ON THE RECORD
TONY BLAIR INTERVIEW
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION BBC-2 DATE: 4.7.93
JONATHAN DIMBLEBY: That was Terry Dignan on the pressing
issues of law and order, and that is the backdrop against which the Shadow Home
Secretary is saying to the government in political terms, "anything you can do
I can do better". But could Tony Blair really deliver. He has a slogan
alright, "I'm tough on crime and on the causes of crime", but is he really as
tough as that makes him seem?
Tony Blair, let's take the second part
of that slogan "tough on the causes of crime". What's tough about your
attitude to the causes of crime?
TONY BLAIR MP: What I mean by being tough on the causes
of crime is to say that the problem that we've had in this area is that people
have felt they have to choose between punishment and prevention, between, if
you like, personal and social responsibility. What I'm saying is if you want a
hard headed approach to law and order in the modern world, you require a
thought through strategy that deals with the underlying causes of crime as well
as those that are committing crimes and should be brought to justice within the
criminal justice system. If you don't do that then you're forever firefighting
and never getting to grips with the real problems.
DIMBLEBY: But that's a slight re-working of the
notion of tough, talking about the causes of crime and dealing with the
problems and ailments of society generally is what's thought of as being rather
soft on the issue.
BLAIR: Yes but isn't this precisely what's
gone wrong? You see I thought what came out very well from your film is that
if you are simply trying to deal with those that are committing crimes and
aren't trying to prevent it, in the broader sense, then you're just failing.
Remember that the most extraordinary statistic in the whole of the criminal
justice area is that only one in fifty crimes ever leads to a conviction and
therefore punishment. Two out of three crimes are never even reported, so any
strategy that says our job is just to get tough with those that have been
brought to court and been convicted is a strategy that's going to fail. If we
can't recognise that and break new ground in this area, start doing away with
this notion that somehow if you talk about the underlying causes of crime,
you're excusing crime, then we will fail and we'll carry on failing in
circumstances where I don't believe there's any bigger social issue facing our
country than the rise in crime.
DIMBLEBY: But isn't that another way of saying all
the good things that are being done in one or two places and across the country
in some respects have simply got to be done a lot more intensively and
therefore, I if I were Home Secretary, would be saying I'll find billions of
pounds to finance that.
BLAIR: We're not actually talking about
billions of pounds at all. Indeed one of the extraordinary things, this again
came out from your film, is that out of a massive billions, billions of pounds
budget, we spend a tiny amount. I think the amount the Home Office actually
spends is something like fifteen or sixteen million pounds on crime prevention.
Now part of it is obviously making sure that the good programmes that are in
place, and I visited the one in Luton myself, I've seen it and I know how much
good it's doing, replicated throughout the country, but part of it is just
strategic thinking on the part of government, and at the moment we have nobody
locally that has proper statutory responsibility for crime prevention. Now
James Morgan who was interviewed for your programme, he recommended to the
Government two years ago now that local authorities be given that statutory
responsibility. That report has never been implemented by the Government, even
though it was their own report, just because they don't like local government.
DIMBLEBY: Okay, but if you give statutory
responsibility and if you apply nationwide what is on the Hogbull Ring (phon)
estate which costs there several hundreds of thousands of pounds at a minimum,
you are talking about having to find a lot more money and that has to mean
putting up Council Tax or putting up general taxation.
BLAIR: I think it does mean finding more money,
but I would say that in the end what is a clear, I would say even in the medium
term, is that you are going to save money if you prepare to make that
investment at the front end. You see if you take for example, the area of
drugs, and we have been campaigning very hard as a party over the past few
months on the issue of drug abuse and crime, the Government at the present time
is actually undermining the fight against crime, because it's withdrawn the
funding from local authorities for Drug Education Co-ordinators that go into
schools and youth centres and warn people about the problems of drugs.
DIMBLEBY: Because of resources.
BLAIR: Well, because of resources, but in the
end of course, since crime's going up and the Criminal Justice system is
horrendously expensive, we end up paying a lot more at the back end for what we
could have saved if we were willing to invest at the front.
DIMBLEBY: So you're just saying put the money back
BLAIR: Well, no what I'm saying is that if you
sat down and looked at the issue of drugs and crime, what have you got? You've
got massive increases in the number of drug offenders, you've got clear links
between drug abuse and crime, and you have got growing numbers of young people
getting into drug abuse. Some studies indicate that as many as one in four or
perhaps fifty per cent of fifteen and sixteen year olds have taken drugs in the
past year. Now if you're not dealing with that, then you're not dealing with
DIMBLEBY: Yes, but my question to you is, everyone
has very widely recognised in all parties and across the country just how grave
the problem of drugs and young people is, there's no doubt about that. What
you're saying is put more money in. Now if you put more money in, you've got
to raise that money.
