BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 27.10.02

Interview: PETER HAIN, Secretary of State for Wales

makes the case for a Welsh Secretary and is unapologetic about Labour's socialist credentials

JOHN HUMPHRYS: So, Wales has a new Secretary of State - Peter Hain. You might say why? The Welsh have their own Assembly and their own Cabinet. So why do they need somebody from London when they're running their own affairs? What's there for him to do? Well, he's kept part of his old job as Europe Minister and there's certainly plenty to do there, especially now that we've been stitched up over the Common Agriculture Policy and we're at war with the French again over our contributions to Brussels. It seems Mr Hain might be spending more time on the Continent than in Cardiff. I talked to Mr Hain earlier this morning, I asked him first, in light of all that, what he'd be able to do, for Wales. PETER HAIN MP: We want to build a top class Wales, a world-class Wales with a strong economy, the best schools, the best education, the best health services, and we're going to be working in the Secretary of State's Office as I will be working closely with Rhodri Morgan in the National Assembly for Wales, to make sure we achieve that objective. And we've got one staging post along the line to the next General Election, the next British General Election, and that is the Welsh General Election on the First of May next year when the Assembly will be up for election, and we're going to fight hard to get a clear Labour majority there. So that's one of my tasks to begin with, is to work closely with the Assembly and with Rhodri Morgan to achieve that. HUMPHRYS: But you can't do very much can you. This the problem. I was looking this morning at the Wales Office, your new department's report for 2002, and on the bit where it says - you'll have seen it I've no doubt - where it says 'key achievements in 2002' there it is I mean it's pretty much a blank sheet because what it says, let me read it to you, the Wales Office is a small policy department with few executive functions and our work is largely dictated by external demands. It is therefore not possible to measure all achievements against quantifiable objectives. Which is a rather polite way of saying, we don't do very much. HAIN: John, all the primary legislation allows that the Assembly to do the work that I passionately believe in as a strong devolutionist all my political life. All that primary legislation is determined in Westminster, and needs to be negotiated by the Secretary of State for Wales which I will be doing with my Cabinet colleagues to make sure Wales gets the best possible deal and that the wishes of the Assembly are taken closely into account. Now that means I have to cover everything from local government reform to health reform, to education reform, to obviously negotiating with the Chancellor over the Welsh budget for the Assembly. It's a big job, but it's not a job that results in the kind of high profile that other cabinet ministers have. HUMPHRYS: But you say all the primary legislation... HAIN: That's right. HUMPHRYS if there were great reams of it, and there aren't. I mean there isn't much primary legislation that's needed for you to be able - for the Welsh Assembly to be able to do what it does. HAIN: But every bit of legislation that goes through Parliament, almost without exception, affects Wales, because it's English and Wales legislation and the way the Assembly has been set up it's got powerful resources and control over secondary legislation, and implementation of policies and a lot of different things have been done there, such as for example free bus passes for pensioners, a Labour Assembly policy implemented that I'm particularly proud of. That has been determined by the Assembly but it can't be put on the...into action unless it's got primary legislation to allow that to happen. That has to be decided in Westminster and that's my main responsibility. HUMPHRYS But every Secretary of State is asked how a new bit of legislation might affect his or her department, they all do that. That's in addition to their main job which is running their department, and my point to you is, you don't have a department to run. HAIN You misunderstand me John. Each piece of primary legislation, say it was education legislation - I have to negotiate with the Secretary of state for Education, with Charles Clarke. HUMPHRYS: You mean something that the Welsh Assembly itself wants to do, you have to make it possible for it to be able to do it. Makes a bit of a nonsense of devolution doesn't it? HAIN: Either specific legislation that the Welsh Assembly wants and there is legislation that it's asked for in the pipeline, and being discussed at the moment, or legislation that is going through for England and Wales, and we need to make sure that those clauses which specifically are tailored for Wales' needs as opposed to the general which applies anyway, are negotiated on behalf of the Assembly if my own views are having an input, so we get the best deal for Wales. So this idea that it's a part-time job or that it can be down graded is simply nonsense. HUMPHRYS Well I get that idea from looking at this blank sheet of paper. Is it going to be full next year then, this bit of paper, this achievement.... HAIN: Let's just look at what goes through the office and let's look at what the Assembly does and it covers everything, education, health, the transport, as I mentioned free bus passes for pensioners, those kinds of things. Obviously I want to work in partnership with the National Assembly as Paul Murphy my predecessor did very, very effectively and the partnership with Rhodri