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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 March, 2005, 14:16 GMT
Jeremy Vine interviews
Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

NB:This transcript was typed from a 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 Politics Show, Sunday 06 March, 2005, Jeremy Vine interviewed:

  • Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley, MP
  • Liberal Democrat Leader, Charles Kennedy, MP

Andrew Lansley
Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley, MP

Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley, MP

Jeremy Vine: Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary joins me now. Welcome to you.

Andrew Lansley: Thank you.

Jeremy Vine: Can I start if possible on Margaret Dixon, and that whole case. It is not very edifying is it, for her to have Conservative Party press officers at her home, and to be turned in to a living symbol of NHS failure.

Andrew Lansley: Well Margaret Dixon and her family came to Michael Howard, they came to the local Conservative Councillor in Warrington, and what Margaret wanted was for her case to be presented, to be put forward.

Jeremy Vine: But you weren't born yesterday, you know the consequence of that better than she did possibly.

Andrew Lansley: And indeed, and Margaret knew the consequences of that, cos we had conversations with her and said look, if we raise your case, then it is going to be high profile, of course it is, and the reason she wanted it to be raised was because we'd gone to John Reid, we'd gone to the government; five weeks previously we'd gone to the government and given them an opportunity to respond and John Reid didn't respond at all. I'm afraid actually, what this has demonstrated is that for all the government's synthetic concern about NHS and patients, Margaret, on her behalf, Margaret had a letter written to John Reid, he did nothing about it for five weeks.

When it came in to the public domain he said, Oh I'm off to Warrington, and he spent his time talking to Labour supporters, instead of going to see Margaret and try to explain what had actually gone wrong.

Jeremy Vine: But if she has become a symbol of NHS failure, is that fair on the NHS. I mean in Warrington Hospital, there are four high dependency beds, there were none when the Conservatives were in power.

Andrew Lansley: Well, I didn't actually say Margaret was a symbol of NHS failure.

Jeremy Vine: That's what she's become.

Andrew Lansley: No, no. Well, what we have said ..


Andrew Lansley: No, it isn't. Because what we have said, and what Margaret has said is exactly the same thing, is that her situation is a symbol of how the resources that we're all providing to the National Health Service are not getting through to the front line.

She has nothing but praise for the staff, the doctors and nurses who are looking after her at Warrington District General Hospital. We have nothing but praise for the staff who work in those hospitals. The point is they're not getting the resources that are needed in order to increase and provide the care that's there.

I mean to-day, in the newspapers this morning, you can see that a hospital like Great Ormond Street, is closing beds because they have, are running a deficit. Now, we're paying a great deal of money for the NHS, we want to pay even more, but it is no good if the money doesn't get to the front line resources.

Jeremy Vine: They overspent last year. That can happen in any system, and you are not promising more NHS beds.

Andrew Lansley: We're promising more NHS resources and more resources getting to the front line. I mean within existing NHS resources we've identified how nearly eight billion pounds could get in to the front line if we cut back on bureaucracy and waste.

That's nearly a 10% increase. Now pretty much every hospital that is currently running a deficit, and we have identified and are publishing to-day, an analysis of seventy five hospitals running deficits, now the resources that are being wasted in bureaucracy in the NHS could wipe out all those deficits, so that none of those hospitals have to close wards and beds and cut back. Now Warrington is an interesting ...

Jeremy Vine: Before you go on to Warrington, the ...


Andrew Lansley: Well let me just tell you about Warrington because it's not about attacking the doctors because if you look at their annual report, that North Cheshire Trust, in the last financial year, compared to the previous year, increased staff by eighty three, but it increased administration and estate staff by seventy eight.

It cut back the number of nurses, midwives and health visitors by fifty four, so people (interjection) legitimately ask, are we getting value for money from what we pay for the National Health Service or is the money going in to bureaucracy and not getting through to the front line ... (overlaps)

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) Okay, according to the Audit Commission, management costs as a proportion of NHS spending, have decreased since Labour came to power from 6.4% to 4%. How do you explain that.

Andrew Lansley: It's complete rubbish frankly.

Jeremy Vine: It's the Audit Commission. They're not political.

Andrew Lansley: No, it's complete rubbish. Cos you can look at the workforce census in the Department of Health, published data, and it shows that the number of administrators has been rising three times faster than the number of doctors and nurses, you can look across the country ...

Jeremy Vine: Matrons are administrators, and you want more of them.

