BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 24.02.02

==================================================================================== 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 ==================================================================================== ON THE RECORD RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE DATE: 24.02.02 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. Are we about to pay to use our roads? That's what the Government's being told should happen and we'll be asking if they'll get away with it. Has the Government been getting its foreign policy from the Conservatives? I'll be talking to the Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram. Labour's backbenchers tell us that Tony Blair's got a fight on his hands if he wants to back President Bush in more wars on terrorism. And we'll be talking to the politician who uncovered what Mr Blair calls "garbage-gate". That's after the news read by Darren Jordan. NEWS HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair's been standing shoulder to shoulder with George Bush ... but his backbench MP's have told this programme they'll not be giving him a blank cheque in future. DONALD ANDERSON: We know that there isstill a special relationship but that should not be taken for granted. HUMPHRYS: The Government's being advised to make us pay when we use the roads. Will the public - let alone the politicians - wear it? We'll also be talking to the Welsh politician who exposed the way Tony Blair helped a foreign Labour Party donor buy the steel industry in Romania. JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, there's been a flurry of diplomatic activity this week. The government has agreed to sanctions against Robert Mugabe and his henchmen in Zimbabwe. The Foreign Secretary has spelled out how he thinks the ambitions of the European Union should be limited. And the row rumbles on over the future of Gibraltar and Britain's negotiations with Spain. Might there be a curious sort of link between all three? Well, if you look at the Conservative Party's approach to each of them, you may find they're remarkably similar to Labour's. What's going on here? Well, the Shadow Foreign Secretary (and deputy leader of the Conservative Party) is Michael Ancram. Good afternoon Mr Ancram. MICHAEL ANCRAM MP: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: Good week in a sense isn't it. I mean here we've got the government, British government and the European Union on Zimbabwe agreeing to implement precisely the sorts of sanctions that you have been suggesting that they should. There is a sort of link here isn't there. ANCRAM: Well there's a link but only in the sense that I asked for these sanctions to be at least threatened, if not imposed, three months' ago when they might have had greater effective in ensuring that there was a free and fair election in Zimbabwe. I wanted to see them imposed before voter registration took place, before the levels of intimidation which have driven people out of constituencies was allowed to happen, but you know, I suppose better late than never. But what we've got to make sure now, is that Mr Mugabe realises even at this late date, that if the elections are not free and fair, then this isn't a short two week sanction campaign, but the pressure will continue on him until something is done about his regime. HUMPHRYS: Well, we heard the opposition leader in Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai saying this morning, it should have happened, they should have happened six months' ago and the elections cannot now - cannot be free and fair given everything that's happened. Do you agree with that? ANCRAM: I think that's probably right. I mean certainly Francis Maude my predecessor was calling for these sanctions a year ago and I think it's quite extraordinary that we've had this unforgivable dithering since then, being told that these sanctions were inappropriate and then suddenly finding with three weeks to go before the election that they are imposed. But what I think is important, is if we are going to see elections which are not free and fair, if we are going to see the continued imposition of what I believe is a fascist state in that part of Southern Africa, then we have to make it absolutely clear that that is unacceptable, unacceptable within Southern Africa, unacceptable to the international community as well. I would like to see an international coalition come together now, which will make it clear to President Mugabe that his type of regime and his type of behaviour simply will not be tolerated. HUMPHRYS: So for a start, given that there's no way these elections are going to be free and fair, we should not be, Britain in particular since the rest of the Commonwealth will do what it wishes to do of course, but we should not be welcoming Robert Mugabe at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting next week? ANCRAM: I think given what he's doing at the moment, I think that's absolutely right. I think he must be made to understand that if he continues with the sort of behaviour that he's been pursuing, then he is going to become an international pariah in terms of the way that other countries deal with him. The whole idea of targeted sanctions is to bring it home personally to him and personalities within his regime that you cannot dismantle democracy in the way that he's doing. You can't get rid of press freedom, you can't treat your political opponents by detaining them, by torturing them, in some cases by murdering them and get away with it. And that's the message that he must get loud and clear from every quarter now. HUMPHRYS: So, if he tries to go to that meeting and of course there's no guarantee that he will, they reckon it's about fifty/fifty, the meeting in Australia, the Heads of Government meeting, what should we do? Should we try to stop him, or if he does go, should we snub him or what? - what should we do? ANCRAM: Well, I hope if he does go that he will be firmly snubbed but this is again a test of the Commonwealth. I was very disappointed the other day that the Commonwealth decided or the CMAG decided not to... HUMPHRYS: CMAG - you'll have to explain that. ANCRAM: That's the management group within the Commonwealth, they met the other day in London and Jack Straw again, very belatedly asked them to consider expelling Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and they decided not to do so. I was very disappointed in that, I think it gave totally the wrong message to Mr Mugabe. I would like to see the Commonwealth now showing that they have got teeth, that they are prepared to deal with the sort of behaviour that we are seeing from President Mugabe in Zimbabwe as part of the Commonwealth, that they will make it clear that he is no longer welcome at their table. HUMPHRYS: And as far as expelling him, it seems unlikely, the Commonwealth has already made it clear what it thinks about that, bearing in mind how many African members there are, it's not going to expel him. In that event, given that..well you may disagree with that, but let me just finish the question if I may, in that event, what sort of unilateral action could this country take? ANCRAM: I don't think it's a question of unilateral action. I think what we have to see now is the building of a coalition which would include obviously the United States, would include I hope, the European Union as well, ourselves and ideally also the countries around Zimbabwe in Southern Africa, to make it clear to Mr Mugabe that he cannot continue down the path that he has set himself. We are now seeing very frightening signs that he is putting his country in hock to President Gaddafi in Libya. There are all the signs that this could be an incipient rogue state which will bring all sorts of dire consequences, not just to Southern Africa but more internationally as well. The International Community has to come together now to make it quite clear that they