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Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Sunday, 14 March 2010

Lord Adonis interviewed by Andrew Marr

On Sunday 14 March Andrew Marr interviewed Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.

Please note 'The Andrew Marr Show' must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Lord Adonis on The Andrew Marr Show

ANDREW MARR:

Now Andrew Adonis has had a most unusual political career. Journalist turned backroom policy wonk; Liberal turned Labour. He was elevated to the House of Lords to allow him to continue his passion for education as a minister. Gordon Brown then switched him to transport. And having travelled the length and breadth of the country by train himself to find out what was actually going on, Adonis won friends across the political divide. The senior Tory who was on the show just the other day, Michael Gove, said that "We are on the same page as Andrew Adonis." But this weekend Lord Adonis finds himself in the eye of the storm with British Airways in crisis, rail strikes threatened, and a new plan to make Britain's drink-drive laws much more stringent. Good morning, Lord Adonis.

LORD ADONIS:

Good morning.

ANDREW MARR:

Let's start with some of the things in the papers, if we may. The drink-driving plan. This would cut the limit pretty substantially, about half the limit, before you're hauled up and banned if you're caught driving. Is that a disproportionate response?

LORD ADONIS:

Well I should stress this isn't a plan at the moment. These are a set of ideas that are being bandied around and I've got an official inquiry that will report to me in due course.

ANDREW MARR:

Being taken seriously?

LORD ADONIS:

It's clearly being taken seriously. But it's right, Andrew, that we should take this seriously. 430 people a year are killed on our roads in drink-drive incidents. That's 430 too many. We've got a good record over the last 30 years. The numbers killed in drink-drive incidents has come down by three quarters over 30 years. The introduction of the breathalyser, the drink-drive campaigns - all of those things have made a big difference. And of course there's a big social change taking place too. Very few people now think it's socially acceptable to have a few drinks; and you know one for the road, that's no longer socially acceptable at all. But we do need to look and see whether it's possible to improve on our record further still.

ANDREW MARR:

So you could go further?

LORD ADONIS:

Well that's why I've asked Sir Peter North, who's a distinguished road traffic expert, to look at the issue. But let me stress his report has not come, no decisions have been taken, and obviously I would want to weigh the evidence very carefully before we make a change.

ANDREW MARR:

Can I ask you about another story, which also affects you of course being in the House of Lords, that Jack Straw wants to push through quite quickly changes to the House of Lords. We've heard about these plans forever and a day - the idea of an elected chamber replacing the House of Lords. Has it moved a stage further on?

LORD ADONIS:

I think it has. You said earlier that House of Lords reform has been on the cards for centuries. Indeed the 1911 Parliament Act in its preamble committed to introducing a representative House of Lords said … I think the phrase was …

ANDREW MARR:

Nearly 100 years ago, yes.

LORD ADONIS:

… I think says 'but while it is not expedient to introduce it immediately' or some phrase like that. Well we're now 99 years later. However, there has been a big change. The removal of the hereditary peers has fundamentally transformed the House of Lords. Lloyd George famously in 1911 described the House of Lords as "500 men chosen at random from among the ranks of the unemployed", which was the old aristocracy. It's now essentially a very workmanlike assembly with men and women who are there to do a job of work, who have achieved distinction in various different walks of life. And it's got a balance between the parties. It's no longer a one party Tory assembly …

ANDREW MARR:

Sure.

LORD ADONIS:

… which it used to be before. But I think the time has now come to make it legitimate in the only way that a legislative assembly can be legitimate in the modern world, which is to be elected, and Jack Straw will be setting out full proposals very shortly.

ANDREW MARR:

And to be clear, because we're very close to a General Election where your party is still struggling, this is something that could be … something could be done before a general Election? This is not simply an aspiration that will appear in the Labour manifesto?

LORD ADONIS:

There will be firm proposals in our manifesto for an elected House of Lords. Of course you couldn't introduce that reform until after the election, but there'll be firm proposals. And they build on the big changes we've already made to the House of Lords - notably the removal of the hereditary peers, which has transformed it from being an essentially one party Tory assembly with very little connection with modern life to being a proper working assembly.

ANDREW MARR:

And you could elect a second chamber in a way that didn't undermine the legitimacy or the primacy of the House of Commons, do you think?

LORD ADONIS:

We can do it in this country, as most democracies do it which have two chambers - both of which are elected but with the government accountable to the first chamber.

ANDREW MARR:

Let me ask you something more immediate I suppose to a lot of people, which is this cascade of threatened transport strikes over Easter. British Airways, first of all. Do you think the future of the company is now in danger?

