BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 2.06.02

==================================================================================== 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 TWO DATE: 2.06.02 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. The world's richest countries promise endlessly to protect the environment and help the poorest. They're doing neither. I'll be asking the Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett why. We'll also be asking why the Tories don't select more women and black candidates. And the Liberal Democrats say the government's asylum policies are morally wrong. I'll be asking Simon Hughes to justify that. That's after the news read by Darren Jordon. NEWS HUMPHRYS: Ten years ago world leaders met for the Earth Summit at Rio in Brazil and agreed to make much greater efforts to protect the environment and to help the world's poorest countries. They failed. The world is heating up at an alarming rate and we're pumping far more greenhouse gases into the environment now than we were ten years ago. And the poorest people are getting even poorer. Half the world's population is now living on less than �1.50 a day. Government ministers and business leaders from around the world are meeting in Indonesia to prepare another great global summit in Johannesburg in August. The Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett is one of them and I've been talking to her and asking her what's the point. But first Paul Wilenius who reports that many people are saying there must be a completely different approach. PAUL WILENIUS: Anti-globalisation protesters attack a symbol of capitalism during last summer's riots. Western police forces are braced for another long hot summer of clashes this year as world leaders gather for the Earth Summit in South Africa and the World Economic Summit in Canada, under pressure to do less for big corporations and more for the environment and the poor. The government wants to be seen to be green by supporting measures which protect the environment and help the poorest countries. However, campaigners say this will never succeed unless the government is prepared to take on big global business. The first Earth Summit in Rio ten years ago appeared to forge agreements to save the planet and map out a better future for developing countries. Although Britain has just signed up to the Kyoto Treaty aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, campaigners say it means nothing while the Americans remain outside it. Environment Ministers are off to Bali this week to pave the way for the second Earth Summit in Johannesburg, but environmentalists are pessimistic about its chances of success. ZAC GOLDSMITH: The Earth Summit was the biggest ever meeting of world leaders to deal with the environmental crisis ten years ago and everyone, I can safely say that everyone's hopes were huge at that time, they thought the problem was going to be solved. Actually what's happened is that none of the goals set at the World Summit have been met, on the contrary the environment is in a worse condition, more people are living in poverty and so on and so it has been a failure. TONY JUNIPER: We've seen a shift in political and diplomatic commitment after Rio away from global sustainable development treaties towards the promotion of trade liberalisation and global economic deregulation and that's where this summit in Johannesburg is going to have its biggest test. Are the governments turning up there going to recommit to the sustainable development priority that they said they signed up to in Rio de Janeiro or are they going to continue with the process of corporate globalisation which is doing so much damage across the globe. WILENIUS: There appears to be as much environmental damage and global poverty now, as there was then in Rio, but activists are more prepared to take on big business to help clean up the planet. Environmental protesters are running a campaign to stop Esso - owned by the US oil giant Exxon - as they blame it for helping to torpedo the Kyoto global warming treaty. They say voluntary rules to try to control the actions of such big global corporations are not strong enough. For them, the only way to stop such protests is for the next Earth Summit to come up with a tough, legally binding agreement to put the environment before trade. Protesters have been blockading Esso forecourts, backed by stars from Jonathan Creek and Absolutely Fabulous, to try to hit the company's sales. STEPHANIE TUNMORE: 'Stop Esso' recently had a day of action in the UK where they picketed four-hundred petrol stations in the UK and the campaign has also gone global, we have 'Stop Esso' campaigns now in Canada and in the USA and recently in Germany. For a long time people have been angry and upset about climate change, but it's a very complex issue, it's very difficult to point at somebody and say it's your fault. Having pointed out what Esso is doing, their role in this, it's given the customer a choice, it's given them something to do, it's given them someone to blame and we are getting a lot of support from customers. PAUL MERCER: There is a tendency to believe boycott campaigns are relatively unsophisticated but in reality they're run by very professional campaigners, they pick out very limited objectives that they know the companies can agree to without having to suffer too great a loss, and what they aim for because markets are very competitive these days is only a few percentage change in sales, because they know that will force the company into backing down and agreeing to their demands. WILENIUS: Despite the protests, there's little sign of Esso backing down. The company's defiant, bluntly refuting the accusations levelled at it by the campaigners that is doesn't care about the environment. GORDON SAWYER: The charge that somehow we determined the US Government's decision to withdraw from the Kyoto protocol is frankly rubbish. Anyone who knows our company knows that we operate to the highest ethical standards wherever we are in the world. Of course we take the issue of climate change seriously and we're taking action in our company. We are taking actions to improve energy efficiency in everything that we do today and we are also investing in energy solutions for tomorrow. WILENIUS: The nerve centre of the 'Stop Esso' campaign is inside the London HQ of Greenpeace, but it's also backed by the Friends of the Earth. These groups want legally binding corporate accountability rules from the forthcoming Earth Summit, to force global companies to behave better. They want big fines to give them real teeth as they feel the existing voluntary controls have failed. GOLDSMITH: There's no sign yet that voluntary methods have worked and this was first proposed during Rio by Bush Senior who promised that America would voluntarily reduce, cut its greenhouse emissions to nineteen-ninety levels by the year two-thousand. In fact by the year two-thousand emissions had increased by twenty per cent. JUNIPER: The Bali agenda and the Johannesburg agenda will be dominated by calls for voluntary agreements, for partnership arrangements but what is actually