are prepared to take action if necessary to stop this happening. HUMPHRYS: But what kind of action. I mean we are not talking here about military action, I mean obviously Washington is prepared to talk about military action with regard to other countries but you wouldn't countenance something like that would you. I mean, obviously we can withdraw recognition of Zimbabwe but what else, withdrawn recognition again, he'll probably just shrug his shoulders and say 'you know they are just colonialists, what the hell'. ANCRAM: Well, I think it's very important to remember, Zimbabwe is a land locked country, there are many things that can be done to Zimbabwe to make it realise it is dependent on its neighbours.... HUMPHRYS: Well, we did it to Ian Smith didn't we? ANCRAM: Yes, absolutely, but I mean what you need to make sure is that if you are going to use that type of action, it has to be consistent and it has to be water tight. I've talked to countries around Zimbabwe, particularly the Foreign Minister of Botswana when he was in London the other day, he made it clear to me they are very concerned by what's happening in Zimbabwe, it's effecting their economy, if there really was a breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe then they would be flooded by refugees from Zimbabwe and so would South Africa, the Rand is under severe pressure because of what's happening. There are all the reasons there for making sure that swift action is taken, firm action is taken and that Mr Mugabe's regime is not allowed to continue in the way it is at the moment. HUMPHRYS: So there is argument then, you think for effectively blockading Zimbabwe in the way we did when it was Rhodesia and Ian Smith declared UDI? ANCRAM: I don't think we should rule anything in or anything out. What we have to do is to make sure that Mr Mugabe knows that he can no longer get away with what he's been doing. My concern over the last six months has been that we've talked tough and then done nothing. But we kept on making noises, like Tony Blair talked about not tolerating Mr Mugabe and his henchmen's behaviour last year at the Labour Party Conference. And I think we do have to make it absolutely clear that from now on we mean business, that what we say we're going to do we do, and that he can't get away with it. HUMPHRYS: I don't know whether you can still hear me alright, are you alright with that ear-piece? I'll give you just a second to try and fit it back in. ANCRAM: I think it's pretty well back in. I can hear you. HUMPHRYS: Good alright, it's always a pain when they come out. But military, you said you wouldn't rule anything in and anything out. Presumably you would rule out some sort of military intervention, or would you not? HUMPHRYS: Well, I think you have to look at all the options. It may well be in the interest of countries in Southern Africa to take action which it might be more difficult for the international community at a greater distance to take, but when you do build an international coalition the important thing, as we've learnt over the last six months, is to look at all the options, to have all the options available and to use those which are going to be most effective in achieving your objective. I heard you talking earlier about Iraq and what might happen there. Exactly the same criteria apply in that area as well as I believe apply in Zimbabwe. HUMPHRYS: Alright, let's turn from Zimbabwe to Gibraltar. Now you seem to think - your party seems to think it's outrageous that the British government should be negotiating with Gibraltar over - with Spain over a degree of sovereignty, over the issue of British sovereignty and yet you, your party actually instigated this whole process didn't you. I mean you began it, what was it called, the 1984 Brussels process. I've been reading a bit of history this morning. You can hardly whinge about it now when you set it all up! ANCRAM: I'm not whinging about the process, I'm whinging about what I believe the government is doing with the process. What concerns me at the moment is it appears that almost a deal has been done already with the Spanish government to come to an agreement to share sovereignty over the rock, and then if the people of Gibraltar vote against that, to have that agreement if you like on the shelf, hanging over the people of Gibraltar like a sword of Damocles. I believe that that is a very dangerous route to take. I think that as we learnt in Northern Ireland, if you're going to get an agreement to stick you have to make sure that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in a proper referendum. The idea that you can have if you like, a sort of a side agreement between the ....between the Spanish government and the British government about sovereignty, I think that undermines not only the whole basis of the - what's known as the Brussels process, but also betrays the interests of people in Gibraltar who, I think we owe our loyalty to them, they've been very loyal to us in the past, we must make sure at least we play fair by them. HUMPHRYS: But do you really think that is what the government is proposing, some sort of side agreement, some sort of selling out of the people of Gibraltar? ANCRAM: It's not what I think, they've effectively admitted that they are working towards an agreement with the Spanish government and that if that agreement is not endorsed by the people of Gibraltar they will nevertheless have that there on the side to be returned to in the future if necessary. HUMPHRYS: Well...... ANCRAM: Now, I think that undermines the whole concept of a democratic and free decision being taken by the people of Gibraltar, which is what after all we promised them. HUMPHRYS: Well, let me quote you what Baroness Symons, Foreign Office Minister said, exactly the opposite of that "Anything which affects the sovereignty of the people of Gibraltar will be put to them in a referendum. I do not want to mince around with terms such as legal sovereignty or how we define it. I say that anything which affects the sovereignty will be put to them". Couldn't be more clear than that. ANCRAM: Absolutely. In terms of what is implemented, but what I do know is that if an agreement is reached between the Spanish government and the British government about sovereignty and ideas of sharing it, then that passes so, you can't undo that agreement, it's there, it will be the first time that we've conceded even in principle sovereignty over Gibraltar. That undermines the whole process, it undermines the whole concept of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We learnt this in Northern Ireland, we did not talk about joint authority, we did not talk about shared sovereignty, because we understood that if we went down that road we would blow the process out of the water, and I think the lessons of Northern Ireland are very clear, they should be applied also in this case. HUMPHRYS: Alright. Let's look at the third of those foreign policy issues that I raised at the start of this, the European Union. We heard Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary saying this week in a speech that he is effectively - he didn't use this language of course - but looking at it he is effectively treading your path. He wants much greater subsidiarity which is of course what you want. He wants more democratic accountability which is what you want. He wants reform of Parliament, reform of the Commission, the Council of Ministers. There's nothing there that you would disagree with is there? ANCRAM: Oh yes there was because what he was doing in that speech as he always does, was that he was lurching from one side to the other. At one moment he was talking the sort of language which we might be talking in terms of a flexible Europe and a Europe of nations, the next he was talking about a written constitution, saying that the words didn't matter. Well, they do because the argument about Europe is a very simple and straight-forward one from my point of view - it's