BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 03.11.02

Interview: DAVID DAVIS, Shadow Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

JOHN HUMPHRYS; David Davis, let me remind you of what Iain Duncan Smith said, of how your party is changing. We're going to have a radical process of change, the most radical, most exciting since the last Tory government in 1979. Sounds terrific! But it hasn't happened, has it. Sixteen of the twenty-five new policies are old ones. DAVID DAVIS; Well, so you say. I mean.... HUMPHRYS; They say. DAVIS; To take the one - take the one that took the major part of your film. I mean you had everybody but Laurel and Hardy in there. But.... HUMPHRYS; Could not afford Laurel and Hardy....... DAVIS: Could not afford Laurel and Hardy, but take the one of right to buy, the one which is specifically in my area. When we were researching this and we've done a year's research since the election on this, one of the issues which were central to it was the question of availability of housing for new people who want to be in social housing, new poor people really in this context mostly, in houses....and we came to the view that the one way we would actually harness the right to buy, to help those people rather than as it's argued to oppose them, was to actually say: right all of the money, for every single penny raised from the sales of right to buy will go straight back in to providing new social housing. Now it may not sound terribly dramatic but actually would have the effect of producing thousands, many thousands more houses in areas like London. So, yes, there has been quite a lot, and I can go through the whole lot for you. HUMPHRYS; Well, we'll just deal with that one for the moment. I mean it not only doesn't sound terribly dramatic, it doesn't sound new, and that's the point that Andrew Lansley made. We announced that policy, he said in 1999, and again in 2000. So where is the newness? Where is the dramatic radicalism. DAVIS: The newness, the newness is in the fact that we're harnessing this policy to actually provide extra available housing, not extra.... HUMPHRYS; It's a nuance isn't, it's not a dramatic new policy. DAVIS: It's hardly a nuance, the Deputy Prime Minister, my opponent, spent a great deal of time leaking stories to The Guardian and then talking about it in the primary part of his speech at the party conference, his party conference, saying: we're going to limit this because it cuts the availability of social housing. What we're proposing..... HUMPHRYS: In certain areas... DAVIS: Yes, just the opposite of that. I mean you're getting twenty-two thousand new houses each year. Actually, significantly down on what Tories gave back in '97 and before, and what this will do will add probably half as many again, probably over ten thousand, which is a huge change, a huge change. Well what's more, a lot of your argument here in this film was about image, was about presentation.... HUMPHRYS; Can I come to that later, I promise to return to that in a moment, but let me just deal with this specific point about that housing. I mean Edward Garnier made the point there that it sounds alright in theory, but when you actually look at it in practice because of the discounted price that you get when you sell council houses and all the Housing Association homes, you're not going to raise that much money, you're not then going to have that much money to build the new homes, which takes time anyway, and what you're doing in the meantime, is you're actually reducing not increasing the stock of affordable homes to people who can't buy their own homes anyway, and that's really the point is not just that this policy is not new, it won't work. DAVIS: It will work. I mean one of the things that was just plumb wrong about John Prescott's original argument, this stock of homes, is that stock actually isn't what's available. Typically in, and I'm incidentally of all the people you've had on your programme so far, I think I'm the only one who grew up in a council house, I'm rather conscious of this, acutely in fact. People who live in social housing typically live there for very long times, twenty, sometimes thirty years, often over a couple of generations because that's what the rights allow people to do. Why - because they can't find a house elsewhere, or it's very much more expensive, or whatever reason, so the result is that a very tiny fraction of stock becomes available. In London it's three per cent per annum, becomes available for new people to actually have these houses. So actually these houses are not available, and what we're saying is that by allowing people to exercise the right to buy we're going to release the capital, and it's quite a large sum because in all the sums, and we've been through some great deal, in all the sums people do they forget that actually Housing Associations have made quite big profits on houses like everybody else, houses have gone up in value over the time, and they'll crystallise that increase in value, and that will be available for buying new houses or refurbishing houses or buying old houses for that matter to make available for people who want social housing who need social housing. It will make a marked difference to the amount of social housing available. I said twenty-two thousand a year is what's planned, it'll add many, many thousands to that, many, many thousands to that on any calculation you care to make. HUMPHRYS: The trouble with that argument is, this touches on wanted to raise the question of the party's image, and this is absolutely crucial to it, is that it's the sort of argument different in nuance as I say - you will say different in substance, but there we are - the sort of argument one heard from Margaret Thatcher in her day, it was her policy, it has been the policy of successive Conservative governments. This is not a new policy, it's a variation on an old policy.