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NICK ROBINSON: Good afternoon. What
are the Conservatives for? I'll be asking their leader Iain Duncan Smith.
Does the government really want to give more power to MPs? I'll be finding
out from the Leader of the Commons Robin Cook. Plus all those stories buried
under news of the war. That's all after the news read by DARREN JORDON.
ROBINSON: Thanks Darren.
Welcome back. Hello I'm Nick Robinson. John Humphrys is away today.
Fighting for Parliament's
rights - that's what Robin Cook says he's doing. Later, I'll put it to
him that many people are going to take some convincing that this government
means what he says. And we'll bring you a Christmas stocking full of stories
you may have missed in the fog of war.
First though, to
Iain Duncan Smith. The Tory leader said that the character of his leadership
would be set in his first three months...people should - he said - be able
to say that "that bloke looks as though he knows where he's going". That
three months is up so... can they and does he? Mr Duncan Smith joins me
NICK ROBINSON: First, though to Iain Duncan
Smith. The Tory leader said that the character of his leadership would
be set in his first three months. People should, he said, be able to say
that that bloke looks as though he knows where he's going. Well that three
months is up, so can they and does he?
Mr Duncan Smith joins me now.
Thanks for joining us on the programme.
IAIN DUNCAN SMITH: Not at all, pleasure.
ROBINSON: It seems to me that is
the test Mr Duncan Smith, isn't it, do people know where you are going
and if you look at the opinion polls, more than half of people say, they
haven't an opinion on your leadership at all. Does that worry you?
DUNCAN SMITH: No, it doesn't. I think
the important thing when I said about the three months, is that we as a
party settled, that we recognised that we were bound together by more than
we were divided over and that we were therefore giving focus to the things
that frankly, most of the British people had felt we no longer cared about,
or hadn't talked about. And on that, I'm very strongly on the view that
it's the public services that have switched people off. They feel as though
there was no alternative to the government because we didn't seem to produce
one. That was there concern.
ROBINSON: Well it's the public
services I mainly want to talk to you about today. But just dwell briefly
on this problem of you failing to make an impact, does it concern you too
that the only thing that people seem to keep going on about is that you
struggle to keep your voice when you are making public performances and
asking questions in the House of Commons?
DUNCAN SMITH: I find that sometimes the
commentators are more interested in the performance than they are in the
message and the reality here is that most British people want to know how
their public service is going to be improved when they are failing, when
they know that the government is failing over health. What they want to
know is there is an alternative and to spend time as to whether or not
someone's had...lost their voice or not is quite ridiculous. In truth,
I spent four mouths pounding up and down the country and it's getting better.
Nice for your concern anyway..(laughter).
ROBINSON: Well let's turn to those
public services and those policies. We thought we knew what you felt on
a whole series of issues. I want to see if we still quite know what you
think on these. Let's start with tax and spend. You are a tax cutter, you
are a Tory, you are a Thatcherite Tory, then along comes Michael Howard,
the Shadow Chancellor and he says, public services are - and I quote -
"the number one priority and take precedence over everything else". Have
you gone off tax cutting, do you mean that the Tories will not now promise
to cut the tax burden?
DUNCAN SMITH: No, I think what the public
want to know from us is first of all what we think our priorities are in
terms of the things that they see as failures and problems in their lives
and that's what Michael Howard was talking about. He said that for us in
this next Parliament we are going to focus on those issues that we think
need reforming. Big change and I think the big agenda here is reform and
change in the public services it gives to people greater choice and greater
quality. That's what they want. But they also know that we as a party are
a believer..are believers in low tax economies, in other words comparatively
low tax economies are the successful ones, they are the ones that allow
you to live on more money and focus that money onto those public services.
So, the balance is simply saying we have to establish our credibility,
in terms of how we are going to change and reform those services and then
how we are going to apply that money and then, we can talk about what the
burden of tax will be to the British people to support that.
ROBINSON: Okay, now that's a presentational
point, it may be an important one..
DUNCAN SMITH: It's a very important one...
ROBINSON: ...you need to get your
credit with the electorate for talking about public services but people
took you to believe...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...well....producing reforms...
ROBINSON: ...well people took you
to mean and they wrote it up this way, that what you were saying is we've
learned our lesson, we are not saying what we said at the election, which
is we can both have tax cuts and improve the public services, we are saying
that the number one priority, to quote Michael Howard, is the public services.
We can't have those tax cuts.
DUNCAN SMITH: No, he didn't say that. This
is important, two things have got to be understood and this is what we've
understood and I hope the media will understand this. The first is that
we have four more years to run in this Parliament. The government which
has already raised tax massively on the British people but done it in a
way that they weren't told about, through stealth taxes, through things
that they don't know, not through income tax. That's already the case
and people are beginning to feel the pinch. But what they've got is another
four years in which we are now seeing the beginnings of a further ramping
in taxation. We have no idea where they will be in three years' time or
four years' time as we run to a General Election. So for us to start now
saying, this is going to be the position absolute in four years, I think
the British people would say, no-one can say that. But what they want to
know and what we can say, is you are failing on these public services,
you have no route map. I mean for example, it's very important this, the
government the other day, the Prime Minister, said they were going to increase
public spending on the Health Service to be in line with the European average.
Well, first of all, he said it was eight per cent and I've proved to him
the other day, that that eight per cent was already being achieved in Scotland,
Ireland and Wales and they were failing as well, that's the key issue.
ROBINSON: Yeah, and I want to ask
you about health spending and also about your ideas for reforming the Health
Service. But let's just be clear about this. People thought you and Michael
Howard were signalling a change, that you'd learnt your lesson from the
last election, that you knew the Tories couldn't have credibility by saying
we'll cut your taxes and maintain public services. What you are clearly
saying to me is, no we've got a presentational problem but we can offer
tax cuts and increases in public spending.
DUNCAN SMITH: Don't simplify it to the
extent that it then gets over read. What I'm saying to you is, our priority
is to deal with the public services, quite rightly, to bring a radical
set of reforms, that will give people that choice and quality. Once we've
done that, we can look at how to finance that, once we don't that we can
then say what is the level of tax that people will need, whether we can
be able to bring that down below where the government is and at the same
time, if the public understand that and we able to, to show that they will
increase the level of spending and focus it better...
ROBINSON: And that's what you want
to do, you want to be able to say to the public, we'll cut your taxes,
personal taxes, the taxpayer...
