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Sunday, 5 November, 2000, 14:10 GMT
Andrew Lansley
Pretty much any profile you read of rising stars within the Conservative Party, singled out Andrew Lansley, some commentators have even tipped him as the man most likely to lead the party in the post Hague era, whatever that is. For now he's on the Conservative front bench and he shadows Mo Mowlam which means his brief is pretty wide. Andrew, good morning.

ANDREW LANSLEY: Good morning David, nice to be here.

DAVID FROST: Very good to have you with us. Do you think that the government has handled these floods in the right way?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Well I think there are lot of local government, a lot of emergency services have worked extremely hard and worked extremely well in many places to try to mitigate the damage. But I think for the government I was very worried when I heard John Prescott earlier this week say that this was a wake-up call for the government. I'm afraid it sounds like an admission that the government have previously been sleeping and for those of us like, like me who come from East Anglia, we remember the floods on the Nene and the Ouse just a couple of years ago and the environment agency's report after that which showed that there in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire that there were very serious floods which we were not prepared for and I think that wake up call should have come at that earlier stage and what might have been done since then.

DAVID FROST: When the Conservatives were in power it should have been, in that 18 years?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Oh well that¿well the Northamptonshire floods of course were just a couple of years ago under this government but of course I, I don't make any pretence that our flood defences were adequate and like many other things there may have been inadequate investment into flood defence in past years. But then again these are unprecedented floods and it may be linked and we don't know to what extent, but it may be linked to some of the changes of global warming and so on that is changing our perception of what we need to do in order to combat floods.

DAVID FROST: And in terms of global warming, is it mistake for William Hague to advocate a 3p cut in fuel tax, is that, is that anti-green, what colour is anti-green - brown, I don't know?

ANDREW LANSLEY: I don't think it changes, a 3p cut in fuel and in fact a larger cut in fuel I don't think will fundamentally change people's driving behaviour because I think fuel taxes now have been pushed up to the point where people are paying it, they have no alternative, just at the moment to say to people you can get out of your cars and go onto rail and bus, in many cases that's simply impractical, I mean there are people over the last couple of weeks who for very understandable reasons are having immense difficulties using trains for commuting and so on and for their journeys. So it's immensely difficult to tax people out of their cars where there isn't a decent public transport alternative.

DAVID FROST: When you mentioned trains there, John Prescott has not exactly endorsed Gerald Corbett although he's been very active Gerald Corbett in the last week or two, do you think his resignation should have been accepted or was it right to keep Gerald Corbett in place?

ANDREW LANSLEY: I think on balance it was probably right because at the point and I understand why Gerald Corbett felt he should offer his resignation but what Railtrack needs is somebody who has clearly won some sympathy within the industry and even amongst the parents and families of those involved in the Paddington rail crash, has clearly won sympathy of somebody who understands the problem and is prepared to do something about it. The long term issue of who leads Railtrack, that may be something different but for the time being I think it's important to have somebody who has some confidence and understand.

DAVID FROST: What about the issue of this upcoming blockade, do you unequivocally condemn all forms of law breaking by these direct action protestors, I mean absolutely unequivocally?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Well we were very clear on the previous protest in September and William Hague set it out absolutely on the record?

DAVID FROST: But it is fine upstanding men stuff too?

ANDREW LANSLEY: But at no stage did William endorse law breaking, he made it clear in September that the protest should have come to a halt at an early point, indeed before the point at which the protestors in fact stopped, he made it clear on Thursday that we are looking to the protestors not to go back to the barricades or to blockade fuel depots or anything like that, in a sense I agree with John Prescott, there is a democratic way of doing things in this country and if people believe, as I think will inevitably be the case that this government has failed to listen, you can hear it in everything that they've been saying over the last week, they're trying to stoke up a protest, they're trying to lower expectations of what they'll do, but in fact they won't be giving back money to people that they've taken away in taxes and if people want to protest about that the way to do it is through the ballot box.

DAVID FROST: That's right, in fact, I mean it's a non-governmental issue, I mean a government has to win a confrontation like this, doesn't it, and the democratic way is the way to change and if we had pressure groups who could change policy that would be a very dangerous precedent for Britain?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Well it would be a dangerous precedent, indeed it's very interesting to look at what Gordon Brown may be doing this week, some of the newspapers this morning are full of?

