JOHN HUMPHRYS; John Bercow - less popular
than the Euro, not difficult you might say, but nonetheless there must
be some significant, basic fundamental change. Right?
JOHN BERCOW; Well, first of all the pound
is more popular than any of the political parties. That was the point
that Iain Duncan Smith made this morning, and he was absolutely right to
do so. Of course modernisation is not for the Conservative Party an optional
extra. It is absolutely critical both to getting our approach and policies
right, and to reconnecting with the electorate, so it's not an isolated
act, it's not a one off gesture. It is a continuous and positive process
of change to allow us to get it right and to reconnect with the electorate.
HUMPHRYS; Just on the subject of
Dominic Cummings I see some reports this morning in the papers that some
people, important people in your party think he should be sacked for his
BERCOW; I'm certainly not arguing
for that. I think Dominic Cummings is a brilliant man. I think he's got
many good ideas. He's hired to give his advice. He's a first class character,
but the position on the Euro has been made absolutely clear by Iain Duncan
Smith and indeed by others in recent days. We will play, and Iain as our
leader will play in particular, a prominent role in any referendum campaign
if the Prime Minister dares to call it, but we will be team players, we
will be on an equal footing with politicians from other parties and indeed
all of us as politicians will be on an equal footing in any referendum
campaign with people from other parts of public life who want to keep the
pound. The issue John, frankly, of staying out of the Euro and keeping
our currency is too important to be left exclusively to the politicians.
HUMPHRYS; Let's look at something
else that's terribly important from your point of view as well. You acknowledge
that there has to be fundamental change. The difficulty is that when it
comes down to the wire, the policy wire, and I fully accept that you don't
have all of your policies properly formed yet, so let's not. if we may
go down that road, clearly there is some way to go yet, but nonetheless
it begins to look like an image-changing exercise and that's all, because
when you do get to the difficult decisions, things you have to make decisions
about now, such as public services, it seems that you say in the case of
the NHS for instance: yes, there's a big debate going here and we want
to join in that, we do want fundamental change, but everything you do and
say and look at in Europe suggests that what you actually want is more
private involvement one way or the other. Now that is hardly in keeping
with the message you're trying to deliver, is it?
BERCOW; I don't think that's right.
What we want is more choice and greater effectiveness in delivering the
HUMPHRYS; All of which involves
more private involvement.
BERCOW; Some of it might involve
more private involvement. It could mean greater use of social insurance
to complement the resources raised by the state through taxation, but the
key point is this, most other countries in Europe use different systems
to our National Health Service model, and most of them have in common the
fact that they are more effective at translating care from a word to a
deed than we are. They have a better record for example, on cancer care,
on treating people with heart disease. In so many different respects, there's
greater choice of GP, in France there are no national waiting lists,
in Germany and Denmark you've got a twenty-eight day guarantee of treatment.
So it would be crazy not to look at the way they do things John.
HUMPHRYS; But they all have greater
private involvement, that's my point. So the message you're delivering,
even thought you want the message to be one thing, it comes out as another,
because when it comes down to it, everything you are seriously interested
in involves greater use of the private sector one way or the other.
BERCOW: I don't think that understands
the full picture, I think the important point is this .The government has
gone in for micro-management mania. They want to regulate everything,
they want to stop the professionals using their judgement to provide the
best service to the patient, to the pupil, to the user of the transport
service, to people who are scared of the really outrageous increase in
crime that we've witnessed. So what we want to do is to look at other
ways of doing things, and the difference between ourselves and the government
is really very simply stated, and it's very starkly illustrated in relation
to health. We have an open mind, we want to learn from others, we want
to see how and why it is they do things better. The government, in the
form particularly of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are basically
saying: we know it all, we've got nothing to learn, and yet it doesn't
hang together John, does it. They've taken under a hundred thousand million
pounds from us in taxation over the last five years, but the services have
got worse, not better. We want to make the services better and not worse.
HUMPHRYS: Ah, but that's the point.
You say you have an open mind on this, and yet when the Chancellor says,
look, one of the ways we can deal with the problem of the NHS is raise
a lot more money in taxes and put a lot more money into the NHS, you say
to that, no. You don't say, well, we'll consider that, we may even abstain
on the vote on the budget in which all of that is proposed, you actually
vote against it. That sends a pretty clear message doesn't it?
BERCOW: Well the reason why we
voted against it is that the government is just offering more of the same.
What we saw in the Budget was just more talk, more taxes, no change and
no difference because there's nothing new about it.
HUMPHRYS: And your mind is set
BERCOW: Well look at the evidence,
it's not a question of having an abstract theory or a dogmatic prejudice,
it's not like that at all. I'm sure the government's intentions on these
matters are good but the record speaks for itself, over the last five years
we've had increased bed blocking, we've had the contraction of the residential
care home sector, we've got an increase in the number of people waiting
to become in-patients, it's very different for people to get out of hospital,
we've got more administrators in the Health Service now than we've got
beds. All of the time the government's been in office we've had more money
taken from us and if you look just as an example, at Scotland, we see in
HUMPHRYS: ...yeah, more money.
