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JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. Robin
Cook has the job of making us believe in politics again. I'll be asking
him how he plans to do it and why there seems to be such a big gap between
them and us. We'll be asking the Environment Minister if the Government's
prepared to bail out flood victims. And those five economic tests the Chancellor
says we must meet before we can join the euro... do they MEAN anything?
That's after the news read by Fiona Bruce.
HUMPHRYS: Flooded homes: if the insurance
companies won't pick up the rising bills... will the Government?
And a British euro?
Only if we meet Gordon Brown's five tests clearly and unambiguously. Can
that EVER be done?
JOHN HUMPHRYS: But first, there's a
feeling of helplessness, when we watch much of what's happening in the
world right now. India and Pakistan squaring up each other with nuclear
weapons, the far right making gains across the Channel, the war against
terrorism, apparently stalled, and here at home, well, the most common
complaint voiced by voters these days for a while now is that they feel
powerless. Politicians do things and we grumble a bit, shrug our shoulders,
maybe cast our votes and let them get on with it. At least that's we used
to do. Now fewer of us bother even to vote and if we do, more of us are
turning to independents or extremists... not just in this country but across
the Continent too. What needs to happen, to use the current jargon, is
that there must be a re-connection between politics and people. A tall
order perhaps in these sceptical times. Well one of the people charged
with that responsibility is the Leader of the House of Commons, Robin Cook
and he's in our Edinburgh studio. Good afternoon Mr. Cook.
ROBIN COOK MP: Good afternoon John.
HUMPHRYS: Formerly of course, Foreign
Secretary, and I think you were the last Foreign Secretary to go to India
and Pakistan, so your view on what's happening there at the moment over
Kashmir, it is looking pretty scary isn't it?
COOK: It's very grave, and it's
very worrying. I would say John that I think the last half-century of conflict
and argument over Kashmir has been a tragedy for Kashmir, but even it's
been a tragedy for both Pakistan and for India. They trade very little
between themselves, less than five per cent, they've had now two generations
of hostility against each other, they would gain so much more if they were
able to co-operate and trade like any normal two countries side by side
and assist each other in making sure that they do take forward the opportunities
for development for the people instead of investing as they do so much
in defence. Indeed, Pakistan still spends far more on its defence and
its military than it does on education which is crazy for such a poor country.
This is not just a flash point for the present time, although it's a very
worrying one at the present time, it's also strategic problems with both
HUMPHRYS: And some of that defence
spending obviously has been with us, as you would expect. There are reports
in the Independent this morning that we had put a block on negotiating
the sale of Hawk jets to India. Is that right?
COOK: Well I've seen that story
John, I cannot confirm it, I mean, I've seen it only a couple of hours
ago on a Sunday morning, but it would make sense. I would point out to
you that, as that story makes plain, we actually sell very little in the
way of weaponry to Pakistan, the major block we put on Pakistan was first
of all when they carried out their nuclear tests some time ago and then
of course when the military took over in Pakistan. Since then we've provided
very little in the way of export of arms to Pakistan, mainly for the Navy,
and indeed we need the Navy to operate in stopping the drugs running around
HUMPHRYS: But quite a lot to India,
and as the code of conduct that you were partly responsible for bringing
in in nineteen-ninety-seven makes clear that we're committed not, I think
it's going to be incorporated in a Bill, isn't it, we are committed not
to supply arms in areas of instability, arms that may be used to attack
others, so it would make sense if we were not going, it would be quite
right for us not to sell arms to India or Pakistan at this time, wouldn't
COOK: In, in present circumstances,
it would be plainly wholly consistent with those criteria that we set out
that we would not provide weapons to places where there is a risk that
those weapons would help to fuel tension. What both sides now need to do
is to step back from any military solution to the problem because ultimately
no military solution is going to be permanent or stable and look for a
way in which they can find a diplomatic solution to enhance the relations
between the two countries, and find a way in which they can find a just
solution to the situation in Kashmir that's also acceptable to the people
HUMPHRYS: So you'd expect that
story on the blocking of arms sales to be accurate?
COOK: I've no reason to doubt it
HUMPHRYS: Right. Can we look at
the much wider picture? Obviously what's happening over Kashmir at the
moment is not good from the perspective of the war on terrorism, but there
are, there are other influences of that war, aren't there? And this addresses
the wider question that I mentioned in my introduction and that is bringing
people closer to politics and the strength of democracy in Europe as we
speak, is there a worry in your mind that if people feel that the most
powerful country in the world, the United States, its leader, is going
around Europe in effect saying, we're going to do it our way, we'd like
you to join us, but if you don't, well so be it - does that lead to a sense,
an increasing sense, on the part of many of people of powerlessness in
politics, a sense of alienation almost?
COOK: Well I think that you're
jumping quite a few fences at the one go there John, I mean if I can just
take one or two of them first of all. On the question of global terrorism,
there is a problem of global terrorism, and it needs a global solution,
and if you cast your mind back to September the eleventh and the attack
on the Trade, twin towers of the Trade Center, at that time, the United
States did set out to build a broad international coalition and was successful
in doing it, indeed as the former Foreign Secretary, I must say I was pleasantly
surprised at just how many nations came behind that determination that
we were going to root out al-Qaeda and prevent it from being a threat to
any of us in the future, reflecting the fact that so many nations lost
their citizens in the attack on the Twin Towers. That is the way forward
and it is very important that we continue to build that international consensus
and use the United Nations as the place to take it forward. On the other
point you make about the gulf between politicians and those who elect them,
that is an issue that does seriously worry me, and that's one of the reasons
why I am so keen that we should modernise parliament, so that it looks
relevant, so it looks as if it belongs to the same century and sounds as
if it belongs to the same century as the people who vote for it, and that's
why it's so important we should reform it.
