BBC On The Record - Broadcast: 01.12.02

==================================================================================== 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 ONE DATE: 01.12.02 ==================================================================================== JOHN HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon. One of the Government's proudest boasts is that it has created a new United Kingdom. So is devolution working? I'll be talking to the leaders of all three devolved nations: Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland. Why aren't the railways getting better? We'll be reporting. And will the Liberal Democrats overtake the Tories as Her Majesty's loyal opposition? All that after the news read by JANE HILL. NEWS HUMPHRYS: Great things were promised for our railways when Railtrack vanished from the scene. So why aren't the trains running on time yet? And ... forget about who's first in politics. It's the contest for second place that's interesting many people. JOHN HUMPHRYS: And we'll also be talking to the First Ministers of Wales, Northern Ireland ... and, first, Scotland. Elections take place in the Spring to elect new Governments for all three nations. In Scotland, the First Minister, Jack McConnell, has been in place for just a year. He's the third in only three years. When he took over he was seen by New Labour as THEIR man... a convert to the cause, if you like. But a year on, it's beginning to look as though perhaps they were mistaken. It turns out that HIS idea of how to improve the public services is not exactly in line with Tony Blair's. So, is Mr McConnell forging a uniquely Scottish ideology for Labour north of the border? Well, he happens to be south of the border today and he's with me. Good afternoon. JACK McCONNELL: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: Good afternoon and welcome. Now, let's look at some of the things that you've been doing. You've abolished tuition fees, you have rejected specialist schools and foundation hospitals, you have introduced free long-term care for old people, much more money for teachers. Is this all about buying off the opposition, or is it your uniquely distinctly Scottish vision of what you should be about? McCONNELL: It's certainly not about buying off opposition, it's about making sure that reforms in Scottish public services are the right reforms for Scotland and go with the grain of the Scottish system. We have a very different education system in Scotland to that south of the border, we have a different structure for health and we have a different criminal justice system too, and we need to have reforms in Scotland that are right for Scotland and make an impact where they are required in our communities. HUMPHRYS: And if they are very very different from New Labour as indeed they are, the way you execute these things... McCONNELL: Mmm (agrees). HUMPHRYS: Then so be it. It's not just pragmatic differences, it is a distinct philosophy. McCONNELL: Well, it's not so much a distinct philosophy as the right thing for Scotland. It's about making sure that we implement reforms in Scotland that can have an impact in Scotland, and are not just copied from somewhere else. The whole nature of devolution is about making sure that the reforms in Scotland will make a difference in Scotland and go with the grain of the Scottish system. HUMPHRYS. Mmm, but...and if you're doing things in a very very different way from Westminster, therefore from New Labour in Westminster, that is, then so be it, it is different. McCONNELL: Mmm (agrees). HUMPHRYS: Let me give you a couple of illustrations of where I am trying to take this. The fire strike at the moment...the fire-fighters' strike...the English Government tells...the Government in Westminster I should say specifically... McCONNELL: (Laughs) HUMPHRYS: Tells the fire-fighters "reform or you do not get any more money" that is consistent right across the administration. Rather different in your own administration in Scotland, isn't it? We've had one of your ministers resigning after he had talked about "Fascist bastards in the fire-fighters' Union", we have had another one refusing to endorse the Scottish executives' motion of this "being an unacceptable strike". It tends to suggest more sympathy with fire-fighters in Scotland than there is down here. McCONNELL: I'm not so sure that some of that language that was used last weekend or at least is alleged to have been used shows any sympathy, but I think that we need to be very clear about this. In the fire-fighters' dispute, the support of the devolved Government in Scotland...for the position nationally where any additional resources have to be backed by reform is absolute and Cabinet Ministers in Scotland are united about that. Where we have implemented reforms in Scotland, we have linked additional money directly with reform, and I'll give you an example in relation to the education... HUMPHRYS: Can I pick that one up in just a moment, I'll just come to that in just a second...stay with the fire-fighters for the moment. What I'm suggesting to you is that your approach might be a little more conciliatory than we have seen thus far in London. McCONNELL: No, I think we have been careful because we are not directly involved in the negotiations in the fire dispute nationally. We have been careful to not only support the position, but also to not inflame the situation and to manage what is a very dangerous situation in Scotland as it is elsewhere, where the Army and the other forces are trying to ensure that night after night then people are not put in danger, so our priority in Scotland has been to make sure that that is in place and that is happening properly, rather than to say or do anything that might inflame the dispute one way or another. HUMPHRYS: I fully understand that, but when you deal with the unions you do tend to have a more emollient approach. I mean, when you had this Government here has a huge difference over PFIs with the Union, your approach to that was to do a deal over PFIs with unions in Scotland. McCONNELL: No, actually there's been an agreement nationally as well as in Scotland. They have two different agreements and... HUMPHRYS: Yours much more to the liking of the unions I should think. McCONNELL: I wouldn't necessarily bet on that, and the programme of public/private partnerships PFI Schemes in Scotland is more extensive than it is in any Whitehall department, so we're going ahead with a radical reform of the physical infrastructure of public services in Scotland and we have been able to win support for that, so the fact that there is not a controversy and a row around this all the time doesn't mean to say the reforms aren't taking place...I hope... HUMPHRYS: You're being emollient. McCONNELL: Well, no, I think it means that we're communicating, we're winning support, we're making sure that people are on board for what we're trying to do... HUMPHRYS: You're not picking a fight then, let me put it like that? You're not picking a fight? McCONNELL: Well, I don't think it's necessarily the case that picking a fight is the best way to reform public services. I think that in a country the size of Scotland, which has, for example, got a larger...a smaller population than some of the health authorities in England...that we can actually pull people of the great benefits of devolution is in pulling people together and making sure that reforms are meaningful and happen immediately and I mentioned education a minute ago, I think that that was the case in education. We have radical restructures of the teaching profession in Scotland in a way that was done with the support of Scottish teachers, now that is a far better than a legislature and it is making a difference in Scottish schools. HUMPHRYS: I'll offer you some reasons for that in just one second, but you would avoid as far as fire-fighters' strike is concerned, for instance, you would avoid using expressions such as "wreckers" which has been used in