needed is some really tight regulatory frameworks which can start bringing some of the errant players in the sustainable developments sphere back to the table in a way where they're going to start behaving in a, in a way which is more aligned with some of the treaties and speeches of politicians. RUTH LEA: I don't think the way forward is to have these international agreements being forced on global companies because at the end of the day what is that saying? It's saying that for the, particular national governments, they cannot decide what sort of relationship they want with particular global companies. In other words it's stripping away national sovereignty from national governments. WILENIUS: For the campaigners running the Esso boycott the fate of the planet is much more important than the sovereignty of national governments. For them, Western governments must move in the direction of putting the environment before trade. JUNIPER: It seems quite logical to us given the way in which the globalisation experiment is harming the environment that there needs to be a clear political statement that the environmental rules take precedence over the trade rules. We're very, very far from that being the case but again this is one of the jobs that the governments have to do in Johannesburg is to rebalance the international machinery so that the environment does get a chance. WILENIUS: A coffee bar in the Bluewater shopping mall in Kent seems an unlikely place to find a trade battleground. Yet the fair trade coffee on sale here is part of a growing campaign to persuade environmentally concerned consumers to pay a little more for goods from Third World producers. The choice for many coffee drinkers is between a cafe latte and capuccino, but many environmentalists prefer coffee from a fair trade producers. Indeed, they feel it helps poorer countries to develop, by buying agricultural products from companies that care for the environment and their workers. They also accuse Western governments of hypocrisy, for insisting that Third World governments open up their markets, while spending billions supporting their own agriculture. A new batch of coffee arrives at the Cafe Direct plant. The slightly higher prices for the coffee, is used to give producers who respect the environment and their workers more cash. Yet there's no sign the West is ready to scrap tariff barriers or even cut the huge subsidies given to its own producers. Some campaigners believe it's better to help small farms rather than encourage large scale production. GOLDSMITH: Eighty per cent of all malnourished children in the world today actually live in countries whose agriculture has already been geared towards export exactly as they were told to by the world bank and the IMF. So it's not helping alleviate poverty, what's happening is that environments are being degraded across the board by bad agriculture, we're seeing countries plunged into debt in order to keep this, this lunatic economic system going. LEA: Companies are for good, trade is for good, economic growth is for good, wealth creation is for good. And if you compare say countries in South-east Asia, countries like South Korea or Thailand or whatever, how did they grow out of poverty? They grew out by trade. WILENIUS: Despite the contribution made by companies like Cafe Direct this can only have a limited impact as campaigners say the global food market is rigged to favour the rich countries. Farmers can produce cheap food and then send it out to undercut Third World producers, because they've been given huge subsidies by their own governments, in Europe and America. JOHN CRYER MP: We keep hearing time and time again that the Common Agriculture Policy is going to be tackled not just by the British government but by the other governments in Western Europe and it simply never happens, it just carries on - that's deeply damaging to the developing world because we keep dumping this cheap food on the Third World. LEA: And the problem with all this protectionism is that it keeps out developing countries food exports to the developed world and of course it's through exports, it's through free trade in those particular products that should enable some of these developing countries to grow and grow out of poverty. WILENIUS: Campaigners say the problem for Western governments is they are inextricably linked to big global corporations. So many protest groups have decided the only thing these companies and governments listen to is direct action. Now there's a growing threat of more mass demonstrations here in Westminster and consumer boycotts. MERCER: The reason direct political action is growing is because of a perception that large corporations are now more powerful than a lot of national governments and that one can't effect or increasingly one can't effect political change by campaigning within party political structures, one actually has to then target those corporations and that's the reason for the growth and the more that people perceive these corporations to be all powerful then the more that they're going to get targeted. WILENIUS: But the first step for many is to try to persuade politicians to do more to help the environment and promote sustainable development. Both young and old campaigners are preparing for what is expected to one of the biggest ever lobbies of Parliament on June the nineteenth. Tens of thousands are expected to call for a fair trade system. JUNIPER: We're hoping that thousands of people will turn out to the Houses of Parliament to bring to their MPs attention a set of concerns that are rarely debated in the democratic institutions in this country and that is about the assumption that free trade will end poverty, that free trade will protect the environment and that a deregulatory approach on the global economic stage is the right way forward. WILENIUS: Protesters limber up for the big day with a dance in Leeds. The environmental campaigners are all joining forces to demand changes to the world trading system and more action to save the planet. But there are fears this government may not be truly, madly, deeply committed to green policies and helping the poorest countries in the face of the might of the global corporations. CRYER: The idea that globalisation is sort of a fact and you can't do anything about it, it leads to this, it leads to, to a feeling amongst Ministers I suspect that you can only kind of, play around at the margins, you can't do anything fundamental and you can. WILENIUS: Tony Blair's government will need to do a lot more to convince campaigners that it's serious about green issues and helping the Third World. Although the minority of violent protesters might be contained by the police, it could be a lot more difficult to extinguish the passion of those battling for the future of our world. HUMPHRYS: Paul Wilenius reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Margaret Beckett, Rio, as we all know was ten years ago . Do you accept that not much has been achieved since then. MARGARET BECKETT: I think that's a bit harsh, quite a good deal has been achieved but not as much perhaps as some people had hoped and what the purpose of