Morgan was very effective, and we're going to do the same together. I saw Rhodri on Friday and we discussed how we're going to take it forward. HUMPHRYS: Yes, and the way you're going to take it forward, or the way it is going to be taken forward is that we have a Commission sitting I believe at the moment don't we, and that's looking at where devolution is going to go, and it will inevitably say at the end of it - I say inevitably, tell me I'm wrong, but that there ought to be something that you yourself favour, a sort of rolling system of devolution. So by the end of next year, the year after that, the year after that, the year after that, there'll be even less, if you still happen to be in this job for you to do. HAIN: Well let's see what the commission decides. It's actually got the remit under Lord Richard for looking at whether the devolution settlement as decided by a Bill that I helped take through in 1997/1998 as a Welsh Office Minister then, that, that is working effectively where it can be improved, if it needs to be extended. HUMPHRYS Reformed. HAIN: Well, obviously the extension issue is on the table. HUMPHRYS: And you support that? HAIN: Well, we'll see what the outcome is, we'll see what it reports and we'll be giving our evidence. I'm not going to anticipate that outcome. HUMPHRYS: You have already in a sense haven't you, because you've talked about a rolling devolution for Wales so that is anticipating that it is going to change. Nobody believes that it is going to stay where it is do they? HAIN: Well, it is a rolling devolution. I mean it's being adapted and changing all the time. It's a young flower with its roots down, which is growing and I support that. I have been a passionate devolutionist all my life. I helped organise the referendum which we only narrowly won to get the National Assembly in 1997, one of my proudest achievements, and so I want to see the National Assembly working effectively. And in a sense what matters is not the constitutional minutia, what matters is whether schools are improved and they are improving all the time under the Assembly, whether the Health Service... HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair would claim they're improving all the time in England....but actually.....and that's the point..... HAIN: ......we've got a particularly good record in Wales. HUMPHRYS: But the point is that you, certainly the Welsh Assembly itself favours greater powers for the Assembly, things like for instance in future agriculture and planning, I believe they are two things that you'll be looking at. So you yourself, you're not going to sit here this morning and say, no, I don't. You believe they should, the Assembly should have more power don't you, Rhodri Morgan and his colleagues should have more power. HAIN: I want to see the Assembly operating effectively, as effectively as it can, implementing the policies that really matter to people, HUMPHRYS: That's not answering the question though is it? HAIN: I am about to answer your question. Better implementation, better delivery. What's really crucial for the Assembly, it's only in its fourth year of existence, is that itsdelivery of policies is as effective as possible. Now if we need more powers to do that, well then let's make the case for it, let's hear the case and the argument being put forward by the Richard Commission, and I'll take a view on it along with everybody else. The objective is not to get more powers or primary legislation for its own sake. The objective is to deliver a top class Wales with a better economy, better schools, better Health Service and so on. That's the end outcome and we need to see whether the Assembly's powers need to be modernised, whether the relationship with Whitehall needs to be changed in order to deliver that. HUMPHRYS: But you know and I know that every other person you speak to in Wales, rather more than that in fact, says the Assembly is a talking shop and that's it. That may not be true, and I'm not... HAIN: It isn't true actually. HUMPHRYS: Alright, well, you've explained some of the reasons why you believe it not to be true. HAIN: I'll tell you why it's not true. If it was a talking shop how could it have introduced free bus passes for pensioners. I know it's the third time I've mentioned this, but we've done this in Wales and I'm particularly proud of it. It did it, and it hasn't happened elsewhere. HUMPHRYS: But you would have to acknowledge that free bus passes for pensioners, important though they are to pensioners, is not quite declaring war on Germany or something is it. You know it is relatively.... HAIN: Well, the Assembly doesn't have foreign powers. HUMPHRYS: It's a very bad example, it's a very, very bad example, but you know what I mean, it's not like putting ten pence on income tax, it's fairly modest. HAIN: I could mention a whole series of issues where the Assembly has acted decisively on health and education, to do things in a different way, and the curriculum's different. To say that the Assembly hasn't got any powers - if it had no powers how could it have done all these things? HUMPHRYS: Well, but you see it goes back to what I was saying right at the very beginning, you're very proud of the achievements of the Welsh Assembly and you tell me it has done a great deal, and yet you say that you in the Welsh Office as the Secretary of State also has a great - they don't quite square those two answers do they? HAIN: Well, they do because you need to understand the different relationship. The Assembly has a responsibility for implementing policy for its own secondary legislation of which there's a great deal. I have the responsibility for getting through Parliament and