BERCOW: ...that over the last five
years, since Tony Blair became Prime Minister, twenty-eight per cent increase
in real terms in expenditure on health, at the same time, you've had on
average an increase of one quarter in the waiting time for treatment.
HUMPHRYS: Fine, all of that may
be true and you know your analysis may be spot on, but the point I'm making
is not that, the point I'm making is that you have...you've looked at all
the facts, as far as you are concerned, and you have now made up your mind
and your mind is made up along the following lines - we will not take more
money out of people in tax in order to put into the public services, this
particular public service and that's that, it's closed.
BERCOW: What we're saying is this
- it may very well be that we will need to spend more on health care in
HUMPHRYS: ..which you will raise
that in direct taxation?
BERCOW: No, what I am saying is
this - we need very likely to spend more on health care in this country
but the Conservative approach is to say, what exactly is needed, what reforms
are required to deliver what is needed, how much will those reforms cost
and by what means should they be financed. Now that is a logical and considered
HUMPHRYS: Ah, but on the last bit
you've decided, haven't you, that's the point. On the last bit you've
decided because here we have the Chancellor saying, we've looked at these
problems as well, we acknowledge there are problems and we have decided
on one of the means by which the money should be raised and that is extra
taxation, you have turned your face against that. That's really the only
point I'm making.
BERCOW: No, if you ask a Labour
question John, you get a Labour answer. What happened was that the Chancellor
asked Derek Wanless to conduct a very quick scissors and paste review of
the Health Service in this country and he...
HUMPHRYS: And he concluded that
it needed more money.
BERCOW: No, the important point
was that he wasn't asked or entitled to look in any detail at the way things
are done on the continent, four pages only of the report covered continental
systems. Now that we're saying is, we haven't got all the answers, we've
got an open attitude, we've got a mindset that says it hasn't worked well
so far, the government, despite its good intentions hasn't delivered, it's
been very disappointing to see the results over the last five years, let's
look at how perhaps we can do things differently and better.
HUMPHRYS: You might have been able
to persuade people of that if you had abstained on the vote in the budget,
but you didn't you voted against. So clearly the impression that you give
people is they've made up their minds on that at least, haven't they. ]
BERCOW: We are making up our minds
as we go along on the issues, on the basis of the evidence...
HUMPHRYS: That is exactly my point.
BERCOW: On the basis of the evidence
John, not on the basis of an abstract theory, not on the basis of a dogmatic
HUMPHRYS: Whatever the basis of
the evidence may be, my point is and you accept it, is that you have made
up your mind on certain issues and that is one, fine.
BERCOW: Let me put it to you like
this John. I have counted up and may have miscounted, there may be more,
no fewer than twenty-three references from Gordon Brown and other ministers
to the need for investment and reform to go hand in hand in relation to
the public services in general and health in particular. What we've had
is some additional investment, no reform and a deteriorating service. Now
that is really a very disappointing situation.
HUMPHRYS: Right, let's move onto
another area where I am trying to make the same point to you and that's
the areas where you have made up your mind, you say you want to be seen
as more inclusive and more tolerant and all the rest of it, given the chance
you actually go in the opposite direction and it's the vote we heard about
from Paul Wilenius in that film, it's the vote in the House of Commons
on adoption by unmarried couples and by gay couples. Now, again, you could
have said, we leave that open, we let people vote according to their conscience
and all the rest of it. Instead, you had a three line whip and it was to
vote against. It sends a very clear message again doesn't it and rather
different from the image that you are trying to create.
BERCOW: Well there could have
been a free vote and I would have been perfectly happy with that.
HUMPHRYS: How would you have voted...
BERCOW: ..look, let me just make
the point, that wasn't a decision for me, as you know John these matters
are decided by the Whips, I'm just a junior and humble figure in the great
scheme of things, it's not for me to....
HUMPHRYS: ...a member of the Shadow
Cabinet, not quite that humble...
BERCOW: ...issues and what happened
was very simply stated. The Conservative opposition decided to give a
signal that its preferred position was to concentrate on reducing the barriers
to married couples adopting and to increase the opportunities for them
to do so, getting rid of out-dated and silly rules on mixed race, against
mixed race adoption, saying that people were too old to be able to adopt,
saying they were too middle class or any such nonsense as that. That was
our position, but there was a three line whip, John, to attend, people
were then entitled to exercise their discretion as to how they voted. Now
if you ask me how I see...
HUMPHRYS: ...pretty unusual way
of going about these things.
BERCOW: No, I think it's a really
very sensible way and it shows the way in which under the leadership of
Iain Duncan Smith the Conservative Party is changing. My attitude is very
simply stated on this subject, we had a decent and reasonable point of
view, the government had a decent and reasonable point of view, the difference
is we lost, they won, they will now get their way and introduce their reform.
