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Helen Liddell, MP, secretary of state for Scotland
Helen Liddell, MP, secretary of state for Scotland
BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: HELEN LIDDELL MP SECRETARY OF STATE FOR SCOTLAND FEBRUARY 24TH, 2002

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

DAVID FROST: The debate within Labour ranks over the use of the private companies to help deliver public services dominated the sessions of the Scottish Party Conference in Perth this weekend, Tony Blair in his address to the conference told public sector workers that they're going to have to change their ways if services are to improve. Yesterday some trade unions came very close to defeating the leadership in a vote on this issue and they say the battle's not over yet. Are they trying to wreck government policy and then of course we have today huge, huge headlines in the papers and I'm delighted to be joined now by the Secretary of State for Scotland Helen Liddell who has magically leapt in in those few seconds as our two friends left. Is this, as we asked earlier, do you think, Byers lied over press chief's resignation, if true is that a resigning matter?

HELEN LIDDELL: David I have to say to you I find it absolutely bizarre, with all of the issues that my constituents are concerned about, a major news paper, the major news agenda of the day is an internal personnel matter within the Department of Transport local government in the region. ¿somebody negotiating his, his exit strategy, complaining about spin and it just proves that the communications part of that department was dysfunctional, we do need a fresh start.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time Number 10 is directly involved in all of this and if Stephen Byers knowingly lied he would have to go, wouldn't he? If he did, I'm not saying he did because I know you're not going to say he did because it's not finally proven that he did, but if he did he'd have to go?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well I know Stephen Byers, you undoubtedly know Martin Sixsmith as an ex-BBC employee - but you know Stephen is a straightforward man, he went on information, from the permanent secretary who had been told that Martin Sixsmith had resigned and that part of that was that Jo Moore should go as well. Personnel matter, there are much, much bigger issues not least for Stephen Byers, there is a whole question of our transport network, my constituents have concerns about health, about crime, about the economy, these are the issues that people are concerned about - not whether or not a spin doctor is negotiating his exit strategy from a department.

DAVID FROST: So its, you're saying it's a problem at the centre of the department but not at the centre of a crisis at the centre of government?

HELEN LIDDELL: It's a personnel matter, you know the, people I think assume when a Secretary of State goes into a department it's as a sort of Chief Executive, it's not, its like chairman of the board, the permanent secretary runs the department, clearly there was a problem in the communications part of that department, it is now being resolved but I think it is absolutely bizarre that this should dominate the news agenda.

DAVID FROST: Well there's one way you can get round that and that's by saying something absolutely sensational in the course of the next few minutes and you'll force it off the front pages, so it's up to you Helen. Now actually yesterday you spoke up very strongly about, about the Euro and about seizing the opportunity for the Euro and trying to give people a gee-up, you felt that was needed at this point?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well I think an awful lot of businesses in particular in Scotland, we're a very, very open economy, they hear all this cacophony of Euroscepticism and they find themselves switching off when actually they should be preparing for the challenges that in or out of the Euro we have to face, it's about price transparencies, it's about competition and I think people need to engage in some of the big issues affecting Europe at the moment, the very fact that the next few days, the convention is going to be looking at the future of Europe, that has a real impact, not just on the people of Scotland but on the people of all of the United Kingdom, these are the big issues that really we should be addressing rather than sort of throwing brick-bats about.

DAVID FROST: And, and in terms of what was said about the public and private situation at the Scottish Conference, Tony Blair said that you needed a third term "to carry out our mission to change" at the same time in the People, he wrote in the People what, two or three Sundays ago, if the NHS is not basically fixed by the next election then I'm quite happy to suffer the consequences, I'm quite willing to be held to account by the voters. Which, which is, which is true, does the latest news say we've worked out it's going to take longer, we can't fix it in this term?

HELEN LIDDELL: No what we're saying is that the investment is coming through now, substantial sums of investment, nearly up to £40 billion by the end of this spending round. We've got to make sure that that money goes direct, directly to delivering change and we will be judged on that and it's not just about electoral success, it's about the people who want hip replacements, about people waiting for heart by-passes, about getting them into modern, efficient hospitals staffed by fully professional health service professionals properly paid and properly resourced.