in negotiation beforehand with my Cabinet and ministerial colleagues the legislation that enables the Assembly to do more things that it wants to do. Now those are two roles and that's the basis of the partnership that we will take.... HUMPHRYS: But you're a sort of..I mean in a sense you're sort of Wales's proconsul to Rome, which happens to be London and it's a slightly..I mean it is not a satisfactory state of affairs is it, in the long run. That's all I'm asking, you are pretty out-spoken about most things. I mean I am just asking you to be a wee bit out-spoken about this. In the long run, this is not a terribly satis...especially when you have got a Parliament operating up in Scotland with the powers that it has, it's not totally satisfactory is it? HAIN: The devolution settlement was different in Scotland. HUMPHRYS: Sure, absolutely. HAIN: One of the things that this Commission will be looking at is whether there are any lessons that can be learned. While the devolution settlement remains as it is I have got a big job to do. I don't want to exaggerate it, I don't want to claim it is a bigger job than other Members of the Cabinet. I just want to put it into perspective and say that I think it's very exciting to be doing this job at this particular time, implementing a range of policies and working with the Assembly to make sure that Wales gets a good deal. HUMPHYRS: And when you took over the job, when you walked into the Welsh Office you had that fetching little statuette of Nye Bevan who I gather is your political hero. So are we about to see Wales turned into a socialist state? HAIN: Well I mean everybody in Wales, I daresay, like yourself John as Welshman, worships Nye Bevan's ........ HUMPHRYS: Not quite sure worship is the word, but he was certainly an impressive guy... HAIN: He is and he set up the Health Service and those values that inspire a lot of values in Wales more than they do elsewhere in Britain, of a commitment to community, of a strong belief in social values and strong communities. Those are the values that he helped to put into practice in replacing the dreadful health system we had before the National Health Service and now I took the little statue I had in the Foreign Office, near my desk, into the Wales Office in order to signify that's where I intend to take up with the policy. HUMPHRYS: You use the word worship, let's test the extent your adoration for Nye Bevan, give you a couple of his quotes over the years when he was a significant figure. HAIN: There were many quotes... HUMPHRYS: Oh, yes he wasn't short of quotes, I'll grant you - "If the Labour Party isn't going to be a socialist party, I don't want to lead it" - the Labour Party is not a socialist party is it, Tony Blair does not let the word pass his lips. HAIN: One of the problems and in fact I have written about this in The Observer this morning, one of the problems is that socialism came to be regarded - it's the left's own fault historically - as being about statism of everything being run on a command style from the centre, nationalisation, not the markets, top down delivery of the public services and so, I believe in a different type of socialism that you can trace back to the levellers and the diggers in the 17th Century during the English Civil War, update it through the Chartist, the formations of the early Trade Unionists, Tom Paine's Rights of Man, a lot of the early feminists of that time as well and come through to modern political times. A lot of socialist writers who talked more about a libertarian socialism, about de-centralisation, about empowering people from below, and I think we have got to recover that socialist tradition and that will give socialism a popularity that it has not had for its own faults, because the left identified it with centralisation and statism which is actually a perversion my view of the original values of socialism. HUMPHRYS: I don't know about perversion, if Aneurin Bevan were listening to you now, or if he is listening to you now, perhaps he is and he will be guaranteed to be spinning in his grave at some of the things that you've just said. Let me give you an another one of his quotes and this one you may have slightly more difficulty with, I don't know, but let's try it on you "One of the certain principles of socialism is the substitution of public for private ownership". Now, in the context of public private partnerships, in the context of PFI, in the context of Tony Blair privatising just about everything he can get his hands on, including some of those things he'd said would absolutely not be privatised, how do you square that with Nye Bevan and socialism? HAIN: One of the faults I think and it may even have applied to Nye, in the past about socialism, and has got a very one size fits all monolithic view of what should be done, both in terms of centralisation and in terms of its failure to understand that markets and the market economy should not be an enemy of socialist values but should be managed and regulated where necessary, in order to take forward social justice and in order to take forward individual freedom for which socialism in the end and Labour governments are about. So, one of my criticisms of the left historically and Nye was part of that tradition, is that it failed to recognise that the market economy is a fact of life. You can't run everything from the centre Russian style, Soviet style, it doesn't work and it is actually, in the end attacks individual freedoms, so.. HUMPHRYS: "You cannot inject socialist principles into an economy based on private greed" is what he said. HAIN: Well, we don't want an economy based on private greed.. HUMPHRYS: You don't? HAIN: No, because