Westminster. McCONNELL: There's been language used on all sides here, in Scotland and in England, you know which I think has occasionally...we've got there a situation where people are getting themselves into corners. I think what is important in the fire dispute is that we get people back round the negotiating table, we get a settlement to this, but that any additional investment is linked to reform and there can be no doubt about that whatsoever. HUMPRHYS: Right. You mentioned the teachers a couple of times, let's have a look at that. And yes, indeed, the teachers liked the deal and I'm not surprised they liked the deal when you look at what they got - twenty three per cent more in cash and they were promised various things - I'll read out a couple of them by 2006, they will be working no more than twenty two and a half hours a week in their classrooms, a thirty five hour week, no increase in days' worked over the one ninety five and so on. All sorts of reforms to their working practice - they won't even have to do any photocopying, I understand, so it's hardly surprising that they liked it is it, and if that isn't emollient, then heaven knows that is. McCONNELL: Well, I've watched your programme over the past eighteen months regularly discuss this topic and I think, if I can say so, mis-represent the deal that was reached. HUMPHRYS: So that's wrong then? McCONNELL: Well, the teachers' deal in Scotland, for example, increased the working hours, the contractual working hours of teachers in Scotland by twenty per cent for each working week. HUMPHRYS: In the classroom, no more than twenty two and a half hours? McCONNELL: It's the contractual working hours in Scotland by twenty per cent in teachers' working week. It ensures that we can now reward the best teachers in Scotland with a higher salary than those in the main and that we have...after eighty five years in Scotland when it was impossible to sack a teacher...we are now able to move people who are not fit for the job out of the classroom, and it's also ensured that teachers now in Scotland have to go through compulsory professional development and training each year and additional days are added to the working year as a result of that, now all of that was worth buying, and we did that... HUMPHRYS: Well, it depends on the price... McCONNELL: Well we did that only by taking the teachers' salaries in Scotland up to the level they were in England in the first place anyway, so we've done that, we bought reform with investment, but we've also made sure those reforms will improve standards in the classroom, I think that was a good thing to do, we did it by consent, we won an agreement and I think you see the benefits in Scottish classrooms. HUMPHRYS: Indeed you did do it by consent and as I say I'm not surprised because it looks to be the kind of deal that the firemen here for comparisons..of course you can't make direct comparisons but nonetheless the sort of thing that anybody would leap at. I mean twenty-two and a half hours a week in the classroom, not bad. McCONNELL: Well I don't see the firemen volunteering for an extra twenty per cent on the working week or some additional days training each year.... HUMPHRYS: ..depends what's involved in that working week. McCONNELL: ...from their holiday time or disciplinary procedures that make it easier for them to be dismissed, or rewards for those who are carrying out the best work and all those were a key part of that deal in Scotland and that deal is making a difference to standards in Scottish classrooms. HUMPHRYS: The point I'm really making here, the broad point is that your approach, your approach - put aside the outcome for the moment - but your approach is different. There seems to be, at Westminster, there seems to be quite a deal of enthusiasm for all sorts of reasons that one can understand, some of which one can understand, some of which are probably based political reasons to have a go at the unions, to say look, to the public at large, we are separate from these people and fully understand that. You seem not to be doing that in Scotland, more old Labour than new Labour in that sense. McCONNELL: I don't agree with that and I think when we need to we will. But what's best for Scotland and what's best for Scottish public services and for the opportunities that exist in Scotland today is to make sure that we can implement reforms in a way that makes a difference right now, rather than simply try and do it in a way that causes controversy just to perhaps appeal to those who would rather write headlines. HUMPHRYS: Alright, let's look at another difference then if you like and that is over tuition fees. Now a very clear difference here, there's talk of top-up fees, the government here appears to want top-up fees, you've abolished even the basic tuition fee and students will have to pay for it after they graduate. A lot of people say very sensible, whether it is sensible or not, it is very different from what's happening down here isn't it. McCONNELL: Well one...I've watched Charles Clarke on this programme over the past fortnight and he said one of the options that he's looking at is the graduate tax and therefore you know perhaps looking at some of the lessons from the Scottish changes. We need to again, I think, be able to implement reforms that are appropriate to our own circumstances. The Scottish university system is an excellent world class university system, we have fifty per cent of our students in Scotland...of our young people in Scotland going into further or higher education. That's the target in England, which I think the figure is currently thirty-five per cent. So there is a need to do something radical in the English system and the Scottish system I think what we need to do is to make sure that the resources we have there are used best and we have..we promote the excellence in our universities, that has got us a reputation all over the world that we want to preserve. HUMPHRYS: You were able to go - and your party was able to go into the last Election - saying that there will be no tax increases during the lifetime of this Parliament, you won't be able to do that again this time will you, bearing in mind some of the things you've had to do, or have chosen to do, such as for instance, long-term care, free long- term care, you won't be able to say no tax increase will you? McCONNELL: Well we will say no tax increases and we will also, I think, use the opportunity that comes through devolution to make best use of the budgets in Scotland. I think the scale that we operate on in Scotland, a country of five million people, a budget of twenty billion pounds, a new parliament and a ministerial team that are committed to getting best value for that, we can use that scale in Scotland to actually make more of a difference with the money and I think that will be one of the long-term benefits of devolution and one of the drivers for English regional devolution where people see the operating at a more local level can make a difference. HUMPHRYS: Just a very quick thought, which may or may not drive a great wedge between you and your colleagues down here and that's St. Andrew's Day, it was St. Andrew's Day yesterday, some people are saying there ought to be a national holiday in Scotland and I notice the Parliament took a day off on Friday, so what about it, national holiday for St. Andrew's Day in future? McCONNELL: Well, I think we should celebrate St. Andrew's Day in Scotland but I'm more interested in celebrating Scotland all over the world on St. Andrew's Day. HUMPHRYS: But no public holiday, no national holiday? McCONNELL: One of the interesting things that happened this weekend, was for the first time ever the Foreign Office and the new devolved government in Scotland worked together to get the British Embassies all over the world to celebrate St. Andrew's Day more than they'd ever done before.... HUMPHRYS: You're not answering my question - holiday or not? McCONNELL: I'm.....I think a holiday is the wrong way to