DUNCAN SMITH: No, what we want to be able
to say to the public is, we can do two things. We can show you that you
need to reform the system, having reformed it, you can find a way of financing
it which actually focuses the money directly where they need it and we
then are able to say the government is taking more of your money, we want
to take less, but at the same time we want to make sure on those issues,
those things that you worry about, that the money is being spent and being
used. That's the critical issue.
ROBINSON: Let's pick up what you
were talking about in terms of health spending, you've been very critical
of the government, we'll talk about what they are doing in a second. What
about you, at the last election, we were very clear where Mr Duncan Smith
stood. You said, the party said, we'll match Labour's spending on health
and education, it's a priority, that's what we mean by it. Will you do
that in the future, will you say that as the government increase these
spending plans, we'll match it.
DUNCAN SMITH: Well let me just run that
one past you, look you have a government here, that came into power on
the basis that they said that their spending profile would solve the problems
in the health service. What we've seen is actually, as the public know,
the health service is getting worse, yet they are supposed to be spending
more on it. The government then came back and said, we are going to spend
even more on it and that's the solution and yet we find ten billion pounds
a year now is wasted in the Health Service, in other words it doesn't go
towards treatment because it's just not...the system doesn't cope and the
worse bit is in this last year, they are not going to be able to spend
up to seven hundred million pounds allocated on the Health Service, cause
the system can't take it. You ask me, if I am going to agree with them,
saying we are going to spend yet more, I say, you tell me why you can't
spend the money you've already got and why you're wasting so much, before
we decide whether or not, your solution is correct. The answer is it's
not. They have to work the system change first.
ROBINSON: Plenty of people agree
on the case for reform...
DUNCAN SMITH: That's my point...
ROBINSON: ...and we'll talk about
the reform, but it's also important to talk about money isn't it. You
see, because you've travelled round Europe...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...absolutely...
ROBINSON: ...and you've said let's
look at these other countries and how they do things. Now one of the things
you want to emphasise they do, is they spend more private money. But the
thing you don't emphasise very much is they all spend more public money
as well, take Germany. In Germany, it would cost twenty billion pounds
in this country, to reach what they spend on taxes on health. France spends
more, Sweden you've been to, spends more. Even the United States of America
spends more as a proportion of its national income than we do on health,
so it's a simple enough question to say to you, do you therefore, want
to spend more taxpayers' money on health.
DUNCAN SMITH: It's a simple enough question
but it's a wrong question. The question - you just hit it at the last point,
when you said, even the United States spends more on health, correct.
What..however we have is a government here in Britain, that seems to believe
that the only way of getting health sorted is through direct taxation and
spending more of people's tax money. No other system that we have visited,
that is successful, actually does it that way, they have a mix of ways
of spending. Some of them have a proportion of tax added to by a sort of
insurance system, some have pay as you go, some have relief on that.
My point here is, if you look at France for example, you have a system
that spend give or take very similar amounts in tax, what they...
ROBINSON: ...well not give or take
similar amounts, if I may, Mr Duncan Smith, the latest OECD figures have
Britain spending five point eight per cent of GDP, almost six per cent
of its national pot on health from taxes, France seven point one per cent,
it's a lot more.
DUNCAN SMITH: Hold on, hold on. Just remember
what else France spends apart from tax, that's the key point. My point
is, that we look at these systems and we see that all of them are mixed
systems, they are systems that have much greater voluntary, much greater
private involvement and as well as a state based level. And I'm saying
that the problem for us at the moment is if you just go on saying we're
going to apply more tax and more tax to this system, you find that (a)
it can't spend it as I showed you, and (b) it's completely over-stretched
and the inefficiency becomes greater, not less. So the trick here, the
important point here, is to say that you must put the reform of the system
first, then you can sort out exactly how you finance it.
ROBINSON: But this is partly about
your credibility as you do that process, isn't it and you've told people
that you want to cut their taxes and people think that if you cut their
taxes you may well not be able to spend enough money on health. It won't
be, to use Michael Howard's words, a number one priority.
DUNCAN SMITH: Absolutely.
ROBINSON: I put it to you that
other countries, whatever their system, spend more of their taxes on health
and you say, well I can't even promise to spend...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...no but Nick, the way to
look at it is not that they spend more of their tax, they spend more of
their GDP on health. You see, you're getting locked into the same old Labour
argument which is, everybody spends more tax. The truth is, they do spend
more of their GDP, but the reason why they get better treatment is because
that GDP is better focused because it involves other mechanisms for spending
ROBINSON: Well let's talk about
DUNCAN SMITH: Now we're looking at that
and that's the reason why Labour has ruled that out. Gordon Brown said
there is no way that they are going to go down that road, that the NHS
must remain as it is and simply a matter of raising tax money...
ROBINSON: ...now you've only been
DUNCAN SMITH: ..the public don't believe
ROBINSON: You've only been in office
three months and people don't expect you to have a detailed health plan..
DUNCAN SMITH: ...absolutely...
ROBINSON: ...but they can be clear
about your principles, you spelt out what Gordon Brown says his principle
is, your principle clearly is, from what you've said, that people, not
through taxes, must pay more themselves directly for health care, you can
debate how, but they must do it.
DUNCAN SMITH: Yep...what we're going to
do is look at the best way that is applicable to Britain that we can bring
forward that actually gives them and this is the important thing, the high
jump is that it must improve quality and it must give them greater choice.
Can I give you one example. I went to Sweden the other day, now Sweden
is a country that had a system very similar to ours, actually probably
it was closer to ours than anything else, a health system funded almost
wholly through taxation. It is funded at the moment mostly through taxation.
But what in Stockholm they've done is change something very important.
They've actually said that patients have the right to choose their hospitals
and that GPs, doctors, with them will be able to pick what they think are
good hospitals. Now that major change has changed the whole attitude of
treatment in the hospitals. They've even taken one hospital, treating what
we would call NHS patients and moved it into the private sector, that the
quality has improved dramatically, the waiting lists have collapsed, we're
beginning to see how you reform a system that was very static and very
ROBINSON: They've done another
thing, they charge people to go to see their doctors, about ten pounds,
I'm told it is to see the doctor in Stockholm, now as a principle...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...they have always had a
system of charging though in Sweden, which is entirely different from...
ROBINSON: ...as a principle, people
have assumed that the NHS is free at the point of use, there may be the
odd prescription charge, there may be a charge for your dentist, but to
see your doctor it's free...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...well don't say...