What should our response be - it seems to me that we would be absolutely
crackers to bore people rigid by continuing to bang on about this subject
incessantly and we will not do so. What we'll do is...
HUMPHRYS: So in other words, you
accept that that was at least a sort of desirable outcome...
BERCOW: ....what we will do is
look at the evidence and what I would like to say is that given that this
area of policy concerns some of the most damaged and vulnerable children
in our society, who come from the most appalling backgrounds and suffered
terrible abuse, trauma, mental and physical inflictions. I hope the government's
policy works and if it does, I'll say three cheers to that.
HUMPHRYS: And had you been there,
had you been in the House, instead of not being in the House, you might
have found yourself voting in favour of the government's view.
BERCOW: ...these are hypothetical
HUMPHRYS: ...indeed, indeed, but
BERCOW: ...and I haven't come to
a view about that and I'm not going to offer a view...
HUMPHRYS: ...Mr Bercow, you know...
BERCOW: ...and it would be very
foolish of you to expect me to do so.
HUMPHRYS: Ah well, it might be
foolish of me to expect it but I don't believe for a moment that you haven't
had, given it very serious thought and have a view on it and it's interesting
that you don't offer that view.
BERCOW: As I say, I think that
we took a very constructive approach, I think Iain offered leadership,
but he displayed what we've seen in so many areas in the period since Iain
became leader of the Conservative Party. That combination, that winning
combination, of clarity with tolerance. He had a firm view, he offered
that view and then the Conservative Party said to colleagues: it's an important
issue, be there if you can be there. It wasn't judged to be a priority
when I had another commitment for me to be there, and then exercise your
discretion and listen to the arguments...
HUMPHRYS: ...and their...your outcome
would have been desirable, their outcome was almost equally desirable,
is the point you're making.
BERCOW: I think the public expect
us to be open-minded...
BERCOW: ...and I think that the
age in which we just damn everybody else's policies and everybody else's
motives is frankly behind us. As I say, I think that we had a decent and
reasonable position, we emphasised the arguments for married couples adopting,
the government had a decent and reasonable position, let's see how it works.
HUMPHRYS: So given that they had
a decent and reasonable position, you wouldn't want to go into the next
election with your policy being 'we are against it'.
BERCOW: Well as I say, I've then
got to see what the evidence is...
BERCOW: ...but the important point
is that those colleagues who did vote with Labour Members and some Labour
Members voted with Conservatives, it was a very mixed picture. But those
Conservatives who did vote with the general trend of the government didn't
have any disciplinary action taken against them. That's a sign of clarity
BERCOW: ...the way in which the
Conservative Party under Iain has changed.
HUMPHRYS: Fairly quick thought
if we may, on Section 28, the bit about homosexual, teaching homosexual
or tolerating homosexual teaching in schools. You are meant to be reviewing
it, in fact, here's somewhere else, isn't it, where you have actually closed
your mind. Given your thoughts as expressed in the House of Commons on
gay adoption, we can take it that actually you want to keep Section 28?
BERCOW: I don't think you can take
that as red at all, Iain Duncan Smith announced during the course of his
leadership campaign, that if he became leader, he would review our policy
on Section 28. John, I don't mind telling you, I was absolutely delighted
when Iain made that announcement. We are going to look at alternatives,
we know that over the last few years we have appeared at best out of touch
and at worst, nasty. I can't predict whether there will be a policy change.
It's no secret that I am enthusiastic about looking at the alternatives,
but what I would say is the idea that most thinking people would be heartbroken
or inconsolable at the thought that our party might change its position
on this subject is frankly absurd.
HUMPHRYS: Right. Asylum. Here you
had again, you, a more tolerant approach, we thought, all sorts of things
said by the Shadow Home Secretary. Then we see Iain Duncan Smith going
into print in the Daily Mail with some pretty powerful stuff. Indeed, we're
told that Mr Cummings to whom we referred earlier, had some fairly strong
language to use when he spoke to the leader about that. Bit of a mistake
again, wasn't it if, the message you want to deliver is that you are a
more caring, tolerant party? I mean, let's not, we haven't got time to
discuss the whole asylum issue in general, but for Mr Duncan Smith to have
done what he did at that stage was sending the wrong message, wasn't it?
BERCOW: No I don't think that's
right. It was an extremely measured article that Iain Duncan Smith wrote
and it seems to me that what has...
HUMPHRYS: ...not one of them is
allowed to come here. Not one. Measured?
BERCOW: Iain rightly objected to
the outrageous behaviour of the French government, its refusal to accept
its responsibilities and its determination to dump on Britain. That's the
way in which the French have behaved and Iain has rightly objected to that.
But what has characterised Iain Duncan Smith's approach and Oliver Letwin's
approach as Shadow Home Secretary on the subject of asylum has been judgement,
wisdom, decency and restraint. It couldn't have been done better. We've
spent most of our time rightly talking about other issues, we have addressed
asylum, and we've done so with decency and judgement.
HUMPHRYS: John Bercow, many thanks.
BERCOW: Thank you very much.