DAVID FROST: Full of predictions?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Money for hauliers, money for farmers, money for off-vehicle excise duty for motorists, these are in truth all things which Gordon Brown would not have done for the protest in September. From the Conservative point of view for us to say cut fuel duty was consistent, we'd voted against the increases in fuel duty earlier in the year and all that is happening now is the government acknowledging that they raised taxes more than it was necessary to do and if they have to give some of that money back. We knew they were raising taxes too much, when people talk about a, a £16 billion surplus, that is in fact even less than the increase in taxes which this government have brought in over the last three years, the increase in taxes is two per cent of gross domestic product, that's about £18 billion, so that the money that Gordon Brown has been building up in his so-called war chest is not money the result, as the result of economic growth it is money there as the result of increased taxes.

DAVID FROST: But in terms of the Conservative answer to all of this, where Michael Portillo has been making the point that the Conservatives by spending £8 billion less, 60 rather than 68 etc etc, spending £8 billion less can still produce equally good social services, now that's a neat trick if you can do it and how can you, how can you prove that's possible and why is it, why is it possible?

ANDREW LANSLEY: The first thing I should say is that Michael didn't actually say £8 billion, he said commentators have shown for example that to set our paths of controlling public spending within the growth rate of growth of the economy might be £8 billion less but how it could be done is very straightforward, it means things like controlling and turning back the growth in the increase in the civil service and administration costs which have gone up by £2 billion in the last three years over the previous Conservative government's plans. It means reforming welfare which is something which Labour said, Labour ministers and Tony Blair himself said before the last election, we can improve health and education and other public services by controlling the costs of welfare, it simply hasn't happened. We have to do it, we have to cut out fraud, we have to reform things like industrial injuries benefit, we have to reform payment of job seeker's allowance so that people who can work must be expected to work. Things like that will also deliver savings and those savings will then be available for front-line services or for tax cuts.

DAVID FROST: What about the rumour today, the papers are full of rumours as you said, what Gordon Brown's going to give away and so on, but in addition the Observer today says that Mo Mowlam whom you directly shadow is about to change tack on drugs, if the paper's right she's going to acknowledge that the just say no sort of line isn't working and she'll call for a sensible debate on the best way forward, must as her colleague Ian McCartney has done. Thinking back to all those members of the shadow cabinet who were photographed, who tried cannabis in their time and so on, does that make sense to you that you, that maybe we should change from just say no on cannabis?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Well the campaign just say no is effectively not being pursued by the government for some time, so that wouldn't be a switch. I think what is important however is for the government to change its strategy away from simply trying to deal with the effects of drug abuse, important as that is, and they're focusing on things like drug treatment and testing orders, but to look at supporting those who try to secure a drug free environment especially in schools and around young people, that's why for example William Hague has been setting out our policies for increasing and toughening the sentences among those who would deal drugs to young people and in supporting schools that try to create a drug-free environment. Because whatever we may say about the taking of drugs more than 50 per cent of young people go through their teenage lives without succumbing to peer pressure or any pressure to take drugs, we have to support them.

DAVID FROST: But at the same time therefore you don't, you don't go along with the Ann Widdecombe idea of criminalising everybody and giving them a set fine.

ANDREW LANSLEY: No Ann Widdecombe didn't say that, what she said was that we should consider fixed penalty notices for the simple, for the offence of the simple possession of drugs. She also said people who possess a substantial amount of drugs should have criminal offences.

DAVID FROST: No, she said people who were found guilty would have a criminal record?

ANDREW LANSLEY: Well what she said was that those, and it is true now, people who are found in possession of drugs, including cannabis, if they are cautioned technically a criminal record is created, that wouldn't be any different. The point is that fixed penalty notice would actually be much better from a young person's point of view because it wouldn't necessarily create a police record with a fingerprint and a photograph that the present cautioning does.

DAVID FROST: At that point Andrew we must just get an update on the news headlines.

[BREAK FOR NEWS] DAVID FROST: And thank you very much indeed Andrew, very good to have you with us this morning and to our cast of thousands, thank you to all of them, we'll be back at the same time next Sunday, top of the morning, good morning.

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