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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW
MIKE BEER, HAULIER BRINDLEY WILLIAMS, FARMER MARGARET BECKETT MP LEADER OF THE COMMONS SEPTEMBER 17TH, 2000 Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

DAVID FROST
Now on to fuel, members of the Cabinet will be digesting the news from the opinion polls today, of course, it may last but this morning it does look quite grim for Mr Blair and his colleagues. In a moment I'll be talking to the leader of the Commons, Margaret Beckett who's at, there she is in Derby. But first I'll be speaking to two people at the centre of these protests. Brindley Williams, a farmer from North Wales who's been at the very heart of this protest, contacting colleagues and ensuring the blockade held firm. And here with me in London is Mike Beer who runs his own haulage firm. Mike, let's start with you, good morning.

MIKE BEER
Good morning.

DAVID FROST
Why do you think it was such a success?

MIKE BEER
I think it was a success because of the whole of the country is behind the problem. It affects everybody, it affects everybody by the costs of goods in the shops, it affects everybody by getting in their car in the morning and going to work.

DAVID FROST
Did it surprise you that the public seemed to blame the government and not you the protestors?

MIKE BEER
No, no, it doesn't at all, this argument has been going on really for three years, it's not just, it's not just started, it's, we've been, as hauliers we've been lobbying the government now for just about three years.

DAVID FROST
Three years with no, with no response?

MIKE BEER
No, no response at all, other than the argument they've got with the reduction in VED. Our fuel prices now, we pay about 25p a litre more for fuel here than we do on the other side of the Channel.

DAVID FROST
Well it seems as though the parties are not very keen to cut fuel tax, what if, what if in fact Gordon Brown doesn't do anything within the 60 days, what will happen then do you think Mike?

MIKE BEER
Well first opinion is that there will be more unrest, I think we're going to have quite a bad winter, to be honest, I'm, I'm quite confident if nothing happens in the next budget there will be more unrest, more people will be protesting etc, we've got to do something. They're forcing the hauliers really to go abroad to get the fuel which by obviously going abroad you, you pay the other governments tax and nothing goes to the UK.

DAVID FROST
Someone said this week though that when people say they have to spend 30, £30 more on fuel if they're driving round France, they also have to, less rather, they also have to spend £50 more on tolls and so on, in order to make, so I mean if you add them all together?

MIKE BEER
No the tolls don't outweigh the cost, if you take an, if you take an average commercial vehicle to, to fill up fuel abroad it's about £300 maybe £400 on the size of the tank, but an average vehicle is about £300 cheaper per tankfull if he fills up across the other side of the Channel to what it is in the UK. And us as an international haulier, every vehicle we send abroad actually fills up with fuel abroad where all of the tax then goes into foreign government.

DAVID FROST
Right, Brindley, is there with us too, down the line, from the farmers point of view was it the sort of frustration that Mike's been talking about, three years with no action or what?

BRYNLE WILLIAMS
Most certainly we've been lobbying the government now completely on fuel, on farming matters because you must remember that everything that travels onto a farm and off a farm has to go by road so this has an effect on the cost of living, on every single thing. But frankly we have lobbied and lobbied and lobbied, I have tried to do this properly, correctly, going to the politicians, I've been in the, the Welsh Office in Cardiff, I've been down to the Welsh Office in London, we've had politicians on, on my farm and to no avail and simply the last straw that broke the camel's back last Thursday evening.

DAVID FROST
Right and in terms of looking at the situation now, what did you make of David Blunkett's comments yesterday, saying the farmers have a nerve, they cost the country £20 billion for BSE crisis and their well treated and so on, the farmers have a nerve, what did you think of that?

BRYNLE WILLIAMS
I really take offence at it, saying that the farmers take the nerve, we're living on cheap imported food that is produced, the welfare standards we're supposed to be a caring nation, the welfare standards alone on food that's been imported into this country is deplorable.

DAVID FROST
And what about the future, we were just hearing that Mike was saying that if action isn't taken in the, in the budget or within 60 days we could be in for a, a bad winter, what do you think will happen next if there is no action in 60 days?

BRYNLE WILLIAMS
The one think I am asking for now is calm for the next 60 days, no further protest, let's have a paper protest now and lobby the MPs at every opportunity one gets, the Great British public once again demonstrated it is a great country, Great has come to the forefront, don't do anything silly I beg of you all for the next 60 days, let's give the government an opportunity to respond to this but do lobby them with paper protests, do lobby them on this fuel issue.