go... HUMPHRYS: Oh, you do... McCONNELL: ...I think we need to celebrate Scotland all over the world on St. Andrew's Day, we are doing that and we are doing it in partnership with our colleagues in London and that's the real benefit of devolution. HUMPHRYS: Jack McConnell thanks very much indeed for joining us this morning. McCONNELL: Thank you. HUMPHRYS: It's just over a year since the government killed off Railtrack. Its successor Network Rail came into existence a few weeks ago. It's got quite a job to do. But so have the train operating companies, the TOCs as they're known. They're the people who actually run the trains of course and they've had a lot of extra money from the taxpayer to help them make the trains run on time - but so far, with a notable lack of success. Martin Popplewell wonders why. MARTIN POPPLEWELL: Even if like me you were born long after the end of the golden era of Britain's trains, you've probably have a rather romantic notion of what it was all like then. The trains ran on time, you could afford to buy a ticket, you have no awful memories of terrible crashes and of course there were no leaves on the line. How things have changed. Despite a massive injection of cash, many problems remain on Britain's railways. Some in the Labour Party feel they were given the benefit of the doubt at the last General Election to improve things. Equally they fear if they don't improve them by the next General Election, in many constituencies, they could be derailed. CLIVE EFFORD MP: In '97 those people who were using networks such as these North Kent lines, it was certainly a very big issue in how they voted because on a daily basis they were suffering delays and cancelled trains. Now there was high expectation when the new Labour Government came in but people accepted that there were other issues. So leading on into the 2001 Election transport still wasn't a high priority for people and the economy was running well. But people are becoming increasingly agitated about the constant cancellations and delays on the rail network and I think you know transport is becoming a very important electoral factor and it's one that we need to address through the course of this Parliament. GWYNETH DUNWOODY MP: I don't think people realise the extent of the difficulties in the rail industry at the present time. There's a kind of melt down going on, firstly because Railtrack had to be taken over, there was no choice. But over and above that we now have a number of train operating companies that are being paid as management companies, just to run existing franchises, because there are so many severe problems. Now that was not a situation that was envisaged when the railway was privatised but it is an immediate and difficult economic problem. POPPLEWELL: There's nothing new about train crashes. But a series of accidents after privatisation including Ladbroke Grove, Hatfield and Potters Bar killed many and severally knocked public confidence in the trains. Some of the accidents were blamed on poor maintenance of the track and signals which were owned by Railtrack. The Government delighted many of its own MPs by effectively re-nationalising the company and replacing it with Network Rail. The move didn't surprise the man who masterminded rail privatisation. LORD PARKINSON: I have no doubt in my own mind that from the day that Mr Prescott arrived in his ministerial office he was determined to skewer Railtrack. He hated the privatisation, there's a story about him beating the table and saying at one of the early meetings: "I want my railways back!". I don't know whether that's true or not but I can well imagine that it is. And he just set out, he was hugely hostile to Railtrack from day one, they exploited Railtrack's problems and they set out to undermine it and they succeeded. POPPLEWELL: Now that Railtrack has gone - it's just the trains which are run by the private sector. Twenty-five companies have contracts or franchises lasting between five and twenty years to operate services between different cities and in different regions of the country. They're called train operating companies or TOCs. One of the aims of rail privatisation is to create a market place for passengers. The idea was that just as you have a choice of different airlines to travel to a major airport, so you'd have a choice of different train companies to go to a station. The best train companies would win more passengers and would thrive. The trouble is though is that for many stations, York included, that kind of competition just hasn't arrived. Even the man who represents the train operating companies concedes that competition on the railways hasn't happened. CHRISTOPHER GARNETT: The issue of competition on the railways is not what it's about. It is competition with the car and on routes such as GNER it is competition with the aeroplane. That is where the real competition lies. Rail has seven/eight per cent of the passenger market, the challenge for us is to get people out of their cars and on to trains. POPPLEWELL: Opponents of rail privatisation say the only type of competition which it has introduced is competition in the employment market. They say that drivers and other train staff who work for different companies but do exactly the same job are paid widely different rates of pay. This has led to a long running dispute, with more strikes planned between now and Christmas across the North of England and Wales. BOB CROWE: In the canteens and mess rooms that train drivers and guards sit in, you've probably got something in the region of nine or ten different companies, working alongside each other, all on different rates of pay, all on different conditions and that leads to bitterness, it leads to jealousy, it leads to resentment and ultimately, it leads to pressure on the trade union and that pressure in my belief, will mean more strikes in the railway network. GARNETT: There is not a great differential of pay between different types of companies. The Intercity train operators roughly all pay a similar amount. The London Commuter TOCs roughly pay a similar amount and the Regional train companies roughly pay a similar amount. But they are different jobs in different environments. A driver driving our train at a hundred and twenty-five miles an hour with five hundred people on board deserves a higher rate of pay than drivers working elsewhere. I don't have a problem about that, I think that that is right. POPPLEWELL: Competition for staff and the resulting higher salaries is just one of the reasons why some of the train companies have run into difficulties. Since privatisation taxpayers have had to hand over an extra two hundred and fifty-four million pounds to keep the train companies afloat. CHRISTIAN WOLMAR: I mean the whole nature of franchising has been a complete failure because those franchises that have done well have pocketed the money and said thank you very much. Those that have done badly have basically gone back to the government and said please, please can we have some more money because we've run out of money because we over estimated how we could cut costs, or we haven't had enough passengers or we've been affected by strikes or affected by the Hatfield rail accident, whatever the excuse they've asked for more money. And on every occasion they've got it. GARNETT: I think the train companies have done a really good job since privatisation. The train companies nowadays receive a billion pounds a year less in subsidy than they did at the start, we up to Hatfield were carrying thirty-five per cent more passengers and running twenty-five per cent more trains. POPPLEWELL: The train regulator the Strategic Rail Authority - or SRA - is responsible with the Secretary of State for Transport for granting the franchises to the train operating companies. Ironically, critics have questioned much of the strategy of the Strategic Rail Authority. But the SRA defends giving the privately owned train companies so much taxpayers' money. RICHARD BOWKER: At the time of