ROBINSON: ...are you Tories saying
let's think about...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...no, I'm sorry, let's start,
let's stop right there before, we get this nonsense from the Labour Party,
they always say this is free at the point of delivery and you want to charge.
The truth is...
ROBINSON: ...well we're asking...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...the Labour government
already charges people. They charge them for their prescriptions, you know
to go and see a dentist you get charged. The reality is many people, today
we see a report, probably four hundred million pounds a year being spent
by people who don't have the right income, who are having to go and find
ROBINSON: ...so this is very clear,
you are saying...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...you're being charged already.
ROBINSON: ...there are lots of
charges and there are no...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...Labour hasn't done away
ROBINSON: ...so there's a charge
to see your GP, or a charge to go to the hospital...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...Nick, it's a living lie
that Labour tells that says this is absolutely free. Everybody who knows
who uses it, knows that in certain categories you pay. The question is,
right now, the system itself doesn't work to deliver even though they do
pay. That's the truth. How do we reform that system first and then how
do we look at the financing of that system. That's very important.
ROBINSON: Let's just be clear though
what you're saying is because we already pay, because you think Labour
are misleading about this...we may have to pay, we Tories may have to come
to you and say you'll have to pay to go and see your doctor.
DUNCAN SMITH: ...but they already pay.
Nick, sorry, let's stop this, no, this is a silly argument. People pay
through taxation for their service. They then pay as charges when they
go and buy in many categories their treatment across at the chemist, and
they pay if they go and see a dentist often if they can't get an NHS one.
My point is, the public already know they're paying. The problem for them
is they don't get the service that they feel they ought to. That's the
priority if we can get the reform changed, if we can get the structure
better so that people get a better quality we can look at how we raise
the extra finance, then I think people would say I'm prepared to pay and
that's how I'm doing it. I'm doing it through tax, I'm prepared to look
at other ways...
ROBINSON: ...they may pay on health.
Let's turn to a different issue, an issue with which you were associated
with very, very clearly and you said that people should know where you're
going, it's the Euro of course, you've been the clearest of any Tory leader,
never, it's not going to happen. You won't actually countenance it. Now,
why on this crucial issue are you never talking about it then. You don't
talk about it, you stop other people from talking about it, is it because
you think it doesn't matter very much any more?
DUNCAN SMITH: ...supposed to have stopped
everybody talking about it...
ROBINSON: ...or is it you're a
bit scared to tell people what you think about it?
DUNCAN SMITH: No, not at all. I have to
say that if there is one subject on which the British people are clear
about the Conservative Party, I think it's probably Europe and I don't
think therefore that we need to carry on and on and on about that subject
right now. We are clear and the public's clear and let me just reverse
this question on you slightly, if Mr Blair was sitting here, why would
you not say to him, why was he so dogmatically determined to enter the
Euro, because he's a believer in principle. I simply have said we at the
next referendum, when it comes up, we will simply oppose it, but there
is scope for those in my party who disagree to campaign for. I think that's
tolerant and reasonable and that's a good position to be in.
ROBINSON: The fear some have is
that this is becoming a fact on the ground, notes and coins are about to
come in, we saw them waved at the Laeken summit yesterday, interestingly
enough, Dixons Group, they say you can go into their shops and they own
a lot of them and you can use Euros. And who's the Chairman of Dixon Group,
Stanley Kalms, the Treasurer of the Conservative Party, so it's going to
happen isn't it?
DUNCAN SMITH: ...who's also opposed to
ROBINSON: ...will he take donations
in Euros, for the Tory Party.
DUNCAN SMITH: As far as I am concerned,
you know very well that the Dollar exists, that doesn't mean to say you
have to adopt the Dollar. The whole issue about currencies is that they
keep within your national democracy the power and control to set your tax
rates, to also adjust your interest rates in accordance with what is necessary
for you domestically. Far too many of the public remember while we were
in power the ERM debacle, under the ERM where we ended up having record
levels of unemployment and difficulties and problems and people don't want
to return to that and my simple point is you know, they may well go to
notes and coins in January, but Europe itself is heading deeper and deeper
now into recession and I don't think we necessarily want to copy that.
ROBINSON: And will you, now we
have a new process of reform in Laeken will you do what you said in the
past, which is to say we don't want this to happen at all and if I become
Prime Minister, I'll renegotiate these treaties, they'll go.
DUNCAN SMITH: Well we've yet to hear exactly
what they've agreed at Laeken but as far as I can see there are a number
of things I think the British people will be deeply uneasy about, the European
ROBINSON: ...but the key question
is not..with respect your opinion is whether as Prime Minister, if you
became Prime Minister, you would say to people, this has to go.
DUNCAN SMITH: We're going to say to people
that we want a Europe that is about nation states co-operating and trading
and things that get in the way of those we'll actually want to change and
things that are in favour that, we want to keep, but we want to have that
and I think that's the flexible response to Europe as it is, and by the
way, September eleventh showed us one very important feature which is that
the old idea of the great blocks, the structured and rigid blocks, which
is at the moment what Laeken was discussing, are probably over, we need
greater flexibility, we need nation states to co-operate rather than be
ROBINSON: One last subject I want
to ask you about, whether people are clear where you're going. You were
clear, you said I'll be intolerant of intolerance on the issue of race.
Now then we saw your Chairman say to members of the Monday Club, it's incompatible
to be in our party and believe the things that you believe, but now I read
you're having them back.
DUNCAN SMITH: I'm not having them back,
we haven't got anywhere near that.
ROBINSON: I read in the paper that...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...well you can read what
you like Nick in the papers, you can read what you like in the papers,
but I shouldn't always believe what you hear in the papers, I see no suggestions
to that extent.
ROBINSON: So the Monday Club as
far as you are concerned are...
DUNCAN SMITH: ...we've already told the
Monday Club what happened and we told them quite clearly that their whole
position on race and the way that it was used and as we saw on their website,
was not compatible with the Conservative Party's views on this matter and
they were told that they therefore could not be part of the Conservative
Party, they've had to go away and we'll wait and see what they come up
ROBINSON: ...well, they had to
go away and possibly change what they believed, I just want to be clear...
DUNCAN SMITH: ..radically change...
ROBINSON: ...but if they come back
and say to you, okay, well we've cleaned up our website, we don't say things
DUNCAN SMITH: ...it's not just a case of
cleaning up websites...
