BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 03.02.02

Interview: DAVID DAVIS MP Interview.

Do the Conservatives want to wreck the public services and get people to pay more for these services out of their own pockets?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: David Davis, wherever that journey goes, the defining issue, mixing metaphors a bit here, but never mind. The defining issue is going to be public services, and Tony Blair says you, your party is the wreckers - are the wreckers. DAVID DAVIS: Well, Mr Blair is at the end of half a decade in power virtually now at the beginning of which he promised enormous improvements in public services. Virtually all of them got worse, transport, health. Across the board we see problems, violent crime rising, and the one thing we know about this government is everybody's to blame except itself, and yesterday they were briefing on this wreckers, that it wasn't the government, that somebody else was to blame. Some people were briefing that it was the Tory Party, others were briefing that it was the trade unions. An absolutely classic piece of Blairism. HUMPHRYS: But where they are right is in this. You say that the existing system doesn't work, and it must be replaced with something else. That means literally wrecking, getting rid of, destroying, whatever verb you want to use, the old system, so to that extent you are wreckers. DAVIS: No, absolutely not. Well, you're quite right in one respect. We do think the current systems are not working. Well, that's self evidently the case. You've got thousands of people dying in hospital who shouldn't die from cancer, from heart disease, from diseases that they didn't even have when they went in. There are large numbers of problems there, but we also recognise there are good parts of Health Service. Our primary care system, the GPs a lot of people are envious of. So what we have to do is to find ways of improving the Health Service, the transport system, the criminal legal system, all of those areas, improving them and delivering what the public want. We're in a democracy, the public want better public services and what we're doing is going through a process of trying to find the ways of delivering that. Liam Fox going to France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, eventually to Australia to look at all those other systems all of which deliver better health care than we have, and try to find a combined solution, not the single model, but a combined solution which will give an answer which the people, the British people want. HUMPHRYS: And the one defining characteristic of all of those countries that you mention is that all of their services require people to pay more directly for their National Health Services, DAVIS: No, I ...... HUMPHRYS: ... for their health, more than we do. DAVIS: A number of them are free at the point of delivery They have different methods. HUMPHRYS: Yes, but we have different methods, and my point is that you're attacking the very basis of the NHS. You want us to pay, your party wants us to pay more directly out of our own pockets, and that's not what the public wants. DAVIS: If I may say so that's what the Americans would call load fire aim, that is actually getting to the conclusion before you've looked at the analysis first. We are still in the process of analysing the problems, and there's not a single problem in this. When you talked in your film about the centre ground, actually I don't think this is a question of turning the dial on the political spectrum more to the left and more to the right. There are a number of problems to solve. The lack of patient choice, the lack of freedom on the part of the management to actually decide, or the doctors for that matter who are important, maybe to decide how they deliver health care, the problems we have of post-code lottery in health care. All those issues have, some have common problems, but many of them have different causes, and we have to find solutions to all of them, and we'll do it by analysing it properly, working out why it is on Conservative based principles why is it they're failing and coming up with a carefully thought through solution. One of the difficulties that Labour faced when they were in opposition, they did a very good job of being in opposition, very successful in one respect, and that is they thought very much about how to get into power, they thought about nothing about what they did when they were in power and we've seen the results in the last five years. We're going to do it the other way round, we are going to think about what we need to do. What's right, and then persuade the public of why it's right in that order. HUMPHRYS: Well, sort of, because you've already reached the conclusion haven't you. You've already reached one conclusion at any rate, Iain Duncan Smith says so quite clearly, people want less government, that is a conclusion that is a solution, and they want to pay less in taxes, that is what Iain Duncan Smith has already decided. So it's within that context that you're looking at everything. You will end up with us paying less in taxes, having less government. Therefore if we're paying less in taxes we are by definition going to be paying less directly in taxes for the National Health Service. DAVIS: This is, as you well know, this is not a simple question, but let's deal with it piece by piece. Firstly Michael Howard, with Iain's approval said we will put public services as our priority. HUMPHRYS: Why, he said it on this very programme, I remember it very well, but... DAVIS: Good, and what that means is that if we come in four years time to come to government, and the economy can't afford tax cuts and public service spending increases as well then public services will come first, but we won't just do it the way the government does it by on a TV programme thinking up a number and saying that's our new target. What we have to think about is what the structure is that will deliver the service, that's what matters, not the cash, the delivery of service, what the structure's are that will do that, then what the financing implications of that are, and then what the tax implications of that are. That's the right way round, that way we