DAVID FROST: So will, will in fact the NHS be fixed by the next election as Tony said, Tony Blair said two or three weeks ago, or will it only be fixed after the third election?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well I believe within the National Health Service you don't stop performing, technology and the demands and the desires of people change all of the time, we must have made significant improvement by the time of the next election, we must have a Health Service that is second to none in the world but we mustn't stop there. The problem is previous governments rested in their laurels and ran down the National Health Service. We are committed to investment and reform and we will build again a National Health Service that's second to none.

DAVID FROST: You're in an interesting situation, you're between the devil and the deep blue sea or whatever, in being Scottish Secretary in a British, in an English Cabinet and at the same time¿

HELEN LIDDELL: A British Cabinet.

DAVID FROST: A British Cabinet, yes. But at the same time there is the Scottish Assembly and so on, in the case of the two things that are always quoted, scrapping tuition fees in Scotland and full care for the elderly, nursing care for the elderly, those two things which everybody pointed out are dramatically different between Scotland and England, was Scotland right to do that?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well that's devolution, Scotland has the right now to make its own decisions, but Scotland lives within the same constraints as every other political system. You spend money in one direction, you don't have it in other directions. The Scottish Executive has determined their priorities, they've got to live within the, the amounts that they are given through the Barnett Formula, fortunately at the moment it is significantly increased amounts of money because of the strong performance of the¿

DAVID FROST: But who's right on these two things, Scottish Labour or English Labour¿unfair to people in England?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well the changes, for example long-term care of the elderly in England would cost £1 billion, who's to say that that is the right way to spend that money, I believe it can be much better spent ensuring the front line care for elderly people in a way that everybody benefits from, 70 per cent of people in England already get the level care that, that they are looking for. But devolution is about people determining their own priorities wherever they are and soon we will be looking to, to look to devolution in parts of England as well, it's got to be what the people want.

DAVID FROST: Do you think teachers in England should get as much as teachers in Scotland?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well that's a matter for the two departments of education to determine, what is significant is that there have been much greater increases in the salaries of teachers in both England and Scotland as a result of the policies of this government.

DAVID FROST: What do you do on these issues in Cabinet when you in fact agree with Scotland and not with England?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well my job is to speak for Scotland within the Cabinet but I am a British Cabinet Minister and quite frankly whenever we're talking about increases in salaries for teachers and for nurses and for doctors it's because the economy is performing well that we're able to be in that position and it's my job to ensure that Scotland gets a fair deal but it's also my job to ensure that the economy of the United Kingdom performs well and that everyone benefits from that.

DAVID FROST: There was one article that said that people were saying that you were one of only six people in the Labour movement who might one day be Prime Minister, but right now do you think you're probably the last Secretary of State for Scotland because there really isn't a job to do and you have to fill in the day with something.

HELEN LIDDELL: Well what people forget about is that 50 per cent of expenditure in Scotland certainly is through the Scottish Executive, but 50 per cent is through Whitehall departments and 100 per cent comes from the firm management of the economy, so whether or not there is a Secretary of State for Scotland in the future is a matter for the Prime Minister, there's been one for 116 years, devolution is working, my own view is if it ain't broke don't fix it.

DAVID FROST: And what about Scottish MPs coming down from 72 to 56 or 57, are you in favour of that, and is it true by the way that the ones who get ousted by that, the Labour MPs who get ousted will get severance pay of £100,000 each and possibly a seat in the Lords?

HELEN LIDDELL: Absolutely untrue, I think if they were going to get that kind of pay off I might apply for it myself, there is no proposal for a pay off but it is right that we reduce the numbers, the Scotland Act ensured that because we did have over-representation to make up for the fact that we had to do separate legislation for Scotland. It will come in by the next election but there's going to be no golden handshakes.

DAVID FROST: And the Barnett formula how long will that last, because that's unfair too?

HELEN LIDDELL: Well I don't think the Barnett formula is unfair, it's been in existence since 1978, it's fair, it's transparent, it works and I believe it is an equitable distribution of finance not just for Scotland but to Wales and Northern Ireland as well.

DAVID FROST: But it gives a lot more to Scotland than to England?

HELEN LIDDELL: To take into account different circumstances, you know we're a third of the land mass of the United Kingdom and it's been very stable since 1978 both Conservative governments and Labour governments have stood by it and at the end of the day it's about fairness and that, that's what makes devolution work.

DAVID FROST: Fairness, indeed, that is the issue, fairness. Thank you very much Helen, we'll just see what the update on the news headlines is.

end


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