Johannesburg is, is not to sort of rake over old grounds, say, oh so and so didn't do this and this person didn't do that, but to say how do we take this agenda forward. We've got a fair amount of international agreement on the millennium development goals to get access to water, access to energy particularly for people in the developing world, what concrete steps could we agree at Johannesburg that really will move things forward? HUMPHRYS: I suppose the big problem is globalisation and how the big multi-national corporations operate. Organisations such as Friends of the Earth say that they have to be reined in. BECKETT: I think the point that they have is that there are dangers obviously, I mean you can't just say stop the world we don't like globalisation it's there, it's a fact of life. The question is the issue of Johannesburg is, can we make globalisation work for the poor and it isn't just a simple matter of saying stop big business or rein in big business. There are quite major international companies that are involved in some really worthwhile projects to try to deliver sustainable energy, to try to deliver access to fresh water and sanitation, and that's what we have to encourage those companies that are prepared to act responsibly to be part of that international partnership. HUMPHRYS: Well, it's more than encouraging the good companies isn't it. It's stopping the bad companies, the companies that Friends of the Earth for instance say are trashing the environment, and we know that it goes on, illegal logging and all that sort of thing. Those companies have to be stopped don't they? BECKETT: We have got to try to stop people who are wrecking other people's livelihoods and the environment yes, but what we also have to do is to try to put in place more of that basic infrastructure that helps people to start to find their way out of poverty because it isn't only a good thing to do and the right thing to do in their interests, it's actually in all of our interests. Few things lead to greater degradation of the environment than dire poverty and this is why it's very important to everybody to try and find a way out of this trap in which so many people in the developing world are caught at the present time. HUMPHRYS: But, we're making that trap both wider and deeper. We're forcing people effectively into greater poverty by making them open up their markets in agriculture when they obviously cannot compete. BECKETT: No I think that could be a misunderstanding, I mean certainly what we want to do is to pursue a sustainable approach to agriculture whether it's in the developed or the developing world. But although this won't be a major feature won't be the centre piece of what's discussed at Johannesburg because there are the WTO talks themselves, the Doha development round heavily features agriculture. But particularly in Africa people are starting to point out that although it would be excellent if we can increase levels of overseas aid, although it would be very good to do more to provide sustainable water, energy and so on, actually it would could do far more for Africa if we can open up our markets particularly to their agricultural produce. The OECD has figures that we spend something like fifty billion dollars a year on direct overseas aid, we spend three hundred and fifty billion dollars a year on subsidising our own agriculture. If we were opening up our markets more to the developing world and if they were able to address that challenge it could be worth three times as much as they now get in overseas aid. So although that won't be the centre of what we talk about in Johannesburg it is a potentially huge opportunity for them. HUMPHRYS: Well, you put your finger on it, don't you, because exactly the opposite is happening.. I mean if you take a poor and small country like Ghana. Now in Ghana they had a thriving little local tomato industry. They were growing their own tomatoes, they were doing very well. The local people were using tomatoes, they were selling very well abroad, and then what happened is that Italy which grows an awful lot of tomatoes, subsidised tomatoes that it doesn't want puts them in cans and dumps them on Ghana. And then the entire tomato industry in Ghana is destroyed. Now that is precisely the sort of thing that should not be happening. BECKETT: But the point of all of that is that it's subsidised production. If we can persuade the developed countries to reduce the subsidies we now spend on agriculture then everyone can benefit. Consumers and tax payers in the developed world benefit, we all benefit from a freer market a freer world price and this is why many of these things are not just - yes if they go wrong they can be damaging, but it isn't all damaging, it isn't all gloom, there are real opportunities here that we have to try and address. HUMPHRYS: Well yes there are, but we're not addressing them, and that's because we do nothing about the grotesque subsidies that exist at the moment. We have heard one Secretary of State after another, one Agriculture Minister after another in this country and indeed in other countries in Europe, saying, something must be done about the subsidies, something must be done about the CAP. The reality is that nothing gets done. BECKETT: Well that's not quite true. There have been changes, there have been improvements, we don't spend nearly as much now in some of these subsidies as we used to do, but I entirely agree with you that there is more that we need to do and I accept too that if we're talking about reform of the common agricultural policy set, people have been talking about this all my political life. That doesn't mean you turn your back on the next opportunity when it comes along, it means you take that opportunity and you do the best you can with it to get the kind of outcome that everybody wants to see. HUMPHRYS: The reality is though, that we're actually going in the opposite direction, aren't we? We're seeing more rather than fewer subsidies. If you look at the United States now, what's the figure there, a hundred-and-thirty-five billion pounds is going to American farmers, most of them big agri-business corporations over the next five or ten years. Now, that is an increase of fifty billion over what it was to rich American farmers and farming companies.. BECKETT: Yes I, I don't accept that we're all going in the wrong direction because the European Union did agree a negotiating mandate for the Doha round that says we start to phase out agricultural subsidies. I do agree that the American, recent American farm bill is certainly a step in the wrong direction but I think you're probably aware this is not what the administration wanted and the administration remain insistently of the view that they want to see the phasing out of subsidies. Now we've seen a short term step in the wrong direction in America. What we have to do now is try to make sure that they continue to pursue what they say are their long term goals. HUMPHRYS: But what we have to do whether we're talking about protecting the environment or helping poorer people, is we've got to have powerful international agreements, new international law, so if people