privatisation which I think most people would now accept in many ways was a botched privatisation, mistakes were made when the franchisees were led in terms of how much they would cost, bidding was probably too aggressive, the cost base has gone up quite significantly over the last five or six years and frankly whoever had been the franchisee in these companies in virtually all cases, additional funding would have been required. POPPLEWELL: Mallard is the fastest steam locomotive here at the National Railway Museum in York. When this locomotive was built Britain's railway system was divided up into a number of regional privately owned companies. Unlike today's train operating companies they owned the track as well as the rolling stock. This is known as an integrated system and some people think it's the best way to run trains. WOLMAR: There is only one sensible way to run a railway and that's been proved the world over because all the countries that have tried to break up the railway into an infrastructure company and into franchises have found that it hasn't really worked. The only way to run a railway is to have an integrated railway, that is to have one company which is in charge of the whole operation. LORD PARKINSON: Alastair Darling is probably sensible enough to realise he's better off as he is, the last thing he would want on his hands I would suspect is another nationalised railway, a wholly re-nationalised railway with aggressive trade unions, pressure on government because the workers would know that the company couldn't go bust, the union at the end of the day would have to bail it out. POPPLEWELL: But many of the franchises expire next year. The SRA thinks this is an opportunity for it to improve the way the train operating companies are run and get tougher with those companies that don't deliver. BOWKER: We have in terms of removing franchises, we have looked extensively over a number of them over the last couple of years, the decisions that we've taken have always been to continue with the businesses but as I say, in terms of looking at the new franchise model going forward I want a position where franchisees are very clear about their obligations, very clear about the responsibilities, there is an effective process and if they don't deliver the ultimate sanction is that they will lose their franchise. POPPLEWELL: But many in the Labour Party are not convinced. They're stoking up the pressure on the government, signalling they want more profound changes to Britain's railways. EFFORD: My gut instinct is for a not for profit company because I think that the idea that when we have services as poor as we do at times on our on our railways and they have improved, I mean we have to accept that there have been improvements. But when we do have services that fail, at the end of the day it is the government that people hold responsible. WOLMAR: If you'd have asked me two years ago could you start bringing the railway back into the government's hands I might have said oh that sounds a bit difficult, in fact Stephen Byers re-nationalised Railtrack, I mean the government don't admit that but effectively he re-nationalised Railtrack, he completely changed the structure of the privatised railway. So anything can happen in the next three or four years. I think if this new way of franchising doesn't work then we can look to you know a third model of privatisation or even a virtual complete re-nationalisation although they'll never quite call it that. DUNWOODY: You begin to ask yourself is this worth the tax payers' while. Would it not be better to simply cut out many of these people and run an integrated service, it wouldn't cost any more and although you'd have to solve out immediate problems I'm afraid that there are people who see us getting to that situation very quickly. Are we getting value for money? - I'm not sure. Do we think there's another way of doing it? - I think there may be. Is the government prepared to envisage that at the moment? - no. Is it going to be forced to in the future? - quite possibly. POPPLEWELL: Whatever the final destination is for the train operating companies - the continuing problems with Britain's railways will keep them high on the political agenda until the next General Election. If improvements in the service don't arrive on time, Labour politicians fear it will have an impact on their party's electoral fortunes. HUMPHRYS: Martin Popplewell reporting there. Now a look at some of the main political stories of last week. HUMPHRYS: Terror in paradise again...fifteen killed, the hotel devastated, and an Israeli jet almost brought down by two missiles. The UN weapons inspectors arrived in Iraq. Saddam Hussein has one week left to declare any weapons of mass destruction. If he doesn't, it could be war. Gordon Brown admitted that the Government would be borrowing twenty billion pounds this year - twice as much as he'd originally told us. The Treasury Minister, Paul Boateng, was in no mood to apologise. BOATENG: Record low inflation, record low mortgage....... PAXMAN: This is the fourth time you've said this! BOATENG: Record levels of employment, of jobs created and new businesses started... PAXMAN: Well, thank you. BOATENG: It's what makes a difference on the ground that counts, this Chancellor is... PAXMAN: Maybe there's someone who's just turned in who hasn't heard this the previous three occasions which you've said it, so thank you very much... BOATENG: I know you find it galling, but it is a fact, Jeremy. PAXMAN: Yes, thank you. BOATENG: Give me some credit, where credit's due. PAXMAN: Thank you...thank you all very much! HUMPHRYS: The battle between Government and fire-fighters heated up. It's now looking like all-out war and no end in sight. But there's a big deal in the offing with NHS workers, just so long as they agree to change the way they work. Handy timing for the Government, maybe. The next Governor of the Bank of England will be Mervyn King. Mr King doesn't care for the Euro. That could cause some problems ahead. And the end of all those cheap flights? The Royal Commission on Environmental pollution says we've got to pay more and fly less to save the planet. JOHN HUMPHRYS: When the people of Wales voted in favour of their own Assembly they did so with a remarkable lack of enthusiasm. Only half bothered to vote at all and the devolutionists won by a whisker. The sceptics say very little has been achieved since then and the Assembly is not much more than an expensive talking shop. The enthusiasts say if that's true it's because it needs more power. Unlike Scotland it does not have a Parliament that can pass primary legislation or raise income tax. So what does the man in charge think? Rhodri Morgan is the First Minister and he's in our Cardiff studio. Good afternoon Mr Morgan. RHODRI MORGAN MP: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: You've no problem admitting to your differences with London, indeed some say that you positively delight in them, but you don't have the powers that Scotland has, talking to Jack McConnell a few minutes ago as you know. And that makes it more difficult for you to deliver what you might want to deliver. MORGAN: Well we've delivered an awful lot with the powers that we've got. We've delivered Assembly learning grants for higher education and further education students, the first children's commissioner, an independent ombudsman for children's rights in Wales, free bus passes with free bus travel for old age pensioners and disabled people in Wales, I could go on. The list of achievements in three and a half years of an action packed programme I think is there as a tribute to the powers that we have got and how effectively we've used them. HUMPHRYS: But let me give you an example of where - and I gave this suggestion to Jack McConnell as well, where you might want to do something different and that is the fire dispute. Now, you would rather like to have the power and it is being talked about as I understand at the moment, to deal separately