perfectly constructive discussion with
France about that. Secondly, again I would say to you, I don't think the
Iraqi people are in any doubt as to who is blowing up the power
supplies, it is the people I have identified, it is not us, we are
trying to restore those power supplies, we are putting more money in.
We are actually down in the south for example, the British are
doing what we can, and this is where the extra money will be spent in
trying to make sure that those power supplies are improved and that the
lives of ordinary people are improved. We are on the same side as the
Iraqis which I think is the important thing, and I believe that they
have actually resigned from the Governing Council and some of the Iraqi
people really feel that they need their own people to be doing more of
the policing. That is a real problem.
but that is why we are trying to build this policing capability up.
But let's be clear about this.
The Iraqi police force, under Saddam, was not like the
Metropolitan Police exactly, it was a police force that was used as an
instrument of state oppression. Now
we are having to retrain those people, turn it round and get them to be
able to do the ordinary job of policing properly.
We are going to do that, it takes time to do.
But I totally agree, the more that this capacity can be built
within Iraq itself the better, and that is why
as I say, you have got just under 40,000 I think Iraqi police, but we
need to get that up, I think 70,000 is the figure that is being talked
about, we need to get the army reconstituted, we need to get the Service
Protection Force, which I think is somewhere in the region of 14,000
strong increased, and we need proper training and equipment for all
these people. But we are
doing that, we are helping with that.
we just cast our mind back to the debate over the war, as I recall it
wasn't so much about whether to deal with Saddam Hussein or whether to
go to war, but when, and the debate was whether to go in spring, which
happened, or to go later in the fall, now.
And looking back at what has happened since with the security
situation, with the arms issue, the failure to find weapons, in
retrospect would it have made sense to wait a little?
think for the reasons that we stated at the time, you had to come to a
point where you thought were they serious about complying with the UN
weapons regime or not, and we took the view that they weren't.
And I don't think the debate was so much about timing, to be
honest, I think in the end it was about was it right to do it or not.
you are clarifying everything, maybe you could clarify one big point of
confusion for me, could you please state exactly and in detail what the
weapons of mass destruction actually are, and by that I mean do they
include mortar shells?
best way of looking at this is to go back to the UN reports of what was
unaccounted for when the UN inspectors were effectively booted out back
in late 1998 when we then engaged in a bombing campaign in Baghdad, and
you will see all the facts and figures listed in the UN reports at the
time. There is a sense in which sometimes you hear this debate going on
as if this issue to do with Saddam and weapons of mass destruction was
something that had just arisen in the last year, it has been there all
the way through, and the UN weapons inspectors' report from 1991/2
onwards give you absolute details in terms of tonnes of precursor
chemicals, VX nerve agent, the lot, and I refer you to them.
in last May is a significant IRA active completion an essential
precondition of your allowing an election to go ahead, or would you be
satisfied if Gerry Adams and others told you that it might be a
consequence of your allowing the election to go ahead?
don't think you can tie the election up with that at all, I think the
election in a sense is about at some point it has got to be right to let
the people of Northern Ireland have their say, and I think for all the
reasons that your colleagues were specifying earlier, I am not going to
get into specifying a time now for elections, but I do say in principle
that you cannot go on indefinitely without the democratic mandate being
renewed, and therefore I don't think any things to do with acts of
completion are tied to the elections themselves. However, what I do say
is that if we want to get a reconstituted political process then we do
need acts of completion by everybody. We have got to be clear.
The one thing that is surely right for the Unionist community to
say after this length of time is that whatever the problems of
transition, anybody who now wants to sit in government has got
definitively to stop any paramilitary activity, that the existence of
paramilitary activity by someone who is linked to a group sitting in
government is wrong. Now it is absolutely true to say, and it is
important to emphasise, Republican groups are not the only groups that
have been engaged in paramilitary activity, you have had Loyalist groups
engaged in it too, but the difference is the Republicans are actually
seeking to sit in government with the Unionists, and I think it is not
unreasonable for the Unionists to say in those circumstances, we have
got to be clear that there is an end to it.
say the government shouldn't comment on anything regarding the Hutton
Inquiry, and please correct me if I am wrong, I think I heard Mr
Blunkett doing just so last week, saying he expects the government to be
cleared by Lord Hutton.
well I haven't the advantage that you have obviously had of studying
what David said, but obviously we have got to wait for the outcome of
the inquiry, and I am sure he wasn't saying anything in ... to that.
I? Well there you are. I
don't actually recall that quite being said in that way however.
to ask you about something you said last week to Hutton, you said that
you took full responsibility for the decisions of the government at that
time. Does that mean that
if the judge criticises those decisions you will consider your position?