whether we build Europe from the bottom up so that the power flows from the nation states and the nation parliaments - that was the original concept.... HUMPHRYS: And that's what Jack Straw said he wants this week. ANCRAM: Not if you listen to what he said in detail and you look at what he was talking about. He was talking about, as they did when they came away from the Laeken Conference before Christmas. They were talking about Europe being developed from the top downwards. There's a great difference. If you develop something from the top downwards you begin to give the top all the powers and abilities of, if you like a government and then you begin to move into that whole area of creating a European super-state. What I want to see is a flexible Europe built from the bottom upwards. If you look at the last six months. If ever there was a need to learn from experience, we've been able to respond to what happened on the 11th September because we did not have a Europe where there was a common foreign policy and a common defence policy. If we had had that we would not have been able to respond as effectively and flexibly as we did. That's the type of Europe we need to now see continue. That was not what Jack Straw was talking about in his speech. He was once again talking about an agenda which in the end of the day leads as Schroeder himself was saying last week to what he wants to see, which is a European government and effectively a European political union. HUMPHRYS: Michael Ancram, thanks very much indeed, you can put your hand down now. Many thanks for joining us. HUMPHRYS: Every new government promises to sort out the mess on Britain's roads. This one was no different when it came into power five years ago. Indeed, it said it would have failed if we weren't using our cars less. Well, we're not. Congestion is worse than it's ever been and it's going to get a lot worse still. Our cities and motorways will simply grind to a halt if things carry on the way they are. John Prescott set up a body of experts - the Commission for Integrated Transport - to find some answers and tomorrow they will deliver them. It's safe to say they will not be popular because we would have to pay to use the most congested roads. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, will announce this week whether he's going to bring in a plan to charge motorists to drive into London and there's talk of doing the same for Britain's other big cities. But as Terry Dignan reports, it will meet a lot of resistance. TERRY DIGNAN: The way we travel harms our health, economy and environment. So our transport system is getting a hundred and eighty billion pounds more investment. And towns and cities are being allowed to charge drivers for using roads or office car parks. But while other parts of the country prevaricate over using this power, London's mayor intends pressing ahead. Some Labour MPs in the capital are deeply unhappy with Mayor Livingstone's plans to charge motorists for driving into central London. And nor are Tony Blair's transport ministers terribly enthusiastic. Indeed, there are signs they've gone off the whole idea of using congestion charging as part of a national strategy to tackle urban gridlock. Yet it's argued that without congestion charging, or something like it, it's hard to see how the Government is going to persuade many more car drivers to use public transport instead. LYNNE JONES MP: At the end of the day, we'll probably have to grasp the nettle that the only way to get motorists out of their cars, and into public transport, is to, is to start charging. KATE HOEY MP: Cars for many people, and particularly for women I think give them a sense of independence. And I don't think that you can try and use congestion charging just to get people out of their car. DIGNAN; Campaigning to be the capital's mayor, Ken Livingstone had a vision of a congestion-free London. He's ahead of cities like Birmingham with his proposal to charge motorists five pounds a day for driving into central London. While ministers say they've no power to stop him, they warn he must proceed cautiously. JOHN SPELLAR MP: This needs to be sensitively handled - that's precisely why we've said to the Mayor of London that, well this is his decision, he not only has to assure himself that the technology will work, and therefore the scheme is technically valid, but also that he's carrying the great majority of London opinion with him as well, in order to bring that scheme forward. DIGNAN: The boundary of the charging zone cuts across constituencies of Labour MPs like Kate Hoey. She says that here in Kennington, there'll be a price to pay for living on the wrong side of the road. HOEY: You can have a ridiculous situation where people just going about what would be their normal daily travelling, back and forward, are going to have to pay. We're going to see people you know who have to go into central London perhaps with a small business, perhaps a window cleaning business, living one side of the road, they won't pay, the other side they will. DIGNAN: But the body appointed by Labour ministers to advise them on transport policy backs Mayor Livingstone. The Commission for Integrated Transport argues that improvements in public transport on their own won't reduce congestion in our towns and cities. DAVID BEGG: If Ken Livingstone doesn't introduce congestion charging then the people that travel in London are going to be travelling at speeds which are no quicker than the horse and cart was a century ago. It's just incredibly inefficient, imposing a huge cost on London business. So the Mayor's right to try and get in a congestion charging scheme as quickly as he can. DIGNAN: Birmingham. The city's prosperity was founded on the motor car. Yet today it's said road traffic growth is costing the regional economy here more than a billion pounds a year. And in the next three decades rush hour car journeys are forecast to rise by nearly two hundred thousand a day. Companies like A. E. Harris and Co complain angrily about congestion. The firm makes metal components which are delivered by road to customers throughout the United Kingdom. RUSSELL LUCKOCK: Traffic congestion increases, that puts up costs of getting materials in, goods out, of this factory. On certain occasions we're having to pay a premium for motorcycle riders to get urgent components out because they can get through the traffic quickly, and that puts up our costs. It doesn't help at all when your van is stuck out say, three miles from the City Centre. DIGNAN: When the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was Transport Secretary, he asked groups of experts to find solutions to the traffic problems of urban areas. The conclusion they've come to here in the West Midlands is that you won't get many motorists to leave their cars at home simply by spending more money on public transport. They've told ministers congestion charging is essential because many commuters find driving to work is relatively cheap. But the Government's policy of leaving it to local authorities to introduce charging schemes means it's unlikely to happen in many areas in the foreseeable future, as even ministers now concede. In Labour's ten year transport plan, John Prescott warned that compared with buses and trains, motoring was likely to become even more affordable. Yet his plan aims to cut congestion in cities like Birmingham by eight per cent by twenty-ten. According to some Labour MPs here - and those advising ministers - it can't be done without charging. BEGG: Now we are absolutely clear in our advice. What we are saying is that you do not reduce congestion in Britain without measures such as congestion charging. Yes it's politically difficult. They probably don't want to discuss this at present. But they have to decide how they are going to tackle congestion and whether the policies that are in place are going to be sufficient. JONES: Although motorists squeal about the costs of motoring, in real