HUMPHRYS: And I'd like to come
on to that in a moment if I may. But just to, just to deal with President
Bush, again, I mean, if he says in effect, as he is apparently saying,
look we want your unconditional support, we are his closest allies of course
and we are very proud of that fact. Should we offer it to him? Are we,
are we saying, yes, you have our unconditional support?
COOK: Well you're quite right John
in that Britain is the longest ally of the United States, it is, it was
a very intimate relationship both in military and intelligence terms, we
are each other's strongest economic trading partner, we have a lot of cultural
ties, we are very powerful friends and allies, and that continues whatever
the administration in Washington, or indeed, for that matter in London,
now that of course cuts both ways. It does mean that we have to support
each other when we're in trouble, but it also means we can talk frankly
to each and I'm quite sure that the United States, because of that, is
now better aware of the position, of the opinion of Britain and the opinion
of Europe because of what we're able to say with our inside track.
HUMPHRYS: You mention the United
Nations there, if Washington did decide that it was going to attack Iraq
for instance, some sort of invasion of Iraq, is it your view that there
ought to be a specific United Nations resolution making that possible.
COOK: Well the discussion about
this far too quickly in my view slips off into the legalistic view of should
there be a resolution and what is the mandate. I think what is much more
important is that the United Nations is the forum of the international
community. It is the place where you look for building up that broad international
coalition and that wider understanding. And of course, it is within the
United Nations that the United Kingdom and the United States have been
working over the past year to secure a new resolution which will make sure
that we have the right barriers in place to stop Iraq acquiring the material
for weapons of mass destruction but lifting the barriers to the people
of Iraq getting access to economic and humanitarian goods. And that was
very much a British initiative and has been concluded only in the last
two months at the United Nations.
HUMPHRYS: These legalistic things
as you say, become terribly important, don't they, when events change?
And your colleague Clare Short was quite happy to say yes, she thought
there ought to be a specific United Nations resolution. Without it, it
would be very difficult to gain the kind of support that, that you yourself,
I'm sure, thinks is necessary for such an action?
COOK: Yes, but before you get to
the resolution you would have to have that wider discussion with the United
Nations and you would have to build up a consensus and I would not disagree
with the thrust of what Clare was saying, and that is that you would need
to have backing of other colleagues within United Nations and you would
need to have support of the General Secretary for the action you took.
It would be very difficult to proceed in circumstances where you were opposed
by those other forces and as I said John, let's not lose sight of the fact
that we have just within the United Nations achieved a unanimous decision,
a total consensus for the new measures against Iraq.
HUMPHRYS: Alright, well let's,
thanks for that, let's move on from you being Foreign Secretary as were
to being Leader of the House of Commons! Which is where...
COOK: ...I'm very happy to talk
to you if you are happy.
HUMPHRYS: ...absolutely. Your job
as you say is to try to make parliament be seen to be doing an effective
job, and that's the only way it's going to get the respect of the public
which is so important, and you have introduced some changes, some of which
people think are very important changes, but you've also had one or two
setbacks and I'm thinking particularly of you wanting the Chairman of the
Select Committees to be elected by MPs and not selected by party managers
and Whips, and that sort of thing. Now that was thrown out last week in,
in rather unusual circumstances. That was a setback for you, wasn't it?
COOK: Well it was a free vote,
and if you're going to be Leader of the House of Commons you have to respect
the outcome of a free vote in the House of Commons. What I did was I fulfilled
the commitment I gave a year ago that we would offer to the House of Commons
a new way of nominating people to the Select Committee, so that they were
more in the hands of parliament than in the hands of the Party Whips. In
the event, the House took a different view and that's the nature of politics
and the nature of democracy.
COOK: ...I would point out John,
if I can just finish on this one that, I would say now that we had about
half a dozen resolutions on Select Committees, on one of them the House
came to a different view to the one that I was offering them, but all the
others went through and as a result of that, we will now have more specialist
staff for the Select Committees, more administrative help, a clearer focus
for them, a bigger role for them in scrutinising draft legislation, so
we have taken some very big steps to strengthen the Select Committee system
and Tony Blair himself has independently of that announced that he will
give evidence to the Liaison Committee, and that makes him the first Prime
Minister ever to get evidence to investigate a Select Committee, so I'm
confident that we're on the right track, and the overall record and strength
in Select Committees is positive.
HUMPHRYS: Those are the changes
that I was referring to, but you said, free vote. I mean was it really
a free vote, technically it was, but we had this bizarre spectacle of the
Labour Whips, indeed the Whips standing in the Lobby saying to MPs, or
outside the Lobby, saying to MPs as they came out to vote, PLP Parliamentary
Labour Party - that way - so it was perfectly clear that they were leaning
on MPs. Now that wasn't the right thing to do, or did you know that they
were going to do that?
COOK: Well I'm very happy to say
John, nobody attempted to lean on me, and they would have got short shrift
if they had.
HUMPHRYS: ...well remember....
COOK: If you look at the result
though John, there was a Labour majority for the reform, despite all the
things that you describe, most of those Labour MPs voting voted for change
and voted for reform. The motion was voting down by a very large majority
of the Conservative MPs who are voting who voted against it and, quite
why the Conservative Party would wish to reject a proposal that would result
in perhaps rather less role for Government Whips is slightly beyond me,
perhaps some ten years from now they might explain it in their memoirs
but it did seem strange that the Opposition should be voting against a
measure intended to strengthen parliament.
HUMPHRYS; But even if a free vote
is seen to be rigged - as some people on your own side clearly thought
it was being rigged then people are entitled to say "Mm, I'm not quite
sure about the power of parliament to scrutinise in the way that they ought
to be scrutinising". There were reports this morning incidentally that
Tony Blair himself has rebuked the Whips for doing - well some of the Whips,
for doing what they did. Is that right and should they have been rebuked?