DAVID FROST
And after 60 days if there's no action?

BRYNLE WILLIAMS
I won't even speculate, I'm not going to try and intimidate the government today, I am saying that we want 60 days of calm now and hope that this government will respond. The people have asked, not one individual, not one individual industry, the people have shown with their backing for this and I just beg on the government to act responsibly. Mr Blair do what you were voted in power for, to look after the government, you told us that you were a caring government. At this juncture in time it appears you don't give a damn about the British public.

DAVID FROST
Thank you both very much indeed for putting those points and let's put them straight away to Margaret Beckett, Leader of the House of Commons who's been speaking up on this issue yesterday and is about to speak on it today. Your, your immediate response to those, those words we've just heard Margaret?

MARGARET BECKETT
I think two things, first of all that of course the government is listening and will listen and there are, there is a different case obviously, slightly different any way between the farmers and the hauliers. But we are conscious of some of the difficulties that say the hauliers identify. I think my second chief reaction though is that it really isn't fair to say that the government hasn't listened and hasn't paid any attention. In the last budget there was a £400 million package of tax cuts on road costs, hauliers themselves, and I can't, I think Mike said 'oh they haven't done anything', and then he said 'except for the change in the Vehicle Excise Duty', that was a substantial package of changes. Alright the argument now is that it's not enough and that there are problems that remain unresolved and the government will listen to those arguments. But it's quite another thing to say we've done nothing. With regard to the farmers you'll recall David that earlier this year, only a few weeks, months ago, there was a farm delegation in Downing Street talking to Tony Blair himself, that was followed up by a special additional package of £200 million in support for farming and of course farmers do already have a £250 million subsidy on the cost of diesel that they need to use specifically on their farms, but none of that is saying that there isn't a problem, none of it is saying that it's all enough and they should just go away but it is saying let's not have the argument the government has done nothing, the government has taken steps to ease these problems and we're prepared to listen as to whether there's more we should consider doing.

DAVID FROST
Well that's very clear. In fact, I mean if you go back though seven or eight days ago, or last weekend, at that stage I think it would be fair to say that the government was out of touch with, with people's feelings, taken a bit surprised by the vigour of this campaign. If you had that time over again you'd presumably have responded before Tuesday?

MARGARET BECKETT
I think what, well of course we did respond before Tuesday but I think one of things that does need to be considered is how we got to quite where we ended up quite so fast. Last weekend if I recall correctly press reports from say the Retail Sales Federation people, you know people who actually sell the petrol were saying it would take a week to ten days to see a really serious impact on the economy although of course it has an impact on the economy and on people's lives if you get a reduction in the flow of petrol. I don't think anyone could have anticipated quite how speedily and quite, and certainly maybe that was the advice that the experts were giving, I was at that point in Germany, the experts were giving to the government, so I don't think anyone thought it would be as fast and as strong an impact as it was and of course when we did react on the National Health Service we were accused of reacting too early. So it's a little bit of a can't win situation with these things, but we do need to look at that.

DAVID FROST
Yes but I mean this situation where at least this morning the Tories are suddenly ahead in one of the polls for the first time in eight years, as we always say, I mean shows that something went hugely wrong this week, bewildering it may be but hugely wrong?

MARGARET BECKETT
Well of course it will be interesting to see what opinion polls are saying in other European countries, we've already seen the opinion polls from France where of course the government made some immediate concessions, not just listening to the arguments but actually immediate concessions and they went down in the opinion polls. I, without in any way, of course it's a serious matter and it's an important matter, without in any way diminishing the importance of those public reactions I think maybe there is an element of saying things have gone wrong, we don't like it, blame the government and that's happening right across Europe. But in the long term that might be a good thing because yes the Conservatives have benefited today because William Hague was able to go on television and say, not, not we will cut the fuel taxes but we will cut taxes and we'll think about cutting fuel taxes and of course the other side of that coin as the Conservatives have been forced to admit is that they will cut public spending, they will cut the substantial investment that we're making in health, education and transport. Now I know people don't want to hear that but those are the real choices and if this week's events brings us face-to-face with what those choices are that's not a bad thing because the hauliers and the farmers are asking for more money¿

DAVID FROST
So Margaret you're saying that¿

MARGARET BECKETT
At the same time as they're asking for cuts in tax.

DAVID FROST
This week may be a good thing where all the, all the public and the polls are saying it's been a disaster?