BLAIR: Well that is absolutely true and I'm not
going to sort of sit here and write the next Labour Party Manifesto, however I
have to say if you look at the Home Office budget there are billions of pounds
being spent, we're about to spend hundreds of millions of pounds more in
relation to prison programmes and prison building. It seems to me not a
million miles away from common sense to say, let's try and put some investment
into preventing this situation ever arising, and I think what is interesting is
that even police officers who perhaps traditionally would not have talked about
social disadvantage or deprivation linked with crime, now that is common
parlance because they know that what they're being asked to do at the moment is
just keep the lid on the dustbin of society's problems.
DIMBLEBY: Okay, so when we're talking about being
tough on the causes of crime in the way that you've just elaborated, we're
talking about attacking the causes of crime by applying coherently more
resources, even if that does mean, and you clearly can't put figures on it,
even if that does mean that you've got to find more money and raise Council Tax
to do it. Now that's the price that we have to pay.
BLAIR: Well the method of raising money is
something for the Chancellor to work out, but I would simply say to you I don't
believe this is just about resources, it's also about being prepared to think
through a coherent strategy, and when I was talking to you about drugs, the
sums of money there are tiny. Indeed the Government's just wasted cancelling
the contract to move the prison service agency from London to Derby has
actually wasted more than you would need to spend in order to keep those Drug
Education Co-ordinators in schools, so a lot of it's about competence and about
strategy rather than doing what the Government's doing which is waiting till
the newspapers run a story about a particular issue and then dealing with that.
DIMBLEBY: So how do you deliver your strategy?
Just put the money back in that they took out, is that what you do on drugs?
BLAIR: I think in relation to drugs, you should
certainly make sure, one that the Government carries on funding these Drug
Education Co-ordinators, because that works and it saves money. You should
make sure that as the Government promised, the money that goes for residential
drug abuse projects is ring-fenced in the way that they've said it would be.
You should also have a proper Government research into the use of drugs amongst
young people and how we can combat it and finally, we need drug education right
at the heart of schooling, the national curriculum and the problems that
teachers are going to face dealing with young people that may get drawn into
drugs. Now that is a strategy. You also need to have tough penalties on drug
traffickers, but that is never going to give you the type of thought through
strategy you really want.
DIMBLEBY: Okay people will have a sense of what
you mean by being tough on the causes of crime, let's look at the front half of
the slogan "being tough on crime itself", dealing with the immediate problem
rather than the long term solution. The public are going to take a lot of
convincing that you are tough on crime, given the track record of your party
over the last ten years, when it comes to voting in the House of Commons aren't
BLAIR: Well I think if you look at what we have
been raising over the past few months, I think people are very well aware of
the fact that, for example, with persistent juvenile offenders, it was the
Labour Party that raised this first. We have been raising constantly the
problems of people reoffending on bail and so forth and I think that most
people understand the sense of dealing with both aspects of this issue.
DIMBLEBY: Do you regret the fact that over the
last ten years, from 1984 onwards, you have voted consistently against
legislation designed to toughen up on criminals.
BLAIR: Well the Government figures on that are
never quite right actually, if you break it down, but I think what is more
constructive, let us say, is to actually look at what we do now.
DIMBLEBY: I understand that and we will look at
what you do now, but the public has a very clear recollection of what the
attitude has been in the past. Do you now say to me which would enhance your
credibility when you say "I'm tough on crime", Yes, on some of these areas, it
was perhaps mistaken to have voted against what was the only show in town
namely, Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, Public Order Act, Criminal Justice
Act '84, '91 and so on.
BLAIR: Well actually we didn't, I don't think,
vote against all these pieces of legislation.
DIMBLEBY: Oh yes you did.
BLAIR: Well, no in relation to the Criminal
Justice Act, I don't think that is true. However, let me deal with the point
DIMBLEBY: The general point.
BLAIR: Because I think it's very important.
Yes I do think that the left, as it were, got itself into the position where it
believed that you had to choose between personal and social responsibility,
could see the link between social conditions and crime that exists and
therefore did not take sufficiently seriously, the belief in personal
responsibility as well and I think the failing from the right, were the mirror
image of that, that they would say look, people who commit crimes, you can't
excuse it through social conditions, therefore we've got to be tough on crime
and then ignored the link between social conditions of crime, and in a sense
what I've tried to do is to say look you break through that and the meaning of
the phrase, "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" is to say that if
you want a strategy that's actually going to cut crime in this country, you
deal with both parts of it. Now the Tories have traditionally been okay at
dealing with the tough on crime, although I think there is huge incompetence in
the way the Criminal Justice System is set up at the moment, but they've been
very very poor at being tough on the underlying causes.