COOK; Well, I'm not aware whether
or not that story is right, indeed I haven't seen that story. I find that
Sunday is too short to read all the Sunday papers John, and there are other
things to do. But on the question of the future which I think it is very
important, we move forward and look forward, we have decided within the
Labour Party that where there are free votes it is very important that
members are left to come to their own conclusion, and that's why we have
recorded our view that in future occasions the Whips should not be expressing
a view to members in a free vote. I think that's right and it's very important
that we get that clearly established before we have the free votes that
will be coming on future reforms of the House and indeed on the reform
of the House of Lords.
HUMPHRYS; Right. So we won't have
any more of what we saw the last time around then, and you think that will
help reassure people that parliament is doing its job of scrutinising the
COOK; Well, it is very important
that parliament should do that and should command the respect of the public
for doing the job well. And that's the whole thrust of the reforms that
I want to bring before parliament. I am operating the principle that
we need each other, government and parliament. I don't think there's a
tension between a vigorous parliament carrying out its job of scrutiny
and a successful government. On the contrary, I keep saying good scrutiny
makes for good government, it keeps us on our toes, and that's why at the
heart of the package I'll be bringing forward will be better measures to
scrutinise government legislation, to do it in draft, to give them the
act earlier, to have longer to do it, to make sure we've a full year to
consider each Bill and to consider the opinion of the people outside parliament
as well as we take it forward,.
HUMPHRYS; And another important
aspect of parliament's operation is obviously the way the House of Lords
is constituted and the way it behaves. Can you again restore faith, because
that's what we're talking about, restore the faith of people in the way
parliament works, if you have a House of Lords that is not - the majority
of them have not been elected?
COOK; Well, if I can just respond
to your preamble to that John, I do think, yes we are restoring the respect
for parliament as having the right to make this decision because we did
ourselves announce a couple of weeks ago they we're going to let parliament
decide the key issue which is what should be the composition, how many
should be elected, and that puts parliament in the driving seat which is
quite right, because this is about a reform of the second chamber of parliament.
As to what parliament will decide, well, that's a matter for MPs, and
for members of the House of Lords, but it's interesting that when the Public
Administration Select Committee carried out its survey of the opinion of
MPs it did discover that the largest single preference was for a mainly
elected second chamber.
HUMPHRYS; Ah, so your guess then
would be that we will end up with a largely elected second chamber?
COOK; I'm not guessing John, and
it would be wrong - premature of me and wrong of me to try and pre-empt
what parliament may decide. It is going to be a genuine free vote, it's
not for me to tell them how to vote, but so far the surveys do point in
HUMPHRYS; You hold the media in
part, you and many of your colleagues I dare say for lowering the tone
of politics in this country. You talked about what is it -"mud wrestling,
verses serious consideration of party politics"...... some of which as
you say may be mildly boring, but that's partly responsible for turning
politics into the soap opera that in some respects it's become. But politicians
themselves bear responsibility for this as well don't they. I mean....
only if ministers behaved rather differently, rather better some would
say, then we would have greater respect for the institution as a whole?
COOK; Well, we're both in this
together John, and neither side can actually move forward without the other
also agreeing that it's going to change its practise. What I was saying
in my speech last Wednesday is that we have ended up with political reporting
being too much preoccupied with the things that MPs and journalists like
to talk about, effectively the gossip of the Westminster village, the personalities,
not the policies as they affect the real people outside there. Now, we've
got to change that, we've got to get back so that the political reporting
is about the problems in people's lives and the solutions that politics
can offer to it. It should not be endlessly about the office gossip and
the Westminster village gossip about who last sent an E-mail to somebody
else and at what particular date they rang each other up. It's very interesting
John and I make the point in the course of my speech that the day in which
Steven Byers made a statement about the resignation of Martin Sixsmith
was the day in which the BBC outside London and the South-East had its
lowest ratings for a year. Now, the public out there want to hear politicians
talking about the issues that matter to them. We possibly could do rather
less with the press and politicians talking about the issues that matter
to lobby journalists and MPs.
HUMPHRYS; But if you've lost some
respect for the media and clearly you have along with many of your colleagues
because of the way that we go about doing our business, perhaps ministers
have also lost respect for parliament, or at least are seen to have lost
a certain amount of the respect that they ought to have for parliament.
Maybe they have..... I won't go into specifics here, but you mentioned
Stephen Byers earlier, but we have neither the time nor I suspect the inclination
to re-run that all over again.
COOK: I'm happy to agree with you
totally on that John.
HUMPHRYS; I thought that probably
you might be. But if ministers are endlessly being accused of not being
open enough to parliament, occasionally misleading parliament, then that
is going to feed this whole rather unhealthy atmosphere isn't it?
COOK; Well, we are trying very
hard to make sure that we do take parliament seriously and that we take
parliament as a whole. That's the whole point of my having been appointed
Leader of the House and carrying out reforms which will strengthen parliament,
it's the whole point of Tony Blair agreeing - historically he's the first
Prime Minister ever to agree to do this, that twice a year he'll appear
in front of all the chairs of the Select Committees in the Liaison Committee.
These are very positive steps forward and I intend to make sure that we
build on them and do more. I want to see our exchanges in the House of
Commons more topical. That's why I'm proposing we cut down the period
of notice. If we'd wanted to stop these exchanges being topical we would
have invented a rule saying you've got to table your question two weeks
in advance. I want to make sure we change that rule. All that will add
up to a parliament that is more open, is it better able to do an effective
job which is what the back-bench MPs want to do. Can I just make one point.