MARGARET BECKETT
I think in the long term for people to recognise what the choices facing them as people and us as government really are can only be healthy and as I say farmers and hauliers are asking both for cuts in duty which, incidentally, would do very little indeed for the ordinary motorist¿if we did exactly what they were asking for last week¿

DAVID FROST
You would, you would though Margaret, you would, you would have done the last week differently, definitely differently, you wouldn't have wanted to end the week behind the Tories, you, you would have done things differently if you had but know, that's true isn't it?

MARGARET BECKETT
Well you never want to, to lose ground, to be perfectly honest it would be quite astonishing if we'd succeeded in getting through this week without suffering some damage in the polls and that is true and of course we would not have wished to see the damage to the economy and the concerns people had, the effect on people's lives, carers who couldn't get to those they were looking after and so on, of course nobody, no government, no people want to see that. But we have to look at why that happened and what we can do to make sure that people don't face those difficulties in their daily lives if it can possibly be avoided in the future.

DAVID FROST
You've, you put it very strongly yesterday and so on, that the possibility of a right-wing conspiracy against, against the government being behind this this week and the people who can't bear, you were saying, the thought of Labour being in power and Labour being successful in power¿what, what, what conspiracy was there, what was this collusion and who, who was in it?

MARGARET BECKETT
I, I didn't, I didn't of course at any point claim that this what this was all about and anyone who pretends I did frankly wasn't listening to what I said, but what I thought was quite interesting was that along with those who have their clear concerns about a, the real costs and we'll have to look at that of course, the differential costs, whether there are differentials in driving on the continent and driving here, when you look at the whole package, because of course we have a low tax economy compared to the rest of Europe in general. But there were those with those clear genuine concerns and articulating specific goals, they wanted to see the government consider at this point in time. But there were others who making remarks and I'm only drawing on what I saw reported in the British media, making remarks about, oh this is this government's whole programme, this is a taxpayer's revolt against everything the government is doing and there do seem to have been some involved who were, I read, I hope accurately, that one of those involved is a Master of the Hounds, somebody who doesn't want to see the government take any action at all, for example, on hunting. People who don't want to see the Countryside Bill, there do seem to have been reported those who had a wider agenda and all that I was doing was point out that perhaps there are those who had, or have a wider agenda and we ought not to ignore that because if they're saying these, we will do this protest because we want to stop this, this may be what everybody else in the British people, among the British people want.

DAVID FROST
Right, I don't know whether I should say this or not, there is a group of people in this country who passionately believe, it's more than a belief, it's an emotion that there is something terribly, terribly wrong about having a label [sic] Labour government, isn't that a touch paranoid?

MARGARET BECKETT
No, no, I mean if you're a Labour activist or a Labour politician you do come across it. I don't mean all the time but you do, and it, and it's, to be honest it's, it's quite a shock because it's almost, it's, it's a rejection of the fact that there should be a Labour government and some of the remarks about, oh the government being arrogant have been made from the first weeks in which we were elected and to some extent come from people who don't believe there should be anything but a Conservative government. But I would never argue and did not argue that that's what the protest was about but as happens sometimes when you get people raising particular issues you get other people latching on to it and then trying to put an argument that the government should take a whole range of measures, not just the specific ones for which the main bulk of hauliers and farmers were perfectly legitimately calling for debate.

DAVID FROST
One last question Margaret, we heard from Mike and from Brindley that they really are hoping for, expecting action within 60 days, they are being very, very moderate, up until 60 days but it could be a bad situation after 60 days, can you tell us today that the government will act in some way on this issue or are, should we tell them we won't?

MARGARET BECKETT
Well what I heard them say was that they hoped, you see we had to make a distinction between whether or not you listen to a case and whether or not you act immediately now and they, to be completely fair to them, neither of them seemed to me to be saying we call for immediate action, neither did it seem to me that either of them were saying this morning that if we don't see actual policy change within 60 days there'll be further protests. What they were saying was they want the government to take greater heed of the case that they're putting, they want the government to look at issues in the round and to consider whether there are further changes that we can and should make to ease the difficulties they identified. The government will be carrying out those consultations, will be listening, will be considering in the proper timetable a budget discussion and debate whether there are steps that we ought to take and then standing by the decisions and the impact of those decisions.

DAVID FROST
Thank you very much, I think, I think they were talking a bit more urgently than that, but anyway thank you very much indeed Margaret for joining us, we appreciate it, have a nice day in the Derby area. That was Margaret Beckett talking on behalf of the government. END

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