terms it's stayed pretty steady but whereas costs of public transport have increased quite dramatically, so we've got to even the balance as between those two - or the different sorts of transport. But at the end of the day we just cannot go on as we are. DIGNAN And Birmingham businesses like this one would agree. Yet they have fiercely objected to attempts by Labour councillors to introduce both congestion and workplace charging. To the dismay of those who advise the Government, opposition to the idea, in Birmingham and other towns and cities, remains strong. LUCKOCK: This factory is right in the heart of the city of Birmingham. Therefore all my employees would be subjected to being, who come in by car, would be subjected to additional cost. They wouldn't want to come in, they could go and get jobs elsewhere and that would cause me much grief. In fact I'm not at all sure that we should be able to continue and function as a viable proposition. DIGNAN: That's a warning councillors ignore at their peril. But their biggest fear would be losing jobs to other areas unless neighbouring authorities also introduced charging. JONES: I mean the example in Birmingham is that, if Birmingham City Council wants to charge people to go into the city centre, the traders there will say, "Well people will stop coming in, and they'll go to out of town centres like Merryhill, in Dudley," so it's got to be an overall strategy for a region, if not for the whole country. DIGNAN: The Government's transport plan, published just two years ago, assumes at least twenty towns and cities will introduce congestion or workplace charging. Yet the transport minister, a Birmingham MP, doesn't believe it's his job to encourage it. SPELLAR: There's a considerable demand and understandable demand that many local issues should be decided by local people who are best able to understand the local circumstances and to understand the, understand the best response. JONES: Well I think this is government ducking its responsibilities here. It's ready to interfere in many areas of policy where local authority is - local authorities are competent to take decisions. ACTUALITY: "Would you like to be the chauffeur?" DIGNAN: At the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon near Warwick schoolchildren learn about the so-called golden age of British-made cars. ACTUALITY: "Are you happy with that? Good." DIGNAN: When they grow up and learn how to drive Labour promises the roads will be less congested. That's assuming twenty towns and cities introduce charging by twenty-ten. But ministers are now backing away from this figure. SPELLAR: You do have to have a degree of, of prediction in order to be able to get some shape of a national picture. And, I think that probably twenty would be now a slightly optimistic assumption. BEGG: That has an impact on the amount of revenue that will be available to spend on transport - up to three billion pounds is forecast to come from these new charges and it has a disproportionate effect on reducing congestion - around a quarter of all of the congestion reduction forecast by the government by twenty-ten will come from these congestion charging schemes. DIGNAN: Which may be why Chancellor Gordon Brown publicly supports them. The Integrated Transport Commission hopes he'll back, using satellite technology, to charge motorists on any UK road that's congested. In return, vehicle excise duty would be axed and petrol taxes cut. Congestion would decrease by forty-four per cent. But it would mean extending Treasury plans to charge haulage companies for road use. BEGG: It's a type of technology which is already in place and which the Government are proposing to bring in for lorries. So it's proposed to be a distance tax for lorries. So lorries will be taxed on the basis of the distances they are travelling in Britain. That same system can be used to try and bring in congestion charging for cars. ACTUALITY "This motorway starts a new era in road travel." DIGNAN: But it didn't last long. When Government ministers opened the first motorways, little did they know they faced a losing battle to keep them clear of congestion. Motorists who feel they get a raw deal from Labour believe the answer is better roads - and more roads. LUCKOCK: I mean the, the percentage they take from fuel is almost criminal, almost obscene and not to invest it in better methods of transportation is also obscene. Road transport is the best solution. And we want better roads, wider roads, double-deck roads if necessary to get transport and goods moving. DIGNAN: Labour hoped to curb the motor car's power. But ministers worry about motorists' views, especially after the fuel tax protests. Indeed a third of the budget for the ten year transport plan - fifty-nine billion pounds - will go towards roads. While advisers on transport are sceptical, ministers now appear to show enthusiasm for road building. SPELLAR: There's been considerable under-investment in transport and there is a real need to be getting more investment into transport and not just in the big ticket items of the main railway systems or indeed the Highways Agency the main trunk roads, important that those are. A lot of local roads, a lot of local bypasses that we're, that we're putting through, but we'll be dealing with real congestion locally and making a big difference to free flow of traffic in those areas. BEGG: It may be that if you start to build more roads in two thousand and eight, two thousand and nine, that if you take a snapshot of two thousand and ten that there's a reduction in congestion. But these extra roads by, freeing up congestion, will attract more traffic and by two thousand and fifteen, two thousand and twenty, we could effectively be back to square one. DIGNAN: Although London is due to become the first big city to charge motorists for driving to work, few seem likely to follow. Ministers hope better roads and public transport will reduce congestion. But their advisers warn any solution that avoids charging car drivers more won't work. HUMPHRYS: Terry Dignan reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: With me in the studio is the Conservatives' Transport spokesman Eric Pickles, in our Bristol studio the Liberal Democrat spokesman Don Foster. Mr. Foster, you agree, your party agrees with charging in cities, doesn't it? DON FOSTER: We certainly do. I mean one of the crucial things is that in the past, to try and solve the problem of congestion on our roads, what we used to do was simply try and price all cars off the road by ever increasing fuel prices. We now recognise that it's crucially important to be much more sophisticated to tackle the real problem that is congestion itself, because it's that congestion which is causing British businesses some fifteen billion pounds a year, and of course the pollution from it is leading to as many deaths as we have from road accidents, so sophisticated measures to tackle congestion are desperately needed as is increased investment in a much needed improved public transport system. HUMPHRYS: The trouble is, you try that, and it might be a sophisticated system, but politics is pretty crude and brutal and any local authority who tried to do it would be crucified wouldn't it? FOSTER: Well, it's certainly going to be very difficult, and that's why I think Lynne Jones was absolutely right in your piece earlier when she was saying that we have to look at this on a wider, at least a regional area - individual councils trying to introduce it, knowing how unpopular it is, are going to have great difficulty although I admire those councils that are certainly trying it. But all of the evidence is that if we get the system right, everybody can benefit. We've already seen, for example, in attempts to introduce variable speed limits on our motorways, that that sort of sophistication can really help get the traffic moving, after all people, when they want to use their cars, when they need to use their cars, want to be