from England with the Fire Brigades. MORGAN: Absolutely not, I don't know who's told you that, but it couldn't be further from the truth. We have always set our faces against having civil servants from the Welsh Assembly government actually conducting pay negotiations separately for Wales for Health Service staff, it's all done on an England and Wales basis, for teachers that's done on an England and Wales basis and likewise for the Fire Brigade, it's slightly mysterious, it is effectively done on a UK basis although it's the local government association that does it on an England and Wales basis, and Scotland have to come in behind it, as Jack McConnell explained. We have no ambitions in that regard to have different pay rates for public service workers in Wales. HUMPHRYS: But wouldn't it help to in the sense that Mr Gilchrist, the FBU leader wants to get away as he puts it, from new Labour and back to real Labour as he puts it. You'd quite like to do that too wouldn't you? MORGAN: Well, I've always described myself personally as classic Labour. I don't recognise the term 'Real Labour'. I mean I'm not sure what game he is playing there, but I do think that in terms of the FBU I do fear after the eight day strike now that the FBU is in danger of doing what the water workers did to themselves when they went on strike twenty or thirty years ago, when what they did was to demonstrate that they were not as indispensable as everybody previously thought they were including themselves, and there's an enormous danger in strike action in the public service, if that's what the outcome is. Don't go down the water workers' road, because I don't think that's very wise at all. We are not involved in the negotiations and have no ambitions to be involved in the negotiations. HUMPHRYS: Nonetheless your advice would be to them, get back round the table quickly even if it's not our table? MORGAN: Absolutely. HUMPHRYS: Let's give you another illustration then, perhaps you'd agree with this one, where you could make a difference if you had more powers and that's the power to raise taxes perhaps. The National Health Service, the Health Service in Wales. The worst waiting lists in Europe. You have spent more money of course, but you need to spend more don't you? You promised nobody would wait for more than six months for out-patients treatment and eighteen months for in-patient care. At the end of August it was eighty-four thousand, you know the figures as well as I, waiting for out-patient care, four thousand for in-patient care. You are not going to meet your target there are you, you could do with a bit of extra cash? MORGAN: Yes, but I mean you've seen that the Scottish Parliament is not using the power that it has, so that's really a very bad example to quote, because if they've got the power and they're not using it and we haven't got the power, then I think anybody would say that if we did have that power we wouldn't use it either. HUMPHRYS: Wouldn't you? MORGAN: So we have to find the solutions in a different way and we are finding those solutions by increasing the intake in the medical schools of Wales by eighty nine per cent from 1999 to 2005. We would increase it faster if you could recruit lecturers in the medical schools, but you can't do it any faster than an eighty nine per cent increase and similar increases for growing more of our own nurses, professions allied to medicine as well because we don't want to be stripping South Africa of all its doctors and the Philippines of its nurses unless they actually want us to, so we are expanding the capacity of the National Health Service to treat as fast as you humanly can. It's not a matter of taxation, it's the human capacity to treat. Consultants do not grow on trees, it takes ten years to train them and we are training them very very rapidly indeed, but they're not there yet and the increase in the out-patient waiting list is a consequence of our going for a primary healthcare led system with national frameworks, national service frameworks, for coronary heart disease, for diabetes, rheumatism and arthritis and as soon as you do that, you see consultants having to treat more and more people in the community, frail elderly people with heart trouble or diabetes, or arthritis, and that makes it very difficult then to handle new cases as they come screen. HUMPHRYS: So...but one way or the other, you're not going to make that target, are you and you're not saying you couldn't do with a bit more cash, surely? MORGAN: Well, we have been given a large amount of additional cash by Gordon Brown and we know that as regards health from April 1st next year where we are going to be as regards cash for five years ahead, so that then you can've got the capacity to plan ahead. The expansion of the staffing capability and therefore the treatment capability of the NHS in Wales. For other public services we know where we are for three years ahead from April 1st next year, it's a very, very good platform to build on, given the size of the increases that Gordon Brown has given us. HUMPHRYS: But I mean, you knew that people got sick before you set these targets, didn't you? MORGAN: Well, we didn't know what the consequence of introducing national service frameworks was going to be. What you do with national service frameworks, you go out and find the vulnerable at risk categories and you bring them in for treatment and you need more consultants to do that and you cannot just pull consultants out of know, from the unemployment register, they're just not there. HUMPHRYS: So, you don't want the extra cash or so it would seem. Let's suggest to you that maybe you might want...possibly want some other powers though it seems to be saying seem to be saying that you don't want tax raising powers, we've got the Richard Commission looking at this whole area and I know that you're going to say that well we're going to have wait and see what they say, but you're already apparently saying that we don't want tax raising powers, are you saying you don't want more powers? MORGAN: No, we are asking for more powers - individually we have said we want the transfer of animal health powers from Westminster to Wales, that was one of the lessons from the foot-and-mouth disease inquiry. We are looking at a wide range of areas where there are individual things where we think we could deal with it better because there's a clear lesson from some incidents that have occurred like the foot-and-mouth disease epidemic. But we don't get obsessed with this, it's a...we are delivering public services to the people of Wales in the way that they want them. We are bringing down unemployment to forty-six and a half thousand now in Wales compared to its peak during the Tory years of hundred and sixty-eight and a half thousand during the year 1986. It's back now to 1975 levels. There was an increase in the total number of jobs in the Welsh economy last year of thirty-three thousand from September '01 to September '02. These are huge achievements which we have done in partnership with Westminster. We are doing a good job for the people of Wales. HUMPHRYS: If the Richard Commission were to recommend fairly drastic things, such as the ability for you to raise tax, whether you wanted to raise it or not and I accept you might not want to raise it but, nonetheless, if you were to do that, you would say what? - we'd have to have a referendum before that could be agreed, or what? MORGAN: The whole purpose of setting up the Richard Commission is for them to be able to report back to the Assembly with the ability to look back at the whole of the Assembly's first term, so they will be reporting in about October of next year, ten months', eleven months' time, and then the Assembly will debate the consequences...well the conclusions rather, of the Richard Commission. And then it's a matter really for each party to pick that up in any way that they want. They will either reject or accept part or all of the Richard Commission recommendations and then it's a