won't get to where we are now which is the biggest tax increase in peace time for this government and yet a worsening if anything of public services. HUMPHRYS: But when it comes down - you talk about priorities. If you think of tax cuts as being any sort of priority, and you do, otherwise Iain Duncan Smith would not talk about people wanting less government and wanting to pay less in taxes, how do you explain it when your critics within your own party say they want more public money going into public services such as the National Health Service, and they do not, they specifically do not want tax cuts. Now you want to have it both ways, and there's a touch of cynicism about this isn't there. You're saying of course we want more tax cuts, of course everybody wants more tax cuts. We also want to put more public money, more taxes therefore into the public services, and everybody watching this programme knows that, that is simply unachievable, you cannot have that. DAVIS: No, no, there are two sets of decisions, I made it very clear, the way the priority issue would work if we come into government in four years' time and we have an economy which can carry one or the other, it's quite clear which way the decision will go. But there is another issue which is actually..... HUMPHRYS: Will you just deal with that before you move on to a separate issue, just deal with that for a moment. If you get into government and the economy is not rolling along, is not producing a massive amount of money for you to spend one way or the other, the Health Service is in a fairly dodgy position, you'd be quite happy to say, we have to put up taxes in order to pay more.. DAVIS: Well I'll pick that up in a second when I go through the other half of the argument because it's quite important this. A low tax economy grows faster than a high tax economy. All of the data about the western world demonstrates that. So if you have a low tax economy, it grows faster, it generates more income, which can be either used for increases in spending, or used for tax cuts, or both... HUMPHRYS: there are many other factors ... BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER DAVIS: ...of course... HUMPHRYS: ...we have a world recession, for instance... DAVIS: ...of course, but over time. Over the long term all of the low tax economies grow faster than all of the high tax economies. That's in essence, the truth. And they're all hit by the same international... HUMPHRYS: ...but you might not have that growth at the time that you need it. DAVIS: the point about this sort of simple one-year calculation the media like to do on tax increase spending increase, is that a tax increase may give you some money in the first year, it gives you less money in the second, less in the third and it does damage, it kills the golden goose, and what's different about the Tory party is we take very very, very very much to heart the serious issue of the need to get our public services back to where they ought to be. We need to do that, but we also understand that high tax economies at the end of the day are self-defeating. I mean just as Sweden put up its taxes over the course of the last forty years and probably halved its growth rate over that time, and therefore today can't afford what it could have done if it had a well run economy. HUMPHRYS: So you are saying that you don't want people themselves, individually, to pay more directly, as opposed to in their taxes, for the national health service. DAVIS: We haven't come to the conclusion of the exact mechanism. But Liam Fox has been around looking at all these different systems, the majority of them are free at the point of delivery. They have different mechanisms. Some of them are insurance based mechanisms and state based mechanisms. Nearly all of them are mixed. Some of them have other mechanisms built in. They have different approaches to prescription charges. We have one in this country, Sweden has another one in their country. What we're looking at is the best outcome overall, the one that solves our problems, and I'll repeat the point, the problems with the health service are not simply a question of turning an ideological dial, the issue of people dying in hospital from diseases they didn't have when they went in are actually nearly all about management, about the way the surgeons behave, the way the nurses behave, the way the cleaning contractors behave, they're not all about money. And it's very important. This government went into this notion with a, believing its own propaganda, believing this was just about money, and that's why four or five years later, after having the highest tax increases in peace-time, in this country, we've got the accident and emergency services worse than they were four or five years ago. Not my judgement, not the government's judgement, the Audit Commission's judgement, independent body's judgement. HUMPHRYS: So you don't think that a Conservative government would ever need to raise taxes or would ever choose to raise taxes in order to pay for better public services. DAVIS: I can't, I can't make a snap judgement on... HUMPHRYS: but that's ... DAVIS;, no, I can't, no, no, no, no...I can't make a judgement as to what the economic decision that has to be made in a given circumstance, All governments from time to time, Tory and Labour, raise taxes from time to time and bring them down from time to time. Mostly Labour take them up, Tories actually see a virtue in bringing them down, but the priority, I say again, as Michael Howard said on this programme is putting the public services right first. HUMPHRYS: Alright. Let's talk about the way we lead our lives now and attitudes in society, different life-styles, and all the rest of it. You seem to be following a more liberal road than you had previously done, Oliver Letwin, your Shadow Home Secretary has talked about civil rights for unmarried couples, that sort of thing. Is this just the start of that road, of what may be quite a long road? Are you going to go a long way down that road? DAVIS: It is what I hope is an intelligent approach to this issue. One of the problems we faced, I mean, the article you're referring to related to the Lester Bill going to the House of Lords. HUMPHRYS: Lord