I very much agree with you that politicians also have a role to play in
turning this round. I do think that there is a big difficulty now, that
if we say anything original, anything imaginative, or anything that's not
already in the script, the press are liable to jump on us for either committing
a gaff or starting a party split. I do think that if we want the public
to respect politicians, politicians have got to be able to speak freely,
individually, they've got to come up with the original thought which is
then not immediately challenged because it is not part of the party mantra,
and the press have got to give us the space to do that. If we do that
then I think we may restore some respect for politicians. People who think
for themselves don't simply recycle their ......
HUMPHRYS; That's an honour that
you've accurately described......But at look at when it began all of this.
It rather began around the time that you particularly, your party particularly
turned spinning into a very fine art and so people became suspicious and
then every time a minister said something that wasn't you know, on his
or her pager, then people would say: Aha we've got a story at last! So
maybe a bit less spinning from your side and a bit more openness on the
other side, then we'll go somewhere.
COOK; Well John, we can both go
through the history, and I wouldn't disagree with some of the things that
you have just said there. What seems to me important is that we make sure
that the future is different and we build on that. Now, we both need to
agree to do this. Politicians I think should be able and certainly would
want to speak more frankly, more openly, certainly many of my colleagues
would want to be able to speak more candidly, more openly, but we need
a press that takes that in a mature and balanced way and doesn't immediately
take the least spark of originality and fan it into a great flame in the
HUMPHRYS; Or a more courageous
minister who says; I don't care what they do with it, but I'm going to
say it anyway. Maybe that's the way to do.
COOK: Well, in that case you'll
need a media that rewards courage and does not punish it, John.
HUMPHRYS; Robin Cook, thank you very
COOK: Thank you.
HUMPHRYS: In this country we are mercifully
free of natural disasters ... not too many earthquakes and hurricanes hardly
happen. But we do get floods. And these days - because the climate's changing
and we're building new homes on the flood plains - more and more people
are getting washed out. The insurance companies says it's costing them
so much that unless the Government spends far more money to improve flood
defences it's going to prove impossible for many people to insure their
homes. The Government has to make a decision on what it's going to do pretty
soon. The consultation period ended a week ago, I'll be talking to the
Environment Minister responsible, Elliot Morley, after this report from
DAVID GROSSMAN: Misery by the gallon. The floods
of two-thousand caused over a billion pounds worth of damage - in human
heartache the costs can't be measured. But these are scenes we may have
to get used to - the Government's latest climate change study predict
winter rainfall may increase by thirty per cent over the long term. Already
the experts say rivers are rising more often - the need for flood defence
has never been more vital.
Even before the flood waters drained away from here in Worcester and from
other parts of the country the Government promised urgent action to try
to prevent that kind of devastation from happening again. What was needed
it's argued is not only better physical defences against flooding but also
better protection against building, for the green areas around rivers that
are needed to allow floodwaters to seep away before they become a problem.
But many of the people who live here and in other flood threatened communities
say almost nothing has been done, and if there isn't action soon, their
homes could become uninsurable and potentially worthless.
ANDREW LANSLEY MP: Well the worst case scenario
of course is that the consequences of climate change mean very substantially
greater flood risk in future and that if we don't have flood defence measures
in place, a lot of people will be, well they'll be driven out of their
MARY DHONAU: The Government are acting
very, very slowly. They've commissioned lots and lots of studies into flooding,
but nothing has been done to stop it. It's still going to happen. If we
flooded tomorrow, to the same levels as the year two-thousand we would
flood just as badly.
GROSSMAN: Flooding is a problem
that threatens a significant proportion of the population. The Environment
Agency estimates that one point nine million properties in England and
Wales are at risk from flooding - that's about five million people.
MARY FRANCIS: It's quite a serious problem.
I mean we have two aspects of it. One is that flood defences haven't
been maintained in a sufficient way. And the other is that we have got
increasing prospects of more, of rain, over the coming fifty years or so.
Something like a, an increase of up to a third in the amount of rainfall,
and those two things together mean that many homes are not protected.
GROSSMAN: In Worcester one of the
homes to be hit in two-thousand belonged to Mary Dhonau. Today the waters
have gone but she thinks they'll be back - this house has been flooded
in seven of the past nine years - rainwater mixed with sewage.
DHONAU: Well this room here is
at the moment a makeshift kitchen as I'm having a new one. But during the
floods of two-thousand, it my two little boy's playroom and we woke up
in the morning and found all their toys floating in sewage.
GROSSMAN: And how high did the
water come up to then?
DHONAU: Well at the worst it came
to window-sill height.
GROSSMAN: And this is raw sewage?
DHONAU: Yes it's raw sewage, yes.
We've been flooded seven times, we've made three insurance claims, so this
is our third floor.
GROSSMAN: From her window, Mary
can see the local water company starting work on a sewage pumping station
that should mean that any future flooding won't be nearly so vile. But
as a whole, Worcester isn't any better protected according to its MP. He
says there's still nothing concrete to show for nearly two years of worry.
MICHAEL FOSTER MP: Certainly there isn't any defence
that's going to be in place by this coming autumn, nor was there obviously
for the autumn and the winter period that's just gone, and people have
to sort of cross their fingers and hope that the flooding didn't repeat
and, and thankfully it didn't but it was very close.