ROBINSON: ...this is what they
used to say, we already pay host to large numbers of people of non British
origin who seem to believe that everything this country's traditionally
stood for is profoundly negative, they behave like lodgers in a hotel.
If they just don't say that any more, they're welcomed back?
DUNCAN SMITH: We didn't say that all, you're
completely misusing what we said. The Chairman was absolutely clear that
they could not continue as part of the Conservative Party as they held
those views and they held them in a way that set an agenda which was not
the Conservative Party's agenda. I think most decent and reasonable people
would recognise that. Our agenda is the one that I state with the party
and I'm not going to have that taken down side roads by others.
ROBINSON: Is there no chance, just
so I understand this, that you kick them out one day, and then say, back
you come a little bit later.
DUNCAN SMITH: We've made it absolutely
clear that any group that holds those sort of views and makes those as
a policy statement is not going to be part of the party. And I also must
say, something much more positive which you don't want to rest on, is that
we have changed a lot of things, I have the first Vice-Chairman who is
of ethnic background, I have advisers now from an ethnic background. We
are making changes to the candidate procedure, which will bring in people
from ethnic backgrounds and more women, some very radical change I'm making,
but I'm determined to do it, and I'm determined to make the change that
brings us back into line with the way the British people think.
ROBINSON: Iain Duncan Smith, thank
you very much indeed for joining us today.
ROBINSON: Now this isn't
a government which is renowned for championing the rights of Parliament
- the attempt to control the awkward squad on the Select Committees, in
the House of Lords and, indeed, the Standards Watchdog herself have all
seen to that. But this week the leader of the Commons Robin Cook unveiled
a series of proposals designed - he said - to beef up MPs powers. Well,
I've been speaking Mr Cook about whether he really means it. But first
Terry Dignan reports on the doubts he's got to overcome.
TERRY DIGNAN: There was a time when
we regarded our Parliament at Westminster as the envy of the world. Lit
up at night by the Thames it still makes an impressive sight. Yet in the
eyes of many its image is tired. Robin Cook, and other Labour MPs, fear
voters are losing interest in Parliament. Four in ten can't even be bothered
to vote for someone to represent them here.
GRAHAM ALLEN MP: I think in the country there's
a sense that Parliament itself is irrelevant.
TONY WRIGHT: I just think now there
comes a moment in the life of an institution where you really do have to
reform or die. And I think we almost got to that point with Parliament.
DIGNAN: If Parliament is to regain
the respect of the public, it may have to become a stronger, more effective
institution. Yet a more powerful Parliament is bound to make life difficult
for Tony Blair and his ministers. But keeping Parliament weak carries with
it the risk that voters' confidence in our political system will decline
ALLEN: You look at the low turnout
there was at the last election, you look at the way some Members treat
Parliament as well and indeed the way the House itself is run, it doesn't
DIGNAN: Parliament needs a makeover
because there's evidence that faith in our politicians has fallen to a
new low. British Social Attitudes has been asking voters if they trust
governments to place the nation's needs above their own party interests.
Back in 1974, thirty nine per cent said they did. By 1996, under John Major,
the figure had fallen to twenty two per cent. Last year, under Tony Blair,
just sixteen per cent said they trusted governments to put the nation's
needs above their own party interests.
PETER RIDDELL: There is, if not a crisis
in democracy, there is a scale of disillusionment, particularly amongst
younger people and particularly amongst the socially excluded, which is
very serious and has to be addressed by Parliament.
DIGNAN: In the past week Robin
Cook has been explaining to those who want reform how he'll do it. To increase
media coverage of the Commons, questions to Mr Blair and his ministers
would start earlier in the day. There'd be more debates held at shorter
notice to give MPs a greater chance to speak out on issues which matter
most to voters. But Robin Cook's real aim, as he told the think tank of
the Constitution Unit, is to reinforce Parliament's ability to hold ministers
to account on behalf of the people.
ROBIN COOK MP: If we want the Commons to
retain the affection of the British public then we must be willing to reform
it so that it can match its status as the central institution of our democracy.
LORD NORTON: A lot of the attention has
been on hours of sitting, Prime Minister's Question Time. To some extent
those are marginal to the real issue which is how do you strengthen the
House of Commons in calling government to account?
MARK FISHER MP: The objective of reforms
must be the greater effectiveness of Parliament in scrutinising the government
and holding it to account. At the moment Parliament's ability to scrutinise
is out of kilter with the power of government, the whole balance has shifted
towards the government away from Parliament.
DIGNAN: They're building a new
visitor centre at the Commons. Robin Cook hopes the public will be equally
impressed by his plans to strengthen all-party select committees. Made
up of backbench MPs, they're allowed to question ministers and their officials
in detail. But the government decides who sits on them.
ALLEN: I used to be a Whip, I know
how the process works, I know how you get people on select committees and
I know you put people on there very often who are going to give the government
an easier ride than perhaps are more independent-minded members.
FISHER: Both the choice of chairs
of the select committees and indeed the membership have got to be taken
out of the hands of government. These are the bodies that scrutinise the
work of departments and they have a very important scrutiny role. It's
ridiculous that the people who are scrutinising government should be appointed,
effectively, by government.
DIGNAN: There's currently some
high quality craftsmanship on display at the Commons. Some might argue
it puts to shame the poor quality of much government legislation that comes
before Parliament. Still, MPs are there to put right any flaws. In truth,
ministers are loathe to make changes.
WRIGHT: The bit of Parliament that's
shocked me more than any other while I've been there, is what we call the
standing committees which are the places where bills, legislation, is looked
at. If you're on the government's side, it's seen as a form of dissidence,
even to contribute to debate. I mean it's an absolute nonsense. No wonder
we get bad legislation because it's an appalling way to do it, it's just
really like a sausage machine and there's no real scrutiny in that at all.
LORD NORTON: There's nothing worse than
bills going through, becoming the law of the land and then it's realised
they're not working. We've had all sorts of examples of that over the year.
It makes for bad law, it undermines the reputation of parliament and of
government and it just clogs up parliament and government because you need
more legislation later on to correct that which they got wrong in the first
DIGNAN: Robin Cook wants to strengthen
the ability of MPs to expose and correct defects in government legislation.
One idea is to make greater use of outside experts and take more account
of the views of the public. But some ministers may not like increased scrutiny
of their legislation especially if it makes it more difficult for them
to push their bills through parliament.