I said, I think it is important we allow the
judge to make whatever criticisms, or not criticisms, he wants to
make, and what I said last week is I think what you would expect me to
say and I stand by it. But no matter how many different ways you tempt
me into the same thing, I don't think I should do it, because once you
start down that road frankly there is no reason why you shouldn't really
answer all the questions on it. And
I do think it is important, the one thing I say isthat it is important
that we allow him to make his judgment and it is important too in a
sense to say to the British people, as I was saying a moment or two ago,
let everyone, no matter what they have read, or no matter what they are
hearing from anyone, whether it is the politicians, the media or whoever
it is, I think it is a good idea for everyone to wait until the judge
who is hearing this, the totality of the evidence, let him make his
decision on it.
just want to return us briefly to the domestic agenda, because I am a
little bit bemused by what you were saying about the changes.
You have got new advisors in, you
have got new structures, you have got a new Permanent Secretary
and all the rest of it. Do I take it from what you have been saying that
really the only thing that you think has gone wrong in the process of
government has been failing to get the message across?
I am not saying that. I
think it is important that you constantly look at how you can improve
your operation and also take account of the points that people are
making, and there has been a debate about some of these things going on,
it is why we asked the Phillis Committee to look at this for us.
And you tell me, you guys, but I think there is a debate about
how politics and the media interact and whether we both of us are
getting that balance right for the people out there who in the end are
the people that matter to both of us.
But there is no point in me saying to you that I think the basic
course we have set on policy for the government is wrong because I don't
think it is, and I think in the end we will deliver, in exactly the same
way as I was saying a moment or two ago that we have delivered, I think
people would accept, on issues to do with the economy and unemployment,
I think people can see, and will increasingly see the changes in the
Health Service, and in education, and crime and anti-social behaviour,
and asylum and the things that are really worrying people out there, I
think they will see those changes too.
you keep the policies on tax too?
I think it is important that we do that.
But let's be clear, we increased national insurance in order to
fund the increased investment in the Health Service, and maybe my
constituency is exceptional, but I don't think so, if you go into
virtually any constituency in the country you can see the extra
investment going into the Health Service and what it has delivered. And
if you look at the numbers of people for example waiting for over a year
or 18 months, all those things are being dramatically taken down.
If you look at cancer and cardiac care, again don't talk to me
about it, I am not an expert, but if you talk to people who are experts,
they will say yes there is a long way to go but the treatment of both
cancer patients and heart patients in this country is improving, and
improving dramatically. And all I say to people is look get the balance
right. I am not sitting
here telling you everything is
but I don't think it is fair either for people to sit there and say
nothing has happened, this money has just disappeared down the drain, it
has gone into a big black hole, because it hasn't.
you give me a yes or no answer? Do
you still believe that the weapons of mass destruction will be found in
Iraq? And during the
Edinburgh Book Festival, the writer Doris Lessing said she thinks that
you are a fantasist and producing magic, that if you say a thing that
you believe it is true. How
do you feel about her opinion? And
I think she is not the only person in this country thinking in this way.
Do you want to change the opinion of people on you?
think I had better go back and re-read my Doris Lessing in that case.
Look, people have got their views, haven't they, and they are
entitled to them. It is what living in a democracy is all about.
are 10 days to go to the Swedish referendum on the euro.
How important do you consider the outcome of that to be in
general and for the prospects of a British referendum?
is obviously important as to what people within the European family are
deciding on these issues, the decision obviously is for the Swedish
people. I know I feel this, were I in the position of your Prime
Minister, I think it is important that any outside politicians make it
very clear it is a decision for the people, in this case of Sweden.
But of course it will have a bearing on the debate everywhere I
Iraq, how do you expect the German government to help in future in Iraq,
and would that include sending troops sometime in the future?
I think it is obviously for the German government to decide any way they want to help, but I don't believe there is a problem for the international community in coming back behind this. One of the reasons we went back into the UN and got an earlier resolution was in order to say to people very, very clearly, look leave aside the rights and wrongs, the wisdom or not of the conflict in Iraq, we understand that we have come to this basic position where some support the action, some don't support the action, but what is important now is that we all work to get a better Iraq because that is in the interests of everybody. So I don't think it would be right for me to say to you I expect the German government to do this, or to do that, but I am sure that the German government would want to help in any way that it can that it sees fit. And I would just emphasise this, because it is very important, you know the German government has taken a lead role in Afghanistan which has been of immense importance. So I think that Germany has shown well its desire to contribute to the peacekeeping work of the international community.
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