LORD ADONIS:

Yes, I do. Let's be absolutely clear, the stakes are incredibly high in this strike. And I absolutely deplore the strike it is not only the damage it's going to do to passengers and the inconvenience it's going to cause, which is quite disproportionate to the issues at stake, but also the threat it poses to the future of one of our great companies in this country. It's totally unjustified, this strike, on the merits of issues at stake, and I do call on the union to engage constructively with the company at this late stage.

ANDREW MARR:

This is, it should be said, the same union that is bankrolling Labour in marginal seats and helping Labour in marginal seats in the forthcoming General Election. The big question is can you as Labour politicians really put pressure on an organisation you depend on?

LORD ADONIS:

This is an industrial dispute and it needs to be sorted out by proper negotiations. Now we've still got a short window of time before British Airways has to announce what is actually going to happen to all the flights that would have to be cancelled from next Saturday if the strike goes ahead. In this short window, I implore the union to get together with the management and to see whether at this late stage a solution can be found because the impact that this will have will not only be deeply damaging on passengers. It will, as I say, threaten the very existence of the shareholders.

ANDREW MARR:

(over) And you can say directly to the union call this off?

LORD ADONIS:

Yes, absolutely. They should call off this strike. They should get back into negotiations with British Airways again. They came very, very close to an agreement last week. So close that I believe if they could continue these negotiations in a constructive way, it would be possible to call this strike off. And I call on them to engage in those negotiations and to put the public first and to put the company first, and not to take action which not only would be deeply damaging to the economy and to the public, but which could threaten the very jobs of their members which they're seeking to protect.

ANDREW MARR:

We're sitting here at a time when the opinion polls (if we take them seriously) suggest we might well face a hung parliament. Now you were a Liberal Democrat before you became … And your great mentor was Roy Jenkins. Very much involved in constitutional reform issues and so on. Looking ahead, could you see your party getting together with the Liberal Democrats?

LORD ADONIS:

I hope we'll win the election. I think we have the best programme, the best policies and the best leader.

ANDREW MARR:

Comma, but if not, dot dot dot

LORD ADONIS:

And I should say that the momentum is with us. I'm a rationalist in politics. I believe the best arguments generally win. And we do have the best arguments at the moment in terms of growing the country out of the recession and not seeking to cut for the future; continued improvement in our public services and not slashing our public services in the way that the Tories have done in the past; and being a socially liberal government which is trying to create a more open and equal society, which is broadly where the public is. So I think the best arguments will win. But so far as the Lib-Dems are concerned - and, as you say, I know them well, I've been to many Lib-Dem conferences in my time - the Lib-Dems are overwhelmingly a party of Social Democrats. They're a party of people with political views very similar to mine. They just happen to be a smaller party. We're a larger party of Social Democrats. I cannot conceive of the circumstances where the Lib-Dems could support the Conservatives in government. I think it would destroy their own party. I cannot see the Lib-Dem Assembly which would agree to go in with a party that would slash the public services, that is not socially liberal, that is hostile to the very constitutional reforms that the Liberals feel in their bones. So …

ANDREW MARR:

Could your party give the Liberal Democrats that extra move towards real voting reform that they want?

LORD ADONIS:

The issue because of course we've got an election and the people will decide, and, as I say, I hope that they will return us with a majority. The issue for the Lib-Dems isn't what they might or might not do in a certain set of eventualities after the election. The issue that they have to address and be very clear with the public on is are they basically on the Centre Left in politics - progressives who believe in public services, who believe in putting investment ahead of cuts whilst also doing the responsible thing by the economy, who want to see constitutional reform implemented? Or are they going to try and shift to the Right because they sense that may be a short-term populist strategy, but which, as I say, would betray their own principles and would destroy their own party?

ANDREW MARR:

Your other big thing of course over the last few days has been this high speed rail link London to Birmingham. It's not going to start, building can't start before I think 2017 and it could be 2027 before it actually gets going. In your waters, is it actually going to happen or is this just a kind of interesting piece of speculation?

LORD ADONIS:

I believe it will happen. We have built a high speed line in this country. Go to St. Pancras and you see it operating every day; and St. Pancras is of course now a modern railway icon. So we have done it. We have got the fast line to Paris. We've now got high speed services coming in from the East Kent coast into St. Pancras too, so people can see it in operation. And in this country once you've done something once, it's much easier to do it a second time. So I believe the proposals for a high speed line going north of London have got a whole order, more credibility now that we've opened the first line. I'd make one other point too. Many of your viewers of course use high speed trains all the time in Europe. If France, Germany, Italy and Spain can all build high speed lines …

ANDREW MARR:

Yuh.

LORD ADONIS:

… surely it's not too big a task for us?

ANDREW MARR:

Alright. Lord Adonis, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

INTERVIEW ENDS




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