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Breakfast with Frost
Michael Howard MP, shadow chancellor
Michael Howard MP, shadow chancellor

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

PETER SISSONS: Tomorrow afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer will stand up and detail precisely how much he's pouring into our public services and how this will make them world class. The man charged with responding and unpicking the spin from the substance is the Shadow Chancellor Michael Howard, good morning Michael.

MICHAEL HOWARD: Morning Peter.

PETER SISSONS: Let's leave that for a bit, some pretty clear water opened up this week between you and the, the government on drugs, do you envy David Blunkett's freedom to be more radical than you were as Home Secretary?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I'm afraid I think he's made a, a total mess of it, he's done neither one thing nor the other and you can, you can test the proposals that he's brought in by, by asking this question. As I understand it and this is what David Blunkett has said, if the police now see someone with cannabis in the street they go up to them and they warn them. What exactly is the warning they give? Do they say to them, look you'd better be careful because if you carry on smoking cannabis we'll come and warn you again. So I don't think that David Blunkett's policy makes any sense at all.... I think it gives completely the wrong signal to parents who are trying to tell their children that they ought to stay well away from drugs and I'm afraid it gets us into the worst of both worlds.

PETER SISSONS: Would you reverse it?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well I think that David Blunkett has made a mistake and I would be astonished if when we return to government we stick to the policy that he introduced this last week.

PETER SISSONS: And quote, as a former Home Secretary, another major story in the papers today, half of young killers to be freed, says this Mail on Sunday, 46 under-age murderers have had their sentences slashed, rather unfortunate word, does that make sense to you?

MICHAEL HOWARD: No it doesn't but of course this government has, from the beginning, started letting out, letting people out of prison at a much earlier stage than used to be the case, they changed the law so that people who were let out earlier, let back onto the streets so that they could carry on committing crime and as we know from the figures this week crime has started to go up again, street crime up 31 per cent, that's a, a very serious state of affairs as indeed Andrew Neil was pointing out earlier on in the programme.

PETER SISSONS: Public spending now, you are now committed to spending less than Labour on the public services?

MICHAEL HOWARD: No that's, that's not true, we know that people deserve better. We know that we've got to do something about pupils disrupting classes in school, about rising waiting lists, about getting the police back on the streets to fight crime. But money alone isn't the answer, if it was we'd be well on the way to solving these problems...

PETER SISSONS: You're not talking about money alone, you're committed to spending less money?

MICHAEL HOWARD: No we're not, what we're saying is you need real reform, without real reform, without a different approach we won't get the world class public services that we want to see. Now because we will adopt a different approach, because we're open minded, we're learning lessons from abroad, we're going to do things in a different way it makes no sense to talk about our matching government spending. If we were following the same policies as the government that might make sense, we're going to do things in a different way and when we've produced our policies, we're working hard on them, they're going to be detailed policies, when we produce them we will spell out to people how much they'll cost and how we're going to pay for them. In some instances it may be that more needs to be spent than the government is spending, in some instances less but we're not going to take as our standard what this government is spending, we're going to take as our point of reference what our policies need in order to succeed, in order to give the people of this country the world class public services that they need and deserve.

PETER SISSONS: But you've told us what you're going to do, you've spoken in the past of getting the proportion of the nation's wealth spent by the government and taken by the state...

MICHAEL HOWARD: Oh come on Peter...

PETER SISSONS: to around 35 per cent?

MICHAEL HOWARD: That was said years and years ago, if we, if we went through what Gordon Brown and Tony Blair had said years and years ago we wouldn't get very far...

PETER SISSONS: Well this was said about four or five years ago?

MICHAEL HOWARD: When things were very different, when actually the level of public spending was about...

PETER SISSONS: So that's inoperative?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Of course it is...

PETER SISSONS: So what is the figure that you'd like to get, the proportion of national spending down to?

MICHAEL HOWARD: We don't have a figure, we have a crisis - it could be higher than the present one - we have a crisis in our public services, that crisis needs to be addressed, money alone isn't the answer. Do you know it was actually the present government that said in its manifesto for the 1997 election, the level of public spending is no longer the most effective, the best measure of effective government. So we're not going to be mesmerised by the amount of money they are spending, we're going to look at how our public services can be improved, how we can deliver the world class public services that this country needs, we'll work out how to do that learning lessons from abroad, we'll work out how much those policies will cost and how they should be paid for and I'll promise you we will spell all those things out in detail well before the next election.

PETER SISSONS: So it's not inconceivable that the amount of money spent by a Conservative government, or promised by a Conservative government, could be 40 per cent plus of GDP?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well we will look to see what is needed...

PETER SISSONS: Providing the reforms are there as well?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well we've got to have real reform. Now we also know that you've got to keep public spending under control, it's got to be affordable and we know that the countries which prosper most across the world if you look at them, which deliver the best living standards to the people they serve are governments which keep taxes relatively low. So we recognise the importance of that but the first priority of an incoming Conservative government would be to address the crisis in our public services in accordance with the policies which we will have produced before, before the election. We would say to people, look we want to make your lives better, we want to make your streets and your homes safer, we want to make sure you get the health care that you need.

PETER SISSONS: That may be the new religion but the old religion in the Conservative Party used to be screwing down public spending, the amount of money taken by the state, to something below 40 per cent, you've been a disciple of that in the past, is that now history?

MICHAEL HOWARD: It wasn't actually, we increased public spending, we increased spending on the Health Service every...but let's not argue about the past...

PETER SISSONS: It's a very, very important part of the past, if you ditched it?

MICHAEL HOWARD: We're much more, we're much more concerned about the future and what I'm telling you is that we, we recognise that people deserve better from our public services than they're getting. Unlike the other parties we have an open mind about how to reform them, we're looking abroad to see what lessons can be learned and we alone can provide the real reforms that we need so badly.

PETER SISSONS: Just let me ask you a final question. You mention reform all the time, name one significant reform and many of your supporters are dying to hear, that the Tories would introduce tomorrow that would guarantee improvements in public services?

MICHAEL HOWARD: Well we'd cut out a lot of things that the government's doing, for a start let me give you some examples, we've had a 31 per cent increase in street crime according to the latest figures, do you know what the Home Secretary's proposing? He's proposing to make every police officer, whenever anybody is stopped on the street, not searched just stopped, fill in a form in duplicate and hand one copy to the person he stops. Do you know what, do you know what the Secretary of State for Education has done? He's sent 4,440 pages of paperwork to teachers in one year, 17 pages for every working day - does that make sense? The Secretary of State for Health just a short time ago sent a document from his office prescribing in detail who should sit on cleaning committees in hospitals. We wouldn't go along that road, we would cut down on the bureaucracy and the paper work, we would decentralise, we would let the professionals in all these services get on with their jobs to give people the, the public services that they need and deserve, the world class public services that I want to see in this country.

PETER SISSONS: Michael Howard thank you very much.


PETER SISSONS: The Shadow Chancellor.


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