private greed is not something that in the end ends up with a society that a Labour government would be proud of taking forward. We want a society in which private wealth generation yes is encouraged, entrepreneurship is encouraged, people have the chance to go out and earn a living and get higher income as a result of the work they put in, but private greed, I'm sure nobody really wants a society based on private greed do they. HUMPHRYS: So, in that case you are with Michael Meacher, who said as you know on Radio 4 on Friday evening "We do not believe in capitalism, capitalism is something that threatens inequality across the whole of society" would you go along with that? HAIN: I remember Edward Heath talking about the unacceptable face of capitalism, maybe you do too, when it was a particular period of private greed triumphing over everything else, big corporations like Lonhro at that time and Tiny Rowland and all of that in the 1970s. If by capitalism we mean a system that is just geared to private greed and nothing else and we don't have good public services and we don't have social justice, then of course we are opposed to that. But if you mean by that a system in which the market economy operates, in which we have an attempt to get the competitive economy in which the public and private sector works together, in which we have different partnerships as a Labour government, we are doing this, in rail, in the Health Service, in all sorts of areas, then I am quite comfortable with that. It depends what these words mean. HUMPHRYS: Well, indeed, well we got a bit of an idea what they meant from Mr Meacher in his next answer, or when he clarified it, because the evidence he offered was, for the Labour Party being against capitalism that is, was that it is now, and he quoted Tony Blair himself, Mr Blair he said is very strongly in favour of redistribution. Well, again, one would have to say, you'd have hardly noticed that over the years because the words redistribution, the word redistribution did not come from his lips, nor correct me if I am wrong, do they ever come from the Chancellor's lips. So, which is it, are you in favour of, you Peter Hain, bearing in mind who your hero is, in favour of redistribution, in the classic sense, that is to say taking from the rich and giving to the poor? HAIN: But we as a Labour government have redistributed to the poor already through the minimum wage, an historical achievement of which Nye Bevan would have been proud. We've established the working families tax credit which has levered up the incomes of the poorest families, helping people into work in the process. We have raised minimum pensions, so that those poorest pensions get more money... HUMPHRYS: And you've taken money from the middle class and that's okay by your standards, that's fine, that's absolutely fine? HAIN: Well, income tax is lower for the middle classes and everybody else than it's been... HUMPHRYS: Well, we could go through all the tax increases and I could remind you that you are taking more out of the tax in another few months from now, you've taken five billion pounds a year out of pensions which affects the middle class, you know all of that as well as I do. HAIN: I do, but we fought the last election on the basis of high quality public services and not cutting taxation. The Tories lost that argument and now they are wriggling around.. HUMPHRYS: ...putting up taxation...that's what you've done.. HAIN: They are now wriggling around trying to get a policy and we haven't seen what it is yet. HUMPHRYS: They are merely pointing out that you have pushed up taxes a long way and you had said that you wouldn't push up taxes a long way. HAIN: We said that... HUMPHRYS: Your clause was ok, income tax, specifically. HAIN: Exactly. Well income tax is important because... HUMPHRYS: And National Insurance isn't income tax? HAIN: That's your wage packet at the end of the month and you know your take home pay. HUMPHRYS: National Insurance doesn't come under pay? HAIN: Of course it does, but I don't think... HUMPHRYS: It's income tax isn't it? HAIN: But are you saying we shouldn't have done that? Are you saying that we should have cut the Health Service. That argument's been won, John. HUMPHRYS: No, what I am saying is... HAIN: We are moving on, John... HUMPHRYS: What I am saying is you should own up to what it is, that's what I am saying. HAIN: Well, I've said already that we have...I am proud to say that I believe in redistribution. That doesn't mean to say stopping people as it used to mean when Labour Governments said this, of getting greater rewards, of making a good life for themselves, of being entrepreneurial, running their own companies, of setting up their own businesses. We want more of that to happen and that in a sense is what this Labour Government is about and my only point is that you can actually route that..these modern policies and modern approaches back in our traditions, back to socialist roots, if you reject the status centralised everything must be done Whitehall knows best system. HUMPHRYS: But you have as it were a new philosophy, whether you'd include this in your..the kind of libertarian socialism that you wrote about this morning I am not sure. But for a socialist party, I accept that you, at least I believe I am not quite sure, you would describe yourselves as a socialist party, would you? HAIN: Yes. HUMPHRYS: You would, fine, a socialist party to go to the largest capitalist in the land and say, now look we need these things done in the National Health Service or in education or whatever...go and do it and then charge us a king's ransom over the next ten or fifteen years and we will make it possible