Andrew Lansley: Well no matrons are front line staff. The point is, you have to get the definitions right, of course you do as to who is nursing staff, and who is a doctor, and who is a manager or an administrator, and I'm not against managers. Course we'll need managers. The point is we have too much bureaucracy. If you look at for example, at primary care, general practitioners, we want them to be given the status and the ability to manage services on behalf of their patients.

Jeremy Vine: All right.

Andrew Lansley: Now a few years ago, the government said, oh we're going to set up Primary Care Trusts to help GPs, well now we've arrived at the point where there are more administrators in Primary Care Trusts, than GPs.

Jeremy Vine: Let me ask you about your policy, mentioned in the film, very important, the passport policy that you can come out of the NHS with NHS money and use it to subsidize a private operation.

Andrew Lansley: Our policy is for patient choice, the right to choose.

Jeremy Vine: Right, which is exactly what I've described.

Andrew Lansley: No it isn't. The policy, the right to choose, is to give every patient, every patient the kind of choices that to-day only money can buy. I ...

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) Let me ask you ..


Andrew Lansley: ... and patients will have that choice through the NHS.

Jeremy Vine: Let me ask you some specific questions about this. First of all ...

Andrew Lansley: Yeah, but you're asking specific questions to avoid telling people about the kind of choices they need through the NHS which the government aren't going to give them. The government are going to say the bureaucracy is going to decide where you can go, what kind of choices you can get. We are offering every patient, through the NHS, free, based on their need, the ability to make choices. And ...


Jeremy Vine: And move out, with a cheque of NHS money ...

Andrew Lansley: ... of course, to-day, people can, people can choose private care, of course they can. At the moment, many of them - two hundred and twenty thousand people have to pay for themselves, and many of them are not rich. Many of them go in to the private sector ...


Jeremy Vine: I'm going to ask you a question about private care and the fact that you have at the moment, 6% of people or there abouts, using private care already. When you bring in this system, you give them a cheque from the NHS, to use in the private system, that's what you do. And that's what is called a dead-weight cost, and it's 1.2 billion pounds. How do you get around that.

Andrew Lansley: Well because the only people who would benefit from our policy would be people who are eligible for NHS care. Okay.

Jeremy Vine: Which is all the people I've described.

Andrew Lansley: Well, not everybody who has private care at the moment is eligible for NHS care for that operation, or indeed eligible at all.

Jeremy Vine: (overlap) So, without changing anything you pay 1.2 billion pounds (interjection) and you haven't changed anything.

Andrew Lansley: Up to. No, we pay up to 1.2 billion. We change a great deal, because we change a situation where people would otherwise be demanding NHS services ...

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) That's before they've taken their cheques.

Andrew Lansley: No, as we reduce waiting times in the NHS, as we improve standards in the NHS, one of two things is going to happen. Either people who are currently going out of the NHS, are going to start coming back and make it impossible for us to reduce waiting times for everybody, cos remember, in the last five years, waiting times are actually higher, they've not gone down, so the government aren't making progress in that direction.

But we are determined to make progress in that direction. Now, the point is it's a good, it's good in principle because these people have paid their taxes, they're eligible for NHS care, there should be some recognition of that fact from the NHS. But also ...

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) They're not the neediest people are they.

Andrew Lansley: ... it's good for the NHS. It's good for other, it's good for everybody waiting for care because otherwise the NHS is going to have to meet literally hundreds of thousands of additional operations, provided through the NHS.

Jeremy Vine: (overlaps) What about you heard the voters in our film, what about the voter who said, this is ...

Andrew Lansley: (overlaps) Well the voters are not having it explained to them necessarily are they.

Jeremy Vine: Well that's, if I may say so, your problem as well isn't it.

Andrew Lansley: No, not really, because actually, if you say to people, should those who are relieving a burden on the NHS, have some recognition of that from the NHS, and the answer is generally yes.

Jeremy Vine: But the voter who said - ... very interesting, his gut reaction was, and I quote, I wouldn't be in favour of anything that erodes the NHS.

Andrew Lansley: Well it doesn't, that's my whole point. It helps the NHS.

Jeremy Vine: (interjects) ... fewer people being treated in the NHS.

Andrew Lansley: No, it helps the NHS. I'll tell you, it helps the NHS because, and we're the ones who said, 1.2 billion, it isn't somebody else doing the calculation. And it is a maximum figure, and as we make progress in the NHS and as waiting times come down and standards increase, so fewer people would automatically go in to the private sector.

So we have policies to give patients choice, to enable the independent sector to be able to provide additional capacity to the NHS, so that if you're an NHS patient, and you want to go to an independent hospital or a private hospital, at the NHS tariff, then the NHS will support that.