GROSSMAN: As the late spring rain
falls on Worcester the river Severn fills up but this time sweeps by. Many
believe the delay in getting better flood defence in England and Wales
is caused by fragmented planning - a tangle of national, regional and
local bodies with criss-crossing remits. The lead national organisation
is the Environment Agency - its chairman says the time has come for a more
SIR JOHN HARMAN: There are a range of committees
around the country who take the decisions on flood defence. Now, now this,
this is fragmented, there, there are local committees, there are regional
committees. We have to deal with twenty-nine decision making authorities
in coming to our annual flood defence budget, as well as government, and
its, its contribution through grants, so it's quite a complicated arrangement,
and when things go wrong or when there's a flood, it's actually not an
easy arrangement for the public to understand and it can be very frustrating
to find out who's actually responsible for your flood warning or flood
FRANCIS: It is a, a dreadful maze,
all the local authorities in the country have responsibilities for planning
flood spending, and for undertaking it. We also have the Environment Agency,
we have numerous other planning authorities, and we are pretty sure that
there's not a sufficiently co-ordinated system to ensure that the money
that is available is spent very efficiently.
GROSSMAN: Lovely weather for some
no doubt but the pressure for new homes means many, like these, are built
on flood plains. Not only are such houses more vulnerable to flooding themselves
but also instead of slowly seeping through open ground, rain rushes into
the river off tiles and tarmac. The Government has tightened up the local
authority planning guidance for building on such sites - but rivers of
course don't respect local authority boundaries and the flooding impact
of development can hit many miles downstream.
LANSLEY: One of the most important
things that ought to be done is to institute what's known as catchment
management, that is looking at the whole catchment of a river. You know,
whether it's the Great Ouse or whatever it might be, and look at that as
a co-ordinated responsibility with a body, probably a sort of catchment
wide body in place of the present Flood Defence Committees who have that
responsibility to ensure that flood defence and the management of that
river is co-ordinated.
GROSSMAN: Now to get some idea
of how high the water floods in a place like Worcester - in November two-thousand
it came from all the way down there and reached a mark on the cathedral
wall - there. Now the question is, is it economic to try to defend against
this level of flooding - the Government insists that to work that question
out you need to take into account the value of the property you're trying
to defend. But critics say that discriminates against places like Worcester
with average or lower than average property prices .
FOSTER: A small house owned by
a relatively low income family is less likely to be defended than a large
house which is owned by a higher income family, and clearly that's not
fair, and there are many people who argue against the current formula,
on the fairness basis. But also, just looking at the value of the property,
to work out what the cost of flooding is, I don't think takes in to account
the full impact of flooding, the social costs experienced by those that
are flooded are enormous.
GROSSMAN: In Worcester, the Severn
View Hotel today has a somewhat drier view than it had in two-thousand.
It's where the local flooding action group meets.
ACTUALITY: "This is the map of
Worcester. There are eleven cells - each cell has got to pass the cost
GROSSMAN: They believe the current
system means they won't get defended.
ACTUALITY: "If we lived in Maidenhead
or in Henley of course we would because our houses would cost more and
I just want to know what you think about that?"
DHONAU: My house is my castle,
everybody's house in Worcester is their castle. It just has the same feeling
of value to us, just because we're in a different part of the country it
really shouldn't mean that we have, don't have the right to be defended.
HARMAN: What the system doesn't
really reflect, and we think it should reflect is the value of the people
that it's protecting. We think it should be much more people based, one
only has to deal as we do and our staff do all the time, with people who
have been affected by flooding to know that it's a traumatic experience,
it can have huge impacts not only in the short term but the long term,
it's almost the worse thing that can happen to you as a family, other than
a death in the family, is to be flooded.
GROSSMAN: Sorting out insurance
is one of the chores that goes with being a homeowner but for Mary Dhonau
and the millions of others threatened with flooding it could soon become
impossible. As flood damage claims go up so could premiums to the point
where they become unaffordable.
FOSTER: The prospect of flooding
insurance being withdrawn from businesses and residents in my constituency
has quite literally, been a time bomb waiting to go off. The prospect of
people having to pay repairs, bills for ten, fifteen thousand pounds every
time a property floods, and not have insurance cover to, to cover that
cost quite frankly doesn't bear thinking about for those home owners, and
of course the other side to it, is that they wouldn't actually be able
to sell the property either, because no one would want to buy it.
GROSSMAN: It's easy to see why
the insurers are getting nervous, the national bill for flood damage is
currently about eight-hundred million pounds a year but it's predicted
to rise to one point eight billion over the longer term if there's no extra
spending on defences.
FRANCIS: Insurers are businessmen,
they want to retain their customers wherever they can, but if in exceptional
cases, homes are flooding year after year after year, it does just become
uneconomic to afford the kind of levels of payment that would be necessary
to get insurance. So in some cases yes, there's a danger of not being able
to get insurance, but I stress, insurers want to maintain cover, where
ever they can.
GROSSMAN: The scale of the autumn
two-thousand floods shocked ministers - who promised action. Seeing the
devastation for himself, Tony Blair was warned insurers could start withdrawing
cover. The industry though agreed to continue covering existing policyholders
if the Government spent more on defences. That agreement though ends in
December and insurers say they've yet to see the rise in spending they're
FRANCIS: The Government has been
carrying out a very thorough review of its spending plans for three years
to come. And, we wanted the Government to have time to make that assessment
and to reach its decisions about what flood defences it could afford. We're
very much hoping that we'll hear a favourable result based on the Government's
own figures, we believe that more spending of about a hundred and forty
five million pounds each year, is needed.
GROSSMAN: So if the Government
is going to spend all the extra money on flood defence it's going to take
to keep the insurance industry happy - where is it going to come from?
Well, up to now, defences like the Thames Barrier here in London have been
paid for out of general taxation - but a new government report suggests
alternative sources of finance. Why not, it asks, impose a tax on developers
who build new homes in flood prone areas - or, and most controversially,
why not ask everyone whose home is at risk from flooding to pay towards
the cost of defending it.