(INTERRUPTION) If I can just make the point, that you talk about council house sales, public housing sales and you think instantly, Ah, Margaret Thatcher, that was the policy with which she was most identified, and ......yep, finish. DAVIS: If you are concerned about image a simple point. HUMPHRYS; You are. DAVIS; Well - your argument, I'm actually, mostly concerned at this stage in the parliament about getting robust policies that work, actually, that's the most important thing. HUMPHRYS; In order to improve your image. DAVIS; Not just - in order to provide something that the public thinks worth voting in, that's the important thing,. Now, if you look at this policy sixty-five per cent of people like this policy, think it's a good policy, sixty-five per cent. Those are the numbers, they vary a bit up and down the country, but that's the sort of numbers you get. Now that doesn't indicate to me that people's instant reaction to this is, Oh dear, it's an old Tory policy. HUMPHRYS: Well, it does to one of your men, former Shadow Minister, Andrew Lansley, he says it's harking back. That's the whole point isn't it? DAVIS: If he is worrying about image, he should look straight to the outcome and the outcome here is sixty five per cent is.. think it's a good idea. Now, can I just pick up a point, I mean you did raise Edward Garnier's point, I think he has got the makings of a small point in there, which is of course in rural areas you can have some difficulties, you can't always use the cash to buy a new house, but on those issues specifically we are consulting with the Rural Housing Trust in order to...okay how can we do this? Should we give the Trust a right to buy back when people move out of the house at a market rate, and so on? Should we have a limit, there are already limits in Local Authority housing right to buy arrangements which then...if a settlement is below a certain size we don't allow the right to buy to exercise there. There are things that are worth looking in some detail, but they are quite technical. The main thrust of the policy is going to give the best part of nearly a million people the right to buy...a million tenants the right to buy, sorry which is very important. These are people who..they're not rich, perhaps forty per cent of them are above the...forty five per cent of them are above the housing benefit levels...but they are not rich, any of them and this is the only chance to get on in society and we want to give it to them. HUMPHRYS: Alright, let's broaden it out to this old question of public services. Now this is an area where you have changed...certainly you have changed your language because you are saying public services is..are our priority now and you talk about them a great deal. The problem is when you get down to the detail of the sorts of things you want to do, it looks pretty right wing stuff that is going to alienate rather than encourage the sort of supporters you need, the new supporters that you need. DAVIS: It always makes me chuckle when people call them right wing because... HUMPHRYS: Private health insurance is regarded as a pretty right wing policy. DAVIS: I'll give you they involve a great deal of freedom and a great deal of choice and a great deal of decentralisation down to individuals and of course if that's right wing I plead guilty. HUMPHRYS: You would hardly call that sort of stuff left wing, would you? DAVIS: I plead guilty to that. HUMPHRYS: Right. DAVIS: But the reason... HUMPHRYS: David Davis right winger admittedly. DAVIS: The reason I chuckle is because when we did the first year's research and afterall this is only first year's research, the first year's research behind this, one of the primary things we did was to go round the continent of Europe looking at how they did it, all these right wing places like Sweden... HUMPHRYS: They don't vote for you on the Continent. DAVIS: ..and France and Germany. I know but you're portraying them as right wing. What we were looking at were the European...the continent of the European models of healthcare delivery, of education delivery and what we found was across the board a number of ideas came to the fore. Firstly, although the State guaranteed or funded the service, it didn't always provide it, it didn't wasn't always the monopoly provider, it allowed other people to provide it and then it provided the cash - it guaranteed the standards and people had choice as to where they went for their schooling, their health or whatever, so that's point number one. Point number two is we are interested in policies which are sustainable, that stand up on their own, that keep going on their own, that they're structural if you like and so on education of the models we looked at was Holland. Holland has a funding of education almost identical to our own and yet it has markedly better outcome. HUMPHRYS: Alright... DAVIS: Why? Because it allows the parent to choose where to spend the taxpayers' money and that's where the State scholarship came from, that idea in the true sense. HUMPHRYS: If we look at the NHS and what you are planning to do there is to allow part of our money to go towards buying private medicine if that's what we want, private stay in hospital. Now Archie Norman, former Chairman of the party, says "We are meant.." and I'm quoting him "We are meant to be caring for the vulnerable, we have to explain how this is going to help them. The flagship should be reform of the NHS, not just helping people to go outside the NHS" which is what your policy would be doing. You would be positively encouraging people to go outside the NHS. DAVIS: You've picked off one component, one of the other components... HUMPHRYS: Very important component... DAVIS: One of the other components of course was the foundation hospitals which... HUMPHRYS: Sure. DAVIS: Which Labour are struggling with and we are very clear on. HUMPHRYS: Alright, but let's deal with this question of paying people effectively to go outside the NHS. DAVIS: Mr Humphrys, Mr Humphrys, you can't just deny the other half of the policy. HUMPHRYS: No, no. I am giving you the policy that