BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 06.10.02

Interview: Bill Morris, General Secretary of the Transport union.

Is Britain's destiny in the Euro?

JOHN HUMPHRYS: Bill Morris, Tony Blair says our destiny lies in the Euro. Do you agree? BILL MORRIS: Our economic future certainly lies in Europe. It's our travel to work area, it's our recruitment area and it's our investment area but to suggest it's a matter of destiny that we join the Single Currency, I beg to differ. HUMPHRYS Your colleague John Edmonds says that British companies at the moment are competing with one hand tied behind their backs. MORRIS: Well, I think that a lot of the arguments coalesce around manufacturing and it's been suggested that if we was to join the rate at which we joined would give British manufacturing a one off boost. Well, it may well do that, but that's like, you know taking a flutter on the Foreign Exchange Market. What British manufacturing really needs are some of the fundamental fault lines about investment, about skills, about productivity, those are the issues which will make a difference in the market place as we compete with the rest of the world. HUMPHRYS: And this from your perspective is where the Stability Pact comes in as well because if we were to join and we were to be subject to the rules of the stability Pact, to the extent to that they are being enforced, you'd have grave misgivings. MORRIS: Well, that's right we've all been concentrating on the five tests, which are scheduled to be assessed next year, and what we've taken our eye off from is the plague of the Stability Pact because this Stability Pact is like a tight corset and it means that you have to pay a very, very, very high price if you put a little bit of weight on. In this instance, public sector borrowing, and it seems to me that you have to have some control, but the control has got to be much, much more flexible than the Stability Pact because all over Europe we see in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Portugal, we see the Stability Pact at work and the result of much of that is high and rising unemployment. So, we in Britain at the moment can make a choice, we can join with the Stability Pact and forget our public services in terms of the expenditure and improvement or we can take the latter. HUMPHRYS: Forget them? MORRIS: Well, that's right what I'm saying John is that you can't have both at this particular point of our economic cycle. You cannot have both the Stability Pact and continue declining investment in our public service you have to choose. HUMPHRYS: Well, what Ken Clarke says he recognises that choice obviously, but what he says is you put up taxes and that's the way you pay for your public services. So you don't have to borrow, after all if you are raising loads of money from us, the public, then you don't have to borrow the money. MORRIS: Well, there is a limit as to how much you can put up tax in terms of the threshold of acceptance and putting up taxation is something which will react negatively against what we want to do in expanding public service and indeed in expanding the private sector, but I think that the proposition which I know that the Chancellor have indicated that rather than concentrate so strictly on the Stability Pact, at the three per cent deficit level, what we should be looking at is to look at total public spending as a percentage of GDP and the suggestion coming out of the Maastricht Treaty that that should be about sixty per cent and it gives us manageability over the economic cycle and not judge it sort of year by year or month by month and it seems to me that there is something in that to be properly and constructively examined. HUMPHRYS: So it's your understanding that the Chancellor himself is worried about the effect, more than worried about the effect of the Stability Pact. MORRIS: Well, he hasn't confided in me, but I am quoting... HUMPHRYS: ...perhaps he has a little bit. MORRIS: I'm quoting The Sunday Business today which indicates that that is a proposition which could be advanced, because everyone recognises that in the long-term, subject to all the conditions, there is some value in being part of a marketplace, where you only have one currency. But it cannot be at any old time and at..with any old conditions. It has got to be right for us and at the moment my argument, quite straight and simple: public service is number one priority, when you get public services right, which will inform the voters' experience at the next General Election, you are guaranteed a third term, that is when you turn your mind to all these other complexity about Stability Pact. HUMPHRYS: Except that you're not going to get it right, you're not going to get them right within the next two or three years are you, you're not going to get the NHS right, you're not going to get schools right, you might start putting them right, you might begin the process, but nobody not even Tony Blair I think believes that you are going to have the NHS whistling along merrily in three years from now. MORRIS: Oh you'll see measurable improvements John you'll see measurable improvement. It's about whether we get on the London Underground, whether you know this, the waiting time to get into the hospitals has been significantly reduced and of course we're making tremendous progress, for example, on the class sizes coming down from thirty-plus, thirty-five, forty down to thirty which is government policy, so I disagree that you won't see measurable improvement I think you can and I think voters' experience will be informed by those improvements, when you do that, that's when you get onto the single currency and all the attendant problems that goes with it. HUMPHRYS: What that means is that there could be no question of a referendum on joining the Euro between now and the next election? MORRIS: I don't think there will be one anyway because we have our own economy which is slowing down I think, the growth rate I suspect might well be downgraded, I think it will come in under two per cent at their end, there's some difficulty in Germany as we have seen in terms of whether the German political system will last given the coalition there because there are some competing priorities there, firstly the Greens are asking for extension in public spending, the employers are asking for reduction in public spending and the trade unions are not in the mood for labour market reform so there is some instability and you can go all around and have a look, we've got a whole plethora of elections pending here and, you know, we just cannot in my view absorb a referendum in this particular parliament, particularly against the uncertainty of what may or may not happen in Iraq. HUMPHRYS: But the government is effectively locked into, Tony Blair specifically said last week that he wouldn't, he couldn't understand this argument about Iraq, he thinks that's absolute nonsense that that might push the referendum aside, but the government is locked in, in this sense isn't it, that they have said if the five tests are met, there are huge imperatives, huge reasons why we should join the single currency now Gordon Brown has embarked upon testing the tests and it's very likely indeed isn't it that by next June or possibly earlier he'll pop up and say - ah, the tests have been met satisfactorily. Are you saying even then we should not have a referendum? MORRIS: Well the prime minister in his speech said if the five tests are met we should go for it. He didn't say when we should go for it, to govern is to choose, and to choose is about priority. HUMPHRYS: Ah but the message is coming from him, particularly when he's asked about would Iraq push it all away and all the rest, the message is coming from the, the mood music certainly is that once those tests are met we should go for it as soon as is respectable. MORRIS: Well the political imperative does not lead you to that conclusion. I've just talked about the uncertainty in terms of our economy, German economy, the Iraq war and the plethora of elections that we have to win, it's election overload, so the political imperative is win the general election by fixing public service and return to the Euro thereafter. HUMPHRYS: If there were to be a referendum, in a sentence, your union, or you anyway would campaign against going in? MORRIS: As things stand there is no case to support, that's in line with what the British people think and that's where we are. HUMPHRYS: Bill Morris thanks very much indeed. MORRIS: Thank you.
NB. This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for its accuracy.