HARMAN: The Government's talking
in its consultation about a developer connection charge. In other words,
if you build new properties in the flood plain, you do add to society's
costs. You add to the agency's costs. That ought to be accounted for and
so, if money can be recovered through that route, that would seem to us
to be sensible. On the other hand, the idea has been put forward that a,
a sort of tax is levied on every individual living in the flood plain,
we don't think that's sensible. We don't think it's fair,
WEATHER REPORT: The weather really has changed
- we had a line of torrential rain moving through last night, flashes of
lightening, rumbles of thunder...
GROSSMAN: In Worcester Mary Dhonau
already finds she has to keep a constant eye on the weather forecast -
so with that and the worry of losing their home insurance are flood victims
to be taxed more as well? Mary's local MP says the idea just doesn't make
FOSTER: They bought the home expecting
a flooding event, one every two hundred years, but now because of climate
change it's one every five years, then it, it isn't fair to ask the home
owners themselves to pay for the flood defences and we should look through
the General Taxation Fund I think to find a way of helping them overcome
what is a natural phenomena or arguably one that we have caused nature
GROSSMAN: The test of the Government's
commitment to better flood defences will come in July when the Chancellor
announces his spending plans for the next three years. But many believe
more money is only the beginning - flood defence they say needs urgent
reorganisation if it's to meet the challenges of what looks like being
a much wetter future.
HUMPHRYS: David Grossman reporting
JOHN HUMPHRYS: Well the Environment Minister,
Elliot Morley is in our Hull Studio. Good afternoon Mr. Morley.
ELLIOT MORLEY: Good afternoon John.
HUMPHRYS: You do accept obviously
the increased risk that there is a real problem here.
MORLEY: Oh we recognise there's
real problem, I mean, factored in, the projections for climate change,
increased rising in sea level, in all our engineering and the kind of investments
that we're making, and I should point out that some of the positives, despite
all these extremes of weather, we have a pretty good record in relation
to the performance of our defences, and also the response of our warning
systems and our emergency services.
HUMPHRYS: You wouldn't be very
impressed if you were living in Worcester though would you? And the trouble
is that, that Tony Blair talked about the various reports we've had amounting
to a 'wake up' call, what a lot of people say, is well we haven't yet woken
up, we've had loads of studies but we haven't really woken up to the real
MORLEY: But that's not true at
all John, and I'm very surprised on the River Severn that you didn't go
up to Shrewsbury, or Beauly where brand new defences are under construction
now and they'll be ready by this Autumn, or indeed other areas that were
very hard hit in the two-thousand floods, villages in Norton for example,
and Malton where again, huge engineering projects are being put in place,
and I spent the country the last two years going around opening both completed
defences and starting new ones. So there is a massive investment programme,
and not just engineering a hundred million pounds over the next ten years
for enhanced flood warning for example, investment on trying to understand
the impact of climate change, long term studies, these are very important,
but this is real tangible action taking place resulting in reduced risk
all over the country.
HUMPHRYS: But more is needed as
you have often acknowledged, and one of the problems is this extraordinary
complexity. Twenty-nine decision making bodies needed in some cases, I
mean, that's just crazy isn't it? You need one authority surely to look
at the, at the whole flood defence in a particular system for a particular
river, the catchment area of a particular river, that'd be the logical
way to do it, wouldn't it?
MORLEY: Oh that isn't, that is
logical, but of course most flood defence committees are based on catchment
areas and indeed we've funded some new powered studies for whole catchment
area studies because we think that's the way to go in terms of trying to
have a long term plan for flood and coastal defence, but we do accept that
there is a need to look at the structure of our flood defence funding,
and that's why we had the review, and there is a possibility of streamlining
it, and though I should say although it is complex, it has by and large
delivered a very quality of service around the country.
HUMPHRYS: Well again it depends
where you are and who you talk to doesn't it? But you do acknowledge it's
got to be simplified?
MORLEY: Yes I acknowledge there's
a case for simplification as indeed I acknowledge a case there, there's
a case for increased investment and funding, we already doing that, we're
increasing in funding by round about fifty million pounds over the next
year, from two-thousand-and-two to two-thousand-and-three, taking us up
to round about four-hundred-and-fifty million pounds from all revenue sources.
That's record amounts of funding on flood and coastal defence and that's
a recognition by the government of the need to reduce risk.
HUMPHRYS: May be a record amount
but it's still not enough is it?
MORLEY: Well you can always argue
about how much it should be spent, although I should point out, there is
actually almost a limit to what you can spend in any one year in relation
to the engineering projects which are often very complex, which you can't
just switch on and off, it can take quite a long time for planning permission,
for doing the catchment area studies, and then to put them into place,
so there's actually a limit in terms of capital spend that you can have
in any one year.
HUMPHRYS: But that is going to
increase isn't it? I mean as, as we, well as the situation gets worse,
and it's not going to stop raining for heaven's sake, so we are going ultimately,
we are going to need more money. Are you satisfied that the right way to
do is to take it from the taxpayer in general taxation?
MORLEY: The funding review did
say that the, bulk of the money should continue to come from the Exchequer
and we except that. What the funding review looked at was the potential
for raising additional sums of money, and connection charge for flood plain
development is one, the flood plain levy was another, although that wasn't
recommended by the committee I should point out, and of course at the moment,
the responsibility for flood defence is shared between central government
and local government, and local government raise a levy. One of the suggestions
within the report was to abolish the levy and replace that with a precept,
and of course...
HUMPHRYS: ...what's that mean?
Replace it with a precept, what do you mean?
MORLEY: Well at the present time,
the regional flood defence committees have a levy which is agreed by local
councils and that's just taken from the overall council tax take. If you
have a precept, then the suggestion is that the new customer, the customer
bodies, would have a separate precept, replacing the levy, and people would
then see that separately on their bills, in the same way as you have a
precept for the police or the fire brigade.