Getting it right at the new visitor centre meant paying attention to detail
at the drawing board. Many MPs would like a bigger say when legislation
is still at the planning stage. But this pre-legislative scrutiny happens
ALLEN: I think what we need to
do is to make sure that it becomes the norm, there may be certain bills
that it's not appropriate for, but I think we should say as standard practice
a Bill should go through so many weeks of pre-legislative scrutiny.
DIGNAN: But reformers want to go
further. They believe that scrutiny should be bolstered by allowing outside
experts to give their views of proposed legislation.
LORD NORTON: This is central, that the
House of Commons has information and advice that is alternative to that
provided by government. If the government is a monopoly supplier or a near
monopoly supplier of information to the House of Commons, the House of
Commons cannot do an effective job in challenging government.
DIGNAN: But what ministers want
is to be allowed to carry bills over into the next session of Parliament
if time is running out. Robin Cook agrees. Yet even Labour MPs concede
this would deprive the opposition of an important weapon.
FISHER: It takes away the weapon
of power and time, from not only the opposition parties, from parliament
as a whole, and it's only time at the moment that puts pressure on the
government to make concessions and to compromise on their legislation.
DIGNAN: Although he made no mention
of it to the Constitution Unit, Robin Cook has a compromise in mind. In
return for allowing ministers more time to get their bills through, the
government could hand control of the day to day parliamentary timetable
to a new all-party business committee. But he's been forced to keep quiet
about the idea because some ministers don't like it.
RIDDELL: This proposal was made
by Robin Cook, when he put it to Cabinet there was a kind of horror from
the traditionalists, people like Hilary Armstrong, the Chief Whip, Jack
Straw the Foreign Secretary who's very interested in Commons matters, and
Margaret Beckett the former Leader of the Commons who's very conservative
on these matters, and so Robin Cook was forced to drop this idea.
FISHER: We've got to convince the
Prime Minister and the Cabinet and a number of other vested interests.
The reason for it is that the moment the government takes complete control
of all the business of the House, so it's not parliament's business, it's
the government's business.
PAUL TYLER MP: I think there's resistance
from people who like to see Parliament as really the lap dog of the Executive,
you know, something that's got to be organised and run, but it isn't something
that's allowed to interfere with the, with the business of government.
DIGNAN: Down the corridor from
the Commons there's another house which needs modernising - the House of
Lords. But Tony Blair's plans are seen as merely cosmetic. He's shown again,
that when it comes to parliamentary reform, his taste is somewhat restrained.
The dilemma is over electing the Lords. That might increase its power -
so ministers have decided only one in five peers should be elected.
RIDDELL: They want a subservient
House which essentially tidies up for the failings of the House of Commons
and has a veneer, a pretty small veneer of democracy of elected members.
ALLEN: The proposals don't go far
enough, we have got a massive landslide victory in 1997 and 2001 and I
think history will not judge us very well if we don't use that tremendous
opportunity to do something that most of us in the Labour Party have dreamt
about and that is having a properly elected House of Lords or second chamber.
DIGNAN: And if that does make it
more of an equal to the Commons, it may be no bad thing. Even Labour MPs
are often pleased when the Lords sends legislation back here to the Lower
House, heavily amended against government wishes. Indeed, some Labour MPs
who voted for the Terrorism Bill were rather hoping the Lords would make
changes to the legislation.
WRIGHT: I remember going through
the Lobby on one of these votes and one of my colleagues shaking his head
and saying, never mind, the Lords will sort it out for us. And everybody
agreed with that and it got you off the hook, because you knew what you
were doing was daft, but they would sort it out down the corridor. But
of course when it comes back from down the corridor, then of course the
system says, who are these people down the corridor to decide what we do,
not elected are they? So at the moment it's a real nonsense.
DIGNAN: Parliament stands proudly
at the apex of our political system. Yet despite its splendour, its image
is now tarnished. The job of Standards Commissioner is being downgraded
because Elizabeth Filkin, who investigates allegations about MPs' finances,
has trodden on too many toes.
Even some MPs who have criticisms of Elizabeth Filkin are appalled at
the way she's been treated. They fear it will deepen voters' cynicism about
politicians and could cast a long shadow over any serious attempt at modernising
ALLEN: I think we've managed to
snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on this one. I think politics in
the UK is probably the cleanest in the world and yet the perception we've
managed to generate is that we want to be the judges in our own court.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
WRIGHT: Even at the level of perception
which is so important here, people should've seen that you know to have
set about trying to remove her, or to downgrade her is ruinous, in terms
of people's perception of this institution. And it destroys all the good
work you've done in these recent years to pull back trust that had been
lost through those bad days.
DIGNAN: In a few days' time Parliament
rises for Christmas. Labour MPs will look back on a year which brought
them a second landslide victory. Yet more people stayed at home than voted
Labour. Robin Cook believes they're losing faith in our political system.
His problem will be persuading his cabinet colleagues that the answer is
a stronger parliament.
NICK ROBINSON: Robin Cook, you published
proposals you say that will modernise and strengthen the House of Commons
but do you accept that some people are going to find it very hard to believe
that that's what they'll do, given that this is a government seen often
to ride rough-shod over the will of Parliament and to be obsessed with
ROBIN COOK: Well I think they should look
at the proposals on their merits. If they look at those proposals they
will find that we are providing for longer, fuller scrutiny of Bills, earlier
scrutiny of Bills, an awful lot more coming to the Members in draft, we're
going to strengthen the Select Committees that scrutinise or hold to account
ministers, we're going to give them more resources to do the job properly,
professional back up, these are not the actions of a government that is
trying to avoid scrutiny, on the contrary, what I am trying to do is to
make sure Parliament can do an effective job, because only if Parliament
is seen to do that effective job, we don't have the respect of the public.
ROBINSON: So you are clear then,
that this shouldn't be a make-over, a paint job, because some people have
looked at your proposals and they see proposals to change the hours of
the House of Commons and the sitting times for Prime Minister's Questions,
and they say, these may be all very well, they may be valuable, but this
is a paint job, it's a presentational gimmick.
COOK: Well certainly not, and some
other analysts have actually said that this is the very comprehensive package,
more comprehensive than we've seen in the past, under government of either
colour, it is not a cosmetic effort. The question of the hours I'll leave
there, but they are only there so that we can make Parliament more effective.