natural consequence of that, that each party will look at it and will say: right, well what we do we want to put in the manifesto for the next general election - full acceptance of any recommendations from the Richard Commission, what are the consequences of that, for the need for another referendum, if it was that kind of change that they were proposing. If that's what the Assembly accepted, that's a matter for parties to take forward, as parties always do, there's no magic about it and no rocket science. HUMPHRYS: Rhodri Morgan, many thanks. MORGAN: Thank you. HUMPHRYS: Tony Blair seems invincible. He has his problems, of course, but they pale into insignificance compared with the Conservatives. They're making no progress in the opinion polls indeed. The question being asked increasingly these days is not whether they will form the next government, but whether they can prevent the Liberal Democrats displacing them as the main party of opposition. Iain Watson has been to the Conservative heartland of Surrey to find out. IAIN WATSON: It's not just the planet that looks blue from a distance. Many constituencies in southern England have traditionally had a Tory hue. But recently a political beast of a different colour has been stalking the country - with the aim of dramatically changing the landscape. This is the traditional territory of the lesser spotted Conservative voter. Now I'm currently walking through the Twickenham constituency in South West London, but just downstream of here you can see the constituency of Richmond and upstream Kingston and Surbiton. Now these three seats all have one thing in common - in 1997 they fell to a new species of political animal - the Liberal Democrat. And buoyed by their success in this area, they're now keen to invade neighbouring Tory terrain. The Lib Dems are no longer confined to their usual habitat on the Celtic fringe. In 2001 they advanced into the home counties, winning Guildford. Now they are campaigning in the neighbouring seat of South West Surrey. Not all the residents are friendly, but that doesn't dent their almost hallucinogenic levels of optimism. Nationally, they're talking about becoming the official opposition. Locally they think they can do even better. SIMON CORDON: We can become the official opposition and we can become the government of this country. That's certainly the objective we have. They said in the 80s and 90s, we would always be stuck on twenty seats and we now have over fifty and in the last election they said we would go back to just twenty, but we were the only party who gained ground. WATSON: But at the 2001 election Labour won 413 seats - including the speaker - and the Tories, even with a poor showing of 166 seats, were way ahead of the Liberal Democrats, whose tally was just 52. Even so, some polling experts don't rule out a radical shift next time round. PROFESSOR PAUL WHITELEY: People's attachments to the political parties are much weaker than they used to be. The brand loyalty if you like was very much stronger a generation ago than it is now, which means that people who are potential Conservatives can be detached and equally people who are Labour supporters can be detached by the Lib Dems. ACTUALITY WATSON: A typical characteristic of both the Liberal Democrat and the football manager alike is an obsession with tactics and positioning. To win seats from the Tories the Lib Dems need to squeeze the Labour vote where Labour is in third place. Some strategists say privately that the party should be stressing their commitment to the public services, to appeal to left wing voters, while simultaneously adopting more business-friendly policies to attract one nation Conservatives. But we unearthed a document by the Association of Liberal Democrat councillors which takes a less high minded approach. It says: "effective opposition accentuates the negative". And on the Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest - it suggests that to be successful, grass roots campaigners should evolve - into political chameleons. The document states in simple terms: "you can secure support from voters who normally vote Tory by being effectively anti-Labour" And similarly "in a Tory area secure labour votes by being anti-Tory". And there's advice on finding the ingredients for the perfect campaign cocktail:"be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly". Are you wicked, do you act shamelessly, do you stir endlessly? CORDON: I'm never afraid to take a risk and shoot from the hip if you like. As for wicked, certainly not. Shameless, certainly not, determined to be a powerful advocate of local need yes, always and ever. You know the ALDC, our Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors, they are a superb organisation who have helped people like me and many others to know how to campaign. THERESA MAY MP: One could almost say that Liberal Democrats hold fast to their principles as long as it takes get from one doorstep to another, and we do see them adopting different causes in different areas. WATSON: But whether the Lib Dems are campaigning on the moral high ground, or down in the gutter, it would still take electoral swings of historical proportions for them to get more seats than the Tories WHITELEY: It would mean literally a two punch knock out blow, one delivered from the Lib Dems with a ten per cent swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems and the second punch would have to come from Labour, again a ten per cent swing from the Conservatives to Labour. Now if you recall that between 1992 and 1997 Labour achieved a ten per cent swing, it's clearly possible but it's a tall order. WATSON: The Liberal Democrats have beavering away here in South West Surrey and they've got high hopes of winning the seat. But the less than charitable might suggest that this is the only Downing Street they are ever likely to see. Talk to Liberal Democrats privately and they'll tell you there's really little chance of overhauling the Tories at the time of the next election - so why all this talk of official opposition. What's their game? Well, apparently it's all a matter of inflicting maximum psychological damage. The Liberal Democrats will forage for potential territorial gains very carefully in the run up to the next election. Although the Tories may end up with more seats, the Lib Dems want to create the impression that the momentum is with them. In other words, they are like spring to the Tory autumn, a few thousand votes extra in just four seats could devastate the Shadow Cabinet. The Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, former Party Chairman David Davis, one of their key campaigners Tim Collins and the current Party Chairman, Theresa May, are all vulnerable. SHERLOCK: That would, of course, be..deliver a psychological devastating blow to the Conservative Party losing some of their key rising stars, so I think those seats will be very crucial to the Conservative Liberal Democrat balance and, of course, the psychology of those results is important to what happens in the new Parliament after the 2004 or 2005 election, so those will certainly be seats to watch, and I can bet the Liberal Democrats would put in enormous effort in to trying to win them. WATSON: A past victim of Liberal Democrat targeting says her party should ape the techniques of their opponents, or their progress at the next election could be severely limited. LADY MAITLAND: The Conservative Party should be learning much more about high profile targeting of seats which are vulnerable. They didn't do it at the last election and I think it was a great mistake. There's no evidence that they're actually getting round to doing it next time round. Unless they really focus their support on the seats that we might lose and the seats that we must win, then frankly they're lost. WATSON: South West Surrey Conservatives are braving the elements to meet in a council of war. This is the night that the fightback against the cocky Liberal Democrat insurgents should