HUMPHRYS: You're not sympathetic
then to the idea that the developers themselves, other people would say
it would be entirely fair to tax the developers, because they're the people
who are going to make the money out of these developments, some of which
will add to the problem willy-nilly? You don't think they ought to pay
MORLEY: Oh I think there is a case
for the connection charge and we're looking at the response to our consultation
at the present time. If developers are building on flood plain areas, then
of course it's not unreasonable that they should pay towards either new
defences or indeed enhancing the defences that may be affected by that
development. There is already provision for that within the planning guidance,
PPG25, which restricts developments on flood plains so I think there is
certainly a case to consider there.
HUMPHRYS: We can't just stop them
building on these flood plains can we?
MORLEY: In some circumstances,
yes you can. And in some circumstances, the recommendation will be that
there should not be development in certain flood plain areas. But you,
you don't have to say that there should never be any kind of development
on flood plains, indeed you take a city like Hull for example, the whole
of Hull is on a flood plain, but it's very well defended, and indeed its
defences have recently been enhanced.
HUMPHRYS: But just to go back to
the question of the individual whose home is more at risk, should people
who are at greater risk pay more than those people who aren't because many
people would say, sure, if you bought a house knowing that you're on a
flood plain and you are well aware that you are going to be flooded every
year or every two years or something, then on your head be it. On the other
hand, you may not have known when you bought the house?
MORLEY: Well I think if you take
an extreme of someone buying a house right next to a river, then of course
they know very well that they are taking a risk when they buy that house.
But I do accept the point that you make about people may be living in a
flood risk area and not know that, that's why one of the targets which
I set for the Buy Report of nineteen-ninety-eight, was that the agency
should produce flood risk maps. Now they've done that, they are available
on the agency web-site, people can look at that, and it gives you an idea
of whether you live in a flood risk area or not. But I should caution,
these are a general indication, these maps are not one-hundred per cent
HUMPHRYS: So caveat emptor in that
MORLEY: That's right.
HUMPHRYS: As far as the way the
money is spent, again it seems grossly unfair that if you've got a house
in Worcester that's worth a hundred-thousand pounds, and somebody else
has a house in Henley that's worth half-a-million pounds, the Henley person
is going to be better protected than the Worcester person simply because
the cost/benefit analysis says it makes better sense to save those people.
That can't be right, can it?
MORLEY: No it can't and it's not
quite a simple as that. It is true that there is really a gigantic scheme
just being completed in Maidenhead, but that protects many hundreds and
thousands of properties, and of course, a great many lives. It is true
I think that the priorities should be the number of people you are protecting.
You can't get away completely from the fact that of course you've got to
take into account the cost of the defence and the value of whatever it
is that you're defending behind that. I do accept that. But people like
Mike Foster have made a very strong case that the priorities should be
the number of people, should be people first, rather than values of properties.
HUMPHRYS: ...and you accept that
MORLEY: ...I accept that argument.
BOTH SPEAKING TOGETHER
MORLEY: I accept that argument,
and from next April we will be changing the criteria in the way that we
do the assessments to reflect that more.
HUMPHRYS: So in future, it will
be people, rather than price of property that counts.
MORLEY: You can't get away totally
from overall value of the property, but I think that the people element
is going to get much greater priority, we're going to bring that forward,
the number of people that you're defending.
HUMPHRYS: Elliot Morley, many thanks.
HUMPHRYS: Now, we can't join the Euro
- or have a referendum to decide whether we should join - until the Chancellor
of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has decided that we have met his famous five
economic tests. HE says the tests are clear and unambiguous. Many other
people say that's nonsense. They're scarcely worth the paper they're written
on...they're so subjective... as to be effectively meaningless. As Terry
Dignan reports, reaching a decision could be just as complicated as finding
a winner in last night's Eurovision Song Contest.
TERRY DIGNAN: The Eurovision.....Con-Tests
- as some describe them.
DIGNAN: Move over Terry Wogan.
It's time to get serious. A momentous decision may soon be upon us. And
it will matter a tad more than who won last night's extravaganza in Estonia.
When Eurovision last came
to Britain four years ago, Labour had ruled out a referendum on the single
currency until five economic tests had been met. By the time of next year's
contest we're promised we'll know if we're ready to join. While it's hard
to read the Chancellor's mind, Tony Blair appears impatient for an early
JOHN MCFALL MP; There is a window of opportunity
for this referendum to take place, within this Parliament and next year
it's recognised that, that is that time when it should take place.
JANE GRIFFITHS: There is a very strong
ground swell of opinion among Labour MPs that the tests have been met and
that it's time to get moving.
DIGNAN; The Eurovision Song Contest.
There are few events which attract more sneers from the critics. Just listen
to some of the lyrics they say. They can mean anything you want them to
mean. A bit like Gordon Brown's five economic tests, it's argued. But just
because there'll be doubts over what the tests really mean that may be
no bad thing from Mr Brown's point of view. Because, according to the cynics,
it will ensure the assessment of the tests will produce exactly the result
the Government wants.
When the call comes there's
no escaping the big moment. But, say the critics, that's what Labour did
five years ago over holding a Euro referendum. It used the economic tests
as an excuse, it's claimed, for delaying an appointment with the voters.