DIMBLEBY: Now on your own case, you've been very
interesting in that answer and very frank as the left, you say got the balance
wrong, and that was reflected in your voting actions during the last decade.
BLAIR: Well the reasons for each of these
individual pieces in broad terms...
DIMBLEBY: But in broad terms, in broad terms
BLAIR: I think there was certainly a tendency
for the left to underestimate the importance of emphasising the whole time that
you don't excuse crime by ... the causes of crime.
DIMBLEBY: Now let me just take one particular and
very contemporary example to illustrate where I suspect you might have changed.
At the moment the Attorney General is referring to the Court of Appeal, the
case of a man who was found guilty of sexual assault against that eight
year-old girl of whom the judge said some things that led to a lot of public
anger. If the LabouR Party had had its way in the vote on the 1988 Act, that
would not have been possible, because that was precisely what the 1988 Act was
designed to achieve.
BLAIR: Well I was asked about this in the House
of Commons the other day and said quite clearly that we do support that right
DIMBLEBY: Does that mean you were wrong not to
support it last time round?
BLAIR: Well I think there were all sorts of
concerns that people were raising for perfectly legitimate reasons and I make
it clear where our position is now.
DIMBLEBY: I know but then I..just to clarify your
help on credibility, I just want to help you along here..
BLAIR: I'm delighted to be helped by you.
DIMBLEBY: To help you to make clear your position
to the public. They will be much clearer if they knew that what you were
saying is "yes, I am, as Tony Blair, tougher than the party was then on this
particular issue, because then we were against this, now we're in favour of
what the Attorney General is saying."
BLAIR: Well I've made it clear where we are
DIMBLEBY: Why can't you say...
BLAIR: Because I don't think it's terribly
productive actually to keep going over the past.
DIMBLEBY: It's extremely productive if you're up
against the test of public opinion....
BLAIR: Because I think the test of public
opinion is what you support as a Political Party now and I've made that quite
clear and I would also say that in relation for example to some of the problems
over bail, then we have been co-operating at the moment in getting through
Private Members legislation that allows the prosecution to appeal in
circumstances where they believe there's a considerable risk to the public if
people are granted bail.
DIMBLEBY: Let's take that question of bail and
deal just on sentencing then because the public will make their judgment about
whether the fact that you talk about now is what matters or whether the past
also matters in judging how tough you are. On heavier sentences, the so-called
bail bandits as the Home Secretary refers to them, the people who commit crimes
when they're on bail, he is going to impose heavier sentences than are
presently availalbe for those individuals. Simple answer - do you support him
BLAIR: Well as far as I'm aware the courts do
already take into account that someone has breached bail ...(interruption)..
sorry, I was going on to say I certainly do support the notion that if people
break bail that is something that should be taken into account when passing
sentence, but I also support, and this is you see the difference with the
government, I also support when people are granted bail that you've got proper
bail enforcement schemes around people so that there's a bigger chance that
when they're granted bail they're actually going to keep that bail rather than
I also think it is worth pointing out
that we don't have nearly enough proper information given to the court about
the circumstances in which they should grant bail at all, because the converse
of the bail problem is that many people are refused bail who then end up being
acquitted in court and so you see, what I would say to you, all the way
through, and indeed in part this came out, even from what some of the
Conservative MPs were saying in your film, if you really think through a policy
on this you don't just simply legislate for tougher sentences because anyone
can do that, you can put that through at any point in time, and drugs is the
perfect example. We have had tougher penalties for drug traffickers over the
past four years, at precisely the time when drug abuse and the relationship
between crime and drugs has grown dramatically, so if you're going to have a
sensible policy in relation to this you cannot deal simply with the issue of
DIMBLEBY: That may be the case but you also know
that the public when they say "tough on crime" they mean tougher sentencing.
Now you've just said that you are in favour of that in the case of bail bandits
as they are called. Are you also with the Home Secretary in his intention to
double, for instance, the maximum sentence for those who kill as a result of
drunken drinking from five to ten years.
BLAIR: Well I made that clear in the House of
Commons when he made the statement. And let me just raise to you another
problem, because you know you're putting this to me as if you know it was the
Conservatives that always raise these issues and Labour doesn't. If you take
the issue of juvenile offending, which I think is very important and it came
out of your film and I'd just like to deal with the point that was being made
there. You see, I don't think that anybody believes that locking up juvenile
offenders is an answer to the problem of juvenile offending and it is
absolutely true to say that when you get to the stage of incarcerating
juveniles the likelihood is they're going to come out and re-offend and all the
programmes that have put through by government indicate that.
