Interview with Tony Blair

                                 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 
into drugs. 
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 
the problem. 
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 
you're putting. 
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 
of appeal. 
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 
on that? 
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 
break it.  
                                       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 
tougher sentencing.  
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 
of that? 
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 
entirely sensible. 
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.