I do strongly believe if Parliament wants to set the political and public
debate of the day it's got to meet it at the start of the day, that's why
I want Parliament to start sitting earlier, and the hours that we are providing
are hours so that we can carry out that bigger job of scrutiny that I provide
for within that package. I don't see this as a conflict, a confrontation
between government and parliament, we both need each other. As keep saying,
the principle behind these proposals is that good scrutiny makes for good
ROBINSON: Well let's put that to
the test with one of the proposals you make, inevitably in the House
of Commons, particularly one with a very large majority, there's a real
limit to what the Opposition can do to oppose or even to change any legislation.
Now one of the main ways they can do it is to get your backs to the wall,
so that you know that you're going to lose your bell because you've run
out of time and concessions can be made. Now we saw that this week on the
Anti-Terrorism Bill and yet you're going to change the rules aren't you,
so it's less easy for Bills to run out of time, less easy for the Opposition
to do its work.
COOK: Well the main complaint that
the Opposition have made over the past two or three weeks is there was
not enough time as they saw it to consider that Bill, it was rushed. Now
I don't think that we should provide in the rules a system which ensures
that we cannot provide adequate scrutiny for the Bills that are going through.
I want to make sure that Bills do have that time for proper debate and
proper exposure. That's why I'm suggesting this proposal that effectively
each Bill should have twelve months before Parliament. Now that will long
enough for Parliament to do a thorough job of scrutiny. So long as you
include that deadline at the end of the year and you prevent us from carrying
one Bill forward from one year to the next year, then Bills are going to
be rushed because it's the only way of beating that deadline, and that's
not good for Parliament and it doesn't make for good legislation.
ROBINSON: On the other hand, people
will see the government made changes to its Anti-Terrorism Law, dropped
the idea of a law on religious hatred, why not, because they were persuaded
by arguments, you heard plenty of arguments and the government ignored
them, it was because in the end there was just that deadline and you had
to either drop measures or you were going to lose the entire Bill and that's
healthy for Parliament, isn't it?
COOK: It's very healthy for Parliament
to be able to debate measures and it's very healthy for Parliament to scrutinise
measures, I think it's also important that Parliament should provide adequate
opportunity to listen to the public health side as well. One of the provisions
we have in our standing orders is for a committee that is going to consider
a Bill, is to take evidence from the public before it considers the Bill.
We hardly ever do that because we are in such a rush to get the Bill through
to meet that deadline...
ROBINSON: ...let's just...
BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER
ROBINSON: ...let's stick with that,
because Mark Fisher you've seen, we've just seen him in the film, he's
a former Labour minister, he says the proposal you've got which effectively
takes this deadline away, he says it takes away the weapon of power and
time, and it's only time he says, that puts pressure on the government
to make concessions and to compromise and what people worry is, there's
the weapon, Robin Cook's taking it away.
COOK: Yes but you can't on the
one hand say that time is the great weapon and on the other hand, as Members
of Parliament constantly do, including quite often, Mark Fisher, is complain
that there is not enough time to look at a Bill. What I am trying to do
is to respond to that demand that there should be more time for consideration.
The Bills should be thoroughly debated, that there should be an opportunity
to take evidence from the public and if that time is there then Mark, and
anybody else, can make their considered view and explore where the Bill
could be improved.
ROBINSON: Well, some say, alright
we hear what Robin Cook says about giving us more time, but what he should
do in return for that, because the government gains a little, as I've been
spelling out, is he should give us some control over how the time is allocated,
instead of the government being able to say, we will decide precisely how
long each of these Bills is debated for and when, do as they do in the
Scottish Parliament, let all the parties influence how the time-tabling
is done, are you tempted by that?
COOK: Well first of all, can I
just say that this is not something which government is going to gain from,
it's where uniquely.. Parliament will also gain, it's in all our interests
and we all have benefit in this, if there are those in the Opposition who
want to say, well, we're willing to look at this change, we want to have
this change, we can see the benefit of having longer time to debate Bills,
but in exchange for agreeing to that we want some quid pro quo, well let
them come and put that proposal to me, and obviously these are proposals
for consultation, I am willing in the process of consultation to explore
what they might want as a quid pro quo...
ROBINSON: ...and if they quid pro
quo it, as Paul Tyler of the Liberal Democrats says, we want to help determine
the business of the Commons, when it meets, when it discusses and so on,
will you concede that, will your Cabinet colleagues let it, because it's
said that you asked them to do it and they said, come off it Robin, we're
not giving that power up.
COOK: ...when the......Cabinet
approved the memorandum a week ago there was a lot of enthusiasm and support
around the table...
ROBINSON: ...not for that measure
though, was it, you were forced to drop it as I understand it...
COOK: ...yes but if I can come
back to your point about the quid pro quo, if the Opposition, both of them,
come to us and say look we can see the case for the carry over, we can
see the case for not killing off every Bill at the end of the session because
that means they're rushed through, we welcome the greater time that will
be there fore debate, but we want this in exchange for it, then all that's
up for consideration, there's a consultation period, I'll listen to whatever
they say, but first of all, I want to hear them say that yes, we recognise
this case for the longer period of studying Bills.
ROBINSON: It's a very interesting
thing you've said there, but they may say to you, we're willing to offer
this deal, I mean can you deliver the deal Robin Cook, can you go to the
Cabinet and say this great power that governments like to keep, deciding
when they time-table Bills, I want you to give it up.
COOK: If I had a deal, and went
with the deal, then I think there would be a very good prospect of getting
agreement to the deal, but with respect Nick, we can't negotiate this through
the television studio, we have to negotiate it with the Opposition, as
yet they have not come and said this to us, indeed there is some indication
that the Conservative Party themselves would not welcome the business committee,
far less see it as something that they could accept and exchange.
ROBINSON: Well, let's move on to
an item of reform that you've said you're going to turn to, but haven't
yet spelt out what you'll do and that of course is about the Select Committees.
Again it's a bit hard, isn't it, having credibility as a parliamentary
reformer, when you represent a government which nobbled the committees,
tried to say to Parliament, this is who you can have as chairman and this
is who you can't have as chairman. Now a lot of people have said they regret
it, I assume you do too.
COOK: Well if they tried to nobble
it, they certainly did not succeed in nobbling it because there was a vote
in the House and both those individuals were restored to Committee which
is quite right, because it has ultimately to be a decision for Parliament.
But that debate released an enormous amount of energy and interest in how
we make sure we reform that system, that night I gave a commitment we would
come forward with an independent authoritative system which would be independent
of party influence...