able to get out and about and do it easily, so they desperately need help as well, so everybody will benefit. HUMPHRYS: Not absolutely clear what you are saying there. Are you leaving it to local authorities or not? FOSTER: No. In the past Liberal Democrats have argued that it's certainly got to be a local decision that has got to be taken and one that should only be taken when there has been a significant improvement in the quality and availability of public transport, but increasingly we're recognising, as the commission itself recognises in the report they're going to publish, that we have to look at this on a slightly wider issue because otherwise we'll have the very political problems that you are describing. HUMPHRYS: So, the local decision taken nationally? In other words, the local authority will be able to say, "We can't help it, we've been told to do it." FOSTER: You can do it at the regional level and of course we are going to see from this government hopefully their proposals for moving towards regional government and regional government it seems to me is the right place to be addressing these significant issues... HUMPHRYS: if we don't have regional... FOSTER: ...going to be a combination of the two. HUMPHRYS: If we don't have regional government, we don't get this then? We have to wait for regional government? BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER FOSTER: a regional level where local councils are working together. But the crucial thing here is to get over the simple message that at the moment congestion on our roads is costing businesses very dear, it's costing lives, it's reducing the quality of life for just about everybody in this country, it is something that we have collectively got to tackle, we can't just do it by pricing people out of their cars, people in rural areas frankly have no alternative but their cars very often, so we have to have a more sophisticated approach and what the Commission is proposing strikes me as a very sensible way forward. HUMPHRYS: Eric Pickles, you'll not agree with very much of that, but you've surely got to agree we have to stop people using their cars so much, not having cars, but using them? ERIC PICKLES: No I disagree, because I've seen Liberal leaflets saying that they're against congestion charging, just a, it's just the irony of what Don was saying was amusing me. But, but what are we going to put people into? I mean there isn't a public transport system that's able to support a significant shift from, from the car. Our Tubes are working at a-hundred-and-twenty per cent capacity at peak. There isn't really any significant way in which we can get lots more trains into London, but we don't have many buses to be able take, so what they going to go to? Professor Begg saying, well we'll get rid of congestion, we don't get rid of congestion by pricing poor people out of their cars. HUMPHRYS: So, what we let it go on like it is until everything comes to a dead stop? PICKLES: Well I think there are lots of things we can do to change, to reduce congestion. I mean, I was quite startled to see the figures that came out, I think it was a couple of weeks ago, that showed the number of cars in London at peak were no greater than they were ten years ago, but congestion's increased. There are lots of things we can do with regard to freeing up our roads, about the repairs of our roads, about the signing of our capital, our capital is the worst signed capital in the world. HUMPHRYS: ...this is tinkering with it though, isn't it? I mean ultimately, you have to stop people using their cars so much? PICKLES:, no, no, but put them into what? To make them stay at home? HUMPHRYS: Well, how about your, how about doing what Professor Begg is saying - you raise money doing the sorts of things he's talking about. You charge people - two things - charge people for driving in congested areas and then you use that money to improve public transport. PICKLES: No John he's not saying that at all. He's saying that this is going to be tax neutral. If it's tax neutral then it's not, there's going to be, no more money, additional money across. HUMPHRYS: ...but additional... PICKLES: you'd have to stop spending money on something else. HUMPHRYS: But I made the point that there are two things, because the other thing that that will do is it will deter people from driving in congested areas if they know they have to pay for it. PICKLES: So, and, who causes the congestion? Do they have, this way the government works out, if the government neglects our road system, if local authorities neglect our road system and if there is more congestion, therefore they get more revenue, that doesn't seem to me to be a very sensible way of freeing up our nation's congested roads. HUMPHRYS: Don Foster, he has a point there doesn't he? And an awful lot of people watching this programme have been saying "What on earth are you doing telling us you'll charge us for using our cars in congested areas, and we've got no other way of getting to work, or doing the shopping, or taking the kids to school or whatever it happens to be?" FOSTER: Well, I mean, there's so many different issues there aren't there? I mean, first of all Eric Pickles is absolutely right. We can make better uses of the roads that we already have. I mean everybody knows the ridiculous situation of the people who hog the middle lane on motorways... HUMPHRYS: ...oh we've been saying that sort of thing for years, haven't we? FOSTER: Absolutely. We know the problem that we've got of the school run in the morning. Twenty per cent of the congestion on our roads is caused by parents taking their children to school and we can tackle those sorts of issues, but at the end of the day, those are going to be relatively minor solutions to the problem, we need to take a much bigger approach to this, a bigger solution, and what is being suggested is reducing the cost of the VED, the Vehicle Excise Duty, and replacing that with a very sophisticated form of charging people for the use they make of congested roads. Now we accept that people pay for the use they make of other products, it seems a quite reasonable approach therefore to adopt a similar approach for this. HUMPHRYS: Eric Pickles, you're saying are you, let's be clear about it, that if that were to happen, if that were to be introduced during the next few years of this Labour government and you came into power, you would remove it? You'd get shot of it or go back to where it was before? PICKLES: Well I sincerely hope that the Labour government are not going to be in power in two-thousand-and-ten, and that's the earliest this can be introduced... HUMPHRYS: ...who knows! PICKLES: Well I can safely say that while we're putting our manifesto together for the next election, I'm reasonably confident that congestion charging, or toll, or a new toll tax is not going to form a part of that manifesto. What we want to do is see that people have a real choice. What he's suggested, people will not have any kind of choice whatsoever, because there's nowhere for them to go. HUMPHRYS: But you've changed your tune on this a bit haven't you, as a Conservative Party? I was looking at something John Major said in nineteen-ninety-four which was "that the problem with charging was technology." Not the politics of it, the politics of it was pretty sound, the principle was pretty sound? PICKLES: I concede the point that we did for a brief period toil with the idea of congestion charging. But we realise that the bureaucracy that would be necessary to set a proper congestion charging system up would be absolutely enormous, people would contest a particular Bill. People would find their machines would be clipped and others would be using it. And we recognise that to a large extent, most of the congestion is caused by neglect by government. HUMPHRYS: So if Ken Livingstone does say this week, we are going to do it in London, you will be root and branch opposed to that, you'll say that. PICKLES: We