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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 March 2007, 14:15 GMT
Des Browne and George Osborne.interviews
On the Politics Show, Sunday 11 March 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Des Browne and George Osborne

Des Browne
I still believe that that multilateralist approach, which we came to in the ?80s, is the right approach for our party
Des Browne

Speaking on the BBC One Politics Show, Defence Secretary Des Browne said he did not believe the Labour backbench revolt would be as big as some of the rebels were predicting.

?I have been in Parliament for 10 years and I am constantly being told that there is going to be a rebellion that will have this consequence. Let?s see.?

?People in our party are very good at listening to the arguments. They are very good at listening to the debate and I am still confident that we will be able to persuade people to come onto our side of the argument.?

Speaking about the stories about poor hospital treatment of wounded service personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan, he said:

?Where there are individual cases that fall short of the very high standards that I and others demand, then we need to address these and I will address them, they are unacceptable? I know that in that individual case, which has been recorded in newspapers, there already is an investigation going on.?

Conservative Shadow Chancellor George Osborne was also interviewed, about his party?s plans for airline taxes. He said:

?I think we?ve got to accept that people are flying more, and I don?t want to tax people out of flying altogether.?

He said the aim was to curb the growth in emissions, not reduce them, and confirmed that none of the money raised would be spent on public transport: ?Well we certainly also need to invest in public transport, but there is already a transport budget.?

?I think it?s very important in order to command public confidence for green taxes, that they don?t see them as stealth taxes.?


POLITICS SHOW, March 11th 2007


JON SOPEL: Des Browne, welcome to the Politics Show, thanks for being with us.

DES BROWNE: Thank you.

JON SOPEL: We heard those people outside Faslane, and obviously they are implacably opposed, but there are many more people in the country, very sceptical. Why, when the Cold War is over, do we need to replace Trident.

DES BROWNE: Well, we live in a very uncertain world and I think that uncertainty of itself generates an environment which we should not make a decision that deprives future generations of the deterrent effect that the nuclear weapons have provided for us and for almost all of my life.

But it?s not just that uncertainty, I mean it?s the fact that there are countries who are trying to develop nuclear weapons, presently, although, the whole of the world through the United Nations in the case of both Libya, sorry, in the case of both er, Iran and North Korea are trying to dissuade them from that.

There are countries in very unstable parts of the world, who are trying to develop nuclear weapons, and ? but finally, I believe there is no certainty that countries that presently have nuclear weapons will not change as quickly as they have changed in the past and that a future generation will not be faced with the confrontation that we were faced with in a substantial part of the second half of the 20th century.

If we don?t make the decisions now to plan for that possibility indeed probability, then those future generations will never be able in the time that would be necessary to stand up a deterrent in the way in which we presently are able to deploy one.

JON SOPEL: Well you talk about the uncertainty around the world. Are we at any greater risk than Spain, Italy, Australia, who don?t have nuclear weapons.

DES BROWNE: Well they don?t have of course, but they are, all of those countries whom you identified of course with the exception of Australia, who goes about its protection in a bilateral fashion, but the others are members of NATO and as you will be aware of course, in the context of our NATO obligations, we have an obligation to maintain our nuclear weapons, as do the French and the Americans to maintain that nuclear armed alliance and to provide the security for these countries that don?t have nuclear weapons, so that they can continue to occupy the position which they signed up to in the non proliferation treaty, as non nuclear weapon states. It?s not nearly as straight forward as people suggest, they sleep well in their beds at night because we have nuclear weapons.

JON SOPEL: Okay, but what about the argument we heard in the film there from Jon Cruddas saying that Labour got on the wrong side of the argument twenty five years ago when it was unilateralist and is now in danger of getting on the wrong side of the argument today, by saying, we?ve got to push ahead with renewing Trident.

DES BROWNE: I mean I think it?s an interesting observation, I mean people of my generation in the Party of course joined the party when it was a unilateralist organisation and quite interestingly actually, all of those people who were unilateralist were at heart, multilateralists but the unilateralist approach was a sort of tactic, they didn?t believe that anybody else would ever give up their weapons and therefore we should you know, we should do it individually.

I still believe that that multilateralist approach, which we came to in the ?80s, is the right approach for our party and indeed, I think there is some evidence of ? over the last ten years, our contribution encouraging others to move down that route. Marked contribution, that is to multilateralism and I mean people ought not to forget that Libya, whom I mistakenly used for Iran earlier in an answer, Libya, South Africa, Brazil and countries that spun out of the Soviet Union have in the recent past given up their nuclear weapons in the context of the wider multilateralist approach, which we contribute to.

JON SOPEL: So why, if the argument is so clear, are there sixty four of your backbench MPs, according to this poll for The World This Weekend, our colleagues in radio, unhappy. Why are there ministerial aides muttering and talking about they might resign their junior posts in the government, if it is so clear cut.

DES BROWNE: This is a big issue and a big and complicated issue and every time I speak in public and I do again today, I mean I honour the views that other people hold because a lot of people hold views in this issue which you know, we?ve been debating in our party and I would expect the country to continue to debate for the rest of my life and beyond. We?ve been debating in our party for the last fifty years.