ROBINSON: ...meaning no influence
for the Whips, just so we're clear what independent means, that MPs can
choose who they like, and the Whips won't have a role at all.
COOK: We have already reformed
our system within the Parliamentary Labour Party. It's so that the system
that was in use last Summer has gone and in the future it will be an election
by all Members of Parliamentary Labour Party, but the question that remains
to be resolved is how do those nominations from the party get presented
to Parliament. Now what we are looking at in the Modernisation Committee
and I hope to be able to report on this by the end of January, would be
a system that would be independent of party influence, have no Whips on
it, would be able to act as the referee, would be able to make sure that
there had been fair play, that there had not been abuse of the rules and
would only then submit the names to Parliament for Parliament itself to
decide so that would clearly make it a Parliamentary process independent
of party control.
ROBINSON: Now that's how they get
into those jobs, the question then is what powers they have when they are
on Select Committees, or chairing them. Are you minded, I know you're not
decided yet, but to pay committee chairman to say, we will make a career
structure for committee chairmen and what's more we'll give them more
COOK: But the point of the agreement
is indeed in that last point, which is more staff, there needs to be much
more support for the Select Committees to do their job of scrutiny, which
often can be quite technical, for instance, the financial scrutiny does
need to have support from financial experts, we are all committed in that
and will be certainly recommending that. On the question of the pay for
Chairs, the difficulty here is that the Chairs of the Select Committees
themselves are divided as to whether or not they wish to be paid. We will
be taking evidence in the course of this week from the Chair of the Liaison
Committee, that's the body that brings together all the Chairs of the Select
Committee, we want to hear very carefully what he says...
ROBINSON: ...are you tempted to
let them be paid?
COOK: Our minds are not closed
on it. If there was a demand for it, if there was a consensus among them
I would certainly be willing to canvas putting it to the Senior Salary
Review Board for their advice, but there is an important principle which
many of them hold to which is all Members of Parliament are equal and all
Members of Parliament should have equal pay.
ROBINSON: ...although the argument
against that as you know is that, this is not about making Select Committee
Chairmen rich, what it is about saying is that the only way to progress
in Parliament and to progress your salary too, isn't by having a Red Box,
isn't by being a minister, or a bag carrier for a minister, but what you
can do is be one of the chief scrutinisers of Parliament and so pay is
a very important signal of that, isn't it?
COOK: Status is also important
and like many of those you are currently chairs of Select Committees I
rather suspect would feel possibly...certainly surprised and possibly insulted
if they were offered ministerial posts, it's far less a question of bag
carrying. But look, this is an issue on which I have an open mind if the
chairs of Select Committees can agree on this, certainly it is an issue
on which we are prepared to act. The important issue is that we are going
to make sure they have more resources, we are going to make sure that they
have more opportunity to communicate with Parliament and to make sure that
they carry out their job of scrutinising government.
ROBINSON: Now this debate about
how the Commons runs itself, isn't happening in a vacuum and that makes
it a problem for you doesn't it. The Parliament is seen by many people
to be struggling for its existence, its life really and they see ministers
hands round Parliament's throat. They look at the Standards Watchdog,
Elizabeth Filkin, and they say, what do they do when she caused a bit of
trouble, they got rid of her.
COOK: Well on the question of having
ministers having their hands round the throat, I do think after the past
two weeks, it's very difficult to say that ministers have their hands on
Parliament's throat, nor do we want to. We need Parliament, we need Parliament
to do a good job of scrutiny and make sure that we stay on our toes. On
the question of Ms Filkin, Ms Filkin was not due to...was not got rid of,
Ms Filkin is eligible for another period of re-appointment, we have decided
that we should test the market to make sure we have the best candidate,
we invited Ms Filkin to come forward on this short-list, she was guaranteed
a place on it, if she was the best candidate, she would have been re-appointed.
ROBINSON: But by in effect saying,
you can't be automatically re-appointed, you gave a signal months in advance,
you are not wanted, we don't like the way you are doing your job and what's
more, by the way, we are going to review the question of whether you really
need to spend as long doing your job as you say you do.
COOK: Well, Sir Gordon Downey,
who was her predecessor did of course write in the course of this week,
that of course if you take an appointment on a fixed term, you have no
guarantee of automatic reappointment. Nobody else in the world has that
Nick. As to the question of days....
ROBINSON: ..it's a signal in a
sense isn't it, Tony Wright is very clear about this, we've just heard
him say it, he's a committee chairman from the Labour Party, he says it
was - and I quote - "ruinous in terms of people's perception of Parliament".
And you seem to be saying that the removal of Elizabeth Filkin, however
it came about, was neither here or there.
COOK: We were very keen to make
sure that we had the best candidate for the job of the Commissioner for
Standards and we have a very...
ROBINSON: ...and she wasn't the
best candidate for the job?
COOK: We will never know that because
she's declined to take our invitation to come forward for the short-list...
ROBINSON: ...you clearly thought
she wasn't likely to be the best candidate for the job, otherwise you would
have just re-appointed her.
COOK: No, we never came to such
a conclusion. We said that we wanted to have an open competition, I must
say this seems to me, the more open, more transparent way to go about the
process of re-appointment.
ROBINSON: Now, some will say, that
the only answer to what happened to Elizabeth Filkin is end self-regulation,
that MPs can no longer be allowed to hire and fire the person meant to
regulate them and interfere with her reports. If there is a proposal for
self-regulation, the Committee on Standards and Public Life are looking
at that, will this government bring it about?
COOK: Well the Commission on Standards
and Public Life to which you refer, used to be the Nolan Committee. They
were the ones who devised the present system and indeed far from turning
it down or watering it down, Parliament actually strengthened it. We gave
more power to the Commission of Standards than had been recommended by
Lord Nolan and his commission. If the current commission, under Sir Nigel
Wicks, wishes to propose changes, then I would expect Parliament would
be willing to accept those changes. We need to see what they are going
to propose, but if they want to propose anything, we will of course listen
with great care.
ROBINSON: Finally, let me ask you
this, a few minutes ago you said, how can anybody think that we were not
in favour of a strong Parliament, given what's happened in the past two
weeks, which of course are a whole series of defeats for the government
in the House of Lords, people will open their newspapers and they'll read
this from a Home Office source. It would be fair to say that reform of
the Lords procedures has a very willing advocate in the Home Secretary,
it's an absurdity that the will of the Commons can be frustrated in this
way. Now, what people will read into this, is that when Parliament tries
to scrutinise what the government does, you don't like it ... and what
you say, if we will change the rules to stop you doing it.