are root and branch opposed to that. There will be a mayoral election reasonably soon, congestion charging will just about have been going for about a year and we will certainly review it, my colleagues on the Greater London Authority will certainly...will have a look at it. I mean it could be that I am going to be pleasantly surprised but I don't think so, it's going to cut communities in two. HUMPHRYS: And if it did happen under Ken Livingstone and then your candidate won the Mayoral contest next time around, he would say we are going to get shot of it in London, even though it's already been introduced. PICKLES: And we would have to be pretty persuasive, it would have to be shown to be a complete success.. HUMPHRYS: are not absolutely clear about that then, there is room... PICKLES: I am absolutely clear, I'm just trying not to be dogmatic, we are opposed to congestion charging but you are asking me to say, in two years' time what are we going to do. Now, that's going to largely be up to our Mayoral candidate and it's going to be up to our Greater London... HUMPHRYS: So it's not a matter of principle then. Let's be quite clear about this, it isn't a matter of principle, you are not saying we should not do this as a matter of principle because this is taxation too far? PICKLES: Look John, let me be...I think this is absolute madness, this is not going to help congestion. I believe the system that is going to be put in, is flawed, it's going to cut communities in half, it's going to tax people for taking their children to see their doctor if they are on the wrong side of the boundary and it's not going to ease our congestion policy one bit and it's not going to make pollution one bit better. HUMPHRYS: Donald Foster, if we do, if the government does bite the bullet and say, yeah this notion of charging has to be broadened outside our cities, onto our motorways and our trunk roads and all the rest of it, you'd go along with that as well? FOSTER: Well, broadly speaking yes I would. I mean I think there's one issue that we need to look at and that is whether or not it's right to introduce this sort of charging on our motorways. Afterall, what we are trying to do is to get as many of the vehicles away from our...areas where people are living and perhaps putting charges on motorways is not necessarily the right way forward, especially given that there are other techniques that we can use to reduce congestion on those motorways, better use of the road space itself and secondly, variable speed limits. But broadly speaking, I do think that the time has now come where we have to address the real problems of congestion on our roads, problems that are effecting every single person and we have to do it in a way that those who are largely responsible for creating the congestion are those who pay for it and therefore those living, for instance, in remote rural areas, where they have no real opportunity to use alternatives of public transport, are not penalised. HUMPHRYS: You're not tempted to say Transport Department can't organise their own press department, let alone organise this! FOSTER: I'm certainly tempted to say that because it's absolutely true. I mean we've got a complete crisis in management within the department, so whether they are going to be under the current leadership able to manage something like this, certainly is very questionable, indeed the behaviour has been appalling recently. HUMPHRYS: Eric Pickles, for once you'd agree with him wholeheartedly, I dare say. PICKLES: I think the behaviour has been appalling. I think the fantasy world that Mr Byers occupies, it's obviously difficult to tell between truth and fiction. But if he really wants to stop the embarrassment to the government, if he really wants to do the right thing by the Prime Minister, I think he's got to go and he should go before the day is out. HUMPHRYS: Eric Pickles, Don Foster, thank you both very much indeed. HUMPHRYS: The war in Afghanistan is more or less over. The Taliban, at least, have been defeated. But even before it began President Bush made it clear that there was more to come. This was to be a war on terrorism wherever it existed. There is, he now tells us, an "Axis of evil" and one of the countries in that axis is Iraq. Saddam Hussein is the next target - or so everyone assumes. And Washington says nothing to dampen down that expectation. Even the moderate Secretary of State Colin Powell talked this past week about the need for a "regime change" as he put it there. All of which is worrying many politicians in Europe and indeed here in Britain. As Paul Wilenius reports, that worry extends to Mr Blair's own party. PAUL WILENIUS: Military machines must always be ready for war. And for America, that means the next stage of the war against terrorism. Its awesome air force made it the world's only superpower. And now it's preparing to use that strength against any rogue state that threatens it. President Bush is ready to use air bases like this one at Lakenheath in Britain to step up the war on terrorism. And Tony Blair is under pressure to back him, especially after Bush's controversial "Axis of evil" speech, which targeted Iran, North Korea and Iraq. But that speech caused deep concern in Europe, worries over the future of NATO and now inside the Labour Party there's considerable anxiety, and substantial opposition, to this sort of aggressive foreign policy. American Air Force ground crew fire up an F15 fighter bomber at this Suffolk air base. It's a visible sign of the special relationship between the two countries, which grew even closer after the attack on the World Trade Center. But recent messages coming out of Washington are more bellicose. A senior member of the US administration explains why. BETH JONES: Americans still feel very vulnerable to the threat from terrorism. One of the best ways to understand it is to understand that Americans haven't lived with terrorism the way Europeans have, and the way people in other countries have. So what happened to us, and to so many on September 11th is still very, very vivid. WILENIUS: The determination of the Americans to go it alone during the war in Afghanistan had already caused resentment in the European Union and NATO on this side of the Atlantic. But the anxieties over this more unilateralist policy have grown since Bush's 'State of the Union' address. It clearly pointed the finger at Iran, North Korea and Iraq. PRESIDENT BUSH: States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an "Axis of evil" arming to threaten the peace of the world, by seeking weapons of mass destruction. These regimes pose a grave and growing danger. WILENIUS: One politician who has just come back from a week long trip to Washington agrees. BERNARD JENKIN MP: "Axis of evil" is a very apposite description. The Americans have made a very simple connection between what happened on September 11th, the development of rogue states and the development of weapons of mass destruction and missile proliferation. They are all of a piece. WILENIUS: So if these young American pilots at Lakenheath were sent off to attack any of these states, it appears the Tories would be behind Bush. It's not yet clear if Tony Blair will do the same. Already the Germans, French and even some in the government have expressed doubts, and inside the Labour Party disquiet seems to be gaining momentum. On The Record has tested the strength of backbench feeling over American policy. Researchers asked one-hundred-and-one Labour MPs - do you agree with President Bush that Iran, Iraq and North Korea constitute an "Axis of evil?" An overwhelming majority of eighty-six said "no", with only twelve saying "yes", with three "don't knows." MALCOLM SAVIDGE: I think there is a concern that this very simplistic terminology which takes three very different countries, two of which were actually at one time at war with each other, and tries to suggest that they can all be treated together, that they can all be regarded almost