break them, well we know they're breaking them. It's a difficult thing to do but it's the only thing ultimately to do, and we back away from taking those tough decisions. BECKETT: No I think that's harsh John because if you look at the Kyoto Climate Change negotiations, and I accept that the American government is outside those at the present time, but actually it was EU member states that drove agreement there and they have signed up to some very challenging and demanding targets, and signed up for the first time ever in the history of the planet to a huge international agreement that has legal teeth. So things aren't going fast enough, I accept that, there is a huge amount more to do, I accept that, but it isn't right to say that everything is negative and that we aren't going in the right direction. We are and we have to keep up that pressure which is why we need to have that presence there in Indonesia and then in South Africa to try and drive things in the right direction. HUMPHRYS: The Americans have walked away from Kyoto and they are the world's biggest polluter. BECKETT: The Americans are major polluters but don't forget that this American government has said that they accept that there is a climate change problem, they accept that action needs to be taken to tackle it in America and have some proposals there, not enough, not going far enough but proposals, a beginning. And they are putting substantial investment into technology, into scientific research that may help all of us in tackling some of these problems. So that isn't a hopeless scenario either and I personally believe that as we go on with the Kyoto protocol and that is the only international agreement around, that there is every possibility that in the fullness of time the American business community, the interests in America that can see America losing out as a result of some of these things, will start to rethink and start to increase the pressure on America itself, so that's why it's so important. If we weren't going on with Kyoto, if there wasn't something the rest of the world was trying to get agreed and brought into force, then there wouldn't be anything to drive America to a parallel process. While there is then that pressure remains. HUMPHRYS: The problem is that whenever there is a conflict between free trade and some social environmental issue, free trade always wins. That is the Holy Grail; and we all bow down before it. BECKETT: Free trade is important and free trade can bring real gains, but whether it's free trade or any other aspect of policy what we're trying to get people to do is to keep in balance those issues of economic prosperity, social justice and also tackling the problems of the environment, that's what the summit is about, that's what my department was set up to try and pursue and that's something that is still worth keeping on at even when sometimes we don't have all the success we might like. HUMPHRYS: Perhaps what the world needs is a world environmental organisation to take on the World Trade Organisation. BECKETT: I'm not opposed to that, I'm not rushing to say oh yes what a wonderful idea because there's obviously a danger that you'll set up another bureaucracy, you set up another agency and if there isn't underlying agreement it might not make a difference but I'm perfectly prepared to look positively at that idea,but I think there are things that we can do now without setting up a new world or environment organisation that we ought to be doing and maybe not putting our negotiating strength and all our pressure into that particular goal rather than more concrete things that are actually of direct relevance maybe next year to the people in the developing world. HUMPHRYS: You've chided me a number of times during the course of this interview for sounding too gloomy and too pessimistic, but the fact is things if they are happening, they're either going in the wrong direction of they're happening very, very slowly indeed. And there isn't that much time, the climate is getting worse, the world is hotting up, people are getting poorer and poorer, and there simply isn't that much time left to put it right. BECKETT: No, I'm not saying there's loads of time and I accept the comments that you've made about the need for urgent action. I'm simply saying that if we say this is hopeless, and walk away from the process then nothing at all will happen. What we have to do is to keep up the pressure for movement, and for movement as fast as we can get it. HUMPHRYS: You've said that we have to strive for collective responsibility. There's a great deal of talk about voluntary actions by big organisations, and indeed by government, but surely what is needed is to put real pressure on the big organisations, the big multinational corporations, and the way to do that is to have legally enforceable agreements, not the sorts of things that simply require companies to say, oh, yeah, alright we'll do that, and then they face no penalty if they don't? BECKETT: It's an interesting idea, it's an idea that's been tossed around by organisations like Friends of the Earth, but frankly it has such huge implications and ramifications that the idea that we could get countries across the world to sign up to that at this stage when the meeting is taking place in September, well I would be very very surprised. And what I am keen to get us to do is to put our efforts behind getting the right kind of political declaration at Johannesburg, getting the right kind of inter-governmental agreement and the right kind of approach to taking action to make globalisation work for the poor not least in Africa, and to get in some of these new kinds of partnerships that involve organisations like Friends of the Earth and the business community and say, local authorities in South Africa, elsewhere in the world that can show concrete examples of how people can work together to make life better for particular communities in the developing world. So we can learn from that example and build on it. I'd rather see us concentrate on doing those things which have always been top of the agenda for the world summit than saying oh let's think of another legal process and say all these problems are due to big multinational companies and let's now try and get them involved in a particular kind of agreement. I don't think with great respect to those who give a lot of time and thought and effort to these things that, that is the most fruitful thing that we should be pursuing in the run up to Johannesburg. HUMPHRYS: But if ultimately all we're able to say is well, effectively we're going to have to move at the pace of the slowest, and that isn't very fast at all, then we're going to go to hell in hand-basket. BECKETT: Well I think that's a depressing approach I don't think it excuses us from doing as much as we can but is there any point in setting goals that are so dramatic that they can't be realised so people then despair and think there's nothing that can be done. Surely it's better to fight to go as far as we can and actually to achieve that so that you can prove to people I can say to you today the Kyoto protocol was agreed. There is this unprecedented, international legal agreement that a whole string of countries across the world have signed up to, that's something we can point to as a success and say why can't we do more like this. If we'd been much more ambitious for the Kyoto protocol and failed all you'd have then is an excuse for people doing nothing. HUMPHRYS: And that interview was recorded a couple of days ago. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Margaret Beckett of course is one of seven women in the Cabinet and last week they were joined by Britain's first black Cabinet Minister, Paul Boateng. So the Labour Government is increasingly reflecting the make up of the nation as a whole. The Conservatives on the other hand have problems even getting women or people from ethnic minorities selected to stand as candidates. They're just beginning to choose their people for the next General Election, and Iain Duncan Smith, their leader says he's determined to do something about the problem.. But as Iain Watson reports, some people in the party say they're simply not doing enough.. IAIN WATSON: The beautiful game, like so many other previously male professions, now has its fair share of female participants. But when it comes to politics, women are still markedly under strength in parliament, more so on the Conservative than Labour benches. Iain Duncan Smith says he says he's scouting around for talented people, irrespective of their sex or background. Tracey Crouch, whose ambition off the football field is to become a Tory MP, welcomes support for less traditional candidates. TRACEY CROUCH: Currently the benches in the House of Commons don't represent the country as a whole; I'd like to see more female Conservative MPs in the Commons and at last the leadership seems to be engaging in this issue. WATSON: But not everyone is as optimistic that women will find a way through the system. Party managers at Conservative central office want to see a more diverse range of candidates in place in winnable seats, well ahead of the next general election. But at local level, women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds often feel sidelined in the selection process; they say that any number of pep talks from the Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is simply no substitute for positive action on their behalf to overcome what they see as an imbalance in favour of white middle-aged men. And this is one case where perception and reality go hand in hand. Of the one-hundred-and-sixty-six Conservative MPs currently in the House of Commons, there are only fourteen women; none are from the ethnic minorities; and, before the last election, in the twenty-five seats where sitting Tory MPs retired, no women made it through as their successors. FRANCIS MAUDE MP: We selected entirely straight, white, middle-class males. Now that made a more or less accurate statement about what kind of party we'd become. And that is very damaging because it not only discourages people from thinking of us as a broad national Party but it also discourages really good non-typical Conservative candidates whether they're from ethnic minorities or women or from different kinds of backgrounds, people who are born and brought up on the wrong side of the tracks. WATSON: Shailesh Vara ran Labour close in Northampton South in two-thousand-and-one; he's since been made a vice-chairman of his party. While he advocates change, he won't say how many additional women he wants to see in parliament, or whether any more candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds will be given his chance in a key marginal. WATSON: Last time one candidate from the ethnic minorities in a winnable seat; how many more would you like to see fighting winnable seats at the next election? SHAILESH VARA: Again, I'm not going to talk about specific numbers, what I will say is that we as a party wish to reflect the nation at large, as Iain Duncan Smith said in his speech in Harrogate that if... WATSON: ...would one or two be enough? Let's get an idea of what you are aiming for... VARA:, no, I'm not going down the route of numbers , what I will say is that... WATSON: ...there's no specific aim? VARA: ...there is no specific number. WATSON: Later this month, new research from the Fawcett Society - the pressure group that wants to see more women making more progress in politics - will show that local Conservative associations may need intensive training in equal opportunities. GEETHIKA JAYATILAKA: The research was based on interviews with women who went for selection in safe or winnable seats at the last parliamentary election. And what we heard very clearly from these women that they were many instances of overt discrimination, and in some cases even sexual harassment. Many of the women reported being asked questions around what they would do with their children while they were at Parliament, or being told outright that women with young children should be at home. But in the most extreme instances women were asked for example what their husbands would do for sex during the week. JILL ANDREW: And somebody said he'd lain awake all night thinking about me, and another instance, there was apparently a lot of discussion about my legs which really didn't have a lot of bearing on what I had to say during the course of my speech. WATSON: Central office has been compiling profiles of every target seat looking at the aspirations of those voters the party needs to win back at the next election. The idea is to persuade party activists that, in some areas, they can increase their electoral support by choosing women, or ethnic minority, candidates. But central office backed away from a plan to restrict the choice of candidates only to those who best matched the profile for each seat, following a revolt by Tory MPs. MAUDE: A small group of Conservative Members of Parliament - because that's what we are, sadly, at this stage in our history - cannot be allowed to be a block in the recovery, the essential recovery, of a great Party. WATSON: You backed down? VARA: Let me tell you this. A lot of local associations are phoning us up, writing to us, and saying they want guidance. What we are saying to associations is that if they're going to ask us for guidance because they may end up with let's say two-hundred-and-fifty applicants who are applying for a particular seat, all that the local association has is a list of CVs. They're turning to us and saying 'can you give us guidance as to which candidate you feel might be better suited for this association?' Where that guidance is sought we are giving it. WATSON: And where it isn't? VARA: Local autonomy is still a very strong feature of the Conservative party. WATSON: Iain Duncan Smith is determined to make the Tories serious players at the next election, and has said that local associations will be 'heavily encouraged' to select women and ethnic minority candidates. But at the same time, he's given the nod to a system of 'fast tracking' in target seats. This allows them to re-adopt the losing candidates from two-thousand-and-one without an open selection meeting; some aspiring women MPs are crying foul. FELICITY ELPHICK: I mean if I thought