I mean, my view is that the arguments are persuasive. I have set them out in a way that no other government minister ever has before, not just now government, but any government in the world, a White Paper has been recognised as setting out these arguments in that way.

But I still think it is a balanced judgement and people have long standing views. Some people feel that we are prisoners of the position that we had before the Party changed in the 1980s, thankfully, most of our party don?t believe that that is the case and they?re able to adjust, you know, to a situation that represents our need to provide security for the people of this country, whilst still making the significant contribution that we make to multilateral disarmament across the world.

JON SOPEL: Does it worry you that you might have to rely on Tory votes to get this through.

DES BROWNE: Well let?s wait and see what Wednesday brings, you know, I mean I?m constantly ? I?ve been in parliament now for ten years and I?m constantly being told, you know, that there is going to be a rebellion which will have this consequence. Let?s see.

I mean people in our party are very good at listening to the arguments, they?re very good you know, at listening to the debate and I?m still confident, you know, that we will be able to persuade people to come on to our side of the argument.

JON SOPEL: So you think that people may change their position.

DES BROWNE: What I?m saying is, I know that people have changed their position in this debate, people have told me they?ve changed their position in this debate and I?ve spent a lot of time, you know, over the last three months or more, with individual members of the party, taking them through the arguments, explaining to them, you know, what our obligations and in terms of security, why we believe that at the strategic level, we need to plan for the possibility, a future generation may want to continue with this deterrent, but also explaining to them the contributions we?ve made to disarmament and those were recognised I think fairly in the film that you have put forward there.

I say, without fear of contradiction, that we?ve done more in government in ten years in disarmament than any other government has done in the history of the world in proportionate terms. We now only have 1% of the nuclear weapons in the world in the United Kingdom and I just don?t believe that if we were to get rid of them, any other nuclear weapon states in the world would give up their...(overlaps)...

JON SOPEL: Let?s talk about the rest of world. Mohammed al Baradei from the International Atomic Energy Authority says, that Britain cannot modernise its Trident submarines and then tell everyone else that nuclear weapons aren?t needed in the future.

DES BROWNE: I would say to Mohammed al baradei, I would say this if I had the opportunity to speak to Mohammed al Baradei speaks, in his job in the International Atomic Energy Authority, for the whole of the world. He?s the man who... (interjection and overlap)

JON SOPEL: So he?s wrong.

DES BROWNE: No, let me just explain. He?s the man whom we?ve charged with the responsibility, that was the United Nations to engage with Iran, engage with North Korea and he does that and there is some sign of progress in North Korea and I?m hopeful that we will be able to get Iran to come back to its NPT obligation, so it?s not the UK that?s asking people to do that, it?s the whole of the world and he knows that better than anybody else.

That?s the first point I would make to him. The second point is that every nuclear weapon state recognised by the NPT has made investment under a new... nuclear weapons system, except the United Kingdom in this, a round of consideration of their weapon systems. Now none of the rest of those countries when they did that interestingly engaged Mohammed Al Baradei... to make the sort of remarks that he?s made about the United Kingdom, which is interesting, but they also didn?t have the consequences that he said that they would have.

And let me just finally say to you that the system that we presently have developed, we presently have deployed rather, you know was developed and commissioned while we were members of the NPT and it didn?t have the consequences that people said that it would have.

We believe that we can do these two things. We can play our role with the minimum, credible, independent deterrent in the world, in terms of the security for our own people, but we can also make a significant contribution to multi lateral disarmament, we?ve proved that over the last ten years.


DES BROWNE: And all of those people who are now members of the Labour Party, you know, who were elected ten years ago,... for all of that time, supported a government which has, which has had a nuclear weapon system.

JON SOPEL: Right. Des Browne, final point, because there?s been some very alarming stories in the papers this morning about the treatment of veterans who?ve been serving in Afghanistan and Iraq in our hospitals. It sound very distressing.

DES BROWNE: Well, can I say to you that I, that I put at the forefront of my obligations a priority that we should treat those who make the sacrifice for us in terms of our security as well as they can be treated.

Erm, and clearly, if there are individual cases such as the one that was reported in the paper this morning, where people had ? that soldier had that experience that his family records, then that?s entirely unacceptable and something will need to be done about that.

But I know that in that individual case, which has been recorded in newspapers, there already is an investigation going on. And while that investigation goes on, you?ll excuse me, I will not make any comment about that but it ought to be a...


JON SOPEL: But in general terms.

DES BROWNE: In general terms, you know the move away from military hospitals, which is the kind of focus of this discussion, towards incorporation in the NHS has been going on now for some significant period of time and it was started by the previous government.

It is in my view, in terms of the medical care of our soldiers and injured service people, the right thing to do because that?s where the best care can be provided for them. And I?m determined that at Selly Oak, which is an excellent hospital, that provides a very high standard you know, of clinical care, that we will deal with the other surrounding issues.

And we?re already doing that in the context of a military managed ward incorporated with, with the services. But where there are individual cases that fall short of the very high standards that I and other demand, then we need to address these and I will address them, they are unacceptable.

JON SOPEL: Des Browne. Thank you very much for being with us.