as if they were working together, that sort of simplification of an extremely complicated world, I think does cause concern, as does the implication that this could lead to unilateral military action against any of them. ACTUALITY WILENIUS: Like these American air traffic controllers, Bush likes to run military campaigns his way. He gathers together loose coalitions for a specific purpose. Some have dubbed it "posse diplomacy." DONALD ANDERSON: At its most simplistic there is the sort of western film idea that the Sheriff in the wild west town when the baddies in the desert will gather his deputies together, ride in to the desert, sort of finish them all off or hang them high, well that doesn't work in international relations that, one the people like to be consulted on a far wider basis, but also of course, if there is a high noon situation and the Sheriff hasn't bothered to take the deputies into consideration, when the time of trial or testing comes, the Sheriff will look around and there won't be any deputies there. WILENIUS: Indeed that time of trial may come sooner than many think. Despite the precision of America's laser guided bombs dropped in the Gulf War, a decade later Saddam Hussein's still in power, almost taunting the West. President Bush appears to want to finish the job his father started, and the talk in Washington is of invading Iraq within a year, perhaps with two-hundred-thousand troops. JONES: I think it's fair to say that nothing is off the table. Obviously we'd much rather have, the international community would much rather have inspectors go in to, to assure ourselves of what is going on there or is not going on there. But otherwise it's, it would be hard for me to say what necessarily would happen, but it's certainly the case that nothing's off the table. RICHARD PERLE: At the end of the day, the President has a responsibility to defend the American people, it's his first responsibility under our, our constitution, and if he concludes that Saddam Hussein poses an intolerable threat and we cannot afford to wait and hope for the best and he chooses to take action, he cannot be deterred from that by the sentiments of Germans or Frenchmen or even citizens of the United Kingdom. WILENIUS: A final check before one of America's top pilots takes to the sky. But the big question for the Bush Administration is, will the British be along for the ride? Although Tony Blair hasn't said anything publicly over here, one recent visitor to Washington is confident that that over there, the Prime Minister has given the clear impression to the Americans that Britain will be fighting in Gulf War Two. JENKIN: Tony Blair has left Washington in no doubt that when the crunch comes he'll be there. So why he is dissembling and hanging back now, you can only put it down to the advice of the spin doctors who clearly think that that's a more popular thing to do. Why doesn't he just come clean and stop dissembling? WILENIUS: One reason may be that a war against Iraq would worry Labour backbenchers. We asked one-hundred-and-one Labour MPs "Do you think there is sufficient evidence to justify a military attack on Iraq by America and its allies?" A clear majority of eighty-six said there was not, while only eight said there was; there were seven "don't knows." QUIN: I think there's also a very strong feeling which, Members of Parliament have that any action against Iraq would have to be very, very clearly justified by evidence of activities that they're undertaking at the present time. I think that any increase in that military effort would have to depend on evidence being available that...such, that activities were taking place in Iraq, which were directly either fuelling international terrorism, or constituting a threat to the west through the development of new and dangerous weapons, or indeed through some evidence of further action against his own people. SAVIDGE: There is concern that will be felt across the UK, the population of the UK, across the Parliamentary Labour Party that it would be very, very worrying if the United States were to take action unilaterally. It's a concern that's been expressed, indeed publicly expressed by government Ministers and I think it would be an open secret that it's a concern that is shared in private by many senior members of the government. DOUG HENDERSON: I think a lot of us would have severe worries, one that the action wouldn't be successful, that Saddam wouldn't be toppled and it would be left with an invasion force in Iraq, or secondly that we'd alienate too many of the other countries whose support we need to fight terrorism internationally. WILENIUS: Britain allows America to use air bases like this one to mount operations in Europe, the Middle East and beyond. But the government will face heavy pressure to allow the Americans to use other UK facilities as part of the Son of Star Wars missile defence shield. America is determined to build a system capable of knocking out incoming rogue missiles before they hit the US. But it'll need to use the early warning listening stations at Fylingdales and Menwith Hill in Yorkshire, to make it work. This would put Britain in the firing line and Labour MPs aren't as happy about the system as those in US who are developing it. PERLE: Well we are going ahead with the missile defence. It takes a long time to build one and to develop it to the point where one can be confident of its ability in a variety of different situations. If we don't start now, we run the risk that one or more countries will acquire missiles with which they might choose to attack us before we have a defence in place. And we've got to get started. WILENIUS: Many in the Labour Party are deeply concerned. On the Record asked one hundred and one Labour MPs " Do you support the British government giving permission for the Americans to use British facilities, as part of America's proposed missile defence system?" Seventy-eight said they did not, while only eighteen said they did, with five don't knows. ANDERSON: I think we are very wary about the whole concept of missile defence. It in itself, it can involve a sort of unilateralism that we, the US can hide behind our shield and therefore we are invulnerable Of course the very concept of invulnerability is a nonsense because there could be the suitcase terrorist and so on, and indeed, September 11th could have happened with a national missile defence or not. SAVIDGE: I think the strong message to the Prime Minister would be that the British people do not want us to be involved in this. The vast majority of the Labour Party and the vast majority of Labour Members of Parliament don't want us to be involved with this. As Prime Minister for Britain, and as a Labour Prime Minister, consider British interests and British safety first and the interests of the United States and of this particular administration second. WILENIUS: Tony Blair slipped effortlessly into his role as a world statesman following September 11th. But things may not run quite so smoothly in the future. Already he's starting to face criticism for being little more than America's poodle, while those close to the Bush Administration expect him to ignore his critics and stand firm with the President. PERLE: Well I'm sure there are Members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and others who don't like the policies we're pursuing. We can't please everyone, we happily didn't choose to acquiesce to the left wing of the Labour Party during the Cold War or we'd all be speaking Russian. So we're never going to be very comfortable with the views of the Left Wing of the Labour Party frankly. And I don't see how we could defend ourselves if we allowed their views to guide our policy. WILENIUS: This sort of sharp remark is hardly likely to please many Labour Party figures. Indeed Ministers may have to start listening to the views of those MPs, who are concerned that the government is lining up too closely with the US. ANDERSON: The Prime