The NHS will pay for it. So everybody will have that kind of choice. But if you want something different, let's say you want extra hotel standards, and things of that kind, then you get half the NHS tariff, you get half the NHS price, as a subsidy. Now the benefit of that is that there will be literally, hundreds of thousands of people who may say well, I'll continue to have my private medical insurance, or I will pay for myself. I'll get help from the NHS, I'll relieve burdens on the NHS and everybody else will be treated quicker.

End of interview

Charles Kennedy
Liberal Democrat Leader, Charles Kennedy, MP

Liberal Democrat Leader, Charles Kennedy, MP

Jeremy Vine: A few minutes ago, I spoke to Charles Kennedy in Harrogate, at his conference, and I began by asking him why he and his colleagues had failed to turn up to defeat the government in that vote on the house arrest proposals.

Charles Kennedy: Yes, I can explain it very straightforwardly; it was the wrong judgement on our part, I have said that already during the course of the week. That's taken as read. Next week, the action is both in the House of Lords and again, in the House of Commons, and I can assure you there will be a three line whip for Liberal Democrat MPs.

Jeremy Vine: But it is just amazing is it not that you describe yourselves as the real alternative. Here's this - you so rarely get a chance to beat the government, on what for you is a matter of principle, and seventeen Lib Dem MPs don't turn up.

Charles Kennedy: Well the point is this Jeremy, you know the benefit of hindsight is a great thing, for you in the media, for me in the Liberal Democrats, for the government, and for the Conservatives, who also had twenty four of their own MPs missing.

The truth of the matter is, in terms of the parliamentary procedure on that day, the Home Secretary, as the debate was beginning, let it be known that in fact what was being put forward and being voted upon, was not in fact what the government were going to do. So this was, in my twenty three years in parliament, I have to tell you, quite an unprecedented set of circumstances. Now, having said that, mea culpa - I think we got the wrong judgement on that occasion. That doesn't mean that we're going to make the wrong judgement next week.

Jeremy Vine: Help us on something that may seem technical, but is actually, as we go towards an election, very very important. You seem to have policies that aren't going to wind up in the manifesto and which are effectively dormant, but are still your policies, and let me give you an example. You have a policy of bringing in a dog tax. Now, is that an active policy or not.

Charles Kennedy: Look, we are no different from either the Conservative Party or the Labour Party. In the course of a four to five year parliament, we have conferences of the type that I am speaking to you from to-day. All sorts of policies are passed. In between times, parties react to the events of the day. We publish pamphlets, discussion papers, policy working group papers, and all the rest. At the end of the day however, what happens is, you distil that in to the key priorities, for that party, in a manifesto.

Don't ask me or don't suggest to me that Tony Blair or Michael Howard, are going to take each and everything that their respective parties have said over these past four or five years and make that manifesto commitment. That wouldn't be the real world.

Jeremy Vine: Well, your party is different, your party's constitution says, The federal conference is the final sovereign decision making body of the party. They become party policy. So it is your policy to have a dog tax.

Charles Kennedy: Yes, but it's party policy but that is quite distinct from what the party, going in to a general election says would be our approach and our priorities for a forthcoming parliamentary term. Now, judge us by that because that just like the other parties, is what we are putting forward to the public, and inviting them to endorse or to reject.

Jeremy Vine: Well, let's take another example then. The Lib Dem manifesto for women, this may be a policy, I don't know. But that manifesto promises a maternity income guarantee of a hundred and seventy pounds a week for the first six months, it's currently a hundred and two pounds a week. That's a whopping rise. Is that a policy that's active or dormant.

Charles Kennedy: Well use this phrase whether it's active or dormant, that's a policy that we outlined just within the last few weeks. That policy will be in the manifesto. Why?

Because it's costed, it's responsible, we've done the figures, we've run the slide rule past the figures, and it makes sense. So yes, we will be arguing for that increase in maternity support for first time mothers. That's a good thing to do, and we think it's central to the political debate unlike the last example you were giving.

Jeremy Vine: Okay, that will cost an extra, something like a billion pounds or just under, extra - but it's not mentioned in your pre-manifesto costings document.

Charles Kennedy: No. What we will do in terms of the costings, and we've been much more up front, not over the course of this parliament actually, but the last two or three parliaments. Every time the budget comes around, we publish a costings document in terms of what our alternative scenario, and set of priorities will be.