is presenting difficulties for your own supporters. DAVIS: In terms of helping the vulnerable, the first thing to say is that you have now got about a quarter of million people every year - it's gone up by a third in two years flat - a quarter of a million people every year who cannot wait, they're in so much pain, so much fear, that they cannot wait for the Health Service to deliver. Over half of them are pensioners, they're not rich people. HUMPHRYS: No, didn't say they were. DAVIS: They're not rich people. One of my own constituents wrote to me saying he had sold his house so he could get a heart operation. He is going to live in Spain because it's cheaper there. Now, these are not rich people we are talking about. What we are saying here is like some Continental countries we are going to look to provide support for them. This is not huge sums of money by comparison with the rest of the Health Service. Now that's going to have two effects - one is that it's going to help people who are actually the vulnerable - they are classically the vulnerable - people who have been let down by the Health Service. HUMPHRYS: Oh, come it will also help people who are already...I mean if I were rich and I were already taking out private insurance, it would help me enormously. It would help your core supporters more than it will help anybody else. And that's precisely the problem. DAVIS: No, that is not true. I mean... HUMPHRYS: It's what Archie Norman seems to think, the former Chairman of the party. DAVIS: I suppose we could put in a clause explicitly excluding you from having the benefit of this, but the..but the main... HUMPHRYS: Do you take my point? It will help people who are already using private health insurance. DAVIS: My point to you is, the people who are using private health insurance normally are the wealthier ones, they've got it. This is for... HUMPHRYS: Even wealthier after this. DAVIS: This is the pay as you go people we are talking about here. These are people who have got to find the cash out of their savings, out of selling their house, whatever. These are the ones who are under real stress and that's the most important thing and over half of those are pensioners. The second component about it is this, it takes them out of the queue. If you're standing in a queue for the Post Office or whatever, and somebody leaves the queue ahead of you, you're pleased, because you're closer to getting into your, as it turns out, your State hospital or whatever, and it does that too. So it actually helps the vulnerable directly. It's not the main thrust of the policy and there will be many more strands further down the road, but it is important in that it does specifically set out to help the vulnerable. HUMPHRYS: Let's look at your social policies. The Adoption Bill is coming up in the Commons again this week, tomorrow. Now this will allow couples who are not married and homosexual couples to adopt children. It is your policy to oppose that. You are, once again, I am suggesting to you, out of touch, and this helping the vulnerable and being in touch with people and being a modern party, when it actually comes up to scrutiny, doesn't stand up. DAVIS: Right, well here of course, I used to be the Chairman of the Conservative Adoption Forum of the last Parliament. I have again a strong personal interest in the area. The key issue here is the rights of fifty thousand plus, it's much more than fifty thousand - youngsters who are caught in institutions or bouncing between various foster parents and so on. They are, if ever there is group which you might term vulnerable, these are they. Damaged kids, emotionally and physically damaged, they have suffered abuse, many of them, many of them end up in crime, many of them end up on drugs and so on. These are the people who are the prime concern. Now, they want...what you want to give them is the most stable environment you possibly can. HUMPHRYS: You want to give them a happy home life and you seem to be suggesting that couples who are not married cannot give them that. Indeed you are suggesting that. DAVIS: No, no, not at all. HUMPHRYS: That's exactly what you're doing, you're saying they shouldn't be allowed to adopt these children. DAVIS: Two things about this. One is a misunderstanding about the law and one is the logic of the argument. The first thing is this. A simple statistical exercise, you've got fifty odd thousand youngsters, so you've got to approach this, I'm afraid on a statistical basis, what's going to work for most of them, most of the time and on the statistical basis, married couples tend to stay together for longer from the arrival of a child, than unmarried couples, that's just hard fact, we can't get away from that. HUMPHRYS: The logic of that is that unmarried couples shouldn't have children, aren't good parents, shouldn't be allowed to have children. DAVIS: No, No, No, that's their choice, but what we've got to do, these children are effectively, well in effect they are wards of the state so we have a moral responsibility directly to them, so that's point one. Point two, just remember what the law is currently, the law currently allows single adoption, has done for a significant length of time... HUMPHRYS: Indeed and we're seeing Local Authorities now breaking the rules to allow homosexual couples to adopt. DAVIS: That won't change, the single adoption issue. If we were to win this vote, that wouldn't change and I have to tell you that having looked at many, many adoption cases, there are cases where single people have adopted, often widowed or divorced women who have had families before and they've got a good track record of raising their children and they've done a fantastic job. I saw a lady raising two autistic kids, so that can still happen. Now the difference here is this, if a youngster is adopted and two or three years later the couple break up, in the case of a single adoption, unmarried or gay, whatever you want, there's no dispute, there's no custody dispute, there's