Minister really has to take to heart, the concerns of back benchers. We know that there is still, a special relationship, but that should not be taken for granted and the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary I think should be advised to listen very carefully indeed to the concerns of our own backbenchers, Labour backbenchers which I understand to be really more widespread in the country as a whole. HENDERSON: I think there are times when political leaders have to lead, they have insight that the public doesn't have, sometimes because of security information. But I think they've got to be extremely careful to carry public opinion with them in these tense international situations and that means that they've got to do the right thing, that they've got to stand up, for what's right and also what's courageous. They've got to be their own man, not just a puppet for some other leader in another part of the world. WILENIUS: So where will Tony Blair be when things really do heat up? If he listens too closely to his backbenchers, things could go cold with the Americans. But if he gives Bush his full backing, he may find his support in the party could start to evaporate. HUMPHRYS: Paul Wilenius reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: It was a fortnight ago that a new political scandal came to light. And, even though the government says it's not a scandal at all - just a load of garbage - it refuses to go away. The basic facts are not contested. Mr Blair signed a letter that helped a foreign businessman win the contract to privatise the steel industry in Romania. The businessman, Lakshmi Mittal, had donated a hundred and twenty five thousand pounds to the Labour Party. Labour says there's no connection between those two facts. Almost every day though since then there has been some new twist or turn to the story. The man who revealed the link between the party and Mr Mittal two weeks ago is a backbench MP for Plaid Cymru, Adam Price. And he's with me. Good morning to you. ADAM PRICE MP: Morning. HUMPHRYS: Are you satisfied now that the whole thing has been cleared up because the government tells us pretty well every day it's all a load of nonsense. PRICE: Well no, I think it's very very flippant of the government to dismiss this. I mean there's a palpable sense of anger in South Wales in steel communities in particular of course. Here was a British Prime Minister, intervening at the highest level, to support a company which is actually based in the Caribbean and is actively of course working against British interest in trying to freeze British exports out of the American, out of the American market. Mr Mittal's plants in Kazakhstan and Romania which have been partly of course funded by the British taxpayer are producing the same, the same kind of output of course that used to be produced in Llanwern and far from batting for Britain as the Foreign Secretary said, I think the Prime Minister has actually been betraying the interests of the British steel industry. HUMPHRYS: But what he was doing, and Prime Ministers do this all the time, on the advice of the Foreign Office obviously, what he was doing was something that the Ambassador in that country had wanted him to do. He'd had talks himself with the Prime Minister, it was in the interest of Romania, therefore it was in the interest of Europe, therefore it was in the interest of Britain, that's the sort of logic. PRICE: Well I find it very difficult to believe actually that Her Majesty's representative in Bucharest was acting on his own initiative, in that the several meetings that he had with Mr Mittal ... HUMPHRYS: ...well on whose then? PRICE: Well clearly this was a policy decision. I mean Sir Richard Packer has said, former permanent... HUMPHRYS: ..former permanent secretary... PRICE: ...former permanent secretary, of course, has said this morning that the initiative must have come from Number Ten. That an ambassador would not work on his own initiative in this basis. I think there's an unanswered question here isn't there. Why....what was the legitimate British interest here in supporting a non-British businessman, a non-British company, who actually is a competitor, a competitor to British steel industry at a very very difficult time. HUMPHRYS: Well the answer to that has been given, it was given on this programme last week by a government minister, which is that we want to modernise those countries that are going to be become members of the European Union, it's in our interest to do so, to help them to privatise and this is what we were doing and it worked - apparently. PRICE: Well I mean the government has shifted their ground of course. The original defence of course was that the letter was merely a congratulatory letter and in fact this was a British company. That has been comprehensively demolished. Now the government is saying, well this was actually good for Romania. Now if the British Prime Minister is saying that it is a policy of the British government to sacrifice steel jobs in South Wales and other parts of the UK in order to save steel jobs in Romania then he should come out and say it. But what I would say is that we should not have a trade- off, where there should be no question of a trade off between economic development and jobs in one of the poorest parts of Europe and economic development in one of the poorest parts of the UK. HUMPHRYS: But to go back to the principle point here, there is not a shred of proof is there, not a shred of proof that the donation was linked to that decision to sign that letter? PRICE: Well I have no evidence of that, none of us have any evidence of that. If there's an innocent explanation, if this is just a set of coincidences, then why is the Prime Minister refusing to give an interview on this matter? And why doesn't the government reveal all the documents surrounding this case? If there is nothing to hide, why have they been trying to conceal this case and why are... HUMPHRYS: ...commercial confidentiality? PRICE: Well, I, does that cover all good government pronouncements now? I mean I think that the government clearly have a case to answer here, and this has come at a time when public confidence in politics is at a low ebb. The only thing, the only thing that will rebuild confidence in the political process, particularly in the steel communities among redundant steel workers is that if we have an independent inquiry now into all the circumstances surrounding this case. HUMPHRYS: And yet you seem not to be persuading the electorate of your concern. You had a by-election not very far from your own constituency in South Wales and the government won it very comfortably indeed and it was a steel-making area where jobs had gone. PRICE: Well I think there's a sense, there's a sense at large that politicians are all the same and I think that it's incredibly depressing isn't it, to see these results and I think that there is a sense in which this whole affair, on the back of all the other scandals that have been in recent years, is corroding confidence in the political process. And the only thing which will clear that and rebuild confidence in politics and the parliamentary process is if we have an independent investigation. HUMPHRYS: Yes or No, do you believe that Tony Blair knew about the donation when he signed the letter and was influenced by it? PRICE: Well without being in full possession of all the facts, it would be very unwise of any of us to speculate. We need to have those facts and we need to rebuild public confidence in politics. HUMPHRYS: Adam Price, thanks very much indeed. HUMPHRYS: And that's it for this week. Next week we're going to be talking about pensions, a very big story at the moment and we hope to be speaking to the Secretary of State, Alistair Darling. If you're on the Internet, don't forget about our website, you can keep in touch with us there, until next week, good afternoon. 27 FoLdEd
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.