The public will be asked
to vote on joining the Euro only when the tests are met. There must be
sustainable convergence between the United Kingdom and the economies of
those European countries which now use the single currency. Sufficient
flexibility within the UK economy to cope with economic change is also
required. The effect of joining on investment is test number three. Number
four - the impact on our Financial Services Industry and number five,
whether joining the Euro is good for employment. Yet the validity of the
tests is doubted even by those leading economists who believe they've already
MARTIN WHEALE: Some of the tests, or one
in particular is very odd. The government says that it's concerned about
the Financial Services Industry, the implication being that Britain would
stay out if it was bad for the Financial Services Industry, even if it
was extremely good for everyone else. And I don't understand the priority
it gives to the Financial Services Industry, I don't understand why one
group should have a veto over the national interest.
ACTUALITY - Singing So near - so near. So far
- so far.
DIGNAN: So near - so near.
So far - so far, sang the UK contenders in 1998. Which nicely describes
the difference between economists who believe we're almost ready for the
Euro and those who say we're not. The Treasury's assessment of the tests
- to be completed by June next year - won't end the arguments, according
to the former civil servant responsible for refining the tests' wording.
SIR ALAN BUDD: They're about directions,
they're about how close you are to other economies, so there is a wide
area of judgement, in which I think perfectly reasonable people could say
yes, I'm convinced by the evidence, it's okay to join, and others, seeing
the same answers, will say, well I'm not sure, I don't want to join just
yet, and I think within the, any reasonable future, the outcome is going
to lie in that range of uncertainty.
DIGNAN; Gordon Brown is far too
serious a politician to subject his economic tests to this sort of treatment.
But why not? Finding a Eurovision winner is hardly a scientific exercise
and nor, some argue, is resolving the single currency dilemma. Many regard
it as a political question even though the Chancellor maintains the assessment
of his tests overrides all other considerations.
GRIFFITHS: Well I would hesitate
to compare Gordon Brown with Mandy Rice Davies, but they would say that
wouldn't they. That's what treasuries do and that's what Chancellor's do,
is to say, no, we've got to look carefully and prudently at the economy
and of course that's right that the Treasury should do that. But the Treasury
is not the whole story, the political reality is the other half of the
BUDD: We can't have an important
decision, like whether we join the single currency, being taken by civil
servants, that would be wholly inappropriate. It has to be taken first
of all by politicians, and then by the people, and since the five tests
are so important in this process, there must be this ministerial, this
political judgement involved. So the Treasury officials will do an excellent
piece of work, quite wonderful, setting out all the relevant information,
asking all the right questions, providing all the tables, providing all
the graphs, they'll give all the information. But the final conclusion
of whether these tests are passed, will be made by the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, together with the Prime Minister.
DIGNAN; Like the contenders in
last night's Eurovision contest, supporters of Britain joining the Euro
face an anxious wait. But maybe they shouldn't hold their breath. Because
if Mr Blair thinks he can win a referendum, then, it's claimed, the result
of the assessment will be a foregone conclusion. But if he thinks he is
going to lose, then, surprise, surprise, we'll be told we're not yet ready
for the Euro.
BUDD: I may be being too cynical
about this, but I assume that the Prime Minister and Mr Brown do not want
to embark on a referendum, unless they think they can win it. If the five
tests are passed, we know they have to hold the referendum, therefore you
can see that the logic may work backwards from the referendum to the five
tests. If they think they can pass the referendum and want to do so, then
they are more likely to find that the five tests have been passed. If they'd
rather postpone the referendum, then I think they're more likely to find
that we're nearly there but not quite, and we ought to wait a little longer.
DIGNAN: Not everyone will agree
that last night in Estonia the judges got it right. Mr Brown though will
want to convince his audience, the electorate, that the assessment of his
economic tests is spot on. So he's promising that all five will have to
be met clearly and unambiguously before Britain joins the Euro. But can
anyone be so certain about a decision which many regard is as much political
LORD HASKINS; Yes, I mean the word unambiguous
is a problematical word. What economist was ever unambiguous, there's always
going to be one economist to challenge the view of another economist. So
in that sense I think looking for a one hundred per cent answer is going
to be very difficult.
MCFALL; Well I can sympathise and
understand the Chancellor in trying to get his view across that he is very,
very firm that these tests must be met but I also concur with economist
you know, put two economists in a room and you get two opinions or maybe
three opinions. The Economist magazine itself last year did a survey of
academic economists regarding Euro entry and would it be good or bad for
the country and I think it was split fifty-fifty down the middle. So the
phrase clear and unambiguous I think does not apply to economics.
ACTUALITY: Singing "We've both made the same mistakes".
DIGNAN; In Estonia last night Jessica
Garlick sang for her country. Some supporters of Euro entry believe it
would be a mistake for Tony Blair to allow Gordon Brown to dissuade him
from holding a referendum on the single currency. They fear the Chancellor
has been allowed to set too tough an obstacle to joining Euroland.
ACTUALITY; "Thank you."
DIGNAN; But others say it's a ploy
to enthuse wavering voters.
FRANK FIELD; The person who'd increasingly
been presented as Mr bad in the fight with the Prime Minister, the sceptic,
would announce this Pauline conversion and say actually, though I've always
held these views, I think now the tests have been passed.
LORD HASKINS: I think that if Gordon Brown
does get up one day and says we've passed the tests, that sure as hell
is going to impress a lot of people who think that Gordon Brown is rather
a good Chancellor, which I think would be extremely helpful, to the argument.
DIGNAN; It's twenty one years since
Bucks Fizz won for Britain with making your mind up. Supporters of the
single currency hope they won't have to wait that long before the Government
decides to hold a referendum on the Euro. It's all a question of meeting
its economic tests. Or so we're told. Because many suspect the test which
really matters is the missing one - can the Government win the referendum?
HUMPHRYS: Terry Dignan reporting there
for the first and probably the last time in his dinner jacket.
And that's it for this
week, don't forget about our Website if you use the Internet. Until next
week then, by the way we shall be on BBC Two not BBC One, good afternoon.