However, you cannot have the situation
where you have groups of young people completely beyond parental control,
making life hell for people in their local communities, some of the most weak,
the elderly, the vulnerable, who are their victims, you cannot have the
situation where you don't have recourse to secure accommodation if that young
person is beyond control in that way. But if you're being sensible, your
sentencing doesn't have a series of cautions and then suddenly they're into
secure accommodation, you have a proper structured system of penalties and
punishment that is giving that young person the ability to exit out of the
system of punishment and face up to their responsibilites. Now that is being
tough on crime, but it's being tough on it in a sensible way and it is the
Labour Party that has been raising this issue with the government.
DIMBLEBY: Are you telling me - that's a clear
analysis - are you telling me however that you are are prepared if the worst
comes to the worst, to see along with the Home Secretary in this respect,
thirteen..twelve/thirteen/fourteen year olds (juveniles) inside in a not very
pleasant regime, or are you not prepared to support that?
BLAIR: Well the regime is extremely important
but I have said, yes I have said, that if they are beyond control, you are
going to have to have a form of secure accommodation for them, but the regime
should not be unpleasant, it should be designed to face them up to their
responsibilities and we should remember that in the end you are never going to
cure this problem simply by incarceration. You are also going to have
programmes that try and divert young people away from a life of crime. What the
Conservative Home Secretaries do, and you saw this in your film, is they talk
tough about crime and every two years they announce a great crackdown on it,
but because they're not prepared to think through a policy, then they never
actually get to grips with the problem.
DIMBLEBY: If you think through a policy, but at
the same time you are tough on crime, dealing with an immediate problem that is
growing, that does mean more people going to jail. You accept the consequences
BLAIR: Well I think that there may be
circumstances in which there are people in jail, sometimes for debt,
particularly women who are in prison where it's very strange to understand why
they have been given custodial sentences, but there's no doubt at all to my
mind, you don't judge your prison population, you don't pluck a figure out of
the air and say that's the, you know, that's the prison population we want,
you've got to have a criminal justice system that deals with people in a fair,
but firm way. And that is what produces your prison population or not.
DIMBLEBY: And given the fact that for instance the
reform of the 1991 Act which you support, which means that previous convictions
can now again be taken into account, combine that with increasing sentences for
those of the kind that you've just discussed, whether it's bail bandits or
those who kill people when they're drunk and driving, does suggest, does it
not, or do you retreat from this prospect, that more people in the immediate
future are likely to be going into jail?
BLAIR: Well I don't retreat from the prospect
of the criticisms that we've made of the Criminal Justice Act because they were
DIMBLEBY: Just on this one point.
BLAIR: But what I am saying to you is you know,
as it were, you don't decide on a figure that is your prison population, you
decide on what is a fair and sensible criminal justice system.
DIMBLEBY: Tony Blair, let me put it to you once
more, are you saying that you are prepared to accept that and you will not
suggest that it's not potentially necessary that more people will be inside,
because of getting tough on crime?
BLAIR: Well that depends obviously on the
sentences the courts pass, but if the question you're putting to me is: do I
accept the fact that those that are persistent offenders should be treated in a
different way from those that are first time offenders, well of course that
should be the case and it was...and if that means that that person goes to
prison in circumstances where previously they wouldn't, then that should be a
proper matter for the court to take into account. What you should not have is
a situation where you are, as it were, determining your prison population and
then fitting your Criminal Justice System in with it.
DIMBLEBY: But you can't any longer say, as your
policy document said in '90 and..'89 and '90: "that we are going to reduce the
prison population, it is essential to reduce it" You may want to but...
BLAIR: Of course you want to reduce...
DIMBLEBY: But you can't claim: "we are going to do
it" anymore can you.
BLAIR: Well I think you can claim that by
cutting crime you are going to reduce the prison population and by putting the
programmes into place that we are advocating, you can reduce the prison
population. What you cannot do is say that you reduce the prison population as
a matter of principle irrespective of what criminal offences are being
DIMBLEBY: And a tough Shadow Home Secretary says:
we may have more people in jail because of longer sentences until we've managed
to deal with the causes. In a word does a tough Shadow Secretary say that?
BLAIR: A tough Shadow Home Secretary says: you
have a Criminal Justice System that fits the penalty to the crime and your
prison population is as a result of that and the important thing is to make
sure that we are dealing with the Criminal Justice System and indeed the
underlying causes of crime in a way that the public understand. So that we can
actually make a start on reducing crime on this country not giving up on it.
DIMBLEBY: Tony Blair, thank you very much.