there was a winnable seat that I would like to go for and somebody else had got it because they'd been fast tracked, on an individual level, I wouldn't be too happy. WATSON: Next week, at this hotel in Slough, senior officials from Conservative central office will be meeting key party activists from the seats the Tories hope to win at the next general election; in this very room, they'll be trying to cajole rather than coerce constituencies to accept more women and more ethnic minority candidates. But critics of central office say they are simply not using all the means at their disposal to get a broader range of potential MPs. In a cross between a political rally and the Price is Right, Conservative candidates were urged to come on down and receive the prize of peer group approval at the last conference before the election. But with more women in the audience than on stage, some party reformers are now calling for positive action. MAUDE: I don't think we should rule out all women shortlists. Whether it's all women shortlists or quotas or any kind of positive discrimination, I can as well as anyone make a powerful case against it, it's all objectionable in principle. But what is more objectionable in principle is us being a Party that is, looks, narrow and is not selecting a bench of candidates that is genuinely representative of the country. VARA: We very much hope that women candidates will be selected. But let me emphasise that these women candidates are going to be selected on merit and we're not going to go down the line of having positive discrimination or all women lists or anything of that ilk. ELPHICK: All women lists is something that I have fought against until very recently and I have sat back and looked and thought, I've seen what the Labour party have done and it has worked for them and it has been of benefit to all the parties that there are more women in parliament. And whilst I'm not saying that we've definitely got to have it I am definitely saying that it must be considered and looked at in a very positive way WATSON: If local Tory associations don't appear to be selecting a more diverse range of candidates, then some people here at Conservative central office are contemplating more drastic action. A very senior figure has told 'On the Record' that constituencies may yet have to select from a restricted list of candidates, up to fifty per cent of whom could be women; and, if there is any sign of a grassroots rebellion, then central office may threaten to withdraw support from local associations ahead of the next general election. ELPHICK: I know for a fact that we have been looking at fifty-fifty lists. One of the ideas was to have a list, I think there are seventy seats initially that we're going to be looking at placing candidates in, so having thirty-five women and thirty five men on it and sending those names out to the associations as a recommendation, not as a must. And then as people get selected obviously the list goes smaller and smaller so at some point all the women are going to get selected and all the men are going to get selected. MAUDE: In the first half dozen seats which select a candidate to replace a retiring Conservative MP, if, in those seats at least half of the candidates selected are not what I would call non-typical, i.e. not straight, white middle class males, if that's not the case, then I think there will be very great pressure and there ought to be very great pressure to have active intervention to make sure that the pattern is broken. WATSON: The spa town of Cheltenham is an unlikely setting for a civil war but a decade ago, conflict was rife when some local Tories felt that the black barrister John Taylor was being forced upon them as their candidate. The constituency party chairman, Tony Hilder, would like to see a broader range of Conservative MPs, but warns that the current era of tranquility could be over if central office imposes a restricted list of potential candidates. TONY HILDER: I don't think it would be a good idea to have fifty per cent women and fifty per cent men, I don't think that would be, I think it should be purely on merit alone. I think the local associations feel they quite jealously guard their position on this and I think, I don't think that would be, I think that would be counter productive really. WATSON: Even those who criticise the selection procedure believe too much central direction could rebound. ANDREW: You know, if you force a candidate on an association they are not going to work for them and I just think it's the wrong way of tackling the problem, I think it's a bit of a sticking plaster solution, it's got nice up-front results but it doesn't actually tackle the causes. WATSON: Despite the name of the establishment, this was the venue for very serious business last week. The Conservatives' parliamentary assessment board was in session. It judges the competence of potential Tory candidates. But unless a list of the very best, irrespective of race or gender, is foisted on local associations, some very senior figures think the party could be debarring itself from a return to power. MAUDE: I think we have to not just talk about change, but make change actually happen and that does mean making the case boldly, strongly, confidently for the kind of Party we want to be. And there will be critics and there will be people who find it difficult. And, and I think all of us find the idea of active intervention of this kind quite difficult. But the penalty for not doing this is oblivion. WATSON: Party managers want to see more women and ethnic minority candidates, a message which has encouraged young Conservatives such as Tracey Crouch. But if they don't tackle any local associations which aren't on-side, some of their own supporters believe they'll be giving a gift to the opposition. HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting there. JOHN HUMPHRYS: Every other week it seems the government comes up with yet another tough policy to deal with asylum seekers. The problem is not only those who try to get into the country illegally through the Channel Tunnel for instance, but also those who have made an application for asylum once they're here, and had it turned down. It was those Mr. Blunkett had in his sites last week. He said, he wants the law changed so that instead of being allowed to make their appeal in this country, they can be sent back, either to the country they came from, or to a European country they passed through on their way to Britain. The Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Simon Hughes says that is morally wrong, and he's with me. Good afternoon Mr. Hughes. SIMON HUGHES MP: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: What's immoral about it? HUGHES: It takes away the responsibility we have for giving people a fair hearing, and it undermines that, in fact, only six months ago in the government's own White Paper, it said not allowing people to appeal here would undermine justice, so they had that position six months ago, and the logic is seen in a parallel with the Criminal Justice System. If you presumed that you were going to treat people differently between the first