COOK: I think you are asking a
bit much Nick, to expect ministers to like it when Parliament exercises
that job of scrutinising it. What I was saying is that Parliament has exercised
that job of scrutiny, there's certainly no evidence here as you yourself
put it earlier, that ministers have their hands round Parliament's throat.
ROBINSON: And Robin Cook wants
to see more of that sort of scrutiny?
COOK: I want to see Parliament
able to carry out an effective job of scrutiny and I think that the better
it can do that job of scrutiny, the better the legislation will get, the
better the draft of the legislation will become. That's good for everybody
and it's good for government as well.
ROBINSON: Robin Cook, thank you
very much indeed.
COOK: Thank you.
ROBINSON: I was talking to
Robin cook earlier.
Now no matter how
much news there is, newspapers only have so many pages to fill, news bulletins
only so many minutes. That means that at a time of terror and war much
political news fights to get a hearing. Sometimes that suits the government
just fine. So, as a public service, David Grossman has been rounding up
some of those stories that may have slipped beneath your personal political
DAVID GROSSMAN: The government stands accused -
in those by now infamous words - of trying to bury bad news. That's a
very difficult charge to prove, but, what we can say is that whether by
accident, or design, there's been plenty happening in the past three months
that's been all too easy to miss.
Before September the 11th,
probably the biggest political story around was asylum. Then the government's
policy was to try to deter unfounded applications by giving out vouchers
instead of cash benefits. Tony Blair called it firm but fair.
TONY BLAIR: It isn't right that we carry
on with the present system. We've inherited a complete mess in this area
as he knows, with a backlog of tens of thousands of claims and we have
a system that will be fairer and faster and will deter the bogus asylum
GROSSMAN: The vouchers though were
hated by many Labour back benchers and so in September they were scrapped.
And while he was at it, the Home Secretary conceded that estimates of
the backlog of asylum claims were hopelessly wrong, that there were in
fact twice as many people waiting for a decision as previously thought.
But the government has
done something concrete to stop disappointing asylum statistics grabbing
the headlines month after month. In September, they announced that in
future they'll only publish the figures every three months.
And then, there're cannabis
- let's remind ourselves of what the government had to say on the subject,
shortly after it was elected in 1997.
JACK STRAW - 1997: I want to tell you now what
we are not going to do. We will not decriminalise, legalise or legitimise
the use of drugs.
GROSSMAN: So, has that policy now
changed. Well, that's a hard call to make and you certainly need a clear
head to try and work it out. They haven't legalised cannabis but instead
in October, the Home Secretary proposed reclassifying it, putting it in
the same category as prescription painkillers. If this happens you couldn't
be arrested for simple possession of cannabis but you could still technically
be taken to court. So that's clear then, isn't it?
One bad trip that the
government avoided over the past few months, is being dragged out to Greenwich
to explain what they are doing with the Dome. There's still no buyer and
no plan and it emerged very quietly in the Commons earlier this month,
that in the past year the government has spent nearly three hundred and
forty thousand pounds employing a PR company for the Dome. When I rang
the PR company to ask them what they do for their money, they explain they
answer press enquiries, press enquiries like, why does a building that's
been shut for nearly a year need a PR company. And as one building refuses
to go quietly, another will never be built.
This is Picketts Lock
in North London, the site chosen to build a brand new forty two thousand
seater national athletics stadium, to host the World Athletics Chanpionships
in 2005. It was, said ministers, to be a prestige venue for a prestige
CHRIS SMITH: It is an extremely good design
and it provides us not just with the opportunity to have a good venue for
the 2005 Championships but also for a high class performance centre in
GROSSMAN: Sporting plans though,
don't always work out and in early October, the Government abandoned the
Picketts Lock project saying it was just too expensive. The Sports Minister,
Richard Caborn, though did helpfully suggest that the world Athletics Championships
might like to hold their event in his home city of Sheffield. The initial
response of the sport's governing body to this idea though, has been less
If the world championships
look like a non starter, a definite sporting winner though has been Derek
Casey. Never heard of him? He used to be the Chief Executive of Sport
England, a body that doles out Lottery cash. He resigned in June but it
didn't emerge until November that his severance package was worth nearly
half a million pounds. Opposition MPs want to know how come Mr Casey apparently
got so lucky.
In luck too is British
Nuclear Fuels. In October they were given permission to run their mixed
oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, a controversial decision since
BNFL was found to have falsified safety data on the plant. What is safe
to say though is that there would have been far more of an outcry if it
wasn't for the war.
The same is true about
the announcement to build a new fifth terminal at London's Heathrow Airport.
The Government have had the results of a public enquiry into the project
since December last year, but only gave the go ahead last month.
These are sheep not cows.
That might sound a rather obvious thing to say, but it was an observation
that was apparently lost on a group of government sponsored scientists
who spent five years searching for evidence of BSE in sheeps brains - only
to find they'd been looking at cows brains all the time. The Rural Affairs
Secretary, Margaret Beckett, announced this rather embarrassing revelation
in a press release posted late at night on the internet. She was though
indignant when facing accusations that she'd tried to bury the story.
MARGARET BECKETT - 22 OCTOBER 2001: There was and is absolutely
no intention to conceal or to mislead. A press pack was issued at a separate
press conference carried out the following day, which gave all the information
to any of the media who were interested.
GROSSMAN: It's report time for
the government. In the rose garden of Number Ten about to introduce Labour's
latest new idea is a very proud looking Tony Blair. The idea is for the
government to publish a yearly account of itself to voters - detailing
its successes and failures.
TONY BLAIR: The annual report is all about
holding the government to account about charting our progress against the
clear promises we've made.
GROSSMAN: Packed with glossy photos,
this must-read publication was even available in supermarkets.
But if you're looking
for a copy of the annual report this year, perhaps as some last minute
Christmas present, don't bother because ever so quietly with no publicity
at all, in October the government announced they'd no longer be publishing
But of course you can
find out all this information for yourself now can't you. In November,
the government published its timetable for bringing in its new Freedom
of Information Law. And you and I will be given far more access to far
more government information before the Christmas decorations come down
in January. January 2005.
ROBINSON: So now we know
then. That was David Grossman reporting. That's all for this week and,
indeed, for this year. If you're on the web you can keep in touch with
us through our website. John Humphrys will be back in the New Year. Until
then, it's goodbye from me.