George Osborne
What I?m saying is, let?s set us our objective, not something which is going to be impossible to achieve in the next few years, which is stopping people flying altogether, but rather, let?s try and curb the growth in emissions from aviation.
George Osborne


JON SOPEL: The Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne joins us now. Welcome to the Politics Show. So you?re consulting about raising taxes on air travel. Is it to raise more revenue or so that we should fly less.

GEORGE OSBORNE: Well the principle aim is to curb the growth in emissions from aviation, which of course are set to rise dramatically so that by 2050, a quarter of all UK carbon emissions will be coming from aviation, it?s predicted, so that is the principle objective, but we accept and we?re very upfront about this, that tax revenues, as a result are likely to rise from this aviation tax. However, we?re explicit that other taxes will fall to compensate, so the overall tax burden for people will not rise.

JON SOPEL: I just spoke to you the other week about this and tried to get you to answer the question - do you think that people should fly less - and you seemed to struggle with that question. I mean do you think we should fly less?

GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I think we?ve got to accept that people are flying more and I don?t want to tax people out of flying altogether. What I want to do is curb emissions, that?s what really counts and so I want a tax system that penalises dirtier aeroplanes, for example.

Doesn?t allow the scandal we discovered today of completely empty planes arriving at Heathrow, which by the way, under the current tax regime don?t attract any tax because there are no passengers on board. And that does make it, the tax falls harder on the more frequent fliers so that we don?t tax the poorest, the people who take the one family holiday a year abroad, out of flying altogether and I think that is the right mix. Focus on emissions, that after all is the key to tackling climate change.

JON SOPEL: So it?s very modest then, you?re just seeking to curb the rate of growth of emissions.

GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I?m ? look, you have to be realistic here and indeed the whole paper which we published today is serious, thoughtful, for the long term and we face this situation where there is a huge explosion in air passenger use, right, so the amount of air passengers is expected to triple over the next twenty or so years. We also face the situation where carbon emissions from aviation are rising rapidly.

What I?m saying is, let?s set us our objective, not something which is going to be impossible to achieve in the next few years, which is stopping people flying altogether, but rather, let?s try and curb the growth in emissions from aviation. Let?s encourage the use of cleaner planes.

Let?s encourage other uses of transport like rail journeys. I?ve got Manchester Airport in my constituency, is it really necessary for people to fly from London to Manchester, can?t they use the train instead.

JON SOPEL: Why don?t you, with the money raised then, say rather than, we?ll give it back in tax cuts elsewhere, say we?ll put the money in to public transport.

GEORGE OSBORNE: Well we certainly also need to invest in public transport, but there is already a transport budget. I?m saying, in order to carry public confidence for green taxes...


JON SOPEL: Wouldn?t people be more encouraged to travel on public transport if it?s better, if it?s got greater investment and that would be one way of doing it.

GEORGE OSBORNE: No, no, I think it?s very important in order to command public confidence for green taxes, that they don?t see them as stealth taxes, they don?t see them as just another way of raising taxes and of course, Gordon Brown, that?s exactly what he does with things like air passenger duty.

I think in order to command public confidence, you have to show that every extra pound you raise from for example, aviation taxation, you cut taxes elsewhere by a pound. You, you know, pay as you burn, not pay as you earn, and that shift towards green taxes, away from income taxes, is I think what the country want to hear and it does then target action on climate change.

JON SOPEL: Just deal with this point, someone emailed in to us, David Wilson, one of our viewers. He says, you?re considering a return to the days where only toffs like you could afford to travel. Ordinary travellers suddenly get hit very hard, people that are wealthy ? fine.

GEORGE OSBORNE: Well I?ll ignore the personal insult ? indeed the whole point of the way we designed some of the options in this consultation paper is so that?s not just the rich who end up flying.

That?s why we?re looking at a green miles scheme where the frequent flyers, almost certainly be the better off people, are taxed at a higher rate and while we?re looking at for example, a flight tax, so that half empty planes, which will often be planes used for example for trips to Germany or France or whatever, rather than the package trips to Spain and so on, are more heavily taxed per passenger.

In other words, the whole design of it is not to tax low income people, out of their holidays and I think that is very important in order to command public support for this and indeed I recognise the benefits of people seeing the world.

JON SOPEL: Let?s be clear about this then. You said earlier on in the interview that the frequent flyers are invariably business people, so you want to increase taxes on business?

GEORGE OSBORNE: I don?t, I don?t accept that they are invariably business people, actually. Over half the flights made in the UK, out of the UK, are leisure flights. So I don?t accept that it is only business people.


JON SOPEL: But the people who really rack up the miles

GEORGE OSBORNE: Let?s be clear, aviation is very under-taxed compared to other forms of transport and aviation makes and will make an even bigger contribution to greenhouse gas emission. So we need to make sure that aviation pays its way and as I say, and as I stress, this is a replacement tax. Every pound extra we raise from this, we will use to cut taxes elsewhere.

JON SOPEL: Okay. George OSBORNE, we must leave it there. Thanks ever so much for being with us.


Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 11 March 2007 at 11:30 GMT on BBC One.
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