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Shadow Chancellor Michael Howard
Shadow Chancellor Michael Howard

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST: And now matters closer to home and Gordon Brown is of course putting the finishing touches to his pre-Budget statement this weekend, and we'll all find out what he's got up his sleeve on Tuesday. Now his opposite number of course is Michael Howard and Michael is here right now, good morning Michael.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Good morning David how are you?

DAVID FROST: Very well indeed, you have chartered a new course, haven't you, this week in stressing that now the Conservatives look at public services first, tax cuts very much second.

MICHAEL HOWARD: It's a question of priorities, I still believe that if you look around the world, low tax economies are the most dynamic economies, the most productive economies that create more wealth for all their people. But it's a question of priorities and the truth is that our public services are in a state of crisis and we've got to put them first. Can I give you one example, just something that happened to me yesterday, this was a man who came to my constituency surgery yesterday, 83 years old, suffering from Parkinson's disease, has been told by his GP that he needs an operation to relieve him of some of his worst and most distressing symptoms, this is the letter that he's just got from our local NHS Trust. It says your doctor's asked us to arrange an appointment for you to see a consultant in neurology, the current time for this kind of appointment is approximately 83 weeks, 83 weeks - and that's to see his neurologist, that's not the time 'til he gets his operation, he's not even on a waiting list, he's 83 years old. Things cannot go on like this, we've really got to find a better way of providing healthcare for the people of our country, we cannot any longer put up with a situation in which people in this country die from diseases and illnesses from which they wouldn't die if they lived in France or Germany or Australia or other countries in the world and that's got to be our priority.

DAVID FROST: And what, what are you going to do about it in that sense, can you do it without greatly increasing public spending or do you have to produce a, a, an insurance scheme that people can subscribe to?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well it's not all about more money, there was a report last week which suggested that £10 billion a year of the money that we spend on the National Health Service is being wasted, £10 billion a year, 20 per cent of the entire NHS budget. What we've got to recognise is that we can't any longer provide the healthcare our people need and deserve despite the Herculean attempts of doctors and nurses with a monolithic centralised, bureaucratic National Health Service that was designed and put in place 50 years ago, we need a different approach, we need more choice for people, we need more private sector involvement in the provision of healthcare and we need to look at ways in which we can bring more resources to bear on this problem. If you look at other countries and see the amount of money which is provided through taxation for healthcare you find that the amounts aren't actually all that different from ours. The difference lies inż

DAVID FROST: What is the, private sector?

MICHAEL HOWARD: The other money that they're able to bring in and we're looking at ways, Liam Fox was in Germany last week, we spoke to him from our press conference at Central Office, he said that the notion of waiting lists in Germany was something they didn't understand.

DAVID FROST: Well I think it's unlikely that Gordon Brown will increase the, the level of private involvement in healthcare on Tuesday, in realistic terms what would you most like to hear from him on Tuesday, there's a thing about cutting the, cutting the bureaucracy to do with VAT, is mentioned in one of the papers today but?

MICHAEL HOWARD: I want him to cut red tape and regulations, of course whatever he does on Tuesday, and I hope he does take that seriously, has to be seen against the background of what he's done in the last four years. He's heaped on to business extra taxes to the tune of £5 billion a year and extra red tape and regulations to the tune of an additional £5 billion a year. So it's perhaps no wonder that we've slipped since 1997 from 9th to 19th in the world competitiveness league. Only last week there was a survey from the European Union of all people, saying that of 4,000 firms they'd surveyed across Europe they said that the United Kingdom was now the most difficult country in which to do business.

DAVID FROST: Yes but, they did indeed, they did indeed, and it looked very worrying but at the same time there were surveys this week that showed that Britain was still going to have a two per cent growth rate greater than the United States and the strongest economy in Europe and the only person who can be sure that they're not going to have a recession in Europe is Britain. So that's all very strong good news?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well that's...

DAVID FROST: More important than 9 out of 19?

MICHAEL HOWARD: They're not, you can't really separate the two because it's on our competitiveness, it's on the ability of British firms to win orders and create jobs that everything else depends. Now if you want to look at comparative economic performance as a yard stick, as you've just done, there's something to be said for that, I don't argue, but you can't just do it on a basis of one year. If you look at the last few years, since this government came to office, actually our economy has grown less fast than the United States, less fast than the average of the G7 or the OECD or even in the European Union. So if that's to be your test you've got to look at a range of time, at a period of time and not just one year. There are very worrying signs about our competitiveness and that is really crucial, if British firms can't win the orders and create the jobs we don't have the resources for the things we've been talking about, for our public services and we will all be very much worse off.

DAVID FROST: And what about this news that in the Sun, alleged news in the Sun this week, that there's going to be a referendum on Europe on election day, now we don't know whether that's true or not but it got a lot of play, it occurred to me that that, that would be difficult for you as Conservatives because you've made a big point of the fact that Conservatives will be allowed to be on either side when the actual referendum comes along, but you couldn't allow that if it was on election day, could you?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I don't know when this is going to be but there are different views in the Labour Party too, let no one be under any illusions about that, when there are debates about this in the House of Commons there are as many Labour dissenters from the government line as there are people with different views on our own benches. What I think about this is that the government should stop playing games. You used the word play just a minute ago yourself, they should stop playing games about this, if they want us to go into the Euro let's have a referendum, let's have a campaign, let's get it over with. If they don't then let's concentrate on our public services, on the things which matter to people in their everyday lives and let's put that issue to one side until they do decide to have a referendum on it.

DAVID FROST: Michael thank you very much indeed, we're going to talk about Railtrack in a minute with, and other subjects with Stephen Byers, you probably have strong views on that subject?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I tell you what the quite interesting thing about all this, Patricia Hewitt said something very interesting this week, she's the new Secretary of State at the DTI, she said the DTI lacks focus, confuses its customers, has too many schemes and has inadequate leadership both within the department and across Whitehall. What a devastating indictment of Stephen Byers, her immediate predecessor in that department.

DAVID FROST: And her previous five Tory predecessors too?

MICHAEL HOWARD Well there have been three Labour Secretaries of State, Stephen Byers, Peter Mandelson and Margaret Beckett, all of whom have had a chance to sort it out according to Patricia Hewitt and all of whom have flunked it.

DAVID FROST: Michael thank you very much for being here this morning.


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