begin. That is, once the ceremony of the door-opening has been mastered. Virginia Bottomley is standing down at the next election, and the Conservative Party is about to interview four hopefuls - all of them white males - who think THEY can see off the Liberal Democrats. Here in deepest Haslemere, behind very firmly closed doors, one of the most sombre and secretive rituals in the Tory tribe is taking place - the selection of the Parliamentary candidate. Now, it's not surprising that they don't really want the likes of us to look in on such an important occasion, but what is astonishing is that Party chiefs at Central Office have told us we can't even have an interview with the successful candidate once they've been chosen. Now in a key marginal seat where they have to see off the Liberal Democrats, they are bound to leave themselves open to accusations that they're running scared. Your opponents say you're running scared. MAY: Certainly not, and what they will's very interesting, if you look at what happened in South West Surrey at the last election, the Liberal Democrats targeted South West Surrey at the last election. They said they were going to win that seat, they failed to win that seat and they will not win that seat. WATSON: Officials at Conservative Central Office are now burrowing away on schemes to fend off the Liberal Democrats. The Party Chairman, Theresa May, has sent a letter to constituencies telling them to go on the offensive ahead of next year's local elections, but a former Tory MP says the anti Liberal Democrat unit here is more of a sleeping lion cub than a ferocious beast. MAITLAND: The unit at Central Office is woefully inadequate, they have two people, one of them is a very young man, someone who is more experienced, and that's it. I haven't seen any leading speeches by senior politicians highlighting the Liberal Democrats. I think that's a big mistake. I think they take the view that if you ignore them, the problem will go away. I think it's the reverse, I think you've got to hit them very very hard indeed. MAY: What we've put together is a very good group of people who are working to ensure that we can support those of our candidates, be it at local government or Westminster level, who are fighting the Liberal Democrats as the opposition party in their particular area. WATSON: So not woefully inadequate then? MAY: Certainly not. WATSON: Are you going to beef it up? MAY: I'm not going to tell you anything about what our strategy for our Liberal Democrat unit is. WATSON: Well, whatever it is, it had better be good. There's not just the next election at stake; but the long term survival of the species. Sixth formers have come to Westminster to hear senior politicians address a mass meeting of first time voters. A polling analysis being studied in Conservative Central Office and seen by On the Record suggests the Tories have problems. While Iain Duncan Smith received a warm welcome here, his party is now running neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats amongst 18 to 34 year old voters. After this meeting, we spoke to a group of students from Godalming College in South West Surrey. This isn't a scientific study, but every one of them told us that a good performance from the Tory leader hadn't persuaded them to back his party. BOBBIE GANNON: They're just not up to the Lib Dems are very much more accommodating for the youth of today, like myself. NATASHA HARRINGTON: I did feel that Iain Duncan Smith and the Tory Party were more in tune with young people than I thought they would be, but I wouldn't be convinced to vote for, for the Tories over the Lib Dems. ALEX GREGSON: They need to change their attitudes towards Europe, and particularly this homosexual...their attitudes towards homosexuals and their rights to live their lives in this country. I just think that needs a lot of reform. WATSON: But before the Conservatives retreat into their cave, there are those who say there's only limited grounds for optimism amongst Charles Kennedy's party. WHITELEY: Everyone's support is shallow, but it's certainly true that Lib Dem support is more shallow. A lot of people who say that they don't support any party voted Lib Dem at the last election, and so to a significant extent the Lib Dems are still a protest party. Now, the thing about being a protest party of course is that you can easily lose support as well as quickly gain it. WATSON: Every so often political parties - just like planets - can suffer from what's known as extinction level events. Who remembers the continuing SDP? The Lib Dems hope that the next stage of political evolution could render the Tories if not extinct, at least irrelevant. But if a week is a long time in politics, then the Liberal Democrats' ambition to become the official opposition could still be light years away. HUMPHRYS: Iain Watson reporting. JOHN HUMPHRYS: And now to the third of our national leaders, David Trimble in Northern Ireland. In fact, Mr Trimble is no longer the First Minister, there isn't one at the moment. The Government at Westminster suspended the assembly six weeks ago after the Unionists demanded that Sinn Fein be removed from its Executive. The final straw was the discovery of IRA spies at the heart of the Government in Stormont. So, can it all be put back together again? The Irish Prime Minister seems to think it can - and soon. Can it? And is it worth trying? David Trimble is in our Belfast studio. Good afternoon Mr Trimble. DAVID TRIMBLE: Good afternoon. HUMPHRYS: Is there any point in trying to preserve devolution, to restore it? TRIMBLE: Oh yes there is. I mean we've no doubt and I think supported by people across the board here in Northern Ireland, we've no doubt that the administration was better, more responsive to local needs with devolution and that's not just because of the abilities of myself and my colleagues, it's also because the ministers that we have at the moment who have been...who are drawn from the Labour Party and the Labour Government have no organic connection with society here in Northern Ireland and nobody votes for them in Northern Ireland because they won't take members from - membership from people in Northern Ireland. So they have this sense that they wouldn't have for example in Wales and Scotland of not having any connection with society and not being responsive to society here. So devolution is clearly needed. HUMPHRYS: I raised the question because you yourself have apparently missed two sessions of this inter-party grouping, these talks that are trying to reconstitute the assembly and that rather suggests a lack of enthusiasm on your part. TRIMBLE: Oh, no, no, not at all. I mean we have been very well represented and I have just a little problem with the way in which the sessions are being arranged without consultation with me so that I haven't been able to arrange my diary so as to be able to go to them. But I am sure the Secretary of State will correct that in the near future. HUMPHYRS: Bertie Ahern, the Irish Prime Minister, thinks the IRA is preparing to make some kind of deal that would enable it all to be put back together again. Do you know anything about that deal? TRIMBLE: Well, not as yet, I hope that the leaks that appeared or at least the stories that were planted in the national press yesterday are true. I have rather a suspicion actually that they have been grossly over-stated in order to send messages to various people and I am afraid that this happens sometimes. I am sure you know that some politicians try to manipulate the press... HUMPHRYS: No... TRIMBLE: ....but what we do need is very clearly we do need to see what Tony Blair has called "acts of completion". Namely the completion of the transition to the situation where we are operating by exclusively peaceful and democratic means and that necessarily means no private armies, no private armies at all - Loyalist and Republican. So we have got a long way to go, the sooner that we get that way, we get that job done the better. HUMPHRYS: So when