hearing and the appeal, people would say that's outrageous. You've got to give people full rights, the same rights to appeal. And the figures show how important it is, about one in five cases last year succeeded on appeal. So the Home Secretary's effectively saying, I want to send out of the country, people, one in five of whom will succeed if they pursue their appeal, to another country, which might well pass them on to a third country, and so on. It's a pass-the-parcel, when we should, if we could get our act together, if we could just organise ourselves well, be able to deal with people here. It's also immoral because it panders to prejudice, it stokes resentment, and it gets rid of the principle which says you have a judicial review of the system in this country, rather than having a part review of the system in this country, and the rest you have to go abroad to exercise your rights to, to use. HUMPHRYS: But they will still, that's the important point, that last point, they will still be able to exercise those rights, albeit in a different country. HUGHES: Well, the two options Mr Blunkett indicated, where they go back to the country they came from, that in most cases is not an option, because by definition they've come from there because they don't believe they're safe there, or they go to 'another safe country.' Well let's take France, which is the obvious example, the definition of what is asylum in France as it happens is different from the UK, because they don't accept non-state persecution. It's been a controversial issue over the years, so the courts here have said, it's not the same to go to France or to Germany, because the standard is not as high as it is in the UK, so it's not giving them the same rights as if they were remaining in this country. HUMPHRYS: But it seems a bit odd to object to them being sent back to a country with a perfectly good record on human rights, such as France, or Poland, or the Czech Republic or Hungary, or... HUGHES: I accept that. The difficulty is that the French, under the present system, might say, well, they're nothing to do with us. That's what they've been saying in relation to the people outside Calais at Sangatte and therefore they logically could say well, we'll pass them back, they must have come from somewhere else, let's pass them back to Germany. The system's a nonsense. I've been to Sangatte, I've talked to people there, many of them don't know exactly where they crossed into the European Union. They were in a lorry, they'd paid their twelve-thousand Dollars in Afghanistan to get to the UK, or to get to Europe and then they were told to apply to the UK. They were dumped at Sangatte, they don't know where they crossed the border. The sane system is to have a European system which says, no matter where somebody appears, whether it's in Italy, people coming off the boats, whether it's in Spain, the people having come across the Straits of Tangier, or whether it's at Sangatte, wherever they appear, we will have a common processing system, technically you have to apply to an individual country, so let's say in that case it's France, but the European Union will share responsibility for making sure that fair numbers are distributed across the EU. And we're not even anywhere near the top of that league table, we're tenth out of sixteen countries, in the proportion relative to population we take. It really is something that we should try to see in perspective and proportion and get a common system agreed between us instead of raising the anti... HUMPHRYS: Nobody I am sure would argue that a common system is to be greatly desired, and the sort of thing you've just described might be ideal, but we don't have it, that's the problem, and by your own admission, twenty per cent of the applicants succeed, that means eighty per cent of them do not succeed... HUGHES: Just let me just be clear about the figures. The figures are roughly that twenty per cent of original cases succeed on the first round, as it were, there are about another twenty per cent which succeed either because there's a judicial review, or because they're given leave to remain here. So about a third, between a third and a half of all people, coming over the last decade, have been allowed to stay. HUMPHRYS: Right, but the majority, nonetheless, are turned down... HUGHES: ...their majority at the end of the process, are turned... HUMPHRYS: ...or well, unless it's third and the figure probably fluctuates a bit, doesn't it? HUGHES: does. HUMPHRYS: But anyway, the fact is, the majority, even if it's only a small majority are turned down and what you're saying, and let's look at it now from a practical point of view rather than the moral point of view, what you're saying is that we, people of this country, should bear their costs. We should carry on housing, clothing, feeding them, all the rest of it? HUGHES: When we signed up to the Convention in nineteen-fifty-one, where Britain actually was a key country in drafting the Convention and establishing the rights, the deal was that the countries who were receiving applicants would look after the asylum applicant until they could deal with their case. Now most applicants for asylum do not come to Britain, they don't come to Europe, they go to Pakistan, or they go to Central Africa, we get a very small proportion, if, and the figures as the UN commissioned this week says, have been cut by half in Europe over the last decade, if we can't organise ourselves, the fourth most successful economy in the world, to process these cases, that's a failing of us, and the only reason there's perceived there's a crisis, is because we haven't put the resources in, we haven't had the processing done properly. You can have a perfectly proper system, and a quick system, and a fair system, without saying 'I'm sorry, if you're going to appeal, you're going to have to appeal from somewhere far away, where to be honest, there's no guarantee you will have the same opportunity to do so as if you're here.' HUMPHRYS: But it is perceived as a crisis and there are enormous political ramifications of all of this as we both know, and as everybody watching this programme knows, and something has to be done, most people believe, and if you look at another set of figures that the financial figures, we read this morning that it's going to cost in the current year about a billion pounds to deal with asylum seekers. Now for a politician to sit there and say, don't worry about it, we should pick up that bill... HUGHES: ... it was us that don't worry about it. It's, take a European context, Mr. Blair said when he goes to the Seville Summit of the European Union leaders, that he wants the Spanish Prime Minister who's in the chair at the moment to come up with some proposals, we should go to the European Summit with proposals, we should say, come on, this is a matter we need to share responsibility for, and we should say get our act together quickly. But the UNHCR, the other agencies, are willing to help us. They're quite willing, it seems to me, to say 'ok, whether people are in Sangatte, or in Spain, or in Britain, or anywhere else, let's deal with them civilly, let's uphold the