We'd be no different in this respect. What we've got to take account of, of the fact is quite simply, that in a couple of weeks time, less than a couple of weeks time now, we will have the budget and the manifesto will have to reflect whatever it is the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, says and commits himself to in that budget. Now we will do so responsibly.

I don't think that we can be accused at one and the same time of being the only party going in to this election, saying there is a distinct tax pledge here in terms of what our menu will cost people, but what we will devote that money to, and at the same time be accused as you're implying at the moment by your questions, that by coming forward with fresh proposals, for example on maternity, that we're somehow being irresponsible, it's just not the case.

Jeremy Vine: But it's just difficult to work out what your policies are, it's as simple as that and I - looking on your web site I ...

Charles Kennedy: (overlaps) Jeremy, it's very simple to work out, it's very simple to work out what our policies are, in terms of this general election. There is something called ...

Jeremy Vine: But that's not the point is it.

Charles Kennedy: ... the pre-manifesto. There is something called the pre-manifesto document, which was widely debated and widely reported at our Autumn conference last September. We will up-date that in terms of the figures, that the Chancellor comes forward with, and in terms of the immediate pledges that we will make, for our priorities in the next parliament, shortly to be elected. Now I think you can't get more clear cut with people than that.

Jeremy Vine: Is it Lib Dem policy to allow sixteen year olds to act in porn films.

Charles Kennedy: No. We're not going to have that in the manifesto.

Jeremy Vine: It's on the web site.

Charles Kennedy: Jeremy, you can keep trawling through each and every issue on our web site or a myriad of publications over the course of the last four years. What I'm saying to you and what I'm putting forward in terms of the British public, inviting them to endorse, is what the liberal democrats will be pursuing in the next House of Commons. Now, I'm quite happy to have a discussion here and now about what those proposals are, what I don't think is worthwhile doing quite frankly, is having a discussion that things are not going to feature in that manifesto.

Jeremy Vine: You said this week that prisoners would get the vote and this has caused a row. You're absolutely clear about it and I've got a transcript of the conversation here. You are absolutely clear

Charles Kennedy: Yes I know.

Jeremy Vine: prisoners will get the vote. You were then asked, does that mean Ian Huntley gets the vote. And then suddenly, the message is put out from Lib Dem central command, oh no, hang on a minute, that's not a policy, that's just an idea. Now what's going on there.

Charles Kennedy: Well nothing is going on there Jeremy. What we've said and I repeat yet again, I'm sounding very repetitive in this discussion, that there are all sorts of policy documents that the Liberal Democrats, just like the Conservatives, just like the Labour Party, have produced over the last four years, that is quite distinct from what you make your priorities, in terms of a general election manifesto. That's not going to feature either.

Jeremy Vine: I don't mean to exasperate you here, but it's very important. Kirsty Young says, Lib Dems policy is that criminals should be allowed a vote, is that right. Charles Kennedy, replies, Yes that's correct. It couldn't be clearer. That is your policy.

Charles Kennedy: Yes. That is the policy that's been passed by the party. You're asking me, will that form part of our general election manifesto. No, it won't. I will simply say to you this, If I was, or if Michael Howard or Tony Blair were, to publish a manifesto that included each and every single commitment, every last dot and comma, that was passed, by the party, in the intervening period between one general election and the next, frankly, it would make War and Peace look like a short read.

Jeremy Vine: Is there a sense here that your party doesn't really have anything, any ideology at its core, and this is party of the problem. Just to give you an example on hunting, 95% of Labour MPs oppose it. 98% of Conservative MPs are in favour of it. With Lib Dems, it's 50:50. Is that the problem here, we don't really know what's at the heart of Lib Dems.

Charles Kennedy: Oh, I think the hunting issue is not a good indication quite frankly of anything at all. The fact of the matter is you mentioned the other parties, you can take leading lights in the other parties, whatever the percentages, who have got vehement views, one way or the other. You've got a Liberal Democrat party, parliamentary party, as it is at the moment, that equally, have got a strong gradation of views on the hunting issue. I don't think that's indicative of anything in particular.

I think what people want from their politicians, what they want from their parliamentary elected representatives, is surely first of all, a self confidence in a core set of beliefs, but secondly, an openness of mind, and an independence of spirit, of the type that we're not getting from our politics at the moment. Now that's what we're going to offer and I believe in this election campaign, that's going to resonate very strongly indeed.

Jeremy Vine: Charles Kennedy, Lib Dem leader, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

End of interview

NB:This transcript was typed from a 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.

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The next Politics Show will be on Sunday, 13 March, 2005 at 12.00.
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