Dublin seems to suggest that it could all be up and running again by February, early March, you don't recognise that timetable. TRIMBLE: Well, I would be delighted if it can be achieved, let me be quite clear about that. I would be delighted if it can be achieved. But in order for it to be achieved we need to see radical movement by Republicans on both weapons and on their structures and capability, we want to see what effectively would be the end of their private army. They know that, they know that and the question is whether they are going to do what they should have done a long time ago and what their failure to do, caused the current crisis. HUMPHRYS: And if those radical moves, as you described them, amounted to the IRA saying: right, we are getting rid of them - or have got rid of all of our arms dumps and that's it, decommissioning now is a fact. Would you say, okay, that will do? TRIMBLE: Well, I'd be delighted if we had that achieved and I would equally be delighted if we had an end to all paramilitary activity. I mean those are the two key things that we need to see and are as it were the essential steps towards, as it were, putting the private armies to bed once and for all. HUMPHRYS: But that's the point, I mean is it enough. Would what I have just described be enough? TRIMBLE: We'd have to look very closely at the full context of this and I am not going to get into an argument...discussion now about well will this little bit be necessary, or that little bit be necessary. We know in broad terms what has to be achieved and just as the Prime Minister has kept on those broad terms by talking about acts of completion I will do the same. HUMPHRYS: So that does seem to leave the door open doesn't it and if one added in a couple of other things that's been talked about apparently, that is the end of training by the IRA, the end of their surveillance operations, the end of punishment beatings, if you put all that together with decommissioning, with getting rid of their weapons, you seem to be suggesting that that might be enough, as opposed to the total disbandment of the IRA. TRIMBLE: Well, I mean the distinction between all the things you've mentioned and total disbandment seems to me to be a play on words. HUMPHRYS: Oh, really? TRIMBLE: Yeah, because I mean if you do all of that, you do all the things that have been mentioned there, what's left? HUMPHRYS: You'd still have an army? I mean you would still have the IRA behind it. TRIMBLE: Well, if it's got rid of all of its weapons, if it ceased all activities, and we are there very close to as it were putting the organisation to bed...the reason why we just hesitate a little bit at this John, and I think it's important...we have a huge difficulty with a secret army in knowing whether it exists and the circumstances in which it exist, so there's going to be difficulty in that sense, although of course it does occur to me that if there was public confidence, the police could do a lot to help with this because as everybody knows, all the paramilitary organisations that operate in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland too, they're all pretty thoroughly penetrated by the police, so the police can do a lot in terms of their advice to the community. The question that there would be then is "would that be credible, would that give enough public confidence?", because at the end of the day what's crucial is public confidence and after the revelation of the activities of Republicans, there was a collapse in public confidence in terms of the continuation of the administration, so what has to be done is to restore that confidence. All these things that you have mentioned are very important elements in it, but then at the end of it, we have to ask the question - we can only ask it when the time comes - "is there sufficient confidence to go forward again?". HUMPHRYS: Right, but it need not be to restore that confidence, you need not necessarily have a declaration by the IRA to say "come Thursday..we could...ten o'clock in the morning...we no longer exist"... you're not absolutely looking for that, that's...that's the crucial thing here isn't it. TRIMBLE: Let's look at that the other way, if there was just such a statement, would people believe it, that's the problem, we've got a secret army, the secret army could say all sorts of things, but how would you know whether it's true, and that's why there has to be - in the first instance at least - an act of...a focus on the things that can be seen - the activities, dealing with the weapons and so on. Whether that is sufficient is, however, a question that we can only ask and only answer when the time comes, so please let's not get bogged down in these details. At the moment, as far as we can see, there is very little sign that the Republican movement intend to do what should be done, so let us get the questions put to the Republican movement about what are they going to do, are they still going to continue in their criminal activities, at the moment are we still going to get these attacks, are we still going to get these beatings, are we still going to see these efforts to de-stabilise other parties which is what they were doing - those are the questions that need to be addressed now. HUMPHRYS: What I'm really trying to establish here is whether - and the answer seems to be from you, seems to be yes - there is a sort of continuum here - at one end they stay where they are and do nothing - clearly that means no assembly - at the other end of the continuum, they say "it's all over, finished and here's the proof". What you seem to be saying to me this morning is that there is a series of actions they can take and at some point along this line you, at that stage, would judge that they had done enough without necessarily disbanding - whatever that may mean - you might judge that they had done enough to restore your confidence and the confidence of other Unionists? TRIMBLE: Well, in a sense, what we're...what has to be done is there has to be huge movement and let's not understate this - there has to be huge movement from Republicans - there has to be acts of completion. We have to be sure that this problem is not coming back again. Now, we have taken...I have taken...three times we have gone forward to form an administration relying on promises or beginnings from Republicans. On each occasion, they let us down and they let society down and that's the background from which we approach this. We have, as it were, taken a chance three times and three times...Mr Adams and his colleagues have let us down. Now, we don't intend to be let down again. HUMPHRYS: And... TRIMBLE: We want to be sure this time it's going to work and that consequently we will have stability in the political process in Northern Ireland and if... HUMPRHYS: And if you...sorry, just a very quick final thought if I may...if you don't get that, then what about elections in May, are you saying they should not be held if the Assembly is not up and running, because obviously... TRIMBLE: That's...that's... HUMPRHYS: Sinn Fein want... TRIMBLE: That's why Government talks about February in the hope that they won't have to take a difficult decision, but if we don't get progress by February, then a difficult decision is inevitable and there is a total lack of credibility in an election to something that doesn't exist and can't even meet. HUMPHRYS: David Trimble, many thanks and many thanks too for having joined us so often on this programme at sometimes very difficult times indeed, so our thanks to you for that. TRIMBLE: Thank you. HUMPHRYS: And that's it for this week. Don't forget about our website. We will be back at half past eleven not twelve o'clock, half past eleven next Sunday and I'll be talking to the leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith and the leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy and that will be our last but one programme. See you then, good afternoon. 26 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.