for you to make a very very very large amount of money out of it. Of course if you didn't make it possible to make a large amount of money of out it, they wouldn't do it would they? Now don't tell me that Aneurin Bevan would have said that's the right way to go boyo. HAIN: I'm not sure he would, but his basic values we are applying in a modern context, that's the essence of what today's Labour government is about, not betraying those values or jettisoning them, but applying them in a modern context and when you look at the partnership we've had with the business community, the fact that the economy is now regarded as - despite the world's slowdown and all of that - as being in better shape than it's been for generations, shows a Labour government operating in a modern way in a way no Labour government's ever operated with the confidence of the markets, the confidence of the city and so on, in order to carry forward policies for social justice, large scale public investment and strong and good quality public services. HUMPHRYS: Let me finish in a sense where I came in with this interview and that is your job, your new job because you have held on to part of your old job in Europe and again people are saying...some people in Wales are saying, he can't regard this as a full time job because he is are still sitting on the Commission that is effectively looking at the future of Europe. HAIN: Well that's time limited. HUMPHRYS: The Convention. HAIN: The Convention's work will be over by late Spring next year, early summer next year, so it's time limited. Every Cabinet Minister has pressures from time to time. I mean look what happened to the...under the previous Agriculture Ministers when foot-and-mouth was rampaging through the country, you take on demands and you meet new challenges. But the idea that this is somehow part time Secretary of State for Wales is nonsense. In fact, a lot of people in Wales have told me, including Rhodri Morgan, told me they're proud that Wales's voice will be heard right in the Convention, rather than it being sort of having to be negotiated along the side. HUMPHRYS: A lot of people will be delighted that you compared the European Union and its problems with foot-and-mouth disease but we will let that... HAIN: John, be serious. HUMPHRYS: I am being serious but it was irresistible. What's going to happen with the Convention it tomorrow that the draft report..their draft report is going to be produced? Is that going to fundamentally change the way Europe is going to be presented to us and how Europe is going to operate in future? HAIN: Yes, the Convention is really going to be a generational change and the key is going to design the political architecture which will affect Europe's relationship to us and the rest of Europe for generations and that's why the Prime Minister asked me to stay on the Convention because he feels it's a huge challenge and basically the argument in it is boiling down to two visions; the one that wants a federal super state in Brussels - that argument is running into the sand. The other - our own vision of Europe as a Union of Sovereign States based on the nation state - giving powers to Europe where it's appropriate like in fighting terrorism, like in establishing a single market, things like this, high environmental standards; I mean our water is cleaner, our air is cleaner, our beaches are cleaner because high environmental standards have been levered up right across Europe. Where it's sensible to have decisions made in Brussels by elected ministers representing elected governments and therefore being answerable to their Parliaments and to the people, that vision of Europe is a Europe of nation states rather than some kind of super state is the one that we are pushing for and I think that we are going to win that argument. HUMPHRYS: It sounds as though you will still be going around politicising for Europe, the European vision as you see it and the Euro in particular and I fully understand about the five economic tests - it would be nice, we don't have too long, not to go into those again... HAIN: They are important. HUMPHRYS: I'll accept that from you. But the problem is this is it, because we have not been bold in a way I suspect you would like us to have been bold and that is to have driven towards a referendum in a rather more determined way than we have given the five economic tests, we are slightly losing the plot in Europe because we are on the outside looking in, we have been stitched up this week by Germany and France for instance, France want a rebate back. HAIN: That's not true, that's not true actually. HUMPHRYS: Well, put that aside. Do you believe in the few seconds that we have left, do you believe that the argument is still there for us to push forward in a determined way to get that referendum and get into the Euro? HAIN: We want Britain to be in the Euro provided the economic circumstances are right, hence the five tests and that's really important, it's not a ruse of some kind but we...if we adopt the Iain Duncan Smith policy of never ever going into the Euro, even if it's palpably and objectively in our economic interest to do so, then we would be side lined in Europe. So if the Tories got into government with their policy of saying never ever, even if it's costing us jobs, it's costing us inward investment and so on, we are still not going to join, then that would be a policy for side lining and for isolation. Our policy is a commonsense one; approach it slowly and carefully, get the economic circumstances right and then, as the Prime Minister said, go for it. HUMPHRYS: Peter Hain, many thanks. HAIN: 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.