no... HUMPHRYS: I take your point that there are powerful, emotional difficulties. But should you not at least allow your MPs to have a free-vote to decide according to their conscience, that would be the approach of a more liberal party, if that's what you have supposed to have become. DAVIS: Well, it's..this is the party policy. I mean... HUMPHRYS: That's, that... DAVIS: There will be people who will vote against it, it's a pretty loose free-vote anyway. I think there will be an awful lot... HUMPHRYS: Well, there's no such thing...three line whip... DAVIS: We don't have a two line anymore unfortunately because of technical reasons I can't bore you with. HUMPHRYS: So in other words you don't mind. You wouldn't mind if let us say, front-benchers voted against you. DAVIS: No, no. The issue is important, the issue matters. It's not one which is..which has sort of been come to very quickly, it's a very, I think..I hope you've determined from what I've just said to you, a very carefully thought out one where the important thing to recognise here is that the rights of the children supervene any other rights. The rights to a good chance, that's all it is, 'cause many of them will go wrong anyway, the right to a good chance, the best chance we can give them. And frankly, I have to say to you, I don't think actually the public looking at this will think, the public in the country at large looking at this, will say this is illiberal or irresponsible. They'll say they are looking very carefully at what the rights of the youngsters are and doing the best they possibly can for them. HUMPHRYS: Let's talk about the leadership. Grave reservations amongst your colleagues about the leadership of Iain Duncan Smith, Andrew MacKay... DAVIS: is said in the newspapers... HUMPHRYS: It's more than said in the newspapers isn't it and you know very well that it's more than said in the newspapers because it's the talk of the tea-rooms and all the rest of it and we heard Andrew MacKay there saying there are legitimate concerns and there are aren't there. These things aren't just whistled up out of fresh air. DAVIS: I have to say to you actually, that last week there was a clear briefing exercise of three newspapers, the same words... HUMPHRYS: By disaffected Conservative MPs, so it isn't just got up by the newspapers, they didn't make it up. DAVIS: I cannot remember, I cannot remember in my time in Parliament and I've been in since 1987 when there weren't some disaffected MPs. What concerns me, I have to tell you, is that if we carry on doing this and undermining leaders we're never going to get anywhere. I mean I, when we had our last leadership election, I stepped down in favour of Iain, there was a reason for that, the reason for that was that - part of that I like him I'm his friend - I also support what he stands for. In fact our views on public services, what we've been talking about so far, are very, very similar, so... HUMPHRYS: So you're saying these MPs who are doing the briefing are destroying the party, can I summarise you in saying that they are destroying the party. DAVIS: The people doing the briefing are doing harm to the party, there's no doubt about that, destroying.... HUMPHRYS: Making you unelectable? DAVIS: Well I don't want..if you don't mind I'll pick my own words... HUMPHRYS: Offering you a choice of words. DAVIS: No, no, I'm not going to take this as a sort of multiple choice question interview if you don't mind. What I think they are doing are making Iain's job incredibly difficult, incredibly difficult. HUMPHRYS: Is he going to lead the party at the next election - without any doubt at all? DAVIS: Yes, as certain as I can be, subject to sort of strikes by lightening. I am certain that he'll make it to the next election, he'll lead us into the next election and... HUMPHRYS: So you would rule yourself out then from standing before the next election? DAVIS: What I am about...I don't expect him to stand down....and what's more I'll do more than that, I mean this is about the tenth, eleventh, twelfth time I've answered this question over the course of the summer and the point I think I ought to get across is that I positively don't want him to stand down. I don't want these attacks on him, I will do what I can to prevent them. HUMPHRYS: If he did, for whatever reason, will you rule yourself out, no, this is a very, very valid question, if he were to... DAVIS: ..yeah, but this is a 'have you stopped beating your wife' question... HUMPHRYS:, on the contrary, because if you were to say.. DAVIS: There's no vacancy. HUMPHRYS: No, no, indeed there isn't at the moment as there wasn't when Michael Heseltine famously said what he said. What I am asking you do to and you could give Iain Duncan Smith a great deal of support here, or you could continue... DAVIS: Well he can have my support...I don't... HUMPHRYS: I'm sure he can have your support, but what I am asking you to do, is go that step further and say, I am ruling myself, David Davis, I am ruling myself out of standing. DAVIS: I do not want him to stand down, I don't want him to go... HUMPHRYS: Heseltine said "I can see no circumstances in which"... DAVIS: It's more than that, I want him to stay, I am positively a supporter of his. HUMPHRYS: You want him to stay, but what I am saying is if he has to go, and he may to go would you rule yourself out from standing? DAVIS: I don't think he will go. In fact I am almost certain he's not going to go. HUMPHRYS: You're not going to answer that question are you. You're almost certain he's not going to go. You are almost certain he's not going to go. DAVIS: I am as certain as I can be. How's that. I am as certain as it is possible to be that he can fight the next election for us, that I am going to do everything possible to help him win that election and make him the Prime Minister. In which case, all of your..all of your questions become entirely hypothetical. HUMPHRYS: David Davis, many thanks. DAVIS: 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.