Lester, yes. DAVIS: ...Lord Lester's Bill, creating rights for actually I think it was for gay couples... HUMPHRYS: ...primarily, yes, but indeed he went as far as to talk about a kind of ceremony that gay people could ................. DAVIS: ...the concern in the Conservative Party about these sort of proposals has been about defending marriage. You had Gerald Howarth talking about that. The reason for that is very simple. It's not a religious commitment to, sure though some have that, it is actually about what's the best option for children, in the long run, on the odds, you know there are good, there are very good unmarried couples who raise children very well, but on average marriage is the best bet for children, and what we're very concerned to do was not to undermine that institution. And we talked about Lord Lester's Bill in some detail, and we looked at it, we thought there are real rights here that we have to worry about. A couple living together, not just a gay couple but maybe somebody looking after an elderly mother or something else doesn't have the right, unless they're actually the next of kin, to make decisions about whether somebody's operated on, whether they have a blood transfusion, to sign the forms in the event of death, to deal with tenancy, and what we did is we pulled it apart and we said okay, what can we do about that without jeopardising marriage? It is possible to look after both aspects of this and that's what that was about. HUMPHRYS: ...Where it's.... DAVIS: ...that's what that was about. We recognise the rights, we recognise the needs in a modern society and we think we can do it without undermining the long-term whole-hearted commitment to marriage ... HUMPHRYS: And would you be undermining that commitment for instance if you were to get rid of Clause 28, which clearly Stephen Dorrell we heard, former Health Secretary himself say in that programme, that's something you have to do, if you are going to persuade people that you are taking a more liberal approach. But on the other hand then, you've got Gerald Howarth saying you must support, you must support Clause 28 if you believe in marriage. DAVIS: Well, we haven't come to that in the policy... HUMPHRYS: ducked that issue. DAVIS: No we haven't ducked it, I mean we have a whole swathe of issues on public services, right across the board and we are dealing with them as we can... HUMPHRYS: Where does your heart lie on it? DAVIS: the's my brain that matters here...I'll come back. HUMPHRYS: Both? DAVIS: Dealing with them in the order that we think is important in terms of us getting solutions. Where does my heart lie? I take the view that in a civilised society, tolerance - acceptance not tolerance is a better word, acceptance is an important part of that society. I am from Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind", "Frankly, my dear I don't give a damn" is the proper attitude to race, colour, sex, sexual orientation. HUMPHRYS: So Clause 28 should go, in your view. DAVIS: No, no, no, I didn't say that. I said, look, no, no, no... HUMPHRYS: Rhett Butler would say, you're damn close to it! DAVIS: You have to understand, that the defence of the vulnerable, one of the issues about modern Conservatism will be that we are aiming our policies at looking after the vulnerable, looking after the weak, looking after the elderly and one group of vulnerable, very important is children and we have to put their rights first. HUMPHRYS: Okay, right. What about the other group, wouldn't call them vulnerable by any means, but women, a hundred and sixty-six Tory MPs, fourteen of them are women, which is the same as it was in the last Parliament. Not a single woman selected in what you could call a safe or an existing Tory seat at the last election, not one extra woman. Now, you have tried exhortation, you've tried to say to the... DAVIS: You did actually show Angela on there, who got in last time of course, but there you are. HUMPHRYS: Indeed, but then another woman lost her seat. DAVIS: I'm afraid she did. HUMPHRYS: Exactly. You've tried exhortation and as Francis Maude said, that has failed, you've therefore got to go down another road - all women shortlists. DAVIS: Well, actually I don't think we say exhortation... HUMPHRYS: Haven't you? DAVIS: Let me... HUMPHRYS: Well you've tried exhortation. One leader after another has said we must have more women, we believe in it. DAVIS: It's going to be a bit more determined than that. The first thing to make clear however is I do not want to over-rule the autonomy of the Conservative Associations, it's very important because that's actually the... HUMPHRYS: But nothing will change. DAVIS: No, no, wait a minute, there is the fundamental under-pinning of MPs' autonomy is that, so we don't want to throw out that baby with the bath water. What we are doing with every safe seat, or every target seat, beg your pardon, and any safe seats coming up for review, every target seat, is that we are going to, what they call profile a seat, look at it very carefully, see what sort it is, what sort of seat it is. And I am going to go or one of my vice chairmen is going to go and talk to every single association that's selecting.... HUMPHRYS: Exhortation. DAVIS: No, it's more than just exhortation, we are going to explain to them why it is in many cases.... HUMPHRYS: ...they don't know already, of course they know. DAVIS: I'm afraid the truth is that many of them haven't known already, that is the sort of serious point and we are also going to be giving training to the Selection Committees and we are going to be giving extra training to some of the people who are up for selection. The other thing we are going to do is to make sure they are all women on the list being put to them. That's exactly happening in the next month or two, we've got four or five selection boards coming up, deliberately aiming at that, looking outside to get more women in. Measure us by results, measure by outcome because that's what I want to see, I want the outcome, I don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water but I do want an improvement in those numbers. HUMPHRYS: David Davis, thanks very much indeed. DAVIS: Thank you.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.