human rights we've always done, but let's make sure we have the resources in to progress the case. We have a nonsense system at the moment, I agree with you. For people to have to smuggle themselves under the Channel in order to put a case to come to Britain is a nonsense. It is a much more sane system, that wherever you appear in Europe, you can put the case there. Indeed a much more sane system than that would say, if you get out of say, Afghanistan last year, and you get to a relatively safe country like India, then why can't you put your case as an asylum seeker in India to come to the UK just as at the moment you can put your case for a visa to come to the UK, so there is a bigger picture and it could be done quickly, and it really doesn't mean saying we can't do anything now, and all the evidence is that if you just put up the barriers and have a fortress Europe mentality, that doesn't actually stop people trying to come here, and it certainly doesn't uphold the human rights of people who now look to us from countries where for the last two-hundred years we were very happily walking into their countries, conquering them, running them, administering them, and migrating into them. HUMPHRYS: A slightly different issue, but yes, ok, accept that point... HUGHES: ...we've gone round the world... HUMPHRYS: ...indeed, indeed, indeed... HUGHES: ...into everybody else's, and they're now looking to us for help... HUMPHRYS: ...indeed we have, but we have to deal with the world as it is today, and not as it once was, or indeed as it is as you would like it to be. Are you, be clear about this, are you saying you have no problem, you do not believe it is a problem that we have the number of asylum seekers coming here today that we had, that isn't problem as far as you are concerned? HUGHES: I believe it shouldn't be a problem to deal with. HUMPHRYS: Well is it? HUGHES: Well it is only because the government have not dealt with it competently, it's a failure of the past and present government, and I'm not blaming individuals, they have not realised that throughout Europe over the last ten years there's been civil war in Southern Europe, and they ought to have had the resources in place, it's a bit like the prison issue - it's no good thinking that you can resolve the problem of overcrowding prisons without having different policy either to have more prisons or to have different sentencing. It's all predictable. So yes, it is a problem, but it's a problem of the government's own making. And the solution is not for the Home Secretary to change policy in six months for the third time to say we're going to be even tougher, to pander to prejudice, to be honest, sometimes to only quote half the figures, as he accepted he did when he'd done an interview on the BBC a few weeks ago, which was then corrected in the Commons later in the day. We really must tell people the facts, and if people know that about a third to a half of all cases are valid, and for the other people, they want to be economic migrants, and we should have a case for letting them put their case, then we would have a sane system, but we have an insane system at the moment, and anybody that's been to Sangatte and seen the terrible conditions we condemn people to, as a continent, would realise how insane a system it is. HUMPHRYS: Though some people would say, they chose to come here, they chose to go to Sangatte and if we're talking about figures, just, just have a look at them, seventy-two-thousand applications last year, that was an increase that has increased, that had, it tends to go up and go down a little bit, granted, but that was an increase in the first quarter of this year... HUGHES: ...yes but John... HUMPHRYS: a lot of people say that is, that is a worryingly large figure... HUGHES: ...on the figures, if you look over the decade as a whole, in Europe the figures have been cut by half, but in Britain they've gone up, more people have come to Britain, and that's because, if one country suddenly tightens its system, what happens? People don't go away, they just go somewhere else within Europe, they go to another country, it's very irresponsible. HUMPHRYS: That's our problem, exactly. HUGHES: Well yes. That is a very irresponsible system for us to say, right, we're going to tighten now, thank you very much France, you take the burden. Because then what happens, the French will tighten it even more... HUMPHRYS: ...yes but you see... HUGHES: it is a pass-the-parcel, and that's a nonsense. HUMPHRYS: ...but the French view is, is that our rules are simply too lax. The French are not at all surprised that we've got people coming here, they believe that they're too lax, we are too lax? HUGHES: Of course, and that's why you need a common system so that there isn't a great difference between what happens in Belgium or Italy or Spain... HUMPHRYS: ...but in the absence of that common system... HUGHES: ...but why should there be an absence? HUMPHRYS: ...well because there is. I mean let's just deal with it as it is today, lunchtime on a Sunday, there is an absence of a common system, and what you seem to be saying, is let us actually have a more lax system... HUGHES:, no not at all. I'm saying, have a system, let me give you a practical example, and I deal with lots of asylum seekers and immigrants in my constituency on a weekly basis, more than almost any other MP. You go to Sangatte, you interview the people there, you give advice as to which are likely to get successful asylum cases, you let them put their case, for the others who are economic migrants you seek to deal with them in a different way, and then when you decide somebody does fail, you have a much more honourable system about returning people home which makes it highly likely they go home and not at the moment, that they disappear into the, that system altogether. HUMPHRYS: Can I in the last minute or so deal with a different subject, that of Myra Hindley, as the Home Affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats. David Blunkett apparently wants to change the law so that as a result of the Human Courts ruling last week, he would not effectively be forced to release somebody like Myra Hindley, indeed, she's made her own appeal. Is he right to do that, or is he wrong? HUGHES: The European Court are right to say that it should not be for politicians, but for judges to decide how long somebody serves. HUMPHRYS: So he's wrong? HUGHES: Parliament should set the maximum sentence, and if David Blunkett wants to bring before parliament a proposal that if somebody is sentenced to life that means they serve all their days in prison, he can do that. I think he's very wrong to do that, because no... HUMPHRYS: think she should be released? HUGHES: No, that should be done by the judges. The court should decide in our view whether it's safe to release somebody, not politicians, and you should never have a mandatory sentence for anything, because every case is different. HUMPHRYS: Simon Hughes, many thanks. HUMPHRYS: And that's it for this week. We're on BBC Two again next week for obvious reasons. See you then. Good afternoon. 23 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.